Thursday, April 23, 2009

P-DARS and Two NOLA Poets

I had a plan, I really did. I was going to compile a list of all the post-Katrina works being published by New Orleanian writers and poets, but there are just too many. And I haven't read most of them. So I decided to switch gears and direct my readers (what few of you there are) to two volumes which represent the opposite ends of the Post-Disaster Artistic Response Spectrum (or P-DARS). But first, let me explain what I mean.

Say you live through a disaster of some sort. As a writer, you feel the need to respond to it in some way though your work. This is why you are a writer and not a fireman. Or, say you didn't live through the disaster, but you were sincerely affected in some way. You would still feel the need to respond. After all, this is the purpose of a writer: to create something as a response to, reflection of, or insight into our human condition. The P-DARS gives you two extreme options: write about the disaster head-on, explicitly, or write about everything but, yet somehow create a piece that still responds to said disaster. Both are valuable and neccessary for different reasons.

Katie Ford's writing in Colosseum has her leaning head-first into the extreme winds of disaster and pressing forward, one foot at a time, towards some kind of resolution or relief. Displaced with thousands of others, Ford’s first-hand experience lends a sense of panic to her poems, where the daily news often interrupts. Even the accounts of past disasters woven into her work are presented by an unflinching eye determined to record and preserve each horror.

In Divine Margins, Peter Cooley, like Ford, reaches into the past in search of touchstones for his suffering. But unlike Ford, Cooley's work is not about Katrina. Not at all. Rather, it is an intimate look at intimate grief and loss, specifically, the loss of his parents. But somehow the book manages to transcend that intimacy and become larger than the words on the page. Larger than the death of one loved one, the grief of one person. Large enough, even, to encompass an entire city's grief and loss.

Of course, there are many works spanning the P-DARS spectrum which respond to the hurricane in one way or another. But these are two significant places to start your reading.

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