Beverly Matherne, a poet and English professor at NMU, has been performing readings from her recently finished book of English and French poetry about peasant-turned-aristocrat, Antoine Laumet de Lamothe-Cadillac.
Matherne teaches poetry, playwriting, and technical writing classes, as well as elementary French. She is the director of the Master of Fine Arts Program in Creative writing at Northern.
Matherne has many English-language publications, as well as French publications. Matherne has written another book of poetry similar to her recent “Lamothe-Cadillac: His Early Life in France,” called “Le Blues Braillant (The Blues Cryin’),” a collection of blues poetry in both French and English.
Matherne cited growing up in an area with a heavy French influence in a Cajun family along with trips to France as major inspirations for the book.
“Lamothe-Cadillac,” is a series of linked prose poems based off of historical research, Matherne said. Each scene can stand on its own, but they’re all linked. She said that Cadillac’s character develops throughout the linked poems.
Antoine Laumet de Lamothe-Cadillac was a French explorer in the second half of the 1600s who grew up as a peasant in a closed French society; people were born into certain social classes and typically remained in them. In order to redefine himself, Cadillac moved from Europe to the New World. He later founded the city of Detroit and was one of Louisianna’s early governors. He “borrowed an aristocratic identity,” according to information gathered by Matherne.
Letters written by Cadillac were used to research the book.
“[The letters] are evidence of his brilliance and articulation,” said Matherne.
Matherne took a sabbatical to visit Cadillac’s birthplace and hometown, Saint-Nicolas-de-la-Grave, in France. There, and in surrounding areas, she did research on subjects ranging from educational practices to styles of clothing.
“The details are authentic,” Matherne said, “from street names to architectural details to various customs they have.”
Matherne said that she “salted and peppered the manuscript with Occitan language,” a language still being spoken in areas with a French influence. She also included folk tales as a source of comedic relief. She utilized these techniques in order to liven up the manuscript.
“What I tried more than anything to do was create very, very vivid scenes,” she said.
The poems that make up “Lamothe-Cadillac” are written in both French and English on facing pages.
“She’s a terrific example for students who want to write in multiple languages,” said Rebecca Johns, an English professor at NMU.
Johns said that Matherne’s poetry is “gorgeously written and very open, accessible and readable,” and encourages Northern students to attend a reading.
“‘Lamothe-Cadillac,’ is beautiful both when read and listened to,” she said.
As well as being a poet and fiction writer herself, Matherne also partakes in poetry translation for other writers.
She has done over 170 readings across five countries from Canada to Belgium, and has won numerous awards for her poetry such as the Hackney Literary Award for Poetry.
Matherne’s next reading takes place at the Falling Rock Café in Munising on Saturday, Oct. 10 at 2 p.m.
“Lamothe-Cadillac” is available at area bookstores and from Matherne.