Getting It Straight October 29, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, publishing, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Bob Man, Chris Rose, James Pogue, Louisiana Book Festival, Nathaniel Rich, New South Journalism, Oxford-American
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Let me get this right out front: this piece has not been fact checked. Hell, on a good day I manage to swat all the homonyms that jump up on this screen like roaches on toast. And at the end of the day Toulouse Street is more about fidelity than facts. Not an unusual state of affairs according to James Pogue, who says the problem with the famously aggressive fact checking of magazines like The New Yorker is it collides with “the emerging new essay…trying to do something that is obviously art” in which writers change facts.
Fortunately, I spent the morning with a panel of the checkers and the checked–
local magazine veterans Pogue, Nathaniel Rich, and Chris Rose–who have been on both sides of the fact check desk at publications including The Paris Review, GQ, The New Yorker and The Oxford American. All appear in the current issue of Ox Am, including Pogue’s piece “Diary of a Mad Fact-Checker”. Rich was fiction editor of The Paris Review and worked as fact checker at The New Yorker where even the poetry and fiction is fact checked “which really surprised some of the poets.” His piece in the current Ox Am is about bird watching and we have absolutely no idea if a Connecticut warbler is exactly the size Rich represented with his hand. However, since you can’t see this on the podcast we have decided to let it pass in honor of the greater truth. In the middle was Chris Rose, who hold the Brittany Spears beat at the Times Picayune among other duties, who put his case plainly: I just write it the way I’m pretty sure it happened.”
The problem with the approach Pogue describes, citing Dr. Hunter S. Thompson as the textbook illustration, is that for most writers “just making stuff up . . . completely destroys your credibility” and ends up just creating a media event a la James Frey. Still, the panel title was “New South Journalism” and depending on how you parse that sentence, it might include HST’s famous description from Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail of how to handle an uncommitted delegate. Or bats. The panelists made clear, however, such nonsense is not going to get in the mainstream of American publishing unless dressed as the deli delivery guy. It may, however, come to prevail in the online world. Rose noted that reporters filed copy directly onto NOLA.COM
at the same time it was sent to the without passing through the copy desk. There were some howlers among the examples but Chris Rose’s probably deserves its 15 minutes in print somewhere. Trying to describe the important of Cosimo Matasa’s recording studio to this history of rock-and-roll, he wrote for the upcoming Ox Am music edition that Matasa was making rock-and-roll “before Dick Clark and Ed Sullivan ever laced up their blue suede shoes.” Until the fact checker called him to ask if either of these gentlemen were noted for wearing blue suede shows. I think you can see where this is going (and it not skip to 54:40 on the podcast), but you won’t read that stylistic bit in the upcoming Ox Am.
[The topic seemed to have leaked out of the room into a poetry interview/reading hours later, when Louisiana Poet Laureate Julie Kane shared an anecdote about the poet she knows who was published in The New Yorker and was told that the constellation he mentioned could not possibly have been in the sky at the time of day and year the poem was describing. "He was surprised they didn't call his lady friend to make sure she absolutely was in the sleeping bag next to him that night," she said.]
The panelists spent
two-thirds of their alloted an awful lot of time on fact checking, but Rich’s tales about bird watchers at Grand Isle means I’m going to have to go back and unskip his article when I get a minute. (Nothing personal, Nathaniel, I just don’t have time to read a magazine one and through, and the leisure time for second passes through my magazine stack is measured in feet on one side of my couch), and on the transition away from pulp-and-polish to digital media Rose, who’s piece on the Ox Am was about the gradual demise of the city’s newspaper the Times-Picayune summed it up best “I make something you can hold in your hand at the end of the day–a story, a book, a newspaper–and after I’ve worked my ass off and bled, where is it?”
This is all good fun, whether the panelists are trying to on-up each other with the best example of overzealous fact-checking or when Rich tell us about his
week in trip to Grand Isle to find birdwatchers in their natural environment, but there is a long, thoughtful discussion of the evolution away from print toward digital about midway through the podcast and I don’t have time to transcribe and which you really ought to listen to. Jump to 31:06 and listen through 40:22 if you are as pressed as time for I am. Bob Mann poses the question, Pogue answers first and Rich second, and Rose gives the coup de grace.
South of 90 October 28, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in books, New Orleans, Odd Words, Poetry, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: A Vein in the Gulf, Côte Blanche, Julie Kane, Louisiana Book Festival, Martha Serpas
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Martha Serpas holds enough degrees in creative writing to sketch the outline of a novel on and a Master of Divinity from Yale. She has a preface by Harold Bloom in her first book of poems. She explains the title of a new poem “The Diener,” a word with a German root meaning servant and applied to the person who runs the hospital morgue. The title stumped Bloom, the sort of accomplishment you want in your obituary, like the drummer acquaintance I had in DC who visited New Orleans with The Nighthawks for several months in the 1980s and was introduced by Zigaboo Modaliste to his table at Dookie Chase as a “bad motherfuckin’ drummer.” If I ever find my provincial ass trapped in a Manhattan cocktail party, I want to arrive with Martha and Maud Newton. They can dump me at the door, as long as I can nod my head toward them across the room and say, I came with Martha and Maud.
She surveys the small room of poetry readers at the Louisiana Book Festival with a leonine calm, exudes a gentle accessibility and level headedness necessary to someone who volunteers as a hospital trauma chaplain. She was born in Galliano and attended LSU and the University of Houston. She spent enough time at NYU and in New Haven to attract luminaries such as Bloom but also taught at the University of Tampa and now in Houston, and prefers to describe herself as “from the Gulf Coast.” You sense that beneath the sheepskins is a girl from Galliano done good, can easily see her standing at the saw horse table peeling shrimp, a brown long neck at her elbow, someone from the only place on earth you can stand south of ninety.
Her love for her home south of Highway 90 comes bubbling out when talks about a film project A Vein in the Gulf, which resulted from the idea of her friend Elizabeth Coffman than they take a van full of film students and poets to the Louisiana coast to document the impact of wetlands loss. There is also a natural, Catholic-school modesty when she speaks of writing about Lafourche Parish, especially after what she calls “the big event” of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “I struggled just writing about my home town,” she said of her first book of poems, Côte Blanche, the one with a preface by Bloom. “Who am I to write these poems about these folk and these places?” After the storm, she came to a realization with the help of friends. “If [I] don’t write it, if I don’t take that platform how does that help the people I love and the place I love . . . well, maybe one person will understand the culture, appreciate the culture, can be moved by the culture [then] why would I not want to reach that one person?”
It is in that conversation that she drops the bomb that leaves me flabbergasted, the acknowledgment most folks north of 90 have not yet admitted to. “We have to keep trying to save [the wetlands] even though we know it’s impossible to save it. It’s too late.” I have read the literature of coastal loss since I was a weekly newspaper editor in St. Bernard Parish in the 1980s, insist to everyone I know that they must read Mike Tidwell’s story of the slow holocaust on the coast Bayou Farewell: The Rich Life and Tragic Death of Louisiana’s Cajun Coast but few people are willing to speak that truth aloud. “It’s too late.”
At the end of the interview I ask her if she finds some confluence between her work as a trauma chaplain and writing about Lafourche, “The first image that popped into my mind is when I visit a patient that is dying, what we would call the death watch, and people look at the monitors as if that is going to tell us anything in terms of how long that process will take, and we’re all there…the family…most people want to be there. That is what flashed through my head when you say that. It’s death, and its beautiful. Even the destruction of the wetlands is beautiful because something will come out of it, some life will come out of it even though … I can’t see it. I don’t see anything life-giving come out of it even as I know intellectually that something will.”
I know at the end of the interview that Côte Blanche is the first of the stack of books I brought home I will want to read, and that I need to see A Vein in the Gulf. Interviewer Julie Kane, the poet laureate of Louisiana, concluded my question and the author’s answer with a quotation from an author whose name neither I nor my record catch, that “all poetry is elegy.” As I pack up to leave the room, I think that the hurricane coast may have found its elegist. She prefaces her answer to my question with a quote from rabbi I can’t quite make out on the recording: “You are not required to complete the work nor are you free to desist from it.” If not their elegist, the people of Lafourche and the whole coast have certainly found their chaplain.
“This probably should go really badly” — Roy Blount Jr. and James Wilcox at the Louisiana Book Festival November 11, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Tags: James Wilcox, Louisiana Book Festival, Roy Blount Jr.
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Here at last is the full podcast of Roy Blount, Jr.’s conversation with James Wilcox, winner of the Louisiana Book Award, at the 2011 Louisiana Book Festival, delayed these weeks by some technical challenges having to do with trying to edit large media files on a computer better suited to giving to your three year old for to use to play on Barbie.com.
Blount’s prognostication quoted in the title of this post held perfectly true as the two men romped through Wilcox’s career, the confusion and conflict that drive his comic novels. They touched such questions as whether one is a Junior or simply shares a father’s first name, or what the nuns at Wilcox’s Catholic school thought of their president of the Catholic Youth Organization playing organ in the Methodist Church, entered into Wilcox’s storytelling. Oh, and the time Wilcox was robbed of a tooth at gunpoint in Manhattan by a couple of very chic muggers.
I think you will enjoy it as much as those of us in attendance did.
Louisiana Book Festival: The Author Party October 28, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, Louisiana, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Jr., Louisiana Book Festival, Roy Blount, Skip Horack
At the end of the night I am standing at the library reception counter, surveying the large swath of uncollected author’s name badges when I realized I was standing next to Roy Blount, Jr. Mr. Blount, I say introducing myself, its a shame so many of these badges are lying out here. Thank you for coming.
He eyes me with a slight, wry smile, wondering if I was someone he should remember, and returns my handshake with a quick “entirely my pleasure.” I told him I was looking forward to his interview with Louisiana Writer Award Winner James Wilcox and left it at that, trying to avoid a complete fan boy meltdown or the temptation to have my picture snapped with him. In retrospect, there was no damned good reason not to have my picture taken. This was after all a reception and fundraiser for the festival and a certain amount of ohh and ahh wouldn’t have been completely out of place, even among the cool sort who move in literary circles where everyone has at least a passing acquaintance with everyone else
Tomorrow I can corner Blount and Wilcox as they come off the stage from Blount’s interview with Wilcox and ask my questions then, mainly why Southern writers tend toward the Comic–Blount, Wilcox, Barry Hannah, Rick Bragg–and the Deadly Serious, William Faulkner and William Styron the first to come to mind of that lot. I was thinking of this divergence the other night, as I re-read Modern Baptists before the festival of Wilcox and Styron, two prominent Southern voices’ acclaimed first novels, weighing the lugubrious similarities of Bobby (not Carl) Pickens and Milton Loftis, sad cases both but in such completely different ways.
Tomorrow I will ask, digital recorder propped under my notebook, but tonight was more of a social occasion, entirely Nell Nolan at one level but behind all the fine catering, the mostly ignored jazz band in the lobby and the wandering photographer it was clearly more an opportunity for friends and acquaintances to visit a bit before tomorrow’s formalities, a plate of food nearby and a drink in hand, an entirely Southern moment when playing the reporter would have been a silly as Bobby Perkins at the opera in a checked leisure suit.
The right thing to do this evening was to go with the flow, to grab a beer and a plate of food and stop to say hello to the handful of people I knew (the poets laureate, poet and now novelist Melinda Palacio, here to promote her first novel Octillio Dreams), and see where it lead. It lead to Josh (I think that was his name; taking notes with an Abita in one hand and a cup of gumbo in the other makes shaking hands difficult enough, much less writing) who said he had been hired to write the True Blood Cookbook officially attributed to the authors of a fan web site of the HBO Series.
If you’ve met the ghost writer of a vampire-themed cookbook, you are off to a good start. Hell, you might just stop there and declare the evening a complete success, but there was no reason to stop there. The most interesting thing about the party was the complex web of acquaintances, how one person led to another as you navigated the room. Kelly Harris of Xavier University, whom I had just made an online acquaintance via the Peauxdunqe Writer Alliance and was pleased to meet in person turned out to be the wife of Times-Picayune editorial writer and columnist Jarvis DeBerry, and I mentioned my long ago association with his colleague Annette Cisco, who had picked up some Wet Bank Guide pieces for the T-P back in the days after the storm.
They were standing Freddi Williams Evans, author of Congo Sqaure: African Roots in New Orleans and another woman, an illustrator of children’s books whose name I sadly did not catch (that damned beer and food problem again. I have a terrible memory for names and should have planted my plate of seafood stuffed mushrooms and beer on the table and scritched out her name in my notebook. My apologies). I told Evans about my friend Ray Shea’s fascinating capsule theory of the Congo Square origins of hip-hop, promising to send her a link to his post on the Treme blog Back of Town.
Melinda seemed anxious to be my guide for the evening (have you met Luis Urrea? Do you know Tim Gautreaux?) and I let myself by turns be led through or simply drift through the evening, sometimes in tow of one person or another or excusing myself when they were deep in conversation with an old literary friend to get another beer and circle the room to see who else there was to see.
I saw painter George Rodrigue repeatedly but managed to miss finally meeting his charming wife Wendy in person (presuming she was there: I think she was). We first became acquainted when I posted a picture of the hilarious stencil of the car sqaushed Blue Dog that was all over town, along with a few harsh comments about the entire Blue Dog phenomena, which I simply don’t get. She was not entirely pleased by what I wrote but I pointed out to her my earlier stated fondness for her husbands earlier work and his modern dog-less paintings and we have been cordially connected online ever since. However, in my meanderings through the first floor of the state library we never managed to connect. It was that kind of party: unless I had made it my solitary goal to meet her, we were both doomed to wander from conversation to buffet to bar and back again, talking to people we knew and having fascinating conversations with people we just met but never quite getting to see everyone we wished to see.
Perhaps it was best that most of the name authors were just checking into the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center and getting some rest before tomorrow’s big event, or off having dinner elsewhere with friends. Meeting the vampire ghost writer, talking to Freddi Evans about the roots of hip-hop in Congo Square, running into Skip Horack whom I heard read at the Tennessee Williams Festival and telling him how much I loved his book The Eden Hunter, not realizing until I had left that the familiar sounding person Skip was attached to most of the night was the Tim O’Brien famous as escort to visiting literati in New Orleans, never quite getting introduced to Tim Gautreux who bore a frightening resemblance to Raeburn Miller, a college mentor in poetry: it was all in all a charming if dizzying evening for a first time visitor to the Louisiana Book Festival.
In the end all the author name tags that went unclaimed were no big deal; just an excuse for me at the end to say hello to Roy Blount, Jr. Someone with the festival may have been fretting over who showed and who didn’t but to the crowd inside, they weren’t missed. It was their own bad luck they missed a great party.
Louisiana Book Festival: The Seminar October 28, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Louisiana Book Festival, S, Sheryl St. Germain
Six hours into my first Louisiana Book Festival and I’m already running late. How I am going to manage tomorrow’s insanely packed schedule I have no idea, but not by sitting around here typing. I am off to the Author’s Party on behalf of Odd Words and NoleVie.com, so I had best get moving.
My first stop when I arrived early at the Louisiana State Library was to look up A Howling in the Wires. I didn’t have time to visit it on the shelves on the fifth floor, but will make a moment to do so tomorrow.
I don’t really have much time to write about my seminar with Sheryl St. Germain on Conjuring Place in creative non-fiction other than to say it was productive and delightful. I managed a piece in spite of mishearing 10 minutes break and 10 minutes to write and lingering too long over a cigarette but I mostly had it in my head by the time I got back before the expected break was over to find the rest of the attendees madly scribbling. Germain was kind and constructive with a room of varying writing experience, not an easy job.
Her handout had some interesting pointers, the most striking of which was: 4. Revise toward strangeness. This is clearly something regular readers know I will need to work on. She also included “7. Be Fearless,” so I think wearing my Write Like A Motherfucker shirt from Sugar on TheRumpus.net was probably a good wardrobe choice, even if it was meat locker chilly inside and out in Baton Rouge today.
Realizing I left without business cards, I found an Office Depot using Google on the State Library;s computers (and while looking at the Author’s Party page realized I was probably under packed.) So instead of a few hours to chill I was at the store cutting rough-and-ready business cards, then over to Wal-Mart to find a better looking and warmer shirt. Because if you think you’re going to be under dressed, the first place you think of is of course Wal-Mart.
Did I mention I forgot to check the weather? Wal-Mart was next to Office Depot, and I managed a decent looking Puritan button neck pullover, so either Puritan has gone down in the world (I used to be mine at D.H. Holmes) or some kind spirit from the Garden District was looking out for me. I would go with Polyhymnia who’s emblem is the veil but the poor girl got her self left off when they were naming the streets.
I am finally ensconced in the Crowne Plaza Executive Center, which has everything you want in a mid-priced business class hotel, including an iron that just left a faint stain on my only decent slacks and strange black marks all over the wall where the luggage stand goes, where a previous guest apparently had difficulty stuffing all those live monkeys into his overnight bag. A quick cigarette and I’m back to the author’s party, where I must not embarrass myself by making the dinner I didn’t get out of whatever sort of food they put out. And if I don’t stop typing and get dressed soon I’ll be eating olives out of the bar for dinner.
Red Stick Lit Fest Marathon October 28, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in books, literature, New Orleans, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Louisiana Book Festival
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Odd Words is off to Baton Rouge for the return of the Louisiana Book Festival, on tenuous credentials from NolaVie.com, for a full program of telegraphic dispatches by smart phone to the blog for cleaning up later before I feed them into the Mojo Wire for NolaVie and NOLA.com. I suggested in this week’s Odd Words there were too many great events to list and suggested your check the schedule, here’s just a taste of what’s out there taken from my own Mondrian-mad color coded Google calender of what I have to chose from:
& The Louisiana Poet Laureate Presents Poets from Across the State: Amy Fleury, Thomas Parrie, Jennifer Reeser and Mona Lisa Saloy with Julie Kane, House Committee Room 1, 9-9:45 am.
& Louisiana Writer Award Ceremony Honoring James Wilcox with Jay Dardenne and Rebecca Hamilton (Hmmm, bad flash backs to my days as a Capitol Hill press flackl just to make sure I don’t compulsively stalk up to Dardenne and insist he empty his pockets and for god’s sake pull his jacket down and straighten his tie skip this and try to corner Wilcox for five minutes at the Author’s Party and write up the Blount interview instead).
& Waterlines: Louisiana Poets on Katrina featuring Vincent Cellucci, Kelly Harris, Laura Mullen,
Alison Pellegrin and Brad Richard, Capital View Room/La. State Library, 10-11 am.
& A Writer’s Journey Home featuring Mark Richard with Cara Blue Adams and Jessica Faust, 11 – 11:45 am, House Chamber. If you know my own story of Wet Bank Guide and Carry Me Home, of course this is on the list.
& Fiction after the Deluge: Two Post-Katrina Novels featuring Rosalyn Story and Laura Ellen Scott, Capital View Room, 11:15 am-12:15 pm.
& Between Song and Story: A Conversation about New Forms of the Essay, House Committee Room 2, 11:45 am – 12:45 pm. I’m not entirely pleased to have to chose between this and the last two, and that’s just one example o the hard editorial choices to be made here.
& Commandeer a passing festival golf cart, madly waving my press credential like Hunter S. Thompson trying to flag a bartender, for a Mr.Toad’s wild ride from the Capital back to the Library in time for …
& James Wilcox’s interview by Roy Blount, Jr., House Committee Room 1, 12:15 – 1 pm. Somebody for bog’s sake save a seat for a member of the Working Press.
& Roy Blount, Jr. discussing Alphabetter Juice, Senate Chamber, 1:15-2:15 pm.
& From One Poet Laureate to Another featuring Darrell Bourque and Julie Kane,Capitol View Room, 2-2:30 pm. I probably have to skip this but I’ll see our charming laureate’s Friday night and at other events.
& Andre Dubus II: Honoring the Writer, Remembering the Man featuring his son and noted author in hiw own right Andre Dubus III and Kathryn Dubus with Katherine Krotzer Laborde, House Chamber, 2:15-3 pm.
& Maxine Cassin – A Tribute to the poet and publisher of note featuring Dan Cassin, Gina Ferrara, John P. Travis and Laurie A. Williams. A can’t miss for anyone interested in poetry. Must remember to give John some ink on his new book. Capitol View Room 3:30-4:30 pm
& Unfortunately scheduled at the same time, I’ll have to miss both Robert Olen Butler reading and discussing his latest, A Small Hotel, House Committee Room 1, 3:15-4 pm. and James Nolan’s A Romp through the Ruins: The Comic Noir Novel Higher Ground, Senate Chamber, same time. I don’t think I can miss the Cassin tribute, and I’ll have to skip these two stand out NOLA novelist events.
& Speaking of Books with S. L. Alexander, Fred Kasten, Susan Larson and Ted O’Brien. House Committee Room 5, 4-5 pm. Stop by after the Cassin tribute and corner Kasten to enlist his aid in the Everette Maddox Wikipedia Page Project. I’ll need to commander another golf cart to make this.
& Retire to the bar at the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center to frantically transcribe portions of my notes from my custom cuneiform shorthand while I can still read them, and corner any other likely suspects for a quick quote or two. Try to finagle my way into watching the LSU game at Roy Blount’s table. Phone mumbled excuses home to New Orleans for why I won’t be where I promised I would be that night. 5 pm until…
And these are just the events I want to try and cover, only a small fraction of what’s offered Saturday. I may have to reconsider the kind offer of a press escort, if only to send some blushing flower of LSU’s Greek garden off with my digital recorder to try and cross cover a few of these, and to keep me supplied with coffee at all times to make it through a day like this.
I am tempted to stay in Red Stick to watch the Clash of the Titans, or whatever the sporting press is calling the LSU-’Bama game, from the very belly of the beast but I don’t think I’d make it back to NOLA in one piece after a day like this followed by a night in a sports bar reliving the days of my misspent youth living in Stadium North.
P.s. I’ve decided rumpled is a good look for an aspiring minor poet and provincial diarist, so the hell with ironing my slacks for tonight. I’m off to finish my reread of Wilcox’s Modern Baptists before I hit the road. See you at the Festival, I hope.