Monday, March 17, 2014

Monday Muse: Louisiana's French-Language Poet

. . . without the language, we cannot conceive
of the culture; so that if we lose the language
we won't be able to retain our link to the culture.*
~ Zachary Richard

Zachary Richard is Louisiana's first Poete laureat de la Louisiane francaise (French-language Poet Laureate). The announcement of his two-year (2014-2016) appointment, representing the French- and Creole-speaking citizens of the state, was issued jointly the week of March 10 by the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, and the Louisiana Endowment for the Arts. The committee that selected Richard was unanimous in its choice.

Each appointee to the honorary position, which will be announced in even years, is to complement the work of the English-language incumbent, who currently is Ava Leavell Haymon (2013-2015). Haymon is profiled in my Monday Muse post of July 29, 2013.

In addition to poetry readings, Richard will be promoting poetry within and outside the state. He has long been a presence on the music scene throughout North America, especially in Canada, and in Europe. A schedule of Richard's appearances (he does some 50 music shows a year) is available at his Website.

* * * * *

Internationally known as a singer-songwriter and musician, Zachary Richard has published three poetry collections: Feu (Les Editions des Intouchables, 2001), awarded Romania's 2003 Prix Roland Gasparic; Faire recolte (Les Editions Perce-Neige, 1998), winner of Canada's Prix Litteraire Champlain (for North American literature); and Voyage de nuit: Cahier de poesie 1975-1979 (Center for Louisiana Studies, University of Southwestern Louisiana, 1987; Editions de la Nouvelle Acadie, 1987; Reissue, Les Editions des Intouchables, 2001). (Copies of Feu and Voyage de nuit are available through Richard's Website and resellers.)

In addition, Richard has written several books for children, including the fable Conte Cajun, which includes illustrations by his daughter. He is the co-editor, with Cajun folklorist and music expert Barry Jean Ancelet, of the anthology of contemporary French Louisiana poetry Cris sur le bayou (1980). (Dianne Guenin-Lelle has written an analysis of the book, "The Birth of Cajun Poetry", The French Review, Vol. 70, No. 3, February 1997. It is available in English.)

Richard also has published Histoire des Acadiennes et Acadiens de la Louisiane (University of Louisiana at Lafayette, September 2012), a text on Acadian heritage in Louisiana that is intended for French-immersion students in grade 8. His English-language version of the text is The History of the Acadians of Louisiana, published in November 2013 by University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Listed among the poets of the Louisiana Poetry Project, Richard has not published any of the poetry he has written in English. (I have included links below, in Resources, to some of those poems, which are found on Richard's Website.) He has included on his Website the original French texts of a selection of poems from all three of his collections (see paroles & poesie), in addition to a number of audio recordings. As is true of his music, Richard crafts poems that address Acadian identity, nature, Louisiana as place, and political activism and resistance. Attention to sound and rhythm are hallmarks of his poetry.

Richard's work has been published in the anthology The Southern Poetry Anthology, Volume IV (available at Amazon).

The recipient of the James William Rivers Prize in Louisiana Studies (2013), Richard's various awards include the Cercle Richelieu Senghor du Paris (2013), an honorary doctorate from the University of Ottawa (2011), an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the University of Louisiana (2008), and an honorary doctorate from Ste Anne's University, Nova Scotia. The French government has awarded Richard the title of Officier de l'Ordre des Arts et Lettres; Quebec's government has recognized him as a member of l'Ordre des Francophones d'Amerique. He has received worldwide recognition and honors for his music; a number of his recordings have gone gold and platinum. Themes of identity, separation or dislocation, loss, and political resistance, as well as the deep roots of place, figure largely in Richard's musical work (see the album-by-album list of the French and select English versions of his lyrics online). 

An activist and environmentalist, Richard is the founder of the nonprofit Action Cadienne, which promotes Acadian culture, and Gulf Aid Acadiana, which was dedicated to recovery from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. One of Richard's song's, "Le Fou" ("The Madman") references the environmental disaster and is named for a bird pulled from the oil-covered water. (The album "Le Fou", Richard's twentieth, was nominated for a 2014 Grammy in the "Best Regional Roots Music Album" category.)

With Louisiana Public Broadcasting and Cajun filmmaker Pat Mire, Richard produced, narrated, and scored the documentary Against the Tide: The Story of the Cajun People of Louisiana (2000). He has collaborated on, narrated, scored, or performed in other films and television documentaries. 


Photo of Zachary Richard Courtesy LEH News

* Quoted from Kevin Allman's "C'est Zach! An Interview with Zachary Richard", Where New Orleans, May 1999

LEH News, "Interview: Dana Kress on French-Language Poet Laureate Zachary Richard", March 11, 2014 (This post discusses the source of the idea for the position, the composition of the selection committee, and Richard's background and selection.)

Zachary Richard Poems Online: "Evening Vision", "Fever Patrol", "Mississippi River", "Cloud Signs", "Dream of a Woman", and "Drunk Indians", All at Zachary Richard Website (All Unpublished in English); "Big River" at The Wondering Minstrels

Translations of an excerpt from Zachary Richard's poem "1er aout, Section III" ("August 1st, Section III) are found at the Literary Translators Association of Canada Website.

Chelsea Brasted, "Zachary Richard Pulls Double-Duty a Performer, Author This Weekend in Baton Rouge", The Times-Picayune, October 29, 2013

Michalis Limnios, "Interview with Cultural Activist, Poet and Musician Zachary Richard, His Songs Go Beyond the Limitations", Blues.Gr, November 13, 2013

Ken Kelley, "Singing Is Like Breathing for Zachary Richard", The MusicNerd Chronicles, August 15, 2013

Angelie Alciatore, "Zachary Richard", Interview, OffBeat, February 1, 1998

"Zachary Richard Honored in Paris for Contributions to French Language", The Advertiser, March 7, 2014

"Zachary Richard Awarded the James William Rivers Prize", March 26, 2013

"Richard Honored for Music with Degree", The Eunice News, October 27, 2008

Michael D. Bierschenk's Zachary Richard's 'Faire Recolte': A Translation from the French (A Thesis), 2006 (pdf), a translation of Richard's poetry collection, includes a Translator's Note about the broad themes of Richard's poems and the techniques or methods Bierschenk used to translate the poems.

Faire recolte on GoogleBooks

Feu on GoogleBooks

Voyage de nuit on GoogleBooks

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities News (Blog)

Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities on FaceBook and Twitter

Order of Canada Investiture Ceremony (2010)

Zachary Richard on FaceBook, Twitter, and YouTube

Zachary Richard Blog (French and English) The March 6, 2014, post is a translation of Richard's acceptance of the Prix Leopold Senghor.

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