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Koyaanisqatsi, VA November 30, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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McLean Virginia is an angry anthill of cars and conspicuous consumption, a dystopia of orange cones, the metallic skeletons of construction at rest for the night, car lights strung like animated pearls and rubies wriggling in disquieting, hallucinogenic frenzy through a Mobious strip of roads. I once lived not to far from here, in the District and later in close-in Arlington for a decade. My daughter was born at George Washington Hospital, on a snowy night when the car would not start and I learned you do not tell the cab company your wife is in labor if you expect them to show up. In day light there is a certain familiarity: I know this road, drove it many times on my way to Chain Bridge or if I had some errand in the neighborhood but the dark and the rain and almost two decades of unrelenting progress have transformed the once familiar roads into a suburban version of Tokyo, or the mythical city of Blade Runner.

I have been away so long from metropolis that I felt like an aboriginal confronted by a television playing Koyaanisqatsi, found myself dreaming of the almost deserted roads of North Dakota, the vastness of landscape punctuated by farmsteads with tree belts, the weathered remains of some barn washed brown by the sun and leaning precariously away from the unceasing winds, a water tower rising in the distance beneath which huddled a small town: grain elevators along the tracks, small frame houses with paint blistered by the roaring heat inside and the arctic cold without, a truck stop filled with an Odd mix of traveler kitsch and rural necessities inside which you could eat transcendent pie.

Humans are as social and predictable as a pack of dogs but I wonder what strange scent lead so many people to crowd themselves into these boxes surrounding the alpha males of the Central Government, to chose a landscape in which the highway is the dominant feature, how we came and conformed ourselves to its physical extremes like the inhabitants of Nunavut or Kalahari. We took all this land from people dazzled by glass beads and bright steel axes and we laugh at the thought at first but to people living with stone tools and with a millennium old practice of beading their clothes with animal quills these were not pointless things. We ourselves surrender to the dazzle of the mall, the gleaming trading cities of our crossroads, adorn ourselves with the pretty tags that make a pair of denim pants precious as Medieval silk and equip ourselves with impractical iPhones and gleaming espresso machines, and I wonder what and to whom we are surrendering in the exchange.

On The Road November 28, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Moloch calls and I obey, off to the airport on one of the worst travel days imaginable for a week of day-long meetings in a suburban tower far away, dinner at night every night no doubt with the same people if it can’t be helped so posting may get thing again. But I’ll be back. I’ll always be back.

Pilgrimage to the Past November 25, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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It’s not so much Thanksgiving, once we get past grace and the obligatory once around the table: “And what are you thankful for?” All that is to me is something to survive, the taste of a rebellious olive, a bit of indigestion, before the main course: as the wine bottle are emptied and the coffee is brewed and our turkey-weary mouths are reanimated and we talk about not what we have or who we are but the absences the decades of holidays have left us, the familiar and the sudden memories, the stories of when, the presence of the past.

We should all set a place for our ancestors and feed the children from that plate.

Odd Words November 25, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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I somehow managed to forget about this last week: Big Other’s Greg Gerke hosted a weeklong celebration of Wallace Stevens on his blog, featuring interviews with and tributes by James Longenbach, James Robison, Christopher Higgs, Cooper Renner, Jamie Iredell, Ken Sparling, and plenty of others. If you’re a Stevens junkie as I am, you want to give this one a click. It’s last week’s feature, so you’ll have to scroll down a ways (the last post was on the 19th).

Meanwhile, something to consider the next time you put down the notebook and sit down at the computer.

It’s a holiday weekend so there’s not much going on. I don’t usually do cookbooks but the first one’s for Ray. (Sadly, an extensive Google search of “Ray sushi food porn” does not turn up the picture I was looking for).

§ Octavia Books will host a signing and tasting Saturday 1 p.m. with Amanda Simpson, creator of the popular website FoodPornDaily.com (which has had more than 23 million hits since 2008), featuring her new cookbook – an uncensored, up-close look at food so delectable it’s positively sinful.

§ On Tuesday, Nov. 30 Garden District Books will feature Barb Johnson & Sonny Brewer will read from their essays in DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB: ACCLAIMED AUTHORS AND THE JOBS THEY QUIT, which Sonny Brewer edited. OK, now that I’ve added this update I need to finish packing for the day job trip that will consume the last day of my long weekend. Oh, the irony.

§ On Wednesday Dec. 1 Octavia will also host a signing of WHERE WE KNOW: NEW ORLEANS AS HOME. I don’t know who editor Dave Rutledge has selected to read, but this fabulous book features the aforementioned Ray Shea, along with Sam Jasper and myself. Mingling contemporary writers with historical pieces, this is a physically beautiful book, not in the coffee table sense but in the sense of a work of art that’s all about the words. It would make a fantastic Christmas present for anyone who loves New Orleans.

§ Over at Maple Street Book Shop, starting Black Friday all books in Maple Street Used and Rare (yes, even the really rare ones! will be 20% off! This offer cannot be combined with the Groupon (whatever that is. It sounds vaguely obscene.)

§ On Sunday Nov. 28 – Poets Dale Matthews, Wait for the Green Fire, and her daughter Vivian Satorsky read from their work, followed by an open mike at the Maple Leaf, which may actually start something close to three since there’s no Saint’s game, but as usual there’s the problem of rounding up the poets from the bar and out to the patio.

OK, this transgresses Odd into the truly weird: a film Untitled by Laurel Nakadate of porn actresses called for an audition which are actually them reading the poetry of Dora Malech. The women were asked to come in their work clothes. (No, Ray, there is no actual nudity). Courtesy of HTML Giant.

Saying Grace November 24, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember.
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Tonight 44 people visited my 2007 murder victim list post, from 38 hits searching for Angela Thomas Bryant.

Her children, mentioned in the link, will be six and ten when they sit down to dinner tomorrow without their mother.

I’ve been going to a weekly meeting at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, am reminded every Monday by the sign boards of so many people who will be remembered tomorrow when their families and friends sit down around the table, bow their heads in prayer and are thankful for the company of who they are with.

Angela, may your children grow up sweet and smart and strong and live to sit at the table and tell your great grandchildren the stories they will hear tomorrow.

You are remembered. You are all remembered.

Miss Marty, Mother of Strippers November 24, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in French Quarter, New Orleans, NOLA, odd, Toulouse Street.
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I was going to stick this in Odd Words, but it is part of their RECESSION SEX WORKERS interview series and not really literary so much as it is about something Odd and local that most locals, much less tourists, know about: the strip club house mother.

Miss Marty, Mother of Strippers

Like strippers, they survive on tips that they accumulate from dancers for the items and care they provide the girls backstage. House moms are hired by strip clubs to enforce the club’s rules about the dress code, schedule and conduct. They’re entrusted with a dancer’s cash, secrets and belongings. The house mom at Penthouse Club on Bourbon Street, Marty Morgan, has the ability to ensure a dancer’s place on the schedule or promptly get her removed from it. She’s the seated goddess Demeter, with her crock pot cheese dip and homemade watermelon soup. Her desk is an encyclopedia of all things stripper-related and her meatloaf is beyond amazing. She’s the eyes and eyelash glue behind the scenes, and she cares deeply for the women in her midst.

I wrung my hands November 23, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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By Anna Akhmatova
Translated by Stanley Kunitz (with Max Hayward). Lest anyone take offense, try reading the poem reversing the genders. It works both ways.

I wrung my hands under my dark veil. . .
“Why are you pale, what makes you reckless?”
– Because I have made my loved one drunk
with an astringent sadness.

I’ll never forget. He went out, reeling;
his mouth was twisted, desolate. . .
I ran downstairs, not touching the banisters,
and followed him as far as the gate.

And shouted, choking: “I meant it all
in fun. Don’t leave me, or I’ll die of pain.”
He smiled at me — oh so calmly, terribly –
and said: “Why don’t you get out of the rain?”

Kiev, 1911

November Blooms November 21, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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It’s Odd that as our few deciduous trees shed their leaves, the cypress blazing in the only show of color, that the neighborhood is full of blooms. Mostly I don’t know their names. I took up gardening when I lived in North Dakota to fill the emptiness of that expansive yard of lawn with something more thatn lawn, to tear down the ubiquitous evergreen shrubs that surrounded the street-side of the house, to fill the empty time. I never made close friends in Fargo, lacking some grace peculiar to the Lutheran soul. The neighbors were all pleasant enough but my sense of being an emigre in another country stood like an eight foot fence between us.

So come the short season I would work like a dog to fill my own bit of the landscape with color, would battle the rabbits that somehow wintered over in the harsh climate which took the perennials I planted as a bunny buffet. I was astounded when the antique rose the prior owners had asked to dig up and take with them (it was originally their grandmother’s; what could I say but yes?) came back from the deep hole they had left and I had filled and would bloom every June on my birthday.

I ripped the monstrously over grown evergreens from the front of the house with a tow rope, pulling up tremendous root balls with my car and a borrowed tow strap, replacing them with a small Karensansui garden of rocks and a few evergreens, a horizontal juniper (Prince William I think it was called) that mimicked the bent evergreens of Japanese painting, a globular conifer the name of which I forget , ajuga and sandwort and bits of Irish moss that never really took.

Because I never gardened in New Orleans all but the most common plants here seem at once alien and familiar, and I walk through the surrounding streets like an astronaut on a strange planet, marveling at the native life that thrives in such a climate, the carnival blocks of unseasonable (to me) flowers and bracts spread beneath the bare water oaks and blazing cypress. The camellias are familiar but I am forced to troll the internet to name the cassia and golden rain tree, wonder at the shrub with the Odd blooms that seem neither flower not bract, a tight cluster of blood red stamens without visible petals that look like cuttings from another planet.

After last year’s freeze that left everything brown and gray, the colors of Fall in the far north, the colors of the Fall of 2005 when generations of landscaping drowned, I think I understand why I spent so many hours in the yard during the short growing seasons of Fargo, why I struggled to keep that potted jasmine alive inside through the winter. To go from New Orleans to a cold climate meant to sever my connections to an endless and lush green, to surrender endless months of perfume for the charcoal landscape of evergreens in a snow white landscape, at once museum beautiful and laboratory sterile. I missed the softer pastels of banana and palm, ginger and camellia: a sensory deprivation as striking as the long dark nights of 47° north, closer to Ultima Thule than to the equator.

Subtropical Sleep Disturbance November 20, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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No development is expected for the forecast period.

When Cities Made Sense November 19, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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In spite of sidewalks that look like a museum display of plate tectonics, New Orleans has always been a city of pedestrians, a place where many working people did not (do not today) own cars. This simple fact played out tragically when the tens of thousands without a car to escape were left to fend for themselves as the city drowned. The house on Toulouse Street has no driveway and neither do half it’s neighbors, built in an era when cars were an exception in working class pre-war neighborhoods.

The neighborhood where I grew up, Lake Vista, was conceived as a pedestrian haven: with all the streets cul de sacs and the front of houses facing what were called “the lanes”, sidewalks between each block that lead to long, broad parkways which spread like spokes from a shopping center in the middle we all called “The Center”. Most people don’t know this, but Lake Vista was subdivided into narrow lots of the sort seen uptown, enough to accommodate a modest cottage or shotgun home with some lawn. The original platt maps were posted in the firehouse just over the Orleans Canal, where the firemen ignored us if we went as teenagers to buy cheap cigarettes from their vending machine.

Ultimately the original, modest frame demonstration homes called Levee Board Houses were displaced by larger and larger structures built on two or three lots, the Utopian dream for the working class converted to the more conventional expectations of the prosperous post-war generation, and post-Katrina even those Kennedy-era homes are being demolished in favor of McMansions that tower over the older homes. Their was still a shopping center you could walk to without crossing a street, where we once shopped at Dudah’s Grocery and Muranti’s Drugstore, back in a day when children could be sent to the grocery to pick up their parent’s cigarettes and liquor, and we could sign on our parents accounts for cherry Cokes served in conical cups in chrome stands in at the small soda fountain in Muranti’s. Over time, the stores of The Center were eventually strangled by the habit of climbing in the car and patronizing stores up and down Robert E. Lee Boulevard.

Even as a child in prosperous Lake Vista, my family only purchased its second car in 1964 and I usually rode the NOPSI buses all the way home from high school. When the Pontchartrain Expressway was first built, the engineers included pedestrian stairs at places like this overpass, and those at Broad Street and some other locations. You do not find these on the newer overpasses built for Interstate-10 in Metairie or New Orleans East. Many of us still walk, but we must fend for ourselves. In a city where the urban forest constantly tries to demolish the sidewalks with the offshoots of shallow rooted shade trees that flourish where the water table is a few feet below your feet, where people frequently walk in front of oncoming cars in the confident expectations that they will stop, we insist on the right to walk when we wish or we must.

Odd Words November 18, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Odd Words: Reading The Rumpus, HTML Giant, TheMillions, Maud Newton (sigh), and LitDrift for you so you can keep up with your busy life.

A friend told me about a long conversation she had with an Irish writer in a local bar about James Joyce Ulysses, she arguing she could never manage to get through it and had come to the conclusion that it was essentially a man’s book, the story revolving around men and their lives. They speak of women, encounter a few but these these characters are not developed with the exception of Molly Bloom and then only through Leopold (until the end, of course). It is, in a sense, a book concerned with men’s relationship with women (Stephen with his mother, Bloom with his wife) but the men are the central characters and actors of each section until Molly Bloom’s extended soliloquy. This itself is a man’s ideation of a woman’s thoughts and feelings and those all revolving around men (but not all complimentary, comparing her lovers in her mind and fantasizing about Stephen). My friend is not the first woman who’s found the book not to their taste, but in the end Molly Bloom gets the last words.

Your mileage, of course, may vary. I’m not particularly keen about this this idea. The voyagers of the Odyssey were all men, so why not the principle characters of the book?

If we want to even entertain the premise that it is a man’s book, then what could be more fascinating than the well preserved tobacco scent of Lawrence of Arabia’s own copy of Ulysses? Getting a chance to visit and smell that aroma is going on the bucket list. Why do I feel the desire for a cigar coming on?

What? Oh don’t pay any attention to me. (Puff, puff). Read the rest of this instead.

This week is Fringe Fest, New Orleans’s edgy annual festival of theater arts. There are some strongly literary entries, all of which are on my list if I can manage them.

§ At the top of my list (and I should just be getting home from this tonight but I’ll catch it later): Du Fu, Mississippi–The poems of the 8th Century Chinese poet Dufu transported to a front porch in the town of Dufu, Mississippi. Three locals chew the fat about war, wild flowers, spring floods and more while raising glass after glass to the sad beauty of it all. With a live band featuring banjo, guitar and washtub bass! This one includes Nick Slie, the fantastic actor who brought the Loup Garou to life and is presented in part by ArtSpot which produced that work . Repeats 11/20 9:00 pm and 11/21 7:00 pm at Party World.

§ Something’s Gone Wrong in the Dreamhouse–Listed by Genre as Cabaret – Performance Poetry, this show looks at the rise of fascism, the credit crisis, the aftermath of war and the role of women. The 1930s saw a decade of political extremism, economic chaos and racism set against a backdrop of international revolution. The ripples of all these are reflected in our world today. However, the show is delivered with a slice of Irish charm and humor and a side order of bawdy, catchy sing-a-long tunes. Shows: 11/18 7:00 pm, 11/20 9:00 pm, 11/21 7:00 pm at the NOLA Candle Factory

§ Shut Up and Fly, performed by Asia Rainey who I heard read at the Alvar Library once and was tremendously impressed with. This one-woman show written and performed by Rainey is a poetic journey in the spirit of Sankofa, a theatrical glimpse of three generations striding their paths. Rhythmic voices from a survivor grandmother and a no-nonsense mama blend with the voyage of their defiantly artistic daughter as she approaches her own crossroads. Shows: 11/18 7:00 pm, 11/20 5:00 pm, 11/21 9:00 pm at Skull Club. Shout out to LD for being the venue for a featured local artist.

These are just the bookish shows. There’s so many to choose from you may go mad trying to puzzle out your schedule, but wander on over here and get a least a five show pass.

§ This week Octavia Books partners with the Jewish Community Center to present the 11th Annual “People of the Book” festival, at which authors from around the nation visit the New Orleans JCC to read from their work and talk about their ideas. The annual “People of the Book” Festival is the centerpiece of this effort featuring Jewish authors and authors of books with Jewish content.

§ 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series recently expanded its mission this Fall with a sharp focus on cross-cultural exchange, transnational poetics, and global collaboration between poets, artists, writers, environmental activists, and social workers throughout the world community.

In conjunction with this mission 17P is working toward securing a week-long sojourn to New Orleans by prominent Sierre Leone poet and social activist Syl Cheney-Coker in the Spring of ’11. Additional programs in ’11 will feature Algerian poet Habib Tengour translated by American/Luxembourg poet Pierre Joris, as well as an in-depth presentation of Mexico’s Infrarealist Movement featuring the works of poet Mario Santiago Papasquiaro among others. (I am looking forward to that one; Viva Belaño!)

Another new feature that will repeat every six weeks, is “New Voices in Poetry” showcasing emerging poets, writers & artists who live and work in the New Orleans community; as well as emerging international voices whose works have profoundly influenced their communities abroad. This week’s program at 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series proudly offers the inaugural presentation of “New Voices in Poetry” showcasing five emerging poets from New Orleans: Kelly Clayton, Alfredo Rodriguez, Joesph Collier, Eric Rodrigue, and Amanda Punch.

The feature will be followed by Open Mic hosted by Jimmy Ross.

§ Satirist extraordinaire Chris Champagne will continue his presentation of DIS AINT GAWLAND–FRIDAY NOV 19at 8 pm at FAIR GRINDS COFFEE HOUSE 3133 Ponce de Leon . Cover: $10, and Saturday is the final performance of SEASON OF THE MITCH AND FAMOUS at Bud’s Broiler by Delgado

§ No feature at the Maple Leaf; just an open mike but hey, there are few better places to pass a lovely Fall Sunday afternoon than on the patio. Threeish, depending on the Saint’s game, rounding up everyone from the bar, etc. Someone please help Nancy in with the mike stand and amp because I’ll be at Fringe.

§ On Saturday 11/19 at 6 p.m. Octavia Books hosts author Liza Bakewell, author of Liza Bakewell – MADRE: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun. The blurb is too tempting not to excerpt at length. “While studying in Mexico in the late 80s and 90s, linguistic anthropologist Liza Bakewell became obsessed with Mexicans’ use of the word madre in all its forms—un desmadre, a major disaster; de poca madre, great; vale madre, worthless; dar en la madre, give it in the mother (the weak spot)…Why can’t a bien educada lady in Mexico say the word madre without raising eyebrows? How could madre mean whore as much as virgin? What happens to the ninety-nine madres when one father enters the room and they become a group of padres? How is it that parto (childbirth) is masculine, not to mention el love, el marriage, el sex, el pregnancy?”

OK, back to trying to solve the puzzle of the Fringe Fest schedule. See you out there. As usual, I’m the guy in the hat.

Dream Song November 16, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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In Delia Tomino Nakayama’s poetry seminar we spend a few periods free writing, sometimes with a suggestion (but not an assignment). Yesterday’s topic was Dreams and I wrote this and thought I’d capture it here as it seemed to spring fully formed from somewhere in my mind.

I seem to spend most of the night in REM sleep, wake frequently from dreams all through the night. This particular disorder is a typical symptom of insomnia or sleep deprivation, but I am infrequently truly insomniac, often go easily back to sleep from these episodes. Is this a disorder in the clinical sense, or more a temperamental disorder of the humors, a part of who I am (Gemini, Sagittarius moon; blue eyed once blond now white; shy at first but garrulous once started). Is it perhaps a reason why I am compelled to write, the Spring tide river of images and floating fragments of stories that rush through my sleeping brain? When I wake with only the vaguest notion of the recent dream but have grasped, in that moment, that perfect line I struggled with before and cannot sleep unless I write it down, perhaps under take an entire revision knowing I will suffer for it in the morning, I do not think this is insomnia but something akin to inspiration. The disorder is not my own but the world’s and the poem the only antidote.

Crow’s First Lesson November 12, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Crow, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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I have my own personal fascination with crows, going back to the days when I saw the raven on the Grateful Dead’s Wake of the Flood and learned that these birds were not creatures of darkness or evil in all cultures. In Native cultures of North America Crow is a trickster (always fascinating creatures) but also bearer of messages from this and other worlds, keepers of secrets who could help one discover their own true self, and harbingers of change and agents of healing.

It’s strange, but I don’t remember New Orleans being so thick with crows the first 30 years of my life but today they are everywhere. Perhaps, since I have developed this fascination, I just notice them more. I asked my son if he didn’t think it Odd that just about anywhere you look, there’s a crow. He said he didn’t notice that. Perhaps it is my own fascination. Or are we a city where too many people die, a city going through an ordeal of rebirth and self-rediscovery and deeply in need of healing. Perhaps it is only natural that we would be a rookery of crows.

I started writing a series of Crow poems before I learned of (or remembered) Ted Hughes book, and immediately had to have a copy. His vision of a chaotic and godless world of random luck and death is tempered not by Wallace Steven’s vision of man as poet bringing order to the cosmos but of Crow in his trickster guise wreaking unintentional havoc. which is something humans are quite good at. And in that role the tricksters is, in the end, innocent. He is only acting on his nature.

Enough of your tricks, Brother Crow. Please tell me where my copy of Crow is hidden.

By Ted Hughes

God tried to teach Crow how to talk.
‘Love,’ said God. ‘Say, Love.’
Crow gaped, and the white shark crashed into the sea
And went rolling downwards, discovering its own depth.

‘No, no,’ said God. ‘Say Love. Now try it. LOVE.’
Crow gaped, and a bluefly, a tsetse, a mosquito
Zoomed out and down
To their sundry flesh-pots.

‘A final try,’ said God. ‘Now, LOVE.’
Crow convulsed, gaped, retched and
Man’s bodiless prodigious head
Bulbed out onto the earth, with swiveling eyes,
Jabbering protest–

And Crow retched again, before God could stop him.
And woman’s vulva dropped over man’s neck and tightened.
The two struggled together on the grass.
God struggled to part them, cursed, wept–

Crow flew guiltily off.

Odd Words November 11, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Back in the saddle again. Out where an Injun’s your friend. Where the vegetables are green, and you can pee right into the stream, yes I’m back in the saddle again.

Uh, wait, is this thing on?

OK I’ve been slacking but as the great Firesign Theater crew once asked: how can you be in two places at once when you’re not anywhere at all? But I’m back, and I’m at least going to manage listings if nothing more clever than that. Go read Maud Newton or something for chrissakes, I’m just a guy typing on a folding Office Whatever table. If you want wit, mine’s at the cleaners and that awful pun proves it.

While we’re not on the subject of Charles Bukowski: Kenneth Rexroth hates Charles Bukowski. The feeling is mutual. And then there’s that jar of worms.

§ We’ll start with the easy. There will be no Maple Leaf reading this Sunday because of the ravenous hordes expected to descend on Oak Street for the annual Po-Boy festival. Anyone who disputes their title as the longest uninterrupted (excepting Katrina) poetry reading in the south will have to meet me on the patio and duel it out with twelve inch roast beefs, dressed and extra gravy.

§ Antelope Freeway 1/4 mile

§ Console yourself with two chances to catch the inimitable Chris Champagne on two nights this weekend: Friday night at 8 pm at The Fair Grinds Coffee House you can catch “Dis Ain’t Gawland” , call in radio and post Katrina excerpts from my 7 satirical shows since Katrina. Mucho call in radio “Wisdom”, Numa interviewed by Sherry Gross on Fresh Hair, CNN post Katrina interview with an unspecified talking head, Numa interviewed about Mitch and The Earl spill. And more. And then on Saturday night the return of “Season of The Mitch” my one man show of all things silly this way went. Alas. It never ends. Numa’s full interview on Meet The Press about MITCH , Wait Wait Don’t Kill Me!!?? The New Orleans game show that explains the unexplainable, Louisiana and New Orleans politics. And of course the latest Tome from Fake Orealnian of the Year runner up Doug Brinkley–MITCH:The History of The Eight Years of Mitch Landrieu Mayoral Reign. Why wait for the facts? Indeed. And Numa interviewed by a guy named Lloyd who lived in the lower nine about The OIL SPILL. All the facts that can be made fun of and MORE. And More that that too. Saturday’s show is at Bud’s Broiler across from Delgado upstairs. Numa and Hamburgers and Beer for sale on the premises. Freedom… well.. it ROCKS!!! $10 CHEAP!!!

§ Antelope Freeway 1/8

§ Inimitable? Didn’t Dick Cavett always used to say that? Did you ever see the Cavett show where Robin Williams shows up all coked up and literally climbs the bookcase set like some sort of cat lizard during the interview?

§ Antelope Freeway 1/16 mile

§ Thursday at 17 Poets! at the Goldmine features Poet David Rowe reading from his new book Unsolicited Poems (Verna Press), and possibly engaging in a Sagittarian Poetry Death Match with Thaddeus Conti during open mike. No, I’m not trying to start trouble. Honestly. Haven’t had a drop either.

§ Antelope Freeway 1/32 mile

§ I feel another rant about Peggy Scott Laborde coming on every as I contemplate posting this, but if you’re old enough to remember Bob and Jan Carr you’re going to want to drop by Octavia Books for a signing of RAINSING OUR CHILDREN ON BOURBON: A French Quarter Love Affair, in which Bob Carr talks about the story of he and his wife and Jan, who escaped the mundane life of mid-America and moved to the heart of the infamous French Quarter to raise their children among the “Quarter eccentrics” while accomplishing spectacular careers in radio and television. (Hint, if these names are not familiar to you, let me ask you this: when was the first time you saw the NBC Peacock In Living Color?)

§ Antelope Freeway 1/64 mile

Reality Hunger November 7, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Toulouse Street, Writing.
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“Anything processed by memory is fiction”
– from Luc Sante’s review of Reality Hunger — A Manifesto

No, I haven’t been writing much here lately and I’m overdue on a writing assignment of particular personal importance but instead on Friday night I was participating in a TheRumpus.Net poetry book club discussion with Elizabeth Alexander. When it was over my eyes wandered over to the sidebar of The Rumpus to the review quoted above which reminded me how much I want to read Reality Hunger. So instead of my intended writing assignment, here I am writing this instead.

I immediately ordered the book from Alibris. (I am officially done with Amazon forever because of our experience with A Howling in the Wires. If you’ve ordered a book there and been told it’s out of stock its because we will loose money on every book we sell there. On sales from Alibris we’ll actually make money, and if you buy someone else’s copy on the cheap that’s OK even if the profits from new sales go to Hana Morris but we want you to read these people’s words.)

So, I ordered the book, even though I’m trying not to spend too much money at the moment. Go read Read the review, as it gives some insight to what Toulouse Street is, what Wet Bank Guide was, what I’m writing now but largely in private for the moment, just about everything I’ve written outside of poetry for the last five years. Reality is not just the flavor of the moment: it’s who we are as Americans as we drift through our i-Pod sound-tracked lives of reality-TV flavored drama.

The subject of the book (and the style of this blog and so much of what I write) is Creative Non-Fiction, a way of writing from life’s actual events. It seems an Odd combination of words. If it is non-fiction, then is must be true, so how does creative enter into it? Those of us trained as journalists understand this thinking. The people who watch Keith Olberman and Bill O’Rielly think they understand this, think they are watching the news but instead they experiencing a P.T. Barnum version of reality, a form of entertainment that samples the news the way hip-hop artists sample R&B for their own ends.

Perhaps people love those shows and the dozens of reality shows on television because reality hurts, and I think the ultimately enjoy watching someone else suffer as a way of transferring their own suffering. We haven’t advanced that much from the Roman Coliseum or bear baiting as a feature of the town fair. Writing from reality hurts, real creative non-fiction in which the events of memory and experience are transformed into something compelling hurts and can (I know too well) be hurtful, but in the end perhaps it’s less hurtful than escape: better to escape into our lives as a way out into the real world than to escape away from our lives, better to pluck out the headphones, pull the cable box out of the wall, put down the Crackberry and Live. (Do not tab over to Facebook while you are reading this, or secretly embedded code will forward randomly selected emails in our outbox to random recipients and then you’ll really get my point. For reals, as my son says).

(For the record, I am listening to Koyaanisqatsi as I write this. We all want a sound track. Disney gets this. If you’re ever there, listen. There is an entire sound scape embedded in the experience.)

Creative non-fiction is more than the television fantasy of Housewives or Runway or your favorite politicized news program. It is reality filtered through memory and the creative impulse. Unlike reality television it does not try to fit the moments by edting into the original concept. Writing creative non-fiction is a attempt to discover the concept, the order of the world, and the preconceived idea you sit down is often gone by the time you hit Save for the last time.

An essay is an act of imagination. It still takes quite as much art as fiction
– Suffering from ‘novel nausea’, Zadie Smith wonders if the essay lives up to its promise

It is weird that a link into ToulouseStreet.net I fond when I took a break for a minute took my directly to that quote.

Writing creative non-fiction is born of the same drive to give structure and beauty to the world that once drove the novelist and story teller. It is an attempt to elevate the hum drum the way my father once practiced a form of modern architecture sometimes called “Brutalist, which exposed the structural elements of construction, made of ducts and girders a part of the aesthetic experience of the place. And yet it could be beautiful. Of all the building in this city you don’t have to accept that the Rivergate was a beautiful building but it was in its combination of stark functionality with beautiful forms.

If reality hurts and can be hurtful why do we flock to watch our reality shows or read pseudo-memoirs or platform books (books by people who are not writers but simply people with a built in audience, a ready market to move the merchandise? Because so much of the media has discovered what Disney figured out long ago. The faux New Orleans entrance to their parks is much nicer if you’ve got the kids in tow than the real thing, that the Disney version of the future is much more pleasant that contemplating your own tomorrow, that strapping yourself into a seat and pretending to go to Mars is much more manageable than stuffing yourself into a little metal box and actually going there.

People really used to do that, strap themselves into flimsy aluminum capsules planted atop thousands of gallons of highly explosive fuel, and go where no one has gone before. And it was not just the astronauts of my youth but all of those Portuguese and Spanish folks whose names you learned in history class but have long since forgotten, the long list of knights of the Arctic quest who lie buried in the ice. I wonder sometimes if we are the same people or if we have become too diluted by prosperity. We won’t come up with the money to figure out a way to stuff a couple of ourselves into that little metal box and actually shoot ourselves at Mars but there are millions of people who will stuff themselves into cargo containers or the wheel well of a jetliner to try to get her and get a piece of our action.

I am willing to stuff myself into that box to get where I am driven to go. It’s seems easier in writing until the words on the page spill out into your life and wreak havoc but I still can’t stop. I am as committed as Magellan, a willing prisoner of the prevailing currents and trade winds and there’s no turning back. I could no more stop writing—stop writing what I am writing, in the style I am writing–than I could willfully stop my heart. If I had to stop, my heart might just as well. (And maybe in those last few lines, perhaps in this whole piece what I’m doing unconsciously drafting part of that formal writing assignment, but that’s a story for another time.)

I was raised on traditional literature and do not watch Hell’s Kitchen or the cable news any longer, perhaps because I am more interested in the drama of real life than in the tarted up accounts of banal mainstream cable television, which is why I almost cried when I got an email telling me we had an order for two copies of A Howling in the Wires for the Louisiana State Library, the state’s equivalent of the Library of Congress.

Seriously. I had to put the phone down and sat there and watch my cigarette on the smoker’s balcony slowly consume itself in the ashtray and slowly absorb that all of those words from all our contributors, all of that pain and joy and struggle and truth, was going to live on if only in a dusty shelf somewhere in Baton Rouge. It was a dream I had carried and nurtured for five years, and in that small moment it was realized in a way that transcended any number of other copies we might sell. I couldn’t have been more pleased if I had seen a table heaped with copies of the book at Barnes and Noble.

Putting that book together was painful, reading all of those words from right after Katrina from so many voices. One line in particular (which I knew well before I read it, because it was a recorded spoken word piece that has lived on my I-Pod for over a year) was so painfully and wrenchingly powerful, a line that spoke at once for tens of thousands and at the same time perfectly summarized my own state of mind for the last five years. It is now inked on my arm. I wanted the fleur de lis tattoo for a long time, a permanent badge of my attachment to this city that only death could take away. But the words, the words had to be there, too, because of the story I have spent the last five years telling, that the contributors to A Howling in the Wires shared with us.

I will go to my grave reminded of those words but it is not as if I would ever forget them “I am not alright but I am upright.” I do not know what New Orleans’s official motto is and won’t stop to look it up, but this is what should be emblazoned beneath the seal, summarizes what all of those authors and poets and bloggers spoke of, the shared experience we sought to capture for posterity before it vanished into the dark, forgotten corners of the Internet, my own inner state for all this time since.

I only started writing seriously a few years ago, driven by the impulse of Katrina. While I was writing Wet Bank Guide I managed to get a half-dozen chapters with an outline for more of a novel but laid that aside and worked instead on telling a more important story in a way that just seemed to flow out naturally before I knew there was a genre called creative non-fiction.

I keep writing. I just haven’t been posting it here. That will resume at some point but for now I want you to try this: close the web browser, open up Word or whatever you have and think of something you did today or something that happened to you and write it down. (If you’re one of the bloggers who reads Toulouse Street you can disregard this unless your current post or post idea is something impersonal). If nothing occurs to you, write down something you wish had happened today, or hope will happen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow. Part of the formal writing assignment I am not accomplishing by writing this suggests writing about dreams and aspirations. In Friday night’s poetry book club discussion I brought up a quote Alexander’s work at one point in the context of the discussion, from her poem Peccant: “Komunyakaa the poet says, don’t write what you know/write what you are willing to discover…”

All writing is a process of discovery, but writing creative non-fiction is particularly so, especially if you are writing from your own personal experience. In this kind of writing there is certainly the potential for pain, but there is also the potential for Beauty and for Truth, and in the best of all worlds, as the poet Keats suggests, both. Even if it hurts to write it or read it truth is dying in this world as the alphas perfect the art of fascism and try to realize Orwell’s 1984 substituting the opulence of the shopping mall for rationing.

Our own little lies, the ones we tell ourselves, the ones we tell the people we love and our co-workers and our children, the ones we pledge allegiance to at work (the corporate mission floating on our screen savers), the ones we embrace in political dialogue: all of these make possible the construction of the modern Ministry of Truth. By these lies we all die a little bit each day, separately and as a society. Perhaps Creative Non-Fiction is not just a reaction to the media market but a genuine upwelling of thoughtful people who realize that fiction is not enough. If we are going to set our lives and our world in order, what is needed is reality, thoughtfully taken apart and put together in words (or music or film) in a way that helps us to see more clearly the truth.

Because (one hopes) then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

Odd Words, Better Early than Never Edition November 1, 2010

Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
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Updated 11/3 with the Goldmine’s upcoming features and some random too early in the morning ramblings…

I’ve been remiss the last couple of weeks keeping up with Odd Words, so he’s a Monday update to make up for the last several Thursdays. Yes, Toulouse Street is torn up a bit but the show must go on. Been reading The Horla to cheer myself up a bit, which just goes to show what an Odd place this virtual corner of Toulouse Street is.

§ The 1718 Reading Series at the Columns Hotel will feature poet Megan Burns at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 2. Megan Burns has a MFA from Naropa University and edits the poetry magazine, Solid Quarter (solidquarter.blogspot.com) She has been most recently published in Jacket Magazine, Callaloo, New Laurel Review, YAWP Journal, and the Big Bridge New Orleans Anthology. Her poetry and prose reviews have been published in Tarpaulin Sky, Gently Read Lit, Big Bridge, and Rain Taxi. Her book Memorial + Sight Lines was published in 2008 by Lavender Ink. She has two chapbooks, Frida Kahlo: I am the poem (2004) and Framing a Song (2010) from Trembling Pillow Press. She lives in New Orleans where she and her husband, poet Dave Brinks, run the weekly 17 Poets! reading series

§ New: 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series presents a bi-lingual poetry reading celebrating legendary Russian avant-garde poet ANNA AKHMATOVA featuring readers Daria Souchkova (Russian) and Megan Burns (English), Thursday 7:30 p.m. at the Goldmine Saloon. The following week they will feature local poets who have not read at the Goldmine before. To participate, send an email to The Goldmine Saloon or visit the 17 Poets! Facebook page.

§ Saturday is The NOLA Book Fair down on Frenchman Street starting at 11. Of course Gallatin & Toulouse Press will be there selling A Howling in the Wires, as will Chin Music Press featuring Where We Know: New Orleans as Home with works by myself, co-editor of Howling Sam Jasper and contributor Ray Shea.

§ This coming Sunday Nov. 7 Poet Laure-Anne Bosselaar-Brown reads from her work at the Maple Leaf. Laure-Anne Bosselaar grew up in Belgium where she worked for Belgian and Luxembourg Radio and Television. She studied Acting and Elocution from the Brussels Conservatory and an M.F.A. in Theater Arts from the Institut National des Arts des Spectacles (National Institute for the Performing Arts) in Brussels, Belgium. She taught French Poetry at the International School of Brussels.

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