Friday, April 28, 2017

Yesterday was a good day. First, I sat in on an excellent class with a terrific group of high schoolers from all over the world. Then, in the evening, I debuted my poem "Duet for Uncle Paul" at a reading where I also got to spend time with the work and the company of three other fine Maine poets.

I've designed the poem for two voices, but I last night I had only myself as reader. I was glad to see, however, that the difference in the written voices made them easy to distinguish, and the audience members were very helpful in their reactions to the balance of the two parts. Of course I was nervous about bringing such a new piece into the air, but I kept telling myself, What the hell? Why not try? It was Paul's birthday earlier this week: he would have been 72. The coincidences had aligned, and I am a sucker for coincidence.

This morning I'm going back to the high school for another volunteer session, and then I will come home and open all the windows because outside it will be warm and damp and spring. I feel so energized from having spent a day being useful. I haven't felt particularly useful to anyone, for most of a year. It's a hard identity to lose.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

I may have finally found the Vietnam War book I was hoping to discover: Frances FitzGerald's Fire in the Lake: The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam. FitzGerald was a freelance journalist during the war, publishing her reports in the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the New York Review of Books, and other such literary venues. Her book, which won a Pulitzer, was published in 1972; and instead of focusing exclusively on combat engagements and politician behaviors, it also works to reflect the war through the eyes of everyday Vietnamese and American citizens. Moreover, FitzGerald can spin a narrative, which, I'm sorry to say, many military historians and journalists cannot. I've been kicking myself for getting so bored with most of the books I've taken out of the library. But really, the tedium wasn't all my fault.

This morning, I'm off to sit in on an ELL writing class at a local high school, and then I've got to prep for my reading in Yarmouth tonight. I just might wear my beautiful new dress.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tomorrow evening I'll be doing my National Poetry Month duty--e.g., reading with Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, Megan Grumbling, and Jim Thatcher at Merrill Memorial Library, on Main Street in Yarmouth, Maine. I'd love to see you there.

And next weekend I'm scheduled to teach a day-long poetry workshop for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance, this time way up in Trescott, in Washington County. So if you're in the hinterlands and are looking for something to do on May 6, you might consider signing up.

Otherwise, life continues apace, as does the rain. I fetched Tom home from the airport at midnight last night, so my cloistered long weekend is now officially over. I wish I'd accomplished more writing-wise than I did, but four new pages in an essay draft that's been driving me crazy for six weeks are not nothing. On my rainy walk to yoga class yesterday afternoon, I noticed that a few flowering trees are beginning to blossom, and the parks smell of wet grass and thawed soil and joyful dogs. I am trying hard not to let my thoughts turn to my garden back home.

What I am going to do is walk out into the spring rain, and then trudge back up the stairs to the doll-house and write a syllabus, and then fix oven-fried chicken for the one I love.
This talk of art & love, the odds & ends! 
--from Hayden Carruth, "The Sleeping Beauty"

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Yesterday I received notice that my collection Songs about Women and Men was a semi-finalist for the Dorset Prize. This is the second time this season that I've had a collection place well in a contest: early in the year, Chestnut Ridge was a semi-finalist for the Wilder Prize.

I'm gratified that readers seem to be interested in both collections, but of course I'm also frustrated because I can't seem to get beyond that status. Then again, I haven't been applying to contests for all that long. So I guess I should be patient with myself.

Both collections are sitting on the desks of various non-contest publishers, so maybe something will happen there. Reading fashions change, that's for sure. For a while, I'd given up on Chestnut Ridge entirely, and now, since the election, it seems to be garnering at least some attention. I was listening to an interview with the playwright Lynn Nottage, who researched and wrote her play Sweat (about working-class Reading, Pennsylvania) well before Trump came to power. Yet audiences, post-Trump, are responding to it as a topical statement. The same may be true of Chestnut Ridge. But I hate to allow myself to get too optimistic. There are a lot of people out there trying to publish poetry manuscripts. I've heard that roughly a thousand people submitted to the Dorset Prize. I'm lucky to get any kind of notice.

Monday, April 24, 2017

This morning I will be having a Skype conversation with a classroom full of Oklahoma undergraduates who are studying editing. I am the exemplar of "freelance editing," and I am a little nervous about the idea that students are actually imagining it to be a lucrative career. Um, no.

I am also a little nervous about the cat's ability to behave himself for 45 minutes. If he doesn't, I guess the students will get to glimpse another downside of freelancing.

After the Skype session, I'm hoping to get some new writing started. I've been in a pattern lately: read read read read, write. Read read read read, write. It's a common-enough pattern for me, but the read sections are going on for an unusual length of time, and often they feel more like floundering among texts than like any productive gathering of information. Poem research isn't historical research, that's for sure.

Early this morning I woke up to barking, and thought, Oh someone's come up the driveway. And then I realized that my dog was dead and I don't have a driveway anymore. It was a sad way to wake up.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

This morning's view: sunshine, wet green grass, and a clear blue sea. And in frivolous news, I bought the most beautiful dress yesterday, and it only cost $25.

I spent my Saturday slowly filling time. I tried on 13 items of clothing at the store. I cooked an Asian noodle dish that required me to chop and cook small amounts of many different kinds of vegetables. I went outside into the drizzle and took a slow walk along the shore.  I spent much time reading Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. And so my day alone turned out to be a good day, a very good day.

I know that some portion of my Sunday needs to involve housework, but that's okay too. I like clean floors and tidy surfaces and a well-scrubbed bathtub. Housework is not a waste of time. It's another way to acquaint oneself with place. And because this doll-house is the only place I've got, I take its condition seriously.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

On Wednesday night, when I was up north, I drove blindly through a dense snow squall. Here in Portland, there's nothing but rain. It fell all day yesterday, and all through the night, and is still falling now . . . mostly as a dense drizzle, but sometimes more urgently, sometimes as a patter of drops.

Out on the deck, my row of arugula seeds has sprouted, and my stalwart pansies and herb seedlings twitch in a small wet wind. Inside, the cat is draped over the radiator. The doll-house smells of coffee and toast.

Yesterday I finished War and Peace for the the thousandth time, and now I have started reading Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad for the first time. I spent some time yesterday copying out Carruth's poetry and scanning through Takin' It to the Streets, an anthology of writings from the 1960s. Among them is a speech titled "The Incredible War," which the president of Students for a Democratic Society delivered at a 1965 anti-war rally in front of the Washington Monument. The president's name was Paul Potter, and he is no relation to me. He just happens to share a name and an era with my uncle.

In his speech, that other Paul Potter said:
The war goes on; the freedom to conduct that war depends on the dehumanization not only of the Vietnamese people but of Americans as well; it depends on the construction of a system of premises and thinking that insulates the President and his advisors thoroughly and completely from the human consequences of the decisions they make. I do not believe that the President or Mr. Rusk or Mr. McNamara or even McGeorge Bundy are particularly evil men. If asked to throw napalm on the back of a ten-year-old child they would shrink in horror--but their decisions have led to mutilation and death of thousands and thousands of people. 
What kind of system is it that allows good men to make those kinds of decisions? What kind of system is it that justifies the United States or any country [in] seizing the destinies of the Vietnamese people and using them callously for its own purpose? What kind of system is it that disenfranchises people in the South, leaves millions upon millions of people throughout the country impoverished and excluded from the mainstream and promise of American society, that creates faceless and terrible bureaucracies and makes those the place where people spend their lives and do their work, that consistently puts material values before human values--and still persists in calling itself free and still persists in finding itself fit to police the world?
Three years later, in a letter to his older brother, written in early 1968, my Paul Potter wrote:
I've been having quite a time over here. I'm in the unit that does all the good stuff that I wanted to get into.
No wonder his older brother still cries when we talk about those days.