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Charlotte Hamrick: Writing in New Orleans

How can I explain the many ways living in New Orleans has influenced my writing? To say it’s a city steeped in history, food, music, the arts, and a myriad of cultures is to repeat what others have said for decades. To say it’s a city riddled with crime, poverty, and careless abandon is also true. I have had a love/hate relationship with my city for 40 years during which I’ve seen the incredible big-heartedness of her people and the base lawlessness of a drowning city out of control. In between, everyday life rolls on just like anywhere else, and it’s the everyday life of the average New Orleanian and my own life here that interests me most and inspires my writing. It’s the peek into a secluded courtyard, an impromptu street concert, a walk along an oak-lined street, cocktail glasses clinking on a front porch of a summers’ evening… these are the everyday scenes that play out in our daily lives that are so precious. These are our lives, this is our city.


Charlotte shares some of her work and her thoughts on each piece:

Chimera

First Published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. All I want on a Sunday morning is to luxuriate in my laziness. I want to watch old movies with the volume turned up loud, the newspaper crackling as I shift my supine body on the couch, the words of duplicitous politicians and photos of narcissistic socialites mashed under my ass. I want to gaze out my window where heat rises on the street like steam from a gumbo pot while I lie, cool as a nectar cream snowball, in my Maggie The Cat slip, painting my toenails a color called Bad Influence. I would sip Southern Wedding Cake coffee from the chipped china cup I knocked off the bedside table in a moment of passion and savor a fresh chocolate croissant, tender flakiness that melts on the tongue like vampires melt in the sunlight. As the sun climbs the sky, I'd meander into the afternoon with the expectation of an early summer storm when we would go upstairs and slip between our cool, white sheets and not be heard from again until Monday morning.

One hot summer Sunday morning I was watching a movie and my mind began to wander. I thought about how content I felt,, how lucky I was to live in this beautiful city, in this country even, where I live a free and relatively safe life. I thought, I want to be this content always. This poem came from those thoughts. It has several New Orleans-based references:

The “gumbo pot” is something everyone has, and a “nectar cream snowball” refers to the locals love of snowballs (shaved ice with flavored syrup, also known as a Snow Cones). Nectar cream is my personal favorite.

“Maggie the Cat slip” is a nod to Tennessee Williams’ play “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”.

Tennessee lived for a time here and loved the city. One of his famous quotes, “America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland”, is quoted quite a bit by New Orleanians!

Southern Wedding Cake Coffee is a blend sold in a locally-owned coffee shop in summer. Of course, croissants can be found in any pastry shop, and everyone knows Anne Rice made our vampires famous.

Afternoon rain in summer is common, and I do love a nap during a rainstorm. This is a personal favorite poem and I was thrilled when The Dead Mule accepted it for publication. I’m happy to share it with y’all now.


This next story is true. Uncle Lionel Batiste was a well known and beloved musician in the Treme Brass Band and and a regular sight in the French Quarter and other parts of the city. In 2010 someone stole his bass drum and the news flooded social media. I wrote this poem that very night:

Varmint

Someone stole Uncle Lionel's bass drum. It was resting in the courtyard of a bar on Frenchman Street next to a palmetto palm under the moonlight. Uncle Lionel was inside slaking his thirst with a cold draft Dixie bought with tips from anonymous tourists and devoted locals. The word went out in the humid New Orleans night, wafting from bar to bar on the notes of wailing saxophones and indignant trumpets. Someone stole Uncle Lionel's bass drum. The news hit the streets and ran on a second line of lightning, traveling on the dancing feet of the pissed off patrons of Maison's and Donna's, of The Dragon's Den, and The Starlight Lounge. By word of mouth and cell phone the call went out, on Facebook and Twitter, the internet hummed with a purpose. It's high alert, New Orleans, because Someone stole Uncle Lionel's bass drum. A varmint is among us.

This poem was inspired by a walk in a local neighborhood. I did indeed peek into someone’s back garden upon hearing their laughter and glasses clinking:

Another Day on Delaronde

First published in On the Veranda Literary Journal. On Delaronde Street sweat runs beneath 200 year old oaks and between breasts, over gnarly roots and down the curve of a belly. Words of love, a melody in French, weave through the plumbago hiding a pristine white gallery, and wafts on down the street, fading into the distant sounds of river traffic. Laughter crackles with the clink of glasses leaking from behind wrought iron, amid the slightly rustling palmettos. Fans and pages turn, sun tanned legs stretch out, day dissolves into evening. Time to light the candles and pour the wine.

And lastly:

Something About SW

First published in Camroc Press Review and a finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize. You were the throw-away boy, the misfit captain of the football team and I was a bored not completely committed spaced-out belated flower child. We would make out in the cramped back seat of your Mustang where the heart necklace my last boyfriend gave me ended up ground under your heel on the grimy floor while you grunted and pushed and popped my cherry. I didn't mean for things to get that far, it just happened before I knew it while I was looking out the window at the Big Dipper. For your birthday I gave you a blue tank top and a string of individually wrapped cherry suckers and your slimey cousin said, "That's not what he likes to suck" and you both giggled like little girls, like I wasn't even there. And I wasn't. One day you got tired of going to school and decided to join the army. You started talking about how we'd run away and get married and travel the world on Uncle Sam's dime, then one afternoon you picked me up and said "Today is the day", just like that. Like I didn't have a say in the matter. I looked out the car window and saw a red and yellow kite riding the air currents free, untethered, and beautifully independent and I told you I was too young to get married. Even at 16 I knew forever was longer than my attention span.

Charlotte Hamrick’s poetry, prose, and photography has been published in numerous online and print journals, most recently including Muddy River Poetry Review, Eunoia Review, Red Fez, and Literary Orphans. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for the 15th Glass Woman Prize. She also writes on her personal blog, and you can find her @CharlotteAsh on Twitter. She lives in New Orleans with her husband and a menagerie of rescued pets.

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