110 pages
ISBN 1-894031-74-1
DDC 782.1'0268





Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson, Librarian Emeritus, former Assistant Director of
Libraries (University of Saskatchewan) and dramaturge (Festival de la
Dramaturgie des Prairies).


George Elliott Clarke, E.J. Pratt Professor of Canadian Literature at
the University of Toronto, won the Governor General’s Award for poetry
in 2001 for his Execution Poems.

Québécité is an expanded, poetic rendering of a piece commissioned
by the Guelph Jazz festival and originally performed with music composed
by Juno-award winning pianist D.D. Jackson. The author states in a
prelude that the published version of his libretto is for connoisseurs:
connoisseurs of jazz, of poetry, and of the politics of
fin-du-XXiиme-siиcle Québec. Clarke sets his jazz opera in various
locations of Vieux Québec, principally in and around a nightclub
significantly called “La Révolution Tranquille,” where two
interracial couples explore the backgrounds and passions they bring to
their potential relationships.

The progression of encounter, growing personal connection, and
self-questioning in this rarefied musical atmosphere is marked in cantos
а la Ezra Pound where the romances initially permit Clarke to offer up
a glorious litany to the nature of jazz. It begins: “Jazz is indelible
rainbow aquerelles / Jazz is nights fallen open like a dress—and just
as sweet.” And it ends: “Jazz is the human right to Pleasure and
Bauhaus-curvaceous Joy. / Jazz lives and survives: / Jazz kills

Clarke’s stage directions (“light lolls—as if drafted by Douglas
Cardinal”) and descriptions of fashionable multicoloured costumes for
the protagonists are as evocative and central to his theme as the
“children […] every colour eyes can know” that the characters
dream of engendering. Drama arises from the personal and political
challenge “to mainstream assumptions about Quebec as white,” to
quote Ajay Heble in his printed postlude study. He goes on to extol the
virtues of jazz opera as a new, untried, and unfettered genre that
“compels us to imagine an alternative vision of human possibility.”
A grand objective, but, as one character says, “You break no laws by

Lovers of language will revel in the way words cascade in associative
groups in keeping with the jazz idiom. Given the many modern allusions,
the short page of miscellaneous explications could easily have been
expanded to a dozen or more pages.


Clarke, George Elliott., “Québécité,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/15746.