Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving in the Champlain Valley

Tom behind a bush taking pictures

Invasive something-or-other obscuring the vista

Scenic field with scenic farmhouse and scenic mountains,
plus frozen muddy puddle

Imitation tense family portrait
 aka Madame Tussaud's Cozy Living-Room Diorama

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Thanks to weather-report hysteria and the unpleasant image of slick mountainous roads, we've decided to depart early for Vermont and Thanksgiving. I'll be bringing along my cooler full of pie-baking materials, so if we get stuck in a ditch somewhere, we can survive on green tomato mincemeat, apples, dried cranberries, pecans, cognac, maple syrup, and several pounds of butter.

In the interstices of the holiday, I'll be reading Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third Crusade, because nothing encourages overeating like medieval bloodshed. Tom is reading Joan Didion essays, the poodle is not reading anything, and Paul is reading A Tale of Two Cities, but only because he has to. It's difficult for me to be encouraging because that book is not my favorite version of Dickens. Meanwhile, Ruckus will spend the week in the clink, sharpening shivs, etc.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Harmony weather = 12-degree gale. The wind has been brutal all weekend, and it's still blowing hard. On yesterday's outing to the apple orchard, Paul and I saw two brush fires, tree parts all over the road, crows flying backward, and linemen teetering next to loops of downed wires. We lost power for large chunks of Saturday and Sunday, so we had to make popcorn and play Scrabble next to the wood stove instead of vacuuming and cleaning the bathroom. Clutching our hoods, Paul and I went for a walk up a hill and almost had our eyeballs blown out and laughed hysterically and pretended we were backwards-flying crows and had a lot of fun.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Only in Maine would anyone believe that a 40-degree potato barn would be the ideal place to shoot a music video. To be honest, I have to say that the scene did have a certain quaintness to it: wooden crates, wisps of dusty sunshine, a deer winch . . . because there's nothing quainter than the iron hook assembly used for stringing up the large animal you've just shot. Also there was a good view of the handsome old galvanized tub used for holding the deer's cleaned-out guts, not to mention a picturesque old gat-toothed buck saw posed dangerously over a quaint door like the sword of Damocles.

The rest of the barn was filled with un-photogenic materials such as potato graders (which look like smaller versions of rock sorters at a gravel pit), broken plastic tubs, electrical cords, fenceposts, boxes and boxes and boxes of potatoes, a meaningless furnace, and dirt.

Anyway, we played the same song about twenty times and got our pictures taken. And then we went outside into the 20-degree howling wind and walked up and down a dirt driveway together and got our pictures taken. And then I went home and ate cheese and crackers and climbed under the couch blanket and watched English premier league football with my son and read a Margaret Atwood novel and fell into a coma, and this morning I am still cold.

Clearly there was a reason that ZZ Top grew those beards and played furry guitars. They had to avoid frostbite during the music video.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Can't talk because I have to go make a music video. Ugh. Maybe I'll bring myself to describe the experience tomorrow. Or maybe not. Have you figured out that this isn't my idea?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fiftieth Anniversary

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of John Kennedy's death. However, the fiftieth anniversary of me won't take place till next year, which is to say: I am a member of the first generation of babies to have no relationship whatsoever to Kennedy's death, not even a "my mother was pushing me in my baby carriage when . . . " anecdote. On November 22, 1963, I wasn't conceived yet.

When I was growing up, I heard, of course, about Kennedy and his doings and his charms and his philandering and his murder, etc., etc. But I was far more interested in Jackie. By the time I remember her, she was no longer a black-and-white portrait of a widow, with a little hat and a tidy dress and Aqua Net hair and two bewildered children. Now she was a staple of colorful 1970s celebrity photos--long hair whipping in the seabreeze, giant sunglasses--and she was married to a toad-like Picasso-esque guy who was named, of all things, Aristotle.

How could those women in the photos be the same person? One was so neat and girdled. The other was flapping in the wind. And then there was the other question: Husband Number 1 was a perpetually young, coiffed, and handsome statesman, whereas Husband Number 2 was a perpetually chunky old bald guy in a bathing suit. What on earth was she thinking to marry a man who looked like that?

It all makes more sense now that I've reached the chunky old bald guy stage myself. But as a child, I think I would have preferred to witness endless Miss Havisham-like despair rather than a coming-to-terms-with-grief-by-taking-up-a-swinging-seventies-lifestyle-on-a-yacht. Girls can be very romantic but also cruel. They know they will never be old, and have little patience with people who make such a mistake.

Margaret Atwood's novel Cat's Eye considers that surprise: when suddenly we've traded places with those scornful girls and become the strange old bag on the street.
I am transitional; some days I look like a worn-out thirty-five, others like a sprightly fifty. So much depends on the light, and the way you squint. . . . 
Lately I've caught myself humming out loud, or walking along the street with my mouth slightly open, drooling a little. Only a little, but it may be the thin edge of the wedge, the crack in the wall that will open, later, onto what? What vistas of shining eccentricity, or madness?
You want to hear the truth? I hum out loud. Tom pointed it out to me the other day. "Do you know you do that?" he asked. Well, sometimes I notice . . . after I've been humming out loud for God knows how long. This is a problem in quiet places such as the grocery store and other people's poetry readings and the stalls of public bathrooms. But if I were humming out loud on a yacht next to a chunky guy in a bathing suit, the wind would be so noisy that no one would notice.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Today CavanKerry Press is featuring my essay about Gerard Manley Hopkins's "The Soldier," which in different form will appear in The Conversation. I previously published a bit of the essay on this blog, but the CKP version is much longer and more detailed.

In other news, it's 12 degrees outside. Last night, the sky was as clear as water, with the Milky Way rippling like sand in a stream. And then there was an enormous falling star.

Breaking news: J Journal: New Writing on Justice just nominated me for a Pushcart Prize! I am so happy! It's a long western Pennsylvania poem called "The Testimony of Various Witnesses." I read it at the Frost Place this summer; so if you were there, you might remember it. I am so happy!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

All of you are priceless gems
Aboard a rotting ship at sea

        --Cold Mountain

Beaver steals hunter's rifle

        --Bangor Daily News

People can't explain
the reason they're so crazy

        --Cold Mountain

Of course, nowadays people are inventing so many plots that we are blinded by them.

        --Jorge Luis Borges

bring punishment down on yourself
to keep your family content

        --Cold Mountain

Cease then, mine eyes, to seek herself to see;
And let my thoughts behold herself in me.

        --Edmund Spenser

All the people I see
live awhile then die

        --Cold Mountain

he was the first thing she saw
and she blamed him.

       --Lucille Clifton

where we raise the dust today
long ago was an endless sea

        --Cold Mountain

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sun after rain, wind after gale. The bare branches switch and tremble and cast sun-shadows through the smudged windows. I am reading Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace. How well she writes about Victorian-era housework!--scrubbing, shelling, bleaching, mending, lighting recalcitrant woodstoves, frying a new egg.

Some of this is the same housework that I do, for now I must go fill the woodbox for my own recalcitrant stove, and empty the kitchen scrap pail, and sweep the steps. But I am not wearing a long dress, and I do not have to haul water. There have been days, even months, when I have had to haul water. It makes everything, everything, so much more difficult.
For an image of life and death
consider ice and water 
--Cold Mountain (born c. 730), from a song translated by Red Pine

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Daily Courier (1918)

Dawn Potter

Influenza resulted in the loss
of Raymond A., 18 years, residing
in Dunbar until this morning.
Also Miss Grace B. age 15, of Liberty,
died early Thursday, as did David C.,
age 1 year, of North Union Township.
Mary D., small daughter, will be
interred in the Greek Cemetery.
Miss Ora E., spinster, died at her home;
likewise Mrs. Ada F., her husband
being located there with a sawmill.
Dr. Tobias G., Worshipful Master
of King Solomon’s Lodge No. 346,
now sings with the angels. On Tuesday
patient H. smiled before expiring.
Tax collector Lewis I. has lost his infant boy.
David K., president of Pioneer Gas,
rose to be with His Lord.
Cecil L., 13 years old, died after a brief illness.
Joseph M., miner (age unknown), collapsed.
Felix N., bachelor, age 35, perished
at the emergency hospital. The funeral
of Mrs. Catherine O. is open to all friends
tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock.
Mrs. Anna P., a young bride, has left us.
William Q., 15 years old, of So. Connellsville,
died peacefully last night. His father, John Q.,
died two weeks ago of the same malady.
Mrs. Marguerita R., 26 years of age,
is now among the elect,
though one of her sons survives.
Robert S., a well-known farmer,
crossed over this morning, as did Eli T.,
who fought at the Battle of Gettysburg
and was a pit boss. Mrs. Mary U.,
age 18, relapsed after a brief recovery.
Mrs. Nancy V., age 80, had a long life
cut short. Melvin W., infant,
slumbers in the loving arms of Jesus.
Frank X., 52 years old and born in Italy,
has left a widow and a family of children.
Rev. Charles Y. served as our priest for 16 years,
which a few may recall.

In related news,
Lieut. Arthur Z., age 23, late of Uniontown,
succumbed to his wounds.

[from Chestnut Ridge, a verse-history-in-progress of southwestern Pennsylvania]

Saturday, November 16, 2013

November in Harmony

I haven't raked any leaves at all.

Tom's summer project: turning the garage he used as a woodshop into an actual woodshop. It's now completely insulated, walled (with boards sawed by Amish guys from big logs from trees that Tom cut down and skidded out of our woods with a baby-sized Toyota pickup), newly stocked with shelves, workbenches, a second floor, and finished with a snappy paint job.
On the left, the ex-chicken house. In the front, rose bushes that forgot to bloom this year.

Ajuga in the grass. It sports these lovely, low-lying, coppery green leaves from April through December. In the spring it shoots up purple-spiked flowers, which attract
every bumblebee in the territory.

Most of the ferns are dead, so why aren't these?

Old poodle in old clearing looks at old tree house.

Frost got the sorrel. It will be back in 2014.

On the left, dead stuff I need to cut down.
On the right, dead stuff I need to cut down, plus some rocks.
If anyone needs rocks, we have plenty to share.

Monkey swing and regular swing. More unraked leaves. Some Lenin-ized hydrangea flowers.
At back left, a compost bin and some sticks.
If anyone needs sticks, we have plenty to share.

Mulch hay mulching the teeny-tiny kale that never started to grow till Halloween.
 In 2014 I'll peek under the hay and see what's happened.

Sage plus bug bites.

Ruckus disguised as asters gone to seed.

Friday, November 15, 2013

from a recent essay about the poetry of Marie de France, Jan Kochanowski, and Phillis Wheatley:

In an era when the Bible was often the only book in a New England house, Phillis Wheatley received an extraordinary education. The average free white man in Boston never glimpsed such riches. But for an obsessed reader, too much is never enough. Although the Wheatleys' slave girl had faith in herself—“While an intrinsic ardor prompts to write, / The muses promise to assist my pen”—she must have struggled to make peace with the knowledge that only university men would have the opportunity “to scan the heights / Above, to traverse the ethereal space.”

            Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral (1773) was Wheatley’s only published collection of poetry. The title suggests a stricture of tone and topic that the poems themselves sometimes belie. Or perhaps Wheatley’s conception of religious and moral was a more complicated amalgam of conviction and “intrinsic ardor.” She was, after all, well acquainted with Milton’s Paradise Lost, which might easily be construed as an argument for imagination as a moral virtue.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

from The Conversation: Learning to Be a Poet

Dawn Potter

In The Life of Poetry, Muriel Rukeyser prefers to use the word witness rather than reader or listener because it “includes the act of seeing or knowing by personal experience, as well as the act of giving evidence.”
The overtone of responsibility in this word is not present in the others; and the tension of the law makes a climate here which is that climate of excitement and revelation giving air to the work of art, announcing with the poem that we are about to change, that work is being done on the self.
            These three terms of relationship—poet, poem, and witness—are none of them static. We are changing, living beings experiencing the inner change of poetry.
            Reading, conversation, and writing are bound to one another. What we read not only changes us but presses us, in Rukeyser’s terms, to take “responsibility” for “giving evidence” of that change. For an analogy, think of how listening intensely to music can press a songwriter to create her own work. Yes, the listener is acquiring information about song craft and construction. But she’s also drawing the sounds and emotional resonance into her inner self. Her subsequent need to write her own music is driven by the “climate of excitement and revelation” that creates her “inner change.”
            Philip Levine describes this sensation in his essay “The Poet in New York in Detroit”:
I had known García Lorca only as the author of the “gypsy poems,” a writer of lovely, exotic poems that meant little to me. But now one Saturday afternoon became a miracle as I stood in the stacks of the Wayne University library, my hands trembling, and read my life in his words. How had this strange young Andalusian, later murdered by his countrymen, come to understand my life, how had he mastered the language of my rage? This poet of grace and “deep song” had somehow caught my emotions in a way I never had, and suddenly he opened a door for me to a way of speaking about my life. I accepted his gift. That’s what they give us, the humble workers in the field of poetry, these amazingly inspired geniuses, gifts that change our lives.

So it’s important, whether you’re in the classroom or working alone at home, to make sure that your forays into writing aren’t limited to detached poetry prompts. By linking creative writing directly to creative yet focused reading, you and your students may be lucky enough to discover that “suddenly [a poet] opened a door for me to a way of speaking about my life.”

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

from a teaching article I wrote this week:

Like music, dance, theater, and the visual arts, poetry is integral to intellectual and emotional growth. In the words of literacy specialists Jan Miller Burkins and Kim Yaris, “After carefully studying and reflecting on each of the [Common Core] anchor standards, we are convinced that poetry is one of the best sources for complex text, as it offers opportunities to engage and integrate all the standards for reading literature” (
But I don’t just teach poetry because it has educational value. I teach poetry because it pulls me into direct engagement with my inner life while also drawing me closer to other people. As Robert Frost wrote, “All poetry does is try to catch you off guard with reminders of old sights and sounds.” This is one of the many gifts of poetry: it suddenly brings a reader into intimate contact with her own forgotten self.

            This is also why poetry is an ideal medium for working with groups of people who are wrestling with difficult issues. There is a long history of using poetry as a way to support health-care providers, prisoners, veterans, and other people in traumatic situations. More than any other form of literature, poetry offers a compact and efficient way to share emotions and thoughts. It also serves as a model for thinking about the world and our place in it. By talking together about a poem, we learn to trust our own curiosity while respecting the differing opinions around us. In other words, the conversation is a form of civil engagement, and one that is sorely lacking in most of our lives—particularly if we have been living with violence, repression, or ridicule.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Birth of a Social Worker: A Personal Statement

A guest post by Angela DeRosa

I became a social worker the day I closed David Copperfield after reading it the summer before turning 12. The propensity was there at an earlier age but Charles Dickens set my course.  Strong sayings, but my viewpoint is constantly reinforced, and never so much as by Dawn Potter, my long time friend. She and I met over a piece she read on MPBN for Veterans Day nearly 20 years ago. I found her in the phone book and called to see if I could visit.  We connected over the phone, she pregnant, and me with a 2 year old. I arrived for our first visit with a paper bag full of clean, used diapers! That has somehow become a metaphor for our relationship, the world of literature and intellectualism always balanced by kids, leaky faucets, flat tires and all the other day-to-day things that make up a life.

Psychologists at the New School for Social Research recently published a study headed by Emanuele Castana. He told USA Today that literary fiction “forces you as a reader to contribute your own interpretations, to reconstruct the mind of the character.” I will go further and say without hesitation that fiction ultimately shows you the universality of human experience. Whether reading Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe or Pride and and Prejudice by Jane Austen we can begin to see that our own feelings, struggles, and indeed, desperations, are the same the world over. How liberating for the 15 year old weeping over the first lost love, the 20 year old mortified by the rejection of a piece of art, the 30 year old unable to get pregnant, the old man dying in a hospital bed remembering his days at the ocean with his wife. How comforting, even if in the moment of suffering the profound aloneness of the individual can barely be bridged! 

This connecting with characters from other times and places gives us solitary humans the feeling that we are part of something bigger and that inherently we are not alone in this big wide universe. The ability see into ourselves becomes easier, as does the dawning of empathy, of forgiveness. Conventional wisdom exhorts us to change. I say understand: understand who we are, and use what we have. These bold statements are not hyperbole. They reflect a lifetime of reading and thinking and understanding that have grown from those early days when the trials of David Copperfield became my own.

Angela is a social worker, counselor, reader of novels, and friend extraordinaire who lives with master canoe builder Steve Cayard off the grid in Wellington, Maine.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Somewhere, buried in the attic, is my fifth-grade paper about Amy Lowell, and I have been hunting under snowshoes and behind Christmas decorations and in between boxes of summer clothes and forgotten dog toys, but I cannot find it anywhere. I feel very disappointed. My report has a beautiful pink construction-paper covered decorated with "fancy" transcriptions of Lowell poems, which is to say it's the sort of item no one would want to misplace. I'd a million times rather reread my fifth-grade paper about Amy Lowell than anything I wrote in college.

But no such luck. All I'm stuck with is two plastic binders of college papers and no construction-paper art. I did find some report cards, however.

According to my 1979 Differential Aptitude Test (age 15), I was off-the-charts great at spelling but had wonky spacial relations and clerical skills. How did they measure clerical skills? Did we have to file something?

In 1970 (age 5), I was "a sweet little girl," "an asset to [my] class," and "above grade level." I guess I didn't have to file anything that year. I like those old days when you could get a good grade for sweetness.

In 1972 (age 7), I discovered that I was "very much the perfectionist and aim[ed] so hard to please. A bit of easing up on this would be good for [me]."

In 1973 (age 8), I merely learned that "[my] progress in math has been commendable"--clearly one of those coded remarks that translates as "for a chunk of this year she was strangely incompetent."

This is reinforced by the remark in 1975 (age 10): "Dawn is unsure of long division at present."

By the time I got to middle and high school, teachers were enjoying the ease of automatic computerized comments. I received many "Has flair for the subject" commendations, as long as the subject was English or history. I was also frequently "Quiet and attentive," and once, in gym class, I "Showed sincere effort." I'm sorry to say, however, that in biology I had "Work missing" and was told I could have "Improved with more effort," although the teacher did admit that I was "Cooperative" and "Conscientious," encomiums that are difficult to reconcile with the missing work issue. In art I had a "Good studio attitude," whatever that means.

But while all of this is interesting, I still wish I could find my Amy Lowell report. I'm sure it would reveal the real me.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Snow is falling, falling, falling; and I am off to drive in it.

I'll be playing music at Stutzman's Cafe this morning. Then I'll come home and stack firewood and do laundry and make bread.

This week I wrote two essays, two articles about teaching poetry, and one western Pennsylvania poem. I also applied for a job that I might actually be qualified for. I realize that's magical thinking.

None of these so-called paragraphs makes a smooth transition into the next, but that's the sort of day it is. Let style reflect reality.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Reason #4,350 for why people who despise political maneuvering can't stop watching it

The narrative is made up of many . . . understandings, tacit agreements, small and large, to overlook the observable in the interests of obtaining a dramatic story line. . . .

[On Michael Dukakis's speech during the last night of the 1988 Democratic Convention:] "The best speech of his life," David Broder reported. Sandy Grady found it "superb," evoking "Kennedyesque echoes" and showing "unexpected craft and fire." Newsweek had witnessed Michael Dukakis "electrifying the convention with his intensely personal acceptance speech." In fact the convention that evening had been electrified, not by the speech, which was the same series of nonsequential clauses Governor Dukakis had employed during the primary campaign ("My friends . . . son of immigrants . . . good jobs at good wages . . . make teaching a valued and honored profession . . . it's what the Democratic Party is all about"), but because the floor had been darkened, swept with laser beams, and flooded with "Coming to America," played at concert volume with the bass turned up.

[from Joan Didion's essay "Insider Baseball"]

Friday, November 8, 2013

from "In the Realm of the Fisher King" by Joan Didion
When, on the second night of [the 1976 Republican National Convention], the band struck up "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" during an ovation for Mrs. Reagan, Mrs. Ford started dancing with Tony Orlando. Mrs. Reagan was magnanimous: "Some of our people saw this as a deliberate attempt to upstage me, but I never thought that was her intention."
What Didion neglected to mention is that Betty and Tony were doing the Bump. In my opinion, anyone who does the Bump in the middle of a Republican National Convention is definitely trying to upstage somebody or other.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Yesterday was my mother's birthday, and today is my father's birthday. Today is also the day (at noon in 1492) that the Ensisheim meteorite landed in a wheat field outside the village of Ensisheim in Alsace, France; not to mention (in 1811) the anniversary of the Battle of Tippecanoe; the date (in 1837) of the murder of abolitionist newspaperman Elijah P. Lovejoy by a mob in Indiana; the day (in 1907) that brakeman Jesús García drove a fiery train loaded with dynamite away from the town of Nacozari de Garcia in Sonora, Mexico, saving the town but dying in the explosion; and the anniversary (in 1908) of the shootout with Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in San Vicente, Bolivia. It seems, in my capsule retelling, that there was nothing but death and destruction on this date. In fact, most of what seemed to happen was that people got elected for various public offices.

However, my favorite thing that happened on November 7, 1940 (besides the birth of my father) is memorialized in the album Duke Ellington, Fargo 1940. On that evening, in the Crystal Ballroom, the Duke and his orchestra performed at a dance, and two South Dakota State College students got permission to record the show. They set up their recording turntable beside Ellington's piano and created a rough but wonderful memento. It makes me happy think of this band performing so far away in Fargo, on that chilly November night--playing "The Sheik of Araby" and "Don't Get Around Much Anymore," the Duke at his piano, and Ivie Anderson singing, and Sonny Greer on the drums--while my father was first opening his brown eyes in an old farmhouse bedroom in New Jersey.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Today, according to Wikipedia, is the day (in 355) that Roman emperor Constantius II promoted his cousin Julian to the rank of caesar and also made him governor of the Gauls. It is the day (in 1869) that Rutgers College defeated Princeton University (which was still known as the College of New Jersey) in America's first official intercollegiate football game as well as the day (in 1944) that scientists the Hanford Atomic Facility first produced the plutonium that they later used in the Fat Man atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.

Moreover, today is my mother's birthday, and it is also the day on which a copper pipe from my well pump chose to spring the pinhole leak that is presently spraying water into my basement . . . which is to say, today is the day I wait around for the plumber to arrive, endure the sounds of his bad-news wrench clanking, and then write him a big check.

However, I will also keep writing. Yesterday was a banner day for production. I finished the Murdoch essay; began another on Marie de France, Jan Kochanowski, and Phillis Wheatley; wrote a teaching article; and drafted a poem I like. Then I made four loaves of Emily's black cake as well as some excellent soft-shell tacos.

It feels good to be writing new pieces, especially when they form themselves so quickly and coherently. I'm not sure if I'm exactly in the zone, but I'm dancing around the edges. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A cold, quiet morning. Ruckus, after an hour's clawful devotion to my apron strings (and I mean this literally), is blessedly asleep. I have begun an essay about Iris Murdoch's novel The Nice and the Good. This is about the hundredth essay I've started about an Iris Murdoch novel, but today I feel optimistic about writing, though not about my moral coherence, as you might understand when you read the passage that is triggering the essay:
Jessica thought, or had thought, that she was talented as an artist, but she could never decide what to do. From her education in art she had acquired no positive central bent or ability, not even any knowledge of the history of painting, but rather a sort of craving for immediate and ephemeral “artistic activity.” This had by now become, in perhaps the only form in which she could know it, a spiritual hunger. She and her comrades had indeed observed certain rules of conduct which had something of the status of tribal taboos. But Jessica had never developed the faculty of colouring and structuring her surroundings into a moral habitation, the faculty which is sometimes called moral sense. She kept her world denuded out of a fear of convention. Her morality lacked coherent motives. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

Everything is tidy. Bright pillows are propped on the couch. The chairs are tucked in against the table. The counters are clean. The lamps are extinguished. The yellow leaves have been plucked from the houseplants. The hearth has been swept. The dog's water dish has been filled. Now the washing machine grumbles in the cellar. The refrigerator sighs. The faucet drips disconsolately. Cold seeps through the window glass. Suddenly the paragraph becomes fitful and unruly. Who has wrinkled the prim passive voice? What kind of omniscience is this? Two chickadees rap at an empty bird feeder. Ruckus clambers into a lilac bush, planning their execution. In all the history of earth, not a single poem has ever mattered to a kitten or a chickadee. Frost obscures the grass. Deer have eaten my last patch of lettuce, but neat little brussels sprouts still ladder their heavy curving stalks. Ladder is not a verb; it is the wrong word; I can't find the word that means what I mean to say, which is to describe how the sprouts tuck snugly into the wedge of each leaf-stair, which is a list of good-sounding words that doesn't describe them either. The only success is that my sentences have gotten longer, if longer is success. I know a teacher who would call them run-ons. He would grade me accordingly. I would fail.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

I am hoping that Ruckus and Anna become accustomed to the autumn time change because what's the point of getting to sleep in for an extra hour if one has to spend it fending off the importunities of pets who are convinced that it's time for me to get up and let them outside? This accounts for why I am drinking bad coffee and writing to you at 6 a.m. on a Sunday.

On the vague off-chance that you might have been planning to attend next weekend's two-day workshop at the Barred Owl Retreat, I need to let you know that the sponsor has suddenly had to postpone it till the spring. No date is set, but I will keep you posted. Thus, instead of sitting in a chair and talking about books, I will be stacking firewood and driving kids to theater rehearsal. But that will be fine. I've been having a good time with firewood this year. Tom cuts up the logs, and then the poodle and I go out and help him haul them to the truck . . . back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. It has been companionable, out there under the woodpeckers and the sudden showers and the sifting leaves. And I like to be almost 50 years old and still able to carry 80-pound logs out of the forest.
"Katie was big and strong, and she could do a lot of things." [First line of my favorite girl-power children's book: Katie and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton, a story about a snowplow, published in 1943]
"[Nora Ephron is] appalled when [journalist] Jan Morris admits that after male-to-female sex change surgery, she voluntarily assumed the role of the helpless woman, unable to open bottles or lift heavy objects." [From Francine Prose's NY Review of Books review of an Ephron omnibus]
Other plans for the week: Emily Dickinson's Black Cake. Yes, it's that time of year again. I acquired all of my dried-fruit ingredients yesterday (cranberries, currants, citron, golden raisins) but, oddly, couldn't find brandy. Something in that recipe always gives me trouble. It's very Emily-like in that way.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Today's best biographer's-throwaway-line:
"Upon arrival they were taken to see Miss Camilla Croudace, the Lady Resident, a handsome little woman full of tact and good humour, who had once been chased by a wolf in the Crimea."
Goes to show that "Exit, pursued by a bear" doesn't always have to end badly.

[By the way, the biography in question is Antony Alpers's The Life of Katherine Mansfield.]

Friday, November 1, 2013

Last night I lay in bed listening to the wind and the rain, and I was reading Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, and nothing could have been better.

Today a social-worker friend is coming to lunch, and we are going to eat omelets and work on our proposal for a writing project with a domestic-violence organization. It's been a growing mission of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching to extend our support into nontraditional domains such as veterans groups, family services, lifelong learning, hospitals, etc., etc. Beyond that, my friend and I both held little Coty and Monica on our laps. The damage haunts.

So I'm fired up to be working on this proposal, and I'm also pleased that I've finally learned how to make a decent omelet.

And this week I have written three western Pennsylvania poems, reconfigured the introduction to The Conversation, and looked at preliminary pages of The Vagabond's Bookshelf. Can you tell I'm unemployed?