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Friday, December 12, 2008

Reader's Diary #422- Herménégilde Chiasson: Beatitudes (translated by Jo-Anne Elder)


As I began Herménégilde Chiasson's Beatitudes, I very quickly decided that it was not a book I'd recommend to just anyone, not even among the poetry-minded folk. With 118 pages of lines that almost always begin with "those who," it runs the risk of becoming tedious. Plus it ends with a comma which might alienate those who require more of a resolution.

Surprisingly however, Chiasson pulled it off. When I really thought about it, what he'd done seemed so cleverly simple I was surprised more hadn't tried it. By beginning each line with "those who," I began to think about the people in Chiasson's life. Was he simply cataloguing all the people he knew?

"those who laugh emphatically and with bravado in public places to show that everything is going well, that things are definitely better, that they now have been released from the inconsolable grief that seemed to have locked them away forever,"

Then I started to think about people I know...

"those who kneel beside your chair to put themselves at eye level,"

And finally, I started to think about myself...

"those who pick out fruit, poking it to see if it is firm enough, and serve it to those for whom they have affection,"

Beatitudes quite obviously forces a reader to consider himself and those around him and to strike a harmony between the everyday and specific with the lifetime and profound. It tends to be depressing line by line, but as an entire text it's strangely uplifting, connecting us and placing our existence. If this sounds like a bit more existentialism than you can handle, I assure you the fault is mine: Chiasson grounds it all with concrete examples.

Beatitudes was published by Goose Lane Books, 2007 and short-listed for a GG.

Taking a lighthearted approach at his style, here's my Christmas Beatitudes, inspired by Chiasson...

those who hang candy canes from the branches of their trees,
those who pay to have their presents wrapped,
those who plan to use their leftovers for turkey sandwiches to give to the homeless but never do,
those who add rum to their egg nog because that's the way it's meant to be,
those who cringe at "Twelve Days of Christmas" spoofs,
those who are filled with peace upon hearing "Silent Night" though they are non-believers,
those who wish carolers still caroled,
those who sleep better under the glow of multicoloured lights,
those who feel guilt pretending to be Santa Claus,
those who never tire of claymation TV specials,
those who remember kissing under plastic mistletoe,

12 comments:

jenniferknoblock said...

I love this original. It exerts the true power of poetry--making the reader look both inward and outward.
Did the Beatitudes make you think of Walt Whitman at all, or am I being superficial based on these few lines?

Wanda said...

I see some people I know in your Christmas poem, John and remember your post about "oranges"; your quest for fresh fruit living North of 60.

"those who kneel beside your chair to put themselves at eye level," -- my father (who does this still with his grandchildren) and the signature trait of any great elementary teacher.

The book sounds more like it pulls the reader in then alienates them. Maybe that's just the influence of your review? I must look to see if our library has this one...

Remi said...

I saw him read from this (in French and English) at the International Festival of Author. You're right - not for everyone, but a fine work, nonetheless.

Melanie said...

I like your Xmas poem. Now I must find the Chiasson as well; I've been neglecting my poetry reading lately.

TadMack said...

I like this -- it takes the attitude of the original Beatitudes and infuses it with something more personal and dynamic. I think it's a little challenging that it ends with a comma, but... I like it. And I really like yours.

Brianna Caplan Sayres said...

Oh, I love your original! It is just wonderful! Thanks so much for sharing!

Carrie K said...

So there are two kind of people in the world, those who..... and those who don't.......Okay, I thought that was funny.

Love your original! Egg nog IS supposed to be spiked but it's good w/o too. Yum. Eggnog season.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

There's non-plastic mistletoe? John, you are a well of knowledge, one of those who keep us nodding and thinking, with his pithy observations.

John Mutford said...

Jenniferknoblock: No, it didn't make me think of Walt Whitman, but in hindsight it probably should have. Less nature oriented than people oriented, but still similar stylistically for sure.

Wanda: Yes, I've come to not take a decently priced piece of fresh, quality fruit for granted!

Remi: It doesn't strike me as a great read aloud poetry, but I'd still be curious to hear it.

Melanie: I haven't been up on poetry as much lately either, but fortunately I have come across a few good ones like this.

Tadmack: It's a "form" (if one wants to call it that) that I'm sure many could mimic well. Chiasson, however, has bragging rights that he thought of it first.

Brianna: Thanks!

Carrie: Actually that would be an interesting approach to the book, always keeping in ones mind the opposite person.

Barbara: I bet Martha Stewart doesn't use plastic. Then again, I can't imagine kissing her to be too much fun either.

Julie said...

Thanks for highlighting the work of this interesting poet - I haven't been able to find a library source for his work, but will look into getting something online. Or maybe from a friend in British Columbia? I have the feeling finding his work in the U.S. might be difficult. And he was (is?) the lieutenant governor of New Brunswick??? and a photographer? and filmmaker! What an amazing range of talents.

By the way, I like that comma at the end. What better way to suggest that our beautitudes never end?

If you like this form, you might like Jubilate Agno (often called My Cat, Geoffrey) by Christopher Smart, very similar to Chiasson's poem in form, but written in the 1700's. You can google it and find it easily.

matilda said...

Just stumbled upon your blog while looking for reviews of 'Beatitudes', by Hermenegilde Chiasson; recently read the book and thought it was amazing. (Your xmas version is also lovely!)
Anyway, very happy to have discovered yet another great Canadian book blog (and north of 60!).

John Mutford said...

Here's Matilda's review.