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   Jacket 34 — October 2007        link Jacket 34 Contents page        link Jacket Homepage

   Feature: Canada
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Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry,

1976 to the 21st Century

This piece is about 3 printed pages long.
It is copyright © Jason Camlot and Todd Swift and Jacket magazine 2007.


paragraph 1

Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century, which was launched in Quebec in March 2007, and in the US September 2007, is the first critical collection of its kind to appear in over forty years. The book’s core argument is that Anglo-Québec poetry has come of age in the 21st century as a literature with its own distinct arguments about itself, and its own poetical acts in language. The essays that the editors have gathered, and indeed written themselves, show how this distinctive poetry was born and raised during an historically resonant period of Trudeauism, organized Québecois nationalism, language legislation, and profound demographic, social and cultural change.


All this would be perhaps interesting to readers outside of Quebec for historical reasons alone, but is made surely so by the poetry itself, and the poets who continue to create it. Quebec was historically a key site (some would argue the site) of English Canadian Modernism, but in the 1960s, many poets and critics noted a shift to Toronto, the West, and even the Atlantic Provinces. The fundamental experience for Anglo-Quebec poets since has been described as a double-exile, but the poetry continued.


Building on the poems and collections of several earlier generations, especially the work of F.R. Scott, A.J.M. Smith, A.M. Klein, Louis Dudek, Irving Layton and Leonard Cohen, Anglo-Quebec poetry has, steadily and often-quietly, established a canon of significant writing in the margins from Robert Allen, Anne Carson, Michael Harris, D.G. Jones, Erin Mouré, David McGimpsey, Robyn Sarah, and Peter Van Toorn, to name just some of the figures whose work is discussed in Language Acts.


We believe that Anglo-Quebec poetry is poetry that deserves, and warrants, a larger, international audience. Its complex location in a richly cultural, multilingual society generates for it deep linguistic resources. As Jason writes in his introduction to our book:


In Hybridité Culturelle, Sherry Simon notes that this leads Quebec writers, whether Anglophone or Francophone, to bear signs in their work of what she calls “l’écriture hybride” — a mode of writing marked by the dissonant effects of unrealized translation, unusual syntax, and disparate vocabulary. There are all kinds of examples of hybrid writing to be found in Anglo-Quebec poetry, from A. M. Klein’s franglais neologisms (“erablic”, “maisonry,” “Bilinguefact”) in his much-anthologized poem, “Montreal”, to Peter Van Toorn’s “Mountain” translations of poems from their original languages he does not know. More recently we can see it in books as diverse as Caroline Marie-Souaid’s October (1999), David McGimpsey’s Hamburger Valley, California (2001) and Erín Moure’s O Cidadán (2002). As in a “minor literature” which Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari say “a minority constructs within a major language,” Anglo-Quebec poetry often deploys its “own” language “like a ‘paper language’ or an artificial language,” that is, as a language aware of its own idiom in relation to more dominant and naturalized kinds of usage. It is also a language that has contributed to the production of Anglo-Quebec poetry as a discernible, maybe even a distinct, corpus of literature.


We were very pleased when Jacket agreed to the idea of this survey of Anglo-Quebec poets that have been writing during this thirty-year period, not least because we consider it the best place on the internet for such work to appear. The selection of these 27 poets (including the work of the two editors) represents a rich and suggestive companion anthology to Language Acts, and allows the conversation and discovery to continue.


We are glad to be able to include work expressly donated (no fee was asked for) by Leonard Cohen, from his latest collection, as his influence through poetry and song upon the living spirit of Anglo-Quebec poetry is palpable. The selection of poems from the other poets was also made in consultation with them, and between the editors, and in each instance we sought to balance the desire to present new, unpublished work, with the poems the poets considered representative of their larger oeuvre.


As such, we feel able to say that, while this selection of 200 or so poems is in some senses incomplete, and contingent (as all anthologized work is), it is also the most current, and comprehensive collection of contemporary Anglo-Quebec poetry so far available. It could not have been put together without the full cooperation of the poets, their publishers, Jacket, and the editors’ families.


We hope that this selection will not only draw attention to Anglo-Quebec poetry, but to all poetry written in Quebec, in any number of languages, and, by extension, Canadian poetry of the 21st century, which is experiencing something of a renaissance.

 — Jason Camlot and Todd Swift
Montreal / London, October 2007

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