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Contemporary Works



So there is no unifying theme for today's reading beyong the fact that these are currently working writers. Everybody but Kristen Becker, who is a comedian. They are from various locations throughout the state. Kristen Becker and David Middleton are from Shreveport. Kevin Cutrer is an accountant in Boston, but he is originally from Kentwood, hometown of Britney Spears and Kentwood Spring Water. Ava Leavell Haymon lives in Baton Rouge. Mona Lisa Saloy lives in New Orleans, but she was a student at LSU when she stood up Ava for lunch.

Listening to Ava Leavell Haymon read "Louie's: Home of the Veggie Omelet" was the most surreal experience I've had with literature. I'd found it on Soundcloud & started listening to it while looking at other stuff. I gradually became aware that she was talking about my Louie's resaurant where I ate when I was a student at LSU. And she was waiting on my friend Mona Lisa, who was a student at LSU with me. According to Mona Lisa, she did not forget Ava, she got a toothache that had to be taken care of. One thing I like about the poem is that it celebrates something very specific: not a famous restaurant that people come from around the world to see, but a dive diner behind LSU that students to go to get sober food after partying at Murphy's Bar. As gratuate students, we'd go there after class to eat and continue our discussion. So hearing the poem was one of those moments that takes me back to my own past.

When she's not dealing with a toothache, Mona Lisa Saloy is also a poet. "Louisiana Log" is a poem I'd looked for for years. I'd been teaching "Chicago" by Sandburg, and I wanted something similar that describes Louisiana. Mona Lisa's poem does just that. Both poems are written in the Walt Whitman style of free verse. Plus they share the Walt Whitman theme of celebrating the diversity of America.

Middleton is a poet who grew up in Shreveport but spent part of the summer in Saline with his grandparents. His poem "The Sunday School Lesson" is based on his memory of a particular Sunday School lesson he heard there in the 1950's. In Baptist and similar churches, Sunday School classes divide up the congregation by age and often gender for Bible study classes. In this class, Jack Hopkins talks to restless thirteen year old boys about baseball, fishing, and hunting. The boys sit uncomfortably in their "Sunday clothes," which must not be gotten dirty by playing in them. This particular Sunday, he read Matthew 14:22-33, the story where Jesus walked on the water.

At last, he slowly read, then half-recited
In a drawl that took the measure of King James
Those passages in Matthew where affrighted
Disciples cried out to Jesus as He came

Walking across night's foam upon the water

Notice how Middleton uses the word "affrighted" instead of "frightened," because it evokes the King James Version that still universally read in Souther Baptist churches of the era (although the passage actually says 'troubled'). In an Ancient Mariner moment, Jack relives a terrifying night on the lake when he was trying to get away from a sudden storm when he too saw Jesus walking on the water, revealed by the lightning. The boys picked up on the man's emotion, and were drawn into the story of a man facing his own mortality. As they left the room, they were embarrassed and scared to even look at him, much like the wedding guest in the Ancient Mariner.

Rebecca van Laer's poem "First Date" is about her being a new-comer in New Orleans, going on a first date with a woman and eating raw oysters for the first time. I've heard of oysters as an aphrodisiac for many years, but never really understood the connection until I read this poem.

She orders oysters, of course I donít know how to do this,
to slip a three-pronged fork under the white flesh of some mollusk
and wiggle soft globes of muscle from the black mass
of shell, the lemongrass broth the dense gem swims in ó

how to pop it
out and into my mouth and then suck, savor the dense slip of it,
then again:
a sequence of teasing, eating, repeating, and this is only

our appetizer.

The more experienced woman introduces her to the mystery of eating mollusks, and by extension, to the mystery of sex itself. Oh, she may have eaten oysters and had sex before, but never like this. Life in New Orleans is baroque, like the "ridiculous cherubs entreating with their fat blue eyes" overhead. It overwhelms the senses.

Kristen Becker is a comedian who talks about growing up in Buffalo, NY, and Shreveport, LA, as a butch, out lesbian. Her blog post is from April 22, 2014. This date is important because she's writing about the situation in Louisiana prior to June 26, 2015, the date the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage throughout the country. Since then, gay people have had mostly the same rights in Louisiana they have in more progressive states. Kristen notes that even at that time, with discrimination on the books, she experienced tolerance from individuals in places all over the state. Since that writing, she and Rev. Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy) have teamed up in the Loosen the Bible Belt Tour, which tries to bridge the gap between religious America and our gay citizens.

Kevin Cutrer's "Ceramics" is a poem about his mother's collection of ceramic pigs. It's not unusual for people to have displays around their house of things they have a special interest in. My Aunt Nelda collects antique kitchen implements and hangs them on the wall, along with tiny skillets with a brand name in them. They're big enough to fry an egg, but she has dozens hanging on a wall. For Kevin's mother, it's ceramic pigs. They come with a cost: not only the money spent on them, but the upkeep of having to dust them frequently. But she does this with a song.

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