Saturday, November 2, 2019


I looked for my CD of “In A Persian Market” by William Ketelbey this morning so I could play it while I wrote about Darrell Bourque’s newest book of poetry, migraré,  because the volume is a beautiful collection of ghazals evoking memories of my sojourn in Persia during the 1970’s. However, I did not find the CD and had to rely on the music playing in my mind as I re-read the arresting couplets that accompany Bill Gingles’s abstract art.

Bourque uses this ancient form of poetry familiar to readers of Rumi and Hafez, two poets with whom I became fascinated while living in Persia, and in this collection, he addresses the subject of immigration — migraré or “I will move”( in Spanish), referring to mass movements of people either for survival, or for life-threatening reasons, or as messengers called to divine purposes.

Bourque “moves into” the ghazals through the medium of ekphrasis wherein a poet creates a poem by looking at images and builds around “tensions, composition, line, color, and the theater created in expressionistic artworks,” according to Bourque. 

Bourque derives his poems from his experience involving the Immigration Team from Narrative 4, a story exchange program designed to foster empathy and break down barriers among students worldwide, equipping them to improve their communities and the world. Storytellers from around the world met in Arnaudville, Louisiana, where Bourque encountered carriers of the ghazal. He seems to be continually inspired by experiences that explore the histories of people deeply affected by separation and immigration; e.g., his own ancestry dating back to the 19th century when Acadians were expelled from France and Acadie. In a passionate “Foreword,” he writes that humans “must be vigilant and not separate themselves from each other in destructive and debilitating ways…”

Readers enter the sphere of Bourque’s ghazals with poems like “Division Stream,” which I felt was among the finest in this collection and featured his great-grandmother. Lines like 

…When great imperceptibles come to live with you
and you cannot travel far enough to get away, you swim daily in your division stream… 

Taken as a whole, the ghazal impresses readers with Bourque’s philosophical gifts translated (maybe migrated) into poetic form. 

She arrived one day with a small satchel and all her belongings and no husband.
What took him from her she couldn’t even begin to know. Death’s a division stream… 

However, ever the master of sensuality, he describes his great-grandmother’s separations as: 

turn[ing] to clabbers and soft cheeses spread on biscuits in the morning,
with mayhaw jellies and blackberries she picked while praying into the division stream… 

Bourque really “gets with it,” in contemporary language, as he launches into “Sun Choir” (Christ the King Bellevue Choir): 

I sit in one of the back rows with my wife, near Henry Amos. We couldn’t be higher.
There are no names on pews here. I hum. My wife sings out. It, too, is her sun choir. 

I once sat next to both of them at a celebration honoring his wife’s glass work in a triptych of this church and felt the dynamism of the sun choir, so this ghazal resonated with me, and I well understood his line: 

She sings trouble over trouble every Sunday…

The poem reminded me of Rumi’s 

The sunbeam fell upon the wall;
the wall received a borrowed splendor.
Why set your heart on a piece of turf…

When I lived in the sun-baked desert of Khuzestan Province in Persia, I longed to see water: bayou, river, even the aqua blue waters of the Persian Gulf and painted a wall in the dining room of our home a deep blue. I was taken back to that time of blueness when I read Bourque’s “Second Self,” his description of Vermeer’s blue as a way of “finding ways to second self… one self seeking another self…” My own immersion in a blue wall in Ahwaz, Iran led to a self seeking another self in that mysterious mideastern environment to which I had migrated. Expatriates to any country will identify with this ghazal.

Space forces me into brevity, but I hasten to say that migraré is Bourque’s finest gift of poetry, a meditative, mystical work that will “move” readers into the divine afflatus sans forced migration, arriving through phrasings of the same tone as the mystical Persian poets. It’s a beautiful entry into contemplative practice. As I told Darrell after reading migraré “Move over, Rumi.”

As readers can see, the review is not a definitive, scholarly treatment of a beautiful book from Louisiana’s most masterful poet, but it is an appreciative salute to Louisiana’s best ambassador for the mission of celebrating difference. 

Darrell Bourque is professor emeritus in English (University of Louisiana, Lafayette) and former Poet Laureate of Louisiana. He received the 2014 Louisiana Book Festival Writer Award and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities 2019 Humanist of the Year Award, as well as the Dr. James Oliver-Monsignor Sigur Award by the Louisiana Council on Human Relations for his Social Justice work for minorities and the marginalized.

1 comment:

Margaret Simon said...

I was able to hear Darrell read a few poems at the Book Festival yesterday. I am so impressed with his talent at using form. I bought the book and look forward to digging in to the many levels of the poems.