Thursday, December 8, 2011

THE FIRST OF FIVE THINGS…

Poet Darrell Bourque in his citrus grove.
Earlier this week, we had dinner in the home of Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, a distinguished professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette who initiated the Women’s Studies program at this university. We shared this meal with the former poet laureate of Louisiana, Darrell Bourque, and his wife Karen, a glass artist. Mary Ann, who is of Italian descent, serves dinners, a la Italian style, that are always sumptuous, and we enjoyed pasta and Torta Di Noci (Italian Walnut Cake) in a splendid dining room decorated in gold and earth tones reminiscent of Italy. We left her with the dishes after four hours of a steady flow of conversation about writers, artists, botanists, musicians… and the books, paintings, plant finds, and music of those mentioned. It was a rich evening, orchestrated by an engaging woman who knows how to get together with people who care about and enjoy one another.

The following day, we received word that Darrell had been honored by the poet and writer Luis Alberto Urrea in the “Entertainment” column of Time magazine. Urrea had been asked by Time to name five things he was really “digging on right now,” and Darrell Bourque claimed the No. 1 spot. Urrea paid tribute to both Darrell and Louisiana, saying that Darrell had “unleashed a gorgeous and powerful New and Selected Poems entitled In Ordinary Light.” He added, “There is nothing ordinary about it. If you love that mythical, shadowy, musical place, that means you are a person of good taste and a deep soul. Louisiana is all about soul. And Bourque’s new book will lift yours and, oh yeah, mon ami, it’s gonna’ kiss you real good.”

I’m glad that Urrea recognizes our premier Louisiana poet, and I agree with his praise of Darrell who served the State as poet, teacher, and mentor for so many poets throughout Louisiana. I think Darrell is at his zenith as a poet and have often said that he's slated to become the Poet Laureate of the U.S. soon. He’s now working on an intriguing book of poetry centered on the exodus of the Acadians in the Grand Derangement, featuring poems about the characters in this deportation and their coming to Acadiana. When he talked about the poetry, I was reminded of the mural which Robert Dafford rendered in the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, Louisiana – a painting including the portraits of the Acadians arriving in southwest Louisiana under the leadership of Beau Soleil. In fact, Beau Soleil will be featured in one of Darrell’s poems. For those of us in Louisiana who had ancestors that survived the Grand Derangement and settled in south Louisiana, this is an exciting project. Darrell is the poet who can “speak to this condition,” and we‘re excited about the publication of more of his work that can “kiss you real good,” as Urrea said.

Gertie, dancing on roof.
I’ve written several blogs about Darrell’s diverse talents and recently came upon a NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) interview in which he talked about his love of Ekphrastic poetry or poetry devoted to another art form. Last Spring, at a workshop for students of the Lusher Charter School Writing Program, he talked about Ekphrastic poems and asked the participants to write their own versions of this type of poetry. The students chose to write about works ranging from contemporary canvases to a Renaissance miniature portrait. Darrell says that he responds naturally to works of art through poetry, and I remember his response to the painting of a Haitian orphan child which a friend of mine, Barbara Hughes, painted a few years ago. The painting of the child, Gertie, dressed in white tap shoes without shoe laces, enchanted Darrell, and he composed a poem that he read at a poetry reading in New Iberia where we appeared together. When the paintings were shown on a screen, he read his poem about Gertie and I read mine about Lorenzo, a Haitian child dying of AIDS. The privilege of reading alongside this gifted poet remains a high point in my life as a poet.

Darrell and Karen's home.
Darrell has been commissioned to do many Ekphrastic poetry projects; e.g., the poem for the dedication of the Ernest Gaines Center at ULL, five sonnets for an art book by ULL Professor Linda Frieze, and one for the Lake Charles Humanities Council on a painting for the Vision in Verse project. Visitors to Darrell’s home in Church Point, Louisiana enjoy touring his personal gallery of art that includes the works of Louisianians Clementine Hunter, Dr. Gloria Fiero, and Dennis Williams. Darrell claims that had he not been a poet and English professor, he’d have been an art historian…or (in my opinion) a professional horticulturist…or a painter...or an opera singer…or a Buddhist priest…he has the creative capabilities for all of these vocations.

However, we’re glad Darrell Bourque became a poet whose poems "will kiss you real good" and salute him for his recent recognition by Luis Alberto Urrea and Time magazine. Another bravo for you, mon ami Darrell!
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