For the Love of Words

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These last two weekends were word-centric love fests. First was the Louisiana Book Festival in Baton Rouge, an annual celebration of writers, readers, and the books they love. And just yesterday the Festival of Words Cultural Arts Collective, Inc. celebrated the 10th Annual Festival of Words in Grand Coteau, LA.  I participated in both events.

It was the first time I was a presenter at the Louisiana Book Festival. I was there representing my book, Seek the Holy Dark, (Yellow Flag press, 2017). I was also invited by our new Poet Laureate, Jack Bedell, to be on a panel of Louisiana women poets. This was such an honor. The whole weekend was fabulous with my soul sister Bessie Senette. Accompanying me to the author event and sharing her generous friendship throughout the trip was the cherry on top.

The best part was seeing so many writer friends, who live in other cities, gathered at this celebration. It makes such a difference to the quality of our friendships to be in the same room together, share hugs, and laugh. I feel like our state writers are in many ways growing closer and that is a wonderful thing. A big part of that is opportunities such as Louisiana Book Festival which has grown in stature and attendance. It makes it possible for writers to connect with each other and with their readers. Don’t worry, friends. I won’t spill our secrets from the excursion on this page!

Next up was the Festival of Words. This year’s featured authors were extraordinary and kind. Darrell Bourque, Allison Joseph, and Patricia Smith each offered illumination and inspiration. From the reactions I witnessed, each of these fine poets seemed to have a fantastic time.

In its ten years as a festival, Festival of Words in picturesque Grand Coteau has grown greater than imagined. Thursday began with a warm reception for the featured poets with a potluck and performances by three of the festival’s Teaching Artists. It was a showcase to present the working artists who had gone into the schools to present creative workshops to the middle, elementary and high school students of St. Landry Parish.

Friday was the featured poets’ night to shine and it was fantastic. The venue was packed full. The audience was thrilled and gave standing ovations. Saturday, there were more activities, including community workshops led by the featured authors and spoken word and literary writers from the community.

It’s the wee hours of Sunday. The clocks are about to reset to Day Light Savings time, but I wanted to share just a flash about how wonderful these past two weeks have been. If you can make it in 2018 to either of these festivals, I don’t think you will be disappointed. Books, authors, learning, and entertainment—what’s not to love?

 

Clare

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Recollection of My Father, Atchafalaya Basin, 1984

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(photo by Clare L. Martin)

Sunrise, Atchafalaya Basin—

 

Daddy’s ankles in water as the flat-bottomed aluminum boat slides off the trailer. I put my life jacket on. Daddy says, Hold onto the rope and walk to the wharf. I board the boat carefully, so I don’t fall in the water. Daddy never wears a lifejacket. He throws the outboard into reverse then shoots out to the channel that is peppered with cypress stumps, some hidden below the waterline. Daddy knows the clear path to where the fish are hiding. Any good spot under the willow trees.

Flowing costumes of green braids—the willow-dance of the breeze. Daddy opens a Schlitz beer can and gives me a red soda pop. He baits my hook because I don’t like touching the catalpa worms with their black goo. We cast close to the ribbons of branches, being careful not to set the hooks in the trees. We’re not fishing for squirrels, Daddy says.

Sun ascends to the shoulders of the willows. We eat bologna sandwiches and chips and sip our drinks. I am getting sunburned. We are waiting for the corks to bob, pop below, and disappear under the water for good.

Daddy talks to the fish. Take it, Big Red. That worm is good. A tug, a quick jag to the right to set the hook in the fish’s mouth, then I’m pulling hard. Reel, reel, reel. The sun perch breaks the surface, shimmering iridescent reds. He is fat. He twists mid-air drowning in oxygen and blood. Daddy pulls the hook from the throat of the fish that swallowed the bait and hook.  Then, as I expect, Daddy squeezes the middle of the fish and it expels urine directed at me. I squeal. Daddy knows I hate and love this. Our ritual joke.

Daddy tosses the sac-a-lait into the ice chest. I am proud to have caught the first fish of the day. I feel lucky like we might have enough to invite family over for a fish fry. Everybody brings their own beer. Sac-a-lait battered in seasoned cornmeal and deep fried. Sometimes the fins are so crispy we eat them. Mama always has a loaf of bread on the table in case anyone gets a needle-like bone caught in their throat.

Daddy fishes with two hooks: one low for the catfish and the other higher up the line. Daddy does catch a catfish: a slick, almost lavender one in the shadows of the willows. He uses pliers to remove the hook and holds the catfish carefully so he isn’t stung by the barbed whiskers. Good eatin’ Daddy says. He put up a good fight. I love the fight most of all.

This day I catch a Gaspergou. It is big and fights like a man. I sweat in the sun’s heat. This big fish fights so hard. I pull, pull, pull and reel fast. Daddy holds the net near the water’s surface. How big will it be? We are both excited. It’s big and Daddy says, They’re no good unless you cook it in a courtboullion. We both know Mama will have nothing to do with it. Daddy wants to throw it back in the water, but I start to cry. We fish until the sun is low on the horizon.

At the boat landing, we are dirty and tired. The boat is full of trash: beer cans, wrappers, and a few thin streaks of muddy blood.  Daddy tells a Creole boy, who helps us put the boat back on the trailer, that I caught a Gaspergou. The boy licks his lips and smiles. I smile too, shyly. Daddy opens the ice chest and holds up the Gaspergou. The sun’s just now set but the silhouette of the fish is delineated starkly. The last streak of light is fuchsia and orange. I get into the front seat of the station wagon. In the rear-view mirror, I see Daddy giving the teenager the Gaspergou and the very last Schlitz.

 

©2017 Clare L. Martin

2017 Mentorships

If you feel you need creative coaching, cursory consulting on a manuscript, want to work one on one on your writing craft, or all of the above, consider engaging my services. (I also provide poetry book-length manuscript consultations. Fees are negotiated individually and are not the same as the quoted fee below, which is for the Mentorship arrangement).

The writing mentorships are structured courses that provide energetic and substantive relative-to-now literary conversations between the mentor and mentees. Great emphasis will be placed on craft and form. The mentee should have expectations of fast-paced, rigorous writing and reflective, nurturing, and honest feedback from a skilled and admired contemporary poet and publisher.

Specific goals of the six-week course will be decided upon in conversation prior to agreements being made. It is encouraged that the mentee sets goals at the outset with guidance to produce visible, realistic results. Mentorships will be conducted through email, phone, and weekly consultations in person, if local to Acadiana, or via Skype link up to meet anyone across the miles.

The fee for the six-week course is $300 US currency, (non-refundable due to course limits, serious inquiries only), payable through PayPal. The spots are limited due to the very intimate work and close personal attention offered.

For more information, please email: clmpoetrymentor@gmail.com or call (337) 962-5886