Following secondary studies at the seminaries in Saint-Georges and Nicolet (BA 1957) he earned two degrees from U. Laval: psychology (1960), and arts (1964). He was a career counselor in a Sainte-Foy high school (1967 -1970), then a translator for the federal government (1970-1973), after which time he devoted himself to writing, living modestly in Paris where he has resided for about fifteen years.
Jacques Poulin's first novel Mon cheval pour un royaume/My Horse for a Kingdom (1967), inspired in part by terrorism, is the story of a man grappling with himself and confined to a psychiatric hospital, a woman whose love he shares with one his friends, a city (Québec) and a society from which he tries to free himself by an act of terrorism that ends up injuring him. Other novels followed: Jimmy, about a child who witnesses the deterioration of everything (the summer cottage on stilts along the riverbank, the parental relationship, society), 1969; Le coeur de la baleine bleue/The Heart of the Blue Whale, about a man transplanted with a young girl's heart who awakens to the risks of a problematic sexual identity, 1970; and Faites de beaux rêves Prix La Presse, 1974. Les grandes marées/Spring Tides, Governor General's Literary Award (1978), was among his most powerful works and one of the most profound Québécois novels despite its obvious lightness. It is the story of a lone translator, isolated on an island that appears to be a second Eden. He briefly experiences the love of a young woman dropped from heaven (by way of the boss's helicopter), but his solitude is ruined and destroyed by the arrival of a throng of people who end up expelling him from the island to better settle there themselves. The novel is a tale of the obstacles of living in society.
In Volkswagen Blues (1984), Jack Waterman, the writer's imaginary double as the pseudonym suggests, sets out to look for his missing brother Théo, and travels through America from the Gaspé to San Francisco with a young Métis. Together they retrace the ancestral route of the Amerindians. Le vieux chagrin, (translated as Mr Blue) published in 1989 in both Québec and France, is the story of a writer lacking inspiration who wants to write a love story. A mysterious woman he does not meet disrupts his own life, and he ends up coming to grips with writing by welcoming into his home a girl abused by her father and who awakens him to the voice of affection. During the 1990s, when the author's popularity was growing, he published La tournée d'automne/Autumn Rounds (1993), about an itinerant librarian who develops a love relationship with a woman during a voyage between Québec and the North Shore. In Chat sauvage/Wild Cat (1997), the narrator plays a detective on the streets of Québec who by chance meets a young girl. Although unsought, she ends up occupying a growing role in his life. La traduction est une histoire d'amour, (2006) takes place on Île d'Orléans, about a young translator meeting a writer whose works she must translate.
Jacques Poulin's novels are sparely written, lean in syntax and style, and simple, even light. They tell of characters in search of themselves and others, wounded rather than torn by the desire to (re)discover themselves, and the almost complete impossibility of doing so. Thoughtful solitude, love marked by tenderness and ambiguity, quiet despair that haunts the characters in their quests - these are the favourite subjects of a writer concerned with telling of human frailty including the banalities of daily life.