vendredi 15 février 2008

Insécurité Linguistique

Today I watched a film called Éloge du chiac, which was basically a documentary featuring an argument between fourteen year olds (in 1969) over linguistic primacy in Moncton. I've mentioned chiac before, comme c'est un right weird way de parler si vous autres l'avez pas entendu. In Cajun English, there is, of course, a similar phenomenon: the mixture of English syntax with Cajun locutions, such as "Mais, I went to the bar me, and I got casséd." It is a less extreme version of some of the more pronounced forms of chiac here, yet like chiac, it is a source of both cultural pride and insecurity.

This ambivalence toward one's dialect creates a fierce communal situation which is one of the links between the Acadian and Cajun cultures. The people within both cultures strongly identify with their heritage-or at least make a strong showing for it. Many critics have descried the fact that Cajuns have more or less lost their French as evidence that they are assimilating into mainstream American culture. This is a harsh and ignorant stance.

Cultures evolve, and one cannot fault another for learning the language of the land in order to feed his or her family. But nevertheless, the Acadians qui parle chiac can teach the Cajuns something about dynamism.

For instance, the primary pro-chiac girl in the video, a Melançon, said, "Si je rencontre un français, je vais sortir mon bon français., pis chez nous autres, on parle du chiac. Pis s'il y a des anglophones, je peux parler tout en anglais. Ça montre qu'on est pas mal smart." (If I meet a francophone, I pull out my good French, and at home, we speak chiac. And if there are anglophones, I can speak completely in English. It shows us to be pretty smart.)

There is a code-switching that demonstrates that the culture is ready to play ball, but will not forget the intensity of the heritage experience, the secret language of the initiated.

This is interesting when it comes to regional poetry as well, because here à Moncton, many writers write in chiac or variations of Acadian French. Yet I have my own linguistic insecurity. I don't alter my orthography to math the phonetics of Cajun English. My syntax, yes. Do I throw in French words, occasionally. But whereas poets from Guy Arsenault to Georgette LeBlanc feel comfortable writing "ej" for "je" and "rinque" or "yinque" for "rien que," I will not write "dis" for "this." In English, this looks comical, sort of ridiculous, and nearly impossible for someone to take seriously on a poetic level. In Alma by Georgette LeBlanc, I see nothing of the over-quaintness of orthographically modified regional slang. But apparently, les québécois might, and almost certainly les français.

I still feel a need to both embody and rupture my culture, my psyche, my poetics in this. For right now, I need other anglophones to take me seriously, and so I

jeudi 14 février 2008

Valentines and Cultural Success

This afternoon I witnessed an extraordinary event: the release of a book by David Adams Richards at the gallérie d'art à l'université de Moncton. Besides the author in question, the matriarch of Acadian letters, Antonine Maillet, was there and said kind things about him. She called for the amicable coexistence of the two literary traditions in New Brunswick, one English and the other French, noting that she herself needed the work of someone like David Adams Richards.

Mr. Richards, what one would describe as a poetic realist, gave an interesting account of humanity, of not placing oneself apart from it, and to not become lost in a world of books so much so that you ignore the humanity of others. This, I feel, is indeed a very important point. And the magnanimity of Tante Tonine was astounding, especially for someone so learned and so iconic. May I note here that Richards lives now in Toronto (not in his hometown of Miramichi) and Tonine lives in Montreal (if I am not mistaken).

This brings me to my real point--the role of the writer who leaves and further, the role of the writer in his community after he meets with success.

I personally have left Louisiana in many ways. I don't plan on living there for at least the next four years, and who's to say from there. I'd like to think I'll move back to be close to my families and culture, but for right now, I am content to be away. Furthermore, I will not attempt to fashion my oeuvre as a closed, ethnic work. But does this mean I've betrayed my culture?

I'd hope not, but I am doubtful. I already see the phenomenon of people undercutting the success of their own here in Moncton. It almost seems as if people would rather the artist to never rise to more success than a single community can give. For instance, the musician Zachary Richard is derided a bit (not necessarily vehemently) in Louisiana whereas Acadians here love him. Although people may say it is his arrogance (which I cannot comment on having never met him), I believe that it is more his attitude of I am an artist who will not be bound by even my own culture. I personally think his renditions of the Cajun standards, while not reflective of the folklorist version of our heritage we sell to tourists, are very interesting, as is his ability to produce new music.

There are many parallels here in Moncton: those who have reached fame and validation outside of Acadie who are now considered vendu (a sell-out). This I feel is awful. The success of artists outside of a close-knit community is the sign that the culture is making a lasting hold in the artistic tradition of the world--meaning that it will avoid what all art wants to avoid: being forgotten.

By the way, Happy Valentine's Day!

mardi 12 février 2008

The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful

It's time to boast a little. I've had possibly the best poetry two weeks I can imagine:

I gave my reading at the Attic Owl, which was a success. Everyone was very receptive and entertained, I think, even though I may have read a little too long. Even two professors from the university came and enjoyed themselves.

I met Linda in New York, where we went to the AWP bookfair and met with friends. I got a lot of good information from journals and got to see some Bucknellians after too long a delay. Most importantly, I got to see Linda.

I finished the second cantica of Evangeline.

While in New York, I received an email from the co-director of the Northrop Frye festival, which is the biggest literary event in Atlantic Canada. He invited me to do two readings and a school visit, for which I will be paid.

I received another email there from The Louisiana Review, who will be publishing two poems of mine ("Feu-Follet" and "Searching for the Grave of Walt Whitman") this spring.

Linda and I returned to Moncton where I received a message from Ken McClane. I was cooking a Cajun feast and could not answer the phone. Mr. McClane is on the creative writing faculty at Cornell University and called to notify me that I was accepted as 1 of 4 poets in the MFA program with full funding (tuition and stipend) and a two year lectureship after I graduate. Cornell is the most selective school in the country and consistently ranks at the top of the list for every criterion. There is almost no way that Linda and I won't be moving to Ithaca right after the wedding.

This will make this semester travel more quickly Thank God. I will visit Ithaca in three weeks. Then I will see Linda in New Orleans right before Holy Week. After Easter, I'll have less than a month in Canada. This leaves me with little time to finish the rest of Evangeline, but that's fine. I probably need a little more distance from Moncton to really write about it, as I did with New Orleans, Chauvin, and America.