Thursday, June 30, 2011

CAJUN SURVIVAL IN A CRAZY WORLD…

Dusting bookshelves is a hazardous task. Before you realize it, you’re not moving dust around but are halfway through the second reading of a good book you’ve discovered on the shelves. Yesterday, I indulged in this diversion from dusting when I found one of Greg Guirard’s books, Psycho Therapy for Cajuns, subtitled A Traditional Culture Struggles for Survival in a Crazy World. I usually place Greg’s books on my coffee table so that visiting Sewaneeans can take a look at his photographs and text about the Atchafalaya Basin and surrounding environs—can “pass a good time” reading about the Cajun culture.

Somehow, Psycho Therapy was placed among the volumes of poetry I transferred from Louisiana to Sewanee, Tennessee so that I wouldn’t be without all those poets who feed my Muse daily. Actually, the poetry shelf was a fitting place for Greg’s book; e.g., the writing by Sheryl St. Germain, whose essays and prose poems in the volume are lyrical cameos about her Cajun origins. Also featured is the noteworthy work of poet Sidney M. Creaghan of Lafayette, complete with a drawing. Sidney introduces readers to one of Louisiana’s waders, the Great Blue Heron (“like Mahatma Gandhi/his legs are sinew and ligament/like Gandhi/he knows how /to hold still…”)

Greg’s introduction to Psycho Therapy for Cajuns is an outcry against contemporary society’s values and expectations, and he presents the plight of Cajuns who have remained connected with the “big woods and the water…the real Cajuns, I like to call them…[who] are suffering from an identity crisis of major proportions…true Cajuns who revere their traditions and their identity [and who believe] if we’re not having fun, we’re wasting our lives…”

Greg also describes a Cajun as someone who has one foot on shore and one on the boat, who can’t decide whether it’d be better to jump on the boat or jump back on land. He presents vignettes about weavers of hoopnets, crawfishermen, duck hunters, oyster shuckers, along with photographs of giant snapping turtles and of the faces of seasoned Cajuns who still live on the water. He includes a special treatise on language and the perversion of it—and not necessarily by Cajuns!

One of my favorite anecdotes in Psycho Therapy is about legendary Pat Rickels, who taught English and coordinated the Honors Program at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette for decades. Pat was also a famed folklorist and had an abundant store of Cajun lore. According to Greg, when she was a graduate student at LSU, she lived next door to a Cajun couple with a six-month old baby. Pat discovered one day that the baby was feeding on a bottle filled with brown liquid in it, rather than milk, and the mother paused to shake it up every few minutes. “What’s in the bottle and why do you keep shaking it?” Pat asked the mother. “Well, it’s gumbo,” the mother replied. “I strained it but have to shake it because all the pepper settles in the bottom.” Greg relates that it was then that Pat, who wasn't from Louisiana, realized that she was in another country!

Poo yii, it’s a red pepper world down there, and Greg believes that “every true Cajun dreams of returning to a life in the big woods, close to a bayou or river or swamp, growing his/her vegetables and fruit, catching and hunting for his/her fish and meat, leaving the stress of city/suburban life behind, with all its conveniences, comforts…and hassles.”

You can read about Greg and his books, posters, cards, and prints by going online at www.gregguirard.com. And I’ve moved Psycho Therapy to the coffee table.
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