I am attaching here a small chapbook of poems for our times. Please download if you wish.
Corinne often stopped at the café but this morning she was headed to the mountains in a hurry. She did not yet know exactly why but it felt urgent and wise. She giggled as she turned out of the neighborhood, tuned the radio to jazz, and silenced her phone—freedom! She had only a vague destination, a decadent use of time and gas. She fidgeted with her hair, too long already but she need not fuss with it, just push it behind her ears now he was gone.
As she turned off the highway and navigated the confusing exit, she had an epiphany—this was freedom from both clock and calendar, a day dedicated to her need for altitude, vistas, space, a ramble as far as she could get from the swollen dregs of suburbia. The music was not what Phil would have approved. In her head he whispered that she knew nothing about jazz, so who did she think she was anyway, listening to KVJZ?
“Philip, shut up. You’re dead, remember?”
The road mesmerized her and she wondered how long it would take the neighbors to miss her, how long before they missed Phil? Well, he had diminished her for the last time. Now his voice shrank to a murmur. She meant to erase ever sour conversation, edit out his face, words, and of course, his touch and smell. Smell? Scent, an animal odor, earthy and soiled, like his dirty work clothes and boots. Oh, his boots, how long had he worn the same cowboy boots? Damned stupid, Phil, trying to be a tough hombre. Well, here she was a long way from him and when or if she turned back to the house, she would fling open the windows, scrub the tub, and empty the garbage. Garbage had been his job although at the end he had struggled to heft the bags up into the bin. Well, she would have to do it herself. Cheap enough cost for freedom.
Now the road was very steep and the car seemed reluctant to go higher. Maybe, she thought, this altitude was too much for her old Chevy. Well, she’d already ordered a new one. One more thing about which she need not take Phil’s advice.
Each person has a unique response to life within the edges of home and neighborhood. Here in Colorado we are open, somewhat, so yesterday we had a driveway happy hour with our neighbors, well apart but close enough to talk, share a plate of ribs, and sip a favorite beverage. It was odd to maintain social distance and reconnect with those fine folks. Makes one measure what’s valued.
And individually, I suspect that many of us are reviewing our “normal” activities and adjusting accordingly. What does matter? What do we miss? What can we let go? I’ve done just that and, given the ghost of mortality flitting around us, asked myself how I want to spend whatever time is left to me. It’s been illuminating, an emotional temperature monitoring. And as a result I’ve advised friends and colleagues that some long-lived habits will change. I’ve trimmed my responsibilities (Were they really that?) in order to spend more time doing what matters most: fewer writing groups, more deep reading, getting back to my genealogy project and expanding it. I have enough material on hand without visiting the nearby NARA, and–ta da! I want to study archaeology. I’ve been watching a long series of programs that feature digs in the British Isles. Most of my ancestors come from that part of the world, so a balance exists between the macro of deep history and the micro of my family tree.
Would I have arrived at this decision without the enforced time to consider my options? I’ll never know the answer to that question. But I do know that it feels right to back off and move forward. #genealogy #archaeology #SocialDistance #NationalArchivesRecordsAdministration
I often make notes and mark passages in books, mostly little erasable dots, as I read. Then I flip through the book and decide if the dotted bits deserve to move onto my prompt list or into my journal for further attention. Just now I am close to finishing Bill Nye’s Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (2015). Nye, of course, makes science palatable, convincing, entertaining. And this week, he’s served me a big gulp of awe.
Because I own this book, instead of erasable dots, I’ve written marginal notes, most of which function as an index: “Oh, yeah, here’s that quote about the Cambrian Explosion.” And on page 290 I marked the date April 17, 2020 : “Viruses seem to have come into existence [as] self-replicating, stasis-maintaining organisms. …Viruses are a significant part of our world.” Indeed. Eerie to come across this now, in April 2020, what poet T. S. Eliot had years ago named “the cruelest month.” This year more cruel than usual.
Not that Eliot knew about Covid-19 or the evolution of viruses, but this is National Poetry Month and the overlaps between my random reading, my mental file of poetry, and the danger of viral infection strike me as marvelous–as in I marvel at the connections. Scary, but marvelous all the same. Now excuse me, I have eleven pages left in Undeniable. Stay home, stay safe, wear a mask, please.
Given this pandemic-enforced retreat, I’ve taken up a project that often surprises me. In the previous post I mentioned reading Let the Crazy Child Write. In this long quiet, I have challenged myself to do several of the exercises that author Clive Matson suggests, one of which directs me to interview someone. Well, that’s tricky during our sequestered lives. But Matson does say that one might interview herself. Hmm, could that work? As a matter of fact … it does. I came up with three questions that I imagine answering in an interview: 1. Tell me about your early experiences as a writer; 2. Which of your early experiences are most important or most memorable? and 3. What’s next for you?
Here then, is my answer to the first, understandably self-satisfying, but I am intrigued by the voice that responded to the prompt.
I remember writing bizarre and clumsy poems when I was in high school. And I wrote a theme every week for Hubert Clemons, my high-school English teacher at Potter Academy. Then I had a long hiatus in which I admired John Lennon’s poems but wrote none that I recall. I was drawn to visual art, took a mail-order drawing course and lessons from a local art teacher. But poetry still lurked in some mental back room. When I went to Yuba Community College, I took a creative writing course and a survey of English Lit, the latter with a wonderful teacher, Robert Mognis, and began writing again. From that point on I read and wrote plenty, but had no one to share the work with until several years later when I started grad school and published a poem in the Georgia Southern lit mag. And finally, a first acceptance from a stranger, a poem called “Last Supper.” Oddly, I don’t find a copy of that one in any of my notebooks.
What I’m reading while I’m staying home:
The Moth, art and literature, Issue 40, Spring 2020
The Science of Storytelling, Will Storr
Let Your Crazy Child Write, Clive Matson–not about homeschooling, subtitle is “Finding and Freeing Your Creative Voice.”
Zoom Manual for Participants.pdf
Contributions by writing friends in what Wikipedia describes as “Exquisite corpse, also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term cadavre exquis), is a method by which a collection of words or images is collectively assembled.”
Cover to cover of the latest New Yorker.
By the end of the day, when my eyes are tired, I watch several episodes of a British documentary series, Time Team, all about archeology. By now the cast feels like family, and since I cannot visit with my family other than those with whom I live, it’s a good thing to see familiar faces. (Familiar deriving from family.)
However long our sequestering lasts, I’m sure I have enough to entertain and distract me. But right now, the sun is shining, I live in suburbia, so we have wide sidewalks, and spring temps, so for a while I will put away words and see what the birds and the neighbors are up to.
Oh, yes, I’m writing.
Almost thirteen years ago when I landed in Colorado, one of the first things I did was to seek out poets at Naropa University in Boulder. I spent a week writing under the guidance of Allison Adelle Hedge Coke. That experience led to my collection The Great Hunger. And standing in line to go to a reading, I fell into conversation with another woman. She and I are still good friends and Cyndeth Allison has led me to other writers.
During my years here I have joined and retired from a number of writers’ organizations–Colorado Independent Publishers Association, Lighthouse Writers Workshop, Columbine Poets of Colorado, the continuing ed faculty at Front Range Community College, Boulder Bookstore’s Live Poets book club, and a good handful of less public venues, like the two critique groups I go to regularly, and readings at Book Bar in Denver, and open mics at The Firehouse in Longmont. My tribe has increased because even when a membership ends, I seem to carry along another good companion or two. My latest connection is the Spoken Word weekly event in Lafayette at East Simpson Coffee Company.
Recently, talking to a man who has mostly written in private, I was reminded how fortunate I am to have a community of writers. Of course, I value my quiet early mornings when I practice my evil arts, but once the sun is up and the car key is in my hand, I’m off to see what the writing world has to offer. It rarely disappoints.