GEORGETTE LEBLANC, ’02, ’07 – now in her second year as Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate – vividly recalls her first encounter with Dr. Barry Jean Ancelet’s Cajun and Creole Music Makers.
It was the summer of 1999. She recently had completed an undergraduate degree from l’Université Sainte-Anne, in her native Pointe-de-l’Église, Nova Scotia. LeBlanc had returned to her alma mater’s library to conduct research. That’s where she discovered the book.
In addition to photographer Elemore Morgan’s camerawork, what captivated LeBlanc about it was how Ancelet, a UL Lafayette folklorist, presented interviews with a catalogue of south Louisiana’s musical icons. Two parallel columns of text – English on the left, French on the right – documented the musicians’ words exactly as they spoke them, recording the vernacular’s varieties and occasional idiosyncrasies.
“This book was full of love. It wasn’t judgmental at all. It was just telling it like it is, letting the musicians speak. It was so beautiful,” she said.
Ancelet was teaching that summer at l’Université Sainte-Anne. LeBlanc arranged to meet him. She hadn’t considered pursuing a master’s degree until then, but within a year, she was enrolled in UL Lafayette’s Francophone studies graduate program.
LeBlanc completed a master’s, then a Ph.D. Her dissertation, a narrative poem, became her first book, Alma. Like her subsequent publications, it was written in “Acadjoune,” an Acadian French derivation distinctive to southwestern Nova Scotia.
LeBlanc’s fidelity to her regional language was key to her appointment as parliamentary poet laureate in 2018. The position requires LeBlanc to hold poetry readings, compose verse for special occasions and advise the Library of Parliament. She travels occasionally to Ottawa, the capital, from her home in Pointe-de-l’Église.
She visited UL Lafayette last year. It was the first time she had returned to campus since her graduation. Studying at the University helped reconnect her to Nova Scotia, she said.
“There is a certain distance thing that is helpful, but at the same time, I felt very much at home,” in Lafayette. “I ended up finding my voice. It had been there the whole time.”
This article first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of La Louisiane, The Magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Top photo: Alum Georgette LeBlanc is in her second year as Canada’s parliamentary poet laureate.