The Writing Blues

Aidan at work on his magnum opus.

My children are ever so much more productively writing than I am. Vincent’s discovering the discoveries and challenges of reading and writing, and Aidan is doggedly working on his own mysterious pages.

I, on the other hand, have written exactly two poems since my mother died. That Salamander will be publishing one of them in their next issue is some consolation, but I’m feeling the pull and tug of the writing bug.

After Aidan was born, I buckled down and wrote a poem a week, and kept at it consistently, for a long time. Not all were worth keeping or working on, but the regularity of effort kept my mind chugging.

But now, sometimes, a lot of times, I just feel stymied. What to say that’s not about my mother and how intensely I miss her? (Which is responsible for the silences here as well.)

I’ve reached that stage where I’m weary of talking about my grief. I miss her. It hurts. Nothing helps, nothing will help, because she’s not coming back. Emotionally I accept that, but I’m just bored with myself.

I’m not unaware of my life’s many blessings, not least of which is a plenitude of love, my dear family, this unexpected gift of a new child in the spring.

I’m also grateful that I live a life saturated in literature: Tupelo Press, the Collected Poets Series, the support and love of poet friends — it’s a financially precarious life, but I love it and am thankful for it.

Which is to say, I love my life. To paraphrase the film, “Super 8,” (which I also loved), bad things happen, but I can go on. I can live, and can live happily.

I guess I’m just trying to find a way to write about this abiding sadness that doesn’t feel maudlin or self-indulgent or tedious. It’s one thing to bore myself; it’s unforgivable to bore others.

And the days go by

Non-writing activities have kept me busy this summer — work, Collected Poets planning for 2012, reading, afternoons at the state forest beach with the boys (that season pass was the best $35 I’ve ever spent!) — July slipped by like a field of fireflies winking out. Despite the surfeit of grief, it’s been nice.

Come September 1, Vincent will begin kindergarten (full-time!) and Aidan will begin attending pre-school (two mornings a week!). So this is a momentous sort of summer after a momentous sort of year.

This morning’s air had a touch of autumn to it, and I saw some leaves already beginning to turn.

My mother’s birthday was on Sunday, which meant last week I dreamed about her every night. A first, the first dream, and then an unimaginable gift, each one that followed. In the first, she’d come back, quite aware that she’d died. We talked about it, how well she looked now, and then she apologized for how she died: “I’ll do better next time.” The sudden sorrow of a dream that had been a comfort. “Next time? You mean you can’t stay?”

Of course not. None of us can.

CPS: Notes Toward a Report

A poet will read to an audience of one if necessary, and do so with thanks for the opportunity, but nothing beats the energy of a full house — we continue to be so grateful for such great attendance. Great poets, great audiences, etc. etc. etc..

Melody Gee has a sweet smile and conversational reading style.  The perfect amount of patter & prologue to her poems. The poems she read were all from her book, Each Crumbling House, and showed off her skill at varied voices and subjects. I introduced her, so I spent a lot of time with her book prior to her reading, time richly spent. Melody’s a 7 months pregnant, ebullient presence.

Jennifer Sweeney’s reading of “Today’s Lesson: Landscapes” from How to Live on Bread and Music I found particularly meaningful and relevant as the mother to at least one wildly imaginative child. It details an academy-minded art teacher’s instruction to a room of second-graders, and illustrates a common failing of well-meant adults: an almost compulsive need to direct a child’s creative process.

One of my favorite parts of the night was when Tricia introduced Jennifer. Tricia is a friend I met through SheWrites, who turns out to (kind of) live in my neighborhood of western Mass., and happens to be friends with Jennifer from a lifetime ago! All my galaxies colliding.

Barbara Ras‘s poems are capacious, intelligent, funny, great fun to read and and even more fun to have read to you. Her wit bolted warmly through the room, what a delight, the perfect closing note. Then I had the good fortune to talk shop with Barbara at dinner later (we went to a fab new place in town, the Blue Rock Restaurant, loved it!) — she directs Trinity University Press — I love discussing the book business anyway, and books especially. The night ended all too soon.

If you haven’t visited our website, maybe you don’t know: we’ve been compiling a video archive of the CPS readings, little by little. So if you’ve lamented having to miss any of our wonderful guests, check it out.

Next month we have Aracelis Girmay and Ross Gay — even though that will mean it’s December already (ACK!), I can’t wait!

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Couple posts back I talked about prose poems and mentioned one anthology; here’s another that’s been on my radar that I wanted to mention, too, especially as it’s described as “half critical study and half anthology” on the website. It’s The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Prose Poetry: Contemporary Poets in Discussion and Practice, edited by Gary L. McDowell and F. Daniel Rzicznek. Looks comprehensive and eminently helpful, with a terrific cover to boot. I’ll order it from my library and let you know what I think.

Barbara Ras, Jennifer K. Sweeney, & Melody S. Gee (via The Collected Poets Series)

Barbara Ras, Jennifer K. Sweeney, & Melody S. Gee Thursday, November 4, 2010, at 7:00pm, poets Barbara Ras, Jennifer K. Sweeney, and Melody S. Gee will read as part of the fourth season of the Collected Poets Series. ($2-5 suggested donation)     Barbara Ras is the author of the poetry collections Bite Every Sorrow (LSU Press, 1998), chosen by C. K. Williams to receive the 1997 Walt Whitman Awar … Read More

via The Collected Poets Series

Saturdays are the golden brown…

…of the pancakes I made the boys this morning, of Vincent’s shorn hair cascading to the floor as I gave him a trim, and the Indian pudding cooking in its water bath in the oven.

The recipe I’m using is from an ancient edition of Fannie Farmer — who knew there were so many variations! I was just looking for something that uses what I already have in my pantry — and yes, I had molasses and corn meal in my pantry, thanks to Marianne, who cleaned out her pantry before moving across country with her family this summer.

I’ve never done the water bath thing before — I don’t actually have the proper cookware for that, so I’m improvising, as usual. We purchase most of our cookware from Goodwill etc, and for some reason, ramekins and casserole dishes don’t show up for sale there too often.

Tomorrow I’ll bring my Indian pudding, hopefully as delicious as it is golden, to Vermont with me: my friends and I are putting the finishing touches on the schedule for the 2011 season of the Collected Poets Series! And the finishing touch the pudding needs is vanilla ice cream. Or whipped cream. Or both. I’m in favor of both.

Happy last weekends of summer!

Draft of the Week, #14.

I was lucky enough to spend two whole days with Rhett Iseman Trull, and what fun we had. We talked poetry, literary journals, played with the boys… and Lance made gumbo! Which we wolfed down, starved after our intersecting journeys.

First thing when we stepped out of the car after arriving from the airport, Rhett looked up and spied a bald eagle. Truly!  (We discovered later that he’s a regular—Lance always knows these things—called the “Bridge Eagle” around here, because he hovers around the bridge, fishing in the river. Which he can’t do right now, due to its current frozen state.) Sadly, that was the eagle’s first & only appearance to us—if he’s smart he lit off for better hunting grounds.

Rhett & Meg both read wonderfully; they were a great match-up, full of spark & personality, and we had a packed house. After such a lively poetry party, I had a hard time settling into sleep that night. Hooray for me, I had Rhett again the next day when the wacky weather played havoc with her travel plans. More poetry talk, more playing with the boys—Rhett’s a total wiz with kids, Vincent & Aidan adored her—until it was time to bring her back, however reluctantly, to the airport. I already miss her softly Southern lilt, and look forward to seeing her again sometime, I hope, in the not too distant future.

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On another note, Carolee and Jill over at ReadWritePoem have named their poetry mini-challenge for the month, and it is “Fall in love with a poet”, cento-style! Check out their post here to read more on this form and what this challenge is all about.

Per the rules, I have altered very little: capitalizations, punctuation (though less than you might imagine), one verb tense, and I added one preposition. Not quite a pure cento, but pretty damn close.

Because I’m in the midst of a Lowell/Bishop kick, and because I can’t seem to follow a prompt without customizing it (sorry!), my plan is this: on day one (today) a cento from Lowell; day two (tomorrow, maybe Thursday), a cento from Bishop; and on the last day (Fri/Sat), a combined Lowell/Bishop cento. As each new poem goes up, the previous one will come down. Comments, both yays and nays, are always welcome.

(As an aside, does anyone know whether it’s okay to submit centos to journals for publication? I ask because the cento, even with due credit given, seems like it inhabits a sketchy magpie area. Any thoughts?)

{poof!}

Collected Poets Series, Feb. 2010

This Thursday, February 4, at 7:00 pm, the Collected Poets Series welcomes poets Rhett Iseman Trull and Meg Kearney. For more information, please check out our (new & improved!) website: http://collectedpoets.com.

Anyone who follows this blog with any sort of regularity will know why this is a reading I’m especially excited about. Rhett is the phenomenal and phenomenally generous editor of Cave Wall — generous with her time, generous with her praise, generous with her support. I’m simply thrilled that we’re hosting her.

Rhett’s first collection, The Real Warnings, won the 2008 Anhinga Prize for Poetry, and was published this past fall.  There’s so much I love about these poems, but one of the things I admire the most is how willingly, almost recklessly, they risk sentimentality. I’m reading Lowell, and the Ian Hamilton biography of Lowell, and perhaps that’s just where my head is at right now, but I’m seeing a real simpatico between Rhett and Cal. He said to an interviewer regarding the notion of sentimentality in relation to another poet, “I think a lot of the best poetry is. … if he hadn’t dared to be sentimental he wouldn’t have been a poet.”

Rhett’s poems tell stories, and even though there’s an “I”, I never feel as if I’m suffocating within the psyche of that single-minded I. Her stories are capacious, and figure other characters who recur and become more than characters, more than metaphors. I’m thinking specifically of the nine poem sequence “Rescuing Princess Zelda,” which recounts the speaker’s time as a young patient in a psych ward. (Another reason I sense an affinity between Rhett & Cal, I suppose.) What a field of potential land mines that subject is! And what a triumph for Rhett — she skirts the danger and makes us feel the real tragedies of the other patients, kids, really, and I think she manages to avoid the tedium such poems can produce because of the wide net she casts, and the almost incidentally astonishing details. From “V. The Jumper”, “…I’m one of the fans / imagining he will leave this place to become / a rock star. We crowd around him / as he strums our sad songs: industrial hum / of the lights, girls too thin to cast shadows, / grilles on the windows slicing the moon.”

I’m introducing Rhett, and I can see I’m going to have to rein myself in — nothing more annoying than an introduction that goes on and on and on. If you’re in the area, please come out and join us — this is going to be one special evening!

Carmine Starnino’s “Lazy Bastardism”

We’ve been working on the Collected Poets Series website, revamping it, expanding it, and this week we added some footage of Nancy Pearson’s reading two weeks ago. Our ultimate intention is to create a video archive of the CPS events so that everyone, regardless of geography, can enjoy them. This is our modest first step. Modest in length, and Nancy’s quiet delivery — in content, not at all! So please, check it out, and tell us what you think!

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The poet Carmine Starnino contributed a trenchant & tremendously fun prose piece, “Lazy Bastardism: A Notebook,” to this month’s issue of Poetry. I really enjoyed reading this — it’s so full of tasty bits I couldn’t help interrupting my husband’s reading to quote several passages to him. And at several passages, I was restraining myself.

Different sections talk about poetry and prayer (“In fact, regarded a  certain way, poetry might even be said to be a menace to religious belief.”), age & youth re: poetry critics (“Can critical faculties show signs of wear and tear?”), the poetry-drafting process (“It’s so easy to lose heart.”), and that’s just the first 3 pages, with 7 more to go. It’s a true gambol through one poet’s head, and perhaps I loved it so much because I share his varied concerns and conclusions. This, in particular:

If grown-ups don’t read poetry, it’s not because they have a bone to pick with poets. The truth is even more intolerable: they prefer not to. How often do we need to be Bartlebyed before we finally admit to ourselves that those Clancy-thumbing dentists and Grisham-toting lawyers aren’t confused or afraid of commitment? They’re just not that into us.

I’m deeply interested now in reading more of Starnino’s work, prose and especially poems. He’s Canadian, so I’m unsure of how available he is in the States, and besides which I’m still in a book-buying freeze. Thank the poetry gods for the internet!

Andrea Cohen has two poems in this issue, also, and they fairly fizz with word play — they also required the full read-’em-outloud-to-the-husband treatment. Poetry‘s January podcast features her reading one of them, and, among other things, a conversation with…Carmine Starnino! Yes, I like him very much.

What does he mean by “lazy bastardism”? I’m afraid you’ll have to read his notebook to find out, because I couldn’t even begin to do it justice.

Collected Poets Series, Jan. 2010.

Thursday, January 7, 2010, at 7:00 pm, poets Nancy Pearson and Afaa Michael Weaver will help the Collected Poets Series welcome the new year in a special benefit for the Green River House.

*Please note the time change.

The Green River House is a community-based rehabilitation and support program, provided through Clinical and Support Options (CSO), for mentally ill adults.  CSO’s mission is to provide responsive and effective interventions and services to support individuals adults, children and families in their quest for stability, growth and an enhanced quality of life.

For more information about the poets and to check out our schedule of upcoming events, please visit our website. Please come out if you can & show your support for this important program!

Draft of the Week, #10.

Did you know there’s going to be a partial lunar eclipse on December 31, 2009? I was already working on this poem yesterday when I read this — there are amazing websites that list all the upcoming celestial happenings, and run graphics that show you what the sky/moon/sun will look like during the event.  Because these events always seem to happen at ungodly hours on cloudy nights.

Lots of Collected Poets Series doings right now, keeping me ultra-busy — check out our excitingly full slate for next year — but I hold out hope that I’ll still fulfill Mary’s “3 New Poems before 2010” challenge — and I received a welcome extra boost yesterday in the form of an acceptance from The MacGuffin.  The last couple weeks have seen many long-awaited rejections, a couple personal & encouraging, the rest little form slips.  Sigh. Thus this acceptance has taken on greater significance by virtue of (presumably) being the last word on the matter this year. And this is the 4th NaPoWriMo 2009 poem to be taken so far, nice assurance that the angst was worth it.

This poem will stay up the usual couple days, and then [poof!]:

[poof!]