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Friends at the Apple Barrel remember Coco Robicheaux November 30, 2011

Posted by The Typist in music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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My first paying journalism gig in more years than I care to think about.

Friends at the Apple Barrel remember Coco Robicheaux

This photo is the exclusive property of Gambit for the next seven days, so if you crib it please be sure to credit both Gambit and the photographer and link the photo back to the article. This is also my 99th post. Do we have Pick 3 in Louisiana?

A Sign November 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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Someone the bartenders and regulars didn’t recognize popped into the Apple Barrel and left this on the bar yesterday, and it’s now hanging behind the bar. Coco touched an awful lot of people.

Call to Post November 28, 2011

Posted by The Typist in lyric essay, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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It cannot be the sound of school’s out or a playground, that excited babble in the distance, but this is your first thought. The high pitched voices, the pure joyful noise of it. It is the middle of the holiday weekend. There is no school. The quiet returns and as you contemplate what it might be you hear the bugler play First Call and realize it is the sound of the crowd cheering their horses that has carried just over a furlong and into your living room.

It is third day of the racing season at the Fairgrounds and looking out your window at the full parking lot you realize the crowd is no doubt large. Two days ago the season opened with its typical Thanksgiving fan fair: a festival of morning cocktails, women in elaborate hats, men handling their unfamiliar cigars as if rehearsing for their new riches. The crowd is divided into several sets: the horsey sort (who make the greatest effort at their hats and clothes) who are put off by the lottery now used to assign the clubhouse tables their family have occupied for decades; their less sporting associates, desirous as a climbing English solicitor to see and be seen in their finery on this canonical holiday; and finally the teeming masses of the grandstand.

Many of the large crowd of groundlings ape the clubhouse crowd. As I stood on my stoop across from the top of the stretch I watched a couple pass, complemented her hat and admired his jacket-less gray silk vest and walking stick. Last year a small parade passed, two dozen people well dressed for opening day, following a small brass band, a hired Mardi Gras Indian cavorting to the music. While the rest of America settles with its coffee in front of the television for the Macy’s parade or hurries home from church, New Orleans makes a Bloody Mary and goes off to the races.

I love the horses but have not been on Thanksgiving Day in decades, but I doubt the scene has changed much from my description from memory. I prefer the routine days of racing, and like the notorious player and poet Charles Bukowski tend toward the grand stand counter bar where the conversation over beer and coffee of the betting regulars is, if not entirely reliable, the most entertaining. I trained by reading Ainsley but my real education came from a co-worker on Capitol Hill who was a very serious player. A math graduate of Berkley who thoroughly digested Edward O. Thorps’ book on card counting Beat the Dealer and he financed his education in part be making himself persona non grata in every casino in Reno. A perfect racetrack character whose other favorite place was the strip club near his suburban apartment, he spent entirely too much of his taxpayer financed time entering the daily results of the Maryland races into a large statistical analysis spreadsheet he had made himself. From this he developed a very reliable system specific to that circuit and certain classes of horses by sex and age that I won’t divulge.

From Mark I learned not only how to apply the secrets of his system to the Daily Racing Form, but also the habits of watching past races on the handy television monitors that allowed you to call up past performances, looking for telltale clues. More important, I learned to make the circuit. This involved lifting ourselves up from our cigarette-butt littered spot in the bleaches and traveling down to the paddock to have a look at the horses conformation and temperament, then following the parade out to a spot on the rail to see them in motion, how they reacted to the condition of the track and the handling of their jockeys, how they loaded into the gate (although this last often came too late, after the money was down) Once the horses are passed, we would watch the convolutions of the horse board, the statistical presentation in lighted numbers of the complex sociological dynamics of a crowd which–nine or ten times a day–attempts to define and redefine a consensus. The late bets are the most important, the other self-appointed experts laying down large wagers in the last minute so as not to start the crowd stampeding toward their choice and lowering the spread. Then a sprint to the window, a quick bet and back to the bleachers. I don’t know at what point in our weekly jaunts to Laurel and sometimes Baltimore I realized how closely we modeled the horses themselves: the paddock, the parade, the anxious waiting in front of the tote board just as the horses waited at the gate, then our heated, last minute sprint to the cashiers and back.

Which brings me back to the sound that intruded into my reading on Saturday morning, the crescendo of the crowd that follows the crash of the gate and the announcer’s barked “they’re off”, the bettors urging their horse, hats waving, rolled-up Forms brandished like magic wands or threats of punishment, the tension released in the operatic cacophony of a thousand howling ticket holders intent on winning. If all this rings a bit nostalgic that because my track attendance has been near nil since returning to New Orleans. In between the Senate campaign of ’86 and my departure for Washington, D.C. I spent a fair amount of my idle time sitting in the grandstands, buying only a Form and a couple of cups of coffee, practicing my handicapping while staying away from the cashiers (who have sadly been largely replaced with machines), passing the afternoon pleasantly It always seems there are a million other things calling for attention.

I often start my days on a plastic resin chair next to my stoop, cradling my morning coffee and watching the horses’ morning exercise. For a while that seemed enough, just my proximity and the relaxation of watching them run in the distance, but I think its time I got back to the track with a brace of sharp pencils, if only to escape for a while into the arcana of the past performance and the moderate excitement of watching the horses run without the pressure of a win or a loss. The exercise of making the circuit while avoiding the blood pressure spike that goes with a ticket can be filed away under fresh air and exercise, stimulation of the middle aged mind by mathematics. All in all a doctor-approved activity, if I can stay away from the hotdogs.

Drinking with the Spirits November 27, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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I toyed with the idea of going to the Apple Barrel last night, then reconsidered what such a small bar would be like on the day of the announcement of Coco Robicheaux’s passing. And I can’t even begin to imagine what the crowds at the second line and party that will follow will be like. Better to wait I think until tonight or tomorrow, when the crowds will have passed, will be best; to ask Sara or J.D. for two glasses of the tequila Coco favored. I don’t remember the brand, but bought him one or two over the years. Why not appropriate a bit of the tradition (we’re very good at that down here) of having a drink with Max at Molly’s, spilling a bit of tequila on the stage while shooting the other. I imagine there is a shrine and I can stop by the Herb (which is probably open on Sunday as the Broad Street Botanica is not) and pick up a candle; probably a purple, the favored color of mourning in Día de Muertos iconography, and leave the votive and his shot (minus the small propitious spill) there.

Occupy Wall Street library destroyed by NYC November 27, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, fuckmook, FYYFF, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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I’m not going to start comparing the corporate right to any particular historical political movements, but when you add the destruction of books to the violent, thuggish White Shirts of the NYPD*, well, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions. Is this a great country? Or what?

Destruction of Occupy Wall Street ‘People’s Library’ draws ire
Mayor Bloomberg accused of waging ‘crusade to destroy a conversation’ as nearly 3,000 books lost in Zuccotti Park raid
.

I hardly know what to say, but Fuck You You Fucking Fucks seems about right.

*New York Privilege Defense

Revelator November 26, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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“Come killy killy killy quick as you can/Come take a look at a natural man/Waste my time like a Simple Sam/Come take a look at what a fool I am/Oh, Revelator. Oh, Revelator, Revelator, right now.’

– Coco Robicheaux, “Revelator

There is something Odd about getting up this early on Saturday morning to listen to Coco Robicheaux. Like early Dr. John much of it sounds like a music of the night, the place I came closest to knowing him, as a regular at the Apple Barrel bar. (No, Mark, it is not a good idea to put whiskey in your coffee this time of day) We would speak for a while, he always had time and a word for everyone, and that was about it. I think I was always a bit in awe of him, the genuine natural man of his song.

Coco walked a strange path, drawn into a world where his Indian heritage blended with his Cajun-rooted joie de vivre, into the syncretic religion of New Orleans, a blend of Spiritualist church and after midnight barroom, a spirit candle and a bottle of whiskey. A natural man, walking with the spirit. “I am a pilgrim” he sang to close his last album over a joyous banjo. “I’ve got a home in that yonder city…it is not been made by hand. I got a mother, a sister and a brother, who are gone to that sweet home. And I am determined to go and see them…over on that distant shore….cause I am a pilgrim, and a stranger, traveling through this wearisome land.”

I have walked a strange path of my own in the years since the Flood, a road that takes a high toll of great cost, forking from the path I took when I left New Orleans in my rear view mirror New Year’s Eve 1986, traveling into the life I thought expected of me, drawn by another kind of power that resides in buildings of cold marble, filled with self-appointed archangels in rich Italian clothes. I forgot in my youthful blindness that here by the river marble is the stone of the houses of the dead.

I don’t regret the choice I made then, or those that followed. It was a good life. I have beautiful children their mother and I would not know and love if I had not taken that other path, but all that time something gnawed at me inside with nutria sharp teeth trying to get out. It finally got loose, that late Monday afternoon in August I sat in my driveway in Fargo, N.D. waiting for my son to come out to be driven to football practice. It was then that string of mojo beads I had carried back from New Orleans, which hung from the rear view mirror of my otherwise respectable Ford Taurus station wagon, suddenly and spontaneously burst. In that moment I knew the radio was wrong, that something terrible was happening far away, that a great and terrible wave had crashed and the power of it had carried all the way to North Dakota from New Orleans, from home.

And I won’t regret the choices I make now. There are only so many hours and days remaining to me, Coco’s death reminds me, and I can either spend my every waking moment trying to get back to that path that ran through Washington and Fargo, or I can spend it developing the natural talent I mostly suppressed on that other road, give all my waking hours to studying the arcane magic releasing the spirit that lives in words. Somewhere on that path stands Coco, a natural man, and behind the large hat and shades I see him smile. And I know I am on the right road.

Coco in the Spiritland November 25, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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New Orleans musical and spiritual icon Coco Robicheaux is walking with the ancestors. One candle goes out and a thousand new are lighted in mourning and memory. Go with sage and sweet grass, go with a song and a bottle, go with a guitar in hand and bring New Orleans to the spirit land.

“I had to use my voice and hands/To make the music of the spirit land.”
— Coco Robicheaux

Play Spiritland

Odd Words November 25, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, novel, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Yes, the column is late but I figured our regular readers were also off in tryptophan coma yesterday so I though it could wait, as there were no events on Thanksgiving Day. All I can say is my sister makes an oyster dressing that is best accompanied by ambrosia at the table of the gods, and is as dangerous as heroin. One taste and you’re going back for a third helping that you well know you will regret later but nothing is going to stop you.

If you are not a Black Friday shopper (and I understand the attraction of an event that combines the excitement of the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona with a panicked crowd scene from Godzilla), but you still feel the impulse to get a leg up on your holiday shopping why not visit your favorite local indie bookstore? If you are reading Odd Words you probably don’t have need list but I get any number of people reading this blog coming from all sorts of Google searches (you can find the Doobie Brothers here), and if you are in New Orleans and don’t have a favorite, here’s list to start from:

  • Octavia Books 513 Octavia St
  • Maple Street Book Shop 7523 Maple St.and 2372 St. Claude Ave.
  • Garden District Book Shop 2727 Prytania St. (at The Rink)
  • Crescent City Books, 230 Chartres St.
  • Faubourg Marigny Art & Books 600 Frenchman St. (gay and local interest titles)
  • Beth’s Books 2700 Chartres St.
  • Blue Cypress Books 8126 Oak Street<
  • McKoewn’s Books & Difficult Music, 737 Tchoupitoulas Street
  • Community Book Center, 2523 Bayou Road

I spent part of this week recovering from Words & Music followed by my stint as a Fringe Fest reviewer, but I also found time (often frantically chitlicting away on my tiny phone keyboard) to have a fascinating conversation, mostly with the erudite manager of Crescent City Books Michael Zell, on the state of the American poetry audience (mostly poets), wondering how it might achieve even the small but loyal audience jazz still commands in this country. You can check it out and add your own thoughts here.

& so to the listings.

& Downtown Friday night at the Love Lost Lounge, the No Love Lost Poetry Reading hosted by Joseph Bienvenu kicks of at 5:30 p.m., just in time for the bar’s Jazz Happy Hourand opening time for the excellent Vietnamese kitchen in the back.

& Later Friday New Orleans premiere spoken word event Acoustic Fridays the Red Star Gallery, 2513 Bayou Road, hosted every week by Charlie V-Uptowns Illest MC. $7 cover, $5 with college ID.

& Once you have recovered from Thursday’s turkey orgy, on Saturday Octavia Books will host a special afternoon presentation and book signing with James Beard Award-winning food writer Ellen Sweets featuring STIRRING IT UP WITH MOLLY IVINS: A Memoir with Recipes. Ivins, it turns out, was an accomplished cook who traveled to France to improve her skills, so I’m expecting Veal Cordon Blue instead of chicken fried steak but I can go either way.

& On Sunday the long-running Maple Leaf Poetry Series will feature Poet Martha Mcferren reads from and signs her new book from Pinyon Press, Archeology at Midnight.

& And of course this and every Monday Kate Smash will lead everyone in a rousing chorus of “Mercedes-Benz” after the Writer’s Block reading/performance event on the amphitheater steps across from Jackson Square. 9 .m. No list, no mic, all performers welcome. If your nickname is Harpo and you want to drag that damn thing down Decatur Street, bring it.

& On Wednesday, Octavia will present James P. Farwell featuring his new book, The Pakistan Cauldron: Conspiracy, Assassination & Instability, a look into the troubled society that has become a lynchpin alley in our sad adventures in the east, the powers that be having never apparently seen The Princess Bride much less studied 200 years of history.

& on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Valentine Pierce and Benjamin Morris will be giving a poetry reading at the Latter Memorial Library, 5120 St Charles. Valentine has a wonderful new pamphlet out, premiered at the Fringe Festival this past week, and Benjamin will be reading new work from his time recently spent in the woods. If you’re not into the poetry, there’s wine, and if you’re not into that, the library has hamsters you can play with. Or guinea pigs. Ben forgets which. In any case, they’re small and furry, and fun

& On Thursday, the 17 Poets! reading series at the Goldmine Saloon will present Poets Kelly Harris and Andrea Boll. Harris’s poems have appeared in: Say It Loud: Poems for James Brown, Yale University’s Caduceus, PLUCK Magazine, Reverie Journal, Poets for Living Water, and The Southern Women’s Review — just to name a few. Boll is the author the novel The Parade Goes On Without You (NolaFugees Press, 2009) as well as short stories, non fiction, and poetry.

& Just around the corner a week from Saturday Dec. 3 Garden District Books will have Shaquille O’Neal promoting his new book Shaq Uncut: My Story center court(um, in the Atrium, I mean). This one is bound to be crowded, so if you want a court-side seat you probably best get there early.

& Also on Dec. 3 Dirty Coast, better known for their clever New Orleans t-shirts, will be kicking off their new Dirty Coast Press with the release of two books, Y’all’s Problem,” and “New Orleans: the Underground Guide,” is at the new Dirty Coast store, 329 Julia St., as part of the Julia Street Art Walk.

And since we all just finished our best imitation of Porky the Pig at yesterday’s groaning board, we’ll end with a Th-Th-Th-Th-That’s All Folks!

Odd Words in New Orleans longest-running on line listing of literary events in the city. To add your event to this list, email odd.words.nola@gmail.com

Bah-ha-ha Humbug November 24, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Humor, Poetry, Toulouse Street, Xmas, Yule.
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Looks like McVisamas is safe for another thanks to the weather gods. Still:

A Blisterous Carol

The damn rains’ irregular
splattoo on the window unit,
this plucked turkey sweltering
in Gulf Coast November—
One more day past 80
& that’s it: I’m
cancelling Christmas.
Let those poor Scotch fir
& all those blue spruce
rest just this one winter.
Let the chestnuts
scatter their progeny
on the ground,
make a holiday banquet
for some poor squirrel.
Roasting: forbidden.
One more jingle bell &
all holly jolly hell
may break loose.
I’ll bing your crosby
with a crowbar & then:
Oh, silent night!

Why spin up the light bill
with all those plastic icicles?
(Oh, coal in your stockings,
you ho-ho global warmers!)
Lay back & flail your arms
& make lawn angels
in the St. Augustine.
Admire the night lights.
Find one special star.
Give it to someone you love.
No you don’t need a bow.
No wrapping paper, either.
Remember all those trees
mowed down in their thickets
like Pickett’s confederates
to litter your carpet?
(op. cit. up top, you nitwit)

Peace on earth: yes. Good will
toward forests. For an angel came
to Santa at the mall &
stole his camera & hat.
He was so damned happy
to lose that nylon beard
he ripped off all that rented red
& in his sweaty drawers went &
tossed the loopy Muzak box
in the Chik-Fil-A fryer, then
smashed all the cash registers &
everyone got lots of presents.
Except the Visa MasterCard bankers
(those Ebenezer bastards)
& we’ve all seen that movie.
so many times we’re likely
to put our own eyes out.
I’m off to the liquor store.
Call me when it’s New Year’s.
We’ll deal out a holiday bender
to beat anybody’s three kings,
flush with holiday spirits
straight through to Twelfth Night.

Then, well, Carnival.

Barks, Bugs, Leaves and Lizards November 22, 2011

Posted by The Typist in literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Your humble narrator The Typist joins the mad, merry krewe over at B2L2: Teenage Jesus

Heartbreaker November 22, 2011

Posted by The Typist in The Odd, Toulouse Street, WTF.
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Speaking of thoughtful Yuletide gifts…

The line comes from Rumpus columnist Sugar, who says among other things in her column #64: “Don’t lament so much about how your career is going to turn out. You don’t have a career. You have a life. Do the work. Keep the faith. Be true blue. You are a writer because you write. Keep writing and quit your bitching. Your book has a birthday. You don’t know what it is yet.”

I just don’t want you to get trampled to death outside Crescent City Books Friday trying to get me that Spanish language catalog of Diego Rivera or that signed first edition of Post Office.

Cassidy November 21, 2011

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
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The Grateful Dead’s Cassidy blasting through the dashboard, the hiss of the cranked, antiquated cassette deck of an ancient Custom 500 Interceptor, seals gone, car trailing a cloud of Sean Connery smoke covering a James Bond escape until the rusted iron head expands and the clattering cams dream again of high speed pursuits, the hiss of the cassette and the hiss of the balding tires passing over the long swamp causeway.

Cassidy is an elegy, yes, but not just a vanishing into the final night but the promise of tail lights merging into the arching continental darkness brilliant with Arcturus-red stars, an amphetamine stream of consciousness tossing worry like empties out the window, hurtling toward le petite morte, a flowering satori in a pair of cornflower blue eyes. Out there. Somewhere. Release. And you have to find it.

Until you understand why men go out for cigarettes in Mid-City and don’t stop until they hit Beaumont there’s no point in continuing this story. Rewind and play the song again, another pass at perfect harmony, another cigarette, another beer can clattering onto the shoulder, another chance

Odd Words’ Fringe Fest Curtain Call: ‘Shylock’ Reviewed November 21, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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My last review for NOLA Defender from Fringe Fest is up front and center. Shylock was such an amazing play it deserves the placement. It’s just too bad it only had a two night run as it deserved an SRO week. I neglected to call out the director, Elsa Dimitriadis, who deserves her share of the credit for such an excellent production.

Reviews of local plays is a new thing, but I’m having so much fun doing it look for more reviews either on the blog or on other local sites. The weekend of reviewing started with a play I had to pan, but I had the privilege of covering an amazing night of performance poetry at Writing the Edge and to finish with Shylock was a treat. Sadly I couldn’t manage a whirlwind weekend of plays as I did last year but if I had tried that and writing reviews, I’d probably be convalescing somewhere in an oxygen tent on a B-12 and steroid drip by now.

Out of the three events I covered two were solid hits so I have to say it a wonderful Fringe Fest here on Toulouse Street. A big thanks to Ben and Stephen at NOLA Defender for adding me to their reviewing corps (and it takes a corps of talented people to cover as many events as NoDef managed from the extensive Fringe schedule).

Cassidy November 21, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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An elegy yes, but one fraught with possibility, vanishing perhaps not into the next world but roaring down a dark desert highway, tail lights merging into the arching continental darkness brilliant with stars, Benzedrine stream of consciousness hurtling toward le petite morte, a flowering satori in a pair of cornflower blue eyes.

The Long, Hard Slog of Poetry November 20, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“As long as I’ve been publishing poetry it has been seen as difficult and private though I never meant for it to be,” John Ashbery told the National Book Awards audience last Wednesday. “I wanted the difficulty to reflect the difficulty of reading, any kind of reading, which is both a pleasant and painful experience since we are temporarily giving ourselves to something which may change us.”
— Lifted from HTML Giant, part two of that long review of a review

Yes, there’s a clear conflict withing that statement, lamenting the difficulty he created himself, and with the performance I saw last night as part of Fringe Festival, a performance poetry presentation titled Writing from the Edge. The poets I saw mostly were not writing from the literary edge, were not intentionally obscure in the best elliptical Master of Fine Arts way. At their best they were visceral. They were vernacular. They spoke to the audience, made of poetry what it was in the time of Shakespeare, a lyric and metaphoric language meant to speak to the people. All the people, not just the readers of literary blogs or enrollees in college wirting program. They were as much performers as poets, although the only one I identify with the formalized Spoken Word scene was Micheal “Quess?” Moore.

Why write poetry when it’s largely lost it audience, outside the narrow culture of Hip-Hop related Spoken Word. There’s no place I know where they can get away with charging a cover to hear a middle aged white guy, no matter how good. Successful poetry books sell in the hundreds, mostly to other poets. Why bother? “When are you going to write that best seller so we can retire?” she once asked. I think Valentine Pierce answered that last night when she opened the performance with a frequently performed poem of hers with the line ““I was never meant to be a poet/Never chose poetry/Poetry chose me…”

The only real choice is: do we write poetry that can have an audience larger than ourselves or do we dive like Narcissus deeper into the self-referential reflecting pool of Dead White Poetry? I’m not talking about Rod McKuen here or even Rumi. I’m talking about solid, well written work; work anthologists might consider (if they are not academic anthologists), poetry that speaks to the heavens but is accessible by the cheap seats, poetry that has some relevance to a world where the written word itself seem to be vanishing into formulaic fiction and books about dogs, all to be read on your Kindle or Nook, corporatist literature.

Somewhere between the Chair of the Creative Writing Program and the CEO of Bertelsmann AG (the media conglomerate owners of Random House) there has to be a space for the sort of poets I saw last night, venues for their performance that will capture the casual passer by, or make the reader of an online newspaper’s listing say, “hey, lets go check, this out tonight.” It was only forty years ago, the span of a generation, when Allen Ginsberg spoke to a large audience he helped create with Howl! with the authority of a senator or a rock stare.To get there, you have to start with poetry that is accessible without surrendering craft and art. It’s out there. It was upstairs at the Maison for two shows last night but unlike last year’s performance it was not SRO. And that not so much saddens me as drives me deeper into my own path down this weird road, confirms my conviction that a vernacular yet craftful poetry is the only worthwhile path because, somewhere at the end of this road, is a world much like that outside America, a world where mega-award winning poet Niyi Osundare writes a weekly column for a major Nigerian newspaper and is a revered figure yet sits in an office at the proletarian University of New Orleans teaching the children of the people, a world where poets still matter as Ginsberg mattered once, are listened to by the people, are in some rare cases elected president because I would vote for Osundare or Quess? without hesitation.

Bury me in that warm country.

Writing the Edge November 20, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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My review of Writing the Edge at this year’s Fringe Fest is up at NOLA Defender. There are photos on Facebook and in Flikr here. It was overall a tremendous night of poetry performance, for which I have to commend organizer/MC and performer Valentine Pierce and all of the involved performers. Sadly did not draw the SRO crowds of last year. I have to wonder aloud (as I do in the review) if the vaguely Katrina theme kept away a Katrina-weary audience. Go read the whole thing for the details. Thinking about it this morning it led to a long rumination on poetry which I’ll get up later tonight but for now go read the review and the one below of The Baroness Undressed.

The Baroness Rampant November 19, 2011

Posted by The Typist in History, New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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How do you collapse the fantastic and tragic story of the Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba into a one woman show of less than 30 minutes? Why, with a corset, of course.

For the first several minutes of The Baroness Undressed, after Diana E.H. Shortes’ entrance onto the Allways Lounge’s small stage we witness a silent and powerful physical performance of operatic violence, a marionette possessed, as she laces her corset and buttons her bodice with the tenacity of a lioness, twisting and bending and contorting her body with and her face with pain and frustration with every yank of the laces and every recalcitrant button wrestled into place she has assumed both the costume and the persona of her tortured aristocratic character. What is laid naked in this show is the interior of the Baroness’s character.

In this very short one-woman show Shortes gives us the essentials of the Baronesss’story. one
“no woman living today could understand”: a privileged Creole child named for St. Micheal the Archangeal “who cast Satan himself into hell”; a wealthy young “heiress from both ends” subjected to an arranged marriage to her cousin Xavier Celestin Delfau de Pontalba; how the Pontabalas took her away from New Orleans to a prison-like castle outside Parish; bitterly spits out that she “conceived six times” but does not otherwise mention her children; the attempts by her father-in-law to steal her fortune that ends with his attempt to murder her; how he failed and ultimately took his own life; how she ultimately returned to New Orleans and recovered her fortune, finally escapes from the clutches of the Pontablas.

Until the last minutes of the play, when she begins to unbind herself from her constrictive feminine costume and relates her ultimate triumph and monument–the buildings that still bear her name–she struggles through her corset to find the breath to tell her story. She collapses not only to the feinting couch that is the stage’s only dressing, but frequently onto the floor. Her attempts to speak with a masculine ferocity frustrated by the tightly laced female costume of that period which leaves her frequently a gasping heap, a perfect symbol for the societal strictures she struggles against. From the couch she rises wielding her fan, once again–if only for a moment–the charming Creole aristocrat. From the floor she struggles to her knees and to her feet like someone just shot, determined to catalog at any cost the injustice and injury she suffers.

In one of the shows most dramatic moments, as she describes the attempt on her life, she slowly pulls a long red scarf out of her bodice as if she were in fact bleeding out on the stage. Later, as she recounts the parallel troubles her native city suffered she brilliantly ruffles the same scarf over the floor as she describes the fires that twice destroyed the eighteenth century Vieux Carre. As toward the end she reverses the process of dressing and pulls off her dress gloves she prominently displays the left hand as if hooding a particularly striking ring up to the light, the fingers of the hand shattered by her in-laws bullet clad in a solitary black under glove.

Shortes uses her thin body, Veronica Russell’s costumes (the constraining corset, the perfect sense once dressed of an eighteenth century lady in a Franco-Spanish city, the darkly sexy garments underneath it all) and the consequences of those costumes to stunning physical effect, but it is ultimately her face flashing with lizard quickness from coquettish smile to contortions of pain and of rage that allow us into the soul of the Baroness.

As Shortes recounts her struggles not only with her powerful voice but with every thread of her costume and every muscle and sinew in her slim frame, she plays not for sympathy but for respect, decrying the patriarchal feudalism the Baroness struggles against. Shortes captures the emblematic Pontabla perfectly, becomes New Orleans’ anti-Joan of Arc who takes up her fan like her name saint’s sword and ultimately triumphs over every man and tragedy life places in her way, her monument the graceful apartments upon which her emblematic P is still emblazoned on every gallery in iron as hard as Shortes’ Baroness herself.

Odd Words at the Fringe November 18, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, Odd Words, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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No, the post title is not a tautology. I will be reviewing a few plays for NOLA Defender, and probably reviewing some others on my to see list here on Toulouse Street which the Defender already has covered by other writers.</p

Odd Words Update: Poetry, storytelling and more at McKeown’s & Antenna Gallery November 18, 2011

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I can’t believe I dropped these two items from the first publish of Odd Words so these events gets their own listing.

& First, This Friday at 7 p.m. (that’s tonight if Fringe Fest has your head sinning) McKeown’s Books and Difficult Music together with Trembling Pillow Press presents A Night of Storytelling and Poetry with some of New Orleans’ most talented poets and story tellers, Jonathan Kline, Lee Meitzen Grue, and Gina Ferrara, hosted by Megan Burns. Complimentary wine and snacks. McKeown’s is located Uptown at 4737 Tchoupitoulas St.

& Downtown at 7 p.m. the Antenna Gallery features the [PANK] INVASION of New Orleans, featuring a rogue’s gallery of talented contributors to the literary journal PANK who promise “Propositions Sudden & Thereupon Poesy   Contortions   Verse   Dynames   Astounding Feats of Potboiling Fabel.” The participating writers include a Rumpus favorite and honorary Orleanian Antonia Crane; Tessa Fountaine, non-fiction editor of the Black Warrior Review; local Robbi Pounds, memoir/nonfiction novel Rubble Fever; and M. Bartley Seigel, founder of the journal PANK. You can check all the bios on Room 220 here.

Odd Words November 17, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Theater, Toulouse Street.
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I think my last post, Blogging by the Book, is introduction enough for this week’s Odd Words. So let’s dive right in.

& This is the fourth year of New Orleans’ annual festival of experimental theater, Fringe Fest. I’m not going to try to tell you everything that’s going on. That’s what the Fringe web site is for. And if you haven’t started scanning the cubes already, you’re way behind schedule as performances started last night

I will call out one, Writing The Edge, a spoken word event Saturday night at the Maison at 7 pm and again at 9 p.m. There’s no complete list of performers on the Fringe site but I know that the fantastic Raymond “Moose” Jackson and Valentine Pierce are on the list. Last year all of the performers were incredible. Did I mention its free? Did I mention it was seriously SRO last year? Get there early.

&This week’s other big event is a visit to 17 Poets! by Bernadette Mayers and Philip Good. Mayer will be reading and signing Ethics of Sleep (Trembling Pillow Press, 2011) and Good will be signing his new book, Untitled Writings from a Member of the Blank Generation, new out from Trembling Pillow press. Mayer is one of the major poets of our generation, serving as director of The [prestigious] Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in New York, editing several influential journals and publishing ten books of poetry and prose. 7 p.m. at the Goldmine Saloon.

& If you’re already overdosed on Fringe by Friday night, stop by the Antenna Gallery and check out the [PANK] INVASION of New Orleans, featuring a rogue’s gallery of talented contributors to the literary journal PANK who promised “Propositions Sudden & Thereupon Poesy   Contortions   Verse   Dynames   Astounding Feats of Potboiling Fabel.” The participating writers include a Rumpus favorite and honorary Orleanian Antonia Crane among the 12 writers participating. Others include Tessa Fountaine, non-fiction editor of the Black Warrior Review; local Robbi Pounds, memoir/nonfiction novel Rubble Fever and M. Bartley Seigel (, founder of the journal PANK. You can check all the bios on Room 220 here. This sounds too good to resist even in the busy clutter of Fringe week. Check the flyer and stop into Antenna Friday at 7 pm.

& Late UpdateIf you’re reading this on your MacBook or iPad, you’re going to want ton consider stopping by Octavia Books tonight to hear Walter Isaacson lecture about Steve Jobs followed by a booksigning. Books may be pre-orded during store hours at Octavia Books, 504-899-7323, or anytime at octaviabooks.com/book/9781451648539. Tonite, Nov. 17 at 7 p.m. Expect this one to be crowded with Jobs acolytes.

& If you miss Isaacson tonight, you can catch him again at lunchtime Wednesday at Garden District Books

& Also tonight is a chance to catch James Nolan reading and signing from his new book Higher Ground. For more details on that book, go read my write up of his event at the Words & Music Festival. Let’s just say I’m pretty sure this one is going up on the New Orleans canon shelf here at Toulouse Street after that reading.

& On Friday Maple Street Book Shop will be the bookseller at a reception celebrating the renovation of 1026 Conti Street, the site of the famous brothel operated by Norma Wallace. Wallace was the subject of Chris Wiltz’s highly praised biography, The Last Madam: A Life in the New Orleans Underworld. Chris Wiltz will be the special guest at the reception. For additional information visit www.1026conti.com.

& Downtown Friday night at the Love Lost Lounge, the No Love Lost Poetry Reading hosted by Joseph Bienvenu kicks of at 5:30 p.m., just in time for the bar’s Jazz Happy Hourand opening time for the excellent Vietnamese kitchen in the back.

& Later Friday New Orleans premiere spoken word event Acoustic Fridays the Red Star Gallery, 2513 Bayou Road, hosted every week by Charlie V-Uptowns Illest MC. $7 cover, $5 with college ID

& This Saturday at Garden District, R. Reese Fuller will read and sign Angola to Zydeco: Louisiana Lives, a collection of creative nonfiction pieces about the lively personalities who call south Louisiana home. Originally published in newspapers based in Lafayette-Times of Acadiana and Independent Weekly-the twenty-five profiles and features provide intriguing glimpses into the lives of well-known Louisianans such as James Lee Burke, Ernest J. Gaines, Elemore Morgan Jr., Buckwheat Zydeco, Marc Savoy, Boozoo Chavis, Calvin Borel, Santy Runyon, and Eddie Shuler. Author R. Reese Fuller. Musical accompaniment by David Rogan.

& Also on Saturday at Maple street, Edward Branley will add to his string o titles on New Orleans landmarks, sharing and signing his latest, Maison Blanche Department Stores. Mr. Branley wrote a wonderful book about the Canal Street street car line as well as Brothers of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans. You can pick one up at the bookstore or if you look next time you’re in Walgreens his publisher, Arcadia Publishing, has managed to place point-of-sale displays of their titles right there in what probably used to be your Friendly K&B. Look for the stand-up diplay of their sepia-colored covers.

& On Sunday the long-running Maple Leaf Poetry Series will take a day off because of the expected crowd-crush of the Po-Boy Festival on Oak Street. In spite of these occasional interruptions (including a Katrina hiatus) this event–founded by noted New Orleans poet Everette Maddox- is the longest running poetry series in the South. You can contact Nancy Harris if you want to get on the mailing list, but you can always check Odd Words

& And of course this and every Monday Kate Smash will lead everyone in a rousing chorus of “Mercedes-Benz” after the Writer’s Block reading/performance event on the amphitheater steps across from Jackson Square. 9 .m. No list, no mic, all performers welcome. Bring your didgeridoo if that’s your thing. (I almost bought one at Jazz Fest two years ago; they were such things of beauty).

& Tuesday at Octavia there is a double-header featuring John Jeremiah Sullivan’s PULPHEAD & Nathanial Rich THE MAYOR’S TONGUE. In Pulphead, John Jeremiah Sullivan takes us on an exhilarating tour of our popular, unpopular, and at times completely forgotten culture. Simultaneously channeling the gonzo energy of Hunter S. Thompson and the wit and insight of Joan Didion, Sullivan shows us—with a laidback, erudite Southern charm that’s all his own—how we really (no, really) live. Rich’s debut novel, hailed by Stephen King as “terrifying, touching, and wildly funny,” the stories of two strangers, Eugene Brentani and Mr. Schmitz, interweave. What unfolds is a bold reinvention of storytelling in which Eugene, a devotee of the reclusive and monstrous author, Constance Eakins, and Mr. Schmitz, who has been receiving ominous letters from an old friend, embark from New York for Italy, where the line between imagination and reality begins to blur and stories take on a life of their own.

& One last note: after struggling for months to get a reliable contact at the 1718 Reading Series hosed by writing students at Loyola University, M’Bilia Meekers–winner of this year’s Words & Music poetry contest and a student at Tulane active in 1718, kindly sent me the list for this year which I will repost as the events come up. If you want to mark your calendars, here’s the current schedule:

    December 6–Mark Yakich
    January 17–Kristen Sanders
    February 7–Tom Piazza
    March 6–Oluwaniyi Osundare
    April 10–Michael Lee
    May 1–Julie Kane

P.S. If your event is not in here it’s because you didn’t send it to odd.words.nola@gmail.com. I can only spend so many hours trolling the Internet trying to find out what’s going on.

Blogging by the Book November 17, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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I walked up to a table of local poets outside a coffeehouse, waiting for an event to start. Someone at the table I didn’t know asked if I was also a poet, and someone else answered, “he’s more of a blogger than a poet.” I learned later that to be insulted by this person is a common as loaning another local poet $20, and I’ve seen him many time since and spoken pleasantly. Still, at that moment, I wanted to say: that’s fine, but have 60,000 people read a poem from your last book? That’s how many people visited Toulouse Street last year.

Sure, some of them wandered in here for reasons that having nothing to do with what I’m about, or at least not what I’m about lately. Some 4,300 came here after searching on Haiti and found a few posts I made after the earthquake and hurricane. Another 2,700 were researching cargo cults and found an old photo post of what looked like an old-fashioned, hay-wagon style Carnival float carriage decorated with beads and bits of what washed up in City Park in 2005. Another few thousand came looking for a music video I posted of one of my favorite street musicians, Grandpa Elliot, appearing in a Playing for Change music video and perhaps 1,800 came looking for a post tied to my annual list of the murdered in New Orleans. God knows how many have stumbled in here looking for the Doobie Brothers, but at least if you search Toulouse Street on Google I come up ahead of the band.

Still, knock off that 10,000 or so and any fraction you think reasonable of the remaining 50,000 people but some goodly number in the tens of thousands came looking for something else and landed here, and I hope they enjoyed what they found. Twenty-four thousand landed on the home page, and found whatever was lately on my mind. Almost 800 found Gian “O Beautiful Storm” spoken word poem used on Treme. About 6,000 people came to find something literary, my own short pieces here or something quoted, and 2,300 came directly to an Odd Words Entry. Some 7,300 came for something that clearly falls under the category of Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans.

In the end, I don’t write for an audience, I write for myself, but any writer who tells you he or she doesn’t want an audience is lying to you or themselves. Of course I want an audience. I was a featured reader to an audience of maybe 25 people at 17 Poets! last week and sold I think four chapbooks but muy old, abandoned poetry blog got 1,951 visitors over the last year. Carry Me Home sold less than 200 copies, but the numbers for Wet Bank Guide were—when Katrina and the Federal Flood were in peoples minds—astronomical compared to Toulouse Street. Local authors found me. David Simon found me, and cited Wet Bank Guide as one of his original sources for the concept of Treme.

Why do I write here? Because here is the largest audience I have found. Even if only 10,000 of those 60,000 came to read something I wrote,, the rest stumbling in here by accident, that is more readers than most literary fiction or poetry “bookers” can even dream of having.

I’m not fond of e-books, preferring the age old sensation of the physical thing, and of course I am thrilled to see me word on a page, was ecstatic when my name popped up in a micro-review in Publisher’s Weekly for the Chin Music Press Anthology What We Know: New Orleans as Home. I may have to pay dearly for the experience of a beautiful, well-made book of the sort Chin Music specializes in and always will. I hope someday to slog through the almost 1,000 posts here that constitute a narrative and assemble them into a manuscript.

Why do I write here instead of writing queries (which I plan to start doing shortly since my employment with Moloch ended) or sending out submissions to literary journals (I have a stack of submission cover letters to print and mail this week)? For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks. Here is where the readers are. There is as good if not a better chance of someone stumbling in here by Google search and liking what they find than there is of someone picking up a title off a bookstore shelf while browsing. Because whatever writers of literary works tell ourselves, communication to a reader is the ultimate goal.

Isolation Is The Gift November 16, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street, Writing.
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First posted here 3/27/10. Some things bear repeating, like an incantation, until new things you perhaps never intended but you were meant for, were sent here for, materialize at your command; things monstrous and wonderful, the favor of the gods paid for in horrible scars.

“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”

— Charles Bukowski (Factotum)

Bernadette Mayer & Phillip Good at 17 Poets! Thursday November 16, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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The way my schedule is shaping up, Odd Words probably won’t come out before midday tomorrow, so I wanted to give you an early reminder of this major event.

Poets & Writers and Trembling Pillow Press are pleased to host poets Bernadette Mayer and Philip Good in New Orleans to celebrate their new collections with a signing and reading at 17 Poets! Literary and Performance Series.

Doors open at 7:30 and the reading kicks off around 8 pm Thursday.

Bernadette Mayer will be reading and signing Ethics of Sleep (Trembling Pillow Press, 2011) and Philip Good will be signing his new book, Untitled Writings from a Member of the Blank Generation, new out from Trembling Pillow press.

Books will be available for purchase. Both books are available online at tremblingpillowpress.com, Amazon, & SPD books. Note: Philip Good’s book is not available until Nov. 10

Bernadette Mayer was born in 1945 in Brooklyn, New York. She received her B.A. from the New School for Social Research in 1967.

She is the author of numerous books of poetry and prose, including: Poetry State Forest (New Directions, 2008), Scarlet Tanager (2005), Two Haloed Mourners: Poems (1998), Proper Name and Other Stories (1996), The Desires of Mothers to Please Others in Letters (1994), The Bernadette Mayer Reader (1992), Sonnets (1989), Midwinter Day (1982), The Golden Book of Words (1978), and Ceremony Latin (1964).

From 1972 to 1974, Mayer and conceptual artist Vito Acconci edited the journal 0 TO 9. With her husband, writer and publisher Lewis Warsh, she edited United Artists Press. She has taught writing workshops at The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church in New York City for many years and she served as the Poetry Project’s director during the 1980s. Bernadette Mayer lives in East Nassau, New York.

Philip Good is a graduate of The School of Visual Arts. He co-edited with Bill Denoyelles, the last of the mimeograph poetry magazines, Blue Smoke. He has given poetry readings all across America and abroad. He now lives in a former shtetl next to the Tsatsawassa and Kinderhook creeks.

“And in this corner”–The Big 6 v Digital Cage Match November 13, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, publishing, Toulouse Street.
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Another Odd Words Special entry in this weekend’s Dispatches from the Back from the annual Words & Music Festival in New Orleans.

Will Murphy, executive editor at Random House was the nominal moderator until the fist chair flew. It was billed as “New Designs in Publishing in the Digital Age, just another equanimous panel discussion at the staid Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society’s annual Words & Music Festival, until e-publisher John Oakes came off ropes like a glory-hungry luchador going for the title belt.

Oakes, a graduate of the Bix Six before he started alternative e-publisher OR Books, started softly. “I don’t think [e-publishing} is going to be the only way, but it’s going to be one way.” His tag team partner Julie Smith, Edgar-winning mystery novelist turned e-publisher of BooksBnimble, started out equally calm. “I was published by Big Six publishers for a long time but it became something very different for fiction writers.”

Things continued calmly for almost 20 minutes with Oakes and Smith talking about their decision to enter the e-publishing field, and a long lecture by Chris Ruen, author of a forthcoming book on the digital music area titled Freeloading, on the lessons of the perils and opportunities of e-publishing he took from his study of the music industry.

That’s when Murphy, as politely as possible, inadvertently opened a can of whoop ass. “I’m afraid the two esteemed panelists to my right are going to have to answer for what they said. I’d like both of you to say what’s wrong with traditional publishing and why are you the solution and what’s in it for writers.”

“First of all, let me correct what I said,” Oakes answer prompting scattered nervous laughter in the audience. “I don’t think traditional publishing is breaking down. I think it’s broken and has been for a number of years, in tatters and a smoking ruin.”

Oakes outlined the traditional process of agent, editor, editorial board and sales force proceeded to outline outlined the current publishing paradigm he described as “guesswork on top of guesswork on top of guesswork. “Let’s say everything’s gone well, you have have some great blurbs. You didn’t plagiarize the the book. People are really excited about it. You have good advance orders. The stores pack it all across the country, they pack stacks of the book in. Such a tiny percentage actually sell through. A reasonable return rate for a front list book is 40 to 60 percent. So these books come streaming back. The stores hurt because all this shelf space has been taken up by a book that didn’t sell. The environment, which I think is worth mentioning, [is hurt] because all these books were printed and have to be transported back to warehouse. The publisher has to pay for all these books. Its a disastrous, antiquated system that does not benefit [anyone].”

Smith challenged Murphy in return. “One of the things that always bothered me, the reason I named my company Books Be Nimble, is I don’t feel that big pub is very nimble. Say you brought that you bring a 40 page meditation book [published as an e-book by Books Be Nimble] to a publisher in New York, they might very well say: you know what, there’s no way you can sell this book. My answer is, why don’t you figure it out. You know it was always just book stores and not to much willingness to go outside that to find other ways to make that work.

“There’s a lot more to the question, Will, but I’d like to give you a chance to defend big pub,” Smith

“I’m the last person you want defending big publishing. Traditionally the alternative to big publishing is self publishing,” he answered, starting the real battle royal. “I think there is a pretty heinous process in getting a book to market traditionally. There are a lot of steps, but I don’t know they’re the wrong steps.”

“But we’re not self publishers,” Smith quickly retorted. “Yeah,” Oakes chimed in before she finished her sentence

“The question for you guys is what differentiates you from self publishers,” Murphy offered, trying to get back on a civil track.

“I can’t say I don’t publish my own books because I intend to publish my own back list. I’d be crazy not to. And I publish people who are not me, for openers. Here is how I operate. We don’t offer an advance. I offer a 50% royalty and what I do for the50% royalty I do what Random House does, and I hope as well : I edit the book, I have the cover designed, I market the book.”

The temperature rose another notch when Oakes suggested that the major publishers are charging authors to promote their books by encouraging them to hire independent publicists. “If you are a new author at a major house you can confirm this. The publisher and editor say: how are we going to market this book. In my opinion its the publisher’s job to market the book, but I don’t expect an author to hire a publisher so I could make very good case that major publishers are indirectly charging authors because {suggesting an author hire their own publicist] is a standard way to work with people–unless your name is Steven King–and I’ve always understood and I have heard this from friends who have contracts with major publishers, that you are expected to hire your own publicist.

“This is wrong,” Murphy answered heatedly. “We have a fully staffed publicity department. We never encourage this, the hiring of independent publicists…”

“Maybe Random House is the exception,” Oakes offered.

“Because we have people who are paid to do that job,” Murphy continued, “and in every case when an author of mine has gone outside and brought an independent publicist in to the team, that independent publicist has done nothing that we wouldn’t have done ourselves.

“That wasn’t my experience at Random House,” Smith said.

Well, you didn’t work with me,” Murphy said. “It’s certainty not the status quo.”

“I’ve not heard that said about you, Will,” Oakes offered, trying to take the increasingly testy tone down a bit.

“We disagree,” Murphy answered sharply, trying to bring the scuffle to a close.

Ruen jumped in, pointing out that the difference between the self-publishing and the emerging digital publishers are editing and marketing. But on top of that, any publisher, even if its a small digital publisher, is providing a platform for an author. “Editing?” Ruen asked, “if you’re self-publishing, who’s editing the thing?”

Then he brought in Amazon’s move to change its vanity press operation into a larger model of the upstart short run digital and e-pub houses.. “One of the huge things for self publishing, Amazon announced their venture to release their own books and pay small advances.”

“They’re playing with the big boys,” Murphy agreed.

“That puts the burden of proof right on traditional publishers, emerging digital publishers, all of them, because it comes down to the question of what is the value of editing,” Ruen said.

“What I tell people who are thinking of publishing with Amazon is: go for it. And time will tell if traditional publishers know anything. I do know that the environment that I’ve worked in is a cultivating and cultivated one and I’d been surprised if within two years if Amazon were producing prize winners or best sellers.”

“What do you mean by best sellers?” Smith asked. “Amazon is publishing best sellers every day.”

“What do you mean by best sellers?,” Oakes asked.

“I mean on Amazon,” she said

“Amazon is an eco-system. What percentage of your e-sales are on Amazon and are tabulated to Amazon best seller list? Amazon is a very powerful retailers, probably the most powerful one in American today. They want to publish books. What they really want to do is sell. Their focus in the consumer, not the creator. They remain first and foremost a retailer, not a publisher.”

Smith tried to take the discussion off the playground and back into the ballroom “I think Random House is terrific and we haven’t really talked about the parallel universes that exist today. I think that we sound a little adversarial but we all exist together. I really don’t understand the hostility to e-books. I don’t actually see any sign at all that paper books will go away.” Conference organizer Rosemary James of the locally iconic Faulkner House Bookstore and a founder of the society had started out introducing the panel by expressing her abhorrence for e-books.

Oakes disagreed. “Here’s a statistic from the pages of Publisher’s Weekly.”

“Oh, the bible,” Murphy quipped drily.

“It’s a bible…still the industry newsletter. It came out a couple of months ago, but it compared a significant portion of this year 2011 to last year f 2010, and the sale of adult trade paperbacks was down 65%. That’s not a decline. That’s a precipitous drop. Now e-books, and that number I don’t remember, but they are shooting up like this. That said, paperbacks are starting at such a higher level and e-books are just starting. There’s no point to discussing whether e-books are a good thing or a bad thing. They are happening.

“I actually now agree with you both. Yeah, paperback sales have declined because e-books are simultaneously published simultaneous with the hard cover edition,” Murphy pointed out. “They are the low price alternative.”

Having gotten his moderator’s groove back on and brought things back on an even keel, Murphy took a question from the back of the hall, but bringing the audience in just raised the temperature in the room as the audience’s own prejudices on e-books and dire prophecies of the collapse of the traditional publishing model re-ignited the atmosphere.

‘It’s not paperback versus e-book. We already know people like their electronica. I fight is quality control versus free for all, and how do they decide that?” a woman in the back asked. “We have sort have glossed over the fact that newspapers and magazines are in decline. That’s a bigger thing than all that stuff you’re talking about. If you care about literary fiction, where do you think we find out what to read? That to me is a bigger problem that what you’re talking about. I read the New York Times Review. The Washington Post has folded their separate publication. What’s going to happen when the newspapers cut their editors. These are the arbiters of taste that we all rely upon.”

“Not all of us,” Oakes interrupted. “I stopped reading the Times Book Review years ago. I think that’s something you have to decide for yourself. Do you have to rely on the Book Review to tell you what to read?”

“Well then tell me how you decide what to read,” the woman interjected over Oakes’ answer.

“I read things like N+1, The Millions, Rumpus. [There are] online literary journals. How books come to me they always have when I ran a traditional press. They come from agents, they come from authors.

“I think you’re talking about, what are the filters,” Murphy offered to

“I don’t know who those people are,” the questioner answered.

“For the point of the Times, I published a great little book, a biography of H.G.Wells. The Times Sunday Book Review does this little square of a little nasty review. I had never heard of the person before. I found the person who wrote this review–and me being semi-crazy because I thought this book was fantastic–I found this person and called him up. The guy was either a sophmore or a junior in college. The arbiters of taste are not so infalible.”

“The bottom line is: somebody has to be out there, with the plethora of books, saying you have to read this book,” the questioner asserted.

Another audience member jumped in, any pretense of going around the room by raised hands lost in the heat of the moment. “We think we have choices in the market and we don’t. We have just a very slim piece of the pie. We have all these small presses that we don’t talk about [at the festival} that are still doing regular books. When you talk about best sellers when you have a rare exception [like the Tinkers”, they’ll never make that mistake again because it created all this hostility.

“We used to have adults in the playground,”another audience member suggested. “We used to have Alfred Kazin and [John W.] Aldritch and they were vilified then because we didn’t like them telling us what to think but at least they were thinkers telling us how to read,” another audience member offered. “There is no culture of criticism anymore. It’s not criticism. Its a lot of mutual back patting” in book criticism. “Without it we might as well all be self-published.”

“If you’re looking for an arbiter, read until you find someone [on the internet] you respect,” Oakes answered.

“We’re gatekeepers, too,” Smith said when asked what was the difference between small e-publishers and self-publishing. “The big difference is editorial,” Murphy chimed in. “And its the publisher’s job to bring the book to market,” Oakes added. “Its the job of your publisher to reach out to your readers and say, we’re interested in good writing and you should read this thing.”

Asked about whether e-publishers would become the logical home of literary fiction, Smith said “I think there’s a lot of room in e-publishing for manuscripts that cannot make it in Big Six publishing. I have a really nice memoir that ought to be published and Random House would not be able to sell it. It would sell six copies for them and I think I can sell it.”

Another audience member expressed a concern about the impact of e-publishing on independent bookstores.

“We made a decision not to deal with stores unless they come to us. And they come to us. Instead of buying ten or twenty copies they buy two or three, then they sell them and buy another two or three and sell it. But it’s true that when we have a front list title, it will not reach all the stores,” Oakes said. “I think this new model is good for authors, for publishers, the environment and readers, frankly I don’t think its good for independent stores. I agree with you: the independent stores is a beautiful thing and I don’t have the answer for that.”

“The giant chain store that banks on having everything is clearly threatened by the internet which has more than everything,” Ruen added.

“So let me tilt your answer toward what I think to be an interesting evolution of this conversation, that the independent side of table is envisioning the demise of the indie book store,” Murphy suggested.

“I’m not,” Ruen said. “One thing that the Internet cannot replace is the physical sense of community and only an independent bookstore can deliver that. And they’re selling books.”

“This has been a fascinating, exciting and fireworks filled panel,” Murphy closed out, ” and this is an artisan profession that is in transition. And great people such as the people to my right are tinkering and prematurely aged people like myself are done in, and that’s an exciting world to have.”

Here’s a complete podcast. I apologize for the variable volume but there was only one microphone for the panel and none for the audience. I also apologize for my occasional loud interjections. It was that kind of a panel discussion: PODCAST

One World, Many Narratives November 11, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Or why the Germans have a word specifically to lament the death of their forests and Americans just mow them down to print more books about dogs. Another Dispatches from the Back from the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Words & Music Conference from Odd Words.

[Ed.'s note: This is as much a typical Odd Words literary ramble as an exercise in journalism as my audio recorder was giving my trouble tonight and I was so fascinated by the discussion that my note taking often fell behind. I have now got my tech glitches ironed out and without time for a re-write before this morning's sessions, I am embedding the full podcast at the end.]

Let’s start with translation, the moderator suggested. In Germany sixty percent of the literature read is in translation from another language. In the United States, that figure is one percent. With that stark contrast Eric Leibetrau, managing editor of the Kirkus Review, kicked off Tailoring Literary Art to the Requirements of the Global Village, which quickly turned into a wide ranging discussion of translation, American exceptionalism and our increasingly cosmopolitan culture, Murakami and manga, why American symphonies are filled with Asian-American musicians playing for aging Anglo audiences, and what Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood can tell us about the difficulty Americans have processing what does not fit our carefully tailored ideas of who we are.

Or we can begin with the first question: why American’s don’t read more foreign literature. "Its about what we are prepared for. Our teachers simply aren’t prepared to teach international literature, suggested John Biguenet, poet, playwright, novelist and twice President of American Literary Translators Association. Andrew Lam, journalist and web editor of New American Media, an association of multicultural literary associations. “At a time when we need to have eyes on what’s happening overseas we are cutting back on foreign correspondents. We have less interest in putting our eyes and ears overseas,” suggesting a willful American ignorance of the outside world.

In answer to Leibetrau’s observation that the Germans have a word for the death of the forests along the Autobahn due to pollution–Waldsterben–and Americans have no such term, suggesting a lack of concern for the environment, Biguenet quoted a philosopher (not in my notes; blame my audio recorder): “Language is an agreement among a group of people to avoid saying something.” I think it was Spinoza but don’t hold me to that.

Leibetrau tried to turn the discussion back to the original topic, asking what a good non-fiction piece do that a novel or a play or a poem can not, but the conversation seemed to veer away from the published topic like a driver fiddling with his cell phone at hurtling down the autobahn at 180 KPH, and the moderator seemed to sense the panel had found its groove and let it go. Biguenet spokes about his columns for the New York Times after the Federal Flood, how unprepared conventional American journalism was for a disaster on a scale not scene in this country in over a century. “The reason writers from New Orleans turned to non-fiction was because we had to get the story out,” to correct the poor information coming out of traditional journalistic channels. The issue wasn’t so much how to write for an international audience as how to write for an insular Anglo-American audience. “As I writer I have to write taking into account the ignorance of Americans.”

Lam turned the conversation back toward the world, pointing out how Japanese author Haruki Murakami first wrote a non-fiction account of the great Kobe earthquake and only later turning back to fiction and the excellent After The Quake, a collection of stories tied to how some slim connection of each protagonist to that event effected their later lives. There is a cultural gulf in how Americans react to disaster versus the Japanese that escapes most Americans, Lam suggested, sharing the anecdote of a boy who lost his family in the Fukuyama tsunami. Found wandering in his gym clothes (he had been in that class when the tsunami struck), he told a police officer how he had most likely lost both his parents. The cop gave him his own rations, and the boy promptly walked to the head of the meal line and put them on the table and got back in line. Asked why, he told the officer that everyone here had suffered the same, and the others were in line before him. Try transplanting this scene to America. You can’t. Biguenet suggested the audience read the book The Nobility of Failure: Tragic Heroes in the History of Japan to understand that gulf, to contrast American hero worship with Japan’s history of heroic figures who failed.

Lam brought up the current flooding in Thailand, suggesting that rather than consider how to expand America’s consciousness of the world that Biguenet write a letter to the people of Bangkok, to counsel them on how to handle the complete inundation of their city. The panelists did not however give up on the possibilities of an America more open to the rest of the world and its literature. One pointed out that Los Angeles had the largest number of Buddhist temples in the world, representing all sects; another that it will soon be essential for Americans to speak a second language as the latest wave of immigrants make the largest coastal cities among the most cosmopolitan in the world.

The hyper-nationalist, 9-11 flag pin American heartland is increasingly hemmed in by a cultural pluralism, by a new generation of immigrants not driven to respell their names and abandon their own customs but determined to make America both their home and their own, to adopt to their American homeland as Lam did when his family fled the fall of Saigon in 1975 while maintaining their own cultural identify. Biguenet (I believe, its not clear in my notes) told the story of a niece living in Houston and married to a Dane, how there was even a Danish school there. “It’s the most cosmopolitan city she’s every lived in. Pretty soon it will get to Dallas.”

In the end none of the panelists had a past answer on how to write for a global village audience, but they suggested that the days when only one percent of the books read in America are translations may be coming to an end. Much of Tea Party shopping mall America may be ready to turn its back on the world, but the world is coming to America’s shores and therein the answer may lie. I thought of my own experience in Fargo, N.D. as culturally homogenous a place as any mid-20th Century Scandinavian country and yet a also a city where Lutheran Social Services brought refugee immigrants from all over the world. I thought of the map in my childrens’ elementary school marked with the native lands of all the students.

The lesson of this panel wasn’t a neat formula for writers who want to communicate with a world-wide audience or a program to disseminate translated world literature. The message in the end is that if America will not embrace the world, the world continues to embrace America and come to its shores, yearning to to be free. The answer won’t be found in the pages of The Kirkus Review or a conference paper at AWP. The answer is in that growing segment of America where the release of Murakami’s 1Q84 was as anxiously awaited as an installment of Harry Potter, in a country where–in Biguenet’s words–Houston is the most cosmopolitan city his niece has ever lived in.

Here is the podcast, with the introduction by Rosemary James of the Faulkner Society and Faulkner House Books:
Tailoring Literary Art to the Requirements of the Global Village

Bonus podcast of the first half of the session The Impact of the Internet on Artists:

The Impact of the Internet, Good and Bad, on Artists

“This probably should go really badly” — Roy Blount Jr. and James Wilcox at the Louisiana Book Festival November 11, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Here at last is the full podcast of Roy Blount, Jr.’s conversation with James Wilcox, winner of the Louisiana Book Award, at the 2011 Louisiana Book Festival, delayed these weeks by some technical challenges having to do with trying to edit large media files on a computer better suited to giving to your three year old for to use to play on Barbie.com.

Blount’s prognostication quoted in the title of this post held perfectly true as the two men romped through Wilcox’s career, the confusion and conflict that drive his comic novels. They touched such questions as whether one is a Junior or simply shares a father’s first name, or what the nuns at Wilcox’s Catholic school thought of their president of the Catholic Youth Organization playing organ in the Methodist Church, entered into Wilcox’s storytelling. Oh, and the time Wilcox was robbed of a tooth at gunpoint in Manhattan by a couple of very chic muggers.

I think you will enjoy it as much as those of us in attendance did.

Click to play Blount-Wilcox Interview podcas

Laughter & Disaster in Postdiluvian New Orleans November 10, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, novel, Odd Words.
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image Author James Nolan discussing his book Higher Ground.

An Odd Words “Dispatches from the Back” live from the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Words & Music Festival

Novelist James Nolan started the official Words & Music Festival opening event New Orleans, Mon Amour with an apology for the late start. “We have our own sense off time” in New Orleans, he explained. “It’s sort of like Mexican mañana but not as urgent.”

The author of a darkly comic new novel about postdiluvian New Orleans, he explained the apparently slow genesis of a book born out of the aftermath of Katrina: “It takes a long time for the human mind to wrap itself around disaster” but says asteady progression of Katrina-themed memoirs and novels are just around the corner. Asked about Dave Eggers’ comment at the Tennessee Williams Festival two years ago that there are a hundred Katrina books waiting to be written, “I think I’ve seen fifty of them in my workshops.”

Nolan insists his is not specifically a Katrina book–the storm that has just ravaged New Orleans in the story is never named–saying, “Katrina is just a setting for this, but it is a human drama, like The Tin Drum which is not about WWI but the lives of the characters in its aftermath. “The real human drama comes aftere the disaster.”

It is at heart a New Orleans story, which has been freely compared to Confederacy of Dunces and after the coffee-spitting funny short reading and character setup that came first that comparison is not far off the mark. “New Orleans is not the [setting] place but also a protagonist. I set out to write one of the great place novels, like Balzac or Thomas Wolfe.”

To help achieve that “genie-soul of a place” sense Walker Percy spoke about he chose to largely portray the setting in the French Quarter through the eyes of the character of Vinnie,  who loathes the neighborhood. “The best way to present someplace is throughthe eyes of someone who hates the it.”

Asked by a reviewer to characterize the book, he thought of the iconic logo of the carnival Krewe d’Etat. “I wanted my novel to be like the grinning skull in a motley fool’s cap.” He said the book combines “burlesque and disaster [because] that was the contradiction we were living at the time.”

While disclaiming the imprint of “Katrina novel” the book is propelled by the unikely collision of characters off all classes and neighborhoods, “the magic of the city at that time…the way everyone was thrown together.”

It was difficult to get a novel with the watermark of Katrina on the manuscript published, he said. The manuscript won the festival competition’s novel category several years ago and he immediately got agent but “in New York Katrina is box office poison…in New York anything about 9-11 is considered universal and anything about Katrina is considered regional.

“I’ve come up with a new defintion of regionalism” in publishing: anything that doesn’t happen in New York,” he quipped. The agent sent out the manuscript to a slew of editors “and all of these editors were promptly fired” in a round of New York publishing cutbacks. The book was finally issued by the University of Lafayette Press, its first fiction title, and he praised UofL Press for its commitment to publishing the culture of Louisiana.

I wasn’t going to buy a book this weekend–my slush pile of unreads is just to dangerously steep–but after hearing Nolan read from the opening chapter I followed him back to the booksotre/headquarters of the festival and got a copy for him to sign. If it holds up to that excerpt of the first chapter I think I many end up placing on the honor shelf in the front room right next to Toole’s Dunces.

 

Odd Words November 10, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“She’s the real expert on how to put together a winning story”
— Novelist, editor and critic Tom Carson on Words & Music Festival
student story contest winner resident Ruth Marie Landry

Last week ended with a bang and I am well launched out of the cannon and across the mad circus tent of three more days of the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Words & Music Festival. The bang was not missing hearing UNO professor and composer Victor Atkin’s piano suite based on Faulker’s The Barn Burning, as I crashed and burned myself before it started, but hearing the excerpt from the winner’s story. My own fanboy feelings about Haruki Murakami are pretty well known to regular readers, and to quote myself from yesterday “the Murakami-esque equanimity of the protagonist in confronting her bizarre condition” made the excerpt of Landry’s stories one of the day’s high points.

Odd Words thinks that New Orleans is in the middle of a largely unrecognized literary renaissance (mostly because the local literary community organizes itself into silos of writers who don’t communicate which each other, a barrier Odd Words seeks to break down), and the knowledge that we are producing such talented young writers in the Lusher High School and New Orleans Center for Creative Writing programs means it has not reached it zenith.

I did get to meet some of the Peauxdunque Writer’s Alliance crowd at the last event of Wednesday and a charming bunch they are. You can read their own write up of the end of day reading and social on theri own blog as I’m out of time.

I had best get to the listings, as I got up at 5:30 this morning to get them done so as to have myself firmly planted in a seat at the Monteleone Hotel by 8:30, the festival list is long and it is not all that is going on this week.

& so….

& Before I get into this week’s events, I should call out that Stephen King will be at Octavia Books Tuesday, Nov. 22 and I’m sure that’s going to be a packed madhouse. You need to purchase a ticket in advance, which includes a copy of the novel 11/22/63. Only 250 of the first editions available will be signed and you have to buy a ticket to have a chance at one of those, so call or get over to Octavia Books if you want to meet the great man and get a chance at a signed copy.

& This Thursday at 17 Poets! Kristin Sanders reads and signs her new collection from Dancing Girl press along with poet Alison Pelegrin followed by an open mic hosted by Jimmy Ross, who is a better bet for finding an apartment (at least for me) than the NYT Obituaries. Sign up, 7:30, reading begins at 8PM.

& Thursday continues the Words & Music Festival but I already posted listings through today earlier in the week. You can see the full schedule, venues and ticket costs on the web site. Follow along here with Dispatches from the Back, as well as on the Odd Words Facebook page including pictures as the day goes on, and on Twitter, follow Odd_Words.

& Friday at the festival includes: Tailoring Literary Art to the Requirements of Global Village Internet Communication discussing the impact of the Internet and social media on the art of narrative non-fiction with John Biguenet, Andrew Lam, and Eric Liebetrau, Managing Editor and Non-Fiction Editor of Kirkus Reviews — 8:15 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Riverview Room; The Impact of the Internet, Good & Bad, on Artists & The General Public with Andrei Codrescu, Ted Mooney, and Chris Ruen — 9:30 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom; The Importance of Our Dreams to Our Lives and Our Creativity with Rodger Kamenetz and Joséphine Sacabo — 10:45 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballrom; Literature & Lunch (reservations required) will feature The Classic Works of Hemingway & Fitzgerald as Inspiration for Contemporary Fiction with Paula McLain and Tom Carson. Kirk Curnutt, Ph.D., will moderate — 12:30 p. m.— Hotel Monteleone, Riverview Room, Roof; When is a Romance Novel a Guilty Pleasure and When is it Just a Literary Pleasure featuring Michael Signorelli of Harper Collins, Elise Blackwell and Robert Olen Butler, author of the unrepentantly romantic (in a good way) novel A Small Hotel — 2: 30 p. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom; Celtic Faery Tales and Arabian Entertainments To Get Us Through The Night with Signe Pike and Andrei Codrescu, moderated by Brandi Bowles — 3:45 p. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballrom; MEET THE EDITORS & AGENTS with Deborah Grosvernor, owner of the Grosvenor Literary Agency, leading a session including all participating editors and agents — 5:00 p. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom.

Whew!

& Friday night’s Festival events end with a black tie gala featuring Armando Valladares, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations for Human Rights, and author of the international bestselling memoir, Against All Hope, which details his 22 years as a prisoner of conscience in Castro’s Cuba. Sadly I haven’t needed a tux since I worked in D.C., and I am pretty sure it is now the tux of someone of a slightly less white-sauce-with-crab-meat-on-everything physique.

& Saturday’s Faulkner Fest starts off with Menage à Trois, the annual session on the important three-way relationship between author, agent, and editor, with novelist Paula McLain, her agent Julie Barer and her editor Susanna Porter, Executive Editor at Random House. — 8:15 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne ; The Art of the Memoir, Giving It Universality of Appeal introduced by literary agent Howard Yoon, with authors Randy Fertel, Signe Pike, and Oscar Hijuelos– 9:30 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom ; The Old Verities of Story Telling Still Apply as Inspiration for 21st Century Literature led by George Bishop and featuring Pamela Binnings Ewen and Mark Yakich — 11:00 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom ; Literature & Lunch features Punditry in the Global Village with Ken Wells, Roy Blount, Jr., and Lee Papa, a Louisiana native better known to bloggers and their audiences as the Rude Pundit — 12:45 p. m. — Riverview Room, Roof; The Art of Making the Past Come Alive for 21st Century Audiences with Anka Muhlstein, Elise Blackwell, and Andrei Codrescu — 2:45 p.m. — Queen Anne Ballroom ; The New Orleans Sound and Its Caribbean Roots led by New Orleans jazz scholar Bruce Raeburn and featuring Leopoldo Tablante and Bill Cruz — 4:00 p.m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom.

& The Festival’s evening events include: Performance reading from his Pulitzer Prize winning Play by Cuban – American Playwright Nilo Cruz — 6:30 p. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom; followed by, A Conversation with John Biguenet & Nilo Cruz on writing for the states with John Biguenet and Nilo Cruz. The night cap is Jazz After Hours at the Napoleon House featuring the Cuban-style band AsheSon, led by Javier Olondo.

I’m so tired just from typing all this up I have to stop and get another cup of coffee. And we’re not to Saturday yet.

& Downtown Friday night at the Love Lost Lounge, the No Love Lost Poetry Reading hosted by Joseph Bienvenu kicks of at 5:30 p.m., just in time for the bar’s happy hour and opening time for the excellent Vietnamese kitchen in the back.

& Later Friday New Orleans premiere spoken word event Acoustic Fridays the Red Star Gallery, 2513 Bayou Road, hosted every week by Charlie V-Uptowns Illest MC. $7 cover, $5 with college ID

& Saturday at Garden District Books Laura Lippman will be on hand from 1 – 3 pm to sign her new book The Most Dangerous Thing. A former reporter for the Baltimore Sun, she is best known for writing a series of novels set in Baltimore and featuring Tess Monaghan, a reporter (natch) turned private investigator. Lippman’s works have won the Agatha, Anthony, Edgar, Nero, Gumshoe and Shamus awards. She is also married to some writer guy from Baltimore who gets enough ink in this town already.

& Saturday at Words & Music starts off with Literary Marketing in the Global Village, Using The Resources of the Internet with Shari Stauch, John Oakes, and Lee Papa. Look for Odd Words to have a few “is that a question or a comment” moments here — 8:15 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom; New Designs in Publishing for the Electronic Age with John Oakes, Chris Ruen, and Julie Smith with moderator Random House Executive Editor Will Murphy — 9:30 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Riverview Room; The Art of Creating a Sense of Place with Ted Mooney, Robert Hicks, and Moira Crone, moderated by literary agent Dan Conaway of Writers House — 10:45 a. m.— Hotel Monteleone, Riverview Room; The Art of Creating a Sense of Place Literature & Lunch features The Perfect French Omelette: One Made in Winter with White Truffles with Anka Muhlstein and N. M. Kelby. Ms. Muhlstein’s new work, Balzac’s Omelette, is about understanding Honoré de Balzac, through an unusual lens, the narrative threads relating to food in Balzac’s work, moderated by Randy Fertel whose mother founded Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and who is himself a scholar of French literature. It don’t get more New Orleans than this unless you put some lump crabmeat on it — Noon — Hotel Monteleone, Riverview Room, Roof; and the closing event New Orleans, Mon Amor featuring “sweets and tales about the sweetest city ever created” introduced by Roy Blount, Jr. and featuring Robert Olen Butler, Robert Hicks, Randy Fertel, and James Nolan — 2:15 p. m. — Riverview Room, Roof.

& This Sunday at the Maple Leaf Poet Dennis Formento will read from his work accompanied by musicians Helen Gillet on cello and Dave Capello on drums (with possible special guest Robert Head, founder of NOLA Express newspaper). If you’re not old enough to remember the NOLA Express you have no idea just how groovy this is. Just go with the flow. You’re in the hands of experts.

& On Monday, Crescent City Books continues it’s Black Widow Reading Series, hosting Bill Lavender for the reading and discussion of his brand new book Memory Wing. 7-9 p.m. The event will start promptly at 7:15 pm upstairs. Seating is limited. RSVP’s preferred.

& And of course this and every Monday Kate Smash will lead everyone in a rousing chorus of “Mercedes-Benz” after the Writer’s Block reading on the amphitheater steps across from Jackson Square. 9 .m. No list, no mic, all performers welcome. I wonder if we sing that Janis Joplin song loud enough, we can get Robert Head to come.

OK, I’m just getting this done in the last minutes before I have to leave so I had best jump in the shower, grab a Jetson’s breakfast from the vitamin shelf and another mug of coffee and get going. If I’ve missed anything watch the Facebook page and Twitter for announcements and mea culpeas. See you at Festival and the rest of this week’s events. I’m the old fart in the young man’s hat.

Burning Down the House November 9, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, Odd Words.
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An Odd Words special Dispatches from the Back from The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Words & Music Festival 2011.

“At UNO [in the Jazz Studies Program] we are at the edge of trying to create completely new things,” Irvin Mayfield told an audience largely of creative writing students from Lusher High School and the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, explaining to the opening session of The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society’s 2011 Words and Music Festival how his UNO colleague Victor Atkins came to compose a suite of music based on William Faulkner’s “The Barn Burning”.

Mayfield,  who composed another piece on commission from the society for a prior festival, explained the “ways music and literature can fit together, “how a word can mean something in literature and something completely different in music [in which] the word diminish means a certain sound but obviously in literature it means something else”; how a musical diminish can be used to illustrate how Faulkner used language to diminish the unsympathetic protagonist of “The Barn Burning.”

“I’ve worked on many projects, soundtracks, what you might call program music but I had never taken a work of literary art to music,” Atkins told the audience. Casting about for an approach, he used Ellington’s Shakespeare-inspired “Such Sweet Thunder” suite as inspiration and a model. He read numerous Faulkner stories over the summer and was fascinated in particular by the closing section of “The Barn Burning.  “I kept returning to it. I knew that was a source I could use as a theme.”

“I felt the passage at the end of the story needed some explanation so I worked on an introductory piece to sequence in and I kept going back and finding more things. I felt the sequence would make it more of a suite than a sequence of tunes, something that would tell the story. So I started at the end of the story and worked my way back.”

A professor at the University of New Orleans Jazz program, he also wanted “to create something that could be improvised on but could still tell a story.”

Atkins played two pieces, the first inspired by a line from the opening scene of the trial in a country store, how Snopes’ son, fearing he would be called to testify against this father, “he felt no floor beneath his feet”. Stymied by how to convert that to music, he took all the letters of the line that represented musical notes and “made a song from it. This is kind of fun like a puzzle.”

He used a lot of musical “neighbor tones” in a piece he composed for Snopes’ wife, to contrast with the wandering, neighbor-less life of a family of sharecroppers forced to move from place to place by the father’s compulsion to commit arson.

The first part of the festival’s program “For Teachers and Students” ended with Mayfield reading from his recent book A Love Letter to New Orleans and playing a related literary (and lovelorn) inspired piece “Romeo and Juliet”.

The morning concluded with novelist and GQ critic Tom Carson, judge of the 2011 festival student writing contest, discussing the making of a winning manuscript. “This is a little intimidating,” he said, casting a glance back at the ornate, Italianate altar of St. Mary’s Italian Church in the old Ursuline Convent complex, then proceeded to neatly outline his advice to the creative writing students.

“My advice is only important if I am the judge every year,” he began modestly. “If I knew the formula I wouldn’t tell you because then you wouldn’t write like yourself.” That caveat out of the way, he advised the young writers, “the more you write for yourself and trust your imagination the more likely you are to reach readers  who are on the same wavelength and those are the readers you want. It’s not exactly writing what you know but what feels right to you.

“Trusting your imagination does not mean a lack of discipline,” he added. “Having an imagination is like getting a pony for Christmas: wonderful, but what are you going to do with it? You have to saddle it and get it to take you where you want to go.”

He said the winning story “Nerve Endings”, about a high school-aged pianist whose fingers unaccountably begin to grow longer and longer,”is completely  preposterous but the language is completely commonplace and ordinary and that makes it believable.”

His other advice included the typical caution for aspiring writers: get rid of what is unnecessary and think about where you are going to begin, how to turn the situation that inspired the story into compelling words on a page.

The morning ended with NOCCA creative writing student and Metairie resident Ruth Marie Landry reading an excerpt of “Nerve Endings” and as Carson suggested the Murakami-esque equanimity of the protagonist in confronting her bizarre condition carried the story beautifully.

“She’s the real expert on how to put together a winning story,” Carson said in closing. congratulations.

Lit Geek 2.3 November 8, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Garden District, meme, odd, Odd Words, oddities, Toulouse Street.
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Tomorrow Odd Words is off to the first day of the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Words & Music Festival carting this 7″ Coby Android Tablet doohickey instead of the laptop.
image
I also have this nifty faux leather stand/case/keyboard thing with a very tiny keyboard, too small for real touchtyping but I think it will work out better than either carting the damned laptop
or last years attempts to post from an Android phone, which nothing for my spelling and made my thumbs ache for a week.

It has an out-of-date touch screen that works best with a stylus isn’t much more responsive than the monster “portable” computer I used back in 1990 with the 7″ green screen and dual floppy drives but I think it will get the job done. And boy was it cheap, as it is clearly last year’s (month’s, you get the idea) model. The only thing its really lacking is that copy of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text RPG that the monster portable had on its capacious 10 MB (yes, that’s an M) hard drive).

But the Coby and this goofy keyboard were too cheap to resist, for all the infuriating qwerks I had to puzzle through to get the WordPress client installed and this post complete. Did I mention it was super cheap? Ipad users can mockmy little toy but I am getting what I need done for what: a thousand dollars less? More?

Odd Words: Getting Ready for Words & Music November 7, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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This week’s big event was too big to squeeze into last week’s Odd Words and can’t wait for Thursday: Faulkner House Books and the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society will host there annual Words & Music, a Literary Feast in New Orleans this Wednesday through Sunday at venues across the French Quarter with the Monteleone Hotel the festival headquarters. This year’s theme is Literature and Life in the Global Village.

This year’s festival will feature three Pulitzer Prize winners Oscar Hijuelos, Fiction; Nilo Cruz, Drama; and Robert Olen Butler, Fiction, along with the winner of France’s prestigious Goncourt Prize (equivalent of our National Book Award) for biography Anka Muhlstein. Daily events include master classes with prominent writers, editors and agents; a Literature and Lunch Series daily at Muriel’s featuring a different presentation daily; theatrical and musical performances; and several gala social events including the Faulkner for All Gala, Honoring All Great Writers Friday night.

Friday’s night’s black tie gala will featuring Armando Valladares, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations for Human Rights, and author of the international bestselling memoir, Against All Hope, which details his 22 years as a prisoner of conscience in Castro’s Cuba. 7:00 — 9:00 p. m. – Hotel Monteleone.

Words & Music is a literal feast for the book lover, with other notable presenters including Tom Carson, James P. Farwell, Julie Smith, George Rodrigue, Alex Beard, C. Robert Holloway, James Nolan, Justin Torres, Uriel Quesada, Randy Fertel, Lorie Marie Carlson, Andrew Lam, Robert Hicks, John Biguenet, Eric Liebetrau, Andrei Codrescu, Ted Mooney, Chris Ruen, Rodger Kamenetz, Joséphine Sacabo, Paula McLain, Michael Signorelli, Michael Signorelli, Robert Olen Butler, Signe Pike, Deborah Grosvernorm, Amy Serrano, Javier Olondo, George Bishop, Binnings Ewen, Mark Yakich, Elise Capron, Ken Wells, Roy Blount, Jr., Lee Papa, Elise Blackwell, and Leopoldo Tablante.

Guest editors will represent Kirkus Review, The New Orleans Review, Random House, and Harper-Collins, and numerous agents associated with the festival or presenting authors will also be on hand.

Details of the event including the schedule and cost of events, are available on the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society website. If you have checked the schedule before and already made your plans, check back because there have been some changes of schedule and venue.

Here’s a quick rundown of some stand-out events to carry us through to Thursday’s edition of Odd Words:

& Things will kick off Wednesday morning with an open Master Class featuring Irvin Mayfield and UNO Professor and musician/composer Victor Atkins, addressing the symbiotic relationships between the arts and the importance of these relationships as inspiration for the creation of new works of art. 10:30 am Our Lady of Victory Church, 1116 Chartres St.

& Tom Carson, Film critic for GQ Magazine and author two novels–Daisy Buchanan’s Daughter and Gilligan’s Wake, will discuss the elements of writing which make a good short story and introduce this year’s winner of the William Wisdom Creative writing competition, who will read a short excerpt from the winning manuscript. Noon in the Courtyard at Faulker House Books.

& Literature and Lunch on Wednesday will feature author James P. Farwell’s new book, The Pakistan Cauldron on the subject Love Thy Neighbor, or getting to know our neighbors as part of the festival theme Life & Literature in the Global Village. 12:45 pm at Muriel’s. Literature & Lunch events are $60.

& Why Do Animals Make Such Great Characters for Children’s Literature will include Julie Smith, George Rodrigue, Alex Beard, and C. Robert Holloway discussing about animals, even animals that ordinarily might be considered downright scary, such as tigers and lions, that make them so irresistible as characters for literature.

& Wednesday members of the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society will hold their annual meeting with readings and refreshments. Open to the public with admission. Lead this event and read from her own work is nationally noted poet Laura Mullen, a writer in residence at LSU. Others featured include poet and writing coach Rosemary Daniell; Brad Richard, author of the new collection Motion Studies; poet and fiction writer Tad Bartlett; poet and fiction writer J.Ed Marston; poet M’Bilia Meeker, author of the Spirit of Louis Congo, which won the Faulkner Society’s gold medal for best poem this year, fiction writer Maurice Ruffin; fiction writer Terri Stoor, winner of the 2011 Gold Medalfor her Short story, A Belly Full of Sparrow. This is open to the general public for $15. 4:30 pm at The Cabildo.

& Wednesday closes out with Victor Atkins will perform his new music inspired by the famous Faulkner short story, Barn Burning, and discuss the importance of the interplay between the arts to the creative process. Victor Atkins’ performance is a presentation of the Faulkner Society, the New Orleans Jazz Institute, and the Louisiana State Museum. 6:15 pm at The Cabildo.

& Thursday opens with a Welcome event New Orleans, Mon Amor
Featuring well known New Orleans poet, translator, and fiction writer, James Nolan, author of the new novel Higher Ground, a noir humor set in postdiluvian New Orleans, and a recentcollection of short fiction entitled Perpetual Care. He has been a Writer-in-Residence at Tulane University and currently directs the Loyola Writing Institute at Loyola University in New Orleans. Nolan, a New Orleans native, will speak about the unique elements of the humor of New Orleanians. 8:30 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Ground Floor, Royal Suites

& Next up The Hyphenated-American Experience As Inspiration for Literary Art featuring Justin Torres, author of the hot new novel, We The Animals, which has inspired a national chorus of praise from America’s leading newspapers and magazines. Torres will explore imagination versus reality in fiction, addressing the question of how to ground contemporary fiction in reality without grounding the imagination. Invited to introduce him and set the stage for the discussion is Uriel Quesada, Ph.D. Dr. Quesada directs the Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies at Loyola University. 9:45 a. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Ground Floor, Royal Suites.

& Literature & Lunch will address the Impact of The Exile Experience on Life & Literature in the Global Village will also feature Torres; Oscar Hijuelos, winner of the Pulitzer for his novel The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love; Lori Marie Carlson, who is a translator, editor, and author of award winning anthologies of work by Latino and Oriental-American artists in translation; and Andrew Lam, distinguished Vietnamese – American non-fiction author of Perfume Dreams: Reflections on the Vietnamese Diaspora, which won the Pen American Beyond the Margins Award in 2006, and was short-listed for the Asian American Literature Award. 11:30 p. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Riverview Room, Roof Cash Bar Opens followed by Literature & Lunch at Noon.

& Following lunch The Art of Turning Your Passion into Perfect Pieces of Fiction features New York Times bestselling author Robert Hicks and his literary agent Jeff Kleinman. oining them will be Rosemary Daniell, one of the country’s best writing coaches, founder of the Zona Rosa writing workshops and author of such classics as Fatal Flowers and Sleeping with Soldiers. 2:00 p. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Ground Floor, Royal Suites.

& Thursday’s signature event will be An Afternoon with Oscar Hijuelos, Winner, Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and Lori Marie Carlson. Carlson will set the stage for Hijuelos, who will do a performance reading from his new, critically acclaimed memoir, Thoughts Without Cigarettes. After the performance he two authors will discuss the importance of identity in the work of hyphenated-American literary artists 3:15 p. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom.

& How to Read Faulkner and Love it, our traditional salute to our namesake, this year will be replaced by REMEMBERING THE FAULKNERS!, an old fashioned southern wake in memory of Dean Faulkner Wells, niece of Nobel Laureate William Faulkner. Ms. Wells died July 27 after being hospitalized for a collapsed lung. Ms. Wells was adopted and raised as a daughter by William Faulkner after her father Dean, Faulkner’s younger brother, was killed in an airplane crash. The evening will close with 8:30 p. m. — Hotel Monteleone, Queen Anne Ballroom.

This is just a summary of highlights for two days of the five day festival. For more events Wednesday through Sunday, or more details on these visit the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society website. Follow Odd Words here, on Facebook (click the Like! button) and Twitter (Odd_Words) for bulletins and links to coverage of the best of the festival.

Odd Words: The Louisiana Book Festival November 7, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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This piece will also appear on NolaVie.com
We might as well begin the way noted humorist and author Roy Blount, Jr., started his interview with Louisiana Writer Award winner James Wilcox: “This probably should go really badly.”

Trying to cover all of the Louisiana Book Festival is as hopeless as trying to see every artist, visit every vendor and food booth you would like on a single day at Jazz Fest. There is simply too much to choose from and only so much time. The “cubes” for this year’s one day Festival covered two pages. There were 228 featured authors, 112 literary events, five films, a cooking tent, children’s events and a tent hosting a writing program for school age children as well as a music stage in back. All of this was spread out between the State Capitol Building, the Louisiana State Library and Museum. The grassy mall between those buildings was covered with 86 vendor tables featuring Louisiana publishers, independent authors and a dozen tents. “A comeback year,” is how State Librarian Rebecca Hamilton described this year’s festival, and from all those numbers it returned in a big way.

The only way to successfully enjoy such a packed day is to pick your highlights, and stop in at as many other venues, tents and vendors as luck places along your route. If you are going to choose a ‘Big Event’ to peg the rest of your day to, what better choice could there be than an interview with the festival’s Louisiana Writer Award winner James Wilcox conducted by Roy Blount, Jr.? If vaudeville were ever revived and Blount decided to take his act to the stage, he could not find a better straight man than Hammond, La. born Wilcox, a graduate of Yale and a Guggenheim Fellow who has written nine powerfully comic novels of his own.

“There is something about talking to James Wilcox that is really daunting. This probably should go really badly,” Blount opened his conversation with Wilcox, “because conversations in Jim’s books always go off the tracks. If this were a conversation in one of Jim’s books one of us would have far too little will power and the other far too much, we would both be talking past each other and we would each have a completely erroneous notion of each other which we would be depending on relentlessly, and it would just go way off the tracks, get gloriously incommunicative. And yet somehow Jim or the Great Spirit or somebody would cause this conversation, over the course of the novel, to come to this startling fruition.”

Blount’s prognostication held perfectly true as they ranged over Wilcox’s career. Blount picked aspects of particular books to ask Wilcox comically odd and perfect questions. They touched on his time in New York as an associate editor at Random House and Doubleday, but focused on an anecdote of how the starting junior associate was robbed of a tooth at gun point.

Asked if they thought Southern writers tended toward the very dark (William Faulkner and William Styron) or the comic (Blount, Wilcox, Flannery O’Conner, Rick Bragg), Blount quickly jumped in first: “I think almost all considerable southern writers were funny. Faulkner was funny. And a lot of people refer to Jim as a ‘dark minded Southern writer.’ I argue that Southern writers are all funny. That’s one of the things about southern literature. It mixes darkness and light.”

Wilcox agreed. “Flannery O’Conner… tracing her literary heritage…found herself a literary descendent of Nathaniel Hawthorne, rather than that upbeat [Ralph Waldo] Emerson that [prominent critic Harold] Bloom puts at the center of the American cannon. Everybody else, he has said, is either Emersonian or reacting against Emerson such as Melville or Hawthorne. I think many popular writers and non-Southern writers are Emersonian. They have sensible characters who get in trouble but they’re sensible thinking people. And you don’t find that in [Southern writers].”

As predicted, Blount’s questions and Wilcox answers were as funny as both men’s published work, with Blount insisting at first that Wilcox was a junior (he is not, but shares his father’s first name) and how that experience impacted his characters. They romped through an explanation of why one Wilcox novel is titled Miss Undine’s Living Room when the nominal protagonist is Mrs. Undine, and an exploration of Wilcox’s frequent references to scripture, and how his own upbringing—raised Catholic and once serving as the president of his parish CYO, while playing the organ in his father’s Methodist church—affected his characters.

The other link in my day’s chain of hurrying around the Capitol grounds was to stop into the presentation by photographer and author Lori Waselchuck on her award-winning photo-documentary Grace Before Dying, which chronicles the prisoner-run hospice program at Angola State Penitentiary. Cycling through projections on screens in the room of photographs from the book, she recounted her multiyear journey to chronicle the volunteers who, after doing their 40-hour-a-week prison jobs, make time to care for their dying fellow inmates.

There were gut wrenching photos of the prisoner patients, including one named “Hal” who had spent years in lock down, 23 hours a day alone in a room. Waselchuck captured a smiling Hal and his laughing child interacting through the tiny feeding slot in his cell door, and one photograph captured late in Hal’s life when a security guard relented and allowed his daughters in, so Waselchuck could take one quick family photo of the only physical contact he had with his children in decades.

“Touch in prison is completely frightening because of the lack between trust of people,” Waselchuck explained, and was especially difficult for prisoners who had spent extended time in lockdown without having touched or been touched by another human being for decades. Hospice care requires that the volunteers assist their wards with the simplest tasks such as going to the bathroom and bathing them.

Waselchuck recounted the tale of one prisoner named Charles who had spent over two decades in solitary confinement. “He would not let them touch him. He couldn’t stand on his own and his volunteers tried to take him to the bathroom and they had to let him fall and when they tried to pick him up he would fight them. He was a survivor of confinement and couldn’t stand it. Charles has one of my favorite quotes in the book: ‘Love is a monster. Love is a big old monster’.”

Her photographs included quilts the hospice workers made to fund their program, selling or raffling them at the annual Angola rodeo, which grew out of quilts and pillows they made for their patients. One depicted an elegant, fit-for-royalty horse-drawn carriage hearse, a marvel of polished black wood and gleaming metal trim, built in the Angola carpentry shop. Another showed the special shroud the prisoners made of burgundy velvet, decorated with glitter and lined with lace and satin, that they used to cover the body bag as their patients made their last trip through the corridors of the prison.

Outside of a few key sessions, I spent much of my day visiting with authors in the hallways as they hurried to their own events or those they hoped to catch, snapping photos for the Odd Words collection in Facebook, and by visiting as many of the publishers’ tables as possible. Swearing to buy no more books than would fit in my small shoulder bag, I succeeded only because the book I most wanted— Waselchuck‘s Grace Before Dying—would not fit (and because I am not terribly fond of mass-market bookstores, and it was only available in the Barnes and Noble tent).

Following my personal taste, I began the day with readings by Louisiana poets selected by the state’s new Poet Laureate Julie Kane and ended it with a tribute to New Orleans poet, editor and publisher Maxine Cassin, who passed away in Baton Rouge in March, 2010, a refugee of Katrina. Given the sad state of American poetry, a genre with an audience consisting largely of other poets, these were not the biggest events of the day but were among the most moving. The readers selected by Kane showed an amazing range of powerful voices and against the backdrop of such a large festival demonstrated the strength of this garde arrière of the Louisiana literary scene. The tribute to Cassin, attended by Kane and past Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque included readings by her colleagues, portions of a recorded interview and ended touchingly with her son Dan Cassin—a cellist with the Baton Rouge Symphony—playing a melancholy passage of Beethoven. Listening and looking out over the green Capitol grounds toward the river, it was a good way to end the day.

Mark Folse is a contributer to NolaVie, an author, editor or contributor to several anthologies of essays, as well as a poet. He publishes the weekly Odd Words listing of literary and book events in New Orleans, which just reached its 100th entry in two years, every Thursday on his blog ToulouseStreet.net. He can be reached at odd.words.nola@gmail.com.

Great Gutenberg’s Ghost November 5, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, lyric essay, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Toulouse Street, Writing.
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image

Click to open image and read.

P.P.S Yes, I misspelled Gutenberg. I think the careful exercise of typewriting will ultimately do much to break me of lazy computer habits.

Quiting the Paint Factory November 3, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Odd Words, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“I have been wading in a long river, and my feet are wet.”
~Sherwood Anderson

If the promised posts (for the blog, and for NolaVie who produced the credential letter that got me in the Louisiana Book Festival author’s party) do not appear today it is because I am on the couch reading this instead.

You should, too. If you’re reading this at work, you’re halfway there. Print this out, take it to the comfy couches in the elevator lobby and if necessary prop your phone against your ear so you look busy. Or find an empty conference room, close the door and pretend you’re on a meeting.

And read it.

H/T to TheRumpus.

Odd Words November 3, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Well, good heavens, Miss Flannery: Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them. There’s many a best seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher. ~Flannery O’Connor

I should have saved that quote for the write-up of the Louisiana Book Festival I promise to get right on after I finish this, as it ties in nicely with a discussion in the question and answer section of Roy Blount Jr.’s interview with Louisiana Writer Award winner James Wilcox, but I just saw it and couldn’t resist.

On another note, this is the 100th edition of Odd Words. I was thinking of celebrating this by drinking 100 Pyrate Shots at 17 Poets! tonight and extemporaneously recreating the poem Mystic Pig from the novel of the same title, but I’m not sure that’s such a great idea. I think after the sixth or seventh shot you would get Vogon poetry. Its hard to believe I have been putting together Odd Words for over two years and one hundred entries. Its a lot of work and all I ask is if you stop in here Thursdays to check out the listings, that you help spread the word, send your events to odd.words.nola@gmail.com and make all this work worthwhile.

& Tonight at 7:30 pm 17 Poets! at the historic Goldmine Saloon will feature Nigerian native and UNO Professor Niyi Osundare’s reading and signing of his new book, City Without People (Black Widow Press, 2011). Osundare is a powerful poet and performer, and his book captures the experience of The Federal Flood in language that is vernacular and direct and yet incredibly musical, evocative and cathartic. He is truly a “people’s poet” in the sense much of the rest of the world honors but which America does not. Highly recommended.

& I’m not crazy for the celebrity chef trend, although my son and I once avidly watched Iron Chef every week. While the proliferation of food shows on cable television have taken the celebrity chef far past Julie Child or even Emeril LeGasse into a place I’m not inclined to go (Hey! Let’s watch World’s Deadliest Chef!) John Besh’s MY FAMILY TABLE: A PASSIONATE PLEA FOR HOME COOKING promises a look into his home kitchen, with a focus on eating well in every respect: healthy, fresh and delicious. He is signing with a tasting tonight at Octavia at 6 p.m. If you were wondering what to get me for the holidays and the collected works of C.J. Jung in leather-bound hardback was looking a little pricey, you might consider this.

& If you don’t run into poet and wit and New Orleans original Chris Champagne at 17 Poets! Thursday that’s because he is relaunching the Celebrity Bartender event at Molly’s at the Market on Decatur starting at 7 pm with dollar tacos and Miller Hi-Life’s. Come out and meet the man whose voices the nightmares of Bunny Matthew’s cartoon characters in his satirical performances and poetry in person. At this event Numa unveils his Religion based on Chief Serpas. Timely, unfortunately and Bobby Jindal bingo and GAWD knows what.

& Also tonight, New Orleans novelist James Nolan will read from and sign his book HIGHER GROUND at Garden District Books, starting at 5:30 pm. Described as “a comic noir”, and as “a classic story of individual redemption amid collective destruction” set in a postdiluvian New Orleans, I’ve read a few comparisons to Confederacy of Dunces tossed out. I am very much looking forward to reading this one. Nolan reads and signs again Wednesday, Nov. 9 at 6 p.m. at Octavia Books.

& Friday night kicks off NOLA Bookfair with a book launch party Micheal Patrick Welch’s Y’ALLS PROBLEMS (Dirty Coast) and NEW ORLEANS: THE UNDERGROUND GUIDE VOLUME 2 (University of New Orleans Press) and a whole host of fun I’m not going to retype from the graphic-only notice on the website. You can get all the details here.

&If you missed Chris Champagne at Molly’s don’t miss what he promises will be the last of his satirical NUMA shows on Friday, Nov. 4 upstairs at Bud’s Broiler. $10 bucks cheap, upstairs.

& Downtown Friday night at the Love Lost Lounge, the No Love Lost Poetry Reading hosted by Joseph Bienvenu kicks of at 5:30 p.m., just in time for the bar’s happy hour and opening time for the excellent Vietnamese kitchen in the back.

& Later Friday New Orleans premiere spoken word event Acoustic Fridays the Red Star Gallery, 2513 Bayou Road, hosted every week by Charlie V-Uptowns Illest MC. $7 cover, $5 with college ID

& This weekend is Ladyfest in New Orleans, and the full calendar of events is here. The wide range of music, dance, parades, etc. is too much for me to cover, but I’ll call out the poetry book signing at the Maple Leaf Healing Center location 11 am – 2 pm featuring Valentine Pierce, Lee Grue, Omaira Falcon, and Gina Ferrara; and, the poetry reading at Cafe Istanbul in the Healing Center from 1:45 – 6 pm, so you can dip in and out as you like as a respite from ….

&The NOLA Bookfair this weekend. Again, the full schedule is here but the highlights include readings/signing by Bryan Batt from BIG EASY STYLE at Faubourg Marigny Books & Art 11 am – 1 pm, James Nolan with HIGHER GROUND from 3 – 4 pm also at Otis’ FMB&A, Keith Spera and finally GROOVE INTERRUPTED at Snug Harbor 5 – 6 pm; a over a dozen readers at the Maison all day, including featured authors from Chin Music Press, Lavender Ink Press, Press Street Books and special visiting guests Unlikely Stories from Lafayette. And of course, vendor tables everywhere so you can load up with books by all these authors and more.

& As if there were not enough else going on Saturday, Maple Street Books will present two new entries in the American Girl series of ridiculously expensive collectable dolls, each of which comes with a book telling the girl’s story. The hook here is both of these American Girls are from New Orleans and their stories are set 1853 NOLA, at the height of the Yellow Fever outbreak. Cecile and Marie-Grace! join their American Girl book authors Sarah Masters Buckey and Denise Lewis Patrick, a NOLA native, at the flagship store. We will be having a tea party with lemonade, cakes, and sandwiches! Buckey wrote Meet Marie-Grace, Marie-Grace and the Orphans, and Marie-Grace Makes a Difference. Patrick wrote Meet Cecile, Troubles for Cecile, and Cecile’s Gift.

& And for more confusion and frustration than trying to figure out the best day’s Jazz Fest Cubes, Saturday also brings science fiction writer David Brin to the Contralow Con” in Gretna this weekend. If you have to ask what a con is, never mind. If you see someone dressed up as a Vogon Poet, it’s not me. I swear. Brin was also a guest on this week’s The Reading Life and you can catch him via the podcast if you can’t make the science fiction fan convention.

& On Sunday, the thirty-year’s strong Maple Leaf Poetry Series features Poet/fiction writer Jonathan Penton, founder of http://www.unlikelystories.org will be reading with Wendy Taylor Carlisle, Michael Harold, Kristina Marshall, Clare L. Martin and Frankie Metro. These folks will also be at the Bookfair but that’s not excuse not to unwind after Saturday’s frantic literary phantasmagoria with a cold one on the coolest patio in town.

& On Monday, Nov. 9 you can get your Gothic crime/horror fix with John Connolly Signing two new titles, BURNING SOUL and THE INFERNALS, at Garden District Books at 5:30 pm.

&On Tuesdays don’t miss Susan Larson’s The Reading Life show on WWNO-FM at 6:30 pm, and if you do (shame on you) catch the rebroadcast at 12:30 pm Saturdays, and the podcasts here.

& On Tuesday, Nov. 8 The New Orleans Center for Creative Aarts will present poet Toi Derricotte and novelist Patrick Thomas Casey at 7:00 P.M. Toi Derricotte’s latest book is The Undertaker’s Daughter. She is the author of four previous collections of poetry and is the recipient of fellowships from both the National Endowment of the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. With Cornelius Eady, she founded the Cave Canem Foundation for African American poets. Patrick Thomas Casey is the author of the novel Our Burden’s Light, published by St. Martins. He lives in the Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans with his wife and two children. All this goes down in the Black Box Theatre at NOCCA, 2800 Chartres Street at 7 p.m. Maple Street Books will be on hand to sell the author’s works.

& Just so you don’t forget, James Nolan will read from and sign his book comic noir, postdiluvian novel HIGHER GROUND at Octavia Books at 6 pm Wednesday.

If all this doesn’t have your worn out just reading about it, don’t forget that Faulkner House’s annual Words & Music Festival is next weekend. And you’re missing Casa Azul’s Festival of Words this weekend in Grand Cocteau just north of Lafayette (New Orleans poet Valentine Pierce is among those attending).

Now if I can just get back to typing up those Louisiana Book Fair notes from last weekend for NolaVie.com and the blog without inter-eruptions, and figure out how to lure my 16 year old son out to get himself some culture this weekend. I think a Buffa Burger and books bribe may be required.

They’re all wasted November 3, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, music, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“There once was a note. Listen.”
–Peter Townsend, “Pure and Easy”

Below is the version of Teenage Wasteland originally written for Peter Townsend’s concept performance/rock opera Lifehouse, which in most of its versions is about a dystopic future in which everyone is living connected to The Grid, inside suits that isolate them one from the other. All of their experiences take place alone in tubes to which the suits can connect. Some of the lyrics are familiar, some you have probably not heard before. You can find them here. The antidote to this dystopia is the emergency of an old guru who remembers ancient rock-and-roll, and its cathartic, Dionysian power.

In some ways the prescient concept of Matrix (if not the rest of the story line) captures this moment perfectly.

I think of my own children, slaves of the Grid realized, the careful constructs of cable television and Internet. Controlled by media conglomerates, the Grid stands ready to package and sell them commoditized lifestyles of conformist rebellion suited to their particular taste, from the decadently preppy world of leering models at American Apparel to the depths of industrial goth. Come on in, kid, we have just what you need to rebel and conform all at the same time.

We of their parents generation still live in a personal era in which rock-and-roll is not the forgotten art of the Lifehouse or a carefully scripted commercial soundtrack, but in which the healing power of a song called on in a moment of distress is like that of prayer, with the promise of being born again not in the spirit of the Xianists but as cleansed and refreshed human beings, eyes and hearts open. That was Townsend’s concept for Lifehouse. At its best and before the media conglomerates absorbed the genre rock-and-roll was about not about unbridled freedom (an inverted nihilistic illusion) but about a genuine rebellion, a rejection of the past in favor of a future of possibility, a future still malleable to the hands of people (not just the children) seeking and ready to make the world their own place. It is an idea that must not be allowed to die.

Forgotten Mausoleum November 2, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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From behind I could not tell if it was a cloak-draped Pieta, or from its diminutive size, some sort of gnome. The other women, eldest daughter and daughter-in-law, stood with our mother while David and I wandered off to reconnoiter with the restlessness of men. We had gotten lost trying to find the tomb, and we had both gone off to establish our exact position on the map. He went off one way and I circled around the other to determine first what was atop the mausoleum.

It turned out to be a draped urn crowning the neoclassical pediment, beneath which was the arc of a carved banner inset that bore no visible sign of inscription or or mortar traces of a lost carving piece. A frieze of Justice was set into the pediment beneath the curved arc, suggesting the shared mausoleum of some ecumenical legal order. Greenwood is a civic rather than religious cemetery, established in 19852 by The Firemen’s Charitable & Benevolent Association. The pediment is slowly being consumed by black mold from each end.

The ovens are mostly unlabeled, the stone fronts pieces long gone, revealing the brick and mortar that seale the individual internments. The last legible internment was in 1999, and the oldest Grace McNulty, 1921, who left her husband Walter G. McNulty a widow until he passed in 1963. I suggest is was an ecumenical mausoleum not only because it was in Greenwood and bore no religious adornment, but also because of one well set of deeply worn fronts piece bearing inscriptions in Arabic and English for Rahael and Kahlil Zaney, died 1921 and 1936 respectively

Greenwood (and St. Patrick No. 1, which I visited later) were moderately busy with visitors, mostly the elderly with a handful of middle-aged daughter with parents in tow. The burials at Greenwood and St. Patrick seemed to fall into three categories: The neat Perpetual Care tombs with their small brass plaques, with fresh coats of whitewash over the stones; those showing signs of family maintenance–fresh flowers or abandoned glass vases, the scattered marble fragments of the low raised graves free of weeds and debris; and the clearly abandoned, some no longer bearing any label of who is buried there. There were no flowers at this mostly forgotten musoleum at midday, no sign of anyone one to have the blackening stone pressure washed or replace the lost fronts pieces.

I saw no children until late in the afternoon, wandering St. Patrick No. 1 looking for another family tomb. where Seymour “Cy” Joseph Mathe and Stella Hilbert, my grandfather’s eldest sister whom we children knew in their later day as “Aunt Taunte”. Their names do not appear on the raised grave beneath the stone carved Hilbert Comeaux, but there is a traditional flower urn bearing the initials SJM. There is nothing to indicate Aunt Taunte is buried there. I left a small pot of Rouses mums, screwing it into the earth inside the raised stone box, and poured out a bottle of water, hoping perhaps they would root. I doubt it.

When I was wandering St. Patrick on the wrong side of Canal Street, relying on my mother’s nod to the Uptown side when she mentioned that tomb, I saw one young man in a Jesuit uniform with his parents, but clearly even the Parochial Schools no longer observe All Saints Day as a holiday, much less the public schools, although my sister observed that in her day even those were closed because so many children were absent.

My nephew and his wife had driven eight hours from Nashville in part to visit his grandfather and his Uncle Paul, my brother, in Greenwood. he had hoped I could pull the children out of school but Matthew was sick and I did not want him to miss his science tutor during homeroom that afternoon, and Killian had classes. The Jesuits of Loyola also do not observe All Saints Day as holiday from class. I am sure there was a Mass (which I am certain my daughter did not attend) but the centuries-old tradition of visiting the family tombs is off their radar.

Next year I will make sure they come, and that we visit the Hilbert Comeaux tomb as well. I will have their grandmother tell them the story of her girlhood visits to the Plaquemines Parish plantations where they lived (Cy built Stella, later the home of the one of the Perez brothers) for his bride in the 1920s. In my mother’s youth the house and grounds of Stella were kept for the Mathe’s by an old black couple who had stayed on after Emancipation, and she treasured the rides (forbidden by her father but taken anyway) in front of her uncle on the saddle of his great black stallion Midnight.

Stella Hilbert Mathe may not have her name on the tomb, but what is remembered lives.

Somewhere It Is Tuesday November 1, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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Tonight we have mimicked and mocked death.

Tomorrow (this morning) we go to our city in minature cemeteries to be with our dead, and then have lunch in their honor.

Somewhere else in America it is Tuesday.

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