Southeastern English instructor, poet reflects on Louisiana culture

Alison Pelegrin shares a poem from her book "Big Muddy River of Stars" during a poetry reading at Southeastern's Student Union Theater on March 21. Photo by Terry Trahan Jr.

Alison Pelegrin shared poems and stories rooted in Louisiana culture March 21 as part of the 12th-annual Women’s History Month lecture series.

The series, sponsored by Southeastern’s College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, invites faculty and guest lecturers to share their thoughts on personal interests and studies on the theme, “Our History Is Our Strength.”

“You’d like to think that Black History Month or Women’s History Month isn’t needed anymore, but it is,” said Dr. William Robison, head of the history and political sciences department. He sits on a committee with Drs. David Hanson and Lucia Harrison to plan lectures for the series held in March.

Before Pelegrin read from her forthcoming poetry collection, “Hurricane Party,” students took their seats in the Student Union Theater, one by one, until the view from the stage looked more like an audience. Students like Aimee Castle, a sophomore nursing major, were there enticed by an extra credit opportunity.

She wasn’t alone.

Others, like Joseph Richardson, a sophomore engineering technology major, knew exactly what to expect when Pelegrin opened her mouth.

“She’s well spoken, so she leaves an impression when she talks,” said Richardson, who gained an interest in poetry while taking a course with Pelegrin.

As the poet approached the mic, she turned to a poem called “Louisiana,” a fitting title for the Southern imagery she captured in about a dozen poems in 30 minutes. Between her readings, she reflected on the event that inspired each piece.

“What else are you supposed to do when all the lights are out and all the seafood is in the freezer,” Pelegrin said about “Hurricane Party.” The poem inspired the title from her new book set for release in October.

The Akron Poetry Prize winner and author of two other books, “Big Muddy River of Stars” and “The Zydeco Tablets,” claims to be the first poet to have used the colloquialism “git-r-done” in a poem.

But Pelegrin’s work has a serious side.

Her home suffered extensive damage in Hurricane Katrina, a ghost of hurricane seasons past that continues to haunt Louisiana residents today.

Much of her work since has been inspired by observations and emotions she felt following the hurricane’s landfall over five years ago. In a recent poem, Pelegrin reflects on the anger she felt after reading lyrical poems by authors who attempted to put Katrina into words but had not been directly affected by the storm.

Pelegrin, who has been both criticized and praised for the “anger” in her writing voice, prefers the “tell-it-like-it-is” approach when putting her thoughts on paper.

“When I’m writing about myself in a poem, there’s a level of artifice,” she said.

Katrina has been on her mind so often that she revisited the theme in “Hurricane Party” because she hadn’t finished saying all she wanted to say in her previous works.

For each reading, Pelegrin plays with the emotions, taking her audience on a lyrical roller coaster ride, hoping to connect with someone through the art of words.

“I liked how she kept it in the South – how she brought out the way Katrina affected us,” said Robert Blair, a junior social studies education major.

On April 13, Pelegrin will read “Ode to the Pelican” from her forthcoming book at the State Library of Louisiana at the invitation of Louisiana Poet Laureate Darrell Bourque. The poem was inspired by her son’s tears as he watched footage of oil-drenched pelicans struggling for survival in the wake of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Culture runs deep in Pelegrin’s poetry. To her, words preserve one’s surroundings and allow local, expressive voices to be heard.

“I’ll duke it out with poems,” Pelegrin said.

Share Button