Remember 8-29 August 29, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Home August 28, 2010Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“I’m going back to a place/Where I know who I am…”
That Bright Moment (revisited) August 27, 2010Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT
WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns
Trapped not as you might think, given the juxtaposition of the word doom; trapped instead in the complex web of postdiluvian New Orleans in the way light is said to be trapped by a cut and polished gem, refracted by the complex play of facets until made into a flashing thing of beauty: that is how I try to live with what was once the shadow of The Flood, the rafts of ghosts it unleashed.
[In] Delaney’s novella trilogy Fall of the Towers…[the characters must confront] the mass, simultaneous discovery by an entire society that a key assumption about their lives–that there was an enemy beyond the barrier; that they were at war–was a complex fiction constructed by their ruling class.
I am not certain how something terribly similar will play out here in New Orleans, among people who’s fundamental assumptions have been washed away: that the basic infrastructure of our lives is built well enough that we will not die of living upon it; that our government will rise up to protect and succor us at a moment of great peril; that if we pay our bills to the insurance company they will help make us whole. How do we live when all of the illusions that underpin life in modern America are suddenly swept away…
There is a certain beauty…[in] the insistent evidence of hope, with the irrational and irresistible persistence that is one of the hallmarks of life, prominently displayed here in New Orleans like flowers erupting on a cooled lava flow…
[Here on Toulouse Street] I try…to celebrate the found moments of odd or profound beauty that come out of All That: the moments of simple, quiet pleasure and ecstatic, public joy that mark life in postdiluvian New Orleans, the surest signs that what we are building here is indeed New Orleans, heedless of the violent transfiguration of our landscape, the vast swaths of ruin that still blanket Gentilly and the East, that mark the modern Land of Nod.
I cannot entirely surrender [my] anger, not while I have this public forum and a handful of readers I might influence. There is too much to be done to realize the potential that arises out of that bright moment when we learned our doom….
[T]here is still a life to be lived here. For all of the constant struggle and the occasional horror of that life there are still the moments that flash out like shinning from shook foil, as Gerald Manley Hopkins put it. Our world is charged with the grandeur not of God precisely but of who we are, of how we live: every bar of music and snatch of song that puts a lilt in our step I never saw on the streets of Washington or Fargo; every sloppy po-boy unrolled from its waxy wrapper like an Egyptian treasure, that sustains us as much by the thought of which neighborhood joint it came from and by the sight of it laying there like a woman in dishabille, as we are as by the smell and the taste of it; the peculiar site lines of a city built to conform to the zaftig geography of the river’s crescent and our slow descent into the ocean. All of these flash out of the cold, hard moment when we rediscovered who we are, flash out with a beauty that should settle the question once and for all: why do we choose to live here having learned our doom?…
The quote that eventually came to rest prominently at the top of [my Katrina blog] Wet Bank Guide was from the jazz and performance artist Sun Ran: Its After the End of the World, Don’t You Know That Yet? For Sun Ra, it was a profound renunciation of the ugly history of what it meant to be Black in late 20th Century America…Sun Ra’s aphorism calls us to a celebration of the realization that we have been unshackled by the storm and flood from the conventional, from so much of our history and attachment. Perhaps I can help all those around me who still cling to the past, to the ugliest parts of the long story what makes us who we are; I hope I can push them to recognize that those shackles lie about their feet and no longer bind them, that they have been freed by that bright moment in which we knew our doom to become something at once old and new: not the city bequeathed to us like a curse by our ancestors who held or felt the lash but instead the city of memory and of dreams, the city that lives in our hearts.
Edit of a piece originally published about two years ago on Toulouse Street.
Requiem August 27, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, the dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the dark night of our soul Your shattered dreamers Make them whole O! Mother Mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace Lead us to a higher place/Mary…
I remember where I was when I first heard this song, on an NPR broadcast. The NPR archive reminds me it was Sept. 14, 2005. I was driving through South Fargo to pick my daughter up at junior high school. I had to pull over because I could not see. I was late.
This video contains disturbing images of the dead. Here on Toulouse Street, as on the Wet Bank Guide, above all we Remember them:
…”[All] Father, Oshun, Mother of God, Ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.”
Thank you to songwriter and singer Eliza Gilkyson (who sings in duet with her daughter on this piece). When You Tube sent me a nasty gram about me stealing someone’s audio, I wrote to her and she intervened to allow it to remain. Thank you and apologies to all of the photographers who’ve worked I’ve liberated for this.
Odd Words August 26, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, books, Hurricane Katrina, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street.
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Its been frantic this week of “vacation” and I won’t go into the gruesome details except to say that in spite of everything else we are ready for tonight’s book launch of A Howling in the Wires at Mimi’s in the Marigny, 2601 Royal Street, in the upstairs bar from 7 until. Open to the public. Books aren’t in stores yet but we will begin to deal with that Friday. The vast staff of the Gallatin & Toulouse Press publishing empire had to put down one’s dog while the other got their daugter settled in college.
If you can’t make it, check your New Orleans Indie book stores, visit our website or Alibris.com. Just please don’t go to Amazon, where I haven’t had time to take the book down. We will loose two cents on every book we sell on Amazon, minus shipping, because as best I can figure the written terms don’t agree precisely with the practices. (i.e., I will not be reimbursed my shipping cost to Amazon. And they take more than 50%. Fuck ’em. I’m going to cancel my pre-order for Treme and close my account. Hopefully the book will disappear from there and I will beat Amazon with the club of Alibris.com and IndieBooks.com (shop local) every chance I get.
Harumph. Rant over. The summer doldrums are behind us (a dangerous cliche in New Orleans) and things are starting to pick up again this weekend.
§ Not specifically a literary event but this weekend is the annual Rising Tide conference. I’ve been too busy with the book to be involved much but would not miss Maitri Erwin’s Treme discussion panel for the world, which will involve two of the writers for the series, Eric Overmyer and Lollis Eric Elie. And I am pretty sure a third writer will be in audience if he can exuent his conflict in time for that panel, because he told us so the other night. Featured speaker is Mac McClelland, human rights corrrespondent for Mother Jones magazine, and there will be panels on the environment, crime and of course levees, which is how all this got started. And Tom Lowenberg of Octavia wlll be there again selling books and media featuring New Orleans and the panelists. It’s hard to get away without an armful every year. While your browsing, don’t forget to pick up a copy of ↑ A ↑ Howling ↑ In ↑ The ↑ Wires ↑ while you’re there. A number of contributors will be on hand to autograph it.
§ Dave Brinks and Megan Burns are keeping 17 Poets! dark for our book launch (bless ’em) but planning a big celebration of the fifth year of our recovery Sunday, Aug 29 at 5 pm at the Goldmine Saloon, called the All-Hands-On-Deck Poetry, Art, and Music Fundraiser. Featuring music by Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr and the Zydeco Twisters with special guest Cyrill Nevill, poetry, multi-media performances and a silent auction including work by George Rodrigue. All Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit: Protectourcoastline.org $15.00 Donation at Door.
§ I feel bad because I know Paul Benton reads the blog and is a fine poet, but I’m probably going to be at Brink’s thing (since he was going to reopen on the 26th and stayed dark in deference to our book launch, but Paul is the brave soul who took the slot on 8-29. As if poetry weren’t evidence enough of madness.
§ There will be a ONE BLOCK Block Party in the 500 Block of Caffin Street from 4 pm – 7 pm celebrating the book ONE BLOCK, photographs by Dave Anderson, essay by Chris Rose, a powerful portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans as seen through the prism of a single city block whose residents are attempting to rebuild their homes. There will be performances by Rebirth Brass Band and Little Freddie King, a photography exhibition by One Block residents and local artists Chaundra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, and special guests and Octavia will be selling books. (If they are at Rising Tide and this event and their own in-house singing, I think there must be capes and tights involved here somehow)
§ There are a slew of other Katrina and the Flood related books signings, etc. going on this weekend so I’m reduced to a bullet list.:
- I’m not going to diss Dave Eggers even though he’s scheduled up against our book launch, so: The author discusses and reads from Zeitoun. 7 p.m. Thursday. Tulane University, McAlister Auditorium. Still plenty of time when that’s over to get to Mimi’s, Dave.
- Josh Neufeld – A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge – paperback release at Octavia Books, 2-4 p.m. If you haven’t gotten this one yet, there’s no excuse now its out in paperback. If you’re not at Rising Tide getting a copy, hie yourself over to Octavia.
- Garden District Books hosts three events. First: John Biguenet and other contributors discuss and sign their book Before During and After, Saturday 8-28 1-3 pm
- Also at GDB Rebeca Antoine, (Toulouse Street favorite) Barb Johnson and Niyi Osundare discuss and sign their book Voices Rising 2 Tuesday 8-31 5:30-7:30
- At the same time on Tuesday at GDB Cynthia Hogue and Rebecca Ross discuss and sign their book When The Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.
- And even though I need to get myself over to Megan and Dave’s event at the Goldmine, I don’t know how I can miss Remembering Katrina: A Commemorative Poetry Reading – Yusef Komunyakaa and seven other poets present a reading. 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Tulane University, Lavin-Bernick University Center, McAlister Drive. I mean, Yusef Komunyakaa man. And of course the feature will probably read last.
I think after this weekend going back to work will be relaxing. My plan to diminish the pile of books at my beside at leisure has instead grown it by a couple, and I think I’ve managed few chapters. Maybe next year.
Glory at Sea August 22, 2010Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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If the anniversary leads you to watch any video this week (and I include Spike Lee’s new film and the Wendell Pierce/Soledad Brian Pontchartrain Park show on CNN, which I hope repeats as I had to miss it last night), watch this one first.
All others are optional.
Je me souviens. Remember 8-29.
A Pirate’s Life for Me August 21, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, pirates, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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So yo ho ho here I go again, lazily stealing work from better writers, in this case from Charles Bukowski’s Betting on the Muse which I just purchased and have wanted to own since I first read it long ago just to have a hard copy of the poem The Laughing Heart but that’s not the one I’m stealing today. Here is another one that caught my eye at lunch the other day, one from his time in New Orleans hanging out with Jon and Louise “Gypsie Lou” Webb of Loujon press who were his first publishers, the period which produced the popular “Young in New Orleans” which I believe I have ripped right off the page and posted here as well, all piratical like and in knowing contravention of the Digital Millennium Copyright Law but then I would assert that this constitutes commentary on the following text which clearly requires by its very nature that I reproduce the piece in its entirety.
If one of you, oh my dozens of readers, call me out on this well then I’ll just have to hunt you down and discuss it, Southern style. Until then and even though there is a clear copyright statement down the side of this page (but that’s just for the folks who suck up every word you post onto ghost blogs to try and sell ads), if you have the urge to lift something from these columns then–provided you give me and Toulouse Street credit–you go right ahead. Can I help you carry that to your car? I have some rope; let’s get it tied down properly. There, you’re all set to roll. You look thirsty after all that hard work. Let me buy you a beer, no better yet, a six pack we can split and discuss just why the hell you’d ever want to do such a thing.
A View from the Quarter, March 12th, 1965
we are in a terrible hurry to die
as large Negroes break the
our fingers tremble on dark
as this city
all the cities
dipped into with
I awaken to pull a shade
I awaken to black men and
white men and no
they rape everything
they walk into churches and
churches bum down
they pet dogs and dogs heave
yellow saliva and
they buy paintings that they
they buy women that they
they buy everything and
what they can’t buy
their women approach me
they wiggle in the sacrament of
they sway before me upon the towers
of their high-heels
the whole sum of them wanting
to make me scream
in some idiot’s glory
but I look again
and I know that they are
that it is useless
and I cross the street
to buy a loaf of
the sweetest sound I hear is
the dripping of the
or some unemployed Jazzman
practicing his runs—
a wail of martyrdom to an
we only pretend to live
while we wait on something
we wait on something
and look at diamond wrist watches
through plate glass windows
as a spider sucks the guts out of a
we pay homage to Marshal Foch’s
granddaughter bending over a
tub of laundry,
we walk down St. Peter St.
hoping to find a
dime in the gutter
the dogs know us
the dogs know us
the Jazzman sends it home to
me through the blue glass of a
4 p.m. Friday
he wants me to know how he
as feet run over my
as the dead men suck in
as the dead men machinegun the
and in moments of rest
pray and drink
I have watched the artists
rotting in their chairs
while the tourists took pictures
of an old iron railing not yet made
I have seen you, New Orleans,
I have seen you, New York,
Miami, Philly, Frisco, St. Louie,
L.A., Dago, Houston, and
most of the rest. I have
seen nothing, your best men are
drunks and your worst men are
your best men are killers and
your worst men are
your best men die in alleys
under a sheet of paper
while your worst men
get statues in parks
for pigeons to shit upon for
the Jazzman stops. My god, it’s
quiet, that’s all I can say now!
it’s quiet, it’s quiet, let me think
if I feel like thinking and if
I don’t, mama, let me not think.
I look down on the floor—
a beer carton
busted open and empty
and like the Jazzman:
don’t wanta think
— Charles Bukowski, from Betting on the Muse
Naked Lunch August 19, 2010Posted by The Typist in Counting House, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, Toulouse Street.
If you’re bothering to order something healthy, a salad & a plastic bottle of spring water & you’re taking it outside into the fresh air & then there’s some damn truck parked just under the balcony, the horrible rumbling in the street of the shuddering diesel engine left to spew out soot and fumes but if I light a cigarette here after lunch the army of gray concierge guards will descend on me with stern faces. The tables all around me are full of happy office friends (& HR wants to know: do you have a friend at work? as if it were any of the company’s fucking business) & the hollering & laughing at every table is so loud to make themselves heard over the thundering truck’s unattended engine but somehow it’s still the best place to read or think in this building, remembering the blocks of cubicles upstairs ranked in beige silence barely broken by the skeletal rattling of keyboards, a cough, some whispered business, the cricketing of telephones. It makes you want to walk back out out to the elevator lobby and study the letters of the directory again to find out which of these endless Lego block rooms holds which deceased but instead you go down to lunch & sit outside in the roar of the exhaust amid the gay tables of women, tossing cracker bits to the pigeons & reading Bukowski & watching the Whitney Bank branch across the street: no one has come in or out for thirty minutes & it’s lunch break, the working man’s errand hour and you wonder why they hell we bother to go back inside. I slowly scan the tables up and down from Common to Gravier, from blond to black, from bosom to ankle and wonder if I shouldn’t have a friend at work if it would make the Counting House happy or else I should try reading something other than Bukowski at lunch but I think of those endless rows of cubicles like mail slots and all the years he spent slaving at the post office & I realize that if this place weren’t driving me crazy that would mean I’m already there, that work is just some medication-induced bad dream of the sort I had all the time when I tried the anti-depressant Buproprion to quit smoking & any minute now I’m going to wake up strapped to a gurney somewhere but that’s just wishful thinking. My cube is waiting for me umpteen floors up this boxy tower. No doubt I have phone messages from people who’ve decided I need to take a vacation day if I don’t want to work on Mardi Gras (and I wonder if I could find a branch open on Mardi Gras day and walk in in a satin clown suit in full makeup with my childhood friction spark ray gun in my waste band and pass the teller a note that says: This is a parade. Give me all your beads) but it’s not Carnival; I’m on a balcony full of chattering young women bright as birds in their filmy summer dresses on a balmy August day with the streetcars rolling by and if I crane my neck just a bit I can see down Royal Street and I know who the crazy ones are, I passed them on the escalator hurrying back upstairs to eat their lunch out of Styrofoam boxes not much smaller than their cubicles, a fork in one hand and the computer mouse in the other and I know why I don’t have a friend at work, or if I did she would be sitting down here across from me, some seditious book of her own at her elbow, laughing klaxon loud over the noise as I read her this. I toss the last of my salad to the birds & light a cigarette & stay long enough to finish this page but if I’m going to eat tomorrow I know I have to go back.
Odd Words August 19, 2010Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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There is just something Odd about that word, the way it roles off the tong that’s hard to describe, something like the mouth feel of a wine percolating up through the brain of a vino-neophyte struggling to explain himself.
Just say it to yourself: derringer. Didn’t that feel good? Of course it did.
It reminds me for no other reason than that the purpose of this blog is two-fold: to capture something of New Orleans for posterity, and the Odd (Orleanian or otherwise) of in general, like standing near the bus stop one day lighting a cigarette after the massive influx of Latinos following 8-29 and hearing a woman on her cell phone say “Marrero”.
Marrero is a nondescript suburb that has seen better days. It’s shopping mall is gone, and the tide of white flight which flooded the area decades ago has been overwhelmed in part by what I think of as the brown exodus, people on the make looking for better schools, a bit of lawn, a piece of everything the television promises them.
When I heard this woman say it, drawling out the vowels and trilling her Rs as if she were running her tongue along her lover’s ear, it gave me shivers down my spine. Marrero, a tract of blocky houses and not much else too far from the city for my taste, suddenly had the ring of a gurgling Grenada fountains and the low notes of Gypsy guitar.
§ Maud Newton’s blog has long been in my own blog roll down the side of the page, and I have been known to crib an idea or two (though not as prolifically as I raid TheRumpus or HTMLGIANT, as if I were Roberto Bolano’s character Juan Garcia Madero, the book kleptomaniac from The Savage Detectives). I discovered today that someone had clicked onto Toulouse Street from her blog. I have apparently made her blog roll under Blogs: Books, Culture, & Politics. If you need a table at the Four Seasons, give me a week’s notice and I’ll see what I can do.
§ The book launch of New Orleans: What Cannot Be Lost 88 Stories and Traditions from the Sacred City will be launched Sunday Aug. 22 at d.b.a from 4-6 pm with music by the Free Agents Brass Band. Playing alongside the alluring photographs of Christopher Porche West, 88 New Orleans’ writers pay tribute to the city they call home. Edited by Lee Barclay/Photographs by Christopher Porche West. l
§ Since the song “I’m So Excited” popped into my head I’ve been searching for a ball peen hammer to knock it loose. While I do that, consider this: the book launch for A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans edited by Sam Jasper and myself, and published as the first work of our own small press, is next (not tonight, next) Thursday, Aug. 26 at Mimi’s in the Marigny. If you can’t maek it, rush to our website now to pre-order your copy.
§ Dave Brinks and Megan Burns are keeping 17 Poets! dark for our book launch (bless ’em) but planning a big celebration of the fifth year of our recovery Sunday, Aug 29 at 5 pm at the Goldmine Saloon, called the All-Hands-On-Deck Poetry, Art, and Music Fundraiser. Featuring music by Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr and the Zydeco Twisters w/ special guest Cyril Neville, the Saintsations, poetry, multi-media performances and a silent auction including work by George Rodrigue. All Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit: Protectourcoastline.org $15.00 Donation at Door
§ Aug. 22 is an open mike at the Maple Leaf. I’m disappointed I didn’t get to see Dennis Formento jazz-backed reading last week, but I had an obligation I could not escape. Poet Paul Benton steps up to tempt fate by reading on the 29th I’m thinking of wearing shrimp boots in his honor.
§ Benton also mentions in a comment last week that the weekly reading on Wednesday at The Yellow Moon in the Bywater is no more, joining the Tuesday Dinky Tao and the occasional Sunday readings at Fair Grinds among to poetry ghosts haunting the listings sections of the Times-Picayune and Gambit. Don’t despair, 17 Poets! is just around the corner, the Latter Library continues to host occasional but wonderful events, and if you haven’t been to the Maple Leaf lately come on, downtown people, all you have to do is get on the street car. It’s not like you’re liable to get lost and end up on the westbank.
If you’re made it this far, here’s your reward. Damn that’s clever.
Happy Birthday Bukowski August 17, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, books, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry.
Tags: Bluebird, Charles Bukowski, William Wantling
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Today is Charles Bukowski’s birthday. Born Aug. 16, 1920 he was one of the most prolific poets of his generation. Some will quible with his work, and I offer this quote from an unpublished forward to William Wantling’s 7 on Style as the best answer I can manage in the middle of a busy day at work (Hat tip to TheRumpus.net for this).
Bukowski said of Wantling’s work, as anyone might of his own: “His writing didn’t contain the trickery and the sheen that the larger American poetry audience demands—and things never became easy for him, that’s why he continued to write very well…
At the end Bill was concentrating on Style. He knew about style, he was style, he had style. He once asked me in a letter, “What is style?” I didn’t answer the question. I had written a poem called “Style” but I guess he felt that the poem didn’t answer it entirely, but I still ignored the question. I know what style is now that I met Bill.
Style means no shield at all.
Style means no front at all.
Style means ultimate naturalness.
Style means one men alone with billions of men about.
I’ll say goodbye now, Bill.”
Happy Birthday, Buk.
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
and the whores and the bartenders
and the grocery clerks
never know that
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
stay down, do you want to mess
you want to screw up the
you want to blow my book sales in
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too clever, I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
and we sleep together like
and it’s nice enough to
make a man
weep, but I don’t
P.S.–If there is a god of firewalls, let me know what libation I need to pour out tonight for letting me get this posted from work.
P.P.S.–The books should arrive today. I couldn’t be more pleased with the timing. Sam was more worried about Mecury Retrograde and I probably should be too but I’m too busy enjoying this syncronicity.
The last bottle of Obsello August 15, 2010Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, odd, Toulouse Street.
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Its the last bottle of Obsello in New Orleans and a second glass seems excessive but the only measure I know is the brown stained ruler at the Carrollton underpass warning off cars in a hard rain but that doesn’t stop fools old enough to have shed the winsome invincibility of youth. Old habits die slowly and if you’ve seen one thunderstorm what’s another? You’ve made it through before and once you’ve drowned a city to the eaves what’s a few more ounces over the bridge gonna hurt?
All-Hands-On-Deck Poetry, Art, & Music Fundraiser August 13, 2010Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
Tags: 17 Poets!, anniversary, benefit, George Rodrique, Goldmine Saloon, Gulf Coast, Hurricane Katrina, Jr and the Zydeco Twisters, Rockin' Dopsie
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Here’s the info on the 17 Poets! Katrina Anniversary and Gulf Coast benefit event I didn’t have to hand at 5 a.m. Thursday morning as I groggily posted, straight from the 17 Poets! Website:
All-Hands-On-Deck Poetry, Art, and Music Fundraiser
August 29th, 2010 at 5PM
Silent Art Auction will close at 9PM
All Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit: Protectourcoastline.org
$15.00 Donation at Door
Scheduled Events Include Poetry Readings and Multimedia Performances
Musical Guest: Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr and the Zydeco Twisters
Silent Art Auction with work by George Rodrigue
All-Hands-On-Deck BENEFIT for the Gulf Coast Region featuring a stellar array of performances by poets, artists and activists including members of the active Krewe of Dead Pelicans who have been making noise in our streets during this 100+ days of terror.
FOR ALL INFO on how YOU can participate (or contribute) in All-Hands-On-Deck BENEFIT for the GULF COAST REGION, please contact Megan Burns, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Odd Words August 12, 2010Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
Is poetry relevant? Is poetry dying or already dead? Or is it simply boring? That’s the question that started this train of thought, a blog post by Elisa Gabbert on The French Exit. Which leads me to ask: do we really have to have this conversation again? I mean, what about them Saints and is Tommy’s food really as good as Irene’s if he once cooked for her? Who wants another beer or glass of wine?
I always tested with a high aptitude for math and attended summer school between 8th and 9th grade to cram algebra so as to set me on the path toward calculus, the Grand Theory and Everything, a mountain I managed to slide down pretty quickly back into plain old if a train leaves at six math class. I only excelled in the class where our good Christian Brother teacher would frequently over or under dose himself on insulin and nod off, allowing us to make all tests open book.
I fell off the path to math stardom because math is boring. Don’t stop reading and go straight to the comments to correct me and tell me how Sister Mary Fibonacci changed your life and you were the first woman engineer hired by NASA or to reach full professor at Berkley or MIT. We are discussing matters of taste and proclivity, about and presentation, and context. Math may be no more boring for you than I discovered Symbolic Calculus to be in college. Logic without numbers was fascinating.
We are talking, however, about poetry, so don’t encourage my tendency to get off topic. I could spend 20 minutes on Google and present you a full menu of references on the topics of “ss poetry dead?”, “is poetry irrelevant” or “does poetry matter”? We’ve gone a long way from The Beats 1959 cover of Life magazine to a 2003 article in Newsweek announcing the details of poetry’s wake and internment. If you’re reading this far, you may disagree with these routine assessments.
Some of this is simply boil over from the amount of confessional poetry we’ve all read because there’s so damn much of it in the late 20th century list. Navel gazing angst, however well reasoned, is not original enough to advance you in the department or even to make much difference to people who would stop to read such thoughts. It can get, at times, pretty boring. Another problem is the tendency of some poetry to be intentionally obtuse and difficult, to structure itself in ways that grammatically and sometimes typographically resemble the sort of Odd formulae you can find by Googling “famous math problems” trying to remember trying to remember the name Fibonacci.
I read a fair amount of poetry, some of which is boring to me, because I want to understand what made it seem sensible to some publisher to put out a $25 hardback edition of a 120 page book or why a university would award it a prize. Like mathematics (or car mechanics or diagnosing computer problems, the last of which I did for a living for quite a few years) the challenge is to take it apart and understand what makes it tick.
If you read enough poetry, you will run across enough that takes the first instruction (“Sing, Goddess”) and with a one, and a two and a three takes you away to that place in the brain and soul where that other impractical art–music–tingles the spine and tightens the skin in ways simple evolution did not intend or at least did not require. No sonnet or saxophone solo ever put a wildebeest on the spit to feed the woman and children, but somewhere along the way we developed other needs as primal is food or sex.
I think poetry suffers, at least in part, from a bad image. Consider rap and hip-hop: even the nastiest gansta misogyny and murder stands clearly in the fish bone diagram of the history of poetry and the people writing this stuff are as famous as Whitman and Frost were once, are raking in the millions. I’m not suggesting you start referring to your colleagues down the hall as ho’s or wearing swaggering gold chains. Just that you consider that there are people listening to the words as much as they did in the days when Bob Dylan (or Dylan Thomas, for that matter) could claim radio air time.
Traditional poetry: the scene of readings and chapbooks, and the lucky bastards who have the time to put together a manuscript and get it noticed, is what is dying of boring irrelevance. And it need not, should not be. Some people lament that the world of Twitter and Facebook is sapping our attention span, making literature (or even the basic act of reading) difficult. Perhaps that is true to some extent. Many of us are never free from our social networks or, via our Blackberries, entirely untethered from work. I have two wonderful novels on my bedside I am trying to work through but I am struggling to find the time and attention they deserve. I don’t think I’ve rewired myself to make myself incapable of finishing Robert Coover’s amazing John’s Wife or to get through a critical read of Richard Katrova’s Mystic Pig for a “last book I loved” piece to submit to the Rumpus. Mostly is a matter of time. Between a soul sucking job that pays the mortgage that houses the family so that there are televisions everywhere and all the other appliances of modern life, I don’t have the time.
I do, however, manage to make time for poetry. It’s much easier to give serious attention to one or two on lunch break, or in the small windows of time between dinner, the bills and bedtime.
Consider this: for people who use those tools for purposes other than selecting tonight’s sushi restaurant, these media are also training our brains to look for satisfaction in the condensed. I think in a world where Facebook, SMS and Twitter intersect the explosive growth of Soduko there is place for poetry, or at least certain styles of poetry. There is so much kinetic energy in the poetry of Yusef Komunyakaa or John Berryman, masters of taking simple English and charging the page with the crackling energy of a Tezla coil, each poem a wonderful puzzle for those who rip their newspapers open to tear into the crossword or Soduko page.
And there is probably a place for poetry that is not so much puzzle as the simple pleasure of a clever painting, an ordering of the universe in a constrained place that lights the pleasure centers like a line of coke. My idols Everette Maddox and Charles Bukowski come to mind. Much of their writing is incredibly accessible and yet has the ability to convey tremendous emotional complexity in a simple twist of irony or humor. Even the sometimes surreal shorter poems of Federico Garcia Lorca can be deceptive simple and powerful at once, making them at once accessible and at the same time great poetry.
William Carlos Williams also comes quickly to mind, back from a time when poetry was published in the columns of popular magazines outside of the New Yorker. My own writing tends toward the simple rather than the intentionally complex and my goal is simply to shake your tree once or twice until all the lights come on, and I admire writers who can do this. Poetry must speak not just to the reading scene regulars, buy-the-feature’s-book crowd but should speak–as Whitman would have us do–to that mythical Everyman (and woman).
I think if poetry wants to succeed and reclaim some space in the newspapers and public consciousness of literate America we all need to back away from the procryptic mimicry of M.F.A poetry, the sense of the difficult and formulaic I get when I fall behind on Poetry Daily and find myself catching up two weeks in Google Reader in one sitting. I just read the book of someone whose work I absolutely fell in love with when the author visited New Orleans and I purchased her first book. The new volume, however–the product of a major university prize and published in hardcover at $25 bucks by a major house–simply didn’t delight me in the way the first small press paperback did. Don’t get me wrong; its a wonderful book and I marvel at it the way I once did electrical schematics as a young boy, the intricate mapping I had trained myself to read and could wonder over for hours at how that careful draftsmanship represented a transistor radio. What the author’s second book did not accomplish was to invoke that sense of wonder you experience when you plug in the Christmas tree or at the first burst of fireworks. If poetry doesn’t want to be boring and irrelevant, it needs to recapture that.
Writers need to step back from what is ultimately the academic impulse to write for the seminar audience and peer-approved publication, to learn to listen like good story tellers to the voices at the bus stop and at the coffee pot for the line that sizzles and burns like a fuse and leads ultimately to that explosion in the brain that that can’t be contained by its casing. That doesn’t mean you won’t go back and revise, or reject some of your first impulses. I love Kerouac but struggle through some things. First thought, best thought is sometimes worthwhile but not a mathematical axiom. I only suggest that you start from the awen, the possession by the impulse to write whatever the trigger, and that you take as your model not the last book you read or seminar you attend but the millions of turns of phrase your mind has been storing away your entire life, that you work from the primitive impulse to build what you need from the materials at hand, the same impulse that allowed us the leisure our other primate cousins never managed, to sit around a fire under some simple shelter with full bellies and tell stories and sing songs.
If poetry (and literary fiction for that matter) were to consider these simple suggestions its irrelevance or whatever today’s worrisome word for it is us could be reversed. Whether your prefer the New York Times Sunday Crossword or the simpler pleasures of a well written song lyric, I think there is room between the Sokudo box and the crossword puzzle for a poem, that the colonization of places like Facebook by small (and often online-only) journals offer an opportunity to lure back an audience with work that stops you with its unexpected turn of phrase and makes you read it again trying to trap the magician in his trick, or simply for the same reason men turn to watch an attractive woman receding down the street.
§ Not much going on this week in the August heat, but the Maple Leaf features Poet Dennis Formento reading from his work backed by jazz musicians, followed by an open mike.
§ Since it’s a bit slow and I’m distracted by the very early hour of the morning and the sond et lumiere show of the tropical storm that wasn’t outside, we’ll pull a reverse Peabody and climb into the way forward machine and remind you of the book launch of A Howling in the Wires on Thursday, Aug. 26 at Mimi’s in the Marigny, a not entirely self serving thing to do since all net proceeds go to Hana Morris, widow of one of the contributors and mother of their three young children. Yes, if you don’t rush to our website now to pre-order your copy that guilt is just going to gnaw at you all day.
§ Dave Brinks and Megan Burns are keeping 17 Poets! dark for our book launch (bless ’em) but planning a big celebration of the fifth year of our recovery Sunday, Aug 29 at 5 pm at the Goldmine Saloon, called the All-Hands-On-Deck Poetry, Art, and Music Fundraiser. Featuring music by Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr and the Zydeco Twisters , poetry, multi-media performances and a silent auction including work by George Rodrigue. All Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit: Protectourcoastline.org $15.00 Donation at Door
I’m going back out to watch the street fill by lightning flash. Try not to get your book wet, because with any luck when you get to work all the computers will be fried but the lobby coffee shop will miraculously have power. One can only hope.
A Howling in the Wires August 9, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Debrisville, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Gallatin & Toulouse Press, Hurricane Katrina, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: A Howling in the Wires, Gallatin & Toulouse Press
Gallatin & Toulouse Press announces the publication of A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writings from Postdiluvian New Orleans. This collection combines the vivid post-Katrina experiences captured by internet-based “bloggers” from New Orleans–individuals who don’t think of themselves as writers but who were writing powerfully in the months after 8-29–with the work of traditional writers. Some of those, like novelist Dedra Johnson and poet Robin Kemp, share their most immediate reactions from their own blogs. The book deliberately blurs the line between formats and focuses on cataloging some of the best-written and most powerful reactions of the people who experienced Katrina.
Editors Sam Jasper and Mark Folse are writers who turned to the Internet to chronicle their own experiences and reactions to Katrina and found in the months after 8-29 they were part of a larger community sharing the public and very private events of the period. The book will be published late August, 2010. A launch party and reading is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. upstairs at Mimi’s in the Marigny.
Contributors include cookbook author and travel-and-sailing writer Troy Gilbert, poet Valentine Pierce, Professor Jerry Ward of Dillard University and poet/playwright Raymond “Moose” Jackson together with the work of bloggers who are by day engineers, teachers, geologists, computer programmers, bankers, and social workers but in their spare time writers of talent whose only prior outlet has been their Internet-based blogs. These works were edited minimally for basic spelling and grammar, mistakes easily made writing first hand accounts created under great duress, in an attempt to preserve the original “howl” of people who experienced these events first hand.
Editor Sam Jasper’s preface explains: “When we started this project, our goal was to find some of the best words that were howling in those wires once the wind stopped and the levees broke. We read through hundreds of thousands of words for weeks. Sometimes the pain in those words re-opened wounds we thought had healed. Sometimes the words gave us insight into another person’s experience and we were astonished by the nakedness, the vulnerability, the ferocity and often the defiance being expressed so soon after the event. Naked and raw and very, very public.”
“These voices, oblivious to each other and miles apart, sing in pitch perfect harmony—a phenomenon only possible where truth is absolute. Stunned courageous but always in motion, the Every Man and Every Woman of these Gulf Coast narrations and poems lean blindly towards recovery and redemption just as they struggle to comprehend the enormity of what has happened to them. Here you will find no analysis ad nauseum, no academic dissections, no punditry or pretension. Just ordinary folks caught up under extraordinary circumstances, telling their stories in real time, absolutely in the moment—in grief, in anger, and—most miraculously—in good humor. If you only ever read one post-Katrina related book, and if you think you can handle for that book to be an unapologetically unfiltered and dead honest journey back into those dark days and months after the storm, this thin volume is all you will need.”
— Louis Maistros, author of The Sound of Building Coffins
“A powerful and immediate look at post-Katrina New Orleans. Sam Jasper and Mark Folse have done a great service to America by compiling these early writings from the storm.”
— Stephen Elliot, editor of TheRumpus.Net and author of The Adderall Diaries and Happy Baby.
“There are no better guides to post flood New Orleans than the bloggers who emerged here during the immediate wake of the levee breaks. What’s particularly remarkable about these writers is that none hew to the snarky, cynical, superficial style found on most blogs–instead there is an enormous passion for New Orleans, real anger at its injustices and much needed rebukes to the received wisdom surrounding this moment of man made disaster.”
— Ethan Brown, author of Shake the Devil Off and Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip Hop Hustle0072
“From Greg Peters’s prophetic warnings before the levees failures, to Jerry Ward’s abandonment of romance, to the rhythms of Sandra Grace Johnson’s arrest, to Mark Folse’s lifetime of Mardi Gras memories (pre- and post-dilluvian), the pieces in this book form a powerful chronicle of those terrible days when New Orleanians looked around and decided that, more painful than any of these things, would be the failure to move forward.” .
— Lolis Eric Elie is is the producer for Faubourg Treme: the Untold Story of Black New Orleans and a staff writer for the HBO Series Treme
Gallatin & Toulouse Press is a new endeavor, publishing the work of emerging New Orleans writers to a wider audience. This is the first in a planned series collecting short, Internet-published works chronicling the storm and flood collectively known as Katrina and the recovery of the city of New Orleans.
A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writings from Postdiluvian New Orleans, Paperback: 160 Pages, Gallatin & Toulouse Press, ISBN 9780615388793. Inquiries to: email@example.com. (504) 324-6551 Available direct from the publisher Aug. 20, 2010.
You can pre-order here. Please shop local or direct. Amazon charges a ruinous discount to small publishers and we make only pennies on a sale there. Patronize your local bookstores or order directly from Gallatin & Toulouse Press.
Refried Confusion Is Making Itself Clear August 7, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, Jazz, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Pops, Satchmo Fest
Well, once again your vision of us as a people at once lazy and shiftless and then again prone to party a bit too much will be confused by this weekend’s Satchmo Fest, during which we will drag ourselves out into the 110 degree heat index, temperature and humidity both well up in the nineties, to stand on blinding white concrete and infernally black macadam in this egg-baking heat and drink beer and dance in tribute to our native son and the music he helped give birth to.
If you wonder why we would do this consider this: did not your parents and grandparents drag themselves out to gyrate and shout in an sweltering August revival tent or to sit Quaker still in their best black all in the days long before air conditioning? There are certain rituals which must be observed for the saving of one’s soul, and in New Orleans a music festival–even one scheduled in the weatherman’s perfect ninth circle of summer hell–is one such opportunity to make a joyous noise and shake off the dust under our feet for a testimony against those who think all this foolishness.
Now, some of you may go out on an August day and stand bare chested with a beer over a blistering grill fire or take yourselves out in your Clorox-bottle plastic boats, lathered in sun screen and sipping again on that beer when sensible people might go to the movies for the cool and the dark, so don’t be too quick to judge. The price of that starter fluid and the gas in the outdoor may be the death of all our oysters and crabs, an event tantamount to the rest of America loosing its beef and white wheat bread for an indefinite period, but we are a faithful people, a hopeful people, a people of the book who have ingested all of the messages even if we don’t believe. We will walk through that desert for the promise, try to love our neighbors, and when things go wrong, well, Insha’Allah. Nothing to do but get up and do the next thing on the list, and at this moment Satchmo Fest is it.
Oh, hell, don’t listen to me. Let Ella and the fellas tell it. If that’s not heaven calling in that opening trumpet solo I don’t care. I’m following it wherever it leads.
Its Black Eye August 6, 2010Posted by The Typist in Crow, cryptical envelopment, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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If you visit here often enough, you have gathered I have a fascination with crows: with Huginn and Muninn (names meaning mind and memory) the servants of Odin, with the totem Crow of the original Americans, with the character of Ted Hughes; book of poetry, with the birds I notice all around me.
And I have wondered since my fascination and entanglement with crows began: why do I never see a dead crow?
And then last Sunday there it was. Not dead, but lying in mid-lane on Esplanade Avenue, on its side and clearly injured or ill. It raised its head to look at the approaching car; no, to look at me with that hard black eye as I bore down on it. I should have stopped, picked it up gently and carried it to the side of the road and with a quiet word twisted its neck and given it piece. I should have found the crook of a tree for it’s final rest, someplace honorable to be given up the elements.
My sister sat beside me in the car, my wife in the back. If I had stopped and done this, I would probably be writing this about now, after my involuntary confinement for observation was over. On Sunday morning all this flashed through my mind in an instant: bird, action, consequences. I drove carefully and slowly over it and went on to brunch with my nephew, who had just returned from a six month tour as a relief work in Haiti.
The look in that dark eye is never going to leave me. I feel as if I were tested and failed, but Crow is as inscrutable as Jehovah and I can never know the right or wrong of it in the view of that black eye, if there was a right or wrong, if I was tested or measured or simply a victim of chance, just another car it lifted its head to watch waiting for the last one. Still, the look in that dark eye is burned into my own; deeper even than that to somewhere inside where the nuns once taught was was a shining white shield spotted black with sin. I long ago rejected their sins. I embrace the Original Sin of Knowledge and if Crow is (in part) Knowledge then what? I think that shield of solid, mortal black now has a hole in it just the size of that eye, a hollowness, a wound: something for which I must atone before it can heal.
And so, against all better judgment, I tell you this story.
Someone who knows better than I says not to worry too much about this. It is not a question of penance, but of that bit of Crow that struck me like an arrow, that bit of his soul he gave to me in that look as he left this world. Use it well, I am told. A burden and a gift sometimes come in the same wrappings, like an ugly sweater from your mother.
Which leads somehow to this poem by Ted Hughes.
His illness was something could not vomit him up.
Unwinding the world like a ball of wool
Found the last end tied round his own finger.
Decided to get death, but whatever
Walked into his ambush
Was always his own body.
Where is this somebody who has me under?
He dived, he journeyed, challenging, climbed and with a
Of hair on end finally met fear.
His eyes sealed up with shock, refusing to see.
With all his strength he struck. He felt the blow.
Horrified, he fell.
— Ted Hughes
Indigenous and Endangered August 4, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Brad Richard, Darrell Bourque, Gina Ferrara, Jerry Ward, Kelly Harris, Language of Conservation Program, Latter Memorial Library, Louisana Poet Laureate plus other notable local poets: Dave Brinks, Megan Burns, Odd Words, Poetry, Roger Kamenetz
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A quick Odd Words update, because I’m an overextended idiot and forgot to list this last week. I need to hurry up and type this because for all I can remember I may have forgotten to pay the light bill. I think we’ll have to drop a wrench in the assembly line works so we can somehow slip away tonight from work, bills and book to catch this.
§ UPDATE: Not sure how I forgot this when I’m subscribed to two different Facebook reminders about it: Indigenous and Endangered: An Evening of Louisiana Poetry A Language of Conservation Program featuring Darrell Bourque, Louisana Poet Laureate plus other notable local poets: Dave Brinks, Megan Burns, Gina Ferrara, Kelly Harris, Roger Kamenetz, Brad Richard, and Jerry Ward. Wednesday, Aug. 4 (tonight, that is) from 7-9 p.m.