In her debut collection, Susan Elmslie delves into the life and mental illness of the real person behind André Breton’s surrealist romance, Nadja, recovering the story of a flesh and blood woman who became a symbol for the unknowability of the feminine and the irrational side of the human psyche. Ultimately, I, Nadja is about many women as Elmslie’s lyrically astute, confident lines move into the daily world of motherhood, adolescent memories and heroines like Marie Curie and George Sand. With her great fury of a voice, Elmslie’s poems are forthright and daring, fearlessly rhapsodic, as “they sing/your shape through doorways,… sing/the whole house awake.”
Praise for I, Nadja and Other Poems:
“What range and abundance! A catalogue of trench coats, a daughter’s first hunger, the stories of George Sand, Marie Curie, and, of course, Breton’s love, the unforgettable, unknowable Nadja. Each of these poems is fully felt, finely formed, astonishingly different from the next. Susan Elmslie compels you to linger with admiration – but also to keep turning the pages, breathless for the next discovery.” — Stephanie Bolster
“If for no other reason, buy this book for the “I, Nadja” poems. They are brilliant. But there is another reason-the book itself-all of it.” — P.K. Page
A Note about the Cover Image (from Susan Elmslie)
I came across the image that Alan Siu has framed and incorporated into the book’s cover design during my research trip to Paris (funded by a Canada Council grant), in April, 2001. I was there to retrace the steps of Breton and Nadja. Because their first meeting was of great importance to Breton, I started by looking for the exact spot where it happened. He indicates in Nadja that the meeting occurred late in the afternoon on the Rue Lafayette, but (despite his apparent interest in facts) he does not know the name of the intersection he crossed just before seeing the young woman. He does mention that it was in front of a church, and that he had come from the Humanité bookstore. Visible above an awning in Breton’s photograph of the bookstore is the number 120, which I surmised was the address. So by piecing together some of the details and literally retracing his steps along the Rue Lafayette in the 10th district, I was able to determine that the intersection was Place Franz Liszt, and the church he referred to was l’Eglise St. Vincent de Paul.
I spent my last full day in Paris, a Sunday, at the Saint-Ouen Flea Market (Breton’s regular haunt of a Sunday). Rummaging through one of the postcard stalls, looking for images of the 10th district, I found this postcard from the mid-nineteen-twenties: a woman standing two steps from where Nadja and Breton first met.