Denise Desautels
Translated by Alisa Belanger

Lessons from Venice

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When Denise Desautels traveled to Italy in 1988 to write about Michel Goulet’s art installations at the 43rd Venice Art Biennale, she brought with her the autobiographical themes to which she frequently returns in her writing: memory, childhood, mourning. As she circled Goulet’s sculptures and moved through the City of Masks, Desautels sought to look beyond their facades, exploring relationships between language, silence, place, and the self, much like Ingeborg Bachmann in Frankfort Lectures on Poetics (known as lessons in French). No one could have known, however, that a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique would soon send shockwaves through Montreal. Having begun as a reflection on art and objecthood, proximity and distance, truth and illusion, Lessons from Venice then turned into a moving tribute to the fourteen women killed by a misogynist gunman in the Montreal Massacre on December 6, 1989. Almost thirty years later, this work has gained even more urgency since its original publication. In an era when gun violence, hate crimes, and limitations on women’s rights threaten to appear banal in North America, Desautels’ poetry offers an act of resistance, a search for meaning, and a powerful expression of solidarity with all those who seek to come to grips with the past in the present. 

Denise Desautels was born in Montreal. She is a past vice-president of the Académie des lettres du Québec. She won the Prix de la Fondation Les Forges for Leçons de Venise (1990), the original French version of Lessons from Venice. She also won the Governor General’s Award and the Prix de la revue Estuaire for Le saut de l'ange (1992), the Prix de la Société des écrivains canadiens and the Prix de la Société Radio-Canada for Tombeau de Lou (2000). In 1999 she received La Médaille Échelon vermeil, the highest honour given by the city of Paris.

Translator Alisa Belanger holds a Maîtrise en langue et littérature françaises from McGill University as well as a doctorate in French & Francophone Studies from UCLA. After beginning her career at Georgetown University and Rutgers University—Camden, she now teaches in her hometown of Rochester, NY. In 2013, she published Things that Fall, a translation of Tombeau de Lou by Denise Desautels, at Guernica Editions.

ISBN 978-1-77171-370-2
90 pages
5.5 x 8.5
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