Thursday, January 31, 2019

The temperature is close to zero here in coastal Maine this morning, but that's nothing compared to the midwest, or even to last winter. In arctic central Maine we certainly had plenty of experience with 30 below, but so far in Portland this year it's just been snow-rain-snow-rain and perpetual ice on the sidewalks.

I've been working on a few poems that are making me glad to be a writer . . . narratives moving in peculiar directions, lines colliding, sentences resisting clutter. I feel as if I am learning things. Probably, today, I should think about submitting them somewhere, but that's always the least interesting part of writing.

Tomorrow my high school residency begins, and that will upend my days into early March. I've still got four weeks to go in my online essay class, and I'm expecting a new editing project shortly. These new poems could be the last ones I write for a while.

In other news, I finished my apron and got it dirty making beef-mushroom soup, Yorkshire pudding, and beet and pumpkin-seed salad. I wonder what the next project will be.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Snow and snow and snow this morning.

Last night, when we stepped into the cold air after the symphony concert, flakes were swirling in the downtown squares, the trees in the parks glittered with lights--airy spheres of yellows, blues, greens--concertgoers clogged traffic with their coats and boots and chatter . . . it was as if the city were acting a part in a film about an evening in the city.

And then I drove home, slowly, on the snowy streets, sweeping along behind a stream of tail lights heading toward the highway, turning away from them onto the boulevard that skirts the frozen cove, and then up hill among the small houses, past the Asian market and the halal market and the tax preparer's storefront with its screaming neon promises, past the hairdresser and the barber and the tanning salon and the dark coffee shop, past the plate-glass restaurant and the art-supply store and the church with its lighted steeple, onto our narrow street sheeted with snow, curtains drawn in the houses, the children already in bed, blue glimmer of television beyond the blinds . . .

I still can't quite fathom that I live here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

My parsimonious son must be pleased that his heat bill is included in the rent for his Chicago apartment because his furnace will be running nonstop for days on end. Here in Maine we just have regular old single-digit cold, none of that high-of-minus-20 stuff. We can go outside without our eyeballs freezing up in our heads.

At last night's poetry group, the piece I brought to share, titled "Dead Poet," was pronounced "very odd" and "very interesting." I took that as success.

Tonight Tom and I are going to the symphony with friends who offered us tickets. The program is Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet and Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherezade--Russian romance writ jumbo-sized. I look forward to R&J because it always makes me cry. (Tom, you won't be surprised to hear, prefers Stravinsky.)

Today will be a normal day. Reading essays. Writing lessons for high schoolers. Washing sheets. Reading about 1815. I hope I'll be going for a long walk, though the sidewalks are icy and treacherous. I hope I'll be writing another odd poem.

Monday, January 28, 2019

I was supposed to start my high school residency today, but schools being what they are, "testing" and "teacher workshop" suddenly reared their heads, so the residency start date has been pushed to Thursday and my first day will be Friday. As a result, instead of driving-teaching-driving today, I will be doing some curriculum planning, moving forward with my essay class, cleaning floors, and going to the poetry-group meeting that was postponed last week.

Tom and I had a pleasant weekend. On Saturday we went downtown to look at a couple of gallery shows, ate some dumplings for lunch, moseyed home, puttered at this and that around the house until Tom made tuna melts for dinner. Yesterday I did some housework, he did some door installation; then he retreated to his study and considered his next photo-printing project while I sewed apron strings until it was time to start the beef stew. Alcott House is a very nice size for two friendly people who like to have time and space to themselves . . . And now some of the rooms even have doors!

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Before Christmas, I discovered that my sewing machine was broken, just as I was gearing up to make a batch of lavender sachets for gifts. My plan had been to cut the material from a stack of old-fashioned cotton-lawn handkerchiefs and dresser scarves that a friend had given me years ago, and to fill them with lavender I'd harvested from my garden. I was annoyed about the sewing machine, but in a way I was relieved too. I've never loved using a sewing machine, though it's clearly an efficient tool . . . but it also requires clearing space to set it up, sitting with my head pressed against a noisy box, paying attention to safety, staring fixedly at a lurching seam. "Well, so what if it's broken?" I thought. "I can hand-sew those sachets." And thus began my crash-course in hand sewing. The sachets took a long time, partly because I decided to add decorative stitching around the edge of each one, but I got them done in time for Christmas, and they were pretty, and I found I could work on them during long car trips, or at odd quiet moments in the day, or during conversations, or while watching a nature show. There was no machinery involved, beyond an iron to press seams. I could pick them up and put them down without fuss, and I enjoyed having a sewing basket.

So after Christmas was over, I wondered what I could sew next. My hand-sewing skills had improved exponentially. I had developed a neat, fairly regular stitch style, and it seemed a shame not to keep improving. I had some unbleached muslin, so I hemmed a new dish towel. But what I really needed was an apron: I always cook in an apron, and they wear out regularly. I went through my box of scraps and discovered that I did not have enough whole cloth for an apron, but if I stitched some of the pieces together . . .

Anyway, that is what I have been doing for the past few weeks--designing and executing an apron out of various scraps. I am now in the late stages of the project: the apron itself is finished, and I am presently stitching the ties and the neck loop. I understand that making an apron is not like tailoring a shirt or anything, but I did design it myself, and I've done every stitch by hand. It feels like a giant accomplishment, though I'm sure this long description makes a very dull blog entry. I appreciate your patience with it, and as a reward, I'll let you read about Charles Fourier's utopia:
Charles Fourier (1772-1837), a businessman from Lyons, . . . had a passion for numbers and categories. He predicted the ideal world he was creating would last 80,000 years, 8,000 of them an era of Perfect Harmony, during which the North Pole would be milder than the shores of the Mediterranean, the sea, no longer salt, would turn into lemonade, and the world would contain 37 million poets equal to Homer, 37 million mathematicians equal to Newton, and 37 million dramatists equal to Moliere, though he modestly added, "These are approximate estimates." Every woman would have four lovers or husbands simultaneously. [from Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern]
Maybe I'm just getting old, but dealing with "four lovers or husbands simultaneously" sounds like too much work.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Richard III: Assignment (Act IV, Scenes 3-5)

Shakespeare and his contemporaries were not notably sentimental about children, yet the play clearly purveys horror, poignancy, pain in the text that surrounds the murder of the little princes in the tower. These three scenes are central in that regard: the offstage murders become a pivot . . . but into what?

That's my assignment for you: to consider the murders, your feelings about them, the other characters' reactions to them, what seems to be happening because of them . . . respond  to any or all of these issues, or follow some threads of your own.

Genre and style are your choice. Length of response is your own choice. Aim to share next Saturday.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Birth of the Modern contains some odd names, but the oddest so far is Mountstuart Elphinstone (1779-1859), who was a British colonial administrator in India and elsewhere in the region.

In other interesting tidbits: "The Chinese government made its opinions of Westerners and their morals public . . . by enforcing petty restrictions that, for instance, prevented Westerners from using rickshaws except when it was raining."

* * *

Yesterday's gale has blown out to sea, and our basement is only a little bit wet, so that's something. Apparently streets were flooding, roofs were leaking, mess was happening all over town. I'm glad I stayed inside and read and wrote and sewed.

I've been working on a couple of poems . . . one of them sheer silliness, the other more substantial. Sometimes it's refreshing to use poetry as comic relief: and in this case, I've been recasting Genesis from the point of view of rats. Of course it's a very small Genesis because rats aren't as big as people.


Thursday, January 24, 2019

Rain this morning, and a dense sticky fog. The snow would make a good substitute for cement overshoes, should you be wanting to push a snitch off a ferry at 2 a.m.

This rain is supposed to go on all day, and I have no reason to go out, except for a stomp through puddles. Classwork, and then writing, writing, writing . . . I hope. Thus far this week I've produced two new drafts, so I'm optimistic. Overall, it's been a good week. I've had work accepted for publication, work appear in journals. Plus, I've been getting paid to edit poetry in translation, do a manuscript review for a fiction writer, teach essay revision, and plan a high school writing residency. It's kind of amazing.

RIII people, I'll post an assignment Friday or Saturday.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

From the annals of terrible houseguests
Perhaps the worst brought-up children of the age were Leigh Hunt's. Byron got Hunt out to Italy to edit his projected periodical, the Liberal, but he was consternated when Hunt arrived with his slatternly wife Marianne, later described by [William] Blackwood [founder of the Edinburgh- based Blackwood's Magazine] as "a pert Abigail in a fifth-rate farce," and all their six offspring. The whole lot expected to stay in his house, and when he shifted from Pisa to Genoa, they followed. The children had been brought up in the ultrapermissive modern manner, and when Byron rebuked them, they answered back. They also proved extremely destructive: "What they can't destroy with their filth," said Byron, grinding his teeth, "they will with their fingers." He called them "Yahoos," "Blackguards," and "Hottentots," and tied his bulldog across the staircase to keep them out of his own quarters. Unfortunately, the dog went for the nanny goat the Hunts insisted on keeping to provide fresh milk for the Yahoos. Marianne noted in her diary: "Mr Hunt was much annoyed by Lord Byron behaving so meanly about the Children disfiguring his house, which his nobleship choose to be very severe upon. . . . Can anything be more absurd than a peer of the realm, and a poet, making such a fuss about 3 or 4 children disfiguring the walls of a few rooms--the very children would blush for him, fye, Lord B, fye!" [from Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern]
* * *

I've got a poem up today at Vox Populi--"Respectable Woman," one of the summer's bounty of new pieces.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Household tip: if you find yourself with a lot of leftover chicken cacciatore, and your poetry group is suddenly canceled so you have to make dinner for two when you thought you were just leaving cold things in the refrigerator for your husband to heat up, you might consider turning that cacciatore into lasagna. I think it was the best I've ever made.

This morning I'm off to downtown for a meeting, then back home to read a manuscript and student essays. Tom and I have our first salsa class tonight, but there's still time to back out like cowards. I made preserved lemons yesterday, which I've been meaning to do for years, and they look bright and beautiful on the kitchen counter. The weather is fiercely cold and blustery, but exciting too. I love wind in my face, the sting of ice crystals. All those years spent doing animal chores in Harmony: twice a day, in all weathers, hauling water and food; milking goats in subzero temperatures, with a baby strapped onto my chest . . . How did I ever do it? But it seemed normal then. Like life.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Well, the snow (which was at least half sleet) has ended, and now the windy cold has set in. We are forecast to reach a high of 9 degrees today. I've got classwork and editing ahead, tonight a meeting of my poetry group, tomorrow night our first salsa class (unless Tom and I chicken out), the torture of sitting for a new author photo on the horizon, maybe finding time to cut out fabric scraps for an apron, practicing Mozart . . .

In a day or so I'll post the next RIII schedule. I'm still slogging through The Birth of the Modern, which is both fascinating and boring, but I don't want to give up on it in case I miss something good. Dante is not boring at all, of course, but copying is always a slow process. I've got a couple of poem drafts on the burner. Tom spent all of yesterday designing stereo shelves for the living room. I made blueberry cake and chicken cacciatore and washed the floors and submitted some poems and finished hand-sewing my dish towel. We lead a poky life here in the Alcott House.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The ice-disk foray was very enjoyable. First, we ate hamburgers at nice little hole-in-the-wall filled with former ice-disk watchers. Then we got lost in Westbrook for a while looking for the ice disk. Then we found it and joined a passel of other Mainers who had nothing better to do on a Saturday afternoon than idle beside a bridge and admire some slowly revolving ice. It's amazing what will entertain us. There we were, with our partners and children and friends and dogs and winter hats and boots and phones, milling slowly around, like a human ice disk, as the ice itself--resembling a sort of two-dimensional moon--turned and turned under the weighty sky.

As my friend Lucy said: "If the aliens land, we'll have to be sure to come back."

* * *

Now I am wondering how the disk is holding up, under this grand snowfall. We are only at the beginning of the storm, a mere four inches down so far. The sky is still blue with night, the streetlights still glowing, and in their triangular light the pale flakes swirl and hiss. The cat, noisily washing, is recovering from the shock of the back steps. If the aliens land, we won't be able to get there today.

 * * *

Snow, the alien breath, sharp as glass, wail of the northlands, tears in armor, scratch of an owl's wing, pale fury, mole's blanket, track map, shovelful of atoms, a sleekened cat

Snow, silencer, a night visitor, burial ground, roots' shelter, a china plate, the slush of angels

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.