Friday, July 12, 2024

I dropped John and Teresa at their hotel, and swung into the driveway at about 6 p.m. to discover my beloved in the front yard picking blueberries. What a welcome sight. Our reunion was a flurry because we immediately had to whip on our entertaining hats. I ordered pizza, T made a salad, and before long John and Teresa arrived via Uber, Maudelle pulled in with her truck, and we settled into the warm backyard for pizza and drinks and a final meal together.

And now this morning J & T are at the airport waiting for their flight south, M is asleep in my spare room, Tom is convincing himself to get out of bed and dress for work, and I am back in my old couch corner writing to you.

I'm tired but I'm not you-can-mop-the-floor-with-me tired, and that in itself is a giant difference from previous years. Monson Arts took such amazing care of us. I had no worries beyond the boundaries of the program. None. No fuss about whether the electricity or the water or the toilets were working. No fret about meals or mold. No driving madly from one place to another. The place was beautiful and easeful. In previous years I spent so much time trying make sure that the participants found repose that I never found repose myself. I feel restored, not wrecked.

Today I slip myself back into daily things . . . hauling trash to the curb, hanging clothes on the line. M may stay here for a day or two, so we'll be spending time together, but I know that both of us will also be starting to catch up on our solitude. The week in Monson was intensely, wonderfully social, but aloneness is my usual medium.

Before we left, the director at Monson Arts told Teresa, "Next year is a done deal. You'll be here." The conference has a new home--a home that wants my program, that welcomes my program, that embraces my program. I am so, so happy about this. Last year at this time I feared we might be done for. This year I know we have a lively, loving future.

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Slowly the rain rolled in . . . a few fat drops in the afternoon, then downpours in early evening, then crashing storms at night, pounding the metal roof of my cabin, rivers of rain crashing, thundering.

Now, in the early morning, wildness has subsided to a gentle hiss. Drops patter into lake, tap-tap on deck and deck chairs. The grey scent of stone rises through open windows.

Today is my last morning in this watery place. Already the ribbon has loosened; already a few participants have vanished back into the world, and those who remain have shifted into a new sort of attention.

Teresa's homework prompt was to invent a form. She gave each of us one of four form names--puddle, thunder, twilight, porcupine. I got puddle, and so I stayed up late last night and got up early this morning to wrestle with what puddle might imply in a poetic shape. It's been a difficult and absorbing task.

We have a full day of teaching ahead, and then mid-afternoon the drive back to Portland, a pizza night with faculty, reunion with Tom and my cat and my garden and my bed. Still, though it's time, I am reluctant to break the spell.

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

A few people missing are from the photo, but here are most of us on the porch, getting set for last night's participant reading . . . which was magnificent. It was a giddy night, as reading nights should be, and after an afternoon downpour, we were able to set the lectern up so each reader could gaze straight into the lake, with its sunset colors just beginning to cluster among the tree shadows, with the kingfishers flying and the loons diving and the battered clouds unrolling across the sky like fish scales.

Today is the last day of the conference proper. At noon we'll say farewell to a few pals, and then we'll move forward into the writing retreat--a day and half devoted entirely to reading, writing, and experiment.

I am tired, but I am not exhausted, not wrung out. Though I've been working nonstop and not sleeping all that well, this place has been an embrace. No rushing around, no fixing anything, no panic. The exterior comforts--good bed, good food, good lake--have been remarkable.

On the far side of the lake, the low curve of the Appalachians rises into view. Stride left and grapple with the Hundred Mile Wilderness and the daunting double crest of Katahdin. Stride right and the White Mountains hoist themselves into the clouds. The Great North Woods cradles us in this small bowl of lake and village.

I am so grateful to be here.

Tuesday, July 9, 2024


Summer in all of its glory . . . cloud fingers stretching into the blue, morning air cool over my bare shoulders, the heat of the day still coiled in its bed.

I slept well last night, which is a relief as I was nearly flattened by my own reading--in a good way, because I think I read well. But I felt like I'd run a long race--I'd inhaled my performance intensity, if you know what I mean, and my nerves were a-quiver afterward and all I wanted to do was sit on a couch and stared wide-eyed/wild-eyed at the horizon.

And today I'm back on the stand, teaching-wise, so sleep is a giant boon. We've had two days of Maudelle's brilliance, of participant brilliance, and now I will be coaxing a day of revision play from everyone . . . hoping to keep the enthusiasm trembling, hoping to keep everyone in joy and cogitation.

It's been a beautiful week. A really beautiful week. 

Monday, July 8, 2024

The house of poetry peers among the birches, down toward the lake. The lake is glass this morning, though the air flutters with life. Killdeer and red-winged blackbirds trill and screek, bullfrogs burp among the reeds, a hummingbird buzzes my head.

Though it's been very hot in Maine, lakeside life is breezy and welcoming. Late afternoon I slipped into the lake, into water a clear bright brown, ripples ripening in sunlight and shadow, a handful of idle poets splashing and musing under a bowl of sky.

Nothing has gone wrong. Nothing. The delight of the participants washes over me. "I'm in hog heaven," said a poet yesterday, leaning back into the lake, the lake leaning into her.

We'd spent a long intense day with Maudelle's magnificent wanderings among sound and meter and our brains' evolutionary miracles. Everyone is excited; everyone is inhaling deeply. The place is taking care of us. There is an extraordinary peace. It is not like Franconia. It is another world; it tugs away at the weariness in an entirely different way. But the poets still cast their spells, and their magic quivers.

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Lake Hebron is a different world this morning. After a day of fog and downpour, I woke to blue skies, a rim of pink-tinged cloud rolling over the far shore, tree shadow and ripples, the cries of blackbirds and frogs, the tap of last night's rainwater running off the roof onto the deck behind me. 

For some reason there are no bugs. None. Not a single mosquito. I cannot figure this out. In my day this was the Land of the Insect. If I were sitting outside with bare shoulders on an open deck, I would also be writhing and slapping incessantly. What is this strange calm?

Yesterday was a long day, a hard-work day, but I think things are going really well. The group is focused and friendly and excited, new faces integrating with familiar ones, already some tears but good and useful ones. For the first time I began a teaching conference with a poem that wasn't Robert Frost's. This year we worked on two--a Richard Wright and a Czeslaw Milosz--and we spent the whole day on matters of form. The change was actually pretty exciting.

I'm decently rested this morning and ready to find out what happens next.

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Lake Hebron this morning--water and sky inseparable under deep fog. We arrived yesterday in a downpour, and the downpours continued off and on all night, so grass and trees and Adirondack chairs are drenched in wet. But now there is no rain and no wind, and bullfrogs and red-winged blackbirds pepper the fog with sound.

I didn't sleep magnificently last night, but eventually I did drop off, which is about as much sleep as I usually hope for on a conference night. Everyone seems really, really happy to be here--delighted with the comforts of their digs, pleased by the lake and the walkable town and the good cheer of the staff, and for me this is a massive relief.

I am sitting here, freshly showered, in a clean summer dress, at the cabin's big sliding door. I am sitting here with my cup of hot black coffee, and I am slowly coming to grips with being awake. I need to pull out my papers and start looking at plans: this is a big teaching day for me. But the fog and the bullfrogs and my half-sleep are keeping me slow. It's very quiet down here. Usually I room up by the main road, where the log trucks starting running before dawn. But the lakefront is a different world.

Well, wish me luck. It's a new venture, it's a familiar venture, and who knows what will happen next.