"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.