Rose Valley poet Leon Berrouard’s newly-published book Epiphany on Route 70 (Red Wheelbarrow Press) isn’t easy to categorize. For example, the opening piece begins as a memoir, which morphs into a short story and then back to memoir.
As a young man the author hitchhiked thousands of miles around the US with an adventurous friend. Years later when that friend was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas, Berrouard’s response was the writing of “Epiphany on Route 70.”
The “Epiphany…” is an account of the two friends hitchhiking from Massachusetts to San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district in 1968. Why? It was the hippie summer of love when one had to “be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” The Mamas and Papas hit music is the backdrop when the account turns visceral after the hikers are given a ride to Denver’s military hospital. The reader learns how Berrouard came to Canada during those Vietnam War years.
Eighteen poems are the second part of the book. For the last decade Berrouard has spent winters in Shenzhen, China, studying the Mandarin language and Chinese culture. When Ba Jin, recognized as one of China’s greatest writers, died at the age of 100, Berrouard wrote “Elegy for Ba Jin” in praise of the writer who lived through a century of change in China. There are political sentiments in the poem and the same is true of “Echoes in Tiananmen Square.”
In Canada, “Heading for the Hemlocks” was written to protest Plan B, the cutting of some of PEI’s oldest trees:
… trees that will give no more seeds
Because politicians want a roadthat no one needs
Other poems set in PEI document happenings—with humor, irony and thoughtful observation. “Looking for the Dog” tells of a loved, lost dog that is finally found. The next day the vet will come to put the old dog to sleep. “Room for the Sky” tells of cutting a tree to facilitate solar heating.
Epiphany on Route 70 is available at the Bookmark in Charlottetown and also at Indigo Books. The book launch will take place October 12 at 7:30 pm at Barnone Brewery with an evening of poetry, and music by Jon Rehder and others.