The other evening I was chatting with my neighbor who is a poet and she pulled Blood Dazzler off her shelf.
“This is a really great book, it’s about Hurricane Katrina and a lot of the poems are from the perspective of the storm. Check it out.”
I’m quite dutiful with borrowed books so I began it the collection rapidly. I admit, I am not a HUGE poetry fan–when I find a golden nugget in a poem, I go crazy. I still remember some of the poems that truly touched my soul and single words that rattle in my ears years later after quietly reading them. I’m certainly susceptible to the shell-shock of an amazing poem, but it’s not my preferred medium. Just throwing it out there. But I was incredibly excited for this book, especially because it was a National Book Award finalist.
The opening poem is very impressive and I read over it three times and kept finding new images and sounds to appreciate. Excellent, excellent, fine and dandy. But I couldn’t help but feel as the book progressed that I simply grew tired of the material.
Katrina is a ghost when you live in New Orleans, always around but never really present even for a transplant like me. I overhear tourists walking through the Quarter all the time saying “Oh, so this was flooded, like, ten feet, yeah?” Nope, not at all, the Quarter doesn’t flood as it is ten feet above sea level.
I could keep going, but even for me, who didn’t even go through Katrina in Nola but did up in the East Coast (power went out for five days–long, hot days full of laying on the carpet waiting for the fan to start moving), it’s exhausting.
It’s a lot of ugly business and the collection captures the ugly in full. One of the most treacherous scenes for me was a family skipping out of town but leaving their dog, Luther, tied up to a tree with a couple extra bowls of water and dog food to survive a hurricane. I repeat: tying a dog to a tree, OUTSIDE, assuming he can survive a CATEGORY FIVE hurricane.
The other obvious culprits are equally depressing–poems dedicated to Michael Brown and Bush plucking each and every thread of injustice and disgust they exhibited towards the people left in the city. Barbara Bush scoffing that underprivileged children were doing better in the Houston Astrodome on a cot than they were in their own homes.
There is also apparently a bit of controversy because Patricia Smith was not present throughout the storm. I don’t know if I abide by the idea that one has to personally live things to have permission to write about it, but it is definitely clear that she has spoken to many, many people and done insurmountable research to craft her poems.
I’m not finished the book yet, but I don’t think it’s going to be an easy one to finish. Overall, I’m exhausted by talking or thinking about Katrina and it is odd that after twelve years it is still a ghost bound to be replaced by another storm.
P.S. I read this fantastic blog post by Victo Dolore detailing Katrina aftermath from a doctor’s perspective. Yet another extremely difficult thing to reckon with when the topic comes up, give it a read.