Monday, March 4, 2024

I slept till 5:30--very unusual for a Monday, but T has an appointment this morning before work and I reaped the benefits of not having to leap up before the crack of day.

The temperature is mild--above freezing with a whiff of melt in the air. Yesterday we basked in the 50s, and I spent a couple of hours in the yard, doing first-day-of-spring jobs: cleaning out garden boxes, setting up the cold frame, planting spinach; then picking up sticks, pruning roses, and tearing out the big broken rose trellis that blew over in one of our winter hurricanes. I checked spring growth. Much of the kale had wintered over, so I pruned back the dead leaves. I admired the garlic shoots and the green onions and the first snowdrop. Daffodils and hyacinths are up, and the scylla is starting to poke through. A few tulip leaves have appeared. Buds are swelling on the trees, and cardinals are romancing in the hedges.

It felt wonderful to be out and about on my little homestead. I'm longing to rake out garden beds and pin shirts to the line. I always get drunk on spring air. And then I always do something foolish, like plant too early or hang out sheets in the snow. Apparently I will never learn.

For the moment, I'm pleased to have a slow Monday-morning start, but soon I'll have to fork myself off this couch and into my workday. I've got editing to finish, class planning to start, stacks of contest books to read. I've got laundry to fold, laundry to hang on the cellar lines, wood boxes to fill, errands to run, meals to plan, poems to revise. Last night we ate lamb patties packed with garlic and onions and a fistful of my own dried herbs. We ate wild rice and roasted cabbage and marinated tomatoes and fresh raspberry sorbet. Tonight, who knows? Anything could happen . . . fish, lentils, omelets . . .  

I'm fizzy about spring. I'm fizzy about poems. I'm fizzy about the thought of placing my manuscript with a publisher and about not having to be on the road this week. I am like a cardinal in a hedge, hopping among twigs, singing my tunes, extolling the perfections of nests and eggs. Of course, this is before the cat shows up.

Sunday, March 3, 2024

The drizzle started up yesterday afternoon, while we were strolling down Washington Avenue from the oyster shop to the poutine shop, and by the time we got home it had settled into a steady, leak-into-the-basement kind of downpour. In the back room Tom watched Japanese noir. In the living room I watched the wood fire and worked on a poem. And then eventually we reconvened to eat cheese and play Wingspan--a fine and lazy ending to a generally lazy day. All evening the rain ticked against the windows; all night long it drummed the roof. I woke and slept and woke and slept to the sound of rain, and I dreamed of being at my kitchen table in Harmony.

Though much of yesterday was play, I did read poetry collections, and I'll work through another batch of contest books today. For now, though, I am basking in the young warmth rising from the registers. Black coffee steams in a white cup. A jar of daffodils suns on the kitchen counter. Tom is burrowed into the deep Sunday-morning repose of the full-time construction worker, and a wet cat noisily crunches chow.

Outside, in the darkness, the fragrance of spring rises from the sodden soil. When I open the back door, a small wind wraps around me like a watery veil. What's new, what's new? whispers the ash tree, and a possum scuttles into the shadow of the neighbor's garage.

The salt Atlantic laps at the docks of this small city teetering at the nation's northeastern edge. Up the hill, a little plain-faced house squats on its skimpy plot beneath the brittle bare arms of towering maples. Inside the house, two aging lovers and their difficult cat; inside, books and pantry shelves and folded cotton sheets. It is the most unspectacular of happy endings. It is one brief tale in the story of a world that is collapsing into ashes.

Saturday, March 2, 2024

Yesterday was a flurry of laundry, bathrooms, floor washing, groceries; plus writing and sending out a newsletter, responding to emails about said newsletter, posting class info on social media, solving invoice issues, and other such unnatural chores; plus squeezing in some revision time; plus taking a long chattery afternoon walk with friends; plus diving into a bunch of other piddly tasks I've forgotten to remember. It was a day crammed with event, and I was glad to sit down to a beer and a big bowl of shrimp and asparagus linguine at the end of it . . . even if that meant I had to make the linguine.

But now it's Saturday, and I slept in till after 6, and the heavy housework's done, and I don't have anywhere I need to go, and Tom's not sick anymore, and I am looking forward to an unstructured and undemanding weekend. I do have to read contest entries, and I do want to haul my cold frame out of the shed and set it up in one of the garden boxes. But otherwise the weekend winds can waft me where-e'er they list. I might toddle down to the fish market. I might convince T to go out for oysters and poutine. I might take a nap by the fire. Anything could happen.

Yesterday brought me another bit of good cheer: a friendly and unprompted invitation regarding my as-yet-unplaced manuscript Calendars, which has been floating for several months in the contest aether. So today I need to make some decisions, though I'm pretty sure I know what I'm going to do. A bird in the hand, as they say.

People are signing up for my classes. A publisher reaches out to ask for my collection. Friends text me and say, Let's take a walk! Things are not going so badly in my neck of the woods.

Friday, March 1, 2024

Yesterday I shipped my big editing project to the author; and though I still have a few bits and pieces to finish up on it, I'm going to take today off from editing and catch up on some planning, poetry, and house things. It's Friday, it's thirteen degrees, it's March, and I am caught up in a swirl of obligation . . . teaching, editing, contest judging, housework--and spring is looming, with all of its pleasures and chores. My little city garden makes so many demands. How did I ever manage to raise children and manage a 40-acre forest homestead--goats, pigs, chickens, extreme firewood, a giant garden, canning, cheesemaking--plus edit and write and teach? I must have been nuts. Or young.

Outside, a lopsided moon beams over the little northern city by the sea. Inside, the furnace grumbles, lamplight casts circles of shine and shadow. The tidy shabby chairs glance modestly toward the fireplace. The books on the table cough lightly to catch my attention. In a stone jar, the rosy hyacinths foretell their own death.

Today will be filled with unremarkable things--clean sheets and clean floors, five words on a page, a cold wind.

I send my messages ahead of me.

You read them, they speak to you

in siren tongues, ears of flame

spring from your heads to take them.


--Denise Levertov, from "Poet and Person

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Yesterday morning started out warm and rainy, and I'm glad I went for a walk then because the weather got suddenly colder and very windy. Midday, I lit a fire in the stove, trying to battle the drafts and the dankness. And all night gusts buffeted the little house. I felt like a boat rocking in a lake.

But at least I slept well, which is more than I can say for the previous two nights. And now here I sit with my coffee, reacquainting myself with day.

This morning I'll finish up some editing and then send a batch of files to the author. I'll work on class planning and clean the upstairs rooms, and tonight I'll go out to write. I'm glad to report that I fought my way through the byzantine toils of the government's online grant portal and managed to submit my NEA fellowship application yesterday--one of my least favorite tasks ever, though at least it doesn't cost any money. But, yikes. What an absurd, overcomplicated, nonintuitive, antiquated process. I think it was invented by a committee of caterpillars.

Tom, I'm happy to say, is finally feeling better. And I'm still not sick, a little miracle in its own right. I suppose I ought to think about submitting poems somewhere, but at the moment I'm really only interested in writing them. I'm in the midst of a good conversation about revision and critique with my friend, the poet Stu Kestenbaum, who helped to found Monson Arts and led Haystack School of Crafts for many years. It seems that performing artists have long understand that the maker needs to be in control of conversations about change. So why have writers gravitated to the workshop model, where the maker cowers in the midst of spears, like a victim tied to a stake? It's a puzzle.

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Yesterday's Monson high school class was particularly gratifying. We're in the midst of a big three-session revision project, and the kids have really stepped up. They are hard workers, with extreme focus. It is impressive, and this was an especially challenging class as the centerpiece of the day was a first draft that they believed they firmly disliked. They reexamined this piece, they talked about it, they noted strengths and weaknesses, they rewrote new drafts based on their own findings, and then, late in the day, we took a different tack and cannibalized the original for parts: I had them each choose a boring image from the original and write an ode to it. The results were delightful: sometimes funny, always detailed, a true reminder that even our worst writing can bring us into interesting places.

Most of these kids will not study creative writing in college. Few will major in the humanities; several won't go to college at all. Thus, the workshop model--the typical revision model in education--will not be useful for them. If they're going to keep writing, they're going to need to learn to do it on their own. They won't be able to rely on exterior advice.

And for those few who do study creative writing? They're going to need to learn to survive the workshop model. For every useful piece of advice they receive in a workshop, there will be an equivalent number of bad suggestions, not to mention the presence of aggressive posturers, faddish assumptions, and cult-of-personality professors. To weather this storm, they'll need to be clear-eyed and confident about their own ability to sift suggestions, make choices, see their own work, read their own obsessions and histories.

We walk a lonely road as writers.

And these young people are so eager. It is humbling.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Lying in bed, listening to the log trucks roll by, listening to the heat click on, listening to my fingers on the keys, lying in bed, listening to my brain wheedle Don't get up Don't get up

Dumb things I have done: leaving The Three Musketeers on the counter at home, being forced to read whatever I can find in this apartment, which is: a Joan Collins bodice ripper

Reading the Joan Collins bodice ripper over dinner, reading the Joan Collins bodice ripper in the tub, reading the Joan Collins bodice ripper in bed, and still not caring if I ever learn the ending

I admit it: The Three Musketeers is not haute-literature either

Thinking about coffee (not yet available), thinking about class (three hours in the future), thinking about my eyes flickering shut (the Joan Collins bodice ripper is extremely boring), thinking about the log trucks rumbling past

This small window into the groggy first moments of Dawn has been brought to you by Brain: The Intelligent Choice (rev. ed.) and by Loghorraea or Bust (opening in theaters this summer).