The Poetry of Jack Bedell
Dr. Jack Bedell served as Louisiana's Poet Laureate from 2017 to 2019
Dr. Bedell is a Professor of English at Southeastern Louisiana University and the author of nine books, including Call and Response (with Darrell Bourque, 2010), Come Rain, Come Shine (2006), What Passes for Love (2001), Bone-Hollow, True: New & Selected Poems (2013), Elliptic (2016), and Revenant (2016). As editor of Southeastern’s literary magazine Louisiana Literature since 1992, he has published numerous Louisiana poets. Dr. Bedell has taught creative writing to students of all ages, from the third-grade level to the graduate level over the last 30 years. Intimate and personable, his work reflects a familiarity with Louisiana life and its people. In addition, he has worked with the LEH’s award-winning PRIME TIME Family Literacy Program as a storyteller and continues to promote the writing of his fellow Louisianans.
“Jack Bedell’s love for Louisiana is evident in his work, and I’m confident that he will serve honorably as the state’s poet laureate,” said Gov. John Bel Edwards when the announcement was made. “I want to thank the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities for leading this search, and I congratulate all of the nominees whose writings capture the heart of the people and places that make our state a unique and wonderful place to call home.”
See below for a selection of works by Dr. Bedell.
The shark flops, chomps. Its back
gray, parenthetical against dock planks.
My sons scramble for the net,
way too small to hold this fish.
Their deck shoes squeak against wood.
Sunlight bounces off dark water;
drinks bead up on every piling.
Mosquito hawks hover
on what little breeze there is.
Afternoon scrambles right to the edge,
the pier barely fit to hold its weight.
Last Island, Return
The roof from the main house
reached shore first, shingles
lapped into the reeds. Bodies,
both breathing and not, washed in
for hours afterwards. Wind
blew waves in bursts, long past dawn,
pushed the mess inland, almost
all the way to solid ground.
When sun broke through the next afternoon,
it must have felt like hope on the shoulders
of the living. Two weeks lost, though,
with only rain to drink, praying
for food, their small flock
sweated its way through purgatory.
Shore birds mocked them, circling
overhead, just out of reach.
Mosquitos, nearly large enough
to eat, bit through their dinner clothes.
Could any of them have imagined,
getting dressed for their last meal on the island,
before the storm pulled them into this hell,
how sweet the meat of live crabs would taste,
how blinding white the deputies’ shirts would be
marching towards them from the horizon?
The hospital’s grey cinderblock
a frame for the line of men
sitting along the banquette.
Beneath a canopy of smoke,
the tips of their Pall Malls
dance like fireflies in the dark.
The men’s faces obscured
but surely there, singed
and blistered, hold
discomfort and relief in the corners
of their eyes. This one time
the sequence broke their way,
facts blunt as fire—
gas pumps shutting down,
magnetos turning one too many times,
sparks releasing into fumes.
Those too slow to feel it coming
are home with family now.
Those quick to run towards trouble
were blown to the ceiling,
skin fried, haired burned off,
onyx melted out of their masonic rings.
Stuck here queued up for salve
and bandages, they bum cigarettes
from each other, knowing
full well the waiting line
won’t be this long next time.
A Wedding, In Rain
It’s good luck, the rain, my wife says
To the stranger behind us.
If I was any luckier, the man smiles back,
They’d put me in jail, then.
And the young preacher starts
Talking about hard times and how
People are worse more than they are
Better. And the young couple
Cares nothing about sermons
Or luck or how the raindrops
Fall straight through the giant oak
Reaching out over their heads.
They just hold hands and look
Into each other’s eyes, see
The person they know is right
There with them, not the flawed
Sinner the young preacher keeps
Telling them they’ll wake up to
Tomorrow. And the old people
Daubing rain off their glasses
Know the walk back up
To the reception hall won’t be
Nearly as kind, uphill and slick
After this little blessing of luck.
But for right now, there’s song
And prayer and promises,
More than two people
Happy to be here, wet.
Readings by the poet, Jack Bedell