Friday, December 20, 2013

MORE MEANDERING


In a blog last month, I mentioned that Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana, was interested in finding the location of the settlement that Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard established with some of the first Acadians who fled in the Grand Derangement to Louisiana. Broussard led a group of exiles to Saint Domingue (now Haiti), then on to New Orleans in 1765, and eventually to south Louisiana where the exiles settled somewhere between New Iberia and St. Martinville, Louisiana.

In a recent issue of La Louisiane, the magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, I discovered that Dr. Mark Rees, an archaeologist and anthropology professor at ULL, Warren Perrin, co-founder of the nonprofit Acadian Heritage and Culture Foundation, and Adam Doucet, a senior majoring in anthropology, have begun working on a project to locate the site where Broussard and his band of Acadians settled. Rees is a descendant of Alexandre Broussard, brother of Joseph Broussard, and Perrin is also a descendant of the renowned "Beausoleil" Broussard.

The researchers seem to think that the Acadians in the Broussard party settled near Loreauville and are certain that they established three sites along the Bayou Teche. They're looking for areas of high ground where the Acadians could have found a habitable site. Doucet has begun interviewing Loreauville residents who may have information about gravesites of early settlers that would possibly indicate the position of homes in the early settlement.

The first time I heard about the possibility of Broussard settling near Loreauville, I was told that the site could have been at Lake Fausse Pointe, which is located about eighteen miles east of St. Martinville near the Atchafalaya Basin. Tuesday, as we were again visiting the Gonsoulin Meat Market, we decided to proceed to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park from Loreauville, about ten miles east of the town, to take a look at the place that had been mentioned as the possible settlement, or entry point of Broussard's party.

Lake Fausse Pointe State Park is approximately 6,000 acres in size and was once known as the home of the Chitimacha Indians, but today it is largely the habitat of whitetail deer, black bears, snakes, alligators, and armadillos. After we arrived, we started out on a trail that must have been Armadillo Ridge because we disturbed one of these gray armored creatures that wouldn't sit still for a photograph.

We stood on a bridge over the lake near the Interpretive Center and took one photograph of an American Egret who assumed a sedate pose for us momentarily, then became spooked at the sound of our footsteps. Much of what I glimpsed were sloughs and swampland, hackberry and cypress trees, and I vetoed the idea that Broussard and his party might have settled in this low ground area even though today the scenery is unspoiled wilderness and the wildlife is abundant.


When we consulted the GPS on our return trip, we were mistakenly directed to take a right turn toward Bayou Benoit, scattering a flock of killdeer as we turned, and traveled a gravel road eighteen miles through scantily inhabited land. The levee loomed on the left side of the corduroy road, and trailers teetered on the right side of the road in the low areas beside Lake Fausse Pointe.

We traveled eighteen miles on this circuitous route, emerging on a paved highway near Charenton, Louisiana, at least thirty minutes away from home ground of New Iberia. And so much for uninformed researchers who have time to spend on wild goose chases! We'll leave the "New Acadia Project" conducted by Rees and Perrin to those who have mapped the area and know what they're looking for. And, by the way, the New Acadia Project is attempting to raise $100,000 for the research needed to find the site of these first Acadian settlers. The site could become a draw to Acadiana for tourists.

Monday, December 16, 2013

LOUISIANA FOLKLIFE AND MORE ABOUT TRAITEURS

Martin, boy traiteur, illustrated
by Billy Ledet for Martin's Quest
Traiteurs (treaters or healers) are the major characters in three of my young adult novels set here in Acadiana—books I call "The Martin Series" because the name Martin appears in the title of all three volumes. A few days ago, I re-read an article featuring a traiteur in an old issue of Louisiana Folklore Miscellany and decided to go online to see if newer articles about these healers' work had been published in this journal.

Louisiana Folklore Miscellany is the official publication of the Louisiana Folklore Society, an organization formed in 1956 to promote the "study, documentation, and accurate representation of the traditional culture of Louisiana." This publication is a fascinating journal for teachers and writers of Louisiana history. In a 2008 issue, I read an article by Julia Swett entitled "French Louisiana Traiteurs" in which I discovered many parallels of thought that had appeared in my young adult novels featuring traiteur characters, and also in talks I'd given to students throughout south Louisiana about the traiteurs in the Martin Series.

Swett, a graduate of Religious Studies and Cultural Anthropology, respects the work of traiteurs who use faith healing methods and herbal remedies and pointed out that indigenous herbal remedies are frequently used in pharmaceutical drugs. In talks that I delivered, I pointed out the same fact, tracing some of the herbal remedies to those used by native Americans who co-mingled with the Acadians following the Grand Derangement when the French Canadians fled to south Louisiana during the 18th century.

Another facet of traiteur beliefs she talked about, which I had emphasized in my talks about the Martin Series, was the link between healthy bodies and healthy minds and the way a traiteur tries to understand how the patient feels when he begins treatments. In my latest young adult novel, Martin and the Last Tribe, I wrote: "Christ didn't believe that disease was part of the divine order of things...He was aware that resentment, fear, anxiety, hatred, and the like cause disease. When he spoke, he talked about faith, hope, the will to live, and he was always trying to lift the people to a higher state of becoming well..." In another passage of the same book, I wrote: "To me, traiteur work was a way I (Martin, the hero of the Martin Series) could quiet the sick person's mind and come into contact with the part of the self that the person I was treating wasn't aware of... then lead that person to become conscious of what made him sick..."

Swett explained that traiteurs use laying on of hands and prayer, just as clergy do in the sacrament of healing in the Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches, and in the Martin Series, Martin and his grandmother use this method during all of their healing sessions. Interestingly, Swett wrote: "Many healing systems approach the individual body as being continuous or integrated with the social body. When illness manifests in the individual body, it is indicative of a lack of integration with the social body." And in Martin and the Last Tribe, I write, "We did our traiteur work not only to relieve the sick person, but to remind him that he could return to the healthy order of things" ("the healthy order" meaning community or the social body).

For those readers who are interested in Louisiana Folklife and Folklore, I recommend the Louisiana Miscellany and other publications of the Louisiana Folklore Society that are available online. I also recommend the work of the Louisiana Folklife Center at Northwestern State University, which coordinates the Natchitoches/NSU Folklife Festival and is an archival repository for many folklife materials. The Center contains a print library of books and periodicals and still photographic images.

Note:  Covers of Martin Finds His Totem and Martin and the Last Tribe feature paintings by my brother Paul Marquart. 


Monday, December 9, 2013

SMALL PRESSES

The White Rhinoceros Press logo
Time was when the small press was a unique publishing house in the world of giant publishers, the most notable small press being, of course, the British-born Hogarth Press owned by Leonard Wolfe, Virginia Wolfe's husband. During the last twenty-five years or so, the small press, aided and abetted by book producers, has come into its own, and authors who'd otherwise never see the light of day, have emerged from the shadowy corners of the literary world to showcase their talents.

Back in the 80's, I frequently visited Blacksburg, Virginia where my godmother and godfather lived and was privileged to meet several notable professors who taught in the Virginia Polytechnic Institute's English Department, of which my godfather Markham Peacock was the administrator. One of those courtly gentlemen professors, now deceased, and later immortalized by VPI administrators who named the present Student Union building after him, was George Burke Johnston. "Burke," as I was asked to call him, was a beloved professor at this university, but few people in the contemporary publishing world know that he also owned a small press called The White Rhinoceros Press. This press made its debut in 1965 when Burke set type for Reflections by hand in ten-point Monotype Century type.

After sharing several meals at dinner parties where Burke was an honored guest, he and I exchanged poems, and I received copies of Burke's publications, including the original 1965 edition and a later edition of Reflections in which the text of the poems was the same as a 1978 format—it was an edition in which the first two signatures were expanded from a single signature in earlier printings and reset. The 1988 edition carried an ISBN, which was a step forward in the life of the White Rhinoceros Press.

Reflections contains what I believe is Burke's best poetry and features a section entitled "Brevities" with a succinct quote from Ben Jonson: "One alone verse sometimes maketh a [complete] poem." Burke's pithy brevities followed Jonson's quote; e.g., "Passing Generations:" "Resting my knuckles on the pew in front, /Startled, I see my dead grandfather's hand." Another reads, "From Menander:" "Peace feeds the farmer well on rocky height, /But War on fertile plain is fatal blight."

Burke's publications included such scholarly treatises as A Hundred Years After, an essay adapted from a lecture given on several occasions that appeared in the Phi Kappa Phi Journal and The Radford Review in 1966. Excerpts from the lecture also appeared in The Penn Hall Alumnae Pillar, and in these publications Burke critiques and salutes Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

However, I'm partial to Burke's poetry, particularly a compendium of his poems entitled Banked Fire that appeared in 1980. In this handmade, hard-backed edition, Burke reveals the reason for naming his press The White Rhinoceros Press in the last stanza of his poem, "White Rhinoceros:" "What symbol then? The raucous crow or harsh/Macaw or myna bird might do for most;/And for traditional bards not in the swim/Perhaps [what] would serve [is] the heavy horn-nosed beast, /The living fossil of a long-dead age."

The publication that Burke felt would be remembered as the White Rhinoceros Press's crowning achievement was a biography that he wrote about his grandfather entitled Thomas Chalmers McCorvey: Teacher, Poet, Historian, a professor at the University of Alabama for many years. In the introduction to this volume, Burke quotes William James: "Real culture lives by sympathies and admirations, not by likes and disdains," and he emphasizes that his grandfather received from his colleagues, friends, and students abundant "sympathies and admirations." After reading the biography, I discerned that Thomas McCorvey had passed on his gifts as a teacher, poet, and historian to his first and only grandson, George Burke Johnston.


Burke may have thought of himself as a rhinoceros, but his work as a pioneer in the realm of the small presses and his renown as an English professor obviously eclipsed any notions he may have had about being the "heavy horn-nosed beast/the living fossil of a long dead age." I'm delighted to possess his seven books in my library and have enjoyed re-reading them this wintry morning in south Louisiana.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

LOSING LEAVES

Years ago when I lived in Limestone, Maine during a bleak winter, I spent many icy days indoors, watching snow fall and huddling near an old oil stove that valiantly tried to heat one room of a drafty farmhouse apartment. To amuse myself, I listened to 45 rpm records of Tchaikovsky's works on a small record player and memorized quatrains of the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayaam, a book to which my father introduced me at an early age. It was a comforting exercise, and today I'm surprised how many of the quatrains I recall, especially at odd times; e.g., at breakfast on a winter morning a few days ago .

I suppose the sight of a backyard covered with brown leaves incited the memory. A live oak in the yard seems to shed year 'round, and the leaf-strewn yard brought up the lines: "Whether at Naishapur or Babylon, /whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,/The wine of life is oozing drop by drop,/the leaves of life are falling one by one." The Rubaiyat is filled with nostalgic, philosophical quatrains that cause me to wonder, now, why on earth a 19-year old girl would memorize lines that could be associated with aging? I also think that some strange prophetic wavelength from the universe urged me to memorize almost an entire book devoted to the literature of a mideastern country that I'd one day live in for two years.

A few hours after the lines from the Rubaiyat came to my mind, I was dusting bookshelves and came across the diary of my Godmother Dora, who had literary inclinations, like all Greenlaws seem to have (my mother's maiden name). A short notation for Wednesday, April 7, 1943 read: "When we become old, we lose our leaves more freely. A sudden sorrow and we're nearly stripped. The older we are, the greater the toll. But how we do hang on to the leaves—symbols of life, I suppose—and how do we slow down the death of final leaflessness?"

When I left Sewanee a few months ago, the woods and yard in front of our home had begun to fill with leaves—large yellow and rust-colored ones—and we called a few weeks ago to see whether they had been raked and carried away for the winter. Unlike the shedding live oak in our Louisiana backyard that requires constant raking, the trees at Sewanee deposit enough leaves for only one raking. I've written many poems about falling leaves, and most of them seem to echo thoughts that Dora wrote put her pen to, the latest one being in my book of poetry, Everything Is Blue, published in 2012. The poem is entitled "I Saw the Yellow Leaves Fall Down,

the tulip poplar's obeisance to rain gods,
fluttering hope as they perished,

soon, to be a gold carpet
woven of curling deaths,

brown-tipped faces in the garden,
having flown their last flight

in the arch of a summer sky,
having lived through the end of drought,

brought down before their time
by dark rain and changing light,

a shimmering gift to Him
who moves all leaves,

who cradles them to sleep
in the wet grass

glistening in a new wood,
in the innocent air

of a perfect sky."


And on a positive note, Carole Sevilla Brown writes that leaves provide a home for toads, ladybugs, and other creatures that kill off aphids. Beds of leaves also harbor butterflies during the winter, in larva stage or otherwise. They make natural mulch and retain soil moisture and warmth... sufficient facts to inspire me to leave the leaf bed in my backyard awhile longer!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

THE TIME OF BLESSINGS...

On this rainy cold day in New Iberia, Louisiana, just a few days before Thanksgiving, I sit at my window overlooking the patio with the fat chiminea on it and the backyard strewn with wet leaves and think about blessings—the warmth of central heat and a healthy breakfast reminding me of all good gifts available in this age of post modernity.

Several books about blessings that help me with expressing thanks for plenitude and certainly elevate my evocations of thankfulness lie on the dining room table. One of them is a volume entitled To Bless the Space Between Us by John O'Donohue, an Irishman whose work encompasses blessings for getting married, having children, eating bountiful meals, and other ordinary events. In the book, O'Donohue explains that blessings of things, people, and events is a way of life and can help transform the world. The volume was given to me at Christmas three years ago by my friend, Isabel Anders of Sewanee, who also writes books about blessings, several of which are: Simple Blessings for Sacred Moments, A Book of Blessings for Working Mothers, The Lord's Blessings, and Blessings and Prayers for Married Couples.  

A newer book on the dining table is a compendium entitled Bless This Food, which contains ancient and contemporary graces from around the world—prayers from Native Americans, Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Muslims, Sufis, Jews, Unitarians and others of various faiths. As the author, Adrian Butash, says: "food is the thanks-giving link and universal form of expression for gratitude to the Almighty."

In the introduction to his book, Butash writes briefly about certain cultures and customs centering around blessings and hospitality, and I was fascinated with the section about Chinese dining customs. He describes the Chinese custom of sending dinner invitations in a red envelope—red being the color of festivity—and the spontaneous seating arrangements so that no person is left standing while another person is seated. After the guests finish the meal, the host escorts them all the way to the door because the Chinese believe that "if you escort a man at all, escort him all the way." Included in this notation about Chinese dining is a reference to a Chinese poem, "Inviting Guests," which dates back to AD 273 and gives readers a look at ancient Chinese hospitality that reflects the pleasure of sharing and enjoying life through the "entertainment of guests with warmth and goodwill."

A P.S. to Butash's explication of Chinese blessings that use the vehicle of poetry is the fact that the Chinese express love in their blessings, dealing not with love as we envision it, but with friendship because Chinese poetry is influenced by the Three Teachings of Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism: the importance of being unselfish, loyal, and courteous. When I read this passage, I thought of one of Isabel's books entitled The Faces of Friendship in which she speaks of friendships (which aren't confined to the Chinese culture): "A friend is one whose essential beingness, whose presence in the world, has touched ours at some point. And from such points of touching we measure our time, our very lives before and after..."


So, my thanksgivings are not just food blessings but include celebrations of friendship as I think of all the friends who have, as the Chinese say, been "loyal, unselfish, and courteous" to me. However, I'm not sending out any invitations in red envelopes a la Chinese style—Thanksgiving dinner will be a la American style (with some inclusions of Cajun fare) but I do hope to entertain my "guests with warmth and goodwill."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

MEANDERING IN TECHE COUNTRY LOUISIANA


GLC Meat Market, Loreauville
During a visit with Darrell and Karen Bourque of Churchpoint, Louisiana recently, we talked about Darrell's newest book of poetry, Megan's Guitar and Other Poems From Acadie. Darrell, former poet laureate of Louisiana, has been researching the place where Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard, leader of the Acadians who fled to Louisiana during Le Grand Derangement, first settled. Broussard is one of the colorful characters in Darrell's book of poetry, and this auspicious figure is believed to have established a village near Fausse Point, present-day Loreauville, Louisiana, which is a fifteen-minute drive from my home in New Iberia.
My interest was piqued by Darrell's research and fanned by a friend who told us about a place in the small town where grass-fed beef is sold, so we set out one morning last week to explore Loreauville again. The population of the town at the last census doesn't quite reach the 2,000 mark, and 91 percent of the citizens are native-born Louisianians. Many of Loreauville's inhabitants still speak Cajun French, and the hamlet has an appealing Old World quality. Bayou Teche flows along its western edge, and Lake Dauterive, only a few miles away, offers fishing and boating recreation. Fishing and hunting remain the livelihood of many of the citizens, and sugarcane farming is a vital part of the economy.  
The town was once named Dugasville after one of its founding citizens and was later named Picouville after another of its outstanding families. Citizens finally settled on the name Loreauville in honor of Ozaire Loreau who was instrumental in the burgeoning of agriculture and industry in the small town. One of the more notable industries of which Loreauville can boast is Breaux Brothers Boats, a boat manufacturing business that has attracted national and international boat buyers.
For those who hanker after grass-fed beef, the major attraction in Loreauville is a meat market on the town's main street. One of the owners of this market can trace his penchant for raising cattle back to the 18th century when in 1767, Francois Gonsoulin of St. Martin Parish began running a herd of cattle with a brand that is now the ninth oldest registered brand in the U.S. Today, one of his descendants, Dr. Shannon Gonsoulin, and his partner Stuart Gardner of St Landry Parish, raise Beefmaster and Brangus with red and black Angus bulls. The cattle run on 175 acres near Loreauville and 500 acres near Sunset. The growth period of these grass-fed cattle is three times longer than that of corn-fed calves, but the demand for the beef has been steadily increasing due to the meat's nutritional value.  
Gonsoulin, a veterinarian who practices in Breaux Bridge, Morgan City, and New Iberia, researched the nutrition benefits of grass-fed cattle and found that this beef is higher in omega-3 fatty acids which reduce inflammation and help prevent risks of chronic diseases; e.g., heart disease, cancer, and arthritis. The Gonsoulin beef is dry-aged rather than processed in water, and other nutritional benefits of the meat include fat-soluble vitamins like beta carotene, alpha-tocopherol, and water soluble vitamins like riboflavin and thiamin.  
We went, empty-handed, into the GLC Meat Market located in the old Post Office on Main Street in Loreauville and came out with packages of beef, grass-fed lamb, and grass-fed pork underarm. Earline Ransonet, the manager of the meat market, told us that GLS supplies restaurants and large grocery companies in New Orleans and Lafayette. Gonsoulin touts that a pound of raw meat from grass-fed beef won't shrink burgers on the grill and that none of the cattle have been treated with hormones or antibiotics.  They're also raised in a stress-free environment and are humanely treated.
St. Joseph Church, Loreauville
We didn't locate the exact place where Broussard settled the Acadians, or explore All Souls Cemetery in Loreauville where Clifton Chenier, the famous Zydeco musician, is buried, but we did find serendipity in a main street meat market that supplied us with meat enough to provide several weeks of flash frozen, vacuum-packed nutrition. We hope to return for the Wednesday afternoon Farmer's Market held in the same building as the meat market—and sample more of Acadiana's natural foods.

Monday, November 11, 2013

ENFOLDED IN SILENCE...

During my time on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee, I've befriended several artistic women who have made notable contributions to the writing and art world and who explore connections between art and spirituality. I've written about Sewaneean Barbara Hughes and her work teaching art to children in Haiti, as well as her work with the women of Tanzania in previous blogs, but today I'm looking at her beautiful new book entitled Enfolded in Silence, subtitled A Story in Art of Healing From Sexual Trauma in Childhood, and am moved to write a few lines about Hughes' personal journey through this painful experience of childhood molestation.

Hughes' long journey from childhood sexual trauma to healing is traced through poetry, prose, and graphic paintings that illustrate the powerlessness and guilt she experienced for years following molestation by a predator. The exalting aspect of this narrative is Hughes' triumph over this trauma and her healing through spiritual grace that returns her to personal wholeness.

In the second section of her book, Hughes shifts the emphasis from personal confession to a helpful plan for survival that includes journaling, praying, 12-Step Recovery, and Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder strategies, but it is through art that she achieves wholeness. The paintings, some of which are accompanied by raw poems that howl with her suffering, tell about her odyssey in passionate images that no candid written confession could achieve. When Hughes began to rethink and re-image her sexuality, she used the medium of art, making collages of positive images of sexuality and putting them in a safe place. She discovered other pictures that connected sex with love and tenderness and placed them where she could view them often.

A special section highlighting recovery from addiction will be helpful to those who attempt to cope with sexual abuse by overeating, overworking, and other forms of addiction. Her work with therapy and 12-step recovery is a testament to the power of 12-step groups — in her case, her involvement in this program gave her time "to mourn the loss of the comfort addiction had given me and to become entirely ready to let it go." Combined with therapy, Hughes began to heal and to emerge from denial, and she confesses to a "long slow struggle," witnessing to a recovery that "feels like a miracle every day."

This is a rich narrative of a personal transformation that Hughes decided to share with all women who have survived childhood sexual trauma, and the book is only one of the ways in which she supports individuals who have been abused in this way. She writes that those who have been abused seem to find their way to her, and she also leads workshops, retreats, and support groups using art for women survivors of sexual abuse in her studio, Rahamim Retreat and Clay House, and for churches and other centers of healing. In addition, she does spiritual direction using art and touts it as a "powerful force for healing in the world."

Hughes has taught art and spirituality at the Episcopal Seminary, University of the South, in Sewanee, Tennessee for many years and teaches in Tanzania when the opportunity arises. She has exhibited her sculptures and paintings throughout the U.S., and her Cathedral Nativity is the official crèche of the Washington National Cathedral. She is married to The Rev. Bob Hughes, an Episcopal priest and retired professor of theology at the Episcopal Seminary, University of South, who has authored the definitive book on the Holy Spirit entitled Beloved Dust.

Enfolded in Silence is a tragic story, but it is a redemptive one that inspires victims who have suffered childhood sexual trauma and those who work toward the goal of healing abused women throughout the world.

Enfolded in Silence includes a cogent foreword written by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English and Women's Studies at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette, Louisiana


Order from Border Press, P.O Box 3124, Sewanee, Tennessee or amazon.com.

Friday, November 8, 2013

MEMORIES OF A CITY PAST...

This morning I thought of Marcel Proust and how the smell of madeleines and tea evoked memories of things past in the narrator of Remembrance of Things Past when I picked up a bar of sandalwood soap made by Appalachian Naturals that I had bought in Asheville, North Carolina — memories of visits to that wonderful mountain city flooded my mind. The soap was just one reminder of the many traditional techniques used in Appalachian families to craft homemade goods, and it opened a treasure box of memories about western North Carolina, one of my favorite places to play and to buy homemade soaps and jellies, original mountain art, and, of course, books.

As a book lover, I appreciate a bookstore that I consider the finest in the Appalachian area — Malaprop's Bookstore and Cafe in downtown Asheville. This hangout for poets and writers is touted as the best place to buy poetry in western North Carolina and has garnered many awards in the book selling field: 2000 Bookseller of the Year, Member of the Mountain Express Hall of Fame and other kudos that have brought visitors from throughout the country to its doors. The store features a cafe, a book club, weekly readings by area and national poets and writers, the best of southern literature, and welcomes all who have serious literary interests. We always spend at least an hour in Malaprop's when we visit Asheville during the spring and summer months while sojourning at Sewanee.

Not far away in Dupont State Recreational Forest, many scenes from The Hunger Games were shot in the dense forests and of rivers that course through this area, including beautiful falls like Bridal Veil Falls, High Falls, and Hooker Falls. Moviemakers also shot scenes in nearby Asheville, and visitors can now take advantage of a Hunger Games four-day itinerary, looping from Charlotte to Asheville, viewing film locations and sites mentioned in the novel by Suzanne Collins.

I always like to veer over to Hendersonville and Flatrock to the Flatrock Playhouse to see Broadway quality entertainment and to satisfy my envee for viewing authors' homes by visiting Connemara, the home of Carl Sandburg, American poet and historian. Sandburg spent the last 22 years of his writing life in the 10,000-book library of the home, while Mrs. Sandburg spent her days raising prize-winning goats. National Historic Site workers still keep a few goats in a barn on the property, sponsor daily tours, and sometimes stage summer productions in the amphitheater of Connemara.

I've visited the Thomas Wolfe memorial in Asheville at least four times and usually rent a room in the Renaissance Hotel overlooking the old yellow boarding home that housed Wolfe's mother's guests, sometimes getting up in the night to look down at it and envision the famous writer living there. I've written many poems about writers' residences, and Wolfe's residence always inspires a few verses. Here's one that appears in In A Convent Garden, my latest book of poetry from which I'll be reading on November 16 at A&E Gallery in New Iberia, Louisiana:

DIXIELAND AGAIN

Looking down at the yellow house,
I hope that some of Wolfe's poetry
will rise to my occasion,
drift through the dozen windows
fronting the walk,
but it is dark inside,
the only light that ever shone out
to the conflicted world
were the eyes in his massive head
bright as the yellow paint
on the house of his childhood,
the frame of his imagination.

Nine rocking chairs stand empty,
no audience on the gallery,
and his sleeping porch faces the street,
reminders of tormented nights
when he moved from room to room,
forced by his mother's commerce:
an old boarding house
I have toured four times.

Each time I want his ghost
to give me a stone, a leaf, a door,
symbols in the torrent of words
wafting up three chimneys
and down the long walk,
echoes of his stories
landing in empty places,
emptier than the one from which he sprang.

At midnight I again look down
at the orange glow of the porch light,
wondering why someone
placed the beacon there,
telling him he could come home again...

too late.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

ONE OF LOUISIANA'S FIRST LADIES...

While I never write about Louisiana politics in my blogs, I admit that I'm often tempted to express an opinion when I return to New Iberia, Louisiana following my sojourn in Sewanee, Tennessee. After all, several of our governors have been infamous figures in the State's history, and you can feel the heat of its politics when you cross the State line—a heat that is as steamy as the prevailing Louisiana weather. After riding on the well-kept highways in Tennessee, I couldn't help remarking about the present administration's lack of interest in the State's infrastructure when we bumped off I-10 onto the rutted roads leading into south Louisiana.
My political comment this morning is general in context, since I abhor political arguments of any kind: televised, radioed, or otherwise. I just have to say that the beliefs of the infamous populist governor, Huey Long, and benefits given to the impoverished in the State during his regime, seem to have totally disappeared. Also, as we traveled the corduroy roads into Acadiana, I thought about Long's vision concerning better roads for the State. Approximately 300 miles of paved roads existed when this controversial governor took office and when his term ended, 1,583 miles of paved road had been built. I won't belabor Long's ideal of "Share the Wealth," except to say that this little slogan has been completely lost, perhaps swept away and deposited in the Atchafalaya Basin. I hasten to add that I'm aware of the negative aspects of Long's regime and that he stands out as a prime example of the old maxim: "power tends to corrupt—absolute power corrupts absolutely." But enough said about someone who set out to serve the best interests of the state in which I was born and lost his way on the "Louisiana Hayride. " 
My thoughts about the latter figure in the State's political history caused me to dust off a few books in my Louisiana library where I found a volume published in 2000 about the first ladies of Louisiana. I was curious about Huey Long's first lady and wondered how she managed life with the "Kingfish."
First Ladies of Louisiana, presented by the Baton Rouge and River Parishes Committee of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of Louisiana, contains a brief chapter on Rose McConnell Long. I didn't glean any information concerning Rose's methods of handling her bombastic husband, but after reading the chapter I envisioned her as a woman who embodied the old adage about "catching more flies with honey."
A native of Indiana, born to Peer McConnell, a church builder, and Sallie Billiu McConnell who had lived on Abbey Plantation in Donaldsonville, Louisiana, Rose met Huey Long in 1911 when he worked as a salesman, peddling Cottolene, a type of shortening used in cake baking. Huey judged a cake baking contest sponsored by his company and awarded Rose first place for her white layer cake in which she used part butter and part Cottolene shortening. Impressed by Huey's wit and mental acuity, Rose fell in love with him, and her feelings were reciprocated by the overwhelmed Huey. However, the couple courted two years before marrying in Memphis, Tennessee.
In 1915, when Huey opened his first office in Winnfield, Louisiana, Rose became his secretary. Huey's first desk was a wooden crate which Rose covered with fabric, and when he ran for Railroad Commissioner three years later, Rose ran his campaign, using her mother's home in Shreveport as campaign headquarters. She hired children in the neighborhood to stuff envelopes and sent her brothers into rural Louisiana to set up campaign posters.
However, after starting a family, Rose became less active in Huey's campaigns because she felt that politics shouldn't interfere with her offspring's health and well-being. By contemporary standards, she'd be considered "square," as she taught her children to revere American history and old-fashioned ideals, including respect for their colorful father.
Rose often referred to Huey as "the smartest man I ever knew." An unassuming woman, she embraced domesticity and continued to bake the famous cake that first attracted her husband's interest. She also liked to fish with a cane pole and frequently pursued this outdoor hobby at her camp on Cross Lake.
Because her name was Rose and she had an affinity for the color, she often wore rose colored clothing and used the color when decorating or cooking. The seven-minute frosting for her famous white layer cake received a few drops of red food coloring to achieve a rose color, and the recipe for this cake and frosting is included in the vignette about this beloved First Lady of Louisiana.

The vignette about Rose Long is among the many stories about the wives of Louisiana governors and their roles in the State's history featured in First Ladies of Louisiana. The book concludes with a vignette about Alice Foster, wife of former Governor Murphy J. Foster II and a talented First Lady who took on projects dealing with Breast Cancer Awareness, Shots for Tots, Louisiana Chapter of the Leukemia Society, and the Governor's Litter Eradication Program. She also spearheaded the establishment of the Louisiana Governor's Mansion Foundation, serving as president of its executive board.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

EARLY COMMEMORATION


This should be All Saints Day since south Louisianans moved Halloween from today to yesterday because the weatherman predicted rain would fall this afternoon. Hay la bas, we couldn't miss Halloween! To avoid the bad weather, trick or treaters arrived last night to collect their "enough for a year's supply" of those teeth-rotting goodies: Candy. Now, the devils, witches, ghosts, vampires, ghosts, spider men, and various "haints" have disappeared, some of them having been hauled away in parent-driven golf carts complete with radios.

It's time to honor the faithful departed. After a hectic week of settling in "The Berry" again, I feel the need to contemplate higher matters. "Things" were broken in my home, and we scurried around fixing them in such a huff, you'd have thought house/yard inspectors were chasing us. We've never been Garden of the Month nominees, but, still...And now, the hair police will soon be knocking on my door because during our sojourn on The Mountain at Sewanee, I let my locks grow longer than usual.  Although rain is predicted for the afternoon, I'll probably venture out to take care of the unkempt tresses and resume more hecktivity.

However, this morning I put on Mozart's Piano Concertos 19 and 20, locked the doors, and sat down to re-read Anne Morrow Lindberg's Gift From the Sea for the fifth time. Her meditations on the Zerrissenheit of contemporary women (torn-to-pieces hood) or fragmentation of their lives (even the life of one who's retired!) spoke to my condition of foolishly trying to get everything in order so I could resume living in "The Berry." 

In Lindbergh's chapter entitled "Moon Shell," she writes that mechanical aids "save us time and energy, but they're often the way to dissipate one's time and energy in more purposeless occupation, more accumulations which supposedly simplify life but actually burden it, more possessions which we have not time to use or appreciate, more diversions to fill up the void..." 

Ouchand does a broken fridge/freezer qualify for a "burdensome possession," or did searching for and changing ice in a camp-out ice box for several days prove to be more burdensome? And could we see better in the gloom cast by all those burned-out light bulbs? From whence did the dried-up lizard in the bathtub comeand should I have left him there to join me in my nightly bath?  What about the dust of seven months' standing that threatened to arouse my allergies?  Did the mildew and mold under the carport and eaves qualify as a "feverish pursuit of centrifugal activities which only lead in the end to more fragmentation?"

Perhaps not, but Lindbergh's admonition about taking care of contemplative time resonated with me this morning. I agree with her statement: "one lives like a child or a saint in the immediacy of here and now.  Every day, every act is an island, washed by time and space...and has an island's completion."

So I'll observe All Saints Day prematurely this morning by centering down and acknowledging that too much striving for order hinders a peaceful, grace-filled life. On this day, I'll try to contemplate the spiritual bond between The Church Militant here on earth and the Church Triumphant in heaven by communing with St. Francis, whose statue guards my patio, which I can see from my study window.  I'll also remember Saint Anne Lindbergh on her island in the sky, who reminds us that "we must be still in the axis of a wheel in the midst of [our] activities...not only for [our] own salvation but for the salvation of family life, of society, perhaps even of our civilization."    

Monday, October 28, 2013

BACK IN TECHE COUNTRY AT HALLOWEEN

Civil War ghosts

Every year in October, I return to New Iberia, Louisiana after spending the Spring and Summer months on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee. We always seem to arrive in time to stand on my front porch and get bitten by giant Louisiana swamp mosquitoes while handing out candy for the "trick or treaters" celebrating Halloween.  
When I was a child living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, we celebrated Halloween in a different way from young people today — we either played tricks on the neighbors (e.g., kicking over piles of leaves already raked that hadn't been burned or hiding the covers to garbage cans) or telling ghost stories on my front porch. My father always carved out a gruesome mouth on a pumpkin, and we placed a candle inside so that we had the proper macabre atmosphere for the porch tales, but to tell the truth, I never liked this holiday. I was sensitive to "scare stories" and with good reason. One summer, I had seen what I perceived to be a ghost in my grandparents' attic in Franklinton, Louisiana. In later years, my older brother corroborated this story because he had seen the ghost of my grandfather step out of a mantel clock in my grandparents' bedroom of the same Victorian-style home.
A few years ago, I published a novel entitled Redeemed by Blood that features the appearance of a ghost throughout the book. It is the fictionalized ghost of my great-grandfather and is based on the apparition I thought I glimpsed when I made this foray into my grandmother's attic against her wishes. For Halloween observers who enjoy a ghostly celebration, I'm including the prologue to Redeemed:
"I felt the same icy apprehension that I imagined the small child experienced as she tiptoed up the old pinewood stairs, the staircase rasping in protest at each step she took. I crouched in the cubbyhole of the uncompleted kitchen, a cluttered space adjacent to the landing, fenced off by a folding guard used to prevent children from tumbling down. I had been reading a narrative written by my wife in her inscrutable handwriting, a sketchy account of my entire life reduced to a nine-page booklet, hole-punched and bound with red string. The gray construction paper cover bore the numerals 1733-1916, an insipid title that could have contained the history of anyone, anything. However, it chronicled the Green family history from the time they arrived in Rappahannock River country in Virginia on the ship Macbeth until the year my wife Sarah died. I had told the history of 200 hundred years, which Sarah, the poet and journalist, condensed into an ephemeral tract and hid in the attic of a Victorian mansion in Louisiana belonging to my son Ellis Paul. The book lay on Sarah's secretary alongside my saber, the frayed gray uniform I wore at Shiloh, and a Ku Klux Klan hood, symbol of my awful shame.
"The girl who approached my attic prison appeared to be about nine years old, and her lank hair needed curling. She wore a white pinafore with a lamb embroidered on the bodice and scruffy brown shoes her mother or grandmother should have replaced before the soles came off. The child had a sweet face — a high forehead, creased in a frown, and a sharp nose lifted in pride like her Scots ancestors. I perceived intelligence in her dark eyes, and as she reached the landing, I decided to appear to her. After all, she was Dana, my great-granddaughter who had come into the world the night Sarah died.
"I moved swiftly, knocking the saber that lay on the mahogany secretary to the floor. The child glanced my way, cupped her hands over her dark eyes, and stood immobile on the landing for a moment. I felt the incandescent warmth of my body enveloping her small body for that brief instant. When I released her, she fled down the stairs, silently, rather than screaming out to her Grandmother Nell, who waited at the bottom of the stairs, that she had seen the ghost of her Great-Grandfather Dade Green.
"I sensed that the child feared punishment from her grandmother for exploring forbidden territory more than she feared me. I comforted myself with the thought that the hug I had given her had left an imprint. Perhaps I'd become the cynosure of her life, and she'd be the one who released me from my ghostly state and the memories of indiscretions I had committed during my life on earth. I resumed by task of deciphering my wife's spidery handwriting and the story about my boyhood in Virginia."

A transforming event releases this ghost from his bondage, and perhaps the story doesn't qualify for a real Halloween spin, but you can decide for yourself by ordering a copy of Redeemed by Blood! Order online from amazon.com or from Border Press, PO Box 3124, Sewanee TN 37375.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

FESTIVAL OF WORDS, 2013


For at least seven years, one of my favorite poets has been Naomi Nye, a woman who lives in San Antonio, Texas and often "speaks to my condition," as the Quakers say. Nye, a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, first inspired my readings of her work with her poems about the Mideast in a book entitled 19 Varieties of Gazelle.
As I lived in Iran for two years during the early 70's, I have an interest in the life and problems of Mideasterners, and Nye's work resonated with me. Her wonderful poetry about her background as an Arab-American and life with her Mideastern family includes a poem highlighting her Palestinian grandmother who lived to be 106. In the introduction to 19 Varieties of Gazelle, Nye writes that she always "tried to remember the abundant humor and resilience and the love of family," and she achieves this goal with poignant reminiscences in this volume, the proceeds of which were donated to Seeds of Peace. Her book inspired me to write one of my books of poetry about Iran entitled The Holy Present and Farda.
Since I'll be returning to Louisiana after spending seven months on The Mountain here at Sewanee, I plan to get a glimpse of this notable poet. She'll be the featured poet at the Festival of Words in Grand Coteau, Louisiana, November 6-9, and I hope to meet her, but I don't know if I'll be able to interact with her since the Festival is crowded with literary occasions: drive-by poetry readings and writing workshops for participants in rural St. Landry, St. Martin, and Lafayette parishes.
Nye will be joined by another one of my favorite poets, Darrell Bourque, whose recent book of poetry, Megan's Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie, has been widely touted in Acadiana and further afield. Darrell, my mentor and friend, is a former Poet Laureate of Louisiana. Other readers/instructors will include Rebecca Henry, Fabienne Kanor, Akeem Martin, and Genaro Ky Ly Smith. Creative Writing workshops in public schools, grocery stores, beauty shops, fast food places, and other unusual venues will be offered at the Festival.
The Festival of Words had its birth in the studio space of Casa Azul Gifts in Grand Coteau under the auspices of Patrice Melnick, a poet and writer living in this small town of 1,000 residents, and the event has attracted over 750 people from throughout the South. It is funded by private donors and has a Kickstarter website named Festival of Words, Louisiana, 2013 where you can pledge support for this event that inspires young and old, "wannabe" and established writers. The deadline for pledging is November 5, only two weeks away, so take time to help kickstart this wonderful literary arts festival. It may be the birthing scene of another Naomi Nye!  

Friday, October 18, 2013

HEADED FOR 'THE BERRY"

Moss draped live oak in south Louisiana
Yesterday's cold spell reminded me that winter is approaching The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee. Cooler temps signaled the time for me to become a snow bird and head South to my second home in New Iberia, Louisiana, a place affectionately called "The Berry." We leave next week for Teche country and will arrive just in time for the great Halloween Hand-out.
I thought perhaps New Iberians had celebrated all of the city's 2013 festivals — the Sugar Cane Festival, the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce's World Championship Gumbo Cook-off, the annual Art Walk (among the most recent ones), but I'll arrive in time to enjoy a fairly young event in the festival line-up: El Festival Espanol de Nueva Iberia.
The Spanish festival program includes "Running of the Bulls" featuring Dave Robichaux, James Lee Burke's fictional character who lives on the banks of The Bayou Teche in New Iberia, a 5K race, an enactment of the arrival of the Spanish on Bayou Teche, a paella/jambalaya cookoff, a fais-do-do, and guest lectures.
El Festival Espanol was established to honor the founding of Nueva Iberia in 1779 by a band of Malagueños from Malaga Spain who were brought over by Lt. Colonel Don Francisco Bouligny. Bouligny was sent to the Attakapas District of Louisiana to establish a new Spanish town, but soon entered the War of Independence and never returned to the small village to which he had brought his band of Malagueños. However, a statue of Bouligny behind the gazebo in the Plaza of New Iberia honors his efforts to found a Spanish settlement on the Bayou Teche.
Among the first families who struggled to settle Nueva Iberia were Romeros, Villatoros, Miguez, and Seguras, whose descendants remained in the area near New Iberia and Spanish Lake. Many of the Spanish families intermingled with Cajuns, and people often attribute the founding of New Iberia to Cajuns, but the Malagueños are the true founders of "The Berry."
Spanish flag
Several years ago I wrote a young adult novel entitled Flood on the Rio Teche, which is based on the founding of New Iberia by the Malagueños in 1779 during the time of a devastating flood. The hero of this fictional account, Antonio Romero, struggles through flooding of his home site, disease, poisonous snakebites, crop failure, kidnapping, and a family break-up. He and his family befriend nearby Chitimacha tribesmen from Charenton, Louisiana who save their lives many times, and the story ends with an engagement between Antonio and a Cajun girl, Claire. Historical facts are interwoven throughout the novel, and it has been used for supplemental reading in several New Iberia classrooms.

Although this is probably the last festival in New Iberia scheduled for 2013, I've already checked the calendar, and April's schedule for 2014 includes the Cajun Hot Sauce Festival, just before I return to The Mountain. Not to mention the Mardi Gras celebrations in February and March. Laissez le bon temps roulez!