Monday, May 20, 2019

We got back to Portland from Vermont mid-Sunday afternoon, and immediately I started transplanting. While Tom had spent the weekend helping my dad cut down trees, I spent it trekking to the local nursery and then moseying around my mother's flower gardens as she kept encouraging me to dig up various shoots and sprigs. As a result I ended up with maybe 25 plants: all of my hot-season vegetables plus various shade and sun perennials. It was a garden bonanza.

The timing was good as today we'll see our first temperatures in the 70s as well as high humidity and thunderstorms, and all week the nights are forecast to be mild. Still, I managed to wake up at 3 a.m. filled with anxiety about all the things I need to get done at my desk, in the house, in the garden, at the Frost Place, in workshops I'm supposed to teach, with house guests who will be here in a few weeks, on my next trip to Vermont (to pick up the college boy). Ugh. I don't know why my brain can't leave me alone.

I've been rereading the collected stories of Jean Stafford, which continue to be both wonderful and strangely dated (which I don't mean in a pejorative sense at all). I'm still goggling and gulping over my diary-poem project. I feel fizzy and a little overwhelmed, and I wish that didn't lead to insomnia, though it always seems to.

Friday, May 17, 2019

We're heading out today for a weekend in Vermont--a work visit, helping my parents with their garden and woodlot chores. It's not everyone who packs a chainsaw and a come-along for a weekend away, but apparently we do. You probably won't hear from me for a couple of days, but I should be back to my regular doings on Monday.

This morning I'll finish up my 8-week poetry class, deal with various paperwork things, do a rush load of laundry, and reread my new manuscript a few hundred times. I can still hardly believe it exists.

If any of you friends might be willing to glance at it and offer your opinion, I'd be grateful.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

So it seems that I have the first draft of yet another manuscript.

Yesterday I compiled my diary poems into a 60-some-page document. To be clear, these poems aren't Whitmanesque. They are tiny--most no longer than four lines each--and are interspersed with prose fragments. The amount of text on each page is negligible. Nonetheless, I can hardly believe I've compiled an entire manuscript in such a short period of time.

For the moment I'm calling it A Month in Summer, and it's broken into weekly sections, each of which is broken into seven days. Every day includes an exterior entry (a prose record of events, conversations, complaints, etc.) and an interior entry (a verse record of a state of mind). It's set in midcoast Maine in 1868, and is the voice of a woman, an occasional schoolteacher, who lives with her brother, a farmer.

Undoubtedly I will revise it. But for the moment there it sits, a fat stack of paper on my desk--record of a whirlwind.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Big moments in freelance: I realize it's okay (1) to say no when school employees I don't know ask me to teach a class for free; (2) to say no when I've gone out of my way to explain to a client that the way in which they're producing their journal means that it will inevitably be filled with errors, and then that client offers me a job proofing the next issue, which they have continued to produce in exactly the same error-filled way; (3) to be amazed when, after I've been hemming and hawing and wondering if I'm charging too much for a service, people say Yay! and pay me exactly what I hemmed and hawed over.

Issue 1 may seem like the smallest one, but over the years it's been by far the most difficult to negotiate. When I first began working in classrooms, I was grateful for any chance to practice and learn, though I also did this at a time when my children were young and I would have been volunteering in their classrooms in any case. Occasionally other schools and organizations would ask me to do something poetry-related, and mostly I said yes. It seemed impossible to get paid in central Maine to do that work, and I needed the practice. I was flattered at being noticed, and also nervous and humble about my skills. Flash-forward 15 years, and I find myself continuing to struggle with the right and wrong of the matter. Is it right for me to spend several hours working in a local school for free, when I don't know the kids at all and the school system has a budget for visiting artists? Maybe yes, maybe no. In any case, I have to talk myself through saying no.

Of course I always think: Maybe there was a kid in the room who needed a poet. Most likely there was; there almost always is. So I continue to be guilty, even though I always feel a strong wave of relief at having had the wherewithal to politely decline. It is hard to think of oneself as a professional when people don't want to pay you for the work you do . . . or maybe don't want to pay you is the wrong construction. It's often more like if you love your art, of course you'll give it to us for free. That's the rub. The kids don't know one way or the other about whether I'm being paid. But the schools do, and the teachers are often embarrassed and regretful about the matter. And that puts me in the position of having to make them feel better because their employers are taking advantage of both of us. It's a mess.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

This morning, a slow cold rain.

Last night Tom and I went out to see a 1947 noir film called Out of the Past, starring a very young Robert Mitchum . . . who looked shockingly like Ted Hughes. That resemblance had never occurred to me before. Poet noir.

On these dark heavy days the flowers and trees seem to hold a sort of glowering light. Their own green fire.

I'm still writing.

Monday, May 13, 2019

It was a long weekend of labor, and my back is weary, but I'm pleased to have the wood stacked, the tree saplings cut out of the stone wall, and two Red Sox wins accomplished as I worked. Today I return to my desk: mostly editing a poetry ms, but also choosing among cover possibilities for Chestnut Ridge and beginning to sketch out intros for Frost Place readings.

I've started reading a novel I've never read before: Rohinton Mistry's A Fine Balance, set in an unnamed city in India in the years surrounding Partition. I picked it up in the Goodwill because something about it seemed attractive, and now I'm dreaming about the characters, which is always a sign of reader commitment.

Otherwise, nothing new here except for dirty fingernails, blisters, a few bruises, and a hankering to get back to my diary poems.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

"Conversations and jokes together, mutual rendering of good services, the reading together of sweetly phrased books, the sharing of nonsense and mutual attentions."

This is Robertson Davies's translation of a passage from St. Augustine's Confessions, which Davies borrows (in his novel The Rebel Angels) to describe both a good class and a good marriage. Really I think the motto might serve to describe, in the ideal, almost any benevolent communion: friendship, parenthood, playing music together. Even the marathon of moving two cords of wood from a pile in the driveway into a neat stack behind the shed might be considered the "mutual rendering of good services." For the job is now done: the stove-wood is covered; the kindling is collected in baskets and pails; the bark pile is raked against a fence corner; the odd-shaped chunks are heaped for summer fires on cool evenings; the neighbors have made their friendly comments. . . .