The Poet In Journals – St. Denys Garneau

One of my favorite books from ages ago, The Journal Of St. Denys Garneau which I discovered in a bargain bin at the Coles where Neil Young worked.
I had been frequenting the Champlain bookstore in Toronto, when I first saw a mention of him, picking up books in the European style or French style, uncut pages you had to razor open to read Marie Claire Blais, Anne Hébert(Garneau’s cousin), and others, etc. Which of course led to other readings of Hubert Aquin, Michel Tremblay, etc etc.

All their works were distinguishable from  but inseparable from others such as Marian Engel’s Bear, Miriam Waddington’s poems, Frank Scott’s certainly, or Monique Bosco’s Lot’s Wife.

Favorite because it fit right in with circumstances of thought, countryside and origin (I’d go to read it in solitude in a place near Ottawa, having visited my mother’s birthplace in Campbell’s Bay, Quebec), and the poetic disclosures. The discovery attached to slicing open pages, and translating – since the poems were in French – always felt fresh and new, and I could see what was missed in other translations though John Glassco’s comes closest.

Reminded me that favorites are often due to a time and place, as are poets whose popularity mysteriously decline upon their deaths; similar to the most popular novelists of decades or centuries past whom not many can even recall.

The book lasts for many reasons then, one of which would be the essential self, made bare without being mired in the spectacles which pass for a self these days, through literate and real details as is the case in many of his poems at whatever level they may be taken.

He was as much a denizen of my ‘neighborhood’ of spirits and souls as Shelley, Shakespeare, or reaching back, Archilochus, and Marcus Aurelius.

©Dean Baker