50 States of Generosity: Louisiana
We’re continuing a new series at Tweetspeak — 50 States of Generosity. We’ll be highlighting the 50 states of America and giving people beautiful ways to understand and be generous with one another by noticing the unique and poetic things each state brings to the country. A more generous people in the States can become a more generous people in the world. We continue with Louisiana.
Louisiana (capital Baton Rouge)
State bird: the brown pelican. State tree: the bald cypress, with its feathery foliage. State flower: the creamy white magnolia (an evergreen).
Louisiana is a state that defies expectations.
For example, when you think of the Pelican State, you probably don’t picture tall buildings. But Louisiana’s state capitol building is a skyscraper, because that is what former Governor and Senator Huey Long wanted.
The misunderstandings about the state go all the back to 1682, when La Salle claimed the land around the mouth of the Mississippi for France, ignoring the people who already lived there. The French king didn’t see the land’s value and declared it “utterly useless.” Louisiana is now known for good gumbo, good beignets, good jazz, and good times. It’s a state that is mostly Protestant in the north and mostly Catholic in the south. Its three regions (one being the city of New Orleans itself) are as distinct as separate states. Speaking of NOLA, if you’re trying to pin down that accent, don’t think Southern — think Brooklyn.
Here’s a poem by Jericho Brown about New Orleans. Brown, a Shreveport native who won the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for The Tradition, at one time served as speechwriter to the city’s mayor. This is the third and final section of Meditations at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park.
Poetry is where
I am nothing
If I can’t sit
In the audience
Or alone, sit down
Awhile and thank
God the chair
Is still warm.
During National Poetry Month I was introduced to a new-to-me poetry form, the duplex, which Brown invented. He describes the form as “a ghazal that is also a sonnet that is also a blues poem of 14 lines, giving each line 9 to 11 syllables.” That creative blending immediately made me think of Brown’s home state of Louisiana.
Because it’s Spanish. It’s French. It’s Chitimacha and Coushatta and Choctaw and Tunica-Biloxi. It’s the African countries from which people were taken and sold in New Orleans. It’s Creole and Cajun. It’s not what you think it is. It reaches high into the sky.
Poetry Prompt: Louisiana Generosities
Use any of the things you learned about Louisiana (research more, if you want!), and put one or more of them into a poem. If you like, weave in a little generosity. Share in the comments.
More About Louisiana: Poets & Writers + Landmarks
Jericho Brown, poet
Ernest J. Gaines, author
French Quarter, New Orleans
Kim Mulkey, women’s basketball coach inducted this month to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame
The National World War II Museum, New Orleans
Tennessee Williams, playwright
Mo Willems, children’s author and illustrator
I loved this book. As soon as I finished, I began reading it again.”
—David Lee Garrison, author of Playing Bach in the D. C. Metro