Friday, April 13, 2018

SCANT HOURS


Stuart Friebert, a master translator, has brought another elegant poet out of obscurity with his recent translation of the work of Elisabeth Schmeidel, a deceased Austrian artist, writer, and activist. Friebert, co-founder of the Field Translation Series at Oberlin College in Ohio, is the author friend who tells me that learning to translate another language into English helps “one-language” poets to improve their writing. Scant Hours, a collection of Schmeidel’s poetry, contains selections Friebert and Pia Grubbauer, Schmeidel’s daughter, made to produce the poems that never appeared in a book during Schmeidel’s lifetime. 

Born in 1945, Schmeidel wrote during the burgeoning of the poetry of a post-war generation; and she witnessed the flowering of Austrian poetry, especially Ingeborg Bachmann’s work. Her voices and moods are translated with laudable sensitivity and precision by Friebert who is himself an eloquent poet.

In the Introduction to Scant Hours by Thomas Wild, Wild writes that each poem in this collection faces anew “the task of finding its own form” and that readers perceive there are no certainties to support Schmeidel in her post-war generation writing where “even flower children decorate themselves with military jackets…in times of cold, undeclared wars…” The inference is that Schmeidel can rely on nothing but herself and language…words. 

Themes of darkness and existential fear, gender roles, conventions, and relationships are addressed in three sections of Scant Hours: Early, Later, and Later Still. In the poem “Searching,” there is an inchoate reaching out for that task of the poem to “find its own form,” beginning with the words: “Searching for words, for language,/for something and resting inside…I want to stop glowing, cool down/in the middle of the earth:/morning cools your face.”  

The above verse is followed by “Night Swallows” in which Schmeidel probes an inner darkness where “the ever stony guest knows/my season, my home/he enters and we are silent.” These poems are defined as ones in which the poet looks outwards towards an interlocutor while she contradicts herself with the need to explore the inward theme of existential fear; e.g. in the closing lines of “Speak To Me:” “Speak to me/when the coffin of time opens/and I’m unable to die.” Readers will discover that many of the poems in this volume may not change any person or event for the better, but the verses do not reflect sentimentality or mawkish themes as she deals with reality.

Like the German poet Karl Krolow, Schmiedel’s poetry sometimes enters the brief and condensed realm; e.g., the brief, ironic poem entitled “Where”: “Are you pouring time out to, when/the hourglass plugs up and/forests lie rooted out in the riverbed?/ Whom are you giving the handful of dust?/How many chickens do you consume daily?/That’s what the bird of passage dies of.” My favorite among the brief poems is entitled “Frequencies,” as it offers to me more hope than any of the verses translated in Scant Hours: “Being able to begin/there/where your voice/lingers—/frequencies/hidden like animals/in woods, which become/alive/at night/with shadows of fallen/angels, with strange commands./Being able to keep going/in your voice.”

As usual, Stuart Friebert has gifted readers with the translation of a visionary poet who was not afraid to write of days when "nothing is going on" or to pass on the urgent message that we must pay attention to the destruction of nature, political tyrannies, fears and hopes for humanity, and she suggests the “way in” can be through the language of the poet.

Available from the premier independent press: Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. 


Thursday, April 12, 2018

TRAIN TREK

Cowan Railroad Museum, photograph by Victoria Sullivan

Trains have always fascinated me, and one of the activities on my bucket list is a ride on the Orient Express. Many of my poems have featured trains and train depots, subjects about which I thought of writing and photographing until I discovered a book already published about train rides, dinner trains, museums, and depots entitled Tourist Trains Guidebook that I found in Bryson, North Carolina, site of the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad. This railroad was created from a portion of Southern Railway’s Branch and hugs the Tuckaseegee and Nantahala Rivers, ascends a mountain at Red Marble Gap, and zooms out over a 700-foot trestle at Fontana Lake.


Closer to home is the Cowan Railroad Museum in Cowan, Tennessee that I tried to visit today, a place that houses photographs, relics, and memorabilia from the steam age in a century-old depot. Vickie photographed the exterior of the historic depot for this blog, but I've never been inside and won’t be able to visit until May when it re-opens. I’ve learned that there are displays of figures in period costumes, model trains, and 1,000 interesting items for first-time visitors. I’ll have to schedule a May tour, but meanwhile, today, I could hear the trains “whooing” as we lunched in the Fiesta Mexican Restaurant beside the rails, across the way from the Cowan Museum. I was grateful for the scant sunlight and a diversion from illness.

This afternoon, as I write, I look at the end poem in Just Passing Through, a volume that contains some of my train poems, and I feel even more strongly about the lines in the end "snippet" entitled “End Times” that I wrote in 2007. The single verse actually describes a dismayed reaction to tribal quarrels I’ve observed that still persist in certain “corners” today.



      END TIMES
Not burned to death
or frozen to death
but warred to death,
the planet excelling in hate,
a desperation to own too many corners,
saying too little about love,
Lewis’s explication of agape
falling on truculent ears
that listen to a different drummer —
the rumble of cannon.


On several trips to the West, I became enchanted with a historic train that runs through the desert from Santa Fe, New Mexico along the spur to the city of Lamy. The train I saw was a working freight train, and I wrote about it in ”The Santa Fe Is,” in Just Passing Through, the chapbook mentioned above:

    THE SANTA FE IS
No covert traveler,
the train boils through High Desert,
red, blue, and yellow freight cars,
imperatives on the landscape
traveling everywhere.
In the pinpoint of my eye,
miniature boxes of color
fret empty plains,
make me aware of destinations,
distant mountains.
We pass small stations
snoring at track side
while the bright colored cars sway
on miles and miles of track
like ants relocating,
good times left behind,
mirages passed,
a lonely figure waving
from the engine window,
face turned toward
an indifferent there going on forever…





Friday, April 6, 2018

THE SEASON OF LITTLEST FLOWERS

Rain fell on The Mountain last night and showered the redbud, forsythia, dogwood, and other large blooming flowers in our yard. More noticeable on this overcast day are what I call the “littlest flowers” in various hues of lavender, yellow, and deep purple. They will soon take their leave, and I asked resident botanist, Vickie Sullivan, to photograph them so I can enjoy looking at them during days of summer drought. As I am an amateur plant lover and regard botany as Goethe described it — as an “amiable science” — my observations of the plant world in our yard are usually surface descriptions of leaves, flowers, and fruits that often inspire poetry —the language of flowers fascinates me.


The rich flora here reveal delicate blooms of a variety of wildflowers, especially during April and May, and the mosaic below shows a few species, which possibly could be classified as weeds that have adapted to the site our home occupies. Vibrant tones of color and delicate designs attracted me as I walked around in the yard, stumbling on mole holes and branches that had fallen during the winter. We live on a property that fronts a small wood, and a deer observed me as I walked through the front yard. I might add that deer are regarded as nuisances in these parts and are culled annually. I don’t know if they lunch on the littlest flowers, but I doubt that they have an appetite for these blooms as the flowers seem undisturbed by animal life.

Here are photographs of a few of the littlest flowers that attract me each year when I return to Sewanee: bugleweeds, bluets, spring beauties, mock strawberries, and violets. Also included are the large blooms of the narcissus that proliferate on The Mountain and greet us as we view the woods for the first time each spring:



Photographs were taken by Victoria Sullivan.




Wednesday, April 4, 2018

LET THE TREES ANSWER



Back on The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee for the spring and summer seasons, I shiver in temperatures dipping to the 30’s and 40’s and winds blustering out of the North today. I’m warmed by the sight of the cover of my new book of poetry, Let the Trees Answer, designed by my grandson Martin Romero from a photograph of the Gebert oak taken by Victoria I. Sullivan. Dr. Sullivan, a botanist and writer, photographed the trees included in this salute.

The book of poetry is my contribution to National Poetry Month and is slated to be published by Border Press within this month. A description of the poems and an acknowledgment by Dr. Mary Ann Wilson, Professor of English at the University of Louisiana, Lafayette, are featured on the back cover of Let the Trees Answer.

This volume, a poetic tribute to trees, includes poems conveying the idea that “trees can talk,” a form of humanistic botany within the frame of verse. Let the Trees Answer is the third book in the series Between Plants and Humans, ranging from pines in Louisiana to jacarandas in Florida, and along the way, crabapple, Chinese Tallow, catalpa, and other trees scattered throughout the woods of the United States. This is a must-read for tree huggers.

“This loving tribute to trees, beautifully illustrated and full of plant lore, celebrates and remembers childhood, first love, betrayal, loss—all the time markers of our lives. Its lyrics turn us back to Nature, to the “consolation of spirit” trees offer whether they deflect family sorrow or embody erotic longing. Jacaranda, Joshua, Cedar, Paradise Apple—even the lowly Chicken Tree—emerge newly clothed with memory and desire. Let the Trees Answer gives us a writer at the top of her form, fully alive to the wisdom and mystery at the heart of our life on this earth. Kudos to Diane Moore for inspiring us to stop and look and remember.”
—Mary Ann Wilson, Professor of English, University of Louisiana, Lafayette —


Happy National Poetry Month to all of you poetry writers and lovers, as well as tree huggers everywhere!


Monday, March 12, 2018

LIVING WATER; SONGS AND STORIES FROM WOMEN AT THE WELL

Brenda Lowry can belt out a blues song as strong as any voice I’ve heard singing the blues, but she also has a clear, sweet voice when she’s singing in the “Heavenly Choir” at the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany here in New Iberia, Louisiana. And then there’s “Women at the Well, “ a program in which she sings spiritual songs she created and recorded with Joshua Murrell at the keyboard who supplied some of the music. It’s about women who figured prominently in Jesus’ life and ministry but whose stories were left out of the Gospels and who inspired Brenda and Bubba to produce “Women at the Well.”

In a book Brenda just created, she relates the stories of these women after going on a retreat in the “Holy Day Inn at Camp Hardtner (the Diocese of Western Louisiana’s camp). “I began writing and playing,” she writes in Living Water. “Words poured out. I was playing chords that I didn’t know, just finding things on the guitar…” Several of the songs from that time at Camp Hardtner became, along with an earlier one she’d written entitled “Rock My Baby Jesus,” the actual seeds of the program for “Women at the Well” that she and Joshua now perform at churches, schools, restaurants, mission houses, informal parties, and in living rooms throughout the U.S.


The first presentation of “Women at the Well” was performed at the Solomon House, an outreach mission in New Iberia, Louisiana for which I was director many years. It followed my ordination to the Diaconate, and Brenda refers to me as the “midwife” of the collection of songs and an encourager of her “creative recovery.” I’m honored by her acknowledgments and by a poem of mine, “Ground of Your Beseeching,” that she and Joshua now open with when they perform “Women at the Well.” In Living Water, she describes it as a call to ministry for all — women, men, and youth.

The stories of women in the New Testament that inspired Brenda range from the adulterous woman whose life was saved and turned upside down following her encounter with Jesus to a favorite of most audiences, “Martha’s Blues,” a blues song that she sang in a concert to raise money for the Order of St. Mary at Sewanee, Tennessee where I reside part of the year.

Brenda also tells the story of losing her hearing in one ear and how this sensorineural hearing loss has not kept her from singing and recording, “processing some signals differently,” she explains. It’s a moving story that shows Brenda’s tenacity and her call to ministry. 

One of my favorite songs in Living Water is “This Is My Bread” that Brenda wrote after watching the consecration of the host at Eucharist one Sunday. “Who Made the Bread?” she asked herself. “No, not the church supplier but the bread at the Last Supper. Who baked it? I know what bread baking is like, leavened and unleavened. It takes time, effort and care. As Passover was approaching, the bread no doubt would have already been made, and much of the meal already prepared as well. It was a woman’s job, and there had to have been a woman behind that meal…”

The complete words to songs in Living Water are contained in this book of stories about the women in Jesus’ life. Brenda writes that “there is a Jewish tradition called Midrash, a Jewish term that refers to the exploration and exegesis of a biblical text. A modern news commentator might call it ‘unpacking.’ I simply call it the what ifs.’ What if this were the backstory? What if? And then what if…these were women whose lives were forever changed because of their meeting Jesus.”

In the next edition of Living Water, Brenda hopes to include the actual music from songs included in “Women at the Well,” this musical program she regards as “a call to discipleship.” You can order the book and the CD track from samaritan woman@bellsouth.net.


Note: Cover photo of Living Water by Engin Akyurt on Pixabay.com with modification by The Swampgoddess.




The Amédé Ardoin Project

Amédé Ardoin
sculpture
Several hundred people honored Amédé Ardoin at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center yesterday afternoon when a statue of this pioneer Creole musician, created by Sculptor Russell Whiting, was unveiled. The beautiful statue, made of carved steel in which Whiting used an oxy-gasoline torch, was inspired by the only known photograph of the talented La-La and Zydeco musician. It shows Ardoin standing on his accordion and holding a lemon that refers to the musician’s habit of carrying a lemon in his pocket to keep his high-pitched voice clear and strong.

Ardoin grew up near Eunice and Mamou and often played his accordion and sang for dances as a teenager. After joining up with the fiddler Dennis McGee, he made some of the earliest recordings from Acadiana for Columbia records, a total of 30 recordings. Stories of his death vary, but the best-known version is a tragic one that tells of a summer night when Ardoin performed for a barn dance somewhere in St. Landry parish, and a white woman handed him a handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face. Following the dance, he was beaten and run over many times by a Model A Ford driven by white men who objected to his exchange with the white woman. He was discovered lying in a ditch the following day and later admitted to the State mental hospital in Pineville, Louisiana where he died on November 3, 1942. He was buried in an unmarked grave.

A woman who was standing next to me at the unveiling told me that she was attending the commemorative ceremony because she felt that the event honoring Ardoin was a form of justice, and she had come to the Visitors Center to support the cause. The speakers included former poet laureate Darrell Bourque and Patricia Cravens who were prime movers of the Amédé Ardoin Project, a project that will continue to include a scholarship initiative supporting young artists who wish to study with Louisiana La-La and Zydeco musicians.
Russell Whiting, sculptor,
at the unveiling

Russell Whiting says of his Ardoin commemorative that he found the photograph of Ardoin endearing and identified with him as an artist who wanted his creations to survive. Whiting began his career as a metal worker in the oil industry, and his highly original work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. in private and public sculpture gardens. 

Poet Bourque displayed his book, if you abandon me, comment je vas faire, An Amédé Ardoin Songbook, published by Yellow Flag Press and now in its twelfth printing. He invited the audience to donate $10 for the book, which will support the Amédé Ardoin Project and urged communities and individuals to plant a lemon tree or grove in honor of Ardoin. Information about the lemon tree project can be obtained at darrellbourque@gmail.com or patriciacravins@gmail.com.

Although a few dark clouds hovered over the event, the rain did not fall on the unveiling, and Amédé Ardoin was “brought home” during a silent, respectful moment, followed by a celebratory Bal de Dimache Apres Midi.

Photographs by Victoria I. Sullivan




Thursday, March 8, 2018

TREE HUNTING AGAIN

Redbud at Chicot State Park (photo by Victoria I. Sullivan)

Some tree huggers I know are still hiking on wooded trails at age 82, but I have to admit that I struggle to make treks through forests at my age. I’m sure that Louisiana’s famous botanist, Caroline Dormon, who “carved trails through the woods, scooped out a reflection pond and planted hundreds of wildflowers, trees, and shrubs”* was a brisk walker until she reached at least 80, but I was sorely tested on a two-mile-trek looking for a crabapple in bloom yesterday in the Louisiana State Arboretum near Ville Platte, Louisiana. I discovered a blooming redbud for which I’d been searching, but the crabapple blossoms were too high to photograph, and we turned back on the PawPaw Loop Trail before I attempted to climb any steeper hills.

The Louisiana State Arboretum is a 600-acre preservation area of 5 1/2 miles of hiking opportunities for real hikers and covers a bottomland hardwood forest and a Beech-Magnolia Forest, and we enjoyed the hour in this nature preserve, despite my bum knee. I’m writing a book of poetry that Dr. Victoria I. Sullivan is photographing for me. She has spent the last forty years identifying trees and plants for me and always attempts to provide opportunities for me to engage in outdoor exercise. I was disappointed that I couldn’t get a photo of the crabapple and saw only a few white flower petals beneath one of the tallest crabapple I’ve glimpsed in my 82 years.

In the introduction to Let the Trees Answer (the book of poetry and photos about trees) I pay tribute to my mother who loved the woods. I relate that one of her paintings showing a gnome standing beneath a tree, holding a paintbrush and palette, hung in her bedroom until the 1980’s, and that piece of art symbolized her love of woods and the mystical connection to creativity my mother certainly felt. I also pay tribute to my father who would announce a cease fire for arguments at the meal table when I was growing up by saying “Look at the trees,” pointing to the three tall pines in the backyard of our home in Franklinton, Louisiana.

I wrote a lot about trees in the essay on Caroline Dormon in Their Adventurous Will, a book about memorable Louisiana women. Dormon lived on a 120-acre tract of piney woods called Briarwood near Saline, Louisiana and, according to its owner, harbored a “dark place” in its deepest parts where the devil’s snuff box grew and which Dormon would dramatically tap for naturalist visitors so that the fungus expelled a cloud of spores and impressed them with the mysteries of plant life.

In the heart of the Arboretum at Chicot State Park, I could almost hear Dormon talking about hybridizing plants so they would be immortal (she believed this) and scouring the backwoods for seeds and cuttings to put in her own woods. An adventurous soul, she probably would've devised some way of climbing one of the larger trees near the crabapple I discovered so she could take a photo of the blossoms. I was happy to see that the Arboretum featured a Caroline Dormon Lodge on the Walker Branch Trail in a Beech-Magnolia Forest that contained a covered bench where visitors could sit and listen to the trees talking.

*Southern Living Magazine, July, 1992


Thursday, March 1, 2018

SWAMPS

Several weeks ago when l shared lunch at Dr. Mary Ann Wilson’s home in Lafayette, Louisiana, I noticed a handsome volume entitled Swamp: Nature and Culture lying on an end table in her den. “It’s a book written by my youngest son Anthony — his new swamp book,” she explained, “and is a historical, cultural, and ecological story about swamps. I think it’d interest you.” I was intrigued and spent part of our visit looking at the photography and chapter headings in the book. I ordered a copy of this intriguing volume the following day. 

Swamp: Nature and Culture is Dr. Anthony Wilson's second book about swamps in a series called “Earth Series,” which provides readers with authoritative and interesting narratives, combining science and literature. A scholar and English professor, Dr. Wilson writes in a highly accessible style, and the photographs in the series are stunning illustrations of swamp terrain, some of which were taken by the late Greg Guirard, Louisiana’s former “swamp man” who was the guru of bayou and marshlands of Louisiana’s wetland system.

I was fascinated by the range of Dr. Anthony Wilson’s interests, but blog length requires brevity, and I’ll concentrate primarily on Louisiana wetlands that he includes in a work that spans swamp landscapes from Louisiana to the peat bogs in Russia. I know that he spent his high school years in Louisiana, and his interest in wetlands was fanned by the 10,000 square miles of the State’s swamps and marshlands. He describes the wildlife in the Atchafalaya Basin, including alligators, snakes, snapping turtles and the colorful birdlife, reminding us how our great wetlands are shrinking at the rate of 40 percent of America’s total wetlands. 

A glimpse of chapter headings in Swamp: Nature and Culture shows the reader the comprehensiveness of this volume. Dr. Wilson's range includes “People of the Swamp;” “Swamp as Horror: Monsters, Miasma and Menace,” “Swamp as Spectacle;” “Paradise Lost,” and includes an Appendix titled “An Array of Major World Wetlands” that will titillate the interests of biologists and environmentalists worldwide.

The layperson will be intrigued by the mysteries and mythologies of swamp landscapes in which Dr. Wilson relates how the “breath” of the swamp was once regarded as the origin of sickness and death. “Underlying the various superstitions, legends, and lore about devils, witches, and supernatural terrors in the swamp was, it long seemed, a legitimate terror that could poison with a single breath…” Wilson explains that swamps actually filter pollutants from water; e.g., the water of the Great Dismal Swamp was pure as the tannins that leeched into the water from tree bark, preventing bacteria from growing, even though the water became an amber color.

Dr. Wilson probes the histories of swamp monsters as portrayed in comic books and film; e.g., the “Swamp Thing,” showcasing a doctor who died in the Louisiana swamp and was enveloped in a plant body that thought it was still alive and was superhumanly strong with the ability to regenerate itself (much as the creatures in Dr. Victoria Sullivan’s book about giant Louisiana polyploids in her speculative volume, Adoption).

Dr. Wilson’s book is both scholarly and accessible. His knowledge of literature illuminates the chapter on Monsters, Miasma and Menace with references to Greek mythological stories, which date back to the first or second century BC when Hercules meets his fierce foe in the swamp of Lerna: the Hydra, a nine-headed beast. Dr. Wilson also features Grendel, a character in Beowulf  he considers one of literature’s earliest marsh monsters. 

In the concluding chapter, “Postscript: Paradise Lost? The Swamps’ Uncertain Future,” Dr. Wilson writes about the film, Beasts of the Southern Wild, exploring what he terms “equal parts ecological commentary and primitive, mythic fable…” He summarizes his treatise on swamp landscapes as “sites of mixture, where reality and myth blend inextricably, to imbue the landscape with unique and indelible meaning.”

This is a “must read” about the diverse ecosystems of our fragile wetlands, as well as a compendium of folklore, legend, and mysticism based in the beautiful, ecologically-important wetlands of Louisiana and other exotic places. 


Dr. Anthony Wilson is an Associate Professor of English at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Georgia and the author of Shadow and Shelter: The Swamp in Southern Culture



Monday, February 19, 2018

PEAFOWL


A lot of wildlife activity takes place in our backyard here in New Iberia, Louisiana during the day and more frequently at night — possums, coons, an armadillo, squirrels — and domesticated dogs and fat cats sometimes stroll through on a morning walk or an after-dark prowl. However, the other day when I had just emerged from illness, I was on the glass porch enjoying a rare sunshiny day and saw a huge bird with bright plumage sitting on the fence next door. For a moment I thought I was hallucinating as part of my recovery process. But no, it was a peacock or rather a peahen, and when I stepped outside, she, the peahen, flew down into my yard, then strutted through all the backyards lining the coulee —without showing her tail.

I began to read about this strange visitor and learned that she could be aggressive, so I had been wise in deciding not to try to chase the critter. A few moments later, a young girl appeared in my yard, and I went out to greet her. “Was that your bird that just flew by?” I asked. “No,” she replied, “but where did it go? Do you think it escaped from the Zoo of Acadiana?” She scurried off before I could explain that I thought the peafowl might be someone’s pet or give her a long description of the author Flannery O’Connor’s interest in, and rearing of, a yard of peafowl on her farm in Georgia. As O’Connor is one of my favorite authors, the young girl escaped a literary lecture I’m sure she wouldn’t have wanted to hear.

My godmother Dora who lived in Blacksburg, Virginia had a close friend named Elizabeth who married a Mr. Plank, and unbeknownst to Elizabeth, raised peacocks on his farm not far from Blacksburg. A town girl, Elizabeth knew very little about his farming operation, and I’m not sure where the peacocks were hiding when Mr. Plank brought her to the farm for the first time. Now, peacocks sing (?) a certain song that sounds like the scream of a person in serious trouble: “Help, help,” they sang out after Mr. Plank let them out on the lawn and departed for an errand in town. Elizabeth, hearing these blood-curdling screams, immediately dialed the Fire Department, then the police, and invited them out to investigate the high-pitched screams. By the time Mr. Plank returned from his errand in town, he found a crowd of firemen, policemen, frightened peafowl who were now “singing” without pause, and his bewildered wife who never established a friendship with the noisy creatures. And, I might add, she didn’t speak to Mr. Plank for several days because he had withheld knowledge about his “kept” birds.

The peafowl I saw didn’t scream or get in attack mode, but after I read about how these birds, if hungry, or mating, would sometimes attack humans, I was glad that she had continued her march through the backyards of my neighborhood. I did write the “snippet” below after she left the yard:

EMERGENCE

A peahen landed in the backyard,
air bubbling with the end of ice,
south winds blowing away mist.

The bejeweled creature, refusing to show her tail,
passed closed doors along the coulee
looking for a mate or food;

A brief glimpse of iridescent green, 
she stopped short of the neighbor's fence,
boards rotting from too much winter,

then lifted off before we knew 
whether it was spring arriving
or winter departing...



Sunday, February 11, 2018

IN PRAISE OF CORNISH HENS



I “chickened out” from eating quantities of chicken soup during a siege of upper respiratory infections this winter and turned to something with a bit more texture last week — still a chicken but one that ain’t an egg layer — the Cornish Hen. I know this small bird resembles a chicken that didn’t get zapped with growth hormones that commercial producers use nowadays but they’re tasty hens that took me over the line between wasting away and feeling better this week. Nothing smells better than the scent of a Cornish Chicken baking and breaking the barrier between congestion and good health. The scent alone is curative.

Cornish Hens are actually a hybridized breed developed for commercial production, and 
I don’t know that I’ve ever seen one in its feathered state, but I’ve read that they’re an English breed with either white, black or red feathers and that they stay in the same locale on someone’s farm so that they can thrive in a specified environment. These babies are slow to mature, so, of course, commercial farmers thought up another idea to raise a hen that is a breed between Plymouth Rock Chickens and Cornish Chickens, which are prized because they grow fast. That’s the bird you’ll find at the local grocery.

Jacques and Alphonsine Makowsky, a Connecticut couple, developed the Cornish Hen in the United States during the 1950’s by crossbreeding Cornish Game Cocks with Plymouth Rock Hens, and a Malayan Fighting Cock. Alphonsine Makowsky, a French woman who fled from Europe during WWII, must’ve eaten a lot of those plump hens she raised on Idle Wild Farm in Connecticut as she lived to be 92. At one time, the succulent bird she introduced to the U.S. was a gourmet dish at fine dining establishments in New York City; e.g., Club 21.

Cornish Hen and Wild Rice was a premier menu served by one of the former members of The Fortnightly Literary Club here in New Iberia and was the main course of five-course meals once served by this club. The hostess, “Bootsie” Trappey, served a whole bird to each member, and most members, myself included, would come away familiar with what we began to call “the groaning board,” stuffed to the seams from the five-course meal. Most of the Cornish Hens weighed in at 2 - 3 pounds, and by the time the bread pudding with white-topped meringue came around, we were ready to doze off during the book review program that was part of every meeting.

Of course, some readers may prefer the Capon, a huge, castrated rooster weighing in at 6-10 pounds with plenty of fat that may out-flavor the Cornish Hen, but I prefer the little hen that advanced my recovery!

Cornish hen photo from https://chickenbreedslist.com



Saturday, February 10, 2018

BRINGING AMÉDÉ HOME

Yesterday I received an invitation to an event my friend Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana, has been working on for at least two years — the unveiling of a statue and ceremony honoring the Creole musician, Amédé Ardoin, at the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center in Opelousas, Louisiana, March 11. This event marks the finale to a movement sponsored by Darrell Bourque and Acadiana area supporters commemorating Ardoin’s contribution to Cajun and Creole music.

Amédé Ardoin, at age 43, was beaten by a group of men, following a dance in St. Landry Parish at which he sang in his high-pitched voice, for using a white woman’s handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his brow. He suffered severe injuries, perhaps to his brain, and was committed to the State hospital in Pineville, Louisiana where he later died.

Bourque, who is among recipients of the Louisiana Folklife Award, was intrigued by the musician’s story and composed unrhymed sonnets written in the voices of people who knew Ardoin; e.g., the famous Cajun fiddler Dennis McGee. Bourque’s collection of poems are contained within his book, if you abandon me, comment je vas faire: An Amédé Ardoin Songbook, published by Yellow Flag Press in 2014. He donated a portion of the proceeds from this book to help launch the campaign to “Bring Amédé Home,” and has been tireless in his efforts to raise enough money to commission a sculptor to create a statue of this musician. He describes his work on the Ardoin project as one created for the vitalization of the Creole/Cajun culture.

One of Bourque’s sonnets that touched me with its poignancy, included in if you abandon me, describes Ardoin’s stay at the mental institution in Pineville, Louisiana:

Admissions-Medical Records Clerk: Case No. 13387:

He came to us on 9.26.42 and he couldn’t sign
his name. Didn’t talk anymore the family said. 
That’s why they brought him here. No eating
no sleeping, walking around at night, mumbling

to himself, and only 43. On the Medical Index Card
the most frequent entry is none, or something close
to none. Previous Attacks: None. Hereditary History:

None. Correspondent: None given. Discharged:
(blank). Died: 11.3.42. Disposition of body: (here),
here, an unmarked grave in the Pineville hospital yard.

His people quit coming to see him. He went through
the gates from time to time but someone always found
him and brought him back. His mumbling stopped.
He hummed quietly from time to time. He died alone. — Darrell Bourque —


Ardoin will be “brought home” at 4 p.m. Sunday, March 11, 2018, to the St. Landry Parish Visitor Center, 978 Kennerson Road, Opelousas, Louisiana.


Thursday, February 8, 2018

ANTICIPATING ST. BENEDICT

Sister Elizabeth Grace was one of the first people I met when we migrated to The Mountain at Sewanee, Tennessee ten years ago. She belongs to the Order of St. Mary, a group of Anglican sisters who welcome strangers and friends to their Convent any day of the week for the prayer and offices to which they’ve made a lifetime commitment. Sister Elizabeth and four other Anglican sisters focus on God’s generosity to prepare for this season of Lent and Holy Easter and, like St. Benedict of Subiaco who formed monasteries on mountain tops, live out the Rule in a convent perched at 2,000 feet on the bluff at Sewanee. 

To prepare for Lent, Sister Elizabeth has been invited by the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany here in New Iberia, Louisiana to present a program on The Benedictine Way of Life and will be honored with a potluck supper on March 1 to share her story of living out the Benedictine Rule and to invite Epiphanites to become Associates and Oblates of the St. Mary Community. She’s also looking forward to an exchange of cultures — learning about the Acadian culture she’s heard Dr. Sullivan and me tout at breakfasts following Morning Prayer and Eucharist in the refectory at the Convent of St. Mary weekly (when I’m on The Mountain). Although she’ll miss Mardi Gras, she says she’s still looking forward to passing a special time in Cajun Country any time of the year.

During my ten years on The Mountain, I’ve enjoyed the hospitality of the Order of St. Mary and have been an active Associate, as well as a Board member for the Convent. Several years ago, I helped to plan a musical fundraiser with Brenda Lowry and “Bubba” Murrell of New Iberia who performed for over 100 people in the Sewanee community (and raised enough funds to sponsor interns at the Convent of St. Mary for three years). Sister Elizabeth had fun “rocking” with our bayou country musicians and has wanted to visit New Iberia since that occasion. Yesterday, when we exchanged e-mails, she said she was listening to a CD our musicians created a few years ago. 


We hope to show Sister Elizabeth Grace the hospitality of our historic Episcopal Church and a few of the sites that exemplify the Cajun experience while she’s here telling us about the life of the Spirit and mountaintop experiences at Sewanee. She will make her presentation at 6 p.m. in the Parish Hall of the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany on Main Street. If you’d like to read more in poetic form about these inspiring Sisters who live out a Rule as St. Benedict outlined it, my tribute to this Anglican Order, In A Convent Garden, is available. Click on the title to order from Amazon.