Satie’s Sad Piano

By Bert Almon

A review of Satie's Sad Piano by Carolyn Marie Souaid

Published on October 1, 2005

Satie’s Sad Piano
Carolyn Marie Souaid

Signature Editions
$14.95
paper
95pp
1-897109-01-6

Carolyn Marie Souaid is a thoroughly serious writer: centric, not eccentric, and eager to confront the key issues of Canadian society. Satie’s Sad Piano is a civic elegy in the tradition of Dennis Lee, a poem exploring Canada’s uncertain destiny. She begins with the announcement of the death of Pierre Trudeau on September 28, 2000. The broadcast triggers the memories of a failed love affair in the protagonist, Venus, who became involved with a charismatic teacher and poet in 1968, the year of Trudeau’s election. The symbolic name given to the protagonist has its source in Romeo and Juliet: “Venus smiles not in a house of tears.” The repressions of a Catholic girlhood and adolescence lived just before the Quiet Revolution changed Quebec give a special edginess to Venus’s rebellious commitment to the body.

Souaid finds tropes as clever as Solway’s to describe physical desire: “her filly slit weeping / warm champagne.” Venus encounters not a true love of her own age but a “Charlie Manson of Letters” who doesn’t scruple to become involved with her: abuse of trust we’d call it now. Their affair is associated with the outburst of Trudeaumania in the 1968 election. It was, after all, the 1960s, and a politician with the charisma of a pop star was briefly conceivable. Souaid knows that Trudeau was more than a momentary celebrity, and she captures the power and the flaws of his hubristic personality. The failure of Venus’s affair and the abortion of her baby parallel the failure of Trudeau’s affair with his country. In both cases, the stormy overture dwindles into the oddities symbolized by Satie’s sad little piano pieces. It may seem odd for a poet to use a love affair as an analogue with Trudeau’s political career, but then Trudeau’s own private life became painfully public. Considering that Souaid was about nine when Trudeaumania swept Canada, she has captured the era very accurately. Souaid doesn’t rely exclusively on storytelling: she deploys rhyme subtly, her use of alliteration and consonance can be startling, and her images are powerful and original. This is a book that will engage its readers stylistically, emotionally, and perhaps even politically. mRb

Bert Almon lives in Edmonton, Alberta. Retired from teaching, he follows the careers of his former students.

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