Sunday, February 17, 2013


Poets' paradise
 “You rock!” a friend on Facebook wrote to me yesterday. She was referring to my poetry reading with Brad Richard at Casa Azul Thursday evening, and I know Brad and I weren’t the only poets rocking and reading at this regularly-scheduled poetry night in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. The open mic featured three seasoned poets: former poet laureate Darrell Bourque, reading from his forthcoming book, Megan’s Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie; poet Clare Martin, author of Eating the Heart First; and Patrice Melnick, owner of Casa Azul and a writer who is presently compiling her own collection of poetry. However, the performer who captured the limelight was Carol Rice, a budding poet who stole the show with her lyrics about a dead possum. It was a fun night, and I came away impressed with the work that Patrice Melnick is doing as director of the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective in this small town (pop. 1000) in south Louisiana.

Patrice calls her work with poets “The Casa Azul Series,” a program in its sixth year that has attracted poets from throughout south Louisiana and further afield. The program also draws an audience that participates in the poetry reading when Patrice passes around a piece of paper with an unfinished line on it, asking that members of the audience add to the line. Since the series at which I read was held on Valentine’s Day, the line for this occasion read, “My love is as…” and the hilarious poem was read at the conclusion of the reading by participant Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, professor of English at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. The unfinished poem is a way of engaging the audience and furthers Patrice’s goal of building a community that supports poetry and the arts. She says that the engagement process has attracted professional and novice poets who read at open mic time, and it sometimes brings in poets who have never read their poetry for any occasion. Patrice has also established a documentary program, “Grand Coteau Voices: The Good, The Bad, The Complicated,” which features the stories of Grand Coteau citizens and provides a historical record of the townspeople’s lives. Chere Breaux began filming these stories in January, 2012.

Poets' stage at Casa Azul

Patrice migrated to Grand Coteau during a sabbatical from teaching English as an Associate Professor at Xavier University in New Orleans and moved to the “provinces” following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. She was a former Peace Corps worker in the Central African Republic, worked at Pelican Publishing in New Orleans for several years, and has written a riveting memoir entitled Po-Boy Contraband, that includes chapters concerning her struggles with a debilitating disease and commentary about how important poetry, Reggae, Zydeco, the Neville Brothers, and other music has been in treating her illness. Concerning the music important to her, she writes in her first book, Turning Up the Volume: “Like drunks sliding quarters into a jukebox to draw out the voices of Patsy Cline, Lyle Lovett, Townes Van Zandt, Willie Nelson, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas and Lucinda Williams; all those voices wail from the car radio, howl from the neon lit jukebox in the corner. Those voices call inside my head like richly-feathered, hungry owls…”

Patrice Melnick, poet, writer, director
of Festival of Words
 I appreciate the comment about my poetry reading from the friend who says I rock, but last Thursday I was just one voice holding forth in the back room of a small shop painted a vivid blue hue that sits on the main drag of Grand Coteau, Louisiana. Under the arching branches of old live oaks, Casa Azul rocks every Thursday evening, bringing in new and old poets, children and elderly participants who are happy to have a venue in bayou country for celebrating the work of the Muse.

Brava Patrice – keep on creating the space for us to rock!

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