Friday, March 27, 2015


After reading poems in Ken Fontenot's book, In A Kingdom of Birds, a young poet decided to use some lines from his poetry that inspired her to create a "found poem"—one in which she repeated words from lines of Fontenot's work that had carried a certain charge for her, then added her own lines to create a new poem.  However, when I finished reading Fontenot's In A Kingdom of Birds and Just A Trace of Moon, Selected Poems 2006-2013, I felt that I couldn't possibly be among those who wrote "found poetry." I'd be unable to incise any of his wonderful poems and create a new poem for fear that I'd lose some of the wisdom and delight Robert Frost says is inherent in a complete poem.

In Just A Trace of Moon, Fontenot deftly shows readers a wide range of subjects from a poem capturing the energy and capers of young boys in "Friends, 1956" to a profound piece entitled "Things Both Practical and Sublime." Through his investigations into memory and speculations about a "good life"—sometimes cryptic, other times, philosophical—readers experience "just a trace of moon" that provides new and translucent approaches to the real world.

I loved the opening lines of "Friends, 1956," which aptly characterizes young boys about to enter puberty who're filled with "...pure energy without wisdom." Although the time is set in 1956, the poem elicited investigations into my own memory of boys in the mid-forties—"the embarrassment of short pants/and short hair./ We were dust creased in the neck,/fingers around a baseball bat..." and a line not confined to boys of that time (every young person had dirty knees!): "We had green knees forever..." In his relaxed style, Fontenot captures the tone of past time in this piece about a halcyon period in American history, taking his readers back as "lovers of lost time."

Fontenot inserts classical musicians and writers into his work, giving readers a taste of Beethoven and Mahler and quoting lines from Goethe in "That Is the Way" to achieve the idea of the sense of balance needed for old age: "When Goethe said, 'Two souls live in me,' he must have/meant the angelic and the demoniac And he/lived the balance: he could take both into old age. /But the snake sheds its skin. That is the way/There is/no other."

My favorite in this new volume of selected poems is a nostalgic piece entitled "Back Then," in which Fontenot reveals his family's Cajun background and describes his mother's occupation as a "housewife" or "homemaker," relating how she crisscrossed the country with Western Union and "teletyped her way into marriage and 1946." The poem culminates in a touching picture of Fontenot's father ministering to his wife, getting her drunk for a toothache and later making iced tea because she felt "too bad to make it herself." Fontenot closes with the poignant end lines: "I know it was my father. /I know he would/have fought the whole terrible War (WWII) just for her." Some readers might consider this condensed sentimentality, but I read it as a tender portrait of married love.

In "Winter," Fontenot moves from the concrete to a larger, transformative context, describing the need for warmth on a winter night where he invites his mate to "relearn the tenderness of clouds, /how once long ago only the angels/could see whatever it is we see now."

Here is a poet who has come to terms with life as revealed in "Things Both Practical and Sublime," showing his deep philosophical bent when he combines poetry and enlightenment in a concluding verse: "The best we can bargain for is authenticity/and gratitude (even more than love?), /for the cow is grateful to the grass, each/showing its true self. So remind me to serve up/a meal of life, the main course of which is grace."

Fontenot reminds me of William Blake's wife's description of her husband as having one foot in this world and one foot in the next!

Although Fontenot's finest contribution to literature is his poetry, he donated his personal collection of hundreds of volumes of poetry by renowned writers to the Ruth Stephan Poetry Collection at the University of Texas. Fontenot, a native New Orleanian, now lives and works in Austin, Texas. His third book of poetry, In A Kingdom of Birds, won the 2013 Texas Institute of Letters award for best poetry book of Texas. Both In A Kingdom of Birds and Just A Trace of Moon were published by Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado, an independent press on the rise in the "world of letters."

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

Saturday, March 21, 2015


"Indwelling," glass art by Karen Bourque
The latest acquisition in my collection of Karen Bourque's stained glass art is a piece showing Karen's concept of a cupola and flowers in my Grandmother Nell's yard, shown above. The rendering of amethyst, green jade, Carnelian, pearls, recycled silver jewelry, and stained glass will be photographed and used for the cover of my latest book of poetry, The Lonely Grandmother.

The gems in this piece of art symbolize calm and protection against fear, envy, and anger, as well as spiritual characteristics such as faith, charity, healing, and inspiration. I love the purple hues in Karen's interpretation of wisteria (plant of steadfastness) and in the cupola itself. Karen named the work "Indwelling" to denote indwelling goodness characteristic of Grandmother Nell.

We received "Indwelling" at Cafe Creola in Grand Coteau where Darrell Bourque (Karen's husband and former poet laureate of Louisiana), Vickie Sullivan, and I enjoyed a shrimp eggplant casserole (excepting me as I'm allergic to shellfish), spa salad, stuffed potato, and French bread, then went out on the front patio to sit in the sunshine and talk about our respective writing/art projects.

Darrell and Diane
Darrell is still performing readings as far afield as Ada, Oklahoma and closer at home in the Jesuit Center across the road from the Creola Cafe, touting the art of poetry. He says his work with the retired Jesuit priests is as satisfying as any work he has done in his career as a poet. He's presently working on another book of poetry that will include his work on Amédé Ardoin and outstanding Cajun musicians who have emerged from the south Louisiana culture. He's also a board member of an organization that is raising money to provide for a statue of Ardoin—a drive headquartered at NUNU Arts and Culture Collective in Arnaudville, Louisiana.

Karen showed us two volumes containing photographs of nearly 200 stained glass pieces she has created, sold, and distributed throughout Louisiana and farther West—pieces ranging from depictions of Madonnas to Grand Canyon scenes. The volumes include some of the most original and stunning stained glass art I've seen, and the accompanying legends about the works are as inspiring as the art.

Karen, Vickie, Darrell
Vickie Sullivan and I are co-authoring a mystery based in south Louisiana, and while leafing through the photographs of glass art, we found one, only one, piece that Karen hasn't sold. We enjoyed an "aha" moment as the piece will be perfect for the cover of the mystery.

A certain synchronicity of spirit is always present when we get together with the Bourques, and we're blessed with mutual moments of inspiration for the crafts we pursue. You can see from the happy faces of Karen, Darrell and Vickie, and in the photograph of Darrell and me (both always in black), sunning side by side, that Life is good and Art is binding.

Thursday, March 19, 2015


Helen and Rose Anne Raphael, wife and daughter of Morris Raphael, New Iberia author and historian (now deceased), deserve signal kudos for spending the last three years since Morris's death sorting and organizing news stories, magazine articles, and the original writings of this chronicler of Acadiana and Louisiana. Helen and Rose Anne recently donated the Raphael papers to the Archives of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and the collection, along with Morris's 14 books, is now on exhibit in the Main Hall of the University library. The exhibit is sponsored by the Dupré Library Special Collections Division and covers the lifetime of a dedicated writer, project engineer, and artist.

During his lifetime, Morris and I teased each other about being members of a mutual admiration society, and every once in a while, he'd invite me into his crowded study to view some of the articles and memorabilia he had collected for over sixty years. He was a tireless researcher and historian and loved writing about Teche country—its people, culture, and history. He wrote fiction and non-fiction books, children's books, newspaper articles, plays, and did the artwork for some of his books, as well as for a unique collection of postcards. I know that organizing the mass of papers in his office was a task of love for Rose Anne and Helen, and valuable history would have been lost had they not been so diligent in making sure Morris's work was housed in a place that would appreciate this collection.

Morris and I shared equal time reviewing each other's books. Morris credited me with spurring him to complete his last book, a commemorative volume about the Civil War in bayou country entitled Civil War Vignettes of Acadiana. He died shortly after its publication during the sesquicentennial commemoration of the War Between the States.  

The exhibit at ULL includes seven glass cases of articles by and about Morris that appeared in the Daily Iberian, The Morning Advocate, Times Picayune, Times of Acadiana, the Franklin Banner Tribune, and other Louisiana periodicals. Copies of his "Bayou Browsing" column in the Daily Iberian are also showcased.

One of the glass cases is devoted to biographical articles and Morris's autobiographical books, My Natchez Years and My Brazilian Years. In this case, a handwritten copy of "Morris's Soup" and a copy of the naturalization certification letter for Khalil Monsour Rafoul, Morris's Lebanese father, are included.

Another showcase touting Morris's passion for the Shadows-on-the-Teche, a National Trust Property in New Iberia, contains articles about the Shadows, as well as the two books that are among my favorites of the books Morris authored: Weeks Hall, Master of the Shadows and The Weeks Hall Tapes. I think that Morris wrote the definitive biography of Weeks Hall, and I hope the National Trust for Historic Preservation will honor him posthumously for this work. 

My favorite fiction book written by Morris, also showcased at the ULL Library, is Mystic Bayou, which relates a story about German U-boats that operated in the Gulf of Mexico during WWII. Three of Morris's book covers are enhanced by paintings rendered by world-famous artist George Rodrigues, a native of New Iberia, Louisiana.

Morris received the Jefferson Davis award from the United Daughters of the Confederacy in recognition of his historical contributions, was inducted into the Iberia Parish Second Wind Hall of Fame, and received the Cajun Culture Award for his work in advancing Cajun culture. He was a member of the Louisiana Writers Guild, the Louisiana Historical Association, and served on the Council of the Shadows-on-the-Teche, to name a few of his civic associations.

On Sunday afternoon, Helen, Rose Anne, Vickie Sullivan (owner of Border Press Books, which published Morris's last book), and I will lift a glass to toast Morris Raphael, Master Chronicler of Teche Country, whose papers and books are now on exhibit at ULL. I only wish he could have seen the exhibit and joined in the congratulatory toast. But maybe he will.

Friday, March 13, 2015


Every year when I spend the winter in New Iberia, Louisiana, I re-read books on my Louisiana shelf and am amazed at the quality of the work by some of our native-born writers. I always revisit Lyle Saxon's books, and I think he began writing "non-fiction fiction" before any of the contemporary writers who claim that distinction. Right now, I'm re-reading Children of Strangers, Saxon's novel about racial relationships based on characters who lived near Isle Brevelle and Melrose Plantation in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Saxon resided in one of the cabins at Melrose Plantation during the writing of this novel in the first half of the 20th century.

One of Saxon's books with which most readers of Louisiana literature aren't familiar is a wonderful read entitled The Friends of Joe Gilmore. It contains as much personal information about Saxon as any scholar could glean from other sources. Another book, Some Friends of Lyle Saxon by Edward Dreyer, is a companion piece within the covers of the Gilmore volume and contains even more personal anecdotes about Saxon.

In the introduction to The Friends of Joe Gilmore, Dreyer writes that Saxon died before he was able to complete his semi-autobiographical narrative, and the bulk of it was dictated during Saxon's demise. The book is enhanced by the drawings of E.H. Suydam, another noteworthy artist whose work also appears in Saxon's Fabulous New Orleans and Old Louisiana. Among Suydam's drawings in The Friends of Joe Gilmore is one that I particularly like, a drawing of the gallery of Saxon's cabin at Melrose Plantation.

Dreyer writes that during Saxon's lifetime when his telephone rang, (which occurred many times during the day) and the caller identified himself as one of Saxon's friends or as a friend of a friend of Saxon, Saxon always answered: "Friends? What friends? I haven't any friends." However, Dreyer says the truth is that few men have had more friends than Lyle Saxon. In Dreyer's book, Some Friends of Lyle Saxon, he relates that Saxon could take the dullest person and draw from him/her "a measure of wit and charm."

New Iberia readers will enjoy one of the anecdotes Dreyer tells about Weeks Hall and Saxon. Weeks Hall was the former owner of the famous Shadows-on-the Teche National Trust property on Main Street of New Iberia. He was once called in to help Saxon recover from complications after he underwent an emergency appendectomy. Following Saxon's surgery, he had become delirious, and a psychiatrist was even brought in to determine if he could continue taking drugs that seemed to be affecting his mind. After a rabbi, a Christian Scientist practitioner, and a Voodoo doctor worked on Saxon, the doctors finally determined he needed a blood transfusion.

Friends were routed out of their beds and arrived at Saxon's bedside to donate blood for the transfusion but their blood was rejected. Finally, Weeks Hall proved to have the type blood needed to rejuvenate Saxon. Hall, a notable Louisiana painter, had just undergone an automobile accident in which his painting arm had been injured, and he was still wearing a leather brace when he arrived to give Saxon blood. He was put on a cot next to Saxon's bed for the transfusion, and an intern placed his injured arm closest to Saxon. Unfortunately, the intern kept using blunt needles to puncture Hall's injured arm, but he was eventually successful and the transfusion began to work. Saxon, who had been in and out of a stupor for twenty-four hours, revived and recognized Weeks Hall lying next to him. He glanced at Hall and declared, "If you think this is going to make me paint any better, you're crazy." From that time on, Hall and Saxon, who had been friends for many years, began to call each other "cousin" and corresponded with each other, pretending they were planters of the middle nineteenth century. Facsimiles of the humorous letters are included in Dreyer's account of this friendship between two Louisiana notables.

Dreyer includes many examples of Saxon's doggerel poetry and limericks illustrating his scintillating wit in Some Friends of Lyle Saxon. He recounts Saxon's famous remark about autograph parties following the success of Fabulous New Orleans and Old Louisiana: "I started out to be a writer and ended up a souvenir."

In a concluding section of Some Friends of Lyle Saxon, Dreyer relates stories about Saxon's involvement in the restoration of the French Quarter, a description of the homes he restored in the Quarter and of his apartment in the St. Charles Hotel where he lived the last twelve years of his life. He concludes the book with a quote from George Sessions Perry who wrote a tribute to Saxon the week following the author's death: "Since it is an old New Orleans custom to print one's feelings in religious manners, and since Lyle Saxon so deeply favored each of these old customs, I'd like to burn this one small candle of congratulations to God Almighty, who now has the rich, the easy, yet exquisite pleasure of the company of this lonely, generous man."

Saturday, March 7, 2015


What a response I received to my last blog about the death of punctuation!!!!!! Emails, Facebook praise, and personal remarks, ranging from "Bravo" to a simple "Nice" indicated to me that there are readers out there who take time away from reading text messages and flash fiction to peruse my blog! And when I revealed that I'm collecting exclamation points so they won't get exiled in the Great Punctuation Excision or become totally extinct, many readers expressed their dismay for the excisions, sending me single, double, and sometimes entire lines of exclamation points!

I've decided that I will continue this vocation of collecting exclamation points (they are taller, slimmer, and more elegant than commas and, in the case of my blog, were preceded by words of acclimation). The exclamation point seems to have brought a modicum of success that other vocations have not given me. True, collecting exclamation points won't bring financial rewards; however, none of my other vocations (begun at age 18 and still being practiced as I stand poised on the cusp of 80, come May)—secretary, realtor, Public Relations Director, Executive Director in Girl Scouting, former archdeacon in an Episcopal Diocese, preacher, counselor, deacon, supervisor, newspaper editor and writer, book writer, and poet (look how many serial commas I was able to use in that sentence!)—have ever paid me a living wage either. In fact, only one in that serial list paid me enough to buy a computer and printer to practice most of the other vocations. So why shouldn't I add another non-paying profession—collecting punctuation marks?!! I actually considered the em dash as a collection piece. The em dash is long and takes up more space than the hyphen, and it might be excised before the exclamation point, but lots of readers would just as soon witness its extinction. More sympathy has been expressed for the demise of the exclamation point. It won out as a favored mark for me to collect.

At the age of eighty, I am due some excursions into eccentricity, don't you think? Actually, if you think that collecting punctuation marks is an eccentric profession, consider the wonderful character in one of Alexander McCall Smith's novels named Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld. In the opening pages of Portuguese Irregular Verbs, the professor reflects on how fortunate he is to be exactly who he is, and nobody else. And what was his archaic profession? He collected and wrote papers on the etymology and vagaries of Portuguese verbs that were often the highlight of philology conferences. Some of his readers conceded that once the good professor presented his papers, there was nothing more to be said on his subject. "Nothing!" I've read at least three books in the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series and can tell you that Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria Von Igelfeld has saved the day for the vagaries of Portuguese verbs, and no one questions his eccentricity. He is exactly who he is and nobody else!!!!!!!!!!

You will notice the drawing of the exclamation point that precedes this message about punctuation, and once I had drawn it, I wondered if I should mar the text with the crude artistic delineation that may have made my artist mother and brother on the Other Side flinch. However, as I rode past the Arts and Crafts Show in front of The Shadows-on-the-Teche in New Iberia, Louisiana this afternoon, the thought occurred to me: there must be some fine artists out there who share my enthusiasm for saving punctuation—talented cartoonists who might like to draw a few original punctuation marks and contribute their art to this blog. They could scan their marks and send via the computer, and I'm certainly not averse to color illustrations. However, let me emphasize that this venue will not pay. You will join me in filling blank space (that'll soon be reserved for run-on sentences and flash writing) with large, life-giving marks, decorating and embellishing pages of poetry and prose in a way that will send the excisers of language into a corner to suck on their scantily-ink-stained fingers!!

Meanwhile, I will continue to collect exclamation marks and make it my mission to revive respect for punctuation. I'd mention this mission tomorrow at two services when I preach a sermon that contains many serial commas and several exclamation marks that no one will see, but I might be excised from the pulpit!!!!!

Friday, March 6, 2015


There's a controversy going on about commas and other points of punctuation nowadays. The latest word, or not-so-latest word in newspaper style, is that commas take up too much space. Further, serial commas should be avoided with as much caution as serial killers. Even E.B. White, the essayist I most admire, had something sassy to say about commas in an interview in the Paris Review: "Commas in The New Yorker fall with the precision of knives in a circus act, outlining the victim."

I realize that too much use of anything is bad for the reader's eyesight and brain capacity, but I'm troubled by the trend to omit ideas, abbreviate words, create acronyms, and excise punctuation to the extent that even periods will soon die a swift death in the name of "saving space." I once won a First Place award at State Rally for being able to take shorthand at 140 words per minute—those squiggles and lines were a real space saver in lined tablets—but even so, when I transcribed the material, the words fit in as much space as that required for typed copy.

Can you imagine the dawn of the run-on sentence with all its abbreviations, acronyms, loss of punctuation, and other literary trimming? Would it read something like this:

During the bitter winter of 2015 when temps dipped below freezing in the am and even lower in the pm our electrical power was shut off and we could not use the computer which was penalty for having used too much electricity because we did not try to save space by omitting commas periods and certainly exclamation points when composing copy for periodicals like the NYT and WP and long books similar to War and Peace and had ignored those green lines that denoted too many words in a sentence and the basic rules of punctuation established by Strunk and White who believed in comma serialization and other outdated rules for style so we got out a yellow pad and a pencil and wrote a piece of flash fiction which is the latest form of abbreviated writing that has no plot and few characters and certainly reduces the amount of space that a story takes up on a page while writing in the manner of someone like Gertrude Stein who happened to call her run on unpunctuated style automatic writing or James Joyce who invented stream of consciousness technique both of them I am sure who created in the interests of saving space

Just looking back over that piece of unpunctuated nonsense makes me wonder about the future of literature. However, think of the money publishers could save by printing one-page books, or perhaps we're already at that point in human literacy. After all, we have the smart phone and text messages to save our brains and spare publishers the trouble of having to print something in black ink on paper that might be kept for future generations.

'Seems that if we don't become involved in this mass excision of punctuation and language, those who follow us will know we didn't do much toward saving a civilization dependent on trees. However, if we retain the comma, period, and long sentences that express large ideas, we just might expand human consciousness.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


 In my last blog I mentioned a visit I had with Betty Leblanc of New Iberia, Louisiana in which we chatted about the various "Celtic creatures" she had placed around small tables on her sun porch—fairies, gnomes, angels—otherworld beings that speak of Betty's Scottish background. As Betty's antecedents were members of the Beane Clan, we took turns talking about Scottish lineage. I told her about my mother's Greenlaw ancestors, descendants of the Hume clan, who named a town in southern Scotland "Greenlaw." Mother was always telling stories or reading books about fairies to us when I was a child, and in an introduction to my book Their Adventurous Will, I described her as one who really believed in Tinker Bell, a fairy heroine in Peter Pan. She believed that fairies had an angelic nature, that they were winged creatures dressed in gossamer clothing, and that they danced in the flames of space heaters in the various rooms of our home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She thought that they helped with household tasks, made fairy rings in the woods at night, and advocated that these otherworld creatures should always be offered hospitality.

Betty seems to agree that fairies have more of an angelic nature than ancient Scottish beliefs tout. Ancient believers attributed mischief to these winged creatures, and some Scots who preceded Christianity even thought that they were members of a conquered race living in hiding. I think that Betty, whose hospitality is unsurpassed, possesses that Scottish quality of making folks comfortable when they visit. She reminds me of C. S. Lewis's description of his mentor George MacDonald, a Scots preacher of the 19th and early 20th centuries, who was introduced to readers of Lewis's An Anthology of George MacDonald as a man with a sunny disposition and a talent for providing generous hospitality. MacDonald, a devout Christian, also offered the winged otherworld creatures hospitality, and in his writings he used fantasy as a genre to explore the human condition.

This year, Betty tried to "outbest" her daughter, who always gives unique gifts at Christmas, with a very unlikely Scottish gift—she presented her with a deed to a souvenir one square foot of land in Glencoe Wood Nature Reserve in the Scottish Highlands, a spot that contains some of the most stunning scenery in the world. Two enterprising Scots, a biologist and an accountant, purchased the Keil Estate in Appin, Scotland with a mission of "protecting ancient and semi-natural woodlands and open-ground habitats, upgrading non-native conifer plantations to new native broadleaf plantings, and protecting the conserved lands from ever being developed." In less ecological words, they wanted to protect flora and fauna of beautiful Scottish highlands by offering ownership of small plots. Landowners who buy as small a plot as one square foot can visit and walk down signed footpaths into Glencoe Wood, an area rich in ancient oak and birch woods where badgers, fox, hedgehog, and the rare Scottish cross bill live. A gift of one square foot, which Betty gave her daughter, also entitles the landowner to be called a Lord, Laird, or Lady. Now there's an invitation to all of you Scots out there!

Perhaps Betty is among only a few who would want to own or give away this bit of undeveloped land in remote Scotland, but, then, not everyone has a sun porch filled with objects from Peter Pan territory either. As far as she's concerned, who knows how many otherworld spirits inhabit the pristine interior of Glencoe Wood?