According to the Editor’s Note, this is the first issue of Bayou Magazine from the University of New Orleans to be produced after Hurricane Katrina. The cover features a photograph of Bayou St. John, which flooded during the hurricane. In this context, it’s hard not to see this magazine as a small miracle, a reflection of “both the promise of new beginnings and the determination to persevere,” as editor Joanna Leake writes.
The first poem in the magazine, Maxine Cassin’s lovely “Chilled” combines the tragedy of the flood with the New Orleans tradition of soaking everything in alcohol. “We have tried being merry,” she writes, “until the taste rose in our throats, / foul as those bodies pulled through / ruined dormers/like bottles without labels--”
The other poems are diverse, some playfully talkative, like Richard Cecil’s “Old Men’s Wisdom,” which claims that “If Yeats had married his true love, Maude Gonne, / he’d not have written ‘Circus Animal’s Desertion,’ / and we’d have lost the greatest song / about how old men feel – although it’s wrong.” Others are more intellectual and abstract, like Kokut Onaran’s fascinating exploration of phonics in “O.”
The four short stories all deal with family dynamics. In “Valentino Dances at the Linoleum Ballroom,” a young man tries to move on with life after his father’s death. This theme also shows up in Kathie Giorgio’s almost overly sweet story, “A Receipt from Jesus,” in which a young girl tries to understand her grandmother’s death. In Joe Edd Morris’ “Undertow,” my favorite of the stories, an ominous storm causes separate tragedies for a man on a barge and his lonely wife, a reminder of the power of nature from a magazine that knows this power all too well.
Issue 47 of Bayou also features two plays, both winners of the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival One Act Play Competition.
Though slim, this magazine is rich with ideas and images. It took Bayou almost two years to recover from Katrina, but thank goodness it did.