by Wayne Grady
WHILE QUEBEC LITERATURE was undergoing a quiet revolution in the 1960s, a similar `Acadian Renaissance` was taking place among French-language writers in the Maritimes. Unfinished Dreams (Goose Lane Editions, 172 pages, $16.95 paper), an anthology of recent Acadian poetry, "does not include the Acadian poets of the 1950s," writes Raoul Boudreau in his introduction, "whose poetry was religious, patriotic and conformist," but concentrates on the younger generation of poets, those whose work is "anti-literary and anti-formalist" The poems are still patriotic, but they are far from conformist; they are rather frenzied glimpses into the "unfinished dreams" of a people awakening to the reality of their oppression.
If Quebec writers felt culturally dominated by English Canada and the United States, Acadian writers were swamped not only by the rest of Canada and the United States, but by Quebec as well. As Raymond Guy Leblanc curses,
Had I at least a few twelve-storey tabernacles
And toasted hosties
I`d know myself to be a Quebecois
But I am Acadian and content with aping...
The dominant emotion in much Acadian poetry is anger. In "My Acadie" Ronald Despres, one of the first renaissance poets, writes that Acadia is:
A shabby toy encased in seaweed
Gloomy majesty in deep mourning
Moving against the colonial dream
Between aimed gum in their emplacements
Hermenegilde Chiasson laments in one poem that "Acadie is no more," and in another mourns for "Acadie, my too beautiful desecrated love." For Gerald Leblanc, in "Acadielove," his country "is a chain of villages / or a drunken jig or a clothesline..." And Martin Pitre declares, "I am die imperative present"
Unfinished Dreams is the translation of Reves inacheves, an anthology compiled by Fred Cogswell and Jo-Anne Elder and published last fall by Editions Acadie. It is the first of its kind to appear either in French or English, let alone in French and English, and I hope the trend continues. Too many English Canadians think of French Canadian literature, when they think of it at all, as exclusively the product of Quebec.