Giants in the Land
- Françios Charron (Author)
Clair génie du vent. Les Herbes Rouges (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Paul Savoie (Author)
Danse de l'oeuf. Éditions du Noroît (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Paul Savoie (Author)
Oasis. Éditions du Noroît (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- André Brochu (Author)
Particulièrement la vie change. Éditions du Noroît (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Robert Fortin (Author)
Peut-il rêver celui qui s'endort dans la gueule des chiens. Prise de Parole (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Cedric May
News from Canada travels slowly in this age of instant communication. As I write (February, 1997), I have just learnt of the death of Gaston MiroÌn. Anything I write will be written in the shadow cast by this enormous literary figure. Quebec gave him a national funeral in his birthplace, the Laurentian town of Sainte-Agathe-des- Monts, the writers of France paid their tribute in a gathering in Paris on 21 January 1997 and a friend tells me of a forthcoming book of essays from GueÌrin, Les Adieux du QueÌbec aÌ€ Gaston Miron. In Paris, in the sixties, I had heard of this rather wild character who disturbed the Maison
franco-canadienne with his whirling arms and his great guffaws. The event of the year in 1970 in Montreal was the publication of his collected verse and essays, L’Homme rapailleÌ, to accompany the Prix EÌtudes francÌ§aises, and we all rushed to buy it. Miron was one of the founders of the Editions de l’Hexagone in 1953 which published poems of his alongside those of Olivier Marchand in Deux sangs (1954). Subsequently, Miron resisted the temptation to publish, seeing his writing as work-in-progress and preferring to stump the province giving poetry readings in parish halls and taverns with Jean-Guy Pilon, bringing poetry into the market-place and its place in the sun. It was with Pilon that he started the very influential Rencontres des eÌcrivains which met in the Laurentians, the proceedings sometimes appearing in the journal LiberteÌ. The left-wing publisher FrancÌ§ois Maspero re-edited L’Homme rapailleÌ in 1981, extended to include the few poems Miron has published since 1970. It is tantalising to surmise how much work by Miron lies unpublished.
The adjective rapailleÌ belongs to a word meaning to glean after harvest, to pick up odds and ends of little or no value. This scrap-heap man sums up the courage and humility of a poet who refuses to give in to agony, dispossession, alienation, Canada’s cultural ambiguity or the stranglehold of aphasia. He thought himself lucky to have discovered poetry by reading originals such as Alfred Desrochers, free from the inauthenticity for Quebec of the poets of France (though one of his essays gives as the poets of his ideal bookshelf Rutebeuf, Du Bellay, EÌluard and AndreÌ FreÌnaud) and he was inordinately proud of his forebears who colonised the ’terre de roches’ ofthe Laurentians.
avec les maigres mots frileux demes heÌritages
avec la pauvreteÌ natale de ma penseÌe rocheuse
j’avance en poeÌsie comme un cheval de trait
(with the skinny, parky words of my inheritance
with the native poverty of my craggy thinking
I plod forward in my poetry like some great plough-horse)
Who can count the cost to this man of reinstating the French language in Quebec and making it a national idiom fit for poets? The Prix Duvernay, the Prix Apollinaire and the Prix David were some compensation.
The four poets I present here show little sign of the achievements of Miron but then he was honoured by all, followed by few, yet it is safe to say that, without him, poetry in Quebec would have remained a private, fringe activity. AndreÌ Brochu was the child prodigy of the Quiet Revolution, publishing poems at 15, teaching university before he was 20, founding with friends in 1963 parti pris, the astounding little journal and publishing house, marxist, scatalogical, breaking taboos with every number, publisher of NeÌ€gres blancs d’AmeÌrique and other explosive pamphlets. Brochu was also an excellent critic, introducing structuralism and making it an effective tool in patient and enlightening readings of authors such as Gabrielle Roy and Yves TheÌriault, honoured for the first time by attention of this kind. Brochu’s poetry is a vast, rich exercise in words carried off with great brio. A characteristic poem, ’le teÌleÌphone’, for example, dense, brief, uses puns, learned expressions, sardonic, clipped, elliptical sayings, aptly conveying our amazement at the strangeness and the wonder of what is familiar. Over all broods the inevitability of death, as in Brochu’s recent novella La Croix du Nord (EÌditions XYZ). ’En attente de quoi’ reflects this well, now in lyrical regret, now in stoical accep- tance, now in frenzy at the waning of desire, using the mocking effect of elegant, precise enunciation to mute his emotion. Only towards the end of ParticulieÌ€rement la vie change—the title is part of a sentence from AndreÌ Breton which provides the titles to the sections and the theme of the particularity of the changes and chances of life—does the poet give way to what Gaston Miron called the ’recours aÌ€ l’explication’.
If anyone questions the importance of FrancÌ§ois Charron for Quebec poetry in the last quarter century, let them read the introduction to Mailhot and Nepveu’s La PoeÌsie queÌbeÌcoise. Charron’s contribution dominates the closing pages ending with the cautious optimism of his rallying-cry: ’Laisson-nous imaginer l’inacheÌ€vement du monde.’ This admirably presents his latest collection (his 34th published work) from Les Herbes rouges to which he has remained faithful over the years. ’Laisson-nous’—the subdued deference of this dandy (he strikes a distinctly Oscar Wilde-like pose on the back cover), ’imaginer’—the creative image-making of poetry, ’l’inacheÌ€vement’—the lack of closure or of any finality to give shape and meaning to this imagining. When we venture into Charron’s world, we have to be prepared for a landscape without coordinates. The clarity of his title is the indeterminacy of space and Charron’s medium is the wind, that least substantial aspect of concrete reality.
Robert Fortin offers us in Peut-on reÌ‚ver... a book of life which helps us to rediscover simple ideas. Fortin was for a good number of years a radio announcer with Radio-Canada. Reading the news has influenced his lapidary, factual style. It has accustomed him to face without emotion the banalisation of horror. Early he states his unwillingness to be a victim of the industrialisation of thought and we think again of the news bulletin. He counters this with the calm enunciation of simple statments, in short and mainly complete sentences, rarely longer than a line of verse. Apart from a page devoted to the fate of the Franco-Ontarians, this collection does not comply with the description on the cover of ’prose-combat’. Pages 88-108 form a discrete section, a narrative which, however, retains the style of the whole book. It recounts, if that is the word, a trip to New York, reminiscent of the description of his previous collection, ’reÌcit de voyage et poeÌsie’.
What is most striking in the poetry of Paul Savoie is the combination of a high incidence of concrete nouns with an extreme abstraction. The reader longs for some localisation in time or space, some landmarks of personality or experience. ’Tout se construit d’abord en pieÌ€ces deÌtacheÌes’, says the presentation on the cover of Danse de l’oeuf and this lack of a will to construct a working model from these spare parts produces a haunting sense of detachment and dissolution. The pres- ence of religious vocabulary reminds us that Savoie, born in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba, published in 1993 his translation of the poems of Louis Riel, more a religious illuminary than a dangerous revolutionary, and Riel is perhaps behind one of the little tragedies of Danse de l’oeuf, ’saut dans le vide’, an execution poem. The title collection, a set of seven short poems, seven for the creation of the world, is a metamorphosis courtesy of Ovid and Hieronymus Bosch. We should see in this identification with the experience of ’hatching’ less a metaphor for the creative act than an enactment of new beginnings. Gaston MiroÌn would have been immensely sympathetic to this dedicated writer struggling to escape from entrapment in an extreme sensation of cultural disincarnation which Miron called ’amneÌsie de naissance’ and ’alieÌnation deÌlirante’ and which he accounted for in an analysis of the effects of a culture which had broken its linguistic links with history and the land, with a ’here’ and a ’now’. We need to return again and again to Miron’s exemplary courage in rehabilitating a language and making of it the voice of a people of poets.
- Mapping and Way-making by Erin Wunker
Books reviewed: Fierce Departures: The Poetry of Dionne Brand by Dionne Brand and Leslie Sanders, Blues and Bliss: The Poetry of George Elliott Clarke by Jon Paul Fiorentino, and Lousy Explorers by Laisha Rosnau
- Lieux et paysages by Jean-Sébastien Ménard
Books reviewed: Lieux propices: L'enonciation des lieux / Le lieu de l'enonciation dans les contextes francophones interculturels by Simon Harel and Adelaide Russo and Paysages de désir: J.R. Léveillé : réflexions critiques by Rosmarin Heidenreich
- Romans de jeunesse by Anne M. Rusnak
Books reviewed: Je suis Thomas by Sylvie Desrosiers, Bonne année, Ani Croche by Bertrand Gauthier, and Une lettre pour Nakicha by Marthe Pelletier
- L'écho humain by Jean-Sébastien Ménard
Books reviewed: L'autre corps by Michèle Gagné, Ce tremblement singulier by Agnès Riverin, and L'oeil au ralenti by Denise Desautels
- Impossible nostalgie by Sandra Rompré-Deschênes
Books reviewed: La maison mémoire by Sandra Rompré-Deschênes and Bayou mystère by Daniel St-Onge
MLA: May, Cedric. Giants in the Land. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 20 June 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #157 (Summer 1998), (Thomas Raddall, Alice Munro & Aritha van Herk). (pg. 125 - 127)
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