French Poetry Titles (continued)
The Acadian poet Herménégilde Chiasson, who was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick in August 2003, has earned many honours, including the 1999 Governor General's Literary Award for his collection of poems entitled Conversations. In L'oiseau tatoué, he takes us on a nocturnal walk in the company of a young musician. Trapped in solitude, the young man searches desperately for love, affection and musical inspiration. "All that unborn music," he broods, "that I have yet to hear."
The protagonist's mental world seems dominated by the cacophony of his surroundings: "At this crossroads / All sounds merge … the shadows of things shift / Every sound swells." But around him, "Morning noises / A murmuring of voices" thrust him back into the reality of a hectic world: "A car's horn restores me to my century / The blue and pink and red and yellow / Of endlessly flashing signs."
David Lafrance's etchings, 12 in all, blend beautifully with the chiaroscuro of this sleepless night, drawing their haunted figures out of the distorting darkness.
"I am a bear and a girl, for inside my head a storm silently rages."
The adolescent heroine of Rachel Leclerc's book L'ourse, rebellious and secretive, struggles with emotions that seem to tear her apart. She wonders about life and about her own life, her inner world and the world around her. She longs passionately to find the key to the mystery of existence.
Her classmates have nicknamed her "l'ourse" or "the bear," perhaps because they sense something wild about her, perhaps because she's somewhat antisocial.
But while on this earth we must, despite our fragility, stand firm and resist. The bear, after all, is also a symbol of strength, of life and of renewal.
Among the major honours awarded to Rachel Leclerc for her poetry are a couple that celebrate the names of two great poets who have marked the history of Quebec literature: the Prix Émile-Nelligan (1991) and the Prix Alain-Grandbois (1994).
This anthology brings together works by 37 poets from various French-speaking regions of the world. The group includes poets from Lebanon, France, Switzerland, Belgium and the Caribbean and features 15 writers from Africa. Quebec is represented by Gilles Vigneault, Louise Dupré, Mona Latif-Ghattas, Nadine Ltaif, Pierre Morency and Bernard Pozier.
Each poem is accompanied by a biography of its author, and the collection is grouped under five main themes that revolve around the notions of homeland and exile. Some writers explore the idea of belonging, while others offer musings on the world, anger, writing, and the impact of words and poetry. Whatever the theme, the voices are powerful and widely diverse. On the subject of belonging, the editor has selected Gilles Vigneault's famous poem "Mon pays, ce n'est pas un pays, c'est l'hiver" (My country is not a country, it is the winter). Under the same heading, Mona Latif-Ghattas sings the praises of Montréal in "Concerto pour une île," while the Mauritanian poet Idoumou Lemine speaks sadly of a "Country in distress / Buried beneath the far-off sand." In the section devoted to anger, Nadine Ltaif expresses the pain of exile and of "dying free but rootless."
La parole nomade is illustrated by roughly 30 pen-and-ink drawings by Stéphane Jorisch. These vigorously sketched images portray a series of rather disquieting characters, either beaked or masked, shown full-face, in profile, or occasionally seated and gazing towards a painting/window.
This anthology presents teenagers with a broad selection of French-language poetry that offers glimpses into a number of different cultures and encourages reflection on the ideas of exile and immigration.
Available in English under the title On the Go (Toronto: Annick Press, 1996)
As we open this large book, we are struck first by the full-page illustrations (one facing each four-line page of text), which picture the two mice, Mimi and Lili, as they embark on their vacation. No destination is too exotic for them, and no activity too daunting. They go on a photo-safari, they take advantage of a glorious summer's day to go butterfly catching in the countryside, they go rock climbing, and they even take a trip in a hot-air balloon! While the details of the narrative are captured in the illustrations, the short texts by Bertrand Gauthier and Roger Paré, in large typeface, serve to stimulate the young imagination and establish a poetic mood.
This collection of verse was selected in 2001-2002 from among 17 000 poems written by Quebec schoolchildren between the ages of eight and 12. The many themes include time, writing, flowers, the moon, love, difference, wind and bicycles. Taking evident delight in playing with words, the young authors employ a host of amusing and inventive turns of phrase. Sometimes the words are sad and heavy with meaning; sometimes they reflect an awareness or introspection.
At first glance the book resembles a traditional school exercise book, where we might pen our own poetic efforts. But its superb graphic design does full justice to the richness of the young poets' texts, presenting each one to best advantage. On one side, the words cluster against a highly coloured background, while on the other the eye is drawn by a close-up of some element of the illustration. Page after page, as new poems and new pictures are revealed, we remain captivated.
Short-listed for the 2000 Governor General's Literary Award for her collection Orbites, Martine Audet has garnered a number of poetry prizes, including the Prix Alain-Grandbois and the Prix Alphonse-Piché. She is clearly deeply interested in the genre, for aside from her own compositions she has included a few verses by famous poets in Que ferais-je du jour.
A troubled soul seeks the ideal refuge. At night there is greater freedom and contacts seem to come more easily, in contrast to daytime, when harsh reality paralyzes. This painful quest for identity is marked by the constant contrast between darkness and light, death and life, silence and speech. Some of the observations are surprisingly direct: "It's not so terrible / An empty day / First / And as carefully as possible / I experience nothing." Or: "The world is not what I imagine / It shapes the sharp glass / Of a poem."
Daniel Sylvestre's abstract lithographs seem to echo the haziness of this nocturnal atmosphere, and his skilful use of chiaroscuro conjures the melancholy of someone sick at heart.
The outstanding visual quality of the poetry series put out by La courte échelle is confirmed here: Lisa Togron's etchings enhance these poems with the elegant regularity of a metronome.
An inner voyage through individual memory, this collection also focuses on the present. The young narrator muses on the passage of time, the death of his grandfather, the deranged behaviour of his sick grandmother -- but also on the events of a childhood barely over. Faced with the inevitability of time's flight, the narrator is torn between a feeling of absence and the all-too-real presences around him. Some memories bring sadness, others pain or anger. Contemporary events, such as acts of terrorism, inspire horror and a sense of helplessness.
From a formal point of view, the language of each poem revolves around the passage of time, a litany that reinforces the impact of the themes explored. The emotions evoked by the realization that time is finite are described with remarkable subtlety.
Paul Chanel Malenfant has received a number of honours for his poetry, including the 2001 Governor General's Literary Award, the Prix Alain-Grandbois and the Prix Arthur-Buies. Si tu allais quelque part, which is his first collection of poems aimed specifically at a young audience, gives a convincing voice to teenagers wrestling with the changes and questions they must inevitably face.
This book, on the theme of springtime, is like a breath of fresh air. Many of this hopeful season's signs are captured in the verse: the first warm rays of sunshine, migrating birds returning north, the great thaw and the gradual blossoming of nature. It's also a time for spring-cleaning and playing outdoors.
The language here is simple and perfectly attuned to the full-size illustrations on every facing page. Several of the dozen or so pastel-toned images will make youngsters laugh.
The three other books in this "seasonal" series are entitled Châteaux d'été, Automne! Automne! and Bouquet d'hiver.
In 2001, Roger Des Roches, an established and talented author, was awarded the grand prize at the Festival international de la poésie in Trois-Rivières, Quebec. Le verbe cœur testifies once again to this poet's rigorous style, presenting -- despite the simplicity of the words -- a highly complex picture of the emotion that is love. Torn between the thrill of passion and a fear of failure, a teenage boy reflects on his relationship with the object of his affections and on the nature of time.
The verse switches from present to past and back, following the meanderings of the young lover's musings and doubts: "This morning, too much time ahead, behind. / I raise my head: / I'm afraid of the dark in your eyes, / Yesterday has become the past / Imprisoned in the park / Without proof or gentleness." The poems seem to tell us that love is an uneasy move towards the other, whom we can never entirely know. Vladimir Zabeida's etchings are a fine complement to the texts.
In a refined, intimate style, Voyages autour de mon lit presents the interrogations of an adolescent confronted with a world that seems, ultimately, to suit no one. Although his questions remain unanswered, they give him a new awareness of human vulnerability: "I'd like to stifle / Death / And make life / Right again."
The poems embody moments of great intensity and grace, where the author successfully reconciles the feelings of fear and awe that the world inspires in the boy. He is accompanied on his wanderings by Scarlett, an imaginary dog we glimpse here and there like a shade from another world, whose symbolic presence adds to the richness of the text. "He passes through a village / That I don't know / Before returning / With my bird on his back."
With her usual skill, Élise Turcotte has imbued these poems with a universal quality, describing a realm where adults and young people meet and share similar anxieties. The black-and-white etchings by Elmyna Bouchard complete the book.
In 2003, Élise Turcotte received the Governor General's Literary Award for her novel La maison étrangère.