Friday, May 17, 2013

MEGAN'S GUITAR AND OTHER POEMS FROM ACADIE…


If there is such a phenomenon as a post-modern troubadour, poet Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana from Churchpoint, Louisiana, is that man. In his latest work, Megan's Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie, his lyrics sing about the Acadie that is, as a friend who attended his reading yesterday said, "his history." A writer unafraid to be called a poet of place, Darrell weaves the culture of south Louisiana, its ancestral and present-day characters,its artists like Acadie's own Elemore Morgan, its rituals and landscape into a tapestry of rich textures.
The introduction to Megan's Guitar is written by Barry Ancelet, Granger and Debaillon Endowed Professor of Francophone Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, whose alter ego Jean Arceneaux is a poet, playwright, songwriter and storyteller. Ancelet explains that Megan's Guitar was born in his living room when Darrell viewed a sewn silk art piece depicting a woman playing a guitar by Megan Barra. Darrell often uses the ekphrastic technique in his poetry – viewing art to inspire a poetic response – and was moved by the beautiful silk art piece that provides the cover and title of his latest book of poetry to research his Acadian past and explore in sonnet form, the vision and struggles of his ancestors.
Megan's Guitar is divided into three sections, Acadie Tropicale, poems about postmodern Acadia; Megan's Guitar, a section telling how song is "catalyst and clarifier" of history; and Acadie du nord, the northern Acadian experience.
In the section, Megan's Guitar, Darrell writes in the title poem that "Songs are in fingers as they are/in heart and brain and belly and feet…" and his sonnet reflects those songs in his own fingers, heart, brain, belly, and feet, moving felicitously like a medieval troubadour "inside this trembling world of ours." Although the section is short, it resounds with the chords of Darrell's personal history as a descendant of the migrating Acadians who survived the Grand Derangement. However, in "Vanitas," he writes about an experience common to all of us: "We are always slinking, always wedded/to everything before and after us, even as every rage/inside us is without consent quelled and put to bed."
I had read "Before the Sparrows Awakened" in the section entitled Acadie Tropicale, but it is a poem that resonates again and again with me and illuminates one of the cultural rituals that took place in Darrell's childhood: "Before daylight we were awakened by the voices/of my aunts in my mother's kitchen./As soon as my father and my uncles left for work,/they appeared like gauzy apparitions/and shadowed our backdoor. The sky outside was but a dimly lighted sheet/and the sparrows were still drowsing lazily/in the upper branches of the trees./These birds were rhymes for who we were/in our beds; still, but being awakened/slowly by the voices and the perfume creeping/into the woodwork as water plumped/the dark, rich grounds in the little blue pot/stirring inside another pot on the stove./The anxious thoughts these women carried inside,/they put out on the table/along with whatever was left from yesterday:/sweet dough pie or fig cakes,/gateau sirop or des Oreilles de cochon./On this fare they would break fast/and whatever gleamed in their lives or in lives/close by, they lighted the room with./This hour was something they had taken as theirs,/and it was their job to start the day."  The imagery in this poem is energetic and picturesque and illustrates how Darrell often pays tribute to his generous and self-effacing kinspeople in his songs about Acadie without making declarative statements about those two familial qualities.
Many of the poems in Acadie du Nord feature Joseph Broussard, dit Beausoleil, who was the leader of the first group of Acadians to arrive in New Orleans in 1765. He also led resistance fighters against the British in Nova Scotia from their deportation to his departure for Santo Domingue. He arrived in the Attakapas area of south Louisiana in 1765 and was among three designated leaders of the Acadians. Notes about the poems featuring Beausoleil are included in the concluding section of Megan's Guitar and represent the intensive research that Darrell did before writing his wonderful sonnets.
The lonely figure of Evangeline appears in Darrell's sonnet entitled "Evangeline Speaks," and he captures the poignancy of lost love in lines about her faithfulness to a man whom she "may or may not have held dear …but I was never what they were, never a mother,/never even married…never with the women who foraged for medicinal teas/to save a spouse in a wild land no one knew, or nursed a child, never smothered/by want or dread….I was always covered by right image and right sound, measured neatly in what others wanted to believe."
Darrell, a personal friend who remains my mentor in poetry, has written a masterpiece in Megan's Guitar, and I was sorry I wasn't at his reading yesterday at ULL when he sang his songs to take those of us who have Acadian lineage back to our origins – and to transport those who were not of Acadian ancestry into further exploration and appreciation of a rich and magnificent history and culture. He has accomplished in each illuminating sonnet the two components which Robert Frost once touted as indicative of good poetry: wisdom and delight.
P.S. The stunning photograph of Darrell by John Slaughter in the end pages is a portrait that captures Darrell's strength of character and poetic sensibilities. In the photograph he looks like a French imperator! Bravo, Darrell – the victory is yours!
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