When Silence Replaces the Crowds

May 28, 2020

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Spring 2020 will stay etched in our memories...

Photographer Ulysse Lemerise has captured the Quartier, deprived of its usual cultural effervescence, during its period of confinement due to COVID-19. The Quartier des Spectacles was calm, under a blanket of silence. These images inspired the words of poets Carl Bessette, Amélie Prévost and Jean-Christophe Réhel.

To see and read while we cautiously deconfine, but also to keep a record for posterity.

Le calme

In french only

Le monde est rendu plat, pigeon aux petits pas,
La mouette crie sa mort, l'humain ne répond pas,
Il court en diagonale ou marche en résilience,
Il compte sur son masque et un soupçon de chance.
On était des milliers, il n'y a plus qu'eux deux,
Trempés dans les limbes d'un étrange entre-deux.
Nous avons retiré aux enfants leurs mobiles,
Bâtiments de matière, escargots immobiles.
Les fantômes festoient mais le fruit sera mûr,
Les foules reviendront car d'un fait je suis sûr:
L'âme est le contenu, c'en est le réceptacle,
Notre si bien nommé Quartier de nos spectacles.

Carl Bessette

Two meters from amethysts

I walk
like taking photos
I don't see anyone
No that's not true
I see plenty of people
I see homeless people
Like streams
holding bits of cardboard
finding ways to smile
that shimmer
that blind me
that make me forget the sun is out today
Saint-Denis Street
is full of stones
Amethysts I think
They flash
It's awful
Everyone respects
the two metres distance with the stones
Everyone gets as clear
as they can
I don't know
how to write poems
underneath photos
Earlier I saw a little girl
swimming on the sidewalk
She greeted the homeless:
Have a nice day
See you tomorrow

They didn't answer
But the next day
on all the bits of cardboard downtown
You could read:
Thanks You too
See you tomorrow

Jean-Christophe Réhel.


You could say
still more cones
and not one worker
but we don't say a thing
we hope

you'd think it was lunch hour
stretched out for a beer

they'll be back at it in a minute
the steering wheel the frying pan the vagrancy or the flag

tent by tent
everyone holds their breath
The length of a test
a sandwich
or even a number

people are there
all there in the line
the short little line
not expecting very much
maybe a last hurrah

there's nobody left
you could say
except some cones
and not one worker
but there's a line
the sandwiches
the test
the tent

Amélie Prévost


Surely something
will take back its freedom
or maybe wild grass

the esplanade
gaping astrobleme
Manicouagan just before the water
took off its costume of the bustling world

a marquee
cheers on the absent
like a nightlight
to reassure the sleeping structure

if there is no one to hear it fall
does the star system still exist?

but on the balcony there's life check it out
making love to plexiglass
raising a toast
at the same time as the rising sun

and waiting
for the signal to start
to take back its freedom

Amélie Prévost

Seuls ensemble

In french only

Pour l'humain, ce gamin, en chemin vers demain,
À deux mètres de l'autre et en mal d'une main,
- Il connaît son destin, seule issue acceptable,
Que l'on renoue enfin, qu'on se remette à table! -,
La Rencontre est sacrée, il l'espère au détour,
Il sait que pour avoir, faut donner en retour,
Il faut poser questions pour obtenir réponses:
Pour savourer la rose, il faut bien quelques ronces.
N'est plus un centre-ville où l'on n'est entre nous,
Et tant qu'autrui est loin, nous restons à genoux.
Les plus grands des trésors pour le moment se planquent,
Nos voix si lointaines, nos souffles qui nous manquent.
Nous reviendrons des bois tels d'anciens bûcherons,
Il n'est d'ailes coupées qui ne repousseront.
Seuls ensemble un moment, naviguant ces méandres,
Il reste, intact, un feu, c'est le désir d'apprendre,
Qui plus qu'un bon repas, plus que d'avoir un toit,
Lui n'existerait pas ni sans moi ni sans toi.
Qu'importe en l'équation la nouvelle variable,
Près des yeux, loin du corps, ce feu reste invariable!

Carl Bessette.



When not in confinement, Ulysse Lemerise is a field photographer. He is skilled in many genres, from photojournalism to landscape photography, concert shoots and documentary projects on major Montreal construction sites, but his great passion is architectural photography. His work in that field has been widely published in international magazines and art books.


In his writing, Jean-Christophe Réhel explores loneliness, fatigue and sickness. He won the Prix littéraire des collégiens for his novel Ce qu’on respire sur Tatouine, and he has published the poetry books La fatigue des fruits (L’Oie de Cravan) and La douleur du verre d’eau (Éditions de l’Écrou). In the fall of 2019 he published the youth poetry collection Peigner le feu (La Courte Échelle). He also runs poetry workshops and writes a poetic column for Le Devoir. He can be heard regularly on ICI Première’s Plus on est de fous, plus on lit !

Carl Bessette is a poet and novelist, and the co-founder and editor at Les Éditions de l’Écrou.

Amélie Prévost is a spoken word artist. Her artistic approach takes equally from poetry and acting. In 2016, she won the Poetry Slam World Cup, in Paris. Her book of poetry Corps Flottants was published by Neige-Galerie in 2018. Her most recent show Fol ouvrage (Torcher des paillettes) will still be on tour after the confinement is over.