Matherne Book Focuses on Detroit Founder

Antoine de Lamothe-Cadillac established a trading post at what would become the city of Detroit, was the namesake for the luxury automobile and served as one of the first governors of Louisiana. His early years are chronicled in a new collection of 80 prose poems in French and English by Beverly Matherne (English). Lamothe-Cadillac: Sa jeunesse en France (his early days in France) spans Cadillac’s life from his 1658 birth in Saint Nicholas de-la-Grave, France, to his voyage to the New World as a soldier in Louis XIV’s army.

With little biographical information available on Cadillac, Matherne spent extensive time in France researching his village, its customs and historical details of the region. The poems in the collection vividly describe the area and build Cadillac’s character on the basis of historical research.

“Each poem is a vignette that stands alone,” said Matherne. “At the same time, each is linked to a global narrative about the life and times of Cadillac before he leaves France for the Great Lakes, where he becomes an explorer, spy and tycoon fur trader.”

The young man’s life is seen through a sequential series of events, many based on religious celebrations and traditions of the time. Details in the book are authentic, from flora and fauna to street names, styles of dress, architectural details, religious observances and cultural, culinary, agrarian and educational practices. Words and phrases from the Occitan language, spoken by the troubadours of the region and by present-day village elders, are incorporated in the poems along with five folktales. A glossary helps explain the language, historical, religious and cultural references.

The book has garnered favorable reviews. Novelist and poet Jim Harrison calls it “splendid, refreshing and original.” Canadian writer/painter Dyane Léger says, “What a pleasure to plunge into a page of history that breathes life rather than dust … Matherne’s poetry is sensual and delicious …vibrant and luminous.”

Shortly after the collection’s release this summer, Matherne read and signed books at the Cadillac Museum in France and was honored at a reception at Richard the Lionhearted Castle. She has also performed other readings at the New York Public Library in Manhattan, the world congress of the Council of International Francophone Studies in New Orleans and the Acadian Poetry Festival in Caraquet, New Brunswick, Canada. Matherne gave a reading in Marquette earlier this week. She will also read from the book at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at the Falling Rock Café in Munising and at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5, at the Joy Center in Ishpeming.

A faculty research grant and sabbatical from NMU enabled Matherne to spend time in France researching and writing the book.

 

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Updated: September 25, 2009

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