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.
"Ed Sanders—poet, Pentagon levitator, classics scholar, founding member of the Fugs—is a political force in Woodstock, New York."
—Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker
“No poet today writes history better than Ed Sanders. From the Duke of Orleans’ fragile grouping of houses in 1718, to wealth and heights with Mardi Gras and fun without guilt, to the storm of Katrina, the bard of our continent gives us the truth with these poems and songs.”
—Joanne Kyger, author of About Now: Collected Poems
“Sanders the poet-maestro of American history excels his own lyrical genius with the truth beams he sends flashing in Poems for New Orleans.”
—Michael McClure, author of Scratching the Beat Surface
“A magisterial suite of poems tracing the Crescent City from its founding in 1718 through the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, Poems for New Orleans is a vertical history in verse, recalling Charles Olson’s Gloucester and William Carlos Williams’s Paterson."
—Nina Shengold, Chronogram Magazine
“The bad handling of Hurricane Katrina is a central point of this book, but more importantly, Sanders also sheds light on the after-effects and the suffering it imposed on those who were displaced. This type of ‘investigative poetics’ is not new territory for Sanders… [H]e has put his best foot forward to cover one of America’s greatest tragedies. The book is interspersed with sharp, quick-witted shorter works that glue the larger poems into a taught fabric; the shorter poems represent an alternate poetic frequency and outlook that allows the larger, more musical poems to mesh exceptionally well.… Poems for New Orleans provides a much-deserved helping of poetic justice.”
—Darrin Daniel, Rain Taxi
“Ed Sanders, in his Poems for New Orleans, leads us at one point to imagine the goddess Athena reappearing to intercede for yet another place where ‘something has shamed justice.’ The work is, as he says, ‘a prayer for the victims’ of this injustice. But it is also a Prophetic Book, an eloquent cry of righteous indignation. And it is an Apologia for the Polis, a celebration of the Queen City, the Fertile Crescent, with its richness of culture, history and humanity. In producing this extraordinary work, Sanders has combined the patient labors of the engaged historian with the creative inspiration of the poet. The Poems enlighten the reader about the thick particularities of real, lived history, especially through the narrative ribbon of the deeply moving Lebage family history that runs through the work. At the same time, they enchant the reader with the magic of the place, so that one can well imagine the visionary Blake crossing paths with the Voodoo Priestess Marie Laveau. Sanders brings to the scene of the crime and the dramatic landscape diverse skills, ranging from those of an Investigative Poet to those of a Rhapsodic Historian. The Poems reveal that he has gained a deep and empathetic knowledge of the city's history, its people, and its complex personality, that he has intently ‘listened to the whispering of its secret mind.’ ”
—John P. Clark, Gregory F. Curtin Distinguished Professor in Humane Letters and the Professions at Loyola University New Orleans