Monday, July 11, 2016

WHERE I WAITED


Where I have been waiting for several months now is in Sewanee, Tennessee…waiting for the mail to bring me the latest book of poetry, Where I Waited, by Louisiana’s premier poet, Darrell Bourque. To say that it was worth the wait is banal; the book is all that I anticipated. As I told Darrell, the Muse that sat on his shoulder as he ran every morning while he was creating Where I Waited (a time when Darrell writes many lines of his sonnets in his mind) was a very old, wise one who had been waiting to inspire him to write the poetry of his lifetime.  “Mystical” is an inept word to describe the work.

In this volume, the beautiful abstract paintings of Bill Gingles are paired with Bourque’s sonnets and must have also lain in wait for the moment to accompany the voices of iconic Creole-Cajun musicians and their wives and forebears featured in Where I Waited. In the words of the poet’s title poem, they are “… [those] voices all turn & wave & memory situated/in some arch between now & then…” Each expressionistic narrative poem is a song as poignant as the songs of the musicians represented.

Bourque includes poems about the lives of Amédé Ardoin, Cléoma Breaux Falcon, Iry Lejeune, and Goldman and Theresa Leday Thibodeaux, musicians and their spouses whose songs have been kept alive by historians and anthropologists and reimagined by the poet. It was impossible for me to single out one or two poems as examples of excellence. As I read each poem and looked at the paired painting, I found myself reluctant to move on to another, and I was not disappointed by the work of artist and poet after I turned each page in this remarkable volume. I read through Where I Waited twice.

The landscape of small rural communities in south Louisiana (Church Point, Mamou, Lawtell…) is the backdrop for musicians who seem to rise above their impoverished childhood and enter a mystical world of singing “we might wave over who we were, over what lives & what dies.” That line taken from “Wish Pond” was one of many tribute poems to Goldman Thibodeaux, still living, with whom Bourque has a strong bond. Lines describing Thibodeaux’s native Prairie Ronde sing of “crawfish pond, rice field & gravel pit pond, pond with dragonflies/hovering, pond dark as my brother’s skin, as light as mine, second/and third ponds & more for horses & cows & geese & ducks & skies/filled with thirsty Monarchs, ponds with us hanging in them there/like heavy pears in late spring or fat ripe figs in July tethered/barely to their trees…” 

In Bourque’s poetry, the reader recognizes that the poet could have been as adept at painting as he is in his poetry, and I know that he once considered majoring in Art History. In his home in Church Point, Louisiana, books vie for space with walls covered with art – fine art, Louisiana primitive art, abstract art…

One of the most moving poems, “Second Rate Mystic,” in Where I Waited is dedicated to Iry Lejeune. It's a sonnet about this blind musician who spent five years boarding at the Louisiana School for the Blind in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Bourque writes in Lejeune’s voice: 

“…In parceled light the only measure/I knew was true was measured sound. So, I made breakdowns/ & two-steps & laments, easy as flowers turning to sun. I broke/the mold of who I was supposed to be with air. Newly mown grasses were song & Caillette’s lowing too…Waltzes tied to the names of towns, /to branches in trees & to those cordoned off & lonely & broke…"

Only a highly-enlightened poet could enter the world of “there” and become the voice of deceased musicians traveling to “here,” as Bourque accomplishes with three of the music legends in this volume. The lyrics cross boundaries between physical and metaphysical to form a world in which there are no cultural fences, only the uplifting sounds of music that should be listened to and preserved.

Equally as valuable as the poetry are the Notes in the back of the volume. They provide factual material that Bourque used to shape the voices and narration of the musicians’ lives. Where I Waited is a book that will be lauded by scholars, fellow poets, historians, and artists, and this blog, limited in space and by the attention of casual readers, is intended only to titillate those who want to further explore the work of Louisiana’s finest poet.

Darrell Bourque, professor emeritus of English at the University of Louisiana Lafayette, directed the interdisciplinary humanities program and served as the first Friends of the Humanities professor. He is a founding member of Narrative4, an international story exchange program, a member of the board at the Ernest J. Gaines Center at ULL and a former Louisiana Poet Laureate. Two years ago, he was named Louisiana Writer of the Year by the Louisiana Center for the Book, Louisiana State Library, and this year he received the James Williams Rivers Prize in Louisiana Studies awarded by the University of Louisiana Lafayette. His latest book is Megan’s Guitar and Other Poems from Acadie, and his latest chapbook, if you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook, has become the best selling book in the history of Yellow Flag Press.


Congratulations Darrell! 

   
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