Heart of Louisiana: The poet laureate

It has a rich blend of country and culture, of farming and higher learning.  The small southwest Louisiana town of Grand Coteau has Louisiana's second oldest school, the Academy of Sacred Heart, founded in 1821. 

Just 16 years later, the Jesuits opened St. Charles College.  It's a town with an old church, and picturesque old homes.  Grand Coteau is also a place where reading poetry has become an evening's entertainment.

"You called me a haunted house," reads poet Kelly Clayton, "said you were just a lost Greek boy walking the halls trying door knobs.  Said you never knew if one would swing an inward welcome, or outward to bust you in the nose."

It's an overflow crowd in the backroom of the Casa Azul gift shop.  The group calls itself "The Festival of Words".  It was founded by writer and gift shop owner Patrice Melnick, a former New Orleanian who found a new home here after Katrina.

"Writing is kind of something you do in isolation, but it's nice to have a place to share it and know other people who like to write," Patrice Melnick says.  "There's a participant element to it.  In addition to listening to these authors read,we pass a group poem around the room where everybody gets to add a line."

On this night, there is a symbolic passing of the state's poetic torch-- from former Louisiana poet laureate Darrell Bourque to newly appointed poet laureate Julie Kane, an English professor at Northwestern State University of Louisiana.

The poet laureate is an official state job.  It's appointed by the governor.  The nomination comes from a selection committee.  And the person chosen has to have written poetry that's been published.

In her official role, Kane has to give one poetry reading a year.  Unofficially, her mission is to promote the art of writing.

"I think we all have a need for that language that helps us make sense and make meaningout of our lives," says Kane.

Kane's writing embraces Louisiana -- from the bars and jazz funerals of New Orleans to the white egrets that grace our swamps and roadside ditches.

"Egrets" by Julie Kane


You have to love them

for the way they make takeoff

look improbable:


jogging a few steps,

then heaving themselves like sacks

of nickels into


the air. Make them wear

mikes and they'd be grunting

like McEnroe lobbing


a Wimbledon serve.

Then there's the matter of their