Thursday, October 18, 2018

Downstairs, on the radio, Donald Trump is pretending that he slightly cares that the Saudis slaughtered a journalist in their own consulate. Outside, pebbles of sleety snow dot the roofs and cars and stoops. And now Tom has switched off the radio in disgust, and I can hear the washing machine motor making a new horrible noise that does not bode well for a long and happy life.

On the bright side, the house is warm; the lamps are bright; the books are on the shelves.

Yesterday afternoon I lit a fire in the woodstove and then started a new poem, a sort of fairy tale about an apprentice composer who is writing letters to God. I had no premonitions about this story; it just emerged from my fingers after I randomly chose four words from a child's biography of Beethoven: asked, atmosphere, music, concert. It seems, for the moment, to want to unfurl as a long narrative, and I am wondering what will happen to the young man, where he will walk along the canals, how God might answer him, and what his landlady will do with the butt-end of her dead husband's musket.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A couple of days ago I mentioned that I'd started reading Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Well, fairly early in the novel, I'd noted a brief reference to a "butt of malmsey wine." Ah, I thought, here comes Shakespeare, interfering with daily life again. I knew, of course, that this was a reference to Richard III, but the mention was incidental and I didn't get too worked up about weird reading synchronicity, as I am wont to do.

At least not until this morning, when I was sitting on the couch with my coffee, reading the final few pages of the novel, and I stumbled into this:
She leaned forward a little and her smile became just a little glassy. Suddenly, without any real change in her, she ceased to be beautiful. She looked merely like a woman who would have been dangerous a hundred years ago, and twenty years ago daring, but who today was just Grade B Hollywood. 
She said nothing, but her right hand was tapping the clasp of her bag.
"[The dead man was] a very bad murderer," I said. "Like Shakespeare's Second Murderer in that scene in King Richard III. The fellow that had certain dregs of conscience, but still wanted the money, and in the end didn't do the job at all because he couldn't make up his mind. Such murderers are very dangerous. They have to be removed--sometimes with blackjacks."
Why is this sort of thing always happening to me? I mean, I know I read a lot, but I don't remember ever opening this particular Chandler novel before. Certainly, if I did, it made no deep impression. And yet I chose to read it this week, and then RIII leaped out of the shadows, jumped up and down on my rib cage, squashed all of my cigarettes and broke my bottle of bourbon, conked me over the head, and dragged me by my heels into the sage-scented backyard of a Beverly Hills sanitarium, where I woke up three hours later, groggy and disheveled, to discover a gat pointed at my belt buckle. Geez.


Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Richard III: Assignment (Act II, Scenes 3 & 4)

You'll be pleased to learn that this week's reading assignment is extremely short. And I hope you think the response assignment is fun.

Choose a character mentioned in these scenes and invent a detailed physical description of him or her. Incorporate all the senses: don't just concentrate on the visuals of clothes or facial features, but let us smell and hear and touch this person you are conjuring up. Feel free to put some dialogue into his or her mouth, either yours or Shakespeare's.

Let's aim to share these on Tuesday, October 23.

Monday, October 15, 2018

All you RIII folks: we have a new and fascinating contribution on last Tuesday's conversation post, so check it out and converse accordingly. I'm going to post a new assignment tomorrow morning, but I don't want you to miss this chance to keep talking about the previous one.

Today I'm going out first thing to get a tire repaired (sigh), then later hoping to get ye old foot through another yoga class, and meanwhile editing, editing, editing, of course, and trying to catch up on housework that didn't get done while Tom was touching up paint, fixing door jambs, and installing some shelves and hooks yesterday. He also, miraculously, found a big patch of honey mushrooms in our own back garden. So now I've got a cookie sheet of them parked in front of a furnace vent, hoping to borrow enough heat to dry them out. In Harmony I had racks hung directly over the woodstove, which worked like a charm, but that's not possible here, with our teeny-tiny recessed stove. So I have to depend on modernity to do the job.

I've been reading a book my nephew loves so much that he picked it out for me for my birthday: Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle, which I did not think was great prose-wise but agree had many compelling moments story-wise. Mostly I'm excited about getting to talk about a book with my fifteen-year-old nephew.

Now, as a prose tonic, I'm reading Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely. Let me share some fine sentences with you:

"He was a big man but not more than six feet five inches tall and not wider than a beer truck."

"It was a nice walk if you liked grunting."

Sunday, October 14, 2018

After a wakeful night, I am now blearily attempting to pretend that coffee will do something or other to rescue me. It's a shame to wreck a perfectly nice Sunday morning with an insomnia hangover, but such is the case.

On the other hand, this is what I found yesterday around the corner from my house, in Baxter Woods:


Honey mushrooms! Damp but delectable! Foraged in the middle of the city! I limped here and there among the rain-heavy trees, damp and cold and clutching my mushrooming basket, as inquisitive dogs bustled over to see what interesting things I might be smelling around the roots of trees. It was very exciting for me, and I couldn't wait to come home and brag to Tom about my haul.

So yesterday I sauted and froze a quart of wild mushrooms. I shelled out my scarlet runner beans for drying. Tom fixed the leak in the bathroom sink and mulled over the possibilities for building a dining-room table. I made eggplant and potato curry for dinner. Tom went out to listen to music and I stayed home to listen to the Red Sox lose. You'd think all this would have led to a pleasant night's sleep, but apparently no.

Anyway, better luck tonight, I hope.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

This morning in dull household news: the furnace kicked on, and I donned a sweater immediately after getting out of a hot shower. Now a small cold rain is pattering down, and I am sitting in my study with my foot up, not putting away the summer clothes as I'd planned to do, but instead staring out the window into the back garden, where the big maples twitch listlessly under the raindrops and a chipmunk grazes alongside the broken-down shed, stuffing his cheeks with seeds. It's a good Saturday to be home.

Downstairs the new dishwasher spits and sighs. Across the hall, in his study, Tom is opening envelopes and shifting boxes and crumpling paper and squeaking his desk chair. The cat paces back and forth between us, annoyed by the rain but pleased by our company.

Last night, for dinner, I made pan-seared opah (a delicious Hawaiian fish that's recently turned up in our magnificent fish market) topped with roasted-green-tomato puree and served with diced and roasted sweet potatoes, wilted rainbow chard, and parsley. For spice, we had the serrano pepper sauce I'd finished earlier in the day. Except for the fish and the oils and the salt and such, everything we ate was either from my garden or my father's--and the only items from his were the sweet potatoes. Even this late in the season, I still cannot get over the wonders of my little urban farm. It has gone a long way to reconciling me to this place . . . though I am softening to the sweetness of the house too: our modest 1940s cape, with its funny doorbell and its old-fashioned basement smell, its pebbled-glass bathroom door and its midcentury formalities: a tidy little dining room, a tidy little fireplace. This is a house that thrives on order, like a gypsy caravan in a child's tale. Its charm increases as everything finds a place. No wonder it was so woebegone when we first saw it, overwhelmed by stuff and stress, harrassed by clutter and dirt and crowds. It needed to be petted and soothed. I feel quite motherly about its nerve-wracked ghost.

I suppose I should update you about my foot. After laughing uproariously at my description of the UPS man incident (as everyone should), the doctor said she suspects I've torn a muscle or a tendon and tells me it will take a month or six weeks, maybe longer, to heal. In the meantime, I can keep doing what I'm already doing: walking slowly on firm ground, elevating it as much as possible. Her diagnosis was no surprise, but it's disappointing to accept that I'll be hobbling for so long, and my vanity is not at all enjoying the appearance of my swollen ankle. Oh, well. I knew awkwardness was bound to do me in someday.

Friday, October 12, 2018

It's a wet and puddly and leaf-strewn Friday morning, and I have just limped in from the slippery dark, where I have been accomplishing that quintessential urban chore: dragging containers to the curb for trash day. Now I am back on the couch with my coffee and considering the number of irritating dreams I had last night, all of which seemed to involve grocery lists. As I am fairly good at making lists and calmly following them when awake, I don't see why my subconscious felt the need to waste so many perfectly good sleeping hours checking lists, and fretting over them, and checking them again, and wandering up and down the aisles of the Hannaford searching for unfindable items. Sometimes brains are really annoying.

This morning I have a doctor's appointment, which, I hope, will shed some light on this limp. And then (as my subconscious made clear), I have to run some errands. And then I'll be back to my editing chair for a few hours. I've also got a kitchen project to finish: homemade serrano hot sauce, which I've never done before. I've just finished fermenting the ground-up peppers for a week, so today I'll strain them and mix them with vinegar, lime juice, and a dash of tequila. I'll let you know how it all turns out.

This weekend I'll post another RIII reading assignment, but till then, feel free to to continue commenting on the current post. You don't even need to have submitted your homework to post! I am an easy teacher.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

. . . and suddenly, with a wild gust of wind, the land returned to autumn. Yesterday's strange heat has vanished. Drizzle is tapping against the panes. We will have rain and rain, all day and all night, and I will bake a tomato galette and light candles for dinner, and the cat will burrow into the comforter.

I did, finally, manage to snag some writing time yesterday afternoon. And I mowed the grass, and went for a walk with a friend, but, still, things are not what they should be with my damaged foot. Perhaps the doctor will have some advice tomorrow morning. It's likely that I am just impatient.

I've been reading Jane Hamilton's novel Disobedience, which I found on the street. I've been trying to write a poem about pretending to be on a train, though I'm not especially delighted with it so far. I received another batch of acceptances, which brings my recent total to eight--a happy surprise. Otherwise, there's not much newsworthy in my small orbit, yet the days are meandering down a broad and pleasant path. I'm interested in the book I'm editing. I'm interested in the book I'm reading. I'm interested in the poems I'm writing. And beyond the word-world, there's a blue bowl overflowing with red and yellow tomatoes sitting on my kitchen counter. There's a vase of golden marigolds on the dining-room table. There are clean white pillowcases, and freshly painted walls, and a full woodbox, and Aretha Franklin singing on the hi-fi. There's a man who smiles when he walks through the door.
Who gave thee, O Beauty,
The keys of this breast,—
Too credulous lover
Of blest and unblest?
--from "Ode to Beauty," by Ralph Waldo Emerson, 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

I expected to be heading north for band practice today, but as it turns out I'll be staying home in hot little Portland. Eighty degrees yesterday, eighty degrees today, amid the early dusks and late dawns of a Maine autumn . . . basically, the weather feels wrong, and it's making me tired and edgy. Or maybe I'm just coming down with a cold. In any case, not traveling north gives me time to limp around the grass with the lawnmower, and to limp around the kitchen making sauce with the tomatoes ripening on my windowsills, and to limp into the yard and shake my fist at the squirrels that keep chewing down my clothesline. I've also got editing infinitum, and I still haven't found time to work on the poem revision that's been niggling away at my semi-subconscious.

But, hey, the Red Sox beat the Yankees!

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Richard III: Conversation (Act II, Scenes 1 & 2)

As promised, I am late but finally here, and all ready to read your personal reactions to a line in one of these early scenes in Act II. I will add my own to the comments as well, after a few of you post first.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Having my sister here for my birthday was such a treat. She's got a house full of teenagers, juggles multiple jobs, and almost never gets the chance to escape anywhere alone, so seeing her was special. And then there's that guy I married, who made omelets for breakfast and steak for dinner, and washed all of the dishes, and bought me a set of beautiful noodle bowls, and was charming and affectionate and funny all day long. My cup runneth over. Being old is lovely.

Today I'll be prepping for tomorrow's workshop with seventh graders, and editing a manuscript, and, I hope, going to a yoga class if my foot can bear it. For dinner I'm planning to make black bean soup with roasted green tomatoes, and, if I remain enthusiastic, dinner rolls flavored with winter squash puree. I've got a poem collaboration project I want to start working on with a friend; I've got revision ideas for a poem in progress; I need to catch up on my Richard III reading.

But I'm still basking in the sweetness of the weekend. Love is a magical thing. And the knowledge of being loved is strangely humbling.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The small red clouds are fading into gleams of sun. The neighborhood is quiet. Upstairs Tom is beginning to stir. In the back room my sister, on a happy visit, is still silent. Today is my 54th birthday.

My private life is peaceable, my gardening life is swaggering, my political life is enraged, my writing life is fizzing over. It seems that the linking word in these phrases is life--though when I was 16, I wouldn't have guessed that an aging person could feel so lively. It's a nice discovery about growing older: that the world is still so interesting . . . maybe even more interesting than it ever was before.

Today I'll make breakfast with Tom and my sister. Later she will drive home, and he and I will wander off on some little unstructured jaunt suitable for a birthday-celebrator with a damaged but healing foot. I plan to read, and play with my cat, and listen to baseball playoffs, and fold laundry, and do nothing at all spectacular except enjoy being a 54-year-old woman: long married, graying, not as thin as she used to be. But smiling! I want to be one of those old ladies who laughs with noisy children in the grocery store. And militant! I want to be one of those old ladies who backtalks swamp monsters. And busy, and dreamy, and prone to kiss the cat. You can see: I have big ambitions. May the years strut forth on the promenade, and roll down to the sea, and wander through the forest.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

A pile of stones: an assertion
that this piece of country matters
for large and simple reasons.
A mark of resistance, a sign. 
--Adrienne Rich
I kept waking in the night and saying to myself, Do not think about Kavanaugh. Do not think about Kavanaugh. Other people report constantly clenching their jaws and crying over tiny nothings. People from faraway states text me, as if I might have some secret insight into why my state's senator, Susan Collins, has chosen to betray her constituents and vote this wretch onto the Supreme Court. I have no secret insight, other than the fact that she has always been wishy-washy and unreliable, with a patina of prim decorum that fools people into imagining that maybe, just maybe, she might not be one more Republican woman under the thumb of the good ole boys.

The other day a friend wrote to me, "It's times like these that make me realize I am, in spite of myself, a patriot. Otherwise I wouldn't feel so bad."

Before bed, as I sat on my couch, nursing the most spectacular bruise I've ever had in my life, listening to playoff baseball and spending time with a man who never had any interest in raping anyone--despite the fact that he grew up in the 80s, when apparently it was a favorite hobby of all healthy males; just ask our swamp-monster-in-chief--I tried to keep my mind steady, my rage in check. It's not that I think rage is wrong, but it's exhausting, and we patriots are running a grueling race.


Friday, October 5, 2018

Late yesterday afternoon, as I was writing an email, I heard the UPS man stop outside, so I bounced down to meet him, turned my ankle on the front stoop, fell into a chrysanthemum, and rolled to his feet. We were both very surprised. Unfortunately, when I turned my ankle I felt a bad sensation, and as I sat there on in the front yard I was not sure that I was going to be able to accept the UPS man's proffered hand to get up. I did, however, manage to stagger to my feet, receive my package, limp into the house, collapse on the couch, and assess the situation.

What I seem to have done is damaged muscles across the top of my foot, which is swollen and stiff and black-and-blue. I am now a hobbler on an ibuprofen diet, but no bones are broken.

I do keep laughing at the memory of my tumble down the stairs onto the UPS man's shoes, and the shocked look on his face, and the way he kept saying, after the fact, "But you didn't have to come outside for the package! I could have brought it to the door!" Comedy gold, I tell you.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

The new poems I wrote this summer are starting to find homes. So far I've gotten acceptances for four of them, which feels like a surprising success rate, given the slow machinery of journals' submission-reading process. For the moment, though, I'm not writing any new ones. With two editing projects on my desk and a third in the wings, plus some teaching dates looming, I've had to shunt poem-making to the side. Still, I don't feel as if my ability to write has vanished; more like I'm refrigerating it for later use. This in itself is a good sensation. During my last long writing drought, my body felt as if the poetry ichor had drained entirely away. I was the husk of a poet. Now, even though I'm not currently writing, I feel as if the ichor is pulsing and bubbling in my veins. Yes, the mixed metaphors are running amok here, but so be it.

Anyway, this is all leading to an RIII schedule hiccup. I was supposed to be teaching middle schoolers this Friday morning, but now I'm supposed to be teaching them next Tuesday morning--and when I say morning I mean "crack of dawn, kids have just rolled out of bed and barely have their eyes open, plus the visiting writer has a half-hour commute" morning. Which is to say: I will not be opening the blog for comments until later in the day.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Of course I am a terrible photographer, but these pictures might give you some idea of the bookcases in their natural habitat. I know the second one is way too dark, but so was the room, which is currently lit only by a bare bulb in an overhead socket and a clamp lamp stuck onto the side of one of the shelves. When I say everything in this house needed to be overhauled, I am exaggerating only slightly.



Here's a galley-view of the kitchen. On the left, refrigeration! On the right, a dishwasher! We still have no countertops, trim, cupboard doors, or tile grout. But we do have plumbing and a freshly painted green door framing a beautiful tree trunk.


Tuesday, October 2, 2018

More than 9 months after we moved into this little house, we finally--yes, it's true, believe it or not--possess fully functioning kitchen plumbing! Gone is the green 5-gallon-bucket "sink drain." Gone is the giant dishwasherless hole in the cabinetry. Gone is the giant dishwasher box/fun cat play area in the living room. Last night ice cubes clunked out of the ice maker in the refrigerator. Water swished among the racks and plates in the dishwasher. I rinsed out a sink without afterward draining a pail. It was luxury living, I tell you.

Yet even kitchen plumbing pales in the face of our new bookshelves. Later today, when there's adequate light, I will try to take a photo of them. If anything, they look better with books. Scanning the spines of all of my old friends, seeing them out in the light again, arrayed in their shabby multicolored glory . . . well, I'd hand-wash dishes all day long for that pleasure. But apparently I don't have to.

Monday, October 1, 2018


This was an early moment during the weekend's thrilling bookshelf-installation project. The shelves are Tom's own design and fabrication: repurposed meranti boards (detritus from someone's fence and deck) between strips of steel, sprayed black.


He's got one more bookcase to finish installing tonight, but I have been given leave to begin unpacking novels before he comes home. I can hardly wait. It has been two years since I last handled my books, and then the moment was entirely sadness--living alone in Harmony, clearing my beloved volumes from the shelves, boxing them up for an unknown future.

Today could be eventful, for I think the plumber is still planning to arrive this morning to install the sink drains and dishwasher and ice-maker hookups. Naturally I am always prepared for plumbing disappointment. But maybe, just maybe, this time will be different. . . .

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Richard III: Assignment (Act II, Scenes 1 & 2)

There are major differences between cultivating a creative mind and cultivating a scholarly mind, and I can't emphasize enough how important I think it is for creative readers and writers to learn to trust and examine their own curiosity. Understand that I respect and honor much of the work that scholars accomplish, but too often academia privileges their methods as the only way to plumb a text. That is not true, not even close to true.

So, for this week's RIII assignment, choose one line from Act II, scene 1 or 2, and write a paragraph about why it matters to you. Is it pivotal plot-wise, in ways that you, as a human being, find compelling? Does it reveal something about a character or a relationship that seems important to you? Is the language mesmerizing? Does its subject, sound, shape, or word choice remind you of something in your own life? You don't need to write a thesis, but try to be as detailed as you can about why this particular collation of words bears so much weight in your world. Make explicating your own perceptions your central task. Tuesday, October 9, will be the due date for this assignment.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Today I am going to start tearing out summer vegetable plants--tomatoes, mostly, but other exhausted things also--and then Tom and I will start planning the architecture of next spring's front-yard farm. I think we'll be moving toward raised beds interspersed with flagstone pathways, and he's got some used meranti boards for the project, so it should look good. But mostly he's going to be busy this weekend installing the new wood-and-steel library shelves he's made--which means that, after two years without our books, we will finally have access to them again. This is a thrilling development. But wait, there's more: the plumber is supposed to install the kitchen plumbing on Monday. Yes, believe it or not, after 9 months spent with a bucket under one sink drain and a dishwasher boxed up in the living room, we may in fact possess a fully operating kitchen plumbing system.

Tomorrow I'll reignite the Richard III conversation, but if you haven't yet had a chance to post your experimental response to a character, no worries: you still have time. I have laid low in the conversation because everyone else has been so vigorously engaged. It's been such a pleasure to witness that enthusiasm and imagination and acumen and good will.

On another note: I want to thank everyone who has sent me such friendly remarks about my poem "Average Land," which appeared last week in Vox Populi. This summer's writing frenzy was cathartic as an activity, but of course I never know if the production itself will be worth the paper. The poems feel quite different from previous work, and it's difficult for me, at this close range, to figure out how they'll persist in the long run. To know that the poem resonated with you is a gift in more ways than one.

Friday, September 28, 2018

On Wednesday evening I went up north for band practice, so I was in the car, driving back to Portland, when I turned on the radio yesterday morning and heard the opening statements in the Ford-Kavanaugh testimony. In general, I don't tend to listen to such things; I'm working or writing or otherwise in need of silence. But I was in the car, so I left it on, and I heard Dr. Ford's statement from beginning to end.

I was stunned. I don't know that I've ever heard someone quite so convincing. She was clearly "terrified" (her word), but she spoke with earnest dignity and she described a situation that felt absolutely true, absolutely familiar. She was a fifteen-year-old girl, bewildered and frightened, in a strange place, with frightening boys, victimized by their scorn and their ridicule and their lust. Her words were lived history.

And yet. And yet.

She was outshouted by a pompous, self-righteous, hysterical, alcoholic, entitled ass, who seems to believe that being accused of sexual assault is worse than being sexually assaulted. And this man was congratulated, egged on, celebrated by a pack of aging, ravening political wolves. The scene was barbaric.

I'm not going to belabor this with you. I know and trust that you feel what I felt. But it is so painful, so extremely painful.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

from The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens (1843-44)

[The main character, Martin, is visiting the United States for the first time, and the narrator makes the following commentary on the general character of the American men he is meeting in New York City.]
All their cares, hopes, joys, affections, virtues, and associations, seemed to be melted down into dollars. Whatever the chance contributions that fell into the slow cauldron of their talk, they made the gruel thick and slab with dollars. Men were weighed by their dollars, measures gauged by their dollars; life was auctioneered, appraised, put up and knocked down for its dollars. The next respectable thing to dollars was any venture having their attainment for its end. The more of that worthless ballast, honour and fair-dealing, which any man cast overboard from the ship of his Good Name and Good Intent, the more ample stowage-room he had for dollars. Make commerce one huge lie and mighty theft. Deface the banner of the nation for an idle rag; pollute it star by star; and cut out stripe by stripe as from the arm of a degraded soldier. Do anything for dollars! What is a flag to them?
* * *

I find this passage stunning. Recall that it was first published, in serial form, in 1843--175 years ago--yet it describes, almost exactly, the swamp we Americans still wallow in.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Richard III: Conversation (Act I, Scenes III & IV)

Because I was away from the play for four days (the tome was too heavy to take camping), I'm undoubtedly behind the rest of you A-plus students. I did manage to finish the reading assignment yesterday afternoon, but I have not yet found space to begin inventing a response. I hope eventually to add my imagined speech to the comments, but I'm going to ask you to start by leaving yours. Maybe, after sharing your lines or sentences, you could add a few words about why or how this character came to you. Did specific words or images trigger the idea? Were you intrigued by the idea of the silent entourage (servants, tutors, fools) that might accompany a royal household? Did you want a clash of voices or eras? Did you hear parallels with other literary works?

Monday, September 24, 2018



I spent the weekend workshopping poems in a cabin in the Dartmouth Second College Grant, at this confluence of two small rivers. The college-owned property covers about 27,000 acres, and is located in northern New Hampshire, close to Lake Umbagog. All of the poets in attendance were associated in some way with the Frost Place, though I really only knew one of them at all well and had never met two of them before. So I was a bit anxious about the outing beforehand, in the way one might be anxious about summer camp.

But the weekend turned out the be spectacular: lively company, great food, glorious views, complex conversations, rich poems, comic snafus, and an adorable dog. And a miracle: a young yearling cow moose spent the entire afternoon loafing in front of our cabin as we sat at the table workshopping. Sometimes she napped in the grass; sometimes she stood alongside the river; sometimes she browsed in the river. Clearly she was comfortable with our presence; we felt no sense of alarm from her. She just seemed to want to hang out with us for a while. And then, eventually, she slipped away, striding down the river toward tomorrow. As you can see from this photo, she was on the thin side, which worried us, but she was up and active and eating, so we are hoping for the best, though I have my doubts that she'll make it through the winter. It was a once-in-a-lifetime afternoon, really, to spend such casual time in the wild with a single native animal. I don't expect this to ever happen again.



And here I am, with the sun setting over the river, reading a poem about cabbage rolls.



Update: Catching up on my email, I discovered that Vox Populi has posted "Average Land," one of the pieces I finished during my crazy poetry-writing summer.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

I woke up to the sound of cold rain and a passing freight train. The time is growing near for me to yank out those tomato plants, dig up some more front yard for next spring's garden, plant tulip bulbs and garlic. But not this weekend. Instead, I'll be on a camping-writing retreat in New Hampshire, off the grid and incommunicado till Sunday night. I know a couple of the people on this retreat, but not most of them, though we are all friends of the organizer. So I'm a little nervous, of course, and hoping not to be soaking wet and freezing cold and crushed about where my poems are headed.

This will be my second poetry-sharing experience in a single week; on Tuesday evening I attended my first-ever writing group, and now I've got this adventure ahead of me. That's a lot of sharing for a hermit from the woods. But I'm trying to learn how to be a regular person.

Anyway, you won't hear from me till Monday. I look forward to talking with you about Richard III and canoeing and damp woodland cabins when I return.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Richard III: Assignment 2

Okay, let's move ahead into Act 1, scenes 3 and 4. I will be out of town this weekend so I'm going to push the conversation date to next Tuesday, Sept. 25.

Here's your assignment: Choose one speech from either scene and respond to it in the voice of someone who is not a character in this play. You could choose another existing literary character or actual human being; you could invent your own character; you could respond as yourself. Whatever your choice, focus on how that character responds to these particular remarks of the Shakepearean one. For instance, how would Huck Finn talk back to Anne? How would Anita Hill talk back to Hastings? How would Emma Goldman talk back to Gloucester? How would you talk back to Gloucester? You do not have to write in verse, though you can if that seems appropriate for your character. Just try to construct at least 5 lines or sentences.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It's wonderful to read so many thoughtful comments on Sunday's Richard III post. I'm going to give us all one more day to cogitate together, and then tomorrow I'll toss you the next assignment. This one will require a creative response, so be prepared to push your curiosity into more intense imagining.

Now I'm going to switch over to talking about 24PearlStreet. Things are moving along rapidly there: both of my upcoming workshops are now posted on the website. I've created a new "24PearlStreet" page on the blog menu above, but I'll reiterate those links here. And teachers: be aware that that the program offers continuing-ed credits, so you may be able to use professional development funds to pay for classes.

Currently I am offering two workshops in early 2019:
Interesting Minds: An 8-Week Revision Workshop for Essayists (January 7-March 1)
The Quest of Poetry: An 8-Week Master Class on Reading, Writing, and Revising Poems (March 25-May 17)
They are open to writers at all levels, novice to professional. That's always been my modus operandi: I'm eager to get everyone to talk and learn from one another; I have little interest in slotting writers into snob categories.

This opportunity is an exciting development for me, as much of my routine literary work involves manuscript editing and teacher-training. I love teaching creative writing but my lack of a master's degree has often kept me out of the classroom. The fact that the 24PearlStreet staff ignored my degree credentials but trusted my actual experience as a working writer and facilitator says much about the bent of this program. And honestly, to see my name listed under the aegis of "nationally recognized writer" is an enormous, sort of guilty, but really pretty delightful sensation.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Thanks to everyone who responded so fully on the first Richard III reading assignment. I'm going to give us all a day or so to keep talking to one another about our reactions, and then I'll post a second assignment.

I feel like I've been living under a peculiar cloud lately, mostly because I've been dealing with an odd health issue that has required a battery of tests, all of which are showing that nothing seems to be wrong, which of course is good news, but still, the odd health issue comes and goes and I'm gnashing my teeth over our horrible health insurance . . . well, you know that story. And then last night Tom and I both came down with what seems likely to have been food poisoning. Jeez Louise.

Meanwhile, there's been great news. It looks like I will be teaching poetry and essay workshops for 24PearlStreet, the online writing program of the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts. This feels wonderful and also a bit dizzying because some of the other instructors are major poetry names: for instance, Kim Addonizzio and Carolyn Forche have both taught for 24PearlStreet. I'm not sure when my first offerings will start, but you can check out the other classes that are currently available.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Richard III: Conversation 1 (Act 1, Scenes 1 & 2)

So how was your first foray into Richard? As I mentioned in my assignment post earlier this week, today I'm hoping you'll begin a conversation in the comments focused around details that made you curious . . . and by curious I mean created interest, puzzlement, confusion, or even distrust.

I'm going to throw out my notion here, and then respond along with you in the comments section.

I wondered why King Edward's mistress, Mistress Shore, was mentioned so early and so prominently in Scene 1, and drawn as such an engaging character, yet Shakespeare chose not to make her a member of the cast.
We say that Shore's wife hath a pretty foot,
A cherry lip, a bonny eye, a passing pleasing tongue.
. . . .
Can you deny all this?

Saturday, September 15, 2018

I woke this morning to the patter of raindrops against the windows, and then the low hoot of a ship's horn at the pier downtown, and then the blare of a train's horn from the tracks at the end of the street, and then the clank and squeak of freight cars, and then the chop of a helicopter on its way to the hospital, and then the cat started to yowl to go outside.

In Harmony I also heard a lot of transportation noises--empty pulp trucks clattering down the frost-heaved roads, and skidders growling in log yards, and local pickups in need of exhaust systems snorting and belching up gravel driveways. So, for me, ships and trains retain a certain picturesque novelty . . . though the helicopter presence is different. The hospital is located across the street from the ballpark, an easy walk from our house, and as we sat there this summer watching games, we could see the Life Flight helicopter come in for a landing on the hospital roof--a slow and elegant circling and settling, and meanwhile on board some human being was suffering terribly.

The movement of people, the movement of goods: everything in flux and transition. All night long the trains rattle by, the cars sift past on the freeway, the planes rise and sink, the ships tug against their moorings, sky passengers linger a breath away from death.

And now, for a pale moment, I hear silence--only the tap of raindrops, the click of my fingers on the keys, the inner sighs of my body--and I look up and the world is dipped in mist, and it is a Saturday morning in September, on a leafy street, in a small northern city beside the sea, and I seem to live here.

Friday, September 14, 2018

I'm home today, unexpectedly . . . not feeling great and working on solving that problem, but hoping also to spend some time with RIII and get started on an editing project and otherwise make up for missing the teaching-artist training day I'm supposed to be attending. The temperature is balmy, the air thick and smelling like saltmarsh; and now that the sun has risen I can see fog draping the roofs and chimneys.

I've finished rereading Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, which I read for the first time last year, and I was again impressed by the way in which she burrowed into the language and imagery of the 16th century as she was constructing a 21st-century novel. Sometimes it was just tiny things: writing about going down the stair, for instance, rather than going down the stairs. Such subtle adjustments in word choice were hugely effective in controlling the tone of the prose, and she made them everywhere. I expect such things in a poet, but novelists aren't always so precise.

Now I've started rereading Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit, mostly because I need to read something comfortably predictable while sitting in a waiting room. I may or may not stay with it; I'm not sure I'm exactly in a Dickens mood, but it's hard to find the perfect volume when all of one's books are still in boxes.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The expected stack of work has materialized: a new manuscript to be edited, teaching-artist prep, classroom invitations . . . but instead of reading Richard III yesterday afternoon, I was gabbing with a friend I hadn't seen for 30 years. It has been a strange summer of such meetings.

I haven't heard one way or the other about how people feel about the RIII reading schedule, so I hope you're okay about it so far.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

After a few cool days and a beautiful rainstorm, Portland is settling into a week of summer elegy--a last chance for tomatoes to ripen and peppers to redden; a last chance to embrace an armload of basil, whose leaves are already beginning to brown and fade; a last chance for too-many-eggplants-and-what-can-I-possibly-do-with-them? I hope to find an apple orchard today: another side-effect of moving is that I've lost my standby northcountry orchard, which I used visit almost weekly well into November.

Yesterday I finished my first-ever pantoum, a form I've been avoiding for my whole life. Yet it suddenly sprang into my thoughts as I was working my way into an amorphous embryonic shapeless draft about something or other that I couldn't identify. It needed shape in order to become whatever it was going to be. Beforehand, I think I was libeling the pantoum as another version of the villanelle, a form I've repeatedly tried and failed to master. Sonnets, I've done; sestinas, I've done; terza rima and quatrains and other rhyme patterns, yes. But all of my villanelles have been dreadful.

This pantoum, though, is okay. Plus, it turned out to be a love poem for Grendel, which was a cheerful surprise. I've always thought that some Beowulf character should have fallen in love with Grendel. Sure, he eats Danes, but so do polar bears, and they get plenty of good press anyway.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Richard III: Opening Schedule, First Thoughts

Greetings to all Richard III readers! It's been a while since I've hosted a blog reading group, and I'm looking forward to spending time with you all.

I know that you have jobs and obligations, and I don't want to oppress you with giant reading assignments. So here's your first homework: by this coming Sunday (September 16), try to make your way through act I, scenes 1 and 2. Then we'll reconnoitre and decide whether we should move more quickly or more slowly.

Some suggestions:

1. I want to create a personal relationship between the play and ourselves. So try to avoid reading critical commentary about the play until after we've finished this project.

2. On Sunday, plan to leave a response in the comments that begins with the phrase "I wonder . . . " Your response can deal with any aspect of your intersection with scenes 1 and 2: plot, character, language, author's process, poetic devices, etc., etc. Let yourself step forward into the shadows of Shakespeare's forest. You don't need to to answer your own question. Just allow yourself to focus on the mystery.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Sunday was an autumn day--cool, bright, blue-skied--so naturally my thoughts turned to firewood. I spent the morning awkwardly counting stairs and watching my feet as I negotiated armload after armload down into the basement. It was a pain, but now we have at least half of our dry wood down there for easy access on snow days. Someday, when we can afford an efficient fireplace insert, I'll have to carve out a bigger space for more wood, but the tiny little stove we've currently got makes no pretensions to being anything other than a space heater. Still, a space heater can be a joy and a comfort on a rainy evening, and that's what tonight is supposed to be. So I wanted to be ready.

We spent the rest of the day wandering around the neighborhood listening to the bands playing at Deering Center's annual Porchfest. They were very entertaining, with my favorite being the Fletcher Brothers, who appeared to be about 14 years old but who knew how to play their instruments and had clearly spent much time listening to their parents' Ramones records. At another venue Senator Angus King showed up and gave a brisk speech to a small crowd that mostly didn't expect him to be there. But we were willing to be friendly, and he was willing to be humane, so even the politicking was tolerable.

Today I'll clean house, grocery shop, wash clothes, try to mow grass and pick vegetables before rain, and otherwise do stuff I ought to have done over the weekend. I'm also going to write. I'm expecting an editing project to arrive at any moment, and I've got two full days of teacher training later in the week, so word space will become increasingly precious. Still, I've got a harvest to mull, even if I run out of time to make new poems. The sheaf is large enough for me to start wondering how the pieces connect and what I'll need to imagine next.

This week I also plan to move forward on the Richard III schedule . . . maybe by tomorrow or Wednesday. I'll see how my time shakes out.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

I puttered in the garden yesterday, mostly in reaction to the sudden incipient coolness in the air. I brought my houseplants into the house, picked a few drying beans from the scarlet runner, pulled out some tired lettuce. Now, this morning, the temperature has dropped into the 40s, and for the first time in months I am wearing slippers and full-length pajamas and a thick bathrobe, and considering whether or not I should lug some firewood into the house.

Yesterday afternoon we drove up to Augusta for the opening of a photo show that Tom's got some stuff in.  As we were driving back down the interstate in the evening, we kept being overwhelmed by the sky. It was a torrent of color and cloud, one of those melodramatic autumn gloamings that reminds me of bringing kids home from soccer practice and trying to ripen green tomatoes on windowsills.

I've been sending poems out to journals, and submitting the Dooryard manuscript, and organizing a thin sheaf of "future book" pieces. This week I'll likely be stepping back into serious editing, and I've got some teacher-training sessions to attend as well. But I hope I somehow manage to hold onto the writing thread that (along with the miracle garden) has sustained me this summer.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Mr. Hill left a note on yesterday's post asking me to explain the writing-prompt strategy that's been so useful to me this summer. My approach is a twist on a lesson from Vievee Francis, who taught the Writing Intensive at the Frost Place. In her session, she asked participants to write down four words that they used often in their own work. (That in itself was an interesting challenge: to distill my own language predilections.) Then we passed those words to the person on our left, and we used the new words we received as triggers for a poem draft.

The words I received were not particularly unusual: they were something along the lines of "strange," "though," "right," "sometimes"--words I already use often but that I had never thought of as touchstones. Nonetheless, just getting this handful of unexpected words was enormously generative. As Vievee explained afterward, we always have plenty of stuff to write about--usually the same old stuff that is our lifetime obsession. Yet sometimes we get trapped inside our language expectations, and this blinds us to new ways of seeing our old stories. Because I had to use new words, I had to approach my stuff from a new direction. And that act was tonic.

Vievee says that, at home, she and her husband (the poet Matthew Olzmann) often hand off four words to each other. But I don't have another poet on the premises, so I've had to make personal adjustments. What I've done is to open up whatever book I happen to be reading and randomly poke at four words, which become my draft starters. If my finger lands on "and" or "the" or some other exceedingly bland filler word, I'll choose another one. But I don't try to avoid plain words: prepositions, for instance, even common ones, are extremely generative. I also don't try to avoid crazy hard ones. Lately I've ended up with words such as "thou," "opine," and "hockey," and all have been surprisingly rich and useful.

Sometimes, as a draft moves along, I end up shedding one or more of the original words, and that's fine. Their purpose is to jumpstart ideas, so they may not fit into the final product. Still, a notable number of my recently finished poems retain all four original trigger words.

If I were to use this notion in a student classroom, I'd probably start by tightening the boundaries: maybe begin very simply--"share one word; write one line using that word" or "write a haiku using that word" or "write a rhymed couplet using that word" . . . some approach that would make students cogitate about the specifics of language within an enclosed space. I think apprentice writers might get overwhelmed by the spaciousness of the four-word endeavor. But I've found it incredibly helpful, and it would be wonderful to figure out how to guide young writers toward the experiment.

Friday, September 7, 2018

I've been working on a pair of poems that arose from memories of growing up around Quakers. My parents began attending Friends' Meeting when I was in late elementary school and remained involved with it for many years. Both my sister and I were married in Meeting, so it was certainly an important influence on us . . . though not necessarily religiously. It's been interesting to plumb that relationship, and it's also been interesting to fictionalize those memories and speculations. This summer's poems have involved a great deal of fictionalizing: very few are straight-up memoir. I chalk some of that up to Vievee Francis's "pick four words at random" trigger. That small twist has helped me find new ways to treat old stories.

Three of this summer's new poems have already been picked up for publication. That, along with the forward progress of Chestnut Ridge, makes me feel as if my poetry life is solidifying a bit, after two years of glop and ooze. I've committed to joining a local writing group, and later this month I'm going on a camping/writing retreat with a mixed group of known and unknown poets, where I've been tasked with being the workshop facilitator. So I'm attempting to step forward into some sort of regular poetic interchange--a brand-new situation for me, but maybe it's time.

Thursday, September 6, 2018


I thought you might like some early-morning, late-summer photographs of the Alcott House gardens. The trellis marks where the cucumber once was. Along the path is a row of recently cut chard and another of overflowing cosmos.


This is a view from the front sidewalk: chrysanthemums backed with rapini, marigolds, and an artichoke.


Another sidewalk view, this time including the eggplant and some lavender.


A lamppost, covered with scarlet runner vines nearing harvest. On the ground are three tight rows of fall vegetables: chard, leeks, kale.


The view from my kitchen window. Note the drying peppers and the barren yard. Someday it will look like more than dirt and weeds.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Well, it seems as if Richard III is the popular pick for a reading group. Give me a bit of time to pull myself together, and then in a week or so I'll lay out a proposed schedule. In the meantime, if anyone has preferences about time management, conversational approaches, etc., please chime in. I am also wondering if anyone would like poetry or essay prompts based on the reading, or if you prefer to focus only on discussion questions. I know this is a busy time of year for teachers, and I don't want to add to your workload. On the other hand, sometimes it can be refreshing to focus intellectually on one's own mind rather than entirely on students' reactions and needs.

While I love teaching and facilitating, it's also time-consuming to manage what is basically an online class. If you feel so moved, please consider donating a few bucks to the blog. I greatly appreciate your support.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

I'm home again.

When I walked into the kitchen, Tom was getting ready to make sauce from my giant tomato crop. He'd also been working on finishing a section of the kitchen cabinets, and had sided the back of the house. So it seems to have been a labor day weekend for both of us.

But my parents' potatoes are dug, and the boy is ensconced alone in a giant dorm room, a delightful surprise since he expected to have a roommate. The poor child hasn't had a space to call his own since we left Harmony. He's been sleeping in college doubles, or our den, or in tents, so the unexpected privacy is an excellent start to the school year.

Today I've got some desk work to catch up with, but mostly I'll be pickling and canning the piles of cucumbers Tom's been collecting in the refrigerator. Teaching is around the corner, new editing projects are on the horizon, but for the moment I remain in harvest land.

I'm still engrossed in that history of the Wars of the Roses, and I'm all excited to revisit Shakespeare's Richard III, now that I've been immersed in its background story. I wonder if we should have another blog reading group. What do you think about a Henry play? Or Richard?

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Yesterday my mom and dad and Paul and I got all of my father's potato crop in--many hundreds of pounds. We had a great time: digging in beautiful temperate weather, finding a few chanterelles during our walks out to the field, plus I got to drive the tractor, which I love. Today will be dry-bean day, another giant harvest project, as my dad grows large quantities of five or six separate varieties. He's been so happy to have help with all this, and it's felt good to be useful. In between times, we've been playing cards, I've been cooking meals with my mom . . . just regular stuff, but cheerful. My father's health is mending but he still has a long way to go. So I know getting this harvest done will reduce his worry, at least a bit.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

This humid heat has been nigh on unbearable, and my little free dehumidifier is working overtime: I needed to empty it three times yesterday. We have no air conditioning, so languid is the word of the hour. Today I might drag the boy to the bowling alley or the movies. Something must be better than sitting on a sultry couch beside the tepid breeze of a box fan and reading about 15th-century political machinations as dump trucks bang and the smell of boiling tar rises from the street holes.

For the next few days I will be traveling, so you are likely to hear from me only intermittently. Imagine that I am brisk and cheerful during the days and sleeping through the nights. Maybe our dreams will come true.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Today is shaping up to be a scorcher; and out on the street, workmen are backhoeing, paving, whipping around corners in their Bobcats, raising clouds of dust.

Last night, we went to another Sea Dogs game. Two Red Sox players were rehabbing, which was why we bought tickets; but the sultry night was reason enough. Summer is not releasing its grip.

I spent yesterday morning correcting Chestnut Ridge proofs, but today will mostly involve errands and collapsing in front of the fan with the boy. On Thursday he and I will head west--first, to dig my dad's potatoes, then onward to college move-in day. And then autumn will ascend, whether summer agrees or not.

I was pleased to see your list of angry poems. It seems that much resonant poetic anger arises from political conflict: the cold war, the world wars. I could have listed Milosz's poems about the German occupation of Poland, Whitman's Civil War angst, even this unattributed bit of 15th-century verse:
In every shire with jacks and sallets clean
Misrule does rise, and makes the neighbours war,
The weaker goes beneath, as oft is seen.
Of course poets also get angry about lovers, not to mention parents. None of you mentioned Plath's "Daddy," but that's at least as angry as some of these war poems are.

Monday, August 27, 2018

I'm still hobbling a bit, but I did manage to get the front-yard garden and grass mowed and tidied before this week's onslaught of road construction begins. At the moment all is quiet, but cones and parked backhoes loom ominously. For the past several months workers have been tearing up the neighboring streets to replace gas lines, and now, it seems, our time has come. Ugh.

Seward's The Wars of the Roses is turning out to be a well-written history. The author tells his tale from the point of view of five different men and women of the period, one of whom is a woman commoner--a rare figure in fifteenth-century annals. I did not expect to be gripped by this book, but that's the lovely thing about reading: you never know what might turn up.

Which reminds me: the other day a friend asked what my favorite angry poem was, and I immediately answered, "Carruth's 'Adolf Eichmann.'" It's a good question. What's yours?

Sunday, August 26, 2018

I spent Saturday correcting Chestnut Ridge proofs, reading about the Wars of the Roses, freezing beans, freezing sweet peppers, freezing kale, and, best of all, stringing up dozens of hot peppers for drying. The little garden continues to amaze me: I planted one hot pepper plant last spring, and yesterday I harvested about half of its crop. Now swags of little green peppers are looped comically above the kitchen window, looking exactly like those fake hot pepper lights people drape around Mexican restaurants. Later today I'm going to make a giant wonderful salsa with fresh hot peppers, fresh yellow and red tomatoes, lots of homegrown garlic, and a dishpan full of cilantro. Then I'm going to marinate beef for fajitas, and heat up the corn tortillas my older son sent us from the tortilla factory in his Chicago neighborhood, and we will have a glorious late summer meal. Eventually I'll probably pickle and can the rest of the hot pepper crop. Pickled peppers are wonderful in winter potato salads.

My back feels better but it's still stiff, so I woke up at 3 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep, and of course my brain was fretting about all sorts of ridiculous things that aren't worth fretting over, and then the cat jumped on me and made me get up, so that accounts for why I'm writing to you at 5:30 on a Sunday morning.

But since I'm awake anyway, I might as well read and write, and now that you're awake too, you might like to see my favorite passage (so far) from Desmond Seward's The Wars of the Roses:
The legal system began to break down [in the mid-1400s]. Frequently judge and jury were intimidated by archers lounging menacingly at the back of a courtroom.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

This morning I am hobbling around like a 90-year-old. I have no idea how I yanked my back, but undoubtedly I was doing something dangerous like taking a saucepan off a shelf.

Otherwise, things are fine. To the annals of foraging (a honed skill that I sadly cannot use much in Portland), I am delighted to add "free working dehumidifier" after my neighbor dragged one out to the sidewalk and I pounced on it. The find may not seem as thrilling as chanterelles and fiddleheads, but then again there are few charms to a damp basement.

Yesterday my publisher sent me the first proofs of Chestnut Ridge, and I will print it out today and start combing through it for errors. I wish I didn't have to be my own copyeditor, but such is life in the small-press world. At first glance, I am really pleased with how the pages look. The manuscript has a number of challenging poems, design-wise, and Jeff's done an excellent job of figuring out how to manage them.

I've got a new poem draft on a back burner, and maybe I'll get a chance to work on it today. I've started reading a history of the War of the Roses, and I'd like to copy out some more Blake. If my back cooperates, I'll garden and vacuum and such, but we'll see what the ibuprofen says.

Here's a bit from the Blake piece I was copying out on earlier this week. It's from a section of The Marriage of Heaven and Hell titled "A Song of Liberty."
1. The Eternal Female groaned! it was heard over all the Earth: 
2. Albions coast is sick silent; the American meadows faint!

3. Shadows of Prophecy shiver along by the lakes and the rivers and mutter across the ocean? France rend down thy dungeon;

4. Golden Spain burst the barriers of old Rome;

5. Cast thy keys O Rome into the deep down falling, even to eternity down falling,

6. And weep

Thursday, August 23, 2018

I learned yesterday that the publisher is beginning to lay out the pages for Chestnut Ridge, so that was a cheerful surprise. Because several of the poems have odd formats, he's decided to use a boxier-than-normal trim size, which will give him more latitude with line length. So the book's shape will be a bit unusual . . . and maybe eye-catching because of it. We can only hope.

Otherwise, I passed the day reading friends' pieces, submitting work, writing some tardy letters. My quick foray into Blake has made me want to spend more time with him--maybe with one of the long strange poems.

By the way: I don't yet know when Chestnut Ridge will officially be available, but it's moving along faster than I'd anticipated. Thus, I ought to be finding some reading venues. If you have thoughts and suggestions, please let me know.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

I usually try to find some way into sympathy with my fellow humans, but I tell you: Trump's very bad news yesterday makes me entirely gleeful. He deserves to go down hard, and I hope he does.

I've been busy this morning finishing up an editing project, catching up on billing, etcetera, etcetera. Rain is drizzling down, slowly but steadily. The boy and I have exciting plans to go to the DMV later today, and maybe I'll take him out to lunch afterward, as recompense for his bureaucratic boredom. I also need to catch up on reading a few stories, poems, and essays in embryo, which various friends have sent me and which have been sitting in my inbox waiting for me to get to them.

Here is an announcement from our dear cranky William Blake, which I randomly read this morning and am now sending to you:
A Pretty Epigram for the Entertainment of those who have Paid Great Sums in the Venetian & Flemish Ooze
Nature & Art in this together Suit
What is Most Grand is always most Minute
Rubens thinks Tables Chairs & Stools are Grand
But Rafael thinks A Head a foot a hand

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Completely by accident, we watched two major-league pitchers at work last night--Eduardo Rodriguez of the Sox and Aaron Sanchez of the Blue Jays. Both happened to be making rehab appearances on an evening I happened to buy Sea Dogs tickets. For $11 apiece, we sat two rows up from the field, just beyond third base, and watched Eddie throw a beautiful four-inning start. What good fortune!

So we spent a sweet evening drinking Allagash and eating sausage sandwiches and chattering with our young people, and then suddenly we were accosted by old friends who happened to be in the park as well, and, altogether, it was an odd and serendipitous outing, followed by a peaceable walk home through the summer night air.

I hope to finish a batch of editing this morning, submit some poems to journals, hang towels on the line, and figure out how to cook quail on the grill. For the moment the house is quiet, though Tom will shortly fork himself out of bed and get ready for work. Heavy fog hangs over the neighborhood; someone's dog is barking to himself; I hear the distant pulse of the highway and the closer squeak of crickets in the trees and now a police siren rising and falling and fading away. Everything outdoors is soaked in dew.

Here's what Andrew Marvell has to say about it:
Such did the manna’s sacred dew distill,
White and entire, though congealed and chill,
Congealed on earth: but does, dissolving, run
Into the glories of th’ almighty sun.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Instead of baking, the boy and I decided to take an impromptu ferry ride to Peaks Island, and along with about five thousand other holiday-makers, we had a beautiful afternoon sightseeing on the busy, boat-filled bay, strolling down to the island beach, eating ice cream, and behaving like tourists in our own town. It was good to get out onto the water. My spirits always lift in a boat, though I can barely swim and would drown immediately in an accident. But I love the movement, the breeze, the hum of the engines, the churning wake, the flocks of sailboats, the broad sky.

And then, when we were done, we were ten minutes away from our house.

I still can't get over the strangeness of being so close to so many things. Few outings were impromptu in Harmony, unless they involved snowshoeing.

Today I need to get back to work. Tonight we're walking to a baseball game. The summertime life continues.

In the meantime I am reading Trollope's Framley Parsonage and Schnackenberg's poems; I still seem to be on hiatus from writing my own, but hanging out with my son is clearly more important. By Labor Day he'll be back at school, and life will dip into autumn, and maybe the poems will wait for me there.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

The boy has been a hurricane in the kitchen.  On Friday he made a chicken and mushroom pie. Last night he used the leftover pastry to make us crabmeat tarts. Today, he says, he's crossing to the sweet side to tackle creme patissiere. In the meantime, I spent my entire Alcott House anniversary day cleaning, and am feeling much better about things now. I do hate a grubby nest.

Today will be sunny and slightly cool, and I plan to work outside in the garden. I've got chard and beans to freeze, cucumbers to pickle, grass to mow, weeds to eliminate, and a fading sunflower patch to coax into blooming for another week or two. Also, I need to stand on the sidewalk and stare lovingly at the changes I've instigated on this little piece of land. There's much, much, much more to do; but when I remember the nothingness we bought last year--parched, weed-ridden, unnoticed--I feel so happy about how much life and beauty this postage-stamp garden exudes now.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A gig on Thursday, rushing back to Portland on Friday, then coffee with a friend, and then a night out watching music with my boys: Tom bought us tickets to see the Brazilian samba singer Seu Jorge, who was completely wonderful. And afterward I came home and fell asleep like I was pole-axed.

Thus, this morning I am bleary and slow, barely able to prevent the cat from bringing a mostly dead bird into the house, though I did manage to slam the door in time. I've got all kinds of housework to do today. The air is heavy with wet, and torrential downpours are imminent. I need to write, but I'm not likely to find space to myself today. Oh, well. Other good things will happen.

Today is the first anniversary of Alcott House: last year, on this date, we closed on the house, drove straight to our new property, unlocked the door, stood around for a few moments staring at the magnitude of our undertaking, and then Tom demolished the kitchen and I demolished the front weed bed.

And now here we are, living comfortably in this mostly habitable place, harvesting from our front yard farm, cooking in our sweet unfinished kitchen. Considering what we had to work with--broken sewer pipe, collapsing walls and ceilings, and no usable kitchen--I can hardly believe we pulled it off.

Today is also my parents' 56th wedding anniversary. Needless to say, this is a sweet one for all of us.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Another dark and humid morning. Outside my window the dog owner who lives three doors down, who appears to have rolled straight out of bed, is standing in front of my house half-naked and half-asleep, watching his tiny pet bustle around at the end of a leash. I am still not used to having neighbors so close, but yesterday I did have a charming interaction with a man who was riding his bike slowly up my road.

"Good job!" he shouted at me, as I was wrestling the reel mower through the rain-fat grass.

He then halted his bike and introduced himself by name, street address, and number of children. Then he explained, "I talk to all United States women and men to improve my English."

I assured him that I would be delighted to talk to him any time he happened to ride by. We beamed at each other, shook hands, and he went on his way.

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.