On September 14, 2009, John had the idea of combining The Big Easy’s rich history and sensuality, the aftermath of Katrina, and pop voodoo into a poem personifying New Orleans as the zombie madame of a lively undead whorehouse. Martin was “uncertain” about how far to take the personification of the city, so he did loosen the reins a bit, but he was also game to follow John’s lead and see where it took them.
This poem was like a game fish that fought to keep from being pulled into the boat. On September 19, Martin wrote,
“I really want to nail the end of this…I think it’s on the verge of being quite good…almost tried to end it myself but the poem fought me…”
and asked John to finish it off. But John replied,
“Ack! I see what you mean! This poem about survival after disaster, persistence after death, doesn’t want to quit! I started to try to offer up one final offering, but the gods are still hungry. Stroke their egos one last time and put this to rest!”
Finally, Martin was able to end most of the the struggle and lower the poem onto the deck, although it took several further email interchanges to revise certain lines and wrestle the poem into submission. The final line and a half, “We quit playing peekaboo / and look lovingly at what we’ve hauled up from below,” provides a nice commentary on the endeavor as a whole.
“The Darlings of New Orleans” first appeared in Poemeleon Volume 4, Issue 2 (Winter/Spring 2010). It is the fifteenth poem in the final sequence of Poets’ Guide to America.