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.