Thursday, November 16, 2017

THE DELILLE PROJECT

Glasswork depicting spirit of the Venerable Henriette Delille
by Karen Bourque

My spirits always lift when we turn off on Jessie Richard Road near Church Point, Louisiana and into the drive, sheltered by a forest of bamboo, leading to the home of Darrell and Karen Bourque. “Come to lunch, and I’ll cook for y’all,” Darrell said a few weeks ago, and my friend Vickie and I seized the opportunity to spend the day (lunch always extends into a four or five-hour visit) with these cherished friends. The new dish on the menu was an asparagus/carrot soup (beautifully presented) accompanied by black beans, pork roast, sweet potatoes, dirty rice, and the naan that Darrell knows I like because it reminds me of my life in Iran during the 70’s. On each visit, we tell this consummate chef that we’d like to live in the Bourque kitchen — or in the studio, a renovated sharecropper’s cabin adjoining their home. During this visit, Vickie discovered an old shed in the backyard and teased our friends about renovating it and taking up residence in the gardens surrounding the Bourque home.

Darrell Bourque reading from Delille
Darrell is the former poet laureate of Louisiana and author of ten volumes of poetry, one of the latest honoring the talented Creole musician, Amede Ardoin. Darrell was also responsible for establishing a drive to fund a statue to honor Ardoin that will be placed at the St. Landry Parish Tourist Commission and Visitors Center in Opelousas, Louisiana Karen, a glass artist, creates non-traditional works of stained glass using rocks, gems, sliced agates, jewelry, and recycled, repurposed items along with the glass to enhance the work's narrative or lyric quality. Many of her pieces have been photographed and appear on the covers of poetry books I’ve written. Her glasswork for the photograph of the cover of Above the Prairie was just featured alongside one of my poems in The Pinyon Review, a literary journal published in Montrose, Colorado.

The Bourques’ art projects can often be traced to interest in Acadian history and culture combined with a mission to commemorate the achievements of descendants of Afro-Americans in Louisiana. The present Bourque project focuses on the Venerable Henriette Delille, a Creole religious born in 1813 in New Orleans whose cause for canonization has been recommended to the Roman Catholic Church and who has been recognized for her charitable works serving the poor, nursing the sick, and educating the illiterate. A Creole, the Venerable Henriette was born into a system called the “Placage,” Creole women trained in the fine arts who became concubines for white Frenchmen in New Orleans. Henriette’s mother brought her up in this system, and in her short life as a concubine, she may have birthed two sons who died before the age of three.

However, when the Venerable Henriette was 24 years old, she experienced a religious experience that led her into service in an unrecognized order of nuns who called themselves the Sisters of the Presentation, opening the first Roman Catholic home for the elderly in the U.S. The Order later became the Sisters of the Holy Family who cared for the indigent, free and enslaved, took into their home elderly women and cared for the sick and dying during the yellow fever epidemics that struck New Orleans in 1853 and 1897. The Order of Sisters of the Holy Family is still functioning in several states of the U.S.

Darrell has just completed a book of poetry about the Venerable Henriette Delille’s life, bearing a working title of Delille, that will be published by Yellow Flag Press and from which he read at the recent Festival of Words in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. He will read from this manuscript at Scottie Beans Theatre Cafe in Church Point at 10 a.m., Friday, Nov. 17 and at 2 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 18 this week.

Karen Bourque in her studio
Karen has been commissioned to create glasswork depicting the Holy Spirit descending on the Venerable Henriette for one of the windows in Christ the King Church where she and Darrell attend Mass and participate in the charitable work of the church. After lunch, we went into the studio where Karen showed us a smaller version of the glasswork, and Darrell gave us a private reading of “All the Time” (The War of the Pews that took place at St. Augustine’s Church in the Treme of New Orleans} and “Taking Viergela In” featuring an eldercare facility for women who need more than visitation.

Before we headed home, Darrell drove us to view Christ the King Church where Karen’s glasswork will be displayed, taking us through the flat prairie countryside that once belonged to his grandfather. Karen said that she has already been asked to create glasswork for the many windows in the church, but she wouldn’t have enough years to complete such a project. 

At 4 p.m. we left our talented friends who often combine art with charitable missions, remembering what I'd written about them in a poem entitled “Festival of Love” in my book of poetry about the southwestern Louisiana prairie, Above the Prairie: “We are made known/from somewhere else/but were cousins of the crossing/held fixed in joie de vivre,/the joy surviving common ancestors/who sought a promised land/and found it for us/so we could be at table together.”



Photographs of the Bourques by Victoria Sullivan.


Saturday, November 11, 2017

THE WORLD DOESN’T KNOW YOU



Pinyon Publishing reminds me of the annual Festival of Words in Grand Coteau, Louisiana in its promotion of poets and writers. Of the fifty publications, during the past ten or more years, this small literary press has produced at least forty books that contain the poetry of new and established poets, many of whom have won awards for their contributions to the literary world.  Most of the poets’ work reflects the notion that poetry is an art “and not a pastime,” as Ezra Pound says, “and the mastery of any art is the work of a lifetime.”

Pinyon’s latest poet, Tim Suermondt, shows us his mastery of the art in The World Doesn’t Know You, a poetry collection that carries the reader away with its freshness, its unusually wry and unsentimental tone, the poems unfolding with surprises for the reader that sometimes border on caprice.

I was drawn to the love poems that Suermondt included throughout the collection, especially “Some Heart,” an unsentimental tribute to romance that unfolds with the aforementioned surprise and wry tone: “You’ve come to admire/your heart/s allegiance/and the way it never/faltered the way you have/when despair made/the mere thought of walking/along the Seine/with the woman you love/impossible. Look at it/donning a beret/for the occasion and saying/its name is now Pierre.” Such an outrageous picture of a romantic poet invokes a hearty guffaw at this example of the “poetry of play.”

Then there are the brief philosophical pieces that poke fun at the poet’s own periods of angst in “Once Slightly Displaced:” “What am I exiled from?/Life now and then/as most people are, but balancing acceptance/and estrangement is what I’m best at./ The stars over my city always move me.” The author seems to be understating a serious question in a short reflection lifting us out of serious considerations to focus on a distant star that comforts us when we feel isolated... 

I think that poets write many poems about dream life, and I know that as I grow older I have numerous nocturnal visits with dead relatives and friends that enter my poetry when the sun comes up. Suermondt’s “Dream Hotel” is probably my favorite poem in The World Doesn’t Know You — I could readily identify with his visit with his parents and the words that came to him while he was asleep, underlining the philosophy of another poet, Jacques Maritain, who wrote that no one comes so close to the invisible world as the sage and the poet (“unless it is the saint”). Suermondt describes his stay in the dream hotel: “I walk up the rickety stairs, suitcase and life in hand/and enter my room that makes bare bones sound/voluptuous…the air smelling sweet as chocolate covered almonds/and I watch images of people I’ve known but can/no longer place go by, until my mother and father,/young as the day I was born, appear briefly before/moving on…” Here are poignancy and play intertwined in evocative verse. 

“Bayou Pigeon” sounds as if Suermondt had traveled in Cajun country, and I gather that he has been peripatetic during his lifetime, so he may have actually visited Bayou Pigeon. When he begins the poem with “Crawfish shadows on the street,” I found myself with him observing the blind man on the corner playing a saxophone, locals declaring that “he sees with his heart/ and, darling, I think I know what they mean—/the world gives as much as it takes.” This poem illustrates the charm and clarity evident in Suermondt’s work, his mitigation of his own suffering through brief records of his encounters with tragic characters.

This poet speaks to the issues of the day in a lighter tone than many contemporary poets, excepting former poet laureate Billy Collins, and he also focuses on inoculating readers with the desire to maintain ordinary, enjoyable life while balancing both pity and humor in the written word: “a mizzle, lighter than Fall’s leaves/drop[ping] on my head and the generous world/equally” (From “When Nothing Will Do”).

Tim Suermondt is the author of six books of poetry, and his poetry has been published in outstanding poetry journals; e.g., Ploughshares, Poetry, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Oxford Review, and others. He lives with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


Available through the premier poetry press, Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403.


Friday, November 10, 2017

THE SOUND OF ONE HAND CLAPPING

Although I try to “keep up,” I confess to being somewhat of a Luddite, often lagging way behind  contemporary social customs, and last week-end I was made more aware of my age when I went up to Grand Coteau, Louisiana to hear poets Darrell Bourque, Patricia Smith, and Allison Joseph read at an annual Festival of Words event. The Chicory’s Coffee and Cafe buzzed with poetry lovers, teachers, and students interested in literary events. We chose a table at the back of the room where young people from Baton Rouge were recognized for traveling some distance to hear the poets perform.

About midway through the second reading, I began to hear fingers snapping and wondered about the disruption. Instead of abating, the students near me continued to snap when they identified with a particularly arresting verse or line they heard. For me, the sound was distracting, and when I got home, I began to research the pros and cons of finger snapping at public events.

It seems that I am indeed way behind the times. Although I was in my teens and early twenties at the time of the beatnik revolution, I knew nothing about finger snapping that went on at poetry events, had read nothing about the Gaslight Cafe in Greenwich Village where finger snapping at poetry readings was in vogue. Of course, the finger snapping was mainly a survival action for poets because the old Gaslight Cafe was located beneath apartment dwellers who objected to the traditional hand clapping type of applause that wafted upstairs and kept them awake. 

Finger snapping, rather than clapping, was also a custom in the Roman Empire, and there are pages and pages of justifications for this custom in the classroom, in poetry slams, and during political speeches — snapping instead of clapping is a quieter demonstration of support and appreciation. I might add that this form of applause can also signal a kind of political activism. Snapping fingers is very alive and well in college cultures across the nation and abroad in countries like Great Britain.

As a Luddite, I was brought up to regard finger snapping as a rude gesture that indicated an impatient family member or friend who wanted me to serve them in some way pronto! When I visited in Mexico several summers, I was told to summon waiters in restaurants by snapping my fingers, but I never could bring myself to do it (and I can actually snap my fingers very well, even now with ailing nerves in my left hand). 

One writer has complained that finger snapping turns readings into competitions for poets to create more and more emotional dramas in their poetry, but this writer seemed to be in a minority in the finger-snapping world. For me, the constant finger snapping at the Festival of Words broke into my listening mood, and I reckon I wouldn’t have been a very good beatnik poet although I was writing heavy emotional lyrics in the 50’s. I know that when I do a reading now, I appreciate healthy hand clapping at the end of the poetry share, and I think I’d be greatly distracted if the sound of one hand snapping broke into the reading of a line or verse.

And having said all of this, I do appreciate that young people are listening to contemporary bards. Perhaps the interruptions indicate that which Robert Frost conveyed when he said that “permanence in poetry as in love is perceived instantly…the proof of a poem is not that we have never forgotten it, but we knew at the [sound] of it, we never could forget it.” And so, I might conclude, perhaps he would’ve approved of snapping our fingers at once when we heard a great line! 

Artwork by me.




Monday, November 6, 2017

IN THE TIME OF JOY AND WONDER


Paul Schexnayder, New Iberia, Louisiana’s artist of note, has created illustrations for several of my books; the most notable being The Kajun Kween, a young adult book that carries Paul’s illustration on the cover and his drawings in the interior. Paul has illustrated many children and young adult books for other regional authors in Acadiana, and last month he came into his own as a children’s book author with The Time of Joy and Wonder. It’s a tale of a King Royal, a Trojan horse, and a blue monkey in a boat. He says that the painting of these characters hung on his wall for some time before he began to wonder about their origins and mission in life.

Readers will find it difficult to believe that Paul is color blind because the characters and landscape in The Time of Joy and Wonder are rendered in vivid blue, pink, orange, and green acrylics on masonite. The illustrations alone will delight young and old, carrying out Paul’s message of joy and wonder in his typically whimsical style. I understand that his “Girth series,” many subjects of which are kings with small heads and billowing robes, was initiated in 2016, and the king in The Time of Joy and Wonder continues this series as a royal person who has become an “exceptional explorer of the day.” The king, Trojan horse, and blue monkey embark on an exploration to find “anything stupendous and magnificent” and discover serendipity — a battered boat that causes them to wonder if it qualifies as a “joy and wonder.” Inside the boat they discover a treasure they decide not to claim and return to their kingdom with only a story that becomes as valuable as the find itself. 

The joy and wonder of Paul’s tale is that, without being didactic, he creates a story ending with an old-fashioned element: a moral. I won’t reveal all of the carefully-crafted tale, but I purchased a copy for my daughter to give to my three youngest great-grandchildren, and I know they will love this colorful narrative.

Paul's art is also displayed at A&E Gallery in New Iberia where he sponsors art classes, poetry readings, author signings, and, in his generous, inclusive way, features the art and crafts of talented area artists. He has been the artist for many state festivals, and his work has gained recognition throughout the U.S., often invoking the question: “Do you own a Schexnayder?” Every Christmas, my gift list includes pieces bearing his imaginative brush strokes. 

I know that Paul has had the desire to publish a children’s book for several years, and I congratulate him on this wonderful expression of his talent and beliefs. Bravo, Paul, and bountiful sales from all your admirers in Teche country! We are blessed to have an artist who believes we still live in a “time of joy and wonder” and wants to convey this message to young readers today.

Available at Books Along the Teche, New Iberia, Louisiana, A&E Gallery, University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press, and amazon.com.




Tuesday, October 31, 2017

CHIROPRACTORS ARE COOL


Dr. Tina Theriot

“Is that your Harley in the parking lot?” I asked Dr.Tina Theriot during my Monday morning visit to the chiropractor. It was a teasing question, and her answer startled me. 

“Well, as a matter of fact, it is,” she replied. “It’s part of my new regime to scale down and have some adventures in my life. My son asked me if I was having a mid-life crisis, and I told him I’m just getting rid of stuff and having EXPERIENCES instead.”

Tina is a member of the Cajun H.O.G. organization and had just completed her first long biker ride this week-end when I talked with her Monday. She had been 127 miles with members of the 700-strong bikers, making four or five stops along the way for boudin and ending up at Poche’s near Breaux Bridge. “I’m not so fond of boudin but I loved the ride,” Tina said, giving my back a hefty push.

She often rides her Harley from her home in Youngsville, Louisiana where she says she scaled down by selling her home in New Iberia and clearing away a lifetime of accumulated “stuff” so she’d be ready for the road. We went out the back door of her clinic and walked around the shiny Harley, then persuaded her to pose for a photograph with her blond hair down, but without her helmet and the chartreuse jacket she wears for her biking trips. I wished that I shared her enthusiasm for this new adventure, but the fact that I'm in her office three days a week makes me know how foolish such an adventure would be for me.

I’m beginning to think that female chiropractors in their forties and fifties love facing physical challenges. Amy Rudder, my chiropractor in Tennessee, where I live part of the year, is a powerlifter and has won awards in international competitions as far away as Russia. She’s probably in Las Vegas right now, where she walks away with first place in her class every year. Amy, 44, and just married for the first time, can also wrangle cows and helps run the ranch her husband owns near Winchester, TN. A tall woman with enviable black, naturally curly hair who tells me that chairs and other furniture aren’t designed for short women like me, towers over me like an Amazon woman to do her magical healing. She says she likes cross-fit activities, too, but can’t take time away from her practice. However, a few months before we left Tennessee, she brought me salsa and green beans she’d preserved in her spare time away from tending cows on the week-end.  


Both of these chiropractors have thriving practices and are healthy examples of healing without invasive techniques and medication; both impress me with their positive outlooks on life and confidence in their abilities to heal. At almost 83, I appreciate their efforts to make me sit up straight and to correct what years of daily writing, sitting at a typewriter or computer, has done to my spine. But more than that, I admire their adventuresome spirits during mid-life. Then again, I wasn’t such a wuss at their ages — I remember rappelling off a cliff, climbing hand-over-hand across a yawning ravine and zooming down a zip line at age 49! 

Photograph by Victoria Sullivan


Sunday, October 29, 2017

SHADOWS AT THE SHADOWS

Shadows on the Teche photo by
Victoria Sullivan
According to Morris Raphael’s book about Weeks Hall, former owner of The Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana, the “master” of The Shadows was an excellent photographer and “anyone with a Leica camera had a passport to The Shadows…Weeks owned two Leicas and was a pioneer of sorts in the field of color photography…Weeks did such brilliant work with the camera that the Eastman Kodak Company recognized his talent [by providing] him with certain film and processes and regarded him as one of their experimental people…”* If Hall were alive today, he’d have given James Edmunds several passports to the Shadows for his work in “Shadows at the Shadows,” an arresting gallery of color photographs now on exhibit at New Iberia’s famous National Trust mansion on the Bayou Teche.

I must make the disclaimer that I’m not a professional art critic, but I can tell when a photographer has a “good eye,” and Edmunds’ work surpasses that general evaluation of his photography. The exhibit ranges from a stunning photograph, “Shapes and Shadows,” that features a huge olive jar formerly displayed in Weeks Hall’s garden to an unusual shot of the “Floor at Bergamot” in New York City. Photographs of landscapes, rooms, bridges, the moon, courthouses, and, of course, Edmunds’ favorite subject, his lovely wife Susan (“She mesa me smile” shot with a NIKON D5100) are handsomely framed and hanging on the walls of a room in the Visitor’s Center at The Shadows. The exhibit formally opened October 21 but will be featured through November 28, 2017. 

Most of Edmunds’ photographs were taken on an iPhone 7+, and Edmunds will be leading a workshop,”Phone Eye: Making the Most of the Camera in Your Smart Device,” on Saturday, November 11, 2017, at The Shadows. Edmunds’ skill with this device is evident in 18 of the 54 photographs featured, but his proficiency with SONY and NIKON cameras equals his mastery of the Smart device. I was impressed with his ability to capture the shadowy rooms and grounds of the famous National Trust property, and my favorites among these photographs are entitled “Night Gallery” and “Pantry.” 

I’ve observed Edmunds’ career since the 70’s when he emerged as a photographer, and have watched him expand his skills to include work as publisher of a newspaper, writer, filmmaker, musical producer, art critic — a regular Renaissance man.  I’m particularly impressed with his advances in photography. He shares many of his arresting photographs on Facebook where I first noticed his work recording shadowy forms in equally shadowy rooms.

Edmunds and his wife, Susan, have become avid travelers since Susan’s retirement from her work as Public Relations Director at the Iberia Parish Library.  Susan, a naturalist, is also developing her talents as a nature photographer. She and James spend weeks touring small towns in the U.S., as well as the larger cities of New York and San Francisco and have a kind of Whitmanesque appreciation for the American scene. They are among New Iberia’s most talented couples and have contributed much to the culture of the Queen City on the Teche. I also think that Edmunds has helped to live out Weeks Hall’s wish for the Shadows-on-the-Teche: “…Its inherent charm to me has been its placid seclusion from a changing world, and in that will be its value to others. This quality must be preserved…”* 


*Weeks Hall, The Master of the Shadows by Morris Raphael


Monday, October 23, 2017

NEW POETRY FROM PINYON PUBLISHING


The latest Pinyon Review #12, Fall, 2017, ranging from the “Pines on Fire” cover by Jay Friedenberg to the end poems by Daye Phillippo, is another beautiful volume celebrating the arts and sciences. Editors Gary and Susan Entsminger have mined the avalanche of poetry, plays, photographs, paintings, and other art that comes into the editorial offices of their cabin in Montrose, Colorado and selected the best to showcase in this journal. It’s always difficult for me to select poems and art to celebrate; every piece of work — as my former creative writing instructor, Darrell Bourque, once said — “ is precious to the creator.” 

I kept that thought in mind until I finally decided to mention a few of the newest contributors to Pinyon Review, beginning with another Louisianan’s work, the glass piece of Karen Bourque of Church Point, Louisiana entitled Esprit de Femme, a 12”x18” work of stained glass and white agate cabochon that Bourque designed and photographed for the cover of one of my books, Above the Prairie. She creates many of her glass pieces to enhance narratives and poetry, and the arresting Esprit de Femme accompanies one of my poems in Pinyon Review #12 entitled “The Exponential Increase of Karen’s Art,” a poem that illustrates the synchronicity that sometimes occurs between poet and artist. Bourque creates her glass pieces in a studio behind the Bourque home in Church Point and shares it with former Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque whose regionally and nationally acclaimed poetic contributions have helped preserve the history and culture of south Louisiana.

Joshua Plack, another newcomer to Pinyon Review, gives the reader a glimpse into the multicultural atmosphere of “Philadelphi” in a poem that describes a culture “that has declined to be defined,/Its essence continually forged/In a fire that never needs stoking and hammers that never tire…where the Sikh cab driver and Korean shop owner/Stand in street vapors eating Polish sausage on Italian bread with Dutch sauerkraut…” Although this new poet is still finding his voice and style, in “Philadelphi” I hear echoes of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, particularly in the line: “Sending fluttering soulsparks that shape and reshape us…” Actually, the entire poem has a Whitmanesque tone and style, and a yet-to-be disciplined power.

Although Stuart Friebert isn’t a newcomer to Pinyon, his translation of poems by a newcomer, Austrian-born Elisabeth Schmeidel (now deceased), introduces readers to a poet whose work will be featured in an upcoming book published by Pinyon. The two poems included in Pinyon Review #12, “The Airport,” and “Scant Hours/Moments of Weakness” verge into postmodern realism and readers readily identify with the “restless round trips” of contemporary air travel. Schmeidel has mastered the art of irony in her work as evidenced in “The Airport:” “Birds in flight leave nests without baggage…” She also achieves what Gerald Manley Hopkins described when accused of writing odd poems: “inscape,” a design and pattern which are distinctive.” We look forward to the publication of her book, Scant Hours, in 2018.

Daye Phillippo has captured the aggression of the insect world that house themselves within gardens in “Spider Wasp” and “By Association,” the latter being an “ode” to one of my favorites, the sunflower. “Yellow ruffs, heart-shaped platters of leaves./The way they shade broccoli and lettuce…” and when the poet enters “the garden room” for surgery and turns to see sky-blue walls on which a row of life-sized sunflowers are painted “[she]was to know beyond knowing…Home again, in the garden to see (to see!) sunflowers,/the diamond-shaped checkering of brown seedheads/hosting bees…” Phillippo’s grace-filled lines keep us in touch with the harmony of the family of living creatures, and her poems cast light on the natural world in intriguing and elegant verse. She teaches English at Purdue University and lives in a “creaky, old farmhouse on twenty acres in Indiana with her husband and their youngest son.” 


Poems by Luci Shaw, Michael Miller, John Miller, Francine Marie Tolf, to name a few regular contributors; the photography in “Light Painting Water” by Steve Friebert, as well as an uplifting “Pastoral” poem and drawing by the Entsminger editors, comprise an elegant collection of art for Pinyon Review enthusiasts. This volume is a real invocation of the Muse and will keep its freshness and sense of meaning long after reading. Order from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.



Monday, October 9, 2017

TREASURE AT ARTISAN DEPOT

Autumn Glow
Some days when we go down to the Valley at Cowan, Tennessee, we wander into the Artisan Depot, an art cooperative sponsored by the Franklin County Art Guild, and Saturday we ignored the rain to make a trip to Cowan where we discovered an artist whose eclectic work warranted a “shout out” in today’s blog. 

Frances Perea, a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico, migrated to Winchester, Tennessee almost twenty years ago and brought with her a talent reminiscent of Frida Kahlo. She tells most people who drop in at the small Cowan gallery that the famous Mexican artist is her “Muse,” and in 2012 she established a Frida Kahlo Fan Club. Saturday, Perea appeared with a small tray of cinnamon rolls to feed drop-ins and showed us the display of her work that includes full-size paintings and boxes of mythical cards which intrigued me. 

In her work, Perea mixes religion with fantastical elements from pre-Columbian and Roman Catholic mythology. After moving to San Jose, California, Perea studied art at San Jose City College and painted her eclectic designs on pottery and furniture, then began painting New Mexico religious icons. Although she sometimes refers to her work as “quirky,” it has gained noteworthy recognition through sales of a line of prints, ornaments, and New Mexico icons to the International Folk Art Museum and The Smithsonian Institute.

House Guardian
I was taken with Perea’s trays of cards and settled on one entitled “House Guardian” featuring an angel surrounded by a floral design; it will join the mezuzah in our kitchen that watches over our cottage here at Sewanee. I also selected a beautiful landscape card featuring a tree with flame-colored leaves entitled “Autumn Glow” and would have purchased more if I had had my checkbook with me. 

Perea also teaches art workshops at the Artisan Depot and encouraged me to introduce the idea of poetry readings on the stage of this art gallery. She left before I could interview her further, but I hope to return for a second look at the folk art of this talented Tennessee artist, perhaps to buy more take-home treasure. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

GREAT BOWLS OF GUMBO!



Yesterday morning I was worried about Hurricane Nate and talked with my good friend, Janet Faulk-Gonzales, president of the Greater Iberia Chamber of Commerce in New Iberia, Louisiana where I live part of each year. Janet always knows the skinny about weather in this city, variously known as “The Berry,” “Queen City of the Teche,” and “Home of World Championship Gumbo Cookoff.” The latter seemed to be a big concern of Janet’s since the outdoor cookout is New Iberia’s biggest annual event sponsored by the Chamber.

The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff, a three-day competition, began with twelve booths 28 years ago and has increased to 90 booths set up by amateur and professional chefs who demonstrate the “power of the roux” with some of the tastiest gumbo in the world. Although rainy days in Acadiana usually inspire area cooks to bring out their iron pots and declare “gumbo weather,” the thought of a hurricane approaching and heavy rain falling has Janet and area chefs nervous about the “Battle of the Rouxs.”

The “Prettiest Town in America” (so named by Forbes magazine) produces the tastiest gumbo in booths such as the “Gumbo Spoon Saloon” and other aptly-named headquarters for a dish that chefs throughout the world try to duplicate. From what I’ve tasted of imitators’ concoctions (and some have been unusually bad) there’re none so savory as the gumbos offered at this festival in New Iberia. Chefs compete in two events: amateur and professional, and stir up a variety of gumbos: chicken and sausage, melange, shrimp and okra, seafood, to name a few. Some chefs also cook dishes that complement the Cajun fare: bread pudding, crab chowder, charbroiled oysters…

The World Championship Gumbo Cookoff even uses Gumbo Police who patrol the grounds at Bouligny Plaza in downtown New Iberia and peer into ice chests to make sure that no one brings pre-made gumbo into a "make from scratch" competition. Cajun bands, a Roux Run, tours of local museums, dancing —they’re all part of a Cajun event for citizens who know how to have a good time down on the Bayou Teche. Unfortunately, I won’t be returning to New Iberia for the October 14-15 celebration. I know the rosary beads are clacking, prayers going up to stave off the lurking hurricane so everyone can laissez les bon temps rouler!


Superhero banner at top of blog is theme of this year's Cookoff, and drawing above is taken from my young adult book, The Kajun Kween by Paul Schexnayder.



Monday, October 2, 2017

IN SUPPORT OF HOSPITALITY





For the past ten years, one of the major places I’ve frequented while living on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee is the Community of St. Mary at the Convent of Episcopal Sisters, a center of worship and hospitality established in the 19th century and still alive and well in this 21st century. The Sisters follow the Rule of Benedict of Nursia who wrote this Rule 1500 years ago for monks and nuns; they take seriously “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ,” and receive those who come through their doors as if they were encountering the Christ. The Community is not an exclusive club or a hideout for a select group of cloistered Sisters; it opens the doors of its chapel and those searching for a deeper spiritual life daily. And after guests leave the table of the Eucharist, they receive breakfast at the table in the refectory. The Sisters believe that hospitality is holiness. Many pilgrims also come to the Convent as guests and stay for personal retreats on the lower level of the Convent, sometimes staying for weeks in the peaceful atmosphere at St. Mary’s.

Maintenance of the guest level of the Convent is expensive for even such everyday upkeep as plumbing. Lately, this maintenance has involved the upkeep of a septic system that isn’t working properly, and Prioress Madeleine Mary has sent out a “help-help” in the form of a “Go Fund Me” supervised by Sister Hannah, novice CSM. The goal for this project is $20,000, and so far, donors from many corners of the U.S. have contributed funds.




I’ve enjoyed many breakfasts, and when there’s enough for added guests, Sunday lunches, as a guest of the Community, and I appreciate the Benedictine Rule practiced by this small group of welcoming Sisters. I’m also an Associate and member of the Advisory Board of the Community of St. Mary and feel a distinct responsibility to join in the appeal for funding of this project. During the past ten years, I’ve been one of the Community’s guests at least twice weekly and appreciate the humor of a story told by Benedictine followers about a monastery that has welcomed many guests to stay with them, and when one monk sees yet another new person coming up the driveway exclaims, “Oh Christ, not you again!”

Readers may not be members of this hospitable group on The Mountain here in Sewanee, Tennessee, but anyone who appreciates the efforts of the Religious to turn themselves outward may feel moved to contribute to the upkeep of a center that offers hospitality and holiness to those who’re not so preoccupied with the “busyness” of their lives that they can’t honor the needs of a place that welcomes the stranger as Christ.


You can help this group by contributing to Go Fund Mehttps://www.gofundme.com/saintmarysconvent. Or you can contact Sister Hannah, Novice CSM at St. Mary’s Convent, 1100 St. Mary Lane, Sewanee, TN 37375.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

TRAVELING AFTER HURRICANE IRMA

Florida palm trees
As if the greening disease hadn’t caused enough damage to citrus groves in central Florida, we glimpsed a plethora of fruit on the ground and toppled trees, roof and residence destruction Hurricane Irma left in its wake when we traveled south from Tennessee a week ago. Clean-up crews in Frostproof worked in humid weather to clear fallen trees and branches from roads and yards of residences, and I walked in a small city park several times during the week, dismayed at the several felled jacaranda trees. Their heart-shaped fruit lay on the path, reminding me what 115 mph winds can do to beautiful trees and landscape. 

Jacaranda tree stripped of leaves by Hurricane Irma

Although most of the news that had been reported a few weeks ago broadcast stories of destruction in the larger cities and coastal properties of the State, a “pole barn” on a grove property showed me how much Hurricane Irma had strafed the central Florida region.


Pole Barn

Irma had spared no one, and when we stopped by Cross Creek, near Gainesville, Florida on the return trip to Tennessee, our writer friend, Jo Ann Lordahl, told us she had climbed up on her roof and cleared significant debris — alone. She added that her neighbor refused to loan her a ladder, horrified, as we were, that an 86-year old woman would attempt to clear tree branches on a rooftop! Jo Ann lives within an area of natural beauty in Alachua County that was scheduled to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ book, Cross Creek on Friday. Rawlings received the Pulitzer Prize for her book The Yearling in 1939 when she lived at Cross Creek and was inspired by the natural beauty of the area and its people. Friends of the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Farm, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park and Artwork Gainesville opened an exhibit of paintings, photography, and sculpture during the time of our visit but we had to scurry on toward home. We missed an exhibit that focused on natural wonders of the region and, of course, the celebration of the literary heritage of Cross Creek.

Courthouse in Newnan, Georgia
However, in order to bypass Atlanta and snarling traffic there, the following day we took a westward route around the city and found serendipity again. At lunchtime, we approached the historic town of Newnan, Georgia, a town that is listed as part of sprawling Atlanta but maintains a “country feel,” despite the fact that its population has increased 150 percent since the 2010 census. Again, we discovered another art trail — well-known authors born in Coweta County include Lewis Grizzard and Erskine Caldwell, as well as Alan Jackson, country singer and songwriter. In the visitors center, we were directed to backtrack and take a second look at over 50 historic homes, many of them built by money derived from King Cotton. The tour guide at the Center told us that people from countries throughout the world visit Newnan to see the place that provides the backdrop for the popular series, “The Walking Dead.” Over forty films have been shot in the area, including one of my favorites, “Fried Green Tomatoes.” I purchased a copy of The Sacrilege of Alan Kent, a little-known volume by Erskine Caldwell, touted as being a book that reveals the influence of impressionism upon Caldwell and sheds light on the technique for which he later became known— simple, direct, and brief paragraphs which record episodes of his life in which he searches to know himself as an artist.

We should have spent the night in this picturesque town of Newnan because when we navigated back to I-75 we sat in traffic over an hour due to another interstate wreck involving a truck that completely burned up. We finally reached Fort Oglethorpe and just gave up traveling for the night in Ringgold not far from Calhoun, Georgia where my great-grandfather, Lawrence Dade Greenlaw, was discharged from the Confederate Army in 1865. I jokingly said that great-grandpa had warned us to go no further after the truck accident.


Monday, September 18, 2017

FELLOW PORCH DWELLERS


A few years ago, my friend Janet Faulk-Gonzales and I wrote a book, Porch Posts, in which we extolled the virtues of porch sitting. Here on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee I often sit on a small front porch and write. Usually, I am a solitary dweller, but this morning I was joined by several spiders, one of which may have been a Wolf Spider, a big hairy thing that is rumored to have a painful bite, and I wasn’t enchanted by the company. In fact, I killed it — without remorse, I might add.

I know that spiders inhabit the pages of many famous writers — the talking spider that makes clicking noises in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. D. Rowling; Charlotte, the spider who talks to a pig in Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White; Shelob, the giant spider in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, and out of the childhood of most of us whose mothers read us nursery rhymes: the critter that scared Little Miss Muffet when she was trying to eat her breakfast. I have no fondness for any of them. We have spider pest control but as we live in a small wood, our spider population is often abundant, even though the bug man visits monthly and brings in a giant swifter to sweep away nests, eggs, and the persistent spiders.

I console myself that spiders do eat pest insects like the mosquito that abounds in south Louisiana where I live part of the year, but I don’t see as many of them in Teche country as I do in Tennessee. In fact, the pest control workers here publish a list of common Tennessee spiders that might cause you pain. Among them are the brown recluse that gets the worst press of all in the spider kingdom; the black widow with its red hourglass marking; and the wolf spider that I did away with this morning.

Some of these creatures have eight eyes; some, six, but the wolf spider only has a pair of large eyes that were watching me this morning. Did I get any writing done out on the porch after I sent the wolf spider to meet his maker? Not much. But I did look up a poem about spiders by one of my favorite writers, Don Marquis, who wrote: "…I will admit that some/ of the insects do not lead/ noble lives but is every/ man’s hand to be against them? Yours for less justice/ and more charity." This was signed by aArchie the cockroach, Marquis’s major character (along with Mehitabel the alley cat) who appeared in his newspaper column in New York City’s The Evening Sun.

Sorry that this is so abbreviated but I dared not invite the Muse this morning as She usually keeps better company.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

NEXT IN LINE

Next in Line
A definition of “philosophical” I once read is: “exploration of what the game is about.” Another definition describes the word as meaning that local concerns are trivial in the light of more profound truths. As I read Pinyon Publishing’s latest poet, Annette Barnes, who was a former professor of philosophy, these definitions seem to fit her apprehensions of our time on earth.

The lead poem in this volume, “What We Want,” is one that reflects a certain detachment while the poet thinks through issues facing humans “doing what they want,” — issues of power, non-sharing, ruthlessness, war… “like animals on a short leash who/discover the leash is gone and suddenly take off,/thinking freedom’s free”… However, she concludes with a beautiful resolution: “the view from up here swarms with light the way/bees pulse a hive, but you must climb up before/you can hear the souls of the fallen rise.”

Barnes isn’t dispassionate in her observations about ordinary life and attempts to see things from every angle as she explores the “Imperfections of Everyday Life,” bringing the trivial to higher thought as “Boys in red caps and jackets kick/a soccer ball, tread on the daffodils…” To me, this poem exemplifies the carelessness of contemporary living, “the women to her left talk[ing]/through the mid-week matinee, tak[ing] no notice of attempts/to quiet them…” I hear echoes of W.H. Auden in the lines: “Living on a planet whose core of/molten rock erupts infrequently/allows us to be careless.” To some readers, she may seem to be dispassionate in the face of adverse conditions but in the spirit of a true philosopher, her love of wisdom overrides difficult ordinary situations.

Comic relief comes through a wry poem entitled “The Cat,” who “when annoyed/wags her tail/like a spinster’s finger…a Julia Child/about food/spends a night/licking Brie/Learns only what she wants…doesn’t learn to fetch,/carries her weapons concealed.” Another tongue-in-cheek concerns “Religion” in which Barnes explores the number three, writing that because she lived at three three three, “the Trinity appealed to me./Jesus crucified, a perfidy/that hides Judas made reality,/the Virgin birth, anomaly,/the Resurrection, mystery,/three, distant in unity,/what more ask of Divinity?”

One of her poems reminded me of the poet Billy Collins, again comic relief overcoming the objective of profundity. It’s entitled “Topics For A Book Club Discussion (Recommended for ages six and above).” Number 4. within the poem features Humpty Dumpty: “Was Humpty Dumpty/a. a king/b. a cannon/c. an egg./Did Humpty Dumpty merit the attention/of so many of the King’s men?/Discuss how one should allocate emergency/relief resources.” Barnes also offers discussion topics for “Little Miss Muffet,” “Sing a Song of Six Pence,” and “Old King Cole,” in a highly amusing take on nursery rhymes.

Barnes’ end poem, “Elsewhere” exemplifies Robert Frost”s assessment of good poetry: “A poem should begin in delight and end in wisdom.” She writes that “A blackbird sips rain/water from the hydrangea’s saucer, chirping/between sips. Elsewhere lovers pant between/kisses, butterflies sip tortoise tears and runners/reach finish lines. No bombs go off, no one dies."

In eighty pages of poetry Barnes succeeds in creating direct expressions of profound truths, wisdom that flashes like polished gems. Artistry and amusement entwine throughout this volume.

Annette Barnes has also published two books of philosophy, Seeing through Self-Deception and On Interpretation. She lives in England, and Next In Line is her debut book of poetry. From beginning to end, a “glad surprise,” Pinyon!

Available from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403.

Monday, September 11, 2017

GARDENS AND ART

Huntsville Botanical Garden Center

I’ve walked through many gardens, accompanied by a botanist, and Huntsville (Alabama ) Botanical Garden is among the world-class gardens I’ve seen. A few days ago, we spent the morning in this garden, viewing what the publicists tout as “the blending of traditional botanical garden elements, the aesthetic heritage of our region, the conservation of natural resources, and a thrust into the future.” This sounds like hype, but we viewed beautiful trails like the Mathews Nature Trail featuring the Holmes Trillium Garden, which is the largest Trillium Collection in the U.S.; the Damson Aquatic Garden featuring lotus and water lilies; and the Children’s Garden which contains eight gardens in one, including a wading pool with a Pollywog Bog.

Skipper on Ixora
Of course, I’m always enchanted with butterfly houses within a garden and the 9,000 sq. ft. structure housing 2,000 butterflies during butterfly season (May-September) seemed to be the highlight for children walking (and running) through the House. A waterfall and pond attracted one small three-year old female whose mother was busy trying to deter the child from taking off her shoes and jumping in. My favorite pond was that occupied by yellow-bellied slider turtles, and I felt sympathy for the three-year old who wanted to wade in for a closer look, turtles being critters that I think bring good will messages. A poem I wrote for my oldest daughter when she was five flashed through my mind. It’s entitled “On Being Needed:”


“Any kind of a pet will do,
we found a turtle hiding in tall grass,
coin-sized as a dime store relic
just daring her to take him in;
Yellow-bellied slider turtle
she has an infant sister
but five years passed before she had,
so any kind of pet will do
to guard the inner differences.
She sleeps now, close to his back,
asks me to baby sit
the small something left behind,
not to shriek the way I do at her;
turtles, absolutely; any pet will do.
For graver reasons she believes
he got lost from the race
just to prove that needing
reigns more important than running;
to the swift, a chase,
getting winded to pull in your head,
to the slow…
becoming the cared for.”

Gardens in Tennessee and Alabama that I’ve seen usually highlight sculptures scattered among natural settings — I was privileged to see Chihuly’s glass sculptures in the Cheekwood Gardens near Nashville, Tennessee a few years ago. The Huntsville Garden features the work of George Sherwood, “Wind, Waves, and Light,” an exhibit of kinetic sculptures that show patterns of movement — wind speed and direction, shades of light interacting with their natural settings. The “Turns,” made of the stainless steel Sherwood uses for his creations, shows the dynamic movement of wind in what could have been a static sculpture; and I stood a long time before another piece entitled “Wind Sphere” that caught the wind’s movement in a silver sphere on a day filled with brilliant sunshine. The interplay of light and wind was stirring and captured the idea of “Wind, Waves, and Light” Sherwood employed for his imaginative creations. The exhibit is an artistic event set among botanical displays that is only one and one-half hours’ drive from our home in Sewanee, Tennessee.

"Turns" created by George Sherwood

Sherwood has degrees in Engineering and Art and has exhibited in Rhode Island, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and many other states in the U.S. He has received several awards for his kinetic sculptures, including the Lillian Heller Curator’s Award, Contemporary Sculpture at Chesterwood Museum, Stockbridge, MA.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan