By Darrell Bourque
UL Press, $10 softcover
Inspired by a needlework image of a guitar crafted by a woman named Megan, former poet laureate Darrell Bourque has assembled a collection of both new and old poems that also forms images from his native Acadiana. Bourque’s tapestry is woven with threads of time and the voices that speak in his stories are from contemporary and historical figures. All are steeped in the French culture and language that makes the south Louisiana region unique.
Megan’s Guitar comprises threes sections: “Acadie Tropicale,” 27 poems in Louisiana; “Megan’s Guitar,” three bridge poems; and “Acadie Du Nord,” 27 poems from the time of the Acadiana removal from Canada in the 17th century. In the acknowledgements at the back of the book, Bourque allows that it is “a largely imagined work with supporting research.” The poems are sonnets, and Bourque occasionally uses rhyming verses, but mostly does not in order to remain true to the natural speech patterns of his narrators.
In “Before The Sparrows Wakened,” a group of Acadian women gather in a kitchen one early morning to enjoy “gateau sirop or des oreilles de cochon” — syrup cakes and pigs’ ears (fried dough drizzled with sugar or syrup as the poet explains in the convenient notes about each poem at the back of the book).
On this fare they would break fast
and whatever gleam in their lives or in lives
close by, they lighted the room with.
This same elegant simplicity of expression adds grace to the description of an everyday event like a rainstorm as in “Standing Water In The Yard On The Feast Day Of Saint Médard.”
The clouds thickened and knitted
themselves over windows and doors.
It was if they wanted to come in,
to be with us.
In “Turtle Dreams,” the poet tries to make sense of his nightly visions of turtles, “how they work their way into my dreams.”
Another night I hear my Creole friend make poems
about her father catching and cooking caouane
for their supper. Caouane stew, couane sauce-picante,
couane soup laced with sherry served over white rice.
Any good Louisiana poem will eventually mention food. But the proto-turtle the poet envisions at the conclusion of the poem is not a live animal but a glass idol on an altar.
The last section of the book gives voice to legendary Acadian characters, including the leader of the resistance to the English in Canada, Joseph Broussard or Beausoleil. In “Beausoleil Talks To His Daughter Françoise,” he describes a different type of woman than the romanticized visions in many plays and stories about the removal.
… Your arms and legs and heart and lungs can take on
whatever arms and legs and heart and lungs are often and repeatedly asked to do
when trouble shows its face. You tend to men as though they were all your sons,
to women as though everyone were sister to you. You know what is right and true
when others fail with nightmare and despair …
The iconic Evangeline herself takes on a stronger, more pragmatic persona in Bourque’s “Evangeline Speaks.”
That girl you think you see beneath the oaks beside the Teche, she is other
than the girl I was. I was surely with all those other women forced to leave
a life they had grown into, but I was never what they were, never a mother,
- ever even married. When other women gathered reeds and grasses to weave
into baskets, I was there and I may well have helped them. But let’s be clear,
I grew into something that had to do mostly with what people need of me.
Bourque is a brilliant poet with a deep and abiding love of Louisiana, its people past and present and of the certain patois or Creole dialect that is endemic to the part of Acadiana where he grew up and still lives. He is a treasure, and this book is a good example of why that is true.