The Kingdom of God Is A Hand. February 9, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Carnival, Central City, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Dr.Martin Luther King Charter Schol, Hope, Ruby Bridges
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The evening begins with Ruby Bridges and ends with this picture of two young men in the Dr. Martin Luther King Charter School Marching Band. I wonder how many in the crowd remember who Bridges is, the small girl sent by parents as obedient as Abraham through the spit and vitriol walk to Golgotha past the Ku Klux mothers, into the segregated 1960 William Frantz Elementary School in the Ninth Ward. This evening she rides a float of honor in a Carnival parade staged by women the eldest of whom were likely raised like myself in Catholic and suburban schools as white as 1960 William Frantz and everyone in the crowd and on the floats likes to think we are far past all that.
The two unnamed young men attend a Ninth Ward school named for the famous civil rights leader, a school as uniformly black as William Frantz was white in 1959, a new school in the charter anarchy unleashed after the Federal Flood in the name of free-market reform. I wonder if their parents, likely raised in the Bantustan New Orleans Public School System and turned loose after their allotted sentence with half an education, carefully reviewed the dozens of new schools before selecting this one, or if they chose it because of Dr. King’s name, because it opened in the mostly de-peopled Ninth Ward, its name and location a symbol of a struggle that began in 1960 but which has never really ended.
The pair stopped right in front of me on St. Charles Avenue and 2nd Street during a stop in the parade, the older keeping up the parade rest beat while verbally schooling the younger one who struggled to keep up. I study the picture for some resemblance, perhaps they are brothers, but I don’t find any and think a wise band director chose to place the novice next to the older one, someone willing to take the younger under his wing and teach him the ropes. The seriousness of his face before I raise my phone camera as he speaks to the younger, all the while keeping up the rigorous tattoo, the way the younger one tries hard to match the drum strokes, shows the older to be someone with the innate authority to lead by example. He will make a fine teacher or preacher or military officer someday, in one of the few openings in America where the color of character really matters.
When I raise my camera the young men are both suddenly eyes-front and Marine Band erect, representing at their best. In a city where too many young men his age mistake fear for respect, he has mine immediately, both as teacher of the tradition and as the clearly proud person picture who wears his uniform patches as if they were a Nike swoosh drawn by the hand of God. It’s not fair to judge their school or the entire charter school movement by one young man but I have to think that the Dr. King school is doing something right. His pride and discipline shine like the best military band or ROTC unit you will see this carnival. His willingness to take responsibility for the younger drummer while never missing a beat, the way he snaps to attention and the young one follows his lead, is a badge of character as clear as the letters on his jacket, stands out from the crowd like the white plum on his hat.
I can’t help but think of how the most successful charter schools cherry pick students, of all the kids left behind in the Orleans Parish and Recovery School Districts, the ones unlucky enough to land in a corporate McDonald’s charter to be processed like so much meat, those who wind up bleeding out on someone’s porch over slights real or imagined. The teacher Jesus did not set out to save the whole world. Translations later he is said to proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand but I have to wonder if he meant his own hand; take this, he said, and be lifted up. Someone has lifted this young man up and he extends his to the younger and even as I type up this years list of the murdered I find in the middle of a Carnival parade not a moment of escape but a moment of hope.
Odd Words Update January 13, 2013Posted by Mark Folse in 504, art, literature, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, publishing.
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A correction & an addition: Special Tea at 4337 Banks Street is now the home of Spoken Word New Orleans’ Sunday event. They also host another event on Wednesdays:
& Wednesday nights from 7-10 Lyrics and Laughs bridges comedy and poetry featurig performers from both genres at Special Tea, 4337 Banks St.
& The new Sunday show from Spoken Word New Orleans is Poetry and Paint Brushes. Poets perform as our resident artists paints the crowd and performers. Also at Special Tea, 4337 Banks Street. No longer at the Bayou Road location.
If you host events be sure to keep email@example.com in he loop.
Geomythograpy of Scholarship March 6, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in 504, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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I want to tell you about geomythography.
No, don’t look it up. It’s not in the dictionary. Geomythography is a term coined by one of my professor’s. Any use or rebroadcast of this term without the express permission of Professor Hazlitt will get you in a hole lot of trouble. Or not.
I think you get the general idea. Let’s start with the geomythograpy of my house. Actually, my house is probably more a subject for physical anthropology than textual analysis, but that will be apparent shortly.
When you walk into my house, you get the immediate impression that a well trained simian has been carefully stacking various pieces of paper into piles to show his native intelligence. Then again it may simply show that, having finished scratching his ass and picking off his lice, he is bored and has nothing better to do than to arrange scholarly articles into neat stacks according to the orientation of the Xerox(1) imnge, and the size of the book copied.
As I have done this and not said simian, it serves to demonstrate the diligent work of a scholar. Either that or I am busy trying not to read the articles, highlighter in hand, to actually do something with them.
I made a point this morning to wipe down the TV tables that serve as end and coffee tables with Clorox spray so that the articles would not stick to the surface the way the 3 x 5 cards did last night. As I learned last week (once again demonstrating my expansive reading) John Muir would not like me very much as he had a fascination with dirt and cleanliness that approached OCD. He certainly would take one look at the floor of my house and run screaming toward the nearest tree.
The floor of my bedroom around this computer looks much the same, except that the papers I don’t need immediately are scattered in a haphazard fashion on the floor, where I swept them off the bed last night to go to sleep. You can tell I slept in the bed last night because the quilt is on the floor where I left it this morning, and the sheets are arranged in the manner of rolling hills that would give Mr. Muir infinite delight if he could just get past his little problem and make it into the second room.
On a chair (I think there’s a chair under there) is a pile of clothes I may or may not wear again before I launder them, just across from the overflowing laundry hamper of items which have progressed beyond the magic of Wrinkle Release and generic Febreeze to render wearable. The sheets also need to be changed. I haven’t pulled my son’s sheets either and he’ll be back here Sunday, but that’s the next room. This clearly demonstrates that I am a Careless and Absent Minded Scholar, too busy to be bothered to wash them until absolutely necessary.
The general condition of my room again demonstrates my learning, as I can cite Chaucerian clerk’s (poor scholars that they are) as an excuse for the slovenly condition of my bedroom. Clerks clearly weren’t good for much except swyving (my new favorite word) Millers’ and Reeves’wives and daughters and going on in Latin about Boethius. Unlike medieval clerks, my entire knowledge of Boethius is derived from A Confederacy of Dunces, but that in no way undermines my argument that I am Scholar (Do you sense a theme developing here? Are you sure? Lets look at that passage again.)
My son’s room (excepting the sheets I need to wash before Sunday, the collection of orphan socks that have lain out on our shared dresser for about two weeks now, and a window unit air conditioner I have not yet installed show) that I am not completely a creature of sloth. The still-boxed A/C shows my disregard for personal comfort typical of a person of Above Average Intelligence and of Scholarly Interests, as testified to by the fact that I am perfectly happy to sit here and type (instead of working on that paper) with my feet perfectly comfortable in the pool of sweat down there.
The kitchen is the real find, ready to be carefully excavated with the use of delicate instruments (so as not to scratch the counters) and soft bristle tooth brushes lest something valuable be lost. The counter (in spite of my daily efforts to keep in clean) most closely resembles a wall of Roman graffiti unearthed at Pompeii. It says something like “what a slob” but I don’t read Latin. And I blame the cheap, leaky coffee pot for most of it although I’m pretty sure there is a piece or two of shredded cheese and a bit of Siracha sauce from the modern era (specifically the Lunch Period).
I have managed to do the dishes while my lunch warmed up, demonstrating that I am intelligent enough to avoid working on that pile of papers I must turn into one paper without so much as a single citation to a text on alchemy. Unfortunately, doing the dishes while warming up my lunch means I will head back to the library with dirty dishes in the sink. Again. That I choose the library over washing a single dish and fork clearly demonstrates that I am a Man of Learning who prefers the library to clean dishes, and grabbing just one more book before I start on that damned annotated bibliography.
The kitchen is gaily decorated in Post-It notes, reminding me to do things like pay the bills except those I forget to put up a Post-It note about. The careful organization of a month’s worth of mail (flyers included) provides the model for the organization of my scholarly research. My ability to maintain such a careful system of organization while forgetting to pay the Cox bill is typical of the Intellectual who has better things to do.
I don’t think we want to talk about the bathroom, except to say it will be the very model of porcelain sanitation before my son gets here,even though two men who leave the seat up almost all the time will soon reduce it to a condition usually associated with off-brand gas stations. At least I do a better job when he’s here of keeping up with it. Before he arrives I will carefully stack all of the papers back on the bed and on the couch so that I can vacuum up the crumbs and little scraps of paper. I will probably wipe down everything with some sort of nasty chemical aerosol, demonstrating I am diligent if a bit tardy. Again, I would argue all of this demonstrates that I am a Man of Ideas, who often has his head
up his in some cloud of lofty thought and so only cleans when its absolutely necessary.
I guess it’s time to stop procrastinating and put my clothes back on. You may think that’s more than you wanted to know about my lifestyle but its hot in here. I have to get that damned A/C installed sometime before finals. That gives me until May. I think I can get it taken care of by then.
1) These are true Xerox copies, because I used a true Xerox copier. It said so on the little crawling display which also reminded me to insert some more coins. I’m not sure companies scan the Internet the way they used to do newspapers for misuses of their trademarks but I wish to be prudent. I don’t want to get one of those letters I received long ago at the newspaper informing me that the product Styrofoam has many wonderful uses, but the making of cups is not one of them.
Odd Words: Getting Ready for Words & Music November 7, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Faulkner House, Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society, Words & Music
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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: Updates and Corrections October 21, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, novel, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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I will go back and correct and add these items to Thursday’s column, but one to call out one two omissions not one date goof entirely my own fault.
& On Tuesday, Oct. 25 17 Poets! will host a special Tuesday edition reception and reading for poets en Hofer, Andy Young, and John Pluecker. The event will start with a reception at 7 p.m. with eats and drinks (including, as usual for such events, some Brocatto’s mini-canolli), with the reading at 8 p.m. Locals will know Andy Young as instructor in creative writing at NOCCA and editor of the bilingual English/Arabic literary journal Meena. Her work was recently featured on National Public Radio’s “The World” and published in Best New Poets 2009 (University of Virginia Press), Callaloo, Guernica, and Language for a New Century: Contemporary Poetry from the Middle East, Asia & Beyond (W.W. Norton & Co).
Jen Hofer is a Los Angeles-based poet, translator, interpreter, teacher, knitter, book-maker, public letter-writer, and urban cyclist. Her most recent books are the homemade chapbook Lead & Tether (Dusie Kollektiv, 2011); Ivory Black, a translation of Negro marfil by Myriam Moscona (Les Figues Press, 2011); a series of anti-war-manifesto poems titled one (Palm Press, 2009); sexoPUROsexoVELOZ and Septiembre, a translation from Dolores Dorantes by Dolores Dorantes (Counterpath Press and Kenning Editions, 2008); The Route, a collaboration with Patrick Durgin (Atelos, 2008); and lip wolf, a translation of lobo de labio by Laura Solórzano (Action Books, 2007). Recent poems and translations have appeared in Aufgabe, Mandorla, Or, out of nothing, TRY and with+stand.
John Pluecker is a writer, interpreter, translator and teacher. His work is informed by experimental poetics, radical aesthetics and cross-border cultural production and has appeared in journals and magazines in the U.S. and Mexico, including the Rio Grande Review, Picnic, Third Text, Animal Shelter and Literal. He has published more than five books in translation from the Spanish, including essays by a leading Mexican feminist, short stories from Ciudad Juárez and a police detective novel. There are two chapbooks of his work, Routes into Texas (DIY, 2010) and Undone (Dusie Kollektiv, 2011).
& And then the correction: On Tuesday Oct. 26 Garden District Books offers a two-fer with authors Mark Yakich, and Laura Ellen Scott discussing and signing their respective books A Meaning For Wife, and Death Wishing. The first is the tale of a widowed father of a toddler confronting the past during a visit to his parents for a 20th high school reunion, and Death Wishing gives us a world in which dying wishes come true. Both will also be featured at Antenna Gallery on Wednesday, Oct. 27 at 7 p.m. (And no Laura, I can’t promise to get Greg out in a leather kilt for either, but I’ll do my best.)
Odd Words September 29, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 17 Poets!
Sometimes I read some of the young turk literary blogs like HTML giant–”Tao Lin Tweets a non-meta Tweet!”– and I get this sensation of an emptiness masquerading as…no, not a sensation, a specific visual memory.
Stand up and turn the mechanical rotary dial through all twelve channels. (It is 196x. There is no remote. There are only twelve choices, most of them empty. The images are black-and-white). Between the working channels are the screens of static, the visual representation of the hissing of the absence of a carrier wave. (Someday this will be an art installation entitled “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”. It is 196x. There are no such things as Art Installations.) There is nothing on. Push in the knob marked On/Off/Volume. (It is 196x. There are no accepted ideograms for these functions).
The image collapses into a dot, which slowly fades from the screen.
Before we get to the listings: I drove over to Far Algiers to Studio in the Woods for what I kept calling the Investment Dinner and Reading (not sure what else to call it) launching poet, scholar and journalist Benjamin Morris’ residency at A Studio in the Woods. He turned the event into a surprise book launch for Coronary, a sonnet cycle on the subject of his father’s recent heart attack. A beautiful letter press work by printed by Fitzgerald Press. I will post up a podcast of his reading separately.
so to the listings:
& Tonight I share the podium with poet and publisher Danniel Kerwick at 17 Poets! at the Goldmine Saloon. Danny will read from his new book of poems ATTACH IT TO EARTH. I will read partly from a small, limited edition chapbook PHONO GRAPH which I thought the occasion of my first featured reading called for. There are only 33 numbered copies, so get yours against the odd chance it it will be worth something when I’m dead. Thursday, Sept. 29 7:30 p.m. at the Goldmine Saloon, Dauphine St. at the corner of St. Peter.
& Also this Thursday, Michael Martone – author of twelve books of fiction and nonfiction and contributor to Harper’s, Esquire, The Best American Essays and The Best American Short Stories – will celebrate the release of a new book of short stories, For For a Quarter, along with two of his former students, Michael J. Lee and Christopher Hellwig on Thursday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m. at the Antenna Gallery.
& Rev. Jerome G. LeDoux, formerly of St. Augustin Parish in the Treme, will sign his tale of the battle to save the nation’s oldest predominantly Black parish “War of the Pews” at Farbourg Marigny Art & Books Monday, Oct. 3 7-10 p.
&I don’t normally go much into cookbooks but when natural-born nautical bon vivant Troy Gilbert is on deck its all hands for bad puns and Gilbert, co-author of Cafe Degas Cookbook, singing his tasty work at the Maple Street Book Shop (the one on Maple Street) on Saturday, Troy is also the co-author of New Orleans Kitchens: Recipes from the Big Easy Best Restaurants and Dinner with Tennesee Williams. He will be sharing the signing table with Robert Medina and his New Orleans firehouse cookbook IF YOU CAN’T STAND THE HEAT. Oh, the bad puns I could get out of that but I won’t.
& Also on Saturday, the Milton Latter Library monthly poetry reading organized by Gina Ferrara will feature poets Joel Daily, Brett Evans and Murray Shugars reading their work. Saturday, Oct. 1 at 2 p.m., Milton Latter Memorial Library.
& On Sunday the ALCU will hold their annual Banned Books 2011 Celebration of our Freedom to Read, featuring live readings, trivia, door prizes, drinks, food and more at Raplh’s on the Park, 900 City Park Ave. I have a hard time imaging this event at Ralphs, a rather nice restaurant the bar of which is where the lakefront forty-plus single set mingle. I’ve been with a friend and it’s a bit frightening, as if it were mating season in the hallucinatory lizard bar scene in Fear & Loathing. I plan to go in and order a Hi Life just as a matter of principle, but I don’t expect to get one. Or if I do, it will be $8. If there’s an open mike (I doubt it), I’m going through my Burroughs to see just how committed the sort of people who picked this spot are. Something from the Soft Machine, I think. Sunday, Oct. 2, 5:30 pm.
&On Saturday, Garden District Book Shop will feature Jesmyn Ward signing her novel SALVAGE THE BONES, a family saga set against the backdrop of an approaching hurricane on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Saturday, Oct. 1 at Garden District Book Shop.
& On Sunday the Maple Leaf Bar Poetry Series will post Poet Murray Shugars reads from his work followed by an open mic.
& Who knew two local museums sponsor book clubs? Well you do know. I missed touting the start the the Ogden Book Club’s current title, which began last Tuesday. If you still want to get in on “Approaching the Magic Hour: Memories of Walter Anderson” by Agnes Grinstead Anderson contact firstname.lastname@example.org. And the New Orleans Museum of Art is preparing to start a new book club title he Hare with the Amber Eyes: a Family’s Century of Art and Loss by Edmund de Waal with a special program Thursday, Oct 6. at noon, with the club meetings starting up Wednesday Oct. 12. Contact Sheila Cork at NOMA (who seems to have started up all this museum book clubbing in town) at email@example.com.
& Next Thursday Octavia Books will host ex-pat Catharine Savage Brosman (currently resident in Houston; our condolences) professor emerita of French at Tulane University reading from and signing her eight collection of poems, UNDER THE PERGOLA. She is the author of numerous books of French literary history and criticism, two volumes of nonfiction prose, and seven collections of poetry, including most recently Range of Light and Breakwater. Thursday Oct. 6.at 6 p.m., Octavia Books.
Finally, several writing and manuscript contest and announcements.
& Trembling Pillow Press announces the Bob Kaufman Book Prize, with entries open from Sept
15-Nov 15. There is a 25.00 fee and manuscripts will be judged by Bernadette Mayer. The winning manuscript will be published in 2012 by the press. Online submissions are accepted at the press’ newly redesigned website at tremblingpillowpress.com
& 411 NOLA is sponsoring The Poetic Soul contest in concert with the spoken word event WRITE, NOLA! POETRY FESTIVAL. Judge will be Asia Rainey. The contest encourages young poets with the first guideline: The Poetic Soul Contest accepts entries form all writers aged 14 and up regardless of their location, their level of writing experience and whether or not they have published their work in the past. Poems previously published elsewhere are welcome. Poems must be written or performed in English. There is a $5 poem entry fee and winners will be published on 411 NOLA. There are also cash prizes for first and second place, and winners will also receive copy of Rainey’s book SOUL CHANT.
&Bayou Magazine, the biannual journal of the University of New Orleans creative writing program, announces the third annual James Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and the new Kay Murphy Prize for Poetry. Both contests carry a $500 prize and publication in Bayou Magazine. Both have an entry reading fee that includes a years subscription to the journal. Submissions are open Oct. 1 – Dec. 31. Details are on the website.
I’ll leave these up until the contest closes because writers are such organized people, as evidenced by the fact I am sure I will be back her today or tomorrow going Ah Hell, I Forgot to Include.
See you at the Goldmine or somewhere else around town with all these excellent events. Stop by and say hello. I’m the old fart in a young man’s hat. And please send notices of your events to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Odd Words: Hangover Coda Edition September 15, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
“What is the good of these notebooks? No one tells the truth, not even the one who writes it down.”
– Jules Renard quoted on HTML Giant
Crafty bastards, those Frenchmen. I bought a biography last night (as a present) and had it signed by the charming author, with whom I was having drinks in the Afterwords Bar in Washington, D.C. We talked for quite a while but never touched on the relationship of truth, memory and memoir, talking a good bit more about the writing life, particularly the life of the poet; the particular charms of Oxford, MS; and, comparing notes on various beers we were drinking. As Sandar Beasley’s Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl is a matter-of-life-and-death subject (living with a wide specturm of deadly food allergies), I would assume that she leanrs toward the exceptionally careful, although the creative amplification of a cautionary anecdote would be quickly forgiven.
Odd Words will be delayed due to the jazz jam session at HR 57 on H Street N.E. in Washington, D.C. I read this with the band, and the drummer offered to get me back to the hotel in time for my 8 a.m. meeting if I would stay and read some more, an offer I kindly declined and I really need to get some sleep.
I may have to abandon some clothes after my trip to Kramer Books & Afterwords, where I had the pleasure of a couple of beers with the marvelous poet and excellent drinking companion Sandra Beasley, who recommended HR 57 (thank you).
& Tonight 17 Poets! at the Goldmine Saloon features Louisiana’s new Poet Laurette Julie Kane. Jazz Funeral (Story Line Press, 2009), which won the Donald Justice Poetry Prize; Rhythm & Booze (University of Illinois Press, 2003), Maxine Kumin’s selection for the National Poetry Series and a finalist for the Poets’ Prize; and Body and Soul (Pirogue, 1987).
She is also the co-editor, with Grace Bauer, of Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Possum: Critical and Creative Responses to Everette Maddox (Xavier Review Press, 2006), which was a finalist for the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Poetry Prize; and the associate editor for 20th-century poetry of Voices of the American South, the Longman anthology of Southern literature (2005). With Kiem Do, she co-authored the nonfiction Vietnam memoir Counterpart: A South Vietnamese Naval Officer’s War (Naval Institute Press, 1998), which became a History Book Club Featured Alternate Selection. She is currently Professor of English at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, La. a feat of geographcial courage that should be remembered among the notable polar explorers. Thursday, Sept. 15 at 17 Poets! at the Goldmine Saloon, 7:30 p.m.
& Just because you should be as least as conflicted as I am, trapped in Virginia far away from all this, I will point out that 17 Poets is scheduled up against Ogden After Hours, which tonight featurers. Ogden After Hours – John Sinclair, John Sinclair author, poet and activist John Sinclair (born October 2, 1941, in Flint, Michigan) mutated from small-town rock’n’roll fanatic and teenage disc jockey to cultural revolutionary, pioneer of marijuana activism, radical leader and political prisoner by the end of the 1960s. Known locally in New orleans for his spoken word, Sinclair comes home for a set at the O. It does start at 6 p.m. and readings don’t usually start at 17 Poets! until 8, so you really should go for a two-point conversion here.
&Also tonight, if you’re addicted to Game of Thrones, have devoured every volume of that series, Maple Street Bookstore’s Maple Street location invites you to meet the author C.S. Friedman who presents the third in her Magister Trilogy, Legacy of Kings, on Thursday, September 15, 2011, 6:00 P.M. Sped through A Dance with Dragons? Try this trilogy on for size. It already feels weird typing “at their Maple Leaf location.”
& Friday at Octavia books Tiff Holland discusses and signs her collection of stories, BETTY SUPERMAN. “The stories in…are true, except when they’re not. They’re based on Holland’s relationship with her mother, a story arc all its own, only Betty isn’t her mother and Holland’s not the narrator, not completely. Over the course of the chapbook, both Betty and the narrator suffer from serious illnesses. One of them is recovering; one of them is not. Consequently, they’ve ended up spending more time together. They have “adventures,” as Betty calls them. They inexplicably find themselves in Betty’s red PT Cruiser driving around to Walgreen’s and Cracker Barrel, selling gold for cash, and pumping gas. In unsentimental and percussive prose, Holland examines Betty as character, dragon lady, and mother. ” I will be a few minutes past closing the cabin door at Richmond International Airport at 6 p.m. but this sounds irresistably interesting. Friday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m., Octavia Books.
& Also on Friday Vincent Cellucci will read from his new book of poetry about a journey through New Orleans, An Easy Place to Die on Friday, September 16, 2011, 6:00 P.M. Cellucci has the first “book trailer” I’ve seen for a New Orleans poet.
& Tuesday at Octavia meet David Gessner: environmental advocate, provocateur, and author of My Green Manifesto. Beyond the oil-soaked pelican, beyond the burning oil rig, beyond mainstream coverage of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, there lies a deeper story. At the height of this record-setting catastrophe, Gessner——came to the Gulf in search of that story, and what he found was heartbreaking: the region’s once thriving ecosystem had been devastated, but the cause was much larger and more complex than one isolated accident. Part absurdist travelogue, part manifesto, THE TARBALL CHRONICLES is more than anything a love letter to the Gulf. I think this will end up on the essential Louisiana shelf alongside Mike Tidwell’s Bayou Farewell.
& Mark your calendars for September 25, 5:30 to 7:30 pm when The Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society will lift glasses in honor of our namesake, William Faulkner on his birthday. Remember Faulkner House requests an RSVP for their events to email@example.com.
& I guess it’s safe to post this now that I have my tickets, but the New Orleans Museum of Art is bringing back its Bestoff Sculture Garden performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in October. And, this being in New Orleans, the weather will likely cooperate. This sold out quickly last time (I missed it) so you had best get over the Eventbrite and get your tickets before they are all gone again.
Until I can finish Odd Words for this week go to your bookshelf and select a book you love. Let it fall open to the page the book chooses and read what is revealed aloud to the Moon and Venus which are gorgeous in the midnight sky tonight. That will be this week’s feature literary event.
On second thought, go back and read that last struck out paragraph and take immediate action, before the moment splips away
New Orleans Poetry Summit Podcast September 6, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 17 Poets!
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17 Poets! presented a display of New Orleans literary magazines and bric-a-brac dating back to the early 20th Century on Sept. 1, together with a panel drawing together host Dave Brinks with fellow notable local poets Bill Lavendar, Lee Meitzen Grue, Dennis Formento, Kalamu ya Salaam, John Clarke and Dr. Jerry Ward. Below is a podcast of the discussion panel. It’s unedited audio directly from my digital recorder (I’m not an audio tech) so apologies in advance for any quality issues.
Some photos are here on Facebook.
The Cereal Box Compulsion September 5, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, literature, Odd Words, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Harper's Magazine, The Daily Rumpus
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You know the one: sitting at the table without something to read at hand and you devour every word on the Raisin Bran box while absentmindedly spooning the cereal into your mouth. And you find yourself wondering, just before lunch, what it was you had for breakfast.
I was catching up on Stephen Elliott’s Daily Rumpus emails and he mentioned a story about how to avoid the cheap literary trick of a middle aged character revisiting an old habit or haunt and wondering why they don’t do that or go there anymore. He pointed to a story, Thom Jones’ I Want To Live, as an exceptional example of how not to do that.
I search for the story and discover the book that contains it on Amazon (but I don’t shop on Amazon, at least not for books) and the appearance of the story in Harper’s Magazine. I click on the Harper’s link but of course it’s behind a pay wall. I could subscribe, I am reminded, for as little as $16.97 a year, about what I might pay for a Very Good or better copy of the book on Alibris with shipping. Or I could subscribe to Harper’s online.
I used to read Harper’s faithfully for many years but somewhere along the way I let the subscription drop. It was always worth the cost for the stories, for the essay by Lewis Lapham when he was editor, for a thoughtful and well written exploration of some current event. The problem now is that current events bore me. Politics bore me. Peoples bore me/literature bores me, especially great literature,/Henry bores me,/with his plights & gripes/as bad as Achilles,/who loves people and valiant art, which bores me…
Where was I? Oh, yes, why I don’t read magazines much unless the cell signal is poor at the dentist. Keep me away, please, from anything having to do with current affairs. Anything datelined Washington, D.C. leaves me regretting I threw out my moldy copy of The Anarchist Cookbook and grinding my teeth furiously. I have a new subscription to The Believer and each copy lives on my kitchen table, ensuring I do not have to resort to the cereal box. I love my Oxford American. Beyond that, I simply can’t seem to sustain a magazine.
My sister takes The New Yorker and dutifully passes them on to me for the stories and poetry. I subscribe to a few literary journals and now The Believer and Oxford American (the last a gift from my sister). Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to resubscribe to Harpers. There aren’t many places left that publish stories and poetry, and they will not survive without subscribers.
Or perhaps I will buy another book. I spend far to much on books lately (My mother calls. I take my mail at her address. You have another package, she says gaily, with the unspoken message that a virtually blind 87-year old has had to wrestle the damn thing out of the postal box in her building’s lobby). I have a pile that I am beginning to transfer onto a special shelf, the ones I have yet to read.
I look forward to the day in late October when I will turn in my badge and Blackberry to Moloch when I really should be looking forward to another job. If I didn’t have a decent severance, I would be scanning the online job listings instead of typing into this screen but I need a sabbatical very badly, and relish having a chance at least to catch up no that pile of books. As I suggested earlier, perhaps I will turn this circumstance into a true sabbatical dedicated to reading and writing, but I have not yet conjured a plan to make that possible.
Everything I have done in my adult life-journalism, politics, IT and lately the corporate grind of banking–have worn my out beyond my years. I divide my day into coffee, try not to drink more coffee so late in the day [fail], and a drink or two at the end of the day to take the edge off the coffee. Why does the father in the television series The Wonder Years always come home and make a drink? Why does every middle-aged character done slogging through another day always make a drink? To take the edge off the coffee that made their day possible. I think of the Wonder Years because the character was one year ahead of me and I always identified closely with the show, but now I am the father.
I still can’t make up my mind between Harper’s and another book, but one thing is certain. I will buy one or the other even though I am over budget (again) this month, for the same reason I purchased a membership to the New Orleans Museum of Art last Spring when I thought my job would end in May, and another to the Ogden just this month. Come October I will have time on my hands to fill, time that will be spent well, and best spent at the only thing that keeps my day from starting with a drink instead of a coffee: studying the craft of writing and writing. Only by that resolution can the rest take care of itself.
Originally intended to publish tomorrow so as not to crowd the earlier piece but since it slipped out onto Facebook and Twitter (with a link back) I might as well let it go.
Rise Up Singing August 29, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Dancing on this day because we must.
Here on Toulouse Street, We Remember with all the joy that is New Orleans.
Remember August 29, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember.
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This image is (c) 2006 by Mark A.Folse and free for all non-commercial use and posting on all blogs. Please circulate widely.
Lucky August 28, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: W, Waiting for Godot
Survivor guilt is a peculiar condition. I am one of a small handful of avid New Orleans partisans who lost nothing in 2005 except our minds. Two of us moved home, the third completed his interrupted relocation to New Orleans. To this day I ask myself (as every man who has not served does as he scatters popcorn on the floor watching an old war movie): what if I was there? What would I have done? Would I be equal to the task.
If I knew the answer to the question I would have grabbed Ray by the lapels and slammed him to the wall until I could tell him, and I expect he would have done the same. The third of us died never knowing the answer. I think of Ray gutting house after house in the miserable heat, of Ashley always in the front rank banging his spear against his shield, taunting our enemies. Did Ashley die in part because of that lingering doubt, the drive to prove himself not just the equal but of the first rank? Did they do this because of that survivor guilt, because (as Ray once explained eloquently) we were not at Bastogne?
What did you ever do? I was once asked in anger. Did you gut a house? Did you volunteer for habitat? All you did was write, she said, and that’s true: all I did was write, vaporous words that amount to what? Perhaps that is why I am haunted by this video, why I was heart-broken when the original poster took it down from You Tube (and perhaps some copyright holder will be on my case in the morning, demanding I do the same).
I missed the production of Waiting for Godot in the Gentilly Lakefront in 2006, unable to drag a collection of friends away from drinks in the back yard in time to get in, and I have been disappointed about that every since. What better place to watch Godot than in the Ninth Ward or in the brown fields of broken Gentilly, but perhaps there was a healing in that evening I missed, people too busy lingering as we will over cocktails to be on time. I look back and I understand it was better that way, ending up at the Circle Bar listening to Gal Holiday instead of experiencing the existential angst of Godot on a flooded lot.
On good days Radiohead’s Lucky runs through my head. Those are the good days. I feel my luck could change. Its gonna be a glorious day.
Still, I am haunted by this video. When I was searching for another post on Wet Bank Guide I was reminded it was gone from the Internet, and I went searching, finally finding the entire Beckett on Film version in slices online, finding the complete set on Amazon and spending a hundred dollars I don’t have to order it, spending more money on an online service that let me scrape this off to edit down to what is for me the essential speech, the question I will spend the rest of my life answering.
Was I sleeping while the other ones suffered?
In all that what truth will there be?
The air is full of our cries.
Une Saison en Enfer August 27, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: August, summer
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If Hell has a season, dear Authur, it is the last of August: black asphalt, the squinting light of bright concrete, scalding metal. A layer of cotton armor beneath our shirt to pretend we do not sweat, handkerchief at the ready to mop brow and hat band at every block, feet swelling in leather shoes.
This week it is every day into the office, visitors from the capitol, training my replacement. Come October my job moves to a city in Virginia thought safe from natural disasters, and my masters are rewarded with an earthquake. Image of the Earth over Water. The lake trembles before the mountain. Joy in the Misfortune of Others. I pray for the Atlantic hurricane to jog left and imagine their panic when there is no power for Moloch’s vast central campus for weeks on end.
Somewhere above on a shady ledge a crow calls.
There are no prospects in August. Here people do as little as possible if they are not in fact vacationing on some cool mountain or a laying in the reliable sea breeze of a beach. I scan the papers and prowl the online job sites but I am a paper tiger. The gazelle are elsewhere in August, laying in the mud around some watering hole, and I remain. I fold the paper, undisturbed by breeze on the table, light another cigarette and imagine clerking in some dim and cool used bookstore.
Escape into some dark bar, cold beer in glasses wet with condensation. Hold the cool against your forehead, then drink deep. Drink too deep and too long and August will have its revenge: too much coffee in the morning and the frog march ten blocks into the office racing against the clock. Sweat penetrates your wife beater and soaks your work shirt, and the calm lawyers with shady indoor parking step back as if there were three feverish men in stained hats and not just yourself.
There is relief come October, when the heat retreats back to its tropical winter quarters, but you imagine walking from the office to the car one last time and file that thought away like a bill, minimum payment made. Better to live in this moment: admire the glinting of a hundred years of beer bottles, understand the unraveling that leaves the sidewalks broken in New Atlantis, greet the crows that haunt the downtown canyons. Imagine the flash of brass instruments later in the streetlight. Come sundown, stripped to sandals, shorts and beater, taunt August beneath the cold moonlight. Forget Moloch and dance while you can and the heat be damned, for tomorrow you may not hear the crows.
Monday, Monday August 22, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Godot, Moloch, Monday
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The 18th Floor
Monday is a day of conversations at the copier and coffee pot everyone reluctant to start the work week in earnest, the elevators and coffee shop full at 8:15 and no one looks like an early rising lawyer. Any sense of excitement is centered in the past, in the game Saturday and how much fun Sunday. I don’t think we’re unique in this but I sense none of Monday’s hunched hustle I see when I visit ‘Moloch’s central precinct in Virginia, that current of urgency that sweeps the malingerers back to their desks.
I lived for years in the mid-Atlantic. While Richmond is well in from the coast I know the main difference in our summers is duration, the sultry Gulf Stream sweeping the Caribbean up the coast but the proximity of DC and Virginia to the Anglo metroplex that runs along I-95, country overrun with the army ants of of the Yankee work ethic, overwhelms the wise grasshoppers resting in the shade for an evening of music on the porch.
Nothing to be done, not even a convenient tree and rope. Nothing to be done except a flow chart, a report and meetings. If one is going to spend the day in existential angst the company of Estragon, the hope of Godot, would be something.
And so I stretch my cigarette break past the reasonable and write this instead, and dream of a carrot waiting at the end of the day after the dull turnips of work.
ESTRAGON: I can’t go on like this.
VLADIMIR: That’s what you think.
My Peculiar Education August 17, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Fortuna, Red Garland
“Only in New Orleans can you play Red Garland on the jukebox of your corner bar, and have someone walk in 2 minutes later and say, ‘hey, is that Red Garland?’.”
– musician and WWOZ host Jeff “Snake” Greenburg
I love jazz but I am in no way a student of it. I am a reader of liner notes (remember those?) but I don’t commit them or discographies to memory, cannot list every group in which John Coltrane played or everyone who passed through Miles Davis’ bands.
Like most of my education the accretion of jazz around my life has been a matter of serendipitous accident, like waking up this morning and checking Facebook to find a post by local musician Jeff Greenburg quoted above, wondering who Red Garland is. The name is familiar. I am certain to have read it before but I do not recall his role as pianist to Miles Davis or his work with John Coltrane but again I am not an aficionado, a fan who can call up the entire Blue Note catalog like the batting stats of the 1950s New York Yankees.
When I was a a teenager there were no hot brass bands. Jazz was to me Pete Fountain and Al Hirt, the entirely square music of our parents. Little did I know that by falling into the Grateful Dead and Frank Zappa, by the intersection of John McLaughlin and Miles Davis, I would find myself years later owning as much Jazz as I do anything else even if my own collection is as idiosyncratic (go ahead, say it: Odd) as my collection of poetry.
How marvelous to live in a city where you can hear fabulous jazz in a neighborhood dive, to be able to ask someone who that is and the next thing you know you have a new Miles Davis album, and you are reminded to return to work on your Miles poem for the series of jazz poems. People talk about New Orleans as a small town with a big footprint, of no more than two degrees of separation between where you went to school and the person you are talking to but sometimes I think there is more to it than that. We are perhaps the last city in America to still believe in magic: not the stage magic of Hollywood but instead the collected prostheses and crutches in St. Roch Cemetery, the wax puddles in front of famous tombs, the curse of the Girod Street Cemetary.
Funny that all of the examples that fall off my fingers reference death but when you make of death not the closing of a lid and a clod of earth but a joyous celebration of transformation, when after the widow falls out the last time there will be a parade and she will march in it like a queen, perhaps we open a door into elsewhere, admit a bit of its mystery into our everyday lives.
And we in New Orleans trust to luck. Fortuna features prominately in the famous Confederacy of Dunces but is not numbered in our pantheon with Joan D’Arc and Our Lady of Prompt Succor, Dambhala and Marie Laveau. Stil we are always inclined to trust our luck: yes, stay and have one more beer and tomorrow will work itself out, have another shrimp because your grandfather lives to be eighty something crushing his cigarettes out in the puddles of butter, not to bet the rent exactly but to understand that somehow the rent will get paid. Work to live and live to eat. We rely on Fortuna more than most people realize.
There are two approaches to life: the studious (how I trained myself to be an IT worker with most of a degree in English Literature and a history working in newspapering and PR) and the fortuitous (or how I fell into jazz and poetry, by hearing or reading something and letting it lead me into a beautiful Borgesian labyrinth at the heart of which is something magical).
The last time I studied poetry in a structured way was over thirty years ago, and I owe a great debt to Raeburn Miller and Seraphia Leyda for creating a love of it that never died, and after thirty years of continuing to read poetry the way most people consume mysteries, and occasionally writing my own, I find myself scheduled as a featured reader, compiling a limited edition chapbook of my own work for the occasion. My history with jazz is much the same, although I had no mentor the once again fortuitous intersection of the WTUL jazz show in the days before WWOZ, the rise of ‘OZ, finding WAMU in Washington in its glory days or KNDS when I arrived in Fargo programmed as a jazz station for years before it was given over to the students to program indie rock. I have never stopped listening, jotting down titles and artists even as I was driving.
As I stand at the cusp of my second Saturn return, the cycle of 27 to 29 years in which it takes that planet to make an orbit through the zodiac, I am at a crossroads. A Saturn return is the point in life at which major decisions and changes are made, a time for planning the next large phase of one’s life. Moloch is calling all his acolytes home to the central temple on the East Coast and I have told them I cannot (will not in truth) come. A decade in the corporate grind has worn down the edge that sort of work requires. I have changed careers or jobs every seven or so years all through my life, but in my early fifties this suddenly seems a more daunting challenge.
Studious or fortuitous? My Project Management Professional certification book lies hidden under a pile of literary books on the floor by the bed and I find myself seriously considering a writer’s retreat if I haven’t found a new job by October. Or calling up the University of New Orleans and to find out if they will let me finish my last credits toward a degree in English Literature after a 30 year interruption. I have a decent severance with an education allowance, and perhaps it is time to turn the fortuitous path into the studious one. I have to ask if the events of this year point in a new direction: learning a prestigious New York literary blogger reads Toulouse Street, an invitation to appear as a featured reader at the city’s most prestigious poetry forum and another to discuss my books on the radio show hosted by the city newspaper’s former book section editor. Lately even the rejection notes have become personalized and encouraging.
Perhaps if my avocation becomes the studious part of my life, then fortune will find me a job to keep body and soul together, to somehow manage to get two grown children through college. A dangerous gamble for a normally cautious person but for all the troubles of this life Fortuna has always kept an eye out for me. I have lucked out of so many bad situations I stupidly placed myself in that I have seriously considered the question of the guardian angels the sisters instructed us in at primary school, have gone so far as to prayerfully discharge them and bequeath their protection to my children. I am not a religious person or exceptionally superstitious (for an Orleanian), but too many things fortuitous and strange have happened in my life to completely discount some greater and mysterious agency at work.
If I have completely upended my life to dedicate every spare hour to close reading and to writing, If I have uncorked a talent I bottled up long ago in favor of a more conventional life I should recognize I will not easily get that genie back in the bottle a second time. I would in fact feel my life largely wasted in spite of other accomplishments: a couple of pretty nearly perfect children, some moments of triumph in the work-a-day world: that moment my mother describes, as I lead the newly elected U.S. Senator through the crowd from the back of the room to the microphone and my father “tried to crawl into the television” as she described it, or sitting in The Abbey with ink-wet copies of my newspaper and the major daily, celebrating our triumph in beating Goliath’s election coverage all to hell, moments that come back in memory in rich technicolor with music under, your vaguely cinematic triumphs.
Those moments were glorious but sic transit gloria and they were not as ultimately soul satisfying as seeing your own words in print and better still when others recognize those words as worthy.
“So we see that even when Fortuna spins us downward, the wheel sometimes halts for a moment and we find ourselves in a good, small cycle within a larger bad cycle.”
— John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces)
A Facebook post leads to a new record that takes me back to a writing project. Clearly it seems things have begun to align some almost imperceptible way, and I can’t tell if I am the frog and the pot is going to boil, whether that tingling sensation foretells jackpot or lightning. I know the road just ahead is rough and fraught with peril but I also know that I am too far down this road to turn back, the shadowy Disney forest of twisted finger limbs is clearing and I have to believe that somewhere over one of these inevitable hills the Emerald Jerusalem sits nestled like Hollywood beneath a monument in words.
You Ain’t Goin’ No Where July 30, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
Some days after a long week of herding feral cats through a labyrinth of financial and software process controls you make a frozen pizza, wash it down with a Vitamin Water energy drin and stay up late eating Vienna Fingers (the cookies you called streetcars as a child), watching most of Season Four of the Wire.
And then suddenly: it’s Saturday.
The clouds are rolling in and its gray, with just enough intermittent breeze to stir the hangers on the temple bells but not to ring them. You watch the squawking wild parrots in some indeterminate weedy tree next door, the one with roots choked in another vague3 shrub and its crown choked in cat;s claw, that one hanging perilously over the house on the street behind you and you wonder when it will finally fall, what is the rated load in parrots of this particular situation? Perhaps you just want something to happen. The sky is blank, calm and ominous and something is bound to happen, and you would rather in happen nearby.
Today’s accomplishments so far:
- Drink half a a pot of coffee.
- Boot up the laptop, ignoring the book you meant to read when you woke up.
- Go to the bathroom. Wash face after.
- Re-read two blog posts several times, then wrte an email explaining why you are stuck on your contribution.
- Drink other half of pot of coffee
- Determine your son is alive (he’s been sick all week so I was letting him sleep as late as he wished).
- Make more coffee.
- Offer your son breakfast: we have eggs and bacon, bagels and Honey Nut Cherios. (Omar’s breakfast of choice). (He declines). (My son, not Omar. Omar would eat the Cherios).
- Open a new pack of cigarettes.
- Read a post and all comments on HTML Giant, and suddenly understand why you never saw professors in the coffee shop at college.
- Try to decide if you’ve had enough coffee
- Read an interview between a sort-of anonymous The Rumpus interviewer (you know which one lives in Ann Arbor) and Megan Boyle, in which they discuss web pages selected by Google’s I’m Feeling Lucky button. You are not feeling lucky. You should have waited for the movie, except Tao Lin will be in it.
- Watch parrots from the back yard smoking your newly opened cigarettes.
- Read last sentence again and decide to leave it that way for the hell of it. Insert your own while. (This is explained below).
It is almost three o’clock in the afternoon and you have reached a point. Not a metaphorical point (time to shower, time to get moving, time to make more coffee) but an actual point, a unidemensional non-space in which there is no narrative arc, no impetus to shower or get going, no impulse to resume watching The Wire or pick up the book you opened last night in bed and decided to start in the morning, such possibilities requiring four dimensions and you are stuck in one. You have mislaid the while from the sentence above. Trajectory is not a possibility in one dimension but there seems to be a simmering here somewhere, the recipe for a singularity, a point in non-space and non-time in which time is the burning fuse and out of which something is certain to exploded.
Perhaps it will be the trunk of the tree. Or the coffee pot carafe left unattended on the burner.
Possible things to do today:
- Read Julio Cortazar’s The Observatory. (That book again, sitting insistently on the other side of the bed like that load of laundry you should get to if only because in one pocket is a $50 bill).
- Make lunch
- Watch the rest of The Wire disks
- Decide about dinner.
- Decide to watch the DVDs after dinner
- Finish Cortazar while my son plays video games.
- Make dinner
- Drink a beer and smoke a cigarette or two on the back deck. (The parrots are gone. The tree remains).
- Watch The Wire.
Saturday is named after Saturn. In astrology Saturn is the planet associated with practicality, achievement and conformity. Perhaps that is why I can hear the whine of lawn equipment in the distance and would never dare to venture for errands into the ants nest of cars on Veterans Boulevard today. It is the year of my second Saturn return: 54 years, two orbits. I should be busy at something: determining my next career step, starting some great new undertaking (om shri ganeshaya namah), realigning my life for the next 27 years should I be so lucky. (My family often makes it into their 80s in spite of lifestyle. It could happen). (I did one practical thing this morning, but we will omit that for now as it would be ill luck to speak of it.) For now I am typing random thoughts into a window and wondering which is the planet associated with lethargy, too much coffee and indecision.
I think I’ll go make some more coffee, smoke a cigarette and think about it, reawakening the horizontal and vertical, the possibility of pitch and yaw, put into motion at least possibility in contemplation of one or more possible futures. Saturn will be back before you know it. I had best get busy.
We Shall Gather by the River July 4, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever, Federal Flood, FYYFF, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: July Fourth
Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose
It is another July Fourth here in New Orleans, the largest of the United States’ Minor Outlying Island. I am not sure what to say on these national holidays of the Central Government. I have long ago publicly declared my sole allegiance to the City of New Orleans, forsaking all other. I shall live out the rest of my days here and die here, and any who care to dispute that had best come prepared to join me.
I won’t rehearse the litany of woes behind that statement. Today I shall concern myself with the doneness of the steaks, the sweetness of the corn and the icy chill of the beer as the temperature climbs toward 100. I will ride over to Gretna and buy some fireworks, not so much in celebration but as the Chinese use them, because as Jorma Kaukonen observed in the liner notes to the Jefferson Airplane’s Volunteers, the pentacles in their flag do not keep the evil spirits away. And when the dark comes I will find a place to gather at the river with the citizens of this city for the public fireworks, remembering there is no finer or more honorable place on this planet to stand than in their company.
Bon Mois de Messidor, Décade II, Jour de Quintidi.
On Odd Fellow’s Memorial Day May 30, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Memorial Day
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Between the post op pain and the Vicodin I don’t think I can manage words better than these for Memorial Day, so I’ll just repost this from 2009.
I was born in 1957 and so I am reckoned one of the last of the baby boomers, that generation borne by the parents who went through World War II. I grew up in a neighborhood full of fathers who had served in World War II, some later in Korea, and frankly I do not remember anyone making much of Memorial Day.
It was the sort of day when the grownups would sit outside, cocktails in hand and laughing; one of the last days before the heat became unbearable, when they could reenact the ritual they knew from the days before air conditioning of sitting out and visiting with the neighbors; a day when the children would run wild up and down the lawn-flanked, oak-shared lanes that ran behind all our houses, as tipsy as our parents on the first days of summer freedom. The fog man might come by in his war surplus jeep pumping God only knows what sort of poison out in a bright, white cloud to keep down the mosquitoes, and the kids would run after him and into the cloud yelling, “the fog man, the fog man”, our small bodies sucking up the DDT while our parents drank bourbon and branch and let us run wild.
Most people’s childhoods must seem an idyllic time looking back from the age of fifty-something but ours seems particularly so as I watch my children grow up without a pack of children on the block and among neighbors who mostly don’t socialize as our parents did. The place we grew up, the upper-middle class suburb of Lake Vista with its cul de sac streets and the shaded sidewalks called lanes that ran behind the houses and up to broad parkways that bisected the neighborhood, was certainly Edenic compared to most every other place I’ve lived.
By the early 1960s it was full of families whose fathers had made something of themselves after the war, professionals and small business men who had done well. These were not people who came home and joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion, the ones who kept their old uniforms and decorations to pull out on Memorial Day to parade down the street. Those were not our fathers: men who after the war were busy trying to finish school or start careers with small children and wives they married so young, who were busily trying to sort out and make something of their life. No one in our neighborhood joined those groups or marched in those parades.
Our father’s did not talk much about the war to us even as we ran through the neighborhood armed with plastic replicas of the very weapons they had carried, acting out the hundreds of old war movies that were a staple of television of the time. We did not much go in for Cowboys and Indians, but preferred to play act the battles of the TV show Combat! For my own father perhaps it was the one experience he told me of, huddled in a beet furrow somewhere in France pinned down by machine gun fire and raked by mortars. He huddled in that furrow, dug small shelves into the mud and lined them with tissue and tore down his Browning Automatic Rifle which had landed in the mud.
He was one of the few survivors of that event, and while he never spoke of it except in outline (and to proudly recount how he cleaned his BAR) I can readily imagine laying there in the dark and the rain, cleaning his weapon while around him most of the young men he had trained with for this day lay dead or dying, some of them perhaps crying out, others fingering the rosaries like the one I still have, the one my mother made for my father to take with him. If to these men Memorial Day was not a time to remember what they went through but to celebrate their survival, to relish friends and family over cocktails on a buggy, summery afternoon I can find no fault in that.
I grew up in an era when the little cardboard bank calendars, the ones with the bank’s name in faux gold leaf and a mercury thermometer in the frame, still listed Confederate Memorial Day (observed on Jefferson Davis’ birthday on June 3rd in most of the South, so soon after the current observance). Perhaps that is a small part of the lack of enthusiasm for the official Memorial Day. And this far toward the equator a Monday in late May is not the first day warm enough for the beach or a big picnic in the park, not by a long shot. If anything, Memorial Day is likely as not to be the first truly miserable day of summer, when the mercury in those little calendar thermometers would first climb above ninety and the breeze in from the lake was as full of water as the pitcher that sat on the patio table and we were just as sweaty.
So come Memorial Day down in New Orleans we might catch the President laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on the 10 o’clock news as we crawl into bed, stuffed with grilled steak and itchy with bug bites and sleepy from too much beer in the sun, but the reason for the day will largely escape our notice. As the air conditioning whistles us to sleep it might occur to us that summer, at last, has truly arrived, as wet and heavy and ominous as a blizzard turned inside out.
Memorial Day has a new and special significance for me: this is the day I arrived home. In May 2006 I left the children with their grandparents in Fargo, N.D. to be put on a plane later, hitched the boat to the back of the car and started south. Three days later on Memorial Day, 2006 I parked the boat in a marina yard in Mandeville, and made my way across the lake to the small house on Toulouse Street that is now our home. When I sat down to write about it this time last year the real significance of the date finally began to sink in. The first years it was, “oh, this was the week the kids and I got to New Orleans”, but not a day fraught with meaning.
I ead those old words (trying to recall how many beers in the sun proceeded that post) and I once again recall that drive as if it were yesterday. It occurs to me that taking a short cut down Polk in Lakeview–over broken streets that already looked like Patton’s Third Army had rolled over them 20 years before the flood, lined three years ago with houses that looked like the combat-broken landscape of the war movies of my childhood–I had missed passing all of the large monuments of the cemeteries.
I can’t quite name them all unless I jump in the car or on the bike and ride up and down City Park Avenue but a few some to mind, the firefighter’s memorial from the days of the old volunteer fire companies and the mounded hill that covers the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks mausoleum in Greenwood, the tall Grecian column just across the street that memorializes I don’t know what (but will have to wander over later and find out), the pharaonic family tomb that squats in a corner of Metairie Cemetery just off of the interstate.
Somewhere behind the perpetually uncared for broken clock that stands at the head of Canal Street in Greenwood Cemetery lies the Hilbert family tomb where my father and brother lay with my mother’s family. Someday when my mother and her sister are not around to question me I will put up a stone that says Folse atop the one that reads Hilbert, but I don’t want to be buried there among the Hilberts. I have no idea what anyone reading this should do with my remains, but that tomb is not the place. It will not be my own tiny monument in that field of raised tombs.
I often spoke of building a raised tomb when I lived in Fargo, anxious that I might just be tossed into the ground like the rest of them, wanting my far off branch of the family to have a proper memorial of the sort someone from New Orleans expects. Now I think: better to be cremated and hope I have friends who survive me who will know what to do with those ashes, the places that were significant enough to me to be fitting. The thought that those friends will know what to do is probably memorial enough, to know I will be remembered.
For now the only personal monuments I care about are the ones I have built here, the Wet Bank Guide and this one, Toulouse Street, and the pieces out of the Wet Bank Guide that make up Carry Me Home. I don’t want to be remembered for myself but rather as just another of the people who came home, that one cross you see in some pictures with a flag planted, or a spray of flowers in the endless fields of green and white that are military cemeteries. I want to be remembered as one of them all, as someone who helped to tell their story.
As we planned for the  Rising Tide conference the other night, the talk turned to how New Orleans has changed, and its people with it. Someone madet he comparison that occurs to me over and over again: that of the people of the Federal Flood to those of the Greatest Generation. Orleanians are thought indolent and silly with our devotion to festival and food above all else but all around me are people who have been through a profound trauma most Americans can barely imagine. They survived the biggest displacement Americans seen since the Civil War, returned to a city more like Europe after the bombardment and battles of WWII than anything ever seen on this continent, have struggled for years (still struggle today) to live here and rebuild.
These are a people who have seen death and devastation, known loss and disappointment that is painful to catalog, suffer from a traumatic stress that is not post traumatic stress because it is not yet over, may never be over for people of the generation of the flood, and still they get up on certain days and march down to the appointed place and eat and drink and dance and are happy. They are at once not that different from my parents sitting out on Memorial Day and at some deep level they are profoundly transformed. As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood they are people who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made the case for why we should be here. Few people since the days of the pioneers have a stronger claim to a place.
Some will think it irreverent and disrespectful to say this on Memorial Day, even as soldiers patrol in far off lands and on this day sacred to soldiers some may die, but I have said it before and I will say it again. I look at the people around me and all they have been through and all they have accomplished to remake their home and I think: there is no finer place to be an American today than in their company, here in New Orleans.
Sun Ra on Fortin Street May 7, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Dancing Bear, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Sun Ra, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Jazz Fest, Sun Ra
“Its After the End of the World. Don’t You Know That Yet?”
Too busy watching the world go by and trying to hawk books to get together a Jazz Fest post today but stop by the Shrine of Sun Ra at the Fortin Street Stage on your way in or out and light a josh stick. I just had to respond to the very nice woman I met the other morning who put up the Jon Bon Jovi shrine, and the Cyndi Lauper shrine that went up in answer a few days later. I think a jazz artist and a man of such spiritual truth deserves a shrine.
For years, the tagline on my Wet Bank Guide blog was the signature chant from the Space is the Place film, “It’s After the End of the World. Don’t You Know That Yet?”, a perfect statement for the Alice in Underland situation of New Orleans. The flood was a baptism that washed away the original sin of conventional Anglo-Saxon America and left me a pure son of New Orleans. When I got my tattoo I went for Moose Jackson’s equally apt line “I’m not alright but I am upright” but it was a hard choice. I may yet have Sun’s words permanently inked on my body, marked forever with the sacred chant of the postdiluvian elect.
So stop by and get you some Cosmic Vibrations at the Shrine (and a beer, a bathroom and some beans). You know you want some.
Odd Words May 5, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever, books, literature, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Bloomsday, James Joyce, Open City, Thomas Beller
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I am looking to organize a Bloomsday event in New Orleans on June 16. If you’re interested in participating join the group on Facebook Bloomsday NOLA or drop me an email. If you can’t manage to attend a Bloomsday event, you can always visit this project and get your fill of hearing the book read aloud at James Joyce intended it. And if I don’t get enough people, look for me on a corner in Frenchman Street the evening of June 16, reading to the crowd. If it comes to that, beer and relief readers will be most welcome.
Thomas Beller edited the esteemed New York literary magazine Open City for 20 years and 30 issues. It recently ceased publication, and Beller, now an assistant professor at Tulane, spoke about the magazine’s life and death, among other things, with a new local literary website started by the Press Street press, Room 220.
And so, the listings:
& I’m not a big fan of mysteries but former Times Picayune report Julie Smith has always come highly recommended to me, and she joins fellow New Orleans mysterian Greg Herren in celebrating the release of their new Young Adult novels at Octavia Books Thursday, May 5 at 6 p.m.
& Starting May 5, a free staging of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus will be held here. OK, not exactly on the FB page but at 612 Piety. It sounds, um, fun: “In a warehouse in the Bywater, a small ensemble of actors will unfold Shakespeare’s earliest, goriest and most absurd tragedy with lighthearted savagery.” Get you some epically dead people. You know you want some. Through May 14th.
& Because you can never have too much Shakespeare, the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is the idyllic setting for the NOLA Project’s dusktime performances of Shakespeare’s whimsical A Midsummer Night’s Dream Tickets $10, $8 seniors/students, $6 children, free for NOMA members and students from many local universities with student ID. 7 p.m. Friday May 6 through May 27. That sounds like tonic relief from Titus Andronicus indeed.
& The Ebony Center at 4215 Magazine Street hosts a weekly spoken-word, music and open-mic event. Tickets $7 general admission, $5 students. 11 p.m. Friday.
& Also on Friday, May 5 Maple Street Book Shop will host a reading with Eve Abrams and Thomas W. Jacobsen on Thursday, May 5, 2011, 6:00 P.M. Ms. Abrams conducted the interviews the Preservation Hall Band Members for the new book, Preservation Hall. Mr. Jacobsen is the author of Traditional Orleans Jazz: Conversations with the Men Who Make the Music. Gather with us for a night of music, culture and food!
& On Saturday, Poet Gian “G-Persepect” Smith and Alphonse “Bobby” Smith host Pass It On, a weekly spoken-word and music event at the George & Leah McKenna Museum of African American Art, 2003 Carondelet St. Admission $6. 9 p.m G-Persepect is the poet featured in the Treme trailer.
& On Sunday, May 8 the Maple Leaf Bar hosts the Everette Maddox-founded poetry reading at 3 pm (ish) with an Open Mike.
& Don’t forget every Wednesday at 9 pm be sure to check out the open poetry forum hosted by Kate Smash in the amphitheater on Decatur across from Jackson Square. No list, no mic, just anyone who shows up free to read what they like. Musicians encouraged to join. Organizer Kate Smash said the first one was, well, smashing.
& Also every Wednesday Thaddeus Conti will revive the Dinky Tao poetry meeting (reading, discussion, drinking–coffee in this case) at 8 pm 5110 Daneel at The Neutral Ground Coffeehouse.
Odd Words: Fish Head Emergency Edition May 4, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, literature, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Tags: fish head music, Radiators
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Ah crap, I’m supposed to go see Marcia Ball tonight and I’m going to miss this. I was there at the public beginning in Luigi’s and I desperately need a copy of this book autographed by the entire band.
GOT THE FISH IN THE HEAD: A RADIATORS RETROSPECTIVE
May 4th, 2011
On Wednesday, May 4, 2011, Jay Mazza, fan and friend of The Radiators and author of I Got the Fish in the Head: A Radiators Retrospective, will be at Maple Street Book Shop at 6:00 P.M. He will read from, discuss, and sign his book. Mr. Mazza has announced there will be musical entertainment: Chris Mule, the guitarist for Honey Island Swamp Band, Phil deGruy, and Stephen Smith also on guitar.
“Intended for fans of New Orleans music and culture, the book is as much a cultural commentary on the city and its music scene as it is a musical tribute. Filled with distinctive characters that passed through the bars and clubs where the Radiators played, the book is a retrospective of the New Orleans scene as told by someone who was there at almost every important juncture of the last 30 years.
This post requires emergency audio overdrive.
If this had been an actual fish head emergency, you would have been instructed to burn your t-shirt.
The Fortin Street Stage April 30, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever, fuckmook, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
They came early and the line stretched down Fortin Street even though it was only Friday, all in their straw hats spreading lotion, men in their ball caps and concert shirts, women in short-shorts and in cool summer whites, with parasols and backpacks and collapsible chairs, the barkers of sunglasses and hats and coozies that hang from your neck working the line until I was ready to kill the one who set up in front of my door incessantly shouting. I saw with my coffee and a cigarette watching them file past into the first day of Jazz Fest 2011.
I couldn’t tell you the line up. I’m working from home today and my joke post about being a stone’s throw from the gospel tent was “Jesus on the conference call, Tell him what you want” but first it was time for a mid-morning break, coffee and a cigarette in a dirty white resin chair next to my stoop to watch the crowd assemble then pass, perhaps to catch a bit of the excitement I’m wasn’t feeling looking at the line up. Today’s big act is Bon Jovi, and there’s a sign advertising the Shrine of Bon Jovi at 2992 Maurepas. The first fans are already at the gate two hours before it opens to stake their place.
This is why I was not that excited about what is still called the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in the weeks leading up to this.
Yesterday I opened the door to sit on the stoop and smoke a cigarette and watch the crowd a man stood with camera gear slung around his neck, trying to make a cell call away from the chatter of the barkers and the anxious crowd. He didn’t get an answer and stood there a moment staring at his cell phone before he looked over my way and said nice seat.
It’s the Fortin Street Stage, I told him. Turns out the guy, who will remain nameless, with credits and credentials for a half-dozen jazz magazines, can’t get a press pass. He has hustled comps and even a press pass one year. Apparently someone at the festival hands them out to friends with tenuous credentials by the handful, and he managed to get one from a local lawyer one year. I didn’t go through the list with him, but let’s just say if you’re here from the Off Beat of L.A. you should get a press pass. Then again, this is not your grandfather’s jazz fest. I told him that back in the 1970s I could get a fistful of tickets for the University of New Orleans newspaper and went every day. I think you have to be from a rock magazine now, he said.
I see you have Rahsaan up on your wall he said, noticing a painting I have. He spoke of the other jazz fests he has attended elsewhere, ones where jazz in the name still means something. I told him about my visit to The Cavern in D.C. and looking at the marquee of coming acts, all the current touring big names and in jazz, none of whom every visit New Orleans. We spoke of Kenny G in the Jazz Tent, and talked about catching Ahmad Jamal and Sonny Rollins. He is debating staying for Rollins and having to buy another ticket out of his own pocket hoping to get some saleable shots. I said I planned to just walk up the street and plant as close as I can get to the Jazz Tent Saturday afternoon for Jamal, and was going in for Rollins because my son’s music program (sponsored by the Heritage Foundation) plays that morning.
I had never been a tremendous fan of the Gospel Tent, although I have friends who swear by it, always thinking I had too much else to see and do when inside. Today its a pleasant relief from work, to step outside with my coffee cup and listen to the choirs riffing on James Brown themes, to hear the sisters moan in a blessed tone as the John Boutte song goes, picking apart the music to find the roots of so much else I love in the pounding rhythm sections and soaring organ. I wonder how many Bon Jovi fans will pause outside the gospel tent today and recognize that much of modern popular music would not be possible without Southern gospel.
After Friday’s shows were over, a crowd who had rented the lot next door and erected tents cranks up their music right outside my window: the Charlie Daniels Band. As The Souths Gonna Do It Again replaced the sounds of gospel. What the hell are these people doing at Jazz Fest, I wonder? I step outside for a moment at glower around the corner them. I step back inside, and they crank it up a bit louder. Time to go all McAlary on them. I browse through my I-Tunes and decide on Miles Davis Bitches’ Brew. I turn my new Bose speakers outward, and turn it up, then wander into the back to stick my soaking red beans in the fridge for the night.
Forget the Acura Stage and Bon Jovi. Saturday’s lineup on the Fortin Street Stage includes Robert Cray in the Blues Tent and Ahmad Jamal in the Jazz tent (at the same time alas), just a short stroll up the street for me to listen over the fence. I’m going to cook up some red beans against any unexpected guests at the end of the day. I’ve got beer and water in the fridge and the bathroom’s clean. I’m ready to spend the day at my own private Jazz Fest. I just hope the stories aren’t true about the Bon Jovi fans booing Dr. John one year, anxious to hear their band, because if I hear the fuckmooks boo Irma Thomas who plays just before their band the Shrine of Bon Jovi is going to be in serious danger.
The Shipping List April 26, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
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Monteleone, Marriot, Sheraton: perhaps it’s working more from home, less frequent trips down Orleans and Basin but the hotel-top signs keeping jumping into the foreground of my mornings lately. These are the smokestacks of our industry, channel markers for the rivers of tourists and conventioneers bearing away a stevedore’s load of hangover and t-shirts.
Our docks are converting into riverfront park, the better for investors in second homes to see the vanishing smokestacks of the distant, passing ships from their new Bywater condos. Already we do not bow under coffee and bananas to scrape by but learn to step and fetch more coffee for the visitors, wearing animatronic Disney smiles. It’s au lait, m’am, like in a bullfight. Ole!
I pull into my parking lot between the decrepit remains of the Eagle Saloon and the giant painting of a Selmer clarinet that adornes the side of the Holiday Inn and sit listening to WWOZ on the radio, the daily Live Wire list of dozens of music venues and I remind myself that this is not a dying city, just one trying to find its way down from Ararat, a parable of survival for a country on the wrong side of the History Channel.
This is what I think about as I drive toward a job that in some months will be gone, relocated by Moloch to another city. I was offered a position there, but for months no one pressed me for an answer.
I think they knew.
We’ll survive if we must on tourist scraps, sandwiched between Vegas and Atlanta on the conventioneer’s itinerary. The port may go the way of indigo and cotton but we’ve outlasted three hundred years. We wear the smell of creosote like armor. Like plaster we outlast any flood; just air us out and we’re good for another century. We’ve swallowed boatloads of French and Spanish and Yankees, Haitians planters and enslaved Africans, dark Sicilians and pale Irish like so many beans, all cooked down in our subtropical pot to a smooth, creamy consistency the color of home. Come on down and let us feed you some. You’ll want an Abita with that.
Sure you can take our picture.
We love it when you do that, because we’ve turned that trick inside out a long time ago.
We’ll steal your soul.
And when you’ve gone back home we can invade your dreams and make you want to come back–all those songs from Pops to the Doobies playing in your head, the moss covered vines, the tall sugar pines–until you can’t imagine a world without New Orleans.
Because neither can we.
Interiority Complex April 12, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, literature, Odd Words, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: HTMLGiant, Scott McClannahan, Stories V!
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NetLit maven Scott McClannahan discusses the differences between him and many of his peers in “NetLit”, the young generation of writers closely tied to online literary communities they participate in, over at HTMLGiant. In this particular case, the question is as interesting than the answer.
You often tour and read with good writers whose project is a kind of willful avoiding of interiority, and which seems rather self-protective in its unwillingness to take positions on things. There is a flatness to that kind of now-very-popular prose which seems in many ways to be the opposite of the aesthetic you’re chasing here, which seems to take up the side of utmost vulnerability. When you think of your work, do you think of it on these terms? What is it that you are trying to accomplish with your stories? Do you mean to offer the reader a particular type of experience, or do you think of the reader at all? You must, is what I think, since you even address the reader directly in the book.
McCLANAHAN: Yeah, I think there’s something really phony about saying you don’t want to create something within the reader or you could care less about issues of politics, Frisbees, whatever. I’m from a state where people die every week so that you can check your e-mail. The outside world exists.
I don’t know how many conversations I’ve had with people over the past couple of weeks going on about the dangers of nuclear power. I want to say, “Do you know how many coal miners across the globe have died in the past sixty years?”
Now, do I want to write about that? Of course not, but is it part of my world? Of course it is.
I’m just saying that people are alive. I’m just saying, “I exist. Do you exist? Isn’t life fucking miserable sometimes, but isn’t it fucking great to be alive sometimes too?”
I know existing doesn’t create a sense of obligation in anyone, but I’m just afraid we’re going to lose our capacity for joy if we’re not careful. We are the Pill Generation. Who wants to be against JOY? I don’t. Some folks just want to talk you to death.
Emphasis mine. Which I guess is to say if you like Tao Lin you really won’t like this blog, but it’s not too late to escape. Come back and talk to me about Lin after you’ve slogged through some Robbe-Grillet. Or at least some Raymond Carver, where if nothing else happens the sun moves beautifully across the kitchen as the characters drink themsevles into a stupor, and do not answer “Whaddya wanna do?” with “I dunno, whadda you wanna do?”
Maybe it was that class on Logical Positivism that messed me up (look what a serious philosophy jones did to David Foster Wallace) but I tend to reject a self-consciously (meta-) ironic superficiality as an aesthetic. To me interiority is the only place of authority from which to look out at the world, to publish the passwords to your soul as the one certain way to connect for good or ill with your reader, or any other living soul.
The N.O. Jazz and Some Other Stuff Festival April 11, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Jazz, Jazz Fest, music, New Orleans.
Tags: New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival
I was talking to a friend the other day about how we had both fallen into like bluegrass music (Jerry Garcia recording Old and in the Way and the New Riders of the Purple Haze had a lot to do with it), and it put me in mind of the times I saw Doc and Merle Watson as a featured name artist at Jazz Fest.
Once upon a time the big Spring festival was the Jazz and Heritage Festival in earnest. I found a website, Swag’s Jazzfest Cube Rescue, which tries to capture old “cubes” showing the artists performing in years passed, and looking at cubes from say 2000 and a handful of earlier vintage reminded me how much the festival has transformed, and not necessarily for the better. Anyone remember the last time a blue grass band played the Gentilly Stage on a weekend? Me either. Neither does the Festival, as searching for Doc or Merle Watson on their official list of past performers turns up nada.
Looking at the old cubes was like a trip back in time to a schedule heavy with R&B, Blues and Jazz greats, along with a heaping helping of major local artists. As recently as the last Sunday in 2000, the closing acts were The Radiators, John Mooney, The Neville Brothers, Sonny Landreth, Joe Sample and King Sunny Ade and his African Beats. The closest the Festival got to pop acts that year were Lenny Kravitz and Lyle Lovette. Now the Festival seem to be in competition for the Voodoo Festival crowd, and I think anyone with a long history of attending the Festival will admit it is not just the same. I don’t know if the apocryphal story of a certain pop band’s fans booing Dr. John is true or not, but it feels about right.
If you don’t remember those days at the Fairgrounds, consider this. The lineup at this years French Quarter Festival is about what the lineup used to look like at Jazz Fest, minus the few big touring names. And it doesn’t cost $50 to go. Now if you’re a fan of Wheezer (whatever that is) or whoever else, $50 isn’t a bad price for access to the band whose stage you will camp in front of all day, with an entire afternoon of opening acts that might open your eyes to some new and different music and a all you can afford buffet of some of the best food and crafts you’ll see anywhere. Go for it. Have a blast. Stop by my stoop on Fortin Street and buy a water bottle. We’re glad you came to see your band and are here spending lots of money. Come back real soon. Or come for French Quarter Fest next year and see what you missed when your parents were coming to the Fairgrounds: a true festival of our heritage.
Cochon Delayed April 8, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, literature, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Mystic Pig, Richard Katrovas
So my “Last Book I Loved” piece on Mystic Pig;Mystic Pig finally ran at The Rumpus and I couldn’t be more pleased. It took me almost year after The Rumpus started the feature to get around to writing it and when I finally did, I had to go back and forth with the editor explaining that starting a Fan Page on Facebook didn’t amount to a relationship withe author or the publisher. I put up the Facebook page for the same reason I wrote the piece: I love this book, and want the world to read it.
Someone please get that 1970s Coke jingle out of my head.
Seriously, this book belongs in the New Orleans Canon alongside Confederacy, The Moviegoer and Streetcar Names Desire. If you take issue with that in the comments be warned I’m liable to show up at your doorstep with my loaner copy because it’s so damned obscure I’m sure you haven’t read it. It vanished pretty quickly after its first publication, although Richard Katrovas went on to publish other books of autobiography and poetry.
From The Rumpus:
It is a novel, not a cookbook, but my sister the full-on foodie insists that the recipes all look workable, and what could be more perfect than a story about New Orleans that incidentally teaches you how to make white chocolate bread pudding and jambalaya?
It’s difficult to improve on the original publisher’s description– “This is a novel about sex and sexuality and race and madness and violence and fine dining. Not necessarily in that order”—but I’ll try.
It’s not in local bookstores because it has no U.S. distributor, but it is on Mystic Pig Amazon. When I got mine I had to by it from the publisher in England and pay the exchange rate plus extra shipping. You can get yours for $15 bucks and the usual freight, so don’t wait.
More Odd Words? April 7, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, books, literature, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Taking It To The Street April 5, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Stories I’ll Never Write March 31, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Best not to bring up ghosts on a moon-lit potter’s field walk. Some carry their haunts just under the skin and it doesn’t take much–that grave marked simply: Baby–to bring them out.
I’ll probably never finish this story. An actual moment from an otherwise lovely walk, interrupted briefly by tears, through the cemetery where Buddy Bolden is buried; my own life is not half as interesting as the city it takes place in. I will come back and write about that cemetery another time, but it will probably not be this story.
That line wasn’t even a story at first, but started out as a poem and them seemed better as a sentence, the sort that suggests a story left untold. I left it this way after staring at it for a long time wondering where it led, until reading a long discussion about micro-fiction and Ernest Hemmingway’s famous want six-word, want ad cum micro-fiction: “For Sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”
If you spend too much time at the intersection of story and poetry, especially in these days of flash and micro fiction, you find youself thinking such sentences and you stop and wonder if the Holy Grail is in fact the perfect sentence (which this is not); wonder whether there could be a perfect sentence, the sort that suggests the title of a longer work but which leaves that longer work behind and stands alone like some mystic glyph in a story by Borges.
New Orleans is full of instants like this one, Polaroid moments that appear like a perfect plate laid down wordlessly before you by an assistant waiter, with a cryptic drizzle of sauce and a scattering of green, that leaves you at once ravenous and paralyzed by its beauty. Perhaps this is why the city is a famous haunt of painters and poets. The streets are littered with epiphanies the way the fields of Arles were bathed in mad, angelic sunlight.
New Southern Voices March 25, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: southern writing, Tennessee Williams Festival
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If this post seems telegraphic I am already regretting my decision to try and live blog from the Druid as Google’s OS insists I must mean when I type Droid.
The short version of the New Southern Voices panel is that all of the panelists have written historic novels, prompting me to ask them about the role of a sense of history in Southern writing. Skip Horack, author of a new novel The Eden Hunter set in post War of 1812 Spanish Florida gave the short version: “there are ghosts everywhere.”
Minrose Gwin whose The Queen of Palmyra recounts a fifty something woman’s recollections of the Civil Rights summer of ’63 gave a response in keeping with her book and background as a Southern literary scholar, “I think Southerners are mire aware of history because of the Civil War and the vexed history of race.” She grew up in her grandparents’ house in which “people were always telling stories of the old times…the stories always changed but were about the past.”
To Be Continued: my Pimm’s Cup is here at the Napoleon House and soon my lunch will soon follow.
LATER: The Druid app for WordPress filled the first version of this with unwanted blockquotes. Weird.
Josh Russell, asked about their place in the Southern tradition said” we’re new Southern voices in the new South. The”NY publishing establishment has this thing for stories about the old South.” He suggested to succeed as a Southern writer be sure to include hog jowls. And a dead mule and some sorghum, Gwin added. Horack brought up a remark made about Eudora Welty that she was a Catholic writer in the South, suggesting newer writers like themselves are” more a _________ writer in the South.
“How do I position myself in the tradition of Southern writers? I don’t do that. I’d probably be paralyzed,” he added. Minrose said she worried about being “derivative” if she spent too much time worrying about her place in the tradition. Russell said he was not a Southerner by birth, and had lived in New Orleans “which is not a typical Southern city” and Atlanta “which doesn’t look like a Southern city.”
The panelists spoke at some length about their decision to write a historical novel, and about the mechanisms for writing such a work. Horack said his grew out of his interest in the story of a British fort on the Apalachicola River in north Florida est aablished by the British during the war of 1812 to recruit run-away slaves to fight the United States. The fort never saw action, but when abandoned by the British was left in charge of the slaves. He found the story fascinating, but made several false starts until he began a draft from the point of view of a slave, an African pygmy who escapes his missionary owners, the character an outside even among slaves. He even traveled to the Ituri forest, home of the Central African pygmy people.
He said his real fascination is the natural environment of the South he loves dropping a character into tha setting “and see what they will notice.” and got off perhaps the best line of the morning and proved his point about himself when he described the “psychic distance” of his voice in The Eden Hunter as “like a hummingbird hovering 10 feet over my character and swooping down into his head now and then.”
Minrose’s tale of a women reconsidering her childhood in rural Mississippi in 1963 as the daughter of a “nighthawk” of the Klu Klux Klan and the town’s alcoholic cake lady grew out of an academic book she has been working on about Medger Evers. “I wanted to write a novel with these characters.” Minrose’s character is a fifty-something woman recounting her girlhood, and she said the “biggest challenge was getting that ebb and flow of the older voice and the younger voice” as the story slips into the events of the period.
Russell recounted a conversation the panelists had by email before Friday, and the term “hyperreal” he coined to describe the way some historical fiction has this obligation to “make things very real.” Modern writing, he said, tends to be very sketchy about scene favoring character but in historical fiction a lot of time is spent on scene setting. He explained that he did take some liberties with history, some accidental (such as transposing events a year) in writing his novel Yellow Jack, and how worried he was at his first reading in New Orleans. “Everyone who lives in New Orleans is a historian” and he thought he’d be picked apart for his changes to geography and chronology. Instead, he learned later that docents at the Cabildo are required to read Yellow Jack as their primary text on the yellow fever epidemics in the city.
He expounded on the difference between “literary” historical fiction and “genre” historical fiction, insisting listeners put quotes around those words, calling genre historical fiction “hoop skirts on the veranda” works. History, he suggested, can be improved by “telling lies. Never let history get in the way of character-driven fiction,” he concluded.
Adiu Paure Carnaval March 9, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Carnival, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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At the conclusion of Carnival in Nice, France, an effigy of Monsieur Carnaval is burned, the ancient story of the burning man, the sacrifice in fire. As told by Mama Lisa’s World Blog, in that rite Monsieur Carnaval “is responsible for all the wrongdoing people do throughout the year. At Carnival time in France, Monsieur Carnaval is judged for his behavior throughout the preceding year. Usually he’s found guilty and an effigy of him is burned.”
Accompanying the ritual is a song, and I offer the lyrics collected by Mama Lisa below, both in Occitan (the language of the Troubadors) and in English. I suggest you click the link to open in a new tab or window so you can follow along as far as the MP3 goes.
And so, from New Orleans, Adiu Paure Carnaval.
Adiu paure Carnaval
Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval
Tu te’n vas e ieu demòri
Adiu paure Carnaval
Tu t’en vas e ieu demòri
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Per manjar la sopa a l’òli
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval
La joinessa fa la fèsta
Per saludar Carnaval
La Maria fa de còcas
Amb la farina de l’ostal
Lo buòu dança, l’ase canta
Lo moton ditz sa leiçon
La galina canta lo Credo
E lo cat ditz lo Pater
Farewell, Poor Carnival
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
To eat garlic soup
To eat oil soup
To eat garlic soup
Farewell, poor Carnival.
The young ones are having a wild time
To greet Carnival
Mary is baking cakes
With flour from her home.
The ox is dancing, the donkey’s singing
The sheep is saying its lesson
The hen is singing the Credo
And the cat is saying the Pater.
Onward Through the Fog March 4, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Burn Your T-Shirt, Luigi's, MoMs Ball, Radiators, Rhapsodizers
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The Green room is smoking, and the Plaza burning down
Throw my baby out the window, let those joints burn down
All because it’s Carnival Time, woooooohhh, it’s Carnival Time….!
Oh Well it’s Carnival Time and, everybody’s having Fun!
See you on the street or see you next week, unless I manage to bang out before Bacchus on Sunday an account of what will probably be my last Mystic Orders of Mysfits ball. It will be the final appearance at the Radiators at this over three decade old tradition, which started out as a small party of a few hundred on the Lakefront and later in the DAV in Arabi and later grew into a monstrous rave of a thing which I’ve avoided for the last several years. Still, I was in Luigi’s when the Rhapsodizers transformed into the Radiators. We’ve got some history, including many old Arabi MoM’s balls, so I think I need to be at what will be for many the last “real” MoM’s ball. If I don’t make it past the costume police, they can have my pants. And if I burn my t-shirt as wel, well, it should make for an interesting costume.
The Travesty of the Commons March 3, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever, Carnival, fuckmook, FYYFF, parade, Toulouse Street.
This is a repost from last year, but bears repeating. I’ll probably be missing Endymion this year but will venture out to my first parade tonight, and expect to find the usual suspects appropriating private space for their own enjoyment while the police look on unconcerned.
While reasonable people are safe in bed, visions of flashing Krewe d’Etat throws dancing in their head, there are other truly Odd people out in the dark doing strange things on the neutral ground: painting lines, stretching bits of yellow tape, and effecting odd geometric shapes from wire utility flags. They are out claiming the public neutral ground as their own private parade party spot.
This is nuts.
The ladders are bad enough. Now we never had a ladder that I remember growing up, but this isn’t long repressed ladder envy. I have fond memories of being hoisted on my father’s shoulders to watch the parades pass down Canal St. Ladders are a great way for small children to see the parade. That is how this all started out. Instead my beef is with the people who arrive in the dark of night (or sometimes midday, apparently unencumbered by inconvenient jobs) and plant rows of ladders along the curb on parade routes. The result: only these lucky few can actually see or catch any throws. The rest of us get to stand in back and watch them.
Technically, this is illegal. A ladder must be as far back from the curb as it is tall, and cannot be chained together with other ladders to make a wall. Sadly, the NOPD gave up enforcing these regulations after Katrina. Given that we live in one of the three most dangerous cities on Earth, I guess they have a point. This did not, however, prevent them from deploying the full force of the city to tone down Mid-City’s bonfire.
But on that same neutral ground every year, people (mostly not from our neighborhood) show up and spray paint themselves blocks of neutral ground larger than some homes in our neighborhood, and if you want to challenge their right to do so you had best be ready for fisticuffs. This is insane. Parades are supposed to be for everyone. That is why we allow them to roll down the city’s public streets, rather than having them circle the floor of the Superdome for ticket buyers. But try telling that to the neutral ground Nazi’s.
It is simply another example of the continued crumbling of the basic social contract, and the tendency of some in the greater world to privatize the commons for their own benefit to the greater society’s detriment. When Washington and Baton Rouge are run on this basis, why not grab your own piece of public property for your private party?
When people are ready to come to blows because you might want to stand on a piece of common ground they cleverly spray painted an imaginary box on, is it any wonder we roam around the city killing each other for slightly more egregious slights?
All I know is if the NOPD is too busy to care about this sort of thing, then maybe we should go back to having the bonfire we all enjoyed because, frankly, we’re not interested in being bothered with all the city’s troublesome regulations either.
Feel free to break into This Land Is Your Land at any time, especially that verse we never sang in school:
As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.
Street Cred for the Wet Bank February 8, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: David Simon, Treme, Wet Bank Guide
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OK, I can’t resist tooting my own horn. Here’s an interview with David Simon on the relationship between truth, fiction and newspapers in which he references the three local blogs he says gave him inspiration in producing Treme: the Back of Town blog about the show, Ashley Morris: The Blog, on which one of his characters was partially based and some blog called Wet Bank Guide.
It’s not that Simon sees no value in blogging or “the internet.” He says that bloggers can sometimes force traditional media to cover important stories. And, in the course of discovering the real, known-only-to-locals New Orleans he depicts as a co-creator of “Treme”—which is about to finish its first season on the air, and has been picked up by HBO for a second—he cited three locally written blogs as sources of inspiration.
[Insert completely inauthentic "aw, shucks" here, for both Wet Bank and the Back of Town.]
The Edge of Friday Night January 29, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, art, blues, French Quarter, music, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Foot and Friends, Kerry Irish Pub, Mem Shannon
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The Kerry Irish Pub is the first bar with music pouring out the door the tourists reach as they enter the quarter from the Casino and the downtown hotels nearest the river. The regulars are crowded up toward the door but the tourists gravitate toward the band for a few songs, as obvious and routine in their appearance as the homeless. A couple wearing feather boas; the three men in odd hats, one in a ten gallon wool hat with a Burger King child’s crown over the crown of the hat, another perhaps in a Carnival-colored jester hat or one of those tall Cat In The Hat numbers: it doesn’t matter. I really don’t remember, just their motleynes, announcing to the world that they are in New Orleans and not at home in Alabama or Arkansas or east Texas in a corporate office park or a construction site, not tonight. They are playing dress up with drinks, a combination of the innocence of childishness and the fervor of youth, the way my daughters guy friends might act when they smuggle beer into the backyard and got into my hats.
You sit in front, listening to the band but you ask the transients between songs where they are from, what they plan to do in New Orleans. They never stay long; all our bound for Bourbon Street: Disneyland Sodom where the only thing real is life of the barkers, the bartenders, the musicians playing endless covers of Lynard Skynard when they pack up for the night and and leave it behind. I live next door to a Bourbon Street guitar player in this dismal shack of a shotgun, so pathetic looking from the outside that when the landlord was doing some work and took off back to Mississippi leaving my door ajar for hours no one came in and cleaned me out. No one was looking for a place to light a crack pipe I guess, or perhaps there is still some honor among the poor. I live on the edge of a gentrified neighborhood and the pickings are better a few blocks over. Taking my bargain basement TV and laptop might strike a little too close to home–who might be robbing their own house of their few ill-gotten things–and the shopping is better up the block. That’s reality, where my neighbor the musician and I live, not the roaring noise of Bourbon.
But the tourists coming in, drawn by the first live band they hear, don’t care. The New Orleans of their dreams is calling, the exotic drinks, the beads and boobs and Big Ass Beers, the daily festival of public drunkenness reserved in their hometowns for a season of Saturdays tailgating before The Big Game, reliving the memory of drunken college parties acted out every night on Bourbon for their entertainment and themselves the star of the production.
I remember a quiet night when a couple and their children stopped outside a bar while the band played a song the parents remembered from their youth, the father explaining to the ‘tweens how they loved that song when they were young and all of them–parents and children alike–staring into the bar over the banister railing that closed off the french doors, the parents lost in a reverie of youth and the children imagining their parents as people young and wild, living out what seems to a twelve-year-old the dream of what life might be if they were only free. I stopped and lit a cigarette that night and watched them until they passed on, imagining the thoughts running through their heads.
You sit at the Kerry with just a few companions in front, the regulars of the bar sitting in the back and the band is just juke box to them, the soundtrack recorded music has taught us to expect of life. The band is a pick up gig. One of your companions is the sister of the drummer and band leader and you know that the regular players were unavailable and the two guitarists are just sitting in for the night. One is an older black blues musician you have hoped to see since a friend gave you an old CD to copy, Mem Shannon, the reason why you came. As the band is unfamiliar it takes them a song or two to fall into the practicality of the blues, a form as stylized as the baroque and and well known to them all so the players quickly pull it together. Shannon plays a red lacquered guitar covered with the dials and switches of the days before every player had a row of effect boxes at this feet, plays with the easy facility of long experience, and you think of B.B. King. The other guitarist is a guy named Danny Dugan, and on his jet black guitar with the whammy bar handing loose and broken he plays in the familiar rock-flavored tenor with occasional metal slide of a llife long fan of Dickie Betts.
They are two men of the same age but different in race, experience, the musicians they emulated. And yet as they play in an unfamiliar combo they follow each other from the corner of their eyes. With an occasional eyebrow arched like inverted slurs they support each other’s solos with perfect rhythm work, two practiced disciples of the blues each in their own style. The band leader gives directions between songs, sings with a voice pure and inspired as gospel for the love of the music. The tourists come and go and none leave anything in the tip jar. The regulars chatter in the back but fill the jar with cash when it is passed, understanding the price of their chosen ambiance. No one except the few of us in front is really paying attention. I sit rapt and follow the the way these two musicians settle into an unfamiliar gig and find a way to make incredible music with the grace of toreadors practicing without a crowd.
I mostly watch Mem Shanon, the fast and delicate finger work, the wrist flicking vibrato, as concert house perfect as any violinist but learned over decades playing to disinterested bars for the pure joy of the music, eyes sometimes closed with a slight smile of delight and other times looking up to the sky as if to search for approval from the God his elders told him hated the devil’s blues, the gospel tempos of the church stolen by scoundrels. I watch him eye the other guitarist as they trade licks just for the pure pleasure of it and the hope of enough in the tip jar and the bar cut to buy them dinner after and a cab home, playing not for the disinterested tourists who drift off to Bourbon or even for the regulars who make offerings to the tip jar the way the jaded fill the collection plate but for the pure love of the music, playing for themselves, for each other as the sort of men who play an edge of the quarter club on a Friday night for tips and drinks because they only want to play, would bring their own beer and find a room and play because they can’t imagine another way to live.
This is how art is born and tradition lives, not because of but in spite of the crowd, because these unfamiliar players share just enough of the vocabulary and are long practiced to make a pick up gig into something wonderful, because they can’t imagine a better way to spend the evening. An audience of two or three is almost irrelevant, but I like to think we add something to the moment, the smoke of our cigarettes rising up to heaven like josh stick offerings to the real heart of why New Orleans is, people who play and live and make an art of life because they can’t imagine another way to be.
I’d Rather Stay Here With All The Madmen January 21, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Billy Sothern, Lancelot, Walker Percy
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Almost everyone thinks of Confederacy of Dunces as The Great New Orleans book. When my daughter started Loyola this year, every entering student was handed a copy. I love the book as much as anyone else, but I think to raise it up on a pedestal like that ignores the fact that, while the city has fared poorly on film before Treme (and I have routine arguments with people even over that), it has produced a great many books that actually capture the sense of it, what Walker called in the Moviegoer “the genie soul of…place“.
Attorney, blogger and author Billy Sothern muses a bit on Walker Percy’s Lancelot, which owns its place in the canon for the character’s reflections while confined to a mental institution on the character of the city. Here is a fitting excerpt as we start to think of Carnival seasons.
What is it I can smell, even from here, as if the city has a soul and the soul exhaled an effluvium all its own? I can’t quite name it. A certain vital decay? A lively fetor? When I think of New Orleans away from New Orleans, I think of rotting fish on the sidewalk and good times inside. A Catholic city in a sense, but that’s not it. Providence, Rhode Island, is a Catholic city, but my God who would want to live in Providence, Rhode Island? It’s not it, your religion, that informs this city, but rather some special local accommodation to it or relaxation from it. The city’s soul I think of as neither damned nor saved but eased rather, existing in a kind of comfortable Catholic limbo somewhere between the outer circle of hell, where sexual sinners don’t have it all that bad, and the inner circle of purgatory, where things are even better. Add to that a flavor of Marseilles vice leavened by Southern U.S.A. good nature. Death and sex treated unseriously and money seriously. The Whitney Bank is as solemn as the cemetery is lively. Protestants started Mardi Gras, you know. Presbyterians take siestas or play gin at the Boston Club. Jews ride on carnival floats celebrating the onset of Christ’s forty-day fast.
If you don’t follow his blog, you really should. Check out Character and Fitness from last Tuesday.
Villages in the Midst January 3, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, 504ever.
Tags: Neighborhood, New Orleans, NOLA, The Rumpus
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Our friends over at THE RUMPUS kindly accepted this, along with pieces from several other New Orleans writers (none of whose pieces are about New Orleans but hey, I’m obsessed) for an online collection of very short pieces on Neighborhood. Thanks Susan Clements and the whole Rumpus team.
Start from the division of the city along Canal Street by a median strip called the neutral ground, one side Creole and the other American, the no man’s land where the old New Orleans of the French and Spanish reluctantly mingled with the Yankee new comers of two hundred years ago. Walk either direction from Canal more than a dozen blocks, downtown past the French Quarter or uptown through the Central Business District and things begin to blur. The grand avenues of St. Charles and Esplanade are both lined with the grand old houses of the wealthy, built when the city could call itself Queen of the South, but a few blocks behind either stand the same square cottages and long shotguns of the working class.
This is where conventional demography breaks down and neighborhood begins: where you got that po-boy or snowball, where you went to school, which church’s bells wake you at six in the morning, the store your parents sent you to as a child for liquor or cigarettes because the owner knew you. There are more than two cities here, not just the division of the old city into Creole and American but also the historic city and the post-war suburbs. Whether your boulevard is lined with grand mansions or strip malls, the back streets share an architectural homogeneity that makes the name of your corner store–not the Piggly Wiggly but the one with a family name–that much more important. This is neighborhood.
There is pride in neighborhood. Is there another city in America where a ten year old can tell you which civil ward he lives in, might even break into a sing-song chant of “1st Ward, 2nd Ward, 3rd Ward: that’s Uptown! 7th Ward 8th Ward, 9th Ward, that’s Downtown!”? The Mardi Gras Indians of either side sew in different styles, one geometrically abstract and feather-heavy, the other defined by detailed patchwork of primitive realism. These streets are where New Orleans’ iconic music is born, played not for the door but for pride; where the food is best not for Fodor’s but because your grandmother’s name is on the sign; where parades are not the lumbering floats of well-to-do Carnival but the high stepping second lines of century-old Social Aid and Pleasure clubs.
These neighborhoods are the villages we create to tame a place in the wild subtropical jungle that surrounds us.
Oh Brave New Year December 31, 2010Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Hieronymus Bosch, New Year, The Tempest
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“Oh brave new world that has such people in’t!”
– From Miranda’s speech in Shakespeare’s The Tempest
Your humble narrator stands ready to cast himself face first into the Hieronymus mosh pit of the brave New Year. If I don’t see you tonight, I’ll see you on the other side and we’ll take a right gude-willy waught, for auld lang syne.
A Silent Night Kind of Afternoon December 28, 2010Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
There just something Odd about the week between Christmas and New Years, that week of vacation you have to burn but you seem to have forgotten the matches, a hollowness like the watery sun in the sky that can’t kill the chill in the air. a space that seems as full of possibilities as the blank page but you mind goes just as blank with an inclination to idleness, a feeling there is not much doing and you’re not the one to do it. A cup of coffee outside a cafe seems a genuine holiday miracle, black java in a white mug bringing the warmth the sun can’t manage is the pinnacle of alchemy and after you’ve mastered that what more can you expect. You close the book you brought and read the leaves of the evergreen oaks instead.
Once you’ve left behind Jesus and Santa Claus there’s not much miracle in these days and New Years has always seemed to me a sound stage holiday, something people in old movies do while Guy Lombardo conducts in the background and we’re all just extras in paper hats pretending to have fun. For a few years after we moved back the bonfire seemed the height of the season, a spontaneous celebration full of energy and joy and my son and I would run three times widdershins so close you would come away with half a sunburn on your face to show for it but then the city shut it down in favor of the staged fireworks on the river, an inducement to come into town and spend some money you know you don’t have after the heavy bills of Christmas start to roll in.
So you sit around not watching the pile of movies someone loaned you because none of them seem quite right for the middle of the day, picking up and putting down books and listening to way too much John Prine because at least he takes a look around on a day like today and something comes out that makes you smile as often as not, but you know it’s probably time to shuffle him off the I-pod when all your words start coming out in rhyming couplets:
It’s a Silent Night kind of afternoon
and the sun hangs there like a big balloon
but its cold as the light of buttery moon
and if something doesn’t happen around her soon
there’s gonna be some kind of trouble.
God that’s awful. Be glad I never learned how to play the guitar.
Since I was forced to drive myself out to Metairie this morning to drop my son at his driving school, I at least managed to find a decent pair of khakis on sale for $10 to replace the ones I left in a hotel room, picking through shelves as empty as my head, and another warm shirt so I don’t need to rush out and do laundry on a day like this. The dishes are done but so am I, the yellow plastic vacuum standing there idle, the top of the handle crooked like an accusing finger but I’m more inclined to sit like a lizard with a cigarette in the midday sun now just barely warmer than the last of the morning coffee. If you’re looking for me try that coffee shop just up the way but I’m liable to be the man who wasn’t there, still as a stump and mind all squirrelly up in the menthol green leaves of the oaks on Esplanade writing songs in my head nobody is meant to hear.