Saturday, February 29, 2020

The cat forked me out of bed at 5 a.m., so here I sit, bleary and over-dreamed. In my unconscious, I went to visit my parents and discovered that my mother had found a house she liked better, so she bought it and went to live there. My dream father told me this quite coolly, as if it were no big deal. However, I, straddling the real and the dream, was appalled. In waking life my parents are completely intertwined, even when crabby and spitting nails at one another, and they can barely go to the grocery store alone. My mother would never casually buy a house and move out, and my father would never calmly tell the tale. Where was the emoting and hair-tearing? Dream me felt like my shirt was on fire in the midst of this bizarre serenity. Waking me was puzzled about why I had gotten so overwrought about a fairly mild dream sequence.

Brains are so strange.

So here I am, awake and restless, with a sour dream taste on my tongue. This weekend I've got to move half a cord of firewood into the basement and deal with various annoyances involving insurance companies, new glasses with the wrong prescription lenses, ugly mud in the yard, and a couch that smells funny. Perhaps I should write a villanelle about repetitive billing errors, eye strain, seasonal headaches, and decrepit furniture.

Friday, February 28, 2020

I spent yesterday catching up on what you might call love tasks--reading a friend's short story draft, advising on another friend's article, writing a small essay about Longfellow for a third friend's weekly mailing-list series . . . love tasks because they earn me no money, love tasks because it feels good to give away my time and thoughts now and again.

Today, however, I'll be back into the editing saddle: yet another brand-new unopened academic manuscript in need of scribbling. Finish one, and another jumps up in its place . . . an endless cycle of argument and endnotes. I'm mostly grateful. They pay a few bills.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

"Time goes by, love flies blind"

That's the refrain one of my students invented for a group-written bop-style poem they've tentatively titled "The Problem of Time and Romance."

Do you see why I adore this class?

I showed them a sample--Afaa Weaver's "Rambling." I asked them to figure out the form, which I told them had a line-number and problem-solving basis rather than a rhyme, rhythm, or heavily repetitious one. Within five minutes they'd come up with an answer. They brainstormed a topic. Then they broke into groups and constructed a complex, wistful draft, punctuated by that gorgeous refrain.

Spending time with these kids is like working in a Laboratory of Ideal Poetry Experimentation. They are willing to try anything. When my experiments tank, they suggest fixes. They are both effervescent and deeply serious. They love to figure stuff out but they also love the casual instinctive motions of their minds. They work well in groups; they work well alone. They talk about scary, terrible issues, and they gleefully play silly improv games.

Yesterday one student brought cupcakes to share--for no apparent reason, yet it seemed like a bit of celebration. We'd reached our tenth session of the year; we were meeting again after our first taste of public performance. There's a giddiness in this class: they walk off the bus into our workroom, greeting one another, reigniting their camaraderie; find their common communal reckless joy in getting ready for whatever the hell they're going to be doing today. Their wildness bubbles up.

In the afternoon, while the groups were clustered in various rooms of the house, working on their bop stanzas, one boy came downstairs. "Can I ask you a question?" he said.

"Sure," I responded, assuming that he wanted to talk about the stanza he was involved in. But no.

He wanted to know "Can I come back again next year? Can I come back for Season 2?"

I had to say I wasn't sure. I told him it was a pilot program, that none of the funders and administrators and teachers had yet started a conversation about how to handle next year. But I told him to tell his teachers and his principal how he felt, to make his hopes clear to the decision makers. There are arguments for and against his wishes. A whole new cohort would spread the program to the largest number of students. A cohort of returning students would create an emotional and artistic haven for young people in deep need of it. I'm torn about which option is better. I wish we could do both.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

For whatever reason, the poem of mine that Vox Populi published yesterday attracted a lot of interest (clarification: a lot for me just means some in regular parlance). I wonder if people like sonnets, or simply the notion of composing a poem out of scraps of ideas and reactions. I worried that the ending was too pat, but apparently nobody else did. Anyway, it kept me in a bit of a flurry all day long.

Today I'll be reentering standard grunt life: calling the insurance company to complain about a charge and then driving three hours north to Monson. I'm tired already, as I spent most of the night having hot flashes. When will they ever go away?

I'm glad, for comfort, I have my grey couch, my red bathrobe, my white cup and saucer. A lamp. An empty grate. A jar of hyacinths.

I've been reading Peter Carey's A Long Way from Home, a novel about an Australian auto race in the 1950s, and George Saunders's story collection The Tenth of December. They're not The Makioka Sisters by any means, but what is? However, they were both published in the 21st century, so I feel very modern.

Tonight, in my Monson digs, I might start working on an essay on Longfellow's sonnet "Mezzo Cammin," which I'm guest-writing for my friend Teresa's weekly email subscription letter, La poesia della settimana. (Talk to me more if you want to subscribe; I'll let her know. Her letters are smart and wonderful and clear and curious and full of heart.)

Or I might read a friend's short-story draft, or another friend's article-in-progress. Or I might watch a movie. Or I might take a bath and go to bed early.

Tomorrow I'll run the kids through a "rhymed couplet speed dating" game and then introduce them to Afaa Michael Weaver's bop form. My plan is to have them write a group bop: one student assigned to the refrain, small groups assigned to each stanza, with revision tasks spread among the different parties. This is my new experimental approach to revision teaching: How can I have students do it for commonsense, on-the-job reasons? How can I make it a natural element of the project at hand?

Monday, February 24, 2020

My poem "Sonnet in Search of Poems I've Never Written" is up on Vox Populi this morning.

Vox Populi has published a number of my poems over the years, and Mike Simms, the editor, always includes an old photo of me--one from what Tom and I jokingly call my Virginia Woolf series: "profile of pale female with bony nose." But now that my eyes are decaying faster than a speeding isotope, my VW era is over. All new photos feature "wild-haired graying female in specs." It's hard to get excited about that change. Oh well. With age comes cheerful abandon. I now wear pale blue combat boots and emote fearlessly in front of judgmental young people. On the whole that's better than being someone else's anxious doppelgänger.

Today I'll be prepping for Wednesday's Monson class, reading some manuscripts, talking on the phone about Rilke with my friend Teresa, grocery shopping, going to the gas station, and so on, and so on.

Sonnets to Orpheus [in multiple translations] + unleaded gasoline = ?

Hauling away a bag of returnable bottles + inventing "rhymed couplets speed date game" = ?

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Late February. First clumsy kiss of early spring: clean breeze; coats unbuttoned; in my sunny front garden, a few spikes of scilla and hyacinth; in the shady back garden, the hellebore--the Lenten rose--rising from under the snow crust, heavy with flower buds.

Inside, puddles of sun on the scarred floors. A cluster of tulips in a stone jar. The scent of coffee. Library books piled on the table.

My thoughts scatter here and there . . . my faraway sons; an unpleasant dream about having lunch with Melania T. and a sleazy costume designer; poems; the manuscripts of friends; starry-eyed plans for gardens and walkways. I am missing the dear Makioka sisters, whose novel has ended.

Falling in love with characters in books: may I do it till I die.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

For dinner last night I made a salmon soufflé, a beautiful sight, leaping straight from the hallowed pages of Julia C's first cookbook. A fine, old-fashioned, French-for-American-housewives recipe, packed with postwar butter and eggs, breezily requesting canned salmon and Swiss cheese. As it happened, I did not follow that particular path of convenience: I had a leftover piece of fillet that had been sitting in the freezer for a couple of months and a hank of low-budget Gruyere. In fact my soufflé was highfalutin, in a middlebrow way.

Tom and I were excited to watch it rise, to crow over its brown puff, to spoon up its delightful texture of nothingness. Dinner as mild-mannered spectacle.

I don't have much planned for today, other than my usual winter weekend obligato: water plants carry firewood sweep floors clean bathrooms wash clothes read books walk into the cemetery stare out over saltwater.

But I am pleased to have a new poem draft. It's constructed around a series of online reviews of a seedy motel: borrowed, rewritten, molded, dramatized. I do love voices. And I love the work of spotlighting the strange intersections of comic and monstrous, glibness and deep feeling. The ambiguities of place and need and desire and desperation.

Friday, February 21, 2020

I did write yesterday, productively, and as a result I am feeling both vigorous and honest this morning, two sensations that might also be a definition of poetry. In addition to constructing a new draft that I like, I also began to identify some compilation possibilities for a sheaf of pieces that have not been fitting into any other collection--poems that are harsher and more political than much of my other work. Right now I am calling this group American Anger, though that title will likely change. For the moment I'm just happy to have figured out that they, too, have a cohort.

Today: my hard yoga class (challenging postures, impossible balancing tasks . . . another definition of poetry?) and then editing an academic journal and reading other peoples' manuscripts. I'm still delighted with The Makioka Sisters, still reading Sonnets to Orpheus.

And dear ones: don't forget to send in your applications to the Frost Place. Poetry needs you.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Lately the Beloit Poetry Journal's social media posts have been featuring poems from its archive, and yesterday, much to my surprise, one of my poems popped up on Facebook, inside this charming frog.

I have never before been published inside a frog, and I like it.

This morning I am going to mess around with a new notion-for-a-poem and see if anything coheres. Eventually I'll switch over to doing other people's work, but I need to snatch an hour or two for myself. I've been busily preaching "Don't forget to fill your own well," to teachers and students, nephews and sisters, while not filling my own well, and that silliness needs to stop. I am ahead of schedule on editing, I don't teach again till next Wednesday, I have no company to entertain or feed, I don't need to go grocery shopping, I'm caught up on laundry.
Dear Dawn, 
Write, damn it. 
Love, Dawn

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Yesterday's snowstorm devolved into a rainstorm and then froze, so things are looking pretty ugly out there. A few minutes ago I opened the back door to put out the reluctant cat, and it's a good thing he was reluctant because crunch crunch crunch around the edge of the shed strode a stocky black and white animal . . . surely Ruckus's friend Jack from across the street . . . but, wait a sec, no, cat, get back into the house immediately.

Public service announcement: Skunks in southern Maine are not hibernating.

My sister and nephew will head back to Vermont later today, and I'll wash a bunch of sheets and towels and reclaim my study. Still, amid visitor uproar, I did manage to finish that editing project and even to spend some time with my friend's poetry manuscript. And thanks to my son I've got a kernel of an idea for a new poem. Possibly I'll find a moment to experiment later this week.

I do feel less downhearted than I did yesterday morning. Life always looks much rosier after a close skunk call.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The black morning air is cold and thick. Snow is on the way.

Last night we escorted our visitors down Forest Avenue for their first-ever taste of Vietnamese pho, which they loved. We played cards, and kvetched about this and that, and in general behaved like regular cheerful relatives. We drank tea and went to bed early.

But now I'm tired, for no particular reason, and a little downhearted, also for no particular reason. I suppose it's just late-winter malaise . . . Spring is so close yet so far. I'd like to be immersed in a writing project, but I can't seem to fall down the rabbit hole. Not one single review of Chestnut Ridge has been published. I'm awaiting a passel of manuscript rejections . . .

Ugh. Enough! Let's talk about the tulips sitting on my living room table--they're lavender, with narrow white edging, still tightly furled, like short fat umbrellas. And The Makioka Sisters: this is a wonderful novel: ambling and slow, an idle walk among blossoms, with the sisters glowing like bright lamps at dusk.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Another Monday . . . dark, quiet, cold. My house is full of sleeping bodies that will shortly be a hectic rush of showers and breakfast. Then they'll suddenly dissolve into the world. And I will be alone again, rattling around the the doll-house, humming my private tune.

Today, I hope I'll be finishing an academic editing project. Perhaps my optimism is misplaced. But if it isn't, and I do get it done, then I'll have a bit of space for Rilke and Dante and my own writing. Or perhaps the house party will reconvene earlier than expected, and I'll be back to my Aunt & Sister job: slicing bread, boiling eggs, pouring tea, shaking my head over the iniquities of school administrators.

Here's a poem I wrote for my sister. It came out in Green Mountains Review a few years ago.

Eight-Track Tape Player

Dawn Potter 

                        for Heather Potter

The sun slants his hapless rays
through spiderwebbed glass,
and amid the hills of newspaper
rumpling up from the tablecloth
our tight-lipped mama unpacks a miracle
fresh from the S & H Green Stamps Store—
a glory of chrome and veneer,
five fat knobs, two speakers, a slot like a mouth.
Pity the ravaged radio
hunched beside this marvel.

Blinking in the soiled daylight,
our grandpop makes small
kind noises, though in truth
every machine he loves, tractor or Frigidaire,
is broken down and rusted out.
Behind him, in a chipped chair,
our granny slits a new packet of Luckies
with her long thumbnail
and erects a wall of smoke.

Like always, like always,
there’s just the two of us dropped at the altar—
you and me—magicked, rapt, enchanters.
How many rhymes have we sung
to the frog in the well? how many idols
suborned?—a slick wet calf born under moonlight,
the musty sweet smell of a grain bin,
road wind in our mouths and in our hair.

But this—
this is different.
This is the modern world.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Hey, the cat let me sleep in till almost 7. What a shock! Now I am sitting here on the grey couch, pleasantly groggy, while actual daylight filters in through the window . . . a cloudy, dim daylight, the air surprisingly temperate.

It's school vacation week in Maine and Vermont, and later today my sister and her older son will be arriving, en route to College Tour Hell: Maine Edition. Five years ago, my younger son and I embarked on our Upstate New York-Vermont-Connecticut Edition . . . getting lost in the endless circling one-ways of Poughkeepsie, being horrified at the intense obnoxiousness of parents at Wesleyan, and finding ourselves charmed and comforted by the sweetness of a staff librarian at Bennington. Four years before that, Tom and our older son went on Art School Safari. Then and now, nerves were taut, fear was rampant, self-doubt flowered like dandelions in a cow pasture.

You can be sure I'll be making a good dinner for my nephew and plying him with root-beer floats for dessert. Poor child. He's in the thick of it.

So: vacuuming and bed making and grocery shopping today, and maybe a walk with my sister, if she gets here before dark. I've started reading Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters. I'm still in the midst of mentoring a friend's poetry manuscript, still chipping away at Rilke and Dante. I doubt I'll get anything accomplished in those realms today. Mostly, I expect, I'll be on call as Understanding Aunt & Calming Sister.

So I'll say farewell to you in family mode, with this poem, which appeared in Vox Populi not long ago.


Dawn Potter

At the peak of my powers I felt a falling-off,
as if an internal organ had come loose from its moorings
and was bobbing gently against my pelvis like a pear.

The season was autumn. Threads of smoke
unwound from the chimneys. Every compass pointed
toward winter.

I walked out, in the dim afternoon, into the small streets,
through a modest wood, across a vast graveyard.
I read the headstones—

here, the woman recalled only as Mother,
here, Our Darling Ralph, his tiny stone tarnished with lichen.
My way was littered with parthenons and obelisks,

with strange marble tables and mossy
arks of the covenant, and among them
bulldogs rolled in wet pine needles, helmeted tots

wobbled on training wheels, and I,
no longer at the peak of my powers,
turned my ankle on a pebble and limped.

But when I came to the bottom of the hill,
into that clutter of merchant mausoleums
known as the Valley of the Kings,

I paused in my limping and looked up
into the watery leaf-light: pale gold, speckles of black,
thinned remnants of last night’s gale.

And I felt, for no reason at all, sweetened.
Around me, the stony edited lives—
born, married, fathered, earned, died

seemed to swell into ballads.
Carved lions kneaded their claws,
and lost at sea was a cadence.

I was a poet, and I wanted to sing
of small Ralph, alive and perched on his father’s
broadcloth knee, in the November twilight, after the banks

had bolted their doors and the barges had docked.
Now a scatter of gulls sailed over the cove,
and Mother sat alone at her rosewood desk and wrote

Sky. Leaf.  Light. 
I wanted to sing that. And so I did.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

In Portland, the thermometer's hovering at zero. Up north in the homeland, it's -14, so I have no complaining leg to stand on. And in fact I'm not complaining. I like the excitement of cold, and I regret, now that I'm living the soft city life, that I'm not pulling on my insulated coveralls and trudging out to the barn and the woodshed as my skin stiffens and my tears gel in the treacherous air. The challenge of being flesh in a place where flesh ought not to be.

I've always had a soft spot for the stupidity of the polar explorers.

When we were young, Tom and I used to pore over the atlas and imagine ourselves traveling north, and north, and north. How did we end up retreating south, end up in this bayside burg, little princess of the provinces, with her boats and breweries, her snow-clotted streets, her strangers?

Saturday morning, in the Alcott House. A stone jar filled with bright orange gerbera daisies. A scatter of books, puzzles, games, pencils. Lamplight. A yellow chair. Glitter of a water glass. A white cat. Warmth stealing up from the registers. Steam coiling from a cup. Through the windows: a tangle of black branches pasted onto a blue-ink sky.

The present tense.

The present. Tense.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Despite my sleeplessness, I did manage to shoehorn myself through yesterday. Midday I took part in a conference call about the residency applications I've been sorting through, and that went well. The other judge and I had a fair amount of overlap in our choices, which was reassuring. Judging is always subjective: there's no way around it. I was glad to have been accidentally paired with a like-minded reader.

So that's one job off my desk. This morning I'm going to a yoga class; then I'll trundle home and edit for a while; then I'll spend some time with a couple of poetry manuscripts I'm mentoring. And then I'll cook dinner for my Valentine: lemon-marinated strip steaks, roasted Brussels sprouts, root-beer floats. My Valentine loves root-beer floats.

[Have you noticed I have a career in words? Isn't that the weirdest thing? Who knew it was possible? Who knew having a career was possible?]

Here's a small poem from the embryo manuscript. It appeared in Salamander a while ago.


Dawn Potter

Blue jay screams in the almost wilderness—
she Wants she Wants she Wants.

Nothing but flames will grow in this wind.

Back and forth the blind mice scuttle.
Their nation crumbles and thrives.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Lord, I am tired. I came home beat from Monson, then was awake half the night for no reason in particular, except maybe because I feel like I'm on call for half the population of the world. Later this morning I have a big meeting; in the meantime, I'm immersed in being a support person in multiple Suffering Young Person sagas. O the texts and emails . . . I'm going to start wearing a Hello My Name Is sticker that reads Expert: Young Angst.

Anyway, this good cup of coffee is helping.

And I did have a glorious day with my Monson kids. We spent the entire session prepping for an afternoon staged reading: moving from revising the raw script, to blocking and staging the event, to honing the presentation, to welcoming the audience and staging the performance. I was flying by the seat of my pants as I am not a theater person and don't have that language or skill base. But the kids did a truly magnificent job . . . especially during stage 1: revision. We sat with the script and line by line read it aloud repeatedly, discussing whether or not the voice was consistent, whether the wording was clear and easy to read, whether the descriptions were as vivid as they could be. The student author considered every suggestion, accepted many, rewrote others in her own way; the kids were focused and precise and detailed in the way in which they talked through the language issues. I have never seen such fine workshopping at the high school level. They were in love with the story and were determined to help it become the best it could be.

At the high school level, any lessons in revision really only scratch the surface. Revision is a lifetime challenge. It's more important to let them see that door open than to expect them to get their work into professional shape. I felt like preparing for this staged reading gave them a real-world, commonsense reason to revise: they understood concretely that language must sing in the mouth and resonate for the listener.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

I'll be heading up north this afternoon for tomorrow's class and I've got 2,000 niggling chores to accomplish before I leave. I don't know how anyone manages to routinely travel for work. I am really not that good at it.

I spent much of yesterday prepping myself to deliver a complicated lesson on performance: trying to break down all of the steps in doing a grouped staged reading and then stacking them up in a way that might be useful and reasonable for high schoolers. This project was their idea, and I'm all fired up to support them in it, but I'm definitely making stuff up as I go along. Teaching as improv. C'est ma vie.

I'm soothing myself by staring at the fat bouquet of gerbera daisies my friend gave me last night--brilliant orange and green and quite unlike a Maine winter. I feel tempted to carry them along with me, a visual kiss for the middle of our writing table, but I would probably spill flower-water all over the backseat of my car.

Everything's at sixes-and-sevens this morning [which means what? why not "at fours-and-fives"?]: I'm feeding a houseguest, derailing the cat, puzzling over which pair of shoes won't hurt my feet, grinding coffee, answering messages . . . I can barely find a moment to sit on the couch and write this note to you . . . and then, all of a sudden, there will be nothing but time. The strange intersection of busyness and emptiness. How odd it is to be human.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Currently, some sort of garbagy rain-sleet-snow-ice compound is coating every exterior surface with Monday-morning grievances. Ugh. The sidewalks were already as slick as pigs. This neighborhood is a concussion waiting to happen.

Today I've got to prep for my Wednesday Monson class, and work on an editing project, and try to get to the yoga session I couldn't attend on Friday because of a previous ice onslaught, and tend a dear one in trouble, and wash clothes, and stare at a poem draft, and copy out Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus, and empty the ashes out of the stove, and cook an early dinner, and go to the movies, and stare at a poem draft, and think.

Meanwhile, the cat paces and the furnace growls and Tom sighs in his bed.

Meanwhile, I read this sentence by Louise Bogan, an epigraph printed on the back of a letterpress copy of Kate Barnes's long poem The Rhetoric of Fiction, which I unearthed in a free pile outside the University of New England library--
No woman should be ashamed if, in her writing, she tries to give back to the world a portion of its lost heart.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

It's one degree above zero, outside in the icy dark. Here in the little house the furnace growls and clicks, and lamplight spreads a golden circle in the gloom. I'm in my accustomed place: the corner of the grey couch, with my white coffee cup, my black coffee, my red bathrobe. Upstairs Tom is still asleep. Beside me, the fair-haired cat squints and purrs.

I'm thinking about patience, and suddenly wondering how different it is from impatience. Sitting quietly, waiting for opportunity, slogging away at tedium: are they all a mask for desperation? a way to deceive the Watcher? Or is true patience simply indolence? or indifference?

I've been rereading Kate O'Brien's The Land of Spices, which is set in an Irish convent school just before the First World War, and I'm sure that's why I've found myself circling around these questions of inner wildness, exterior self-control. Poems, of course, are a place to frame that conflict. A certain sort of nun might be able to construct other versions of that frame. Perhaps she would employ the word obedience, or vocation. A poet might as well.

A vocation does require obedience: a strict adherence to the rules of the game . . . a game that is demanding and particular and generalized and ancient and mutable and unfair and exhaustive and extremely unclear. Perhaps you see why I've found myself conflating patience with impatience.

Being a poet is a lesson in being no one. Yes, in the Keatsian sense of negative capability--a constant striving to thin the barriers separating self, language, and experience. Yes, in the sense of isolation. The essential work can only be done alone. Yes, in the sense of communal joy. Nearly everyone is indifferent to a poet's striving: even other poets are indifferent.

Invisibility is freedom. Freedom is dangerous. Danger heightens the senses. The senses are liars. Lying is power. Power is invisible.

Saturday, February 8, 2020

This is the poster for the summer writing seminar I co-direct with my friend Ian Ramsey (see yesterday's post). If you click on the poster so that it's big enough to read, you'll note that the seminar is free and that all equipment and supplies are provided. If you know any New England teenagers who would benefit from thoughtful time in the wild with like-minded peers, please send them our way. I direct the writing program, and Ian manages the logistics. He's got long experience with taking young people into wilderness situations; you couldn't ask for a better leader when it comes to balancing adventure with safety.

* * *

Yesterday's weather was so bad--ice and freezing rain all day long--that Tom stayed home from work, something he rarely does. The neighborhood looks slick and nasty this morning, but eventually I've got to get the car out of the driveway as, horrors, we are almost out of coffee. I spent yesterday morning editing, yesterday afternoon baking a chocolate cake, and then, in the evening, we slipped-n-slid down the street and around the corner for a dinner of crab cakes and duck. City life has its delights . . . crunching down the sidewalks under the frosted streetlights as the ice-laden trees glitter . . . a walk, a companion, a warm room, a beer.

Today I've got to read page proofs for my Beloit pieces, and do some publicity chores for the Kauffmann program, plus de-ice my car and buy food and go to the bank and maybe try to shop for a new pair of glasses.

I finished reading Laxness's A Fish Can Sing and liked it a lot--so much so that I want to go back to his Independent People, which I read once years ago. At that time it didn't make much impression on me. But apparently I was young and foolish.

Friday, February 7, 2020

I spent yesterday morning working on a poem draft that is making me feel as if something real and new is going on inside my head.

I spent yesterday afternoon with one of my favorite high school teachers: Ian Ramsey, founder of the Kauffmann Summer Writing Seminar, which I've co-directed with him for the past three years. Ian is a poet who teaches music, environmental writing, and wellness at North Yarmouth Academy, and has made an  extraordinary commitment to nurturing imagination, moral engagement, and self-awareness in young people. He teaches students about brain science, including strategies for managing anxiety and developing stamina and focus, all of which are crucial for artists. I get very excited when I hear him talk about his plans and curiosities, and I'm looking forward to hosting him up in Monson so that my students can try out some of his methods.

Ian gives me hope for the future. Amid all of the dreadful portents, this world is filled with young people overflowing with energy and intelligence and love. May their bright eyes carry us through.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

At the moment it's snowing hard in Portland. The cat is disgusted, but I'm pleased. I just wish the downfall would stay snow and not turn to rain, as it's forecast to do. Slush is no one's favorite precipitation.

Today: I will gird my loins and deal with those grant applications. Ugh. And I've got a meeting scheduled in the afternoon with my co-director for the Kauffmann Summer Writing Seminar, though we'll see what the weather says.

Frost Place applications are rolling in; my Monson students are sending me stellar work; I'm trying to keep pushing forward with these daily challenges and satisfactions--yes, people of all ages are writing and thinking and feeling and caring; we are curious and vulnerable and funny and tragic; and the pigsty presidency and the senatorial disgrace can't stop us from digging for Truth and crowing from the housetops.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

I've been enduring a migraine for a couple of days--not a debilitating one, just the lingering axe-in-the-head variety, the kind that ibuprofen dulls but doesn't erase.

This morning the headache axe is still solidly biting into my skull, a fitting backdrop for the nausea of the State of the Union address, the sloppy mess of Iowa, and (in minor news) the wince that the Red Sox have traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers.

But at least I'm home today, not dancing in front of a room full of tenth graders, and maybe with a little quiet the axe will dissolve.

I've got the eternal editing stack on my desk and some Frost Place stuff to attend to; and I should force myself to apply for some grants; I should lug in firewood and clean bathrooms and wash sheets; I should sit down with my newish long poem "Rules for the Direction of the Maid" and consider revisions; I ought to write up some thoughts about Chestnut Ridge for a Florida book group that's reading it; I need to I need to I need to . . .

I could use the laying-on-of-hands right about now.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

This morning, I'll be teaching; then home again in the afternoon to edit or whatever. I feel like my letters to you have been dull, and I apologize. There's not much fascination in my life, and routines are dull on the page. Forgive my pedestrian notes. I hope to be exciting someday.

In the meantime: I'm glad I don't live in Iowa. This coffee I'm drinking is delicious. I've starting reading The Fish Can Sing, a short novel by the Icelandic writer Haldor LaxnessI dreamed that Brigitte Bardot was my stepmother, and that she climbed into a full bathtub of water while wearing a pink and white pantsuit. 

Monday, February 3, 2020

I spent yesterday combing through the seed catalog, bees-waxing my boots, making minestrone, and eventually falling asleep in front of football. Today I'll start a new editing project and go grocery shopping and otherwise prep myself for busyness. I'll be teaching for the Telling Room tomorrow, and the rest of the week is clogged with desk work and appointments. And then next week, Monson again.

I guess it's okay, all of this occupation. It's certainly a relief to get paid, and a relief to be treated like someone who knows a few things. But I still feel strange to be living a life that no longer revolves around taking care of my children. I wonder when that will wear off.

On my walk yesterday I saw snowdrops budding up in someone's front garden. Flowers in Maine on February 2. So strange.

Here's a poem from the embryo manuscript. It appears in the new anthology Except for Love: New England Poets Inspired by Donald Hall.

Ancient History

Dawn Potter

Baby forgets the rain.
Forgets how the lamplight
spilled onto his page of homework.

He forgets the scent of dust,
that old wet dog in the chair,
that radio spitting its crackle of news.

Forgets the shouting in the kitchen,
the way her voice rose, the way
her plate slapped down on the counter.

He forgets the slam of the window,
the cigarette ash drifting,
the way her eyes tracked him

when he dropped his pencil on the floor
Forgets her skinny fingers,
their filthy sharp nails,

her stare like a chain
yanking him underwater.
Forgets how bad she smelled.

All he recollects
is how she crashed back and forth,
charging from burner to sink to burner—

scald slice boil scald slice boil scald slice boil
her flailing arms bloody with tomatoes.
And Baby still sees those seven hot jars, 

mashed vegetable flesh straining against the glass:
            how they hissed
as she yanked each from the canner

and flung them screaming,
            one after one after one,
out the yawing front door.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Applications have been open for four days, and already this summer's Frost Place Conference on Poetry & Teaching is half-full. I'm shocked, in a good way. So I guess if you're thinking about applying, you should do so pronto. And if you've already applied but your friends/colleagues are procrastinating, stick a pin in them.

Yesterday I tried to distract myself from Republican treachery by washing floors, folding clothes, reading Dickens, thinking about my manuscript, talking to my sons. Today I'll sit down with a seed catalog and start planning for spring. What else can we do but cling to our little hopes?

And I got a poem accepted yesterday . . . one that's been rejected over and over again for several years. It's a piece that speaks explicitly of aging bodies and aging desire. An unfashionable topic, clearly, and I'd pretty much given up on placing it. But from the ashes, a spark.

So, dear ones, this morning I've decided to throw my shoulders back, take a deep breath, lift my gaze toward clouds and sun. I can't do much. But I can still dig, and plant, and laugh, and shout, and sleep. And listen.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Yesterday was a terrible day for our country. It is impossible for me to fathom how an entire political party could have eroded into a scrum of weak and fawning bootlickers--and for such a man! . . .  a petty, lying, cruel, selfish, stupid mafioso. And yet here we are.

Now, on this new morning, I sit in my little house and wonder what safety means, or will mean. I have been editing a novel about dictatorship and repression in 1970s Brazil: about police raids and torture and exile, about the terrible daily secrecy among loved ones--don't tell what you know or suspect or feel; ignorance is safety--how the larger repression became, for these individuals, a viperish isolation.

I have lived my entire life in a country that, in good ways and in terrible ways, was nonetheless sure of itself. Now nothing feels sure.

And here we sit, or lie, stand, or crouch, or kneel. Americans at the end of the empire, striking our everyday poses.

A Litany for Survival

Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours;

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love will vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.