mardi 16 septembre 2008

Talking Statuary

In Medieval Italy, there was a fragment of a statue the Romans dubbed Il Pasquino. It was the head and torso of a male, badly damaged with basically a missing face, arms, legs, next to another even more fragmentary masculine torso. The Romans, for whatever reasons motivate a Roman, began scribbling bits of verse and attaching them to Il Pasquino--often irreverent satire aimed at the clergy and the politicians. What happens is that though fragmentary and though unnerving (especially because of the eerie non face), Il Pasquino began to be reconstructed, not through a physical refurbishing of the statue, but through a textual reconfiguration of both the statue and the Roman people. In essence, they saw ruin, but rather than becoming paralyzed by the morbidness of the mutilated human body, they elevated it and themselves and created something entirely new.

It is a common trope, especially for the Romans whose culture we inherit: the resurrection of the gods of the mystery cults (Mithras, Osiris, Dionysus, Jesus, etc), the myth of the phoenix, even the cliché of the reverdie during spring. But it is a trope that is nevertheless and unflaggingly interesting to us as humans. We are obsessed with our own mortality, right?

But as an artist, this age-old narrative becomes not only an easy fallback when creativity lacks, but also and especially an ars poetica. To create something out of the ruins. To never repair what is broken, but to reconstitute and rearrange. And also to revise.

For me, I go under a constant revision--not necessarily in my work, but in my life. There are memories that have caused me to recreate my past in my mind, first effacing both the good and the bad. One must work with a blank medium, so I thought. But now I am revising my methods, or at least acknowledging what I've been doing all along: pulling the voice out of the ruined face of my past. And now, I am rejuvenated in my work, having been inspired.

Il Pasquino is not as famous as other, more silent, ruins, such as the Belvedere Torso or the Venus de Milo. But he functions more as the bawdy and entertaining emblem of the community, rather than the classical and polished icon of a society. He uses foul language (did you know that shithouse is cacatorium in Latin?) and references sodomy, pederasty, and genitalia with wanton abandon. He even uses clever grammatical construction to attack grammar. But he is also the voice of the city and the patron saint of writers (this quote is taken from Barkin's Unearthing the Past):

avendo per armento ogni scrittore
[119, year 1516]

a shepherd,
who has every writer as a member of his flock.

In any case, this is all to say that ruins, even of your emotional history, are good, especially when you have the chance to reconstruct them and change them into something new.


Also and Attention: I will make an appearance, poem in hand, at a concert of Bárbara Ohana, on the 27th. And she will be performing a song that she made of one of my poems. She is also performing on the 24th and in Washington, D.C. this weekend. Details will be forthcoming. Email me if you want more information.

samedi 6 septembre 2008

City in Ruin Value

It has been a busy and long week as you may have guessed. I began coursework at Cornell two Fridays ago. And my home town and parish were ravaged by Hurricane Gustavo (my family and theirs are more or less fine, minor roof damage chez mes parents, no utilities until God knows when, the standard). But to avoid getting too personal, at least at this moment (although I do want to extend sympathy and prayers (of whatever sort) to those who've had to experience these such storms), I want to talk about a possible shift in topic for this blog based upon a seminar I'm taking.

The course is called City in Ruins, and the ultra-sexy course description includes readings from Mesopotamian and Hebraic lamentations of cities (think Ur, Babylon, and Jerusalem), paintings by Piranesi and others, poetry by Byron and Spencer, urban redevelopment by Haussman, urban warfare in London and Paris during WWII, speculative texts by Benjamin and Derrida, and a host of things that I cannot remember probably because I haven't actually heard of them until the syllabus was whisked into my hand. Basically, the course is to explore the aesthetization of ruin.

And as trite and removed as it possibly can be with posturing doctoral candidates and over emotional MFA students and a sharp emeritus professor from Johns Hopkins, this class is right up my ally and right up this blog's ally. So don't be surprised if I use this space for a sounding board of ideas and reflections on my readings and on my semester work, whether that be creative or critical. Such things as how in the destruction of Jerusalem, "even her lovers have deserted her" (Lamentations), or that each city lamentation ends with a regenerated hope and a transfer of grief onto the next city, who's about to get hers. Or how about how according to Jacques Ellul, whackjob theologico-philosopher and anarchist, all cities are necessarily doomed because the concept is a priori cursed and not of God regardless of the individual acts of the citizens and that in fact, doing anything to help the needy or improve life within cities is cute, but always futile and ridiculous.

As you can see, this will be fruitful and ire-inducing and a great horror class.

samedi 16 août 2008

The End of Culture? Pop edition.

For a long time, I've been dubious about culture. You know that. But now I mean what most media (think television and blogs) define as culture: pop culture.

That's right. It started at the beginning of the twentieth century with such external artifacts as jingles and jazz and comic books. It essentially meant what normal people were interested in if they weren't academics, the rich, or criminals--although there is some looseness to those rules. Later, specifically after World War II and most strongly in the mid fifties, pop culture began to take on the qualities that we know and love today.

The dialectic of counterculture. First there was rock and roll which was overtaken by late sixties psychadelia, then punk came and was thought to be the end of established culture. Then there was glam, post punk, and heavy metal. Then hip hop. Then grunge. Then hipsters. Could this be an example of ruin value in culture, becoming more beautiful as it becomes more fragmented?

Nope. And I would like to link to a few things and then continue my point. The first is an article about hipsters calling it the end of western civilization, undoubtedly ironically. The second is not a rebuttal so much as an eloquent "Who cares?" by my friend Catherine Lacey. And what CL says is true: Hipsterism, especially that group defined by fashion and obscure music, is insignificant. But to stretch this further, so were all of the other "movements."

Hear me out on this. I know you are thinking, but punk, those people were really trying to do something. Or you can't say the children of the sixties were insignificant, look at the protests, etc. And I'll even concede that some of those movements did have more of the traits of a culture than the movements do now.

But curiously, none of these subcultures have really passed on to the second generation. They only exist within the context of their times. Whereas culture, in terms of external signs of the qualities of a specific group of people, such as Black New Orleans or Cajun or whatever, tend to last. These cultures are taught to children who then embody those traits or suppress them and still embody them subconsciously.

This can be explained away fairly easily when you look at what these counterculture movements really are: they are just the placeholders for an archetype that must be repeated each cycle of years. They can be an agent of change, but for the most part, only change in a superficial sense--that of pop media. There will always be decisions made by established authority that must be rebelled against. Punks, hippie protesters, grungy people in the nineties were all protesting specific acts either by the government or society. Their music and fashion were contingent upon those attitudes. Did their behaviors rock society to its foundations by overturning established norms? Not a chance. Prod society into greasing its huge clogs in order to move inevitably in the direction it moves? Perhaps. But the importance we place upon these cultural events is mostly a product of a consumer society. Which is to say, they are not very important at all, at least in terms of lasting cultural significance in and of themselves.

We seem to forget also that this behavior is not a product of post WWII attitudes. Consider the Dolcinians of the 14th century who were a counterculture within the church which advocated the abolition of private property and protested by burning down church property. They undoubtedly had a certain style, certain artforms to entertain themselvees--but it would be weird to consider the followers of Fra Dolcino a culture. Incidentally, they were all killed as heretics, so I can't say as to whether their "culture" could have survived a generation or not.

I would think that culture is the set of signs and attitudes that allows one to live comfortably with ample entertainment within his or her group of people. If we use that definition, then these countercultures are merely signs within the real culture of American society. That is to say, the culture of America includes being obsessed with media entertainment and the unfolding of the pop culture dialectic. The difference between pop culture one hundred years ago to now is that cultural artifacts are now demassified and so pop culture is more defined by the ability to find a niche in fashion or entertainment than any unifying piece of art or media. This is our culture: finding something to consume.

samedi 19 juillet 2008

Prodigal Blog

I haven't posted anything since the end of my tenure as a Fulbright in Moncton, but I guess it is time to refigure my blog to accommodate that change. Here is the relevant personal information:

On June 20th I married my lover, Linda Rigamer, in New Orleans. Three days later we drove across the country to our new home in Ithaca, New York. We've been here since.

Now I am living through summer with new interests and old projects. I am working on translating some Acadian poetry for The New Orleans Review. I am working on revising Evangeline. Considering writing the third part. "Studying" professional wrestling as a cultural and significant art/entertainment spectacular. Considering how I can integrate that in poetry and/or everyday life. Considering watching The Dark Knight again. Every night this week. Until it closes. Cooking often. Figuring out what to do with a dearth of closets. Being either with my wife or alone.

Busy enough. Orientation for Cornell will start on the 25th of August, so as much as I want/need a job, options for a month long job are limited at best in tiny Ithaca.

So what of my blog? I had a reasonable idea with the cultures of Acadie and Cajana in their present form as a demonstration of Ruin Value. Although I am sure I didn't express that except cursorily. That's saved for my poetry and life. But of course, ruin can be applied to anything. The evolution of revolutionary democracy to today's circus of politics. Poetry as demassified and worthless cultural relic. The shift from long, boring scientific wrestling bouts to the high-flying sports entertainment/totem worship ceremony of today.

These things and more, friends and citizens.

mardi 29 avril 2008

Frye Jam

As promised, here are some videos from Saturday night's reading.

This first one is of me performing "Offshore."

This second video is two poems: "Canto Incorruptible" (performed in French) and "New Orleans" (which is the final show-stopper, in English, and begins at about 2:19).

Both videos were shot by Lee Thompson.

lundi 28 avril 2008

Moncton Finale

My Fulbright stay in Moncton has formally ended. And the Frye Festival was the perfect way to do it.

From Wednesday to Friday, I entered the anglophone highschools on the Moncton area and essentially read poems to teenagers. You would be surprised how much poetry still can affect people. The kids were engaged and shocked and were thoroughly moved, I think, which was energizing and validating and anything you need as a writer. I couldn't have asked for a better audience in many cases. Also, I received cool highschool schwag, such as a leather portfolio (from Moncton High), a cookbook (from Caledonia High), and a t-shirt and mug (from Harrison Trimble).

Wednesday night I saw the Zachary Richard concert, where I met the artist. We were just two Cajun anglophones talking to one another in French in Acadie.

Linda came Thursday night just in time for the last poem of my reading, "New Orleans [kudzu king]."

On Friday I conducted my first radio interview, with Radio Canada, and totally in French.

The final event of the Frye Festival (for me at least) was the Frye Jam on Saturday Night, which features readings by authors with musical accompaniment from the band, Les Païens. This was the highlight of the festival. I "performed" four poems quite theatrically while the band played amazing and genre bending music from and industrial rendition of "Offshore" to the Saint James Infirmary behind "New Orleans [final]." It was surprising how well I fell in to adapted the rhythm of my speech to the pulse and melody of the songs. For the first time in my life, I felt like a rock-star.

Incidentally, I feel like I want to cut an album of my poems now.

I didn't stay long after my performance because Linda and I had to drive to Rhode Island, which Linda bravely led--I was burned out after the week of visits and packings and endless endless goodbyes.

lundi 21 avril 2008

Mixing Memory and Desire (brief)

Last night Chuck threw a party for me. We ate Fricot, Bouillée, and Poutine à Troux. You know you're finished when they throw a party for you. And with a few revisions on my final report, the Fulbright committee will know I'm finished too.

I am looking forward to meeting and talking with friends for hours and drinking and laughing and most of all being with Linda again. I'm afraid this hermitage up north has made me socially awkward and that I won't be able to talk to someone outside of the context of the "cultural artist" topic.

Later this week is the Northrop Frye, as I've mentioned. I'll be interviewed and perform readings. I will give Acadie a taste of what's to come.

This I know is a slightly more personal and laconic post. The theory and intellectually melodramatic questions were I know getting out of hand, and it's hard to think that way all the time. In truth, I don't think about culture or art all the time. Mostly I think on specific instances of communications, bits of correspondence, waiting for the time--the era--to pass, missing home, wishing I were with others/away from others, being nostalgic for the future.

Evangeline is being revised and guess the title for the section about Louisiana:

Elegies for a Paradis Terrestre.

vendredi 18 avril 2008

The New Art and a Barbaric Yawp for Teens (and Adults!)

I would say Spring is really here in Moncton, after being surprised that the thermometer in my car read 15 degrees C (about 62 F or so). Walking is easier and sweatier. People are milling about downtown as if for the first time in their lives. This is my first spring in a winter city.

I have a project for this week before the Northrop Frye Festival: figure out how to make poetry thrilling for high school students. You heard right--this coming Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I will be giving lectures and workshops at Moncton's premier English high schools. I have anywhere between one and two and a half hours to stand before twenty to thirty 17 year olds and state my case. In the words of the early nineties: gag me with a spoon!

Seriously, this is a good opportunity to reach lots of people, continue (at least on a small scale) the influence of poetry, which as you know is waning about as fast as Louisiana's coastline. So this weekend I am rereading old favorites and my own catalog to find the most compelling poems for young adults (that won't get me thrown out of Atlantic Canada).

As I was talking to my friend Kimberly about this over lunch, she and I were discussing which poems teenagers would be interested in, to which I suggested, "Only ones with the word ipod in the title." She said, "Or cellphones." While this was all sort of a joke, there is an inherent truth to the changing of the guards in art--and not only in thematic.

Weirdly enough, some of the best art that I've seen recently have been advertisement campaigns (especially billboards in the Paris metro). Movies have certainly replaced live theatre (sorry). And even pop music, those bastards who stole not only the fields of music but also of poetry (kidding, I listen to pop music), is not so much on the decline so much as relegated to another consumable that people can use to "identify" themselves to others with similar "tastes."
I read an article recently on a student at Yale who's senior art thesis is video tapes of her inducing miscarriages, which she obtained through artificial insemination and then herbal arbotificants, and then smearing the blood from these episodes in vaseline coated plastic wrap. Needless to say, this is ghastly and shocking to most people (who are human), regardless of what side of the abortion debate they're on. But consider, in 1863 at the salon in Paris, Edouard Manet unveiled the Olympia, which scandalized art viewers and critics by showing for the first time an unadorned and average nude whore, staring directly at the observer. But now, what it takes to shock us needs no subtlety: we are the shock and awe culture, we've seen it before.

Recently I saw the acclaimed film No Country for Old Man, something that everyone considers hyper-violent and not in a Kill Bill/300 kind of way. But for me the most shocking thing was not the gore or the captive bolt pistol or even the ultra-menacing Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh, it was how human I felt after I watched the film, how much I appreciated life, and how much I felt like we were all "in it together." Out of violence, there grew empathy.

And maybe this is the solution to both finding something to move children who live in seven minute periods between commercials and to the lack of soul in art today. Much writing, art, film, music, etc has nothing to do with a real connection with the Other, and its only communicative intent is to impress and sell. Great art now must shock you out of the consumerist loop, it must return you to a primal state wherein people are capable of caring for one another. And this extends well beyond the petty trappings of culture, demographic, writing movement, and any other dimension. This is why at least I do art. It is another ambition question, but one that holds an ultimatum: are you in with us humans or are you out?

lundi 14 avril 2008

Ambition value

Yesterday I went to a writers' meeting in Grand Barachois with Lee Thompson. There I met many people I had met already with the addition of the great Acadian artist and poet Roméo Savoie. We read our own work, etc. I read my poem titled "Ruin Value" which obviously touches on that same concept of architecture.

This was excellent because Roméo was himself an architect before he became a famous Acadian figure. He said that Acadie created a ghetto for itself. That it will be a hundred years or so before the culture can move beyond the issue of the culture. He is the first Acadian to present this mindset to me, that culture is irrelevant, that the only thing that matters is life--not the homeland, not the language, not the cultural artifacts dressed out to confirm any lingering stereotypes from outsiders.

Meeting him and of course Herménégilde has been a breath of fresh air here. Because they understand more acutely the ambition of the artist. In the end, ambition is the real question. The ambition to communicate and reach the Other.

People don't write for themselves, solely. If anyone tells you this and then shows you his manuscript, he is looking for acceptance, one form of communication. He wants to show you this extension of himself, something he came up with. The qualifications of "personal" writing are a facade. Of course. But the point is that artists are trying to say something.

But this something is less important than you think. It is more in the manner, the style, and the technique of the communication. The concept is well less important than the execution. To quote J. Robert Lennon, "You can write anything you want, just don't write it shittily."

There was incidentally a bit of contention this week over a "movement" of new minimalist writers. I don't want to go too far into it, but most of the writing itself is unreadable and laughably self-conscious in an adolescent, look how cool I am kind of way. But the real problem with this writing was not topic (which though banal cannot be bad in and of itself) but with the lame prose and conceited, ironic tone.

In any case, I am 12 days until I leave Canada for good. In the meantime, I have to figure out what I am going to tell high school kids during my school visits for the Northrup Frye festival and pack and see what I want to see before I go. Linda will be here in 10 days for my readings and to help me pack.

lundi 7 avril 2008

Culture Wars

Culture. What is that? My friend and landlord, who by day is a psychologist, claims that it is "a system of laws to check instinct." But this is conflating culture with institutions--which is no surprise from my friend, who "hates" them all, especially Organized Religion. But there is also his culture--upper middle class academic/professional, atheist, permissive, purveyor of both fine and folk art. There is also my culture(s). Cajun, yeah yeah yeah. But moreso, I'm a twenty-something writer, cultural (at least) Catholic, permissive, consumer. I dabble in many arts and am well "versed" in many subjects. I avoid opinions I find distasteful--racist, mysogynistic, homophobic, conservative. Both of us has "culture."

But you could say the same with any demographic, and now I'm conflating "culture" with "demographic group." (I can't help but think that's what culture is now, sorry.) But maybe I should look more toward what separates humans and animals. I don't buy the feel-good idea that animals somehow have culture, one of the defining things, I think, that cleaves that chasm between us and Those Others Who Live. One great big advance that humans made in evolutionary history is of course the capacity to engage in symbolic discourse.

Symbols. Signs for something else. Is this what culture is? In Cajana, there is of course the music, symbolic wailing and complaints not unlike Medieval French poetry. There is also symbols that have come to represent the people--the crawfish, the bayou, the French language, etc. There is also literature.

But for my purposes, can there be any culture? I am an artist. And as I've stated before, I am not doing this just to be the world's biggest Cajun. I really don't think I'm that exotic. And continuing in my writing and in my reading, what is there but culture? What is there that but what has nothing to do with culture?

Culture may be something only valuable to the two jobs offered by an MFA in creative arts: artists and marketing people. But maybe when either is address directly, the only thing that can happen is a war of generalizations (read tautologies) and the dehumanization of the individual. New postmodern dictum: you can have a culture / but have it slant.

vendredi 4 avril 2008


Okay. I am back in Moncton. This is my last stretch in Canada. In three more weeks, I'll be preparing for the great move back South with Linda. I officially accepted Cornell's offer and already have an apartment in downtown Ithaca. I cannot wait to start the next chapter.

Traveling here and being here is increasingly difficult. There is so much I want to do and see, but not here anymore. I am justing waiting it out. I've even received the rest of my grant money, as if even Canada wants to push me out: you've been a vile and regressive hermit, Christopher, and it's time you go soil your own country. This is welcome. I want to be back in the world, which here, I fear, I am not. Certainly, people have been nice and some are even friends to me, but I am sure that even they can see how being tied here cuts into my wrists and ankles.

In anycase, I hardly have anything to say with this post. I just know that if I am going to keep a blog, I better not wait until I have something clever or important to say.

dimanche 23 mars 2008

Shoeless on Claiborne

Among other things, last night, I picked up a hitch-hiker at three in the morning. Before you get hysterical, let me explain.

I was leaving the apartment to pick Linda up from the casino. There was almost no one out: the night of Good Friday, the early morning darkness finally winning over the ambient city-light. At the bus station at the corner of Broadway and Claiborne, there was a ghostly figure. She had no shoes on. She wore a cocktail dress. Her eyes were coal smudges onto her face. There was no indication, other than her standing and breathing, as to whether or not she was alive.

Naturally, I looked away. Living in cities, you find this action easy, if a little embarrassing.

Out of my peripheral vision, I saw her arm jut out, thumb up. I was the only car on the road, but pretended she was not signaling for me. The light was red and I stayed there transfixed for an eternity. She looked at the dearth of oncoming traffic and crossed over to my little car in the middle lane.

Normally, I'd have waved her off. But she was frantic and young. I rolled down my window. "Can you please take me home?" I noticed the pallor and death stain from before was her mascara smudged about her face. "I'm a law student." "Please." I waited until I saw both her hands holding nothing. "Please."

I opened the door. I said, "My fiancée's going to kill me."

Turns out, she was more afraid than I was, though less of a coward. She cried and tried to make small talk. As far as I could tell, her story was true: her boyfriend left her on her 28th birthday, somehow stranding her on the side of Claiborne. When I dropped her off at the Garden District mansion she lived in, she was incredulous that she had no shoes.


Afterwards, I was exhilarated as I told Linda. But what I was thinking the whole time is this: why don't we stop for anyone? Often I see accidents or people with car trouble, and the most I do is feel guilty. Same goes for chairs in the middle of the road, abandoned animals, and certainly hitchhikers. Something's changed here. Maybe it's New Orleans, maybe it's America. But you don't stop anymore.

I think to myself, what if I hadn't stopped this time? But worse, what about all the times I haven't stopped?

In terms of culture, New Orleans bills itself as the big easy, right? A place where people can get along and help one another. Cajuns think this of themselves too. So does about any culture I can think of. But the truth of the matter is that something's gone awry. Nothing is safe. Except maybe the lone hitchhiker, a 28-year-old blonde in a cocktail dress sans shoes.

jeudi 20 mars 2008

Final cantica: the lyric essay

So I think I am going to try to finish Evangeline in lyrical essays instead of poems. This way, it puts pressure off of living up to some of the dramatic lines that so tore me apart in the first two cycles, allows me to incorporate more factual and cultural information, and gives me a new form to practice.

Part of this reason is me shying away from the confessional in my work, but still incorporating personal stories and images that I directly witnessed. The first part of the manuscript is largely lyric cantos directed at a lover, whether that lover be place or person, with the knowledge of exile still delayed. The second part is more of a travelogue in verse, attempting to destroy the sense of rootedness established in the first. Both use images and bits of language culled from my life and imagination and remain more or less stylized accounts of sex and nostalgia as applicable to geography.

But this last section has to be something different. My emotional connection to Acadie is largely artificial. I've lived there since August, suffered the inwardness of poetry and of regression. Now I am travelling, in transit, once more. Acadie is not my home. It is my foil but also it is a type of redemption for me--an extended long, dark night of the soul. I think it has outgrown my line breaks and imagined encounters, and especially, outgrown my memory.

Next Wednesday, I will be in Ann Arbor for U of Mich's admitted MFA student's "weekend." That Saturday I will be back in Moncton for the final four-week hitch, which will culminate in several readings during the Northrop Frye Festival. Then I will be through with my obligation to Acadie.

vendredi 14 mars 2008

The Real Meaning of Poetry, with temperature and supreme fictions

So in New Orleans, the temperature is very high. I would say hot, being that Sunday when I left Moncton it was snow-storming. Not an awful snow storm however. Spring is here.

Two days ago, I was in Dartmouth, Massachussetts giving lecture/readings on my poetics and Cajun poetics and Southern poetics--which provided an interesting/bizarre experience for me and my audience, who were, as you may have guessed, barely a few years younger than me.

The first class I spoke in was a Southern Literature course, where I discussed some of the main issues of the American South in poetry, i.e. sense of loss, bewilderment with contemporary society but a longing toward it, sublimity in nature qua token of a past long gone. Then I read my section of Evangeline about leaving the South. I talked about how Komunyakaa and Ammons left the South. I talked about how postmodern poetics require that the poet be at once the ambassador of a specific cultural element but must remain elliptical in his relationship to said culture. Etc. Etc. In any case, the students were impressed when I referred to the Acadian diaspora as le grand dérangement and my characterization of Pigeon Forge in Tennessee. Which could be, as one student described, "wicked hot!"

The second class was Culture and Language, to which I addressed the obvious Cajun elephant in the room. Everything was quiet, etc, until I read the entirety of my Rougarou sequence, which as you may know, is a murder mystery/epic poem told mostly from the perspective of a young gay male prostitute. The class was hushed and engaged. They even debated among themselves the ambiguous outcome of the end and their favorite voice (between the working boy narrator and the extratemporal Rougarou). Students came up to me afterward to compliment me for giving them something entertaining and touching. Students who maybe never read poetry were enthralled by a poem with admittedly hard-sell qualities (controversial characters, huge length, etc). And while the offers from U Mich and Cornell are flattering, validating, and chanceux (and the "apologies from other schools disappointing), this is really what poetry is about. Touching. Moving. Thrilling. And for this reason, I am proud to be part of a literary tradition.

The final class was more informal with me discussing the creation of a Supreme Fiction from the shards of modernism, ruin value, and Cajun culture and history. The course title was Advanced Writing and Thinking. I read from both completed sections of Evangeline and essentially answered questions about craft and poetics.

Now I am living the high life in New Orleans--visiting and wedding planning and eating. A welcome change, believe me, after being in total transit for almost 100 hours in the last two weeks.

lundi 10 mars 2008

The Borders are Illusory

Presently, I am in the Charles Hotel of downtown Bangor Maine, which is affordable and has free Internet. I was told by the receptionist that famous novelist Stephen King lives just around the block (it's a little farther than all that!). I briefly contemplated going to Mr. King's mansion and asking if he would come to dinner with me, which I decided against. According to the receptionist, whom I am beginning to suspect is the owner: "We here in Bangor protect his privacy." I decided that I would not voyage into Bangor for a picture of his stylized gate, although if I weren't alone, I probably would have.

In the nearest and most open of the three Irish pubs in walking distance, I ate a burger and a hoppy beer while reading a study of how Cajuns (and all other ethnicities) appropriate the views of outsiders as their own, creating a social fiction of their qualities. Such as "Cajuns like to dance." Which is patently false. I know many Cajuns who hate to dance. And many who hate Cajun music. But they are no less Cajun than I am.

In terms of this, what can one's culture even be, if not the stereotypes one becomes proud of? I asked my waitress about the drink that I read in Esquire is responsible for 90 percent of Bangor's crime (Incidentally, I opted not to eat at the bar the writer of that article went to, which is the other pub, which although open, seemed too neighborhood and was sort of physically underground). She wasn't sure until I showed her the article, which described the drink as a "poor man's Kahlua." She said, "Oh that must be {insert brand name of liquor here}, that's very Maine."

Is it? Is it very Cajun that I have a wry sense of human that is often inappropriate? Or that I do, in fact, love to dance? My brother wants to move to Germany. I know countless kids from my hometown who want to draw comics about cars, play pop songs on guitar, get laid, get a career, begin a family. I do know one or two who champion French as a culture saving machina. But are they more Cajun than the others?

The article is interesting in its postmodernity. Because if cultures disappear, if we settle for the fact that we compile our cultures from the tatters and ends of observations that outsiders use to generalize our ethnic groups, what do we have? The fact that people are inherently alike, that Italians aren't even that different from Blacks and that Acadians are have more in common with les maudits anglais than not.

I for one do not want to eradicate culture for this or any other reason--though I feel it important to recognize that cultural boundaries can fall away like any oversized, second hand pair of pants. And besides, differences are in place--though these generally have to do with mores and ideological attitudes, rather than artistic or industrial inclinations (or disinclinations). Recognizing the limitations of culture can free us from all sorts of bonds--the insecurity of fulfilling or rejecting certain cultural stereotypes, the pull of xenophobia which is often more pronounced within insular, ethnic enclaves, and most importantly, the impass which makes us view other humans not at singular entities but the sum total of our expectations.

samedi 8 mars 2008

Ithaca and Moncton to leave again

I just returned to Moncton from my trip to "gorges" Ithaca. Cornell has a beautiful campus which may fulfill all of my Ivy League dreams. There is a dairy bar (Cornell has an agriculture school!), waterfalls I can swim in during the summer, and the certification of being part of a tradition that includes Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, A.R. Ammons, Robert Morgan, and Toni Morrison. The workshop is stimulating and constructive and has a window that is 150 years old looking out into the Arts Quad. The one poet I met, Ken McClane, is fascinating and hilarious, while being one of the quickest and sharpest wits I've seen.

I also was accepted to University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, which as you may know, is another top school for creative writing. They offer a similar, though slightly smaller, financial package. The program is larger and also has a world-class faculty. Anne Carson teaches there, though not in English. Lucky for me I've studied Greek and Sanskrit! I visit their campus at the end of the month.

After this process is over I am no doubt going to suffer guilt over the decision. I've been rejected so far by Syracuse and Iowa.

In other news, Nine Inch Nails released an album online called Ghosts which is frankly and utterly amazing. It is totally instrumental and the non-corporate release is absolutely subversive.

I am in Moncton until Sunday, when I leave for Massachusetts and Little Compton. I should not have come back just for two days because I have no real reason to be here and it makes the travel longer. Oh well. I will see Linda thank God on Thursday. We will be do some heavy wedding planning then.

I know this is more record keeping than anything, but I am going to slowly transition this blog into something more open than just observations and exegeses on Acadian culture so that I can have a continuous blog into grad school.

samedi 1 mars 2008

the imagistic and sentimental lives of humans

To be taken seriously is a difficult thing--people see you as fat, skinny, with curly hair, with thin hair so that your scalp comes through, with an accent from "deep" in the South as if your very language was something vaginal, meaning to be hidden, behind layers of undergarments that you invariably clothe yourself when speaking to outsiders. You are a person whose aspirations, fears, humiliations, nostalgias, sentimental attachment to objects, scraps of paper, ticket stubs, old pictures with captions scribbled in blue ink on the back, and other bits of emotional marginalia are voided, unwarranted, moot, and perhaps meant to be ridiculed by others, especially the Other.

This of course has significance relating to ethnic literature. I choose not to use a messy orthography to capture the phonetic behavior of Cajun speech. I choose not to write about the nature of the French language in Louisiana. I choose not to marginalize myself any more than I do by breathing.

But beyond this, to be taken seriously is what all humans want from a relationship, any relationship. You don't want to be the fool, but more you want your feelings justified. The problem is that others are not willing to justify them for you--unless it means justifying their own private lives.

I recently had lunch with the major living poet of the Acadian canon, Herménégilde Chiasson. Generous in conversation and approachable, he suffered through my French for several hours as we discussed many things--poetics, aesthetics, art history, socio-cultural linguistics, Acadian and Cajun identity, etc. But the best part of meeting with him was the undeniable feeling I got that he was a human and that he recognized and catered to others as such.

This confirmed my suspicion from reading his most recent collection, Béatitudes, which following a rough formula of the beatitudes of Jesus, makes a litany of "those who.." (ceux qui...) and sometimes follows the result and sometimes doesn't, which is always into beatification. Although this beatification is not necessarily the one of spiritual salvation (although it can be read that way), and in a few occasions the text uses a critical tone against organized faith and traditional concepts of heaven. The salvation that can be culled is the salvation of being human, of knowing that everyone has little fears, anxieties, hopes, joys, and ritual actions that seem meaningless, trite, etc to others but define the borders of life. I wish I had the work in front of me, but I jetted it off to Linda as soon as I finished it.

This is the success of contemporary phenomena like Post Secret, reality television, and blogs. People want to see the glimmers of the human they can relate to, hold sacred, feel connected. This is too the success of literature, of music, of art, of poetry. To take humans seriously.

vendredi 15 février 2008

Insécurité Linguistique

Today I watched a film called Éloge du chiac, which was basically a documentary featuring an argument between fourteen year olds (in 1969) over linguistic primacy in Moncton. I've mentioned chiac before, comme c'est un right weird way de parler si vous autres l'avez pas entendu. In Cajun English, there is, of course, a similar phenomenon: the mixture of English syntax with Cajun locutions, such as "Mais, I went to the bar me, and I got casséd." It is a less extreme version of some of the more pronounced forms of chiac here, yet like chiac, it is a source of both cultural pride and insecurity.

This ambivalence toward one's dialect creates a fierce communal situation which is one of the links between the Acadian and Cajun cultures. The people within both cultures strongly identify with their heritage-or at least make a strong showing for it. Many critics have descried the fact that Cajuns have more or less lost their French as evidence that they are assimilating into mainstream American culture. This is a harsh and ignorant stance.

Cultures evolve, and one cannot fault another for learning the language of the land in order to feed his or her family. But nevertheless, the Acadians qui parle chiac can teach the Cajuns something about dynamism.

For instance, the primary pro-chiac girl in the video, a Melançon, said, "Si je rencontre un français, je vais sortir mon bon français., pis chez nous autres, on parle du chiac. Pis s'il y a des anglophones, je peux parler tout en anglais. Ça montre qu'on est pas mal smart." (If I meet a francophone, I pull out my good French, and at home, we speak chiac. And if there are anglophones, I can speak completely in English. It shows us to be pretty smart.)

There is a code-switching that demonstrates that the culture is ready to play ball, but will not forget the intensity of the heritage experience, the secret language of the initiated.

This is interesting when it comes to regional poetry as well, because here à Moncton, many writers write in chiac or variations of Acadian French. Yet I have my own linguistic insecurity. I don't alter my orthography to math the phonetics of Cajun English. My syntax, yes. Do I throw in French words, occasionally. But whereas poets from Guy Arsenault to Georgette LeBlanc feel comfortable writing "ej" for "je" and "rinque" or "yinque" for "rien que," I will not write "dis" for "this." In English, this looks comical, sort of ridiculous, and nearly impossible for someone to take seriously on a poetic level. In Alma by Georgette LeBlanc, I see nothing of the over-quaintness of orthographically modified regional slang. But apparently, les québécois might, and almost certainly les français.

I still feel a need to both embody and rupture my culture, my psyche, my poetics in this. For right now, I need other anglophones to take me seriously, and so I

jeudi 14 février 2008

Valentines and Cultural Success

This afternoon I witnessed an extraordinary event: the release of a book by David Adams Richards at the gallérie d'art à l'université de Moncton. Besides the author in question, the matriarch of Acadian letters, Antonine Maillet, was there and said kind things about him. She called for the amicable coexistence of the two literary traditions in New Brunswick, one English and the other French, noting that she herself needed the work of someone like David Adams Richards.

Mr. Richards, what one would describe as a poetic realist, gave an interesting account of humanity, of not placing oneself apart from it, and to not become lost in a world of books so much so that you ignore the humanity of others. This, I feel, is indeed a very important point. And the magnanimity of Tante Tonine was astounding, especially for someone so learned and so iconic. May I note here that Richards lives now in Toronto (not in his hometown of Miramichi) and Tonine lives in Montreal (if I am not mistaken).

This brings me to my real point--the role of the writer who leaves and further, the role of the writer in his community after he meets with success.

I personally have left Louisiana in many ways. I don't plan on living there for at least the next four years, and who's to say from there. I'd like to think I'll move back to be close to my families and culture, but for right now, I am content to be away. Furthermore, I will not attempt to fashion my oeuvre as a closed, ethnic work. But does this mean I've betrayed my culture?

I'd hope not, but I am doubtful. I already see the phenomenon of people undercutting the success of their own here in Moncton. It almost seems as if people would rather the artist to never rise to more success than a single community can give. For instance, the musician Zachary Richard is derided a bit (not necessarily vehemently) in Louisiana whereas Acadians here love him. Although people may say it is his arrogance (which I cannot comment on having never met him), I believe that it is more his attitude of I am an artist who will not be bound by even my own culture. I personally think his renditions of the Cajun standards, while not reflective of the folklorist version of our heritage we sell to tourists, are very interesting, as is his ability to produce new music.

There are many parallels here in Moncton: those who have reached fame and validation outside of Acadie who are now considered vendu (a sell-out). This I feel is awful. The success of artists outside of a close-knit community is the sign that the culture is making a lasting hold in the artistic tradition of the world--meaning that it will avoid what all art wants to avoid: being forgotten.

By the way, Happy Valentine's Day!

mardi 12 février 2008

The weather outside is frightful, but the fire is so delightful

It's time to boast a little. I've had possibly the best poetry two weeks I can imagine:

I gave my reading at the Attic Owl, which was a success. Everyone was very receptive and entertained, I think, even though I may have read a little too long. Even two professors from the university came and enjoyed themselves.

I met Linda in New York, where we went to the AWP bookfair and met with friends. I got a lot of good information from journals and got to see some Bucknellians after too long a delay. Most importantly, I got to see Linda.

I finished the second cantica of Evangeline.

While in New York, I received an email from the co-director of the Northrop Frye festival, which is the biggest literary event in Atlantic Canada. He invited me to do two readings and a school visit, for which I will be paid.

I received another email there from The Louisiana Review, who will be publishing two poems of mine ("Feu-Follet" and "Searching for the Grave of Walt Whitman") this spring.

Linda and I returned to Moncton where I received a message from Ken McClane. I was cooking a Cajun feast and could not answer the phone. Mr. McClane is on the creative writing faculty at Cornell University and called to notify me that I was accepted as 1 of 4 poets in the MFA program with full funding (tuition and stipend) and a two year lectureship after I graduate. Cornell is the most selective school in the country and consistently ranks at the top of the list for every criterion. There is almost no way that Linda and I won't be moving to Ithaca right after the wedding.

This will make this semester travel more quickly Thank God. I will visit Ithaca in three weeks. Then I will see Linda in New Orleans right before Holy Week. After Easter, I'll have less than a month in Canada. This leaves me with little time to finish the rest of Evangeline, but that's fine. I probably need a little more distance from Moncton to really write about it, as I did with New Orleans, Chauvin, and America.

samedi 19 janvier 2008

Nothing's Going to Change My World

It's been over one week since I've been in New Orleans. Today, for instance, I trekked over a mile across snow in my jungle combat boots to the university. I now live Downtown, with a new address, which I'll happily give to anyone willing to pay postage for communication.

Mostly what I do is look at my watch, which has two beautiful timezones on it. It keeps me steadfast. I know that no matter what I do here, it will be a form of waiting. Winter, I've heard, is long in the northern lands. You've ruined me, Wallace Stevens.

I am an artist here. Specifically an American artist in Canada. A Cajun artist in Acadie. But what I really am is an imposter. An artist in artifice. I am not a cultural martyr. And although this project is for making a link between these two cultures, their burden will not be my yoke.

I am saying this as I come to a close on my second sequence within Evangeline, which is the great journey North. I have three or four poems left to it, maybe eight or nine pages, depending on my stamina. Again, Stevens, o picture of the poet as a virile youth. You might as well hang me for redundancy.

In any case, I have a reading in Moncton on the 24th. A week later, I will be in New York, preparing for Lent.

samedi 5 janvier 2008

You say you want a revolution?

The last I posted, if I recall, was about a hurricane, a storm, barrelling through Moncton, barrelling through my life, my work. And now, I am writing this on borrowed time in New Orleans. Don't worry: I will be back on my tour of duty later this week. It is probably forty to sixty degrees colder in Moncton right now than it is here. I would bet.

I honestly don't know what to say since I've last written. The last few months have given new meaning to the idea ruin value, at least for me. The idea of beautiful dissembling, the shards of a former reality shown to be nothing but dissimulations, just gaudy façades of a former, more idealistic era. I, of course, finished the first third of Evangeline. Now I write about the great exile North, a voluntary sequestering, a minor conquest, a minor treasure. I will begin the deconstruction of Acadie soon.

As far as travel goes, maybe I've lost myself in it. The idea of home doesn't quite exist the same way in French as it does in English. There is no direct translation with the nuance and aplomb of home. With the variegated images, the smell of vanilla, the warmth of flesh on flesh. Right now, it's as if I want to echo Duras's screenplay: ELLE: J'ai tout vu à Hiroshima. LUI: Non, tu n'as rien vu. I don't know anything.

Perhaps this is what le Grand Dérangement means afterall: the loss of knowledge, the annihilation of all the former myths you told about yourself, the endless and endless waiting for the next thing to define you, give you shelter, give you repose, devastate you. This will be the title for my second sequence in Evangeline, the part about driving to Canada: Le Grand Dérangement, the great upheaval, the great moving, the diaspora, the exile. You see, the difference in my telling is that the threat of exile is never from without, but from the self, the oblivion of the love relationship, and the comfort in thinking you know what the right thing to do is. The threat is volition.

If this is not indication enough, let me be clear: I am back in action.