Isabelle Baladine Howald: Secret of Breath


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Secret of Breath is a suite for two voices — a voice from outside and a voice from inside, a voice of the living and a voice of the dying — in a race against death and toward death.

Caught in a narrative frame and a landscape marked by war, snow, cold, speed, and separation, these two voices, even while facing death, embody the approach of love. The secret of breath is as much a kiss as a last sigh.

“Unlike the countless elegies in contemporary poetry, these poems try to understand and articulate grief in the most austere terms possible…. On one hand, these poems are highly physical…yet [they] are not just of landscape and body [but] a personal and urgent philosophical investigation…. [of] highly distilled, emotional intensity; upon finishing many of the poems, I was left feeling devastated yet somehow transformed.”

—Joseph P. Wood, newpages

“The themes [of the relationship between lovers and death] surface in Howald’s fine minialist book of poetry…. As two characters try to hold on to themselves and to life…the reader is brought into the middle of a series of actions that are desperate. .. To Howald, death is a progression that starts long before it becomes symptomatic. A wonderful book of art and artifice, Secret of Breath will entrance the reader with it spare but haunting conversation.”

—John Jacob, Rain Taxi Review of Books (Spring 09)

Isabelle Baladine Howald lives and works in Strasbourg, where she pursued her studies in philosophy and now directs the “Philosophical and Literary Encounters” of the Librairie Kléber. From 1980 to 1982 she edited the literary journal ANIMA (Jacques Brémond publishers).

Her books of poetry include Nuit d’amour un livre (1985), Les noms, très bas (1986), both published by éditions A Passage, Lettre de Poméranie (1996) and Les Etats de la démolition (2002), published by éditions Jacques Brémond. Our present volume, Secret des souffles, is her most recent book (éditions Melville, 2004).

Eléna Rivera was born in Mexico City and spent her childhood, to the age of thirteen, in Paris. She is the author of Mistakes, Accidents and a Want of Liberty (Barque Press, 2006) and Suggestions at Every Turn (Seeing Eye Books, 2005). Her translations have appeared in the Chicago Review and are forthcoming in Circumference: Poetry in Translation. She was recently awarded the 2007 Witter Bynner Poetry Translator Residency at the Santa Fe Institute for the Arts.