Monday, July 29, 2013

Monday Muse: Louisiana's Poet Laureate

. . . To be enthusiastic about this great art form
comes easily to me, and to evangelize for it
utilizes some of my preacher's daughter fervor.
~ Ava Leavell Haymon*

Recently appointed to a two-year office (2013-2015) by governor Bobby Jindal, Ava Leavell Haymon assumes the position of twelfth Poet Laureate of Louisiana. She takes over from Julie Kane (2011-2013), who succeeded Darrell Bourque (2009-2011).

My post about Bourque includes information about the honorary position.

A nationally recognized writer, Haymon, who has been called the "unofficial poet laureate of Baton Rouge", gives numerous poetry readings, judges poetry contests, conducts poetry workshops and seminars, and makes appearances at many conferences and literary festivals throughout the state. For some time, she has been involved in an Artists-in-the-Schools program in Baton Rouge, and Junior Great Books programs in a number of parishes. During her tenure as Poet Laureate, her only requirement is to deliver an annual public reading at a location designated by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. According to information from the LEH, an inaugural public reading by Haymon is tentatively scheduled for October at the Louisiana Humanities Center in New Orleans. 

* * * * *
[Ava Leavell Haymon] . . . writes poems about small things
that, by the peculiar alchemy that is poetry, become larger. . . .
. . . [their] quality. . . their concerns are of the timeless variety. . . .
~ David Sewell in Coldfront Review of Kitchen Heat

Baton Rouge resident Ava Leavell Haymon has published Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread (Louisiana State University Press, 2010), awarded in 2011 a Mississippi Arts and Letters Award for poetry and named in 2010 a "Top 10" book of poetry by Women's Voices for ChangeKitchen Heat (LSU Press, 2006), and The Strict Economy of Fire (LSU Press, 2004). Her fourth collection, Eldest Daughter (LSU Press), came out in August. She plans to publish a fifth collection, Choosing Monogamy, in 2015.

Haymon also is the author of  a number of chapbooks: How One Became Two (2004), Why the Groundhog Fears Her Shadow (March Street Press, 1998), Staving Off Rapture (Flume Press, 1994), Built in Fear of Heat (Nightshade, 1994), A Name Gift for Every Child (Mother Daybreak Press, 1991), and Strong in Broken Places: Poems After September 11, 2001 (2001). Some of the latter are available through resellers; several are in the collections of the State Library of Louisiana.

In addition to writing poetry, Haymon is a playwright (at least a half-dozen of her plays have been produced), and she has collaborated with filmmakers, choreographers, composers and librettists (The Gretel Songs, set by Dr. Mary Carol Warwick), and other artists on creative projects.

I write poetry because . . . I like to take the world in very tiny steps. 
The world or life in general has always seemed very overwhelming
to me, because I have very sensitive. . . sensory attenae out in 
the world, it seems, and poetry allows you to just go one little tiny, 
tiny, baby step at a time instead of rushing along as you do in prose, 
where you have to take in more. 
~ Ava Leavell Haymon in Interview with Library Road Show

The skillfully crafted poetry — admirers point to pacing, narrative element, use of enjambment, assonance and alliteration, intensity of diction, striking imagery — of Ava Leavell Haymon often addresses the subject of women's domestic lives: their love, marital, and family relationships; their needs and hungers (in all forms); their sources of nourishment; their very mundanity (those "small things" David Sewell notes that are so common to all our lives). The poems can be tender, humorous, ironic, or wry; often, they are incisive in their depictions of emotions (joy, happiness, frustration, anger, questioning). Some are no longer than three lines; others run a full page and more. Frequently they incorporate aspects of the natural world alongside myth and fable.

Following are excerpts from two poems that give an idea of Haymon's style, which can be both straight-forward, even plain-speaking, and lyrical:

I don't hear the alarm. Usually
I don't even wake up when you leave.
You drive up together to George's land
in the Felicianas, to hunt wild turkey.
Thermos, coffee breath, jokes in the truck.
Jokes women wouldn't laugh at, jokes
about too much bourbon, the girl
who couldn't get enough. I move over
into the warm spot on your side.
~ From "All the Men in My Family Hunt" in Kitchen Heat

Golden with rice, the terraces
curve around the mountain shoulder,
teeth marks from Kali's comb.
Calm eyes of women gaze at us
out of cream-tea brows, daubed vermilion
to remind us they wake the sleeping gods.
~ From "Above the River Ghandaki" in The Strict Economy of Fire

Published widely, Haymon's work can be found in Bellingham Review, Cimarron ReviewCrab Orchard ReviewGeorgia Review, Hudson Review, Image Journal,  Louisiana Literature Journal, The Louisville ReviewNew Orleans Review, Northwest Review, The Pedestal Magazine, Poetry, Prairie Schooner, RhinoRose & Thorn JournalThe Sun, The Southern Review, Town Creek Poetry, and Turn Row, among other national literary periodicals and magazines. Her work also has been anthologized in Vision/Verse 2009-2013: An Anthology of Poetry (Yellow Flag Press, 2013), Improbable Worlds: An Anthology of Texas and Louisiana Poets (Mutabilis Press, 2011), The Southern Poetry Anthology: Volume IV: Louisiana, and Landscape and Epiphany (Xavier Review Press, 2007), among other collections.

In addition to the honors noted above, Haymon is the recipient of the L.E. Phillabaum Poetry Award (2010) and Louisiana Literature Poetry Prize (2003). She was one of 50 state honorees of the American Women Writers National Museum (May 2012).

Director of a retreat center for writers and artists in New Mexico, Haymon has been a teacher of poetry-writing for more than three decades. She also edits the Barataria Poetry Series (LSU Press), which will debut next spring.


Image Credit: David Humphreys

All Poetry Excerpts © Ava Leavell Haymon

Ava Leavell Haymon Poems Online: "God of Luck", "Denmother's Conversation" (Excerpt), "The Holy Ghost Attends Vacation Bible School" (Excerpt), All at LSU Press: Books; "Year's Turn" at TweetSpeak; "The Witch Has Told You a Story" at Academy of American Poets' Website Poetry.Org; "Aphrodite" at Women's Voices for Change; "Chill Seeping Out of the Old Forest", "Why the Groundhog Fears Her Shadow", "The Spell Lifts", and "Nightfall", All at Louisiana Poetry Project; "At the Opera" at Town Creek Poetry; "Festival of Lights" at Poetry Foundation; "The Gold Underpainting Is a Given" at The Pedestal Magazine; "Groundhog's Prayer of Petition", "Backyard, With Sycamore", "Birdsong", and "July Birthday", All at Swamp Lily Review; "All the Men in My Family Hunt" at Festival of Women's Poetry; "The Heads of Old Dolls" at New Orleans Review (pdf); "Mrs. Calendar Backs into Chaos", "Paper Doll", and "The Way We See It", All at Gris-Gris;

Online Audio Recordings of "Chill Seeping Out of the Old Forest", "Conjugal Love Poem", "Cradlesong", "First Bond", "How One Became Two", "Hunting and Gathering", "In Gratitude for a Southern Baptist Upbringing", "The Blood Time", "The First Wish", "The Questions Women Ask", "The Witch Has Told You a Story", and "You Can See It in the Architecture", All at The Knox Writers' House

Angie Ledbetter, "Writerly Wednesday - A Journey from Narrative to Jazz to Poetry", Gumbo Writer, March 16, 2011

Ava Leavell Haymon Videos on YouTube: "What the Witch Wanted", "Ava Leavell Haymon Reading at Baton Rouge Gallery"; "Library Road Show" (May 14, 2013)

Ava Leavell Haymon on FaceBook and Twitter

David Sewell, "Kitchen Heat" (Review), Coldfront, October 23, 2006

Eldest Daughter LSU Press Release

Kitchen Heat on GoogleBooks

The Strict Economy of Fire on GoogleBooks

Why the House Is Made of Gingerbread on GoogleBooks

Office of the Governor

State Library of Louisiana (FaceBook)

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