Monday, January 31, 2022

So much snow shoveling, and then so much poetry. That basically sums up my Sunday. Apparently we got about a foot of snow, though I have no idea how anyone could measure that accurately as the drifts were 30 inches in front of my shed door and bare ground in patches across the road. Anyway, Tom and I carved our way out, and then I spent the afternoon in the advanced chapbook class, reading large chunks from collections by Maurice Manning and Vievee Francis and then writing and talking and thinking about how those excerpts might influence participant work.

Today I've got various things to do . . . prep for tomorrow's mentor session with my high school poet, and cogitate over a summer teaching offer, and set up a manuscript-consultation schedule, and clear my desk for the new editing project that's due to arrive at any moment. I ought to vacuum up the furniture-making wood chips that Tom tracked all over the house. This evening I'll hang out with my zoom poetry group and talk about poem revisions. I'm behind on my Aeneid reading, so I need to stake out some reading time. Probably a son will call to discuss football . . .

Tomorrow is February, and after February comes March, and in March my outdoor season begins again. I love my garden and love devoting time to it, but already I'm feeling breathless about the workload. I can do it, and I will do it, but gracious. Sometimes I wonder at myself. So I'm going to make a point of enjoying February, last hurrah of winter rest. If you can call what I'm doing now rest.

Sunday, January 30, 2022

What a storm! I still have no idea how much snow we got: wind speed was high and the drifting severe. But our electricity never even blinked, so I spent much of the day cooking and reading, with a midday jaunt into the blowy. Tom and I and our across-the-street neighbors appeared to be the only hardy souls in town, waving at each other as we slogged into the ice-whipped gale. On the unplowed streets the only cars out were, of course, the exact cars that should not be driving in a blizzard: underloaded Econoline vans spitting snow on slight hills; elderly Cadillacs fishtailing around corners. This is a town crampacked with sensible Subarus, and not a one was on the roads.

Before the blizzard hijacked the schedule, Tom's parents had been planning to visit, and that meant I had a refrigerator full of dinner-party ingredients to use up on the two of us. So I made a giant snowbound feast. In the morning I put together a dessert I'd never tried before: a coconut blancmange--a milk-based gelatin, cousin to a pannacotta--which I served with creme anglaise. As you can see, it looked pretty spectacular when I unmolded it. 

For dinner I made one of Julia Child's leg-of-lamb recipes: painting a simple mustard-based sauce on the meat, then roasting to medium rare. (See more here about the incredible Maplemont lamb grown by master farmer Amber Reed, whom I've known since she was a kid.) Alongside it we had rice with wild mushrooms (from my autumn foraging) and bok choy with miso and fried sesame seeds. It was a top-notch meal, with significant leftovers, which is not a bad thing, considering that I'll be teaching this afternoon and immersed in a poetry workshop tomorrow evening and will be glad to have some quick options.

So today: much snow shoveling in the morning, much zooming in the afternoon. I'll let you know how it all goes.

Saturday, January 29, 2022

At 6 a.m. only the faintest of flurries are brushing Casco Bay, but the winds are already coiling and strange. The cat is poised outside on the stoop, hackles raised, whiskers a-twitch. I know what he means: the air is peculiar; a thick, cold swirl, like a summer gale that's churning into ice cream.

Well, we have nowhere to go. This morning I'm going to make coconut blancmange, and read a lot of books, and stare out the window at the growing storm; and Tom will work in his shop on our bed frame; and Ruckus will burrow under a blanket and try to forget the whole thing.

Right now I'm in the midst of Plath's The Bell Jar, Pym's A Few Green Leaves, O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find," and Virgil's Aeneid. I'm still slowly copying out Dante's Inferno. I've got a stack of contemporary poetry collections I've been reading to prep for tomorrow's advanced chapbook seminar. I've also been reading contest submissions, though for the moment that pile is finished. It occurs to me that I would have no life if I went blind.

It also occurs to me that I might be writing the best poetry of my life right now.

Friday, January 28, 2022

Woke up this morning to learn that the little northern city by the sea is under a blizzard warning for Saturday--high winds, feet of snow, the whole shebang. We'd been looking forward to company this weekend, but my in-laws wisely canceled their visit to Maine. As a result I have a leg of lamb in the fridge, all of the ingredients for coconut blancmange with tangerine sauce, and nowhere to go, so as you can see I am fully prepared to hunker down.

[ . . . they survived for days on nothing but blancmange and an old bone . . . ]

Today will be yet another this-and-that fest. I'm starting a new class on Sunday, and a new editing project early next week, so I've been trying to finish reading chapbook manuscripts and otherwise catching up on the flying ends of my life. I'm pleased to report that I had an excellent night's sleep, so that has made everything brighter. And other than the disappointment about our visitors, I'm quite excited about the snowstorm. I'm not sure we've had a blizzard since we've been in Portland. The best thing is that Tom won't have to drive to work in it and make me scared all day. We can stay home together and stare out the windows and sometimes go for little breathless walks around the block and come home and take naps and enjoy ourselves.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The temperature is only 1 below zero here, so much warmer than everywhere else in northern New England. Harmony is 20 below; probably other places are worse. 

To top that off, Tom and I both had a terrible night's sleep: I had one hot flash after another, so bad that he finally went downstairs to sleep on the couch, where I could hear him having nightmares. Ugh. The sandman was not our friend.

Anyway, it's day now, and cold. But we have heat and coffee, so that's two checkmarks in the "good" column.

Today I'll be reading chapbook manuscripts and working on class prep and probably going to the grocery store and then late in the afternoon having a phone meeting about ways to publicize my next book because I need all the help I can get. Possibly I'll go out this evening to my poetry salon, though I haven't decided if I'm quite ready to take that step. Omicron levels have dropped precipitously in southern Maine, so likely it will be fine. But it's hard not to be nervous. More to the point, it's easy to be sedentary.

To tell the truth, I've been anxious this week, starting to second-guess the poems in the new collection, worried that, as usual, nobody will read or review the book, that like everything else I've written it will more or less fade into the forgotten. On the one hand, so what? On the other hand, why bother? But neither of those flippant, self-pitying reactions really gets at the heart of the matter . . . which is that a writer in solitude dreams of conversation.

I've been trying to post bits from the book here to make myself take that conversational leap. Though people rarely comment on them, I'm hoping that they occasionally ring a small chime for you.

(If I sound gloomy and self-lacerating, blame it on those all-night hot flashes.)

Disappointed Women


Dawn Potter

They lived in filth. Or were horribly clean. 

They piled scrapple onto dark platters.

They poured milk and ignored the phone.


They arranged stones on windowsills.

They filled lists and emptied shelves.

They dyed their hair in the sink.


One stored a Bible in the bathroom.

One hoarded paper in the dining room.

One stared at Lolita and stirred the soup.


When I say emptied I mean they wanted to feel.

When I say filled I mean they wanted to jump.

When I say bathroom, dining room, soup I mean


I washed my hands.

I sat at the table.

I ate what they gave me.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, forthcoming)]

Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Yesterday morning, as I was sweeping fresh snow off my car and the walkways, one of my neighbors called out the door: "Would you like some hot chocolate-chip cookies?"

Has a snow shoveler ever heard a nicer question? I think not.

No cookie snow shoveling this morning, but it is 9 degrees out there, so maybe hot chocolate would be in order? I'm hoping to go for a walk later today with another neighbor, though I doubt we'll see the otters down at the cemetery ponds. There's not much open water these days, and I expect they've vamoosed to a stream.

It will be a cold week, with a big snowstorm forecast for Saturday. But the little house is warm, and we still have plenty of firewood in the basement. The luxury of basement firewood is considerable. In Harmony the logs trekked from woodshed to porch woodbox, from porch woodbox to stove woodbox, from stove woodbox to stove. Armload after armload, every day, in all weathers, three seasons a year. Basement firewood is dry, requires no coats or boots, and can be dealt with at any time of the day. Not to mention that mine is unnecessary for survival.

Today I've got a bunch of teaching-related stuff to do: emails and a Zoom meeting, prep for Sunday's seminar and Tuesday's mentor session. There are a couple of big manuscript projects looming, one a poet's full-length collection, the other a copyediting contract with a press, but for the moment I'm in more of a gather-up-the-loose-ends phase. I'm hoping to work on another poem draft today, and possibly do some submitting--not my favorite chore, but it must be done.

Here's a poem from the new collection . . . 

Dead Letter


I wish the world were too much with you.

I wish your river overflowed my bed.

I wish that time could call your number.

I wish my eyes were in your head.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, forthcoming)]

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Snow this morning . . . not a lot, but enough to pretty the place up. Portland has not been looking its winter best since last week's rainstorm melted the snowpack down to bare earth. I'm happy to see the white again.

I spent most of yesterday working on a new poem draft--actually a massive expansion of a draft I began last fall during my Homer seminar, but so much of it is new that the piece now feels entirely different. I think it's a good start; the poem-story is moving into interesting places, and the imagery is surprising me. One thing I've been realizing: now that I live beside the sea, I am much more affected by classical sea metaphors and references. Homer the chronicler of islands feels very close to me now, in ways that he did not when I was an inlander.

I'm getting ready to teach an advanced chapbook class this weekend, a reunion of my very first chapbook cohort from last fall, so I've been thinking a lot about the way in which a poet's geography can control a collection. My own shift from forest to city-sea is a huge part of my forthcoming book, and was likewise a huge issue while I was trying to figure out how to organize the poems. Chronology made no sense, because geography also crosses emotional time. A cow poem, such as the one I posted yesterday, which arose from my mountain childhood, is also a geography, but not a plodding straight-ahead march from there to here. Grief and memory flit, dreamlike, through a landscape of their own.

Speaking of chapbook classes: this spring I'll be leading another session of Learning from Nina Simone: An Introductory Chapbook Seminar.  This will likely be the last time I'll run the class this year, and it's already half full, so if you're interested, please reach out ASAP. You don't need to be a published poet; all you need is a sheaf of close-to-finished pieces that you're beginning to treat as a unified group . . . or that somehow don't seem to go together . . . but then again maybe they do, and you're puzzled and curious, and want to start figuring them out. My approach is not to tell you the answer (news flash: there isn't one single answer) but to give you some tools for experimentation and introduce you to a supportive and attentive group of colleagues focused on the same task. Low stress, deep engagement. That's my goal.

Monday, January 24, 2022

The young people left yesterday, and the cat was devastated. He sulked and sighed all day, despite my coaxing. Paul is his special person and he hates to see him go. But other than cat sadness, the day went okay. Tom was downstairs in his shop, working on our bed frame; I did laundry and baked bread and read books every chance I could get. Then we watched the Bills-Chiefs game, which for anyone vulnerable must have been a fine way to induce a heart attack. Though our team lost, I have to say it was one of the greatest games of football I have ever watched. A quarterback clinic, from two of the best ever.

And so we return to Monday morning, 18 degrees, a household of two. I'll be writing, and then futzing around with Frost Place stuff today; probably also catching up on the housecleaning one cannot do when a carpenter is at work. Over the weekend I've been rereading one of my old standbys, John Fowles's The Magus, and this week I'll return to the Aeneid and the bird-migration book. I've been fairly sloth-like for the past several days, so I'll restart my exercise regimen.

In other words, I am trying to get back into the swing of not being the mother. That is never an easy transition, but it is how my life will always go now.

Milk Gap


Dawn Potter

Their udders were so bloated

a thorn might have slayed them.

Sidestepping their own stiff

tits, the cows hustled & hurtled


through the doorway, a barge

of skull & shoulder ramming a road

to the feed trough.

They were Herefords, beef cattle,


meaning Grandpap didn’t milk them.

That was left to the calves,

pink & white & knock-kneed,

a muddle of nose and bone.


Undaunted, they squeezed

among red brawn & hot flank,

joyfully smashing their rock-a-block

heads into their mothers’ tender


rope-veined pokes.

Crush, kick, slam—

twice a day, this greed circus.

And I, stashed on the other side of the fence,


teetered against the bars with a grain scoop,

pouring rivers of mash, dangling

a frail wrist among the grinding

jaws, the brutal tongues.


I would do anything,

in those days,

to be touched.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, forthcoming)]


Sunday, January 23, 2022

I slept till 7:15 this morning, and the cat also slept till 7:15, so I am well rested but confused by so much comfort. I don't know what got into the cat; he is usually eager to jump on me and bite me and otherwise make me eager to get out of bed and away from his machinations. But this morning he was happily curled up in the crook of Tom's leg as if he'd never been the sort of cat who would push an antique dish off a dresser just to get my attention.

Anyway, here I am, finally. We were out and about with the young people yesterday, eating oysters and hotdogs and drinking good beer and meeting an extremely attractive Newfoundland dog, and then coming home and taking naps and then eventually eating mussel risotto and miso bok choy and discussing the weirdness of the football games.

It's been a really good visit, but today they'll be heading back to the city, so I'll be washing sheets and feeling a little weepy and getting used to cooking for two again.

Saturday, January 22, 2022

It's 2 degrees above zero in the little northern city by the sea, but my living room smells like spring, thanks to a clutch of pink hyacinths on the table. Saturday morning quiet drifts through the house--Tom asleep, young people asleep, cat pacing upstairs and down, pushing his paws under doors, wondering when his friends will wake up.

I don't have any particular plans for the day, other than taking the kids out for an oyster and poutine feast this afternoon. Meals have been particularly fun during this visit. Paul and his friend are joyful eaters, and that of course is a cook's delight. Yesterday's dinner was a mussel boil, with much happiness ensuing. Tonight we'll have mussel risotto, stir-fried bok choy, and mint chocolate chip ice cream, and everyone is looking forward to it . . . though who knows how hungry we'll actually be after all of that poutine.

I haven't been writing this week, or even reading that much . . . distracted by cooking and visitors, yes, but also I've given in to mental sloth, which I guess is understandable. Now and again, I let myself off the hook. If I'm being reasonable, I do recognize how hard I drive myself into my reading and writing, though mostly, in the midst, I feel as if I'm not dedicated enough.

Here's a poem from the new collection. A number of the poems in the book are fictions built around the sensibility of various imagined characters, and this is one of them.

Sound Archive


Dawn Potter

What funnels through his brain

this morning isn’t last night’s hockey

game or bad thoughts about his ex-wife’s

lover or even worries about the tumor

sprouting on his cat’s belly; what he can’t stop

hearing is the creak of the katydid in the maple

outside his apartment window, the exact same

song that has stopped him cold every August

since he was five—one more relic in the reliquary,

this hullabaloo crammed with insects, freight trains grumbling,

alarm bell clang-clanging at the crossing, tires sashaying

down a humid street, dove wailing on a satellite dish,

slow drip from a clogged gutter, scuttle of dog toenails

on a concrete sidewalk, faraway shriek of a ripsaw,

dump truck wincing into a crowded intersection,

flap of a chopper looping a hospital, and still

that endless clang-clanging at the railroad crossing,

and now a Harley revving, and a nail gun, bam-bam-bam,

bam-bam-bam, a noise like a heartbeat,

pounding, pounding, a thud he never escapes,

hammer of blood, hammer of lead.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, forthcoming)]

Friday, January 21, 2022

Of course I have been charmed by the young people. The little house is littered with giggling and enthusiastic food enjoyment and cat coaxing and cheerful friendly chatter. Last night we had a central Maine diaspora dinner, with my dear Lucy here as well, and a feast of garlicky meatballs (from the lamb raised by Lucy's sister) plus baked feta and roasted vegetables and chocolate cake, and the young people spontaneously did the dishes and then flopped around the living room faux-seriously planning TikTok videos, and the ghosts of past and present smiled on us.

Today they'll be asleep for hours and then awake and away and then back and awake and then napping and eating, but I have no idea in what order or duration any of this will happen. I've got some desk things to sort through, and I want to go for a walk, but mostly I'll float amid whatever happens to be going on. I'm slowly beginning to work my way into the Aeneid, and as always I've got class prep waiting for me, but none of this is urgent. It's okay for me to float.

The little house is happy to be holding up so well: a kitchen crowded with cooks and conversers, a dining-room crammed with table legs, a living room without quite enough chairs (and one is criminally hogged by the cat) but with tulips and a warm fire and ska and plates of cake.

Thursday, January 20, 2022

I became interested in Polish poetry for a couple of reasons. First, my own heritage. My mother is half Polish, and her attachment to that bloodline has always been strong. Her grandparents emigrated early in the twentieth century, so the links between my American present and this patch of ancestral Europe feel unusually near and raw, given that every other branch of my family has been dug into American soil for hundreds of years.

As an apprentice poet, I knew nothing about Polish literature, nothing about Polish art, beyond Chopin. But then my mentor, Baron Wormser, introduced me to the poems of Czeslaw Milosz. I read, and kept reading, and then found the work of Wislawa Szymborka, Zbigniew Herbert, and others. All were very different from one another, yet they shared something. What was it? A tonal sorrow, perhaps. But also a candid drive to speak as individuals in the midst of destruction.

Poland, as a nation, has long been at the mercy of its powerful neighbors--pressed by Austro-Hungary and Germany on one side, Russia on the other; its borders hacked; its people subsumed, subdued, manipulated, murdered. Like a geographical amoeba, Poland shrinks and swells.

What is it like to be a poet in a country with this history? Those who were writing during and after World War II had, in some cases, been children during World War I. All were squeezed between German poison and Soviet poison. All felt the long, long history of Poland-as-pawn. And yet their poems, in large part, are not a chronicle of specific incident but are the voices of people tracking the coils of their own minds. The fate of their nation was an omnipresent dread, but they wrote as individuals, comic and tragic, within that dread.

Our situation today as Americans is in no way equivalent to theirs in 1950. Yet I think most of us have become acquainted with dread. How do we address this public miasma in our work--not as political beings only, but as people who love and hate and laugh and daydream and listen to music and cook dinner and lie awake at night worrying?

Those are the kinds of conversations I hope we have during my upcoming Frost Place Studio Session: The Nation as Muse: Learning from the Postwar Polish Poets. Maybe you want to write some new poems; maybe you want to talk to others about your complicated feelings around dread and creation. Whatever your impetus, I hope you'll consider joining me in March for an online weekend of camaraderie and experiment. Already this class is half full. I'm excited that it's attracting so much interest, but I also understand why. We are living in hard times.

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Paul is driving up from NYC this morning with a friend, and I am making a chocolate layer cake for them, because why not? This will be P's first return to Portland since last summer, when he broke free from our quarantine nest, and he is eager to see his cat and pick up his canoe gear and show his friend the local sights, and also will be pleased to eat a good homemade cake.

So the house will be enveloped in its old-fashioned uproar for a few days, and I am looking forward to the ruckus, though I am also, for the moment, enjoying this pleasant early-morning quiet. There's a new bouquet of tulips on the living-room table, a fresh bunch of parsley in a glass on the kitchen counter, a wooden platter of pears and avocados in the dining room. The houseplants are glowing in the corners, the floors are scratched but clean, the shabby furniture is what it is and can be no better.

Today, when not working on my cake, I'll be reading the Aeneid, fiddling with some poem drafts, going for a walk, making up the guest bed, missing my garden a little. I can feel myself beginning to get ready for spring. I eye the beds through the window and wonder how the bulbs I planted a few months ago are doing, wonder how soon the soil will soften. We've got at least a month to go before I can expect to see a snowdrop, two or more before I can start yanking out kale stalks and consider planting radishes. But the gardening ichor is fizzing gently in my veins.

I have to be content with store-bought tulips and parsley and pears, and for now they really are good enough. It is restful, midwinter, to contemplate a bloom, a flat green leaf, a heap of red-blushed fruit. Every day Tom goes to work in one mansion or other, and every day he comes home to this little half-fixed-up house and its low-rent comforts. But I love them, and him, and he seems glad to see me too, and we are both looking forward to that chocolate cake.

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

I'm going to tell you a small tale about being brave.

I have known Donna for close to 20 years. We met in Harmony, where we were both raising children and feeling like awkward weirdos. It was a good way to begin loving each other. Eventually Donna moved to Bangor and then I moved to Portland, but somehow, magically, we stayed good friends, though our children weren't the same age and, on the surface, we didn't share a lot of interests. For instance, Donna is an excellent shopper; I would rather have my eyes poked out. Donna knows everything there is to know about cute hairstyles; I can barely comb my hair. You get the picture.

Last fall, during a search for her older daughter's missing dog, Donna tripped into a ditch and broke both her leg and her arm. This coincided with her younger daughter's departure for college; the pandemic was raging: when I talked to her, I could hear how hopeless she felt. And I felt hopeless too. I lived in another part of the state; what could I do?

But tentatively I asked: "Do you want to read a book together?"

Probably I won't be able to convey how hard a question this was to ask. In Harmony, books were my private freak life. Any kid who came into my house stared in disbelief at the shelves. Most adults didn't mention them at all. I had one friend who would talk about books with me, but otherwise I mostly kept my mouth shut, unless someone asked me to help their kid with English homework. Much as I loved Donna, asking her to read a book with me meant opening a door into a life we had never shared. I feared making her afraid of me, but I also feared that her response would remind me of how stupid my devotions must look to so many of the people around me.

The thing is, Donna answered, "Yes."

She had trepidation, though. She wasn't confident, wasn't sure what she was capable of. So I asked her to choose a children's book she'd always liked, and we started off with a Nancy Drew mystery.

The next week we talked about Nancy, laughed about the plot, the dialogue, her social milieu; recalled our own childhood wistfulness in the face of this. Our reading dates continued. We moved on to Mary Poppins and compared and contrasted Edwardian bourgeois idealism with 1950s suburbia. Then we read The Mouse and His Child, and Donna was transformed. If you have not read Russell Hoban's classic, you should. It is a Dickensian exploration of a mythic Depression-era American dump, populated by discarded windup toys, rats, and various other animals. It is both loving and violent, a shocking book in many ways, but gorgeously written. Donna could not get over her amazement with this complicated piece of art.

Now I suggested that we maybe dip into books written for adults, and we began to read the classic crossover novel To Kill a Mockingbird. That is the book we are currently finishing up, in between long intense conversations about the Jim Crow South, doubts about Atticus as a rounded character, etc., etc. During last weekend's phone call, Donna mentioned that she'd seen a documentary about Flannery O'Connor, whom she recalled having read in high school, and was struck by O'Connor's statement that she couldn't ask James Baldwin to her home in rural Georgia. She would have to meet him elsewhere because "she had to live in that town." I said, "We could read an O'Connor story and a Baldwin essay and talk about them as a pair." And now that is our plan.

Flashback: do you remember that this all started with Nancy Drew? And now we're getting ready to read James Baldwin?

* * *

It's possible that you think that this experience with Donna has taught me a lesson: e.g., don't be afraid to ask your friends to share what you love. Apparently, however, that lesson is really hard to absorb. Because, as you might have noticed, all of these books we've been reading together are prose. Did I suggest that we should read poems? I did not, because I assumed Donna wouldn't want to, that poems would be asking too much, probably she thinks they're dumb, I won't push it.


So last weekend I made myself take the risk. Nervously, I told her about a new program at the Frost Place, an online series we're calling the Poet's Table: short, accessible, inexpensive gatherings that present a few poems around a theme, along with a few writing prompts, and give us all a chance to write and share, maybe for the very first time, maybe after a long dry spell, maybe just because we want to meet some like-minded people.

Our first session is called "So Happy Together": Reading and Writing about Friendship. It will be led by Carlene Gadapee, a high school teacher, a long-time Frost Place alum, an indispensable member of our programming staff. I won't be teaching this class; I'll be a participant. But I did help design it, and one of my ideas was to have a special "friend" rate: $20 if you apply alone, $30 if you bring a friend.

I had to walk the walk. So, with anxiety, I asked Donna if she would like to attend the class with me, as my treat. Her response: "Oh, Dawn, I would love to."

* * *

So what's the point of this rambling tale? Of course I want you to take this class with me so we can spend two hours together on a Saturday afternoon, writing and reading and feeling close. Also, I want you to meet the fabulous Donna. But even more, I want to encourage you to take the risk of saying, "Friend, here is what I love. I want to share it with you."

Why is that so hard? I don't know why, but it is: it's incredibly hard. Still, if you try, something miraculous could happen.

Monday, January 17, 2022

Today's weather will be ugly: rain, snow, and high winds; and Tom has to drive to work in it. No holiday for him . . . or, really, for me either, though my work is scattier. Basically I was working all weekend anyway, what with all of this manuscript reading and website tinkering and class-announcement stuff.

Today I have got to clean the house. Paul and friend are arriving on Wednesday, and I need to get things in shape for that. Tomorrow afternoon I'll be working with my student poet, more editing is appearing in dribs and drabs . . . basically I've got a thousand and one teensy obligations to fit into the week, plus houseguests.

Let's hope the power stays on. The winds are supposed to be terrible today. But if it doesn't, I have a wood stove and cold pizza and a lot of reading to do.

Sunday, January 16, 2022

Minus 1 here this morning . . . but that's comparatively warm compared to other places in the north country. Northern New England is cold, and I can't figure out why so many people I know went skiing this weekend. They must be crazy. 

I spent yesterday sitting beside the fire and doing a ton of marketing stuff--newsletter writing, program pushing, and such. Who could have predicted that self-promotion would be my job? Ugh. However, if I want to teach, I must grit my teeth and persevere, despite the inner voices that tell me to stop drawing attention to myself.

Today I'll step back a little from that. I've got contest manuscripts to read, and I'd like to fiddle with some poem drafts. Maybe I'll cook something fun. Tom has started making our new bed frame, so housecleaning would be stupid, given the amount of sawdust he'll track up from the basement (not complaining; it can't be helped). And I do love his projects. The bed will be simple and beautiful--made from ash boards cut from trees on our Harmony land. A little piece of home to sleep on. 

This week will be busy: filled with desk and house things, and then Paul and a friend are driving up from NYC to spend a few days with us. Probably I'd be smart to try to do my writing today. Probably I'd be smart to try to take a walk this afternoon, before our next snow-sleet-rain-wind-mess storm starts up tonight.

Here's a poem from the new book. 

Have You Never Been Mellow?


Dawn Potter

Four years after Olivia

Newton-John first inquired, I found

myself attending ninth grade with

Dawn Mello, a conundrum,


given that I, too, was Dawn but one

who wasn’t sure what mellow

meant (with or without a w).

Also, why never?


I didn’t know much

in those days, and Dawn Mello

and I co-connived at nothing

because she smoked cigarettes


between classes and I

didn’t even know how to buy them.

It was that kind of high school.

But back to mellow. I imagined


it to be one of those real

California words that only made

sense to people with island

tans and oversized smiles,


neither of which I was allowed

to sport. It follows that Dawn Mello 

also could not have been mellow

as she had skin like a pierogi


and her smile was more of an

eyeroll than a chant.

In California they would not

have known what to do with us,


two mushrooms from the eastern

lands. They would have locked us up

alone in a special classroom,

leaving us to obfuscate our


dawn issues from morning till

bus time, though at least I would have

learned to smoke. I can’t say

what she would have learned.


And none of this

answers the question.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbook Editions, forthcoming)]

Saturday, January 15, 2022

 I'm excited to announce that applications are open for our winter/early spring Frost Place Studio Sessions!

This round, I'm offering another session of Learning from Nina Simone: An Introductory Chapbook Class, which has been amazingly popular. It's limited to 6 participants, so if you're interested, jump in fast.

I'll also be leading The Nation as Muse: Learning from the Postwar Polish Poets, a weekend generative writing class, with conversation and prompts arising from the work of poets such as Milosz, Herbert, and Szymborska.

And we have a new offering: our first Poets' Table class! The Poets' Table will be a series of informal, welcoming, online gatherings for poets and their friends. These short, inexpensive, peer-led sessions focus on community, accessibility, and fun. They are open to anyone, at any level of experience. Our inaugural Poets' Table is "So Happy Together": Reading and Writing about Friendship, facilitated by FP staffer and long-time participant Carlene Gadapee--just in time for Valentine's Day!

Do let me know if you have any questions about these offerings. More are on the way for spring and summer!


So how's your weather? Here in Portland, we're at 0 degrees, with a windchill of 20 below. The furnace is working hard, and I just lit a fire in the wood stove. On this kind of day, I think I am justified in the indulgence.

Today I've got housework to do, and a book conversation scheduled with a friend, and a giant stack of chapbook mss to start reading. Meanwhile, Tom has to go lumber shopping for our new bed frame, and he is not delighted about the state of the outdoors.

Still, this is more like "real Maine" we knew in Harmony, where the snow was thick and the temp was constantly subzero and nobody thought twice about it, except in a depressed Ethan Frome sort of way. Portland's usually a weeny version of that Maine: a taste of winter, between a long fall and a long spring. Very nice, certainly. But not the "shape you up and make you a man" weather we're getting today. 

Friday, January 14, 2022

Six a.m. in the little northern city by the sea. Coffee and tulips and a brisk wind.

Yesterday morning I edited and worked on website stuff; then went for a walk to buy a loaf of bread; then welcomed my friend Angela and unpacked my meat boxes and ate lunch together and visited with her and with the other lamb buyers. It recalled the old days, in Harmony, when we ran a food co-op and had intense box-unpacking/visiting sessions every other month. A chance for everyone to crawl out of the woods and blink under the social lights.

Today, more of the same, without the friendly afternoon. I suppose I should go to the grocery store so I don't have to deal with that tomorrow, when the temp will be 5 degrees. I've got chapbook contest manuscripts to read, and I imagine doing some writing, but we'll see. The "more important" desk chores are sucking me into the maw.

But overall I'm feeling peppy. The niggly things are getting done, and it's Friday, and Paul and I spent yesterday evening confabulating about how I might be able to see the show he'll be working backstage on (D. H. Lawrence's The Daughter-in-Law) as well as the Broadway Macbeth (with Daniel Craig). I'm all of a-flutter about watching a trained Royal Shakespearean do Shakespeare. I've only ever seen those Brit bigwigs in filmed versions. Plus, the Lawrence play is supposed to be remarkable.

Thursday, January 13, 2022

This week is flying by. It's hard to believe Thursday is already here. Maybe that's because I've been so busy--juggling editing, teaching, planning, website work: loads of finicky little this-n-thats that suck up hours.

Anyway, today. Exercise and work in the morning. Visit with a friend midday. Complicated unloading of bulk organic lamb into my tiny freezer. (I can hook you up with a top-notch Vermont farmer if you're interested.) Lamb burgers, butternut squash, Brussels sprouts for dinner. 

Outside, the wail of an ambulance. Inside, the clicks and groans of modernity . . . refrigerator, furnace, clock. On the table are the books I'm reading for myself: Vladimir Nabokov's Pale Fire; Scott Weidensaul's A World on the Wing: The Global Odyssey of Migratory Birds. Has every day of my life been entangled with a book?

And then there are the books I consult as I prep for classes--this week, collections by Vievee Francis, Maurice Manning, Sylvia Plath, Ruth Stone, Robert Hayden, Katie Farris.

And then there are the books I copy out: presently, Dante's Inferno.

And then there are the books I'm reading with other people: at the moment, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and, soon, Virgil's Aeneid.

You'd think I wouldn't have time to do anything else, but somehow the books simply fill in the gaps, like styrofoam peanuts in a shipping box. I read for 5 or 10 minutes at a time, 50 times a day. I read while I stir soup. I read in the bathroom and during lunch and while I'm trying to settle the cat down for a nap. Always the book is at hand.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022


Still life on a frigid January morning: coffee, tulips, dream journal, books, magazines, and a seed catalog. What more do I need?

It is supposed to warm up today, so maybe I can actually convince myself to go further than the recycling bin and the ash can.

It was not hard to stay home all day yesterday because in addition to avoiding the cold I fell into a syllabus frenzy and managed to get the entire advanced chapbook class planned, readings scanned for sharing, website created, and participants corralled. That means today I can shift my attention to looking through some student work and, I hope, making some updates on this blog as I prep for my book release. Looks like the publisher is aiming for a spring date, which doesn't give me much time to think.

I'm trying to keep my mind on my work and my home life, and away from the bumped-up Covid frenzy that's clattering through every public space. So many years we've spent existing inside this Age of Anxiety . . . first, the monster's election; then the plague . . . the weight and the weariness are hard to bear. And yet the small home-loves still tend me: Spinach and potatoes ready for the oven. A bouquet of parsley. A quiet light.

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

It's frigid outside, and no Covid tests are to be had anywhere, but we don't have symptoms so are assuming the best? In other words, happy Tuesday!

Today will be mostly class planning, class website creation, student-poem reading, and such. I'd like to say I'll take a walk to see how the otters are doing down in the cemetery ponds, but the temperatures may not climb out of single digits, so probably I won't. 

Right now, though, I am sitting comfortably in my warm living room, admiring the bouquet of white tulips I bought Tom for his birthday, listening to the clock tick and the cat climb back into bed.

I'm feeling a little sleepy this morning, a little blinky and inarticulate. I don't quite know what I'm capable of, beyond curling into my corner. It's hard to imagine writing a poem, or that I ever wrote one. I expect this fog will wear off, but it's pleasant, in its own way.

But I do need to pull myself together. The editing project is off my desk, but only temporarily, so I need to snatch at this opportunity to do all of the other things, and all of those other things require me to figure out what somebody's poem is doing . . . mine, yours, theirs.

What an excellent job! Gosh, I wish it paid better.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Today is Tom's birthday and he is celebrating it (of course) by trying to track down a Covid test because yet another person has tested positive at his work site. Sigh.

Oh, well. These are our lives and times.

Already the streets and walks are icy from yesterday's sleety rainstorm, and now today and tomorrow are forecast to be Maine's coldest days of the season. Temps in Portland will drop close to zero by tonight and hover in single digits tomorrow. I am very, very glad to have this wood stove.

Today I'll be back to editing, with hopes of getting the rest of this batch off my desk. I've also got class planning and other teaching stuff to deal with, plus groceries, laundry, firewood moving, etc., etc., which is to say, the regular winter round.

Here's a poem from the new collection. It sort of sums up how I'm feeling today, dealing with the same old same old, nearly a year after it was written--

Pandemic Yard Work

Dawn Potter


It’s the first day of March in Maine and I’m pretending

that spring has arrived, even though my garden


is sludged with graying snow and an east wind is keening

through the leafless maples; and it’s not hard to tell


that the neighborhood children racing up and down

the frost-heaved sidewalk and waving for some reason


an open umbrella and a hula hoop

feel obliged to avert their eyes from my silly doings,


from this wheelbarrow load of old kale stalks that I’m trying

to shove through the slush, wasting my Saturday


on mud and rotting collards, not like their own sensible

parents who are probably listening to true-crime podcasts


and panting on a treadmill in the basement, or trying to sell

boring junk on Craigslist, or, best-case scenario,


“taking a nap”—this last option once being a favorite of mine, 

though lately it’s become much harder to pull off, now that


a giant adult son is snort-laughing at SNL skits two feet

from the head of the conjugal bed; and maybe that’s why,


today, my nap partner is sorting through a collection of yard-sale 78s

and I am ice farming, my pockets stuffed with wet gloves,


my hands clammy as carp; why I’m down on my knees, begging every

dead fruit to ripen on the vine.

[from Accidental Hymn (Deerbrook Editions, 2022)]

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Sleet in the forecast, and I'm glad I got my driving-around errands done yesterday. Actually, I got most everything done yesterday, so today will be pleasantly unstructured, except for some bread baking. I've been fidgeting with a poem draft, and Dante awaits me, as always. I expect a boy will call to yikyak about something or other, and maybe the weather will let up enough for a walk.

Despite omicron, it seems that things are looking up in the NYC theater world: P's backstage work schedule has suddenly exploded, after a few weeks of dry anxiety. Meanwhile, filming on J's Chicago TV show has been shut down all week. P says there's a sense, in NY, that omicron is running its course quickly; I haven't heard the Chicago version of that speculation, but maybe I will today. 

Look at me, with the entertainment industry at my fingertips. And meanwhile all I do is read the Inferno and sleep through old episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

What I can say is that an obstinate artiness does appear to be endemic in this nuclear family. Tom with his camera, and me with my storytelling, and James with his camera, and Paul with his storytelling. Plus, we like cats.

I'm hoping this week to have some update about the new poetry collection: release date, cover reveal, some first events scheduled, and such. But for the moment I'll leave you with this sunrise view of my snowy little street, as seen from my dining-room window. Just out of sight is the Atlantic Ocean, briny and chill under a tangerine sky. We live so close to mystery.

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Despite the cat's deep irritation, I slept in till almost 7 this morning--a much needed recovery from Thursday night's scatty worry-brain. (And the cat wasn't actually as upset as he pretended because he had his new cat motel to play with: two cardboard boxes I've stapled together and cut full of doors and windows, which he believes is the height of luxury.)

Today I suppose I should do the housework I didn't do yesterday, and at some point this weekend I want to go birthday shopping for Tom. Our street still looks terrible from yesterday's snowstorm, but I expect the rest of the city is passable. We got six inches, seven inches? . . . anyway, a fair amount, and it took me a while to do all of the shoveling, plus I was working on a new poem draft, so that accounts for the lapsed housework.

Last night, before dinner, we walked over to the gallery to check out Tom's photo opening, and I was excited to see what good work one of the younger artists is doing. If I had money, I would buy one of her pieces.

And then we trudged home through the barely plowed streets, and I cooked some macaroni with broth and vegetables, and then I cut up some oranges, and we put more wood on the fire and chattered about photos and sonnets and such, and it was a really nice evening for being friends.

Friday, January 7, 2022

I am awake too early. My brain clicked out of a sound sleep into worry worry worry mode, and by 4:30 I gave up and came downstairs to make coffee.

But the new snow outside is beautiful, falling slowly, slowly under the streetlights . . . a thin and perfect coat, with not a tire track to mar it. I hope all of the children and all of the teachers get the snow day they deserve.

I may take one myself, at least from editing. I am tired from a night of picky manuscript dream-corrections, sniping conversations with with dream-authors, the panicked forgetting of dream-job assignments, and such. A clear case of editing brain overload.

But I've got plenty of other things to do: class planning, housework, chicken-soup making, Dante copying, a stack of writing prompts from my salon friends, which I'd like to dip into today. Plus snow shoveling, no doubt.

For the moment I am trying to pretend that I want to be awake, and I'm not doing too bad a job at it. I've just ordered Sarah Ruden's translation of the Aeneid, which is what Teresa and I have settled on reading next. I am loving our travels through the epics, via the voices of women translators. It's been satisfying work.

Still, sometimes I think I try too hard, sometimes I think I don't try hard enough, sometimes I think sentences with comma splices are the only way to convey a seesaw, second-guessing mind.

Thursday, January 6, 2022

For a little while, Portland was feeling like a small island of semi-normalcy, but public life is returning to ugly again. No cozy Thursday-night writing salon for the foreseeable future: we can't cram into a little apartment and eat and sigh together while so many of us spend our days with sick students or co-workers.  Tom's photo opening will still happen at Speedwell Gallery tomorrow night, but that is easy enough to do masked and distant. Cozy writing is harder.

Ah, well.

Welcome to January 6, 2022, the anniversary of the putsch attempt at the Capitol, the anniversary of my Accident Sonnets. This time last year Paul was sitting in the back room watching Coriolanus and I was frantically writing at history.

A year later, I feel less blank terror, but the foreboding and weariness remain, a skim of ice on every daily action. I don't write a lot about that ice--on this blog, anyway--but we all know it's there. You have it too. As Paul said to me recently, "Ugh. I hate having to live in a historical moment."

Yesterday, James called me just before 8 a.m. to say that his TV show had been shut down for a week because 40 people had tested positive for Covid. Later in the day, Paul texted excitedly to tell me he'd seen a Cooper's hawk at Greenwood Cemetery. This is the world. At least my sons make sure I'm part of it.

And thus, on a Thursday morning in early January, in the little northern city by the sea, I am girding to face my army of small things. Words and water and soap and fire.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

Yesterday turned out to be productive. I got through my exercise class and finished an editing project in the morning, did some class scheduling for an upcoming Frost Place session, worked with my student poet in the afternoon, decided to make risotto instead of roasting a chicken . . . I felt just like a person with things to do.

Today will be more of the same--exercise class, editing, Frost Place stuff, pulling together homework materials for my student--but this time I hope I can also carve out space to go for a walk. Rain is in the forecast, and I like a walk in the rain.

I've been reading Mavis Gallant's stories, and they are very moving and precise. They remind me, in a way, of Elizabeth Bowen's--not in their language but in their uncanny comprehension of the minds of very young women.

And I've been pecking away at a poem revision: inserting a word, taking it out, putting it back in, taking it out. I can't get comfortable with this draft. Something is too much or not enough. I'm on the edge of figuring out the problem, but I can't quite see, not quite yet. 

Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Ten degrees this morning, our coldest so far this season, and the cat is disgusted. But the house is plenty warm, which is more than I could ever say for the Harmony house at 5 a.m. in January. Plus, yesterday I was still picking a few salad leaves from the garden. In Harmony, the deer would have long since eaten them. All this is to say: I'm feeling a little homesick this morning, so thought I'd fork up some complaints to distract myself from the memory of the fir trees at first cold light.

This morning I'll be editing, and this afternoon I'll be zooming with my Telling Room poet, and this evening I'll be roasting a chicken for dinner. That sums up the three big notches of my day.

I received another blurb for my new collection yesterday. It arrived as I was standing in the checkout line at Hannaford with a shopping cart full of cat litter and shampoo and allergy medicine and olive oil. It was a funny moment to be absorbing book praise, sort of an out-of-body experience, really, as I stood there lumped up in my mask and my winter coat, surrounded by other women in their same lumpy outfits, a trail of hunter-gatherers in the anthropocene, except that I wasn't also reading People magazine headlines but the news that someone thought my poems were "a serious delight, virtuosic and welcoming at once."

Monday, January 3, 2022

Welcome to the post-Christmas world, where people get up too early and go to work and stuff. Plus, the temperatures dropped overnight from the drizzly mid-thirties down to the high teens, so all of the doors are frozen shut. That seems like an apt metaphor for something or other.

However, things aren't too bad here, despite the looming metaphor. I slept well, and got all of my Sunday chores done in the morning, and spent much of the afternoon reading except when I went for a very pleasant walk in the drizzle, and we ate pork tacos for dinner, and also I worked on a poem draft, and I might even have watched football except that I hated all of the teams on the available broadcasts. I hear things were lively on the Buccaneers' sidelines but I don't look at Tom Brady if I can help it.

[Now that I have gotten those ridiculously constructed sentences out of my system, I feel ready to return to the staid world of academic editing. Blowing off some syntactical steam, you might call it.]

Today will be all about editing, until it's about grocery shopping. Tomorrow afternoon I'll meet with my Telling Room poet, and Wednesday afternoon will be Frost Place planning, and Thursday night will be my sociable writing salon, and Friday night is the opening of Tom's photo show. A packed week, but I've already made good progress with the editing stack, so things should jump into place.

I'm rereading To Kill a Mockingbird with my friend Donna, and Dante always awaits me, and I have an upcoming chapbook seminar to plan for, and Teresa and I will be starting a project involving maybe Gilgamesh, maybe Ulysses, plus I'm cogitating over collections by Vievee Francis and Maurice Manning, and possibly the short stories of Mavis Gallant, which Tom got for Christmas but I might steal from him.

[I see my sentence style is veering off into the loopy again. But don't worry: untangling the explications of medieval manuscript codices will straighten me out . . . ]

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Tom is going to spend the day at the photo coop, mounting and framing prints for a show, and I'll be home un-decorating . . . stripping the lights from the little cypress tree, tucking the nativity set back into its ancient pretzel box, clearing the cards from the mantle. It's always sad to put away the little tchotchkes, but always refreshing to ease away from holiday clutter and back into spaciousness.

I want to tell you about a book I've been reading--Brian Doyle's novel Chicago--which I gave to my father-in-law for Christmas last year (on the strength of once teaching an essay by Doyle that I really liked), and which my father-in-law handed back to me this Christmas, saying, "You must read this." Among other things, he said, I would meet the best dog character in literature, and I think he may be right. Edward is a dog like no other: I cannot possibly sum up his humor, wisdom, and helpfulness during moments of sadness and light. Suffice it to say that he is deeply familiar with the speeches of Lincoln, regularly attends White Sox games, and holds office hours every Thursday morning. But beyond the magic of Edward, the novel is so surprising and moving. The plot is simple: young man moves to Chicago at the beginning of the book and moves to Boston at the end. In between is a picaresque journey among alleys and along the lakefront, through skyscrapers and into Comiskey Park, under elevated tracks and into blues bars and convents and playgrounds and gyro shops. Often the speaker is dribbling a basketball. Sometimes he reads Whitman to Edward. But the sum total is a miracle of tenderness--comical, naive, patient, open-hearted--all rayed from the microcosm of one apartment building on one street in one neighborhood in one section in one city along one lake in a half-mythical version of 1970s America. It's a beautiful and eloquent book, easy as water on the eyes, and I might go back and read it again as soon as I finish it.

Otherwise, what will I be doing today? Undoubtedly eating some of the leftover Sicilian-style pizza I made for dinner last night--number-three-in-a-row of memorable meals: it came out really well, and I served it with a fennel salad and the rest of the jam-filled cookies, and we ate it on the couch while watching a James Bond movie, and the cat squished himself between us on the blanket, and a good time was had by all.

And probably I'll do some laundry, clean the bathrooms, dust, generally tidy up the place, before our work lives restart their engines tomorrow. It's been a good holiday week: a fine combination of party and peace. Now the throes of winter are upon us, and that can be a good season too . . . the steady occupations of work and thought, fire-lit evenings, snow and cold and the bare-armed trees, crunch of boots, smiles at dusk, the dense scent of minestrone and new bread, crisp sheets and flickering darkness and sleet tapping the bedroom windows.

You may, over the course of these fourteen years, have noticed that I love weather and seasons . . .  dark and light, wind and quiet, snow and sward . . . though, of course, as a gardener I have some trouble adoring a drought. For me, winter is a season of physical rest: the garden is asleep, so time opens for writing and reading and ambling and pondering exactly where a black stone should rest on the mantle. I look forward to the hectic race of the growing season, but I'm also grateful for the winter recess. I brush gently again the walls of the rooms, fold the blankets, polish a table, mutter a song. Nothing else needs me.

Saturday, January 1, 2022

 Good morning, January 1--

Here in the little northern city by the sea, a thick fog drapes over street and stone. Last week's snow has dwindled to a sugary crust that glows eerily under the misty streetlights, and I glimpse my white cat dash across the street and slither into his best friend's hedge.

Inside, the furnace rumbles and the clock ticks. I've emptied the dishwasher and French-pressed the coffee and scribbled last night's dream memory into my dream book, and now I am sitting on the gray couch, contentedly writing to you, as is my habit, day in and out. This begins my fourteenth year of keeping this barely read record, and every year at this time I wonder if I'll finally fade away into some other preoccupation. But for some reason I haven't yet.

I edited all day yesterday, except for a long midday walk-break with Tom, and then in the evening I made a batch of raspberry-filled cookies, roasted Brussels sprouts, and invented a lemony hake orecchiette that turned out to be a showstopper. (The night before I'd made a perfect French-style pork roast, so I'm feeling pretty smug, kitchen-wise.) Then, after dinner, we drank tea and ate cookies and played Yahtzee and listened to Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsies, recorded on New Year's Day in 1970, when I was six and Tom was five and we were sound asleep in twin beds in Rhode Island and Ohio, tucked up with our stuffed animals and our unconsidered futures.

I do not like making New Year's resolutions. They always smack of guilt and other people's expectations: as in I resolve to clean my room more often this year. I resolve to do my math homework before doing my reading homework. I resolve not to keep acquiring kittens.

Nonetheless, the day lends itself to hope. Our public lives are so fraught. Our planet's life is so perilous. But amid the terrors we are still ourselves--private, alone within our silences, but also the pillars under our cottages, but also the roots stretching into our forests . . . these cottages and forests that we paint and prune over the course of what the novelist Brian Doyle calls "the social ramble"--our bumptious, ever-changing interactions with one another.

My hope, for myself and for you: that we rest in the present moment more often than we regret the past or dread the future. And by rest I don't only mean relax. I also mean hover, engage, be. That is how art happens, but it is also how joy happens, how thought happens. I think of the emails and phone calls and conversations I've taken part in this past year: our angsty dissatisfactions, our frustrations with other people who don't seem to tread the same path, our gloomy regrets about what might have been, our self-inflicted wounds, our anxious "I'm not good enough." My hope is that we start this year with none of that. They'll sneak in, those knives, but we don't need to encourage them. Take today as your rehearsal. Smile at yourself in the mirror. Notice your breath fogging the window-glass. Listen to the snowmelt drip from the eaves. Resolve to be.