Wednesday, March 20, 2019


If readers can obtain a copy of the latest 64 Parishes magazine, published by The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities, the article featuring Darrell Bourque, 2019 Humanist of the Year, written by Chris Turner-Neal with photographs by Akasha Rabut, is cause for celebration. I first saw the stunning cover of this magazine during our last lunch two weeks ago with Darrell and Karen before we left Louisiana for our second home in Tennessee. We’d just accompanied the Bourques to Christ the King Church for which Karen had created a glass triptych honoring Henriette Delille and were doing our pre-lunch briefing before enjoying barbecue.  Henriette Delille, a religious "humanist," has been presented for sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church in honor of her former work with the indigent in New Orleans, and From the Other Side, Henriette Delille, Darrell's book of poetry about her, is presently in press.

I loved the photograph of the leonine face of this poet who has been telling stories about southwest Louisiana in his passionate and profound voice during the forty years I’ve been his friend and enjoyed his mentoring. A former Louisiana Poet Laureate, Darrell also received the 2014 Louisiana Book Festival Writer Award and the ULL Center for Louisiana Studies James Rivers Award, among other recent awards and honors. At a reading in Grand Coteau I asked his wife Karen if there were any awards left that could be bestowed on him and then answered my own question with “The Humanist of the Year Award.” 

Darrell served as the first Friends of the Humanities Honor Professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, once directed the Interdisciplinary Humanities Program there, and was president of the National Association for Humanities Education. He also served as project director for a reading series in Lafayette featuring Louisiana African-American writers and calls himself a “kind of social activist” in the article written by Chris Turner-Neal — a modest remark about his work honoring the music, history and culture of Acadians, Creoles, and blacks in his native region. 

My history with Darrell can be traced back to an interview with him when I was a feature writer for the Daily Iberian in New Iberia, Louisiana during the 80’s, and he loaned me a copy of the manuscript for Burnt Water Suite, providing me  background for work that became his second book of poetry. I was asked to introduce Darrell at a poetry reading in New Iberia when this book was still in manuscript form, and I knew then that I was listening to an authentic voice, one that mirrored the Cajun culture in a mystical and musical way that hasn’t been duplicated by any of Louisiana’s finest poets. 

He has encouraged and supported the work of many “wannabe” and established poets with warmth and sincerity throughout the forty years I’ve known him. Each time I declare that I won’t write poetry again, he laughs and says he looks forward to reading my latest. Each time I received an unwarranted criticism from a fellow student in a Creative Writing class Darrell taught, he’d chide me for not having confidence in my work and urge me to move on.

This morning I re-read the ten books he has written that I carried with me to Sewanee and finally decided that my re-examinations of his work only impressed me further, and his true, original voice would remain one of those soul-stirring invitations to honor our common humanity. I also know that the recent Humanist Award isn’t the tip of the iceberg —he still has to be named Poet Laureate of the United States. You rock, Darrell Bourque!

1 comment:

Jo Ann Lordahl said...

Terrific as usual. We must honor our poets. W.S. Merwin just died.
Jo Ann Lordahl