The path of the poet Paul Savoie

Time to read : 5 minutes


TORONTO – Manitoban by birth and Ontario by adoption, Paul Savoie is one of the most prolific and regular Franco-Ontarian authors with publications and literary awards attesting to the quality of his writing. He is also president of the Toronto Book Fair where he resides and winner of the 2022 Champlain Prize, the second of his career. A retrospective look at his career, his joys, his sorrows and his working method.

“First of all, how come you have such a good command of Molière’s language when you come from a linguistic minority?

It is true that I grew up in a francophone minority environment in Manitoba with all the ambivalence that this implies, but my father was completely francophone and therefore we had the obligation, in his presence, to speak French at home. On the other hand, my mother was French-American and, as her French was a little damaged, she did not like to speak this language with us very much, preferring English. So I grew up in a completely bicultural environment.

Paul Savoie at the Trois-Rivières International Poetry Festival. Courtesy

Does that mean you have the quill between two inkwells?

You know, I first started writing in English. I must have been 16 or 17 years old. At the time, I was a bit of an introvert and expressed myself through poetry. To impress a girl, I wrote a script in English. But then I discovered French poetry reading Charles Baudelaire, and that was love at first sight. I found it so wonderful that it was then that I decided to write in French. I recently talked to a friend about this and he told me that he doesn’t seem like he’s the same author depending on whether I’m writing in English or French. I find that quite interesting. The truth is that by writing in French I entered the universal. It must also be said that I did my studies in this language as well.

Did it work with this girl afterwards?

(Laugh). Do not ! He even lost my manuscript after reading it. The computer didn’t exist at the time: I typed it in and didn’t have a copy, so I couldn’t find these poems anymore.

Reading session at Brock University in Saint Catherines. Courtesy

You have to your credit about forty literary works, including novels, travel stories, collections of stories and especially poetry. What is for you the precise moment in which your career as an author took off?

My first novel in French had appeared in a small university newspaper. But I published my first collection when I was twenty. At the time, Éditions du Blé had just been founded in Western Canada and they were looking for a collection to publish it. Since I was probably the only person in the business at the time who had written anything, I was published without even a review. So don’t be surprised if you find a lot of typos in this collection (laughs). With that said, this adventure was great because it all started from there. This publication launched me because for a long time I published an average of one book per year.

You said you were a bit of an introvert. Does writing in general and poetry in particular represent an escape route for you?

Absolutely. When I was young, I kept my emotions and feelings inside me. I trusted very few people. Even for my first published text in school, it was a friend who knew I was writing who came looking for me to publish my work in the school newspaper. When the text came out, he gave me a kind of public face and I liked that. So yes, in a sense, it was poetry that took me out of myself, while it was this very poetry that was a protective cocoon for me. Poetry is my first stage of exteriorization, you could say.

Some find his writings difficult to read. Why do you think ?

I think it’s because I always work with multiple levels of linguistic ideas. And then there is never a single reading of a text, you can do it, but that is not what will reveal the essence of the text. An author from Manitoba once told me during one of my reading sessions that he went everywhere, but he always came back to the central point. I think he was right. This is what I have always done unintentionally in my books. I think that’s how it all works for me.

Paul Savoie in Toronto, where he lives. Image Credit: ONFR+

What is more difficult to write, a novel or a collection of poetry?

The novel, without hesitation, because, for me, writing a novel is a real chore. Also, the only one that really worked, I had written with someone else. But I have to tell you something that seems strange to me: I have no problem writing a text with several characters when I write in English, but in French I experience all the difficulty in the world to write a novel. I think I need to go see a psychiatrist.

No, no, don’t change anything. He has twice received the prestigious Champlain Prize, the last one last April. Was the feeling of satisfaction and/or joy of receiving it less this second time compared to the repetition?

No, because I won the first one in 2012. At that time I had the impression that this award was not as important as it is today. It existed, but it circulated less than now. So it’s like the first time for me. And then this is very good!

Paul in Paris. Courtesy

Franco-Ontarians know you as a writer, but few know that you are also a musician. Tell us about your music?

I work in my music as I work in my writing, which is to say with a lot of improvisation to find a central core, a fundamental structure. For example, I sit in front of a piano without knowing where I am going, I play a first note that leads to another until I reach this fundamental structure. This way of doing is innate in me.

ONFR+ spies have heard that you wanted to stop writing for good after this latest collection titled This Morning, the same one that won the 2022 Champlain Prize. Is this true?

It is true that I wanted to stop. I gave it my all on this collection, and could no longer justify the act of writing. I couldn’t find a context in which it still made sense to me. This sentiment began with the demise of the French-Canadian cultural magazine Bail which was a wonderful repository of what’s going on in Francophone culture and art and where I contributed regularly. That’s why I told you that this second Champlain Award was very good, it allowed me to get out of that state and remind myself that what I was doing made sense and that I was part of a community, I needed to feel it. »


1946: Born in Saint-Boniface, Manitoba

1960: Beginning of secondary studies at the Collège de Saint-Boniface

1974: Publishes his first book, SalamanderEditions du Blé

1994: First stay in Thailand. Seven other trips to this country will follow

2010: Becomes General Manager of the Toronto Book Fair

2022: Winner of the Champlain Prize for the collection of poems This morning published by Editions David

Every weekend, ONFR+ meets with a player on political or francophone issues in Ontario and Canada.

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