Maxine Cassin

Maxine Cassin and Robin Kemp celebrate Maxine's birthday, August  2009

Maxine and Robin swapping poetry gossip

I just got off the phone with Maxine Cassin‘s caretaker, who tracked me down through Palmer Hall. Maxine, who was one-half of New Orleans Poetry Journal Press and who published Vassar Miller (Adam’s Footprint and Struggling to Swim on Concrete) among other fine poets, is no longer responsive. In addition, Joe, her husband, died this past Sunday. Whether she knows in anyone’s guess, but longtime couples tend to know these things.

Maxine was very kind to me when I was trying to learn my craft and to start publishing poetry instead of news stories. When I won a prize named for Miller, she sent me encouraging notes and came to readings. She and Joe would occasionally show up at the Maple Leaf and were still very much a part of the New Orleans poetry scene. A few years ago, both had a brush with death following travels abroad. If I remember correctly, they’d contracted malaria. They also were caught up in Katrina and all that wreaked on their longtime home. One day, she popped up on Facebook (with a little help from my high school friend and now-librarian, Luis Interiano, who was one of Maxine’s assistants) and we were back in touch.

Last time I saw Maxine was on a side trip to Baton Rouge in August. I was reading at the Maple Leaf with Julie Kane and celebrating the release of my first book. She wasn’t well enough to make the reading, but I promised I’d come by and visit. After many confusing directions over the phone, I discovered that the street where she lived was the one missing its signpost. She was living at Sue Owen‘s house in Baton Rouge, and her caretaker Sally was there. Maxine’s birthday had only been a couple of days earlier, so we threw an impromptu pizza-and-cupcake birthday party. I absolutely hated to leave, and Maxine wanted me to spend the night, but I had to head back to Atlanta the next day from New Orleans. I was thrilled when she liked the book enough to buy copies for several other friends.

Maxine did a lot for New Orleans poets and poetry. Her influence reached to John Travis at Portals Press, to Everette Maddox and Ralph Adamo, to Nancy Harris, to John Gery, to Malaika Favorite, and to me, among many others.

I don’t know whether she heard the message I left for her. But I want to say thank you, Maxine. Thank you again and again. May you and Joe be together always.

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9 thoughts on “Maxine Cassin

  1. Dale Matthews says:

    Dear Robin, First, I wanted to thank you for your poems. I read the book cover to cover (I rarely do that)the day I got back from New Orleans and have been so frazzled since then that I forgot to thank you and tell you how much I’m enjoying them. My husband Cyril and I have been in touch with Maxine and with Dan during these past months and have been so saddened by her and Joe’s death. Cyril met Maxine, Joe and Dan years ago when he was working for the university in Austin, Texas. I met her through e-mail and only met her in person last August when we were preparing my book for publication. She had the book- Wait for the Green Fire- printed late 2009 and its publication date was this year. I would never have gotten poems together for a book had it not been for Maxine’s encouragement. She was a wonderful reader, correspondent, friend, muse as well as a wonderful poet. I’ve so much missed her e-mails. I’m reading at the Maple Leaf Bar on May 16th and she wanted so much to be there. During one visit she mentioned your reading and your visit and how much she had wanted to be there for your reading. Thank you also for your blog. Cyril found it last night while we were looking for information about Maxine online. I hope we have a chance to meet you. Thank you again for sending your book. Best, Dale Matthews, Cyril Satorsky

  2. I met Maxine when I first returned to New Orleans in 1976. She lived next to an artist I dated. She and Joe were the nicest people. I loved reading her poetry. I am proud to say that she wrote a poem called “Jinny Black’s painting of Bobby” back then.

    There’s one less poet in New Orleans, but one more in Heaven today. Maxine, we’ll miss you down here . . . Bobby

  3. Charlotte says:

    Thank you for this – it seems I’ve been ignorant of a very special NoLA poet. (As you’ve probably guessed I’m a total novice at the craft and everything poetic in NoLA despite living here for 33 years.)

  4. Sally says:

    Dear Robin

    Thank you for posting this picture –which I took (smile). I would like a copy and will contact you about that.. It was a wonderful afternoon –meeting you and experiencing your appreciation for Maxine and her for you…an awesome experience. It was a privilege to know –and work for Maxine –and I have met so many wonderful people –you, Dale Matthews, Charley deGravelle, and today at the memorial service John Gery. I miss her sooo much. And yes, Mr. Joe was an outstanding kind, generous man! Thanks again Robin !

  5. robinkemp says:

    Wow, Dale, what a wonderful surprise to have walked into the Maple Leaf and found you reading. I’d completely forgotten about the date. I’m so pleased we got to meet in person–and that you read your daughter’s fine poems, as well. Please keep in touch!

    Bobby: I’m so sorry for your (and our) loss. Maxine and Joe were beautiful people and she was always so kind and supportive of me during my MFA (and after).

    Charlotte: It’s never too late to catch up.

    Sally, thanks for letting me know about Maxine and Joe. I was very sorry not to have been able to make the memorial, which I had planned to do. John directed my MFA thesis.

  6. Kewan Carey says:

    I was one of Mrs. Maxine’s caregivers. I worked with her for about 7 months, and while working with her I learned of of poetry and editing. I was fascinated by it! We had long conversations about her life, and though she had gotten old, she was still very sharp( and feisty lol). She loved to hear stories of my childhood as well. I truely miss and love her! Her legacy lives on!

    • robinkemp says:

      Hi, Kewan… I’m sorry it took so long to respond. Thank you for taking care of Maxine. I’m glad some of her love for writing rubbed off. She was enormously important in encouraging many young writers. I was one of those lucky people and miss her and Joe. Keep writing. I know she wants you to!

  7. Thanks for all the thoughts and remembrances of Maxine and Joe. My wife, Kathleen, and I were long time friends of Maxine and Joe back when we would have get-togethers with Clarence Laughlin and his wife Elizabeth way back in the 1970’s. Maxine was a great inspiration in my life. I even once performed a work which I wrote that was inspired by one of her poems. I also remember her as a very unique, articulate, encouraging, and downright powerful personality. I have saved all of the emails that we exchanged in the post-Katrina period of time. I was shocked when I just discovered that she and Joe had passed on.
    I now live in Los Angeles but would like to be involved in any memorial readings of her work. Personally, I direct Solstice/Equinox events every year and will definitely be sharing some of her work at the next event. The last time I met with them personally was in 2002 at the Latter Library in New Orleans. I have also published some of my poetry and was always encouraged by Maxine’s gentle guidance. I will always have fond memories of them both!


  8. I will always remember our talks and the stimulating exchanges that we had!

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