Cover of Reeser's collection 'The Lalaurie Horror'

Ghost tours and voodoo—nothing off limits for Reeser’s poetry

Pt. 1 of 3

Jennifer Reeser
Poet Jennifer Reeser (used with permission)

Let’s face it. Poetry can be boring. On the other hand, poetry can be exhilarating when the writer dares to tread on murky ground.

Jennifer Reeser does the latter. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies and in her own collections, and you never know what subject she will tackle next. A master sonneteer and expert at other forms as well, her poems fall flawlessly on the ear. Among those I found extremely interesting is Reeser’s collection The Lalaurie Horror, described as a “poetic ghost tour” of a mansion once owned by an alleged female serial killer.

Reeser’s work is well-known, both for its content and derring-do. One of my favorite poems by her, “Club Mambo”, introduces the reader to a character who beckons the reader on a journey of her own. It’s a fine poem, telling a poignant story while at the same time inspiring the reader to reflect on the human condition. When I told Reeser I loved that poem, she said she was glad, adding,  “It’s a little-known poem of mine, because it appeared in an out-of-the-way-place. But it was a stretch of my voice, and so is a pet piece.”

Reeser’s collection The Lalaurie Horror is the perfect book for a poetry reader to savor on Halloween. Although I’d read many of her poems, I didn’t even know about this book until I began to research her work in order to do a series of articles about her. It’s ironic. I’d just dusted and culled my personal library, telling my husband, “Do not let me buy another book.”

He just laughed. A couple days later I purchased this book. I simply couldn’t resist.

The Lalaurie Horror is a horror story of sorts in poetry. This excerpt from the full description at an online bookseller site explained:

“Cited as a resource by world-renowned, French criminologist, Stéphane Bourgoin, a foremost authority on serial killers. Twice Nominated for Literature’s Pushcart Prize. On April 10, 1834, fire erupted at the mansion of wealthy, beautiful, twice-widowed socialite Madame Marie Delphine Lalaurie, a Creole of French and Irish heritage living on Royal Street in the famed French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. First responders discovered seven slaves in the attic, victims of her torture chained to the mansion walls. They were rescued, though to this day, at least nineteen slaves belonging to Madame Lalaurie remain vanished without a trace, and the roster of slave children, adults and elderly who mysteriously died in her care is considerable, though the lady herself escaped prosecution and was never brought to justice. Reports of hauntings and strange sights at the mansion have persisted through its 200 year history…”

The description of that book also includes praise from lit journal Trinacria, calling the work “…an amazing terza rima narrative of a tour through an old haunted house, done in unnerving Grand Guignol style.” That’s where the nitty gritty comes in. Intricacies of the terza rima structure will make your head spin:

“[T]erza rima is composed of tercets woven into a rhyme scheme that requires the end-word of the second line in one tercet to supply the rhyme for the first and third lines in the following tercet. Thus, the rhyme scheme (aba, bcb, cdc, ded) continues through to the final stanza or line.” [Academy of American Poets]

Only someone extremely gifted and dedicated to forms of poetry could successfully master that difficult structure.

To explore the work of Jennifer Reeser is to become submerged in a body of work so complex you’d need a book to do her justice.

A new book, Indigenous, is in progress at Able Muse Press right now. Reeser described this new collection as “poems written out of my identity as Native American Indian.” I’ll explore this more in the next part of a three-part series on Reeser.

Able Muse has been an enduring presence for poetry on the Web as long as I can remember. I workshopped there in addition to workshopping at other places including one closed board that was by invite only. Of all the workshops I attended or participated in, Able Muse was by far the most valuable and most civil. Reeser’s work has already been featured in anthologies published by Able Muse.

1920 painting of Marie Laveau by Frank Schneider, based on an 1835 painting by George Catlin. (Louisiana State Museum; uploaded to Wikipedia by The Man in Question)
1920 painting of Marie Laveau by Frank Schneider, based on an 1835 painting by George Catlin. (Louisiana State Museum; uploaded to Wikipedia by The Man in Question)

Reeser’s work engages the reader not only because of her talent with the forms of poetry, but also because of her imagination. How many poets can write a series of lively sonnets talking back to Shakespeare, as more than two dozen poems in her book Sonnets from the Dark Lady and Other Poems do? Not many. In that same book, her other poems tackle interesting subjects like Marie Laveaux, and a visit to her crypt, with lines like, “As August closed the coffin on July,/I paid a visit to the voodoo queen/Beneath the omen of a grave vault sky.”

That poem alone is worth the price of that book.

Reeser’s interest in writing began at a young age. Asked how old she was when she knew she’d become a writer, she pegged it as a young age when she began to discover verse. “At the age of five,” she recalled, “I stood atop our kitchen table in front of the whole family at Christmas, and recited the poem, ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ from beginning to end.”

That recitation began a long, intriguing journey into the world of words created by Jennifer Reeser whose work tempts the reader into a mind-bending journey purely of a poet’s making.

Read Part 2 of the series on Reeser
Read Part 3 of the series on Reeser

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Featured Photo: 1920 painting of Marie Laveau by Frank Schneider, based on an 1835 painting by George Catlin. (Louisiana State Museum; uploaded to Wikipedia by The Man in Question)

[Ed. Note: Links to Reeser’s books at online bookseller Amazon are taken from her website for the reader’s convenience. Indie Art South provides these links as a convenience, and has no third party affiliation with Amazon.]

(Kay B. Day/Oct. 29, 2018)

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