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Dreaming My Animal Selves / Le Songe de mes Âmes Animales /

Dreaming My Animal Selves / Le Songe de mes Âmes Animales


Winner of the USA Best Book Award in Poetry, the Pinnacle Book Award for Best Bilingual Poetry Book, and the Reader's Favorite Award in Poetry; Finalist for International Book Awards and the Julie Suk Award. Dreaming My Animal Selves was included in The London Magazine's alternative poetry list for 2015 and in the Poetry Foundation's Reading List: September 20...
ISBN 978-1-908836-39-7
Pub Date Friday, February 15, 2013
Cover Image Created for “Dreaming My Animal Selves” by Jackie Morris.
Page Count 80
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Winner of the USA Best Book Award in Poetry, the Pinnacle Book Award for Best Bilingual Poetry Book, and the Reader's Favorite Award in Poetry; Finalist for International Book Awards and the Julie Suk Award.

Dreaming My Animal Selves was included in The London Magazine's alternative poetry list for 2015 and in the Poetry Foundation's Reading List: September 2015 (selected by Thomas McCarthy).

"This bilingual collection travels between dream and reality as effortlessly as between tongues. Accompanied by spiritual companions, both human and animal, Cardona’s poetry is simultaneously rapturous and lucid."    The London Magazine

“In this extraordinary volume of soul crafted poetry, words become wands to enchant and evoke our better angels.” Jean Houston (Ph.D., philosopher, author of The Wizard of Us, A Mythic Life, and Mystical Dogs)

"an intriguingly surreal journey through myth, legend, fantasy, and more... a book centered in joy, rooted firmly in the wild landscape of the imagination."  Brian Turner, winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award, author of Here, Bullet and Phantom Noise

“Every force of nature has a purpose,” writes Hélène Cardona. Dreaming My Animal Selves finds its nature not in French or English, but in the correspondences between them, the experience international, liminal, mystical and other-worldly. This is a poet who writes in a rare light.”  David Mason (poet laureate of Colorado and author of The Buried Houses (winner of the Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize) and The Country I Remember (winner of the Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award))

“In Dreaming My Animal Selves the poet Hélène Cardona has become a dreamer upon two pillows of language. Taking her queue from Rilke, she has captured dreams in a diglottism of the soul, a literary isthmus of heliotrope and honeysuckle, where her singular voice endures as ‘a thistle, resilient/ rooted in Mediterranean Celtic fringe.’ Through poetry she reaches that gateway between the past and the way ahead. It was Gaston Bachelard who wrote that the roots of the grandeur of the world plunge back into a childhood and here, in her reflecting moments, Cardona reaches back to the amethyst eyes of a Francophone motherhood. Here is a poetry of exotic retreat, from the translucent face of Tibet to the Cyprus pomegranate of Athena’s altar; and here, too, Aphrodite guides her to a place where she is compelled to pay for her mother’s death with a literary price extracted from dreams. It is always a risky business for a poet to self-translate: it may seem like wanting both the work of art and the readers’ response – but Hélène Cardona gracefully travels across languages, in the manner of our own Michael Hartnett, Paddy Bushe, or, more lately, Fred Johnston, to arrive at a point of insight where we are all enriched. Dreaming My Animal Selves is a graceful skate across a liquid language, a voyage across subliminal waves; a poetry where, as she writes in ‘Parallel Keys’ she reveals herself by ‘fixing the omen.’   Thomas McCarthy (winner of the Patrick Kavanagh Poetry Award, author of The Last Geraldine Officer, Merchant Prince, and Mr Dineen’s Careful Parade: New and Selected Poems)

Here is the work of one moving from geography to geography, tongue to tongue, and into singular metaphysical experiences that change like her animal companions. In this perceptive volume, Hélène Cardona uses a speech at once imaginary, wistful, and often rapturous to tell her travel over the planet and in her mind. The surreal animals are with her, “a colt flown through her window,” “a winged hare,” a woman who wakes in the belly of a whale. She traces “patterns in dreams” as she evokes the city of her birth, Paris, where as the child of a Greek mother and Spanish father she begins her sojourn on earth. Hear her journey and go there:

Whispers wake me.
I return home
behind a procession of swans
to an island in the heart of Paris.
On the cliffs where the wild ones come . . .

Willis Barnstone
(New testament and Gnostic scholar, author of The Restored New Testament,
The Poems of Saint John of the Cross, The Gnostic Bible: Gnostic Texts of
Mystical Wisdom from the Ancient and Medieval Worlds)

This book was first written in English and then translated into French by the author so that it could be presented in a bilingual edition.

Des songes d’eau

Je trace les motifs des songes 
au travers d’êtres déguisés
libérés en particules évanouies
révélant des éclats de moi-même.
Dans l’espoir de guérir mes naufrages,
je pourchasse un sommeil en cavale,
ultime refuge où ancrer mon vaisseau.

Dreams Like Water

I trace patterns in dreams
through beings disguised
undone like particles broken apart
revealing pieces of me.
I pursue elusive sleep
in the hope to heal mishaps
the last chance to anchor my boat.

Copyright © Hélène Cardona 2013

Review:  Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Erna Cooper for World Literature Today (March 2015)

Myth, Memory, and Transcendence in Hélène Cardona’s Dreaming My Animal Selves

Shortly after my mother died, while napping near an open window of my apartment on Avenue Foch, I felt—or thought I felt—a hand touch mine. It was warm, large, and familiar. Then I heard my mother’s voice and woke up to see a little bird that flew away toward the Bois de Boulogne. This memory came back to me as I read a collection of poetry by Hélène Cardona, Dreaming My Animal Selves / Le Songe de mes Âmes Animales (Salmon Poetry, 2013), for this is a collection of dreams, grieving, memory, and transcendence. As I awakened from this memory of my mother, I read these lines and was consoled for my loss:

Consider this, be fortunate, grateful,
consider this, be alive
for the greatest gift is given with death.
There is no end and no beginning,
surrender, surrender, surrender.

I pay with my mother’s death
for the price of my dreams
as I dream the world into being
as I dream new memories
as I dream myself into love falling into you. (“Dreamer” 60)

Considère ceci : sois fortunée, reconnaissante,
considère ceci : sois vivante
car l’ultime cadeau est donné avec la mort.
Il n’y a ni fin ni début,
succombe, succombe, succombe.

Je paie avec la mort de ma mère
le prix de mes rêves
tandis que je rêve la création d’un monde,
tandis que je rêve de nouveaux souvenirs,
tandis que je me rêve d’amour t’inonder. (“Rêveuse” 58)

This bilingual collection is a series of poems to remind us of what gives birth both to the literary imagination and to identity. It reminds us of those people, memories, and desires we carry around within us, often without knowing it, until we sleep, dream, and remember our most precious feelings, memories, and sensations.

Cardona’s poetry reminds us of those people, memories, and desires we carry around within us, often without knowing it, until we sleep, dream, and remember our most precious feelings, memories, and sensations.

This may be why Cardona, too, associates her mother’s loss with the emergence of new love and creativity. In “Dreams like Water,” she

trace[s] patterns in dreams
through beings disguised
undone like particles broken apart
revealing pieces of [herself]. (17)

Pieces reconstructed over time, as she “pursue[s] elusive sleep / in the hope to heal mishaps” looking for one “last chance to anchor [her] boat.”

“Solicited by playful spirits,” in “Isle of the Immortals,” she “part[s] the swelling mist” of the imaginary that “reflects the hidden side of the moon” and of the unconscious/self, to dance with a wizard she sees in the form of a crane, who “spirals down the water tunnel, wings a blur,” whispering to her something I may have said to myself after the dream of my mother’s visitation: “You’re learning to live in two worlds at once.” Both are necessary—the real and the imagined, the one that lies at “the core of the earth” and the one that resides in consciousness. We who experience such imaginings live the life of one who incorporates the spirit of those we lost in aesthetic reminders and little things in nature that spur us on to remember our gifts, and we do this almost effortlessly, as these spirits reside in us in “[t]he way seeds need darkness to germinate” and in “condensed light” that emerges as an effervescence of joy. Traveling through dreamy, mythological, and symbolic landscapes of mind, this joyful reverie is protected, in Cardona’s work, “under the crane’s guidance”: where a spiritual boat “in the clouds reaches the Isle of the Immortals” and makes the “soul resplendent.”

This is the language of transcendence, of mythological and Jungian dream analysis that allows us to perceive parts of the self that are both lost and found in symbolic language. Here is the language of magic, of fairies and spirit animals (especially birds and horses), which embody physical and spiritual grace that reveals special things to the poet—both inner and outer sides of herself returned, after loss, which link her to her ancestors, to the seemingly dead or forgotten, and to the beauty of the creative and intellectual life emerging from lost figures, and thus help her to develop inside.

These figures and dreams serve as spiritual and organic nourishment leading to an inner “floraison” by simply being who they are in her mind: fortifiers of nature, intellect, creativity, and the soul. As she writes in “Peregrine Pantoum,” her “grandmother’s exquisite designs / engineered by elves” help her to “sleep with fervor.” This is not sleep from fatigue nor to ward off illness, but the sleep where “[w]isdom and melancholy build fires,” where “myriad books and soulful dwellings” help the young poetess-to-be to overcome memories of “slippery roads” and “frozen paths.” This is the sleep that reinvigorates and helps one navigate body and soul once more between the real and imaginary, the spirit world and the gravitational field, where memory and forgetting, “mazes of mind,” and “tales of torture” reside, along with certain gods that impose “exiles and travels, forced and chosen.”

One wonders to what extent these travels and forced departures were real or imagined, and neither in sleeping nor in waking can we be certain whether these are imposed from the outside or inside; nor does it matter. We are certain that the poetry which reminds us who we are and where we have been is of utmost importance and brings us back to the root system of soul, psyche, and personality. This spiritual home “[begins] with a dream”; “[t]he dream opens forgotten realms of creation” (“Pathway to Gifts”): the birth of the child that imagines her conception in the “shiver down [her] mother’s / spine” that is congealed in “the melancholy in [her] father’s eyes, / reflecting Lake Geneva” (“From the Heart with Grace”). These signs and forms of unspoken communication were once “indecipherable” to her younger self, but in reflection the poet remembers that these were always part of “a language older than time,” a language completely human, maybe more so than words.

And yet words are so important to this writer. They are not just vehicles of communication but “whimsical metaphoric frontiers” opening up gates to the unknown, beyond the cellular toward the spectral. If they are used at all, they are to be treated as precious gems, each to be chosen, cut, shaped, and set into her design with care, like her poems. For neither Cardona nor her imaginary or mythological worlds are merely shape-shifters; they are “griffons,” “mermaids,” and “chameleons.” She is not merely a tree who remembers her roots, in Spain, Switzerland, or in the creative mind that eschews a “quintessential” and existential “distress,” but she is one rooted in a “jeu d’esprit, glückliche Reise.” She is not a passive recipient of the earth’s gifts and cornucopia, but one who “propels the fervent fragrance / of heliotrope, hyacinth and honeysuckle.” She is a generator of all that is good, which we desire on earth and in the mind.

This is the honey that brings forth sweets for the soul: the consolation of art. This ability to become the jewel-maker of words, the metaphorical honeybee, the generator of dreams and of all life’s eternal joys, is divine. It is the eternal gift of life, for if you find yourself on the road, through forced or chosen departures, it is essential for us all (particularly the artists among us) to imagine that the “[w]ind . . . offers / . . . three cups overflowing / with eternity”—the symbol of fulfillment in Tarot. In Cardona’s universe, as long as the mind and spirit are alive and “on the wing,” the cups are always half-full, and we may hope to be as resilient as she—like the “thistle” that is her surname, “Cardona”; that which dreams and endures the tides, seasonal change, and fickle conditions of life.

That endurance is partnered with a certain perception—one that

find[s] the resonance of [one’s] core
and discover[s] that in dreaming
lies the healing of the earth. In dreaming
we travel to a place where all is forgiven. (22)

That is where we want to be, at least when there is no way to turn back time or the tides, and when nothing more can be said face-to-face. That is when we must surrender to the “Night Messenger” and “[let] the current carry [us],” like the penguin, across the river and say to ourselves, as he does, that “this stream is your life” and “let the river transport me / knowing I’ve entered another world.”

To allow the changes, deaths, removals, and currents that take us along their path, if not to our intended one, is to remind ourselves that we are all mere travelers, not just on earth but in the “corridors of mind,” and that even if we must leave people and possessions, homes and countries, behind, in reaching our soul’s destiny, we inhabit a place (if we are lucky) that can never be lost, for the “heart [is] / a secret tower I inhabit,” writes the poet, like her name that is as eternal and enduring as the “pyramid, antique amulet” is to the Egyptologist and the mummies in pursuit of the afterlife (“Cornucopia”).

The message, to me, is clear. We are to bring that afterlife into the current one, both in connecting with the tides around and within us, and in receiving the information given to us by nature and myth. So when I witness a swan swimming in “concentric circles,” as I often used to in the Bois de Boulogne, I “find the resonance of my core,” and embrace my “animal self” and “raison d’être,” integrating the “insubstantial, chameleon” and painfully “excavated” parts of myself and of my past, into my whole being, “like a talisman from wreckage, [a] resplendent fresco catapulted / beyond whimsical metaphoric frontiers” to be transformed within.

Hélène Cardona has given us a gift with this collection that both the English-speaker and francophone alike can appreciate. Anyone who has grieved the loss of childhood experience, of treasured places far away, or of a loved one close to home can appreciate the sensitivity with which the poet conveys her longing to recapture these losses in art. I find much to appreciate here, and I am relieved to discover that solid ground may be established by embracing all that we are: the dream-life, a connection to nature, memory, and the imaginary. All is forgiven and recalled, all energy becomes light when “I sing this whistling song,” from “the cliffs where the wild ones come” and “look at the other side of the world” from within (“Pathway to Gifts”).

Erna Cooper is a writer and artist trained at UCLA and Oxford University. Her book Chiaroscuro: Aesthetics, Values and Autobiography in the Works of Willa Cather and Marguerite Duras will be published by Peter Lang in 2016. Her novel, Airspeed Oxford: The Adventures of Joan Yu, is available at Amazon.

Review:  Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Kristina Marie Darling for The Iowa Review (March 2015)

Helene Cardona's beautifully crafted collection, Dreaming My Animal Selves, drifts in and out of languages, presenting poems in both English and French translations. By doing so, the book raises several compelling questions about the relationship between language and human consciousness: Does language, with its complex grammatical rules, limit what is possible within conscious experience? When one inhabits more than one language, what possibilities open up for thought, expression, and the creation of meaning? Lastly, does language make us who we are, or is there an identity core that exists apart from, or beyond, language? As Cardona teases out possible answers to these thought-provoking questions, her poems prove to be as image-rich and musical as they are faultlessly constructed. 

With that in mind, Cardona's decision to present the same poems in two languages is especially fascinating. By doing so, the poet suggests the myriad ways that language structures thought, as the poems frequently exhibit subtle differences across languages. Cardona's decision to present the poems in both French and English suggests that meaning resides beyond language, as it is often modified to fit grammatical and syntactical conventions. Cardona's use of translation to make these ambitious philosophical claims about the nature of language and conscious experience is compelling and masterful. She writes in "From the Heart with Grace,"

Wind, who yearns to be savored, offers

me three cups overflowing

with eternity, daemon of insight.

The opportune encounter enraptures quintessential

distress, ruffles estranged quietude […]

While there is much to be admired in this poem, Cardona's juxtaposition of these lines with the preceding French translation is especially striking. In the English version of the poem, the words "offers" and "me" appear on separate lines, halved by Cardona's provocative enjambment. In the French version, however, linguistic conventions almost dictate that the words for "offer" and "me" ("m'offre") will appear on the same line. Cardona's use of translation calls our attention to the myriad ways that (somewhat arbitrary) linguistic rules ultimately determine the structure of a poem, and in many ways, the structures of thought itself. Dreaming My Animal Selves is filled with poems like this one, which are as beautifully rendered as they are ambitious and self-aware. 

Along these lines, Cardona presents both the poem and the self as existing in a constant state of becoming, which unfolds across languages and cultures. In many ways, the poems and the individual speakers within them find themselves closer to  truth as they are transported across languages, literatures, and cultural landscapes. Cardona's use of form (more specifically, the structure of the book itself) to convey this ambitious claim about identity is truly impressive. She writes in "Lunar Standstill,"

The desire to move

to a place in my mind

where I've always been well

brings me back

to innocence placing roses,

certain enigma

of migratory years,

out of bounds moon.

With the bones of the skull

I listen to a language of rain,

prism, melody of a world becoming.

I admire Cardona's skillful use of form to literally enact the content of the poem. Just as the speaker exists in a constant state of becoming, so too does the poem, particularly as it is ferried from language to language, made to inhabit vastly different syntaxes and adhere to their underlying logic. In many ways, Cardona suggests a parallel between the poem and the individual self, particularly as the speaker is constructed and then reconstructed by language. As the poem appears in French, then English, the speaker is carried from one tradition, one cultural milieu to the next, and situated against these very different backdrops. By placing the same speaker within multiple literary, cultural, and sonic landscapes, she gestures at the possibility of an identity that exists apart from and beyond a specific culture, language, or politics, a thought-provoking claim that is made as much through form as it is through content. In short, this is a stunning collection, and Cardona is a poet to watch.  

Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over twenty books of poetry and hybrid prose. Her awards include fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome.

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Julie C. Johnson in Julie's Reviews in Goodreads:

Into the liminal space between dreams and conscious thought slips this slim enchantment. I read these poems aloud in French, then silently in English, and once I came to the end, I turned back and started again. 

Whispers wake me.
I return home
behind a procession of swans
to an island in the heart of Paris.
On the cliffs where the wild ones come . . .

What happens in the mind, in the mouth, when language changes? Does the essence of the poem remain, or is something else entirely other conjured from the soul when syntax and sound are altered? French demands elisions and different consonant rhythms and adjustments of vocal structure in poetic form that English does not so in effect, translation notwithstanding, the different cadence and musicality of the verses changes the way we approach the language within. 

I trace patterns in dreams
through beings disguised
undone like particles broken apart
revealing pieces of me.
I pursue elusive sleep
in the hope to heal mishaps
the last chance to anchor my boat.

Je trace les motifs des songes
au travers d'êtres déguisés
libérés en particules évanouies
révélant des éclats de moi-mêmes.
Dans l'esprit de guérir mes naufrages, 
je pourchasse un sommeil en cavale
ultime refuge où ancrer mon vaisseau

The use of songe instead of the more prosaic rêve (both translate as dream) is significant: rêve is the whimsy of the unconscious, roaming mind; songe suggests an exterior presence, a metaphysical force. In Cardona's poetry, it is the animal self, the other we inhabit in subconscious, the living, breathing forces of nature that propel us from life to death. Songer in its verb form means more than 'to dream'; it is to think, consider, ponder-an active, conscious state of being, existing within the world.

The desire to move
to a place in my mind
where I've always been well
brings me back
to innocence placing roses,
certain enigma
of migratory years,
out of bounds moon.
With the bones of the skull
I listen to a language of rain,
prism, melody of a world becoming.

Hélène Cardona's poetry is exquisite, sensual, mysterious. She shows the body and soul seeking harmony, batting against the bars of the conscious mind to be released into flights of imagination in verses at once earthy and ethereal.

Review:  Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Alessandra Bava in Poetry Rules (January 2015)

Turning the pages of Hélène Cardona’s Dreaming my Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry, 2013), I found myself following salmons, trailing behind swans and watching elves sailing down the river on leaves. This bilingual collection is imbued with such an unparalleled grace that one cannot help feeling captured by Nature’s most holy places and creatures, as in Charles Baudelaire’s “Correspondances.” Surrounded by deer, hares and herons one indeed feels part of the Creation itself. The poet is herself part of it. No wonder leaves are so often referred to, no wonder vine surrounds the umbilical, no wonder the author rips the same vine in order to liberate the letters of her name until “they soar above the ocean/for the falcon to reclaim.” (from “Dancing the Dream.")

In “The Isle of Immortals” we learn that “the ultimate aim is reverence of the universe.” Despite the often referred to dreamlike atmosphere, this collection is deeply rooted in the need of declaring that the poetic word in communion with nature is immortal.  The holiness of the word seems to me Cardona’s aim and we are left entangled in Nature’s sacred spires, caught by the radiant brilliance of her imagery and lines. As we fall prey to the incantatory quality of her poems—among which “Peregrine Pantoum” is the highlight—we notice that the alchemist Cardona has done it again: her words made of nature, distilled into Beauty, are brought to us as precious gifts via her alembic pen.

I have truly enjoyed reading these poems in both English and French. Sometimes the French is even more beautiful than the English, if possible: “Ma raison d’être chimérique, caméléon,/excavéee des naufrages tel un talisman,/resplendissante fresque catapultée/au delà de fantasques frontières métaphoriques.” Cardona’s translative qualities allow her to beautifully deliver in both languages, making of her a Sorceress of the Word.

Peregrine Pantoum 

Begin with a dream, 
snowcapped mountains and rivers of salmon. 
Green rays cleave the heart of winter 
dancing at the edge of the lake. 

Snowcapped mountains and rivers of salmon 
echo laughter and lilac sonatas 
dancing at the edge of the lake. 
Fairy tales beckoning days on end 

echo laughter and lilac sonatas, 
my grandmother’s exquisite designs. 
Fairy tales beckoning days on end, 
wisdom and melancholy build fires, 

my grandmother’s exquisite designs 
engineered by elves. I sleep with fervor. 
Wisdom and melancholy build fires, 
myriad books and soulful dwellings 

engineered by elves. I sleep with fervor 
on slippery roads, frozen paths. 
Myriad books, soulful dwellings, 
enchanted forests ripen with children’s riddles. 

Slippery roads, frozen paths 
drive mazes of mind. 
Enchanted forests ripen with children’s riddles, 
exiles and travels, forced and chosen. 

Driving mazes of mind, 
tales of torture ring from the land of gods, 
exiles and travels, forced and chosen. 
Sirens and magic flutes ablaze, 

Tales of torture ring from the land of gods. 
Green rays cleave the heart of winter, 
Sirens and magic flutes ablaze. 
Begin with a dream. 

Review:  Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Michel Cazenave in Recours au poème

Notre relation au monde    par Michel Cazenave

Et je dois à la vérité de dire que j’ai été ébloui par le recueil que je découvrais de la sorte : « Dreaming my Animal Selves » - ou en français (puisque le recueil édité est bilingue) : « Le Songe de mes Ames Animales ». Que j’aurais plutôt traduit quant à moi par : « Rêvant mes Sois animaux ». Car peut-on vraiment avancer que le Self (le « Soi », tiré des Upanishads, et particulièrement de la Chandogya) et l’Ame soient réellement la même chose ? Ou l’Ame n’est-elle pas le réceptacle naturel pour la manifestation de ce Soi divin et cosmique ? 
Et quel émerveillement, à travers des songes qui touchent de si près au chamanisme, que de ressentir en ces mots l’unité la plus profonde du cosmos, et cette expansion de la conscience (une conscience née, selon Jung, de l’Inconscient collectif - autrement dit, et il l’avoue à la toute fin de sa vie, du nom moderne que nous donnons à l’Ame du Monde des Anciens), cette expansion de la conscience qui permet d’accéder à la découverte vivante de cette même unité ! 

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Juliana Bohanna, Wolf Print, Issue 51, Spring 2014, a publication of the UK Wolf Conservation Trust

THIS GORGEOUS BILINGUAL poetry collection has a number of ethereally realised poems inspired by animals, landscape and dreams. Surreal, gently strange – each poem is an evocation but also an appreciation of the powerful and mercurial magic of nature in all its guises.

In ‘The Magician’ we are urged to ‘remember who you are, step outside of time, choose to feed the white wolf.’ Later in the same poem the home-coming is evoked as ‘at the bottom of the dry slope cobra, wolf and coyote greet me’.

In each tiny but intense world, we feel the power of dreams. All is possible, there are many enigmas but the unifying thread is animal life and the possibilities of being anything other than human, if only for a short time. 

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Juanita Coulson for The Lady

Atmospheric poems, written in English and translated into French by the author, teeming with magic and vivid animal imagery. Dreamy, mystical and enjoyable. 

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Caitriona O'Reilly for Poetry Salzburg Review

“Hélène Cardona's Dreaming My Animal Selves / Le Songe de mes Âmes Animales is a work written in English and then translated into French by the author. Cardona’s antecedents are certainly exotic; born in Paris to a Greek mother and an Ibizan father, she seems at home in many languages and many countries. Well translated work takes on another life in its new language, and surely the multi-lingual author with a foot in both camps occupies a privileged position with regard to the ability to convey meaning in the most precise and appropriate idiom possible.

The poems in this collection do concern themselves explicitly with movement, shape-shifting and liminal states of consciousness. As Cardona writes in “Dancing the Dream”, “This is a story of flight, / a story of roots, / a story of grace. / I am the wandering child. “

The tone of these poems is often breathless, enraptured, and to borrow a phrase once used by Charles Tomlinson brilliantly to describe the poetry of Marina Tsvetaeva, ‘self-wearing’.”

~ Caitríona O’Reilly, Poetry Salzburg Review  

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Mark Eisner for Poetry Flash (June 2014)

New Blakean Visions

Having been astonished some years ago by Hélène Cardona's The Astonished Universe (English and French Edition), following which I read some of her latest poems in THRUSH Poetry Journal, I eagerly awaited the release of this new book. It did not disappoint. There is a reason the first word of the title is "dreaming.” These lucid poems transcend the page, flow into your mind through a vessel influenced by Blake and Rilke but owned completely by Cardona and her lovely, sometimes longing, lyrical constructions, light yet threaded tightly. When I was in college, at Michigan, I took a seminar on Blake's imagery, taught by the legendary late Professor John W. Wright. I'd look out of the windows during class, and Blake’s designs led me to perceive the trees as if they had shifted their forms, the branches melded. I’d come out of the class feeling as if I just had a light hallucinogenic trip, though very safe and comfortable, produced purely by literature and the writer’s accompanying prints. I felt that my "doors of perception," as Blake put it, had been cleansed at least to some degree each week. I detail this, for to some extent, such was my experience after first reading Dreaming My Animal Selves / Le Songe de mes Âmes Animales.

In her poem, “Isle of the Immortals,” for an essence of this experience, after the “face of Tibetan monk / vanishes above the dew, reflects / the hidden side of moon,” soon a “statuesque sleek crane” whispers to her, among other words, “All is kin, one consciousness” for the “ultimate aim is reverence for the universe.” The voyage continues, as it does throughout this book, through the conclusion of this poem:

    Under the crane’s guidance, our boat

    in the clouds reaches the Isle

    of the Immortals, the soul resplendent.

    I am the space holder, twin

    inside myself, blend

    with the life giver, trickster

    bound by higher laws.

After she announced at the beginning of the book that the poems were (interestingly) first written in her non-native English, and then translated by herself into French, for some reason I was surprised that the French translation came first en face before the English, but I discovered this to be an ingenious placement, since I was almost being forced to read at least glimpses of the French (I know very little of that language, though my Spanish helps). Doing so, your perceptions are already released from their current corridors, catalyzed by Cardona's chemistry to experience these dreamlike sensations. It should be noted that Cardona is a dream interpreter, one of her many diverse talents and occupations, and this book is truly a tapestry of enchanting dreams.

But the book is more than just phosphorescent, translucent dreams and illusions, and the passages to them. It is about consciousness, too, about illumination, with animals, as per the title, frequently playing a central role. In this trance Hélène Cardona often, sometimes subtly, talks about the power of place and ancestral roots. In one poem, she returns home to an island in the heart of Paris (the Seine's île Saint-Louis, the île de la Cité?—does it matter which?—perhaps apt for the poem, a bridge connects them now). There, a deck of cards allows her to shuffle her perceptions, to look out through the other side of the world for a glimpse of the hidden. It is about the strength that grows from pursuing discovery. It is comprised of the simple, beautiful experience the reader enjoys following the engaging lyrics, “lunar standstill[s],” and their subliminal power that carry you on a voyage from the book’s beginning to its end.

Finally, one of the main themes of this book simply seems to be the principle of pure joyfulness, be it the seduction of orchids, or standing with a “Shaman in Residence,” or Van Goghs being compared to Chagalls. And, with that, reading these poems is a truly joyous act.

Mark Eisner heads Red Poppy, an organization focused on promoting socially conscious Latin American poetry. Through it, he’s producing a documentary on Pablo Neruda and recently co-edited the forthcoming “Poetry in Resistance: A Multilingual Latin American Anthology.” He edited and is a principal translator of The Essential Neruda: Selected Poems. 

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Karli Cude for

This is a story of flight,/ a story of roots,/ a story of grace

Héléne Cardona is a multitalented and highly-respected writer whose skills include acting, singing, dancing, teaching, and producing.  Did I also mention that she speaks several languages?  So it will probably come as no surprise that her poetry is as brilliant and dazzling as her resume would suggest.  Each poem is printed in both French and English (translated by Cardona, herself), and while it is a slim collection, the poems are rich in myth, imagination, biology, art, language, and literature.

An exploration of spirit rather than body, Dreaming My Animal Selves thrums across an everyday wilderness that transcends time, geography, history, and the physical self.  Through “beings disguised” Cardona explores the more ethereal qualities of existence – of what’s between the enigma of life, death, wake, and sleep.  Dreaming My Animal Selves takes readers to some sort of limbo where reality and fantasy combine to create a brief yet precise overalp of clarity.  Cardona writes:

in dreaming/ lies the healing of the earth.  In dreaming/ we travel to a place where all is forgiven./ In dreaming is the Divine created.
Yet we also see the “synapses of chaos” in the “corridors of mind.”  Where the dreams invite redemption and fantasy is also the potential for pain and truth.  Even so, Cardona recognizes that “experience is cellular” – under the influence of the body but framed by the mind.  For me, it’s an extraordinary example of our intense, physical response to emotion and perception, whether it be realized or subconscious.  The body is a tightly-packed polarization of freedom and restriction, and Cardona writes: “The ultimate aim is harmony with oneself.”  This is what Dreaming My Animal Selves ultimately boils down to – a yearning for harmony and peace in a place of shape-shifting duality.

Karli Cude, previous moderator of Hooked Bookworm, is an avid reader and former bookseller. She graduated from the University of Tennessee with a B.A. in English Literature in 2010 and completed a Master’s degree in Library and Information Sciences in 2013

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Marc Vincenz for The Lit Pub12/11/13

Dreaming to (Be)come Alive

For Australian Aborigines, the beginning of the world is the ‘Dreaming’ (or the ‘Dreamtime’). Here the ancestors became manifestations of all living creatures and the elements. The Dreaming is the sacred seat of the Earth and infuses and inspires all aspects of tribal life; it is this network of complex relationships with the natural world reflected in the creation myths and songs that makes, evolves and informs everything.

In the way of the shaman, led by her own totemic animal guides (her animal selves), Hélène Cardona takes us on a journey through her inner-world, into the labyrinth of the poet’s unconsciousness where anything and everything is possible.

The dream opens forgotten worlds of creation.

(“Pathway to Gifts”)

In dreaming is the Divine created.

(“From the Heart with Grace”)

This, of course, is Jungian territory; yet, Dreaming My Animal Selves, does not offer conjecture on the meaning of dreams, there is little interpretation here; this is a poet’s personal metaphysical journey of discovery, where, by tapping into her ‘collective unconsciousness’, she reveals her ‘truer’ inner-self and begins to unravel the alchemical symbols of her very existence.

In the words of Jungian scholar, Marie-Louise von Franz, “If a man devotes himself to the instructions of his own unconscious, it can bestow this gift, so that suddenly life, which has been stale and dull, turns into a rich unending inner adventure, full of creative possibilities.”  These, it seems, are the forgotten worlds of creation that Cardona is re-discovering, re-awakening.

And, through the Dreaming, the reader is informed that these forgotten realms may well be what the real time is (is there time on the outside?).  As the poet tells us, you can’t capture a dream, you can simply move into its stream. The dream world is not only more real. It is entirely effortless.

…it’s so easy on the other side.


The mind flows through like wind.

(“Breeze Rider”)

The more the poet explores her childhood at the foot of the Alps, on Lake Geneva, the more her fragments of memory intertwine and interweave to reveal a poetically invigorated mythology, a mythology built upon the bricks of both ancient archetypes and her own modern visions.  Like the shaman, with the help of her animal selves, Cardona is conjuring herself (back) into life.

Through the glow I witness / the melodious dance of the wistful / wizard, statuesque sleek crane.

(“Isle of the Immortals”)

Eagle teaches / me to hunt … raptor / uncovering secret codes …

(“Parallel Keys”)

The dream is the wellspring of her creative healing process, the creature voices (now eagle, now coyote, now Peruvian horse), her guides—transmuting familiars who may be herself, or may, indeed, also be her ancestors.

In dreams like rain

my mother visits.

A bird in the shower

takes messages …

(“In Dreams Like Rain”)

And, who help her find her way without a map:

I’ll […] rely

on memory embedded in my mother’s embrace

on stormy nights at the foot of the Alps.

(“Dancing the Dream”)

Oh, but there is a map.  The map of Cardona’s inner world is the book itself.

For the Indigenous Australians, ‘songlines’ are tracks across the land that mark the routes created by their totems during the Dreaming. Bruce Chatwin explores this in his interviews with tribal elders in his book The Songlines: “Aboriginal Creation myths tell of legendary totemic beings who wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path — birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes—and so singing the world into existence.”

Cardona’s imagistic dream poems are timeless artifacts, little ‘songs of innocence’ from a primordial / universal age. Cardona’s Dreaming My Animal Selves is not only a poet’s spiritual awakening, but a sacred journey whereby each individual poem (or song) serves as a marker within the larger map of her inner geography, a map which, in turn, guides her through and breathes her back into her physical world with a renewed vigor—

On the cliffs where the wild ones come

to show themselves.

(“Pathway to Gifts”)

Reborn again, Cardona,

. . . seeps into sand in search of treasures.

(“Shaman in Residence”)

This is the poet as enchanter. We can’t resist the urge to follow her inside.

Her voice will not be silenced

for it is formidable

and echoes those of all beloved.


Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Elvis Alves (December 3, 2013)

There is the belief that dreams are ideas within the unconscious mind that push their way into the conscious mind. This Freudian classification of dreams is insufficient because it creates a “tight box” around what we think dreams are. Thankfully, there are writers like Helene Cardona that move beyond this box in their work. Similarly, Cardona’s poems challenge the narrative, often found in Western cultures, that sees human beings as dominant over and against all other animals. Left unchecked, this narrative creates separation between human beings and animals that, at the core, justifies and allows for the extinction of the latter.  One should read Helene Cardona’s Dreaming My Animal Selves because of the refreshing treatment she gives the subjects, dreams and animals.

There is the sense in Cardona’s work of a reality within dreams that human beings need to tap into, in order to live fuller lives. She declares in Pathway to Gifts, “The dream opens forgotten realms. I think that’s what time is” (35). The idea of hidden treasures experienced in dreams is shared in From the Heart with Grace.

….in dreaming lies the healing of the earth.
In dreaming we travel to a place where all is
forgiven. In dreaming is the Divine created (22).

It is also in dreams that we interact with animals in ways contrary to the “norm.” In Night Messenger, Cardona writes, “Like the penguin, I lay on a leaf, let the river transport me, knowing I’ve entered another world” (31). The beauty of this piece is that the dreamer does not want to be in control. This lesson is learned from the penguin who serves as teacher. Therefore, a more free self comes about from the interaction with the animal. Wisdom spills from the mouth of a crane in Isles of the Immortals, “Animals are allies. All is kin, one consciousness”(44).

Cardona admits that she is not reinventing the wheel in calling attention to the need for unity between human beings and the natural world. Other poets have done what she is doing.

I hear Blake’s voice, walk through
the forest, and Yeats, reflect the light.
In this pool I turn into fish (In Dreams Like Rain, 49).

In a more contemporary context, one can put forth Mary Oliver as a poet whose work reflect the move toward wholeness of life. In talking about the process of writing, Oliver said she likes to take walks and gets inspired to write during the walks (i.e. when she observes an animal or flower). On the other hand, it is not the waking world but sleep that serves as inspiration for Cardona.  To drive home this point, Cardona’s Dreams Like Water is quoted here in its entirety.

I trace patterns in dreams
through being disguised
undone like particles broken apart
revealing pieces of me.
I pursue elusive sleep
in the hope to heal mishaps
the last chance to anchor my boat (17).

It is interesting that Oliver and Cardona take separate paths to reach the same conclusion, that of the need for the wholeness of life.  This happening shows astute inventiveness on the part of Cardona.

Dreamer is one of the longer poems in the collection, and is also one of the strongest. In it Cardona lays out the benefits of living a life unhampered by conventions—a life experienced in dreams—and needs pursuit in wakefulness.

Consider this, be fortunate, grateful,
consider this, be alive
for the greatest gift is given with death.
There is no end and no beginning,
Surrender, surrender, surrender (60).

The person becomes a free self in surrendering to what is experienced in dreams and living accordingly when awake. In the same poem, Cardona writes, “life needs beauty and complexity.” Yes, and she wants us to embrace both. Fortunately, her work helps show the way.

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Kitty Jospé for Poet Talk (Vol 9, Issue 2)

"A poet dares to be just so clear and no clearer; he approaches lucid ground warily... A poet's pleasure is to withhold a little of his meaning, to intensify it by mystification.  He unzips the veil from beauty, but does not remove it."  
          -- E. B. White

Hélène Cardona, poet, translator, polyglot, wrote Dreaming My Animal Selves, first in English, then translated the 23 poems into French.  The introductory praises and Foreword give ready inspiration to any serious poet, along with a full-page list of acknowledgements for further reading.  The epigraphs for each section (not translated into French) reminds me of Hutchins’ “Great Conversation”.  They act as thresholds on which to pause and reflect, before entering each section. To wit, Rilke “... making real the dream of the one its living roots embrace” introduces the seven-line prologue.  William Blake and Jane Hirschfield “prepare” the next section of seven poems; Kahil Gibran the second section of seven; Rumi and Emily Dickinson the final section of eight poems.

When dealing with the word “dream”, indeed, a poet is entering a reality that is not readily understood, that leaves the taste of the wild “almost” to be completed in the imagination. “Dream” in French can be translated in two ways: le rêve as in “sweet dreams” or “nightmares” (mauvais rêves), the impossible projections of Man of La Mancha or le songe as in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream which is more a poetic vision/art form.Cardona has chosen the latter to capture curiosity, imagination, images of water and sky dependent on winds and physical states.   In the tradition of Baudelaire who tempers a system of “correspondences” between the physical and spiritual, so Cardona transforms as she equates sound and movement into visual/auditory harmony. 

One of the advantages of a bilingual version of poems is to draw attention to the syntax,
and to intensify the mystery of seeming discrepancies.  Titles shimmer somewhat differently in the French translation.   Here are a few questions:

Why “dancing” in English, but the imperative “dance” in French? 
What is implied in the multiple ways of translating “Life’s Curiosity or “Curiosity of Life” in French but “Inquisitive Life” in English?
How does the precision of a dreamer’s gender change the tone?   
Instead of “dreams like water/rain” the French implies dreams “made of” water/rain, 
why dreams like water in English, but dreams of or about water in French?

Diglottism deftly works the fine line of the collection’s title as well:  self, in the English and soul in the French. What is a self?  What is an animal self (with the sound of Jungian anima)?
Why the present participle of “Dreaming” in English, yet, the noun, Le Songe in French?
A bilingual book, produced by one author, has a unique opportunity to play “in between” the languages, so that a third reading that falls in between the languages falls into place.
Even if one only reads the 23 poems, written in English, without the enhancement of the  translation, the flow and musicality of the English stand on their own to create a blend of dream and myth.  Largely free form, aside from one pantoum, there is often a different lineation in the translation.For instance in “Diapositives de Pensées” (which refers to the image of old fashioned slides, translated in English as “Transparencies of Thought”) the line breaks are different in the two languages.

the challenge to recognize my face / in the crowd  
surprised not to have followed/ myself 
and also the expansion /of architecture

It is enjoyable to read both versions in the flow of each language, with their individual logic, rather like trying to capture the language of dreams in our everyday speech.

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Jonathan Beale

This is a Bi-lingual collection of 23 poems in French and English translated by the author Helene Cardona.  All these poems have been published in a broad range of journals and reviews. The themes in this collection are universal and the poems cover such, themes as; classicism, cosmology, psychology, philosophy, nature, and touching on areas of theism.  There are personal poems following a death as in Notes from Last Night – ‘I just experience.-Talk about faith I don’t believe,-experience is cellular.’ This poem is subtle in how everyone is touched by death however, not in the same way.  Helene Cardona’s poems are written in a definitive laconic linear style.  As in Dancing the Dream ‘I rip the vine intertwined around - the umbilical, liberate the letters of- my name. We are taken on a long winding journey by an evocative descriptive ability.  In Peregrine Pantoum there is an almost Haiku emotive style as the poem begins ’Begin with a dream, - snowcapped mountains and rivers of salmon. – Green rays cleave the heart of winter.’  The final poems offer more of a reflective style, as in; Lunar Standstill ‘The desire to move - to a place in my mind – where I’ve always been well -…’ Parallel Keys shows the poets struggle ‘I’m governed by the poetry of mathematics, - shadow when I lose form.’ And ‘forced to abandon the illusion – of the puzzle I inhabit ’. Helene Cardona adeptly shows her skill as a poet in this collection.

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves reviewed by Michael Meteyer

Helene Cardona has managed the impossible here: she has combined a perfect mastery of words with an exquisite imagination to explore the inner world of animals and the hidden worlds of the human heart.
The poems in DREAMING themselves have the quality of dreams, where all things are possible, and we fly

"behind a procession of swans
to an island in the heart of Paris...
The dream opens forgotten realms of creation."

But when I look more closely at these poems- and they are so well designed, and multi-layered, that you will also want to go back to them over and over- I was astonished by the echoes and resonances the poet has woven in her poems, and you will find winks to Ovid and Saint John Perse and H.D.

Ms. Cardona wears her erudition lightly, so that what is most evident at first is a deep sense of love for the world and a marvel of its creations: her heart has mastered possibility. Of the six languages in which she is fluent, two of them appear in DREAMING MY ANIMAL SELVES: English and French. As for forms, however formless dreams may seem, it is only the writers of the highest rank who can sculpt the feeling of a dream in language. In "Peregrine Pantoum" Helene Cardona has taken on one of the most complex and difficult poetic forms in existence, the pantoun, and accomplishes it with grace and elegant and apparent ease (it's not easy, it's impossible. Please, you try it)...

I loved this book. I hope you will too. The poetry world will be talking about it for a long time.

Review:  "SELF-TRANSLATING - The poetry of Hélène Cardona" - Review by Fred Johnston

Salmon Poetry is to be praised for publishing this poetry collection in French with facing English translations by the author. Irish poetry in the main is conservative, clinging intensely to the legacy of Austin Clarke and, too often perhaps, the disquieting ruralism of Patrick Kavanagh. Seamus Heaney, Ireland's Nobel Prize recipient, is a rural poet in this vein. 
Irish poets who emigrated to Europe, to Italy, Spain or France or Germany, tended to stay there, sifting through the various literary influences impossible even to permit in Ireland in their time and producing a distinctly un-Irish literature. In spite of paid-for trips abroad in our own day, literary festivals worldwide and all kinds of access to non-Irish poetry, Ireland's poets have continued to immerse themselves in the tried and true, such as Maurice Scully and Trevor Joyce being notable exceptions. This is not to say that European poets have not been translated and published here, both into Irish and English; there has even arisen, predictably, a 'fashion' for being associated with the 'glamourous' notion of translating, which has resulted in poets working from material already translated by others describing themselves as translators on book jackets, which I personally find abhorrent.

But a reluctance to indulge in serious translating and publishing translations continues to exist, in spite of the excellent efforts of the Irish Translators' Association and small publishers such as Northern Ireland's Lapwing Poetry. This is all very peculiar, considering that so many Irish novelists, for instance, are published in so many different languages around the world; only Dublin-based Lilliput Press has undertaken to a publish a novel in translation by a French writer.

Hélène Cardona is a US-based actress and translator whose work on both counts is wide-ranging and goes beyond her fine appearance in the movie, Chocolat. Her father, José Manuel Cardona, was also a poet. A first glance into this collection reveals the nuances and enigmas of the French language pitted against the equally nuanced English; if the reader is expecting straight meanings and an Anglo-Saxon basicness, he or she will be disappointed. One of the boons of this book is to distinctly define the borders of what language means and what it implies, and how language itself implicates the reader in its decoding. This is about imagism and unrestricted imagination, put plain; thus do the English poems read like interpretations of dreams, or dreams awaiting translation, rather than as black-and-white renderings of language and word-identity. Straightaway too the translator will have much to ponder on the use of the French language; 'le songe' rather than the more familiar 'rêve,' where 'songe' carries the implication of giving something consideration or thinking something through; or 'âmes' for selves, though its first meaning is souls. {It's difficult too not to aline the French word here with 'ami(e)', meaning friend or even, coyly, lover.} Here we enter the realm of language-as-philosophy, something the French language takes too with relish. Translator and poet Willis Barnstone remarks in a jacket blurb on the 'metaphysical experiences' in the poems, but the metaphysics is arguably in the language already. Interesting in all of this to remember that the author wrote these poems in English and translated them afterwards, which leads one to ponder whether she thought in French while writing them originally in English. It is, however, inarguable, to my mind, that the poems in English are distinct and of themselves as against the translations into French; that is, a new poem is created in the translating, the moreso here because French is a uniquely tonic language, whose nasals, elisions and barely-breathed consonantly endings when required for rhyming purposes have no equivalent value in English. Only the French language here can, as it were, do justice to the French poem. Perhaps there is validity in the notion that poems cannot in a true sense accurately translated.

"Plonge au cœur de troisième œil, . . . ."

is infinitely more magical and song-like than

"Go deep into the third eye . . . . ."

in Cardona's 'A Mind Like the Sky'/'Un esprit comme le ciel.' This value of sound in French allows a much greater leeway for creating the meaning and 'spirit' of a phrase than can readily be achieved in English.

With a short Prologue, the collection is cut into five distinct sections. One may suggest that, whereas Cardona is occupied extensively with the personal or family, she universalises her themes by permitting them to dream; to become transmuted into a universal Unconscious whose symbology is known to us. In this way we can interpret without difficulty poems that appear to be as different from our Anglo-Saxon derivatives as a Chagall from a Rembrandt. There are poems here that, of course, would do justice to a literary journal in England as well as one in France. But the total result in either case is a supreme summation of lived experience coupled with a determining of important life-metaphors in and through images; the poems are small abstract, or surreal, or impressionistic paintings, and we are free to 'look' at them without the restraint or demand of received 'translatable' understanding. How can one photograph a dream? Yet a painter has much less of a problem. Several of the poems make reference to the genre of journey upon which Cardona embarks and invites us to join, such as 'Shaman,' 'In Dreams like Rain,' (this last, translated as 'En songes de pluie,' might just as easily be translated back again as 'Rain Dreams') or 'Dancing the Dream.' The wonderful cover artwork by Jackie Morris depicts five archetypes, a swan, a horse, an owl, a fox and a wolf.

Irish poet Thomas McCarthy remarks in a blurb that Cardona's work 'travels across languages, in the manner of our own Micheál Hartnett, Paddy Bushe or, more lately, Fred Johnston,' and I am grateful for and flattered by his mention. Language is an experience of travel, and certainly to employ two languages as gracefully and refreshingly as this collection does is to engage with a considerable poetic achievement of movement and reinterpretation. If this is a major introduction to Irish poetry of the work of Hélène Cardona, then we should embrace it and learn from it. This is a poet from whom we can learn to make the ordinary extra-ordinary. And if that is not the first essence of poetry, I do not know what is.

In reading these poems I am reminded of something a friend once told me. That each artist must form a new language in every work of art they create. This is true, we all speak in different tongues, and yet, it is through the voice of the human heart we come to know and be known by others and within creation. Out of the core and ground of our being, an emptiness or nothingness out of which our images, words, and voices arise, we are all intimately known by the divine mystery, God if you wish, as you may come to know God.

This mystery flows out of us as spirit, as the Holy Spirit perhaps, who connects us to one another and back into a mystery we may come to know in our expanded consciousness, to know and be known through love and compassion. Known through a divine eternal dance, a perichoresis, an indwelling of the divine spirit who is actively at work within the world, in a world without end. Dreaming My Animal Selves captures this feeling, this divine dance in a wonderful choreography of words and images.

“Dreaming My Animal Selves/Le Songs de mes Âmes Animales” by Hélène Cardona, a reading

Reading the biography at the end of Hélène Cardona’s Dreaming My Animal Selves/Le Songs de mes Âmes Animales (Salmon Poetry, 2013) we find that she is a citizen of three countries, with accompanying languages (United States, France, Spain (but also fluent in German, Italian and Greek)), that she has taught both French and Spanish, translated Baudelaire and Rimbaud as well as her father, Jose Manuel Cardona, and holds a Master’s in American Literature.

We find that, besides being a teacher and poet, she is an actor, having starred in movies such as Chocolat and Happy Feet 2.

We find that for the movie Serendipity she also wrote and sang the song Lucienne.

In other words, a citizen of the world.

In other words, the kind of shameless over-achieving stuff that makes one human being hate another human being with hopeless furious jealousy.

Just kidding.

It is a book that, as you can probably tell by its title, is bilingual. French and English versions of poems sit side by side.

Here is a random list of things that I like about this book or that this book made me think of:

1. That the book was originally written in English and then translated to French.

2. It is a book that reads like a collection of dreams and the French versions (I can’t read french) makes it even dreamier. Like the flipside of dreams that are foggy strange landscapes that you can only sense in the corner of your eye but which take off as soon as you try to focus on them.

3. There are many fairies in this book. I like fairies.

4. There are also poets and animals in this book. A book full of poets and animals and fairies should be read simply for this reason alone.

5. These are maybe all the poets quoted in this book: William Blake, Jane Hirshfield, Rainer Maria Rilke, Lewis Carroll, H.D. , Kahil Gibran, Rumi, Emily Dickinson, Blake, C.S. Lewis, and Anna Akhmatova

6. I like to think of poets as animals, the way this book makes this possible, in that hazy early morning in-between-ness where things blur.

7. Birthing mythological creatures.

8. “sultry swans shaped like us/their primal mouths entice”

9. The poems kind of read like they were written by someone who sleeps for a long time and then wakes up for a few minutes every day and jots down whatever was last in memory so as to not forget. These notes are then fleshed out into poems.

10. The poems also have about them that feel of childhood magic, fairy tale, fall down the rabbit hole, peculiar, dancing to their own logic. This is a good feeling. Dreams and childhoods seem to share edges.

11. The Fairies again? Did I say Fairies?

12. This line about Anna Akhmatova (another poet/fairy/animal):

“Anna Akhmatova unleashes
all the water inside me
and I expand again.”

13. The child poet dreaming, of poets, elephants, fairies, gods.

14. The looming doom of growing up.

15. One could say it is in a way a “romantic” collection of poems. This seems fair. Inspired by a romantic view of poems. The poems are shapely, mostly contained, structured creatures, that believe in super poetry.

15. This is a sort of ideal that seems to see poetry as something that reflects something else, Platonic shards gleaming in the summer grass, receptors of some divine light or hidden interiority, like the leftovers of dreams, jotted down in haste, should correspond to the big dream-dream, the ultimate perfect dream-dream.

16. It is therefore of the essence that each shard be polished just so as to make the best possible reflection.

17. But I would say that these poems shine the most and brightest when they momentarily dispatch from the Great Big Dream and make a case (perhaps selfishly) for their own beauty, their strange ownness. Seduced by their own rhythm and repetition, some wild images, interesting unknowns are hatched.

18. Consider for instance:

“And the great Oneness whispers ex-voto,
I am centaur by any other name,
I am griffin by any other name,
I am mermaid by any other name,
my raison d’être insubstantial, chameleon,
excavated like a talisman from wreckage,
resplendent fresci catapulted
beyond whimsical metamorphic frontiers.”

19. I guess maybe what I’m saying is I prefer the dream things in their raw and sudden states. I guess maybe what I’m saying is I prefer Dream versus Interpretation of Dream. Dream versus The Dream as The Dream Narrated.

20. This is probably a philosophical question of many dead ends on which we can disagree.

21. In one poem Van Gogh is being distinguished from Chagal. In another poem a giraffe is seen perched on top of an elephant (or the other way around?). I like images like this.

22. The romantic, inevitably, when pushed, it seems, enters the baroque, the grotesque. I guess maybe what I’m saying is that I would have wished more poems in this book had landed on this side. Less tempered, more obsessed.

23. It should be said though that it is a collection of poems written with a terrific sense of music.

The short poem, Dreams Like Water, which introduces Hélène Cardona’s compelling new poetry collection, Dreaming My Animal Selves (Salmon Poetry, 2013), sets out her main poetic theme in just seven, succinct lines. She will trace and reveal patterns "through beings disguised" (her imagined, imaginative "animal selves") in a desire to unify the disparate parts of the psyche and give it safe, spiritual anchorage. Hers is a quest for healing and wholeness in a dreaming sleep.

And one cannot help but be astonished at how many separate strands there are to Cardona’s own biographical self. Her mother was part Greek, part Irish; her father was Spanish (and a distinguished poet too). She has lived all over Europe and America, and is fluent in six languages (as she writes in her poem Dancing the Dream: "I am the wandering child.") She is or has been an equestrian, dancer, dream analyst, astrologer, yoga practitioner, translator, interpreter, pianist, scholar, assistant professor and actress. Many different selves, indeed.

Cardona’s own life and background, therefore, is as protean as the shape-shifting nature of her poems, and her physical life and soul life weave themselves seamlessly together through the symbols and mythologies in her poetry.

You can detect all kinds of influences here –  Romanticism, Surrealism, Freudian and Jungian psychology, the mysticism of Rumi and Blake, Gnosticism, the Yeatsian Celtic Twilight – yet the poetic and soulful path she follows is uniquely her own. This is shamanic poetry, poetry as magic, poetry as a gateway to the unconscious and to the dream world, liminal poetry ("that state of in-betweenness / where even objects seem alive, / to do with light and looking pure"), poetry as alchemy, poetry as healing.

In the early poems of the collection she recalls her childhood: her mother (". . . a shiver down my mother’s / spine was worth a thousand words") and her father ". . . the melancholy in my father’s eyes, / reflecting Lake Geneva, was indecipherable ") and her connection with books and fairy tales, which created for her "an elfin world".

She tries to protect a firm identity (". . . I remain a thistle, resilient, / rooted in Mediterranean Celtic fringe"), yet at the same time she is ". . . insubstantial, chameleon, / excavated like a talisman from wreckage." This split (a dualism both individual and part of the universal human condition) resolves itself in her dreams, her soul voyages, her morphing "animal selves" ("I . . . discover that in dreaming / lies the healing of earth. In dreaming / we travel to a place where all is forgiven.") This is the place of the "Magician", of the "Divine", of the "Immortals"; a place where ". . . experience is cellular. / In our normal state we’re not able to perceive, / that’s why I think the dead know."

Dreaming My Animal Selves is a collection of poems which deserves to be widely available and widely read. It’s certainly one I’ll read over and over, and will appeal to spiritual seekers and lovers of mysticism everywhere.

"The ultimate aim is reverence for the universe. / The ultimate aim is love for life. / The ultimate aim is harmony within oneself." From Isle of the Immortals by Hélène Cardona.

(Dreaming My Animal Selves is a bilingual collection in both English and French.)

Review: Dreaming My Animal Selves/Le Songe de mes Âmes Animales reviewed by Michel Cazenave for Recours au Poèmes (January 2015)

Notre relation au monde
par : Michel Cazenave

J’avoue très humblement que, jusqu’à ce que Gabriel Arnou-Laujeac, l’auteur de « Plus loin qu’ailleurs », me fasse connaître ses derniers poèmes, je n’avais jamais entendu parler d’Hélène Cardona. Mais, à vrai dire, comment connaître l’œuvre de tout le monde ? Tâche impossible, même dans un milieu restreint comme, aujourd’hui, celui de la poésie…

Et je dois à la vérité de dire que j’ai été ébloui par le recueil que je découvrais de la sorte : « Dreaming my Animal Selves » - ou en français (puisque le recueil édité est bilingue) : « Le Songe de mes Ames Animales ». Que j’aurais plutôt traduit quant à moi par : « Rêvant mes Sois animaux ». Car peut-on vraiment avancer que le Self (le « Soi », tiré des Upanishads, et particulièrement de la Chandogya) et l’Ame soient réellement la même chose ? Ou l’Ame n’est-elle pas le réceptacle naturel pour la manifestation de ce Soi divin et cosmique ?

Mais ce n’est là, je le sais bien, que broutilles… Et quel émerveillement, à travers des songes qui touchent de si près au chamanisme, que de ressentir en ces mots l’unité la plus profonde du cosmos, et cette expansion de la conscience (une conscience née, selon Jung, de l’Inconscient collectif - autrement dit, et il l’avoue à la toute fin de sa vie, du nom moderne que nous donnons à l’Ame du Monde des Anciens), cette expansion de la conscience qui permet d’accéder à la découverte vivante de cette même unité !

Est-ce pour rien, de ce point de vue, que l’auteure conclut son avant dernier poème (« Diapositives de pensées »), par ces quelques mots :

« …soulagée de ne plus être hantée,
D’être simplement la substance du cosmos »,

et termine son recueil (« Harmonies parallèles »), par cette phrase indubitable :

« Nous mûrissons musicalement
         Couverts de fleurs de cerisier
                  variation divine,
conscience en quête d’expansion » ?

Hélène Cardona, outre tous ses diplômes universitaires, et les langues vivantes qu’elle parle couramment, est extrêmement cultivée : qui d’autre, de nos jours, oserait mettre en exergue à sa « production », des extraits de Rumi, de Dickinson, de Gibran ou de Rilke ? Mais on voit bien là que la fine pointe de la culture n’assèche pas l’esprit et ne débouche pas forcément, comme on voudrait trop nous le faire croire, sur un scepticisme généralisé - mais que c’est au contraire, parfois, et comme c’est ici le cas, une ouverture à ce qui nous transcende et nous appelle dans l’espace de nos nuits.

Mais peut-être, dois-je ajouter, l’origine multiculturelle de Cardona (irlandaise, grecque et espagnole), de même que son amour sans partage pour la musique, n’y sont pas totalement étrangers ?

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