I recently received my 75th rejection letter for the poems I’ve submitted to various print and online journals. Not surprisingly, it hurt less than the first rejection letter did. Using Duotrope to manage my submissions has given me the organizational capacity to submit more pieces more frequently, and it’s also allowed me to find more potential venues for my work. I keep submitting and trying to be a better poet, and I know I will find a home for my best writing.
But this is also a post about New Orleans. I spent the 2014 Christmas holiday there, and I would go back every year if I could. Before the trip, I felt certain that I’d fall in love with NOLA because of the restaurants, the music, the bars, the chicory coffee, étouffée, the French Quarter, the beignets, the history. And oh yes, I did. But more than that, and most important, it’s the people. Everyone I encountered – shop clerks, bartenders, street musicians, fellow tourists, waitresses, panhandlers – everybody – was so happy. Not the fake happiness you see when someone’s trying to earn a buck off you. Genuine cheer lit up every street like holiday lights. During my week in the Crescent City, I pocketed all kinds of wisdom and lore.
Here’s a few of those shiny tidbits that I save like a magpie to repurpose in poems.
Be nice or leave. A popular sentiment I saw on tshirts, storefront signs, placards. It comes from the folk art of Dr. Bob.
Where y’at? This isn’t just a greeting but the catchphrase of a major New Orleans dialect, Yat. There’s a Wikipedia article about Yat.
Literary greats like Tennessee Williams and Sherwood Anderson once called NOLA home.
If you have a signature Hurricane at Pat O’Brien’s you will pay too much, and when they tell you after you’ve paid that you get to keep the souvenir glass, this will not ease your fiscal pain.
Elizabeth’s has the best breakfasts in town. Praline bacon. Yes please.
Praline is pronounced prah-leen, not pray-leen. I guess I’m a Yankee.
Big Al Carson has a voice that will make you go weak in the knees, and he is the lewdest band frontman I’ve ever seen. I’d definitely go back to the Funky Pirate Bar to watch him grope himself again. Yes, I admitted that.
The Trashy Diva and Fleurty Girl are lovely little boutiques to seek out if you’re a girly girl.
For the perfect night out, a soul food dinner at The Praline Connection and a stroll to the artist’s market on Frenchmen Street cannot be topped. Especially when you’ve got a 10 piece brass band playing on the streetcorner. Bring lots of cash for the tip boxes.
You can buy a drink at any French Quarter bar and take it with you into the streets in a go-cup. Which leads to much merriment and alleyway barfing (the former, not the latter, for me).
Shops and museums celebrating the famous Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau abound in the French Quarter, and I think I visited them all. As can be expected, some are quite commercialized, but I recommend visiting at least one.
I need to thank The Originals for introducing me to the Sazerac, and the bartender at Sylvain for making me my first.
But why am I bringing up booze – I mean poetry – in this post? Well, just before I went to New Orleans, I received some very negative feedback on one of my poems through Sixfold‘s writing workshop. In his comments, my critic defined the art of poetry for me and then pointed out how I had failed at this art. At the same time, I began to observe more closely the reactions of friends, colleagues, and strangers when they’re told that I write poetry. This is a widely varied cross-section of people, and most of them – not all, but most – are either uninterested in poetry, or claim never to understand it. While in New Orleans – overwhelmed by its glorious and grotesque sights, sounds, tastes, smells, textures – I contemplated why I write poetry – and what exactly is poetry? Why bother to do this thing, when very few people I know want to read poems – and when a fellow poet wants to pin down the art of it with a simple, standardized, boring definition. I’m still pondering, but still making poems too.
Did you know that Mardi Gras beads, flung into the air by revelers, dangle from the trees in the French Quarter year round? When the wind blows, they can slip free from the branches to fall on your head, perhaps encouraging you to be little more flamboyant than usual, to look up, to be surprised and delighted – or maybe perturbed, maybe confused. There’s one way to consider poetry. One of many ways, like beads on thousands of plastic necklaces.
I highly encourage everyone to sign up for a free poem-a-day email service. What do you have to lose? My favorites are poets.org and Rattle.
All photographs by me!