The Katrina Papers: A Journal of Trauma and Recovery
by Dr. Jerry Ward, Jr.
Published by UNO Press (2007)
233 pgs, paperback
Cover Art: Herbert Kearney
This journal begins on Sept. 2, 2005 and ends August 29, 2006 containing a year of the author's struggles, defeats, and triumphs in the face of the destruction of his city and home. In a larger and more poignant sense, Dr. Ward tackles the destruction of one's faith in the face of disaster, a faith beyond the borders of religious ideals, it's a simple faith in the way that the world should work, in the way that the day should hold its shape. There are so many beautiful insights, so many heartbreaking truths laid bare on the page. The journal is a gumbo, a composite of the professor in his academic world, a man breaking bread with his friend, an African-Amercian responding to the coded speak of those who hold forth in the recovery of New Orleans. Dr. Ward pours it all in: the suffocating days exiled in the shelter, the catalogue of things lost to water, the anger, the depression, the weight of trying to move forward into the next actual entry in the journal's progression. In there as well lies the keen eye poised on literature and what it teaches us; Dr. Ward shares peer reviews, colleague emails, letters of recommendations and advice to young teachers. His schedule to appear and speak, to grant interviews and to be present civically in this tumultuous year is admirable and exhausting. There is a return again and again to the body, its need to slow down, and the mind, which cannot sit still long enough to let the sorrow seep in. Dr. Ward tends to his "post-Katrina" heart in the journal, aware of the tenuous thread anchoring him to the city and to the life he can lead within its recovery. He repsonds with the poet's declaration: "I elect... to exploit language and my own emotions" (38). This will be difficult to read if you were here, if you too have a post-Katrina heart. You will feel it in your skin, be it color or non colored, the prickly anxiety and fear that shadowed that first year back. You will be forced to recall the smells of your moldy possessions, the loss of your home, the sounds of the empty streets, the joy of each returning business and neighbor, the frustration of insurance contacts and FEMA paperwork, the endless lines, and the falling asleep truly not knowing what the next day would bring. You will be taking a strange boat like the one on the cover, "all mothers are boats," is its name, and you will be rowing toward an island where we keep these things tucked away for they never truly leave us. The mother in this case is your city, your survival; she weeps for you even as she turns her back. "The perpetual wonderment of tragedy is that we do not tire of looking into its fractured surface to see ourselves as we really are" (150).
Dr. Jerry Ward, Jr will be reading with us on August 29th, 5PM for our fundraiser at the Gold Mine Saloon. Visit 17poets.com for full schedule.
Here is a veritable treasure trove of everything Jerry Ward kept here at ChickenBones: A Journal