Friday, December 20, 2013


In a blog last month, I mentioned that Darrell Bourque, former poet laureate of Louisiana, was interested in finding the location of the settlement that Joseph "Beausoleil" Broussard established with some of the first Acadians who fled in the Grand Derangement to Louisiana. Broussard led a group of exiles to Saint Domingue (now Haiti), then on to New Orleans in 1765, and eventually to south Louisiana where the exiles settled somewhere between New Iberia and St. Martinville, Louisiana.

In a recent issue of La Louisiane, the magazine of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, I discovered that Dr. Mark Rees, an archaeologist and anthropology professor at ULL, Warren Perrin, co-founder of the nonprofit Acadian Heritage and Culture Foundation, and Adam Doucet, a senior majoring in anthropology, have begun working on a project to locate the site where Broussard and his band of Acadians settled. Rees is a descendant of Alexandre Broussard, brother of Joseph Broussard, and Perrin is also a descendant of the renowned "Beausoleil" Broussard.

The researchers seem to think that the Acadians in the Broussard party settled near Loreauville and are certain that they established three sites along the Bayou Teche. They're looking for areas of high ground where the Acadians could have found a habitable site. Doucet has begun interviewing Loreauville residents who may have information about gravesites of early settlers that would possibly indicate the position of homes in the early settlement.

The first time I heard about the possibility of Broussard settling near Loreauville, I was told that the site could have been at Lake Fausse Pointe, which is located about eighteen miles east of St. Martinville near the Atchafalaya Basin. Tuesday, as we were again visiting the Gonsoulin Meat Market, we decided to proceed to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park from Loreauville, about ten miles east of the town, to take a look at the place that had been mentioned as the possible settlement, or entry point of Broussard's party.

Lake Fausse Pointe State Park is approximately 6,000 acres in size and was once known as the home of the Chitimacha Indians, but today it is largely the habitat of whitetail deer, black bears, snakes, alligators, and armadillos. After we arrived, we started out on a trail that must have been Armadillo Ridge because we disturbed one of these gray armored creatures that wouldn't sit still for a photograph.

We stood on a bridge over the lake near the Interpretive Center and took one photograph of an American Egret who assumed a sedate pose for us momentarily, then became spooked at the sound of our footsteps. Much of what I glimpsed were sloughs and swampland, hackberry and cypress trees, and I vetoed the idea that Broussard and his party might have settled in this low ground area even though today the scenery is unspoiled wilderness and the wildlife is abundant.

When we consulted the GPS on our return trip, we were mistakenly directed to take a right turn toward Bayou Benoit, scattering a flock of killdeer as we turned, and traveled a gravel road eighteen miles through scantily inhabited land. The levee loomed on the left side of the corduroy road, and trailers teetered on the right side of the road in the low areas beside Lake Fausse Pointe.

We traveled eighteen miles on this circuitous route, emerging on a paved highway near Charenton, Louisiana, at least thirty minutes away from home ground of New Iberia. And so much for uninformed researchers who have time to spend on wild goose chases! We'll leave the "New Acadia Project" conducted by Rees and Perrin to those who have mapped the area and know what they're looking for. And, by the way, the New Acadia Project is attempting to raise $100,000 for the research needed to find the site of these first Acadian settlers. The site could become a draw to Acadiana for tourists.

Monday, December 16, 2013


Martin, boy traiteur, illustrated
by Billy Ledet for Martin's Quest
Traiteurs (treaters or healers) are the major characters in three of my young adult novels set here in Acadiana—books I call "The Martin Series" because the name Martin appears in the title of all three volumes. A few days ago, I re-read an article featuring a traiteur in an old issue of Louisiana Folklore Miscellany and decided to go online to see if newer articles about these healers' work had been published in this journal.

Louisiana Folklore Miscellany is the official publication of the Louisiana Folklore Society, an organization formed in 1956 to promote the "study, documentation, and accurate representation of the traditional culture of Louisiana." This publication is a fascinating journal for teachers and writers of Louisiana history. In a 2008 issue, I read an article by Julia Swett entitled "French Louisiana Traiteurs" in which I discovered many parallels of thought that had appeared in my young adult novels featuring traiteur characters, and also in talks I'd given to students throughout south Louisiana about the traiteurs in the Martin Series.

Swett, a graduate of Religious Studies and Cultural Anthropology, respects the work of traiteurs who use faith healing methods and herbal remedies and pointed out that indigenous herbal remedies are frequently used in pharmaceutical drugs. In talks that I delivered, I pointed out the same fact, tracing some of the herbal remedies to those used by native Americans who co-mingled with the Acadians following the Grand Derangement when the French Canadians fled to south Louisiana during the 18th century.

Another facet of traiteur beliefs she talked about, which I had emphasized in my talks about the Martin Series, was the link between healthy bodies and healthy minds and the way a traiteur tries to understand how the patient feels when he begins treatments. In my latest young adult novel, Martin and the Last Tribe, I wrote: "Christ didn't believe that disease was part of the divine order of things...He was aware that resentment, fear, anxiety, hatred, and the like cause disease. When he spoke, he talked about faith, hope, the will to live, and he was always trying to lift the people to a higher state of becoming well..." In another passage of the same book, I wrote: "To me, traiteur work was a way I (Martin, the hero of the Martin Series) could quiet the sick person's mind and come into contact with the part of the self that the person I was treating wasn't aware of... then lead that person to become conscious of what made him sick..."

Swett explained that traiteurs use laying on of hands and prayer, just as clergy do in the sacrament of healing in the Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches, and in the Martin Series, Martin and his grandmother use this method during all of their healing sessions. Interestingly, Swett wrote: "Many healing systems approach the individual body as being continuous or integrated with the social body. When illness manifests in the individual body, it is indicative of a lack of integration with the social body." And in Martin and the Last Tribe, I write, "We did our traiteur work not only to relieve the sick person, but to remind him that he could return to the healthy order of things" ("the healthy order" meaning community or the social body).

For those readers who are interested in Louisiana Folklife and Folklore, I recommend the Louisiana Miscellany and other publications of the Louisiana Folklore Society that are available online. I also recommend the work of the Louisiana Folklife Center at Northwestern State University, which coordinates the Natchitoches/NSU Folklife Festival and is an archival repository for many folklife materials. The Center contains a print library of books and periodicals and still photographic images.

Note:  Covers of Martin Finds His Totem and Martin and the Last Tribe feature paintings by my brother Paul Marquart. 

Monday, December 9, 2013


The White Rhinoceros Press logo
Time was when the small press was a unique publishing house in the world of giant publishers, the most notable small press being, of course, the British-born Hogarth Press owned by Leonard Wolfe, Virginia Wolfe's husband. During the last twenty-five years or so, the small press, aided and abetted by book producers, has come into its own, and authors who'd otherwise never see the light of day, have emerged from the shadowy corners of the literary world to showcase their talents.

Back in the 80's, I frequently visited Blacksburg, Virginia where my godmother and godfather lived and was privileged to meet several notable professors who taught in the Virginia Polytechnic Institute's English Department, of which my godfather Markham Peacock was the administrator. One of those courtly gentlemen professors, now deceased, and later immortalized by VPI administrators who named the present Student Union building after him, was George Burke Johnston. "Burke," as I was asked to call him, was a beloved professor at this university, but few people in the contemporary publishing world know that he also owned a small press called The White Rhinoceros Press. This press made its debut in 1965 when Burke set type for Reflections by hand in ten-point Monotype Century type.

After sharing several meals at dinner parties where Burke was an honored guest, he and I exchanged poems, and I received copies of Burke's publications, including the original 1965 edition and a later edition of Reflections in which the text of the poems was the same as a 1978 format—it was an edition in which the first two signatures were expanded from a single signature in earlier printings and reset. The 1988 edition carried an ISBN, which was a step forward in the life of the White Rhinoceros Press.

Reflections contains what I believe is Burke's best poetry and features a section entitled "Brevities" with a succinct quote from Ben Jonson: "One alone verse sometimes maketh a [complete] poem." Burke's pithy brevities followed Jonson's quote; e.g., "Passing Generations:" "Resting my knuckles on the pew in front, /Startled, I see my dead grandfather's hand." Another reads, "From Menander:" "Peace feeds the farmer well on rocky height, /But War on fertile plain is fatal blight."

Burke's publications included such scholarly treatises as A Hundred Years After, an essay adapted from a lecture given on several occasions that appeared in the Phi Kappa Phi Journal and The Radford Review in 1966. Excerpts from the lecture also appeared in The Penn Hall Alumnae Pillar, and in these publications Burke critiques and salutes Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland.

However, I'm partial to Burke's poetry, particularly a compendium of his poems entitled Banked Fire that appeared in 1980. In this handmade, hard-backed edition, Burke reveals the reason for naming his press The White Rhinoceros Press in the last stanza of his poem, "White Rhinoceros:" "What symbol then? The raucous crow or harsh/Macaw or myna bird might do for most;/And for traditional bards not in the swim/Perhaps [what] would serve [is] the heavy horn-nosed beast, /The living fossil of a long-dead age."

The publication that Burke felt would be remembered as the White Rhinoceros Press's crowning achievement was a biography that he wrote about his grandfather entitled Thomas Chalmers McCorvey: Teacher, Poet, Historian, a professor at the University of Alabama for many years. In the introduction to this volume, Burke quotes William James: "Real culture lives by sympathies and admirations, not by likes and disdains," and he emphasizes that his grandfather received from his colleagues, friends, and students abundant "sympathies and admirations." After reading the biography, I discerned that Thomas McCorvey had passed on his gifts as a teacher, poet, and historian to his first and only grandson, George Burke Johnston.

Burke may have thought of himself as a rhinoceros, but his work as a pioneer in the realm of the small presses and his renown as an English professor obviously eclipsed any notions he may have had about being the "heavy horn-nosed beast/the living fossil of a long dead age." I'm delighted to possess his seven books in my library and have enjoyed re-reading them this wintry morning in south Louisiana.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013


Years ago when I lived in Limestone, Maine during a bleak winter, I spent many icy days indoors, watching snow fall and huddling near an old oil stove that valiantly tried to heat one room of a drafty farmhouse apartment. To amuse myself, I listened to 45 rpm records of Tchaikovsky's works on a small record player and memorized quatrains of the Rubaiyat of Omar Kayaam, a book to which my father introduced me at an early age. It was a comforting exercise, and today I'm surprised how many of the quatrains I recall, especially at odd times; e.g., at breakfast on a winter morning a few days ago .

I suppose the sight of a backyard covered with brown leaves incited the memory. A live oak in the yard seems to shed year 'round, and the leaf-strewn yard brought up the lines: "Whether at Naishapur or Babylon, /whether the cup with sweet or bitter run,/The wine of life is oozing drop by drop,/the leaves of life are falling one by one." The Rubaiyat is filled with nostalgic, philosophical quatrains that cause me to wonder, now, why on earth a 19-year old girl would memorize lines that could be associated with aging? I also think that some strange prophetic wavelength from the universe urged me to memorize almost an entire book devoted to the literature of a mideastern country that I'd one day live in for two years.

A few hours after the lines from the Rubaiyat came to my mind, I was dusting bookshelves and came across the diary of my Godmother Dora, who had literary inclinations, like all Greenlaws seem to have (my mother's maiden name). A short notation for Wednesday, April 7, 1943 read: "When we become old, we lose our leaves more freely. A sudden sorrow and we're nearly stripped. The older we are, the greater the toll. But how we do hang on to the leaves—symbols of life, I suppose—and how do we slow down the death of final leaflessness?"

When I left Sewanee a few months ago, the woods and yard in front of our home had begun to fill with leaves—large yellow and rust-colored ones—and we called a few weeks ago to see whether they had been raked and carried away for the winter. Unlike the shedding live oak in our Louisiana backyard that requires constant raking, the trees at Sewanee deposit enough leaves for only one raking. I've written many poems about falling leaves, and most of them seem to echo thoughts that Dora wrote put her pen to, the latest one being in my book of poetry, Everything Is Blue, published in 2012. The poem is entitled "I Saw the Yellow Leaves Fall Down,

the tulip poplar's obeisance to rain gods,
fluttering hope as they perished,

soon, to be a gold carpet
woven of curling deaths,

brown-tipped faces in the garden,
having flown their last flight

in the arch of a summer sky,
having lived through the end of drought,

brought down before their time
by dark rain and changing light,

a shimmering gift to Him
who moves all leaves,

who cradles them to sleep
in the wet grass

glistening in a new wood,
in the innocent air

of a perfect sky."

And on a positive note, Carole Sevilla Brown writes that leaves provide a home for toads, ladybugs, and other creatures that kill off aphids. Beds of leaves also harbor butterflies during the winter, in larva stage or otherwise. They make natural mulch and retain soil moisture and warmth... sufficient facts to inspire me to leave the leaf bed in my backyard awhile longer!