Monday, October 8, 2012

10 Must Read Poetry Books by Louisiana Creoles

Ten Must Read Poetry Books by Louisiana Creoles

Louisiana Creole[i] authors are often either segregated into the white/black binary of Uncle Jim southern historic repercussions, or occasionally added to either reading lists on Mixed Race, and/or Indigenous, and/or Caribbean Studies. As Janet Ravare Colson, Director Emeritus of the Creole Heritage Center has written, Louisiana Creoles “are generally known as people of mixed French, African, Spanish, and Native American ancestry, most of who reside in or have familial ties to Louisiana…The Creole culture began as an offspring of the Old World and the New when this country was still being colonized. Creoles are not one thing or the other, and have lived their lives being misunderstood, misrepresented and misinterpreted…” (7)[ii]. However, as I have argued and continue to argue, Louisiana Creole literature deserves its own unique space as occupying both the African and Indigenous diasporas in the Americas, while simultaneously incorporating southern and Caribbean regionalities and histories. With this in mind I offer a list, in no particular order, of poetry written by Louisiana Creoles, which every student of Louisiana Creole studies,or heritage should read --in my humble opinion[iii]. I present this list in no particular order.

1 Red Beans and Ricely Yours, Mona Lisa Saloy

This debut book length collection by NOLA’s own Mona Lisa Saloy, is a treasure of not only Louisiana literature, but of Southern literature and by extension American literature. I have no shame admitting that Saloy’s work occupies not only my research within Creole literature but also my all-time favorite poetry book list. Saloy is both Creole and African American. “Mona Lisa Saloy's prize-winning collection is black and female and southern and a literary event. The language is lively, the life is palpable, the observing eye is accurate and selective in distinctive ways, and the heart here is both true to the self and honest in its presentation. You don't know New Orleans if you haven't read this collection. You don't know southern poetry if you haven't read this book. You don't know the fun serious poetry can be if you haven't read Red Beans and Ricely Yours. Ms. Saloy does, yes she does.” --Dave Smith, Johns Hopkins University

2 Outfoxing Coyote, Carolyn Dunn

Dunn’s first collection of poetry, while drawing primarily on her Native ancestry, and the Los Angeles Indigenous diaspora, however cannot be separated from her southern roots and multi tribal and Creole heritage. Like Saloy, Dunn’s first poetry book occupies not only my research within Louisiana Indian &Creole literature but is also a much worn beloved text. Dunn is an American Indian artist of Cherokee, Muskogee Creek, Seminole, Cajun, Creole, and Tunica-Biloxi descent. “The most satisfying poetry shows us variations of our own life experiences metamorphosed by the language of the poet. Dunn's poems do that, recreating the passion, humor, and irony of everyday experiences transformed to mythic proportions.” --Janice Snapp, Rambles

Kein is a legacy. Her work spans history, poetry, music, and cultural studies. No student of Louisiana, let alone Louisiana Creoles should ignore the impact and legacy of her work. Moreover, her poetry in these two collections is vibrant, defining, diverse, and electrifying in its turn of phrase and deep rooted cultural presence. She also has the distinction of writing in not only Louisiana Creole, but, English, French, and Spanish. “Gumbo People is a book with poems and lyrics in Creole, plus sheet music. Some of the poems are translated into Haitian Creole, Spanish, French and English.” [iv]“Many of the poems in Creole Journal are based on individuals who lived in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Many were free people of color. The relations between owners and slaves and the mulattoes and quadroons they produced are the subject of some of the poems.”[v]

A must own standard, written in French, Creole, and English. "The wonderfully translated selections in Creole Voices vividly capture the joy and romance of life in New Orleans; the torment of racial oppression; the fragility of human life; and the many other sad and joy-filled realities of nineteenth century Creole Louisiana." --Caryn Coss Bell, author of Revolution, Romanticism, and the Afro-Creole Protest Tradition in Louisiana

6 Les Cenelles: ACollection of Poems by Creole Writers of the Early Nineteenth Century, edited by Armand Lanusse (translator collections: Regine Latortue and Gleason R.W. Adams)

This is not only the first collection of poetry published by those of African American descent, but also the first definitive collection of Louisiana Creole collected voice in the Americas. In defiance to the ban on publication of works by people of color, Armand Lanusse (New Orleans poet, educator, and editor) gathered eighty-five poems composed by seventeen free blacks and gens de couleur libres, the only collection of its kind!

Daughter of a Creole mother and Kentuckian father, Derricotte, is a contemporary poetic marvel, who also helped co-found Cave Canem Foundation. “Honest, fine-honed, deceptively simple. . . deadly accurate, 'more merciless to herself than history,' Toi Derricotte's poems are as unique as her point of view. And it is the specificity, the fine observation of that viewpoint...which makes it at once accessible and revelatory to readers, whatever their origins, whatever their preconceptions of the possibilities of poetry." —Marilyn Hacker. "The Black Notebooks is the most profound document I have read on racism in America today. . . . [It] is not just one of the best books on race I have ever read but just simply one of the best books I have ever read."—Sapphire. “Derricotte focuses on the aftermath of slavery, continued sexism and violence within the family…Her work reaches out into the black and white and comes up with meaning that is often complex and rich—in short, gray. . . .”—Publishers Weekly

9 Violets and Other Tales, Alice Dunbar Nelson

An early central figure to both Louisiana literature and Southern literature, Alice Moore (Dunbar Nelson after her marriage to Paul Dunbar Nelson, whom she later divorced), embodies not only region, but history of mixed race people at a crucial time. While I have chosen this work, as it is available electronically and includes poetry, her other works- biography, short stories, and poems (often published in journals) should not be over looked! Born in New Orleans to a former slave mother and Creole father Dunbar Nelson’s work reaches past time into contemporary Creole and people of color experiences. “Through her career Alice Moore wrote four novels, two volumes of oratory, dramas, newspaper columns, two collections of essays, poems, short stories and reviews, many of which drew on her extensive knowledge of Creole culture. In all of these collections, Alice Moore proved to be a perceptive critic of American society.”[vi]

While it feels a little self-serving to list my own work, in stepping back, whether one loves, hates or is indifferent to the collection, I can honestly say this book contributes important positionalities, regionalities, and mixed race histories (within the Indigenous and African diaspora of the American south) to the legacy of Louisiana Creole literature. “A good poet always knows what the truth tastes like, she knows that the taste of brine, metallic and tears are the ingredients for the truest stories, the kind that carry on, ‘tributaries pushing into river of my life;’ the kind that taste like origin, emergence and living history, and ultimately, a recipe for grace. ---Tiffany Midge, author of Outlaws, Renegades & Saints: Diary of a Mixed-Up Half Breed

[i] Note I am referring to the now more common use of Louisiana Creole to define those people of color, rather than the 19th century designation of white (French) Creole and/or Creoles of Color.
[ii] Colson, Janet R. THE Creole Book. Natchitoches: Lulu, 2012. Print.
[iii] Note, I do not include self-published texts, but rather those published by presses large and small, with the exception of literature pre-1930. 
[iv] From Barnes and
[v] From

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