Peter Meilleur obituary

Other lives: Poet who wrote under the name Childe Roland

My friend the poet Peter Meilleur, whose nom de plume was Childe Roland, has died aged 75. He was an experimental poet with an intensely lyrical voice, whose reputation rests on his visual and sound poetry. His published work is sparse, visually beautiful, the work for voice and performance immense.

Peter was born in Surrey, where his father, Noel Meilleur, a French-Canadian serviceman stationed in Britain, had met and married Kathleen Goodwin; the family sailed to Canada before the end of the second world war. Peter was brought up in Quebec and went to a French-speaking school before studying at Carleton University in Ottawa. He began writing while at university, and later got a job working for the Canadian government.

My first experience of one of his performances was in Ottawa, in 1972, when he read his poem ACK ACK to Erik Satie’s Trois Gymnopédies. Behind him, there was a ballerina whose falls unintentionally reproduced the reports of distant gunfire. Such was his strange genius that a poem that took its title from military terminology was at the same time a tender love lyric to his wife, Sue (nee Edwards), whom he had met and married on a visit to Britain in 1969.

In 1979, Peter and Sue, with their children, Tom, Emily and Miranda, moved from Canada to Llangollen, north Wales. Poetically speaking, it was a significant move, in that he would add the Welsh language, whose complex etymology never ceased to fascinate him, to his native French and English.

There was, in everything Peter wrote, a sense of wonder at the sounds words make, and at how through rhyme one word could summon another across the distances of language. What he produced were collages whose meaning might have been obscure, but whose emotional impact was visceral. Anyone hearing him just the once would never forget the experience.

His visual work was concise and, sometimes, as evidenced in the beautifully crafted books he made, words were abolished altogether; the white paper became the field across which he made his poetic journey. His many titles include Allo Bell (1973), Un Fleuve Saint Laurent (1974), Backgammon Dragon (1983), Six of Clubs (1997), two one-act plays, Ham and Jam, and A Pearl (2010), and Trees (2012). He continued to write in his last decade.

He is survived by Sue, his children, his grandson, Elliot, and his sister Rosemary.

Marius Kociejowski

The GuardianTramp

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