DECOCTION 02: Chloé Savoie-Bernard

Elee Kraljii Gardiner/ December 8, 2021/ Interview, Poet

Elee Kraljii Gardiner interviews writers about their coffee and tea rituals in this special series for CAROUSEL

— the act or process of
boiling usually in water
so as to extract the flavour
or active principle.

“Coffee is a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”

Gertrude Stein, Selected Writings

Elee Kraljii Gardiner: Chloé, how is life in Montreal? For a country with two vivid literary communities — one in English, one in French — we are not great at intersecting. I am so happy to be here with you! Are you a coffee drinker?

Chloé Savoie-Bernard: For now, life in Montreal is still very confined and consists of long walks and a lot of work — oh and lots of coffee breaks. I am definitely a coffee drinker!

And, thanks for having me! I miss live literary events, and this feels a bit like one, in a way.

Can you walk me through your ideal / typical cup preparation?

Years ago, my grandfather gave me a Breuville espresso machine that I still use. It is not the best one around, but does the job fine. Usually, I make myself one espresso shot with a splash of oatmeal milk. I don’t have strong feelings about my cups but I like my ‘Haiti’ one; it was made in Montréal by an artisan. I like how cracked it is, and I think it’s aging very nicely. Usually, I drink two coffees a day, three if my life feels chaotic: one in the morning and another after lunch. I’m buying fair trade coffee in places by my apartment in Le Plateau Mont-Royal: Café Méchants Pinsons or Le Lapin Pressé, mostly, where I like their selection. But sometimes, I am just cheap and I buy Lavazza. 

Chloé’s hand holds a generous white cup with worn sans serif, all-caps font that reads ‘HAITI.’ A crack runs from lip of cup through the A.

The first thing I drink when I wake up is hot water with lemon to help with digestion and to prepare my stomach for the sacred coffee. 

Is your writing or reading linked with drinking coffee? What text / book matches your coffee? 

I don’t think coffee as a beverage is linked to my writing, but coffee shops sure are, and I really miss being in ones, since they have been closed in Montreal for a long time because of the virus. I used to write a lot at Café Orr. I wrote parts of all my books seated in coffee shops. I distinctly remember finishing my first book of poems, Royaume scotch tape, in the now closed café l’Arthère with ‘un café filtre.’

What are you reading? 

Rien du Tout by Olivia Tapiero, a poetic and deep book about love, loneliness, colonialism and violence. It is nothing like I have read before and I highly recommend it. 

Cover of 'Rien du Tout' shot from above. Cover is peach-coloured with black font above a circle of an abstract black and white graphic. Book rests on a wooden table with other corners of books visible.

What has been preoccupying you about writing (your own or someone else’s) these days?

It is hard for me right now to find mental space to finish my new book, as I am also translating a very important piece by Tessa McWatt, Shame on Me (from English to French). I try not to be too hard on myself though. I cook a lot; I am planning to master the art of vegan sausage soon, and I do a lot of fitness to take my mind off of things. I alternate between different kinds of yoga and HIIT for example. Also, I love people-watching and I often find myself peeking through my windows to see who’s on the street. 

Do you have a piece or paragraph from current work to share? 

Sure. It is a part of my new poetry collection, Sainte-Chloé-de-l’amour: 

suspendue et arrêtée je ne demande pas mieux que ma présence essartée
ma médiocrité est un rouge à lèvres
dont j’enduis toutes nervures
de tous barbots j’orne quelque chose comme le cœur
tandis qu’écartée habitable et jamais repentante
je n’ai peur de rien

I love the title of the book! Can you tell me about it?

It is a bit ironic: as a child, I wished to be the first saint Chloé because no saint has this name. In this book, I write about what being your own saint could mean (or your own heroine).

This series was prompted by a Twitter thread about adding bay leaf to coffee. Writers are delighted or vexed — no in-betweens! So, have you tried it?  

I have tried it for you all! It was not that bad. A bit spicy. Maybe I’ll try it again.

Until we can travel safely, where can we find you?

You can find me on the Internet, putting clothes in virtual baskets and cancelling my order at the last moment. You can also find me on Instagram, @chloesavoiebernard. Sainte-Chloé-de-l’amour is going to be out this fall and my translation of Shame on Me, too. 

Thank you for spending this time with me. I hope we get to see each other again soon …

Close up of Elee against a red curtain, smiling and wearing a black shirt.
Elee Kraljii Gardiner is the author of two poetry books, Trauma Head (Anvil Press, 2018) and serpentine loop (Anvil Press, 2016), and editor of the anthologies Against Death: 35 Essays on Living (Anvil Press, 2019) and V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012). Originally from Boston, Elee lives on the traditional and unceded territories of the Squamish, Tsleil-Waututh and Musqueam Peoples, where she works at Vancouver Manuscript Intensive. More:
Chloé Savoie-Bernard smiling in light green short-sleeved shirt in close-up. Background is a colourful garden of orange and yellow flowers surrounding entrance to a white clapboard house with numerals '967' over the door.

Chloé Savoie-Bernard
is a writer who works various forms: poetry, short story, literary criticism and translation. As an editor she works at L’Hexagone, a publishing house in Montréal and at Estuaire, a literary poetry journal. She is also developing a practice in performance. She has published several books, most notably Des femmes savantes (Triptyque, 2016), and most recently Fastes (Hexagone, 2018). Her next book of poems, Sainte-Chloé-de-l’amour, is forthcoming next fall. She has contributed to various magazines, including Granta, Spirale, and Lettres Québécoises. She lives in Montreal, Canada, where she just completed her doctoral dissertation on women’s literature in Quebec 1970–1990s from Université de Montréal. For her, poetry is a political statement in a world based on speed. Centreing themes such as movement, sexuality and loneliness, her practice finds ways to interrogate images, feelings and assumptions, while exploring language, its barriers and its magnitude. More: @chloesavoiebernard

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