Friday, September 04, 2020

The Poetry Buffet Nourishes All During a Pandemic

Melinda Palacio 

The Poetry Buffet may be a New Orleans institution, but thanks to zoom, everyone around the world can experience the monthly series. I have the honor of reading in tomorrow's event. Here are ten questions with Poetry Buffet founder, Gina Ferrara. 

Saturday, September 5 at noon PST, 2pm CST, 3pm EST

1. Melinda Palacio: How long have you been running the Poetry Buffet? Tell us about how and why you started the series.

Gina Ferrara: The Poetry Buffet began in 2007 when New Orleans was still pretty much in shambles after Hurricane Katrina.  The origin of the series started in 2003 when I was part of a group called The Women's Poetry Conspiracy.  Myself and four other poets ran a reading series that featured female poets exclusively, and one of the places where we had our readings was The Latter Library.  Well, Katrina came and the WPC scattered as it did to so many New Orleanians.  In 2007, one of the librarians at Latter reached out to me to see if I could get a series going again.  Because it was 2007, and the city was still emerging from Katrina, I felt that it was important for all poets to read and not limit the series to feature only women.   The library really wanted the readings to represent the city, so we came up with the idea of The Poetry Buffet.  Buffets usually have something for everyone and that's what we aim to do with the series is to provide the community with a variety of voices.  

2. MP: How did the series evolve before 2020?

GF: The series happens monthly on the first Saturday of each month, 2pm CST and usually features three or four poets.  Sometimes, though, we break from our usual format and might have open mikes, or we might have readings where poets come in and read the work of other poets.  We have also had readings to commemorate Katrina, respond to the BP oil spill, and celebrate the Tricentennial of New Orleans. 

3. MP: I understand Covid-19 has introduced zoom meetings into almost all aspects of our lives, can you talk a little about how the series is different online?  What do you like and dislike about the new pandemic format? Is the spirit of the series still the same? How so? 

GF: Initially, I did not like the idea of moving the readings to an online format.  You would probably need to see the beautiful interior of the library to understand why.  The readings are in a stately home that overlooks what's probably one of the most famous streets in New Orleans, St. Charles Avenue,   where streetcars pass.  The library is also surrounded by gorgeous old oak trees and crape myrtles, so who would really want to give that ambience up?  However, when it looked like we would be practicing social distancing for a while, it was out of the question to have in person readings.  Several poets in town approached me and asked if I could get the series going again virtually, and it has actually worked out better than how I thought it might.  Now, poets no longer need to be based in New Orleans or visiting the city in order to be a feature.  Zoom makes it possible to broaden the range of the series.  

4. MP: What motivates you to keep the series going?

GF: Emily Dickinson was known for bundling up her poems and not being too eager to share them.  I can't say that I share that with her.  I think poetry readings promote community.  Poets get to share their work and connect with others, and often, although it is not planned, so many readings at Latter seem to have a common thread even though the featured poets are so vastly different.  The opportunity for community is what motivates me to keep the series going. A few times, when we were meeting in person for the readings, The Latter Branch was having repair work or renovations, so the series has for brief spurts gone on the road, where other libraries were used to host the readings.    

5.MP: After the Pandemic, social distancing ends do you plan on continuing some zoom aspects for the Poetry Buffet?

GF: It looks like we will be doing virtual Buffets well into 2021, but it is an interesting question of whether we will completely return to face to face readings.

6. MP: Now that everyone around the world can tune into the Poetry Buffet online, what do you want the world to know about the series, about you, about the poets who read?

GF: The Poetry Buffet originates from New Orleans and so do I.  Like the city itself, I hope that the series is welcoming and that I am welcoming to poets who read and to everyone who attends.  

7.  MP: The poetry buffet is held at the Latter Library, are there any limitations or advantages of that venue? 

As I mentioned earlier, The Latter Library is a very stately place, and I think anyone who reads there feels like they are taking part in something that is exclusive to New Orleans.  The reading takes place in a historic building, in a historic city, so it stands to reason that The Buffet creates its own history.  Many poets do tend to be nocturnal, so reading on a Saturday afternoon can be a challenge for some in that sense.  And, because it is a library, we can't really offer food and beverages or get too, too rowdy.  

8.  MP: What makes poets in New Orleans special? Is the series limited to local poets?

GF: When the series began, we pretty much were limited to local and regional poets, or to out of town poets whose visits to New Orleans aligned with the first Saturday of a particular month, but now, thanks to the readings being virtual, we can have readers well outside of New Orleans. And New Orleans has an amazing array of talent.  The city inspires or at the least puts us in a headspace where we can write.    

 9. MP: What are some of your favorite aspects about curating a poetry series? What was a goal in creating this space? 

GF: The goal for the series is always to offer a wide range of voices.  It has started as the focus and has remained the focus.  For me, I feel so very fortunate to have curated this series for as long as I have.  


10. MP:  Anything else you’d like to share on La Bloga? 

 GF: I have a book of poems that came out earlier this year called  Weight of the Ripened published by Dos Madres Press.  On October 3rd, I will be reading at The Buffet with Ralph Adamo, Kelly Harris and Julie Kane. all of whom had books come out in this strange year of 2020.  


Poets you will see and hear tomorrow: Saturday, September 5 at the Poetry Buffet:

Bios for poets:

J Bruce Fuller

J. Bruce Fuller is a Louisiana native. His chapbooks include The Dissenter's Ground, Lancelot, and Flood, and his poems have appeared at The Southern Review, Crab Orchard Review, McNeese Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, and Louisiana Literature, among others. He has received scholarships from Bread Loaf, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow. He currently teaches at Sam Houston State University where he is Managing/Acquisitions Editor at Texas Review Press.

Laura Mattingly:  Laura Mattingly was born in California and floated to New Orleans on a homemade raft from Kansas City down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.  She has studied poetry at University of California Santa Cruz and creative nonfiction at University of New Orleans. Journalist, bartender, unlicensed barber, and mother of six-year-old who sprints through the French Quarter in high heels already, are all on Laura's resume.  She also co-organizes the literary events of New Orleans Ladyfest annual women's poetry festival. The Book of Incorporation, published by Language Foundry in 2012, is a book of poems inspired by reading The Tibetan Book of the Dead  during her pregnancy.  It explores themes of death and reincarnation from the vantage point of a mother preparing to host a returning soul.  She weaves the chaotic spirit-realm of the Bardo into the post-Katrina cityscape of New Orleans.

Melinda Palacio:Melinda Palacio is a poet, author, and speaker. She lives in Santa Barbara and New Orleans. Her poetry chapbook, Folsom Lockdown, won Kulupi Press’ Sense of Place 2009 award. She is the author of the novel, Ocotillo Dreams (ASU Bilingual Press 2011), for which she received the Mariposa Award for Best First Book at the 2012 International Latino Book Awards and a 2012 PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Award for Excellence in Literature. Her first full-length poetry collection, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, (Tia Chucha Press 2012) was a finalist for the Milt Kessler Award, the Patterson Prize, and received First Prize in Poetry at the 2013 ILBA. Her book, Bird Forgiveness was published by 3: A Taos Press in 2018.

Murray Shugars:  Murray Shugars has authored two poetry books, Songs My Mother Never Taught Me and Snakebit Kudzu, both from Dos Madres Press. He is a professor of English at Alcorn State University, where he teaches a range of writing and literature courses and directs the Alcorn Writing Center, which he founded. He is also an Army Reserve instructor and project officer in the West Point Writing Program at the U.S. Military Academy. He lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi, with his wife Sandy.

Te V. Smith:  Té V. Smith is a Writer, Educator, Papa, and Abolitionist with dual identities in East St. Louis & Nigeria. He has written two books. A collection of poetry & prose, Here We Are, Reflections of A God Gone Mad (2019 R.H. Austin Publishing) and a Young Adult novel, Exit Ticket (2019 Field Order Press). Some of his short fiction has been published in or are forthcoming in Tin House, Kingdoms In The Wild, Black Girl In Ohm, Blackbird and more. Té currently lives in New Orleans and Brooklyn, NY and is revising his next novel.

Gina Ferrara lives and writes in New Orleans.  She has four poetry collections:  Ethereal Avalanche (Trembling Pillow Press, 2009), Amber Porch Light (Word Tech Communications, 2013), Fitting the Sixth Finger (Kelsay Books, 2017) and Weight of the Ripened (Dos Madres Press, 2020).  Her work has appeared in numerous journals including Callaloo, The Poetry Ireland Review and Tar River Poetry.  Most recently, her work was selected for publication in the Sixty-Four Best Poets of 2019 by Black Mountain Press.  Since 2007, she has curated The Poetry Buffet, a monthly reading series in New Orleans.  She is an Assistant Professor of English and writing at Delgado Community College.  

The zoom code for the live Poetry Buffet happening in your home tomorrow, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020.

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