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Monday, November 14, 2011

My View of Louisiana's Poets

Attendees of the Louisiana Book Festival take advantage of
the perfect weather on the grounds of the State Capitol Park.
A few weekends ago, our great state of Louisiana held a book festival in Baton Rouge.  The Louisiana Book Festival of 2011 was held on October 29th, on the beautiful grounds of the State Capitol Park, with panels and readings held in the Louisiana State Capitol Building.  I had the great privilege of attending this festival as the escort of one of the four poets invited to participate in the Louisiana's Poet Laureate's presentation of Louisiana Voices: A Poetry Panel.  I escorted, of course, my wife, Jennifer Reeser, who, along with Amy Fleury, Thomas Parrie, and Mona Lisa Saloy, read portions of their gifted poetry during an early morning panel in the House Committee Room on the first floor of the Capitol.  (It has been suggested that I am Jennifer's personal paparazzi.  Though guilty as charged, on this day I fulfilled this role for all of the poets.)

Julie Kane
    The panel was put together by Julie Kane, the present State Poet Laureate.  A Professor of English at Northwestern State University, Julie is the author of many books, most recently her fantastic poetry anthology Jazz Funeral, a wonderful collection of poems centered around New Orleans.  Julie is a great ambassador for poetry in this state, full of talent and graciousness in equal measures.  About the only disappointing part of the panel was the fact that she did not have time to read a few of her poems for those of us in attendance.

Amy Fleury
     Once the readings began, I was struck by just how fortunate Louisiana is to have such poets writing today.  Amy Fleury started things off with her insightful poetry from her book Beautiful Trouble, highlighted by an unforgettable piece about caring for her ageing father.  Though she is a native of Kansas, she is currently the director of McNeese State University's MFA program as well as the editor of The McNeese Review, and Louisiana is fortunate to have her now.  As a transplant to Louisiana, I appreciated her keen, newcomer's observation as she described the sounds of a Louisiana night, including the sound of the lazy mosquito truck passing by.  This is not something most people think about around here.  Amy, however, was able to weave that great audio image into her poetry in such a way that I actually smiled nostalgically at this usually annoying and always silly nighttime intruder.

Thomas Parrie
  Thomas Parrie followed up with several selections, the strongest of which honored the land and heritage lost when the Toledo Bend Reservoir was built in the 1960's.  The poem did a great job of focusing on Native Americans' struggles for identity due to such losses without devolving into a bitter rant.  Parrie, now in Tennessee, is a native of Monroe, Louisiana.  Though he did not say it in his introduction, his poetry made it very clear he has Native American blood running through his veins, and certainly his soul.  The often repetitive cadences of his verse put me in mind of the slow, drum-beat rhythms that once might have been heard around his ancestors' campfires.  (And, in truth, are still heard today.)  Hypnotic, they helped to drive the words deeper into the listeners' hearts.

Jennifer Reeser
 Next up was Jennifer Reeser, a poet dear to my heart, as you might imagine, who read several of her hauntingly beautiful poems about Louisiana, including one of my favorites of hers, Louisiana Broke My Sleep.  She finished up with the tribute Watching New Orleans Drown, which reminded us all of what our State has been through and just how important it is that these voices should be heard.

Mona Lisa Saloy
 To round out the panel, New Orleans native Mona Lisa Saloy, Professor of English at Dillard University and author of Red Beans and Ricely Yours, gave us a humorous, touching, and soulful look at growing up in the Big Easy.  She finished her reading with a song, a perfect way to celebrate Louisiana poetry and New Orleans.  Her local idioms meshed with her sharp observations kept me always on the verge of a smile, a laugh, or a lump in my throat.  As an outsider who loves New Orleans, it was quite touching to hear an insider's view.

Though Louisiana has been through a great many trials in the past few years, we can be assured that such occasions have not gone unheralded.  This is just a sample of the many voices of this State that are being heard as they tell of our experiences, our hopes, our disappointments, and our triumphs in a land that is always a little mystifying to outsiders. 


  1. Thank YOU so much! Oh please correct the spelling of my name under my picture????? Many Red Beans Thanks! Mona Lisa Saloy

  2. You are very welcome, and I'm sorry about the the error, corrected already-- the magic of the internet!