Raymond Guy LeBlanc
Acadian poet, philosopher, and musician Raymond Guy LeBlanc was born on 24 January 1945 in the village of Saint-Anselme (since incorporated into Dieppe). Music played a formative role in his childhood and became an abiding influence throughout his career. As he admitted in a 2000 interview with Robert Viau, “my poetry is primarily based in music.” As a teenager, LeBlanc attended Collège Dominique Savio in Saint-Louis-de-Kent, where he demonstrated a precocious talent for writing. At Collège l’Assomption in Moncton, LeBlanc discovered the work of Acadian and French poets like Émile Nelligan (1879–1941), Albert Lozeau (1878–1924), Alphonse de Lamartine (1790–1896), Ronald Després (1935– ), and Hector de Saint-Denys Garneau (1912–1943). LeBlanc enrolled in Université de Moncton, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts (1966). His early awareness of social and political issues led him to become involved in protests of the Vietnam War, and in the Acadian nationalist movement. In 1966 he participated in the Ralliement de la jeunesse intended to promote Acadian culture and identity (C. LeBlanc 2). Receiving one of the first France-Acadie bursaries, he spent the 1968–69 academic year studying in Aix-en-Provence in southern France and witnessed there the revolutionary protests of May 1968. He later remarked that it was during this time, a period of political upheaval, that he began to believe that he “had something to contribute” (Viau 2000, 161).
It was also in Aix-en-Provence that the young LeBlanc wrote, in a single night, the four-part poem “Petitcodiac,” later included in his first collection. Its references to Memramcook and Fort Beauséjour recall the British Expulsion of Acadians and the latter’s resistance (1755–1763). Imagery like the “flag of a British Saint John” and “Irving’s Sentinel” indicate the continued and ominous presence of an alien and alienating culture. Influenced by the work of Claude Gauvreau and French avant-garde lettrism, the latter half of the poem is increasingly dominated by portmanteau neologisms and signals a revolutionary rejection of the political and economic conditions in his homeland.
LeBlanc’s first book of poetry, Cri de terre (1972), was the first publication of Les Éditions d’Acadie and the first work of poetry published in contemporary Acadia. It is widely considered to be a foundational text of the Acadian renaissance and propelled him to the status of “national poet” for an emergent nationalist movement (G. LeBlanc, La mer en feu 7).
The poem “Plan For A Country (Acadie-Québec)” considers the possibility of a Acadian-Québécois state which will “change the misery of slaves / Into the reality of new and free men” but these realities remain merely “possible worlds” (Cogswell 120-1), just as Acadie itself is merely an “imagined country without borders without futures” whose people are “in the absence of [them]selves” (“Acadie,” C. LeBlanc’s trans. 71).
In the context of generations of socio-economic domination by “those who invaded the country” (Viau 2001, 49), Cri de terre asserts the need to establish an Acadian identity: one that is neither bogged down in its Catholic heritage nor absorbed into a dominant Anglophone culture. The collection’s oft-anthologized final poem, “I Am Acadian,” hints at the continued dominance by Catholicism in the image of “cathedrals of fear,” while the incursive Anglophone culture is represented by the poet’s almost involuntary use of English loan-words. The struggle for identity and for recognition ends with a hopeless, desultory affirmation:
I am Acadian
Stuffed dispersed bought alienated sold out
rebellious. A here there and everywhere
Man torn open towards the future. (Cogswell 121)
After decades of oppression, Cri de terre almost single-handedly brought to light and named a culture, community, and experience that until then had lacked the voice to name itself. As the poet later remarked, “it was really denouncing a situation to assert rights” (Viau 2000, 161, my trans.). From the beginning, it was also a poetic consideration of the project of an Acadian state, which for LeBlanc was grounded in a poetics of naming: the signposting of streets, landmarks, and cities performed a Genesis-like renaming of the Acadian empirical experience. Yet LeBlanc’s was not the voice of one crying in the wilderness: his early interrogation of Acadie, its present condition, and future hopes, were the first fruits of a nationalist movement that was teeming just below the surface, and was followed closely by Guy Arsenault’s Acadie Rock (1973) and Herménégilde Chiasson’s Mourir à Scoudouc (1974).
Throughout the 1970s, LeBlanc worked with the socially disadvantaged and with the Association des pêcheurs professionnels acadiens (later the Maritime Fishermen’s Union), fighting to establish fishing rights and promoting solidarity between French and Anglophone fishermen. It was also during this time that he began giving writing workshops, unofficially at first, then with the Association of Acadian Writers and, since 1994, at l’Université de Moncton. As a scholar at the universities of Moncton, Aix-en-Provence, and Montreal, LeBlanc wrote about Henri Bergson, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. An accomplished musician, he formed bands in several musical styles, and accompanied artists such as Donat Lacroix and the violin virtuoso Johnny Aucoin. From 1973 on, he gave lectures in Philosophy and French at l’Université de Moncton, completing a Master’s in Philosophy from the same in 1974. However, despite all his social, academic, and creative commitments, LeBlanc remained primarily a poet.
In Acadie / Expérience (1977), LeBlanc and Jean-Guy Rens brought together traditional Acadian poetry and ballads with the work of the “young poets” of their own generation to create an anthology that affirms the history of Acadian culture while demonstrating its continued vitality. While the collection was intended to be published in the same year as Cri de terre, negotiations with the publisher caused a delay of five years (Viau 2001, 63).
LeBlanc’s doctoral work at l’Université de Montréal commenced in 1984 but was discontinued in 1986. With the nationalistic hopes of the Acadian community disappointed, LeBlanc’s long-awaited second collection of poetry Chants d’amour et d’espoir (1988) took a more personal turn. At a poetry reading given around the time of the collection’s publication, LeBlanc remarked, “I began with Cri de terre, a cry of belonging, rebellion and affirmation, but today I finally learned to speak” (Archives vii). Comprised of poems written between 1981 and 1988, it is set in the cosmopolitan Québécois capital and expresses the poet’s “spiritual wonderment” (C. LeBlanc viii) upon meeting and falling in love with his future wife, Lise:
I still have in mind your smile your eyes
The ocean of tenderness that shook me out of myself
My frail boat on the sand at your feet (my trans.)
In 1990, selections of LeBlanc’s poetry were included in an anthology of Acadian poetry, Rêves inachevés (published by Éditions d’Acadie and released simultaneously in English by Goose Lane Editions as Unfinished Dreams). The editors note that LeBlanc and fellow poets Guy Arsenault and Herménégilde Chiasson “influenced Acadian poetry because they were equal to the historical context in which they found themselves” (Cogswell & Elder xx).
A third book of poetry, La mer en feu (1993), portrays the poet’s artistic and intellectual journey through the years 1964 to 1992, and thus contains work written before the publication of his first collection and during the long hiatus that followed it. Containing some 180 poems, it combines the intimate and autobiographical approach of Chants d’amour et d’espoir with the “poésie militant” manifestoes of Cri de terre (Arcand et al 115).
Over the course of his career, LeBlanc has been awarded several prestigious literary prizes: the Pascal-Poirier Prix d'Excellence en littérature de langue française (1998) for his ouevre to that point. Archives de la présence (2005), an anthology of work from LeBlanc’s first four collections, won him the Prix France-Acadie (2006) and the Prix Éloizes de l’Artiste de l’année en littérature (2007). LeBlanc’s poems and articles have been published in literary journals in New Brunswick, Quebec, France, and Belgium. He has also been invited to read at numerous literary events, including the International Poetry Festival in Trois-Rivières (1994, 1998, 2005), Vancouver (Expo 1986), New Orleans (ACSUS Congress in 1993), and the International Book Fair in Brussels in 1994. From 2000 to 2005 he worked on the radio program “Trajectories” for Radio-Canada Moncton, taking great pleasure in the opportunity to introduce audiences to new artists.
LeBlanc's most recent collection, Empreintes (2011), finds the poet expressing appreciation and wonder for the simple things. With quiet wisdom, these poems often evoke the stillness of haiku even when not strictly following its form:
a red sun on purple sky
blue clouds and lightning
before the rain (my trans.)
While this collection finds the poet comfortably expressing the quiet happiness of family life (for example, “Cornhill”), poems like “Bathurst (après)” continue to point out economic injustice endemic to the area: “City of unionized workers seeking pay / City open to the bay and an uncertain future.” In the poem “Fredericton,” on the other hand, New Brunswick’s capital city is a place of movement despite its “frozen air” – a place that “dictates the course of things / between the walls of great houses” where one finds people “who prefer to watch water run / Under the bridge” (my trans.).
Always passionately involved in his community, LeBlanc served as development officer for the Société des Acadiens et des Acadiennes du Nouveau-Brunswick from 2002 to 2007. In 2000, he reflected on his work as a teacher: “Now I help people discover their own poetry. It is a natural extension of what I was doing when I was little, when I was helping my little brother make his own games” (my trans., Viau 2000, 172).
Patrick Leech, Fall 2015
Bibliography of Primary Sources
LeBlanc, Raymond Guy. Archives de la présence. Moncton: Éditions Perce-Neige, 2005.
---. Chants d’amour et d’espoir. Moncton: Michel Henry éditeur, 1988.
---. Cri de terre. Moncton: Éditions d’Acadie, 1972.
---. Empreintes. Moncton: Éditions Perce-Neige, 2011.
---. La contestation étudiante. Moncton: U de Moncton, 1968.
---. La mer en feu: Poèmes 1964–1992. Moncton: Éditions Perce-Neige / L’Orange bleue éditeur, 1993.
LeBlanc, Raymond Guy, and Jean-Guy Rens. Acadie / Expérience, choix de textes Acadiens: Complaintes, poèmes et chansons. Montréal: Parti Pris, 1977.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
Arcand, Pierre-André, Gérard Leblanc, and Pierre Roy. “Une poésie militante.” Revue de l'Université de Moncton 5.1 (1972): 115-8.
Cogswell, Fred, and Jo-Anne Elder, trans. and eds. Unfinished Dreams: Contemporary Poetry Acadie. Fredericton: Goose Lane, 1990.
Girouard, Anna. Raymond Guy LeBlanc, homme d’action. Sainte-Marie-de-Kent: Éditions Balises, 2007.
LeBlanc, Catriona. “Cri de terre: A Translation of Raymond Guy LeBlanc’s Cri De Terre.” Diss. Dalhousie U, 1998.
Lonergan, David, ed. Paroles d’Acadie: Anthologie de la littérature acadienne (1958–2009). Sudbury: Prise de parole, 2010. 69-80.
Viau, Robert, “‘Les poètes n’ont pas le droit de se taire’: L’oeuvre de Raymond Guy LeBlanc.” Études en littérature canadienne / Studies in Canadian Literature 26.1 (2001): 46-64.
---. “Raymond Guy LeBlanc: ‘Avant je criais aujourd’hui je parle.’” Études en littérature canadienne / Studies in Canadian Literature 25.2 (2000): 159-175.