Fittingly, Dr. Jack Bedell, the state’s newly selected poet laureate from Lafayette, La., writes about frogs, fish, snakes, crabs and family, among other inhabitants of Louisiana’s bayou country.
“What limits my range is proximity,” he modestly told a crowd gathered at the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities headquarters last week. “I think I would fail at some kind of national poem,” he added.
Bedell was chosen by Gov. John Bel Edwards from several nominees to serve as the state’s poet laureate from 2017 to 2019, replacing outgoing poet laureate Dr. Peter Cooley of Tulane University.
“<I congratulate all of the nominees whose writings capture the heart of the people and places that make our state a unique and wonderful place to call home,the governor said.
Bedell is a professor of English at Southeastern Louisiana University where he teaches creative writing and is the author of nine books, including Call and Response (with Darrell Bourque, 2010), Come Rain, Come Shine (2006), What Passes for Love (2001), Bone-Hollow, True: New & Selected Poems (2013), Elliptic (2016), and Revenant (2016). He has been editor of Southeastern’s literary magazine Louisiana Literature since 1992, which gives voice to numerous regional poets.
“I’m provincial” and “very distracted by beauty,” he admitted, although that distraction has been translated into beautiful, intimate poetry, extolling Louisiana’s unique heritage. His work often delves into family, as in a walk among bougainvillea with his daughter in “Summer, Botany Lesson;” a trip to the seashore remembered in “My Son Discovers the Draw of Water” or a visit to the mortuary with his father, who recently passed, in “At the Bonehouse.” Bedell also examines local history in “Last Island,” a story about storm survivors who rode out an eight-hour cyclone by clinging to a carousel at Bayou Bluff in 1856.
“I focus on what brings joy into my life. It sounds like I’m making fun of country music, but I’m not,” he smiles.
“If you are good at something,
does it mean you’re meant to do it?”
One afternoon during the monotony
of practice, put everything you are
into your play fake. Hunch over
the ball. Roll into the open space
the edge gives you. Absorb it, brother.
If you take enough of that field in, the sun
won’t set on this grass. Watch the back tip
of the ball as it leaves your forefinger.
Listen to it hiss as it spins into the sky.
It doesn’t matter where the ball comes down.
Hell, who cares if it comes down at all?
Hold that tight spiral in your heart
always. The rest of your life, shit will unravel.
School, career, even the eagle of your father’s
memory will flutter and fall to ground.
That ball, though, let it fly. Rip it
and remember. What more
could any of us be meant to do?
He was still getting used to the sand between his toes
when the cool Gulf water crashed around his thighs,
knocking him back, then drawing him closer to home.
It took barely a second for his face
to go from complaint to laughter, for him to feel
the rhythm of the tide, to taste the salt
splashing his smile. Three steps forward, two steps
back. Again and again. All light and love.
It wasn’t until the water reached his chest
he realized this was more than a game of chase,
more than simple joy, and that all pleasures
come with a price. He turned to shore and cried
The LEH provides grants to non-profit organizations in Louisiana that wish to host the poet laureate for poetry readings, discussion or presentations. For additional information, contact Christopher Robert at 504-620-2639 or firstname.lastname@example.org.