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Stories I’ll Never Write March 31, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical 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.

Odd Words March 31, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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So I didn’t exactly forget to write a column but I was just tired when I got home last night, still a bit worn out by last weekend. I promise I’ll get back to my notes and flesh out some of the Tennessee Williams Festival pieces soon.

The level of excitement around the cover and other aspects of Haruki Murakami’s long awaited novel 1Q84 is approaching a frightening, Harry Potter-esque level of frenzy but hell: if the book goes on sale at midnight I’ll probably be there in line.

Here on Toulouse Street we are big fans of David Simon’s. Here is a genuinely odd and thoughtful homage to The Wire, considered as Victorian social novel. Perhaps you have to be trapped in the gulag of academia to fully appreciate this but go on over for the illustrations if nothing else.

Its a quiet week on Bayou Woebegone with only a handful of events worth touting.

§ Tonight 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series proudly presents poet, artist, and activist HERBERT KEARNEY, followed by an open mike by under the gentle supervision and derision of Jimmy Ross.

§ Also tonight, Join Room 220 as we partake in the second installment of the Happy Hour Salon Series at Antenna Gallery. Brad Richard and his dad, Jim, will discuss the latter’s influence on Brad’s writing, a theme he explores in his new book, Curtain Optional.

§ Poets Dave Brinks, Gina Ferrara and Lee Grue will read from their work Saturday, April 2 at 2 pm at the Latter Memorial Library.

§ As a policy, I normally don’t post events at the Metairie Barnes & Nobles, especially New Orleans-based initiatives that use B&N for fundraising (as my son’s charter school has), but for NOLAFemmes I’ll go ahead and post it: There will be a signing of the book In the Land of What Now this Saturday at the Metairie Barnes and Noble this Saturday from 2 to 3 p.m. This is the book that served as the blueprint for the movie Flood Streets. This event is the first Louisiana Cultural Economy Foundation book fair and 20% of the proceeds will go to to LCEF, which awards grant money to local artists like Helen Krieger, the author of In the Land of What Now and producer of Flood Streets.

§ Also on Saturday and also at Barnes & Noble (ah, hell, people gotta sell books) Chin Music Press author Tracey Tangerine will be signing Buddy Zooka in the French Quarter and Beyond from 3-5 pm. CMP is of course the wonderfully bibliophile publisher of Where We Know: New Orleans as Home featured on the right. This late addition to the listings is also part of the LCEF event.

§ Poet and comedian Chris Champagne will do a one night performance of his show Race Track Tales next Thursday, 4-7 at The Steak Knife Restaurant on Harrison Avenue in Lakeview.

One last thought: The Academy of American Poets at Poet.org will feature a guest poet every day in April for National Poetry Month. To get in on this, you’ll have to follow their Twitter feed.

Candy Metallic Transport March 29, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.

The bicycle leaned up against the side of the house at the back of the side alley: two flat tires, one of the struts that hold the fender missing its bolt, handle bars akimbo: cast out of its home in the back shed to join me in bachelor quarters among its new friends the cast-off couch and other odd bits of furniture; TV trays from which I ate childhood’s Swanson TV dinners while watching Flintstone reruns, unraveling canvas Jazz Fest chairs, a stained and vaguely aromatic white folding crawfish table now desk, the new futon and the finicky bedside touch lamp that flickers like a ghost detector through its three way settings as I pass.

Against the muted colors of Home Depot’s cheapest carpet and the vaguely yellow walls the gaudy whitewalls and pearlescent frame glow faintly, suggesting something toxic from another planet. The shade of green is a ghastly metallic last seen on a 1970s Plymouth Road Runner, an intentionally distant, mobile home cousin of the avocado appliance. The combination of the color and the gleaming chrome certainly makes a statement; one I’m entirely sure I agree with but—having made it—must live with.

There is nothing to do but up end the bike on its handlebars, look for a bolt for the disconnected strut, and pump up the tires. The wheels spin true as best I can tell with an untrained eye but the brakes are a mess, almost impossible to adjust so that they do not rub and still stop but I’ll have to make another attempt. Things come to me lately–the gifts of art that fills the walls, an opulent convection toaster oven from my sister, the genuine FEMA trailer couch—to fill my simple needs. I had thought about the bike, considered buying a better one than this Wal-Mart monstrosity as soon as this week when I got the call telling me to pick it up or it would go on the curb.

Something or someone means me to ride this bike, and I might as well see where it takes me.

Tennessee William Festival Redux March 28, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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NolaVie.com, a new arts and culture section of NOLA.com, picks up on my Tennessee Williams Festival notes.

Writing the Subterranean March 27, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Got sidetracked last night and tonight I must do laundry, but I promise to get back and finish off these posts from my notes shortly.

The panel Johnnys in the Basement: Writing the Subterranean could have gone in any number of/directions but moderator Miles Harvey  and his panel took a hard turn into the macabre. Authors who have tackled the ugliest nooks of the American psyche tried to answer the question of our modern fascination with serial killings, abductions and all the dark crimes that spawn not only endless segments of cable news but a dark genre of fiction.

I’m back to telegraphically thumbing the Druid so a few choice quotes will have to do for now:

“The trope for a long time was the human being with the monster trying to get out. Tony Soprano is a monster with the human being trying to get out,” Scott Blanchard said. He focuses on the vulnerabilities of his dark characters.

Amanda Boyden said, “it can be a daunting task to inhabit the head space of characters but its the ultimate escape.” She said her fascination with such characters focused on the “gradiations” between the mundane  and the murderous. “The notion of redemption and forgiveness enters into it; that tiny, little bit of hope.”

Thomas Beller said he was interested in the different ideations of love including “the love that fucks you up and makes you insane, a state of love that leaves you wrapped up in anxiety.”   He suggested no one word summary like Blackwood’s “vulnerabilities” or Boyden’s” gradiations” so I asked him afterwards for one and he suggested” the act of self immolation.”

Dark stuff indeed and completely fascinating. More later

Fan On The Run March 27, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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There comes a point in any event where your program is starting to come unstapled, you’ve torn several pages loose in your notebook and the folks in the PJ’s Coffee know your order and you’re exhausted but you are up at 6:30 a.m. going over your notes and your program circling the day’s offerings. You sip your thirdish cup of coffee (hard to tell when you keep refreshing half way) and starting wondering how you could hire yourself as a blog, Facebook and Twitter hack for events like The Tennessee Williams Festival because scurrying around the French Quarter taking copious notes with a digital recorder balanced on your knee and hammering out blog posts, some on the Chiclet keyboard of your Droid, is too much damn fun. You remember why you willingly submitted yourself to the newspaper business for a salary in the high four figures (pause: yes that’s right and it included your car allowance). You are uncredentialed, running yourself ragged and having the time of your life. You haven’t enjoyed yourself this much since you got the often pathetic West Bank Guide community newspaper to hold the presses four hours and organized comprehensive coverage of the 1984 local elections that kicked the Times-Picayune’s ass.

Borders fire sale v. The Tennessee Williams Festival March 27, 2011

Posted by The Typist in books, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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And my Treme Season One DVDs come Tuesday as well. If I didn’t have to work, I might not see the sky for a couple of weeks unless I run out of cigarettes or coffee.

Tales of Two Cities March 26, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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First a confession: I have not read Armistead Maupin. He is someone I know of but don’t know,’whom I thought of as primarily a gay writer and a San Francisco writer. And given the natural affinity of NOLA and The City (as San Francisco likes to think of itself) and my own focus on what I call geo-memoir he seems a natural fit, someone I should have read before now.* That is how I came to finish Saturday at the Tennessee Williams Festival attending Tales of the Master: A Conversation with Armistead Maupin and the master immediately addressed that affinity. “I’m a Southerner who lives in San Francisco, and New Orleans merges the best of both” the South and the City. San Francisco like New Orleans is “physically charming and seems smaller than it is.”

Any New Orleanian, especially any who have spent the slightest time in San Francisco, could not help but immediately be infatuated with Maupin, the feeling this is someone you would want to have dinner with. In fact the moderator doesn’t wait too long to toss off a quote from Salon.com, which describes Maupin’s Tales of the City series this way: “…as with the Beatles, everyone seems to like Maupin’s Tales—and, really, why would you want to find someone who didn’t?” Even grey haired and in his sixties, Maupin gives off the boyish charm of the young Fab Four in their early years.

Tales of the City began as a column for a small Marin County suburban newspaper with a San Francisco edition, the Pacific Sun, attempting to describe young San Franciscans for whom the meat market was a downtown grocery’s produce aisle. Unable to get anyone he spoke with to admit they were there not shopping for groceries but as Mapuin bluntly puts it to “get laid,” he fabricated a young woman freshly arrived in the city: one Mary Ann Singleton who finds a man at the grocery but he turns out to be gay, a man named Micheal Tolliver. This grew into a series of pieces for the Sun that led him to pitch the idea as a feature in the San Francisco Examiner. Could he write five pieces a week, they asked? Of course, he says he naively answered.

And so began the saga of Mary Ann and Tolliver and their eccentric landlady and other residents of 28 Barbary Lane, which ran daily for years in the Examiner and was collected into four books, which continued through several more unserialized collections and later, novels about the central character of Mary Ann and Micheal. He was one of the first popular authors to address the AIDS crisis, and one of his characters he asserts was the first AIDS fatality in fiction.

Maupin spoke at length about his own coming to terms with his gay identify after settling in San Francisco following a Vietnam-era stint in the Navy, getting drunk and blurting out to a straight friend that he was, “using the h-word, ho-mo-sexual,” dragging out every syllable as he tells the story. His friend, who was bathing her children in the tub at this moment, stood up and looked at him and said “who the fuck cares?” In his series, he explored the lives of characters gay and straight, working in topics of the day (because it was a daily column with a very short lead time to publication), including AIDS.

He caught flack from some readers, including gay readers, who resented his insertion of AIDS into the series, spoiling their morning’s entertainment of reading his usually humorous yarns about his assorted characters’ life in The City. “I was made uncomfortable by a lot of people [who said] humor has no place in this debate” but said he wanted to make a point: “I wanted people to feel his death, to use him like Dickens used Little Nell.”

The series was tied up with becoming comfortable with his own identity, he told the crowd. Someone suggested that Micheal Tolliver was the person Maupin wanted to be and Mary Ann was the person he was afraid he was and he suggested that wasn’t entirely wrong but spoke of them as his “characters…I try not to judge my characters. I was having fun with local people, but I was mining parts of myself.” He told the festival audience he felt an overwhelming need to be myself, to be true to who I am.”

He discussed the PBS mini-series based on his book and his own participation in it, describing it as a groundbreaking moment in television which treated gay characters honestly and openly. He spoke of the ugly reaction of the American Family Council, which produced a pirated 12 minute video showing occasional scenes of female nudity taken completely out of context. “These weren’t sex scenes” he said but just people who had appeared nude in the course of life. What really bothered the AFC, Maupin suggested, was its frank and sympathic treatment of gays. The scene that really bothered them (and which appeared in their pirate video) was one toward the end of the series in which two young men are in a convertible kissing. “I was there the night we shot that and I new we were making history, showing gay people as romantic.”

The author was not afraid to mine all parts of his life, describing a later non-Tales novel in which he stole an eccentric habit of a distant member of his family. His sister called to tell him how strange his mother-in-law was and he was being “a typical older brother” and standing up for the mother-in-law. To make her point, his sister told him the woman wore a bag over her head for her cervical exam every time she went to the gynecologist then caught herself and said, “you’re not going to write about this.” “I lied,” Maupin said and included it in a later work it became a favorite excerpt at his readings. When he arrived in North Carolina on the book tour, his sister showed up mother-in-law in tow. He read the excerpt, concerned what the reaction would be, until his sister told him that when he reached that part the mother-in-law said, “See, other people do it, too.”

The Tales series ended on Book Six with what moderator Ted O’ Brien described as “a dark pall over some of the characters, especially Micheal Tolliver, a feeling that Tolliver was going to die. That was the traditional fate of gay characters in 20th century fiction, they had to die or kill themselves, Maupin said, “and that’s why I stopped where I did. I didn’t want Micheal Tolliver to die.” He wrote several intervening novels, but returned to 28 Barbary Lane with a book titled Micheal Tolliver Lives and another Mary Ann in Autumn.

He has written other novels not involving the Tales characters, including the dark The Night Listener about a hoax he became involved in revolving around the tale of a young boy abused by his parents, sold into prostitution and later rescued by a suicide prevention hot line operator. He became involved when someone gave him a copy of a manuscript purporting to be the boy’s story, but he later surmised that the boy never existed and that the when he thought he had conversations with the boy on the telephone, it was actually a woman who had fabricated the entire tale.

He became suspicious when he called the boy back rather than the boy calling him, and got a woman on the phone who sounded a lot like the boy who said she was his mother. People often confuse us, she said, but he doesn’t like it when people say he sounds like his mother. He noticed how alike the boy and mother sounded and grew suspicious, coming to believe that the woman had fabricated the boy and his story but he couldn’t prove it. (Others were duped by the hoax, which as finally exposed by a journalist who hired a private detective to investigate). Before his happened, he took his suspicions and the outline of the story and fictionalized it as the novel The Night Listener.

Asked about returning to the Tales series for the later novels, he said it seemed natural to return to them later in life and he didn’t rule out further Tales. His imaginary citizens will “probably come back because there are some characters I want to come back to. I don’t have children, so I can measure the passage of my life in the people in my stories.”

* Because I haven’t cracked my copy of the first Tales book, some of the material on his works come from Maupin’s own website and his Wikipedia entry.

The Moviegoer at Fifty March 26, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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More telegraphic notes from the Tennessee Williams Festival. I’ve brought the laptop today but I don’t have much time between panels so these are almost in the form of notes. -mf

It was interesting that a work of fiction that seems to fall into the category of books from a strongly male perspective (think of Richard Ford as another example), a group a friend and I have decided needs a name and it rhymes with “chic lit”, was represented by four women, the moderator and panelists. While Shelia Bosworth, Valerie Martin, Chris Wiltz and moderator Mary McCoy from the Walker Percy Center at Loyola discussed Bink’s fascination for women with large hips and derrieres, they also said that Percy loved the company of women. All three novelists were frequent guests of Percy’s literary luncheons. “He was “on” to women,” Bosworth said, quoting a Percy remarks that [women] are just better than we are.”

It’s hard not to talk about the character Binx Bolling’s relationship to the many women in the National Book Award-winning novel, but the panel focused a great deal on the philosophical nature of Percy’s work. The Moviegoer is ultimately about “the inadvertent hopefulness of the awareness of despair,” Bosworth said. Walker wanted to write philosophy but thought he would never get a publisher. We heard a fair bit about Soren Kierkegaard and Christian existentialism in the panel and how it plays into Binx’s endless search for meaning in a world he was deeply alienated from, about how Binx tries to come to terms with the world.

The panel wasn’t all about angst. They spoke of the humor in the book which is at times a comedy of manners of the South and New Orleans just before the era of Civil Rights, the character Sharon’s remark that she “didn’t know people ate crawfish” meaning to a woman of that time from Alabama not knowing that white people ate crawfish. One panelist told the story of how Alfred Knopf was a close friend of Percy’s uncle, and the uncle sent the manuscript to Knopf with instructions to “publish it”. Knopf could bring himself to say no but hated the book, and instructed the warehouse not to fill any orders for it. After the novel won the National Book Award it was almost impossible to find in a store because no orders had been filled for it.

It was more than a comedy of manners, Martin suggested. It was also a careful portrait of class and race of the same period, the characters very conscious of their place in a stratified society. The novel is in part, she asserted, about Binx’s attempt to escape that world, moving from his aunt’s home Uptown into the facelessness of Gentilly where Binx lives, perhaps the least romantic setting one could select in New Orleans.

Wiltz spoke about the characters fascination with the manufactured physical rather than the natural world, things planted in space but moving through time, his reflections on the piers along the Gulf Coast, the seats in his movie theaters. “He tends to attach a lot of importance to manufactured things, ” Wiltz said. “He’s not too crazy about the naturla world. He’s the modern man who would rather watch the world on a screen/”

The panel discussed the idea that movies are an analog for religion for the a religious Binks and allowed Percy to bring in ideas of religion, an important subject for a man who converted to Catholicism in 1947 and was as much a Catholic existentialist as Kierkegaard and Paul Tillich. Binks “loved movies with happy endings. It allowed for the posibility of imagination” but the group suggested the script as analog for scripture, the invisible director in the place of God.

New Southern Voices March 25, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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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.

“Tell Me About It”–Jason Berry at the Tennessee Williams Festival March 24, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Today I was working but took a long lunch hour to see Jason Berry, a journalist who has also published a novel and a play on Earl K. Long and an excellent book on New Orleans music, Up From The Cradle of Jazz. One of the flaws of the “master classes” in the festival schedule is that they are not really master classes, but really featured lecturers, but Berry’s “Finding the Non-Fiction Narrative” was worth the price of admission just for the Earl K. Long anecdotes.

He spoke at length about the genesis of several of his works, including the play Earl Long in Purgatory, his book on New Orleans music and his forthcoming non-fiction book on Vatican finances. The cadances of speech have always been a large influence in his writing style, Berry said, a “primary lure” into writing.

He related an annecdote about a friend who worked in the Democratic Cloakroom in the U.S. Senate when Berry was at Georgetown University. His friend’s job included answering the telephone and telling senators the agenda for that day on the Senate floorm, and he would frequently do his best imitations of various Senators for Berry. Th e one that stuck in Berry’s mind was Sen. Lloyd Bentson who, when the phone was answered would just say: “Tell me about it.” The line stuck with him so long, he attributed that same line and manner on the phone to one of his characters in his novel about Louisiana politics, Last of the Red Hot Poppas.

Berry, who started out writing about politics, found inspiration for his fiction in reading Latin American Magical Realists, citing Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa: “they were writing about where I live” was his immediate reaction, and he cited a Parish Review interview with Llosa in which that author spoke of his experience reading William Faulkner and finding techniques for describing an world at once as imaginary and real as Faulker’s Yoknapatawpha County.

He traced his interest in Louisiana’s bizarre politics and Earl K. Long in particular to his introduction to politics as a young boy by his father, who called him in one night to see Long on television, ” a man in a wheelchair flanked by two state troopers being dragged into a mental institution and (WDSU-TV) Channel Six was bleeping out the curse worlds. My father said, ‘This is your governor’.”

Berry also spoke about the re-issue of Up From the Cradle of Jazz by University of Louisiana – Lafayette press, and the 110 pages he added to the new edition focusing on musicians in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, starting from the lyrics of songs written in the aftermath. “What I tried to capture was the resiliance of the musicians, and the writers and visual artists,” Berry said. Calling out both the White House and City Hall he said “government failed and culture prevailed.” The recovery of the city was closely tied to the determination of perhaps five thousand musicians and cultural workers without whom the city would never have recovered, he explained.

He began the new chapter starting from lyrics to songs written after the storm, which he said he said were primary sources for the expanded edition, “as valid as the depositions and other legal documents that I used in the book about the [Catholic] Church.” He did not limit himself just to musicans such as his friend clarinetest and educator Dr. Micheal White but to other cultural contributors, including Mardi Gras Indian Chief Donald Harrison Sr.’s wife Herreast who was a fifth generation quilter. It was the culture leaders and their commitment to return to the city that made the recovery for everyone else, for “all the service industries that depend on them” possible.

Berry finished up regaling the crowd with wonderful stories of the past misdeeds of Bishops and others Catholic clergy that came up during his early research in his forthcoming book on the finanaces of the Catholic church, but the red meat in his lecture was, for Toulouse Street at least, in his discussion of Earl Long and the role of musicians in the city’s recovery.

For more information on the Tennessee Williams Festival Master Classes and other programs, visit their website. The festival runs through Sunday. I’m done with master classes for this year, but I have my festival discussion panel pass and I’ll see y’all there.

Remembrence March 24, 2011

Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, Murder, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.

Every so often, someone searching the Internet for a loved one lost to the chronic violence of New Orleans lands here on Toulouse Street, finding them listed in my (almost) annual catalog of the victims of murder. This one just appeared the other day on the list for 2008.

Felix Pearson: I love you and you will always be my number one cousin. Even though most of the people in life have forgotten you. God and me will always be here. I love you and miss you. XoXo!

Sadly, the day I noticed this I also noticed someone was out searching for the Hanktons again which always bother’s me. These guys appear to be a couple of New Orleans most dangerous, but someone finds them interesting as I regularly get hits searching for their names.

Today is not about the Hanktons, but about the victims, about Felix Pearson whom I never knew in this life. However he died, an innocent bystander or a player with a pistol in his waistband I will never know. I only know he was a part of New Orleans, a part of a family and a neighborhood and he is gone forever but not forgotten.

Odd Words March 23, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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I attended Octavia Books’ discussion on “What do YOU want from your local bookstore?”, an event prompted by the closure of New Orleans area Borders stores including the one located in the former Bultman Funeral Home on St. Charles Avenue. I took some notes on what the 10 people attending (not counting the charming owners or our facilitator, author and regular customer Michael Tisserand) had to say. Mostly this was the choir discussing favorite hymns but there were a few interesting remarks. The one that can’t wait for a quiet moment to review my notes: “If [Octavia Books] had gone out of business, we wouldn’t be sitting around at Borders discussing how to make [that store] better.”

§ Because we none of us have enough to do, a fascinating puzzle based on an old translation (now out of print) of a story by Jorge Luis Borges, The Book of Sand. You too might be able to add your name to the Borgesian Order of Omni Bibliological Kabbalists (B.O.O.K.). Go on. You know you want to

§ Of course it’s Tennessee Williams Festival Weekend and I already published my picks for the weekend last week, but I left off one event worth mentioning that I’ll probably miss: The festival will present a Poetry Slam with cash prizes, hosted by Chuck Perkins, at One Eyed Jacks at 8:00 p.m.

§ I shouldn’t encourage the competition (oh, go ahead; don’t be like that): A new website tied to NOLA.com called NolaVie is sponsoring a writing contest with cash prizes and a reading at Octavia Books for the winners. Just send your creative non-fiction entries to me and I’ll enter them for you to save you a stamp. (Uh, huh). Poetry and fiction also welcomed. You can enter here.

§ On Thursday 17 Poets! features Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Borque and New York poet Bill Zavatsky an 8 p.m., followed by an open mike hosted as always by the exquisitely coiffed Jimmy Ross.

§ Also on Thursday, Dr. Andre Perry, long-time educator and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City, will discuss his book, a look at what transpired in education in the wake of Katrina, and the educational prognosis for NOLA at Maple Street books on 3/24 at 6 pm

§ On Sunday, 3/27 poet Danny Kerwick presents a birthday reading followed by an open mike at the Maple Street Bar out back in the patio.

§ Octavia Books will host a tasty look at the food of the world of Tennessee Williams with readings, signings and tastings featuring contributors Troy Gilbert, Chef Greg Picolo and Dr. Kenneth Holditch on Tuesday 3/29 at 6 p.m.

§ I wish Susan Larson would publish her guests in advance for her new WWNO-FM radio show The Reading Life, but hey: if you miss someone you wish you had heard, you can find podcasts here.

Remember: if you want to see your events here, be sure to email me about them.

O Beautiful Storm March 23, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Dave Walker of the Times-Picayune profiles spoken-word poet Gian Smith who voices the poem over the Season Two teaser for Treme. Smith says that he only started writing seriously after the storm as I did, and he now runs a spoken word event at at the McKenna Museum of African American Art at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays. There are some seriously gritty lines in the poem but they don’t come across as the casual misogyny of radio hip-hop in this context. It is what it is and I won’t convict the witness.

“O Beautiful Storm,”
By Gian Smith

I got the Rain in my veins…
The flood water in my blood makes my heart beat harder.
I’ve got the scent of the death and decay in the wind
Sinking into my nose and under my skin.
She’s the music in my ears, and the mold in my soul.
Move with her like bellies to congo drums
Write a sonnet to her, serenade her, recite her a poem.
Bump her like sissy bounce or mellow into her like Marsalis.
Let her weave through your brain like a song has moved you
And you can stop the flow…
But don’t let her go.
Last night, on my knees I scrubbed and scrapped
Katrina from the tiles of a house that would one day
Belong to my kids who’d have no idea there was a remain
Underneath the sofa, I had purposefully not wiped away.
Cause while Hugo and Andrew talked a good game
In the end all they did was ride the Gulf to the lake
And kick up a few waves and make a few trees shake
But Katrina had foresight and long term goals.
Bear her like ungratifying child labor of a stillborn
Answer to her, embrace her. Make passionate, steamy love to her til you moan.
Let her consume you on holidays and special events
Not meant to be spent alone.
Do what you must, but don’t let her go.
She’s Death’s greatest stage
She’s the 11th plague
She’s five men dead in a truck from a murderous rampage.
There is no fury like her rage hell bent.
The apocalypse heaven sent.
A city’s extinction level event.
She’s men’s residence changing homes,
Chickens coming home to roost again.
She’s man exalting science as defense
From God, being overthrown
She’s the perfect combination of wind, neglect
And Amir’s criminals in City Halls and black robes
Whose Congressional bills pass at levees expense,
Whose gavel smacks smash homes and crack domes.
Beat her to let her know you care.
Hate her on the streets in front of your friends for show.
Love her behind closed doors at home.
She’s a summer rain, a gentle breeze blown,
And an infamous name that our hearts now own.
O’ beautiful storm, I won’t let you go.

Red Beans and Ricely Yours March 22, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.

Serio’s red beans have gone all to hell, tasteless but at least not as underdone as the rice. There are only a few sins even stirrup Catholics who promise an act of contrition before they hit the ground will not admit in this city and serving bad beans is one. Maybe its a shake-up in the staff, a new cook, I don’t know. Red beans are a fundamental, an article of the local catechism and if you can’t get those right, you have no business running a restauran.t I don’t care if you beat Bobby Flay in a mufaletta throwdown, if your beans suck you’re dead to me.

Over the last few years working just across the street it’s been a given you would find me at Serio’s on Monday, in spite of the overly loud TVs and a proprietor with a lot of questionable opinions straight off of WWL-AM that he loves to loudly broadcast. I stopped going for a while after I heard him announce to some tourists who asked about the Ninth Ward, “oh, that was nothing. All those houses were junk anyway. Lakeview suffered just as bad if not worse.” It set my blood to boiling as if I’d spilled an entire bottle of Crystal onto my food, the casual racism of it but then we are a town of casual racists, and if you serve good beans (especially if your sole Black employee, the only one in the place whose the tiniest bit friendly and solicitous serves them to me, well, I came back. The beans were good and just across the street. What’s a guy supposed to do?

The nice black woman who served me every Monday with just a nod by me and a wave and a smile back, allowing me to skip the ordering line and go straight to the register, is gone. I never learned her name. I miss her smile as she as she brought me a plate overflowing with beans and maybe an extra bit of sausage for which I gladly gave up a dollar tip. She deserved more and if I saw her again I’d probably slip her a twenty to make up for it, but she’s gone. Maybe I’m just old but I miss that kind of service, the sort Miss Mary in the Canal Street D.H. Holmes men’s sportswear department used to give, someone who knew your neck, sleeve, waist and inseam size at a glance from 20 feet away.

I think of all the good red beans past, first of all Buster Holmes which fed generations of working people with an inexpensive delicacy, probably the finest beans in the city, long gone since the restaurant was sold in the 1980s and Mr. Homles passed on in 1994. (You can thank whoever Mr. Holmes sold out to, because their failed chain of red bean-themed restaurants inspired Al Copeland to add them to the Popeye’s menu. Thank you, Buster). Eddie Baquet’s on Law Street, one of the great New Orleans soul food restaurants mostly unknown to half of New Orleans because of it’s location (but not to me because a friend took a semester off college to work a produce truck) is also long gone. His descendants own Lil’ Dizzy’s and I’ve not tried their beans and will have to some day if only in memory of the originals, to see if they measure up, but that means getting in the car.

The same for Buffa’s and their mean red beans. Too far, and the overwhelming temptation to have a Hi-Life with my lunch. I need a place I can walk to. Dunbar’s is back thank god after spending several years in the catering business (we had beans and chicken for lunch at the first Rising Tide bloggers conference in 2006), but that’s another car trip, this one much too far Uptown. If I worked from home on Mondays the solution would be simple: Liuzza’s at the Track, but I’m usually downtown. (Another great loss: specials at Parkway, including the Monday Red Bean po-boy, a length of French bread hollowed out and filled with beans. Man those were good but they’re gone, too).

When my server at Serio’s left, some of the spirit went out of the place, leaving only the proprietor with his loud opinions and the overly loud TVs he bellows over and walls full of fading LSU memorabilia I could care less about, and nothing sums up the loss of a favorite restaurant as the simple fact of bad red beans, two weeks in a row. I’m done with them. I think I’m going to have to start spending Mondays at the Commerce but if you want to sit that means getting out of work 11ish, and I’m not sure I can resist one of the best fried shrimp or oyster po-boy’s in town just sitting there on the menu distracting me from my Monday mission. Its going to be tough, but I’ll have to manage somehow.

#twiterature March 21, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Ate dinner. Read Tao Lin’s Shoplifting from American Apparel. It took about an hour. Not sure what to think. Hungry again. #twiterature

Please don’t take my sunshine away March 20, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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In the early 1980s, a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation station in what is now Nunavut was vacated by its technical staff during a CBC labor strike and taken over by the Inuit janitor and his buddies. Apocryphal tapes circulating in community radio circles since then include this version of the state song of Louisiana, You Are My Sunshine, sung in Inukitut. Please don’t take my sunshine away is understandably a popular lyric north of the arctic circle where people live through 65 days of sunless winter.

Yes, I’m supposed to be going over my taxes. What’s your point?

Last Recall March 19, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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Strange the way memory works, sitting on your stoop watching the starting gate of the racetrack pass and you wonder, when you sit out in the morning watching the horses exercise or in the evening watching the gate go up and back between races, why you never smell the stables. Perhaps the valuable thoroughbreds live in climate-controlled comfort, their aroma never escaping into the neighborhood, that scent you associate with summer day camp visits for a trail ride in City Park, the doddering trail horses who–if let loose–would probably plod that well worn path and back to their stalls without human guidance; the bow-legged young women in tight jeans and boots with naturally ruddy cheeks and mastery of these great beasts as unlike the pale suburban girls in your class as Amazons, you remember them better than the horse you were assigned for three weeks in away-camp; the scent of straw and manure and horse sweat not unpleasant but because of these girls a gentle pheromone hardwired just the other side of puberty. You recall recognizing it in the scent of the grain elevators along the river that would drift when the wind was right over your high school, 1,200 young men fenced in minimum security Christian Brothers’ discipline and the only women lay teachers chosen by men who cared only for boys, this deep seated olfactory memory comes now as a powerful note in the flavor of a Flemish sour ale as the bugler plays First Call and finishes, as he always does at the Fairgrounds, in a few bars of improvisation as a scattering of those bow-legged girls in their tight blue denim skin and tooled boots ride the lead horses escorting the jockeys up to the gate.

And all dishevelled wandering stars March 17, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Who goes with Fergus?

Who will go drive with Fergus now,
And pierce the deep wood’s woven shade,
And dance upon the level shore?
Young man, lift up your russet brow,
And lift your tender eyelids, maid,
And brood on hopes and fear no more.

And no more turn aside and brood
Upon love’s bitter mystery;
For Fergus rules the brazen cars,
And rules the shadows of the wood,
And the white breast of the dim sea
And all dishevelled wandering stars.

— W. B. Yeats

Odd Words March 17, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.

Here’s an unusual and fantastic response to the problems Border’s Books is having, including folding a local store rebuilt with hurricane recovery money. Octavia Books will host a community discussion “What do YOU want from your local bookstore?” From their website:

To all our regular customers, and to all Borders customers looking for a new bookstore to call your own, we promise to keep working hard to offer you a welcoming place where you can always talk with us about books you’ve discovered; where you will find a thoughtful, personally selected array of titles to browse, examine and take home; and where you can regularly meet great authors in person and through the printed word. We look forward to being the place you will come back to again and again.

If you are concerned about the future of books in our city, we invite you to be part of a conversation about what you want from your local bookstore. Michael Tisserand, former editor of Gambit Weekly and author of Sugarcane Academy, has agreed to be our moderator. Whether you are a regular Octavia Books customer, a longtime Borders customer, or if you’ve only just heard about us, we hope that you’ll join us on Tuesday, March 22, at 6 pm, where you can give voice to your concerns – and we’ll be listening.

It looks like a quiet week but perhaps everyone is gearing up for the Tennessee Williams Festival, which isonly two weeks away/ I’ll be old fart in a young guy’s hat wandering aimless and sort of lost like among all the book clubbers who make him look not quite so old. The only Master Class I’m almost certain to make will be Jason Berry’s “Finding the Non-Fiction Narrative” on Thursday at 11 a.m. I think I’m definitely going to spring for a panel pass and take a day off work Friday because the panels look like where the good stuff is.

Friday, March 25:

· New Southern Voices, a panel discussion featuring Minrose Gwin, Skip Horack and Josh Russell. Horack is the only one I’ve read and his debut shot story collection The Southern Cross is definitely worth a read. 10 a.m.

· Play Me Something, Mister: Writing About New Orleans Music with Eve Abrams, Shannon Brinkman, Karen Celestan and Thomas W. Jacobsen. 2:30 p.m.

Saturday, March 26

· Walker Percy’s The Movie Goer, a panel marking the 50th anniversary of this book featuring Percy’s friends and fellow novelists Sheila Bossworth, Valerie Martin and Chris Wiltz at 10 a.m.

· Well Versed: Poetry Readings is a discussion and reading by Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque, chairman of the Lusher Charter High School Creative Writing Program Brad Richard, Mona Lisa Saloy from Dillard University and actress Grace Zabriskie at 1 p.m.

· Tales of the Master: Conversation with Armistead Maupin, author of the Tales of the City series about San Francisco at 4 p.m.

Sunday, March 27:

· Johnny’s in the Basement: Writing the Subterranean starts off with a hat tip to Barry Hannah and promises to plumb writing about characters “who live in shadow and dream of light.” Features are Thomas Beller, Scott Blackwood and Amanda Boyden. 10:00 am

· Real Life Drama: Creating Compelling Non-Fiction with Patrica Brady, Richard Campanella, Freddi Williams Evans and Rowan Jacobsen. 11:30 am

· Or choose A Chat with Mr. Battiste featuring Harold Battiste, Jr. moderator Henry C. Lacey and supporting musical illustration (so the program says) by Jesse McBride. This is a tough choice.

· Readings from the Poetry and Fiction Contest winners and runner’s up is at 1 p.m.

· And of course, on Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., the annual Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest Preliminaries with final judging at 5:30.

If I get a note from Dave Brinks or Megan Burns on what’s up at the Goldmine, I’ll stick it in here later but for now my plans are the Downtown Irish Parade, like any good Eirephile, flitting from bar to parade and back like Sweeney Astray.

Redemption March 16, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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At this annual collision of our Irish, Italian and African roots on the streets of this Franco-Hispanic city, our individual identities melding into something greater than it parts, we must remember: All we have is ourselves, and redemption songs.

The truth shall set you free March 15, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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I posted a partially tongue-in-cheek note about a class my daughter is taking in college this semester titled “Truth, Lies and Literature”, and part of the syllabus is a blog kept by the students. I shouldn’t be surprised that someone stumbled onto my post, which apparently led to some discussion and a reply from her professor. I get a lot of hits to a Krewe du Vieux post from presumed students searching for “Dante’s Inferno”, and a bunch more from people searching for information on cargo cults to this picture, so I’m not really surprised at all.

As part of her mild rebuke for my pun-intended suggestion that there might be a teacher’s view of the topic opposed to my view, she pointed out that her class was intended in part as an exercise in critical thinking, asking students to evaluate the roles of fact in fiction. Her reply set of a chain of thought over just how invaluable such a class might be. Writers who draw deep from the well of history–Dos Passos and Pynchon come first to my mind but I’m sure if you’re reading still you could come up with a string of writers not of period pieces but those whose focus is a historical figure or incident (Vidal’s Burr for example,or Doctorow’s Ragtime, neither of which I’ve read I’ll confess.) These are writers of fiction, all attempting an insight into an individual or the zeitgeist of an era by mingling fact and fiction.

Even more complicated are the issues of memory and memoir, of history written by the victors. We have moved past the involved journalist era of Tom Wolfe, Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson onto even more complicated ground, on which influential writers like Stephen Elliott (Adderral Diaries) and Dave Shields (Reality Hunger) question the very possibility of objectivity in non-fiction, and in Shields’ case defending the extension of what everyone in my daughter’s class would know as sampling in music to the fields of writing and art (where it is better known as plagiarism).

Considering these issues is one of the most useful exercises in critical thinking a university could offer. (Note: this is not intended to suck up to teacher. I’m not foolish enough to think such a thing would work). Instead consider the world we live in today, with much of the news media as politically polarized as that of the 19th Century, or the amount of questionable information there is out on the Internet.

Thoughtful people are forced to become their own arbiters of truth and fiction, to weigh the speaker as critically as the information, to assemble sources in much the way a journalist does. Our children will need to learn to how to critically discern the worthwhile signal from the increasing amount of noise in everything they read on the page and online, everything they hear on Fox News or MSNBC or YouTube.

A study of the malleability of fact whether in the arts or in political persuasion should be as essential to a young woman or man’s education in the 21st Century as them study of Rhetoric was from the times of ancient Greece until the European model of classical education was displaced by the industrial revolution. Attempting to academically decode cable news networks would probably go up in a maelstrom of political reprisal, but starting from the less controversial ground of literature seems a perfect place to begin undermining the infallible assumptions that are the enemies of a “liberal” (i.e., open) and educated mind, to learn to read not just for escape or assignment, but discerningly, separating the fact from fiction, memory from history and in the process finding the beautiful truth in both.

The Great Wave March 14, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Federal Flood, je me souviens, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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I first posted this ekphrasis to Katsushika Hokusai’s painting in March 2008, thinking after I saw the image of Hurricane Katrina, but now it brings to mind of course the terrible tragedy in Japan. Strange, a song that has become permanently associated in my mind with Katrina as well NPR played it on the news not weeks after that horrific flood, Eliza Gilkyson’s Requiem, was written for the victims of the 2004 Christmas Tsunami. There are many hands but only one tapestry constantly woven until the last hand drops and then only the soul memories of this painting, this song will survive. Carry them with you always.

HokusaiHokusai’s The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa

Through the lens of imminent disaster Fuji–the looming backdrop of a countless artists–is an insignificant bystander. The mountainous water towers over the iconic peak and the doomed boat. The sailor’s backs are turned to the crest of threatening fingers, their hands clasped in muscular prayer to the task of rowing. They did not choose the sea. It is the world they were granted by their ancestors, rain on their fields and fish in the sea. The sky is a mirror of the sea, sometimes placid and other times fierce with wind, and where else shall they live except between the sky and the sea, those promising and pitiless fields of blue? They know the tales of typhoon and tsunami, whole villages swallowed by the sea, coasts given over to ghosts. Still, they rise up with the sun and go down to their own boats. When confronted with the Great Wave, there is nothing to do but row.

The Spontaneous Notebook March 13, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Poetry, Toulouse Street.



–Dean Young, from The Art of Recklessness

Which is not to say we are freed from all responsibility to form or the traditions that inform us, only that a slavish adherence to formalism or it’s complete abandonment may or may not be poetry (or story or novel or what have you).

Somewhere along the way I started to lose the sense of Toulouse Street as notebook, the idea that in this age quotes such as this don’t belong in my little notebook where I might forget to share it, will never get around to writing our modern letters via email to someone about these lines, but instead if it struck me this powerfully I should just post it here in my worldly journal.

Shame on me.

Paint It Black March 11, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Sometimes looking at Mark Rothko’s black period paintings is just what you need to do.

“A painting is not a picture of an experience, but is the experience.” — Mark Rothko

“Black: being of the achromatic color of maximum darkness; having little or no hue owing to absorption of almost all incident light” — wordnetweb.princeton.edu

We are trained to think of white as the color of possibility: the blank page perched in the typewriter. What if we are wrong?

The paintings, you will note, are not all solid black, and where they are exhibit a marked, textured brushwork you’re just not going to see on this web page. They begin from black, and from that something emerges.

If white is the color associated most often with the divine is black satanic, which to most means evil, or merely the absence of god? And in that absence infinite possibilities, the random collisions of specs in the void, clinging to each other in the dark, from which arises the ability to name the color: black.

Perhaps I will change the schema here to black with white type. Let us sit in Rothko’s black chapel for a while and think about it.

Attonement This Exit March 11, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.

I have a certain number of rituals associated with Mardi Gras Day. One is to stop at 824 Royal Street to visit the building where I spent the day as a small child. One of my clearest early memories (perhaps there was a photo I remember) is of sitting on my father’s shoulders on Canal Street watching the parades. This was the apartment of my great-aunts Gert and Sadie Folse, now the Hove’ Parfumier, and until we were old enough to be turned loose without our parents I would spend the time after parades sitting on that stoop watching the spectacle pass by. This year, in the spirit of my boneman costume with the beautiful apron painted for me by the artist Salley Mae (thank you, Sally), I stopped and knelt as the true bone men do and asked the spirits of Gert and Sadie to join me for carnival, to wear my eyes and ears for a day.

Another regular stop, which we missed this year, is to try to find St. Anne’s as they reach the river to remember their members who have passed in the prior year. The year everyone in my family was sick and I went downtown alone with my camera and took hundreds of picture, I tried very hard to catch every marching krewe. I was lucky enough to catch Colleen Salley’s last ride as Queen Colleen that year, and I also managed a decent set of photos capturing St. Anne’s at the river. Two years ago I brought a cigar and one of the beads that once hung on my car mirror and burst the afternoon of Aug. 29, 2005, and offered them to the river in memory of Ashley Morris. This year we missed them, and I will try not to let that happen again.

The last ritual of the day is to pay a visit to the Abbey, the bar that was for all intents and purposes my living room in the early 1980s when it was owned by Betz Brown. The crowd looks much the same, dissolute twenty-somethings, and the bathrooms are still ankle deep in water on Mardi Gras Day. I ordered a snakebite (something I only drink once a year, at the Abbey) in memory of the days when Betz would regularly mix a batch and stand them up on the house for her regulars. The crowd seems familiar after years of transition bar under other owners , at times a transvestite bar and a biker hangout, but the look of the place has changed. Much of the religious iconography that helped to give the bar it’s name is gone. Every time I step in there on Mardi Gras I remember our abortive plan to steal part of a billboard that for years stood on I-10 East in Metairie as you entered the city. Advertising a High Church Episcopal parish, at the bottom was a separate placard that read “Atonement This Exit.” It seemed a perfect piece of American religious iconography, and we plotted many nights over drinks how we might remove it to a new home over the bar but as is typical of bar bravado, we never stole the sign.

The billboard and its message is long gone, and I can’t find a photograph of it on the Internet, so the memory of it will have to live here in words and in my own mind. It will always stand as a reminder every Mardi Gras as I stand at the bar of the roots of the celebration, and as I often reach the Abbey around dusk this memory serves an annual reminder that I am no longer twenty-something, must go to work the next day, and that as respectful of tradition as I am I must somehow be home before midnight.

Odd Words March 10, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.
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Its the day after Mardi Gras, and while I went home early thinking I had a 9 a.m. meeting (it was cancelled, a mixed blessing since I was already up and full of coffee) I’m going to have to jiggle the brain a bit to come up with something worthwhile to say.


OK, well, then go read about the genesis of one of the best literary sites on the web, HTMLGiant. “It is hard not to look at Mr. Butler as a new kind of fiction writer, one who defies the archetype of the guarded figure alone with a manuscript in a room filled with books. It’s not just that talented writers can be open about screwing around on the Internet like everyone else, but that his blog, his Twitter, his novel and HTML Giant are all continuous with his persona as a writer, all working toward a single style. They cannot be separated.”

§ On Thursday, March 10 @ 7:30pm, 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series proudly presents a book signing & reading with poet JOHN SINCLAIR & Friends. Our feature will be followed by OPEN MIC hosted by JIMMY ROSS.

§ I was once editor of a small weekly newspaper in St. Bernard Parish, and I think this is going to have to go onto the bookpile. At Octavia on the Wednesday the 16t at 6 p.m. author presentation and signing celebrating the release of Samantha Perez’s The Isleños of Louisiana. In the late 1700s, Louisiana fell under Spanish control. Coaxed by promises of new opportunity, thousands of Canary Islanders of Spanish descent relocated to Louisiana, where they established four settlements. Generations of Isleños have overcome the challenges of an evolving American society, as well as the devastation of storms that have ripped through their land. Through it all, the Isleños have preserved their unique heritage, traditions and culture for more than two centuries.

§ OK, I’m probably leaning toward the Islenos history book the same night, but this sounds tasty.

Reality Monger March 9, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“All writers believe they are realists. . . . each has different ideas about reality. The classicists believed that it is classical, the romantics that it is romantic, the surrealists that it is surreal. . . . Each speaks of the world as he sees it, but no one sees it in the same way.”
— Alain Robbe-Grillet

Adiu Paure Carnaval March 9, 2011

Posted by The Typist 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, farewell,
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, farewell,
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.

Always for Pleasure March 6, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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It’s sometime toward four in the morning as we amble in loose groups down Newton Street toward our cars and away from the Mystic Order of Mysfits Ball. There’s no real point in wearing a watch to MoMs unless its necessary to your costume, in which case you should find a broken one to wear. The point is to step briefly outside of time and the world and into the by turns quixotic and erotic bestiary of the MoMs, a moment at the peak of Carnival reserved for those who truly understand the masque, who step into their costumes so completely that they are–for a few hours–transformed, surrender themselves completely to pleasant ecstasy the way the devout surrender themselves to be mounted by the loa.

At MoMs are lieutenants whose job is to inspect people’s costumers. The tickets read Full Costume Required, and those who don’t comply are placed in Costume Jail for a while and given the alternative of surrendering their pants. We slip past the inspection line through a break in the police railings just to save time, confident we pass muster. The lieutenant who frisks everyone who enters, with particular attention to womens’ breasts and everyone’s crotch, sticks his hand down the back of my pants and announces loudly that’s he’s found crack. He peers into our eyes and says, well, the only problem is your pupils are not sufficiently dilated. We’ll get to work on that, we tell him. This is definitely not the Family Gras a nearby suburb hosts the same weekend. This is as far from the Chamber of Commerce vision of child-friendly daytime parades and the frat adventure travelogue of big ass beers and show your tits as the Coliseum was from the rites of the mystery cults. It is the ancient Dionysian spirit of surrender to animal pleasure resurrected for the modern world.

This particular party has gone on for over 30 years, a core of a few hundred people from the Gentilly who started out at a Disabled American Veterans hall in Arabi and which has grown into a coveted ticket, a massive party of a few thousand old friends and total strangers in costumes that tend toward the lewd and the illuminated. The same band–the Radiators–has performed for over 30 years but is breaking up this year. I haven’t been to MoMs in seven years, finding the all night revelry with no where to sit and an irresistible urge to stroll and costume-watch and dance until almost dawn a bit much, but I remember the early MoMs balls, spent Wednesday nights in college at the Luigi’s pizza restaurant where the band the Rhapsodizers transformed into the Radiators, and I can’t imagine missing what I feel like may be the last genuine MoMs.

It’s done now and you think you are, too, a pleasant exhaustion in which the muscles are not tensed by hours of dancing but deeply roll-back-on-your-pillow-and-light-a-cigarette-with-a-sigh relaxed. You are aware at some level that it’s cold and damp and your costume is bare-chested but you are flush with warmth. You should be watching the broken and puddled industrial street but your eyes wander off to the constellation of sodium lights in the sky that mark the twin river bridges, a reminder that it’s time to go home.

“Can you give us a ride across the river?” Marie Antoinette asks. Two women in period dresses, one in a full out Louis Quatorze wig and matching makeup, are walking along beside us. “We’re going to Mid-City.” Well, so are we and the chances of their getting a cab in Algiers this time of morning are slim, although an empty United Cab glides by as we walk, ignoring their hand signals.

I look at my friend for a moment. “Sure, come on.” As if rewarded for our generosity, as we reach Lamarque Street and the car we find an abandoned cooler. I open it,and find it is full of well-iced citrus-flavored soda water. A mystic and perfect piece of luck. Our little group and the people around us all fish out a can, and we drag the cooler out of the street so we can leave. As the two women climb into the car I start rearrange things out of the back seat to make room for them. One hands me a stack of books and asks what it is. I give them my best calling-on-a-bookstore spiel about a Howling in the Wires, and one immediately announces she wants to buy a copy. Things are off to a fine start.

Our passengers are bubbling with excitement after their first MoM’s Ball and can’t stop talking about it. We ask where they are from. They’re in from L.A. for their first Mardi Gras and I pepper them with questions, putting on my best cab-driver-out-for-a-tip manners including some blow-by-blow travelogue. We pull up to a stop sign and I tell them we can take a right into Gretna, where the local police could match the L.A.P.D. club swing for club swing on a D.W.B. stop, or a left if they wanted to pick up some crack.” They break up laughing over the crack remark. “This is the over the river and through the hood shortcut.” I can’t help it. If someone is on their first trip to New Orleans I immediately act as if they were guests of friends who just stepped into my house. And there’s something in me of the voluble cabbie once I have a couple of smitten visitors on the hook.

We all fumble in our costumes for a dollar for the bridge toll, and as we drive up the span with the city laid out before us they start to debate if they want to be dropped off downtown to find a cab to Mimi’s, a popular local bar in the Bywater. I know the place well, I tell them. We launched the book upstairs. They turn out to be friends of the owners, and to know the tapas chef well. Marie Antoinette tells us how her friend (Lisa G is all I remember of a name) once spent a night in a sleeping bag with the chef after a wedding they all attended.. “But he’s married now,” she adds. I never get the other woman’s name straight and she remains Marie Antoinette in my head for the rest of the night. Marie has been in town before, and was supposed to interview local blues player and character Coco Robicheuax for her thesis, but I never manage to get out of her what her thesis was about. (He’s the fellow who decapitates a chicken in the radio studio in Treme). I ask them if they’ve been watching Treme and Marie has. Her “sissy” works from the Treme team, doing makeup.

We are a set of four old friends by now in the way that only strangers who share a table in New Orleans ever seem to be. If they want to be dropped at Mimi’s, I think: no problem. Glad to show the visitors a good time. I look at my companion. “You want a drink?” “Sure.” We pull off the expressway at O’Keefe and head downtown. As we near Canal Street, the corners are crowded with people trying to hail full cabs. They would have been lucky to make it home much less Mimi’s if we’d dropped them in the middle of downtown, and Mimi’s is a fair walk from Canal. We make our way around the edge of the Quarter, comparing cities we have known to New Orleans. “I can imagine what would happen if you started asking strangers for a ride in L.A.” and they agree whoever was stranded would be there until it was a safe hour to call a friend for a ride.

We roll down Rampart, Marie pointing out Armstrong Park (“it used to be called Congo Square, she explains”) to Lisa G, proudly showing off her New Orleans knowledge to her first-time visitor friend. When we park on Franklin, Lisa G. holds out a twenty and says she wants a book. “Keep the change,” she says and I wrestle with layers of elastic to find the short pants pockets under my costume. “Fair enough.” Its getting on toward morning but Mimi’s is still full. The woman find a table empty except for a glassy-eyed drunk sitting bolt upright against with wall with a thousand yard stare. They ignore him and circle up at the rest of the chairs and we join them. I excavate the twenty and get a couple of drinks from Neptune the bartender, forgetting that Marie and Lisa G. had promised to buy. I barely sip my whiskey, wondering why I bought it but gulp down the water back. Our table is suddenly crowded with strangers and a few people Marie seems to know. “Y’all just come from MoMs Ball?” people ask, looking at our costumes. A complete stranger comes up and hugs a couple of us. We look at each other trying to figure out who knows him, but he seems to read that. “I don’t know y’all, but I could tell you just came from MoMs. Wasn’t it great?”

Lisa G. keeps telling us how much she loves this place, wants to move here. Lisa G. has lived a lot of places and traveled. Chicago. San Francisco. New York. She’s not crazy about L.A. San Francisco feels comfortable to people from New Orleans, I explain, and tell her the old saw that it’s one of the few places people who leave the city don’t eventually return from. San Francisco is just as bad, says says. People there don’t make eye contact with each other. “Yeah, it has this vibe” Lisa G. says, but it’s not New Orleans.” Yeah, it’s not, we all agree. She has the bug bad, the “NOLA gene” that gets switched on when certain people first visit, my friend says.

“There’s just no other city like this in the world,” Lisa G. says in that wistful way locals know means: she’ll be back.

People in costume continue to pour into the bar, ready to continue their party until dawn. We all admire each others attire and nod appreciatively. More strangers stop to talk about MoMs, and our little foursome grows into a boisterous, impromptu party of extravagantly dressed people who were all strangers 30 minutes ago but who recognized initiation in the mystery cult of MoMs the way Masons once noticed each others watch fob. Here in New Orleans it might have taken a little longer to assemble an impromptu party without that cue, but it likely would have happened anyway. It always does.

No, we all agree, there really isn’t any other city like this in the world.

Onward Through the Fog March 4, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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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, 2011

Posted by The Typist 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.

Photo courtesy of that Yellow Blog guy

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.

Odd Words March 3, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Odd Words, Toulouse Street.

On Saturday, the New Orleans Police Department shutdown an annual costume market at a Frenchman Street bar for failure to have a permit to sell clothes. Which leads me to wonder what this will mean for the annual NOLA Bookfair, which is a coop run by a group of erstwhile anarchists who I can’t imagine get a permit from The Man. In a city where the murder rate would make a tour of duty in Afghanistan look like a vacation from it all, you would think the NOPD would have better things to do.

It’s the lead up to Carnival weekend so it’s going to be awfully quiet for Odd Words. I have one listing to share. I did have an interesting conversation with Chuck Perkins at d.b.a. Saturday night. He is trying to setup a performance space for poets at The Healing Center, and we spoke a bit about an idea a few of us had to try to break down the racial and clique lines that exist around the various reading venues in town, and whether that space would be a good place to hosts events to try to get all literary people together in one room once in a while. I left him a card and hope to hear more from him about it in the future.

One last things: Beckett on Joyce. ” I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, subtracting rather than adding…”.

§ On Thursday, March 3 @ 7:30pm, 17 Poets! Literary & Performance Series proudly presents a book signing & reading with New Orleans poet BRAD RICHARD, author of Motion Studies (Word Works 2010).

Exit Row Briefing March 2, 2011

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Toulouse Street, Writing.

“Every good painter paints what he is.”
–Jackson Pollack

He thinks he’s some sort of writer, someone said behind my back not a week ago and later much the same at greater length in an email directly to me, intending to wound but that approach didn’t exactly work out for Pontius Pilate and his Roman gods quite the way it was intended either.

I guess I do think so, or I wouldn’t be here typing this. I have a half-dozen credits and a much larger collection of rejections, but Toulouse Street is where I spend an awful lot of my time. This isn’t a daddy blog or a politics blog or a sports blog or a kitten picture blog or anything of that sort. It is a horse of uncertain color depending on the day of the week and possibly which race it is running, but it is at bottom concerned with one thing: the written tale of a narrator and his journey through New Orleans.

From almost the beginning there has been a quote from Samuel Beckett in the sidebar of Toulouse Street (once the twelfth post from August 2006): “I write about myself with the same pencil and in the same exercise book as about him. It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.” If I were a writing coach critiquing this blog as a complete work, I would note that the twin tales of the narrator and his subject lack a distinctive voice or style that differentiates them and so the two blur together.

The key to why that critique is wrong has always been here, in that quote. The two story lines are one and the same. Any attempt to differentiate them would be artificial and fail. What happens here is the journey of someone becoming a writer for the purposes of telling a specific story, and in the process becoming a different person than at the start. I am on my fourth career, my second marriage. I only began writing with serious dedication around five years ago. If I don’t change and grow, I will die. I have known that for a long time.

And I’m not ready to die yet.

Some sort of writer, but what sort precisely? Not the sort who’s going to write that best seller or wind up on the featured book table for the hurried at the airport, that much I can affirm, and no I haven’t published anything in the New Yorker as the mentioned email attested. I am the sort of writer who is disappointed that the New Yorker poetry editor sends an email rejection instead of a pretty slip I can stick on the wall to remind myself: keep trying.

I am the sort willing to flay his own skin to find what it is that makes his heart down beat to the second line. I am the sort who spends half my writing time on poetry because I believe like the monks in Dr. Parnassus that if we ever stop re-imagining the universe it will end. If you are going to write what I write you must yearn to be the eyes of the world, to stand at once behind and in front of the camera and not fear the shutter chattering like frightened teeth, to find someway to shatter an infinity of mirrors so that the crashing splashes into the wider world and makes an opening into which you and the reader both escape.