Tricentennial Reading List With Nancy Dixon (Poetry)
- Les Cenelles, edited by Armand Lanusse
- From a Bend in the River:100 New Orleans Poets, edited by Kalamu ya Salaam
- The Maple Leaf Rag, various editions
- All Saints and All Souls, by Brenda Marie Osbey
- I hope it's not over and goodbye, Everett Maddox
- Magnolia Street, Tom Dent
- it was today, Andrei Codrescu
- While Sleeping, Bill Lavender
- Peter Cooley, Julie Kane, Brenda Marie Osbey – Louisiana poets laureate from New Orleans
['Opulence' by Tom McDermott]
Susan Larson: Nancy, start us off with the book that started it all for New Orleans poetry collections.
Nancy Dixon: Well, luckily for us, Henry Louis Gates, many decades ago, discovered Les Cenelles, the first anthology of African American poetry in the world. It was 17 different writers, led by Armand Lanusse, who was a Catholic school teacher and principal and poet. They had all contributed to an anthology that was published by a white poet, but they were proud Creoles. Lanusse wanted to publish his own collection of his own friends and writers.
He wrote most of the poems in the collection, but perhaps the one that went on to most fame and glory is Victor Séjour, who arguably wrote the first short story by an African American Le Mulâtre, or The Mulatto, a story about the horrors of slavery and the Haitian Revolution. His father was Haitian and moved to New Orleans after the Haitian Revolution. He went on to Paris and became quite a playwright.
Les Cenelles is an example of poetry about Creoles for Creoles, dedicated to the fair sex of Louisiana. Les Cenelles is often translated as The Holly Berries but I found that the translation mayhaws is better since that's a long standing tradition in Louisiana for young men to have gathered mayhaws, take them to their lovers, their girlfriends, their fiance's, mostly to give to their mothers. Then they could also taste the mayhaw jelly after that was cooked. The poems are French style. Many of the young men were schooled in France, many of them were of mixed race. They were Catholic, proud, very literate and educated.
It's a beautiful collection that was translated at centenary. We have it in both languages, in English and in French.
['River Niger' by the Improvisational Arts Quintet]
Susan: I often find that anthologies are really a good way to get a sense of place. One of my favorites is From a Bend in the River: 100 New Orleans poets, edited by Kalamu ya Salaam.
Nancy: He also recorded some of those poems back in-- It had to be 21, 22 years ago by now. He brought together poets throughout the city. I know that Tom Dent and I know Bill lavender, many of the poets writing at the time and Kalamu. It's two decades old, but it reads like a who's who in poetry today in New Orleans.
Susan: I know. See, if we had a longer Tricentennial reading list, we could list all 100 of them.
Nancy: We could.
Susan: Then another great anthology or series of anthologies, The Maple Leaf Rag associated with Maple Leaf Bar, of course.
Nancy: The Maple Leaf Bar, thanks to Nancy Harris and of course, Everett Mannix. Poems from that era and poems from even The Maple Leaf Rag many collections, are always being republished in different editions. That is so far from the early poetry we were talking about. It's fun, it's-
Nancy: - it's loose, it sacrilegious at times, it's trying to be shocking at times.
Susan: Being New Orleanians, we like a little drink with our poetry-
Nancy: We sure do.
Susan: - on Sunday afternoon, because that is the longest running poetry's reading series in the south.
Nancy: It is.
Susan: Well, thanks Nancy. This has been a blast.
Nancy: It has been fun. Thank you. Thanks so much for having me.
['Burt's Lullaby by Eluard & Co.]
Susan: For the ever growing Tricentennial Reading List, and other episodes, check out wwno.org. The Reading Life Tricentennial Reading List is sponsored by the Helis Foundation, the John Burton Harter Trust and the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities.