Thursday, September 30, 2021


First evening fire of the season, amid all the comforts of home: a balm at summer's end, a beacon on winter nights. In the lexicon of homesteading, there are few things more satisfying than the knowledge that the wood is stacked and covered and will last till spring. All of ours is stowed neatly in the basement, within dry and easy reach during snowstorms. We've got plenty of kindling and paper starter. The new green logs are outside, tarped and curing. Only a shelf filled with canned tomatoes would give me the same kind of farmwife frisson--but, alas, my jars are empty. I just don't have the quantity to fill a canner, so I settle for second-best and sauce them for the freezer.

Today, on the last day of September, I am sitting in my accustomed couch corner, in my accustomed red bathrobe, holding my white cup-and-saucer of black coffee, and feeling extremely grateful to be here. Things are going well in Vermont; everyone is holding up and--finally--beginning to relax into optimism. I don't need to feel guilty about coming home, and I am not feeling guilty. I spent much of yesterday catching up on piles of laundry, cleaning floors, and dealing with my harvest: making tomato sauce, freezing green beans, picking broccoli and peppers. I made a big vegetable gratin for dinner and a sour cherry flan for dessert. I fiddled with some class marketing and planning, both for the Frost Place and for a possible Monson Arts day-long session for vaxxed high schoolers. I read books, and I talked on the phone to Paul, and I looked forward to Tom's arrival home from work.

Today I've got bathrooms to clean, grass to mow, garden clean-out to begin . . . but mostly I need to reinsert myself into my poet mind. I'm going to sit down with the Iliad and then turn to some of my own recent drafts; and whether I end up actually writing or not, I will at least know that I've given the work its due space and attention. As Donald Hall reminded me, when I was reading his essays in Seasons on Eagle Pond, I am a poet who frames her life with the agricultural seasons. I am not a farmer who moonlights as a poet on winter nights. It's important to recognize which vocation is my true one.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

I write to you from the extreme comfort of my own shabby couch. I can't tell you how glad I am to be home again with my husband and my little habits. I have so much to catch up on here--housework, garden work, desk work--but yesterday afternoon I lolled and then Tom took me out to dinner, and this morning I feel ready to get back at it.

The best news, of course, is that my mom is doing very well. I left her with a number of pre-made meals; caught up on my parents' housework and laundry and a few necessary big jobs, like cleaning out the freezer; helped my dad cope with his anxiety; and was able to spell my sister, who lives locally so has been carrying the weight. A 24/7 job, but now they're ready to move forward into their own routine. So, success! I feel very fortunate that my sister and I are close and don't squabble or disagree about what needs to be done and what we each need to contribute to make that happen. And I also feel fortunate that my parents trust us to help them even as they want to be independent.

I've got lots to do around here, but I'm going to let myself dawdle through it. Having just spent the last week as a live-in housekeeper and invalid nurse, I feel I have the right to take plenty of reading and tea breaks, go for an ambling walk, and allow myself to enjoy hanging around in my own space without obsessively focusing on obligations. Not that the chores don't need to get done, but why all at once?

I barely had a chance to read a book while I was away, though I did take Sunday afternoon off and teach my chapbook class in my sister's basement while she assumed my housekeeper duties. It was the most relaxing three-hours in my entire stay: sitting around with six smart people; throwing in a word now and again, as the others talked and thought about a variety of manuscript experiments.

Today, among my other tasks, I'm going to work on a Part 2 scenario for this class: what are some next steps in thinking about manuscript creation, and how can I construct a useful session for this particular group, which has learned to work so well together over the course of the past three weeks?

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Good morning from Vermont.

Inside the wall above my bed a mouse is running up and down, up and down, squeaking and scrabbling. Outside, in the distance, a barred owl is crying Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you? 

Life is trudging along here. I cook and clean, and occasionally I read a page from a book. But today will be a change: at noon I'll haul my zoom studio stuff to my sister's house, and I'll teach my chapbook class from there, while she takes my place here and spells me for dinner prep. This will practically be a vacation.

I'm hoping that recovery will advance faster this week. On the phone last night I was feeling so homesick for Tom. This is a hard job I'm doing, in more ways than one.

Saturday, September 25, 2021

A better night last night: everyone slept well, thank goodness, and today I'll be processing corn with my dad and otherwise keeping up with house chores. My mom is making great process, and spirits are high. She's got a long road to full recovery, but I think by some point next week my parents should be able to manage here by themselves.

Unfortunately last night I received the terrible news that a poet colleague, Kamilah Aisha Moon, has suddenly died. Rumors are that it was Covid-related, but I don't know for sure. Aisha taught for me at the Frost Place and was a dear friend and support to many. This is a terrible loss, and so many of us are reeling.

Hard times, hard times.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Hello, everyone! Just a quick check-in to let you know that my mom's surgery went really well and we're all hanging in as she recovers. My time is definitely not my own, and also I've gotten almost no sleep, but maybe tomorrow I'll have the wherewithal to write a real letter to you. Adieu till then--

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Today will be my last day at home for a while. I'm not sure how long I'll be in Vermont--maybe home as early as Saturday, but possibly away for a week or so. You won't hear from me here tomorrow morning, as I'll be up and driving by dawn, but I'm hoping that I can fall into a more regular blog schedule once I get settled.

I'll spend much of today trying to get garden and house things done so Tom doesn't have to shoulder too many of my chores while he's a temporary bachelor. The garden is complicated as things will still need harvesting, but I think I've got the peppers under control, the tomatoes are winding down, and many of the fall crops can just sit and grow till I get back. So today: laundry and floors, packing and lawn mowing, and making lots of lists for myself and for Tom. I've got to bring my Zoom setup with me, plus a portable mattress, plus books, plus work clothes and teaching clothes . . . it's a good thing I'll be alone in the car so I'll have room for this ridiculous amount of stuff.

Yesterday I sat in on a friend's poetry class to talk about how I handle stanza breaks, line breaks, and other kinds of white space in my poems, and it was a really enjoyable experience. Such a friendly class, and I do have fun trying to figure out how to explain myself.

In the meantime, people have been signing up for the Frost Place Studio Session classes! As of this morning, there's only one space left on the reserve list for the the December chapbook class. Please let me know as soon as possible if you're interested in that final chapbook spot. The Homer class is now three-quarters full, so you might want to act quickly on that one as well.

I'd like to think I'll be doing a little bit of revision work today, as this might be my last chance for the foreseeable future. But if I don't, I don't. I'm not going to beat myself up about what I can't accomplish. I'm still reading--I'm always reading--and that's the big thing. I'll bring along Thackeray's Vanity Fair, the Iliad, Alice Oswald's collection Falling Awake, a New Yorker issue on food writing, and undoubtedly a few other books that I won't be able to leave behind.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Another cool morning. It won't be long till I'm lighting fires in the wood stove, so it's a good thing that we (Tom mostly) finally got the new firewood stacked and tucked away for the winter. I accomplished less homestead-wise than I meant to yesterday, mostly because the phone would not stop ringing and then I fell down a "how do I make a newsletter about my upcoming workshops?" rabbit hole. I did in fact figure out how to make a newsletter, but I also had to make a mailing list to go along with it, so that was a lot of time and trouble . . . good trouble, because now the job is done, but it didn't get any bathrooms cleaned or wood stacked.

Anyway, the newsletter turned out to be a good idea. Already, several people have signed up for classes; clearly, taking the time to broadcast them was more important than vacuuming. (As you can tell, I am not a natural-born marketer.) I'll paste a copy of the newsletter to the bottom of this letter, in case you're interested in seeing it or maybe even registering for a session.

Today I'll need to buckle down and actually do housework and go grocery shopping and pick vegetables and such. Mid-afternoon, I'm making a guest appearance in my friend Bruce's poetry class, to talk about how I manage white space in my poems.

I'm trying hard to juggle everything before I leave for Vermont on Thursday. Probably I should worry a little less, let myself coast a bit. At least that's the advice I'd give you.

* * *

Dawn Potter

Upcoming poetry workshops

Fall 2021

Dear friends--

Frost Place Studio Session classes are open for business! This is a new venture at the Frost Place--an offering of online classes, year round--and I’m excited to have been named creative director of the project. 

Our first classes are already in progress. I’m currently finishing up a 3-session introductory chapbook seminar, which filled so quickly that we’re considering  running a second class in December. Here’s a link to the description of the current class. December dates would be Sunday afternoons on 12/5, 12/12, and 12/19, 1-4 p.m., via Zoom. Participation is limited to 6 people, so if you’re interested in attending, please email me ASAP, and I’ll add you to the reservation list.

In November, I’ll  be leading a weekend-long generative writing class, “Revisiting Homer’s Odyssey,” centering around passages from Emily Wilson’s new translation of the epic. This will be held on Zoom, 11/13 and 11/14. Applications are open, with a participant cap of 12,  and already the class is half full. This session is open to writers at any level, so please join us for an intense and collegial weekend of poetry and conversation.

Stay tuned for more Studio Session offerings in 2022! Upcoming classes will include generative writing weekends centering around the work of some of Poland’s greatest 20th-century poets as well as an immersion into the poetry of New York City. In the pipeline are revision workshops, a seminar on comedy in poems, a one-day class for people new to poetry, teacher roundtables, sessions with guest faculty, and so much more.

As I design these classes, I am always open to suggestions for topics and faculty. Please be in touch!

I’m so looking forward to spending time with you and your poems--


With affection,


Monday, September 20, 2021

Monday morning again, but this time a cool one: it's just 48 degrees here in Portland, and I am very glad to be wrapped in a thick bathrobe and drinking hot coffee.

I've got various things to do today, much of it niggly house and garden stuff, as I am prepping to go to Vermont later this week, where I'll be helping out with family stuff for an indefinite period . . . a few days, ideally, but possibly longer if my parents and sister need me. I'll keep working while I'm there, teaching and editing and reading mss and such, but also taking over their cooking and housework and doing garden chores and so on. Wish us all luck.

In the meantime, though, I'm enjoying being home. I had a great class session on Sunday, thanks to the brilliance of the participants, who had such wonderful conversations about each other's manuscripts and seemed to love playing around with the practice poems I gave them. I guess I'd have to say that this class is a success, at least so far.

My new studio setup is working out very well: after a year of awkwardness, taking part in a zoom session has become comfortable and predictable. And when class is over I can wander downstairs and check baseball scores, and Tom can say, "Want to go for a walk?," and we can step out into the late summer flowers, and life, for a few moments, feels easy and relaxed.

This afternoon Teresa and I will talk about the Iliad, and maybe I'll also get a chance to work on my poem draft, or maybe I'll just be moving firewood and tearing tired plants out of the garden. The tomatoes are wearing down, though the peppers are still going strong, and all of my fall crops--kale, broccoli, fennel, radishes, carrots--are delighted with the cooling temperatures.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

 It's a lovely, sunshiny morning, with everything glinting wet from the sudden big thunderstorm that wrecked our cookout last night. For a few minutes we were sitting around the fire pit drinking wine with our neighbor. And then the skies blackened, and lightning rolled in, and rain started to fall, and Tom had to figure out how to cook the rest of the meal in the kitchen.

All went well, and we had a fun dinner party anyway: he did manage to grill the peppers, onions, and eggplant before the deluge began, and he broiled and fried the kebabs and the other lamb bits he'd prepped. I'd made fresh salsa and a green bean and black grape salad, and we finished with a lemon tart for dessert, which has become one of my favorite company desserts: pretty, delicious, not cloyingly sweet, and completely reliable . . . e.g., the crust doesn't shrink during prebaking, the filling sets perfectly every time, and the pie pops out of the tart pan without sticking or tearing or otherwise breaking my heart.

This morning I'll be hauling firewood and reading the Iliad, and then I'll spend the afternoon upstairs teaching my chapbook class. Our focus today will be on adding, subtracting, and moving poems around in a manuscript. My nervousness about the class seems to have ebbed away, maybe because the homework responses were so terrific. Now I'm simply looking forward to spending the afternoon with these smart people and their fascinating poems.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Another dim and cloudy morning, here in the little northern city by the sea. I was late rising, having slept badly in the wee hours and then fallen hard into a dreamscape in which I was repeatedly rescuing my baby from drowning. Ugh. Insomnia is much better than that.

Now I'm drinking black coffee and considering my day, which will involve (naturally) firewood and some baking for our little dinner party. Yesterday I made and froze the tart shell, so I'll just need to bake and fill it with lemon curd today. And I'll need to mix together the pita dough this morning so that I have plenty of time to get each little bread through the oven.

Outside, Canada geese are honking, moving from cove to pond, making their first, slow migratory shifts. The yard is looking dingy, like a badly swept room. Autumn really is here, though I have yet to close the windows or start a fire in the wood stove or even put on a jacket and socks.

I'm still reading the Iliad and Vanity Fair, still fidgeting with my poem draft. I'm thinking about tomorrow afternoon's chapbook class and skeptically imagining the Red Sox in the playoffs. Tom and I are looking forward to attending a neighborhood yard sale this morning.

You might remark that my life seems pretty tame. But in fact my head is full of battle. The Iliad is a graphic and dread-filled poem, and that blood is seeping everywhere.

Friday, September 17, 2021

I slept so hard last night that I'm staggering around this morning like a drunk. It was the cool air that zonked me: such a sweet night for sleeping under an open window.

Yesterday I did finish moving the old woodpile into the basement, so that may have contributed to my pleasant weariness. Moving firewood is basically weight lifting, with squats built in. Today I have to stack the cellar pile, and tomorrow Tom and I need to get started on the green pile in the driveway. So I will be firewood-tired for a few days to come.

I also did write a first draft of a new poem, which turned out to be a conversation with the Iliad, so that was exciting. I have a hard time loving the Iliad, because I have a hard time concentrating on the litany of death: so-and-so from Troy is speared in the groin by so-and-so of the Greeks; so-and-so of the Greeks falls from his chariot and is crushed by a stone by so-and-so from Troy. And yet, of course, the weight and tedium of these litanies hold terrible power because they enact the weight and tedium of battle. Despite my struggle to concentrate as a reader, the poem does its work on me.

Today I've got some class prep to do, plus the aforementioned firewood, plus grocery shopping because Tom and I are having a little dinner party with our neighbor on Saturday evening. Tom's going to grill lamb kidneys (from the magnificent lamb we bought from our friend Amber's sheep farm) along with various garden vegetables, and I'm going to make salsa and pita and a lemon tart.

I also hope to do some revision on my Iliad draft, and to read more of the actual Iliad, and to endure my exercise class, and to mow grass, and no doubt this list will stretch much longer as I think of all of the other things I could be doing too . . .

Even when I'm not getting paid for anything, I somehow seem to cram my days full of activity. I wonder if that's good or bad.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

New firewood is scheduled to arrive within the hour, and here's hoping I can get the old firewood moved into the cellar by the end of the day so that we can move the pile out of the driveway as soon as possible. But everything outside is so wet; we had thunderstorms and downpours all night, so I don't think I can really get started on this project till afternoon. 

Autumn chores abound: I've got yet another batch of tomatoes to sauce, more peppers to pick, and I should think about tearing out some of the flowers that have reached shabby stage. Already a few leaves have begun to fall, though the weather is still warm.

Yesterday I finished up the first-pass reading of my friend's manuscript and sent it off to him with comments, so now my desk is temporarily empty. I'll be writing this morning--working, I hope, on some four-word prompts from the Iliad--and then, after lunch, rushing into town for a haircut appointment before I devolve into firewood moving. I can see that this note to you is a chronological mess, perhaps an accurate depiction of my brain this morning, which keeps blipping little "gotta get [chore] done" messages like some sort of '90s TV-show pager.

To recap, then. It's mid-week, mid-September, in the early years of the second decade of the twenty-first century. The people of earth are in crisis, dying in droves from a virulent virus. The planet's climate is likewise shaky, and so is American empire. Nonetheless, in a small seaside city, in the nation's easternmost state, a poet is reading Homer and picking vegetables.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

I spent yesterday morning working on a friend's manuscript, the afternoon throwing firewood down the cellar hole, and I made good progress with both: not quite finished, but getting there. I thought I'd be stacking that wood in the basement today, but Tom did it last night after work, so now we have a beautiful winter-ready pile that I keep running downstairs to admire. I do love to look at a stack of warmth.

New wood is arriving on Thursday morning, and my plan was to clear the seasoned wood out of the way before it came, but Tom wants to move some stuff around the basement to make room for the next stack, so today I guess I'll vacuum instead of tossing firewood--a much less satisfying task. We're supposed to get some rain today, and the air does feel humid and unsettled. Maybe not a good day for hauling firewood in any case.

So, this morning: take my exercise class, write, work on the manuscript job, read the Iliad. In the afternoon: clean floors, fold laundry, read the Iliad, freeze peppers, take a walk, write some more, turn on the baseball game. In the evening: become frustrated by the baseball game, play cribbage, read Thackeray, make chicken and biscuits. Not a scintillating schedule, I suppose. But it keeps me occupied, and one of these days the paying work will show up again.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

 I'm overwhelmed by the response to "Heat Wave," the poem I linked to in yesterday's post. I was a little uneasy about submitting it, not sure if I'd figured out the balance among comedy, complaint, and longing, but apparently lots of readers are liking it a lot, which is a joy but also makes me feel like I should put my head in a bag. O, the myriad ways in which we stab ourselves . . .

Life here at Alcott House and her environs has suddenly become unsettled and cranky. Last week our neighborhood received notice that we were about to undergo water-main replacement, and yesterday a pack of irrigation and excavating guys showed up to lay the temporary pipes that will be our water source till November. The noise was incredible: jackhammers, dump trucks, generators, plus the carpenters next door working on my neighbor's porch, plus a chainsaw on an adjoining street, plus a strange Monday-afternoon party involving loud electronic-piano versions of singalong Sinatra songs. You could package up yesterday and sell it as a weaponized headache. And this is supposed to last for two months.

On top of everything else, a neighbor overhead that the city is going to cut down sidewalk trees on our block--some or all, we're not sure, but everyone is horrified, and we've been hurrying out to gossip in the evening calm about it.

In other news: I saw an old '70s-era Corvette with the license plate "BALZC4." Feel free to leave your speculations in the comments.

Monday, September 13, 2021

 I woke up this morning to the news that my poem "Heat Wave" is up on Vox Populi. This is the poem I was describing a couple of weeks ago--the one that sucked me into the zone, the one that reminded me that writing can be a drug. Whether it's a decent poem or not, it sure was fun to make.

Yesterday's chapbook class went well, I think, I hope. Some of the participants are alums of previous Frost Place classes, some are completely new to our programs, but clearly all of them are serious, committed poets. My goal in this seminar is to give them some tools for experimenting with manuscript order, not to tell them exactly what to do with their sheafs of poems. As a teacher I am always about transferring power. So yesterday we began by thinking about a manuscript's frame--first poem, last poem--and then added in a discussion of middle, or apex, poem: the poem that creates an arc. We played organization games with some published poets' work, and then ended the session by spending time with a key poem from each participant's manuscript, imagining how a collection would differ depending on where the poem appeared in the book.

I'm still a little nervous about this class, but so far, so good.

* * *

This week I've got a bunch of house things to catch up on, after my poetry-distracted weekend. I need to make real headway in my Iliad reading so that Teresa and I can talk about it next week. I'll be working on a friend's manuscript, waiting for the next batch of editing to appear, getting my hair cut, going to a doctor's appointment, receiving a dump truck load of green firewood, and probably starting to tear out my tomato plants (sob).

The weather is sultry but the sunlight is autumnal, and the garden is shifting to elegy.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Yesterday's reading was sparsely attended. I think there were more poets than audience, but actually that was nice too . . . it was good to spend time with people I hadn't seen for more than a year. And it was a beautiful day to walk through the park, watch families tumble out of cars on their way to the baseball game, skirt the farmers' market vendors as they packed their trucks and wiped their brows.

Before and after the reading I did home stuff: harvested thyme for drying, spread organic fertilizer around the blueberry bushes, picked tomatoes and peppers, made red sauce for the freezer and duck stock for soup. Occasionally I stopped to read a few more pages of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, which I picked off the shelf the other day after reading a recent New Yorker article about the colonial legacies of Britain's massive country houses. Suddenly I had a memory of the way in which Vanity Fair, which opens just before the Napoleonic wars, excoriates/accepts without comment so many of the issues of British occupation and greed, both in India and the Caribbean. I was right, and I'm glad to be rereading it now. Of course it's not the only novel that traffics in the plunder of British colonialism, not by a long shot. Most (maybe all) Victorian and Edwardian novels do . . . the child transplanted from India in A Secret Garden; Sir Thomas's absence in the West Indies in Mansfield Park; tea and cashmere shawls in Cranford; the crazy, possibly mixed-race, rich Jamaican wife in Jane Eyre. One of the aspects I most love about novels is the way the "little things"--clothes, food, children, offstage disappearances--serve as the iceberg tips of a cultural behemoth. (Ooh, mixed metaphor!) The cozy tea parties of elderly spinsters are portals into the looting of India's wealth. The literary obsession with fair complexions and smooth hair is linked to the growing number of wealthy, mixed-race heirs of West Indian sugar fortunes, a class of young people who were both pariahs and marriage fodder. Not that the era's novelists were ever able to fully parse this out for themselves.

This morning I'll do a few more home things--probably freeze parsley, maybe peppers too--and then this afternoon I'm teaching my first Frost Place Studio Session class. New subject matter, new zoom setup, new students: Wish me luck, as I'm a little bit nervous.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Remember yesterday, when I wondered if I might find another mushroom on my walk? Well, it turned out to be a banner day for urban foraging, as I found three puffballs in my own garden and, in the cemetery, a handful of--believe it or not--chanterelles! I have never before found chants in Portland, though I had a modest patch of them in Harmony, so I know how wonderful they taste. For dinner, I roasted duck legs and served them with a mixture of my three wild mushrooms--the chicken-of-the-woods I'd saved in the freezer and today's batch . . . all of them picked in busy, well-traveled Deering Center, Portland. A little gift from the forest, right here in the city. No wonder people think of mushrooms as magical.

This afternoon I'm reading with several other Maine poets in Deering Oaks Park, at the bandstand, at 1 p.m., so stop by if you're in town. There are several other readers, including Richard Foerster, Betsy Sholl, and Linda Aldrich. I'll be reading two poems, a recent one and one from my first book, Boy Land, much of which was written in the 9/11 era. Though the poems don't directly address that tragedy, some of them do wrestle with the anxieties of the moment, when I was home with two small boys and overwhelmed by the knowledge that I could not protect them from disaster.

Friday, September 10, 2021

I just woke up from a dream in which I was trying to teach a class upstairs in my house, but the students kept asking for coffee, so I kept running downstairs to make it, and then some of them wanted tea, and then random people started showing up for the class, and then other random people just stood around and watched me rushing around trying to make drinks without offering to help, and meanwhile the clock was ticking away . . . Classic teacher anxiety dream right there. Blah.

But otherwise I slept well, cozy under my comforter as a light rain pattered on the roof. Today the showers will die away, and the sun will come out, and it will be a beautiful early fall Friday, tender and warm, with the scent of tea leaves rising from the damp soil. Maybe I'll even find another mushroom.

First, though, I have a bunch of niggly this-n-thats to do: class stuff, reading prep, and then I have got to deal with computer filing: my laptop is a mess of unfinished poems mixed in with unpublished mixed in with published mixed in with collected, and I need to sort that out.

Speaking of poems: my two newest ones were accepted for publication yesterday, which was cheering, and I did manage to float some others into various submission piles. I've gotten very bad at remembering to submit, but I made myself do it this week, and so far, so good with the responses.

The other thing I did yesterday was set up a new zoom studio situation in my study. For the past year and a half, after my study became Paul's bedroom, I've been zooming from the uncomfortable couch in the downstairs back room: using the TV as my zoom screen, borrowing Tom's tripod for the webcam, papers piled around me on the couch, wires everywhere, feet crushed under the furniture, struggling with bad lighting and awkward camera positioning. It's been adequate, but not good. Now I've worked out a new situation with a small webcam on the computer and a small microphone on the table (both of them offerings from my sons: I would never have thought to acquire either of them), simple wiring, access to my laptop and to a writing surface, and a more controllable lighting situation. It's still not perfect, but I think it will be a lot better.

Thursday, September 9, 2021

The air is very humid this morning, with a vague drizzle starting to patter, which will eventually settle into steady rain. But despite the warmth, the ambience is autumnal--6 a.m. and only the bare bones of daylight framing the sky.

Yesterday I fiddled with a poem draft, read the Iliad, vacuumed and washed floors, planted radishes and lettuce, went on a walk with my neighbor, made chili. It's been a quiet week, without much editing to do. I struggle not to feel guilty about my unstructured days, but in fact I've finished two new poems, submitted several pieces to journals, made headway in my Homer reading. It's work. It's something. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

Today the electrician is supposed to show up midday, and Tom will come home to meet him and discuss the plethora of issues that need to be fixed: old wiring, badly installed new wiring, unfinished renovation wiring . . . Maybe, finally, we can get these problems solved.

Otherwise, I'll have another day to myself: reading and writing as the rain falls.

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

I spent much of yesterday working on a poem draft, and the experience was tedious and slow, though eventually I did make progress. This was no day spent wallowing in creative drunkenness: the task was a slog from beginning to end. But work happens, whether it's fun or not: I have to relearn that lesson every single time I sit down to write. And because I find it easier to recall the bits and pieces of the slog-day process than to reprise the glory of in-the-zone, I also have an easier time explaining to other people what I've been doing.

So, the poem.

Late last week I started a draft that I had temporarily titled "Weather," a description of a rainy night. Yesterday, when I pulled the piece onto my screen, I saw some self-satisfied language, a boring arc, and a smug speaker--in short, I saw the sort of poem that I dislike myself for writing: glib, unsurprising, and superficially emotional.

My first urge was to trash the poem and never look at it again. But the language, though glib, had its attractions: I wasn't doing a terrible job of trying to describe the inside-outside experience of lying in bed listening to a rainstorm. Essentially, though, the poem was boring, and it was going nowhere. There was no turn, no dramatic movement, to shift it toward an ending. The piece was merely a chunk of nice-sounding words.

So I flipped the draft: I made the last stanza the first stanza, and rewrote the piece so that its events moved in the opposite direction. This was Shakeup Number 1: Suddenly several of my pet phrases, comments I'd been rather pleased with, turned into irritating pronouncements. Out they went. Out went some of the nice descriptive passages, which suddenly began to seem bloated. The draft was losing weight; its bones were starting to show.

Then, as the fat went, I began to notice that I was repeating sounds--rhymes, near rhymes--within the lines. Okay, then: Shakeup Number 2: Rewrite the poem in quatrains. For a stanza or two, this was easy, as I already had some rhymes to work with. But then there were the stanzas without them: now my brain had to rethink the piece as sound, and new rhymes were changing the direction of the poem radically. What was I talking about now? Where was this piece going? Finally, I was starting to surprise myself.

Which led to Shakeup Number 3: Quatrains are a double-edged sword. Yes, the rhymes can force surprises, but singsong meter and neat rhymes can also create boring sound and ridiculous syntax. So I split the quatrains into couplets: e.g., the rhyme scheme still existed (ABAB, CDCD, etc. ) but there was now a line space between them (AB // AB // CD // CD). As soon as I inserted that line space, I became able to break metrical bonds. The cadence loosened and the rhymes became less insistent. I felt as if I'd just opened a window: I still had the frame to lean on, but now the wind was hitting me in the face.

Finally, Shakeup Number 4: This draft, which I was learning to love, was insisting that it needed two extra lines. It did not want to end in a quatrain. I had to change the pattern and close with a rhymed couplet, but this had the potential of becoming too neat and slick: creating a smug aphorism, slamming a door shut. So, to parry this tendency, I changed my sentence style. The rest of the poem was made of long loose sentences that crossed lines and stanzas. The final line of the couplet was composed of three brief fragments.

Today I'll look at the draft again (now tentatively retitled "Island Weather"), and I'll no doubt make more changes. But I think the piece is probably in its final structural shape . . . because I did not throw out something bad, because I tried to divert my habits, because I messed around with the way the piece was moving down the page.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Tom arrived home last night just before 7, and I fed him and made him go to sleep early, with hopes that he'll stagger through his work day without too much trouble. Brooklynitis is a debilitating condition for those of us who aren't accustomed to staying up all night.

This morning I need to remember to bring my car to the garage for an inspection, and then I've got various smallish projects to keep me busy while I'm waiting for my next batch of editing to show up: writing, class planning, house and yard stuff, reading the Iliad, mentoring a friend's poetry manuscript . . . I think the electrician is supposed to show up sometime this week, to give us an estimate about our giant job, and I need to start moving the woodpile into the basement to make room for the green load that's supposed to get dumped in our driveway next week. All of a sudden I'm feeling the pressures of autumn: time to pull in and close down.

But yesterday was still summery. I spent the afternoon sitting in my neighbor's leafy backyard, visiting with her friends, eating a grilled feast and drinking sangria as blue sky blinked among the tree branches and Ruckus perched on her recycling bin and howled because there was a dog at the party. Oy, those Siamese-cat lungs.

Monday, September 6, 2021

I woke up yesterday in the forest, this morning in town. My trip up north was quick and in some ways sad, because I avoided the Harmony Fair and thus could not see friends I really wanted to see. But I didn't have the wherewithal to deal with that anti-mask hotbed, so I ducked out to Wellington and lay low in the woods with Angela and Steve, and had a lovely evening with them. Steve grilled pork loin and I made spaghetti carbonara and Ang cut up garden tomatoes the way her Italian mother used to, and the trees surrounded us, and I woke up to a fire in the wood stove, and my heart was refreshed.

Meanwhile, Tom went south to Brooklyn and actually found a parking place right on Paul's street: a miracle! So things are going well down there, and I expect him home tonight, no doubt exhausted from city late hours.

Since getting back from Wellington, I've been rattling around the Alcott House on my own, grocery shopping and doing some yard work, watching a movie and eating hot cornbread with cheese. Today I'll wash sheets and bake bread, and then midday I'll make a big salad and take it next door to a lunchtime party at my neighbor's, where I'll meet some of her friends and co-workers.

It's been an odd week, both social and solitary. I had not spent a night at home alone since well before the pandemic hit, so last night I was self-conscious about all the little routines of aloneness: making a meal, filling the hours before bedtime, waking up in the small hours. Yet within the past few days Angela has slept here, I've slept at her house, and now today I'm going to a party full of strangers.

For the moment, though, I'm ensconced in my familiar couch corner, drinking an entire pot of coffee by myself as the cat snores sociably in his chair. The living-room table is clogged with my stuff: the Iliad, a collection of Hadley's short stories, a New Yorker article about major-league umpires, a fresh crossword puzzle. A vase of zinnias sits beside me. Outside, in the gray morning, leftover rain clicks down from the trees onto walkways and chairs. The washing machine churns, and the lamps glow, and nobody needs me to do anything.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Another cool and beautiful morning, and we are idling a little before heaving ourselves into action: e.g., hauling Paul's furniture upstairs from the basement, shoving it into the back of the truck, flinging ourselves into our respective days. I am relieved not to be the person driving a load of furniture to Brooklyn today, but Tom seems pretty calm about it.

Things are peaceable here, on this first Saturday in September. Somewhere a pair of crows is squabbling, and I hear a nuthatch peeping. For the past few days black walnuts have been raining from my neighbor's huge tree, clonking cars and shed roofs, and thrilling an army of squirrels. But the tree is quiet now, and various squirrels are sitting up on their haunches gnawing big green nuts for breakfast, or busily burying them in my garden, or chasing each other round and round trees in pursuit of a better nut than the one they are currently clutching.

I have a few errands to run, and a few chores to do, and then, at some point this afternoon, I'll head north. This will be my first long lone drive since before the pandemic, and it will be good practice for me: some unstressful highway driving, on a nice day, to remind me that I know what I'm doing behind the wheel.

I'll bring along the Iliad, a bunch of ingredients to make spaghetti carbonara, and some ripe tomatoes. And then I'll just relax into the pleasure of being in the woods with some of my favorite people on earth. 

Friday, September 3, 2021


Yesterday, during my walk, I made a thrilling foraging find: this big Chicken of the Woods mushroom, which was growing from an oak tree on a residential street next to Baxter Woods, just three blocks from my house. The mushroom is huge; it fills an entire turkey platter, and it's very fresh, clearly having just emerged after the Ida rainstorm. I am ridiculously pleased with myself--not least because foragers tend to haunt Baxter Woods, so there's rarely anything left to find. We had a bit of the mushroom for dinner last night, and today I'll clean and cut up and saute the rest of it, and bag it for the freezer. There's a winter's worth of mushroom right here on this plate.

I've got a bit of desk work to do this morning, and then I'm going to spend the rest of the day with my mushroom and with making stuff for Tom to bring down to Paul tomorrow--banana bread and tomato sauce and such. The truck is back in commission, so the trip is still on, and Paul is always hungry for vegetables and home-cooked food.

It's a cool morning, here in the little city by the sea. Definitely there's a hint of autumn in the air--such a refreshment after our torrid summer. I'm reading the Iliad and some Tessa Hadley short stories and still pecking away at Homesickness, though I may give up on it shortly. I started another poem draft yesterday, which is still at the "eh" stage, but might catch fire eventually. I'm considering taking a quick trip up north while Tom's in NYC, just an overnight, though there will be lots of friends I can't see while I'm up there, because they'll all be at the Harmony Fair, which will be a guaranteed Covid hotspot.

But I am longing for the stars and the air and the owls and the circle of trees silhouetted against the sky.

Thursday, September 2, 2021

This morning I'm shaken up by the videos of the terrible flooding in Brooklyn. I haven't heard from my kid yet . . . which is normal because it's 6 a.m., but still I'm antsy.

He's undoubtedly okay, but I do recognize parts of his neighborhood in some of the videos. Things look bad.

Here in Portland the rain is also pouring, though not at flood levels, and I dreamed all night about home invasions, so I'm not feeling particularly well rested. However, the coffee is helping, and I don't have a pressing day ahead of me. I've been spending much of this week working on seminar planning, including setting up the class web page, which has taken up a ridiculous amount of time. But things are in good shape, students are checking in, and I think I'm ready to teach. The class is completely full, and I'm looking forward to the venture.

Yesterday afternoon Tom's truck got towed to the garage, and if all goes well he should be able to pick it up this evening. The plan is that he'll drive to Brooklyn on Saturday, return on Monday . . . as long as the flooding aftermath is under control. Ugh.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

It's a cool morning here, with a cloudy day forecast and then heavy rain on the way for tonight and tomorrow. The garden is beginning to weary--cucumber leaves yellowing, okra plants turning into knees and elbows--but still the produce keeps coming. Today I'll cook down another batch of sauce, and I'll still have enough tomatoes to give some away to Angela, in trade for the gorgeous leeks, onions, and beets she brought me from up north.

I think it will be a quiet day: more class planning, reading the Iliad, fiddling with my new poem, walking up to the library.

I'm feeling slightly melancholy . . . not in a bad way, just in an end-of-summer way; just in that old "Ode to Autumn," "season of mellow fruitfulness" way . . . Soon the garden will fade and I'll be lighting the wood stove in the evenings, and darkness will creep in from the east, earlier and earlier with each passing day, and my birthday will arrive, and I'll be 57 years old.

It's such a surprise, how things turned out in my life. But also no surprise at all.