Sunday, May 31, 2009

Feverishly gardening, mowing, and washing clothes; dodging among the rain showers; training children in chick-sitting and greenhouse-watering . . . all in preparation for our trip to New York City on Tuesday. The boys are missing most of a week of school and couldn't be happier. They want to go to the zoo; they want to eat lunch at the U.N.; they are full of big plans for fun fun fun. I wish we had a transporter like in Star Trek so we didn't have to drive for 10 hours to get there, but I am resigned.

Going to New York from rural Maine is like entering a parallel universe. Up here, I forget that such things exist: noise and crowds and restaurants; stores open all night, and a bar on every corner. We stay with friends in Brooklyn, who still live like college boys, by which I mean that they decorate with beer and the stereo and find small reason to clean the bathroom. It's refreshing, and exhausting, to dip back into that lovable old life.

from Manahatta

Walt Whitman

Trottoirs throng'd, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the shops and shows,
A million people--manners free and superb--open voices--hospitality
          --the most courageous and friendly young men,
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! my city!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Received Milly Jourdain's poems in the mail, and they are breaking my heart. More anon, because I am writing a review of them. Somebody has to. But I'll give you a poem:

Watching the Meet

Joan Arden [Milly Jourdain]

The air is still so new and fresh and cold,
It makes a warm excitement in our hearts
To drive beside the sad and lonely fields.
And now we see a wider space of road
Where groups of horsemen moving restlessly
Are waiting for the quiet-footed hounds.
The hounds come swiftly, covering the way
Like foaming water surging round our feet.
And then with cries and sound of cracking whips
All, all are gone: the distant beat of hoofs
Like trailing smoke of dreams, comes fitfully
To tell how near they were a moment past.
But we see only winter trees again,
And turning homewards meet a drifting rain.

Update: Well, I wrote the review at manic speed, in the space of three hours. Now I don't know what to do with it. Who publishes reviews of obscure, out-of-print poetry collections? I'll send it to you to read, however, if you'd like to see it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ivy Compton-Burnett on Henry James: "A curious talent. One has to respect him. But how one would like to give him a push."

To the novelist Rosamund Lehman: "I've read your book, oh yes, I've read your book, and I've decided that one of us cannot be a woman."

When asked later about the same Lehman novel: "'If it had been half as long--which would have done no harm--and if she had taken out half the characters--which would have been an improvement--' Pause. 'Well, there wouldn't have been much left, would there?'"

On a novel by Olivia Manning: "It is really full of very good descriptions. Quite excellent descriptions. I don't know if you care for descriptions? I don't."

[from Hilary Spurling, Ivy (New York: Knopf, 1984), 467-70, passim.]

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

So once again, I need your advice. In September I'll be reading with Maine poet and memoirist Elizabeth Garber, an event that the Maine Humanities Council will record and make available as a podcast on its website. The council has a number of these podcasts, which are intended to introduce listeners to working writers and literary history.

Over the summer, as a preview to the reading, the council would like to record us in a conversation focusing on why poets might choose to turn to memoir. Of course, we have to be prepared with questions to ask one another, and this is where you come in. What would you like to know? What makes you uneasy? What would you like to point out? Feel free to refer specifically to Tracing Paradise, if you've read it. Elizabeth's memoir is currently under construction, but I'm sure she'd be glad to share samples with interested parties. Just let me know.

We're excited about this opportunity, which may also morph into a panel discussion at the Stonecoast MFA residency this winter, including writers such as Baron Wormser and possibly Barbara Hurd and Ann Hood. So act now: get bossy, ask a few nosy questions, and see what we can invent for you.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

    Do not expect me to explain who might still be in the classroom on July 1 . . . or even who has time to hire a poet at this late date. Nonetheless, I pass it on.

    Opportunity for Poets in Residence

High schools and middle schools


The Maine Arts Commission wants to further enrich the student/poet interaction inMaine’s schools.  Building upon the recently successful Poetry Out Loud competition the agency is offering schools up to $1,000 to bring a poet into their classes before July 1, 2009.


This is a new opportunity that allows teachers to bring a poet into the classroom before July 1, 2009. The money should fund a poet to come into your class and give a workshop or short residency, or you might bring in a poet to do a creative writing workshop.


The Maine Arts Commission is offering this opportunity on a first come - first served basis and based on availability of funds. First, decide the type of workshop you need. Second, contact the artist to determine availability, cost and scheduling arrangements. Go to to find listed artists in the directory, or contact Paul Faria for assistance at 287-2790 or . Finally, after contacting the artist, contact us to set up the details.


Please contact us if you have someone in mind that you've worked with before or that you've had a recommendation about and would like approval to work with this opportunity. This is very limited opportunity so the time to act is now. Workshops must take place before July 1, 2009.

Contact Paul Faria for more information at 287-2790 or

A discovery: Midway through Hilary Spurling's biography of the novelist Ivy Compton-Burnett, I began to run across scraps of poems by a woman named Melicent Jourdain. Known as Milly, she was the youngest sister of Ivy's companion, Margaret Jourdain. Both were also siblings of the mathematician Philip Jourdain. Like Philip, Milly was crippled and eventually killed, at age 44 (oddly enough, my own age at the moment), by Friedrich's ataxia, a hereditary form of multiple sclerosis characterized by childhood onset and rapid progress.

On the Internet, I found one copy of Milly's poems available, which I have ordered: a first edition, published in 1924 and titled Unfulfilment, under the pen name "Joan Arden." For this first edition (by which the seller means "only edition"), said to be in excellent condition, I am paying a mere 30 dollars. Apparently there is not a run on this book.

From the bits and pieces quoted in Spurling's biography, I can only say that Milly may be a quiet poet, but her eye and the purity of her diction are notable, as this tiny excerpt shows:

O only once to loose my hold, and slip
Down the familiar bank, and feel the chill
Of water lapping round my feet, and hear
The sounds of distant music in the wind.

I expect to be disappointed by her book, yet I'm hopeful also. Something about those lines moves me, rather as John Clare can move me, almost in spite of myself.

Really: look at this stanza . . . what could be more beautiful?

And still I see how clearly shines the light
On winter branches, and how the dripping rain
Deepens the colour on the hills, and how
To draw those horses plodding up the lane.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A lovely reading last night. People actually walked in off the street to hear poetry. Imagine!

Every once in a while, a room full of people becomes briefly aligned, a sort of simultaneity of mind and sensation. Oddly, and sweetly, it was that sort of reading.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Reading at River Arts in Damariscotta tonight. I hope you will come. I don't know anyone in Damariscotta, so I have my doubts about attendance. But who knows: maybe people there really love poetry.

Yesterday I planted chard and green beans, made bread and rhubarb shortcake, and went grocery shopping, all of which means that I haven't yet finished choosing my readings for tonight. So send me some requests, if you like. There's still time. 

Friday, May 22, 2009

For seven years I was the music teacher at Harmony Elementary. My actual title was "long-term substitute" because I'd been hired in a panic after the previous teacher quit, and my only qualifications were an ability to play the violin and to sing in tune. Nonetheless, the Department of Education more or less overlooked the fact that I had no teaching certification, and the principal/superintendent abetted my illegal tenure for various reasons, not least because I had a reasonably good relationship with a number of less-than-charming children.

Harmony, as I'm sure I've mentioned, is a K-8 school of 90 or so children, nearly all from working-class, laboring, or unemployed families. And Harmony is not very close to any cultural venues. Thus, I became, for seven years, the arbiter of culture in this town. Once a week I arrived with my carload of guitars, and we sang everything from the Carter Family to the Village People. Despite my classical training, I didn't spend a great deal of time forcing classical pedagogy and music-reading down their throats. I tried to introduce them to the basics of the American songbook, to help them see how those songs linked to their own lives and to what they were listening to on the radio. The day after 9/11, we did a close reading of the National Anthem. In a town where people display "I Shoot Terrorists" stickers on their cars, a close reading seemed like the only answer.

But after seven years I lost my job. Pressed by Bush's No Child Left Behind requirement for "highly qualified teachers," the state refused to give me any more waivers to teach. My only choice was to get certified in music, which would have meant, among other things, passing a special-ed course using a Prentice Hall textbook which I had rewritten and then edited in eight editions--all in order to teach for one day a week. I said no, and the school was forced to advertise the position. I cried, the kids cried, their parents cried. It was a stunning and humbling moment for me. I may have made next to no impact on this town as a poet; but as a music teacher, I did.

So for two years now, I have been like any other parent: sitting in the bleachers at the school concert, wincing as my kid plays "The Hall of the Mountain King" on the piano. But last week six 4th- and 5th-grade girls asked me to play and sing "Amelia Earhart's Last Flight" with them at the concert. This is a song I had taught them in kindergarten. Along with Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings," it is one of the most popular tunes I ever taught. The kids would cry as they sang: small children are suckers for beautiful sadness.

So today, instead of running my Friday revision workshop, I am bringing my guitar to school; and six little girls and I will stand outside in the sunshine and sing "Amelia Earhart" together. 

Here's the chorus of the song. (The band Freakwater does a version of it that's fairly close to our rendition.)

There's a beautiful, beautiful field,
Far away in a land that is fair.
Happy landings to you, Amelia Earhart.
Farewell, first lady of the air.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

What's happening in Harmony, you ask?

1. Eating dinner last night, my younger son suddenly screamed, "Horse!" The four of us leaped up from our roast beef and dumplings and ran to look out the back door. What we saw was not a horse but a moose, a young male with small fuzzy antlers that stuck out from the sides of his head like Steve Martin's arrow. Even a young moose is bigger than a horse, however, and all of them are bumbling. This one was pacing around in the middle of the lawn, maybe 40 feet from the house, looking as if he could easily topple buildings, crush cars, and pull down trees; but any mayhem would have been accidental, like some bigfoot teenage boy tripping over a loaded coffee table during a fancy party.

After a few minutes spent examining our parking arrangements, he trotted back into the woods, carefully avoiding my garden, which was a welcome surprise. The last time a moose appeared in our yard, he ripped the stairs off the deck.

2. Twenty-six chicks arrived in the mail on Monday, and so far four have died. Fingers crossed, I think that the rest will be okay. Currently they are residing in a crate in my basement, under a heatlamp sun, where they eat, drink, sleep, and jump on each other's heads.

3. I stopped at a local dairy farm to buy milk yesterday, and the farmer told me that he had just bought a pair of jeans at Wal-Mart, "and can you believe it, they were 50 cents less than the pair of jeans I bought in 1970." He remembers to the penny how much he paid for pants in 1970? Does he keep a notebook tracking pants prices over the decades? Has he merely bought so few pairs of pants that the prices stick out in his memory? Whatever the case, it seems mysterious and worthy of thought.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

And now, as promised, back to Donald Justice.

Remember I told you I bought Night Light at the Goodwill for 99 cents? Well, since then I've been slowly working my way through the book and have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I don't much like it. In the end it was too dry, too spare. Everything was exquisitely careful and well made, but a little sloppiness would have been welcome, a little tripping-over-his-own-feet excitement. One feels that he caved in somewhere, somehow; that maybe he let his aesthetic, not his own inner heat, do the talking.

Ah, well. I'm often disappointed by poetry. It's a wonder I've kept my finger in the stew all this time.

At least there's always Dickinson.

Poem 793

Emily Dickinson

Grief is a Mouse--
And chooses Wainscot in the Breast
For His Shy House--
And baffles quest--

Grief is a Thief--quick startled--
Pricks His Ear--report to hear
Of that Vast Dark--
That swept His Being --back--

Grief is a Juggler--boldest at the Play--
Lest if He flinch--the eye that way
Pounce on His Bruises--One--say--or Three--
Grief is a Gourmand--spare His luxury--

Best Grief is Tongueless--before He'll tell--
Burn Him in the Public Square--
His Ashes--will
Possibly--if they refuse--How then know--
Since a Rack couldn't coax a syllable--now.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I've been invited, once again, to teach a poetry workshop at the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance weekend writing retreat in September. This will be my third appearance on the MWPA retreat faculty, and the gig always gives me great pleasure. Not only is it held at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, located on one the most beautiful sections of the Maine coast, but I got my own writing break as a very nervous participant in an MWPA workshop. It was the first workshop I'd ever attended, I had two small children at home, I didn't know any other writers at all, and I was scared to death. So to come back as faculty is a distinct happiness for me.

Here's the course description I submitted this morning to the director, and I'm delighted to say that I've already heard from three people who plan to attend. So if anyone out there has questions about how the workshop will function or is otherwise squeamish about the prospect, please do contact me. In the past, the number of participants has been limited to 12, and the classes have always been filled.

Just know that you can't be more squeamish than I was. Even so, that invitation into the world of poetry changed my life. I don't promise to do the same for you, but I do promise to try.

The Mechanics of Passion: A Poetry Revision Workshop

What is meant by the word Poet? What is a Poet? To whom does he address himself? And what language is to be expected of him? . . . However exalted a notion we would wish to cherish of the character of a Poet, it is obvious, that while he describes and imitates passions, his employment is in some degree mechanical, compared with the freedom and power of real and substantial action and suffering.

--William Wordsworth, preface to Lyrical Ballads

Most of us are inspired to write poems because something, be it landscape, incident, or memory, has moved us to articulate a powerful emotion. Yet as we struggle to capture that emotion in words, we quickly find ourselves enmeshed in the mechanics of language—in Wordsworth’s terms, imitating passion rather than experiencing it firsthand. Nevertheless, these mechanical elements of language—grammar, syntax, punctuation—are the tools of our trade: our artisan link to readers and listeners as well as a conduit into our own inner lives.

          In this workshop, participants will focus on the structure of the English language as the foundation of revision. We'll discuss your poems in process, studying how the mechanical elements within these early drafts express or conceal your intentions; and we'll consider possible avenues for change. The workshop is open to writers at all levels, experienced or novice, and previous publication is neither necessary nor important. Participants should bring twelve copies of two poems in process, each no longer than a page. Please don't bring finished work; save that for the participants' reading on Saturday evening. Our goal here is to study the craft of revision.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

I really enjoyed my Maine Poets Society gig on Saturday morning. Such a pleasant group of people, and so interested in listening and talking. I ended up dropping the Wilbur poem, which I had become less compelling to me. But when I read aloud Carruth's "Adolph Eichmann," you could have heard a pin drop. At that moment everyone in the room knew the poem had done its work in this world.

I tried to find it on the Internet so that I could leave a link for you here, but it's not posted anywhere. Find it if you can, however. It's about uncontrollable hate and is written in a highly controlled version of terza rima. The end result is stunning.

Yes, I know I talk a lot about Hayden on this blog, but I can't get over how wonderful his work is. As I told a friend yesterday, he can write; he can think; he can feel. His best poems are technically, morally, and emotionally dazzling. I wish they were mine.

Friday, May 15, 2009


Dawn Potter

It was darker then, in the nights when the cars
came sliding around the traffic circle, when the headlights
speckled with rain traveled the bedroom walls
and vanished; when the typewriter, the squeaking chair,
the slow voice of the radio stirred the night air like a fan.
Of course, the ones we loved were beautiful--
slim, dark-haired, intent on their books.
The rain came swishing against the lamp-lit windows.
The cat purred in his chair. A clock sang,
and we lay nearly asleep, almost dreaming,
almost alone, nearly gone--the days fly so;
and the nights, like sleep, disappear without memory.

[from Boy Land & Other Poems (Deerbrook Editions, 2004)]

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Windy, windy, windy today: the kind of wind that blows doors out of your hands, and hurls metal chairs into the firepit, and scares the dog; and it's so cloudy and dour that I cannot dredge up any enthusiasm for yard work.

I finished composing my terza rima talk and choosing my exemplars, though I haven't yet chosen anything for my own reading. I am actually going to attempt to read aloud a bit of the Inferno in Italian; then I'll read some Chaucer in Middle English, which should be less laughable. Nonetheless, I think the sonic contrast should be interesting for the audience: give them a chance to hear for themselves why the form is so glib in Italian and so much chunkier in English. Sometimes such differences are clearest when the listener doesn't entirely understand the language. Then, yes, I've broken down and decided to read Shelley because he really was so very good at the form. And I'll end with Richard Wilbur and Hayden Carruth as contemporary examples. Carruth's poem, "Adolf Eichmann," is actually quite ugly, but then so is his subject. (Wilbur's poem is available at the New Yorker's website if you want to take a look at it.)
Marion K. Stocking's obituary in the Bangor Daily News.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

I've spent the morning preparing for my Saturday-morning gig for the Maine Poets Society. I'll be talking about terza rima, reading some exemplars of the form, and then announcing the winners of the society's terza rima contest, which I've just now finished judging.

In my hunt for terza rima exemplars, I've been poring through Dante, Shelley, Keats, Hardy, Chaucer, Carruth, Lowell, Williams, Frost, Merrill, Sexton, Auden, Plath, Bolton . . . suffice it to say that the stack of books on my study rug has become precariously tall. I haven't entirely decided which ones I'll use, but I'd like to avoid Shelley and Frost, just because they're the usual models of the form in English.

And perhaps you would like a sports update? The Harmony School co-ed baseball team ("co-ed" means that we have two girls) disguised itself as a softball team and beat the Athens all-girls softball team 36 to 12. After the first inning, our coach told all the Harmony boys to bat left-handed as a way to even up the score, which was not what happened. Everyone continued to hit enthusiastically, our star 8th grader managed to blast 3 multi-run home runs, base stealing was rampant; not to mention that the Athens coach called our left fielder an asshole because he was (with good reason) playing shallow. Altogether it was an extravagant "boys are better than girls" event, even though both our pitchers were girls and our coach was a woman.  What can I say? Of course I had to be pleased because my son's team won. Yet the ambiguities. . . .

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Marion K. Stocking, my colleague at the Beloit Poetry Journal, died this morning, peacefully, I'm told, on a cool and lovely spring day. Just yesterday I'd been watching a female goldfinch fussily beaking up bits of hay and then dropping them in favor of other bits of hay, and I was wondering why some bits were better than others or if the finch was just wasting valuable nest-building time, having had a quarrel with Mr. Finch or that obnoxious nuthatch around the corner. No doubt, Marion could have explained, though she might have been impatient with me. Apparently she'd been known to reject a poem solely on the grounds of minor ornithological error . . . and anthropomorphizing did not count as minor.

Well, I will miss her, though I'm very fond of anthropomorphizing. Nobody loved that journal like Marion.

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Milton book is out! . . . I just received my first copies. . . . The press is filling orders now. . . . I hope you like it.
from The Present and the Past (1953)

I. Compton-Burnett

"Is there anything endearing in being asleep?" said Fabian. "Not that it is not better than screaming on the ground."
          "People are always glad when babies go to sleep," said Henry. "They can stop thinking about them. They take too much thought."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Mother's Day gift from my 11-year-old son. You can take the Shel Silverstein away from the boy, but you can't take the Shel Silverstein out of the boy.

Ode to an Alien

Paul Birtwistle

Sometimes I sit and wonder
What I oughta do
When aliens arrive and say,
"Howdy-doody moo."
Should I say it back or maybe
Something else instead,
Like "Welcome to our land"
Or maybe offer them your bed?
Should I maybe laugh
And say, "I think your accent's funny,"
Or maybe act all serious
And give them jars of hunny?
Sometimes I sit and wonder
What I oughta do
When aliens arrive and say,
"Howdy-doody moo!"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

A few days ago, I asked what you all think of prose poems: are they poems, or are they simply prose vignettes with a poetry label? In response to that question, one friend told me that he was "suspicious" of them and, while not elaborating, brought up the parallel question of graphic novel versus comic book.

Comic books bore me after about 10 minutes; as a consequence, I've never even started to read a graphic novel, which, for all I know, might be the next big thing in literature. Prose poems are a different story. Now that I read for Beloit I see a fair number of them, but I'm yet to be convinced of their validity. This is not to say they can't be interesting pieces. But why call them poems? There's plenty of precedent for rich, imagistic, musical prose. Are people calling these things poems because they're short? Or because they have no plot or other traditional structural device? Which leads to the next question: why does lineation seem so important to me?

I'd really like to hear some opposing viewpoints on this matter. In the Beloit circle I already have a reputation as a curmudgeon with a distaste for cool intellectuality and "experimental" doodads--to the point that I have to abstain from even discussing certain styles that drive me crazy. I'll freely admit that prose poems are one of them. I'm all for vers libre, I'm all for loose Whitmanesque lines, I'm all for metrical unpredictability, but I suspect that prose poems aren't broken into lines because they can't be broken into lines because they're not poems--meaning that they're rhythmically amorphous and that individual bits of language don't carry the sonic weight that a lineated poem must bear.

But take me to task on this, really: I'm an idiot about lots of things.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Hey, I just wrote 11 lines!

And now I have to go to school and do my Friday-afternoon revision workshop with the fourth and fifth graders. I haven't seen them for 3 weeks, and I wonder what they'll be up to today. I know we've all missed each other, which is in itself a charming sensation.

The sun is shining, and the wet trees are glowing; and during chores I found the first little broken eggshell of the season. Somebody was born this morning, and a fine day it is to be alive.

Here's a Jonathan Swift poem that I brought to the Frost Place teaching conference last summer. People had a hard time with it: couplets seem to drive many contemporary readers crazy. But I've always been fond of it.

A Description of the Morning

            Jonathan Swift

Now hardly here and there an hackney-coach,

Appearing, showed the ruddy morn’s approach.

Now Betty from her master’s bed had flown,

And softly stole to discompose her own.

The slipshod prentice from his master’s door

Had pared the dirt, and sprinkled round the floor.

Now Moll had whirled her mop with dextrous airs,

Prepared to scrub the entry and the stairs.

The youth with broomy stumps began to trace

The kennel-edge, where wheels had worn the place.

The small-coal man was heard with cadence deep,

Till drowned in shriller notes of chimney-sweep,

Duns at his lordship’s gate began to meet,

And Brickdust Moll had screamed through half the street.

The turnkey now his flock returning sees,

Duly let out a-nights to steal for fees;

The watchful bailiffs take their silent stands;

And schoolboys lag with satchels in their hands.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Dinner tonight: chicken fricassee with lemon, marjoram, and vermouth; spatzle; fiddleheads with roasted red peppers . . . and the red peppers are already making my house smell like Italy.
In the middle of this rainy morning, I decided to stop editing and write instead; and while what I accomplished was merely the deletion of a single comma and the replacement of "said" with "saying," I still feel happy to be back inside my own head. Not to mention that I've just noticed that this paragraph is starting to rhyme--

In the midst of this rainy morning
I decided to write instead,
deleting a comma, adjusting a verb,
and mucking around in my head.

(There's some slapdash doggerel. . . . I should have left well enough alone.)

I'm continuing to read Krishnapur but have also started Donald Justice's collection Night Light, which, as you may recall, I recently bought at the Bangor Goodwill for 99 cents. The first piece in the collection, "Orpheus Opens His Morning Mail," is a prose poem, a form I generally mistrust. But Justice is, on the whole, such a skilled formalist that I can't accuse him of simply not knowing how to handle a line break. So I have to accept this prose poem as purposeful, though the form still makes me grumpy. In any case, it does have one line that I like:

"A note addressed to my wife, marked Please Forward."

I'll keep you posted on anything else notable in the collection as I make my way through it. Also, I'd be interested to hear your take on prose poems. Do they exist? Or are they really just plain old prose?

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Good job, Maine, latest member of the anyone-can-get-married-here club! (though as I mention in my Milton memoir I myself am not sure I would ever go through such a grueling experience again). Off in a few minutes to a Little League baseball game in the drizzle, but first I thought I would share an epithalamion in honor of Maine's great legislative occasion.

from Epithalmion

Edmund Spenser

Ah! when will this long weary day have end,
And lend me leave to come unto my love?
How slowly do the hours their numbers spend!
How slowly does sad Time his feathers move!
Haste thee, O fairest planet, to thy home
Within the western foam;
Thy tired steeds long since have need of rest.
Long though it be, at last I see it gloom
And the bright evening star with golden crest
Appear out of the East.
Fair child of beauty! glorious lamp of love!
That all the host of heaven in ranks dost lead
And guidest lovers through the night's sad dread,
How cheerfully thou lookest from above
And seem'st to laugh atween thy twinkling light,
As joining in the sight
Of these glad many, which for joy do sing
That all the woods them answer, and their echo ring!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

In between all this editing and yard work, I've been reading J. G. Farrell's The Siege of Krishnapur, a novel about the sepoy rebellion in British India in the mid-1850s. It's an odd book, partly because it's quite plausibly disguised as a straightforward historical novel with the cast of characters one is accustomed to finding in novels about colonial India. But everyone is strange, and their strangeness isn't only the result of the siege but is evident well beforehand. By strange, what I mean is that each person has his or her odd obsession, which collides with other people's odd obsessions; and meanwhile, they playact their Victorian proprieties. Add carnage and starvation in close quarters, and the novel rapidly becomes hallucinogenic. In short, it makes less than ideal bedtime reading, but I'm reading it in bed anyway.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Thinking of mussel chowder for dinner tonight. Baby mesclun, arugula, and spinach are ready to pick in the greenhouse. The rhubarb is coming along, and the dandelion greens are almost too big to harvest. Chives and scallions are beautiful; so is the lovage. Came home from Beloit yesterday to fiddleheads in olive oil and lemon. My cup runneth over, after a winter of carrots and storage onions.

I'm going to plant beets and cilantro this afternoon. My peas are up, and the hen has shown no interest in destroying the patch. With luck, I'll be done editing by the end of the week and can go back to writing. I would so like to write again.

Here's a bit from the forthcoming CavanKerry collection. It incorporates all twenty words from one of my son's second-grade spelling lists (or maybe it was third grade). Let's call it a farewell-to-winter poem.


Dawn Potter

From the barren hills a battery of men
marched and stumbled onto the muddy plain,
but the wolves, impatient for spring, mistook them
for scrawny oxen and devoured them. Now the women,
no longer the wives of heroes, hoard turnips and spoiled loaves.
Mice gnaw the empty shelves, grind their yellow teeth
against the split handles of knives and hatchets.
Children launch greening potatoes at the anxious
cattle; they throttle the last angry geese. Pale sheep wander
the bleak forest like ragged deer, tearing twigs and blackened
leaves from the stunted oaks. A sallow pair of lambs huddles
by the half-thawed pool, where a single ancient fish lives out
his cloudy hours, calm, unfixed, a pitcher of silver and lead.
At dusk he drifts into the net.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Last night--

Dreamed I was a yellow transparent stone on a beach but also a French peasant in period costume.

Listened to the Rays pitch around Dustin Pedroia to get to Papi, which was a dreadful turn of events, and I hate to think of Papi tossing and turning in his bed, asking himself, "Am I washed up?"

Also dreamed of playing the violin, but that kind of dream is more akin to muscle-memory than imagination. I guess maybe I should get the instrument out of its case and do what my fingers are nagging me to do.


Another poetry round for Beloit. Listening so hard to poems is very, very tiring. And yet, the more we listen, the more we stay the the same, n'est-ce pas?

by Christine de Pisan, 14th century

[I don't know the translator, and I don't remember where I found this]

It is a month today

Since my lover went away.

My heart remains gloomy and silent;

It is a month today.

"Farewell," he said, "I am leaving."

Since then he speaks to me no more.

It is a month today.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

It's barely light, just a sort of fragile shimmer, yet already the grass is glowing green. Yesterday's rain has worked a transformation: suddenly everything that was dead is growing and, in this dim foggy dawn, nearly vibrates with the tension being alive. Driving to Farmington yesterday I saw fiddleheads for sale beside the road. Ours, down by the shady stream, are usually on the late side; but I'm longing to run down into the woods and see. I love to eat fiddleheads, and I love to pick them. The spot where they grow is a damp patch alongside a small running brook, a place where I've startled wood ducks, where I often hear the long eerie singing of a thrush--that is, so long as the poodle doesn't bustle in officiously. I love my dog dearly, but she is such a tourist.

No fiddleheads for me today, however. I'm off to Farmington again for another poetry-reading round at Beloit. We are all sad because Marion Stocking, who has been the journal's mainstay since the 50s, is very, very ill. It will be hard to choose poems for the journal without the sight of her happy face.

But the good news is that my husband and I are all of a sudden madly in love. Isn't it funny how that happens: how the routine scales fall from your eyes, and there you are again?