The Sealy Challenge
#𝗧𝗵𝗲𝗦𝗲𝗮𝗹𝘆𝗖𝗵𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗻𝗴𝗲 𝗗𝗮𝘆 7:
This is a French chapbook by legendary Quebecois poet Gilles Vigneault. Funny story, I met him once as a child and attended a poetry reading in sixth grade at my school because we were changing the name from École Glencoe to École Gilles Vigneault. I had no idea who he was but I remember seeing him read to us from his little book and feeling that he was someone important.
Vigneault is a proud Quebecois man. There is a historical context to his words. He came up as a poet during the quiet revolution of the 60s in Quebec where separation of church and state became a priority for many French Canadians as well as national pride in being from Quebec, the only French majority province in Canada fighting to keep its French identity. Because of this, his work is hyper-focused on these people; his people and his country. My eye ultimately notices the absence of Indigenous existence in this body of work who might have occupied the same space or even had to leave the same spaces in order for new identities like his to forge (I can’t speak of his other collections as I’m not familiar). His nationalist point of view is all over his work.
This body of work is, well, like the title suggests, very dreamy. He speaks of sheep and children and having a sense of belonging as a community. He offers lullabies for every day of the week. He laments about being a poor student who has no money in his pocket but walks like a millionaire. He has an interesting poem about dreaming to visit Louisiana with his sister Anna, which we find out eventually is dead. I find it interesting because my first impression is that he wants to go to Louisiana because they speak some French and have a colonial history with France. He considers it a “country lost” and to me, it’s such an incredibly colonial lens to look at it from (the French sold Louisiana to the United States in 1803) that it’s hard for me to relate to it. The land is Indigenous to its people first, not the first settler-colonies that made it there.
What also struck me is this poem, which is a letter of reception by an “Assistant Director” that translates to this:
“We, the undersigned, believe that every student has the unquestionable right to speak out, publicly and privately, on issues that concern them. We, therefore, have no objection to a student writing to his minister or any of his subordinates, whether he likes it or not. Education is everyone’s business. And it is never too early to take responsibility.”
With the current battle about Critical Race Theory being taught in schools and the stifling of some political movements in academic circles like BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction), I thought this passage was still relevant.
All in all, I understand Vigneault’s significance to French Canadian culture and the pride he cultivated with his work and continues to cultivate to this day at 92 years old, although I don’t necessarily connect to his work as much as I would have wanted to.
𝗠𝘆 𝗳𝗮𝘃𝗼𝗿𝗶𝘁𝗲 𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗲𝘀/𝗽𝗮𝗿𝘁𝘀/𝗽𝗼𝗲𝗺𝘀:
The first line of every poem in Quatre pays (Four countries)
“ Le pays d’un homme qui rit / Le pay d’un homme qui pleure / Le pays de l’homme qui fuit / Le pays de l’homme qui reste” which translates to “The country of a man who laughs / The country of a man who cries / The country of a man who flees / The country of a man who stays”