Current Conditions

Cloudy
-8.9°C

Poet Sonnet L’Abbé writes a stirring poem about Canada

Poet Sonnet L’Abbé, who crossed the country talking to Canadians, has written a poem about Canada entitled What is Your Birthday?
Image Credit: Contributed
June 29, 2013 - 5:00 AM

UBC instructor toured country asking Canadians why they love their country

She spent months on a steel-wheels tour, criss-crossing the country as Artist in Motion for CBC, ViaRail and Community Foundations of Canada, taking the pulse of Canadians at countless whistlestops.

Acclaimed poet Sonnet L’Abbé, who teaches creative writing at UBC’s Okanagan campus, journeyed from coast to coast and to Canada’s North, attending regional conferences, asking Canadians about their love for Canada and how we can show it in local and nation-wide events for celebrating Canada’s 150th birthday in 2017.

Thursday morning at the wrap-up conference in Ottawa, L’Abbé joined visionaries and leaders such as Governor General David Johnston, Paralympian gold medalist Chantal Petticlerc, and a showcase of performers, all sharing their ideas.

In a rendition both passionate and provocative, L’Abbé recited her original poem, its title translated from Inuktitut as What is Your Birthday? to a national audience.

Here, in time for Canada Day, is L’Abbé’s unabridged poem:

What is Your Birthday?

In four years, we will celebrate
the 150th birthday of our nation.
150 years of Canada,
or — should I say —
since Confederation.

Quelle opportunité.
Quel moment de potentiel
de faire jaillir d’une occasion de puissantes étincelles
de la réflexion
sur la Constitution
de notre Canada conceptuel.

J’ai voyagé à travers ce beau pays
pendant huit semaines
talking to people about what Canada’s big birthday
could possibly mean for them.
And asking, can 2017
be more than the usual Canada Day scene?

Sure, they said. Let’s supersize a music fest
so that kids can rock the day.
Faut que quelqu’un écrive une chanson
qu’on peut tous apprendre et chanter.

Let’s finish building the TransCanada trail;
Let’s bling up an anniversary train;

Réduisons le prix des voyages
pour qu’on puisse découvrir notre pays,
Produisons davantage de minutes de patrimoine
So that we can know our own history.

Produisons des minutes de patrimoine
So that we can know our own history...

Now, the speakers at the conferences
pushed at the concept of “we”:

Oui, connaître l’histoire, c’est ben beau,
mais l’histoire selon qui?

To give just one example of our multihistoric situation,
on my travels there were three towns
that claimed to be
“the birthplace of our nation.”

Gaspé, où Cartier a planté sa croix,
Charlottetown, “birthplace of Confederation"

et Montréal, qui met l’accent
sur la Place Royale
comme première habitation permanent
d'un homme blanc.

It seems "we" all still compete
to tell the official story
and to bring back to our own community
that little bit of glory.

But one story kept cropping up in each corner of the nation,
when people asked me: when we celebrate
our birthday, or rather,
150 years since Confederation,

N’y aurait-il pas des gens
qui y pensent plutôt
as years of colonization?

Not everyone in our community
can buy into a national unity
if we insist it became fact
with the British North America Act.

How are we gonna deal with that?
Bon, peut-être qu’on peut s’attendre
que ces questions sortent d’une poète,
(a bleeding heart, some might say,
is in our character set)
mais moi, j’étais renversée d’entendre
from folks right and left,
and from shore to shore to shore
speak about First Nations
when thinking our collective history.

From “something decisive must be done
about the aboriginal situation,”
to “restore the honour of our country
through reconciliation”

it is in the hearts
maintenant
of the people of this nation

to reconcile the love they bear
for their provinces and territories
with their full awareness
of all the unofficial stories

that are our Canada.

We already know
Canadians are proud of our diversity.
Our inclusive, welcoming spirit
gave birth to policy
that in turn gave birth
to me.
Et elle. Et elle. Et lui.

What I learned from Canadians is that this can’t be
our grandma’s big Centennial.
We’re Gen Xers and millenials:
this isn’t 1967 anymore.
Please, no officially bilingual flashmob.
(It’s not even 2007 anymore.)

We’re much more media savvy:
We stream the news. We tweet the scores.
We make tags like #yycflood
#cdnpoli and #IdleNoMore
trend and wane.            

Pour nous, il n’existe pas d’identité canadienne fixe,
notre culture et son expression exigent
le mash-up et remix.

But we have two things in common:

                                                                                       one
is that we love this land fiercely,
qui n’aimerait pas cette géographie
immense, nos forêts et nos lacs
(one Australian I met wished she could pack
all our freshwater to take back),

                                                                                       and two,
c’est qu’on refuse
to choose
une histoire officielle,
oui, chaque région a ses ambitions
and its own histories to tell

but how could we choose
just one mythology
quand nous nous trouvons dans une ère
où les fondations de la citoyenneté
semblent subir des tremblements de terre :

soit les manifestations de cet hiver
témoignées à travers le monde,
ou un climat informatique changeant
où obscures semblent les frontières
entre un citoyen héros et un espion de guerre.

We’ve all had to think
about what it means to be Canadian,
and what it means to be a global citizen,

so while we will fill stadiums
to rock out to Bieber or Fires Arcadian

we hunger for a vision
“de ego à éco”
both epic and circadian
that embraces
both morphing cyborg dreams and our raw mammalian
frailty.

Parce que mosaïque ne fonctionne plus
pour décrire nos âmes non-linéaires :
car dans une mosaïque les petits cailloux de bijou et de verre
n’ont qu’une couleur qu’ils mènent au tout
et ils ne se transforment guère.
De plus, cette mosaïque
n’est suspendue que dans l’imaginaire.

Pour moi, le Canada est de la terre.
Un plat de Pétri tectonique
et nous, des microbes qui bougent, se divisent
et se recombinent dans son atmosphère
réglémentée.

And I am just a bunch of cells
in that Canadian culture.
My conscience like the river between Ottawa and Hull, sirs
et madames, mes pensées coulent,
comme un fleuve of consciousness
of two colonizing tongues, nourri on English
et français, une conscience qui passe between the rungs
de l’échelle du pouvoir :
pour moi, l’identité n’a jamais été
question seulement de blanc ou noir.

Mes gènes se transforment, life makes genetic
changes to my idea of a homeland
and my attitude toward strangers;
elle n’est pas statique, la culture
d’une culture, ni le perméabilité
des membranes autour
imagined communities of us and them,
d’immigranst et d’indigène,
d’autochtones et de pure laine.

What holds us together
is this arc of sky we’re moving in,
la tranche de continent
called Canada
que l’on habite et sème et mine?

Ce n’est plus sang ni langue
qui nous font “Canadian,”
it’s that we share our air with these forests,
on boit ces glaciers, and

and through every story
breathe each other in.

We don't need invented identity
We need to innovate indigeneity.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013
InfoTel News Ltd

  • Popular kelowna News
  • Comments

View Site in: Desktop | Mobile