Sunday, April 28, 2013


Rain the last two days reminded me of deluges in Louisiana that we call “frog stranglers and root soakers”–devastating floods that I recall inundated Louisiana as far back as the 40’s when my mother rescued a dog paddling in high waters near Lake Arthur, Louisiana. The latest from the “Sewanee Classified,” which reports all the happenings in this small community on The Mountain of Sewanee, Tennessee, is that the road to Cowan and Winchester has washed out, and crews are presently at work clearing a path into the valley. However, deluges here on The Mountain seldom cause the kind of damage experienced by citizens in my second home in Louisiana at lower elevations.
As sea levels rise in coastal Louisiana, places like Isle de Jean Charles, a ridge of land between Bayou Pointe-au-Chien and Bayou Terrebonne, experience destructive flooding, and this island is gradually disappearing into Terrebonne Bay. The population of the Biloxi-Chitimacha tribe and other community members has dwindled to 25 families because water is swallowing up the land, and the places where community members used to hunt, trap, and plant gardens are vanishing. The island is often battered by floods and sinking of land, along with rising ocean levels, which make future habitation almost impossible.
The small band of people descending from Choctaw, Houma, Biloxi, and Chitimacha Indian tribes who grew up on Isle de Jean Charles cling to their home and traditions, but their future is uncertain because it lies past the levee alignment which is currently under construction for the Morganza to the Gulf of Mexico Hurricane Protection Project.
Readers may have seen several documentaries about this small population on the Louisiana coast–Can’t Stop the Water, Last Stand on the Island, and a fictional treatment in a movie entitled Beasts of the Southern Wild.
I've been fascinated with the story of this island for over a year and spent the last year researching and writing a middle-grade novel, the third in a series about a young boy traiteur who goes down to Isle de Jean Charles to talk to his Great Uncle Joe who has barricaded himself in his cabin rather than move to higher ground. Martin attempts to treat his unhinged uncle and meets a lovely Island girl who is ill, but he runs into trouble when he tries to use his healing powers on an injured person who doesn't want his folk medicine. While he’s on the Island, he’s caught in a battering storm, experiences the aftermath of an oil rig exploding in the Gulf, and witnesses threats to the Island and surrounding marshes.
Environmental issues, tribal conflicts and Indian lore, romance, and the introduction to various herbs used in healing by the 11th century nun, Hildegard of Bingen, are woven into the story. Followers of Martin Romero, the protagonist, will enjoy the young traiteur’s latest explorations as “Master of Adventure” in Martin And the Last Tribe.
The cover painting of this book for young readers was rendered by my brother Paul Marquart, and book design by my grandson, Martin Romero (for whom the protagonist is named). Copies of this middle grade and young adult novel can be ordered online from, or from: Border Press, PO Box 3124, Sewanee TN 37375.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I went into the Barnes and Noble University Bookstore this morning and came out with a children’s book entitled Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made that I seriously thought about reviewing in this blog. However, readers were saved from my foisting the choice of a notable volume of juvenile wit on them by the arrival of the morning mail. A trip to the post office yielded more serious literature in the form of my favorite genre–a book of poetry, fresh from the press of Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado.
Publisher Gary Entsminger has done it again–published the work of a prize-winning poet of unmistakable talent. Michael Miller’s Into This World rivals the latest blockbuster novel in terms of being a page turner–I read the 73-page volume in one sitting and closed the book with thoughts about Donald Hall’s evaluation of poetry: “Poems are not about anything because they are about everything.” Michael Miller’s work encompasses that everything–love, war, the natural world, death…ladybugs, bumblebees, dogs, polar bears…
Miller’s poems achieve the balance of darkness and light, of the intrepid heart pitted against a broken world, each poem rendered with grace and a sense of the invincible spirit of humans; e. g., “Private Bayless:” “Before the dark shoulders of mountains/setting forth on a night mission/With the wind’s breath/Blowing across his face, pricking him/With invisible needles of sand,/ He smells death in the air./ “The Taliban, the Taliban,” a voice/Gnaws at his mind and he prays/to leave Afghanistan alive, intact./Should a bullet sever his spinal cord, He will make love to his wife/With his eyes, blinking signals/For the acts he cannot perform.”
This is only one of the war poems that indicates the deftness with which Miller handles human woundedness, condensing emotions into short lyrical bursts in poems bearing the names and ranks of soldiers: “Private Wheeler,” “Corporal Bedford,” “Lance Corporal Webster”…and ending this section with the reflection about “Corporal Sayers:” “…He never saw the faces of the men he killed./The war is over,/The dead will not run across a ridgeline,/And he has returned,/Refusing to kill a spider.”
There is no artifice in this poet’s ruminations. A keen observer of human passion, he writes a spare poem about how a man “ignited from within brightens the night…singeing the grass/alarming the milkweed.” In the section entitled “Song of the Body,” Miller’s poetry sings in what I’d call wry rapture --songs containing the lyrics of an enduring married love that challenges the shallowness of post-modern promiscuity. He creates and recreates scenes of marital intimacy: “X. Their blue sheets are the color/Of the irises blooming in their garden,/Bordering the two-foot stone wall;/They planted the irises,/They built the wall,/Their hands know earth, stone,/And now they continue to seek/The undiscovered regions/Of each other’s body, /The new concealed within the old.”
As I’m a writer in my 70’s, I quickly identified with Miller’s commentary on aging in his poignant signature of acceptance entitled “Dusk.” “…Like the long grass of late September/On the meadow where I walk at dusk, /Knowing the darkness will arrive/With a part of me welcoming it.” Again, that quality of wry rapture is caught in another poem about age entitled “No Matter Our Age,” the last nine lines illuminating his acceptance of growing older. “More than your body/I wanted the love/Which flickered in your eyes./So our unwritten history began/Which I value each morning,/Waking to its freshness/No matter our age/Or the architecture/Crumbling around us.”
Approximately 20 years ago, my spiritual director told me I should stop writing “little poems” and begin writing “great poems,” a task which I've attempted for years, and I do know when I read “great poems.” Michael Miller achieves the kind of emotional intensity and integrity that make poems in Into This World “great poems;” in which ordinary themes provoke much serious contemplation.
Cover photograph by Gary Entsminger, editor and publisher of Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 “Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Tomorrow by Paul Emerson Marquart

Every Tuesday while we ‘re sojourning on the Mountain here in Sewanee, Tennessee, we go out to St. Mary’s Convent for Morning Prayer and Eucharist, and this morning I was glad to enter the convent chapel to meditate and pray after viewing scenes of yesterday’s bombing at the site of the Boston Marathon. Like so many shocked Americans, I was mesmerized by scenes that flashed on the television screen all day. The scene that keeps replaying in my mind is that of first responders, members of medical teams, and other “helping” groups rushing toward those wounded, tearing down fences that had held back those who had come to view the winners at the finish line to get to victims maimed in the blasts. Those helpers ran forward without thinking about the possibility of encountering more bombs that could have exploded and taken their lives. Their action was an amazing show of courage and caring in the face of a horrifying act of terrorism --coincidentally, or perhaps not so coincidentally, we read Psalm 31 at Morning Prayer, and I was struck by the appropriateness of the verse: “Blessed be the Lord! For he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city…”
I also thought about a comic strip that I frequently use in my sermons–Peanuts. The particular strip that came to mind was that in which Lucy, accompanied by Linus, is pointing to an outline of a heart imprinted on a fence. She says, “This, Linus, is a picture of the human heart.” And in the next frame, she explains to vulnerable Linus, “One side is filled with hate, and the other side is filled with love. These are the two forces, constantly at war with each other.” Linus looks away from Lucy who is, of course, staring intently at him, and says: “I think I know what you mean. I can feel them fighting.”
Most of us today are probably experiencing that same kind of battle going on within us, for how else could we feel in the face of the killing field in Boston that flashed on our television screens endlessly yesterday? I don’t think any of us could honestly say that anger didn't well up in us as an initial reaction when we watched people falling down in a street overshadowed by the smoke from two bombs. Most of us harbored a lively hostility for the unknown perpetrator(s) who dared to invade the city that could be called our birthplace of freedom.
I think that we struggle daily with this dichotomy of Linus love/hate. But we go on. We go on mostly because we’re a faithful people….and a loving people. After 9-11, I remember President Bush quoting at a service in the National Cathedral in Washington: “Adversity introduces us to ourselves. This is true of our nation as well.” We were introduced to this notion that Americans are models for the world immediately around us…and those in the world who are farthest from us. That awful time taught us that we’re often observed, with great scrutiny, under circumstances of acute distress and horror, to see how we’ll react. And what those who looked at us yesterday saw was that with grace working in the hearts of those “helpers,” evil was broken down and destroyed. I’m sure there were many stories of generosity and goodness being lived out in Boston yesterday, and some scribe should write them down so that other generations can read them and be inspired.
Most of us who are Christian believe in peace and in an inward and invisible grace we receive at baptism. One writer has said that the grace that God gives us works like salt–it preserves every grain of goodness it can find and heightens its flavor. We have that salt because we have something called the theology of hope. And although we often groan inwardly, we wait and work in hope. That wonderful theology of hope stands against destruction, conflagrations, and the madness of terrorism. Through our faith… hope… and God’s grace, we’re always being given a transforming gift–something called the gift of love.
Anger is a human and normal emotion and I think we have it, sometimes, to arouse us from deadly lethargy. Psychologists remind us we have anger to protect ourselves, and yet we’re called, if we are people of God, to move through that anger to arrive at transforming love. A tall order, but those first responders yesterday certainly gave us an authentic example of sacrificial love. Proverbs tells us: “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” And Teilhard de Chardin wrote in a haiku: “At the heart of matter/a world heart/the heart of a God.”
I sat in the hushed chapel of the Sisters of St. Mary this morning and meditated on these quotes from Proverbs and Teilhard de Chardin, especially praying for the helpers who rushed forward in one great swell of caring, to help the victims of the Boston massacre. What we witnessed moving through the smoke of a horrific crime in the city streets of Boston were rescuers who had “guarded their hearts.”
Painting at beginning of blog is entitled “Tomorrow” by my brother Paul Marquart.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


Cover art by Susan E. Elliott
Pinyon publisher Gary Entsminger and artist Susan Elliott spend most of their time publishing other writers' books in their cabin post called Pinyon Publishing nestled in the Colorado Rockies, but now and then they take time off to produce their own writings and artwork. Together, they have written Remembering the Parables, Making the Most of WriteItNow4, and Ophelia’s Ghost, the latter, an intriguing work of fiction. This novel set in the 50's in the southwestern U.S., featured Eva, an anthropologist who disappeared from a campsite in the Canyons of the Ancients, and readers were treated to encounters with parallel universes, Pueblo cultures, UFO's, Shakespeare and the phenomenon of ghosts.

Fall of '33 takes us back to an earlier time when Eva is only 12 years old, a passenger on a train headed for Django, Colorado. She is deeply immersed in memories of the twenty days preceding her train ride, recalling her life in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains and recording them as the train travels west. Her feelings are reflected in nostalgic descriptions about her childhood; e.g., "A boy standing beside a Model A Ford near the tracks waves as we pass. He looks about the same age as Billy, and our farm flashes in my mind, as we drove away in Poppy's Model A…I see Billy the day after I knew we were leaving. We were walking home from the bus stop. A hermit thrush whistled from the woods, its hollow notes ethereal and flute-like. The long shadows disappeared into deeper darkness. Indian summer, but the speckled red and yellow leaves swirling past our feet reminded us that winter was coming…"
The train takes Eva through vivid experiences to the Century of Progress World's Fair in Chicago, across the Midwest, and into Colorado, but it is the journey in Eva's imagination–the memory of her childhood home and stories told by her Grandfather Poppy–that will capture readers. Eva moves in and out, from visible worlds seen from the window of the train to invisible worlds, which her grandfather explains are important for ancestral connections. "Memory is more than a scrapbook of images," he tells Eva, encouraging her to connect with spirits "on the other side of the veil" to bring about a change in consciousness. Readers are led to believe that she will also receive consolation about moving from her childhood home from ancestral spirits constant in memory.
Stories about Eva's Native American ancestry and the mysticism inherent in these tales are interwoven throughout the novel. They reminded me of an interview with Bill Moyer and the poet Sherman Alexie, in which Alexie emphasizes how important "story" was and is for survival–in Eva's case, the story of her Turtle Island ancestors who survived a great flood and intermingled with newcomers called "the golden ones."
Each chapter title of Fall of  '33, or each day that Eva writes about, is symbolized by a creature or force in the natural world; e.g., turtle, dragon, deer, the river, eagle, red bird, flower…the writing is an assignment given her by Poppy in which she uses the "Day Memory System." Using an image for each day, Eva faithfully records her observations about the landscape and happenings in both the journey and her past life involving friends and family on the farm and in rural social gatherings.
One of the most arresting chapters features the family's venture into Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. On this site, they view a circular ruin, fifty feet across and sunken fifteen feet into the ground which was used as the center of religion for various groups of Native Americans. "The sipapu is this entrance, or passageway, for the souls to emerge from. And the souls, the people, go out on the path, to the center. And when they die, they come back. Out and in and back out again. Like the seasons…a middle place, a meeting ground, where all souls come together..."
Past, present, and future are represented in this complex novel filled with descriptions of the South and West and the impressive narrations by two naturalists who aren't timid about taking readers on a real life journey through dark times and a mystical journey into the life of the spirit enhanced by "story," the stuff of survival.
A poem at the conclusion of the novel completes this mystical journey into the Fall of '33, and the last two stanzas underline the authors' intent to convey the power of dreams and imagination:
I dance
in a dream

with you
and all the time
in our world."

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Jazz on the Bluff program

Last Sunday was a day of serendipity. The weather lifted, and after church we ventured over to Chattanooga, Tennessee for lunch. We had glimpsed early signs of Spring on drives to Cowan in the valley–pear and cherry trees in full bloom–but the newest color on the route to Chattanooga were the purple blossoms of the redbud trees scattered along the highway. The sun had finally appeared, and the gloomy gray clouds that often hang over Sewanee had dispersed, revealing greening on the lower slopes of The Mountain.
Serendipity appeared following lunch at Tony’s Italian Restaurant in the art district of Chattanooga when we decided to take advantage of our membership in the Hunter Museum, one of the finest museums in the South. We had talked about seeing the glass art exhibit, “Beauty Beyond Nature,” the work of Paul Stankard who does botanical compositions under glass, but we were drawn to the sound of jazz being played on the outdoor terrace of the Hunter Museum. Booker T. Scruggs, II and his jazz ensemble were playing some old-time favorites of Duke Ellington: “Satin Doll,” “Solitude,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” and other crowd pleasers. A river breeze blew in while they played, and it was a perfect day for nostalgic listening–I became especially wistful when they struck up a Henry Mancini tune, “Moon River.” It was an apt rendition to perform on the Museum’s River View space that overlooked the bright blue-painted bridge spanning the Tennessee River.
Scruggs and his group were celebrating “JazzaNooga,” part of Chattanooga’s Creative Underground Family, in honor of National Jazz Month, which coincides” artfully” with National Poetry Month. His group’s rendition of “Just A Closer Walk With Thee,” played New Orleans style, caused a lot of toe-tapping and would have been a curtain call had Scruggs chosen to play an encore.
Booker T. Scruggs Ensemble
Scruggs is a familiar face on the jazz and gospel music scene in Chattanooga and has produced four albums, one of which I bought, “A Salute to the Duke,” which he recorded with the MaxTiam Trio. He’s an adjunct professor of sociology at the University of Tennessee at Chattonooga and is noted for his service as director of Upward Bound at UTS for thirty-six years. The sales of his Ellington CD generated $10,000 for “Upward Bound” UTC students from low income families one year. Music wasn't really Scruggs' vocation, but he played at Howard High School and Clark Atlanta University where he earned a Master’s in Social Science and gradually became known throughout Tennessee for his clarinet and sax performances. He claims that he didn't plan to make a lot of money playing music and adds that he certainly hasn't but he has a lot of fun, especially when he plays gospel and inspirational music.
I wonder if National Poetry Month will sponsor readings that will draw as much attention as the JazzaNooga celebration. April is the month when the Academy of American Poets highlights the legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets and encourages increased publication, distribution, and sales of poetry books, as well as increases public and private philanthropic support for poets and poetry. I couldn't help wishing that the Hunter Museum of American Art would sponsor a poetry event for both young and old poets who believe that poetry influences the progress and health of a culture as much as politics and religion.
If you haven't participated in a Jazz or Poetry appreciation event this month, try a little listening and reading–you'll likely find some serendipity.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


Eternal flame at Acadian Memorial, St. Martinville, LA
After Easter Vigil on Sunday, we met for lunch with the Sisters at St. Mary’s Convent, Sewanee, and I sat across from a woman who had once enjoyed the joie de vivre of Cajun country. The conversation about the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival and her adventures in gastronomy made me a bit homesick for New Iberia, my other home.
This winter when I sojourned in Acadiana for my half-year stay, I engaged in a whirlwind of lunches, dinners, poetry readings, and visits with old friends. I also investigated more fully my own roots in Acadiana through research and tours of places like the Acadian Memorial in St. Martinville, Louisiana where I found my Vincent ancestor’s name on the Wall of Names. The Vincents were among the first families to follow Beau Soleil, Joseph Broussard, during the Grand Derangement from Nova Scotia to Cajun country. Although these exiled people endured many hardships, I discovered that the colonial population, beginning in 1699 when Iberville and Bienville explored and formed the colony of Louisiana, had also struggled to settle the Louisiana colony, enduring fights over land and other resources with Indians, surviving floods and hurricanes, and striving to establish profitable agriculture.
Later, under Spanish rule, the Spanish expanded the Louisiana population with citizens from Quebec, Switzerland, the Caribbean, Alsace-Lorraine, Normandy, etc. These people became known as Creoles. In the late 1700’s Acadian refugees were sent to bayou country and intermingled with Creoles and Native Americans, African and Caribbean slaves, British, Germans and Italians. Two of my New Iberia friends are descendants of Lebanese and Syrian families who were members of early migrations to Louisiana and who added to the wonderful cultural mix of this unique part of the world.
During one of those migrations in the late 19th century, my great-grandfather, Samuel Marquart, who was of German descent, joined the German population in Lake Arthur, Louisiana, and my grandfather, E. L. Marquart, married an Acadian woman, Leila Vincent, a descendant of the Vincents who came down from Port Royal, Nova Scotia.
My father, Harold Marquart, learned to speak Parisian French, but he wasn’t allowed to speak the Cajun French my grandmother knew because she had been brought up under the Louisiana laws that were passed to mandate “English only” public schools – laws that resulted in a weakening of the culture in south Louisiana. According to Christophe Landry, author of “Francophone Louisiana, More Than Cajun,” (Louisiana Cultural Vistas, Summer 2010), “between 1920-1960, usage of French or Creole was forbidden in virtually all aspects of life in south Louisiana…often students violating the language restriction were required to write ‘I will not speak French on the school grounds’ one hundred times!” Today, through the efforts of CODOFIl (Council for the Development of French in Louisiana) and other state organizations launched to preserve an endangered language, Cajun French is alive and well.
My friend Darrell Bourque, former Poet Laureate of Louisiana, speaks and writes in Cajun French, and on several occasions I have read alongside him at poetry readings. On both occasions, he read verses of poems in which he had used French. Following one of those occasions I lamented about my French deficiencies in a poem that I included in my book, Alchemy, which I include below:
It is good to read poems with you,
the ultimate poet leading the ultimate life;
I like that our ancestors have common roots
that were entwined in boats
rocking on the wave of exile,
their coming disturbing a halcyon world,
wilderness and deliverance in one place.

By right of poetry
we became friends in a friendlier world.
I am looking at your face,
one that has known lost battles
and lately won even more;
it is a face more French than the French,
the sharp incline of your nose
framed by gray curls,
reading words that sound to me
like “pwis and jer, may jahmay,
der swashay, dit swa, dit swa.”

Your wife looks up at you
crooning those soft inflections,
mating with your eyes again;
knowing she does not have to remember
the romance of first years,
every day it is reflected
in your voice and eyes.

I am sorry that part of my ancestry
cannot match yours,
the speaking of an ancient language
aroused my Scots mother’s disdain,
eclipsed my father’s perorations
  in Parisian French,
  in Cajun French,
doubling the language he never passed to me,
or I would be able to parley with you,
tell you in like patois
your poetry is elegant and delivers us,
immerses me in occasions of shared ancestry
where we recite anthems,
chants of the Grand Derangement,
come upon this place
of tangled vines and brown water, singing
it is good to be a poet with you,
it is good to be a poet with you,
it is good to be a poet
  in this new world.

I have tried to redeem my Cajun background (which my grandmother Vincent actually tried to “disappear”) by writing middle-grade and young adult novels based in New Iberia and other communities in south Louisiana: Martin’s Quest, Martin Finds His Totem, Kajun Kween, Flood on the Rio Teche, and a forthcoming middle-grade/young adult novel, Martin and the Last Tribe. The last title should be published by the end of April. Meanwhile, on my next stay in Louisiana, I hope to learn how to “parlez vous” so the “tatailles” (monster cockroaches) won’t get me because my Grandmother Vincent denied her roots!