Saturday, January 19, 2019

In surprising news, I slept till almost 7 this morning, despite the importunities of the cat. Now here I sit, unwontedly late, watching the weak sunlight filter in through the living-room windows. The sky is grim; we are bound for weather. But we've got ingredients for chicken cacciatore, blueberry-orange cake, omelets, salads. We have plenty of toilet paper and red wine and dry firewood. My snowshoes are itching for a walk.

Today, though, will be mostly just grey and portentous, so we're going on a little crosstown field trip to Westbrook see the famous spinning ice disk. And I'll also be dusting furniture, thinking about ordering seeds, wondering if I should start alphabetizing my books, working on my current sewing project, reading about the links between Napoleon and  Latin American revolutionary styles, copying out some Inferno, maybe submitting some poems . . . Anything could happen.

Friday, January 18, 2019

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

RIII readers: the time has come to post your imaginative description of what it felt like to be Shakespeare creating one of the characters in the play. I look forward to your ideas.

* * *

The city is waiting for snow, though none will arrive till Saturday night. This will be our first major snowfall of the season--a foot or more--and already silly people are cramming into the grocery stores like there's a bread-and-milk crisis. You'd think we were living in Georgia or something.

For some reason I woke up this morning full of stiffness and ache, though I didn't do anything particularly unusual yesterday. I suppose it's just aging, so I will be patient and take my feet and my shoulders to yoga, and do my best with what I've got to work with.

My essay class continues to go well, I think, though the working hours are strange: blog-tending all day long so that I can quickly respond to bursts of comment and conversation. And now I've got batches of new editing to address, and only a week left to myself before the big teaching residency begins. I hope I can juggle it all.

But I've found time for Dante, so that's been a good thing.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Yesterday I got hired to lead an afternoon how-to-write-a-love-poem workshop for the Maine Historical Society . . . in Longfellow's house. So if you're mucking around Portland on February 9, you could sit around and be romantic with me for a couple of hours.

[Poet gigs are so peculiar. You just never know what odd thing is going to turn up in the inbox.]

I also wrote a short contributor's essay on the genesis of my poem "Sonnets for the Arsonist," which is forthcoming in the Split Rock Review this spring. In fact this poem does have a strange genesis, since it was triggered by a co-writing experiment with my friend Nate. So writing the little essay was enjoyable, and I am hoping Nate will someday dig out his own poem from our messy word painting.

Then I started dinner, and then I helped out a friend who'd just gotten her car crushed up in an accident so couldn't get to her dog-sitting job, and then I came home to discover that dinner was not as far along as it should have been, so it was a very long time later before we ate it.

Now I am having a hard time being awake, but I expect the coffee will accomplish its good deeds soon. It's very cold outside, and I have much classwork to do this morning, and a tiny cozy room to do it in. Home is my favorite workspace.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

"It was [the Swiss artist Henry] Fuseli who taught [William] Blake that art was a highly emotional and intensely personal business.  While painting, he said, 'First, I sits myself down. Then I works myself up. Then I throws in my darks. Then I pulls out my lights.'"

"A person living as an Epic Poet should be able to exist on 5s2d a week, [according to the artist Samuel Palmer]."

[from Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern]

* * *

I seemed to spend all of yesterday wrestling with literary administration: solving some online-class snafus, dealing with an invitation to teach a workshop that had some untenable conceptual problems, sending out an application for a research fellowship (always perplexing when it comes to creative work), pondering a request for a manuscript edit, considering an invitation for poem submissions . . . It was one of those days when I did not exactly seem to be working and yet I worked for hours. Fortunately, I also managed to invent a delicious salad: red grapefruit, toasted pumpkin seeds, fresh greens, balsamic dressing. It was excellent alongside minestrone, a fresh-tasting contrast with the slow-cooked vegetables. Also, I found a pencil case, finally!

Today will feature more classwork, more solving of administrative issues, more cooking and laundry, more reading about Romantic-era painters, more walking on slippery sidewalks . . . As much as I enjoyed New York, I'm glad to be back at Alcott House, with my white comforter and thick pillows, my pots and pans and knives and bowls, my hearthrug and my books and my bossy cat. Snow is on the way this weekend, and I am all for it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

We got home yesterday evening and more or less crawled immediately under a couch blanket and stayed there till bedtime. New York, as always, was entirely exhausting. I don't know how people can manage to live there full time and not always be asleep on the subway.

But anyway I saw good art (highlight: the Neue Galerie), ate good food (highlight: the Grindhaus in Red Hook), played many card games, walked for miles in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and hung out with a gaggle of beloved men. And now Ruckus is glowering at me, and the laundry baskets are full, and the refrigerator is empty.

Today, I'll wander back into life in the little city. Deskwork and housework, that inseparable pair. A walk through the cemetery. A fire in the woodstove. Dinner and candlelight. A warm white bed.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Greetings from Brooklyn, where it is cold and bright, and where I slept until almost 9 because I was up till after 2 because that's how life works here when your host's working day often ends at 4 a.m. So far we have drunk New York State beer at Commonwealth in Brooklyn (the aforementioned host's bar), eaten dinner at Sparks in midtown (famous mob-patronized steakhouse, famous spot for mob hits, though no one was murdered while we were there . . . at least not in the dining room, where the waiter insisted on referring to me as "young lady" all evening), had a ginger beer at the bar under the constellation ceiling at Grand Central Station, read interesting advertisements in the subway ("Relationships may fail, but philosophy is forever. Sign up for a class now!"), hugged a large son, sat around in a basement living room listening to Queen and Pavement, and tried reading the directions for how to use a theremin but had to give up because I was mostly asleep.

Today I have no plans, other than to (1) eat dinner with my son and our friends this evening and (2) buy a pencil box. (Why do I, of all people on this planet, not own a pencil box but just have a purse full of writing implements with the tips broken off and the sharpener lost among the extra Band-Aids?) Surely NYC contains a pencil box I can afford.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

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

As I caught up on my Richard III reading yesterday, I couldn't help but think about Buckingham's Sarah-Sanders role as press secretary/massager of facts. I imagine his part must have been enjoyable to write, and I'm sure that actors must also relish it. He's got elements of Polonius's obsequiousness, but with more power to influence others. I find him, as a character, irresistibly icky, and I can easily imagine him being interviewed on CNN.

So this week, as you read, choose your favorite character in the scene and write a paragraph that imagines what it might have felt like to be Shakespeare as you created this person. What would performing that role teach you? Are you attracted to this character because you admire him or her? Or are you attracted because the character embodies traits that are compellingly awful?

Let's post these thoughts next Friday.

* * *

Today is a special day in our house because it is Tom's birthday, and he is my dear friend and partner in downpour and sunshine. We met when we were 19, moved in together at 21, got married at 26, moved to Harmony at 29, raised two beautiful loud boys, struggled with money and broken vehicles and busted well lines and stony soil and gloom and loneliness and disappointment, and here we are . . . 54 years old, transplanted into a modest city life, planning a lobster dinner and a game of cribbage, still smiling at each other, most days. I suppose it's a success story, of sorts. And certainly he is worthy of devotion: a wry, mordant, clever-handed, acerbic, silent man; a brilliant photographer; a lover of music; who works too hard every day; who says thank you for his meals and washes the dishes every night; who invents stories about the cat; who likes to win at all games but isn't a jerk when he loses; who is a terrible speller who nonetheless is not bad at crossword puzzles; who sometimes struggles to put up with my incompetences, but does. As partners, we're a patched-up machine that squeaks and bumps but keeps chugging along. I'm so grateful to be sharing a life with him.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

The weather is terrible here: snow/rain/freezing rain/snow/freezing rain/rain . . . and the falling glop is supposed to continue all day today. Fortunately, it should clear out before our NYC travels on Friday.

Tomorrow morning I'll invent another assignment for Richard III readers, but after that I may be posting only sporadically till early next week. Or I may be posting New York updates constantly. You never can tell.

I got word yesterday that my next big copyediting project will be a new translation of four Euripides plays. This is very exciting! I've been editing a lot of poetry and novels lately, but this will be my first foray into drama, and I'm so glad I'll be getting this chance to re-immerse myself in the Greeks--not to mention getting paid for it.

Today: classwork, poem revision, Richard III reading, some sewing, some sidewalk clearing, pondering dinner possibilities, taking a slippery walk to the market, practicing the violin (I've decided to revisit Schubert) . . . and don't I sound like an aesthete? No one watching will know that I'm really just a misplaced central Mainer with the fidgets.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Snow this morning, and outside the window Bugsy the miniature dog is porpoising merrily down the slick sidewalk. It doesn't take much for snow to be up to his knees.

Tom and I have been discussing whether or not to sign up for a learn-to-salsa class this winter. We are both terrible dancers who find dancing strangely compelling. I, for one, am accustomed to being a klutz and doing everything wrong, but Tom was an athlete and has body grace and likes to be good at stuff, so the decision is more difficult for him. I think he's leaning toward yes: he listened to a lot of salsa music while he was doing dishes.

So far, so good with the online class; I got a passel of editing finished and shipped yesterday; Frost Place stuff is falling into place; my biscuits came out of the oven crisp and tender; but I forgot to water the houseplants and fold the laundry. I also read this fascinating paragraph in The Birth of the Modern, and now I am all worked up. Who is this woman? I must know more!
Large sums [of money] were made after Waterloo by . . . operatic prime donne [such] as . . . the superb Spanish mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran (1808-36). Rossini called Malibran the "only" interpreter of his music and encapsulated her in the most comprehensive compliment ever paid by a great composer to an interpreter: "Ah, that marvellous creature! She surpassed all her imitators by her truly disconcerting musical genius, and all the women I have known by the superiority of her intelligence, the variety of her knowledge and her sparkling temperament. . . . She sang in Spanish (her native tongue), Italian, French, German, and after eight days of study she sang Fidelio in English in London. She sketched, painted, embroidered, sometimes made her own costumes; above all, she wrote. Her letters are masterpieces of subtle intelligence, verve, of good humour, and they display unparalleled originality of expression." Alas, when she was 28, she and her talents were wiped out in a commonplace early 19th-century manner: blood poisoning following a miscarriage.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Hot black coffee in a white cup. The furnace growling at the cold slipping beneath the doors. Today my essay workshop begins. And I'll be editing a novel. And I'll be figuring out some Frost Place stuff. And I'll be walking to a yoga class. And I'll be making kale and potato soup for dinner.

While I'm doing all that stuff, perhaps you can ponder these paragraphs from Johnson's The Birth of the Modern. La plus ├ža change . . .

Men disliked [England's Prince Regent; later George IV] because he was an inveterate liar. Indeed, he was a fantasist who could convince himself that certain imaginary things had happened. He would threaten all kinds of things one minute, for effect, then forget what he had said and do the opposite. He would abruptly change his mood from resentful fury, vowing revenge, saying he would dismiss his ministers on the spot, to bland politeness or even affability, with no explanation at all. In the end, as [the duke of Wellington's friend] Mrs. Arbuthnot put it, "The King is such a blockhead nobody minds what he says." . . . 
 . . . The fact that George preferred female company did not mean that ladies liked him; quite the contrary. Outside his own family, all the women with whom he was intimately connected came to regret it. Perhaps his greatest love, Mrs. Fitzherbert, whom he actually married, albeit unlawfully, came to regard him with a mixture of distaste and weariness.


Sunday, January 6, 2019

Yesterday for dinner I cooked steak with sides of sweet potatoes and chard. The steak was good, but the vegetables were even better. Following the suggestion of Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse), I baked the sweet potatoes in their skins for an hour, then split them and scraped the innards into a bowl, tossed in a pat of butter, the juice of a lime, a handful of chopped cilantro, and salt and pepper.

While the potatoes were cooking, I made chard and yogurt raita. (Alice suggests spinach but chard was what I had.) I chopped my own frozen precooked chard, thawed it over low heat, then let it cool and drain in a colander while dry-toasting a handful of cumin seeds. In a mixing bowl I combined the chard and cumin with a fat spoonful of plain yogurt, the juice of half a lemon, some lemon zest, and salt and pepper. The two vegetable dishes were remarkably delicious as a pair; Alice recommends them alongside a roasted fish, though steak was a pretty good accompaniment too. But alone would also be delightful.

I have never been a fan of sweet potatoes; I dislike their cloying sweetness, which most recipes seem to exaggerate rather than moderate. If you're like me--a sweet-potato skeptic--then you should definitely try the lime and cilantro approach. It's an eye-opener. On the other hand, I love chard in almost any recipe, but I also have a freezer full of it so am always looking for novelty. Thus, the raita was an excellent discovery.

* * *

This week is shaping up to be a crazy one: a new class starting tomorrow, much editing to juggle, Frost Place planning underway (we have faculty!), Tom's birthday dinner to construct, and a whirlwind trip to NYC. I feel as if I have three heads and another one beginning to grow. I guess I will have to get them all matching hats.

* * *

Even if you're not involved in our RIII project, you should check out the poem drafts in the comments on yesterday's post. There's some remarkable work there.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Conversation: Richard III (Act III, Scene 7)

Last Saturday I asked RIII readers to draft a poem, in your own voice and idiom, in response to a trigger in scene 7.  Please feel free to post it here for all of us to read. But if you feel shy about that, you might prefer to email your draft to me and we can talk about it privately. I know that sharing poems can be hard.

* * *

Beginning on Monday, I'm going to be teaching an intense 8-week online essay revision class. In addition, I'll be working on an editing project and, by the end of the month, beginning a school residency in southern Maine. I still intend to keep going with our Richard III reading group, but my time will certainly be compressed. To preserve some space for quiet, I'll no longer be posting my own draft poems, reaction essays, etc., in response to our RIII assignments, though I'll continue to comment on yours and to participate in conversations. Thanks for your understanding as I press forward into this marathon schedule.

Friday, January 4, 2019

We got four inches of fluffy snow yesterday . . . finally, something to shovel that wasn't a concrete block and didn't take all afternoon to move. As a result, I got many things done that didn't involve snow: more class planning, more editing, a haircut, some reading, a giant pot of chicken stock. Today, with my class plans more or less set, I hope to do some writing as well, and also spend some time with the Inferno. I haven't even looked at my poems since well before Christmas, or copied out a single word of Dante, though I'm still plowing through The Birth of the Modern.

But over the holiday I did reread E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan, which was a lovely respite. My son used to have a cassette tape of White reading the book in his New York City drawl, which the boy blasted ad infinitum for a couple of years. We all knew much of it by heart. White's ability to invent a sort of urbanity of nature is completely odd and completely charming. Stuart Little, mouse about town. Louis the Swan, jazz trumpeter and bird of letters. The book was just as good as I'd remembered.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

This morning, Maine has a new governor . . .  the first woman ever to hold the office, a lover of poetry and jazz, and also the outgoing state attorney general who battled many of LePage's edicts. Her inauguration is a great relief, after two terms spent writhing with indignation and embarrassment under the idiot's thumb. And today the U.S. House flips to the Democrats--another great relief. Let us hope that these changes-of-the-guard augur better times for the state and especially the nation.

I spent yesterday working steadily on my syllabus . . . only to learn, at the end of the day, that even more people had signed up for my class than I'd thought. So today: revision!

The house felt very quiet and spacious, in my first full day alone in it--though spacious is not typically how I'd describe our little box. And now it is snowing outside, and I am getting ready for another day spent working with words, and the leader of our state is a humanist, and I'm making chicken soup for dinner, and things could be a lot worse.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

The tradition of cluttering up a house with tawdry gewgaws is one of my favorite things about Christmas. Putting the gewgaws back in their box is also one of my favorite things. The house instantly becomes tidy and spare, everything in its place, a way to ease back into my routine. Yesterday I got so carried away that I even started reorganizing boxes, moving stuff from the upstairs crawlspace into the cellar, cleaning out closet shelves. Living in this storage-challenged cottage can feel a bit like like living on a boat: without vigilance, things start falling overboard.

And not only is the house neat, but we're also getting used to the comforts Tom rushed through for the parties . . . plumbing in the upstairs bathroom, a bathroom door, window shades in the bedroom. It's a strange luxury to have two bathrooms for two people, after living for twenty years with one bathroom for four.

I'm even looking forward to getting back to concentrated work. My study is my own again: no longer a spare bedroom, a present-wrapping hub, the repository of a son's laundry, or a chairless void. I miss my boys intensely, every day, but breathing space is a certain solace.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Happy New Year! I write to you from the comfort of my bed, to which I have returned after an early morning slog to the bus station with my excited younger son. The roads were covered with slush, the traffic lights were flashing, the sand trucks were grumbling . . . and my comforter and my cup of coffee are exceedingly pleasant after my short trek into the slop.

We still have a boy in the house: my son's college friend en route to a winter internship in town. But by later today Tom and I will have subsided back into a duo. I will roast a chicken and mash some potatoes and make a tomato salad. I will wash many sheets and towels. I will take the ornaments off the tree and vacuum up the needles and move the furniture around.

I wish you an equivalent ease in your puttering.