Friday, November 30, 2018

For dinner last night I made steak with peppers and onions, garlic mashed potatoes, arugula salad, and poached pears with yogurt and pear syrup. Though it doesn't sound particularly unusual, it ended up being one of the most delicious meals I've made lately: perfectly cooked rare steak, peppers and onions melting into their wine sauce, potatoes light and flavorful, and the poached-pear syrup like nectar. Afterwards I found myself thinking about the personal histories of cooking--how variable they are. Mine is very different from Tom's, for instance. So now I'm meditating an essay on kitchen life. We'll see if I can get to it. I may be too busy in the kitchen.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Stopping for Breath

Yesterday I spent the morning taking stock of everything I've written since midsummer. As of now, I've got 25 finished poems, which feels breathtaking, unbelievable, a hallucination. The poems have arrived quickly, confidently. They have not required extensive revision or rewriting. They are in numerous styles--a sonnet, a pantoum, invented forms, free verse, blank verse. Some are lyric; some are narrative. Some are political; some are personal; some are persona poems. Some use heightened language; some are harsh and colloquial. The variety, as much as anything, amazes me. In past moments of intensity, the poems I wrote tended to be of a piece--that is, a series of personal poems; a series of history poems. This batch is not a linked in that way. Though I feel their relationship to one another is clear, I'm not sure I can yet articulate what the links are.

As always, while I've been writing or not writing, I've also been reading steadily. Since the end of June, I've read the poems of Akhmatova, Blake, Herbert, Schnackenberg, O'Hara, Jarboe, Fisher, Dante. I've read novels by Wilder, Byatt, Hamilton, Dickens, Mantel, Trollope, Gaskell, Atwood, Sayers. I've read Seward's history of the Wars of the Roses, Walls's memoir of her homeless childhood,  Middlebrook's biography of the Plath-Hughes marriage, Richard III, of course. But this is not a complete list.

In between, I edited several poetry and fiction collections as well as a number of academic books. I did some teaching. I played some gigs. I stepped into emergency overdrive when my dad almost died. I managed my household, tried to support my sons in their lives afar. I planted, and tended, and harvested, and preserved a garden. I pushed myself to become a better seamstress. I walked a mile or so, on most days. I went to yoga classes. I unpacked boxes, arranged rooms, tried to learn to live in a new place.

I'm not writing these things down in order brag about them, or to impress you. I expect your lives, different from mine, have been equally busy, equally productive. But perhaps, like me, you haven't, till now, sat down and thought about exactly what you've done. I get paid so little that I frequently think of myself as lazy, ineffective--floating hazily through the seas like an infant jellyfish. And yet when I stop to look, I can see I've been doing the work.

The end of the year is upon us. At this time, in 2017, I was feverishly packing boxes, painting rooms, struggling with worry and hope, homesick for Harmony, pretending that I was getting over my grief, trying to figure out how to make some kind of holiday for my son, wondering if I would ever have running water in the kitchen. Now, in 2018, here I am. At home. At work. I don't think I need any other Christmas gift.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Richard III: Assignment (Act III, Scenes 5 & 6)

This week, I'd like you to think hard about the character of Hastings. What do you learn about him from the manner of his death? How has his behavior throughout the play led to this moment? Do you feel a personal connection to the character, or do his emotions and reactions feel entirely different from yours? And the big question: what does loyalty require? Feel free to answer these questions in verse, if that feels better to you.

We'll talk about these issues on Monday.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Maine is stormy everywhere today. Further north it's straight snow, but in Portland I woke up to a nasty cocktail of sleet, rain, and glop, with a promise of high winds to come. It is a good day to roast a squash and try out the Nigerian peanut and pumpkin soup recipe I've been eyeing.

Yesterday I worked on a poem that ended up being only four lines long. I copied out a chunk of Canto III of the Inferno. I went to a yoga class. I cleaned the bathrooms. I cooked and washed clothes. I sewed Christmas presents. I read about Plath and Hughes. In a day or so, my next editing project will arrive, and I am anxious about losing private time/relieved about getting paid. It's hard to avoid discontent, no matter what the scenario.

By the way I got a notice from the 24PearlStreet administrators that they're "offering 15% off all classes starting in January. The code is NEWYEAR and students have to register by Dec. 7 to receive the discount." This includes the essay workshop I'll be beginning in early January . . . so now's the time to sign up, if you've been thinking of doing so.

Tomorrow we'll move ahead on Richard III.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Last night, for dinner, I baked a whole bluefish and served it with roasted fingerlings and brussels sprouts, aioli, and arugula. For dessert we had apple brown betty. (As you can see, lowercased proper nouns abounded in this meal.) Tonight may be a reprise: bluefish and sprout-potato hash cakes, with aioli on top.

I hadn't made aioli for a while, and somehow I had forgotten how excellent it is with both fish and vegetables. I decided to do it the old-fashioned way--with mortar and pestle and whisk--rather than in the food processor, and the texture was much more velvety than machine-made mayonnaises are. And it was very gratifying to feel the sauce cohere under my hands . . . though a cook needs a supple wrist for all that pounding and whisking. Violin playing, bread kneading, and goat milking are good training for the emulsification marathon.

And now Monday: back to the books.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

I am standing at my desk, staring out into the raw and drizzly day, thinking vaguely of laundry and groceries, thinking more pointedly of the books I'm reading--the Inferno, the Hughes-Plath bio--glad for warmth and lamplight but also restless, with a sense of being emotionally scraped, like a knee on gravel.

Downstairs the cat is complaining to Tom about the weather. Up here, all is silent, except for the click of my fingers on the keyboard and the drip of rain from the roof.

I don't know what I'll be doing today: I could veer in any direction. I have a poem draft to worry over. I have clothes to fold. I have sidewalks to tread.
My good master said, "Crouch down behind
that jagged rock so it won't seem you're here.
You'll need that shield to hide from them." 
--from Dante's Inferno, Canto XXI, translated by Susan Mitchell

Saturday, November 24, 2018

"You are my guide, my master and my teacher."
This is what I said, and when he moved
I entered on the deep and savage path."

--from Dante's Inferno, Canto II, translated by Seamus Heaney

* * *

It was only after his marriage to Plath that Hughes began applying his imagination to the place of his birth, the Calder Valley: a deep gorge running through the Pennine Mountains of West Yorkshire, where hillsides rise steeply to plateau on the wild moorland that many readers and tourists know as the setting of Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. When Ted Hughes was growing up there it was a site of postindustrial wreckage. The Industrial Revolution had made the Calder Valley a prosperous location of the textile trade by 1800: cotton towns in Lancashire, woollen towns in Yorkshire. By the end of the century, business had moved on, leaving a legacy of deteriorating textile mills and clothing factories, and hillsides scattered with abandoned cottages on dilapidated farms. Then the First World War funneled off the able-bodied men. Very few of them returned, and those that did were deeply shocked and disoriented by the war. Hughes would describe living among them as being surrounded by mental patients.

--from Her Husband: Hughes and Plath--A Marriage, by Diane Middlebrook

* * *

Granny Has a Vision

 Dawn Potter

Against the bloodbeat, against the necrotic
pang, against the eyeless house,

you steady yourself.
The silverware in the drawer

speaks your language—
            the only language you hear today

            inside the glistening mirage
your distractions have concocted:

A bridge is wet with river water, wet with tears.
The cherries bend low to listen.

Their branches strain against the small
wind of your thoughts, the jumbled

meaningless words, the old scents and computations.
Once again, nothing known as love understands you—

you, the soiled puppet queen, reeking of sorrow,
flapping your royal nail-bitten hands

on an island of rats, on an island
where only the kitchen knives speak.

How cold it is in this place.

  [from Chestnut Ridge, 2019]         

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Thanksgiving greetings from chilly Massachusetts! Here I sit on my guest bed, drinking black coffee and staring out the big windows into a grove of oaks and spruce, but shortly I will step into my traditional role as my mother-in-law's eager sous-chef. I managed to forget my winter boots in Maine, so this looks to be a housebound holiday. But there's a son asleep upstairs, and lots of chat and food chopping and card playing on the horizon, so housebound will be fine.

I hope you are warm and cheerful and not too overwhelmed by carbohydrates. I hope your loved ones aren't grouchy, and that nobody eats any tainted romaine lettuce, and that your car battery doesn't die (I've got some small worries about this last). I hope that your own search for contentment spreads like a pebble dropped into a pond, and that your neighbors are also soothed, and your village, and your forest, and your island. Of course that's a silly thing to say, but vain hope is hope nonetheless.
I like not only to be loved, but also to be told that I am loved. I am not sure that you are of the same mind. But the realm of silence is large enough beyond the grave. This is the world of light and speech, and I shall take leave to tell you that you are very dear. 
― George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), letter to Mrs. Peter Taylor, May 14, 1875

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

I ended up spending yesterday morning answering Faculty Spotlight questions for the 24PearlStreet blog, and here they are, if you care to read them. And I started a new book (by which I mean a book I've already read, but not for a long time): Diane Middlebrook's study of Plath and Hughes, Her Husband. In the introduction I came across these words:
Hughes began developing his autobiographical persona, her husband, when he was nearly fifty years old. After years of attempting to avoid autobiographical writing, Hughes had come to believe that the voice in poetry had to issue from a human being situated in historical time and place, engaged in attempting to "cure" a wounding blow to his psyche inflicted by an historically significant conflict. The struggle conducted in a poet's art was his way of participating in history. Hughes also saw that no single work of writing stood alone, that a strong writer's work proceeded by accretion over time. Hughes observed that the poetic DNA expressed itself in single, definitive images or a "knot of obsessions" produced early in the poet's career and repeated in variations thereafter. Like the cells of a developing foetus, each work contained the DNA of the whole man, that is, the whole image of the persona.
 While this feels like a peculiarly male way of putting things (and Middlebrook's spelling of foetus makes me queasy), certain elements of Hughes's ethos (for lack of a better word) vibrate in me: "The struggle conducted in a poet's art was his way of participating in history." "No single work of writing stood alone, . . . a strong writer's work proceeded by accretion over time." "The poetic DNA expressed itself in . . . a 'knot of obsessions' produced early in the poet's career and repeated in variations thereafter." While I never expect to have a biographer--or even a reader who closely studies my body of work--I know that such a searcher would surely be able to track my "knot of obsessions," my "single, definitive images." And I also know that what I write does participate in history, though that participation may be oblique.

In truth, despite its masculine bravado, the passage gave me a glimpse of my own powers . . . which are not Hughes's, nor Plath's, nor anyone else's. But they are there, mostly subdued, yet rising now and again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Snow and snow and snow this morning--a beautiful, light, fat-flaked fall. I am enjoying the snow so much this autumn, partly, I think, because, for the first time in two years, I'm not packing boxes for a move but am settling into the homebound pleasures of winter. I love candles, and wood fires, and couch blankets, and a curled-up cat, and a fat novel, and hot tea, and sturdy winter meals. I love the way dark creeps into the late-afternoon rooms, the way the lamplight glitters into dark. I will get tired of all of this in February and March, but for now it's perfect.

I've almost finished reading Middlemarch, but I still have most of the Inferno to copy out. I drafted a new poem yesterday, and I'll go back to it today. A new editing project will show up on my desk next week; tomorrow we'll step into the Thanksgiving social whirl. But for the moment I have a snow day and a desk to myself.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Richard III: Conversation (Act III, Scenes 3 & 4)

I'm opening up comments for this week's RIII assignment: a reflection on something you've struggled with as you've been reading the play.

* * *

In other news: it's a snowy Monday morning in Maine, and the cat is fed up with winter. I'm enjoying it myself, but then again I'm not currently a commuter. When my teaching residencies start up after the new year, I'll be less delighted. So far I've scheduled two long Telling Room gigs in southern Maine, have a teaching project brewing up north for MonsonArts, am leading an MWPA essay workshop in Bangor and a teacher workshop in Augusta . . . plus the two online classes for 24PearlStreet. I need to write poems now while I still have the chance.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Yesterday filled itself with miniscule chores: mending a waistband, sewing Christmas presents, watering plants, unpacking humidifiers and crampons from storage, putting away mud boots, counting candles and candle holders. For dinner I made parmesan breaded chicken breasts, roasted fingerlings, a chard tian. I read Middlemarch but I also watched three episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show while I was sewing. It's not usual for me to be so assiduous about needlework, but we will be hosting Christmas here, and I'm kind of keyed up. My three young people will be in the house, my Vermont family will be staying in town, and various Maine friends will be stopping in. I've got two dinners-for-eleven, Christmas breakfast, and a Boxing Day gathering to plan. It will be the closest thing to a housewarming we've had, not to mention a celebration of my dad's return to life after his horrible near-death summer.

Last year at this time the house was still uninhabitable. This year it is a home, but with some significant gaps: missing doors, no countertop, not nearly enough chairs. So Tom and I have much finagling to do.

I'd like to find a modest wreath for the front door. I don't know where to buy a Christmas tree in this town. I don't even own a tree stand anymore. I definitely don't have a big-enough table for eleven people. But we'll figure it out.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Saturday morning. The neighborhood is still and dark, cradled in snow. At the end of the street a freight train slowly rumbles through. Above us an airplane roars, rises, disappears. I sit here in the living room, in front of the cold woodstove, surrounded by the tools of my trade: a laptop, Middlemarch, a crossword puzzle, a complete Shakespeare, a pencil, an empty cup, a cat. In the kitchen, a tin of shortbread. Upstairs, a basket of sewing. On my desk, the Inferno. Under my desk, a violin case. I lead an old ladyish sort of life, I guess. And yet it's not much different from the life I led ten years ago, twenty years ago. I had more farm animals then, and more land, and more little boys. But I also had the books, the pencil, the cup, the violin.

I drafted a poem yesterday about the ruckus of a snow day here in the neighborhood: cars stuck in driveways, trash cans getting dragged through drifts, little dogs slipping on the ice, a general public hoo-hah. That's a difference: a snow in Harmony was so quiet. Of course the plow truck made noise, but there was no clutter of bodies and houses and busyness. The snow was a private event.

Today . . . I don't know what I'll do today. I suppose I'll walk out into the world. Cook a meal. Read. Invent a story. Write one down.

Friday, November 16, 2018

This morning we woke up to our first snowstorm of the season. Yesterday afternoon, knowing it was coming, I finished raking leaves, bagged up windfall branches, harvested the last of the chard and kale, found the snow shovels. And it was a good thing I did because this snow is real. It took me an hour and a half to shovel driveway, walkways, stoops, and sidewalk, and I haven't even touched my car yet.

But it's beautiful. Through the coated boughs, the steeple of the Congregational church rises over our lesser snowy roofs. Shoveling neighbors greet one another as if we've been trapped in an aggravating sort of holiday. Dogs and cats are amazed. And inside the house, the light is entirely new: pale and cool, an alabaster sheen.

In honor of the snow, I posted a new blog photo: my stalwart bed of lavender under its weight of crystal. And now I'm going to go eat leftover lamb stew and make a hot cup of tea, and write and write and write.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Richard III: Assignment (Act III, Scenes 3 & 4)

Act III of Richard III has many more scenes than the previous acts do, so we're going to creep through it. That mean's this week's reading assignment will be short and your writing assignment will be reflective. I want you to think back over the play so far and write a short essay (a paragraph or two) about what you've been struggling with most during this project. Shakespeare's language, characters, themes? Allowing yourself to immerse yourself in your reading? Fear of sharing your thoughts with others? Or something else altogether? Let's aim to share these next Monday.

* * *

On another note: I've resigned from my band, Doughty Hill. I've been playing with the guys for the better part of a decade, but schedule complications have made things increasingly difficult.We've limped along since I moved south, but it has become clear that I just can't keep up the travel and they need someone who can be at practice every week. I feel really sad about this, but c'est la vie. I wish I knew someone in Portland who wanted to play with me, but I have no connections in the music world down here. I guess I just need to wait and see what happens.

On the bright side, I'm writing like a crazy person. People keep contacting me about teaching jobs. We're hosting a big family Christmas at our new house. My car's transmission works great. The basement leaks only slightly in a heavy rainstorm. I baked a perfect pumpkin pie yesterday. I'm going up north into snow country to eat elk steaks this evening.

The moon above the eastern wood
Shone at its full; the hill-range stood
Transfigured in the silver flood,
Its blown snows flashing cold and keen,
Dead white, save where some sharp ravine
Took shadow, or the sombre green
Of hemlocks turned to pitchy black
Against the whiteness at their back.
For such a world and such a night
Most fitting that unwarming light,
Which only seemed where’er it fell
To make the coldness visible.
--from "Snow-Bound," by John Greenleaf Whittier

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Cold rain is spilling from the eaves, clacking on the sills, hissing under tires. Just north and west of us there is snow, and by the end of the week it will be our turn for white. In the garden, the kale and leeks hang on; the last of the chard and parsley linger; sturdy sage and thyme huddle under their beds of leaves. A few late flowers cluster on the dining-room table. Though I'll soon have to break down and start buying store lettuce, the fact that I have this much still available in the garden, in the week before Thanksgiving, feels like a personal record.

Today: Writing. Reading Middlemarch. Copying out the Inferno. Scrubbing bathrooms. Going to the grocery store. Then, later, I'll walk out into the rain to an evening poetry group. I have been writing so much that I'm not sure what I should bring to share. As I said to a friend yesterday, the poems have been pouring out like blood. And in that way, they also feel dangerous. As if they might draw sharks.

Tomorrow I'll get back to our Richard III project.

Monday, November 12, 2018

I've got a new poem out this morning at Vox Populi--"How to Ask for Money"--a sample from the stream of poems that has been pouring out of me since midsummer. Many, perhaps most, of these poems are entire fictions: the I is not me, and the surface situation does not reflect my personal history.

I'll never be a novelist. I'll never write short stories. Poems like this one are as close as I'll get. And yet, as George Eliot reminds me, "I know no speck so troublesome as self."

Inventions are still a conversation with that troublesome me.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Yesterday was a day littered with disappointments, small and less small. Then I went to bed and dreamed that I was repeatedly trying to call 911 on Donald Trump, who was in some vague way holding many people hostage at a motel, but no dispatchers would answer the phone. That was a nightmare without much subtlety.

So this morning I am feeling unrested, unsettled, unsure. What I'd like to do is go outside into the cold morning and rake leaves, but I've got a borderline infected blister on my hand from the last time I raked, so that's probably not a good plan. Maybe a long walk by the water is in order. Or maybe quiet and Middlemarch and a cup of coffee will solve all.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Last night's noisy windy rainy sleety storm has blown through, and this morning everything outside is drenched and dripping and dank. A clutch of pigeons flits across the lowering slate sky; the ground is heavy with fallen leaves; the trees are suddenly thinner, ghosts of themselves. The air smells of winter.

It will be a quiet day, I think: breakfast this morning with friends, and then a sewing project, garden-design planning with Tom, reading Middlemarch, going for a walk, drinking tea, folding shirts.

I've begun copying out the Inferno, so there's that too.
And like a man reneging his decision,
            having second thoughts and shifting ground,
            withdrawing from the course he has embarked on,
On that dark hillside there and then I weakened. 
--Canto II, translated by Seamus Heaney

Friday, November 9, 2018

There's a sheen of frost in the neighborhood this morning--riming windshields and roofs, sugaring leaves and grass. In the kitchen, the radio pours out chaos like syrup--lies, murder, lies, murder--but our rooms and the street outside our windows remain, on the surface, staid, even prim: recycling bins lined up tidily on the curb; place mats lined up tidily on the dining-room table; pillows plumped tidily on the couches.

I am reading Shakespeare, Dante, Eliot, Herbert. I am writing poems and making apple strudel and going for long walks. I am working on teaching plans and editing manuscripts. Meanwhile, poison leaches into the veins of the nation. Meanwhile, the work I do documents, reacts, resists . . . and solves nothing.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

What I've Been Reading Lately

"It is an uneasy lot at best, to be what we call highly taught and yet not to enjoy: to be present at this great spectacle of life and never be liberated from a small, hungry, shivering self--never to be fully possessed by the glory we behold, never to have our consciousness rapturously transformed into the vividness of a thought, the ardor of a passion, the energy of an action, but always to be scholarly and uninspired, ambitious and timid, scrupulous and dim-sighted." --George Eliot, Middlemarch

* * *

In the middle of the journey of our life
            I found myself astray in a dark wood
            where the straight road had been lost sight of.
How hard it is to say what it was like
            in the thick of thickets, in a wood so dense and gnarled
            the very thought of it renews my panic.
It is bitter almost as death itself is bitter.

--Dante Alighieri, The Inferno, translated by Seamus Heaney

* * *

Starres have their storms, ev’n in high degree,
                        As well as we.
A throbbing conscience spurred by remorse
                        Hath a strange force:
It quits the earth, and mounting more and more
Dares to assault thee, and besiege thy doore.

--George Herbert, "The Storm"

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

I woke up this morning to learn that Maine has elected its first woman governor: Janet Mills, a Democrat, a much-experienced state attorney general, a superbly qualified person for the job. This is tremendous news for our state, which has floundered through two terms of our mini-Trump, Paul LePage. The District 2 House seat is currently too close to call, yet that in itself is good news as the second district tends to be virulently conservative. But our excellent senator Angus King has won reelection; our excellent District 1 House member Chellie Pingree has won reelection. Right now Maine feels like a good place to live.

I voted yesterday morning at the St. Pius fellowship hall, standing in line for about an hour and a half among a stream of cheerful and patient citizens. Tom, who voted there in the evening, said there were long, long lines at the voter registration table. The process felt inefficient, occasionally verging on chaos, but somehow everything seemed fine anyway. It felt good to be part of the communal determination.

Voting in Harmony was very different from this. There were no lines at all, no chaos, but there was also a clear knowledge of who exactly was voting for what, not to mention the poll workers' weird hazing habit of announcing party affiliations--"Dawn Potter! Democrat!"--like they were pinning a scarlet letter to my parka. Portland is a heavily Democratic city, and voting here, I have to say, offers a certain sort of relief after so many years of Democratic shaming up north. At the same time, I know this sense of communal citizenship is extremely localized. No doubt, Harmony voters overwhelmingly supported every candidate I dislike. The size of the voting population is on Portland's side, but the rural-urban disconnect remains powerful.

Not all of the national races went our way. But some did. Though Florida and Texas are sad, Wisconsin and Kansas are big victories. The Democrats regained the House, and that is a crucial check on executive power. All in all, hope is flickering a little bit brighter this morning.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

I've been more or less awake since 3 a.m., which I'm not entirely blaming on worries about the election. There was also a clatter of rain on the roof and, eventually, an obstreperous cat, not to mention the irritation of Sheena Easton's wretched "For Your Eyes Only" looping through my skull. As a result, here I sit in the living room, drinking black coffee and trying to replace the night rubble with cleansing thoughts about Middlemarch and the poem I finished yesterday.

And the poem does make me happy, if for no other reason than it serves as proof of the elasticity of a reading life. I began the poem with a four-word trigger: words I'd chosen at random from a volume of George Herbert's poetry. But as the draft pulsed down the page, I began to hear something within it that sounded like another poet altogether. Quickly I figured out that I was hearing Dante . . . or, more accurately, Seamus Heaney's translation of the opening canto. I had not read that canto lately, had not been thinking of Dante's or Heaney's work, but that did not stop my brain from taking the Inferno off the shelf and brushing the dust into my draft.

* * *
What could I answer except, "I come"?
I said it, flushed a little with that color
that makes a man worthy, sometimes, of pardon. 
--from Dante Alighieri, Purgatorio, translated by W. S. Merwin

Monday, November 5, 2018

Richard III: Conversation (Act III, Scenes 1 & 2)

Good morning, RIII readers! Feel free to begin posting your passage-with-stage-directions in the comments. Speaking for myself, I found it interesting to read these scenes with a specific focus on potential physical action. I'm sure actors and directors do this constantly, but I tend to get distracted by language and overlook the fact that plays are enacted by actual bodies. So I'm looking forward to your notions.

* * *

In other news: vote vote vote vote vote vote vote.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Making black cake is always time-consuming, but yesterday was worse than usual because I ended up having to candy my own citron before I could even start the cake. Of course, it was lovely to find fresh citron at the market (what an amazing fragrance it has!), and I was excited to learn how to candy it. But the project took all day.

By late afternoon, though, we did get a chance to go for a long walk into the headwinds. The gusts were strong and the light was watery and the leaves whipped every which way through streets and cemetery.

Today I will not be in the kitchen. Instead, I will be removing a bush I hate. I don't often hate a bush, especially not a rosebush, but this multiflora has got to go. Not only does it sprawl into sidewalk and driveway and snag all passersby and require quarterly pruning, but it also has the meanest thorns I have ever met. Two pairs of leather gloves are not enough padding for this monster. I will not miss it when it's gone.

In between times, I will read Middlemarch, make kale soup and winter-squash rolls, and worry about the election.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

The rain is pouring, pouring down--clacking on panes, on vents; sluicing onto sills and stoops. It is forecast to rain like this all day, so I will spend it baking Emily Dickinson's black cake . . . for the first time in two years. What a joy it is, not to be moving house at Christmas! And to have a beautiful baking kitchen on a cold, dank day.

I've been reading Middlemarch, copying out poems by Frank O'Hara and George Herbert, and crazily writing my own. Now, after a week of work, I've got three close-to-finished drafts, plus the embryonic opening stanzas of a fourth. The poems keep pouring, like the rain.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Richard III: Assignment (Act III, Scenes 1 & 2)

The other day I overheard my father-in-law (a retired theater professor) discussing Shakespeare with my son (a college theater major). My father-in-law mentioned that Shakespeare could be complicated to interpret because his speeches imply so much action yet they include very few stage directions. I immediately thought of Bach, whose works are also very difficult to interpret yet include little guidance for performers beyond the notes themselves.

So this week I want you to choose a short speech and write some stage directions to accompany it. Let's aim for comments on Monday morning; otherwise, we'll get entangled in Election Day.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

"Women were expected to have weak opinions; but the great safeguard of society and of domestic life was, that opinions were not acted upon." --George Eliot, Middlemarch

* * *

Mary Ann Evans published Middlemarch in 1871, but the events in the novel take place much earlier in the century: in the late 1820s and early 1830s--and not in smart-set London but in the provincial Midlands, where local sensibilities reach back toward the 1790s. To put this authorial choice in perspective, compare Eliot/Evans to Alice Munro, writing now but choosing to set her stories in Depression-era provincial Ontario, with characters who have little connection with Toronto but complex ties to the nineteenth century.

I am fascinated by how writers work with setting: the ways in which time, climate, geography; the transmission of information; the making of money; the structures and substructures of class, race, religion intersect to create place. It interests me that Eliot/Evans and Munro overlap so closely in how they address setting, even as they remain markedly different writers.

And both, it seems to me, deal again and again in their work with the complications of "the woman problem," set forth so ambiguously and succinctly in that line at the top of this post. If you remember that their lives are separated by more than a century, you might find yourself getting pretty gloomy.