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Notes from a Dancing Bear October 19, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
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As I noted last week, author Stephen Elliott of The Adderall Diaries and Happy Baby will be in New Orleans tomorrow night talking about about work and signing his book. The Adderall diaries is a fascinating work of biography not quite masquerading as crime fiction so much as merging with it. If you visit here much you probably understand my interest in anyone who explores (and tests the boundaries of) memoir as creative non-fiction.

I hope to go but I think I have to find someone to go with so I won’t be the only person there who doesn’t look like R. Crumb’s Speed Kills caricature or who isn’t there hoping to score outré sex with the author. If I don’t make it for some reason (namely safe escort for my sorry, chino-and-polo-shirted self), I hope someone who reads this will ask him this question and get back to me with the answer:

I understand the natural intersection of the true crime story with Elliott’s own, but why does be believe that occurred to him (even if it was initially unconscious) as the logical narrative engine for his own story and why does he think it works? Did the two threads just overlap as he wrote spontaneously and somehow interleave themselves successfully? Or was it something he stitched together from two narrative threads as he re-wrote and why? I think I know the answer but I am curious to hear Elliott’s version. (Should I write it at the bottom upside down so we can compare my guess with Elliott’s answer?).

If I don’t make it but you do, hypocrite lecteur, and ask my question and share his response, well then I’ll have to find someway to repay you. I can buy you a drink (or many as the discussion of his answer, my guess, and the rest plays out) so long as what you drink isn’t kept in a locked cabinet the bartender has to ask for the key to open.

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This will probably sound like boring crowing but I finally broke down and read some things at the Maple Street Bar’s longstanding poetry series on Sunday. It was awkward when I first walked into a small group of people who clearly knew each other (and knew the quiet people sitting alone in the corners). I think it helped to be greeted so kindly (and loudly) by the featured reader, Dave Brinks, who I learned visits here often and rather liked what I wrote about his recent book The Caveat Onus. In the end they proved a very charming and very talented group of people people. Open mike can be a gamble to listen to but what I heard ranged from the entertaining to the stunning, and I felt quite at home by the time I left.

I probably wouldn’t have stood up to read (or started submitting things until I finally got an acceptance) without some encouragement from a few people I should thank. First Robin, who put a link to my old Poems Before Breakfast site under her listing of New Orleans Poets long before I deserved it. Second is Sam who reads much of what I write and gushes far too much (which is valuable as rejection slips start to pile up) but who I trust implicitly will tell me if I show her crap.

Finally I should thank Everette Maddox. The first time I stood up at the Maple Leaf’s microphone was two weeks ago at the book launch for the UNO Press selected works I Hope Its Not Over, And Goodbye. Reading his revered words to the audience was an exhilarating experience, and got me hooked on the idea of finally breaking down and reading my own. The long departed Maddox, who founded the Maple Leaf poetry reading series, was famous for his encouragement of young (or, um, inexperienced) poets. For his little nudge from beyond the grave, my eternal thanks.

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I felt guilty at first sticking these bits of nothing from my life up here, but I spent far too much time today thinking about a problem I struggle with here on Toulouse Street: the temptation to look at Toulouse Street as a place where I can only post long, thoughtful pieces like the recent Rain Street or something like The Slow Noon Burn of June 16, the problem I used to refer to as More Lewis Lapham Than Thou when I struggled with it over essays about New Orleans on Wet Bank Guide.

I think this is a mistake, as the universe of online writing we call blogging is more akin to early television than anything else. There is room for the thoughtful dramas of Golden Age Television but an equal demand for men spinning plates atop sticks while the Flight of the Bumble Bee plays frantically.

When I wasn’t afraid to jot down short thoughts and musings as I did more frequently in the early days of this blog, more people tended to stop by. Maybe I am as entertaining as I think I am when I’m drinking. It’s entirely possible. Or perhaps the more crap you throw at the wall, the more will stick. Either way, I think it’s time for the Dancing Bear to dust off his metaphorical unicycle and stop worrying so damn much.

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I hope its not over, and good-bye October 6, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Everette Maddox: He was a mess, by everyone’s assessment including his own and so reads his memorial, a plaque in the patio of the Maple Street Bar where he hosted the long running poetry reading series he founded. He is a bit of an obsession here on Toulouse Street, where we frequently take him down from the shelf and longingly look at that copy of The Everette Maddox Songbook on Amazon for only $215.

Now the University of New Orleans Press is releasing I hope its not over, and good-by Selected Poems of Everette Maddox with a kick off party at the continuing poetry venue, 3 p.m. this Sunday at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans.

Even if you don’t read poetry (and you’re probably not that sort, given that your here and the amount of other people’s work I post up here when I’m tongue-tied or bored), I can highly recommend this site unseen because Maddox’s work is, among other things, highly accessible. In his own poem “GIFT” he describes his writing as “whimsical little gifts” and I can’t think of a better description. It is by turns wry and dark and I think you will come away from reading it thinking as I do: damn, this is someone I wish I’d had a chance to have a drink and a long talk with.

Editor Ralph Adamo promises his selection from Maddox’s four books provides a “novel organization [which] also suggests new and surprising readings for those who know the work, or thought they did.” Now there’s an irresistible teaser, at least for the likes of me and maybe you, too since you’re here.

I never met the man. I was too busying trying to help my first wife drink herself to death at Betz Brown’s Abbey on Decatur Street when Maddox was at the top of his form and the bottom of his run to the end of the row of bottles the gods had allotted him. Maddox was something I discovered looking for every last word I could find to read on the subject of New Orleans to escape the bright lights, big city madness of Fargo, N.D. and I’ve been reading and rereading him every since.

In honor of the occasion of this book launch (that’s 3 p.m. Sunday at the Maple Leaf) here’s a poem that’s been rejected by some of the best regional journals in the south. If I get drunk enough mid-afternoon and there’s open mike, I might attempt to read it there but don’t count on it. I still don’t like the way the lines are laid out, and I’ve just cut out a middle section. If I can ever get the lines breaks just right, I’ll have to have another run at the reviews.

Blinded by Sunrise

For Everette Maddox

So listen,
it’s not like we ever met
or anything, but
I think we’ve both been
blinded by sunrise
refracted in a bar glass.

It’s like this:
I’ve had just enough
of a taste of your words
that I’m haunted
like a man in love
who’s suddenly not sure where
his next drink’s coming from,
except–it’s not from her.
She’s up and left.

You being dead and all
I’m sorry to bother but
if you scare up a copy
of the Songbook in
some discount street-side box
I might happen to pass by,
I promise I’ll have them
bury me with a bottle so
I can repay the favor.

My Name Is New Orleans July 3, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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“Professor Arturo” Pfister returns to New Orleans this weekend to receive an Asante Award and read his book at various venues around town. I discovered him online through another blogger about two years ago, when I stumbled into this (audio quality is not terribly good, but you can get the words).

Pfister appears Thursday, 5:30-7 p.m., at Garden District Book Shop; Friday, 6-8 p.m., at Faubourg Marigny Art and Books; Saturday, 3-5 p.m., at Louisiana Music Factory; Sunday, 3 p.m., at the Maple Leaf Bar, and 6-9 p.m., at the Ashe Cultural Arts Center; Tuesday, 9:30 p.m., at the Open Ears Music Series, 532 Frenchmen St. (above the Blue Nile); and July 8, 7 p.m., at the East Bank Regional Library in Metairie.

Later: I stopped by the Maple Leaf to see Professor Arturo and heard him read several stunningly funny fiction pieces that were, to my ears, prose jazz poems titled Last Time I Saw Jeanine (the title taken from the song). Backed up by some sympathetic conga work by Willie Cole (a drummer with some impressive credits) the poems rocked through his long on and off again affair with a younger woman in the days before and after Hurricane Katrina.

It was a small crowd of about 20 and I didn’t stay for the reading, faulting a creeping sleepiness I blamed on the large lunch(with a couple of beers) of shrimp and grits I cooked and ate before, really although I had some manuscript pages in my pocket I think before I try to read for a group of strangers, however nice, I need an encouraging entourage and a couple more drinks than I was ready for on the day after a party. Maybe next time.

Meanwhile, check out Professor Arturo’s schedule. It’s not too late to hear him read while he’s in town for a few days.