Selections from Poems for New Orleans by Edward Sanders

Edward Sanders Investigative poetics pioneer, freedom fighter, founder & editor of Woodstock Journal, Gugenheim Fellowship recipient, American Book Award winner, and author of more than two dozen volumes of poetry, Ed Sanders recent publication of verse, Poems for New Orleans, is a book-length sequence on the the history, past and present (Katrina and post-Katrina) of the great city. Paris Records has released a version with music produced by Mark Bingham.

Poems for New Orleans
by Edward Sanders
paperback, 128 pages
(North Atlantic, 2008)
Available on-line

(North Atlantic) - The indomitable spirit of the people of New Orleans is the focus of this powerful suite of poems by counterculture icon Ed Sanders. The book begins with a series of vivid evocations of key events and personalities in the city's history, then brings this colorful legacy into the present with the harrowing force of Hurricane Katrina. That natural catastrophe, multiplied by human indifference, incompetence, and greed, is explored as a watershed demonstration of the sociopolitical fissures underlying modern America. At the core of the book is the saga of the Lebage family, beginning with Lemoine Lebage, who fought with Andrew Jackson's forces in the Battle of New Orleans and then set down roots in the city. Five generations later his descendant Grace Lebage is a singer and poet struggling to restore her life after Katrina has wrecked her ancestral home. Although the enormous, still-unfinished tragedy of Katrina suffuses Poems for New Orleans, human resilience in the face of adversity is its ultimate subject. Here is a New Orleans only glimpsed by the outside world, a place whose creativity, humor, and triumphant spirit no tragedy can overcome.

CD featuring Ed Sanders lyrics & songs
produced by Michael Minzer & Mark Bingham
in New Orleans at Piety Street Studios
(Paris Records, 2007)
Available on-line

What if William Blake had Gone to New Orleans

William Blake sailed to New Orleans
with his printing press and some blank copper plates
came up Lake Borgne and then to the Crescent

where he found an upstairs room at the Lost Mule
down the hall lived the Wild Women of the Pontchartrain
and in the saloon below they gambled around the clock

Soon his bed was covered with his watercolor sketches
for Dante's Paradiso

and across two chairs he carefully laid the giant rolled canvas
of the nearly completed "The Last Judgement"

On the fourth day William Blake hired a cart and
brought his art to the front of St. Louis Church

He set up his drawings for Dante 85 in all
around the edges of the wrought iron fence
and also stretched out "The Last Judgement"
upon the front stone steps

then he went inside the church
and fell to his knees near the altar

upon the vision of the Black Mary
holding a silver handled bowl
Next to her was his long-dead brother Robert
the one whose spirit had shown him the
secret of the reverse-image copper plate etching
he used in his books and prophecies

All in white stood the dark shining Impératrice
except for the rubies strung at the cincture

Blake wept at the Ancient Glory

Then there was a footfall
a woman's voice

"The painting stretched on the steps outside
it is yours?"

"It is"

"I would like to give you three Spanish crowns for it."

The bard thought for 15 minutes

"I must take it back to London,
for there are some wondrous colors I must yet mix"

The woman handed him some packets

"Here are sacred dyes for your painting. They are from the
powers that rule."

The woman left, and the Black Mary walked with her.

Soon the bard was back at the Lost Mule
etching a copper plate

with some quatrains of the Final Colors:

             Oothoon Came to the Crescent

Oothoon came to New Orleans for Freedom's sake
She met her lover Theotormon by the mud-walled Lake
However much the Empty Sky was flaming wroth
Oothoon desired her Empty Chamber clear'd of Cloth

On a bed of Spanish moss she loosed her Crescent Veil
The cage door ope'd and the Prince of Love set sail
Oothoon laid her robe on a cypress chest
And sounds of total joy came echoing down her breast


                 The next day Blake's ship, loaded with
                  barrel staves from up the River
                  and a ton of molasses
                  headed back for Albion.



Did Mark Twain Meet Marie Laveau?

There was a rumor once
that Twain crossed paths with Marie Laveau
during Mardi Gras of '61

He was walking in the French Quarter
past pastel plastered houses
turned with age to
                           the hues of dapple-skin'd fruit
with iron-railed verandas running
across the fronts of upper stories

In one of these on the second floor
with the Mardi Gras parade on the street below
Mark Twain met Marie Laveau

He was 25
            and she was 66

Ah, Sunflower, weary of time.

"What do you say?" asked the budding writer.

"I say that the war will not go well for the slavers."

"What war?"

"And that I will be nursing many a maimed
just like I did during Andy Jackson's time."

She'd kept the
elegant beauty of her youth
with a look of burning tiredness
some said burning torches
in the iron of her night-sky canticles

Ah, Sunflower, weary of time.

She was wearing an ornate golden sun-disk
attached to the back of her head
with wiggling silver rays snaking outward
in all directions
Her red velvet gown reached to the floor
so that Twain could not determine if
she were wearing shoes
(he was taking notes)

Ah, Sunflower, weary of time.

She held to her visage a luminescent mask
thin as an egg shell. Twain saw that
it was just like her actual face
when she pulled it away to speak.

"My friend over there told me you
once attracted 10,000 souls
to the edge of Lake Pontchartrain
to hear you preach."

"I do not preach
I teach-and I cut the hair of ladies."

"I want to write many books
and make my name"

"You shall, but I must make a mark
on your arm."

Twain rolled up the stiff white cloth
and Marie Laveau drew three
red crosses

"This is for The Three," she said, something
the writer interpreted as
                         security for at least three books.

"Are you really the voodoo queen?" he asked.

"I go to mass every morning; I learned many things
from my grandmother in Haiti; I know how
to revive; and I have healed many a wounded soul."

Twain jotted down a few things in his river pilot's notebook
but Marie Laveau made sure it
                         disappeared in the carriage Twain took back
                         to his place of lodging.



The Levees

                                        Drove my Chevy to the Levee
                                        but the Levee was Dry

                                                                    -Don McLean


Like children molding edges of clay
to fill a tiny pond with a garden hose

the powers that be
tempted Gaia

with brittle levees
one or two of them
built above swampland peat

Then came a storm
that took its time
moving as slow as poured aluminum

chewing a few floodwalls here and there
as it linger-swept above them

and it even shoved some embankments
a few feet forward
                with water-weight

The storm-shove caused what they call overtopping
then the breaches began
& murky Lake Pontchartrain
began its kill-swill
                       down over 80 % of the Polis

There were pump failures aplenty
and failures of duty
but heroism too
               by the myriad

There was a huge barge called ING 4727
that crashed through a levee on the
waterway connecting Pontchartrain with the Mississippi

and roamed through the flooded 9th Ward
erasing structures
like when in Photoshop
you use the eraser tool to
                         wipe away the lines and marks

on a scanned map!

A levee is never really dry, Don
and water is never happy


Unearned Suffering

All the people born
with anvils in their souls

            -unearned suffering

All the children
                   that had to work in mines

got TB   got black lung
so many died young

            -unearned suffering

All the back breaking work
milling and killing
cleaning up slobs

making the calm life glow for a few

            -unearned suffering

The River of Malice
is one strong force
to block
            bread and roses
                        & every chalice

but did not Martin Luther King
speak of it that hot August day?

Did he not offer the hope that
"unearned suffering is redemptive"?

Is it really that? Oh I wish it were!

August '63 was for the "veterans of creative suffering"
-before the time of murder

But 2005 saw unearned suffering
worthy of the days of Poseidon



I hate FEMA
I hate Bush
I hate flooding
I hate war
I hate racism
I hate secret poverty
I hate pollution
I hate class
I hate cluster bombs
I hate depleted uranium
I hate battle fatigue
I hate land mines
I hate poisoned water
I hate hate

O God, O Ra, o Thoth, o Wisdom
shake me free of this cage!


To Poseidon

I know Poseidon you are maybe just molecules
or a vast type of electric structure
or perhaps some interconnected sarks of quarks

Whatever you are
I'm singing from a Human Universe

perhaps a bit too Ptolemaic

Maybe you were just trying to build some wetlands?
But we are not crayfish

we are, for better or worse,
sacks of sentient water
about to leave Gaia

for the Pontchartrains of the Beyond