Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The boy is baking up a storm. Yesterday, he produced sesame-topped dinner rolls; today, he declares, he'll tackle herbed French bread. It's delightful to have him messing around at the stove . . . and also nostalgiac, as this is exactly how I learned to bake myself: as a way to while away long summer afternoons in my parents' kitchen.

Today I've got a student paper to read, and a batch of editing to tackle, and, if the garden ever dries out, mowing and weeding and harvesting and such. Tomorrow I'm on the road for my penultimate gig of the summer; Friday we've got tickets to see the Brazilian singer Seu Jorge; maybe we'll fit in a baseball game this weekend.

Lately, a friend has been writing to me about his experiences with my book The Conversation. He's been reading it but also doing the writing exercises, and his reactions have been so interesting to me. It's not often (by which I mean never) that I get this kind of follow-up to my writing and revision prompts, and it's helpful to discover that some little notion I had about comma experimentation or whatever turns out to be actually useful to someone. One never knows.

I hope to spend more time with Gjertrud Schnackenberg's poems. For some reason, a dose of formalism has been tonic, though at the moment I don't feel a particular urge to imitate it. Maybe it's the pacing that is drawing me--the way a metered line rolls out across the page.

Last week I dictated Richard Wilbur's beautiful rhymed lyric "The Barred Owl" to the high school kids at my environmental writing seminar. My prompt for the kids was to choose two words from Wilbur's poem and then use them to jumpstart their own drafts--but they could not use end rhymes. I wanted to make sure they weren't hamstringing themselves by focusing on rhyme at the expense of their full emotional engagement in the task at hand.

And like a miracle: that night, as we were in our tents, two barred owls settled in the trees over our heads and began a long duet: "'Who cooks for you?" and then 'Who cooks for you?'"

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

I spent some time yesterday with the early (1970s-era) poems of Gjertrud Schnackenberg, a formalist who has won all sorts of prizes yet seems to get almost no press. The poems I've been copying out appeared in print very soon after she graduated from college, so their tone and subject matter are young, yet her linear control is remarkable. Also notable is the delicacy of her end words: it's very easy to overlook the fact that these are rhyming poems.

During a long walk around Back Cove yesterday with my son, we were talking about the endings of works: how much he loves hearing an ending, or reaching one in his own creations; and I agreed: the endings of poems are one of the great pleasures of writing. I feel as if I must always be preparing for an ending yet I cannot preplan exactly what that ending will be. I need to balance awareness of the dramatic movement of a piece with a willing leap into ignorance and surprise. Otherwise, I tumble into Aesop--by which I mean that slam-shut moral tidiness that is so disheartening in a poem.

I was reading these Schnackenberg poems before I had the conversation with Paul, but I've been thinking since then of how she, too, prepares herself for the ending. Because she's writing formal poetry, she's constrained by that structure and expectation. So her approach to endings must be complex but cadenced: her ear needs to work toward a sonic resolution even as her drama must follow its own path.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Our gig was excellent yesterday afternoon--three hours beside a lake, alongside a cheerful and attentive crowd. It was worth driving 5 hours back and forth. And then I came home to a kitchen smelling of cinnamon buns, courtesy of the canoe boy, who was having fun with ingredients while I was gone.

The forecast is for showers, today, tomorrow, Wednesday, and I've got desk work, beans to pick, a son to play with, a lunch visit with a college friend I haven't seen for 30 years. . . . I'd like to get back to copying out some poems: maybe more Akhmatova, maybe something different. A poet friend has asked me if I'd like to do a podcast with him, so that's an intriguing maybe. What topics would you like to hear two very different but amicable poets discuss?

Sunday, August 12, 2018

After 36 hours in transit, Paul finally managed to get home, where we fed him lovingly on oysters, scallops, tuna, and peach pie. He has become an expert on upstate NY bus stations, should you have any curiosity about them.

So this morning my house is once again full of sleeping males, and the rain is coming down slowly and sweetly, and the cat is furious about the wet, and I am contentedly sitting on the couch and drinking black coffee in the dim living room. Later this morning I will head north for a gig, and everything will become hurried and hectic, but, for now, peace reigns (except for the cat, who is fretful).

I did nothing with poems yesterday because I was seized with harvest fever. I canned a jar of tomatoes--just one, but I have a small freezer and had to do something with them. I made a peach pie; I ground and froze two dishpans full of basil. I stacked some firewood and bagged up some brush and mowed some grass. I washed sheets and made beds.

Thankfully, the heat has finally let up. I slept all last night without a fan running, and with a comforter tugged up to my chin. And this morning the windows of Alcott House are closed and I am wearing a sweatshirt. Unfortunately I am also recovering from dreams involving Donald Trump and a community college classroom, which I cannot possibly explicate to you. But I do know that I outwitted him. Let us all be glad for that mercy.

The little street outside my front windows is glossy with wet, and the garden is heavy with rain and fruit. No cars are passing. The neighborhood is asleep. I am sitting inside in my dim living room, admiring my white cup and saucer, and my elderly paperback, and a fat stone from a Maine beach, and a burgeoning African violet. Simple items, without value. If I were to die, no one would treasure any of them. But what does that matter? The present tense has its jewels.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

My poor sons have had the worst luck with public transportation this year. Son #1 was two days' late getting home from our Vermont family emergency because of a series of canceled flights. And now Son #2 is cooling his heels for seven hours in an upstate New York bus station because his connection from Toronto was late.

I love that phrase "cooling his heels."

I think we're supposed to get some rain here in Portland today, which means that my tomato plants will be producing even more tomatoes, which means I'd better start thinking about what I want to do with this bounty. First, however, I will make a peach pie. In my experience, when a son comes home after spending 6 weeks in the woods, he tends to be ravenous for fruit, vegetables, sushi, and large helpings of dessert. I do my best to oblige.

Tomorrow I'll be on the road again: playing at the Lakeshore House in Monson, 3-6 p.m. Today I'd planned to be spending the afternoon with my son, but his bus travails mean he won't get into town till late. So maybe I'll do some writing instead, alongside that tomato planning. I'm fairly well caught up on house and garden work, there will be a baseball double-header on the radio, and I've got a stack of fresh poems to study and consider, even if I don't get anything new down on the page. I've found myself rereading, again, Dorothy Sayers's Hangman's Holiday, which is much less slight than its title suggests. I have yet to write about Sayers, but I ought to one of these days. Her detective novels evolved significantly from pap to complexity--not in terms of the crime, criminals, or detection but in the characterizations of Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey, who may be one of my favorite happy couples in literature.

Friday, August 10, 2018


This is a sample of yesterday's harvest: the bounty of one cucumber plant, one eggplant, two tomato plants, and one artichoke plant. Not pictured: the baby bathtub full of chard, the dishpan full of string beans, and the overflow of herbs. I cannot believe how productive this tiny farm has been.

For dinner we had oven-braised artichokes; baked mashed eggplant with yogurt and mint; thick slices of tomato with olive oil and basil; new potatoes (my dad's) with chard, butter, olive oil, and parsley; and sliced cucumbers with wakame, tamari, sesame oil, and cilantro.

Most of yesterday's chard harvest and all of the beans went into the freezer, but I still have a mixing bowl full of tomatoes to use (plus any new ones that arise), so today I plan to make gazpacho (garden is also full of peppers and scallions), and perhaps buy something to grill, and maybe make a wild rice-based vegetable salad of some sort.

The dream of having enough tomatoes to can is fast becoming a reality. It's only early August, and already I have too many to eat. This never happened in Harmony, not even once.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

I'm home after two days in a very hot but surprisingly mosquito-free state park, where I hiked, camped, dashed through thundershowers, and wrote about the natural world with a group of remarkable high schoolers. We sat on a mountaintop and wrote. We marveled at mushrooms and granite and starfish. We imagined ourselves into other times and lives, and we tried to live inside questions that we had no answers for. These kids were game for it all, and I loved it. But I wrote some weird stuff, including a brief short story that turned out to be a romantic comedy. I will not be submitting that piece for publication.

And I need to acquire a better camping mat. Ugh. My hips felt like they were drilling postholes all night long.

Today, believe it or not, a plumber is scheduled to check out the possibility of actually doing some plumbing in this house. No guarantees, but some day soon we may no longer be storing the dishwasher in the living room. And, gosh, a kitchen-sink drain that doesn't involve a 5-gallon bucket: what an idea!


Monday, August 6, 2018

The heat wave continues, and tomorrow I'll be heading out to hike and camp in it with a bunch of high schoolers. Fortunately writing requires sitting in the shade . . . possibly even in a stream.

I'd like to sit in a stream today, too, but that's not going to happen. What will happen is a lot of early morning vacuuming and yard trimming, and then editing in front of a fan, and then running errands and packing for the aforesaid camping trip. Even the idea of a sleeping bag is making me sweat.


Sunday, August 5, 2018

Yesterday was exhausting. I drove two hours, played a gig under a not-entirely-waterproof tent in the pouring rain, drove a half hour north, played another longer gig, this time in a garage while the rain continued to pour, then drove two and half hours home. My feet feel moldy, my hair is standing on end, and my violin pegs swelled so much in the humidity that I could barely tune the instrument.

However, the payday was good. And I ate fried clams and pulled pork. So that's something.

Today, thank goodness, will be dry, and I slept in till 7 a.m., so that was a novelty. I've mostly finished prepping for my two-day teaching excursion next week, but I'd like to spend some time with the poem I wrote on Friday, despite the considerable amount of house and garden work waiting for me. I'm know I'm procrastinating about deciding what I want to do with my sheaf of new writing: should I insert it into the existing manuscript, or use it as the seed for a future one? I'm also struggling to find a book I want to read, though for the moment I've settled on Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford. In other words, I've got something edgy going on in my mind as regards books, and I'm not sure how I'm going to solve it.

Friday, August 3, 2018

I think last night was our worst sleeping weather yet, but on the bright side the Red Sox were pounding the Yankees, so between that and the roaring fan I discovered a modicum of comfort. Also, Tom and I had just eaten a memorable dinner: classic hot-weather food--a fine bottle of cold wine, alongside scallop ceviche, smoked bluefish, beet and radish slaw, and a green bean and cucumber salad. Afterward we played Yahtzee, ate cannoli, and enjoyed the despair of the Yankees radio announcers. It was a good evening.

All of the vegetables and herbs in this meal were from my little front-yard farm. We are in high-summer glory here. Plus, I wrote another decent poem yesterday! Apparently my week of crisis has not smothered the muse: she came right back when I went looking for her.

Titles of new poems written since the end of June:

My Male Gaze
Love Song for a Tiny Husband
Ghost Story
How to Be a Coward
Average Land
The Regret of the Poet after Sending Work to a Magazine
Plot
Folk Tale
Respectable Woman
Sound Archive
How to Ask for Money

Tomorrow I'll be on the road all day, with a gig at noon and then another at four, so you probably won't hear from me. Wish me stamina.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Scattered showers were forecast for yesterday evening, but what we got was hours of steady, heavy, hot rain. Now the air is waterlogged, and all the wood surfaces feel like flypaper. Paperback covers are curling, my feet are sticking to my sandals, and cloud smothers the rooftops. Amid all of this dankness, the temperature is supposed to climb to the high 80s. It will be a miserable day to do any kind of work at all.

Still, I'm not sorry about the rain. Late in the day, I pulled the last of my radishes, a lingering kohlrabi, some bolted lettuce, and most of the beets, and then sowed a few more rows of fall greens: lettuce, arugula, rapini. Today I'll grate up some of that harvest and make a slaw. I'll venture out into the hot world and buy a mackerel or crabs or smoked whitefish or whatever looks irresistible at the fish market. I might try to acquire some cold rosé.

I've got a manuscript to edit today, but I finished my curriculum planning for next week's environmental writing seminar. So maybe, on this sweltering day, I'll have a chance to restart my poem-writing excitement. Try to picture me sitting on the couch next to a fan and a giant sweating glass of ice tea, and imagine I'm reading and writing and reading and writing. If we all pretend hard enough, maybe it will come true.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Millbank by Mary J. Holmes is the book I've been rereading during my father's health scare. If you don't know what Millbank is and what it means to me, you might like to read the essay I wrote about it. (The piece also appears in my reader's memoir The Vagabond's Bookshelf.) Suffice it to say that this nineteenth-century American novel was and is trash, but I have been rereading it all my life, and it gives me a particular kind of comfort.

The novel has a ridiculous plot, risible descriptions, and terrible prose . . . for instance, this line, meant to describe an excited 14-year-old boy:
"With a low, suppressed scream, Roger bounded to Hester's side."
It's a truly awful book, but I love it dearly and am probably the novel's only living fan. I found it in my grandfather's farmhouse when I was a child, and I've been rereading it ever since. My affection for Millbank is a regular family joke. So when my dad was in the ICU and I pulled it out to show him what I was carrying around with me, he rolled his eyes and shook his head and made the same face he always makes every time he sees me clutching that volume again. Personally, I think Millbank was part of his cure.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

I had planned to have a great night's sleep on crisp white line-dried sheets. That was before the bat flew into my bedroom. This morning I did manage to convince her to fly out through an open door. That was a relief: I like bats but not in my hair. Ick.

Best news: My dad is home and already picking green beans in his garden.

Monday, July 30, 2018

New week, new state of mind. It looks like my dad will be released from the hospital today, which is the best of all possible news. After much airport tribulation, my son finally made it back to his own bed. I got through Saturday's gig and was able to spend a sweet, slow, revivifying Sunday with Tom. So this morning I am ready to deal with the editing and teaching stuff I tossed into the gutter last Sunday night.

In addition starting to copyedit a new manuscript, I've got to prep for two writing workshops, one of which I'll be teaching next week. I've got two gigs on Saturday. I've got a week's worth of house and yard chores to do. Right now is a great time not to own 40 acres, a barn full of goats and chickens, and a giant unstacked woodpile.

But it will be good to get back to work instead of driving and driving and sitting in hospital chairs and driving and driving and talking to doctors and listening to beeping machines and driving and driving and worrying all night long.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Today is my son James's 24th birthday, and he is currently stuck at JFK in New York. On Thursday I dropped him off at the Rutland airport and kept going toward Portland, but when I was two hours down the road he called and said that his flight had been canceled due to thunderstorms. Fortunately my brother-in-law was able to rescue him, and he was rerouted through Burlington the next day. But once he got into NYC on Friday, he discovered that his connecting flight had also been canceled due to storms. I'm hoping that this morning is the charm. The poor child: what a bad way to spend two days, especially after the tension of being with his grandfather in the ICU.

I caught up with gardening yesterday, and harvested a big crop of chard and basil, both of which went into the freezer. Everything is wet and mildewy and hot and sticky and humid, but on the bright side we are finally getting some substantial rain. I picked an sweet little artichoke, and a bowl full of string beans, and a cucumber, plus a swath of herbs and green onions and flowers. A tomato is close to ripening, and the peppers and eggplant are swelling. The little front-yard farm is full of enthusiasm.

My dad had a bad day yesterday, primarily just symptoms associated with his recovering digestive system but unpleasant nonetheless. So no hospital release yet. At least I can telephone him this morning with good Red Sox news.

I'm heading up north this afternoon for an evening gig at a private party, then home again tomorrow. Thank goodness for Tina the Subaru's sturdy new transmission. Three times was the charm, apparently.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Things are really looking up with my dad. He's out of the ICU; unhooked from all of his cords, catheters, and monitors; eating solid food; and asking for his glasses and a George Eliot novel. When I saw him yesterday morning he was hoping to be discharged today, but they will hold him in the hospital until his digestive system is fully functional again. The hospital staff in Burlington has been so skilled and nurturing; I have only good things to say about how my dad has been treated there. I even felt a bit teary when we said goodbye to the ICU nurse.

So after a day of driving all over Vermont and then back across two states to Maine, I am sitting in my own house again. Like everywhere in New England, it is drippy and dank here; the towels smell funny and the banisters are sticky and the humidity is hovering around 1,000 percent. I've got a day to pull myself together, and then I'm on the road again for another band gig. It looks like my honeymoon of crazy poem writing is over, but my father's big smile trumps everything.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

My dad is slowly on the mend; may be moved out of the ICU today; and he keeps asking if the Yankees are losing, so that's an excellent sign. I should be home again tonight or tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed, and be sure to root against New York baseball.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Ruptured abdominal aneurysm and my father is in the ICU, but he is stable and the internal bleeding has stopped. Surgeons are discussing next steps but seem to think he'll recover. Son #1 and I are trekking to the hospital today. Thanks for all of your good wishes. We're feeling lucky.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Posts may be spotty as my dad is quite ill. I'll be in touch soon.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Today is my 27th wedding anniversary. That's a long time to be hanging out with the same guy, but here we are: still eating popsicles, watching Star Trek, and falling asleep on the couch together.

I've got a band gig tonight in Skowhegan, at Bigelow Brewing Company. Then tomorrow Tom and I will be in Monson because he's got photos in a show opening at the new arts center. Our friend Steve Cayard will have one of his birchbark canoes in the show as well. So you should come up and see their good stuff.

In other news, yesterday I finished my tenth new poem.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A photo of the forest fire situation near Temagami, Ontario

Last night, I got a note from my younger son, who's been incommunicado in Ontario, where he works at a wilderness canoe camp. It turns out he's smack in the middle of a giant firefighting operation. Forest fires are rampant in that area of the province, and Temagami, the town closest to his base camp, is particularly at risk. He says the camp itself is not in danger, but of course all of their local canoe trips have been affected, given road, river, and forest closures. Plus, there's the general anxiety of being responsible for the well-being of all of those campers. He sounds exhausted.

So that's a new worry. Nobody wants their kid to be in a forest fire. But now that he's got wifi again, I guess I can tell him about our downburst damage. We can swap awful tree stories.

At the moment, however, Portland is serene. Yesterday I planted two blueberry bushes in the front yard, washed a load of sheets, and submitted some poems to journals. Nothing fell over or caught on fire.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

After last week's downburst mess, I was nervous about yesterday's severe thunderstorm forecast. But as it turned out, we ended up with the best possible scenario: hours and hours of steady rain and almost no wind. So after getting a batch of editing finished, I spent my rainy day sitting on the couch and revising yet another new poem. This makes nine. Nine! I can't believe I'm still rolling.

Today the yard and garden are green and wet. Everything looks joyous. I'm planning to hang sheets on the line, mow some grass, do some weeding, run some errands. Maybe write poem number ten. A new editing project is due to me by the end of the week, and then my writing honeymoon will be over. But no one can say I've wasted my time. [Actually, many people could say it, and most people probably would.]


Tuesday, July 17, 2018

I struggle to concentrate on my daily routine when the so-called leader of my nation is blithely burbling treason. I muck around with my little garden projects; I frost a cake; I make a pot of coffee for friends. But the man is a terrifying, fawning, narcissistic idiot. It's hard to avoid comparisons to Mussolini.

Anyway, here's the cake I made.


Monday, July 16, 2018

A faint and foggy morning. I wish it would rain, but the forecast says no. Today I get to loll around at the auto shop waiting for a state inspection and an oil change, and then I get to come home and bake a chocolate birthday cake for a dear young person. One of these things is better than the other.

My new garden bed is now complete, at least dimension-wise, for I have run out of compost-mulch. Already I've been able to transplant a few sad iris roots into fresh digs. At some point this week I will wander off to a nursery and see what other perennials I can find/afford.

I did zero writing over the weekend, which was just as well. My body needed some action. Something poem-like may happen today, in between car inspection and cake baking and floor washing. I'm still waiting for editing projects to return to me; I've got a band gig on Friday; distractions are heating up. But that doesn't mean the poems are dead.

And I need to find something to read.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Yesterday Tom and I crammed two loads of storm-damaged branches into a borrowed pickup, and he hauled them off to the dump. Then he came home and worked on the desk he's building, and I made some progress on a garden reclamation project.

On a strip of ground on one side of our driveway, some long-ago homeowner once tried to establish a perennial garden, even going so far as to make a stone stairway between our driveway and the neighbors'. But the plot has been neglected for years and is now a horrible mess of goldenrod, nightshade, burdock, maple saplings, rocks, and tree roots. For the past couple of months I have been keeping the weeds in check with a trimmer, and in the process I've uncovered some pathetic lilies and iris, a few unhappy rosebushes, and a limp peony. Now I've begun the next stage of garden recovery: spreading wheelbarrow loads of the compost-mulch I've been cooking since last fall. The mixture combines new soil from my two compost bins with last year's fallen maple leaves, which I had raked into a corner of the backyard and have been turning from time to time. My goal is to gradually spread a thick layer of the mixture on this ugly strip of ground, thus creating manageable and arable beds while suppressing the ferocious weeds. It's what a friend calls the pancake-makeup approach to gardening.

When I told Tom last fall that I was planning to keep all of the leaves that fell off our trees--and the trees are enormous, so there are many, many leaves--he was not enthusiastic, but he didn't argue. Still, I clung to what I hoped would be a good idea, though I wasn't sure the leaves would break down fast enough to be useful . . . or that I could get them out of the pile before the next batch of autumn detritus arrived. Yet here I am, less than a year later, with yards of fine free soil.

Chainsaws and giant compost piles: who knew how handy country-honed skills would be in the city?

Plus, after we finished working, we tidied up and took a long sweet walk into town for one of the best dinners out I've had in quite a while.

We're doing okay here.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The finished poem count has reached eight. I'm starting to feel like a baseball team with a win streak.

Unlike past writing sieges, this one has required physical stillness. Instead of wandering around staring out the windows or running up and down the stairs doing idle little chores, I've had to sit quietly on the couch, letting my mind perambulate and my body sag. I wonder why the creative mind requires these kinds of physical maneuvers. In a way it will be a relief to step aside from such mental bossiness and do some regular outside work this weekend. Not that I'm dying to haul storm detritus, but sitting on the couch for hours is a dangerous habit.

Between bouts of writing I've been reading John Banville's The Blue Guitar and my childhood copy of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. Yesterday, on a forced walk, I found a hardcover copy of Barbara Tuchman's The Distant Mirror in a free box. Somewhere in this house is a paperback copy of that book, which I've already read several times. But it occurred to me that a dip into the fourteenth century might be a good backup activity, so I've added it to the stack of coffee table entertainments.

And it opens with one of my favorite epigraphs of all time--a quote from John Dryden's "On the Characters in the Canterbury Tales":
For mankind is ever the same and nothing is lost out of nature, though everything is altered.


Friday, July 13, 2018

Since returning from the Frost Place I have finished--not just drafted, but finished--seven new good poems. I haven't experienced a flurry like this for years, maybe not since the early days of Chestnut Ridge, back in 2014 or thereabouts.

Every morning I sit on the couch, pull four random words out of whatever I'm reading, and immediately fall into the making lake. By good fortune my workload has been light, so I've been able to drop everything to write. That will have to change once my editing and teaching obligations start rolling in. But for the moment, I can hang on to the illusion of being invincible.

One funny thing about this trip into the zone: The act of writing isn't feeling like inspiration or exaltation or anything fuzzy at all. Instead, it all feels very prosaic and obvious. What's notable is how fast I am working. I make quick decisions about content and about structural and language elements; my sentences move swiftly. I've always been a person who writes by ear--that is, I hear a cadence before I put words to it--but those cadences in my head are particularly vibrant right now, and the voice in each poem seems to leap out fully formed.

It's like I am crackling with electricity.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Sadness of Poets Who Are Cruel to Their Own Gifts

During the past week I have been corresponding with a friend who is struggling--as many of us surely do--with the disconnect between how he perceives his talents (as minimal) and how others perceive them (as considerable). I think there are so many ways in which we dampen our own lights. My friend remains diffident about his status as a poet and a thinker, yet to me he is an intellectual and emotional beacon. This is not flattery. This is truth. So how does the gap arise between what seems self-evident to this person who is looking at himself and what seems self-evident to the people who are watching him exist in the world?

I recognize this disconnect in myself. For instance, I know I am a good teacher and a good poet, but my lack of educational credentials is a major source of inner anxiety. As soon as other writers start chatting about their MFA programs, famous mentors and pals, etc., I fall down a hole and begin beating myself up as inconsequential, unknown, provincial, and so on and so on. Someone will yank me up out of that hole and slap me around a little, and, dazed, I'll look at her and say, "Oh. Okay. I'm fine, then." But next chance I get, I'll fall straight down the hole again. It's stupid, just like it's stupid (and I use the word in the nicest possible way) that my correspondent downplays his own inimitable gifts.

We all have our little hamster problems, and I'm tired of them. I want my friend to honor and publicize his necessary gifts. I want other friends to do the same. This world needs to hear from you all. Likewise, I want to kick my own self-loathing to the curb. I mean, what the hell? I would never judge anyone else by their diploma. So why can't I give myself the same permission?

Earlier this week I posted about the way in which, as a teacher, I try to recognize my deficiencies, try to model that recognition, try address the process of working through the ways in which I hamstring myself. I think that so many of the people I love and admire are devotees of humility. But humility is double-edged. It keeps us open and loving, but it also keeps us from throwing back our shoulders and striding into the world we long to inhabit.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

So three days ago I posted all of those cozy photos of my garden, and now you get something completely different: the aftermath of yesterday's microburst: aka 30 seconds of backyard devastation. Two minutes before this happened I was sitting on the front stoop with the cat, quietly watching storm clouds move in.




By some miracle, nothing was damaged except those two lawn chairs. Branches brushed against the house and against my car, but didn't land directly on either. But what a mess! And thank goodness for Tom, who can do everything. He came home from work five minutes after the havoc, looked around in amazement, laughed and shrugged, then got out his chainsaw and went to work. Now our yard is littered with firewood and we have giant brush piles in the driveway, and it's like being back in Harmony again.

On the plus side: Tom and I have a certain comic camaraderie in such situations. Otherwise, how could we have survived Harmony for so long?

P.S. Here's a new poem, out in the currrent issue of Salamander. It's the title poem of my collection-in-embryo.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Negotiating the Poet-Teacher Balance

I drafted yet another poem yesterday. The beat goes on, apparently. And it seems that I'm not the only Frost Place person to be in the zone. Since last Friday, four participants have either shared new drafts with me, asked for revision advice, told me they were writing furiously, or talked at length about poems they were reading. Given that several of these people do not feel comfortable calling themselves poets (or, I should say, have not previously thought of themselves that way), this is a momentous turn of events. Something large has happened, creatively.

The director of any program must attend to tricky points of balance. Her job is to facilitate the session in ways that make it most useful to the participants. She cannot take her own gaps and lacks into primary consideration. In other words, she has to behave like a teacher. In my case, the irony is that I'm leading a program that focuses on breaking teachers out of that mold: that is, the impulse to neglect their own inner lives for the sake of their students' inner lives. Metaphorically, you could say that I'm working to help our participants fill their own cups so that those cups will then overflow into the lives around them.

In the process, I sometimes find myself doing exactly what I'm attempting to keep the participants from doing: that is, I put my students first, put myself last. I say sometimes because I'm aware of what's going on. And when I can do so gracefully, I try to show them that habit and model how I work to shed it. My conference is all about trying to figure things out, to consider how to integrate our responsibilities with our ideals, to deal forthrightly with our own longing to create emotionally and intellectually satisfying work even as we support others' longing to do the same.

In the privacy of my own room, I am full of arrogance about my poetic vocation. I think such inner confidence is vital. If I don't love my own work, who will? And why should I bother trying to make something that I don't value? But in the act of teaching I dowse my light. That's important: no one wants an arrogant teacher. Still, I need to figure out a way to model the vitality of this private confidence without being pompous and self-aggrandizing. I want every one of my participants to go home aflame.

Monday, July 9, 2018

It was good to have a weekend at home. I caught up on gardening, spent the afternoon with a dear young person, went out for dinner with Tom, walked in the shade. Tom started making bookshelves and a desk; I read three books and cleaned two bathrooms.

Today, housework and writing. Maybe some errand running. I've got another teaching session to plan for--an environmental-writing retreat for high schoolers--and at some point I should turn my attention to that. But for the moment I'm in between editing assignments and I don't need to travel anywhere, so in theory I've got a luxurious week of reading and writing time ahead of me. I hope I can live up to it.

Sunday, July 8, 2018


I wish I could figure out how to take photos that look like something, but I guess we all have our ineptitudes. (Also, don't ask me to do simple addition.) Anyway, here are a few hard-to-focus-on pictures of the current status of the front-yard farm. To the left, a row of sunflowers coming into bloom. Straight ahead, jungle-like tomato, cucumber on a trellis, and an artichoke, plus some bok choi and kohlrabi and marigolds.


 Another view of the jungle-like tomatoes and the cucumber trellis, fronted with a row of purple string beans.


Blurry herb garden, suitable for people without their glasses on. Mounds to the right are parsley. Fluffy stuff to the left: edible chrysanthemum and cilantro.


Finally, a clear photo. This is my herb-drying system. Note the handy antlers. They were on the wood shop in Harmony when we bought the place, and Tom decided to bring them with us to Portland.


Ruckus in Tom's toolbox, "helping." I did not take this photo, which is why it is good.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Finally, the heat has broken. What a relief. I mean, I love summer and all, but 90 degrees and dense humidity transform me into jelly. Thursday night's gig was an ordeal--we played a 2-hour outdoor show in that weather--so no wonder I came home feeling like a sea slug.

Today, though, I hope to begin to catch up on all the gardening I haven't been able to face. I've got fall greens to sow, exhausted plants to pull, compost to spread, compost piles to turn. Even a tiny, tiny vegetable farm has its perpetual chores.

Right now we are awash in chard and lettuce. I am drying sage and dill for winter use, and 30 heads of garlic are curing in the shed. Peavines are pulled, the last picking of peas is in the freezer, and tiny string beans are beginning to appear. Tomatoes and peppers are swelling, cucumbers and eggplant are in flower, everbearing strawberries are setting fruit, and my sunflower hedge is blossoming.

Last year, when I came back from the Frost Place, all I knew about this cottage was that it had just come up for sale. Tom and I went to the open house, breathed in the heady perfume of too many cats and dogs, examined the overstuffed rooms and barren yard and falling-apart kitchen, shrugged, and made a low offer. On July 4, we signed a contract.

In other words, a year ago we were just beginning to wonder if we'd made a mistake. As it turns out: no.

Now I am sitting in our small tidy living room and thinking about the poetry collection I tore apart yesterday. It had to be done, and I'd been stalling for months. But with a sudden influx of new poems, I began to recognize what was wrong with it. I took out some poems, added others, and completely changed the order and thus its dramatic thread. I gave it a new title: Dooryard.

This morning I'm feeling energetic about the changes. I like the simplicity of the current title. I like that it's both a common Maine idiom and a reach back into the poetic aether. I like that it can be a metaphor or not. I like that it's a single word. I like that, no matter if you live in the country or the city, you can have a dooryard . . . a dirt driveway, a stoop. Go out and sit there and breathe in the cool morning and pet your cat and watch a kid crouch down to examine a bug. Listen to the train go by. Shell your peans and snap your beans.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

And the heat continues. It's supposed to be even worse inland, which is where I'm headed today: up north to Greenville for a gig. Last time I performed there, a giant wind was blowing off Moosehead Lake, and I made the mistake of wearing a short dress, and given that I play an instrument that requires me to keep two hands in motion at all times . . . well, all I can say is that today I'll be wearing a pair of linen pants.

Tom and I spent a peaceful Fourth at home and then walked down to Back Cove to watch the fireworks. Just as we were getting ready to leave the house, I received an email from a poet I admire very much. She had written to me, "Your work is freakin' awesome!" And "I came home talking about your poetry! Consider me an advocate for you going forward."

So, of course, I am feeling like a puddle, sloppy and soggy in the best possible way. Her words were completely unexpected, entirely unlooked for. I feel like I should hang her note on the wall, as magic for the dark days.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Yesterday was a scorcher; last night was a sweat box; today and tomorrow and the next day will be repeats. For a few days, the Alcott House, ensconced beneath its enormous maples, stayed relatively cool; but now it's just as hot here as it is everywhere else. Fans run continuously. I brew fresh ice tea several times a day. The cat flops underfoot. I find myself asking dumb questions such as "Will listening to cool jazz help me feel cooler?"

For dinner I put together spring rolls (filled with lettuce, cucumbers, and herbs) and sashimi (bluefin, Scottish salmon, local scallops). Then later in the evening we welcomed a surprise overnight guest--a Frost Place friend who was in town unexpectedly--and I felt embarrassed about our lack of air conditioning. It's hard to believe that this time last week she and I were shivering in a 40-degree barn.

Believe it or not, I wrote yet another decent poem draft yesterday. And I'm starting to dream about my imaginary baby daughter again--always a sign that something is burgeoning in my poet life. For nearly two decades I have dreamed off and on about this little girl. She is dark eyed, with dark curly hair, and looks nothing like my sons. But she is clearly mine. From the beginning, my friend Jilline (my dear comrade, dead now for thirteen years) declared that this apparition was an art baby, not my hormones trying to convince me to have another child. And so now, whenever my imaginary daughter appears, I know that things are looking up, that I am writing and will be writing, and also that Jilline is somewhere crowing, "I told you so." I have not seen my art baby since I left Harmony, but last night she found me, she's figured out where I've been hiding, here she comes scooting across the floor in her little sage-green dress, and she's laughing.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Thanks to a sea breeze, Portland had a bit of a respite yesterday, weather-wise, but the heat will be back today. I took advantage of the relative coolness to chop weeds along the stone wall, run the vacuum, cook a hot meal. That means today I can save my energy for some desultory dusting, hand-washing winter woolens, and making spring rolls and sashimi for dinner. I will have to pick peas, but I'll save that for late in the afternoon.

Midday I'm hoping to find a bubble of time for writing. I still feel twingy and edgy about poems, and that's a good sign. And here's a note my friend Nate sent me this morning. It's something to ponder.

"The metallurgist, like the blacksmith and, before him, the potter, is a 'master of fire.' It is by means of fire that he brings about the passage of the material from one state to another."
It was your namesake that first caught my attention, however simple--I'd like to think of you, and poets in general, as "master[s] of fire" that transforms material. The metaphor is most likely not original, but it's cool, nonetheless.
And in continuing to read this (Mircea Eliade's A History of Religious Ideas) it discusses how most blacksmiths depicted as making divine weapons to defeat monstrous adversaries were also songsmiths and poets.

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Maine Arts Journal has published a sheaf of poems from my forthcoming collection Chestnut Ridge. I know you've seen some of these poems on this blog before, but Betsy Sholl (a wonderful poet, a former poet laureate of Maine, a dear supporter of her fellows) decided she'd like to reprint them together as a group. In fact, she invited me to submit them after I'd asked her, with itchy embarrassment, to write a blurb for the new book. That's the kind of sweet person she is.

My friend Christian Barter also has a sheaf of poems in this journal. They focus on Acadia National Park, where he has worked for years on trail maintenance. I guess Betsy was in the mood for poems about place, when she tapped us.

I've spent the entire weekend in a fog of intense physical laziness--sort of a reaction to the hot weather but mostly a convalescence from my Frost Place exertions. I came back from Franconia with my poet self bouncing and yodeling and my everything-else self feeling as if it had been crushed by a rockslide. I gave into the torpor for three days, but now I have to resurrect my enthusiasm for moving my arms and legs. I've got desk work to do, housework to do, yard work to do. On Thursday night I'll be back in the gig saddle, with a show up in Greenville. I need to figure out how to be peppy again.

At least I've managed to do some summer cooking: infant peas (from my patch!), gazpacho (my favorite M.F.K. Fisher recipe in which all liquids are measured in glasses, not cups), grilled marinated flank steak (okay, Tom cooked it), leftover grilled marinated flank steak turned into steak salad (with wild rice, tomatoes, scallions, garlic scapes, more wonderful peas, and a hedge's worth of chopped cilantro).

My garden has turned out to be a local conversation piece. I seem to be the only person in this neighborhood (no surprise) who has turned her front lawn into a vegetable farm, so I get a lot of chat from passersby. But they seem to like it. The plot is pretty, and meanwhile I sit on the front stoop in a faded summer dress and shell peas into a dishpan, just like a regular old-fashioned farmwife. It's a disguise I enjoy.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Yesterday I did what everyone--cat, squirrel, or human--should do on a hot day: I scampered around early and late and spent the middle hours flopped quietly in the shade. Ruckus the cat preferred to flop in the driveway in the shadow of my car. I preferred to flop on the living room couch in front of the fan, but it all came to the same thing.

I spent my quiet afternoon reading Margaret Atwood's novel The Robber Bridegroom and writing a new poem. Given that I'd had such good fortune with the word-trigger prompt that Vievee gave us earlier this week, I reconstituted the idea for myself: I opened Atwood's novel and randomly poked a thumb into four of her words. Then I typed them at the top of a blank page and let myself go.

In Vievee's workshop I ended up using all four of my words in the subsequent drafts. In this case, only one of the words remained in the version I'd concocted by the end of my siesta. Nonetheless, the process and sensation were parallel: by focusing on these unexpected (even unexciting words: one of them was something) rather than trying to dredge up material from my own predictable stream, I found myself writing a strange and surprising little fake-instructional poem, one that borrowed from adages and idioms, even famous lines of poetry, but replaced the expected nouns with near rhymes and in this way constructed a pastiche of imitation wisdom about how to be a coward.

I've never written such a poem before. I don't know if it's good or bad, but I'm interested in it . . . and this is the crux: poets can get bored with their own patterns, and for me Vievee's use-four-words-that-belong-to-someone-else trigger has quickly increased both the excitement and the curiosity that are necessary to my endeavor.

Saturday, June 30, 2018

I spent yesterday washing clothes, mowing grass, pruning tomatoes, and finishing poems. The two drafts I brought back from Vievee Francis's workshop are now essentially done. I recast the troublesome ending of one of them--switching up the point of view, then suddenly unearthing the word vanity as a way to evoke bathroom furniture while simultaneously whipping out a thematic nunchuk. And then I slammed the poem shut with the voice of a toad.

I can't explain how thrilled I am about these pieces. I keep running upstairs to stare at them on my computer, as if I'm not quite sure that they really exist. Both feel so vigorous and original, and also new . . . as if finally my Harmony mind has switched lanes.

One of Vievee's conversation points is staying with me: the importance of focusing on how one allots agency in a poem. In her view this is a particular problem for women poets, who often soften or redirect. So as we sat in our revision circle and I listened to her talk about other people's drafts, I kept tweaking the title of mine. First, I typed "Gaze." Then I typed "Male Gaze." Then I typed "The Male Gaze." And finally I figured out what was wrong: and so I typed "My Male Gaze." That single word change re-skewed the draft entirely, and it gave my speaker-self a strange and aggressive stature, one that I don't often channel.

It's probably quite irritating for you to hear me talk about a poem that I'm not posting for you to read, but I'm planning to submit it to a journal so I can't publish it here. However, if you're interested in looking at the draft, I'd be happy to share it with you privately.

Friday, June 29, 2018

I got out of bed this morning, made the coffee, opened my windows wide to the morning fog, heard the groan of a ship's horn floating up from the invisible bay.

While I was gone, my garden has exploded into summer. The tomato plants, sodden with rain, are twice their size; the nasturtiums are blooming; the dark golden lilies glow in the fog; the unshaven lawn is flowing over the paths.

My brain feels like rubber. My heart feels like a peony. I am so glad to be home and so sad to have parted from my poets.

Within the past two days, I have written and revised two good original drafts that are nearly finished. That alone would have sufficed for joy. But there was so much more: friendship, thought, excitement, melancholy, chatter, silence, words, song, a watching patient bear. I am so tired that the specificity of description is beyond me.

The Frost Place is one of my homelands. All I can say is: You come too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

When you spend hours sitting in hard chairs in an unheated barn, the weather becomes a storyteller, a bone scientist, a raven. Poems glitter on tongues; a shiver is the skin's applause.

The week has been cold and damp in Franconia, New Hampshire, and then yesterday our chill was punctuated by a burst of modest sunshine. Poets stripped down to one sweater instead of three. There were epiphanies everywhere.

You'll note that I'm not discursive today. I expect I'll be more so after I get home. Right now, in the midst of it all, what I can say to you is that the Frost Place is doing its work on me, again, again, as it always does. Ghosts argue and chipmunks rattle. Bears lurk among the lupines. Phoebes alight on the stair railings and flip their sharp tails.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Today I'll be heading west for my annual week at the Frost Place. Naturally, the forecast is stormy, for the ghost of Bob Frost knows that wet feet and moldering dankness always make a poet stronger.

Blog-wise, I'll mostly be incommunicado this week, though there's a chance you may hear from me now and again, depending on how busy/exhausted I am and whether or not Bob's internet connection is functional. Given our national shame, I suspect conference participants and faculty will be communally revealing a fair amount of emotional struggle, and weariness, and anger, and general glumness of spirit. I know it will be my job to acknowledge and listen and react and support and initiate conversations that offer strategies for persistence. I am girding on my sword, but the sword is heavy.

You have a sword that is just as heavy. But put it down for a moment. As a fortune cookie recently told me, "Go take a rest; you deserve it." Close your book. Go outside. Find a quiet spot to sit. Lean your head back and look up into the branches and the sky. Watch the clouds shift. Listen to the jays squawk. Thank your lungs for their faithful work. Admire the skin of your hands. Hum along with your heartbeat.

I am lifting my glass of blessings to you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Yesterday I wrote to Susan Collins about the border situation and, though the action felt pointless, I tried to convince myself that it wasn't. What else can I do but scream?

Yet simultaneously I am taking great domestic pleasure in Tom's most recent house upgrades. Clean paint and sensible shelving have transformed an awkward bedroom closet into tidy shoe storage. A stack of kitchen drawers now stows away the mess of silverware, measuring cups, kitchen towels, aluminum foil, etc., that had been cluttering up the counters since our move. This morning I can't stop opening and closing the drawers and admiring their contents. What a beautiful scoop! Look, there's my biscuit cutter!

Do not think I have overlooked the chasm between my homely emoting and the tragedy of the families at the border. How dare I be happy about my small comforts? Oh, those sobbing children.

This is the conundrum that you are wrestling with as well. I know the gap is obvious. I know you've already thought about it. I suspect you have a similar sense of frozen helplessness, which is itself a horror. What seems natural is to snatch up a crying child and carry her back to her parents. But I have no agency, and that lack of power feels monstrous.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thunderstorms last night, and the Ruckus got caught in the rain and came home with his hair sticking out every which way and smelling like an old sock.

This morning, tales of children separated from their parents plaster every news source. They're actors, Ann Coulter claims on Fox News.

Because there are no better actors than three years olds caged away from their mothers.

The cruelty and the lies. The pretense that seeking asylum is illegal. The purposeful fracturing of families.

Meanwhile, I am laughing about my cat, and sitting in a quiet room, and planning my work day--and how can one mind grapple with the horror and the anger and peaceful and the quotidian? And with knowing, without doubt, I would have died if someone had tried to take my boys away from me.

This post is fractured because America is a humiliation and America is hope, and lives go on and lives halt, and we live in the present and in the past, in ourselves and out of ourselves, and it all happens simultaneously, and I'm only a poet so I don't have the first idea about how to solve it . . . except: where is the kindness?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Today will be a scorcher, and I'll be spending it at a training session with a group of Telling Room teaching artists. After that I'll be shopping for ceviche ingredients and hoping I'll manage to get my laundry off the line before the thunderstorms start.

As I was delving into a box of books yesterday, I came across a book that we acquired somewhere along the line. It's titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and was first published in 1853. The author, Charles McKay, is, according to the 1932 foreword of this edition, "a narrator, not a diagnostician," and "no preventative is anywhere suggested." In other words, he just enjoyed telling the tales of various moments of public craziness.

My favorite chapter title, hands down, is "Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard." Even better is the chapter's epigraph, which quotes Hudibras: "Speak of respect and honour / Both of the beard and the beard's owner."

I can't wait to learn more.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Yesterday was hot, today will be hot too, but for the moment, the house is sated with last night's coolness. Outside a cardinal is singing and singing, and through the window I'm watching Bugsy the puppy bury his nose in my dahlias.

I didn't get a lot done yesterday: for some reason I felt kind of logy and half-sick. Maybe it was the clouds of pollen, or maybe I have a mild virus. Instead of industriously replanting my garden, I sat on the couch reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and drinking iced tea. But later Tom and I put together a beautiful beef salad (tamari-marinated grilled sirloin sliced thin, grilled onions and red peppers, cooked farro, sliced cherry tomatoes, huge handfuls of chopped parsley, basil, cilantro, garlic scapes), and we listened to some Lou Reed and then to some baseball, and I got excited about the prospect of kitchen drawers, which are almost ready to install.

Today I'll try to be more productive.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Well, we're back to being child-free for six weeks. Early this morning the boy headed out for his summer trek into the Canadian wilderness, and now I am washing sheets and towels and trying to figure out where to stow all of the stuff he left behind.

Today the temperature will climb into the 80s, I'll be going for a walk with a friend, and then, if it's not too hot, I'll begin to prep the garden for my week away at the Frost Place: e.g,  tear out the bolting lettuce and sow new seeds, stake the tomatoes, harvest sage for drying . . . and so on and so on. At the moment, however, I'm feeling pretty lazy. If I had a deck, I expect I'd be lounging on it.

Has anyone read Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? I've just started it, and it's not at all what I expected. I'm also not sure how I managed to get away with never reading it before. Maybe because I had the impression it was some sort of feel-good Christmas story--not my favorite genre.

Friday, June 15, 2018

In case you're wondering where I've been: On Wednesday I drove up north for band practice, so I was en route back to Portland at the time of day when I'd usually be writing to you. I stayed, as usual, with my friends in Wellington, and then late yesterday afternoon Paul and I went for a walk around Back Cove with their daughter, who lives in Portland . . . and, when she pulled into the parking lot, she happened to be on the phone with my older son, whom she'll be visiting in Chicago this weekend. It just struck me as so comic, all this overlap between our families. We're not actually blood relatives, but we can't seem to get out of each other's hair.

Not that I'm complaining.

* * *

In actual news: I managed to finish all of my Frost Place faculty intros--thank goodness--and now all I have left on my list is to prepare for a small talk on the last afternoon of the conference. If I can catch up with editing today, that would also be a relief. On Monday and Tuesday I've got to spend two training days at the Telling Room, on Wednesday I'll be going north for band practice again, and then on Friday I'll head over to Franconia. So my days are cramped and crowded, and I'm already breathless.

For the moment, however, I'm lounging on the couch in the dim living room. I'm drinking black coffee, and the scent of wet morning is wafting through the open window. Crows are shouting and the neighbor children are lingering outside on the sidewalk, waiting for Bugsy the puppy to finish smelling a rock in my yard.

A few poetry things are distracting/exciting me. One I can't tell you about yet, but another involves the possibility of releasing an audiobook version of Chestnut Ridge alongside the print version. A college friend who is an actor and an audiobook reader was intrigued by one of my poems and suggested the idea, and the publisher has gotten quite interested in the prospect. This is new territory for me, so I'm wondering if you, as readers/listeners, see it as a good idea.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dear person who contacted me with the idea that I should promote her LSAT tutoring company:

When you Google the phrase "standardized tests," and you end up on the blog of a writer who is dissing their entire existence, it might behoove you to read what she has to say about them before asking her to market your product to her readers.

Moreover, if you are trying to convince people to buy your LSAT prep services, you should not suggest that taking those classes will help them get into medical school. This may make them the teeniest bit suspicious of your credentials.

Sincerely,

The person who who wrote this blog post


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I think yesterday's radio thing went fine; I hope it did; but really I have no idea what we sounded like through the aether. In any case, I still haven't gotten over how quickly I can drive to Portsmouth from here . . . in under an hour instead of more than three. Up in Harmony, "slightly under an hour" was how long it took me to drive my sons to high school.

Today will be hot, and I will be upstairs in my cool dark study editing a novel and writing Frost Place faculty intros. For some reason, my writing speed has slowed to a crawl, and these intros are taking me forever to finish. But I'm halfway there.

Monday, June 11, 2018



I took a lot of photos for you yesterday afternoon, but this is the only one with decent light. I'd just watered my front-yard kitchen garden, and everything looked so fresh and bright . . . except for the shadows creeping into the frame. This is a bed of mixed leaf lettuce with arugula behind it. On the advice of an edible-landscape book I've been reading, I've decided to let some of my vegetables flower, and as a result I now have these beautiful stars bowing over the pied lettuces.

Two separate groups of walkers stopped by yesterday to compliment me on my garden. I am proud and pleased at how well it's looking, though there's still so much to do. My brassicas (rapini, bok choi) are suffering from insect damage, so yesterday I bought a flat of marigolds to see if their odor might chase a few bugs away. Cats keep walking through freshly planted rows, and squirrels are digging in the back yard. On the whole, though, this first season has been a success (so far). I am harvesting all the lettuce and herbs we can eat, and I just cut a beautiful kale plant that had wintered over and had then transformed into a tall and gorgeous yellow-flowering border display. The leaves I trimmed from that single plant fill a gallon bag.

Now the peas are coming into flower, and any day I expect to see the first garlic scapes. . . . My life is so much better now that I have a garden again.

* * *

P.S. Radio show update: Writers in the Round, live 6-7 p.m., and here's a link to the live stream. Any poem requests?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

It’s cold where you are,
And the sky is failing all across America.
Why were you smiling
That afternoon so long ago?
I can only think we must have been happy.
Somehow that helps.
We are still here, after all,
And it is the same world.

[from "One World" by Joe Bolton]

Saturday, June 9, 2018

On Thursday Tom and I walked into town to watch a collaborative performance by the jazz bassist William Parker and the dancer Patricia Nicholson. Tonight we're going to see the Skatalites play at a bowling alley. On Monday we went to a friend's reading at a bar. On Wednesday I drove up north for band practice. Who is this person with a nightlife? I don't recognize her.

At least Friday was more familiar. I spent the day revising a few poems, working on faculty intros for the Frost Place conference, grocery shopping, watering my garden, opening doors for the cat, and hanging out with young people.

Next week the whirlwind continues. I forget if I mentioned that I'm scheduled to be reading poems on Writers in the Round, a weekly show on Portsmouth community radio. That will be on Monday evening; and as soon as I have more listening details, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, the ballad of the house: Dusting and weeding. Laundry and vacuuming. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Today, finally, the chill will break. Already I have opened the windows, and now the sounds of a cloudy summer morning are pouring through the screens . . . the scream of a pileated woodpecker, the clank and squeal of an early freight train, the yap of Bugsy the short-legged puppy as he scuttles down the sidewalk with his child.

I am rereading John Fowles's The Ebony Tower and thinking about forests and tales and chivalry, and wondering if Fowles was successful in creating a 1970s-era version of Marie de France's lais and knowing that he is not. Like so many male writers of his generation, his perceptions of women are fatally flawed, and yet he is clearly compelled by their mystery, and I find that compulsion both endearing and incredibly irritating. Sometimes--and, really, what I mean is constantly--I wonder why I return to books by Milton and Dickens and Roth and Updike and Fowles and so on and so on: I am always arguing with them. I suppose most other feminists would tell me I shouldn't even give them the time of day. And yet.

Ah, well. We are what we are. And I am a poet who loves the western canon but cannot stop talking back to it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The weather is still so cold and damp. The temperature barely hoicked itself out of the 40s yesterday, two nights in a row we've had woodfires, and the furnace keeps trying to kick on. Nonetheless, I discovered flower buds on my tomato plants yesterday, so it seems they're at least pretending to feel summery.

Later this afternoon the boy and I will head north for band practice and friend visiting. (Wish my transmission luck.) Till then I'll keep beetling away at Frost Place and editing tasks and, I hope, turn my thoughts to my own work. The laundry essay has been parked: for some reason prose and I are not presently speaking to one another, but I do have a poem draft to inspect. Yet the house is in an organizational uproar, so I'm feeling unsettled. Tom is cutting a new closet into his study walls, and his desk stuff has wandered downstairs to the living room, which has meanwhile also cluttered up with the boy's musical instruments, books, teacups, blankets, etc. I don't work well in a messy house, though I guess many other writers do. So I'm struggling a bit, even as I'm happy to have my family so close and busy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The morning is dim and cool and sodden and very green. Tiny bright maple helicopters have fallen en masse from the trees, and now they coat driveways and stoops and bare-dirt yards. Dormant bean and lettuce seeds are bursting into leaf in the wet garden rows; heavy peony blossoms bow down to mud.

Yesterday afternoon I lit a fire in the stove as the housebound cat flounced from window to window, glowering at the rain. Meanwhile, my son lay under a blanket rereading one of his favorite books from middle school. It was that kind of summer day.

Now I am sitting in my darkened living room as cloud-light filters through the closed windows. Rain is falling again, and I am drinking black coffee from a white cup. Tock-tick, tock-tick, says the clock on the mantle, as if it is suppressing hiccups. Tom turns on the radio, and a newsman's voice bubbles into the quiet, into the ether, into the crannies of my skull. He is trying to tell me what to listen to, I am trying not to listen,  but how can I help it?

Radio Man: "A South Portland man was arrested last night after lighting a fire on his kitchen table, trying to get his roommate to move out. The roommate fled."

Tom: "I guess it worked."

And the air smells like toast.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Yesterday, as I was working in the garden, my neighbor appeared and asked if I'd like to go plant shopping with her. Naturally I was overjoyed at the invitation, and the two of us spent a delightful hour prowling through the offerings at O'Donal's Nursery. My neighbor is a serious flower gardener, with beautiful perennials and well-designed beds, whereas I am a kitchen gardener who likes flowers but has almost no experience with landscape design. But beyond the gardening, I was happy to to hang out and start to get to know her better.

Then, later in the day, Tom, Paul, and I walked over to a local crawfish boil, where we sat in the slightly chilly sunshine listening to a band play Stevie Wonder covers as we tried to figure out how to get crawfish meat out of the shell.

I still haven't gotten over the fact that, in a city, you can easily engage in such activities while still getting all of your house- and yardwork done. In Harmony we would kill an entire day running basic errands in Bangor. There was no such thing as taking a lunch break to go listen to music and eat shellfish.

Today, rain rain rain . . . I hope. And back to my desk job. And probably lugging the boy around to gather the gear he needs for his summer trek.

In between driving back and forth to Vermont and managing home stuff, I've been rereading Larry McMurtry's Duane's Depressed, and having mixed feelings about it. I used to like it more than I do now, though I still like it quite a bit. But this time through, I'm getting distracted by what feels like excess repetition. Maybe that's important, given that the subject is depression and depression is heavy and repetitive. Yet as a plot strategy it's imperfect.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Well, the boy's dorm-room stuff is crammed and stowed, the boy and his cat are romantically reunited, I have been suborned to watch highlight videos of cute animals, and this morning I came downstairs to discover that the freezer door had been left open all night. Which is to say, the old days are upon us again.

Now I am sitting on the couch thinking about yard work and groceries, feeling anxious about desk work, and wondering how I'm going to manage to get everything done before I go to the Frost Place. . . . I know I am fretting needlessly, but somehow this trip to fetch Paul has served as a ceremonial advent into summer, and now the season looms with all of its demands and busyness: multiple band gigs, two writing conferences, books to edit, gardens to weed.

It will all be fine, it will all be wonderful, but I am girding my sword and already it's heavy.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Greetings from humid Massachusetts, where, last night, I woke to the sound of a deer eating the ferns beneath my open window.

Today the boy and I and our overloaded car will chug back to Maine, and I will then begin to tear out my hair as I struggle to find storage places in our little house for all of his dorm-room stuff.. Fortunately transmission #3 seems up to the challenge of getting us home.

But I'll call you for a ride if we break down.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Outside, our neighbor's cat, Jack, is waiting impatiently for Ruckus to emerge from a bush or behind a garage. The two have become sudden friends, though Ruckus is, unfortunately, the bossy overbearing pal and Jack is the humbler, more anxious one. He is constantly peering through our doors, wondering if Ruckus can come out and play. Meanwhile, Ruckus pretends he doesn't notice or jumps out at Jack from around corners.

Still, as cat relationships go, it's a friendship, and I am amused by the way they crouch under bird feeders together, prowl among the garlic fronds, play-bat in the grass, and recline tail to tail pretending to ignore one another.

In other dull news: supposedly my car will be fixed today--hurray for transmission #3!--and on Friday I should be able to fetch the boy from college as planned. He's halfway through now, which seems impossible. Didn't he just leave home yesterday? Do all parents feel this way?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Spring is such an odd season in northern New England. It waffles back and forth between winter and and summer but rarely settles into any stretch of sweet moderation. I recall the springs in Philadelphia, where I went to college, as long and intense, an affectionate respite before the summer's humidity kicked in. But spring here is hard to depend on. Yesterday was hot; today will be 15 degrees cooler; the soil is drying out, but the nights are chilly. The small plants are struggling, and my transplants are peaked. No amount of watering seems to cheer them up.

Oh, well. At least the clothes are drying well, and I had the pleasure this morning of unfolding a crisp, clean kitchen towel smelling of air and sun.

Now that my classes are over, I am starting to reconfigure my days. My current editing projects all involve poetry and fiction, and now I have to allocate time to reading faculty collections and writing introductions for Frost Place poets. My college son will be coming home for a few weeks, and the patterns of our household will shift accordingly. The schedule says summer, even if the weather does not.

Yesterday, at the request of a kind poet, I sorted through my Chestnut Ridge poems and submitted a batch for the journal she edits. Most, if not all, have already appeared here on the blog, but otherwise they have gotten no press.

It's a kind gesture, and it adds to my welling hope for the collection and its poems . . . and I mean hope in a complicated yet grateful way. Nothing will change for me acclaim-wise; that's not what I'm trying to say. More, I'm basking in a sense of grace, a sort of aroma of celebration from people I admire and respect. That's an awkward metaphor, but I can't think of a better one. And anyway, I'm an awkward person. I'll embrace my ungainliness.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

My email inbox was filled with sadness this morning--friends in the midst of change, struggles with age and despair, dissatisfaction with the paths of their lives. So now, on this dim post-holiday morning, I am feeling a bit like blotter paper, damp and stained with spilled ink. I wish I could be helpful, but all I know how to say is "Yes, it's hard," and "Keep talking to me." Perhaps those are the only possible responses anyway.

I'll be back at my desk this morning, copyediting a poetry collection, sorting poems for an invited submission, hoping to hear from the transmission guy about my car.

But the weather will be warm; I'll be able to open all of the windows; the cardinal will sing and sing in the dense maple shade. The photo at the top of this blog is the view up into my tree cathedral. Below is packed dirt and ugliness, but look up and there is glory. That description sounds like a silly metaphor for something or other, but in this case I speak the simple truth.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Yesterday may have been cold and dank, but I still hung my very first load of Portland laundry out on my new clotheslines. Of course it's still hanging there today because there was no way those towels could dry quickly in this weather. I don't care: I was happy to look out the window this morning and see them twitching in the vague breeze. I can hardly believe that I haven't hung laundry on the line for more than a year.

In other surprising news, Tom and I saw a pileated woodpecker in our yard. That was a shock: who would have expected to see the pterodactyl here in the city? In Harmony spring always meant cold laundry and the scream of the pileated in the clearing, so I take his appearance as a friendly omen . . . though Tom takes it, more sensibly, as an omen that there might be something rotten in our trees.

We did manage to buy a trimmer yesterday, a battery-powered one light enough for me to handle easily, so today I'll finish whacking down the mess of goldenrod and other assorted weeds along the stone wall. Hidden under them are few sad patches of lilies and at least one frail little peony. But basically I'm just going to have to start over with that eyesore.

Today's on-the-couch reading: Margaret Drabble's The Witch of Exmoor. Today's dinner: something involving leftovers from last night's chicken kabobs. Plus bread baking and more lovely laundry hanging, rereading my manuscript, grass mowing, a long walk, and afternoon parade noise filtering among the trees and houses.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

It will be a cool green Sunday here in Portland. We need a day-long rain but I don't think we'll be getting any. So I'll spend some time this morning rearranging my irrigation hoses, and then I'll run all of the errands I didn't run yesterday.

As it turned out, going nowhere felt like the right thing to do. I sat on the couch and finished Far from the Madding Crowd. I did some desultory laundry. I listened to baseball. I worked on the acknowledgments page for Chestnut Ridge. I studied recommendations for battery-powered string trimmers.

I've been thinking about the Hardy novel, of course. It struck me last night, as I was eating dinner, that a great theme of Far from the Madding Crowd is the power of self-respect. Gabriel, though cast down, never loses it. Bathsheba loses it and regains it. Boldwood and Troy lose it permanently and spectacularly. Hardy makes clear distinctions between notions of self-satisfaction (which everyone but Gabriel exhibits at some point) and self-respect (which only Gabriel steadily maintains). The book is not so much a love story but almost an Austen-like examination of marriage as a contract in which both parties contribute value to the partnership. In this case, niceties of class play no role in the matter; the balance point is usefulness. Bathsheba may be impulsive, but she's an excellent farmer. Gabriel, too, is an excellent farmer, and his steadiness balances her flightiness. There was no such balance her in relationships with Boldwood and Troy.

[If you haven't read the book, then this nattering is meaningless. I could apologize. Or you could read it.]

Saturday, May 26, 2018

According to the thermometer, the temperature was 86 in Portland yesterday. Yet here in this neighborhood of enormous maples, the weather was perfect . . . a warm wind, dense green shade, a torrent of birdsong with a trickle of city noise beyond. Even our ugly backyard had its charms, and the cat and I enjoyed an hour there with a glass of wine, two lawn chairs, and a Thomas Hardy novel. Tom, for his part, spent the evening tooling around Casco Bay in his boss's boat, so he had an equally fine summer celebration.

But enough of this weather talk: you are probably wondering how you got so lucky to know a woman who's gone through three transmissions in the space of a month. After much driving and fretting, the repair guys managed to get my car to replicate Wednesday's scary moment in Waterville. Flaw in the replacement transmission, they agreed. So now another is on order, with arrival scheduled for Tuesday or Wednesday. The previous transmission was a low-mileage used part with a three-year warranty, and this will be another one like it . . . which is to say, I won't be paying for anything. But really: this story is getting silly.

I'm so grateful for your good cheer about Chestnut Ridge. Already two poets have agreed to write blurbs for the cover, and that is a huge weight off my mind because I hate to ask people to write blurbs. I'm considering cover photos, starting to finalize acknowledgments, and thus far it's all been a pleasure. This book has been floating for so long.

Today: more warm weather, some thunderstorms, baseball on the radio. Transplanting chard and bok choi. Acquiring a cucumber plant. Buying a string trimmer to deal with the mess of weeds along the stone wall. Best of all: putting up a clothesline.

Friday, May 25, 2018

I am so happy to announce that Deerbrook Editions will be publishing Chestnut Ridge in 2019. I am also relieved and grateful. You know how long this book has been hunting for a home--so long that I thought it might never find a landing place.

The weight off my shoulders is significant. It's funny how heavy an unpublished manuscript can become.

Now, this morning, as I stand at my desk in my green-shadowed study, waiting for the heat of the day to kick in, I am also feeling a sense of quietude that is linked, as so many things are, to my loss of the Harmony land. Although Chestnut Ridge is not set in Harmony, it was the last big project that I completed there. All of it was written at my desk in our bedroom, up the steep stairs, next to the window overlooking the autumn olive hedge and the overgrown mock-orange. I will never write another word in that room, yet every book I have published was born there.

The next manuscript, Songs about Women and Men, is a transitional collection: some poems from Harmony, some from Portland. Somehow that makes everything different, at least to me.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

. . . and the transmission saga continues.

I was an hour north of Portland, driving at 70 mph, when my car said "clunk," the transmission felt as if it had slipped into neutral, and I fortuitously managed to pull off onto an exit and call AAA to tow me home.

Apparently all is not well with the replacement transmission. But at least it is definitively covered with a warranty.

Still: ugh.

On the bright side, I slept in my own bed. And I have plenty of time to clean the house before tonight's dinner party. The question is: what party food can I buy within walking distance of my house?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Philip Roth is dead. At some point I hope to write a fuller reaction to that loss, but I have to teach this morning and then rush north for practice this afternoon, so my elegy will have to wait. Suffice it to say that my readerly relationship with Roth's work has been complicated and slightly obsessive and marked by both irritation and admiration. In other words, he has been an influence in all sorts of ways, and in fact bears a certain resemblance to John Milton in the way in which he has, despite my aggravation and resistance, wormed his way into my life.

Roth = Milton. That alone is a thought worth exploring.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The sky is gray this morning, but the air over Goose Cove is clear and fogless. A lobster boat bobs in the glassy water, and beyond it lies Swan Island, an indistinct strip of vegetation and modest hills.

Yesterday we hiked up North Bubble, across to Conners Nubble, and then back along carriage trails and down alongside Jordan Pond. During the summer this particular section of Acadia will be thronged with visitors, but at the moment it is still relatively quiet. Often, when we visit Mount Desert Island, we avoid the eastern sections of the park altogether. But there's a reason visitors love these places: they are visually intense . . . long vistas of mountain and sea, cliffs hugging blue lakes, waves crashing against sharp rocks. In Acadia, the postcards of Maine come to life.

Still, the peaceable view from this cottage is more lovable. We've been coming to this quiet house on the cove for a long time . . . for at least 15 years, maybe more. Our little boys roamed the muddy beach. Our young poodle rolled ecstatically in horrible-smelling fish innards. Our friends in the main house came down to the cottage every evening for dinner.

Now the boys are grown up and far away. The poodle is dead. But our friends still come down for dinner. The bond still vibrates. I don't have my Harmony land anymore, but there are places--this cottage, Robert Frost's porch--that weave into my life story. I am lucky.

And by this evening we'll be back in Portland--doing laundry, buying groceries, getting bitten by the ireful cat. The life story goes on.

Monday, May 21, 2018


Blurred view of Frenchman's Bay, while the photographer was sitting on a rock, eating a ham sandwich, and being lightly rained on.

Later the photographer returned to the land of wi-fi and discovered that her poem "The Maine Woods" had been published in the Maine Sunday Telegram. The poem is somewhat less blurry than this photo is.

Sunday, May 20, 2018



Greetings from Goose Cove, which is blanketed in mist this morning.  Beneath the fog lie one or two anchored lobster boats and a breakfasting loon. The tide is shifting noisily, a pebbled surge, but there are no dramatic rocks and breakers here. All that is on the other side of the island.

This is the view from our bedroom window, and from our little dining table, and from our screened porch. The air is cold, and a raw dampness seeps from the clouds and the shore. It is a good morning to light a wood fire and drink coffee and copy out Akhmatova poems.

Yesterday afternoon we managed to get in a four-plus-mile hike along the carriage trails that circle Witch Hole Pond. I wish I could regale you with the legend of Witch Hole, but nobody I ask seems to know anything about it. Here is a lousy photo of Duck Brook, which carves out a gorge alongside the trail, and another photo that shows one of the fancy bridges that the island's erstwhile owner, John D. Rockefeller., Jr., had built along these trails. This urge to fancy up the wilderness is called rusticating. You may find that term ironic. Nonetheless, the bridges and carriage trails are impressive.



As you can see, spring is not well advanced here at Acadia. The leaves on the trees are small, and in general winter shades prevail. Here and there a few violets bloom on the verge; an unknown-to-me purple-flowered shrub occasionally brightened the wayside. But mostly the colors were grays and browns and staid greens.


Saturday, May 19, 2018

Thanks to dear friends, we're off to spend a few days in a downeast cottage by the sea. I fear the cat sitters will have their hands full with a housebound Ruckus, who will not be delighted to be stuck inside while we're gone. I hope to write to you, but I'm unsure about the current state of the cottage's internet connection, which in the past has been wonky and intermittent.

Unfortunately I've begun this weekend by losing the book I was reading. I think I left it in a coffee shop. If anyone is loafing at Arabica on Commercial Street, keep an eye out for Far from the Madding Crowd.

My goals for this weekend are Read, Walk, Visit, Cook, Stare at the Ocean, Sleep.  It would be nice to include Write in that list, but I'm not expecting it. The weather will be cool and rainy. I will be lugging a fat volume of Akhmatova's poems and whatever novel I dig out of the boxes. The mountains will loom out of the mist. The sea will crash against the rocks. The forests will glow with the rich phosphorescent green of spring. The bugs will be annoying. The gulls will scream. I will be squinting through binoculars and trying to identify blurry swimming objects. Here's hoping I can figure out what I'm looking at.