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by Herménégilde Chiasson
translated by Jo-Anne Elder & Fred Cogswell

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list price: $18.95
also available: eBook
category: Poetry
published: 2001

Conversations, a collection of poetry that won the 1999 Governor General's Award (French Language), is a sequence of 999 numbered fragments that record the essence of verbal interactions between two people. Over a period of a year, Herménégilde Chiasson captured snatches of conversations overheard, conversations he had with other people, even reported conversations. Then he distilled what was said and his observations into a series of single sentences, each attributed to a strangely impersonal He or She. Chiasson has likened his concept to the visual experience of driving: a succession of flashes zooming by, the connections only intuited. The blank spot for entry number 1000 underlines a Zen-like philosophy that suggests that nothing is ever fully completed. In subject matter and technique, Conversations fuses tradition and modernity. Chiasson continues his exploration of the often uncomfortable zone where the mechanical or artificial meets human emotion and spirit. The format participates in the strong and lively Acadian oral tradition, yet the sentences themselves are polished literary jewels, almost epigrammatic in their compactness.

Conversations is at the same time as public as a news broadcast and as private as a lover's unspoken thoughts. With ten personal collections of poetry, Herménégilde Chiasson's body of work is among the most prolific in Acadian poetry. Mourir à Scoudouc was published in 1974 to critical acclaim in Acadie and Quebec. In 1976, he made a radical departure in style with his collection of anti-poetry Rapport sur l'état de mes illusions. Busy with filmmaking, the visual arts, and playwrighting, it was a decade before Chiasson published Prophéties in 1986. The 1990s were a prolific time for Chiasson's poetry. His 1991 collections Vous and Existences, broke new ground in the field of experimental poetry and Vous was nominated for a Governor General's Award. Vermeer and Miniatures continued Chiasson's quest to blend the visual with the oral in a unique poetic style. In 1996, Chiasson produced Climats. It was hailed as one of modern Acadie's strongest poetic works and was the first of his books to be translated into English. Climates brought Chiasson his second Governor General's Award nomination. In 1999, Chiasson won the Governor General's Award for his landmark poetic work Conversations, now available in English from Goose Lane Editions.

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Editorial Reviews

"Epigrammatic, intense... like time-release capsules, waiting to be felt... The writing builds toward stateliness. Each poem is its own landscape, which makes the implication of the title interesting. Here, the two speakers don't talk to each other, don't answer each other's questions, don't overlap. The layout of the book keeps them in discrete units of type, like paintings hanging opposite each other: a clean look, a cinematographic tone, a controlled direction."

— <i>Georgia Straight</i>

"With a moving and incantatory poetic force, Conversations is rooted in the sonorous rhythmic resources of a language on the verge of ultrasound... An Acadian version of the expression of humanity."

— Governor General's Award jury citation

"Intriguing and resonant... worth thinking about."

— i<i>Toronto Star</i>
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About the Authors

Herménégilde Chiasson

Herménégilde Chiasson is one of Canada's most accomplished writer-artists. He is the author of more than 20 books of poetry, over 30 plays, and several collections of essays. A multi-disciplinary artist, he has received numerous awards for his work, including the Governor General’s Award for poetry, the Molson Prize, le prix France-Acadie, le Grand prix de la francophonie canadienne, the prestigious Chevalier de l'ordre des Arts et des Lettres, and the Prix littéraire Antonine-Maillet-Acadie Vie. From 2003 to 2009, he served as Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick.
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Jo-Anne Elder

Jo-Anne Elder has translated many of Chiasson's works of poetry, including Beatitudes and Conversations and, with Fred Cogswell, Climates. She and Fred Cogswell also edited and translated Unfinished Dreams: Contemporary Poetry of Acadie.
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Fred Cogswell

Fred Cogswell (d. 2004) was a poet, UNB professor, editor, translator, and mentor to many aspiring writers. A long-serving editor of The Fiddlehead and founder of Fiddlehead Poetry Books, he was the author of more than twenty books of verse. With Jo-Anne Elder, he translated Climats and Conversations by Herménégilde Chiasson and edited and translated Rêves inachevés / Unfinished Dreams (Goose Lane, 1990), an anthology of contemporary Acadian poets.
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