Sunday, June 30, 2019

The bone-weariness is beginning to lift. Yesterday I managed to get the front gardens into shape, and today I'll catch up on vacuuming and floor washing, and maybe do some work in the side and back gardens, if the thunderstorms allow.

During the week I've been gone, the tomatoes have grown a foot, the peas are loaded with pods, beans are in flower, the strawberries are ripening. Last night we had a beautiful summer seafood feast: ceviche made with scallops, mahogany clams, and polpo, tossed with lime and cherry tomatoes, plus garden fennel, green onion, and cilantro, and served alongside a roasted potato salad, a rosato, and a viewing of The Thin Man.

I've got a stack of poem drafts to transcribe from my notebook, and maybe I'll get to that today; or maybe I won't. It turns out that Tom and I are glad to see each other . . . I mean, of course we are; but sometimes a  reunion feels especially dear. Which is to say: stuff can wait.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Last year, I came back from the Frost Place Writing Intensive blazing with the will to write. Vievee Francis had unclogged something in me--that blob of grief that had been silencing me since the move from Harmony--and since then, for the entire year, I've been a faucet. Turn me on and the water gushes out and overflows the sink. I've written most of two manuscripts in a year, plus many other uncollected/uncollectable poems. Hundreds of poems. In truth, I've had to purposely turn off the faucet, or at least reduce it to a trickle when I've been editing and teaching, so I can focus on paying tasks and/or avoid killing myself by overwork.

All this is to say that I came into this year's Writing Intensive with my bait bucket full of fish. I expected to write fluently, I expected to be wriggling in my seat, I expected to be hunting for kraken. And I did all of that.

This year's class was led by Maudelle Driskell. Taking a class with her is like taking a class with a crocodile. She clamps hold of your leg and she won't let go. Every person in the room went home with a chunk of flesh missing. She ran us a through a few drafts, and then she flung out individual assignments: To the person who writes lovely, first-person fishing poems, "You! Write from the point of view of a princess!" To the person who writes patient, forgiving poems: "You! Write about the ugliest nastiest thing you can think of!" To the person with formal dexterity: "You! Write a prose poem!" To me: "You! Write something sexually explicit!"

Now Maudelle knows I am not a prude. More importantly, I know I am not a prude. But I certainly have not been writing sexually explicit work . . . and on purpose. I've liked retaining a few wordless things in my life. And of course writing about sex drops any other, invisible, non-writing participant into the boiling water. So where does one draw the line, when it comes to privacy? . . . blah blah blah, too bad. Maudelle scrunched up her nose and lanced me with her beetle-eyed stare. "Get to work, Potter!"

So I wrote a poem about anal sex. I had to concentrate all of my attention on delineating a fraught physical act via two invented yet familiar characters. I had to jettison the cogitator, the observer, and concentrate on the doer. The experience of writing this draft was weird and difficult and wonderful, and the poem will probably be a keeper. I'm excited about it, excited to have been pushed down this murky well. Maudelle knew what she was doing when she bossed me around. I'm beyond grateful.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Home in my own bed. Home on my own couch.

It's been a beautiful, intense week, in so many ways . . . dear voices, ardent skies, tales of trees and translation, but also hands to grip as we ventured into foul alleys and pools of lead.

I feel, as I always feel after a week at the Frost Place, both wrung dry and filled to flood.

How did I get so lucky?

Monday, June 24, 2019

At long last I am checking in. It appears that Robert Frost chewed through the wifi connection here at the house, so even if I'd had time to talk to you, I wouldn't have said a word. All is repaired, however, and I am here to tell you, Sometimes it doesn't rain in New Hampshire! This is the first conference for years where we haven't spent most of the week cold and wet. Of course it's forecast to rain tomorrow; we'll get our proper dose of misery. But for the moment: sunlight, and forest, and field, and white iris, and mountains, and poems, and eager hearts. The beauty rends.

Friday, June 21, 2019

I'm off to the Frost Place today so will be in only sporadic touch for the next week. Wish us all luck with the damp and the mosquitoes and the prowling grouchy ghost of Poet Bob.

It's been pouring rain all night. Tom and I dozed off under a couch blanket in front of a wood fire, just like it was March. This morning the garden plants look drunk, and they probably are. When I went out earlier, to lug the compost to the curb, the air felt like a locker-room after twenty-five showers. Sticky door weather. Clumped-up salt shaker weather. Moldy bread weather. Crazy hair weather.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Well, I have vacuumed out my car so that poets may ride in it without flinching. And I have printed all of my paperwork, and I have set aside a box of new books for sale, and I have watered the houseplants, and I have dealt (organically, if not kindly) with an invasion of biting red ants in my herb garden. Today, on the final slide to the Frost Place, I need to plan my reading, gather up some backlist books for donation, decide what clothes to pack in my suitcase (always an awful hour), and trim yard weeds--undoubtedly in the rain.

I feel, as I always feel, as if I'm forgetting something important. In my dreams last night I was a party planner for a very odd wedding, a job that required me to sew mother-in-law outfits that bore a certain resemblance to Goodwill upholstery and also had a pompom fringe swinging from the waistband. Possibly the scenario was an allegory.

For now, I am happy to be doing nothing--neither dreaming nor packing. My sinuses are stuffed with pollen, the air is grouchy with impending rain, and this cup of hot black coffee is the best thing on earth.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A dense, myopic fog blurs the neighborhood this morning. Taillights blear; softened bricks erase into cloud; blossoms seep like paint. I watch a dog and her walker pause on the sidewalk. When I look up again, they have vanished, swallowed by mist.

Island weather. A fine morning to eat leftover soup for breakfast, to wear an old sweater, to restart the dehumidifier in the basement, to read a damp paperback novel, to walk down to the shore.

Speaking of soup, let me tell you about it. Fresh chicken stock, fried onions and carrots, leftover picked chicken, a handful of bow-tie macaroni, a can of pinto beans, salt and pepper. At serving, topped with coarsely chopped tomatillo salsa, a spoonful of plain yogurt, a handful of minced cilantro. Served alongside toast and ice water and a big green salad. An on-the-spot invention I will certainly invent again.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

The boy has whirled off into the sunrise. Now, on this dim morning, the house ticks; the mild air hums and trembles; squares of daylight cast mute glimmers over chair arms, over scratched floorboards and scarred books.

Outside, the sky whitens. Threads of cloud finger the Norway maples, leviathan trees, wearing their crowns like gods.

A screen door slams.

A fluster of sparrows spins upward, and falls.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Tomorrow morning P sets out on his Canadian canoe idyll; on Friday I leave for the Frost Place. I think we're both mostly ready for our adventures . . . though I'm never quite sure.

Today will be hot and humid, and I have to mow grass and wash sheets and read some Dante, and hang out with my son, and then go to a school event in the evening for the kids I taught this winter. The garden is swelling: peas in flower, beans in flower; second crops of greens burgeoning; strawberries setting fruit. I am awash in duty.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

I got to lead a very fun poetry revision workshop in Portsmouth yesterday (though it would have been even more fun if I'd slept the night before). The participants were all members of the same writing group, so they had a long familiarity with each others' personality and writing style. It was interesting to step into this ongoing relationship, stirring the waters a bit but also benefiting from their existing ease with one another.

I like to lead these kinds of workshops "cold"--which is to say, I don't want to read the poems beforehand and construct heavily annotated teacherly reactions. I want everyone in the room to be equals: all of us first-time readers of a new draft, all finding our paths into it, often awkwardly, often second-guessing ourselves, positing one possibility and then another, because that's how revision really works. I think of it as a way to model a pattern of mind--"how to be a reviser" rather than "follow my precepts, student." As I say every year at the Frost Place, my goal as a teacher is to teach myself out of a job--to bring poets into confident engagement with their own minds and their own work.

This method of teaching is tiring, for sure, because it requires intense concentration in the moment, not just on the draft under study, but on the poet's personality and on the temper of the communal responses. What, in a particular poem, should be singled out in this context for a 10-minute conversation? How can that conversation honor the richness of the draft while being forthright about next steps? How can I allow room for multiple possibilities--for the poet's own creative growth--while offering a structural security ("you might try this, or this, or this")? These are the on-the-spot dances I like to do. But it's exhausting work, and I did come home last night looking and feeling like a flayed rabbit. Thank goodness for a real night's sleep and a slow morning after.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Yesterday was yet another day of pouring rain, fire in the woodstove, endless hot tea, and two sweaters, along with fist-shaking at whatever insect keeps beheading my okra seedlings. On my desk: a dense historical novel in need of copyediting. In the kitchen: Venetian meat-and-potato balls and a bowl of fresh greens. In my lap: Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land.

Tomorrow I'll be leading a poetry revision workshop in Portsmouth for much of the day. A week from now I'll head west to the Frost Place. I'm in a bit of a fluster . . . not a big one, just the usual Oh, golly, I need to pull myself together, don't I?

For the moment I'm staring out into the cool dense foggy green of a Casco Bay June. The sea is invisible but feels very close. The sky is a wet afghan hung over two chairs, the houses prim little islands on asphalt shoals. Peonies loll against drainpipes. Peavines gobble the trellis; tomato plants lurch up their stakes, hungry as teenage boys. Summer is a greedy season.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

I got word yesterday that the advance copies of Chestnut Ridge are ready! So I will definitely have them at the Frost Place, and maybe a few for other folks too.

* * *

This week's food discovery: roasted pumpkin seeds are excellent with hot-smoked salmon that's been flaked into fresh-picked greens and halved cherry tomatoes and then tossed with olive oil, lime, and a handful of garden cilantro.

* * *

The vases are filled with peonies. The skies are filled with gulls.

* * *

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

The peonies exploded into bloom in yesterday's warm soaking rain, and then the rain immediately smashed the heavy heads into the ground. C'est la vie with peonies, every single year. I did manage to tie them up, however, and to corral the peavines which are swelling over the trellis like radioactive superheroes.

Number 1 Son took a bus to Boston early in the morning, and I cried, of course. It has been so exceedingly sweet to have both boys at home. Thankfully I still have Number 2 Son to enjoy for a few more days before he departs for Canada. And then I'll be rushing into Frost Place time, so I won't have the leisure to mope for long . . .  though I bet I'll still manage some woe. How I love these boys.

Today: editing, and then grass mowing and weed trimming, and probably a mid-afternoon break for Scrabble, which for some reason has become the game du jour during this boy visit. Tom was home all day yesterday because of the rain (not good weather for framing a house), so we now possess a linen-closet door and a non-leaking toilet. And now the cat is yowling outside the front door because he wants to bring a semi-live mouse inside. The answer is no.

Monday, June 10, 2019

A long sweet ballpark afternoon, a walk home under summer skies, boys splintering off briefly to visit with friends, Sicilian pizza and asparagus salad for dinner, a noisy family card game afterward . . . the weekend has been a delight. This morning I'm feeling a bit sun-drugged, as one does after a hot day at the stadium. Boys are asleep, my in-laws are heading home, Tom is getting ready for work, and I am trying to catch up on emails and laundry. We're forecast to have another hot day, and I don't know what the boys and I will do with it. Our plan is to go to the movies this evening, but otherwise we may just putter. Tomorrow Number One Son heads to New Hampshire, and I'll go back to editing, prepping for the Frost Place, prepping for a weekend workshop, etc., etc. In the meantime Boy Land continues on.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Tom and his parents spent yesterday at Winslow Homer's studio. The boys and a childhood friend climbed a mountain in western Maine. I walked and ate barbecue with old friends who were passing through town. Then we all reconvened for tapas and chatter on Munjoy Hill. The day was easygoing and sociable, the sort of summer day I used to read about in books.

Today will be brunch around the corner and a minor league baseball game in the sunshine, and then something or other for dinner . . . maybe a big pot of macaroni, maybe take-out pizza; who knows? In the meantime, here I sit on the couch, listening to the toilet leak, because nothing's perfect.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Boy Land is sleeping, upstairs and down.
The cat's on the lawnchair, the mouse on the town.
Sunshine is streaking the waves on the bay.
Summer is coming, it's coming today.

Friday, June 7, 2019

My Chicago son will arrive at midday, my in-laws at midafternoon, and then, as my father-in-law says, "We'll have Christmas in June!"by which he means three generations in the same place at the same time--something that doesn't happen so often anymore.

Thus this morning, after snatching a yoga class, I'll rush off to buy groceries, then rush to the bus station to fetch my exhausted all-night-traveling son, and then putter around finishing a lemon tart, prepping chicken with olives, and basking in Boy Land.

The sun is shining, and soon I'll open all the windows and hang a load of laundry. Salvia, chive flowers, columbine, iris are beaming from vases. The cherry table is polished. The new cellar door is delightfully closed. I've got a bed to set up for the traveling son: a thick new mattress, line-dried sheets. I feel happy that the house is so cheerful, the garden so green and vigorous and tidy. A cardinal is singing singing singing in the maples. The white cat blinks. The men I love are sleeping and waking.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Another rainy dawn . . . pouring pouring pouring, over cars and trees and sidewalks and chimneys and gardens. The forecast claims the storm will clear out shortly and we'll have a rare weekend of sunshine and warmth. But that is hard to believe.

This morning I'm taking my car to the garage around the corner to find out why the a/c is still not working right. I've got student poems to read, an editing project to finish up, and then a lemon tart shell to prebake and a house to clean before my company starts arriving tomorrow.

I'm still slowly revisiting Richard Ford's Independence Day, but mostly I'm spending my free time in Boy Land, where I'm listening to loud playlists and being trounced in Scrabble. Warning: This is what happens when you encourage your children to read.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Applications are still open this week for the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. Do make a snap decision and join us. Often our participants are neither classroom teachers nor poets; but they are people who feel deeply, who crave intellectual and emotional communion with colleagues, and they find these bonds with the participants who return year after year. If you have any questions or curiosities, please contact me.

* * *

Finally, after days of terrible sleeping, I enjoyed a full night of unconsciousness, so this morning I'm feeling far less lizardy. I did manage to finish a big editing project yesterday, and I think maybe that shifted the invisible hammer of doom that was hanging over my head and jolting my synapses at 3 a.m. In any case, I'm grateful.

Now I'm sitting with my coffee in front of a small recalcitrant fire, trying to avoid turning up the thermostat on this damp gray rainy morning. Today will be student-poem-reading day, and taking-the-boy-to-the-dentist day, and probably bathroom-cleaning day. Today and tomorrow are forecast to be wet, but then things should clear up for our big family weekend of art, food, and minor league baseball.

I received the first printer's proof of Chestnut Ridge yesterday, and I am exceedingly pleased with how it looks. If all goes well, copies will be available at the Frost Place, though the timing is tight and slip-ups may happen. I'm feeling optimistic, however.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Home again, after two days packed with driving and not enough sleep. But now there's a boy in the house, and that's a big plus. So laundry today, and lots of desk work, and some errand running; and steak au poivre for dinner, and baseball on the radio, and the boy's playlists singing in the kitchen.

The garden is flush with salad greens: arugula, spinach, lettuce. I can pick parsley by the handful now, and garlic chives and sorrel. Peas are thick, strawberries in flower. Even the okra is up--my first ever shot at growing this beautiful tall plant with its fig-shaped leaves and huge creamy flowers. The only vegetable letting me down is the cucumber, which refuses to germinate. I guess I'll have to buy a seedling.

I should have the Chestnut Ridge printer's proof in my hands later today. I've got so much editing to do, a batch of poems to read for a student, teaching gigs to prep, and more house guests arriving on Friday. Somehow I'll figure it all out.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

 A few photos before I hit the road this morning: This is my tomato bed, stakes newly installed. Note the stylish bark pathways.

Peas have climbed halfway up the trellis and are as thick as weeds. Strawberries are setting blossoms.

Backyard grass is regenerating. Not exactly a lawn but it kind of looks like one if you're not wearing your glasses.

 Woodpile. Broken-down shed. A little piece of Harmony in Portland.

Garden boxes thriving. Second crops planted. Turning a driveway into vegetable plots was an excellent idea.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

I'm getting ready for a flurry of family. Tomorrow I head out to fetch Younger Son home from college, spend the night with my parents, then drive back home with the boy. Next Friday Older Son flies in, in-laws drive up, and we'll have a weekend of art, food, movies, and minor league baseball. In the meantime I've got work to do, of course, though all I'll really want to do is hang around with my boys. My blog appearances are likely to be intermittent, but I'll try.

Today will be all garden all of the time: mowing trimming weeding transplanting thinning. I'm more or less caught up on housework, I ran a thousand errands yesterday, I got my car's air conditioning fixed, I undoubtedly forgot something else along the way . . .

Anyway, happy Saturday! Hope yours is a breath of clean wind--