Friday, November 21, 2014

Lately I've had a few people ask me to write up proposals for a possible lyric essay workshop. I led one a couple of years ago in Portland, under the auspices of the Maine Writers and Publisher Alliance; and I am now booked to lead another--in early June, way, way downeast at the Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott.

I enjoy teaching this class: for me, it's a way to examine the distinctions and connections between my urge to write poetry and my urge to write prose. However, most of the people who sign up for it do not think of themselves as poets, which is to say they tend to come to lyric prose from informational prose, whereas I am coming to lyric prose from narrative-lyric poetry. So the conversations are interesting . . . as is the fact that a poet keeps getting hired to teach prose. I think that's a financial decision, at least to a certain extent. In Maine, prose writers are more likely than poets to sign up for writing workshops. Are there more prose writers? Or are poets just too poor or iconoclastic to consider signing up?

Anyway: if you're interested in having me lead an lyric essay workshop (in or outside of school) or you have access to a venue that might host one, let me know because I am on a proposal-writing roll.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

This morning I'm headed south to visit a university English class--reading some poems, answering some questions, that sort of thing. Apparently a number of the students are under the impression that all of my poems are deeply coded symbols for SEX!SEX!SEX! so the visit should be interesting.

[P.S. When I mentioned the class's assumptions to my husband, he said, "Well, aren't they?"]

We played with her cat and it fell asleep. We
seem very mild. It's humid out. (Are they spelled "dikes"?)
People say they are Bacchantes, but if they are 
we must be the survivors of Thermopylae. 
--from "Poem" by Frank O'Hara]

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ten degrees this morning, but nothing daunts Ruckus. He bounces into the house after his morning constitutional, blue-eyed and beaming, his white pelt as fluffed and dense as an ermine's--a cat who has lucked into the best of all possible worlds: shrews and songbirds in the forest, wood heat and a homemade cardboard-box playhouse (with windows and a front porch!) in the living room. He runs over to me, puts up his paws to be carried, rubs his ears into my hair to warm them up, wriggles down again, rushes over to Anna's breakfast dish and licks up her leftover gravy (while carefully avoiding the carrots), whizzes upstairs to jump on my keyboard while I'm typing, gets pushed off, sharpens his claws on my violin case, gets yelled at and chased down the stairs, which is exactly his goal, because now I'm going to let him outside again so that he can go back to prowling around among the shrubs and stones doing Top Secret Cat Stuff. This will all be repeated in about 45 minutes.

Writing of his cat Jeoffry, eighteenth-century poet Christopher Smart said: "For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life"; "For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he's a good Cat." This is blatant cat propaganda; I daresay mole- or chickadee-centered poetry would tell a different story. Nonetheless, like Smart, I am susceptible to the way Ruckus "brisk[s] about the life."
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master's bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
It is good to imagine an eighteenth-century man, on his knees in a flagged, rushlit kitchen, tossing a cork to his cat, and laughing, and tossing it again. His poem is like a cat video in words. "Spraggle upon waggle"! Ruckus can do that too!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

It's amazing how much time and energy the satellite tasks of being a writer can absorb. With a bit of an editing hiatus this week, I've finally been able to turn my attention to stuff such as submitting proposals for workshops, setting up readings, consulting with Tom about new author photos, submitting Same Old Story to contests, doing Frost Place paperwork, finishing up last-minute permissions issues with The Conversation, making an index for The Conversation, and so on and so on. This is the stuff that writers who earn money hand over to their assistants, but I am my own assistant, which is kind of like being my own grandpa insofar as I feel like I am churning around in circles instead of advancing into stately professionalism.

Ah, well. At least my desk is a lot cleaner than it was two days ago.

Monday, November 17, 2014

For close to 20 years I've been an active member of our local food coop. I even have a job title: mailing and truck coordinator. Thus, four times a year, I drive over to the Wellington Fire Station to meet the distributor's truck and unload boxes of food. This means that every three months, in blizzard and in flood, the driver and I hang out together for 15 minutes. So we have gotten quite friendly while knowing absolutely nothing about each other.

Last Friday, as we were unloading boxes, I asked him how often he drove up to Maine from the distributor's headquarters in southern New Hampshire. "Once a week," he said. "Every week I head to a different region."

"That's a lot of driving around on bleak Maine roads," I said.

"But it's okay," he assured me, "because I have a good audiobook."

It turns out that recently, while driving along the glowering seacoast and desolate blueberry barrens of Washington County, he'd started listening to a history of the Comanches, "and now I can't wait to get back into the truck and learn more, like for instance, let me tell you about how they got their horses. . . . "

For the rest of the day, I felt downright jubilant. The next long-haul driver you pass on Route 95, that guy sitting up there in the cab? Well, that guy, he could be dreaming of the Comanches. Doesn't the picture make you happy?

Sunday, November 16, 2014

I've spent the past two evenings sitting on a plastic chair in a high school gym watching my son swagger around the stage in a fedora, enacting his role as sexy 20s crime boss in this year's school musical. It is a bemusing position to be in, and I suspect the parents of the girl who played the demimonde vamp had similar feelings. Here we are, sitting in an audience, watching our children perform roles in which they are dolled up to entice. With his long curls and his smoldering glare, his pinstriped suit and his fur-trimmed overcoat, my son looked like some sort of hybrid Johnny Depp/Red Hot Chili Peppers version of a gangster. But in real life he's a 17-year-old junior at a rural high school who coos over cats, hugs his mother every day, and still forgets to brush his teeth. He's also the same boy who paced around the kitchen in his bathrobe yesterday afternoon, orating an impassioned defense of nineteenth-century Kentucky senator Henry Clay along with a grouchy diatribe against present-day Kentucky senator Mitch McConnell. I said, "Honey, you write that all down, and I will publish it." My guess is that he'll get distracted by cat videos and cross-country running in the rain. But we can hope.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Eighteen degrees here this morning. There's no escaping winter now.

I spent most of yesterday working on a longer essay that fleshes out some of the thoughts in my recent posts about heroes and American individualism and the kinds of people we keep voting into office. I rather doubt anyone will publish such an amalgam of literature, political history, and personal reaction. But I seem to be on a roll with the topic; so I suppose I really ought to say, "Thank you, dear Maine governor, for chasing this bee into my bonnet."

Bad politics as a writing trigger: and why not? Try to imagine what Twain's books would have looked like if he hadn't spent most of his life being pissed off at public officials. Maybe we would have been stuck with a thousand versions of Tom whitewashing a fence. But fortunately we have this:
Sometimes, in the beginning of an insane and shabby political upheaval, [a citizen] is strongly moved to revolt, but he doesn't do it--he knows better. He knows that his maker would find out--the maker of his Patriotism, the windy and incoherent six-dollar sub-editor of his village newspaper--and would bray out in print and call him a Traitor. And how dreadful that would be. It makes him tuck his tail between his legs and shiver. We all know--the reader knows it quite well--that two or three years ago nine-tenths of the human tails in England and America performed just that act. Which is to say, nine-tenths of the Patriots in England and America turned Traitor to keep from being called Traitor. Isn't it true? You know it to be true. Isn't it curious? 
Yet it was not a thing to be very seriously ashamed of. 
--from Mark Twain's essay "As Regards Patriotism" (ca. 1900)