January 15, 2009

Review by Ginny Kaczmarek

by Martha Serpas

W.W. Norton & Company
500 Fifth Ave.
New York, NY 10110
ISBN: 978-0-393-33143-1
2008, 89 pp., $13.95

Every hurricane season, those of us who live along the Gulf Coast are reminded of the fragility of this part of the country. Hurricanes Gustav and Ike blew through Louisiana and Texas this past August, bringing to mind the devastation wrought by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and underscoring how vulnerable we still are. In The Dirty Side of the Storm, Martha Serpas, a native of Galliano, Louisiana, artfully evokes the beauty and power of the Louisiana bayou, building a case for the survival of a landscape and culture in danger of being exterminated, not only by nature’s forces, but by human carelessness and greed.

Despite the book’s title, all but one of these poems were written before Hurricane Katrina and its resulting floods, which gives them an eerie prescience. The eponymous poem, for example, describes the relief and guilt that survivors experience each time a storm—or any disaster—approaches and passes by: “Death just misses you, its well-defined / eye and taut rotation land on /someone else.” As others get the brunt of the storm—“The Red Cross mobilizes elsewhere”—we realize that being physically removed from catastrophe doesn’t free us from it entirely:

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