French Quarter Poems  — Introduction

French Quarter Poems  — Introduction


ChickenBones: A Journal

for  Literary & Artistic African-American  Themes



Light and music pour from doorways into the street, here the carnival and there the quiet of candlelight.

A celebration of flesh, and an acknowledgement of the spirit.



Books by Lee Meitzen Grue

Goodbye Silver, Silver Cloud  /  In the Sweet Balance of the Flesh   / French Quarter Poems  / Three Poets in New Orleans  / Downtown

CD Live! On Frenchmen Street

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French Quarter Poems

By Lee Meitzen Grue


Where is the French Quarter of the poems? Geographically, it is the area of New Orleans, bounded by Canal St. and Esplanade, North Rampart and the River; it is contained on a map, a place referred to by boundaries. There is no gradual sliding into the Quarter, you go there to find something you cannot find elsewhere.

But what is it you visit? A collection of old buildings, a street of strip shows and barkers, fine restaurants, peeling plaster and garbage in the streets? There must be something more. It is a mystique, an ambiance as indefinable as a scent you once smelled and long to smell again. There  is a feeling of leisure that creeps into your bones with the damp; the luxury of “don’t have to get up in the morning,” a slow sensuality that leaves you in bed longing for more of something good.

For Quarterites it is the great love affair.

Light and music pour from doorways into the street, here the carnival and there the quiet of candlelight. A celebration of flesh, and an acknowledgement of the spirit.

The faces of the buildings are constantly being repainted. They are ladies past middle-age, settled into their flesh, who must constantly repair the small bits of their maquillage that flake away. The gas lights are kind to these ladies of a certain age, still bright in their layers of paint.

The faces of people, too, seem more vivid here. A trick of Southern light, perhaps, the sun up when it should be set or after a rain. People walk in crowds wearing their visible differences revealed as children reveal themselves to a tolerable mother who does not reject or punish, but smiles indulgently. It is when they go beyond her limits that they must comb their hair, quiet their clothes, and drink their spirits in closets.

If a place is mentioned in this book that you find in a guide book, remember it is not as represented there. These are vivid recollections of one time; poems as personal as the prints of my fingers.

Source: French Quarter Poems (1979) Long Measure Press

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By Lee Meitzen Grue

Lee Grue is arguably one of the finest practitioners of poetry in New Orleans’ storied history. These superb writs are equal to the upwelling of jazz itself: from Tremé street corners, to the wayward French Quarter, to the carefree vibes of Bywater, all the way to back o’ town; this astonishing collection speaks from a mythic pantheon off yowls & beats as timeless as the Crescent City herself. “If you’re missing New Orleans, and you know what that means, you need to read Grue’s book front to back, place by place, time by time, name by name, everything that breaks your broken heart and asks it to sing. A generous, loving tribute to poetry and to New Orleans”—Dara Wier

 “Lee Grue’s work is one of the majestic pylons that keeps New Orleans above water, a pylon woven thickly and subtly from the city’s history. Her poetry weaves her personal history to the five centuries of the city’s own, a fabric stronger than the dreams of engineers. Lee Grue holds us all on the warm open hand of her music; she emanates the love that raises the soul levees”—Andrei Codrescu

Lee Meitzen Grue was born in Plaquemine, Louisiana, a small town upriver. New Orleans has been home for most of her life. She began reading her poetry at The Quorum Club during the early sixties. There she met musicians Eluard Burt and Maurice Martinez (bandleader Marty Most). Burt had just come back to New Orleans from San Francisco, where he had been influenced by the Beats. Eluard Burt and Lee Grue continued to work together over many years. Burt and his photographer wife, Kichea Burt, came home to New Orleans from California again in the nineties, where the three collaborated on a CD, Live! on Frenchmen Street. Eluard Burt passed in 2007.

Kichea Burt contributed some of the photographs in Grue’s book DOWNTOWN. During the intervening years Grue reared children, directed The New Orleans Poetry Forum workshop, and NEA poetry readings in the Backyard Poetry Theater. In 1982 she began editing New Laurel Review, an independent international literary journal which is still published today. She has lived downtown in the Bywater for thirty-five years. After the flood of 2005 she began teaching fiction and poetry at the Alvar Library, which is three blocks from her house. Her other books are: Trains and Other Intrusions, French Quarter Poems,  In the Sweet Balance of the Flesh, and Goodbye Silver, Silver Cloud, short fiction.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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update 8 July 2008



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