Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve. Traditionally we have celebrated the new year at Greenwich mean time, which means 7 p.m. EST so that everyone can go to bed. But my 14-year-old is scoffing at that plan this year, which he takes as a sign of weakness. I hope this doesn't mean I have to stay up till midnight playing Monopoly and eating candy.

I watched Laurence Olivier in a very Technicolor Richard III last night and enjoyed it a great deal. This is a play with many good lines, which Sir Laurence, capering around in his red stockings and black page-boy wig and fake hunchback, made the most of.

Best Richard III line as spoken by Sir Laurence:

"I am not in the giving vein today" [meanwhile crouching hunchily on a throne and poking Lord Buckingham in the stomach with a scepter].

Monday, December 29, 2008

Writing about David Copperfield makes me feel so delirious I can hardly concentrate on anything else. And yet I need to make supper for nine people tonight, most of that number consisting of five loud boys between the ages of 2 and 14, with the remaining eaters being hapless parent chaperons. Ham, potatoes, cole slaw, and cake; ham, potatoes, cole slaw, and cake; ham, potatoes, cole slaw, and cake. Perhaps if I chant the menu over and over to myself, I won't forget to cook it.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The boys are outside having a snowball fight. Bread is rising. Needles are falling off the Christmas tree. For today's entry, I seem to be able to write only short sentences. But since yesterday I've written 5 pages of an essay on Dickens. And many of the sentences are long.

I will quote only one sentence from my draft, but it is an important sentence . . . not necessarily in this essay per se but certainly as regards my personal grammatical belligerence:

"Do not get me started on the ignorant adverb-hating tendencies proselytized by contemporary self-help writing manuals."
Perhaps someday I will write an autobiography of grammar.

Just yesterday I got a phone call from an author whose book I edited last year, in which she thanked me profusely for bringing gerund clarity into her life. Just imagine. Gerund clarity for everyone. It could be a movement.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Writing again, thankfully.

And making minestrone and doing laundry and carrying firewood.

Ice storm today, but we haven't lost power yet. That's only a matter of time, however. If there's power to be lost, we will lose it.

Quotation for the day, from the preface to the Leavises' Dickens the Novelist:

"The ineptness of scholars as literary critics is a notorious fact."

Friday, December 26, 2008

Another recent Goodwill find has been the Leavises' collection of critical essays on Dickens, in a volume they title Dickens the Novelist--the Leavises being (though you might already know this) the irascible, influential husband-and-wife team who taught English literature at Cambridge University in the mid-twentieth century to students of Sylvia Plath's and A. S. Byatt's generation: pre-French-deconstructionist critics, who actually offered personal comments about books and didn't use any parenthetical spelling tricks to make criticism look more special: e.g., "I am a (m)other; are you (an)other?" and suchlike crap. (Can you tell that just the sound of Foucault's name makes my eyes roll back into my head? Can you tell I've edited way too many Lacan-quoting, ass-kissing, tenure-questing ex-dissertations? Can you tell that my husband and I have wasted a fair amount of time inventing "Derrida walked into a bar . . . " jokes without any punch lines and have also considered a line of T-shirts printed with "I'm with That Poststructuralist Scum [add thick black arrow here]"?)

But back to the Leavises. I knew about them but hadn't read any of their writings until George Core, editor of the Sewanee Review, sent me a photocopy of Mrs. L's excoriation of Jane Austen's Mansfield Park, which I ended up quoting in my Fanny Price essay. I always appreciate a crank; and it turns out that this particular crank may have hated Fanny but she adores Dickens. Well, so do I. We will be cranks on the same side of the fence this time.

Plus, the book opens with this fine if somewhat oddly worded epigraph, quoted from Henry James's The Figure in the Carpet:

Isn't there for every writer a particular thing of that sort, the thing that most makes him apply himself, the thing without the effort to achieve which he wouldn't write at all, the very passion of his passion, the part of the business in which, for him, the flame of art burns most intensely?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I got up late, but the barn animals got up even later. Apparently they also had a party last night. So far this morning I have drunk a lot of coffee, made bread dough, and made cookie dough that will eventually be the base for chocolate tarts. Next on my list of things to do is to make lemon squares, except that I might take a nap first.

While reading today's Waterville Morning Sentinel obituaries, I came across this mournful sentence. Make of it what you will.

"She will be sorely missed by her cat, Teeney Bah-ba, and his partner, Joe."

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

6:30 a.m. I'm waiting for coffee, waiting for the woodstove to start emitting heat, waiting to be in the mood to keep reading Pamuk's Snow. I can only seem to read this novel in tiny bursts, so it's taking me forever to finish it. There's no particular reason to be up this early: the boys don't need to be forked out of bed and sent to school, and I have no hysterical urge to start cooking for my dinner party.

Outside the sky is very dark but the snow on the trees is beginning to glow. The big poodle on the hearthrug is still asleep. The kitchen clock ticks, and I have a small pain, a vague sensation, as if I may be getting ready to start writing something again; but what or when that might be remains mysterious. 

from Psalm 137

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. 

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.

For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

Time to snap out of this not-writing-yet melancholy and revert, as promised, to the topic of dinner preparation. This morning, after I feed the barn animals and haul in firewood, fresh orange gelatin is first on my list of things to make. And if you've never eaten homemade Jello, now is the time. It's a lovely delicate way to end a big meal, it's easy to prepare, and, better yet, it's not the color of Legos.


Monday, December 22, 2008

Spent much of the day dealing with the nearly 2 feet of snow we received last night . . . shoveling out barn gates, cars, mailboxes, etc., along with everyone else in northern New England. The boys and I did manage to fit in an inaugural snowshoe trek into our woods, however, while Tom fishtailed off to Bangor to solve his nail-gun problem.

So far Tuesday night's menu is staying the same. I've made a second batch of sourdough bread and will rub the pork roast with marinade seche tonight. I'm planning to wear this great Italian wool dress I bought at the Goodwill for $5.99 that, according to Tom, makes me look like a guest love-interest on Star Trek. I think he's full of shit. I like to pretend it makes me look more like Catherine Deneuve.

Accidental quote for the day:

I have seen the garbagemen parade
when it was snowing.
I have eaten hotdogs in ballparks.
I have heard the Gettysburg Address
and the Ginsberg Address.
I like it here
and I won't go back
where I came from.

--Lawrence Ferlinghetti, "Autobiography," from A Coney Island of the Mind

Sunday, December 21, 2008

So, okay, now it's time to stop pretending that I'm a writer and to reveal that what I am is actually a cook. Unusually, we are home for Christmas this year, which means that I, rather than my mother or my mother-in-law, get to run the show. And since I love a big bash, this is very fun for me, although our house is small, which complicates logistics considerably.

I know that there are numerous people who read this blog who don't care squat about poetry and 19th-century British novels but are very interested in cooking and eating. So this week's posts are for you. Here's the schedule: on Tuesday, I'll be serving a several-course meal to 8 people; on Wednesday, I'll be serving dessert and drinks to 8 people; on Thursday I'll be making Christmas dinner just for the 4 of us.

I'll start with a preview of Tuesday's menu (of course, subject to change).

appetizers: mixed Greek olives; pickled green beans (home-canned); sliced white, purple, orange, and red carrots (these gorgeous vegetables were grown by a local woman with a root cellar, who will be supplying me all winter)

1st course: garlic and chicken broth (from one of our late chickens), sourdough bread

2d course: risotto, using the same broth as a base

3d course: roti de porc poele (with Harmony-grown pig, using a recipe from the 1st Julia Child cookbook; and it's not my fault that the accents don't show up on the French words; stupid blog program), caramelized vegetables that my guests are making, diced apples and radish sprouts for garnish

dessert: fresh orange gelatin layered with whipped cream, shortbread cookies drizzled with chocolate

drinks: Cotes du Rhone, some kind of fruit and ginger ale punch concocted by my children, and whatever booze the guests bring

Today's project is the first batch of sourdough bread, which is currently rising, and the shortbread cookies. I may also make some other kinds of cookies, if I can convince my sons to vacuum and clean the bathroom and wash the dog-nose prints off the windows. Probably I can, if cookies are involved.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I've just returned from the post office, where I off-loaded the last parcels of cookies and black cake (see my previous post about black cake, in case you are confused about what this might be) as well as the manuscript I've been editing. (No doubt, the author believes that he is on vacation and will be disappointed to receive it.)

So now it is officially the Holiday Season. And to open the Season, I today received a friendly Christmas card from someone I don't know who lives in a faraway state and says that her library will buy the Milton memoir when it comes out. This is so amazing to me . . . a miracle, really, as I told her in my return card. To think that people read what I write! I know I sound disingenuous; but really, if you saw how I live, you might understand what I mean.

Here's a bit from chapter 2 of the memoir, as a sort of explanation. And thank you, thank you so much, whichever "you" you might be, for reading what I've written and for talking to me about it. It's good to be alone; it's good to be not alone too.

Stumbling into Harmony 

Thus was this place,

A happy rural seat of various view.

Perhaps one definition of paradise is that it’s a place that doesn’t dash your hopes. I arrived in Harmony when I was twenty-eight, newly married, newly unemployed, eager to find my place on earth. I came to the north country prepared to be happy, and I was happy.

            In this era of aimless migration and faceless commercial landscape, finding a real home on earth is a miracle. Yet any attempt to explain its succor risks transforming the homebody into a mouthpiece for provincial nostalgics or back-to-the-land politicos. For it’s very hard to explain a marriage, human or otherwise; and loving a place is like loving a husband or a cow or a baby or a grandfather: you make the best of it, you lose your temper, you throw up your hands in despair, you spin foolishly in circles, you take what’s been served, and you shut up.

            There’s nothing charming about Harmony. It squats in the middle of the state, far away from the ocean, far away from the ski lodges. It has no scenic New England charm: its school is ugly, its town office uglier. It has a rundown yarn factory that once appeared in a Stephen King movie. It also has plenty of gas pumps and three places to buy beer. During hunting season you can tag your buck here very easily. Any time of the year you can buy bar-and-chain oil for your chainsaw. If you drive a half-hour south, you can shop at Wal-Mart. If you drive an hour east, you can go to the mall.

            Clearly Harmony is not Brigadoon. Time has not forgotten us. This is a town that takes diesel seriously. Almost everyone watches a lot of TV and votes Republican. Junked pickups rust in the weeds, little children are horrifyingly fat, and men beat their wives. Mobile homes burn down. Trash piles up in the ditches. In my son’s seventh-grade class, one very nice Christian boy recently suggested it might be a good idea to shoot all Mexicans who cross the U.S. border.

I realize that, at this point in my description, Harmony sounds like the town a Harper's writer might conjure up as an emblem of backcountry rot, a dying hamlet cretinously sponging up the poisons of our time. Hell, in fact. But hell is not always hell. As Satan notes,

What when we fled amain, pursu’d and strook

With Heav’n’s afflicting Thunder, and besought

The Deep to shelter us? this Hell then seem’d

A refuge from those wounds.

Thomas Hardy once wrote that “melancholy among the rural poor arises primarily from a sense of incertitude and precariousness of the position.” And for the maimed, the scared, the defeated, the angry, the vengeful, a bleak backcountry can indeed be a place to lick your wounds, to ponder, to squirrel away the canned goods and the ammo. By a long shot, this doesn’t make it Eden; but Milton’s image of hell as refuge does offer some hint about the mutability of place in the human psyche. Like most overquoted lines, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n” resonates because it strikes a familiar knell: because we are alone and changeable in all our colors and seasons; because we and our refuge are one and the same.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Today is one of those days when I have a thousand things to do at once. I'm trying to get a copyediting project out of my hair before Christmas while also hopelessly vacuuming sawdust out of the living room rug and making stacks of orange butter cookies to mail to my relatives and meet school Christmas-party quotas. Last night was the elementary school concert, which is always hard for me since I used to be the school music teacher and now I'm not. However, it's over now, and my son played Pachelbel's Canon beautifully on the piano (though he had "dressed up" by plastering his curly hair flat with copious amounts of gel so that he looked very odd, like he'd fallen headfirst into grape jelly), and one girl sang "Away in a Manger" like a very small, very breathless angel; so those performances made up somewhat for "Deck the Halls" played weakly on plastic recorders by a dozen disaffected 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, accompanied by a badly recorded dance-mix backbeat and reaching, as my husband noted, a whole new level of un-cool.

For more than a week, I have not written a thing that belongs to me except for this blog, which, as my son used to shout when he was an overbearing 3-year-old in quest of world domination, IS NOT MAKING ME HAPPIER. But I exaggerate: I've written letters, too, and received them, and they count on the good side.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This week in Harmony:
Elementary school basketball game, elementary school Christmas concert, elementary school Christmas party, elementary school bunny transported to my house for the duration of the holiday. I have never bunny-sat before, but my dog will no doubt do most of the work.

Otherwise, we are settling in for a standard miserable winter. Currently my yard is slathered with a thick layer of lumpy dirty ice (ideal for breaking a hip), with the good news being that expensive snow tires really do keep a non-four-wheel-drive car from sliding into a culvert. The sky is permanently glowering and overcast, and there is nothing in the world to do about it except to eat hot soup and go to bed early. Reading novels has become difficult because all the characters are bound to be disappointed in life. I've just received a magazine clipping in the mail assuring me that Jane Austen would have understood our banking crisis, but I am unclear as to whether or not the magazine clipper is deriding this point of view. As a welcome distraction, however, a correspondent in Edmonton tells me that it's -25 degrees Celsius in Alberta. Maine, thank heavens, has not yet dropped to such depths. But just wait a month. 

This week in Iowa in 1885:
"Wednesday [December] 16

"James wash and do other chores. Henry went to Manchester to see Harry as he intends to go away this evening     he gave a "General Grant book to Henry." James had a regular splurge talking against educations being of use to people, advocating that those who were not educated were the best off etc. I proved to him that education done no harm to any one & that it helped they who were inteligent & ambitious, while those that were lazy &c received benefit by it for it was all they ever were that was worthy of notice. I was very tired and nervous all day. wish I knew how Sarah is. Harry went to bid her his adieu yesterday. pleasant."

--from "A Secret to Be Burried": The Diary and Life of Emily Hawley Gillespie, 1858-1888

Monday, December 15, 2008

Over the weekend I received my copy of UMass Press's spring-summer 09 catalog, which lists my forthcoming Milton memoir. The book itself is not ready (though I have started seeing samples of page design). But I do have this catalog description, in case you happen to know any librarians or booksellers who like to buy books, because I sure don't. The description is accompanied by a lovely 17th-century woodcut of a woman picking apples, and the amount of cleavage she reveals is certain to encourage sales. Unfortunately, I can't figure out how to drag the illustration out of the PDF file, so you'll just have to use your imagination.

Tracing Paradise

Two Years in Harmony with

John Milton

Dawn Potter

University of Massachusetts Press

The story of a writer’s intense

engagement with a masterwork of

Western literature

One winter morning, poet Dawn Potter

sat down at her desk in Harmony, Maine,

and began copying out the opening lines

of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Her intent

was to spend half an hour with a poem

she had never liked, her goal to transcribe

a page or two. Maybe she would begin to

appreciate the poet’s art, though she had

no real expectations that the exercise

would change her mind about the poem.

Yet what began as a whim turned rapidly

into an obsession, and soon Potter was

immersed in a strange and unexpected

project: she found herself copying out

every single word of Milton’s immense,

convoluted epic.

     Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony

with John Milton is her memoir of that

long task. Over the course of twelve

chapters, Potter explores her very personal

response to Milton and Paradise Lost,

tracing the surprising intersections

between a seventeenth-century biblical

epic and the routine joys and tragedies of

domestic life in contemporary rural

Maine. Curious, opinionated, and eager,

she engages with the canon on mutable,

individual terms. Though she writes

perceptively about the details and

techniques of Milton’s art, always her

reactions are linked to her present-tense

experiences as a poet, small-time farmer,

family member, and citizen of a poor and

beleaguered north-country town.

    A skilled and entertaining writer,

Potter is also a wide-ranging and sophisticated

reader. Yet her memoir is not a

scholarly treatise: her enthusiasms and

misgivings about both Milton and Paradise

Lost ebb and flow with the days. Tracing

Paradise reminds us that close engagement

with another artist’s task may itself be a

form of creation. Above all, Potter’s

memoir celebrates one reader’s difficult

yet transformative love affair with

Milton’s glorious, irritating, inscrutable


“Potter writes beautifully. Her prose is as

clear as the song of a bell bird. She knows

how to use detail, quotations from Milton

but also domestic detail, for this is a book

about living sensibly more than about

Milton. It made me ponder my life as well

as literature, as a good book should do but

few books do. . . . Reading this memoir

was an intellectual joy. I know a little

about country things, a lot about children,

and some, maybe, about the way husbands

and wives tumble through life. The book

is the real thing.”

—Samuel Pickering, author of Edinburgh

Days, or Doing What I Want to Do

Dawn Potter is the author of two

poetry collections, most recently How

the Crimes Happened. She is associate

director of the Frost Place Conference

on Poetry and Teaching and lives in

Harmony, Maine, with her husband

and two sons.


144 pp., 14 illus.

$22.95t paper, ISBN 978-1-55849-701-6

May 2009

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Yesterday my older son went into the woods, sawed down a Christmas tree, dragged it back to the house, and announced that he was now ready to decorate. This is an exciting new development in child-rearing: kids who are old enough to run Christmas. I can't wait to abdicate.

I am in a mixed-up kind of half-lonely mood--a hard day to get words down, a hard day to read. Perhaps it's good that I have to go play the violin at the firehouse tonight. Maybe a dose of Christmas carols and Chex party mix among the fire engines will straighten me out.

Here's a little poem. I wrote it a while ago and just discovered that I still like it. Of course it's not as good as Alice Munro's "Turkey Season," which is the best slaughterhouse story I know. But to be fair to myself, I didn't even know that story existed till after I wrote the poem.

Don't be afraid to

lug a fat kid into rain, laugh when his mouth
flaps open like a chick's, stumble south
through weary dumps and truck-torn
roads, past autumn gnats who mourn
at Greaney's turkey farm, where redcoats
sling up roosters heel by heel, slit throats,

drain hearts, while maples twist an eye-
blue sky, a rush of wild geese wings by:
good enough day to kill or die,
perch shivering on a tailgate, fly.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I just accidentally discovered that Bangor Metro, which is a glossy what's-going-on-in-the-region monthly magazine, has announced that a poem of mine, published last May, won its Best Poem of 2008 award. I wonder if I will receive a plaque, like, you know, those businesses that win "Best Mint Chocolate Chip Diet Shake" or "Friendliest Snowplow Sales Staff" awards.

If I do get a plaque, maybe I can post it beside my driveway; and then when people need a poem, they will know where to go.

This is the Best Poem, in case you're interested. It's a memento for my friend Jilline Ringle, who died of cancer in 2005, and will be in my CavanKerry collection that's supposed to come out in April 2010.

Litany for J

We planned to be old ladies together,

smirking for the camera, cuddled

side by side on a squeaky porch swing,

Alice-and-Gertrude style, modeling


our garden-party housedresses, our pin-

curled hairdos, our rhinestone scuffs.

We planned to marry handsome, good,

educated men capable of fixing broken


lawnmowers and discussing the emotional

weight of syntax, men who would grant us

children, freedom, respect, plus

grope us under tables at fancy parties.


We planned to be artists, driven and holy,

greatness flickering in our gut; we meant

to write, speak, sing like angels on moonshine—

like fire, like sin. We planned to prop


and admire, bitch and complain, exaggerate,

gush, tease, and fast-talk, drop literary allusions

like hot tamales, split a bottle of red wine

every night, and whisper rude personal


comments about strangers. We planned

to drink tea at the Plaza, stroll arm in arm

through Central Park, and be accosted

by elderly Armenians in shorts.


We planned to cure cancer through prayer,

dip our irreligious fingers in every holy-water

font in Rome, wear flowered skirts and picture-

frame hats, dissect heartbreak and age, worship


Caravaggio, lose weight, eat fresh tomatoes,

sprawl in the grass, compose sonnets, sing

novelty songs, and wear stiletto heels,

and it took us twenty years, but we crossed


almost everything off our list, yes, we did,

even if our attainments were admittedly half-

assed and fraught with unexpected chickens

flapping home to roost. So who’s to say

we won’t be sipping a couple of tall g-and-ts

on that swing—you and me, two blue-haired

old ladies, clinking ice cubes, spouting Chaucer,

craving another sack of ripple chips,


whistling Dixie at the fat white moon?

Can’t you picture us, large as life

and twice as big? Freshen that lipstick,

darling, brush those chip crumbs off your lap.


Cheek to cheek, now; and blow a kiss to the lens.

This snapshot, it’s bound to last forever.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

So I just got an exasperated email from a friend who asked me, "Does anyone really read poetry?" I'm inferring that by "anyone" she means "anyone who isn't also writing poetry, composing a scholarly treatise about poetry, or doing homework." I'm sorry to say that my answer has to be "hardly a soul." However, I'm hoping that you might have a wider circle of literate acquaintances. If so, do leave a comment so that my friend and I can feel more hopeful. Though if you feel obliged to leave a negative comment, we would at least be able to invite you to become a founding member of our Cozy Iconoclasts Club.

Still, people keep writing poems. And the following paragraphs from Orhan Pamuk's Snow seem, to me, to be a remarkably accurate description of the about-to-write-a-poem sensation. (Novel weather update: it's still snowing, of course. Quotation punctuation update: the ellipses in the passage are the author's, not mine).

What am I doing in this world? Ka asked himself. How miserable these snowflakes look from this perspective, how miserable my life is. A man lives his life, and then he falls apart and soon there is nothing left. Ka felt as if half his soul had just abandoned him but still the other half remained; he still had love in him. Like a snowflake, he would fall as he was meant to fall; he would devote himself to the melancholy course on which he was set. His father had a certain smell after shaving, and now this smell came back to him. He thought of his mother making breakfast, her feet aching inside her slippers on the cold kitchen floor; he had a vision of a hairbrush; he remembered his mother giving him sugary pink syrup when he woke up coughing in the night, he felt the spoon in his mouth, and as he gave his mind over to all the other little things that make up a life and realized how they all added up to a unified whole, he saw a snowflake. . . .

So it was that Ka heard the call from deep inside him: the call he heard only at moments of inspiration, the only sound that could ever make him happy, the sound of his muse. For the first time in four years, a poem was coming to him; although he had yet to hear the words, he knew it was already written; even as it waited in its hiding place, it radiated the power and beauty of destiny.

Friday, December 5, 2008

A lovely cold and sunny Friday morning, and I'm off in an hour to teach my fourth and fifth graders, though "teach" is an inaccurate word, seeing as they do 90 percent of the talking. These kids love to talk about writing--not just their own, in that self-obsessed way of many adults at open-mic readings--but everybody else's too. They are nosy. "Why wasn't there a bigger mess when you made Nico blow up the Museum of Modern Art?" they ask. "And what makes you think elephants like to run candy shops?"

These aren't you've-done-it-the-wrong-way-and-I'm-a-better-writer complaints. They are honest questions about characters or events that seemed ambiguous to the listener when the writer read aloud his or her story. It seems to me that this ability to zero in on ambiguity, and to deal with it forthrightly, without cattiness, is extraordinarily important to productive group discussion. There's a danger, in writing workshops, of being too mean. There's also the danger of being too nice. A balance between civility and honesty can be tricky to find in a classroom, so it makes me very happy to see these kids in action. And I know their question style is working because the writer's response to such remarks is always to break into a grin. "Hey, you were listening to me!" that smile says. And how often does that happen in this life?

Pamuk novel weather update: Yes, it's still snowing. And now all the roads into the city are closed, although the city streets themselves remain mysteriously passable. My husband has suggested that I write a novel titled Drizzle. We considered Partly Sunny as well, though for obvious reasons we had to reject Hail.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My ninth-grade son had a test on Great Expectations yesterday and came home in a good mood, saying, of all things, "I liked that test." Naturally I was all ears. It turns out that this was his first experience with the short-essay style of assessment, in which the teacher asks four questions and the student chooses two to answer in a paragraph or two.

As anyone does, my son liked having a choice about what questions to answer. But he said that he also liked the short essays because they gave him time to think out his answer. I pass on this information because this particular son is a reasonably good student but not an English whiz by any means. So I'm especially interested in his reaction to the test style. It occurs to me that maybe even regular kids actually appreciate an opportunity to think through writing. Of course, conversely, my son could be a wacko.

Pamuk novel weather update: Still snowing.

Quote of the day, by Anatole France: "I do not know any reading more easy, more fascinating, more delightful, than a catalogue."

Autobiographical note: My family yells at me because I throw out all the catalogs as soon as they arrive.

Dinner tonight (tentative early-morning plan): chicken curry, couscous, kale from the greenhouse, mixed salad greens from the greenhouse, blueberry cake. (Have you noticed the repetition of "greenhouse" in this menu? Have you noticed that it's December in central Maine and that I have yet to buy lettuce from the grocery store? Can you tell that this is my first year with a greenhouse? What a novelty! I can even grow weeds off season!) 

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I finished my Bronte essay, and now, once again, I have nothing to write. This state of affairs will be fine for a day or two, and then I will start to fret and pace and badger myself to write something, anything, two words, a comma.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a poet friend about the urge to write--how it's not always, not even usually, an urge to say something about a particular subject but a need to mess around with language and see what happens. I find that this is true for me whether I end up writing a poem or an essay: I don't really have to know what I want to write about, but I have a desperate desire to shuffle words and punctuation together on a page. And editing other people's writing doesn't count. Those three adjectives and a semicolon have to belong to me.

Believe or not, I have just started to read a book I have never read before--Orhan Pamuk's Snow. Thus far the novel is very snowy. I am wondering if it will snow all the way through to the end. If this were Dickens, he would have the sun come out at a crucial "the scales fall from the hero's eyes" moment, but who knows what sneaky weather-symbolism techniques these modern novelists will spring on me?

Dinner tonight: smelts.

Monday, December 1, 2008

A friend sent me this link to a review of Paradise Lost: A Prose Translation.

Call me old-fashioned, but I had the idea that MILTON HAD WRITTEN A POEM.

2009 Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching

The 10th annual Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching will be June 28 to July 2, 2009, at the Frost Place in Franconia, NH, and will feature workshops, lectures, and readings, with a special emphasis on techniques for engaging students in the excitement of poetry, creative writing, and literature. 2009 faculty poets will include conference director Baron Wormser along with Charlotte Gordon, Geof Hewitt, Dawn Potter, and Elizabeth Powell. Tuition is $625 plus $95.00 for on-site meals. There is no application fee or deadline; send a letter describing interests and experience with poetry in the classroom to Baron Wormser, 834 Thistle Hill Road, Marshfield VT 05658; queries to 802 426-2109 or Complete information at: