Saturday, March 22, 2014

SPRINGING FORWARD

We always leave New Iberia, Louisiana in the spring when Teche country is at its most lush. Sunday morning, we're bound for The Mountain in Sewanee, Tennessee where the weather forecasters report that there'll be several nights in the low 20's yet to come. I look out at the Japanese magnolia putting out deep lavender blooms and wish that I could take the entire tree with me. A few days ago I featured this lovely tree in the last poem of a new book I've written entitled Departures. Departures is a book I hadn't planned to write this winter while still in south Louisiana but was inspired to complete through corresponding with Darrell Bourque, former Louisiana poet laureate who's working on a new chapbook about a famous Cajun country musician.

Darrell has inspired and influenced my writing since the day I walked into a Creative Writing class at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette twenty-five years ago. He has a generous spirit and always finds something "precious" in the expressions of poets he mentors, and when he critiques your work, you find that the gentle shifts he suggests for certain lines of the poems only make you feel as though you're discovering how to develop the confidence needed to help you spring forward.

Several months ago, Darrell gifted me with the one book of his poetry that I didn't have on my shelves, an earlier work entitled Burnt Water Suite, published in 1999. To me, this book shows the full range of his poetic abilities and honors his appreciation for places further afield than his native south Louisiana—Sarajevo, Russia, France...I'm always impressed by Darrell's cosmopolitan views. He knows as much about music, art, and philosophy as he does about poetry—a visit to his home in Churchpoint, Louisiana is like a tour of an art gallery, and he says modestly that had he not become a poet, he'd have taught art history. He also speaks with easy familiarity about Bach and Mozart, and about the music compositions of Olivier Messiaen and Arvo Part, two composers I had to research when he mentioned them to me!

In the endnotes to Burnt Water Suite, Darrell explains that the "burnt water" in his title is: 
"a reference to the opposition that engenders all creation and to the created thing itself. It is at once both the phenomenal and the pervasive Urge that creates all being. It is then flower, sex, poem, person as well as the necessitating force or desire that resides in all matter...cities and civilizations are founded on an image: the union of opposites, water and fire, and was the metaphor for the foundation of the city of Mexico..." 

This is a difficult passage, perhaps, but it explains the metaphysical inclinations of Darrell's work.

I've always loved Darrell's "odes" to his mother, and in "My Mother's Foot," he is at his lyrical best, particularly in the lines: 

"I am trying to say beloved/I am trying to keep the baskets from spilling... I am calling blessed the arc of blood/I am saying this story is not about to end." 

Readers may be moved to say, "And I hope your stories never end," for these elegies are as transporting as the sacred music he appreciates.

Darrell once dubbed me a metaphysician, but he's the poet whose metaphysical gifts are represented in "Night Prayer On Returning from Tuscany:" 
"O sweet little room flanked by others/ just like it where my friends lie/like elder monks drifting to another world/on day thoughts/-the problems and the progress of the acolytes, /-the weeds in the herb garden, /...where next year's lavender seeds will come from..."


I read this praiseworthy book again and again, and it speaks to my condition, as the Quakers say. Darrell's communications to fellow poets and sharing of his work are salutes to the spirit of art and play impulse within all of us. He's a writer who knows every word matters when you engage with other poets and writers...and what you say to the world should be true but uplifting. This outstanding south Louisiana poet is one of the major personas I will miss as I move forward to another sojourn on The Mountain.
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