Mark Yakich

recorded in New Orleans, LA

 

Mark Yakich

I’m Mark Yakich, on New Orleans.


The Knox Writers’ House

How did you get here?


Yakich

I came to the city a long time ago, when I was a child. No, that’s a total fucking lie. I came to this city for the first time in 1997. It was June. I was scouting out Baton Rouge because I had just got accepted to LSU’s creative writing program, their MFA program. I came to New Orleans, though, first, because it seemed like the thing to do because I’d never been to Louisiana before. I drove down in my truck, this truck I used to have—a 1989, Toyota pickup—and I didn’t have air conditioning. And my friend, Kyle, we drove down. I flew into Chicago from Brussels—I was living abroad—and I got my truck at my parents’ house, drove down to Bloomington, Indiana, and picked up Kyle. I’d never been to the Louisiana; he’s from the South, he’s from Atlanta, so I thought he might be good to have with me, this foolish Yankee who’s going to be a poet in Baton Rouge, having hated poems for 25 years. So he and I got in the car, started driving south, rolled down the windows, because it was June. And when he would fall asleep, I would turn on the heat, because my father had once told me that that would cool off the engine. And my friend Kyle, to this day, he still mentions, we still talk about this story, it’s one of our favorite stories, “I’d wake up and I’d be all sweaty, and you’d have the heat on!” I put on the defrost, I’d tell him, at least, so it’s coming out that way. So we get down to New Orleans. He’d been here once, in some drunken euphoria as an undergrad; I had never been here. So we drove in, it’s really hot, and the first thing we get to at the highway is, it used to be called the Fleur De Lis, but now it’s called the Circle Bar, off of Lee Circle in town, off St. Charles. And the saying goes it used to be a brothel, and this little bar was in there, and we went there because they had a sign that said “Five o’clock happy hour.” It was 4:45. So we walked in and we had cold beers, and this guy sitting a couple stools from us, we started talking to him and he was from New Orleans, but he was studying to be a monk, or something, in California. He was just visiting. We started talking to him and he said, “Would you like to see the city?” We’re like, “Sure.” So we get in the back of his sister’s punch buggy, and he drives all around the city. And he was an architecture major at Tulane before he wanted to be a monk. So he’s pointing out this house and that, we go by Anne Rice’s house, he pulls in the driveway of Anne Rice’s house. “This is Anne Rice’s house. This is this.” I didn’t know anything about anything architecture-wise, and plus we were four or five beers in. At one point he stopped off at some corner, a little grocery store, went in and got some crawfish. I’d never had that before. In a brown paper bag. And the way you make crawfish boil, it’s just this big cauldron, they throw in crawfish, lots of spices, whole potatoes, whole carrots, whole onions, and then you just dump it out. You cook it for a long time, then you just dump in out on a table with newspapers on it. Anyway, you can get that at a convenient store around here. So he grabbed one of those, we’re eating that in the park at 10pm, City Park. So that’s when I knew I was in a different place. But that was a long time ago. I went to LSU for a couple years, then I left Louisiana in 1999, I went to Memphis and went to other places and then, in 2006, I was teaching in Michigan and I saw the MLA job list every year, you know, and nothing against Michigan, but my wife and I were looking to go elsewhere, and I saw the job at Loyola come up. Poet job. I didn’t think I had a chance, but I knew I liked New Orleans, so I applied and I got interviewed at MLA and then I got what they call a flyback, where they interview on campus. So I came to campus, but actually, I also told my wife, who’s pregnant, with our son at the time, she was 20 weeks pregnant, I said, “You have to come with me.” She had never been to New Orleans before. I said, “You’ve got to come with me for the interview because you’ve got to know if you want to move to New Orleans.” This was only a year after the storm. So she came, and she fell in love with the city, and I got lucky and got the job. So we moved in summer of 2007. So we’ve been here about four years.

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