As hurricane Harvey continues to pass through the Houston region of Texas, it’s not difficult to remember the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago on August 29. Katrina hit the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, the hardest beginning as a category 5 hurricane before making landfall. The areas that were effected devastated homes, communities, and livelihoods of millions of individuals from various backgrounds and economic ladders.
National and worldly events that impact many naturally hold, and share, a united moment — a collective memory. Collective memory can often be expressed through public artwork, such as memorials for those who have passed or as monuments to commemorate and honor individuals or events, that physically mark a time, a place, and a moment that was shared; however, not to be confused with statues that uphold so-called monuments whose sole purpose were erected not as heritage memorials but as signifiers of oppression.
Language itself is a form of signified life used to communicate meaning to one another; when words are written down, recorded in books, even as digitalized notes, there is an intentional effort to recollect a memory that was of some importance. Poetry is a creative form of memorializing words and events; it has the ability to capture fleeting impressions of daily habits recognizable to those who read its words. It is often heard/said that poetry is unique for its ability to capture intense moments of frailty, of “now”, of delicately and meticulously crafting language to represent/capture an impression of life as it once was, as it wishes to be now, as it desires to be in the future.
In 2010, Poet Cynthia Hogue, with Photographer Rebecca Ross, created a memorial of those who suffered in Hurricane Katrina by commemorating and honoring the words of a handful of Katrina evacuees “as representatives of the many people affected by this tragedy.”
”We seek through our art to create a space for voices to be heard and people to be seen who might otherwise be invisible or forgotten.”
Twelve interviews were conducted with those that were evacuated, including those who relocated to a different state. As of the publication of this commemoration, nine of the twelve evacuees relocated to various parts of Arizona, two remained in New Orleans, Louisiana, while one (after relocating four times) moved to Minnesota. The stories told from each individual are powerful. As the news of Hurricane Harvey continues to surface, one cannot help but reflect on the narratives of those who endured Hurricane Katrina.
Hogue and Ross traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, to photographs the areas where each interviewee lived, which included personal landmarks, previous neighborhoods, abandoned homes and cities, and washed up items of worth.
The poems were crafted by Hogue using only the words from each interviewee. Interviews were conducted in the relocated areas and were only given creative license in selecting the sections for each poem — all words were directly from the interview and were not edited.
The poems had no direct meter; they read like any other interview despite being crafted from each individual’s experience by Hogue. One thing that is clear is that each experience is expertly preserved in such a way that the impression is one that is strongly memorable. The stories capture each person’s background by speaking of their history, their previous life, their once prosperous homes and occupations; the stories also speak of suffering, loss, redemption, and renewal. There is not one poem that I can say did not speak to me emotionally; I enjoyed reading each story, not for sadistic reasons (I am no sadistic person), but solely because I felt as if I was learning something about another’s worldview that I did not know of or that the news did not cover. Much of what I learned was horrific — I could not imagine that in the united states, this treatment of others could take place. Of course, I have since learned this lesson long ago; however, it was challenging, in a necessary way, to read the perspectives of those who suffered with negligence and governmental failure.
I listened to the wind all night. 5 a.m.
my mother hollers, Y’all better move your cars
‘cause the water is coming up and up.
People were floating their mattresses
to the Dome with their little bitty children.
You better feed them children before you leave, I called.
I’m gonna make y’all sandwiches.
And I did that.
Must have been an angel
speaking through me.
That was the last meal
them children had for 3 or 4 days.
— Words of Deborah Green, Winn-Dixie employee: meat department, retired.
People starved; some were raped; many had their homes looted — their safety jeopardized by the fear of losing their necessities. I am sure that there are many other stories too of those who suffered — many of which did not have the opportunity to share their experience.
Part of this book’s message is to preserve a few moments of history, to return a bit of what was lost during Hurricane Katrina. Poetry aided in commemorating this event so that it will remain in the collective memory of this country. It is a service to those whose words were lost and to those who have endured Hurricane Katrina and are now enduring Hurricane Harvey. While these are natural disasters, the response to these individuals is controllable. If you feel the need to help those currently enduring Hurricane Harvey, please find reputable places to donate aid for Hurricane Harvey wherever it is needed.
About Cynthia Hogue & Rebecca Ross
Cynthia Hogue has published thirteen books, including eight collections of poetry, most recently, The Incognito Body (2006), Or Consequence (2010), the co-authored When the Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina (interview-poems with photographs by Rebecca Ross ), published in 2010 in the University of New Orleans Press’ Engaged Writers Series, and Revenance, listed as one of the 2014 “Standout” books by the Academy of American Poets. // Website
Rebecca Ross’s photographs have been exhibited throughout the united states and in Europe at venues such as the Eye Gallery, San Francisco; Society for Contemporary Photography, Kansas City; and Canon Photo Gallery, Amsterdam. She has completed several public art projects in Arizona and has received recognition from the Scottsdale Cultural Council and Center in Santa Fe for her teaching and outreach work with disadvantaged youth.