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.