Saturday, June 30, 2018

I spent yesterday washing clothes, mowing grass, pruning tomatoes, and finishing poems. The two drafts I brought back from Vievee Francis's workshop are now essentially done. I recast the troublesome ending of one of them--switching up the point of view, then suddenly unearthing the word vanity as a way to evoke bathroom furniture while simultaneously whipping out a thematic nunchuk. And then I slammed the poem shut with the voice of a toad.

I can't explain how thrilled I am about these pieces. I keep running upstairs to stare at them on my computer, as if I'm not quite sure that they really exist. Both feel so vigorous and original, and also new . . . as if finally my Harmony mind has switched lanes.

One of Vievee's conversation points is staying with me: the importance of focusing on how one allots agency in a poem. In her view this is a particular problem for women poets, who often soften or redirect. So as we sat in our revision circle and I listened to her talk about other people's drafts, I kept tweaking the title of mine. First, I typed "Gaze." Then I typed "Male Gaze." Then I typed "The Male Gaze." And finally I figured out what was wrong: and so I typed "My Male Gaze." That single word change re-skewed the draft entirely, and it gave my speaker-self a strange and aggressive stature, one that I don't often channel.

It's probably quite irritating for you to hear me talk about a poem that I'm not posting for you to read, but I'm planning to submit it to a journal so I can't publish it here. However, if you're interested in looking at the draft, I'd be happy to share it with you privately.

Friday, June 29, 2018

I got out of bed this morning, made the coffee, opened my windows wide to the morning fog, heard the groan of a ship's horn floating up from the invisible bay.

While I was gone, my garden has exploded into summer. The tomato plants, sodden with rain, are twice their size; the nasturtiums are blooming; the dark golden lilies glow in the fog; the unshaven lawn is flowing over the paths.

My brain feels like rubber. My heart feels like a peony. I am so glad to be home and so sad to have parted from my poets.

Within the past two days, I have written and revised two good original drafts that are nearly finished. That alone would have sufficed for joy. But there was so much more: friendship, thought, excitement, melancholy, chatter, silence, words, song, a watching patient bear. I am so tired that the specificity of description is beyond me.

The Frost Place is one of my homelands. All I can say is: You come too.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

When you spend hours sitting in hard chairs in an unheated barn, the weather becomes a storyteller, a bone scientist, a raven. Poems glitter on tongues; a shiver is the skin's applause.

The week has been cold and damp in Franconia, New Hampshire, and then yesterday our chill was punctuated by a burst of modest sunshine. Poets stripped down to one sweater instead of three. There were epiphanies everywhere.

You'll note that I'm not discursive today. I expect I'll be more so after I get home. Right now, in the midst of it all, what I can say to you is that the Frost Place is doing its work on me, again, again, as it always does. Ghosts argue and chipmunks rattle. Bears lurk among the lupines. Phoebes alight on the stair railings and flip their sharp tails.

Give us this day our daily bread.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Today I'll be heading west for my annual week at the Frost Place. Naturally, the forecast is stormy, for the ghost of Bob Frost knows that wet feet and moldering dankness always make a poet stronger.

Blog-wise, I'll mostly be incommunicado this week, though there's a chance you may hear from me now and again, depending on how busy/exhausted I am and whether or not Bob's internet connection is functional. Given our national shame, I suspect conference participants and faculty will be communally revealing a fair amount of emotional struggle, and weariness, and anger, and general glumness of spirit. I know it will be my job to acknowledge and listen and react and support and initiate conversations that offer strategies for persistence. I am girding on my sword, but the sword is heavy.

You have a sword that is just as heavy. But put it down for a moment. As a fortune cookie recently told me, "Go take a rest; you deserve it." Close your book. Go outside. Find a quiet spot to sit. Lean your head back and look up into the branches and the sky. Watch the clouds shift. Listen to the jays squawk. Thank your lungs for their faithful work. Admire the skin of your hands. Hum along with your heartbeat.

I am lifting my glass of blessings to you.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Yesterday I wrote to Susan Collins about the border situation and, though the action felt pointless, I tried to convince myself that it wasn't. What else can I do but scream?

Yet simultaneously I am taking great domestic pleasure in Tom's most recent house upgrades. Clean paint and sensible shelving have transformed an awkward bedroom closet into tidy shoe storage. A stack of kitchen drawers now stows away the mess of silverware, measuring cups, kitchen towels, aluminum foil, etc., that had been cluttering up the counters since our move. This morning I can't stop opening and closing the drawers and admiring their contents. What a beautiful scoop! Look, there's my biscuit cutter!

Do not think I have overlooked the chasm between my homely emoting and the tragedy of the families at the border. How dare I be happy about my small comforts? Oh, those sobbing children.

This is the conundrum that you are wrestling with as well. I know the gap is obvious. I know you've already thought about it. I suspect you have a similar sense of frozen helplessness, which is itself a horror. What seems natural is to snatch up a crying child and carry her back to her parents. But I have no agency, and that lack of power feels monstrous.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Thunderstorms last night, and the Ruckus got caught in the rain and came home with his hair sticking out every which way and smelling like an old sock.

This morning, tales of children separated from their parents plaster every news source. They're actors, Ann Coulter claims on Fox News.

Because there are no better actors than three years olds caged away from their mothers.

The cruelty and the lies. The pretense that seeking asylum is illegal. The purposeful fracturing of families.

Meanwhile, I am laughing about my cat, and sitting in a quiet room, and planning my work day--and how can one mind grapple with the horror and the anger and peaceful and the quotidian? And with knowing, without doubt, I would have died if someone had tried to take my boys away from me.

This post is fractured because America is a humiliation and America is hope, and lives go on and lives halt, and we live in the present and in the past, in ourselves and out of ourselves, and it all happens simultaneously, and I'm only a poet so I don't have the first idea about how to solve it . . . except: where is the kindness?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Today will be a scorcher, and I'll be spending it at a training session with a group of Telling Room teaching artists. After that I'll be shopping for ceviche ingredients and hoping I'll manage to get my laundry off the line before the thunderstorms start.

As I was delving into a box of books yesterday, I came across a book that we acquired somewhere along the line. It's titled Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds and was first published in 1853. The author, Charles McKay, is, according to the 1932 foreword of this edition, "a narrator, not a diagnostician," and "no preventative is anywhere suggested." In other words, he just enjoyed telling the tales of various moments of public craziness.

My favorite chapter title, hands down, is "Influence of Politics and Religion on the Hair and Beard." Even better is the chapter's epigraph, which quotes Hudibras: "Speak of respect and honour / Both of the beard and the beard's owner."

I can't wait to learn more.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Yesterday was hot, today will be hot too, but for the moment, the house is sated with last night's coolness. Outside a cardinal is singing and singing, and through the window I'm watching Bugsy the puppy bury his nose in my dahlias.

I didn't get a lot done yesterday: for some reason I felt kind of logy and half-sick. Maybe it was the clouds of pollen, or maybe I have a mild virus. Instead of industriously replanting my garden, I sat on the couch reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and drinking iced tea. But later Tom and I put together a beautiful beef salad (tamari-marinated grilled sirloin sliced thin, grilled onions and red peppers, cooked farro, sliced cherry tomatoes, huge handfuls of chopped parsley, basil, cilantro, garlic scapes), and we listened to some Lou Reed and then to some baseball, and I got excited about the prospect of kitchen drawers, which are almost ready to install.

Today I'll try to be more productive.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Well, we're back to being child-free for six weeks. Early this morning the boy headed out for his summer trek into the Canadian wilderness, and now I am washing sheets and towels and trying to figure out where to stow all of the stuff he left behind.

Today the temperature will climb into the 80s, I'll be going for a walk with a friend, and then, if it's not too hot, I'll begin to prep the garden for my week away at the Frost Place: e.g,  tear out the bolting lettuce and sow new seeds, stake the tomatoes, harvest sage for drying . . . and so on and so on. At the moment, however, I'm feeling pretty lazy. If I had a deck, I expect I'd be lounging on it.

Has anyone read Betty Smith's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn? I've just started it, and it's not at all what I expected. I'm also not sure how I managed to get away with never reading it before. Maybe because I had the impression it was some sort of feel-good Christmas story--not my favorite genre.

Friday, June 15, 2018

In case you're wondering where I've been: On Wednesday I drove up north for band practice, so I was en route back to Portland at the time of day when I'd usually be writing to you. I stayed, as usual, with my friends in Wellington, and then late yesterday afternoon Paul and I went for a walk around Back Cove with their daughter, who lives in Portland . . . and, when she pulled into the parking lot, she happened to be on the phone with my older son, whom she'll be visiting in Chicago this weekend. It just struck me as so comic, all this overlap between our families. We're not actually blood relatives, but we can't seem to get out of each other's hair.

Not that I'm complaining.

* * *

In actual news: I managed to finish all of my Frost Place faculty intros--thank goodness--and now all I have left on my list is to prepare for a small talk on the last afternoon of the conference. If I can catch up with editing today, that would also be a relief. On Monday and Tuesday I've got to spend two training days at the Telling Room, on Wednesday I'll be going north for band practice again, and then on Friday I'll head over to Franconia. So my days are cramped and crowded, and I'm already breathless.

For the moment, however, I'm lounging on the couch in the dim living room. I'm drinking black coffee, and the scent of wet morning is wafting through the open window. Crows are shouting and the neighbor children are lingering outside on the sidewalk, waiting for Bugsy the puppy to finish smelling a rock in my yard.

A few poetry things are distracting/exciting me. One I can't tell you about yet, but another involves the possibility of releasing an audiobook version of Chestnut Ridge alongside the print version. A college friend who is an actor and an audiobook reader was intrigued by one of my poems and suggested the idea, and the publisher has gotten quite interested in the prospect. This is new territory for me, so I'm wondering if you, as readers/listeners, see it as a good idea.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dear person who contacted me with the idea that I should promote her LSAT tutoring company:

When you Google the phrase "standardized tests," and you end up on the blog of a writer who is dissing their entire existence, it might behoove you to read what she has to say about them before asking her to market your product to her readers.

Moreover, if you are trying to convince people to buy your LSAT prep services, you should not suggest that taking those classes will help them get into medical school. This may make them the teeniest bit suspicious of your credentials.


The person who who wrote this blog post

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

I think yesterday's radio thing went fine; I hope it did; but really I have no idea what we sounded like through the aether. In any case, I still haven't gotten over how quickly I can drive to Portsmouth from here . . . in under an hour instead of more than three. Up in Harmony, "slightly under an hour" was how long it took me to drive my sons to high school.

Today will be hot, and I will be upstairs in my cool dark study editing a novel and writing Frost Place faculty intros. For some reason, my writing speed has slowed to a crawl, and these intros are taking me forever to finish. But I'm halfway there.

Monday, June 11, 2018

I took a lot of photos for you yesterday afternoon, but this is the only one with decent light. I'd just watered my front-yard kitchen garden, and everything looked so fresh and bright . . . except for the shadows creeping into the frame. This is a bed of mixed leaf lettuce with arugula behind it. On the advice of an edible-landscape book I've been reading, I've decided to let some of my vegetables flower, and as a result I now have these beautiful stars bowing over the pied lettuces.

Two separate groups of walkers stopped by yesterday to compliment me on my garden. I am proud and pleased at how well it's looking, though there's still so much to do. My brassicas (rapini, bok choi) are suffering from insect damage, so yesterday I bought a flat of marigolds to see if their odor might chase a few bugs away. Cats keep walking through freshly planted rows, and squirrels are digging in the back yard. On the whole, though, this first season has been a success (so far). I am harvesting all the lettuce and herbs we can eat, and I just cut a beautiful kale plant that had wintered over and had then transformed into a tall and gorgeous yellow-flowering border display. The leaves I trimmed from that single plant fill a gallon bag.

Now the peas are coming into flower, and any day I expect to see the first garlic scapes. . . . My life is so much better now that I have a garden again.

* * *

P.S. Radio show update: Writers in the Round, live 6-7 p.m., and here's a link to the live stream. Any poem requests?

Sunday, June 10, 2018

It’s cold where you are,
And the sky is failing all across America.
Why were you smiling
That afternoon so long ago?
I can only think we must have been happy.
Somehow that helps.
We are still here, after all,
And it is the same world.

[from "One World" by Joe Bolton]

Saturday, June 9, 2018

On Thursday Tom and I walked into town to watch a collaborative performance by the jazz bassist William Parker and the dancer Patricia Nicholson. Tonight we're going to see the Skatalites play at a bowling alley. On Monday we went to a friend's reading at a bar. On Wednesday I drove up north for band practice. Who is this person with a nightlife? I don't recognize her.

At least Friday was more familiar. I spent the day revising a few poems, working on faculty intros for the Frost Place conference, grocery shopping, watering my garden, opening doors for the cat, and hanging out with young people.

Next week the whirlwind continues. I forget if I mentioned that I'm scheduled to be reading poems on Writers in the Round, a weekly show on Portsmouth community radio. That will be on Monday evening; and as soon as I have more listening details, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, the ballad of the house: Dusting and weeding. Laundry and vacuuming. 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Today, finally, the chill will break. Already I have opened the windows, and now the sounds of a cloudy summer morning are pouring through the screens . . . the scream of a pileated woodpecker, the clank and squeal of an early freight train, the yap of Bugsy the short-legged puppy as he scuttles down the sidewalk with his child.

I am rereading John Fowles's The Ebony Tower and thinking about forests and tales and chivalry, and wondering if Fowles was successful in creating a 1970s-era version of Marie de France's lais and knowing that he is not. Like so many male writers of his generation, his perceptions of women are fatally flawed, and yet he is clearly compelled by their mystery, and I find that compulsion both endearing and incredibly irritating. Sometimes--and, really, what I mean is constantly--I wonder why I return to books by Milton and Dickens and Roth and Updike and Fowles and so on and so on: I am always arguing with them. I suppose most other feminists would tell me I shouldn't even give them the time of day. And yet.

Ah, well. We are what we are. And I am a poet who loves the western canon but cannot stop talking back to it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The weather is still so cold and damp. The temperature barely hoicked itself out of the 40s yesterday, two nights in a row we've had woodfires, and the furnace keeps trying to kick on. Nonetheless, I discovered flower buds on my tomato plants yesterday, so it seems they're at least pretending to feel summery.

Later this afternoon the boy and I will head north for band practice and friend visiting. (Wish my transmission luck.) Till then I'll keep beetling away at Frost Place and editing tasks and, I hope, turn my thoughts to my own work. The laundry essay has been parked: for some reason prose and I are not presently speaking to one another, but I do have a poem draft to inspect. Yet the house is in an organizational uproar, so I'm feeling unsettled. Tom is cutting a new closet into his study walls, and his desk stuff has wandered downstairs to the living room, which has meanwhile also cluttered up with the boy's musical instruments, books, teacups, blankets, etc. I don't work well in a messy house, though I guess many other writers do. So I'm struggling a bit, even as I'm happy to have my family so close and busy.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The morning is dim and cool and sodden and very green. Tiny bright maple helicopters have fallen en masse from the trees, and now they coat driveways and stoops and bare-dirt yards. Dormant bean and lettuce seeds are bursting into leaf in the wet garden rows; heavy peony blossoms bow down to mud.

Yesterday afternoon I lit a fire in the stove as the housebound cat flounced from window to window, glowering at the rain. Meanwhile, my son lay under a blanket rereading one of his favorite books from middle school. It was that kind of summer day.

Now I am sitting in my darkened living room as cloud-light filters through the closed windows. Rain is falling again, and I am drinking black coffee from a white cup. Tock-tick, tock-tick, says the clock on the mantle, as if it is suppressing hiccups. Tom turns on the radio, and a newsman's voice bubbles into the quiet, into the ether, into the crannies of my skull. He is trying to tell me what to listen to, I am trying not to listen,  but how can I help it?

Radio Man: "A South Portland man was arrested last night after lighting a fire on his kitchen table, trying to get his roommate to move out. The roommate fled."

Tom: "I guess it worked."

And the air smells like toast.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Yesterday, as I was working in the garden, my neighbor appeared and asked if I'd like to go plant shopping with her. Naturally I was overjoyed at the invitation, and the two of us spent a delightful hour prowling through the offerings at O'Donal's Nursery. My neighbor is a serious flower gardener, with beautiful perennials and well-designed beds, whereas I am a kitchen gardener who likes flowers but has almost no experience with landscape design. But beyond the gardening, I was happy to to hang out and start to get to know her better.

Then, later in the day, Tom, Paul, and I walked over to a local crawfish boil, where we sat in the slightly chilly sunshine listening to a band play Stevie Wonder covers as we tried to figure out how to get crawfish meat out of the shell.

I still haven't gotten over the fact that, in a city, you can easily engage in such activities while still getting all of your house- and yardwork done. In Harmony we would kill an entire day running basic errands in Bangor. There was no such thing as taking a lunch break to go listen to music and eat shellfish.

Today, rain rain rain . . . I hope. And back to my desk job. And probably lugging the boy around to gather the gear he needs for his summer trek.

In between driving back and forth to Vermont and managing home stuff, I've been rereading Larry McMurtry's Duane's Depressed, and having mixed feelings about it. I used to like it more than I do now, though I still like it quite a bit. But this time through, I'm getting distracted by what feels like excess repetition. Maybe that's important, given that the subject is depression and depression is heavy and repetitive. Yet as a plot strategy it's imperfect.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Well, the boy's dorm-room stuff is crammed and stowed, the boy and his cat are romantically reunited, I have been suborned to watch highlight videos of cute animals, and this morning I came downstairs to discover that the freezer door had been left open all night. Which is to say, the old days are upon us again.

Now I am sitting on the couch thinking about yard work and groceries, feeling anxious about desk work, and wondering how I'm going to manage to get everything done before I go to the Frost Place. . . . I know I am fretting needlessly, but somehow this trip to fetch Paul has served as a ceremonial advent into summer, and now the season looms with all of its demands and busyness: multiple band gigs, two writing conferences, books to edit, gardens to weed.

It will all be fine, it will all be wonderful, but I am girding my sword and already it's heavy.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Greetings from humid Massachusetts, where, last night, I woke to the sound of a deer eating the ferns beneath my open window.

Today the boy and I and our overloaded car will chug back to Maine, and I will then begin to tear out my hair as I struggle to find storage places in our little house for all of his dorm-room stuff.. Fortunately transmission #3 seems up to the challenge of getting us home.

But I'll call you for a ride if we break down.