Georgette LeBlanc became Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate on January 1, 2018. Ms. LeBlanc is the eighth poet to hold this office, succeeding George Elliott Clarke, whose two-year term ended on December 31, 2017.
Born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, Georgette LeBlanc grew up in Baie Sainte-Marie, Nova Scotia. She holds a Doctorate in Francophone Studies from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Her published works include Alma (2007), Amédé (2010), Prudent (2013) (finalist for the 2014 Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry), and most recently, Le Grand Feu (2016), published by Éditions Perce-Neige, where she edits the poetry collection Acadie tropicale. She has also collaborated on and contributed to theatrical, televisual and musical projects.
Congratulations Ms. Leblanc on your appointment as Parliamentary Poet Laureate. You have received many accolades in your distinguished career as a poet and dramaturge. Why take on this new role and what do you hope to achieve?
I consider myself a poet, first and foremost. However, over the years I have noticed that my books are sometimes found in the theatre category in bookstores! I find this interesting, since I write and publish books of poetry. Poetic novels. Each story/account has its own form and narrative structure, but free verse is always the dominant form.
As Parliamentary Poet Laureate, my simple and humble hope is to share this poetic universe and what the poem means to me. I also hope to continue to encourage and inspire other people to write poetry.
In your award-winning work Prudent, you tell the story of Prudent Robichaud during the Acadian expulsion. What inspired you about his story and that period in Canadian history?
This chapter in Canadian history has been inspiring me for years, given that Prudent Robichaud is part of my personal history as well as our national and Acadian history. As was the case for every book, I spent a long time reflecting carefully on both the character and the historic event. It was the character who spoke to me. I understood very early on that it would be impossible to separate the character from the tragic event. Through the act of writing, I was trying to better understand and internalize (for myself) the personal dimension of this national disgrace. Worse than defeat, the Deportation is felt here as an act of extreme treason. Don’t forget that the Acadian people, one of the founding peoples of Canada (as we know it today), lived and worked alongside “our friends, the enemy” at the time (18th century), the British, who quite often were not really the enemy at all. Military order and decisions often thwarted or contradicted the reality and the economic prosperity of others.
Prudent is a bit of an anti-hero in the narrative because he is suffering a personal defeat. In the hold of the boat, Prudent must face reprisals from his extended family. In this case, words are healing: rather than wallowing in rage and violence, the Acadians on board the Pembroke manage to take control of their own story.
How is your work inspired by Acadia more generally?
Acadia is a constant source of inspiration. It’s one of the main themes that I have inherited.
Who was your favourite poet when you were growing up? What were the first subjects you wrote poetry about?
What youth?! I have been inspired by a number of poets – of all nationalities – over the years, including translations of Pablo Neruda’s poems early on, poets in the anthology of Canadian poets in my Grade 10 or 11 English class, such as Pam Lowther’s text “carrots” for its simplicity, Acadian poets including Herménégilde Chiasson (Mourir à Scoudouc), Ann Sexton, and Al Purdy, as well as Power Politics by Margaret Atwood. I’m also inspired by the poetry of other poets I write with and with whom I published some of my first poems. This includes André Muise and the literary review Éloizes in Moncton, Guy Drouin, Robert Finley, Philip Levine (What Work Is), George Elliott Clarke (Whylah Falls) – a text of discovery – A Saving Grace by Lorna Crozier, which led me to my friend Simon Thibault. There are too many to name!
My first poems dealt with themes like profound solitude, melancholy, identity, as well as physical and other forms of love.
Name a poet you think all Parliamentarians should take the time to read and why?
Male and female Acadian poets! Quite simply, anything and everything that is going on or has to do with Acadia.
What words of advice would you give to an aspiring poet?
My advice to future poets is to listen to one another and to share their work — even their first drafts — with someone they trust (which isn’t easy!), who will be able to read them with open hearts and minds. I would also say let editors worry about the editing. Read lots, of course, but more importantly, live life!