Sylvain Turner: Portrait of a Writer

By Raymond Viger

Sylvain Turner was 14 months old when his father died in a car accident. His mother, who survived, fell into a depression. Because of this, he was raised by his grandparents in Saint-Alexis-des-Monts, in the Mauricie, the land of Jacques Ferron, author and founder of the Rhinoceros Party.  

His grandfather was a brave lumberjack and log driver who Sylvain followed everywhere. “At age five, walking alone in the woods and fishing were normal for me.” Sylvain learned how to handle himself in nature.

At age eight, he went back to Montreal to live with his mother. It was there that he discovered the first artist that gave him a taste for writing: Yvon Deschamps. “At the time, I would write monologues and stories in my school exercise books. I played at being an author by retyping the pages of the dictionary on my typewriter.”

As a teenager he found himself marginalized. “I asked myself if my being in the world was a mistake,” he recalls. But there was no question of wallowing in self-pity. “I made a choice, to build the best life possible for myself, despite the loss of my father and all that implied.”  When he began writing his first poems he started hanging out with positive marginal people, like poets Denis Vanier and Lucien Francoeur.

The young author also played hockey: “I was the only one who walked to the arena without being accompanied by his father.” His coach was Journal de Montréal sportswriter Ghyslain Luneau. “Ghyslain adopted me He was like a big brother to me, and it was great to read his articles in the Journal.”  

Ghyslain invited him to a charity golf tournament in Malartic, in Abitibi. “My employer at the time wouldn’t give me the time off, so I couldn’t go.” That Friday night, his mother waited up to give him the terrible news. Ghyslain Luneau had died at the wheel when his Mazda 7 collided head on with a truck on an Abitibi road.

Sylvain Turner

“A car had taken my father, now it had taken my big brother,” Sylvain recounts emotionally. “I didn’t want to believe it. I spent the night waiting for the Journal de Montréal.” In the wee hours of the morning, the cover page confirmed the death of his coach and friend at the age of 28. “I should have been there for that trip. If I’d been given the time off, I might have also died in that accident.”


At 17 he began a career as a journalist. His pen would never leave his hand. In his own original way, he manipulated words to create allegories in all sorts of styles.

It was Yves Parenteau, then editor-in-chief of the Journal de Rosemont, who gave this restless teen his first opportunity to write articles. “A column on the Collège de Rosemont’s sports scene,” Yves recalls, his eyes aflame as he recounts his professional relationship with the young journalist. “I was expecting to get articles from a hockey bum. He brings his poetic soul to all his writings. Sports told with a story,” he adds.

Sylvain remembers: “At the beginning I was a volunteer, and they literally stole my articles.” His sports column carried the name of a sponsor without mentioning the author’s name.

One day the editor asked the young journalist to cover one of Premier Robert Bourassa’s press conferences. “If I was good enough to cover the premier, I was good enough to get paid.” From that day forward, with Yves Parenteau’s support, he signed his articles and got paid for his work.

From sports columnist to poet, the young writer did a bit of everything: ad copywriting, greeting cards, business translations… All while working at a nursing home and studying for a bachelor’s and a master’s in literary studies at UQAM!

This is how, despite his tender age, Sylvain became Yves’ best reporter. No matter what style or subject had to be tackled, Yves could always count on the sensitive, magic pen of his young pup. The columnist could adapt himself to all styles, without restrictions. Sylvain had a gift for turning events into poetry, to make them come alive and convey emotions through his writings.

The two remained great friends. That is one of this author’s characteristics: the ability to collect friendships. Lucien Francoeur, Denis Vanier, François Charron, Claudine Bertrand… Lucien and Claudine were among his teachers. How many students maintain friendships with their teachers over decades? Sylvain explains: “Denis Vanier was my poetry idol when I was young, and I was lucky enough to count him as a friend. He had particular sympathy for me, doubtless because he recognized the influence his work had had on me when he read my first poetry collection, in 1990.”   

With the empathy and joie de vivre that Sylvain radiates, he easily makes friendships. An immense capacity for listening without being judgmental allows him to build quality relationships. “I’m interested in others,” he reveals. “I’m never in competition with them. When I compete, it’s against myself.” He has chosen to be happy despite life’s difficulties.

Ups and Downs

A life that is worthy of a roller coaster. As the phoenix is reborn from the ashes, the artist gets back to work without self-pity. Because Sylvain Turner is a fighter. He nourishes a tender honesty that allows him to always say what he thinks. He can’t keep anything hidden inside. Assertiveness is the art of being able to transmit a difficult message with neither passivity nor aggressiveness. This columnist has mastered the art to perfection. A tireless worker, he runs his life like all the marathons he runs. To meet with him you have to track him down between marathons. His partner, the soprano Fairouz Oudjida, says that nothing can drag him down: “He finishes his marathons despite injuries. He ran one when he was suffering from a stress fracture in his shinbone. Three weeks before that marathon, the doctor told him that he’d have to remain inactive for months. That doctor didn’t know his patient very well.”

To pay for his studies he worked in a nursing home (CHSLD) as a dietary aide. Overflowing with generosity, over a quarter of a century later, when the pandemic began he responded to the government’s appeals for help by returning to work at a CHSLD. Confronted with a lack of protective equipment and an absence of distancing measures, he quit after a few weeks. He was ready to go to war, but not unarmed. It was very disappointing for him to see that the government was willing to send soldiers to the front without equipping them adequately. “I’ve always been wary of power, and I was saddened to see Quebeckers massively supporting one political party like if it was a hockey team. That’s not good to be deprived of a strong opposition. The more a government has a strong majority, the more totalitarian it becomes.”

The Phoenix’s Pen

His long-time friend, the poet François Charron, puts it this way: “Sylvain is a happy pirate who has a taste for excess. He likes risk…. His writings deserve their place in the publishing world.” A large publisher wanted to bring his writings to print. Sadly they couldn’t take him on, as they had too long a waiting list of publications.

Simon-Claude Gingras, proofreader at Éditions TNT, influenced the publication of the poetry book In extremis. He says: “If you only read one book of poetry this year, this is it.”     

For François Charron, “The uniqueness of a writer’s writings comes out of their mal de vivre, their uniqueness, their revolt.” Isn’t it an old adage that the greatest writing finds its roots in an author’s suffering?

His partner, Fairouz Oudjida, underscores these extremes in Sylvain’s character: “A man who transforms adversity into strength, who never gives up, a resilient warrior who sees light even in suffering.”

Fairouz and Sylvain

Sylvain wants to live each moment of his life, and profit from all that life has to offer him. He succeeds in laughing at the most complicated situations.

“You can’t just flash with words,” says Yves, his former editor. “There has to be a meaning, an emotion.” And our author has mastered the art of evoking ans suggesting sensations to perfection. He elicits the strongest of emotions by the force of his images, the musicality of his style, and the generosity with which he delivers it all. “I got very emotional when I read In extremis,” confides Fairouz, who read the collection several times. “Major emotions rose to the surface, to the point that I cried.”  

The author gives himself over completely in his writings. “Sylvain often comes back from his long writing sessions completely emptied,” says his partner in life. “He travels far into his inner universe. It’s very demanding.”

Sylvain writes and solves problems even when he is running marathons. Running has helped his writing. “Not too fast. A kilometer at a time. A chapter at a time. Thanks to running, I’m a better author. My spirit is livelier” confides the marathon man.  

When the Soprano Met the Poet

“I never make a mistake when I take the metro,” Fairouz explains. “But that day, life decided otherwise. I found myself on the wrong platform, and met the man of my life. A lively person who bites into life” says Fairouz, a soprano of international caliber.

When she decided to produce and record her album La diva du desert at the beginning of the pandemic, between two confinements, it was Sylvain who wrote the words of the title song. “Then he encouraged me to adapt them into Algerian dialect, which I did. By taking my inspiration from the song’s original words, I could write song lyrics for the first time. It was a very personal piece, of which I am very proud” the Algerian songstress explains.

As for What’s Next

With Sylvain, there are always several things on deck. The first edition of his poetry collection sold out in less than two weeks. Orders are piling up for the second edition. An English translation is in the works. Several other projects are under study.

If he succeeds in making you catch your breath just reading about him, for my part I don’t know where to stop wrting. I keep telling myself that I have a portrait to write, not a full blown biography of a character. Because Sylvain Turner is THE character you’d want the honor and the luck to meet.

Yves Parenteau has already written his epitaph:  “There’s nothing more to say… he wrote it all.”

Excerpt from In extremis

Ready to fight on all fronts, I enrich my inks with the tears of my fathers by performing a ritual whose nobility has nothing to envy of blood pacts. I belong to the race of survivors, to those who will always see their war to the end. Chasing after redemption for the humiliated, the unloved, the abandoned, I write.

Sylvain Turner holds a master’s degree in literary studies from the Université du Québec à Montréal. Designer-copywriter, translator, literary columnist and lyricist, he has just published In extremis, his second poetry collection with Éditions TNT.

French version on the Reflet de Société website

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.