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The Wishing Tomb: a History

5 Jul

My second book of poems, The Wishing Tomb, winner of the 2012 Perugia Press Award, will be available for sale to the public at the end of this month.


Per the press release, “The Wishing Tomb is a love letter to New Orleans, that quintessential city of jazz and yellow fevers, of hurricanes and Creole cuisine.  The poems show how we all are connected to our homes, how history sometimes escapes us, and how even in our tragedies, we can be made whole again by rebuilding and moving forward.  The collection creates a portrait of America’s cultural, urban, and historical landscape, and Auchter finds those moments in a long history that magnify irony and wonder to create a morally serious whole.  The writing has momentum, formal attention, and is obsessive in the best way.”


How did I decide to write a collection of poems based on New Orleans, you ask?  For me, it was a no-brainer.  As a Gulf Coaster, I have been interested in NOLA for some time.  I first visited the city in the fall of 2001, wept and raged with the whole country during Katrina, and returned in 2009 when my friend H. lived in the Quarter (and have been back quite a few times, as often as I can).  I love its rich history that most people who live outside of the city have forgotten or never knew about in the first place.  I love the architecture, the ghosts (like the one Jeff & I full-on experienced earlier this year at the Cornstalk Hotel), the sounds, the smells, the food, the colors, the streets.  New Orleans has part of my heart and it’s such an essential city to American history and culture.  There is no place like it in the United States.  It’s like being in Europe without being in Europe.  It’s scrappy and hard-won.  It’s raw and dirty and gorgeous.  It’s mythical.  It’s dangerous and friendly.   It’s the Paris of the South.  Hell, it’s the Paris of anywhere but Paris.


When the Saints went to the Superbowl in 2010, there was a quote in an article that read “New Orleans is so much more than Katrina.”  This hit home for me.  I wanted people to understand NOLA’s storied, checkered, rich history.  Marie Laveau and Louis Armstrong.  Yellow Fever and slavery.  Indian corn and hurricanes.  Oil slicks, hurricanes, and red beans and rice on Mondays.  At the same time, I was also exploring my own newly-found heritage (I had, at that time, recently met my birthfamily), which included my Italian ancestor’s link to The City That Care Forgot.  My Italian ancestors came over from Sicily in the 1800s and settled in New Orleans before later moving over to Galveston, TX right before the Great Storm of 1900, in which many of them died.  I wanted to know more about the New Orleans connection, and so integrated this personal lineage into my research.


I researched the history and legends of NOLA very heavily during the year and a half it took me to write the book.  I read biographies, poems, historical texts and documents, novels, personal essays, recipes.  This book took on a life of its own and quickly outgrew its original scope.  There was so much material and I had to “kill [my] darlings.”  I am quite happy with the final result.


The Wishing Tomb, however, is not only limited to a book of place.  It’s a book about transcendence.  It’s about survival and love and desire.  It’s a book that approaches the “big” subjects: disease, death, slavery, women, crime, disaster, revivisence.  I love this city, for better or worse.  Without New Orleans, even with its trials and tribulations, America would have a giant hole in its culture.


Here are the blurbs for the book:


The Wishing Tomb is a lyric history of New Orleans’ beauty and brutality, both human and environmental. Amanda Auchter is a poet of rare elegance and dexterity who writes just as movingly about gunshot as she does the markings of brick-scratch left on the tomb of Marie Laveau. Every city deserves the subtle attention of such a poet, a poet brave and nimble enough to touch every line of the city’s rough, loved, and disastrous skin.” —Katie Ford, author of Deposition and Colosseum


“In these textured, deftly-crafted stanzas, Amanda Auchter romances the grit, the rampant spice, the twang, the mystery, the brick, the swelter, and the insistent hallelujah conjured by the Crescent City. This sparkling, defiant love story pays tribute to NOLA on the upswing, while remembering how often it has teetered on the edge of descent.” —Patricia Smith, author of Blood Dazzler, Teahouse of the Almighty, and Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah


I am very grateful for this experience and for the people who have helped me along the way in the writing/researching of this book.  I hope that readers will see this book for what it is: a love letter to a city, a history in verse, the text of survival and perseverance.


I have quite a few reading dates set up here for my mini book tour as well (with more dates/cities TBD), which is all very exciting.  More information about the book can be found at Perugia Press.  If you wish to review a copy of the book/schedule a reading, please contact me here or Perugia Press directly, here.