Wednesday, December 31, 2014

For some mysterious reason, I slept until 8 this morning, despite suffering all-night-long horrible cat-induced leg cramps. Still, once I'd hobbled downstairs, I was pleased to note that my house is warm, clean, and now pleasantly de-Christmased, an annual moment that always makes me feel as if we've gained acres of living space. So here I am, sitting in my pink flannel bathrobe at the kitchen table, drinking vigorous black coffee and scoffing at the outside thermometer, which has chosen to end 2014 with a below-zero bang.

Another year in Harmony dribbles to a close. Several of our citizens have died and one or two have been born. Though in general we tend to ignore each other, we are united in being annoyed at the road commissioner.

Things I have heard in Harmony this year:

* What the plow guy said to my husband: "Do you know what the weather's supposed to do? I don't have a radio. I just get up and go plow if it looks snowy outside."

* What the young woman said as she stood at the local store counter, speaking to the clerk (the mother of a childhood friend) as her former music teacher (me) and the elementary school janitor/tyrant stood in line behind her: "These cigarettes aren't for me. I'm buying them for a friend."

*What my sons said to me: "Let's name our cars after people in town."

* What the lady at the dump wrote on the Christmas card she handed to my husband: "Thank you for your support."

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Despite the icy driveway and the broken washing machine and the Christmas-tree ornaments we keep finding under the couch; despite the gray birds flattened against the gray sky, the confusions of communication, and the Luis Tiant baseball card lost forever among my books; despite Anna Karenina's hideous debasement, Jane Eyre's sadistic love battles, Emma Wodehouse's blithe snobbery, and Rosamund Vincy's maddening swan neck; despite burnt toast and terrible news on the radio; despite the sadness of children, the misery of parents, the crass ignorance of shouters, the chilly ironies of watchers; despite good manners and bad thoughts, bad manners and good thoughts; despite all of these states of mind and action, despite all of their ambiguous permutations, the year has trickled through the stones and marshes, down and down its accustomed path to the sea.

Monday, December 29, 2014

I came home on Sunday night to a stack of mail, including a package that turned out to contain a copy of the latest edition of The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry. And I just want to say: if you're a publisher and you want your book cover to cheer up a minor regional poet, include her name in a list titled "A comprehensive selection of work by 106 important American poets." Personally, I was very cheered up.

Now I must turn my thoughts to step 1 of the new editorial assignment that has appeared in my inbox: e.g., "Is there a desk under this mess?" In the meantime, as I remove cat footprints and reshelve books and throw away mysterious scraps of paper, you can pass three seconds' worth of time glancing at this picture of Doughty Hill performing "Wagon Wheel" yesterday morning.


Sunday, December 28, 2014

We got home last night, and this morning I am rushing off to play music at Stutzmans' Cafe--its final brunch of the year. I am still shell-shocked from five days of too much food and not enough exercise, and I haven't picked up my violin for a week, so we'll have to hope that my muscle memory sees me through the gig.

While Christmas shopping in Middlebury, Vermont, Tom and I stumbled into the sort of used bookstore that no longer exists anywhere close to us in Maine--too many books packed onto too-high shelves in too-narrow aisles: my favorite arrangement. Naturally I bought $50 worth of books for myself and nothing for any of the people I was supposed to be shopping for.

* Two novels: E. L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate and Margaret Drabble's The Peppered Moth

* Her Husband, Diane Middlebrook's biography of the Plath-Hughes marriage. Baron Wormser loaned me his copy once, but this is a book I ought to own. Middlebrook's discussion of the Joy of Cooking meals that Sylvia concocted for Ted is a poem in the making.

* Two Czeslaw Milosz books: Bells in Winter (a poetry collection) and Milosz's ABCs (a prose oddity: sort of an autobiographical encyclopedia with entries such as as "automobile," "love," "stupidity," and "Whitman").

* A one-volume abridgment of The Lewis and Clark Journals. (Actually Tom bought this for me under the alias of Santa.) It will join Pepys's diary and The Golden Bough on my consult-the-I-Ching shelf.

Monday, December 22, 2014

I'll be traveling tomorrow and may not have Internet service for the next few days. So have a lovely holiday, wherever and however you will be spending it.


Christmas (I)
George Herbert

After all pleasures as I rid one day,
My horse and I, both tir’d, bodie and minde,
With full crie of affections, quite astray,
I took up in the next inne I could finde,

There when I came, whom found I but my deare,
My dearest Lord, expecting till the grief
Of pleasures brought me to him, readie there
To be all passengers most sweet relief?

O Thou, whose glorious, yet contracted light,
Wrapt in night’s mantle, stole into a manger;
Since my dark soul and brutish is thy right,
To Man of all beasts be not thou a stranger:

Furnish & deck my soul, that thou mayst have
A better lodging than a rack or grave.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

I am not, under general circumstances, a person who lies around doing nothing. Yesterday, however, I stayed in bed till 11 a.m., spent the rest of the day dozing on the couch, and then went back up to bed and had a full night's sleep. But the sleep magic worked because this morning I feel almost human again, and I am very tired of my pajamas.


The City of Sleep

Rudyard Kipling

Over the edge of the purple down,
Where the single lamplight gleams,
Know ye the road to the Merciful Town
That is hard by the Sea of Dreams –
Where the poor may lay their wrongs away,
And the sick may forget to weep?
But we – pity us! Oh, pity us!
We wakeful; ah, pity us! –
We must go back with Policeman Day –
Back from the City of Sleep!

Weary they turn from the scroll and crown,
Fetter and prayer and plough –
They that go up to the Merciful Town,
For her gates are closing now.
It is their right in the Baths of Night
Body and soul to steep,
But we – pity us! ah, pity us!
We wakeful; oh, pity us! –
We must go back with Policeman Day –
Back from the City of Sleep!

Over the edge of the purple down,
Ere the tender dreams begin,
Look – we may look – at the Merciful Town,
But we may not enter in!
Outcasts all, from her guarded wall
Back to our watch we creep:
We – pity us! ah, pity us!
We wakeful; ah, pity us! –
We that go back with Policeman Day –
Back from the City of Sleep!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Stomach flu and holidays: they go together like screaming children and Limburger cheese. Argh. Wish me luck.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A few week ago I told you I was writing an essay based on some of this blog's post-election literary-political posts and comments. Well, I did write that essay and, today the progressive online magazine Vox Populi has published "The Marketing of American Individualism." Thank you all for your support in this endeavor, and thanks especially to my friend David, whose civilized and large-hearted sadness about the American state of mind triggered so many of my thoughts.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Okay, it's time to turn your attention to food. This is what I'm serving at tomorrow's holiday party:

  • Chili con carne (kidney beans, onions, garlic, fried cumin, ancho peppers, red peppers, canned tomatoes, ground beef, stew beef, parsley, salt, pepper)
  • Vegetarian chili (kidney beans, onions, garlic, fried cumin, ancho peppers, red peppers, canned tomatoes, corn kernels, parsley, salt, pepper)
  • Cornbread with cheddar and black pepper
  • Vegetable tray
  • Homemade dills, mixed olives, almonds, chips

    ***
  • Homemade eggnog
  • Mulled cider
  • Other assorted beverages in bottles and cans

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Though I'm still struggling with a hair-raising poem draft, I've had a productive writing week business-wise (though I am reluctant to use the word business in the context of my un-business-like career). As I told you earlier this week, the Solstice MFA program has contracted me to teach a lyric-essay class. In addition, I've been checking proofs and filling out paperwork for the first of several Same Old Story poems that will appear in state poet laureate Wesley McNair's Take Heart newspaper column. Autumn House Press has just announced the release of the third edition of The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, which includes several of my poems. I've also agreed to join the book-review staff at Green Mountains Review, and next week Vox Populi will be publishing my cranky literary-political essay "The Marketing of American Individualism."

And I am standing here at my desk, on this dim morning in the waning of the year, drinking black coffee, listening to the dryer rumble, writing to you, and thinking that nothing that I have done, either publicly or privately, has made even the slightest bit of difference in a world in which schoolchildren are slaughtered in the name of God.

I suspect that you, too, are looking at your own life, your own accomplishments and struggles, in light of this continuing barrage of evil. We are are, essentially, helpless.

I don't know what to do with this feeling. Do you?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Last night Tom drove south to the bus station to pick up the returning college boy while I drove north to the gymnasium to attend the high school boy's holiday concert. This morning the high school boy has already stalked off to class while the college boy still wallows among his pillows. But as soon as I start editing or writing, the college boy will be calling, "Do you want any coffee?" up the stairs, and my working day will end. He is the most distracting child--a chatterbox, funny and sociable, and I have no idea how his college housemates get any schoolwork done when he's around . . . though mysteriously he seems to finish all of his own, and finish it well.

Believe me: I am not complaining.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What the Photographer Saw (1956)

Dawn Potter

Nijinksy in gauntlets, silhouetted
against a cancerous fog,

or Sandburg unchained. Flares,
prodded, leap up like angry dogs—

dance of the flaming coke
under a Van Gogh sky.

There’s an art to a man’s sweat.
I meant to ask his name.


***

I haven't got permission to reprint the photograph that triggered this poem, but you can see it here.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I am a person who hates clutter. Christmas is a holiday that promotes clutter. Thus, decorating for the holiday always feels like an out-of-body experience, a sensation encouraged by the stuff that passes for family nostalgia in this house. To wit:
  • Six early-1960s styrofoam gingerbread men, prominently labeled "Made in Japan," which my mother bought at Woolworth's in the early days of her marriage and later sloughed off on me in the early days of mine 

  • A rubber figurine of King Kong, which Tom romantically purchased for me at the top of the Empire State Building
  • A headshot of old fat Elvis, cut out of a circa-1988 newspaper, with a pasted-on Santa hat and beard
The Elvis photo always goes on top of the tree. As four-year-old James once reverently explained to a confused grandparent, "It goes on top because Elvis is a star."

Saturday, December 13, 2014

I just got word that I'll be teaching a lyric-essay class for the Solstice MFA program! This makes me very happy, as does the conversation accruing around the poem in yesterday's post. I also made some progress with that sucking-drain-of-badness poem I was complaining about a couple of days ago. So despite the ongoing wretched condition of our driveway, things seem to be looking up around here.

To celebrate, I've started reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina again. I daresay I will have to skip the train scene and the scene when she leaves her son. I can't reread George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss or John Updike's Rabbit, Run without skipping the drowning scenes; and if anything, Anna Karenina is worse because Anna's tortured decision making is woven so thoroughly into the plot. I wince about Shakespeare's Othello too. Oh, poor Desdemona: everything goes wrong for her. As much as I love rereading, it has a serious down side that cannot be avoided. I always know what's coming.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Land of Spices

Dawn Potter

These days, what seeker has ever laid
eyes on a nutmeg grater? Something called
nutmeg leaps fully formed
from red-white-and-black Durkee boxes,
a harmless grist, innocently beige,

dry as the moon, sandy as kibble,
which mothers tap by scant
teaspoons into One-Pie pumpkin and scatter
thriftily onto box-milk Junket.
“Makes food look pretty!”

vows the label, but nutmeg
isn’t meant to be anything;
and if a child falls asleep on the sofa
with the library’s black-leather
Dickens flung open on her chest

and dreams of Peggotty’s
red forefinger, rough as a nutmeg
grater, smelling of lye and ancient
floors, she dreams in similes
as vague as chivalry.

Then how is it that this child,
born to inherit our Age of Convenience,
feels so exactly the pine-cone
scrape of that phantom finger
against her sunburnt cheek?

Has callow Shelley turned out to be right
after all, blabbing his shrill claptrap
at Godwin’s high-toned soirĂ©e—
“My opinion of love is that it
acts upon the human

heart precisely as a nutmeg
grater acts upon a nutmeg”—
and is the dog-eared, grade-school
social studies book just as true,
chanting its ode of immortality for those

glory-hunters—da Gama,
Magellan—who bartered
their souls for cumin and cardamom,
vanilla and myrrh, for rattling
casks of seed more precious than prayer?

Because if the Land of Spices
is something understood,
a dream well dressed,
a paraphrase,
a kind of tune, brown and sweet,

round as earth,
ragged as our laboring flesh,
then even now, in the empire’s
rustiest outpost, in a kitchen
as dull as Saran Wrap, the slow palms sway

and the milky scent of paradise
lingers on the clean south wind:
our ordinary heaven,
this seven-day world,
transposing in an hour, as a child

snaps her sandals against a chair,
gobbles saltines and cherry Nehi,
and grates away at her own
hungry heart . . . word, after word,
after sounding, star-bent word.

[first published in the Maine Poetry Review (fall 2005)]


***

As you can see from the credit line, this poem has been around for a long time, but somehow I could never find a place for it in a collection. The tone of the piece is eager and naive--a characteristic that I treasure--but this has also made it difficult to place within a group. The poem is like a cowlick that can't be combed down.

A couple of years ago, I thought of revising the piece to make it part of my western Pennsylvania history-poem project. So I tried out a few experiments: burnishing regional and 1950s-era details, re-imagining the "I" as a young woman of my mother's generation. Interestingly, however, none of these revisions had much effect on the original tone. The poem insists on being itself.

This fall, as I was grappling with the unwieldy organization of my Pennsylvania project, I found myself unexpectedly constructing Vocation, a poetry manuscript that combined a handful of those western Pennsylvania poems with a number of regionally unrelated poems about music, writing, practice, inspiration, and frustration. Suddenly, after a decade in limbo, "The Land of Spices" had found a context and a home. I never would have expected I'd be adding a ten-year-old poem to a new collection, but the development of this book has been a surprising lesson in patience.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

I feel as if I am fighting to find things to write about here. Everything in my quotidian world seems too tedious to share. Our driveway is a slush-bound disaster. This morning's Facebook wall features complaints about people who say, "Happy holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!" In between checking manuscript corrections for a publisher, I am torturing myself with a poem draft that is like a sucking drain of badness. [Please enjoy this morning's Teenage Simile Replica®.]

Well, at moments like this, I always turn to the diaries of Samuel Pepys. Here's what was happening in London on December 11, 1660:
My wife and I up very early this day, and though the weather was very bad and the wind high, yet my Lady Batten and her mayde and we two did go by our barge to Woolwich (my Lady being very fearfull) where we found both Sir Williams and much other company, expecting the weather to be better, that they might go about weighing up the Assurance, which lies there (poor ship, that I have been twice merry in, in Captn. Holland's time,) under water, only the upper deck may be seen and the masts. Captain Stoakes is very melancholy, and being in search for some clothes and money of his, which he says he hath lost out of his cabin. I did the first office of a Justice of Peace to examine a seaman thereupon, but could find no reason to commit him. This last tide the Kingsale was also run aboard and lost her mainmast, by another ship, which makes us think it ominous to the Guiny voyage, to have two spoilt before they go out. After dinner, my Lady being very fearfull of her ships she staid and kept my wife there, and I and another gentleman, a friend of Sir W. Pen's, went back in the barge, very merry by the way, as far as Whitehall. Mr. Moore has persuaded me to put out 250l. for 50l. per annum for eight years, and I think I shall do it. Thence home and to bed. [Conclusion: Captain Stoakes is having a far worse day than I am. Mr. Moore has found that business matters are improved when the clients are drunk. What did the ladies do on the boat after the men went off to be merry?]
December 11, 1661, was even livelier:
I went out, and in my way met with Mr. Howell the Turner, who invited me to dine this day at Mr. Rawlinson's with some friends of his, officers of the Towre, at a venison pasty, which I promised him, and so I went to the Old Bayly, and there staid and drank with him, who told me the whole story how Pegg Kite has married herself to a weaver, an ugly fellow, to her undoing. From thence home and put on my velvet coat, and so to the Mitre to dinner, but going up into the room I found at least 12 or more persons, and knew not the face of any of them, so I went down again and walked to the Exchequer, and up and down, and was very hungry, and from thence home, and my wife was gone out by coach to Clerkenwell, to see Mrs. Margaret Pen, who is at schoole there. So I went to see Sir W. Pen, and he and I after some talk took a coach and went to Moorfields, and then into an alehouse and I drank some ale and eat some bread and cheese, and so being very merry we went home again. [Conclusion: Why can't a few Tower officers invite me to a gossipy lunch party at the Old Bailey? And look at these fabulous run-on sentences! My poem would be so happy! (P.S. For a good time, call Sir W. Pen.)]
So what about December 11, 1662?
Up, it being a great frost upon the snow, and we sat all the morning upon Mr. Creed's accounts, wherein I did him some service and some disservice. At noon he dined with me, and we sat all the afternoon together, discoursing of ways to get money, which I am now giving myself wholly up to, and in the evening to my office, concluding all matters concerning our great Treasurer, till almost one in the morning, and then home with my mind much eased, and so to bed. [Conclusion: This is the same day that I am having. I'm already looking forward having "my mind much eased, and so to bed."]

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Sleet, CIA torture, teenage angst, a slow roof leak--

I am finding it hard to concentrate on my work but easy to be ashamed. At least there is plenty of firewood. And I do have a poem draft, though it is shrinking into shape like a badly washed wool sweater.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

An ominous sky, a five-day forecast of sleet-snow, and a Hammond Lumber truck with a load of plywood backing up our narrow driveway: this is hot-off-the-presses news from Harmony, Maine. On the bright side, the load of plywood means that Tom will have no need to drive to work during the five-day sleet-snow storm. He'll be snugly ensconced in his shop with his big new saws, his nice insulated walls, his hot woodstove, and the Minutemen or Stereolab or 1970s Nigerian gospel reverberating from his stereo . . . because Tom is the kind of cabinetmaker who installs a stereo and large speakers in his woodshop years before he purchases the big new saws. Better a little useless saw than a bad sound system.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Although I have read Jane Austen's Emma at least a million-and-one times before now, I am not sure that I've ever noticed during those readings the very interesting contrasts the novelist creates among the talkers-at, the talkers-to, and the non-talkersMr. Weston (sociable rising-genteel neighbor), Miss Bates (sociable shabby-genteel neighbor), Mr. Woodhouse (Emma's sweet but dumb wealthy-gentleman father), and Mrs. Elton (the vicar's obnoxious nouveau-riche bride) are talkers-at, though all are very different kinds of people in terms of class, talking style, and personality. Emma (smart wealthy gentlewoman) crosses the line between both: with Harriet (pretty but dumb schoolgirl of unknown parentage) and her father, she is a talker-at; with Mr. Knightley (intelligent wealthy-gentleman neighbor), she is a talker-to. Likewise, Mr. Knightly crosses the line. Mrs. Weston (Emma's ex-governess) is firmly a talker-to. I think there is also a cast of characters that might be defined as non-talkers: those who either mostly keep their mouths shut (Jane: elegant, impoverished niece of Miss Bates) and those whose thoughts are entirely manipulated by the person talking (Harriet). Frank Churchill (Mr. Weston's son, raised by rich relatives) is a talker-to who is also a secretive non-talker, which is why Emma misreads him.

Anyway, enough of this, which I'm sure makes no sense to anyone who has not read the novel. Now I am going to copy out my very favorite passage in the book, which has nothing to do with categories of talkers but offers a swift and lovely vision of everyday life in a small English town in 1800. It reminds me that nothing is too dull to write about, that we live in the midst of wonders. Here: I give it to you as a gift for a cold Monday morning.
Harriet, tempted by every thing and swayed by half a word, was always very long at a purchase; and while she was still hanging over muslins and changing her mind, Emma went to the door for amusement.--Much could not be hoped from the traffic of even the busiest part of Highbury;--Mr. Perry walking hastily by, Mr. William Cox letting himself in at the office door, Mr. Cole's carriage horses returning from exercise, or a stray letter-boy on an obstinate mule, were the liveliest objects she could presume to expect; and when her eyes fell only on the butcher with his tray, a tidy old woman travelling homewards from shop with her full basket, two curs quarrelling over a dirty bone, and a string of dawdling children round the baker's bow-window eyeing the gingerbread, she knew she had no reason to complain, and was amused enough.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I have begun a new winter project, and one that has nothing (overtly) to do with writing or reading. I have decided to study a handful of Carter Family songs, singing alone and playing leads and accompaniment on an instrument that I have not mastered: the mandolin. Although a mandolin is tuned like a violin, its double strings, frets, resonance, and picking requirements make it a very different beast. I find the instrument quite frustrating, actually, but in an interesting way. It forces me to roughen and simplify what, on the violin, would be suave and complex. And because suave and complex are exactly wrong for Carter Family songs, I have hopes of learning something new about myself as an interpreter.

The first song under study is "Wildwood Flower." Perhaps you would like to listen to the Carter Family's version.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Seen in the checkout line at Bud's Shop 'n Save: A young Amish man in dress-up clothes, lugging a stack of eight extra-large boxes of baking soda.

Seen on an empty highway next to a chopped-up cornfield: A bald eagle disguised as a crow (i.e., strutting around cheerfully on the tarmac while inspecting a delicious ex-porcupine).

**

Otherwise, things are pretty quiet around here. I was supposed to be driving back and forth to Piscataquis County all day--first, lugging Paul up to the Reindeer Run 5K Race, then lugging myself to a gig at the Sangerville Grange--but both have been canceled, so here I am, still in my bathrobe, with nothing to do but bake and look out the window at the snow-sleet-rain-sleet-rain-snow-rain.

Yesterday afternoon I made stollen; today I'll make something else: Russian teacakes, maybe; or frosted butter cookies; or thumbprint tarts with jam. Like the stollen, they all freeze well and can be produced quickly for holiday emergencies.

The working title of my draft poem is "Essay on Midcentury Women." So I'll also spend some time today revisiting Alexander Pope's "An Essay on Man," with hopes that something will happen to me or the poem. But I can tell you right now that it won't be rhymed couplets or hardboiled snark. I am not in the mood for either.
Awake, my St. John! leave all meaner things
To low ambition, and the pride of Kings.
He is pretty good at them, though.

Friday, December 5, 2014

In response to the grand-jury debacles in Missouri and New York, numbers of poets have been sharing their outrage about the toxic relationship between cops and black citizenry in America. Simultaneously, a handful of nonwhite poets are publicizing their distress at how white poets are writing about the situation. Generalized politics aren't the issue here: by and large, the white poets are striving to protest alongside the black poets. Rather the question has often been simplified into "Should white poets be writing about black issues?"

My answer? Of course, white poets should write about black issues. Will they make mistakes? Will they misunderstand? Will they perceive the world through their own lens? Yes. But if writing is discovery, if writing is working to figure something out, if writing is a struggle to articulate what can't be easily said, then how are white poets going to grow into knowledge about a complex issue without trying to write about it?

For an analogy, ask yourself, "Should women write about men?" "Should men write about women?" Now imagine the state of literature if neither of those things had ever happened.

I wrote an essay a while ago about The Autobiography of Malcolm X, a book that I care about a great deal. Yet I also think Malcolm X made some mistakes about women, maybe even about white people. And I think that I'm allowed to say so.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

I've been reading Jane Austen's Emma and Adrienne Rich's Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law as well as a long New Yorker article about the lifelong boringness of Chancellor Angela Merkel, all of which is beginning to accrue into a murky, sleety, women-in-history brain mist rather akin to the crappy weather of central Maine. This is probably very useful for my poem under construction, but I wouldn't mind a little sunshine. (And don't assume that Emma is a ray of light in a cloudy sky. Austen's novels are always expositions of cruelty. Why don't people talk more about this interesting meanness instead of pretending the books are romantic screenplays?)

Unfortunately, Tom has just informed me that the aforesaid crappy weather is scheduled to rear up again on Saturday, when my band is supposed to be opening for the Old Blues Kats at the East Sangerville Grange. Ugh, ugh, ugh. Now that we're a trio instead of a quartet, we've been working and reworking on our sound, with (as radio announcer Joe Castiglione says about the Red Sox) "good success." So if we can't play this weekend, we'll all be glum.

In other news: Ruckus has just bounced up onto my desk and is excitedly licking up the dregs of coffee in my cup. This cannot end well.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

I woke up this morning to the ticking of sleet on the window, followed by Paul's boing-squeal-boing alarm clock, the sound of his bare feet stalking to the back door, the sound of his bare feet stalking back to bed. When I went downstairs to inform him that, thus far, school had not been canceled, he stared at me impassively. "You go look outside," he said. "There's no school today." He was right. We've got five inches of sleet on the ground and it's still coming down strong. Even in Maine, this kind of weather makes no-school a pretty safe bet.

I guess I'll start baking gingerbread boys today.

And I should tell you: that essay I killed yesterday? . . . it turned out to be an embryo poem. Apparently I have another big one on my hands.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

For much of the past year, I've been wrestling off and on with an essay that just will not come together. Although the subject matter is linked--historic patterns of self-education among women writers, the relatively late rise of academic certification for poets, the struggles of women poets in the 1950s as that shift in professionalization began to happen--the piece refuses to cohere, and I have yet to figure out why. I have moved sections, added and deleted material, but none of these revisions has opened a door. I'm still trapped in what is more or less the same six-page uglydraft I've had for the past ten months.

Sometimes assassination is the only possible revision strategy. I've given this essay too many chances, and today is the day I kill it. I'm even sort of looking forward to the bloody knife.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Monday morning, 7 a.m.: 30 degrees, with a warmish breeze and a dim cloud of mist rising from the clotted snow. The air is the color of smoke.

I've been thumbing though translations of work by the ninth-century Chinese poet Cold Mountain (Hanshan). The book is filled with what must be gems, yet I can't exactly make them refract clarity into my own life. For instance--
The wine of wisdom is so cold
drinking it makes me sober
and more confusingly
A child who doesn't have a teacher
will never catch a city rat
It's puzzling, this disconnect. I begin to understand what he is saying, and then I don't. Although my ignorance doesn't exactly worry me, it does make me feel off balance, as if I'm slightly drunk or am coming down with the flu; and the sensation flows into this odd smoky daylight, first dawn of December--the house suddenly quiet now that the washing machine has kicked off, a ticking clock rising into the void like a soloist.
People can't explain
the reason they're so crazy
there's a road but not to town
only mindless men can climb 
Hey you people who leave home
what does leaving home mean
Who knows how to catch rats
doesn't need five white cats
if you can't make sense of this
I suspect you'll die of anger