Sunday, February 14, 2016

Twelve below zero this morning, with a brutal wind. Last night, running across a dark lane in a black gale, violin case careening in my hand, shards of snow pelting my face, I thought, I have never been so cold. Then my body instantly remembered a moment, 25 years earlier, when I was working as a farm manager in Vermont . . . early morning in the sheep barn, 15 below zero, sliding open the back door, and the wind sweeping up from the valley and slamming me full in the face. I have, in fact, been much colder here in Maine--40 below and more--but that sheep-barn moment still lives inside my bones.

Tom and I were both out of bed several times last night to stoke the wood stove. But despite roaring lustily all night, its circle of heat is small this morning. Usually this single stove is adequate for heating the entire house, but fighting 12 below zero is difficult; and with no furniture or rug, the living-room-under-construction, tiny as it is, feels cavernous. But the coffee in my cup is hot and strong, and my bathrobe is thick and red, and my knees are parked in front of a dancing flame, and there are no animals in my barn anymore . . . no shivering livestock, no frozen water buckets, no hysterical me, running back and forth, back and forth between house and barn, trying to keep the animals warm enough to stay alive.

This must be the definition of the lap of luxury.

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Books in the Mail

My friend, the novelist Tom Rayfiel, has sent me his most recent book, Genius. I've written on this blog about his previous novel, In Pinelight, which struck me at the time as one of the most interesting new works of fiction I'd come across for years, so I'm pretty excited about this new book. Tom is also a brilliant reader of both poetry and fiction. Sometimes I think he and I are Ivy Compton-Burnett's entire contemporary fan club, and he has also introduced me to a new passion, the novels of Penelope Fitzgerald, a gift I will never be able to repay.

In addition, I've just acquired Garth Greenwell's What Belongs to You, which is receiving considerable adulation in the New Yorker, the NY Times, the LA Times, etc.--which is to say, Garth is a young lion living the dream. I first became acquainted with him as a poet when I was working for the Beloit Poetry Journal; and later, when I was compiling my anthology, A Poet's Sourcebook, I contacted him for permission to reprint an essay. Since then, we have been friendly, and even had breakfast together in Minneapolis last spring. I've read an early version of What Belongs to You, a short novella called Mitko, so I'm looking forward to finding out how Garth has reworked that strong but flawed kernel into a full-length novel. The two of us are planning to have a longer conversation this summer about his shift from poetry to prose, which I'm thinking I might be able to work into an essay for a journal that's been asking for contributions. We'll see what transpires.

Finally, another long-distance friend, who teaches and writes in Hawaii, has spontaneously decided to send me a collection of Paul Celan's poetry in translation--her response to some of the recent autobiographical musings on this blog. In short, I'm feeling warm in the affections of the bookish, and I will have plenty to read on the bus to New York City on Wednesday.

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