Guest Blogger Theo Eliezer of Momma Tried Magazine on Issue 1, the Importance of Body Diversity, and How to Order Issue 2!

MT_Local

Local Honey by Xavier Juarez with Georges by Jeff Nelson

Long time readers of Nola Femmes may remember my last guest blog post from 2013 when my partner and I were gearing up to print the first issue of our indie publication, Momma Tried magazine. Looking back on that piece now it seems like I wrote it a lifetime ago. So much has happened since then: we were super fortunate to raise the money for our printing costs thanks to hundreds of people via Kickstarter, our first printer dropped us because they said our content was “clearly intended to cause arousal” (but we found a new more progressive printer in Iceland!), we had the most wonderful launch party at Parse gallery, and to top it all off, one of our most exciting developments has been getting the magazine stocked internationally in Paris, London, and Amsterdam! International distribution was one of our most ambitious goals when we first started working on self publishing the magazine, so it’s incredible and surreal that our New Orleans nudie mag is now at the Tate Modern!

 Creating the second issue of Momma Tried has been amazing and challenging, and we’re so proud of the finished result. As with Issue 1, I conceived of and art directed three nude photo editorials and recruited friends to join us in making them come to life, including the very talented photographers Daniel Ford, Josh Smith, and Sarrah Danziger. All of our our nude editorials feature people that are members of our New Orleans community: artists, teachers, bartenders, musicians, indie filmmakers, drag queens, activists, and contributors whose work appears elsewhere in the magazine, all collaborating in the creation of images that celebrate the body, gender expressions, and sexuality in a range of diverse forms. As part of our ethic of embracing the nuances of everyone’s varying identities, none of our model’s bodies have been digitally retouched in the photos that you’ll see in the magazine. It just seems so much more healthy, interesting, and artistically valuable to show how beautiful and charismatic people are without photoshop changing the way their bodies look. In addition to our amazing models, a number of our contributors are also New Orleans-based artists, such as photographer Xavier Juarez, whose candid approach to photography (seen in the layout sample above) is so dreamy and intimate that I feel like I was right beside him as he captured each photo.

 We’ve come so far in the past year between sending Issue 1 off into the world and working so hard on bringing together a new group of over 60 artists and writers, and now we’re incredibly close to printing our second issue! The very last step of the process is underway: we’re raising money for our printing costs with a presale campaign (via Kickstarter) that allows our readers to purchase the issue at the normal retail price, and through everyone’s backing, we hope to have the funds needed to send the issue to our printer by mid-October! If you’d like to learn more about Momma Tried, are curious to see more samples of content for Issue 2, or want to preorder your copy, please check out our campaign, and share it with friends who might be interested in reading our next issue of Momma Tried! We hope you love it!!

 

 The Momma Tried Issue 2 presale campaign will run from Tuesday Sept 8th – Wednesday Oct 9th

 For more about Momma Tried: www.mommatriedmagazine.com

Contact: editor@mommatriedmagazine.com

Homeless in New Orleans

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HOMELESS IN NEW ORLEANS

In New Orleans, a city that has seen more than its share of destruction, devastation, and upheaval in the last nine years, “being homeless” is decidedly different than in other major cities in the US. After Katrina and Rita hit New Orleans, many residents living in the parishes of Orleans, Jefferson, Plaquemines, and St. Bernard, became “homeless” (“storm displaced homeless”) due to the destruction of houses and rental properties. Katrina displaced over a million people from the gulf coast across the United States. The number of “storm displaced homeless” dropped as people were able to fix their homes (as money from the “Road Home program” and insurance companies became available) and reestablish their lives. It is estimated that the number of “chronically homeless” people living in New Orleans prior to Katrina was 6,000. That number doubled between August 29, 2005 and mid-2007. At that time, with a post-Katrina population of 300,000 people, one in twenty five (1 in 25) people were homeless, (a number three times that of any US city.) A “chronically homeless” individual is defined by US Department of Housing and Urban Development (“HUD”) as someone who has experienced homelessness for a year or longer, or who has experienced at least four episodes of homelessness in the last three years and has a disability.

Some of the first businesses to re-open in New Orleans after Katrina were restaurants, bars, and hotels (“hospitality industry”) and the demand for minimum wage workers became great. Many workers that took  these jobs found it difficult to find a place to live in New Orleans, since rentals were extremely scarce after Katrina. Some got FEMA trailer’s that they could use on their land, until their houses were fixed, though life was not easy, living in FEMA trailers. In fact, it was later determined that the FEMA trailers had significant issues with formaldehyde, causing multiple health issues for people living in the trailers. A class action lawsuit resulted in a $42.6 million settlement in 2012.

In 2007, a large group of homeless residents moved to Duncan Plaza (across the street from New Orleans City Hall) to draw attention to the difficulties that people with low incomes and the homeless in New Orleans faced daily. Since Katrina and Rita destroyed much of New Orleans’s affordable housing, housing that previously might have been available to people with low incomes, was not. Further, rents that might have been affordable in “pre-Katrina” New Orleans had often doubled and tripled, leaving the working poor without alternatives. Additionally, the City of New Orleans seemed disinclined to help the “working poor” in New Orleans, even though the city badly needed the income and revenues that the hospitality industry, and its workers could bring. In fact, Mayor Ray Nagin suggested that a way to reduce the City of New Orleans post-Katrina homeless population, was to give them one-way bus tickets out of town. Nagin, of course, later recanted his comments, insisting that it was simply an “off the cuff joke” (see New York Times article dated May 28, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/28/us/28tent.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1&) but the day-to-day reality was that Mayor Nagin and the City of New Orleans, never appeared to have a plan to deal with the homeless, much less implementation, if such a plan even existed. Mayor Nagin believed that the homeless in New Orleans after Katrina were alcoholic, drug abusing, transients who refused shelter; and that belief was pervasive throughout the eight years of his tenure as mayor of New Orleans. In actuality, a survey by local advocacy groups in 2008, showed that 86% of the homeless on the streets of New Orleans, were from New Orleans, 60% were homeless due to Katrina, and 30% had received some form of rental assistance from FEMA since Katrina.

Sadly, as time passed (and administrations changed,) the homeless of New Orleans have received mediocre treatment  at best, from the City of New Orleans. Life on the streets of New Orleans is decidedly unsafe for the homeless and there have been numerous attacks on the homeless, including robbery, beatings, battery, rape, and murder. After the Duncan Plaza encampment was forced to move in January 2008, similar sites continued to surface in New Orleans which was not surprising. By forcing people to move from a camp site, the City of New Orleans began a dangerous game of “cat and mouse” that ignored the real issue that there was simply not enough affordable rental housing available. From 2008 to present, homeless camps continue to appear in various locations in New Orleans, often underneath overpasses including under the I-10 overpass on N. Claiborne Avenue, near Canal Street, and beneath Pontchartrain Expressway, near Calliope and Baronne Street. By my count, after reviewing numerous newspaper stories from 2008 to present, there have been at least fifteen (15) times that the City of New Orleans have forced these homeless sites to move. In October 2011, the Occupy movement came to New Orleans to express their displeasure with the disparate wealth distribution. They began their stay by peacefully marching through New Orleans, and then took up residence in Duncan Plaza in New Orleans. Their stay in Duncan Plaza was relatively calm and without incident during the months of October and November 2011, though a homeless man was found dead in his tent early November 2011, due to alcohol poisoning. On December 6, 2011, the City of New Orleans evicted the Occupy NOLA protesters from Duncan Plaza via a pre-dawn visit from the NOPD. Twelve hours later, U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey granted the Occupy New Orleans group a temporary restraining order allowing it to move back into the park, directly across from City Hall where it had been for approximately two months. The restraining order was overturned a week later, and Duncan Plaza was once again cleared.

In fairness to the City of New Orleans, there have been numerous initiatives that the City of New Orleans has introduced and touted as “cures” for the homeless issues in New Orleans. On July 4, 2014, Mayor Landrieu announced a goal to end homelessness among veterans in New Orleans by end of 2014. In September 2013 Mayor Landrieu announced the successful placement of 244 chronically homeless and vulnerable homeless individuals in 100 days as part of the 200 Homes in 100 Days Campaign. In fact there appears to be at least one initiative per year that claims to help the homeless, but what these plans fail to address over and over, is the dire need for affordable housing, so that people in vulnerable financial situations do not end up having to live on the streets of New Orleans.

On August 12, 2014, the NOPD, the City of New Orleans, and the New Orleans Department of Health, began yet another campaign of forcing the current homeless camp under Pontchartrain Expressway to move (by 8/14/14.)  The City of New Orleans used the terms public health hazard as it’s reason for forcing the move, but there was a rumor that the real reason for this particular campaign was that the Saints first exhibition game at home was on 8/15/14, and the city didn’t want people to see the eyesore that the homeless camp represented. Whatever the reason, the homeless were moved out by the end of the day on 8/14/14, and the city’s health director said the area was closed due to trash and filth that attracted rats which the city couldn’t clean and put out rat poison, with homeless living there. On Saturday, August 16th, I was in the area around Calliope and Baronne, so I went to see what had changed. There were numerous signs stating that the area had been declared a health hazard by the New Orleans Department of Health; further the signs said that anyone who parked in that area would be towed. There were also numerous  barricades everywhere. But as I drove by, I saw just as many homeless as before; they had simply moved a couple blocks further towards Tchoupitoulas. I took photos and talked to a few of the people who said they were “resigned” to what had happened; they thought it made no sense, but felt they had no say in how things go in New Orleans. I went back again Wednesday August 20th, to see if things were different; it was 90 degrees and 90% humidity at 4:30 that day, so I brought bananas, water, and chips. As I handed the water out, I asked how things had changed. Most people simply smiled at me and said thank you for the water, but when I asked if the NOPD were bothering them, I finally got a response from a man who told me “No ma’am, as long as we stay on our spot, they are ok.” When I asked what he meant by spot, he pointed to the sidewalk outside of the areas that were barricaded. Apparently, as long as they stay on the sidewalk and don’t try to move inside the barricades, they have a “right” to be there, and the NOPD will leave them alone. I shook my head and told him I was sorry. But I was truly appalled that on a day that was unbearably hot, even in the shade, that the City of New Orleans was forcing the homeless to stand or sit in the sun, rather than allowing them to move to the shadier area inside the barricades. I know that there are no easy answers, but it seems to me that the City of New Orleans badly needs to re-examine its plans for dealing with the homeless to try to figure out a way to help its most vulnerable residents.

Missing New Orleans

I was offered a place at an artist’s residency called Soaring Gardens for the month of September. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to finance a month of writing without a source of income, so I launched a GoFundMe campaign. While I haven’t yet hit my goal amount, I’ve been inspired and encouraged by the generosity and support of everyone who’s donated and that has made me more determined than ever that this is going to happen.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share a list of what I’ll miss about New Orleans while I’m gone for the month. I’ve picked 6 things for the 6 days left of the fundraiser, which wraps up next Wednesday, August 20th.

1. My communities of friends, fellow writers and artists and other tango dancers. All the coffee dates, writing meetings and tango events that I would otherwise attend were I here. This includes one regular Peauxdunque Writers Alliance meeting and a special tango workshop with amazing teachers.

2. Saints games! I’ll miss the first 4 regular season games, unless I can find a local bar and convince them to show the games. The house is very rural, so this could be touch and go. But even if I do manage to watch them while I’m gone, I’ll miss the experience of watching them with friends *here* at places like Pelican Bay.

3. Speaking of Pelican Bay, one of my favorite things to do lately is pick up one of their daiquiris and take it to Indywood Theater (they’re close to each other on Elysian Fields and Indywood is BYOB). I’ve seen so many amazing movies there recently and their August calendar looks great. I’m afraid to even see what I’ll miss in September.

4. While this isn’t technically a New Orleans thing (or in Sept), I’m going to miss the So You Think You Can Dance tour at the Saenger on October 1st. I’ll be driving back from the residency then, unfortunately. Darn!

5. Whenever I’ve left Louisiana in the past, I’ve craved good red beans and rice as soon as I cross the state line. So I’m sure that will happen now. And I’ll miss the roast beef po’boy at Parkway Bakery. I’ll miss a lot of other favorite restaurants/dishes, too many to name, but I know I’ll miss being able to get those red beans and that roast beef po’boy. It’s only a matter of time.

6. I’m not sure what I’ll do without the New Orleans Public Library. While the house has a library, I have been so spoiled by our wonderful library system and librarians. Books, movies, music, all at my fingertips. They just had a wrap party for their summer reading program and had adult summer reading activities all summer as well. But, in any season, the library is my mainstay. I’m going to be very sad when I take all my borrowed books back, and when I suspend all my holds. That will be the moment when I’ll know this dream I’ve been working toward has become a reality.

I know I’ll miss so much more than this (and people will be the biggest part), but I think I’ll be surprised by what I’ll miss once I’m at the residency. Luckily, it’s only a month and I’ll be back for the Louisiana Book Festival and Words & Music and… It will be a lot of fun to enjoy those six things (and everything else) once I’m back, having missed them for a little while. I hope you’ll enjoy all that New Orleans has to offer in the meantime.

There will be a going away party/celebration this coming Sunday the 17th, starting at 2 p.m. at Pelican Bay. If you’d like to contribute to the campaign, send me off or just enjoy brunch and daiquiris, you should swing by.

Femme Fatale Friday: Becky Fos

Becky and her art as featured in Borgne Restaurant.

Becky and her art as featured in Borgne Restaurant.

 

I first became aware of Becky Fos’s art on Twitter when she followed our page and her avatar caught my eye.  I clicked on through to her website and was blown away by her vibrant, colorful paintings.(She’s also on FaceBook.) I had to know more and she was gracious enough to consent to an interview. Enjoy!

First, tell us a little about yourself.

I am Texan born, a former Austinitte!  So, to some that would explain my sometimes “weird” clothes.  The city’s motto has been, “Keep Austin weird” for as long as I’ve known it.  I moved to New Orleans in 2002 and never once regretted it.  New Orleans, with it’s heritage, history and culture have completely molded me into the person I am today.  I could never imagine myself being anywhere else.  One of my favorite songs growing up was by Fats Domino, “Walking to New Orleans” and now it all makes perfect sense.

How long have you been painting?

I have been painting my whole life, for as long as I can possibly remember.  I painted on the walls of my room growing up, doodled on notebook paper in school, and now canvas.  My favorite times painting are when my son, Jude (age 6) and I set up shop in the kitchen and go to town!!!

Tell us about the materials and techniques you use.

I like to paint on canvas with pallet knives.  I like to use a lot of paint to create texture and I love color.  SOmetimes I’ve been told that I use too much color, but that’s just me.  And I wouldn’t change a thing.

Tell us a bit about your creative process. Do you start a project with a
beginning, middle and ending in mind or does it evolve as you go?

I begin with a thought or a dream.  Or sometimes a person.  I’ve been inspired by going to concerts around the city and seeing the musician up close deeply inspires me and I must create.  I see the passion on their face while creating their art, and this inspires me.  I love to capture the magic that I’ve witnessed first-hand and that’s how it starts.  So, I have a jumping off point and then it actually evolves.  I paint backwards actually because I paint the focal point first and not the background.  I know everybody is different, but that’s how I start.  SOmetimes I change the background several times.

Is art your full-time occupation?

Yes, my art is a full-time gig for me.  I also do some of the chalk art at Chef, John Besh’s Restaurant, Borgne along with the amazing, Lance Romano.

What is your earliest recollection of art as a passion?

I’ve always loved art.  I was always drawn to things sparkly and colorful.  My mom use to call me her “crow” because a crow will always seem to find that burry treasure of sparkleness.  My passion only grows.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I feel so bad about saying who my favorite artists are because I have so many friends who are artists.  But just to name a few, Keith Eccles and Terrance Osborne since they have both guided me on this path.  Bansky, Bruni and Van Gogh of course.

If you find yourself losing interest in a project do you push yourself to finish or set it aside for later? Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a project?

Not all projects that we start do we stay 100% motivated throughout.  There are actually a few pieces that I’ll be working on at a time.  Sometimes I just have to put one down and walk away, especially when I’m feeling not motivated.  Then I start to feel defeated so it actually motivates me to go back and finish.  It’s these pieces that actually come out the absolute best and I never want to get rid of them and hold on to them.

Where in the city can we see your work?

Lozano & Barbuti Gallery at 313 Royal St in New Orleans carries my original artwork and I actually have a website that I sell my reproductions from: www.beckyfos.com

Where do you see yourself and your work in 5 years?

I have big goals that I’ve set for myself.  I like to aim high.  I plan on having my own art gallery in the french quarter right next to all the big dogs lol.  I’m aiming for the moon! :-)

 

Professor Longhair

Professor Longhair

Women Who Write: Valentine Pierce

This is the final interview in our four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile has featured a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Valentine Pierce

Valentine Pierce

Valentine Pierce is a New Orleans poet, writer, graphic designer, visual artist and actor. A bit of her wisdom: “We are all many things, a vessel of triumphs and trials, worlds within the worlds of all the people in our lives, singular wonders and curiosities of humanness.” Pierce’s debut book, Geometry of the Heart, was published in 2007 by Portals Press. She has been a resident writer at A Studio in the Woods in 2006, had her artwork displayed at Tulane’s Carroll Gallery, and performed in several productions at Ashé Community Art Center. She even won two awards from the American Academy of Community Theatres—to her surprise.

Fishwife

Melissa is a late baby,
Born in the waters of the Atlantic off the U.S. coast.
Her mid-November birth so far from land destines her
To be a fishwife, to hurl her insults at and spin herself down
Back into the waters from which she came.
No land is near enough to this child of the waters.
Even though her foul-mouthed sputterings
Come as tropical storm winds
And sheeted rain far across the waters,
By the time they reach us they are merely a severe rainstorm,
An accustomed annoyance;
Her voice echoes in the thunder but rallies no fear.
We will feel her wet, latent fury but no one
Will be running for higher or distant ground.
She will die as she was born—helpless and hopeless
In the mid-Atlantic waters in late November.

(Note on this poem: A couple of years ago I heard meteorologist Margaret Orr call a storm a fishwife. I’d never heard of a fishwife and didn’t know how it applied. I did some research and learned about fishwives and why some storms are called such. In November 2013 I finally got to use that word, which had been sitting in the word box of my mind.)

 

What is your earliest recollection of the desire to write down your own thoughts?
I don’t recall when I started writing—grade school, I guess. That’s what we called elementary school back then or grammar school.

Do you remember your first poem? What was it about?
The first poem I ever had published, according to my mom, was in the school bulletin at Joseph S. Craig, when I was in the second grade. The only line I remember is “on the outside looking in.” I remember the first poem I ever got published, in 1983. At that time it was titled “Always Strong.” I revised it so the theme was more universal and retitled “Soul of the Universe.” It was published in the now defunct Day Tonight/Night Today.

Is writing your full-time occupation?
Writing was my full-time occupation. I was a journalist for about 30 years. I was a journalist, photojournalist, layout person, editor, managing editor and press chief. I also had a weekly column, “Marrero Musings,” in the Times-Picayune for seven years. And I did freelance writing. Now my full-time job is graphic design and most of the published work is poetry. I also have odd jobs including freelance graphic design, sewing, and crafting.

Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?
Poetry is my primary genre but I write in a variety of genres from simple prose to essays to plays, to one-act-shows. I really don’t categorize my work in the sense of right now I am going to write an essay or now I’ll write a poem. I just write and let it happen. I even have a novel in progress—since July 2005. It is called “Dead North.” It got it’s name from the Federal Flood commonly known as Hurricane Katrina. It is a novel about a major hurricane. I’ve been interested in hurricanes all my life and said to myself, hey, “No one has written a novel about a hurricane.” It seems centuries ago that I read a book about a major storm that brought a bad spirit to a certain island. That was part of my inspiration. Hurricanes were the other part and I had tons of secondhand research. A month later I began to get firsthand information. I am not sure that that novel will ever be finished because going from poetry-length to book-length is a feat.

I write short stories, too. They have never been published because most need a tremendous amount of work. I did have one critiqued about 10 years after I wrote it. The ending was weak but the person who critiqued it, a writer I respect, said it would only take me about 20 minutes to fix then ending. He was right but I’ve never had it published. I have a three or four other books that are laying around in a bin somewhere, too.

I even have a whole book, a short one, called “Boundaries of a Life,” which is journaling and poetry about coping with grief. Hmmm, perhaps I need to pull that one out.

As you can see, writing is my life—paid or unpaid.

Do you have a favorite place to write or a routine that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?
Generally, whenever the muse strikes. I don’t usually decide to write, that is decided by my muses, my environment, my mood. Writing just happens for me. But, if I were to choose a place, it would be my home because there are no interruptions. I don’t have to be concerned with time, place, space. When my children were young, it was after they went to bed. Generally thought, poetry hits me in the midst of everyday living and I write it then to keep from losing it.

Where was the strangest place that inspiration hit you for a poem and how did it turn out?

Probably the seafood market that was once on St. Roch at St. Claude. I wrote a poem on a napkin with a burned out match. I can’t remember the name because I was a teenager but I still have it somewhere.

Oh, wait, once, in a restroom I pulled a paper towel off a shelf. When I had entered I wondered why so many of them were on the floor. When I pulled mine, a second one just floated down like a butterfly so I wrote a brown butterfly poem about it. Don’t know where that poem is right now.

Are there any recurrent themes in your poems? If so, why do you think that is?
I think the only recurring theme in my poems is life. That’s what I write about. The here and now, the hurt and happiness, the smiles and tears.

I am somewhat a collector of words. Do you have any favorite words?
I collect words and phrases. Often they end up in poems. Can’t think of any phrases to share but some of my words have to do with poems like Onomatapeia and iambic pentameter. I also collect names because they are amazing Like Beth Kneebone, She Ping, Cleopatra Pendleton, William Dear, Freeman A. Hrabowski III., and Jacqueline Goodchilds are just a few I have on my desk right now.

Do you have any tips to share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?
I don’t know what tips would be useful because writing is such a personal art. Sometimes you have to stay still, stay home, skip the television program to work through a piece, sometimes you have to set it aside long enough for other things to fill you mind and then go back to it because it becomes fresh again that way. Sometimes you have to leave home and go to a park or a retreat. When I had the opportunity to be the writer-in-residence at A Studio in the Woods in 2006 it was the first time in my life that I could spend every waking moment writing. And I did. I was amazed at the amount of work I completed in one month. I wish I could do that all the time. I have several friends to thank for that for constantly telling me to submit until finally I gathered up my courage and did it. My fear was that I didn’t stand a chance because there are so many great writers in New Orleans. I came back from Phoenix, AZ, where I was living with friends after the storm.
(Editors note: the storm = Hurricane Katrina)

Who are some of your favorite poets and why?
Goodness. That list is so long: Paul Laurence Dunbar, Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, all of the Black Renaissance poets, just about every poet in this city, the poets I recently met at the Acadiana Word Lab, most of the poets I’ve met in my life. What I like is the work, the words they put down, the sound, rhythm, music of the words, how they approach their topics whether main stream or taboo, the many ways writers write. I am probably not explaining this well because it is impossible to say exactly. I just know that poets inspire me, cause me to challenge myself, bring me great joy and sometimes bring tears to my eyes.
I have been inspired to write many poems based on hearing other poets read their work.

Finally, do you have any upcoming readings or appearances you can share with us?
My next events are workshops at the Algiers Regional Library April 19 and 26, 2p. It’s called “Stand Up, Look Up, Speak Up: How to present your work in public.”
__________________________

Thank you, Valentine, for sharing your work and your thoughts with us today.

Thanks to all of the wonderful women poets that participated in this series. It was great!

To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here.

Women Who Write: Cassie Pruyn

This is the second in a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Cassie Pruyn

Cassie Pruyn

Today we feature Cassie Pruyn. Cassie is a New Orleans-based poet born and raised in Portland, Maine. She is currently studying at The Bennington Writing Seminars. Her obsessions include geographic history, geographic mystery, and the impossible struggle to express place through language. Her poems have been featured in The Double Dealer, she placed second runner-up in the 2013 William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition, and she was a finalist in the 2013 Indiana Review 1/2K Prize.

THE NEW ORLEANS AFFAIR

Poor Mississippi. 
Barge-laden, crowned with bluffs. 
She’s been scorned by this city, 
who once loved her enough 

to lay himself down along 
her S like a set 
of ribs (overeager stone- 
stacker, naive architect). 

Her lover’s put a wall up. 
He won’t touch her, won’t 
let her leave––he’s boarded shut 
the windows, girdled her, stripped 

her banks clear of “debris.” 
In the beginning, he smelled 
of blood and fresh pralines. 
She lapped at him nightly, cradling 

his churches and ridges, 
porches and cisterns; she flooded 
him yearly, tickled his drainage. 
Still he insisted 

on having her tamed. 
Planning her revenge, crisscrossed 
with tourniquets, she’ll claim 
him again––it’s his loss, 

she’ll make sure of it. For near 
the levees’ concrete bases,
small cracks have begun to appear. 
She strokes the crevices

with her long tongue, reminiscing: 
Remember those hand-dug canals?
Canoes made of cypresses? 
Even those vulgar sawmills 

she’d prefer to this half-sunk grime. 
Only muffled voices 
now, as she considers her choices; 
seagulls, girders, and plenty of time.


How long have you been writing and what inspired you to choose this craft?

I’ve been writing poetry, at least semi-consistently, for about fifteen years. Like many writers, I started out as an avid reader, but primarily of novels and stories. I’ve given a fair amount of thought, therefore, to the question “why poetry?” as opposed to any other genre or craft, and my best guess is that it comes out of a strong love of words––for the musicality and physicality of words in specific––and also for the compactness inherent in poetry as opposed to prose. I always loved a good story as a kid, but I also loved song lyrics. I loved the container of the song, the way a song can be used as a vehicle for expression. But I was not cut out to be a musician—the words would come, but never a melody.

I also think the way I experience and think about the world lends itself to writing poetry––or at least the desire to write poetry. Any writer has to be a keen observer, but I imagine for a fiction writer this act of observing has more to do with the way human beings relate to one another, or to themselves, as it pertains to the sustainment of a narrative. Well, really, I have no idea how fiction writers think—narrative and imagining characters is never something that has come naturally to me. Rather, I seem to experience the world as a series of atmospheric moments––a kind of holistic sensory impact, as encapsulated by specific moments in time. This is also why I love writing about space and place.


Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Yes; and not yet. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve attempted to write a story, and they were all in response to prompts given by teachers. As I mentioned above, I’m a reader of narrative but not yet a writer of narrative. At some point, I’d really love to expand that part of my brain (because they really do feel like separate mental faculties––the writing of poetry vs. the writing of narrative prose) and challenge myself to attempt a novel, but who knows when and if that will happen. I do love writing critical prose—reviews, close readings, and the like—however.


What is your earliest recollection of writing and poetry as a passion? Do you remember your first poem?

I love this question! It’s been great to think back to those sentimental, angst-ridden poems of my adolescence. While I can’t remember my absolute first poem, I know I began writing them in earnest when I was 11, my first year in middle school and my first year in a new town. I grew up in an 18th century farmhouse in rural Maine, but when I was 11, after my parents had split up, we moved to the suburbs. If a new school, combined with the onslaught of puberty and a huge geographical/atmospheric change wouldn’t inspire a young poet-to-be to begin writing, I don’t know what would! I remember coming home from school, gazing out the window, and writing rhyming poems in my journal. I seem to remember a poem that revolved around the trope of  a red rose with prickly thorns (obviously!).

Is writing your full-time occupation? If not, how do you fit writing into your work and personal life?

I consider writing to be my full-time job at the moment, in part because I am finishing up my MFA this semester, but I also work as a full-time nanny. Right now, my schedule involves dropping the kids off at school, writing most of the day, and then picking them up and working until 7 o’clock. It’s a lucky little life I lead; I love my job and I love having a lot of structured time to write. At some point, I’d love to teach in some capacity, but I also feel inclined to hold onto the schedule I have. Aside from money, time seems to be that thing that professional (or non-professional) writers covet the most. I feel lucky to be able to have that right now.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I find it really difficult to talk about process, because I find my process is constantly shifting to accommodate whatever project I’m working on. And in general, I find the process of writing a poem/series of poems to be an often frustratingly fluid experience. I try to balance structure with inspiration, routine with spontaneity, in order to be the most productive I can be without at the same time choking my poems before they even have a chance to come out. I’ll say, “Ok, I’m going to start writing at 9:30 and stop at 1:00, I’m going to turn off my phone, I’m going to take one or two short breaks, I’m going to work on developing this part of my project,” etc. but then who knows what actually happens on any given day within the parameters I’ve set for myself. I might strike upon an entirely new idea, I might finish something I hadn’t planned on finishing, or I might get virtually no writing done and spend the day sighing and un-inspired. If I ever start to feel uninspired, though, I run to the bookshelf immediately!

The amazing essayist Jo Ann Beard, in a lecture I heard her give once, said that process is as unique as a fingerprint: it’s utterly different for everyone. I find that idea really liberating. She said, regardless of whatever form it takes, though, that it has to do with entering into and staying inside of––for as long as possible––that realm of imagination, with sustaining the imaginal logic of whatever the piece of writing may be. This is an insanely difficult thing to do. She likened it to trying to hold a beach ball underwater for hours at a time, without letting it bob back up to the surface. I think that analogy is really apt. Process is definitely an unwieldy beast.

I do know that I spend an incredible amount of time editing––or reimagining––every poem I write. I tend to work in series of poems, and so I spend a lot of time rearranging and re-conceiving how my poems relate to one another, as well as tweaking individual lines and words. Writing successfully, for me, has everything to do with editing, which is not to discredit the value of those momentary bursts of inspiration––but those, for me, can come at any time during the process of working on the poem, and not just when I’m first setting it down on the page.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

When I’m trying to come up with a new idea, I really enjoy writing in coffee shops. I like the buzz and the energy (although I’m always the dork in the corner with ear plugs in; I can’t write to music because it messes me up when I’m trying to “hear” my poems). But, because I tend to come up with long-term “project” ideas that often require research or printing a bunch of poems out and rearranging them, I do a lot of my writing at home. I’ll write anywhere in my apartment––on the couch, on the bed, at my standing desk, at the counter. I find when I’m really trying to sit with a poem or group of poems, really trying to “hold the beach ball under,” as it were, I like to be at home. As most writers seem to be, I am very introverted. While I enjoy being the fly on the wall sometimes, the occasional “flaneur” about town, at the end of the day I really just want to be alone in my little cave!

Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

Don’t give up! Allow yourself to struggle! Sit with the discomfort of struggling. This is something I’ve learned the hard way, and will probably learn the hard way again. I’m a perfectionist, and I like to achieve––but this is something you have to both cultivate and push against as a writer. You have to want it enough to keep going, but be humble enough to understand that you’re going to have to mess it up to get it right. I’ve been circling about one project––one source of inspiration––for over five years now, and failed countless times in trying to give voice to this inspiration. Like, really failed. But, it’s like Bob Dylan says: “There’s no success like failure.” It’s such a cliche but it’s true. Understand that you’re going to “fail,” but don’t let it demoralize you; learn from it instead. And, during those occasional moments of confusion and panic, if you come back to your essential love for writing, the reason you came to it in the first place, you’ll push through to the other side. At least this is what I tell myself literally every. single. day. It’s far easier said than done, but I think it’s the difference between writing and, well, not.


Who’s work has inspired yours?

There are many poets who’ve inspired me, but Elizabeth Bishop is someone I’m thinking a lot about right now. Bishop achieves this very real intimacy with the reader, but never by giving the reader information about herself directly. You get to know her by looking with her. She describes objects and landscapes with such detail and texture, and the way you end up feeling close to her is by getting to see these things too, in the way that she sees them. It’s about witnessing the rhythms of the poet’s unique mind, thinking the way she thinks for the duration of the poem. I am not what you would call a “confessional” poet. Even when I am writing on or from emotion, I am always fictionalizing it to a certain extent. I think I am an inherently private person. But a writer has to make the reader feel welcome, nonetheless; she has to let the reader get to know her in certain essential ways, even if it’s not the way she’d let, say, her best friend get to know her. Bishop really exemplifies this. Plus, she writes about geography too.


I find it impossible to name one poet who is my favorite – I have several. Who are some of your favorite poets and/or poems?

I could never pick just one favorite either, but here are some poets I love:

Frank Bidart, Rita Dove, Anne Carson, Elizabeth Bishop, Rainer Maria Rilke, Sarah Messer, Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Maggie Nelson, Frank Stanford, Lyn Hejinian, Donald Hall, Joan Ashbery, Joseph Brodsky, Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Shakespeare….and that’s just poetry! I could go on and on….


Where do you see yourself with regard to your writing in 5 years?

It feels silly to try and predict what I might be working on in 5 years, although it seems as though I’ve got two projects going at the moment––I thought they belonged together at first, but now I don’t think they do. I’m working on a series of historically-based poems about Colonial America, and another series having to do with a particular relationship in my life. It’d be great if, say, I finished one of those projects and published it as my first book of poems, and were on my way into writing my next book in five years. Who knows how these plans will change, though. It may take considerably longer to achieve that. I also have an idea for a series of poems on the Mississippi River. I’d like to write a magical-realism history of the Mississippi River, in verse––go big or go home, right?!

Whatever I’m doing, I hope I’m making time to write and feeling inspired. That’s all I really want for myself, period––but it’d be nice if something got published here and there along the way….

Are there any online or print journals you read and recommend? Are there any venues for sharing/listening to poetry that you recommend?

I’m definitely in the beginning stages of combing through all the awesome journals available online or in print. As in, I’ve only been playing the trying-to-get-published game for about a year (although that’s not the only reason to read literary journals!), and not as consistently as I ought to be. I find the process pretty overwhelming. There is so much out there. And if I could afford to just buy subscriptions to all of the journals that look interesting, and had the time to read all of them, I really would. It seems really difficult, however, to put quality time into your writing and to also find enough time to really expose yourself to the world of published work. I don’t know how people do it!

As for the second part of the question, I think any poetry event––readings, Slam performances, etc.––in New Orleans is worth going to. It’s such a welcoming (and relatively small) city, so going to these events is a great way to meet people, and to connect and reconnect with other local writers. I’m easy to please with this type of thing––I love just being around other people who also find it worthwhile to sit down and write every day, regardless in our potential aesthetic differences. I think New Orleans is a great place to be an artist right now, for many reasons. It’s a highly inspiring, highly stimulating place with delightfully low levels of pretentiousness, and you’ll start to hear it creeping in to everyone’s work, your own included, which just serves to create another connection between you and other local writers.

What are some of your favorite words and why?

This is even harder than picking a favorite author! In general, though, I like English words with more Germanic sounds, words with texture and punch. I also like single-syllabic words a lot.Straw. Gut. Hook. Orange. Those are my favorites tonight!

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Thank you, Cassie, for sharing your interesting pov with us today!

peauxdunqueCassie will be reading at the upcoming literary event Yeah, You Write, a Word Rebellion: Readings and Music, on April 18 at Cafe Istanbul. For more info see the FaceBook page of Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, sponsors of the event.

 
To read all interviews for Women Who Write, click here.

Next Friday: Julie Kane

Women Who Write: Kelly Harris

This is the first of a four-part series featuring Louisiana women poets in celebration of National Poetry Month. Each profile will highlight a poet from New Orleans or Southeast Louisiana including interview, biography and an original poem selected for this feature.

Kelly Harris

Kelly Harris

This week we feature Kelly Harris. Kelly earned her MFA in poetry from Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass. She has been awarded fellowships by Cave Canem and the Fine Arts Work Center and won a Wendy L. Moore Emerging Artists Award from the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland. Her poems have appeared in Say It Loud: Poems for James Brown, Yale University’s Caduceus, PMS, The Southern Women’s Review, PLUCK Magazine, DrumVoices Revue and other publications. The Kent State University graduate serves on the board of STAIR, (Start the Adventure in Reading) and is the editor/founder of brassybrown.com

Kelly will be speaking at The Contemporary Arts Center on April 18th in celebration of National Poetry Month and the 30 Americans Exhibition.

 

Stick Fighter
for Winnie Mandela

his breath on your neck

    his morning posture
    at the breakfast table

keepsakes of an ordinary wife

    freedom is not a love story

jumping the broom
is a weapon against those

    who see no danger in a woman

wearing a gele
crossing the threshold

    of her forbidden country

she is mad as the man
she married

can’t wait for God’s will

    demons are necessary
there must be blood

concrete to kiss
a modest woman will not have

    her name carved in stone
freedom is not a love story

               Winnie

the iron that sharpened him
all those years
               into a fist

~ ©Kelly Harris

How long have you been writing and what inspired you to choose this craft?

As a child I could always recite speeches and poems. I don’t really know how I developed the skill. I just always remember speaking somewhere and being mindful at an early age. I’ve been writing seriously since I was an undergraduate at Kent State University. I entered the university as a magazine journalism major, but it was always poetry that had a hold on me. I won a pageant contest my freshmen year. My talent was poetry, and soon after I become a poetry editor for the Black student’s publication and ran a poetry series that’s still active today. I don’t think I ever woke up one morning and said to myself, “I’m going to be a poet today.” I believe life calls us to become who we are meant to be.

Is poetry your primary genre? Do you work in any others?

Poetry is my first literary love. My blog, BrassyBrown.com, allows me to stretch my writing and of course, share my poetry. I just finished a major writing project about Black women in New Orleans that should be released soon by a nonprofit. I also do freelancing when I can. I am in the process of trying to find interest for my children’s book manuscript called “My Hoodie Keeps me Warm.” It’s the story of a group of African-American teenage boys being racially profiled. I am looking for a press for my poetry manuscript, “Revival.”

What is your earliest recollection of writing and poetry as a passion? Do you remember your first poem?

My first poem was called “Be a Leader Not a Follower.” I wrote it in 5th grade at my grandmother’s coffee table. I used to write poems in a spiral, pink Mead notebook. I threw
away many of my earliest poems because I was teased for being a poet. There weren’t a lot of poetry programs in the schools I went to. I didn’t pick up writing again until about 11th grade. I grew up in a very poor neighborhood. The great thing about my street was people were always talking, gossiping, cussing, and when you juxtaposed that with jump rope songs, hip-hop, my mother’s music collections, attending church with my family and black girlhood, it makes for great poetry.

Is writing your full-time occupation?

I wish. I’m a stay-at-home-mom and do contractual gigs in literacy, strategic planning and business writing. This may be hard to imagine, but I think becoming a mom has helped me become a better writer. It’s sharpened my attention to details and sound. To watch my 18-month-old daughter’s evolution of speech really has helped me think about language as a unit of the body.

I’m always interested in the writing process. Tell us a little about yours. Do you ponder a poem for a while, keeping it in a draft stage and working on it periodically or do you write it all at once, as the inspiration and words strike you? How much editing do you do on a piece?

I can sit and write a blog a lot easier and faster than a poem. Being a mother has forced me to write at God-awful-times, but I get it done because I do see writing as my life’s job. Most of my poems begin handwritten. When I type poems, I edit too fast. It’s just too convenient to backspace. I’m more likely to delete lines or words that may be useful later. I often do mental mapping of my poems. It helps me weed out clichés and tendencies and helps me see the possibilities for a poem.

Do you have a favorite place to write that’s particularly conducive to your creativity?

I write when and where I can, but I must admit I don’t write well in crowds or with lots of noise. Libraries used to be my ideal place, but now they are not guaranteed places of silence. There are very few public places where you can find solitude. Usually when everyone is sleeping, I am writing.

Do you have any tips you can share regarding motivation and/or discipline in completing a piece?

I have an MFA in Creative Writing and I sat through all sorts of lectures about motivation and discipline. First, it takes courage to write and hard work to write well, but the writing process is a lot more complicated than that. I’ve learned that everyone is different. I’ve tried to sit down each day and write on a schedule. I just can’t do it. I’m not wired that way, and my life is too hectic for structured writing. I make sure I take in a lot of music, interviews, reading, conversations and vocabulary words so that I am stock piling ideas and energy for poems to come. I’m always working on about 3-4 poems at a time. And I keep a journal of lines I’ve never used and mental notes that I sometimes use for things I’m working on. (See photo sample below)

kelly harris graphic

Whose work has inspired yours?

It depends where I’m at in my life and what I’m writing. I recently just bought “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth” (Mouthmark Press) by Warsan Shire. She packs a lot into a line. Recently the poetry world lost Wanda Coleman and Jayne Cortez—two amazing poets of color. I’ve been re-reading a lot of their work. I bought a Sonia Sanchez album, “A Sun Lady for All Seasons” last month and she’s really got me thinking about how to effectively use repetition and sound.

Speaking of sound … Bobby McFerrin. I’m not talking about “Don’t Worry Be Happy.” He’s amazing. To me there is no other human voice on the planet that creates sound and words the way he does. My 18-month-old taps her chest and improvises with him when I watch him on YouTube. It’s pretty funny, but in watching her and him, it’s a great lesson in the art of timing.

Where do you see yourself with regard to your writing in 5 years?

Hopefully I can increase my publishing credits and teach. I really miss teaching poetry to young people. I’ve had brief opportunities to guest instruct at NOCCA and Lusher, and I loved it.

Please share five poetry books you’d recommend.

“Blacks” by Gwendolyn Brooks (I mean, do I really have to explain?)

“Rice: Poems by Nikky Finney” (“Head Off and Split” won the National Book Award for Poetry but her other books are worth reading too).

“Trouble the Water: 250 Years of African American Poetry” edited by Dr. Jerry Ward (Former Dillard University Professor)

“How I Got Ovah: New and Selected Poems by Carolyn M. Rodgers” (Not as widely known, but should be).

“The Never Wife” by Cynthia Hogue (I bought this book at Dauphine Books in the French Quarter and had no idea there would be some poems about NOLA in it. It’s a wonderful book)

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Thank you, Kelly, for this inspiring interview!

 

hogs for the cause

Originally posted on the mosquito coast:

This weekend the Hogs for the Cause was held in City Pork, a benefit for families that have been impacted by pediatric brain cancer. It was an incredible event, with great music and great pork. The mud made the event complete! If you want to see some more pictures and read more commentary, browse through the #hogsforthecause hashtag.

I got there early and upon entering, the Pig Sexy booth was ready to go, serving up steamed pork buns, which were delicious!!!

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The 555 Sauciers were ready with the best chocolate covered bacon!

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Mr. Pigglesworth’s booth had a hawker in pink pig costume, one of many booths with team members in costume!

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Pork was the star of the day, but I managed to find the LA 23 BBQ team selling brisket!

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Kevin Bacon’s Balls representing!

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And of course the all femmes team, Sweet Swine O’ Mine were representing as well!

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