Q&A with Adèle Fontaine, author of My Sundays with Normand, a book of poems about love and grief.
Interviewed by Elliott Hockley
Adèle Fontaine is the author of My Sundays with Normand, a dedicational poetry book available now with major online retailers. The book recently topped the bestsellers list at a popular bookstore in Edmonton, beating out John Grisham through the first part of August.
Firstly, could you tell us a little bit more about what, and particularly, who, this book is about?
My Sundays with Normand is a book of 77 poems that I wrote to honor the difficult process of grieving for my husband after he died due to complications from heart surgery in November, 2014. He was a father to our seven children, my husband of fifty-three years, a lover of music and above all an artist who wrote and painted for most of his life. I cherished him deeply and was not prepared to let him go so easily into the black night. These poems soon became a way for me to spend time with him, reflecting on our lives together in order to cope with the sadness I was feeling.
Every Sunday morning I sat down at our kitchen table, often after being inspired by a walk outdoors and wrote. Normand’s support and presence were constant, just as it was when he was alive. Writing the poems has been my creative way of maintaining our relationship, continuing the conversation as well as fathoming the depth of the love I received from this wonderful man. We used to wonder about what life would be like when one of us died; little did we know that I would stay on and harvest all the gold of our relationship.
I was actually inspired to do a piece on this having been personally touched by several of the poems. What has the reaction been like by those you’ve shared the poems with?
I started writing these poems on January 10th, 2015; 45 days after Normand’s death and sent them off to my children and emailed them to a number of friends. My children responded with great joy and sent me messages and comments. My eldest daughter quoted verses that touched her and spoke about how they gave her much to ponder. She brought some of the poems to the husband of a friend who was dying and he asked her to read more because they gave meaning to what he was experiencing.
I was particularly delighted when my grandchildren started to respond. My grandson Sascha, who lived with Normand and I, wept openly at the book launch. I so love him for this sign of deep affection for a grandpa who could not love him enough.
One of my daughters, Danielle, who lives in Ottawa, wrote a poem to accompany each one I sent, which is why I asked her to write the afterword. Her poems reflected her thoughts about what I had written and she never failed to tell me not to give up.
Friends told each other and I began adding their names to my readers. Many of them told me they were not readers of poetry but that my words resonated with so many of their life experiences. One dear friend started to write her own poetry about her marriage. Others responded with encouraging messages assuring me that I touched their hearts. A number of them told me I should publish them. They told me that reading my Sunday poems had become an important ritual for their Sunday mornings. Their positive feedback was powerful and it motivated me to keep writing.
When my daughter Isabelle saw a book display of Oprah’s and thought it was mine, she called and told me to publish it “right now”. That’s exactly when I started talking to Tellwell.
As well as being wonderfully written, it’s a beautiful looking book too. Could you tell us a little bit more about that?
When I asked my daughter Nathalie, an artist living in Montreal, to design the cover, she said she felt her father’s continued presence as she painted. When I saw the cover, I was overjoyed with the rich layers of colors. Her small beautiful painting had successfully captured the essence of each and every poem.
Normand loved birds and so I asked my granddaughter Romane Fontaine-Pasquali
to draw some. She sat down that very night and drew hundreds of them. These are the birds you see among the poems.
I understand that you weren’t without help in writing this either, was there some collaboration with friends and family? Or did you write very privately?
My son Eric, a writer and translator, and his partner Rachel, a poet, living in Montreal, read each one asking me to clarify and simplify. They generously made corrections of French titles, and fine-tuned the punctuation. Eric told me this little book of poetry was a ‘bijou’.
My daughter Marie helped me choose the 77 poems and edited all the ‘hallmark’ verses. She helped with rhythm and musicality. We often argued quite heatedly about some of the lines, the intention and places where she felt there was a lack of continuity. I had the best editor ever!
Normand was obviously a popular figure in Edmonton, as a mainstay for Radio Canada over several decades as well as being a writer of short stories and poetry himself. What do you think he’d say about the poems?
I know exactly what Normand would say to me were he still here, because he is still here, in all his glory. He loves every single word I write. I feel his presence deep in my bones every time I flip open my MacBook to begin writing.
I want to thank you again for choosing Tellwell to help you publish this wonderful book, and lastly, I wonder if you have a favourite poem from your book or one you’d be happy for us to share here?
And You Are Still Gone
January 18th, 2017
And you are still gone
Never to return
Except in spirit
And that part of you
Is so vast
If I was an artist
Or a weaver
I would integrate
You in all my art
I am a reader
A reciter of mantras
A seeker of truth
I keep searching for peace
I keep looking for you
Your death set my life ablaze
I am a house on fire
I touch burns
And every word I write
Brings light into this world