About the Book

Downtown

by Lee Meitzen Grue

$15.00 | 138 pages | 2011 | ISBN: 978-0979070242

 

Also available from Small Press Distribution.

Lee Grue is arguably one of the finest practitioners of poetry in New Orleans’ storied history. These superb writs are equal to the upwelling of jazz itself: from Treme street corners, to the wayward French Quarter, to the carefree vibes of Bywater, all the way to back o’ town; this astonishing collection speaks from a mythic pantheon of yowls & beats as timeless as the Crescent City herself.

These poems are poetgraphs, deconstructions of the cliches associated with pictures. Lee Meitzen Grue’s poetgraphs are precise, sometimes delicate and most often power-infused renderings of a sensibility moving among people, moments of history, architecture and neighborhood spaces, flavors , the music and  epiphanies. The book must be read as a whole, as an evening of jazz improvisations.  Poetgraphs unlock the essence of design and magic in New Orleans, the spirituality of a place where community is created and reborn. The rhythms of thick descriptions force the secular and the sacred to dance in balance.
— Jerry W. Ward, Jr., author of The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery

These poems take place in the oldest neighborhoods of New Orleans, where the city’s soul is to be found: Treme, the French Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Bywater, and the Katrina-stricken Lower Ninth Ward. The past is mapped onto the present, as memories of an old ice house on Chartres Street and the youngest Marsalis brother “learning his trade in a bar at midnight” flash back even as “the Gray Line tourists come to see the new Pompeii” and the speaker elegizes a mounting toll of departed friends. “I brought the wrong people / to the right place,” she laments in a poem about taking three culture snobs from New York City to hear a superb local saxophonist whose name is unknown to them. But anyone whose soul truly resonates to the music of New Orleans will be grateful for this gritty, teeming, life-affirming book—Grue’s finest to date.
— Julie Kane, author of Jazz Funeral

A city’s downtown is traditionally where the action is—it’s where people come together to work, play, compete, live.  In Lee Grue’s wonderful new collection of poems, Downtown, we witness the intricate and fascinating nature of Lee’s city, New Orleans, and we meet the people who live there in all their complex glory and joy and sadness.  Downtown is where the action truly is—Downtown is where it’s at….
—Lowell Mick White, author of That Demon Life and Long Time Ago Good

Lee Grue knows Treme, Way Downtown, Bywater, Hind Quarter, the French Quarter. She knows the poets and the jazz musicians. She sings New Orleans, and she sings it true.
— Jane Ciabattari, president, National Book Critics Circle (2008-11)

Lee Grue’s work is one of the majestic pylons that keeps New Orleans above water, a pylon woven thickly and subtly from the city’s history. Her poetry weaves her personal history to the five centuries of the city’s own, a fabric stronger than the dreams of engineers. Lee Grue holds us all on the warm open hand of her music; she emanates the love that raises the soul levees.
— Andrei Codrescu, author of Whatever Gets You Through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments

If you’re missing New Orleans, and you know what that means, you need to read Grue’s book front to back, place by place, time by time, name by name, everything that breaks your broken heart and asks it to sing. A generous, loving tribute to poetry and to New Orleans.
— Dara Wier, author of Reverse Rapture

 

About the Author

In words I would never find otherwise, my poetry emerges from the hynagogic state near sleep.
— Lee Meitzen Grue

Lee Meitzen Grue was born in Plaquemine, La, a small town upriver. New Orleans has been home for most of her life. She discovered poetry and Edgar Allan Poe in a vault full of school books in Anahuac, Texas where she spent summers with the Meitzens. Although she writes about anything that strikes her fancy, Nijinsky and Texas for instance, much of her poetry and many of her stories have to do with place and the place is New Orleans.

She began reading her poetry at The Quorum Club during the early sixties. There she met musicians, Eluard Burt and Maurice Martinez (band leader Marty Most). Burt had just come back to New Orleans from San Francisco where he had been influenced by the Beats.The Quorum Club was the first non segregated coffee house in the South. At that time it would have been unlikely for Lee Grue to meet and work with African American musicians any place else. Eluard Burt and Lee Grue continued to work together over many years. Burt and his wife, photographer Kichea Burt came home to New Orleans from California again in the nineties, where the three collaborated on a CD, Live on Frenchmen Street. Eluard Burt passed in 2007. Kichea Burt contributed some of the photographs in this book.

During the intervening years Grue reared children, directed The New Orleans Poetry Forum workshop, and NEA poetry readings in the Backyard Poetry Theater. In 1982 she began editing New Laurel Review, an independent international literary journal, which is still published today. She has lived downtown in the Bywater for thirty-five years.

After the flood of 2005 she began teaching fiction and poetry workshops funded by Poets and Writers, Inc at the Alvar Library, which is three blocks from her house. Such fine writers have emerged from this workshop the library is publishing an anthology of their work.

Other Books by Lee Meitzen Grue

  • Trains and Other Intrusions. Poetry Forum Press, 1974
  • French Quarter Poems. Long Measure Press, 1979
  • In The Sweet Balance of the Flesh. Plain View Press, 1990
  • Goodbye, Silver Silver Cloud. (short stories) Plain View Press, 1994
  • Live! On Frenchmen Street. (with Eluard Burt) CD, 2000
  • Three Poets in New Orleans. Xavier Review Press, 2000