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The Oppression of Blooming Magnolias April 17, 2009

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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I find myself, at age 51 and on the urging of a close friend, reading William Styron’s Lay Down in Darkness for the first time since I was at U.N.O. 30 years ago. I find it a difficult slog in spite of the beautiful telling of the awful tale. It is not a good book for a middle aged man in a certain frame of mind to read, unless the keys to the liquor and gun cabinets have been handed over to a trusty retainer.

The verse below just sort of came out the other night when I put the book down to go out and smoke a cigarette, and sat thinking about it. It is not meant as an indictment of Southern literature (although that would be a fair reading) but as a part of the thoughts of someone who feels a bit to close to many of the characters, someone living in a city strangled in its southern heritage.

It is oddly in agreement with the sentiments of someone I took off after quite a while ago in another post. The author of the quote in that post sent me an email a while back taking issue with what I said, and I’ve never answered it. I think I will have to go hunt it down and give him his reply.

I have a blog post on the subject of “a city strangled in it’s southern heritage” rumbling around in the back of my head, planned for HumidCity.com, but it’s not ready yet and it’s French Quarter Fest weekend. So, for now, here is a visceral and entirely personal reaction to reading Styron’s novel.

The Oppression of Blooming Magnolias

On Reading Lay Down in Darkness in Middle Age

I am weary of Lear in his linen suit
and his Shantung straw, with his whiskey neat
and his southern drawl, with his lisping women.

Williams, Styron, Faulkner: I have studied, father,
all the chapters in the sacred scripture
of southern damnation, and remain unredeemed.

Let us bury them under the old willows
among the Confederate dead, lay down
their burden by the river and

Rise up, wide-eyed and gasping, born again.
Only then will the oppression
of blooming magnolias be lifted from us all.


1. Ole Blue - April 17, 2009

“city strangled in its southern heritage”

I see many cities being strangled by it’s southern heritage.

Great prose and poem. I grew weary of the southern novel many years ago, too many cliches and too much old bourbon.


2. Richard Kilbourne - April 24, 2009

Well, I sympathize.

Your syndrome is something I noticed and described decades ago as “Southern precious.”

I have been at poetry readings with Martha McFerren and her husband Dennis Wall, and at an instant we’ve turned to each other and said, “Southern precious.”

Poetry is unforgiving.

Richard Kilbourne


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