Sunday, November 4, 2018


Friday evening, we traveled to St. Landry Parish to hear readings by three writers featured in the 11th Annual Festival of Words and were entertained for two hours by Jack Bedell, Louisiana Poet Laureate; Cornelius Eady, a musical theatre poet; and novelist Ladee Hubbard. The trio held creative writing workshops and drive-by poetry readings on Friday and Saturday, November 2nd and 3rd, but I was only present for the Friday reading at Chicory’s Coffee and Cafe in Grand Coteau, Louisiana. We usually migrate from Sewanee, Tennessee to home in New Iberia, Louisiana just in time to attend the Festival, and I’m always amazed at the literary stars that Patrice Melnick, Director of the Festival, attracts.

The Festival of Words is supported by a galaxy of arts organizations: the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourist in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the Acadiana Center for the Arts, and partners with the Acadiana Writing Project, Grand Coteau Cultural Arts Foundation, the Thensted Center, Nunu’s Arts and Culture Collective, Lyrically Inclined, Chicory’s, Giles Automart, St. Landry Parish Tourism and Arts and Writing supporters from throughout the U.S.

The three presenters enjoyed equal time as writers from diverse backgrounds, but “A Words Worth” can only accommodate showcasing one from the trio, and I decided to create press for the Louisiana Poet Laureate, Jack Bedell. He’s an engaging poet who teaches English at Southeastern Louisiana University where he edits Louisiana Literature and is director of the Louisiana Literature Press.

I was impressed by Bedell’s humility and what he calls his “simple lines” (from his inscription in No Brother, This Storm, the book I bought during break time at Chicory’s). An unassuming person, he was dressed casually, wore a baseball cap while he read, and delivered poems that reflected a devotion to family, capturing the audience with lyrics of grace and simplicity.

I particularly liked his voice in “First Kiss,” taken from No Brother, This Storm in which he displays his devotion to fatherhood through his daughter’s interest in baby frogs:

First Kiss

…She wants

to turn over every pot, pull back
the cover on the barbecue pit,
check each slat in the storm shutters.
She knows no crack is too small
for these frogs. They can flatten themselves
and get under anything. They fold their bones
and wait for her, each one a prince.

The eloquence in the last two lines evokes the image of an admiring father observing his daughter at play — a nurturing father portrayed in a powerful psalm. A childhood memory of learning “The Children’s Hour” by Longfellow in the third grade flashed through my mind and formed a cameo of the loving father surrounded by his adoring daughters.

I was drawn to all of Bedell’s poems about his daughter, and having written about a turtle yesterday, I revisited the following poem he presented at the Festival reading. These tender, soft-voiced lines resonated with me. 

Dead Turtle 

My daughter leaves the body
as it lies, will not disturb
the turtle’s last stretch
to position it with more grace.

She covers it with azalea petals
to cool its skin, outlines
its body in concentric circles
of branches, swatches
torn from magazines…

In some other place, she will find
song to hold all of this, enlaced. 

Bedell will present his work at the upcoming Louisiana Book Festival next weekend in Baton Rouge, and those who will participate and hear him for the first time can look forward to a time blessed with a wise and delightful reading from our state’s most hopeful poetic voice. 

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