In honor of National Poetry Month, Ann Marie Awad sat down to talk with Ava Leavell Haymon, Louisiana’s Poet Laureate. She’s on a mission to change the way the rest of the world looks at the state of Louisiana through poetry.
She made Louisiana Life Magazine’s list of eight Louisianians of the year earlier this year. She said she was surprised to see who else was on the list.
"Here I was, I open the magazine, start flipping through, there I am and there was Duck Dynasty, every one of them," she said. "Of course I wanted to send this to my children, but as you can imagine, they were merciless when they saw that."
While Ava says she’s got nothing against the Robertson family or Duck Dynasty, she does think the show is part of a pattern of the state receiving the wrong kind of national attention.
"People tend to make fun of Louisiana outside of Louisiana," she said. Her answer to that? Poetry.
"The duties of the poet laureate are to represent poetry inside of the state and outside of the state, to represent Louisiana. We have a huge cultural presence outside of the state. Music, primarily, is what people know about the most," she said. "But the poets are not known outside - we, many of us are known outside the state - but we are not known for having poets, and we have wonderful poets here, lots of them."
Listen to Ava read a poem from her latest collection, Eldest Daughter called "In Which I Forgive My Mother Her Intentions"
Ava discusses "In Which I Forgive My Mother Her Intentions"
And Ava says Louisiana is a great place to write poetry about.
"Our lushness in the environment, our subtropical - and yet we spill oil all over the place. We have gorgeous musicians, and they can barely support themselves. We have absolutely Byzantine politics, we have the most exotic weather of any state I believe," she said. "All of this is great fodder for poems because - someone earlier in the 1900's said 'A poem must contain the yes and the no.' I would think an authentic poem - life being some dark, some light - an authentic poem would have some of both and tries to hold them in some kind of balance, and Louisiana’s got some of both in just about every topic you can think of."
Ava says Louisiana poets write like Louisianians talk. And what do Louisianans like to talk about? "Well, like everybody else, I talk about food all the time."
Listen to Ava read a poem from her 2010 collection, Why the House is Made of Gingerbread called "The Witch Has Told You a Story"
Ava discusses "The Witch Has Told You a Story"
Ava's work is available through LSU Press