Anthology of French-Heritage Women

I’m honoured to be included in a new anthology of writings by women of French heritage called, Heliotrope: French-Heritage Women Create. Assembled by Franco-American scholar Rhea Coté Robbins, the volume is being published in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Franco-American Women’s Institute (FAWI) and includes the voices of more than 100 women, including novelist Annie Proulx, fiddler Donna Hébert, Susan Poulin (aka Ida LeClair), and myself. The anthology is just part of FAWI’s ongoing mission promote the contributions of French heritage women, both by looking back to the brave accomplishments of previous generations and looking forward to capture North American French culture as present, vibrant, and continually evolving. It’s great to be included, and I can’t wait to learn from the other contributors through their work.

“From Away”: FAA Residency

In July I’ll be participating in the Fredericton Arts Alliance Artist in Residence Program. This year’s residents have been asked to address the theme “New Ground,” to explore notions of place and home. These are frequent concerns in my work, but being new to Fredericton, this theme is especially resonant for me at the moment, and I look forward to concentrating on them during my residency.

I’ve decided to spend my residency exploring the phrase “come from away,” which is used by Maritimers to describe newcomers from other places — “newcomers” being a relative term; it may take generations to lose the “come from away” origin label. Being a “CFA” myself, I want to better understand what this phrase means: Where is the boundary between “here” and “away”? How long must one live in the Maritimes to be from “here”? Is there anything people who are “from away” have in common? What are the characteristics that separate Maritimers (or New Brunswickers, or Frederictonians) from we others? During my residency, I’ll invite visitors to teach me about their conceptions of place and home, and I’ll then use their input to develop new poems. I’m excited to learn and to work. (I’m also excited to share the residency space with New Brunswick textile artist and sculptor Allison Green!)

If you’ll be in Fredericton July 25-29, please come visit us at the Soldier’s Barracks, off Queen Street. If you’d like to contribute your ideas about what it means to be “from away,” feel free to visit my residency page and add your comments anytime.

New Poetry Reviews

My reviews of a handful of new Canadian poetry titles are up now at the Montreal Review of Books. This issue’s poetry coverage includes new collections by Carmine Starnino, Joshua Trotter, Ilona Martonfi, Margo Wheaton, and Michael Prior.

My first goal in writing poetry reviews is always to encourage other people to read poetry. I would respectfully disagree with William Carlos Williams, who said, “It is difficult to get the news from poems”; I think there is plenty of news to be gotten from this crop of new titles.

Profile @ Open Book Ontario

You can tell by the date of my last post (or I can, at least) that updating this site hasn’t been at the top of my list of priorities in recent months. But in the spirit of Patti Smith, I’ve been working: on new prose and poetry, some early sketches for a new play, my #hoems, and some very important and inspiring reading. I’ve also been parenting on a fairly full-time basis, which has defined the rhythm of my days absolutely. Other than a few book reviews here and there, I haven’t been sending my work out into the world on as regular a basis, unless you count fulfilling orders for the DVD of Piecework: When We Were French. I produced the DVD so that my solo show would outlive my ability to tour with it, and I’ve been happy to watch it do that, setting out one envelope at a time, destined for mailboxes back home in Vermont and in more exotic locales, like Paris and North Dakota.

With the start of a new year, it was a special pleasure to be the subject of a profile by Ottawa literary maven rob mcclennan in Open Book Ontario, and especially to answer rob’s questions about my work, past and present. It’s always clarifying to be asked a few clear and bracing questions. I can only hope I matched rob’s clarity with my answers. Talking about my work made me look forward to the year ahead. I hope to have more updates for you soon!

On Writing and Parenting

I have been following admiringly the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter’s occasional series On Writing. Amanda Earl’s piece on using poetry to shepherd herself through a major health crisis lingered with me for weeks, and I identified with Faizel Deen’s thoughts on the writer’s isolation. Mostly, I have coveted the opportunity to contemplate why I write, too.

My young son makes most contemplation difficult these days. I started to write about writing in brief bursts, as thoughts occurred to me, trying to trace my writerly lineage and articulate where I came from as a writer. But always my son intruded, figuratively where not literally. And so I let him. I started from the present rather than the past, from his words rather than my own.

I’m proud to say that my essay on writing (and parenting) is #11 in the series, and is up now on the Ottawa Poetry Newsletter.

Interview with Open Book Ontario

Today, in conjunction with the launch of my chapbook “Other Brief Discourses,” I’m featured on the website of Open Book Ontario. I recently participated in their new author interview series focusing on reading, which gave me the chance to talk about some books that I love.

Since my recent posts have focused on themes related to Piecework: When We Were French, it seems fitting to mention one of the books I’ve been reading lately. I highly recommend Jacques Cartier Errant / Jacques Cartier Discovers America, by Franco-American playwright, Gregoire Chabot. While it was written more than 30 years ago, and some of the themes do feel a bit dated, Chabot’s humour and insight are a pleasure. He writes in a French that will be recognizable to those who grew up speaking (or, like me, listening to) French in New England (although this volume also includes English translations by the author). What would Jacques Cartier think if he saw us today?

In lieu of a complete book report, I thought I would link to this beautiful open letter to Chabot, written by David Vermette. It addresses some of the questions about Franco-American identity shared by my generation, for whom language and culture are no longer as deeply interconnected as they were for our elders. We are, according to Vermette, a new beast: “The Anglophone Franco.”

Meanwhile, on the Piecework front, my Indiegogo fundraising campaign has passed the $5,000 mark, and we are approaching 75% of our overall fundraising goal. We have just 18 days left to fill the gap! If you haven’t donated yet, I hope you’ll consider pitching in today to support continuing the discussion in which Gregoire Chabot, David Vermette, my characters, and I are engaged. Click here to read more about it.

Ottawa Launch of “Other Brief Discourses”

Today I take a brief reprieve from my usual posts on topics related to Piecework: When We Were French to remind Ottawa folks that I will be launching my chapbook of poems, Other Brief Discourses, with a reading this Friday night.

The Factory Reading Series presents:
Hugh Thomas
Michael Blouin
Brecken Hancock
+ Abby Paige

Friday, February 22, 2013
Doors 7pm, Reading 7:30pm
The Carleton Tavern (upstairs)
223 Armstrong Street (at Parkdale) in Ottawa

Other Brief Discourses was released earlier this month by Ottawa’s above/ground press. You can find more information about the chapbook and the reading at their website.

DVD Fundraising Update: A Week 4 Enticement!

On January 22nd, I launched a fundraising campaign to support the production of a DVD of my solo show, Piecework: When We Were French. Yesterday marked the beginning of the campaign’s fourth week, and I’m excited to report that, with 22 days down, we’ve been able to raise 60% of our overall goal. This is encouraging! It is a sign of audiences’ enthusiastic support for the show and their interest in questions of heritage, culture, and identity that the show explores.

Now at our campaign’s half-way point, it’s more critical than ever that we keep up our momentum, which is why I’m offering a special reward for the next ten donors to our campaign.

If you give now, you will receive, in addition to the usual donor rewards, a copy of my chapbook of poems, Other Brief Discourses, published this month by Ottawa’s above/ground press. The poems tell the story of a recent voyage by French explorer Samuel de Champlain to the territories formerly known as New France. It is an imagined encounter between past and present, here and there, sure to delight history buffs and poetry lovers. And the handsome little chapbook can be yours — in addition to the usual rewards — when you donate now.

But be quick! Three lucky donors have already claimed this special enticement, so there are only seven chapbooks remaining. Join the generous donors who have blazed a trail ahead of you, and help us continue the push toward our $7,000 goal. Every donation takes the DVD one step closer to production! Reserve your copy now.

Kerouac: Franco-America’s Favorite Son

Once I learned that Jack Kerouac was Franco-American, I wondered how I had never figured it out on my own: his boxy, square head and dark eyes; his clean part; his humor and his melancholy, intertwined; the alcoholism that killed him; his visionary uprootedness. Suddenly, knowing his origins in a Massachusetts mill town, Ti-Jean Kerouac, seemed familiar, a black sheep uncle who died too young for me to meet him.

But like that uncle who died too soon, it’s hard to separate mythology from reality. Who knows who he was really. Although Kerouac’s life has been well documented, the aura of Beatnik cool around him usually overpowers fact.

In 1987 Acadian poet and playwright Herménégilde Chiasson made the film, Jack Kerouac’s Road – A Franco-American Odyssey. While it is dressed up with the same romanticized sense of tragedy that always tends to obscure Kerouac, I enjoyed this film because it gets at how Kerouac’s background and French-Canadian roots might have influenced his work. The importance of his Frenchness can be overstated (and the importance of his drunkenness, understated) by those who want to claim Kerouac as one of their own, but I share the link to the film (which can be streamed on the National Film Board site) because there are many ways in which Kerouac seems to me like a typical Franco-American and a typical first-generation American: a desperation to escape the past, combined with the knowledge that escape is impossible; a dream of redemption; a search for identity that itself becomes an identity.

We’re about to enter the fourth week of fundraising to support the DVD production of Piecework: When We Were French, which explores some of these same ideas. Have you made your contribution yet?