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Odd Words July 28, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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“This is not the quiet tap of civilized literature; this is the loud raw truth of life.”
— Valentine Pierce

You thought I was going to forget to post, didn’t you. Sure you did. Hey, I’ve hardly posted anything but this listing for weeks but life has been busy, too busy for July in this city where you can almost see the swells passing through the humid air. The Counting House doubles as the Mad House, my mother is getting better but the last few weeks have been a nasty combination of roller coaster and carney fun house and I can feel the chilli dogs rising in my gorge at every twist and turn.

And just because You Can Never Have Too Much Fun I’ve been working with Sam Jasper on a book project. The announcement goes out this weekend so I won’t go into too much detail until next week. Just keep the night of Thursday, Aug. 26. It’s an exciting concept. People who have read the manuscript love it. And it’s a lot of fucking work, especially if you’re typesetting it yourself. Still, it will all be worth it in the end.

The project involves some very personal writing by 20 contributors. In reading some emotionally raw (but very well written) words from the months after 8-29, and in the back and forth with contributors, I have had a lot of occasion to think about nakedness in creative non-fiction and in poetry. I encouraged a contributor to stick with what was originally submitted instead of a much revised version because what we wanted was that immediacy, that nakedness. I worried if that was unfair in a way because I was asking her to reveal more than I do here. In the end we accepted the revision, and it’s good. Its not quite as visceral as the original but its good. Was it fair to push this person further than I push myself? Was I projecting my own desires onto their work? This is my first project as an editor and you find yourself asking a lot of question like this.

So, what are the limits? TheRumpus.Net isn’t just an excellent source of lazy links for worn out bloggers but concerns itself with this topic a great deal, as editor Stephen Elliot writes very nakedly about his personal life in his own work, and his contributors frequently return to this subject. What are the limits, I ask myself time and again. I agonized for almost a week before I posted Hospital. My mother was almost improving by the time I hit the publish button so perhaps it was even dishonest. Some people might think so but I don’t. Dishonesty is the mortal sin if you’re going to write from your own life. It was a snapshot of where I was in time a week and a half ago and a very personal one at that. Fortunately my mother doesn’t read things on the Internet, or she’d probably be mortified. (Think of another word. Quick. Can’t. Too tired. Never mind.)

There is an interesting quote in this piece (cribbed from The Rump; so sue me, its the Internet) but I’m not going to reproduce it here. If you haven’t wandered back to Google for whatever it was you were looking for in the first place, if you’re still reading this, then go read this. I think the money quote will jump out when you read it.

I am careful about what I post here, probably too careful. But I have a job, and unless you know me and I’ve told you where I work you probably can’t suss out what The Counting House is. I have a family, and I think sometimes my children read this although my wife doesn’t. There are limits once you’ve made certain life choices, limits that hold back what you can publish and what gets tucked away and what gets written in your head but never put down. You can’t be dishonest–I’ve said that–but sometimes you have to be disingenuous, to couch things carefully or work around omissions.

I’m a tremendous fan of Stephen Elliot and just devoured Jim Carroll’s Forced Entries twice through, and both men write about as nakedly out of their own life as anyone can. I can promise you I will never describe what happens if I have an abscess and it bursts not because it’s repulsive but because I may never be able to write about my mostly uninteresting life as powerfully as Carroll does about his in that book, may never make you care about the person behind this screen in the way Carroll does for himself, to make that grotesque moment perfect and cathartic for both the subject/author and the reader.

Some of my favorite books are to some extent about the author moving through the landscape. Bernard Moitessier’s The Long Way comes to mind, in which case it is the author moving through the sea scape. Unless you’re a sailing nut or a serious student of environmental writing, you have probably not heard of Moitessier or his books. This one is about his participation in the first solo around-the-world race, a race he never finished. This isn’t the heroic literature of the sea or arctic exploration (topics that fascinate me) but a book about his experience of the ocean, of his own journey of self-discovery, a book that succeeds so compellingly that you are fascinated by his account of being becalmed and feeding sea birds.

And that’s what I do here, or try to. I started out trying to write about New Orleans (and sometimes succeed) but often end up writing about myself in the landscape. It is a formula that seems to work for me, to accomplish my goal because landscape without character and event is a subject for painters. It was probably inevitable that I would end up in these posts as much as the city does, because most of what I have written for the last five years, here and on Wet Bank Guide, was not about New Orleans in a sense that would sell to the National Geographic or Southern Living, but about the experience of New Orleans, specifically my experience.

The quote at the top of this post is from one of our contributors to the book, will in fact appear with the dedication if I can convince Sam of the idea before we go to press. I like that quote (which is all of the bio Pierce submitted) because it summarizes our book so well, and also what goes on here on Toulouse Street. “This is not the quiet tap of civilized literature; this is the loud raw truth of life.” It is not, however, the whole story. I am neither Moitessier nor Carroll. My life is not that fascinating, and there are limits. The subject need not be eccentric or a genius or otherwise exceptional for highly personal writing to be interesting. The secret, I believe, is to get the “loud raw truth of life out.” I don’t quite get there in this space. The secret to the whole story is hidden somewhere in that link above, and until and unless I cross that boundary this will never be the whole story.

And in the end it is, after all, just a blog. I’m shocked that you’ve read this far, really. Both of you.

It’s been a slow week for somebody if not for me, and the coming week promises more of the same as the listing are thin, but here’s what it is.

Join us for a night of local poetry focusing on conservation of our treasured Lousisiana widlife and wetlands during these troubling times.

*The Language of Conservation is an initiative of Poets House in partnership with the Audubon Nature Institute, the New Orleans Public Library and a consortium of zoos and libraries nationwide. It is made possible by a National Leadership Grant for the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

§ On Sunday August 1 at The Maple Leaf Poet Laurie Williams reads from her work, followed by an open mike.

§ Authors and photographers including Elizabeth Kleinveld, Tom Varisco and John Biguenet, sign the photo and essay book Before During After, at 6 p.m. Saturday July 31, Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St.

§ August 26th. Watch this space. Save the date. You won’t be disappointed.

Odd Words July 22, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Yes it’s summertime and the living is easy which is to say miserably hot and as my earlier one line post suggests, don’t out of the shade grasshopper unless there is cold beer involved. Sensible people, including writers, begin to dream of San Francisco or the coast of Maine. They don’t imagine hauling themselves down into the swampy funk of New Orleans, however writerly and romantic. So, what is there to do? Crib something from the Internet or pull out another dripping amber bottle and crawl back into the shade with a good book.

Or maybe a stack of them, as Doug Bruns writing over at The Millions did. (What did writers do when they couldn’t write, before the Internet gave us the cheap link trick? Go out and get drunk or laid or something. While I’m sitting here reading essays. Which leads us to Brun’s quote:)

I am a reader first. If I were an addict, I would get high and while high, presumably, worry about where I was to get my next fix. Reading is not all that different, I think. As a reader, I am always looking over the binding thinking about the next read, in some instances, longing for it. Some books, like some highs, are better than others. But even with not-so-good books–and there where two this past year I did not see to completion–I will come back to the drug, seeking the next high. I will always be a reader. Of this I am certain.

My colleague on a book project (watch this space) told me I should take last night off from edits and answering a contributor’s email. I replied by text message that unless there was a line a coke waiting for me inside there was no chance I would tackle either task. Bad, she quickly SMSed back. Yes, I told her, I would much rather nod. By which, of course, I meant collapse back onto the couch with a book.

§ How about some Emily Every Day? The internet is almost as strange in its interconnection as New Orleans. I found this via a local neighborhood group mailing list linking to a story in the local newspaper home and garden section, about a writer I didn’t know lived in the hood and her writing porch. Which I now covet, but would repaint.

§ At the Maple Leaf, poet Joseph Makkos reads from and signs new poetry chapbooks.

§ You don’t have to go to big box Metairie or a Sam’s Club or Books-a-Million to see Drew Brees and get a copy of the New Orleans Saints quarterback book Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity, but you will need an advanced ticket to see him in the intimate space of Octavia Books, 513 Octavia St., 1 p.m. Monday. Call quick: 899-7323.

§ I missed out on Macbeth, but I’m not going to miss The Tempest as part of the Tulane University summer theatre series. Details here.

Hospital July 21, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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The chemo claimed her hair months ago, but it was only tonight that I saw clearly how much my mother looks like her father, A.J. as I last remember him, in some nursing or hospital bed before he died, as if somewhere inside I lapsed into past tense, that even as she lay in the hospital bed I placed her among the passed. My aunt and older sisters tell me she looks like Aunt Tee at the end of her life, but I don’t remember Aunt Tee. When she was passing I was too young to be taken to visit the dying. I only remember my grandfather.

In my mother’s sepsis dementia she keeps raising her head from the pillow, looking at me and turning away, putting her head back on the pillow and closing her eyes. I leave my hat on so she might recognize me. The last truly lucid thing she said Saturday, as we stood in the ER hallway waiting for her papers, was: ‘I might need one of your hats to cover up my bald head…” and the rest was lost in the noise of the jostling nurses station and her increasing difficulty speaking. I don’t know if she turns away now because she recognizes me and does not wish to us to be here like this, or if she wakes every half minute and sees the hospital room and lays her head down hoping to see something else, or if she turns away from the ghost of her husband haunting my face, unready to go yet.

She cannot speak, so I cannot know.

She had a brief recovery on Tuesday, greeting her brother-in-law (but not her sister or my middle sister) when they all entered the room. Based on the positive reports of some improvement, I relented to my wife’s desire to let the children come see her. Although she had about worn herself out with visitors and was lapsing back into twilight when they arrived, she managed to tell the nurse, “these are my grandchildren.” I had resisted their visit, wanting them to keep their living memories of their grandmother/ I was glad they were able to see her while she was responsive and recognized them, while she could graciously accept a dutiful kiss on her bald head.

By the time I arrived that night, she was again unresponsive.

My sister thinks she does not recognize us when she opens her eyes but I think she does, or at least manages to recognize a familiar voice. The Dominican nun who lives across the hall in mother’s apartment building came by to visit the other night. My mother is a Dominican girl through and through, educated by Dominican’s her entire life: St. Anthony Grammar School, Dominican High School and College, and she spent her life an officer of her college alumnae association. She and her Dominican friends would visit the remaining sisters from the college in their retirement home across the lake. As Sister Jamie speaks to her, mother stretches herself as if to sit up and opens her eyes wide, but she cannot reply.

In her macular degeneration blindness compounded by dementia she likely cannot see well enough to recognize us except by voice. My eldest sister thinks she lifts her head and turns to look not at us but at the window, in her near blindness to look toward the one thing she can most likely see, the light she can just make out pouring in the window. And perhaps that is what she wants, what she is waiting for: the light.

A Moral Fable July 16, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Odds&Sods.
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Damn grasshopper’s got more sense than to stir in this heat, knowing he’s got all the the fat ants he could want to eat come winter.

Odd Words July 15, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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I just noticed last Saturday morning that Books is no longer listed on the NOLA.COM site under More New Orleans Entertainment. There is, however, a link for MTV’s Real World New Orleans. Books is a listing on the Times-Picayune web site. However, the Books link under Living on the T-P home page brings you to an empty page. I feel a haiku coming on, so before that happens I think instead it may be time to remove the hyphen from my preferred acronym for the paper. If anyone can recommend a comprehensive site where I can subscribe to the Sunday funnies on line, let me know. It’s not like we have a lot of fish to wrap down here lately.

Oh, here is the listing for Events under Books.”Sky without color/the blank page a branch without/leaves. Write a haiku.: (OK, that sucked. Don’t make me read it twice). So if you want your listings out there you had best send them to me. Look what happened when I actually acknowledged in this space that there is a (chain, big box) bookstore in Metairie last week. If I had known he was bringing donuts, I would have led with him.

§ I was pleased last week when the second stop at my daughter’s Loyola University of New Orleans orientation was a table where she was handed a hardback copy of A Confederacy of Dunces, which is required reading for all incoming first year students. What can I say except: two Ignatii for the price of one, even if it’s costing me a thousand a page. So far she’s not entirely impressed with Ignatius Riley, whom she finds “annoying”. If I were a cute 18-year old coed from Generation Whatever-We’re-Up-To-Now (I think we’re out of letters) and Ignatius Riley came up to me on the street, I would probably put my hand on the pepper spray and cross the street.

§ The Black Flood. I’m not exactly inundated with contributors, which I guess is a good thing given my available time. I do need to get around to writing a couple of polite declines for submissions. This should be easy, as I am quite familiar with the genre, but it’s going to be hard to send the first one.

§ 17 Poets! is dark Thursday, and the Maple Leaf is an open mike. Last Sunday the Maple Leaf crowd had a visit from H.R. “Stoney” Stoneback and bought his fascinating Hurricane Hymn. Stoney is a songwriter, educator and poet who lived in Nashville for years, and his Hurricane Hymn mingles “Hymns,” some from the classical protestant cannon and some from Bob Dylan, The Band, Johnny Cash, etc. Another tells the story of his songwriter neighbor, who would frequently bother him for ideas. While studying for his PhD Orals he hold the guy to scat and “go read some Faulkner; go read some Fitzgerald” and the result was the song Delta Dawn. Hurricane Hymn is highly recommended for anyone who (like me) has been filling a book shelf with Katrina books. You can get it from Codhill Press.

§ OK, I’m not crazy about Chris Rose but this upcoming book (featured at the Octavia Book Store on Saturday, 7/16 at 6 p.m. caught my eye: ONE BLOCK: A New Orleans Neighborhood rebuilds – Photographer Dave Anderson (text by Chris Rose). And on Saturday 7/31 Octavia will host BEFORE DURING AFTER: Louisiana Photographers’ Visual Reactions to Hurricane Katrina. Both of these sound like coffee table sized (and priced) books, so I’m going to have to think hard about both, but I know I’m going to be picking these up and sorely tempted to leave with a copy of one or both.

Odd Words July 8, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
2 comments

Updates below

Oops, there goes another twenty to books. And I had such high hopes of slowing down buying and catching up on my reading, but then along comes The Rumpus.Net’s Poetry Book Club. And of course I signed up. Every month get a new book of poetry a month before it’s release, and discuss with a lot of equally obsessed people. The only problem with this plan, from a New Orleans perspective, is that it does not occur in a bar.

If anyone locally who reads this signs up (go ahead; you know you want to) and wants to circle up over beers before the online meeting (or figure out how to do the online thing as a group in a bar with wireless) drop me a line.

I’m actually pretty excited about this which is just one more strike against that invitation to Bachelorette. Between the subscription cost and my bad habit of buying a book from any featured reader I like a couple of times a month, I may have to give something up. Like cigarettes. Or coffee. Or, um, food. (Let’s see, caffeine and nicotine suppress appetite and I need to lose some weight, so the healthy choice would be to give up food).

And I was about to buy Sandra Beasley’s new book after hearing her read in New Orleans a few months back and picking up Fear of Falling. The woman is a fantastic poet and I’m pleased to see she has a major house book (W.W.Norton) but it’s a hardcover at $25 bucks and she just got a very nice review on Rumpus which means she could end up on the poetry book club list.

Of all the problems I have right now (don’t get me started) I am actually pretty much enjoying this one.

§ OK, normally I don’t do stuff like that (I had to hide those Lou Holtz tapes of my wife’s or she’d make me watch them. Again) but hey it’s a slow week: Drew Brees signs Coming Back Stronger: Unleashing the Hidden Power of Adversity. 9 a.m. Saturday. Barnes & Noble Booksellers, 3721 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie. This will be the first (and last) listing for B&N out in the box canyon you’ll see from me. I swear.

§ Looked at their calendar again (was relying on an old listing). Looks like dis ain’t dere no more. Never mind. It’s such a slow week I think I need to list up some events I haven’t been attending but would like to. If you like poetry and math, you are definitely never going to be a contestant on Bachelorette, but you will figure out that the second, fourth and fifth Sunday of the month would include this coming Sunday. Jenna Mae hosts poets and spoken word readers on the second, fourth and fifth Sunday of each month. 8 p.m. Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, 3133 Ponce de Leon Ave., New Orleans (Mid-City), 913-9073, http://www.fairgrinds.com.

§ And if I’m giving up food (in order to afford cigarettes, coffee and the poetry book club) now might be exactly the right time to check out: Loren Murrell hosts a weekly poetry and spoken-word night with free food. Free admission. 8:30 p.m. Wednesday. Yellow Moon Bar, 800 France St

§ UPDATE: Yikes, I forgot the Maple Leaf listing: Poet H.R. “Stoney” Stoneback reads from his work. Author of “Singing the Springs” and other works from Portals Press he teaches creative writing at SUNY in New York, and is a Hemingway and Faulkner scholar.

On a lazy summer afternoon July 4, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA.
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Perhaps I need to pry my eyes away from the oil-fouled coast and go instead to watch the gunpowder flowers boom and crackle over the river. It’s supposed to be a damn holiday and I need to get away from sitting next to the unfiled mail and unpaid bills, all the litter of responsibility crying out for attention, that manuscript waiting behind this screen and the Counting House’s laptop satchel bomb sitting under the desk ticking away with things that must be done on Monday.

I was looking forward this year to avoiding the sort of Memorial Day and Fourth of July posts I’ve made in the years since 8-29, but the Oilpocalypse is making that a bit difficult. The boy has gone camping in Georgia, walking up his first mountain after fifteen years in the flats of Dakota and New Orleans, fifteen hundred feet in the last mile. (I know your phone is off so remember: watch your step while walking; stop to look at the views). So that means no sidewalk fireworks show this year. There’s no music on the river this year, just the Essence crowds (welcome to New Orleans; love ya; spend lots of money) which removes one reason to fight the crowds downtown. It’s kind of hard to decide what to do but sitting at this computer fuming like the Gulf surf is probably not it.

Perhaps I’ll do nothing. It’s a holiday, a word rooted in holy day and the first official holy day was the biblical Sabbath, so a day of rest might be just the thing. And I know come dark if I walk a block over to the old L&N spur tracks that followed the path of the Carondelet canal toward downtown, I can see the high bursts of one of the barges, driving away the mosquitoes with a Gloria de Cubana Serie No. 5 and the blues with a big cup of something good out of the liquor cabinet. I know we won’t be alone if we go over there. Enough of the neighbors know about the view and while over on the weedy tracks we may not have a gazebo pouring out Souza sitting with your neighbors was, once upon a time, how people spent the Fourth.

My only other problem is there isn’t a single decent video, not even a passable cover, of Randy Newman’s Dayton Ohio, 1903 on the Internets, which once again leads me to question how much of an improvement over the Baudot teletype this whole Internet thing really is. You’ll just have to pull out your own copy. What? You don’t have a copy of Newman’s Sail Away? Well, maybe you should bring some beer and chicken over and we can listen to mine along with Good Old Boys. And when the sky gets mosquito dark and it’s time for cigars we can head over to the tracks

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