Friday, December 31, 2021

Things I've been grateful for in 2021

The urge to write that would not stop but took a turn for the crazy

My mother survived her heart surgery and is thriving

Intense happiness in the presence of my sons; pleasure and pride in their independence

Being with Tom every day

My garden

My father's garden


Reading books and books and books

My sister as co-pilot in thorny situations

My central Maine beloveds

Young people

Poets and novelists and students and listeners and arguers

Nina Simone

That stupid cat

Birds and salt marshes

An exercise regimen


Planning and teaching new and challenging classes

Poems published, a manuscript accepted

Hardly driving at all

My magnificent mattress

New boots that don't hurt my feet

New glasses (finally) that don't hurt my face

A big noisy glorious family Christmas

A quiet room

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Much to the cat's delight, I have finally returned to my accustomed crack-of-dawn schedule. I am not sure that I am delighted, but what must be must be.

I spent the bulk of yesterday cleaning floors, washing sheets and rugs, and restocking food supplies, with a pause in the afternoon for a long chattery walk with a friend. This morning, after a diner breakfast with another friend and yet another trip to the eyeglass guy (oy, these frames are torture), I'll get back to my editing desk. It is time for vacation to be over.

The new year is shaping up to be a busy one: editing, teaching, my mentorship project, the new book on the horizon. I hope to be on the road as well, though we'll see what Covid says about that. I want to visit my Vermont family, and I want to go to Macbeth on Broadway, but neither may be feasible any time soon.

It's been a hell of a year, yet also, strangely, a hugely productive one. I've been writing like a fiend, I've created an entirely new programming arm for the Frost Place, but I've also, at long last, settled into my city, finding a community of poets and local friends. When I recall myself on arrival, floating into town like a lost soul, leaking tears day and night, I can hardly believe the difference.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

 . . . and this morning I'm only an hour late in getting this note out to you. One of these days my timeline will return to normal. It's been a long time since I've slept so late for so many days in a row. Usually, even on vacation, I'm wide awake by 5:30. I can't even blame the late rising on the magnificent new mattress, since it all began at Tom's parents' house. I guess my clock has decided to stop.

In any case, here I am, back in my accustomed couch corner, with my accustomed white cup and saucer, and my accustomed black coffee. The cat is cruising around the house, trying to distract me by being bad. He hates and despises vacation. In his view, I should be at his beck at every moment, not off gallivanting, and when I return from any trip he tries to impress this upon me via spontaneous biting, furniture clawing, counter jumping, and other lively activities.

Today will be a catch-up day: groceries, housework, exercise class, and such. Our neighbors kindly shoveled our driveway and sidewalk while we were in Massachusetts, and I want to do the same for another neighbor who's still away. This is such a friendly enclave, and I need to hold up my end.

Tomorrow, once I fill the shelves and vacuum up a week's worth of cat hair, I'll go back to editing. Probably I'll also go out to the Thursday evening writing salon. The drafts I've started in that circle have not only cohered quickly into finished poems but are also rapidly being accepted for publication. Something is clicking for me in that setting, and I should keep at it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Today is departure day, though when exactly that will happen for the Maine contingent is unclear, as the roads are dicey after some overnight icing. Paul is bussing back to NYC at noon, James is flying back to Chicago in the early evening, and Tom and I ought to get going this morning, if we can. Laundry, cat, groceries, dealing with these still-problematic glasses, not to mention actual paying work: all are anxiously awaiting me. But detaching from the family will be hard.

Tom, though, is taking the rest of the week off, which makes me happy. He's got a bunch of photo things to deal with, plus our bed frame to begin working on. And he's got some end-of-year vacation days to use up and needs the rest. Just as well, really, as someone on his crew has tested positive. (Tom did manage to track down another home test yesterday and is still negative, thank goodness.)

Here is another little poem from the new collection--

Inviting the Muse to the North Country

Dawn Potter


For I shall be the first, if I live, to bring the Muse into my country.

—Virgil, The Georgics


When I opened the door of my beat-up

plywood porch and welcomed her into my

patria, she didn’t say hello or thank you,

just stamped snow onto the yellowed kitchen

linoleum and kicked off her new boots. In stocking

feet she stalked among the melting ice puddles

and knelt down on the hearth to warm her cracked

hands at the fire. She’d never been to our part

of the world before. I thought she might have some

questions for me. But those new boots were thin,

and soon her chilblains began itching and throbbing

under the heat of the stove. They turned out to be

the only story we could tell.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, 2022)]

Monday, December 27, 2021

A quiet morning. Everyone else is still abed, and I am sitting here nursing a glass of water and looking out through the big windows into the wall of rhododendrons along the drive. They are dark and shriveled in the winter cold, and above them the crowned white pines and bare oaks stretch giant hands into the flat pale sky.

We have one more day here before the family disperses, and the boys have requisitioned my car for various outings--friends, errands, fetching their cousin, etc. My only plan is to go for another long walk. Yesterday three of us went up to the reservoir and slopped around the snow-skimmed edge paths, and today I'll probably head downhill to the pond and the dam. There are lots of trail spurs around here (all of them named "Robert Frost"; I cannot get away from that guy) but also a lot of mud, so I won't venture very far from the plowed roads.

Otherwise, the day will be fairly formless. Maybe I'll get some reading done while the boys are messing around on their own. Or maybe I'll take a nap. Regular life is looming.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

My schedule has gone completely haywire. Staying up past midnight, getting up close to eight: I don't know what's come over me. Anyway, here I am, finally, enacting a facsimile of myself, curled in a couch corner, with a cup of coffee and a sliver of solitude.

It's been a lovely holiday . . . the boys so full of cheer, hanging out noisily with their high school cousin, playing games and washing dishes and telling jokes and being the light of my eyes. The weather was dreadful all around New England--freezing rain and garbagy snow and black ice and car accidents--but we were snug. So much good fortune, to be a crowd together, finally.

But I have barely read a sentence since I've been here. Too many sous-chef tasks in the kitchen, too busy learning to play the new board game or fiddling with the communal puzzle or trash-talking my foes during massive nine-person card games. It seems this is also a vacation from being a poet, which is fine. The poet has had her nose to the grindstone lately. It is nice just to sit back and bask in the glow of my best-of-all-possible sons.

[Though oddly I got a submission accepted yesterday. Apparently the journal editor was not taking the day off.]

* * *

Here's another small holiday gift . . . another poem from the new book--

Sonnet in Search of Poems I’ve Never Written


Dawn Potter

I’ve been meaning to write about a patch of mossy

frogs’ eggs in a vernal pool, about a single contrail

chalking a blue November sky, about the glossy

covers of biographies, about the tortuous tale


of an ant city under a scarred sidewalk, about two

lazy landscapers blowing leaves into a neighbor’s yard,

about falling in half-love with someone else’s youth,

about gobbling pie without a fork, about the barbs


of terrible hedges, about the anxiety of gifts, about my feet,

about the murmur of a radio, about leftovers congealing

in a pan, about oxen, about the loneliness of husking sweet

corn under the stars, about this sad white ceiling.


            But maybe I don’t need to bother inventing.

            Maybe you’ve already imagined this ending.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, 2022)]

Saturday, December 25, 2021

 I am so late this morning! All that stuff I mentioned yesterday, about being the first person awake with lots of time to kill, turned out to be bunk. I overslept (because Tom and I were driving around all night picking up James in Hartford, Connecticut, and because this family currently has no fearsome little Christmas vampires forking everyone out of bed at ungodly hours), and then as soon as I got up James appeared (because he's on Chicago time and confused), so the morning quickly devolved into celebration, and I have only just now abstracted myself from the pack to take a shower and say hello to you.

It is so incredibly wonderful to have everyone here under the same roof. We are all giddy, I think. The boys keep hugging me, and I keep stopping to stare at them. Just listening to their banter-fights makes me all kinds of happy. The place is in an uproar, and it is magnificent.

I need to sign off quickly and go help my mother-in-law cook. But I'm sending love and joy to you. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

We're heading out this morning, driving down to Massachusetts to spend a few days with Tom's family and our boys. All of the presents are wrapped and bagged; Paul's "Can you bring me [that thing I left in the basement when I moved]?" stuff is at the ready; I have chosen my holiday reading (Kapka Kassapova's Border; Vievee Francis's Forest Primeval); and I have written myself a large note: "DO NOT FORGET THE BLACK CAKE." That would be a faux pas: Christmas in Amherst without the Belle of Amherst's dessert.

Last year, James was alone in his Chicago apartment, Paul and I were making pierogi to comfort ourselves, and we learned that playing card games over zoom is extremely boring. I am very happy we can be together this year. All four of us took Covid tests yesterday and joyfully texted "Negative!" back and forth to each other and to Tom's parents. We're doing our very best to be safe, and I hope that is enough.

I expect you'll hear from me over the holiday. I am always the first person awake in that household, and I generally have plenty of time to write in those early hours, before the bustle begins.

In the meantime, I send you love and good cheer. I hope the snow doesn't start falling till after you arrive at your destination, that your tea mug is warm in your hands, that a few notes of praise and gratitude rise to your lips, that someone laughs at the good jokes, that only the babies cry, that your beds reach out to greet you. Many happy returns of the season, friends.

Here's a little love poem from my forthcoming collection . . . a gift from me to you--

Love Poem from a Tiny Husband

Dawn Potter


Some mornings your giant cracks open

the roof latch of your Fisher-Price house

just to watch you dream. You gaze into her eyes

as you roll gently on your yellow plastic couch.

If you had arms, they would swing like a child’s.


You are an apple core, a thumb.

Carefully, your giant snaps off your fireman’s helmet,

snaps on your baseball cap. Next door,

the barn moos. White chickens tilt in the loft.

Your dog’s legs bend every which way.


Crowd them into the house, your giant croons.

Let every kitchen shelter a horse.

Soon she will rise into the sky and steam west.

Every day, it’s her job to visit a character in a book.

Yours is to sit backwards in the bowl of your tractor,


pondering the hillocks of carpet.

This is how you earn your keep.

For now, though, you bask among her strong fingers.

At her command, you sway on your invisible feet.

No one is luckier than you,


for you adore a woman who invents all of the stories.

And when those stories are done,

your dear giant kisses the top of your round head,

tucks you into bed at noon,

and invites you to sleep for the rest of her life.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, 2022)]

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Today will be the usual sort of pre-Christmas rushing-around day, as tomorrow morning we head south to Tom's parents for the holiday . . . of course, with the dystopian caveat that it will also include Covid tests. We're testing, the boys are testing, we've gotten our boosters; all of us are doing our very best to be good to each other, but, still, there's nervousness in the air. 

I will do some editing this morning, and endure my exercise class, but then I'll shift to errands and laundry and bathrooms and packing and such. I hope we can get on the road fairly early on Friday, as both boys will be arriving later in the day, and we should be there to help fetch them from airport and bus stop.

I'm feeling sort of blank this morning, chat-wise. Nothing wrong, not gloomy or unduly stressed. Just a little tongue-tied, I guess. Last night Tom and I had a fun evening with our silly Christmas-present project: I made the mysterious labels; he made the mysterious packages; and then we sat by the fire and listened to Run DMC's "Christmas in Hollis," our traditional nod to holiday ambience.

I've started reading a book that my friend David gave me: Border: A Journey to the Edge of Europe, by the Bulgarian-born poet Kapka Kassabova. David had seen it reviewed by a poet we both admire, Alicia Stallings, and thought I might like it, which I do. It is a compelling combination of reportage, memoir, and poetic reaction, focusing on the borderlands of Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey--center of ancient Thrace, the Dionysian mysteries, the Ottoman Empire, and Soviet control. It will make peculiar Christmas reading, but so be it.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Terrible weather this morning: the outside stairs are so slick with freezing rain that the cat slid down them into a heap at the bottom. Already I'm trying to talk Tom into going to work late. These streets do not look drivable.

Yesterday was so beautiful, and now this! My neighbor and I went for a walk into the cemetery, under bright blue skies and mild temperatures, with the snow crunching underfoot, and at the ponds we were thrilled to catch sight of one of the river otters swimming and wriggling almost at our feet. Even my dumb cell phone photos were great--

Today's weather might be great for an otter, but it is terrible for humans: shattered hips and ankles just a-waitin' to happen, not to mention car crashes. If Tom decides to hurry off to work at the regular time, I shall make a scene.

I had my first meeting with my poetry apprentice yesterday afternoon, and that was extremely fun. She is a junior in high school, poised and excited. With some embarrassment she told me how much she loved Tennyson and the old stuff, and I said, "Oho, you have come to the right place!" and this morning I am going to send her a writing prompt and a passage from Dante.

Other exciting news: I diffidently asked a poet to write a blurb for my next collection, and he not only said yes but he also told me he liked it so much that he's nominating the collection as a whole for a Pushcart. Apparently he's one of the contributing editors on the Pushcart committee, and has that option. I am all of a tizzy about this.

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

In the realm of vision, a millimeter divides blur from clarity, and I spent the weekend on the wrong side of the chasm. But thanks to a first-thing-in-the-morning visit to the humming eye guy, I resolved my ongoing glasses problems and strode into my new editing project without tripping over every letter on the screen.

And so I spent most of yesterday elbowing my way into an academic essay, though I did take a long walk midday; and the evening was a zoom workshop with my poetry group. A busy workday, passed largely in my room. Today will be similarly room-bound: more editing, a walk-break with my neighbor, and then a zoom session with the Telling Room cohort. Originally I'd planned to take part in person, but that was starting to seem unwise, with the holidays on the horizon and the new variant stewing. Fortunately, the staff has figured out a hybrid model--some in person, some zooming--and I'm interested to see how smoothly that will work, and if we might be able to borrow it for Frost Place programs, if need be.

Tonight, Tom and I have a Christmas-present project to figure out together, one involving mysterious packaging (Tom's realm) and mysterious labeling (my realm). Already, I have been consulting The Golden Bough and Learn to Speak Esperanto, two excellent sources for obscure hints. Dinner will be hake meunière, Italian potato salad, fennel and carrot slaw, and holiday cookies. The wood stove will be cozy, the cat will be tangled up in ribbon, and that, my friends, is the Ghost of Christmas Present.

Monday, December 20, 2021

 My chapbook seminar ended yesterday, and I always feel bittersweet at these moments: just as everyone has really bonded, the class is over. But I, and I'm sure the participants, also need to move forward into this looming holiday week, which is always cluttered and chaotic. Today I'm starting a new editing job, and tonight I've got a zoom meeting with my poetry group, and then tomorrow I start a new sort-of-teaching project. I'll be working till spring in a Telling Room program called Young Emerging Authors, which matches promising high school writers with professional writers. Each young person is working on a manuscript, which the Telling Room will publish later this year, and the mentor serves as a coach throughout the process. I've worked with the Telling Room as a classroom presenter, but this will be the first time I've taken part in the mentoring program, and I'm very much looking forward to getting to know one young poet in this intense way.

Unfortunately, I'm still struggling with my glasses. Progressive trifocals are a challenge, always. Even though I kept the old lenses when I got new frames last week, the frames sit slightly differently on my face, so the effect is the same as getting new lenses: blur, headaches, weariness, until my eyes finally adjust to the positioning. 

This morning's dream-book entry, in entirety: "A skit involving Korny the Vaccinated Krone." Make of that what you will.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Outside, the fallen snow.

I can't tell from here how much we've gotten--four inches, five inches?--but it is weighty and beautiful on the broccoli and kale, the stoops and cars. In the misty morning darkness, the Congregational steeple rises over the white rooftops, the streetlights glow like fog lamps, the thin flakes sift down, down, slow and slow.

I sit here quietly, in the shadowed house. I've been reading the news this morning: about how Covid is ravaging my central Maine homeland; about the enormous disparity between where I live now and where I lived for so long--not just in cases and vaccination rates but in so many other areas: politics, wealth, education, geography . . . It is crushing, to be here, watching the disaster unfold.

This afternoon, I'll teach my final chapbook session. It's been a good class, with a lovely group of participants. We've reached the point where I'm almost immaterial. They're making the discoveries, doing most of the talking, figuring stuff out together. We've found that sweet spot, when a teacher sits back and watches her students run down the staircase they've built for themselves.

Outside, passing dogs bark and bustle in the new snow.

I am feeling simultaneously heavy and light, downhearted and hopeful. Nothing seems to be getting better. And yet artists are at work.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

 Well, yesterday morning went all to haywire when, as I was washing dishes, my glasses suddenly snapped. I managed to stuff them onto my face and drive to the eyeglass shop, where I presented them to the friendly guy and said, "These are broken, but I don't know how broken, because I can't see anything." Humming Christmas carols, he examined them and informed me, "They are very broken." Maybe there was a flaw in the plastic or something; I was doing absolutely nothing other than wearing them when they snapped. The friendly guy was encouraging, however. He slowly moseyed around the store looking for frames that might fit my lenses, which he eventually found. Then he diddled with them for a long time, still humming carols. And now I have new frames of a sort that do not exactly soothe my vanity; but after sitting around in a blur for half the morning, I decided I loved them.

Things I'm grateful for: (1) This happened on Friday, not the weekend, when I would have had to deal with Tom enthusiastically epoxying the lenses to the busted frame and tying up the loose ends with duct tape. (2) This happened in Portland, not in Harmony, when I would have had to deal with Tom enthusiastically epoxying the lenses to the busted frame and tying up the loose ends with duct tape.

Today will be a pleasant day, as I am prepping for a small dinner party--just my neighbor, and a lasagna, and some Christmas cookies, but I have done zero holiday entertaining this year so I'm looking forward to getting out the nice napkins and such. It will be snowing by the time she arrives, and that will add to the fun. No one will have to drive; we can just enjoy the weather, maybe even go for an after-dinner walk in it to look at the lights, then reconvene for tea and cookies and a warm fire.

The new editing project arrived yesterday, and I'll be teaching my last chapbook session tomorrow, so things are busying up for me. That's fine: I did get a lot accomplished during my enforced writing retreat--among other things, a lesson in synthesizing bits and pieces into larger drafts . . . what works, and also what is just ugly hammering. You might call it the Cinderella-shoe method of bad poem construction. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

A good evening: writing, and visiting with writers; and then reconvening at home with Tom, who'd also been out, working at the photo co-op around the corner. These Thursday nights are fun--when we head out alone to mess around with our own stuff, then meet up afterward and chatter and are pleased for each other.

I just came in from putting out the trash and recycling, and the weather is strange: warm, and very windy, perfect for blowing bags all over the street. Supposedly we've got snow coming in tomorrow afternoon and evening, but things will need to change drastically, temperature-wise.

Today: groceries and vacuuming and such, but also several new rough scrawls to examine as potential drafts. I've got Frost Place work to do: I'm beginning to sketch out plans for my advanced chapbook class, which will start at the end of January, and I have some prep to finish for Sunday's Nina Simone session. I want to go for a walk, and I want to re-mulch my garlic beds before the snow falls.

Outside, the wind is roaring; I hate to think where the trash bags are ending up. Inside, the clock is ticking, and Tom is sighing his "time-to-heave-myself-out-of-this-magnificent-new-bed" sigh. On the kitchen counter, a bouquet of fresh sage spreads its small arms next to a jar of ripening sourdough. In the living room the trunk we use as a coffee table is spread with books: Lucille Clifton, Louise Rich, Harper Lee, Frazer's The Golden Bough. Shade-loving plants--coleus, philodendron--beam in their dim corners.  Christmas cards crowd the mantle. The little house is snug.

Thursday, December 16, 2021

Last night's rain seems to have ended, and now the streetlights, reduced to a vague glow, are coiled with mist, and the neighbor's Christmas tree shines like a lighthouse in fog.

Yesterday I looked out through the kitchen door and saw Sassy, the irrepressible groundhog, calmly nibbling on a fern. Isn't she supposed to be hibernating? Will global warming bring us year-round woodchucks? As I watched, both Ruckus and his cat pal Jack showed up to hang around with her. They're quite friendly, the cats and the groundhog. I think they're going to start a band.

My pile of editing has not yet materialized, meaning that I have at least one more day off the clock. I'll work on poems, and I might make some Christmas cookies, and tonight I'll go out to write at the salon. I finished reading Drabble's The Gates of Ivory and was in need of some prose, so I plucked Louise Dickinson Rich's We Took to the Woods off the shelf. The latter is a Maine classic about homesteading in the Rangeley lakes region in the early 1940s, which I've always meant to read but never did, mostly because I've been repelled by its jaunty tone. In many ways, Rich's style is reminiscent of Erma Bombeck's: emphasis on the doughty comic anecdotes, no acknowledgment of deeper loneliness or frustration. I needed a comrade in my isolation, and Rich couldn't be that for me. I was better off with John Milton.

Now that I'm out of the situation, I find I'm able to let the wink-wink stuff roll off. I still don't like it, but I feel a world seething underneath. And Rich is actually very interesting about firewood and food, boots and snow, struggling machinery and distance--all issues that were of prime importance to me in Harmony. I may lose interest, if that coy tone gets any worse, but I do like to know how she got her wood in.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

After much interruption and procrastination, I have finished my Christmas shopping (I think, I hope). Mid-morning I managed to convince myself to drive downtown and park and then walk to a used bookstore and a used clothing store--the two sorts of shops that I can actually tolerate . . . and success! So once I get the rest of the cards filled out, I'll be more or less caught up with the Christmas chore. The timing is good, as I'm expecting my next editing project to arrive at any moment. In the meantime, as I wait for those files, I'll take one more writing day: comb through the stack of drafts I wrote last week, spend some time with Dante and Sappho, maybe figure out how to trigger another new poem.

Last night I dreamed that I walked from one shadowy room to the next and discovered a late-night jazz club in my own house--quiet singer on a low stage, brown sepia light; no real memory of music, just hushed listeners, shapes in a room, attentiveness.

I'm going to read this dream as a message to myself.

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Yesterday turned out to be a flurry, mostly centered around the arrival of the much-anticipated new mattress. I deep-washed bedding, heat-treated pillows in the dryer, massacred (I hope) those little dust mites that give me such terrible allergies: got everything ready for the stately installation of the new bed, which arrived late afternoon and which Tom and I lugged upstairs when he got home from work.

Ah, the magic of packaging! We unwound the shrink-wrap and watched the mattress swell before our eyes, like one of those flat lozenges that transforms into a fat sponge as soon as it gets wet. From a compressed roll it became a full-sized bed, twice as thick as our previous mattress. I know I'm unduly impressed by modern conveniences, but this was very exciting.

Now, after having spent my first night on the magical new mattress, I continue to ooh and aah. No hip pain in the wee hours! No hobbling stiffness in the morning! When Tom came to bed, I never noticed because the mattress didn't jounce and pop. Now all we need is a bed frame, and we will be like real Americans.

But enough of this mattress advertising. Let us move on to less ironic matters, such as yesterday's sunrise, a glory of purple and gold.  

I heard bad news yesterday about Covid and Harmony--people I like, who I've known for years, now critically ill and hospitalized; no vaccinations; foolishness and endangerment in public places; what I've dreaded and knew could come true in that town.

Forgive my shallow mattress crush. I do know the real.

I loved the helpless people I loved. 
That's what a little boy will do, 

but a grown man will turn it all 
to sadness and let it soak his heart 

until he wrings it out and dreams 
about another kind of love, 

some afternoon beneath a tree. 

[from Maurice Manning, "Sad and Alone"]

Monday, December 13, 2021

 . . . and here we are at Monday at again.

Yesterday's class went well, I think, I hope, and now today I need to buckle down and deal with that shopping stuff I was supposed to do on Saturday but didn't. Blah. So: groceries, downtown, etc. While I'm at it, I might even brave Commercial Street and go to the fish market.

I also have a stack of cards to fill out and send; because while I was teaching, Tom was printing his annual Christmas card, always a photo of his own, usually of the sort to make my cousins go Huh? when they receive it. But huh? is the definition of festive in the Potter-Birtwistle stronghold. After all, a photo of Elvis cut out of the newspaper in 1987 always adorns the top of our full-sized trees. (He is, as little James once pointed out, a star.) This year, because our tree is tiny, we must be content with Tin-Foil Man and a small rubber King Kong. But a clay armadillo with a broken tail has joined the Nativity scene, so huh? continues to reign.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Such beastly weather yesterday--sleet, rain, fog, rain, sleet, wind. I disrupted all of my plans for walking around town and stayed home instead. In the morning I reorganized the bookshelves in my study, and in the afternoon I simmered chicken stock and baked chocolate-krinkle cookies and squash-and-black-pepper rolls. Then Tom and I ate chicken and miso soup for dinner and watched Alfred Hitchcock's Torn Curtain, a 1966 Cold War thriller starring a smoldering Paul Newman and a doughty Julie Andrews. Gosh, that Newman was something. Andrews was pretty, and her character was brave and stubborn, but all Newman needed to do was glance sideways and he blanked her every time.

This afternoon I'll be back in the zoom classroom (with tidy bookshelves behind me), so I'll probably spend the morning doing laundry and watering plants and such, and also trying to get in a long walk, before being sucked into a chair for three hours. I'm planning wild mushroom risotto for dinner--fruits of my harvest freezer--topped with fried sage, and with a kale and red cabbage slaw on the side. Yes, it's December 12 and I'm picking kale and sage from my Maine garden. Amazing to say, I still haven't purchased any store greens, yet we have a fresh salad every night. I admit that this makes me feel smug and self-righteous, and you can slap me if you like.

So: a busy teaching day; lots of listening and questioning; lots of standing back and letting the participants run with their thoughts and discoveries. This is the second iteration of my Nina Simone-based chapbook class, and so far it seems to be standing up as a template for working with many different personalities and writing styles. I plan to offer another round in the spring, so let me know if you're interested in taking part. 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Yesterday I did not write at all (other than my morning note to you and my dream-book transcription). I had too many other regular-life things to get done: mostly vacuuming and mopping and multiple loads of heavy laundry and present-wrapping and -shipping. But taking a day off from being a poet was fine because I was pretty tired. I did make four new drafts this week, and garble together some notions about sentences and fragments as impetus for thought, and begin to glimpse a thematic path forward among these very new poems, and adopt the word histoire as a narrative carapace, and read and read and read. That's a ton of work, in just four days.

My plan for today is to go into town and do a little Christmas shopping at used bookstores and junk shops and such, but the weather is supposed to be a mix of rain-sleet-snow, so the road conditions may defeat me. Otherwise, I've got chicken stock to simmer, and squash rolls to bake, and my study to clean, and a library book to pick up. I want to walk out into the gloaming and look at the Christmas lights. I want to cut a few more stalks of kale from my garden before winter closes it down for good.

Here's a list of goals . . . my goals. You have different ones, I know.

Obligation as generative flame. Pattern as vocation. Difficulty as a tower stair. The vibration of the present, muffling regret and envy and fear. Honesty and invention. Eyes on the world. 

Friday, December 10, 2021

Last night's reading was lovely, even cathartic. We had a dozen people in the audience, which felt like a crowd in the little gallery, and to sit and read with Gibson and Betsy, to play off each other's work, was a deep pleasure. We read in three acts--Desire, Grief, Giving--but didn't look at each other's choices beforehand, so any synchronicity or contrast was accidental and vibrating. Many of the audience members were poets, some of whom I knew very well, and that was lovely too--a true sense of community and careful attention. The night was a really, really good return to in-person poetry.

So, today. Trash day. Vacuuming day. Getting-Christmas-presents-into-the-mail day. Also, examine-the-drafts-I've-written-this-week day. Over the course of my little retreat, I've made four new pieces and done some serious thinking about what could be a small craft essay about sentence versus fragment. I don't know if that will get written, but I'm glad to have done the thinking, and I'm considering, too, how it might fit into a future generative writing class.

And the word histoire is now in my head . . . the French word for "story," which, for English speakers, also carries the connotation of "history." Truth merged with invention. I feel that is what I've been writing lately: histoires.

Thursday, December 9, 2021

Tonight I'll be taking part in my first indoor poetry reading since the pandemic began. I'm feeling pretty calm about it: this will be a vaxxed crowd, and I've got my booster, and I did recently manage to fly to Chicago and back without incident. Still, the moment feels noteworthy.

I'll be reading with good poet friends Betsy Sholl and Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, at the gallery Zero Station here in Portland. Currently the gallery is featuring a show titled "Want/Need," so our poems will fit into that theme. We're going to read in three acts, "Grief," "Desire," and "Giving," each of us sharing two or three poems on that topic. I'm looking forward to hearing our multiple voices intertwining. Betsy and Gibson are such good poets, with such huge hearts.

In the meantime, I see another quiet day ahead. We got an inch or so of snow yesterday: not enough to shovel but enough to make things slick and ghostly. I'll prep for the reading, and mess around with my Dante and Sappho prompts, and fetch my neighbor back from her car mechanic, and do some housework. This week has been so interior: hour after hour with myself and my thoughts. That kind of inner attention is surprisingly tiring; I ended up taking a huge nap yesterday afternoon because I was so exhausted from what looks, on the outside, like nothing much. But it is work.

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

We're forecast to get our first actual snow this afternoon--by which I mean an accumulating inch rather than a vague, barely glimpsed flurry. An inch isn't much snow, but my new boots and I are looking forward to taking a walk among the cold and swirling flakes.

I spent much of yesterday reading Sappho's fragments (in Anne Carson's translation), then copying out certain ones and experimenting with drafts that both filled in around her pauses and created new ones. Writing via fragment is an interesting task, one that requires me to rethink, among other things, grammatical expectations. And rethinking grammar, of course, means rethinking intent . . . or, rather, allowing intent to blossom unexpectedly.

I'm trying to treat this week as a writing retreat, with some house/job responsibilities thrown in around the edges, and so far it's been productive: two days in, two keeper drafts; chunks of time spent with difficult books; plenty of spacious idleness. The alternation between Dante and Sappho has been particularly instructive. Dante is all about the long, logical sentence as route into his imagined world, whereas Sappho's fragments are like bits of glitter on a dark rug.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

It rained off and on yesterday, mostly a cold-warm drizzle, shifting temperatures and eerie winds, the kind of weather when I expect a witch on a bicycle to drop from the clouds.

I baked bread and washed clothes, read Dante and Drabble, coaxed out a new poem draft from a prompt I invented, submitted a few finished pieces, ambled around the neighborhood, carried firewood, shoveled ashes, made chicken chili with cornmeal dumplings, strained a muscle in my arm during exercise class. It was a plain sort of day, no witches on bicycles, just self with self, trotting through our paces.

I'm sitting here now, in this darkened room, listening to the city rumble forward into Tuesday . . . cars, planes, trains, buses all muttering Go, as the houses rest lightly, small tents peaked under a mackerel sky.

I dreamed last night that two well-known poets, a couple, did not recognize me as also being a poet. They were kind, they were generous, but they were aloof. My dream-self saw they were doing this, that they were separating themselves from me, but I wasn't disturbed by their manner, just aware, even amused.  The overarching emotion of this dream was, oddly, confidence.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Finally, after two bad sleeping nights, I managed to capture an entire one to myself. I am much refreshed, which is a good thing, because I was definitely crossing over into "limp and wilted" yesterday evening.

The class went well, I think: exciting poems, busy chat, everyone seems to be getting along, and what more could I ask?

I'm not sure what's on the docket for today. Exercise class and bread baking and house stuff and Christmas errands, maybe some Frost Place stuff too, but I'm on editing hiatus till next week, so the hours are mostly mine. That probably means copying out Dante, reading Margaret Drabble's The Radiant Way, fiddling with poems, going for walks, staring through windows. Writers do so much lazy puttering. No wonder we can't get paid.

Oy, look at what I'm doing. Here I am with a week to myself (mostly), and I can't even embrace it without belittling myself and my vocation. Don't be me. Snatch your hours and waste them gloriously. Wallow in solitude. Don't turn on the TV (unless it's part of your project). Don't agree to babysit your grandchild or distract yourself into baking food that no one needs to eat (unless they're part of your project). Lie on the couch with a stack of books, scribble lines, say them out loud in the same happy voice you use to read aloud a note from your best friend, fall into a doze and wake up again, fidget with lines, walk outside to look at how the sky's coming along, do not complain about the weather (unless that's part of your project), try the crazy experiment of bashing two drafts into one. Write a poem that's twice as long as what you usually write. Take out all of the punctuation. Put different punctuation back in. Rewrite the poem backward. Take another nap. Copy out a famous poem you have never liked. Do not post anything on Facebook (unless that's part of your project). Print out your poem draft and randomly cut it up with scissors. Spread the parts all over the table and play with sticking them together in peculiar order. Go outside and see how the sky is coming along. Etcetera.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

We have ordered a Christmas present for ourselves: our first new mattress in 25 years! Since we moved from Harmony, we've been sleeping on the floor, without even a bed frame (because Tom had built our previous one into the room so we couldn't bring it with us), and I have been waking up stiff as a 90-year-old every morning, thanks to the lumps and bumps of what was always cheap junk. We're getting one of those it-comes-in-a-box-via-FedEx fancy foam sorts that thrifty yet comfort-driven James recommended to us, and Tom has promised to build a frame, and not procrastinate about it, and I am extremely excited. Imagine: I could sit on the edge of a bed to put on my shoes! Added bonus: I might not wake up at 2 a.m. groaning about my aching hips! It's all so thrilling.

A non-leaking shower and a real bed. Things are getting pretty fancy around here.

This afternoon my chapbook class begins, so this morning I'll putter around doing this and that to prepare for a long session in the zoom chair: double-checking my class plans, doing laundry, stretching my legs on a walk. According to my dream diary, I spent last night driving around "in an enormous van" and dealing with issues that were "Kind of about homeschooling. Kind of about car racing. And model airplanes." I hope I learned something.

Now, at first light, as I drink black coffee, and listen to the furnace grumble, and consider the branchy shadows silhouetted against the paling sky, I find myself agog, again, about our miracles of ease and swiftness. Soft beds. Hot water. Airline travel. Just a week ago I was ice skating in Chicago, and now I am home again, in a little house with window glass and a tight roof.

You must be sick of my constant amazement.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Sorry to be so late with this letter: I slept badly all night, and then in the predawn fell hard asleep till 7:30. Thank goodness for Saturday mornings.

Now I am showered and warm and waiting for coffee, and the sun is shining in through the spotted windows. In a little while I have to do the grocery shopping that I procrastinated on yesterday, but otherwise the day is mostly unstructured . . . a telephone chat with Donna, chicken and avocados for dinner . . .

I am very much enjoying this slight respite between editing jobs. I worked on revisions yesterday, did a bit more local, stroll-to-it Christmas shopping, boiled beets for borscht, went for a long walk with my neighbor, talked to Paul on the phone, and set out a few Christmas decorations. Great news: Tom has fixed the leaky shower and the unflushing toilet, and I have three active poem drafts. Plus, Paul wants to take me to see Daniel Craig in Macbeth in April, and James's best childhood friend from Harmony is visiting him in Chicago. Life at the Alcott House is pretty cozy, even though the furnace might be making a funny noise.

Tomorrow afternoon I'll be back on the clock, starting the first of three chapbook sessions. So today I'm looking forward to spaciousness. And I'm really, really happy to be writing so well. I know this will end, that I'll plummet back into mess and confusion. But right now I don't have to believe in that.

Friday, December 3, 2021

While I was out writing last night, Tom strung the lights on our tiny lemon cypress. Today I'll dig out a few miniature ornaments to add to the display, but essentially this is our Christmas decorating for the year. . . . the first year since the boys' birth that neither will be home for the holidays (though we'll meet them in Massachusetts at Tom's parents' house). I have not seen Paul since July, an amazing gap, given his omnipresence during the lockdown. But at least we do talk and text constantly. I'm grateful for chatter, even at a distance.

Salon night was again productive--one, possibly two, rough scrawls with potential--and next Thursday we're changing it up, having a poets' night out at Zero Station Gallery, where two of us (Betsy and me) are reading with our friend Gibson. If you're in the area, you could come too--

WANT / NEED: Poetry of Desire, Grieving, and Giving

an evening with three Portland poets: Dawn Potter, Gibson Fay-LeBlanc, and Betsy Sholl

Thursday, December 9, 2021, 6:00 PM

Zero Station, 222 Anderson Street, Portland, ME 04101

Today I'll be working on Frost Place stuff, and probably shopping, and cleaning bathrooms, and futzing around with my new drafts. For dinner: borscht, homemade sourdough bread, apple and kale salad. I did manage to buy a few local gift things yesterday, which was a relief. New editing projects are looming, so I need to snatch what moments I can . . . though it always seems a shame to waste them on shopping when I could be reading books. But I try to obey the trumpet of duty.

And, anyway, a little bit of enforced shopping can't keep me down. I am writing new poems like my hair is on fire.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

A chilly, slightly icy morning out there, and the cat is disappointed in God. Meanwhile, my phone is filled with texts from my sons: baseball trade news from Paul; continuations of a silly people-watching game from James.

As he and I were sitting in the lobby of the Museum of Contemporary Art a few days ago, we found ourselves watching one particularly eye-catching couple: white, in their 30s, dressed to the nines, she in what I can only describe as business-casual dominatrix garb, he in sharp shoes and a fedora.

"What are their names?" I whispered to James.

He thought a moment and then whispered back: "They're both named Sloan. But only one has an 'e.' They trade off on who gets it."

Since then, Sloane and Sloan have become a part of our texting conversations. Last night, for instance, I wrote: "I wonder what Sloane and Sloan are having for dinner."

His response: "Hmmm. Cauliflower that tastes like steak and looks like gold spheres. At a two-table restaurant with no sign and an 8-month waiting list."

You can see why I love my children so.

* * *

Today I've got class prep to do, and I'd like to work on some revisions. I'll probably go to the writing salon tonight as Tom will also be out this evening, at a photo event. And, sigh, I have to Christmas-shop. I am so bad at it. And I dislike it so much. I get no pleasure from prodding through piles of stuff in stores, unless the piles are old and weird and/or are books.

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Good morning from Portland, Maine, where I slept the deep sleep of a swamp monster and am now feeling refreshed and energetic, if somewhat confused about time.

We got out of bed at 4:30 a.m. CT and got home at 2:45 p.m. ET, and weirdly both the flight and the bus arrived at their destinations early, TSA (for a change) did not pull me aside and pat me down me suspiciously, and the cat only bit me slightly when I got home. I'd call that a good travel day.

Today will be filled with odds and ends: restarting my exercise regimen, prepping for Sunday's chapbook class, writing up a style sheet for the editing project I just finished, filling out paperwork for student mentoring at the Telling Room (I'll tell you more about this later), vacuuming up vacation cat hair, baking bread, restocking the fridge . . .

I say "restarting my exercise regimen," but Chicago was an exercise regimen in itself. James estimates that we walked 3 to 5 miles every day, plus we ice-skated and climbed many stairs. It was wonderful to be outside so much, to be hungry and red-faced and windblown, to sit down to sturdy spicy meals. I love eating neighborhood food, and Pilsen's neighborhood food is Michoacan-based--not heavy on the cheese and beans in that Tex-Mex way; more often, mole-sauced braised meats--pork, chicken, beef, goat: very simple to look at it, very wonderful to taste.

But vacation is over now, and I'm back to depending on my own cooking. Sadly, my garden largely faded away in my absence. There's still some kale to pick, and some sage, but the rest of the herbs and greens have folded their tents in the cold. So I'll have to start switching over to store produce, which always makes me gloomy. At least we came home with our suitcases full of corn tortillas and Mexican hot sauce.