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Alternatives: Action Poetry to the Rescue of Minority Languages

Action-poetry is a form of social action whose key instrument is language (Tochon, 2000ab). The actor-poet lives where two genres intersect: the linearity of drama, occurring in sequential time, and the rupture of poetry, occurring in atemporal paradigms.  The actor-poet’s writing and speech translate a situation of linguistic rupture: for instance rupture between English and French (Dalpé’s Romeo and Juliet is bilingual), between the rich and the poor, between elevated and popular language, and between generations. 


Dalpé is an Ontario writer who conceives of poetry as a gesture made towards purity (but not towards purism, which is why he rejects elitism). Like other Northern Ontario poets (Patrice Desbiens, Michel Vallières, Michel Dallaire), Dalpé offers powerful, disturbing poetry rooted in claims for both linguistic and political existence  (Dumas, 1990).  He is highly regarded by young people and conducts tours in high schools.  His utterances are reinvested in the teaching of French and serve as the foundation for interdiscursive action. His poetry shows a blend of rhythm, sound, and meaning, and revive a particular history “in order to never be silent again”.  Inspired by his work, classes of Ontario students write and present sketches and restore the dimension of sound to the Word.  Students organize performances and enter into action poetry.


Dalpé has attained some prominence thanks to the TNO (Theatre Northern Ontario) in Sudbury.  His pieces, including Shouts and Blues, Romeo and Juliet and, especially, Dogs, have met with considerable success. Dalpé’s poetry collections display the same performative force of expression: Les murs de nos villages (The walls of our villages, 1983), Ceux d'ici (Those who come from here, 1984), Et d'ailleurs (And from Elsewhere, 1984), all published by Prise de Parole: “Don’t be afraid of busting your face / as long as you open your mouth / Our whole history is one of broken open mouths / and, too often, also / silent broken mouths”. The actor-poet, the “laborer of speech”, has lost his homeland but found his identity through language (“We had our language in our pockets / but our pockets had holes in them”) and in the effort of sawing through the chains that inhibit free expression.

Si on avait le coeur de dire

toutes ces chaînes qui nous retiennent

Si on avait des yeux de dire

tous ces soleils qu’on nous voile

Si on avait les mains de dire

tous ces coups qui nous tombent dessus

Si on avait les pieds de dire

tous ces chemins de travers

qu’on nous invite à prendre

Si on avait le ventre de dire

toute cette musique qu’on nous interdit

Si on avait la langue de dire

tous ces mots qui sont menottés au silence


(If we had the heart to speak

all the chains that hold us back

If we had the eyes to speak

all the suns that are veiled to us

If we had the hands to speak

all the blows that rain on us

If we had the feet to speak

all the wrong roads

we are urged to take

If we had the guts to speak

all the music we are forbidden

If we had the tongue to speak

all these words handcuffed to silence)

For Dalpé, poetry is action: it saws through bars and handcuffs and frees you up from slavery by giving voice to the oppressed aspects of one’s being:


Il y a des barreaux aux fenêtres de chaque coeur d'homme.

On les forge de fer et d'ignorance

On les pose de force en douce

La poésie est une scie.


(There are bars in the windows of every human heart.

They are forged from iron and indifference

They are gently installed by force

Poetry is a saw.


Dalpé, 1983, p. 20


One last example of action poetry: the poetry workshop for griots.  The griot is a musician-poet who has a lot of prestige in traditional african society. In the West Indies, griots organize poetry-workshops to assemble the villages around common political goals. The action poetry of griots has emerged from a dual activism. Evening, self-taught, seduces the child with the magic of words (Fitte-Duval, 1992, p.30); then the action of griots (poets / musicians / historians of the community) in the Caribbean islands, an action that is educational, identity-building, and autonomous, combats the insecurity of diglossia.  The evening of the griot, a political microculture, is built from moment to moment in tune with every participant and resists assimilation.  This is poetry as a different action.


  • Dalpé, J. M. (1983). Les murs de nos villages. Sudbury, ON: Ed. Prise de Parole.
  • Dumas, J. (1990, August). Analyse d'un poème de Dalpé. Sudbury, ON: OISE, CRENO.
  • Fitte-Duval, G. G. (1992). Intervention des griots de la Martinique. Les Ateliers du Sud-Est, 28, 30-32.
  • Tochon, F. V. (1994). La Poésie-Action ou la postmodernité littéractive: Pour une didaction de l'art langagier (Action-Poetry or the Litteractive Postmodernity: For an Aesthetic Instructional Design). Revue de Linguistique appliquée, 93, 49-61.
  • Tochon, F. V. (2000a). Action Poetry as an Empowering Art: A Manifesto for Didaction in Arts Education. Arts and Learning Research Journal, 16(1), 32-53.
  • Tochon, F. V. (2000b). Action Poetry as an Empowering Art: A Manifesto for Didaction in Arts Education. International Journal of Education and the Arts, 1(2), (Authorized reproduction.)
  • Tochon, F. V. (2016). Béryls de l'aube. Blue Mounds, WI: Deep University press.



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Tochon, F. V.  (2013). Action Poetry to the Rescue of Minority LanguagesIn F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date).