The Cuckoo’s Song/Le chant du coucou


poems by Jaqueline Borowick

166 Pages
April 01, 2008

2010 Finalist for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry

Through the prism of a marginal child puzzled about her true identity, The Cuckoo’s Song / Le chant du coucou, a collection of 63 poems in English and French, adds vivid flourishes to the drab canvas of the Great Depression and celebrates the indomitable spirit of the men and women who joined the Gold Rush to Val d’Or in Northwestern Quebec, in the 1930s and ‘40s. The community they carved in the wilderness of the Canadian Shield, diverse and inclusive, their struggles, their joie de vivre—filaments of gold in the poet’s memory

In this rich first collection, Jacqueline Borowick recreates the gold rush years in Val d’Or, Quebec and shares with us a memorable cast of local characters from street buskers, nuns, and priests to an eclectic assortment of boarders living in the poet’s childhood home. An astute observer of people and of the natural world, Borowick crafts poems that hum with the music of birds, instruments and voice through carefully chosen words, images, and rhythms. From Val d’Or Borowick takes us to Toronto and to moments of spiritual revival and insight – a poetic journey that resonates with wit, wisdom, and compassion.

Merle Nudelman, poet/author of Borrowed Light and We, the Women

Behold the lost world of Val d’Or, Québec, rendered vividly in Jacqueline Borowick’s mature debut collection, The Cuckoo’s Song/Le Chant de coucou. Revisit the poet’s childhood home, where she was raised during the 1930s and 40s as the cherished, adopted child of unconventional parents. Embrace the harsh, snowbound landscape, peopled by transients who seek fortune in the mines of northwestern Québec. Huddle round the black-bellied cast iron stove for warmth and nourishment. The heady promise of Québec’s Gold Rush is powerfully evoked in this series of poems that shows Borowick’s wisdom and compassion. Hers is a knowing voice that appreciates the fleeting pleasures of life – a robin’s enchanting song, a tender tropical breeze, a jewel-toned rug – and accepts the inevitable passage of time. Jacqueline Borowick’s redemptive vision celebrates human tenacity in the face of extreme hardship.

Ruth Panofsky, poet/author of Lifeline and Laike and Nahum: A Poem in Two Voices

Every poem in Jacqueline Borowick’s The Cuckoo’s Song is carefully sustained in tone, imagery, and feeling. The voice in these poems is intimate, tender, gentle, a voice that honours the lives of others, that calls out their memories, refusing to let them slip away. There is a hopeful sense of rhythm in these intricately composed poems, a measure of human vitality and vigour. In the process of writing, in the journey of finding our way in the world in words, we write many stories, and some are happy and some are sad, and most stories linger in the spaces between joy and sorrow. Jacqueline knows the world with a generous and grateful attending that is never sentimental, but always heartful. Above all, these poems sing in both English and French with encouragement and wisdom, and an enthusiastic call for living truthfully in the world. I especially like the way that the eyes (and hence the imagination) move between two languages, resonating with one another in a unique lyrical evocation.

Carl Leggo, poet/author of Come-by-Chance, Professor, University of British Columbia





Jacqueline Borowick is a bilingual poet whose work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including A Room of One’s Own (2003); Myth Weavers: Canadian Myths and Legends (Serengeti Press, 2007); Butterfly Thunder (Beret Days, 2007); Enchanted Crossroads (Beret Days, 2006), Favourite Poems Contest Anthology (Craigleigh Press, 2005); Cherish Our Heritage: Recueil bilingue de poésie (hms Press, 2004); and Witness (Serengeti Press, 2004). A retired Presiding Bilingual Justice of the Peace, she lives in Toronto and The Cuckoo’s Song/Le chant du coucou is her first published collection.

The Cuckoo’s Song 2
Le chant du coucou 3

Gold Rush 4
La ruée vers l’or 5

The Miners’ Ball 8
Le bal des mineurs 9

Browndaddy 10
Browndaddy 11

The Banjo Man 12
Le joueur de banjo 13

Northern Odyssey 14
Odyssée 15

The Old Wood Stove 16
Le vieux poêle à bois 17

Dynamite House 20
La maison de dynamite 21

Milford 22
Milford 23

The Enchantress 26
L’enchanteresse 27

Val d’Or Easter 28
Dimanche de Pâques à Val d’Or 29

A Packet of Seeds 30
Semence de fleurs 31

Hummingbird 32
Colibri 33

Evensong 34
Nocturne 35

Circus 36
Cirque 37

The Junkman 40
Le brocanteur 41

Sister Says 42
La Soeur se prononce 43

Fish Sins 44
Histoires de poissons 45

Original Sin 46
Le péché originel 47

Li’l Bear and Two Bits 48
P’tit Ours et Trente Sous 49

Book of Dreams 50
Catalogue de rêves 51

Party Time 52
Escapade 53 The Morning After 54
Le lendemain matin 55

Fleurette 56
Fleurette 57

Pastor Heron 60
Pasteur Heron 61

Fall 62
La tombée 63

Feast of Sainte Catherine, Patron Saint of Old Maids 64
La Sainte-Catherine 65

Rooms to Let 68
Chambres à louer 69

Jean Caron 70
Jean Caron 71

The Morocco Club 74
Club Morocco 75

The Saxophone Bird 76
L’oiseau saxo 77

Reflections 78
Reflets 79

Remembering Emmet Till 82
Je me souviens, Emmet Till 83

Birdsong 86
Langage des oiseaux 87

On the Threshold 88
Entre deux mondes89

The Birthing 90
L’accouchement 91

Divertimento 92
Divertimento 93

A Cardinal 94
Un cardinal 95

From the Balcony 96
Vue du balcon 97

A Collection 98
Une collection 99

Symphony 100
Symphonie 101

The Painting 102
Le tableau 103

The Talisman 104
Le talisman 105

Yin and Yang 106
Yin et Yang 107

Impromptu 108
Impromptu 109

An Elephant on Yonge Street 110
Un éléphant sur la rue Yonge 111

Navel Gazing 112
Nombrilisme 113

Subway Mosaic 114
Mosaïque de métro 115

The Busker 116
Musicien ambulant 117

Afterimage 118
Image fugitive 119

Janusz 120
Janusz 121

Aubade 122
Aubade 123

Ghosts 124
Revenants 125

The Boys at the Ritz 126
Les gâs du Ritz 127

The Pergola 128
La pergola 129

Photo Shoot 130
Photos de noces 131

Hummingbird, Farewell 132
Adieu colibri 133

Snow Tales 134
Contes d’hiver 135

Provenance 136
Provenance 137

Dream Circle 138
Rêve de retour 139

The Cardinal 142
Le cardinal 143

The Poet 144
Le poète 145

The Crossing 146
La traversée 147

The Garden of Forgetfulness 148
Au jardin de l’oubli 149

Acknowledgements 151

1 review for The Cuckoo’s Song/Le chant du coucou

  1. InannaWebmaster

    IT’S A TIME FOR POETRY. Many small publishers are issuing slim volumes of innovative verse. Two such publishers, Vancouver’s New Star, known for radical sound, L.A.N.G.U.A.G.E. and visual poetry; and Toronto’s feminist Inanna, have recently published two solid volumes — completely dissimilar, but for their distinctly high quality.

    Justin Lukyn’s Henry Pepper is a series of prose poems describing a period in the life of Henry Pepper, a youthful down-and-outer living in the alleys of Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, Strathcona, “full of flophouses…bedbugs, organized crime and capitalist landowners.” Among these, Henry ekes out his existence, wearing gumboots, jumping in puddles, identifying dumpsters and, particularly, telephone poles. The poems center around Henry’s awareness of the telephone poles on the blocks between Clark and Gore Streets, and are numbered to coincide with the pole numbers.

    As Henry observes and assesses the poles, so he observes and assesses life in the alleys. The squalor and the territorialism of the community are both jolting and terrifyingly real. Henry explores harsh subjects — defecation, the mess created by endless rain, communal sleeping arrangements, pornography, even the state of his peers’ hands (“These hands have chilblains, stink of booze and show an unsorted caked mixture of urine and semen and stains, dried blood and dumpster guck”) as he tries to find a way out of this life. Only once he accesses the electrical platform on one of the telephone poles, even sleeping up there, does he begin to gain perspective. That perspective leads him out of the alley, perhaps for good, with hope.

    Jacqueline Borowick’s bilingual collection The Cuckoo’s Song/Le chant du cuckoo is a series of intermingled stories that explore themes of race, life in an early twentieth-century mining community, and loss of youth. Borowick is good at telling multi-layered stories and it is fun to decipher them; she challenges her readers, which is refreshing, but the links between the stories are not so indecipherable as to be frustrating. Her exploration of the Gold Rush is lyrical and carries the reader along. The poems have a sing-song quality that demonstrates the author’s mastery of sound and rhythm.

    This is also the story of a young girl’s background, at times juxtaposed with mining culture. “Browndaddy” is a particularly powerful look at race; “The Banjo Man” takes these issues further.

    There is much subtlety in these “stories”—Borowick asks her readers to pay attention, decipher the mystery. “Val d’Or Easter” gives a sense of the particular culture of the time and the town. The poems about plants and birds are less powerful; Borowick’s interlinking stories are better.

    The strength of both these collections lies in their subtleties. While the reader must work to understand them, it is rewarding. Both publishers were right to take on innovative manuscripts that challenge us to think beyond our own experiences.

    Carolyne Van Der Meer is a Montreal journalist and editor who also teaches in McGill University’s Public Relations program. In addition, her poetry and short fiction have been published a number of Canadian and European literary journals.

    Published in Rover An Independent Review of the Arts, December 7, 2008. Reprinted with permission. http://roverarts.com

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