"I am not in the giving vein today" [meanwhile crouching hunchily on a throne and poking Lord Buckingham in the stomach with a scepter].
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Monday, December 29, 2008
Sunday, December 28, 2008
"Do not get me started on the ignorant adverb-hating tendencies proselytized by contemporary self-help writing manuals."Perhaps someday I will write an autobiography of grammar.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
"The ineptness of scholars as literary critics is a notorious fact."
Friday, December 26, 2008
Isn't there for every writer a particular thing of that sort, the thing that most makes him apply himself, the thing without the effort to achieve which he wouldn't write at all, the very passion of his passion, the part of the business in which, for him, the flame of art burns most intensely?
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
"She will be sorely missed by her cat, Teeney Bah-ba, and his partner, Joe."
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
from Psalm 137
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
Time to snap out of this not-writing-yet melancholy and revert, as promised, to the topic of dinner preparation. This morning, after I feed the barn animals and haul in firewood, fresh orange gelatin is first on my list of things to make. And if you've never eaten homemade Jello, now is the time. It's a lovely delicate way to end a big meal, it's easy to prepare, and, better yet, it's not the color of Legos.
Monday, December 22, 2008
I have seen the garbagemen paradewhen it was snowing.I have eaten hotdogs in ballparks.I have heard the Gettysburg Addressand the Ginsberg Address.I like it hereand I won't go backwhere I came from.--Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Autobiography," from A Coney Island of the Mind
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
Stumbling into Harmony
Thus was this place,
A happy rural seat of various view.
Perhaps one definition of paradise is that it’s a place that doesn’t dash your hopes. I arrived in Harmony when I was twenty-eight, newly married, newly unemployed, eager to find my place on earth. I came to the north country prepared to be happy, and I was happy.
In this era of aimless migration and faceless commercial landscape, finding a real home on earth is a miracle. Yet any attempt to explain its succor risks transforming the homebody into a mouthpiece for provincial nostalgics or back-to-the-land politicos. For it’s very hard to explain a marriage, human or otherwise; and loving a place is like loving a husband or a cow or a baby or a grandfather: you make the best of it, you lose your temper, you throw up your hands in despair, you spin foolishly in circles, you take what’s been served, and you shut up.
There’s nothing charming about Harmony. It squats in the middle of the state, far away from the ocean, far away from the ski lodges. It has no scenic New England charm: its school is ugly, its town office uglier. It has a rundown yarn factory that once appeared in a Stephen King movie. It also has plenty of gas pumps and three places to buy beer. During hunting season you can tag your buck here very easily. Any time of the year you can buy bar-and-chain oil for your chainsaw. If you drive a half-hour south, you can shop at Wal-Mart. If you drive an hour east, you can go to the mall.
Clearly Harmony is not Brigadoon. Time has not forgotten us. This is a town that takes diesel seriously. Almost everyone watches a lot of TV and votes Republican. Junked pickups rust in the weeds, little children are horrifyingly fat, and men beat their wives. Mobile homes burn down. Trash piles up in the ditches. In my son’s seventh-grade class, one very nice Christian boy recently suggested it might be a good idea to shoot all Mexicans who cross the U.S. border.
I realize that, at this point in my description, Harmony sounds like the town a Harper's writer might conjure up as an emblem of backcountry rot, a dying hamlet cretinously sponging up the poisons of our time. Hell, in fact. But hell is not always hell. As Satan notes,
What when we fled amain, pursu’d and strook
With Heav’n’s afflicting Thunder, and besought
The Deep to shelter us? this Hell then seem’d
A refuge from those wounds.
Thomas Hardy once wrote that “melancholy among the rural poor arises primarily from a sense of incertitude and precariousness of the position.” And for the maimed, the scared, the defeated, the angry, the vengeful, a bleak backcountry can indeed be a place to lick your wounds, to ponder, to squirrel away the canned goods and the ammo. By a long shot, this doesn’t make it Eden; but Milton’s image of hell as refuge does offer some hint about the mutability of place in the human psyche. Like most overquoted lines, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n” resonates because it strikes a familiar knell: because we are alone and changeable in all our colors and seasons; because we and our refuge are one and the same.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
"Wednesday [December] 16"James wash and do other chores. Henry went to Manchester to see Harry as he intends to go away this evening he gave a "General Grant book to Henry." James had a regular splurge talking against educations being of use to people, advocating that those who were not educated were the best off etc. I proved to him that education done no harm to any one & that it helped they who were inteligent & ambitious, while those that were lazy &c received benefit by it for it was all they ever were that was worthy of notice. I was very tired and nervous all day. wish I knew how Sarah is. Harry went to bid her his adieu yesterday. pleasant."--from "A Secret to Be Burried": The Diary and Life of Emily Hawley Gillespie, 1858-1888
Monday, December 15, 2008
Over the weekend I received my copy of UMass Press's spring-summer 09 catalog, which lists my forthcoming Milton memoir. The book itself is not ready (though I have started seeing samples of page design). But I do have this catalog description, in case you happen to know any librarians or booksellers who like to buy books, because I sure don't. The description is accompanied by a lovely 17th-century woodcut of a woman picking apples, and the amount of cleavage she reveals is certain to encourage sales. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to drag the illustration out of the PDF file, so you'll just have to use your imagination.
Two Years in Harmony with
The story of a writer’s intense
engagement with a masterwork of
One winter morning, poet Dawn Potter
sat down at her desk in Harmony, Maine,
and began copying out the opening lines
of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Her intent
was to spend half an hour with a poem
she had never liked, her goal to transcribe
a page or two. Maybe she would begin to
appreciate the poet’s art, though she had
no real expectations that the exercise
would change her mind about the poem.
Yet what began as a whim turned rapidly
into an obsession, and soon Potter was
immersed in a strange and unexpected
project: she found herself copying out
every single word of Milton’s immense,
Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony
with John Milton is her memoir of that
long task. Over the course of twelve
chapters, Potter explores her very personal
response to Milton and Paradise Lost,
tracing the surprising intersections
between a seventeenth-century biblical
epic and the routine joys and tragedies of
domestic life in contemporary rural
Maine. Curious, opinionated, and eager,
she engages with the canon on mutable,
individual terms. Though she writes
perceptively about the details and
techniques of Milton’s art, always her
reactions are linked to her present-tense
experiences as a poet, small-time farmer,
family member, and citizen of a poor and
beleaguered north-country town.
A skilled and entertaining writer,
Potter is also a wide-ranging and sophisticated
reader. Yet her memoir is not a
scholarly treatise: her enthusiasms and
misgivings about both Milton and Paradise
Lost ebb and flow with the days. Tracing
Paradise reminds us that close engagement
with another artist’s task may itself be a
form of creation. Above all, Potter’s
memoir celebrates one reader’s difficult
yet transformative love affair with
Milton’s glorious, irritating, inscrutable
“Potter writes beautifully. Her prose is as
clear as the song of a bell bird. She knows
how to use detail, quotations from Milton
but also domestic detail, for this is a book
about living sensibly more than about
Milton. It made me ponder my life as well
as literature, as a good book should do but
few books do. . . . Reading this memoir
was an intellectual joy. I know a little
about country things, a lot about children,
and some, maybe, about the way husbands
and wives tumble through life. The book
is the real thing.”
—Samuel Pickering, author of Edinburgh
Days, or Doing What I Want to Do
Dawn Potter is the author of two
poetry collections, most recently How
the Crimes Happened. She is associate
director of the Frost Place Conference
on Poetry and Teaching and lives in
Harmony, Maine, with her husband
and two sons.
144 pp., 14 illus.
$22.95t paper, ISBN 978-1-55849-701-6
Saturday, December 13, 2008
Don't be afraid tolug a fat kid into rain, laugh when his mouthflaps open like a chick's, stumble souththrough weary dumps and truck-tornroads, past autumn gnats who mournat Greaney's turkey farm, where redcoatssling up roosters heel by heel, slit throats,drain hearts, while maples twist an eye-blue sky, a rush of wild geese wings by:good enough day to kill or die,perch shivering on a tailgate, fly.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Litany for J
We planned to be old ladies together,
smirking for the camera, cuddled
side by side on a squeaky porch swing,
Alice-and-Gertrude style, modeling
our garden-party housedresses, our pin-
curled hairdos, our rhinestone scuffs.
We planned to marry handsome, good,
educated men capable of fixing broken
lawnmowers and discussing the emotional
weight of syntax, men who would grant us
children, freedom, respect, plus
grope us under tables at fancy parties.
We planned to be artists, driven and holy,
greatness flickering in our gut; we meant
to write, speak, sing like angels on moonshine—
like fire, like sin. We planned to prop
and admire, bitch and complain, exaggerate,
gush, tease, and fast-talk, drop literary allusions
like hot tamales, split a bottle of red wine
every night, and whisper rude personal
comments about strangers. We planned
to drink tea at the Plaza, stroll arm in arm
through Central Park, and be accosted
by elderly Armenians in shorts.
We planned to cure cancer through prayer,
dip our irreligious fingers in every holy-water
font in Rome, wear flowered skirts and picture-
frame hats, dissect heartbreak and age, worship
Caravaggio, lose weight, eat fresh tomatoes,
sprawl in the grass, compose sonnets, sing
novelty songs, and wear stiletto heels,
and it took us twenty years, but we crossed
almost everything off our list, yes, we did,
even if our attainments were admittedly half-
assed and fraught with unexpected chickens
flapping home to roost. So who’s to say
we won’t be sipping a couple of tall g-and-ts
on that swing—you and me, two blue-haired
old ladies, clinking ice cubes, spouting Chaucer,
craving another sack of ripple chips,
whistling Dixie at the fat white moon?
Can’t you picture us, large as life
and twice as big? Freshen that lipstick,
darling, brush those chip crumbs off your lap.
Cheek to cheek, now; and blow a kiss to the lens.
This snapshot, it’s bound to last forever.
Saturday, December 6, 2008
What am I doing in this world? Ka asked himself. How miserable these snowflakes look from this perspective, how miserable my life is. A man lives his life, and then he falls apart and soon there is nothing left. Ka felt as if half his soul had just abandoned him but still the other half remained; he still had love in him. Like a snowflake, he would fall as he was meant to fall; he would devote himself to the melancholy course on which he was set. His father had a certain smell after shaving, and now this smell came back to him. He thought of his mother making breakfast, her feet aching inside her slippers on the cold kitchen floor; he had a vision of a hairbrush; he remembered his mother giving him sugary pink syrup when he woke up coughing in the night, he felt the spoon in his mouth, and as he gave his mind over to all the other little things that make up a life and realized how they all added up to a unified whole, he saw a snowflake. . . .So it was that Ka heard the call from deep inside him: the call he heard only at moments of inspiration, the only sound that could ever make him happy, the sound of his muse. For the first time in four years, a poem was coming to him; although he had yet to hear the words, he knew it was already written; even as it waited in its hiding place, it radiated the power and beauty of destiny.
Friday, December 5, 2008
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Monday, December 1, 2008
The 10th annual Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching will be June 28 to July 2, 2009, at the Frost Place in Franconia, NH, and will feature workshops, lectures, and readings, with a special emphasis on techniques for engaging students in the excitement of poetry, creative writing, and literature. 2009 faculty poets will include conference director Baron Wormser along with Charlotte Gordon, Geof Hewitt, Dawn Potter, and Elizabeth Powell. Tuition is $625 plus $95.00 for on-site meals. There is no application fee or deadline; send a letter describing interests and experience with poetry in the classroom to Baron Wormser, 834 Thistle Hill Road, Marshfield VT 05658; queries to 802 426-2109 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Complete information at: www.frostplace.org.
Friday, November 28, 2008
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
Monday, November 24, 2008
The WoodspurgeDante Gabriel RossettiThe wind flapped loose, the wind was still,Shaken out dead from tree and hill:I had walked on at the wind's will,--I sat now, for the wind was still.Between my knees my forehead was,--My lips, drawn in, said not Alas!My hair was over in the grass,My naked ears heard the day pass,My eyes, wide open, had the runOf some ten weeds to fix upon;Among those few, out of the sun,The woodspurge flowered, three cups in one.From perfect grief there need not beWisdom or even memory:One thing then learnt remains to me,--The woodspurge has a cup of three.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
Saturday, November 22, 2008
PeaceHenry Vaughan (1621?-1695)My soul, there is a countryFar beyond the stars,Where stands a winged sentryAll skillful in the wars;There, above noise and danger,Sweet peace sits crowned with smiles,And one born in a mangerCommands the beauteous files.He is thy gracious friendAnd (O my soul, awake!)Did in pure love descendTo die here for thy sake.If thou canst get but thither,There grows the flower of peace,The rose that cannot wither,Thy fortress, and thy ease,Leave then thy foolish ranges;For none can thee secure,But one that never changes,Thy God, thy life, thy cure.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
"Old men may eat tortoises freely, because having already lost the power of running they can take no harm from the flesh of the slow-footed creature."
"My wife having dressed herself in a silly dress of a blue petticoat uppermost, and a white satin waistcoat and white hood, though I think she did it because her gown is gone to the tailor's, did, together with my being hungry, which always makes me peevish, make me angry, but after dinner friends again."
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
from The Life of Charlotte Bronte (1857)Elizabeth GaskellWhen a man becomes an author, it is probably merely a change of employment to him. He takes a portion of that time which has hitherto been devoted to some other study or pursuit; he gives up something of the legal or medical profession . . . or relinquishes part of the trade or business by which he has been striving to gain a livelihood; and another merchant or lawyer, or doctor, steps into his vacant place, and probably does as well as he. But no other can take up the quiet, regular duties of of the daughter, the wife, or the mother . . . : a woman's principal work in life is hardly left to her own choice; nor can she drop the domestic charges devolving on her as an individual, for the exercise of the most splendid talents that were ever bestowed. And yet she must not shrink from the extra responsibility implied by the very fact of her possessing such talents. She must not hide her gift in a napkin.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Friday, November 14, 2008
Thursday, November 13, 2008
from ShirleyIt is well that the true poet, quiet externally though he may be, has often a truculent spirit under his placidity, and is full of shrewdness in his meekness, and can measure the whole stature of those who look down on him, and correctly ascertain the weight and value of the pursuits they disdain him for not having followed. It is happy that he can have his own bliss, his own society with his great friend and goddess, Nature, quite independent of those who find little pleasure in him, and in whom he finds no pleasure at all. It is just, that while the world and circumstances often turn a dark, cold side to him--and properly, too, because he first turns a dark, cold, careless side to them--he should be able to maintain a festal brightness and cherishing glow in his bosom, which makes all bright and genial for him; while strangers, perhaps, deem his existence a Polar winter never gladdened by a sun. The true poet is not one whit to be pitied; and he is apt to laugh in his sleeve, when any misguided sympathizer whines over his wrongs. Even when utilitarians sit in judgment on him, and pronounce him and his art useless, he hears the sentence with such a hard derision, such a broad, deep, comprehensive, and merciless contempt of the unhappy Pharisees who pronounce it, that he is rather to be chidden than condoled with.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
from "Aube, fille des larmes, retablis"
Dawn, daughter of tears, reestablishThe room in its gray thing's peaceAnd the heart in its order.
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
My essay on Jane Austen's Mansfield Park is just out in the current issue of the Sewanee Review, so I've been thumbing over what I wrote and wondering, once again, what other readers think of this novel. Do people even read it? Judging from the glut of Austen knockoffs in the Borders' fiction section, somebody is still reading Emma and Pride and Prejudice. But what about poor Fanny? It makes me sad to think that both she her novel might be so perpetually disliked and neglected.
from In Defense of Dullness, or Why Fanny Price Is My Favorite Austen Heroine
Yes, it’s true: I do love Fanny, “the quiet and in some ways uninteresting” protagonist of Mansfield Park, more than any of Jane Austen’s other heroines. But though I rush now to explain that the “uninteresting” tag is not Austen’s reduction but one lifted from my 1983 edition of The Cambridge Guide to English Literature (which does not appear to be especially fond of either Fanny or this novel), I can’t help but acknowledge a certain truth to the label. Fanny’s character is a study of the English Protestant good-girl ideal: sweet-tempered and duty-driven, morally and socially obedient; also shy, stammering, self-effacing; also doubtful, tender, awkward, and embarrassed—and anyone who has herself been marked as a good girl recognizes at least those last two descriptors as painfully accurate. Doesn’t every good girl suffer over the vision of herself as good? Just the recollection of myself in high school—earnestly long-haired and studious, boringly voted “Most Musical Girl,” and prone to having my English papers held up as models to classmates with better things to do than write essays on Puritan sermons—makes me wince. I wish I could run away from the memory of my good-girl self, even though every one of those embarrassing characteristics (except possibly for the hair) has been crucial to my life as a busy, engaged, and wondering adult.
But my future at forty made no dent in my present at seventeen. I was horribly conscious of my unfashionable clothes, my wretched volleyball skills, my prissy reputation. And this is also Fanny’s torment, time after time. She is “ashamed of herself,” perennially impaled on the thorn of her imperfections. . . .
Monday, November 10, 2008
from The Fourth Duino ElegyRainer Maria Rilke,trans. Stephen MitchellWho shows a child as he really is? Who sets himin his constellation and puts the measuring-rodof distance in his hand? Who makes his deathout of gray bread, which hardens--or leaves it thereinside his round mouth, jagged as the coreof a sweet apple? . . . . . . Murderers are easyto understand. But this: that one can containdeath, the whole of death, even beforelife has begun, can hold it to one's heartgently, and not refuse to go on living,is inexpressible.
Sunday, November 9, 2008
The Sun RisingJohn DonneBusy old fool, unruly sun,Why dost thou thusThrough windows, and through curtains call on us?Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?Saucy pedantic wretch, go chideLate school boys, and sour prentices,Go tell court-huntsmen that the King will ride,Call country ants to harvest offices;Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.Thy beams, so reverend and strongWhy shouldst thou think?I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,But that I would not lose her sight so long:If her eyes have not blinded thine,Look, and tomorrow late, tell meWhether both the Indias of spice and mineBe where thou left'st them, or lie here with me.Ask for those Kings whom thou saw'st yesterday,And thou shalt hear: all here in one bed lay.She's all states, and all princes, I,Nothing else is.Princes do but play us; compared to this,All honor's mimic; all wealth alchemy.Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,In that the world's contracted thus;Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties beTo warm the world, that's done in warming us,Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;This bed thy center is, these walls, thy sphere.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
from the wundrfulness uv th mountees our secret policeBill Bissettthey opn our mail petulantlythey burn down barns they cantbug they listn to our politikulledrs phone conversashuns whatcud b less inspiring to ovrheerthey had me down on th floor tili turnd purpul thn my frendspulld them off me they thinkbrest feeding is disgusting evrytime we cum heer to raid ths placeyu always have that kid on yr tit
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I tucked a weary child into each coatpocket, wrapped the quietgarden neat as a shroudaround my lover's warm heart,cut the sun from its mooringsand hung it, burnished and fierce,over my shield arm--a ponderousweight to ferry so far across the waste--though long nights ahead, I'll blessits brave and crazy fire.
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
Saturday, November 1, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
from the AeneidVirgil, trans. Robert Fagles[describing a boat race]Mnestheus riding high, the higher for his success--oars at a racing stroke, wind at his beck and call--shoots into open water, homing down the coast.Swift as a dove, flushed in fear from a cavewhere it nests its darling chicks in crannies,a sudden burst of wings and out its home it flies,terrified, off into open fields and next it skimsthrough the bright, quiet air and never beats a wing.So Mnestheus, so his Dragon speeds ahead, cleavingon her own forward drive.
He ventured a few words: "I . . . you have done meso many kindnesses, and you could count them all.I shall never deny what you deserve, my queen,never regret my memories of Dido. . . .[But not] once did I extend a bridegroom's torchor enter into a marriage pact with you."
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
from Tao of the WeightlifterJoe BoltonMusculature as a way of life.Breaking it down to build it.Up. A burning in my shoulders.