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Language Matters: Interviews with 22 Quebec Poets

by Carolyn Marie Souaid and Endre Farkas; eds.

It is hardly surprising that poets should be articulate and thoughtful in conversation about their practice. Their daily working lives constellate around language: listening to it, looking for it, recording it before whatever the Muse whispers to them evanesces. We never lose interest in overhearing writers talk about writing. To know whether so-and-so uses a ballpoint pen and Hilroy notebook or a Mac, whether she writes best at morning or at night, and what her excuses are for procrastinating, is thrilling.

The Quebec poets featured in Language Matters are almost uniformly smart and thoughtful in answering a series of set questions. These include factual inquiries such as “Where were you born?” and “When do you write best?” But, as the title suggests, the interviewers are primarily interested in how living in Quebec and writing in English has influenced each poet’s work.

There is no clear consensus. Some poets are essentially apolitical, while others believe that everything an Anglophone does in Quebec is a political act. Mark Abley wisely notes that English is not under threat in Quebec in the way that many languages across the world are, while co-editor Carolyn Marie Souaid, who is fluently bilingual, admits she deliberately speaks English in stores to assert the right of the minority language to be used.

The questions vary from the straightforward (“Which Québec poet did you first read?” – Leonard Cohen is the answer for a stunning majority) to the complex (“Why do you write?”), and the responses tell us much about the poets (Stephanie Bolster, Erin Mouré, Jason Camlot, Robyn Sarah, among many others) and their work, as well as providing insight into their strategies for composing poems. Anyone interested in poetry in general, and especially poetry in Quebec, will find these interviews deeply engaging.