Thursday, July 30, 2015

Tu Fu readers: Don't forget to add your comments to Monday's post; David has already shared some fascinating ideas about parallels to Hemingway that are certainly worth discussing. Because you probably won't hear from me for a day or so (I'll be on the road fetching Boys back to Boy Land), you have plenty of time to get your thoughts together before Sunday, when I plan to leave my own response to the poems and your comments.

The weather here has been difficult: very hot, very wet, very hard to find a gap to mow grass or dry laundry. As a result, my yard and garden are as tropical as they ever get: which is to say, lush and lanky, with too many weeds and not enough parrots. The red dahlias have the color and sheen of velvet bordello furniture; the lavender bee balm flowers look like tiny Muppets that have been stage-electrocuted; the Japanese beetles are extras in an X-rated cast-of-thousands epic. The place churns with ham actors and dramatic stage lighting and melodramatic plots.

There's much to be said for a quiet shady city street, with a single pot of geraniums, outside seating, and no bloodthirsty deerflies. If you've got it, enjoy it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The Unreasoning Animal

I woke up this morning to discover, once again, that the citizens of Harmony have voted against the bare-bones school budget. I could leap headfirst into another rant about the short-sightedness of sacrificing our children's futures, the idiocy of believing that closing the school building is going to get you out of paying for education, and the cruelty of standing up in a budget meeting and suggesting that special-ed students should just be sent to juvenile prison. But the issue is larger than the schools. What I'm seeing is an engrained selfishness--my guns, my money, my property--that denies our communal responsibility to care for those who cannot care for themselves.

Last night, after I came back from voting, I discovered that an acquaintance had posted a long, distressed announcement on Facebook. She wrote that her husband had taken their tax-return money and spent it all on booze and drugs. She told him she was filing for divorce, and apparently his response was to tell her "good luck" and refuse to support their three children. She's got no savings, and she's desperate. I do not know this woman very well, but I immediately responded and recommended a particular social service agency that works with families in bad situations. Meanwhile, most responses to her post were, essentially, "he's a fucking asshole"--true, no doubt, but not helpful.

What is the definition of help? In this case, it means finding someone who can guide a frightened person through the legal, financial, and emotional steps that will give her control over her life and the safety of her children. This is why social service agencies must be necessary features of our public life--because these are not skills that individuals in a crisis can dredge up from their own experiences.

Schools also offer help. Beyond their educational responsibilities, they feed hungry children, they identify kids who need glasses or hearing aids, they care for children who would otherwise be left alone or trapped with dangerous people. Americans depend on schools for so much more than teaching. Schools do crisis work, and often they do it invisibly. Damage them, and what happens to our citizenry?

It is hard for me to face the fact that there are people in this town who would rather imprison a child than educate him. But the town is a microcosm of the nation. Look at Donald Trump, look at Hulk Hogan, look at Wayne LaPierre, look at that horrible big-game dentist who murdered a sanctuary lion, look at any number of public personalities who preach the gospel of flippant individualism. Mark Twain would have a field day; imagine his pen burning a hole in the page! On the other hand, maybe he'd just be repeating himself:
Man is the Reasoning Animal. Such is the claim. I think it is open to dispute. Indeed, my experiments have proven to me that he is the Unreasoning Animal. Note his history. . . . It seems plain to me that whatever he is he is not a reasoning animal. His record is the fantastic record of a maniac. I consider that the strongest count against his intelligence is the fact that with that record back of him he blandly sets himself up as the head animal of the lot: whereas by his own standards he is the bottom one. 
--from "The Lowest Animal" (circa 1897)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

From an email I received last night about The Conversation:
I . . . find myself moved on a number of fronts: your genuineness about poetry, your acumen, your conversational yet acute style and the range of your citations, among other things. I love how particular the book is, how it shows a poet--you--in the midst, as it were, of poetry. It's a marvelous and utterly original book. I hope it makes its way into some receptive hands. 
--Baron Wormser

And today is my older son's 21st birthday--a day of passage and celebration, and of elegy. He has become the adult version of the boy he always was: self-reliant, excited, funny, clever, adventurous, loving, hot-tempered, curious, concentrated, willful, talkative. This is the glory of watching a child grow up: discovering that he has become a friend for life.


I sit on the grass and
Start a poem, but the pathos of
It overcomes me. The future
Slips imperceptibly away.
Who can say what the years will bring?

--from "The Jade Flower Palace," by Tu Fu


Don’t be afraid to

lug a fat kid into rain, laugh when his mouth
flaps opens 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 swings by:
good enough day to kill or die,
perch shivering on a tailgate, fly.

--from How the Crimes Happened, by Dawn Potter (CavanKerry Press, 2010)

Monday, July 27, 2015

Tu Fu, Poems VI-X

For today's conversation prompt, I'm asking readers to focus on one of the poems in this set: a poem that attracts you, either because you like it or because it puzzles or disturbs you. Reread the poem and jot down the individual words that seem to rise to the surface as you read. Then among those words, choose the one that seems most vital--to the poem, to you, to this moment.

In your remarks about the poem, share your decision-making process and then comment on how your close attention to Tu Fu/Rexroth's word choice might affect the way in which you revise your own writing.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

It's Sunday morning now, and the rain is pouring onto the sunflowers outside my window.

But this is where I was yesterday afternoon.

People were friendly at the shindig. Tom was enthusiastic about the fried oysters. And a famous person told me she loved my Milton book. That was a shock. The upshot was that I did not feel like a freak. I felt like an anxious person who turns out to have plenty of people to talk to at a party.

Afterwards, Tom and I changed our shoes and went for a short hike in the Linekin Woods, which brought us to another overlook of the bay . . .

. . . and we sat on cliffs that looked like striated granite embedded with stony salt and listened to somebody's loud radio in the house above us.

And then we stopped in Wiscasset and ate fish-and-chips and a crab roll and stared out at the traffic crossing the Sheepscot River bridge.

Yesterday was one of those days when I was so grateful to have a cheerful friend whose eye I could catch in the middle of a crowd, who could follow a confusing hikers' map, who could share his fries while eavesdropping on inane conversations at a clam shack, who could drive on the highway in the dark and walk around the yard with a flashlight looking for the stupid cat. It's a funny thing: to spend all afternoon at a big social event, and then find out that what makes you happiest is having ended up with the right person to go home with.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Harmony isn't usually on the way to anyplace else, but yesterday my cousin's family swung through town on their way to a church event in western Maine. I wasn't sure what her kids liked to eat, so I decided to stick with simple things: spaghetti and meatballs, fresh bread, cole slaw, brownies.

I made bread in the morning and started the sauce after lunch. Then I made the brownies. Mid-afternoon I made mayonnaise; grated cabbage, carrots, and turnips; and mixed up the cole slaw. (For tang, I also added a little plain yogurt and rice vinegar.) In the late afternoon I mixed the meatballs and simmered them in the sauce, then took them out, covered them, and put them into a slow oven to stay warm. I added cream and seasonings to the remaining sauce and let it sit till my cousin's family arrived. By the time they got here, all I had to do was boil water for spaghetti, reheat the sauce, and finish it with basil and parmesan.

In short: preparing this plain meal took me all day. I might as well have been making chicken kiev.

On the other hand, the children cleaned their plates and had seconds and took the leftover brownies away with them, and that is always a good sign.

As I was writing this entry, the catchphrase slow food popped into my head. So I googled it and was immediately presented with the option slow food for fast lives. I followed the link and ended up on an advertising site for kale granola bars. Apparently, slow food for fast lives equals expensive processed food with trendy ingredients. Slow food for slow lives seems to be an apter term for my cooking style, although I did not rely on a plethora of "locally sourced ingredients" (this is Maine, after a cold spring, and even real farmers are struggling) or follow "local culinary traditions" (in which case I would have made packaged American chop suey and Jello). I just made sauce, meatballs, bread, cole slaw, and brownies, and the only thing that came from a box was the spaghetti. To me, cooking this way just seems like food.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tomorrow afternoon I am going to novelist Richard Ford's house as one of the Special Guest Authors at the giant 40th anniversary gala for the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance. The list of Famous Special Guests is daunting--among them Richard Blanco, Richard Russo, Ann Beattie, Jonathan Lethem, Lois Lowry, Elizabeth Strout, etc., etc. As a Less Special Special Guest, I am honored to be in this company, though also daunted and little depressed by the prospect of milling among the luminaries, though of course also hopeful that the affair will turn out to be not only memorable but also sociable and easygoing. Knowing what I know about the personality of writers, I suspect that 90 percent of the Really Special Special Guest Authors are just as daunted as I am. At this very moment, all around the state of Maine, Special Guest Authors are sighing and fretting and wincing, and looking mournfully at their partners over the breakfast table, and rechecking the guest list to see if there's anyone on it that they already know how to talk to, and trying to come to terms with how fat they're going to look in their party clothes, and hoping no one is going to ask, "What are you working on now?" because then they'll have to say, "Not one damn thing! I'm stuck in a terrible hole and every word I throw onto the page is wrong! Argh! Argh! Argh!"

But as Tom has pointed out, the food will probably be delicious, and the view will certainly be glorious, and he and I can always spend a lot of time walking down onto the dock and staring at the waves. Perhaps that's where all the Special Guests will be . . . crowded like ants in a knot at the end of the pier, like we're about to walk the plank.

[I'm getting carried away with this scenario, and I'll stop now because actually there are people on the guest list that I already know how to talk to, and everything will be fine, and if I look fat in my party clothes and haven't published anything in the New Yorker this week?--well, c'est la vie.]

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Thoughts about Tu Fu, Poems I-V

As I expected, you readers offered brilliant perceptions about the Tu Fu poems. Of course, David's point is important--that "a lot of that is Mr. Rexroth's art"--and there are places where Mr. Rexroth's art seems to be too much Rexroth and not enough Tu Fu. As David says, occasionally in these poems we feel "someone with a light touch suddenly banging the keys."

Nonetheless, Thomas catches at something vital in these pieces:
Building on Carlene’s wonderfully articulated description of the relations between the internal and external, I just would add that what seems so striking to me is, while there definitely is the resonance between the two, we see so little of that internal world (and when we do, it’s empty!). Unlike the Romantic inner and outer natures of Coleridge and Wordsworth, Tu Fu denies us the explicit articulation of the linkage between the two. Any connection between the inner feeling of the I and the dew on the lute strings is completely implicit, not explicit. And the external seems to dominate in the poems—I would say threatens to overwhelm the I, but that language is too forceful, too menacing. IV maybe best enacts this, but even V in the image of the figure walking through fields seems tiny in comparison, perhaps because of the “dust of the dead” that feels more vast.
"The external seems to dominate in the poems--I would say threatens to overwhelm the I." To me, this captures the essence of these poems . . . and explains, in part, why they transcend mere personal anecdote.

DiTa (who is a marvelously skilled poet, by the way) remarks, "I seldom use 'I' in a poem, feeling it is too intimate. This for me is a challenge to be 'up-front' in my poems. I want to speak to the heart. Maybe Tu Fu has the answer." Here DiTa speaks to something that also concerns me as a poet: am I writing a poem that is just about the small world of me, or does my writing use the small world of me as a way to touch on larger tragedies, ambiguities, hopes?

Carlene notes that "poems [often] stay too rooted in one landscape or the other; [Tu Fu's] paralleling of internal and external experiences makes the poem seem both personal and universal." Ruth writes that "the I is both participating and observing." I think this is how Tu Fu (via Rexroth) overcomes that poisonous suck of the "I I I I I!!" voice that DiTa and I both fear.

I asked you to look at how the endings differ from the body of the poems. Often the poems end on an image of departure, or an opening landscape, or natural chaos:
Poem I: "I think of my little boat, / And long to be on my way." 
Poem II: "The way back forgotten, hidden / Away, I become like you, / An empty boat, floating, adrift." 
Poem III: "Life whirls past like drunken wildfire."
These are not endings in the sense of closing a neat door on the poem but endings that open the poem into a world beyond poetry. And yet the body of these poems are filled with particular, individual details about the I and his surroundings: "green wine bottles," "the sound of chopping wood," "I am sleepless in the glow and shadow of the lamplight." What draws is me is the way in which Tu Fu/Rexroth balances these particularities against the powerful forces of that wordless beyond.

As I writer, I think what I want to begin to learn from these poems is (1) the bravery of saying, "I am here," and then patiently and economically creating that "here"; and (2) the bravery of saying, "Around me is a world that does not know me or need to know me."

 Please do leave your reactions to my thoughts in the comments, but let's also move on to the next ten poems: VI through XVI.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

ART [This morning: editing a poetry manuscript. This afternoon: messing around with plaster and paint in a fresco workshop.] NOT ART [This morning: taking Tom's truck to the garage because it's making a horrible noise. This afternoon: shopping for a used clothes dryer because the one we have isn't making any noise at all.]

BEAUTY [Much as I hate to admit it: the glossy, green-gold, iridescent shells of Japanese beetles.] NOT BEAUTY [The appearance of a rose bush covered with Japanese beetles. The smell of rotting Japanese beetles.]

I read this morning that E. L. Doctorow has died. I feel sad, yet he lived a long a life and wrote many books, some of which were extremely interesting. What more could one hope for, as a writer, as a reader? [Well, of course one can always hope for more. Hope and despair are the food of art.]

Maybe my as-yet unwritten tome about the Plath-Sexton-Rich generation should also include an Updike-Roth-Doctorow section. Part 1 and Part 2. The women poets, the male novelists. Mothers and fathers. I have no idea how I would even begin to compose such a monster.


Tu Fu readers: Keep thinking about those 5 poems, and add some more more remarks if the spirit moves you. A member of the group tells me that she has only now acquired her book, so I'm going to refrain from commenting until she has a chance to do the reading.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

My friend Donna was quite taken with the turnip photograph I posted a few days ago and has requested "more photos of cute vegetables, please." So, Donna, here you go:

First, let me present Cute Green Garlic, first of the season, scrubbed, juicy, and vampire-repelling.

Next, I'll vary the offerings by introducing the first Cute Fruit of the season, a fat raspberry, along with Tom's good idea for dessert: drop a handful of raspberries into a tall grass, add a couple of scoops of vanilla ice cream, cover with expensive spicy ginger ale. Consume while sitting on the couch and watching Being John Malkovitch.

Finally, I'll leave you with three Cute Peas and a Cute Peapod, glistening with rain.


Tu Fu readers: Carlene has left a comment on yesterday's reading prompt. I'll wait a few days for the rest of you to add your thoughts before I mention mine.


P.S. Another recipe: If, for instance, you've been married for 24 years, and it's a hot day (though not as hot as it was on the day you got married, which was the hottest day on record in Rhode Island, a day so hot that you considered throwing away your wedding dress after you took it off), and your husband has been working outside repairing someone's rotted trim all day and you want to cheer him up, you might consider making him a cold shrimp and seaweed salad, with cherry tomatoes and sesame oil and cilantro, and serving it to him on the porch along with a sweating can of Rolling Rock. In my experience, this makes him very happy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Tu Fu, Poems I-V

Kenneth Rexroth's One Hundred Poems from the Chinese opens with thirty or so pages of poems by Tu Fu. I'm going to suggest we start out slowly here and focus only on poems I through V.

Read these poems over a few times; allow yourself to fall into the speaker's very particular and personal voice. The "I" is a powerful draw in these brief pieces.

Now, after you've spent some time with this "I," go back and think about how the poems end. What happens here? Do you feel a commonality among the endings? Do the endings feel different from the rest of the poem? How and why?

As a writer yourself, how might Tu Fu's approach to endings help you figure out how to end your own poems? How might it make trouble for you?

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Over the past few days I've been engaged in a fair amount of behind-the-scenes conversation with blog readers who are arguing with me about my donation-button discomforts. Uniformly these disparate readers tell me, "Put the donation button back up."

One friend told me about a guy who runs a podcast whom he occasionally donates to. "I want him to go to his wife and say 'some guy in NYC just gave me $200.' Maybe he will take her to dinner and she will see that the world thinks there's something special about her husband. Money is a way to express that for me. Money is communication." He also told me directly: "You are smart enough to know you are creating mental barriers that need not exist if they don't serve your goals. So let them go. What's the worst that can happen?"

My goals are to be a good writer and a good human being; but as I said to my friend, "the Quaker poison" is always leaching in; the voice of Selfless Duty is constantly intoning, "Give of yourself, work for others." I believe what it says, but I also recognize that I have to fix the broken dryer and do something about the wretched worn-out sofa and support my children and put gas in the car. Those are goals too, and the six years I've spent writing posts for this blog have not contributed a dime to them.

So here's how I am going to deal with donation-button issue. I've added the link to the page list at the top of the blog, and I'm going to ask you to think of it as a musician's tip jar. Toss in some change if you feel like it; ignore it if you don't. Either way, I will love you and I will keep playing, until my hands start seizing up.

Tomorrow morning we'll start the Tu Fu reading project

Saturday, July 18, 2015

I am sitting on the porch, at a card table covered with a yellow Provencal tablecloth, my laptop and a Fowles novel propped next to a stone jar of tall fading purple foxgloves. Last night I stood on a hay wagon in the mosquito dusk jamming to songs by Leadbelly and the Band, and I'm still kind of tired, but in a good way. The violin is an athletic instrument.

The wet has settled in, a real rain now. The drops click down the gutter. Yesterday evening, as I waited for a sound-check, I sat at a picnic table and read a Jane Kenyon poem about chores and stared down into a valley of vegetables, row after row of indistinguishable green, rolling down to a horizon of trees, and beyond, the hidden river. "How much better it is," she writes, "to carry wood to the fire / than to moan about your life." I thought about the irony of being a poet: that only someone who can't stop moaning about her life becomes able to write those lines.

There's a faint breeze this morning, and the porch is cool and damp, almost too cool to stay here for long. In the kitchen Tom is grinding coffee. Outside my screened window the peavines tremble as fat raindrops settle in the curl of their shallow leaves.

The peas are nearly done; the strawberries are over; the arugula has bolted into a bed of leggy white star-flowers. Yesterday I picked the first handful of raspberries. Potatoes are in bloom, and tiny green beans are setting among the lavender bean blossoms. The dahlias are covered in tight green buds. I am watching a white-breasted nuthatch slowly zig and zag up the trunk of an apple tree. "A bird begins to sing," writes Jane Kenyon, "hesitates, like a carpenter / pausing to straighten a nail, then / begins again."

Friday, July 17, 2015

Tu Fu poetry-club readers: Don't forget to let me know when your Rexroth books arrive. I have heard from a couple of people, but not from everyone who expressed interest. Once I know you have them in hand, I'll set a reading assignment.


It was 45 degrees here this morning. Ruckus's ears were so cold in the breeze from the window that he had to spend half an hour buried under the comforter before he could recover his self-satisfaction.


My band Doughty Hill is performing tonight, 6-9 p.m., at Stutzmans' Cafe and Farmstand in Sangerville. It's a benefit for the FarmShare program, which provides free seasonal produce to elderly and disabled Mainers. The cost is $15 for dinner and the show, and I promise that I will finish memorizing all the lyrics to "The City of New Orleans" before I try to sing it again.

Reasons to attend: Last night, during dress rehearsal, the giant mosquitoes didn't show up until the end of the show, so you should be safe. Also there will be strawberry shortcake.


I am still reading the John Fowles novel, still slowly copying out Beowulf, still dipping into Langston Hughes's African Treasury, now also reading Jane Kenyon's Selected Poems. I have four editing projects clamoring for attention, and a crossword puzzle to finish, and grass to mow, and dead wood to prune out of various shrubs, and weeds to pull in my gardens, and a few last strawberries to pick. I have to feed the birds, and comfort my sons during telephone calls, and figure out how to disguise holes in the living-room couch. I have to wait for rejection letters, and send a photo of the cat to my mother. I have to let the dog in and let the dog out and let the dog in, and wash my husband's work pants and hang them on the line and take them down and fold them and put them into the drawers. I have to worry about the news, and cry about more people who are dead for no reason, and miss my friends, and hold a cup of hot tea, and stare up into the blue and cloudless sky, and wonder how I ought to be living my life. Because all of this seems so minor and yet so necessary and yet so minor.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Question 1: Is this statement true? It's from John Fowles's novel Daniel Martin, and the speaker is a playwright and screenwriter who is smart but doesn't necessarily see himself clearly.
You create out of what you lack. Not what you have.

Question 2: Did you have a better dream last night than I did? Because mine was pretty great.
I am an actor in a comical costume drama set in 17th-century Holland. In my dream I'm aware of playing a part but also thinking about my responsibilities as an actor playing a part. One of the things I have to do is to invent an idea for a painting that will feature in the drama. This is the title of the painting that I invented: Still Life with Hairpiece and Cheese.
Question 3: Would you like to see a photograph of a very cute turnip harvested from my garden yesterday? It's about 2 inches in diameter. Who knew that turnips could be so charming?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

I spent several hours yesterday reading and commenting on the poems of an extraordinarily gifted apprentice poet. The pieces are still in early draft form. They have not entirely found their structure or their focus, but the clarity of observation, the depth of emotion, the ear for language and history . . . these are the natural wonders, the heart of real poetry.
"All I know is a door into the dark." 
--Seamus Heaney, "The Forge"

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

I've been rereading John Fowles's 1977 novel Daniel Martin, and have been reminded, again, how much I admire his work and how much he aggravates me. In certain ways he is an English Protestant version of American Jewish Philip Roth: a complex and canny constructor of themes, histories, characters, allusions, with a giant repetitive blind spot about women.

I wonder why I go back to these novelists, who repeatedly misread and misconstrue the female temperaments they so skillfully create? But can I even say "misread and misconstrue"? I mean, writers purposefully create what they create, so what right do I have to claim they have seen their characters in the wrong way? Perhaps I am the one who is misreading female motivation, reaction, need, anger, revenge? Perhaps the issue is that I don't understand men.

I am a relentless second-guesser of my own motivations and reactions, and that habit, no doubt, lies behind my persistent rereading of these novelists. In so many ways, these men are masterful, even universal, writers--Tolstoyan, almost, in their thematic and emotional reach. And I do recognize unlikable behaviors in myself and other women--manipulations instigated by insecurity, or need, or ignorance, or sheer selfishness. Neither of these novelists is kind to men either, and Fowles especially can be quite forgiving of female imperfections. It's just that his explications of the motivations behind those feminine errors seem to be rippled, foxed, flawed--as if he and I are looking at the same subject as she is reflected in two different but equally unreliable mirrors.

I ought to be quoting long passages to prove my point, but I've reread both of these novelists for so many years that I've stopped thinking of their authorial personalities as specifically related to the text. For me, they have become a familiar fragrance in the air of the narrative. This is why I am not a scholar. Close reading bores me: why spend so much time spent proving a solid, logical point about a work of art that is compelling because it is flexible, fluctuating, ambivalent, spectral?

What is clear is that I am a woman reader and writer who is drawn to male poets and novelists who are mystified by women and who struggle, with imperfect success, but through complicated and eloquent means, to delineate those mysteries.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Already it's been an inside-out day. Because of the heat, I started dinner at 6:30 a.m. and mowed grass at 7, and am trying to get three loads of laundry hung out on the lines early enough to beat any thunderstorms.

Dinner will be chilled snow-pea soup with dill and sour cream, followed by fresh orange gelatin, so I had to put things together early in order to get them properly cold by this evening. Tom and I have been eating late on these hot nights, sometimes close to 8, at a table on the screened porch, where we can listen to the thrush sing and watch the bats fly against the pale night sky.

I appreciate all your comments on yesterday's post. Let me reiterate: I like these conversations, and I look forward to them, but I do get squeezed. As David pointed out, it's not easy to keep a regular blog. Perhaps I should just allow myself skip more days without feeling guilty about it. I don't know; we'll see what happens.

In any case: regarding the Tu Fu project--let me know when your copies arrive, so I'll have a better notion of when to begin. Because these translations are under copyright, I can't post more than a stanza or so within the discussions, so you'll really need your own books in order to participate.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

I've been undergoing considerable anxiety lately about how much is too much on this blog. While most of what I write is personal, some crosses the line into teaching--professional work that other writers in my position charge money for in private online classes. I have been loath to make those conversations private: I like imagining the silent listeners, accidental or otherwise, who drop in to overhear. The fact is: I have a bad relationship with money. I don't want to it to come between me and my friends; I don't want to charge anybody anything; I feel like a philistine whenever I do.

Some blog owners solve this problem by allowing sponsored ads on their blog. That is something I will never consider. Others solve it by adding a donation button, giving their readers the option to toss $20 the writer's way and maybe thus pay for an hour's worth of work. Nobody is required to donate; nobody pressed. It's just an option.

Yesterday, after much worry, I decided that maybe I should go ahead and install the donation button. This morning I changed my mind and took it down. I felt terrible about it.

So I'm back to where I've started. And right now my plan is to continue on as I have been. But if there comes a time when something must give, it will have to be this blog.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Teaching and Editing Services

As the first step to updating this blog's "Teaching and Editing" page, I thought I'd remind the world that I am a freelance jack-of-many-trades.

Poetry and creative nonfiction workshops
I have taught poetry and creative nonfiction in many settings, from K-12 classes to MFA seminars. I am available for short or long residencies and can combine off-site online work with in-class visits.

Private poetry mentoring
I work one on one with aspiring writers, offering revision advice, reading suggestions, writing prompts, and manuscript reviews, as well as support, encouragement, and honesty.

I copyedit literary and academic manuscripts.

I am happy to provide references for all of these services, and happy to talk with you about your artistic hopes and dreams and worries. Though poetry changed my life, it didn't make my life any easier. Having mentors and friends did.

Friday, July 10, 2015

from Beowulf, trans. Seamus Heaney 

Next the king ordered eight horses
with gold bridles to be brought through the yard
into the hall.


Eight huge beautiful snorting restive battle horses milling around inside a mead-hall. I couldn't stop imagining them. And then my poem for them rushed out.


from "The Given Note," by Seamus Heaney

For he had gone alone into the island
And brought back the whole thing.
The house throbbed like his full violin.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

I've started writing again, and the poems are coming swiftly, clots of words and lines, characters emerging from the shadows--tongue-tied housewives who can only speak in the borrowed language of the church, aging Anglo-Saxon queens. . . .

The house is very quiet. But outside a thrush is singing.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Tu Fu and Langston Hughes

As a way to continue yesterday's conversation about group-reading possibilities, I've posted the openings of three Tu Fu poems and three Langston Hughes poems. Tu Fu (712-770) was a relatively unknown poet and minor civil servant during the Tang Dynasty but is now celebrated, along with Li Po, as the greatest of the Chinese poets. Langston Hughes (1902-1967) was a prolific writer in many genres, an innovator in jazz poetry, a leader of the artistic, literary, and social movement called the Harlem Renaissance, and a civil rights activist.

For each poet, I have chosen three openings from three different poems, which I hope will give you a taste of the poet's stylistic and subject-matter variety while hinting at some continuities in his work. Please feel free to share your reactions in the comments.

the opening of "By the Winding River II," by Tu Fu 

Everywhere petals are flying
And Spring is fading. Ten thousand
Atoms of sorrow whirl away
In the wind.

the opening of "To Pi Ssu Yao," by Tu Fu

We have talent. People call us
The leading poets of our day.
Too bad, our homes are humble,
Our recognition trivial.

the opening of "Night in the House by the River," by Tu Fu

It is late in the year;
Yin and Yang struggle
In the brief sunlight.

[all three from One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, translated by Kenneth Rexroth (1971)]

the opening of "Black Maria," by Langston Hughes

Must be the Black Maria
That I see,
The Black Maria that I see--
But I hope it
Ain't comin' for me.

the opening of "Spirituals," by Langston Hughes

Rocks and the firm roots of trees.
The rising shafts of mountains.
Something strong to put my hands on.

the opening of "Preference," by Langston Hughes

I likes a woman
six or eight and ten years older'n myself.
I don't fool with these young girls.

[all three from Selected Poems of Langston Hughes (1958)]

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

I haven't slept well for several nights, and now my interactions with the world are beginning to assume a sepia tinge--speckled and pale, with the corners curling. I feel able to cry about almost anything. At two o'clock this morning, the opening pages of William Trevor's novel Felicia's Journey (another recent Goodwill find) became too pathetic to bear . . . a mousy heroine, pregnant and homeless, wandering through the industrial parks of the English Midlands in search of her boyfriend, and of course she won't find him, and of course something bad will happen, and of course it will involve that jolly fat man in the old-fashioned green car, who is lying in wait for her at the bus station. . . .

Thankfully daylight returned, and coffee, and the exigencies of bossy house pets.

On yesterday's post, Carlene and Ruth mentioned their interest in undertaking another group reading project. Previously I've hosted blog book-clubs involving Dickens, Shakespeare, Melville, Rilke, and maybe some others I'm too tired to remember. Carlene is suggesting Langston Hughes. Another possibility might be Kenneth Rexroth's translations of Chinese poetry. Anyone else have any thoughts about this, or any interest in participating?

Monday, July 6, 2015

The gods of the Goodwill are always a powerful force in my reading life; and a few weeks ago, just before I left for the Frost Place, they stepped in once again. While browsing among the dingy romance novels, I discovered Langston Hughes's 1960 anthology An African Treasury: Stories, Poems, Articles, and Essays by Black Africans--a first edition, in nearly mint condition, with the original dust jacket.

Then, this past weekend, Tom came home from the Harmony dump with Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes: Letters, 1925-1967, also a first edition (though not of the age and magnitude of the African Treasury).

It seems that I am being instructed to embark on a Langston Hughes reading project.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Midsummer observations

One nice thing about being alone is that people keep coming to visit.

Campfires, fireflies, and the distant sound of electric guitars promote comfortable conversation, especially when the band at the musical festival beyond the trees is clearly wretched.

I am glad to own a dog who is indifferent to fireworks.

It's not a bad thing that parents who are away from their children spend their evenings without children fretting obsessively about their children. They can't fret about their children in front of their children, can they?

I now know that cedar waxwings live in my yard.

Cheesecake is delicious, even when served in glops rather than slices.

It's not a bad thing that parents who are away from their children find out how much they still like being around the partners they never have time to hang out with when the children are around.

Convoluted sentences are convenient repositories for convoluted thoughts.

A male goldfinch next to a male scarlet tanager is a startling sight.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Fourth of July

Last winter, the Plow Guy plowed our firepit (aka ashy cooking hole surrounded by rocks), so this summer Tom decided to reconstruct it as an actual brick-and-mortar grill. We used it for the first time last weekend, and tonight we'll use it again for an impromptu Fourth of July feast with friends.

[For more on the Plow Guy, see this poem.]

[Patriotic interlude Global update Here's what Thomas Paine's Common Sense (1776) looks like in Polish: "Niektórzy pisarze tak zadziwiła społeczeństwa z rządem, jak opuścić niewielkie lub żadne różnice pomiędzy nimi, podczas gdy nie są one tylko różne, ale mają różne pochodzenie. Towarzystwo jest produkowany przez naszych zachcianek, a rząd przez naszą niegodziwość, byłego promuje nasze szczęście pozytywnie jednocząc nasze uczucia, drugi negatywnie ograniczania naszych wad. Jeden zachęca do współżycia, a drugi tworzy wyróżnień. Pierwszym z nich jest patron, ostatni Punisher."]

Tonight's dinner menu: hamburgers with beef from a Harmony cow; grilled vidalias, portobellos, and maybe asparagus if I can find enough in the garden; homemade buns; twice baked potatoes stuffed with ridiculously plentiful turnip greens; cold white wine.

[Patriotic interlude Educational update Here's "The Revolutionary Cow," a 1778 political cartoon, with the jokes handily labeled by an unknown high school teacher.]

Tonight's dessert menu: mascarpone cheesecake topped with black cherries.

[Patriotic interlude Dietary update From "Cuisine of the Thirteen Colonies": "Where Americans had a historic disdain for the refineries of French cooking, that opinion, at least in a small part, began to change with the American alliance with the French. In the first American publication of Hannah Glass's Art of Cookery Made Easy, the insults toward French dishes disappeared. A number of Bostonians even attempted to cook French cuisine for their French allies, sometimes with comedic results when entire frogs were put into soups rather than just their legs."]

Friday, July 3, 2015

I'm so pleased to announce the release of The Conversation: Learning to Be a Poet, a teaching and writing manual based on the work we do at the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. [Contributors, I'll be mailing your copies as soon I can acquire envelopes.]

Poet and master teacher Dawn Potter shares a dozen craft essays on poems by luminaries such as William Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, and Robert Hayden. Her detailed yet accessible discussions offer readers, writers, and teachers new approaches for engaging adventurously with both canonical and contemporary poetry.

Dawn Potter directs the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, held each summer at Robert Frost's home on Franconia, New Hampshire. She is the author of seven books of prose and poetry.

ISBN 978-0-9904287-1-8

Deerbrook Editions
P.O. Box 542
Cumberland, Maine 04021

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Midsummer 2015, Harmony, Maine

The corn will not be knee-high by the Fourth of July, but it may be ankle-high. The lettuce seeds would germinate more evenly if the cat would stop digging them up. What mean animals are biting off the tops of my baby beets and stealthily deleting the kohlrabi? On the bright side, I have picked four strawberries, the potatoes and brussels sprouts are glowing, the roses are fairy-tale-like, and I have not seen a single Japanese beetle . . . yet.

And there's book progress too. In a day or so, once various website issues are solved, I'll be making a formal publication announcement about The Conversation. The manuscript of Chestnut Ridge is dozing comfortably in a publisher's in-box, and I actually received a substantial royalty check for sales of Same Old Story (i.e., enough money to pay for a week's worth of groceries, i.e., much better than the 12 cents I recently earned for Tracing Paradise).

I've been working--slowly, slowly--on a few new poems, but perhaps for the first time in my writing life I'm not distressed but my paltry production. Seven books published or under contract, with two more manuscripts in flux! . . . and all in the space of eleven years, all while raising two boys and numerous farm animals and trying to behave like a functional adult who can earn a little money, keep a clean house, and weather death, cold, and loneliness. I have no idea how I did this. It all seems like a hallucination. Or perhaps I am convalescing from brain fever.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Company Town (2013)

Dawn Potter

E. B. Leisenring Jr., the scion of a powerful Pennsylvania coal family who led industry negotiators during a long and bitter mine workers’ strike in 1978, ignoring pleas by President Jimmy Carter and helping to win a settlement that largely favored mine owners, died on March 2 at his winter home in Aiken, S.C. He was 85.

                                                                        —The New York Times

Once there was a Leisenring
who was not a man but a word,
three dancing syllables,
etched in white on a rusty green sign,
poised and watchful among the cracked and thwarted hills,
among the whiskey bottles in the quarries,
the spider-webbed fingers of sunlight along the ridge,
the firm red haunches of the heifers,
black kitchen smoke rising from stovepipes,
among rotting tires, among heaps of shattered brick.
Copperheads flickered in the weeds.

[from the manuscript Chestnut Ridge, a verse-history of southwestern Pennsylvania]