As a writer based in Baton Rouge, La., which is about an hour's drive from New Orleans and last week replaced it as the state's most populous city, what has life been like for you in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?
I'm taking care of a house of refugees. It seems that the entire poetry cadre of the French Quarter is stationed in my house. We don't sleep anymore, because we are afraid we might miss something.
How long will your house guests stay? Do you think New Orleans will eventually be rebuilt?
No. New Orleans had a great period, and now it is going to sink into some kind of glorious mess, like Venice, and become just a tourist spot. People will come to gamble in the casinos and feel the grandeur of what was once there, which the tourist bureau will do its best to recreate.
Must you be so defeatist?
I am sure the city will be re-engineered, but I am afraid that in the process it will lose its soul - the people who sing the blues will be gone. A lot of writers and artists won't return to New Orleans. They have no houses. They will go all over the country, back to where they came from.
And yet the greatest problem is not even the loss of an entire culture, as much as the creation of a class of impoverished refugees.
In the New Orleans area, tens of thousands have been displaced. Most of them have lost absolutely everything. There hasn't been another situation that puts the social problems into such stark relief since the Civil War.
Americans are accustomed to welcoming, or at least receiving, refugees from other countries, not creating our own.
Yes. Americans have not traditionally been nomads, but I think refugees are part of the makeup of who Europeans are. There is always a part of the European mind that is half-packed and ready to go.
You are a refugee yourself - not from a national disaster but a political one. You were born in Romania during its dreary Communist years.
I grew up in a series of homes because the Communist Party kept assigning people to our apartment. They thought we had too much space. So we would wake up and find out that the neighbors had communalized our kitchen, and we would have to move.
How did you eventually get out?
I came here in 1966, when the Ceausescu government was running a program selling Jews to Israel for $2,000 a head. New Orleans reminds me of Romania, because New Orleans is very corrupt politically.
Somehow I don't think that Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco would care to hear her state compared with a former dictatorship.
She is so wonderful. She has been awake since this thing started, and she has been a great comfort to people - she is visible all the time.
Louisiana also has Senator Mary Landrieu - it's nice to see women in positions of leadership.
The poet Ted Berrigan has a line of verse - "feminine, marvelous and tough" - that perfectly describes New Orleans.
In what way is the city's sensibility feminine?
It's a night city. It's ruled by the moon; it's surrounded by water, and water is traditionally a feminine element.
But water has also been a destructive force, at least since Noah's flood. Do you think words can fairly describe such devastation?
No. Even the greatest poets can't express tragedy in a way that is larger than their immediate circumstances. The best way to deal with it is to fry eggs for refugees.
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