- Why Should We Read and Study Leblanc?
- Literature & Analysis
- “A Common Chord Echoes in Our Lives”
- Analysis of “A Common Chord Echoes in Our Lives” and “Complicity”
- “To Love You”
- Analysis of “Acadielove” and “To Love You”
- Questions and Considerations for Reflection
- Strategies for Teachers
- Further Reading
A spirited Acadian literary celebrity, Gérald Leblanc was born in Bouctouche in 1945 and died in Moncton in 2005. Poet, lyricist, playwright, novelist, publisher, and translator, he was mostly self-educated through personal study and travel. In addition to being one of the founders and the long-serving literary editor of the Acadian publishing house Éditions Perce-Neige (1980), he also wrote a number of the best-known songs of the Acadian rock group 1755 (“Le monde a bien change,” “Rue Dufferin,” and “Kouchibouguac”). Known for his colourful, warm, and unconventional style, he brought his interest in the folk culture of the Sixties to his work, incorporating the rhythms of The Doors, Bob Dylan, and the Beats into his verse. His first collection, Comme un otage du quotidien, was released in 1981, and his last, Techgnose, in 2004, just a year before his death. (Éditions Perce-Neige released Poèmes new-yorkais posthumously in 2006.) In different ways, each collection positions chiac as the archetypal language of Acadians. His one novel, Moncton Mantra (1997), is of special interest for capturing the spirit and energies of the young group of restless revolutionaries who defined Moncton’s Acadian Renaissance.
On most author pages we direct readers to the appropriate entry in The New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia. Though a Gérald Leblanc entry is in production, it is not yet finalized. Please check the NBLE periodically for updates.
- While other Acadian writers looked to Quebec and France for models, Leblanc looked to America and American popular culture, seeking to explore the intersections of American modernism and Acadian experience. His work thus asserts both an Acadian and North American identity, something that was unique in Acadie in the 1980s and 90s. The implication of this expansion into a North American sensibility was vital, for it reinforced a tendency already present in Acadian culture: namely, forging a path between cultural insularity and participation in a larger global world. What Leblanc’s aesthetic said loudly and clearly was that Acadie’s uniqueness, while special and requiring preservation, was also characteristic of a decolonizing world, a statement that challenged Acadian artists to reach out rather than withdraw into self-reifying insularity. Being a citizen of the larger world, he implied, was the best way to assert a unique identity. That thinking is now the default position of many twenty-first century artists and intellectuals.
“A Common Chord Echoes in Our Lives”
the season moves to carry us
toward other movements
the hand in my hand ventures towards your hips that dance with the
night the Motown of our memories (in blue) dance with a crazy flame
red mad about you exploring your mouth on mine through the glo-
rious soul-music of Marvin Gaye
a writing that plays between black and blue
when sounds go weird in the night
but it’s all right
you know the sounds of the night
i float over Victoria Park over his body on the insistent rhythm of a
voice, like an echo – there are voices from bars, voices from
bedrooms, lovers’ voices, voices that mix up tunes, aerial tunes,
coming and going – a spiral inside my body.
the ear’s education
the slowing down process
the speeding up process
working on perceptions
i find poems again
in my library
the practice of illumination
a common chord echoes in our lives
on another plane
we are still searching for the words
we are in the pure sensation of being
in the magic of the world
the taste of your skin sweating in the dance
among the graffiti and the echoes from the bar
I taste your red anarchy
your movements translate our complicity
the mauve vibrations of our desire
I hear the night traffic
that new record which is playing everywhere
the cracking of preconceived notions
and you, too,
you hear it
Analysis of “A Common Chord Echoes in Our Lives” and “Complicity”
Both poems above illustrate Leblanc’s essential joie de vivre, the translation of which suggests both exhilaration and joy. Much of his work captures movement – bodies dancing, light shifting, seasons changing, sounds reverberating, and, of course, love advancing. As such, there is much incandescence in his work, expressed either as a steady burning or a rise in passion or excitation. His work is therefore full of intensity, desire, and a generative rather than destructive energy. It is positive and life affirming, its tone reminiscent of Antonine Maillet’s and Rose Després’. Not for him are the enervating doubts and anxieties wrought by occupation and Expulsion history. Rather, he seeks to celebrate and record the joys of the moment, believing that the “common chord … in our lives” is “in the pure sensation of being,” that being “the magic of the world” (“A Common Chord”).
To read Leblanc is to be entranced by joy, even to become a partner in a dance. The music of the spheres is, for him, enchanting, and he wishes for us to be so enchanted, for “you, too,” he insists, “you hear it” (“Complicity”). We leave his world refreshed and energized, understanding a bit more about the Acadian qualities of hope and resilience.
i love you
and Bouctouche awakes in me
with my father’s speech
(my country is a chain of villages
or a drunken jig or a clothesline)
i love you
in the dawn of images to be born
in a poem
at the bootlegger’s
to the rhythms of a mad violin
on the road to Tracadie
in a field of clover
in the dirty streets of Moncton
you are there
and my roots are singing
“To Love You”
a covered bridge
as fine as Notre Dame
a lobster trap
the smell of tar on the wharf
I move through this between your hands
as true as your eyes tell
of a new world within your body
we are alike in our thirst
sometimes your laugh
reaches down to my guts
and my poems take form
Analysis of “Acadielove” and “To Love You”
Leblanc’s final two poems differ from the first two in speaking directly of his Acadian identity. Whereas the first two poems asserted a North American identity (placeless, populist, modern), the final poems narrow the focus to home, but with characteristic joy and exuberance. Central to both (and characteristic of all of Leblanc’s work) is love – a fierce love of place (“Bouctouche”), of language (“my father’s speech”), and of heritage (“my roots are singing”).
Of particular interest are speech and cartography, each constituting Leblanc’s essential cultural geography. The speaker of “Acadielove,” likely Leblanc, hears his heritage in the speech of his father, that speech the parole of identity. In linguistic theory (see Ferdinand de Saussure), parole is contrasted with langue, the latter (langue) referring to the abstract system of language used by a community of speakers while the former (parole) refers to how language is used, performed, embellished, and shaped by individuals. The differences between langue as system and parole as speech are important, with parole carrying the weight of culture and heritage.
Also significant in “Acadielove” are the clever metaphors of Leblanc’s “country” as a “chain of villages / or a drunken jig or a clothesline.” Anyone who has driven along Highway 11 from Shediac to Chatham through coastal Kent County will immediately recognize the image. The highway runs through a staggered line of villages that appear one after another: Grande-Digue, Cocagne, Saint-Antoine, Bouctouche, Sainte-Anne-de-Kent, Richibucto, etc. Together, they are like items on a clothesline, yet not in a straight line. Rather, they veer from the main road left and right, crisscrossing the landscape like someone performing a drunken jig. The metaphor is thus apt.
What “Acadielove” and “To Love You” slowly reveal is an essence – another “common chord” – that Leblanc discerns and presents to us. That common chord is best described as a feeling of “belonging,” the sum total of familiarity, acceptance, likeness, shared experience, and fraternity. One recognizes belonging in a “covered bridge,” “a lobster trap,” “the smell of tar on the wharf” (“To Love You”). And it is from that sense of belonging that all good things come. Belonging, then, is both the source and the seed of love.
► Like many of the New Brunswick writers we have encountered in this curriculum, Leblanc brings us back to our beginnings, our real and symbolic homes, reminding us that our strength comes from the places that formed and nurtured us. At the same time, he complicates that easy formula for belonging by acknowledging the equally nurturing comforts of the larger world, the world of popular music, film, and narrative that we also inhabit as global citizens. While this mix of the local and global may seem to counter-indicate a stable identity formation, the mix will also appear relevant to an age in which multiple solidarities and locales vie for our attention. On that basis, Leblanc is among the most modern of Acadie’s artists. His Acadie is enriched rather than threatened or diminished by the global world – and enriched despite the fact that globalization is merciless in its attempts to erase beginnings, loyalties, and margins. The question Leblanc’s own aesthetic begs is whether a historically occupied language territory such as Acadie is actually strengthened by opening it to a larger Anglophone world. This is a question that has occupied Acadians for a century, and one that must continue to be asked not only of Acadie but also of the marginal places that our memories, loyalties, and personal histories continue to try to sustain.
► Leblanc’s robust joy stands in marked contrast to the more dour moods of some of the earlier Acadian poets, notably Raymond Guy LeBlanc and Calixte Duguay. That difference invites us to consider whether Leblanc was just a unique personality (an ambassador of joy) or that his optimism signalled a change in Acadian society. At least a decade removed from the early days of contemporary Acadian self-definition, the buoyancy in his work may reflect the fact that the hopes of the Éditions d’Acadie writers were being realized. Is Leblanc’s incandescence his own, then, or reflective of the emancipation of his larger society?
Strategy 1: Passionate Complicity (All poems)
Leblanc’s poems, when read together, conflate love of Acadie with the intoxicating love of youthful joy and discovery. Many students will identify with that rebellious, us-against-the-world feeling, where, together, young people “taste” and “hear” the same intangible energy, and where “we are alike in our thirst.” A few strategies to extend this observation are suggested below.
- Ask students to consider how the meaning of the second poem would change if, instead of being called “Complicity,” it was titled “Partnership” – a word that is close enough to be a synonym, but doesn’t have the unruly/counterculture implications of “complicity.” Would the poem lose some of its dynamism?
- Have students contrast Leblanc’s way of sensing “vibrations” (through human dance, connection, and movement) with that of Tantramar poet Douglas Lochhead in “Pulse,” where vibration is sensed through elemental forces of nature. If Tantramar artists such as Alex Colville and Thaddeus Holownia follow Lochhead and John Thompson in locating “pulse” in nature, can students find a visual artist that has a similar way of connecting with the world as Leblanc?
- These poems, short and buzzing with energy, would be an excellent vehicle for students to practice memorization and recitation. Challenge them to prepare a performance of one of Leblanc’s poems, experimenting with stressing different words, and using different vocal tones and speeds. Depending on the temperament of the class, you might hold a boisterous and communal “poetry afternoon” outdoors, or might instead ask students to perform privately or in pairs.
Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:
- Reading and Viewing: Articulate and justify points of view about texts and text elements
- Speaking and Listening: Address the demands of a variety of speaking situations, making critical language choices, especially of tone and style
Strategy 2: Parole and Langue (“Acadielove”)
To introduce the tricky concepts of parole and langue (see analysis of “Acadielove” and “To Love You” above), ask students how their way of speaking/writing/texting differs from that of other cultures. Have they ever had the experience, for example, of altering their speech when around different groups of people? Have they ever been speaking informally with friends and been startled or uncomfortable when overheard by another? Have they witnessed someone trying to mimic parole and getting it embarrassingly wrong, that person not understanding the subtle meanings that lie behind that speech? Similarly, have students heard or detected how language is performed as a cultural or subcultural act? Have they ever heard their heritage in a parent’s or classmate’s voice? Can students think of an example when they have been far from home and heard across a room some tone or expression that signalled to them that they have a connection with the speaker? (In this discussion, students will likely touch on the concept of langue as well, since many linguistic backgrounds may be represented in the class. Be sure to draw a distinction between language components and how individuals apply both components in speech. This discussion, and the differences between langue and parole, is not about the difference between English and French, but about how each language is uniquely performed in its own setting.)
Speaking can be simultaneously unifying and exclusionary, like a border. For a borderless culture like that of Acadie, speech is crucial in maintaining the cohesive ties that form and bind a people. In “Acadielove,” rather than focusing on the way speech can divide people into age- or interest-based subcultures, Leblanc writes of connection and belonging. He hears the parole of Acadie in his father’s speech, and something deep within him responds in tune: “my roots are singing.” For him, “chiac” is parole, and, as such, the embodiment of culture. Culture is thus living and vibrant, and audible to him. Have students in the class ever felt such a gratifying sense of connection/belonging – ever felt it to the point where their roots were “singing”? If so, what was the context?
Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:
- Speaking and Listening: Reflect critically on and evaluate their own and others’ uses of language in a range of contexts, recognizing elements of verbal and non-verbal messages that produce powerful communication
Strategy 3: Supporting an Arts Community (All poems)
Like many other Acadian writers, Leblanc was successful in multiple fields, including music. He was a lyricist for the popular Acadian band 1755 (see performances on YouTube). Teachers may want to facilitate a discussion about the remarkably diverse talents of Acadian writers. To launch such a discussion, ask students to make a list of the numerous pursuits for which Leblanc and other Acadian poets are known. Herménégilde Chiasson is perhaps the best example of a multi-talented artist. Can students name similarly multi-talented Anglophone writers? If not, why? What is in the Acadian DNA (or culture) that enables writers to become accomplished in multiple artistic fields?
One experience that Acadians had that enriched and mobilized whole groups of artists was Acadian poetry nights (“les nuits de poésie”). First occurring in the late 1960s, these nights had widespread cultural significance and appeal, serving to consolidate whole groups of otherwise scattered artists, performers, activists, and creative personalities. The result was the creation of thriving artistic communities of similarly minded people of diverse talents who shared their aptitudes with others in close quarters. People who were musical or political or visually artistic experimented with poetry, and vice versa. This curriculum of New Brunswick literature has shown that similar nodes of creative fervour occurred in the province at different times in its history: in Fredericton during the Confederation period, in Saint John around Ted Campbell, in Sackville, and on the Miramichi. What lessons should New Brunswick communities, schools, and policy makers learn from this fervour about supporting the arts? Why is supporting the arts, and the vibrant artistic communities that result, so integral for the social health of the province?
Key Stage Curriculum Outcomes:
- Speaking and Listening: Examine others’ ideas and synthesize what is helpful to clarify and expand on their own understanding
Boudreau, Raoul. “Frontières de langue dans une litératture marginale: l’exemple de Gérald Leblanc.” Canadian Studies 21.35 (Dec. 1995): 153-63.
---. “La création de Moncton comme ‘capitale culturelle’ dans l’oeuvre de Gérald Leblanc.” Revue de l’Université de Moncton 38.1 (2007): 33-56.
Bruce, Clint. “Gérald Leblanc et l’univers micro-cosmopolite de Moncton.” Études canadiennes 31.58 (2005): 205-220.
Caland, Fabienne Claire. “Les vagabondages de Gérald Leblanc en terre poétique.” Revue de l’Université de Moncton 38.1 (2007): 57-74.
Chiasson, Herménégilde. “Préface à la Première Édition: Pour Saluer Gérald Leblanc.” L’Extrême Frontière, Poèmes 1972-1988. Sudbury, ON: Éditions Prise de parole, 2015. 13-21.
Cormier, Pénélope. “Préface. Gérald Leblanc: Parcours Intime, Parcours Social.” L’Extrême Frontière, Poèmes 1972-1988. Sudbury, ON: Éditions Prise de parole, 2015. 13-21. 5-12.
L’extrême frontière, l’oeuvre poétique de Gérald Leblanc. Dir. Jean Rodrique. Office national du film du Canada, 2006. [Living on the Edge, the Poetic Works of Gérald Leblanc. National Film Board of Canada, 2006].
Leblanc, Gérald. L’Extrême frontière, poèmes 1972-1988. Moncton: Éditions d’Acadie, 1988. [Rpt. Sudbury, ON: Éditions Prise de parole, 2015.]
Paré, François. “Leblanc, Ginsberg, Bey et autres visionnaires.” Revue de l’Université de Moncton 38.1 (2007): 75-92.
de Saussure, Ferdinand. Course in General Linguistics. 3rd ed. Trans. Roy Harris. Chicago: Open Court Publishing, 1986.
For much more detailed primary and secondary source bibliographies, we normally direct readers to the appropriate entry in The New Brunswick Literary Encyclopedia. Though a Gérald Leblanc entry is in production, it is not yet finalized. Please check the NBLE periodically for updates.
We gratefully acknowledge the generosity of Paul Bourque, Gérald Leblanc’s literary executor, and Goose Lane Editions for allowing us to use the poems above for this curriculum. Further use or distribution of these poems, however, is a violation of Canadian copyright law and is strictly prohibited. Under no circumstance may literary material used in the curriculum be reproduced, distributed, or stored without the permission of the copyright holder.
“A Common Chord Echoes in Our Lives” appears in Poésie acadienne contemporaire / Acadian Poetry Now. Ed. Henri-Dominique Paratte. Moncton & Charlottetown: Les Éditions Perce-Neige & Ragweed Press, 1985. “Complicity,” “Acadielove,” and “To Love You” appear in Unfinished Dreams: Contemporary Poetry of Acadie. Ed. and Trans. Fred Cogswell and Jo-Anne Elder. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1990.
All contents except for poetry and fiction copyright © Tony Tremblay, James W. Johnson, and Alexandra Cogswell.