Thursday, January 31, 2019


Elizabeth Burk

You’d think that sensible people would stay at home on a freezing night and watch television or make a pot of soup or gumbo — they certainly wouldn’t drive for an hour from New Iberia to Grand Coteau, Louisiana to hang out at Chicory’s Coffee and Cafe where they could hear poets read. However, a good case of cabin fever was easily taken care of when we took that ride, ordered our gumbo at Chicory’s, and sat down to listen to the writers Elizabeth Burk and Sally O. Donlon. The event, sponsored by Festival of Words, also offered Open Mic, and Patrice Melnick, director of the Festival, asked me to read, but I hadn’t brought along any of my books, and I was happy to sit and listen to other poets perform. 

St. Landry and St. Martin parishes seem to be on the leading edge of music, literary, theater, and art events in south Louisiana, and I’m amazed at the proliferation of the Arts by gifted home-grown and migrant artists who perform in these parishes.

Elizabeth Burk, a psychologist who practices in New York, has tasted bayou water, returned to taste it again, and taken up residence in Breaux Bridge part of the year. Her latest book, Duet—Poet and Photographer, a collaboration with her photographer husband Leo Touchet, features a lead poem entitled “God Visits Louisiana, 1860,” followed by “Hush Over Atchafalaya,” and “Road Widow,” poems that reflect her fascination with the landscape and culture of south Louisiana.

She writes: “I am surrounded /by weepy trees,/ gnarled arms reaching out/over sultry swamps/where the murky deep rises/to meet the sky.” The accompanying photographs by her husband carry out the objective Touchet voices: “that each photograph and poem in the book have equal value.” Onstage, Burk introduced ekphrastic poems with blow-ups of Touchet’s photographs he placed on an easel as she read from Duet — an artistic device that enhanced her dramatic reading. Scenes and poems featuring New York, Venezuela, Mexico, Paris and other states in the U.S. provided international flavor for this volume of people and places featured in the Duet. Imagery in poems and photographs is doubly impressive.

Sally O. Donlon

The second writer, Sally O. Donlon, is in the process of creating a book and read three stories of the genre which I refer to as fiction/non-fiction/memoir, alternately provoking terror and laughter from the audience. O. Donlon refers to a “checkered educational past and holds an MS in Urban Studies, is ABD in Cognitive Science,” and is working on a doctoral degree in creative writing/non-fiction. A descriptive car ride, narrated by a passenger driven by an unknown driver who dumps her on a levee road in nighttime wilderness, mesmerized the audience, but the author quickly offered comic relief in a story about her experiences growing up next to a Baptist church in midtown Lafayette and her brother’s terrified bathtub exit when he sees, through an open window, a baptismal immersion at the church. 

Carol Rice

I’d heard Carol Rice read several years ago, but when she approached the Open Mic, I knew that we were going to top off the evening with laughter. Rice, who produced a slim volume of poetry several years ago entitled Fishing in Louisiana (“written, published, and illustrated by Carol Rice,” she announces on the title page) says she likes to “make jokes about things people take too seriously,” and “has three grown children, no more husbands or pets. Hasn’t had a smoke or alcohol today. [This is]my first chapbook, just in case I don’t get a chance to do another.” However, the little book is in its third printing and is delightful reading. The room was filled with something I call “lightness of being,” when she read. She’s a master last-liner as is evidenced in a brief poem about crows flying: “If walking to the mailbox, I disturb them,/they take off. There comes the soft fluff and fluttering sound of their flying close to my shoulder./If I had a dead chicken, I am thinking,/I would just throw it by the ditch for them.”

What a heartwarming way to spend a winter evening! Festival of Words frequently schedules these readings at Chicory’s, and this last one was videotaped to appear on Acadiana Open Channel. You can find out more by writing

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