Rough Week…

I resolved in January that I would post once a week, but this week is kicking my butt. So, instead of investing much brain power in a long post, I will maintain my resolution by presenting a brief (mostly literary) highlight reel:

  • Tuesday, I got to accompany our 7th graders to Chicago Shakespeare Theater for a performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Any day with Shakespeare is a good day!
  • Thursday night at our school district’s Young Writers’ Night, I worked with student and parent writers on revising poems, & my seventh grade students ran an Austin Kleon-inspired blackout activity table. Bonus: When we tweeted him a picture of the busy table, he responded! Definitely worth the 14-hour day.
  • I actually drafted a new poem (which hasn’t happened in a while) inspired by watching Blue Planet 2. Ocean bottom creatures are creepy, but penguins and sea lions are adorable.
  • Reading list for this week: Terrible Blooms by Melissa Stein, Oceanic by Aimee Nezhukumatathil, the new Poetry magazine, & an almost insurmountable stack of student writing. (More on those collections when I am more coherent…)
  • I indulged in two of my favorite TV guilty (or not-so-guilty) pleasures – Project Runway: All-Stars and America’s Next Top Model. (I know nothing about fashion AT ALL, so I don’t know why I love these shows, but I do.)
  • I am currently fighting a terrible cold, so I am heading off to bed. Hopefully stay tuned for something more interesting next week.

Going South

Look up the meaning of “go South,” and you will get two completely different sets of definitions. The first:

1. Sl. to make an escape; to disappear.
2. Sl. to fall; to go down. (Securities markets.)
3. Sl. to quit; to drop out of sight.
To make an escape, to disappear. This is I did. I disappeared from my husband, my responsibilities, my dogs, and the familiar Midwestern landscape. To fall; to go down. I fell (stumbled) on the first day when I realized my plans for a manuscript were not working (see an earlier post.) I went down a rabbit hole of worry about what I could accomplish here, how my plans were ruined.  But I climbed out pretty quickly and got back to work. To quit; to drop out of sight. I quit worrying about having a “project” and let the writing go where it wanted to go. And it went some places I didn’t expect, some very different places. (I wrote long poems, people, more than a page long. If you’ve read my poems, you know this is a big change of pace.) I dropped out of sight. working in a room or corner of the house for several hours at a time. At times, if I hadn’t known Kristin was in the house with me, I couldn’t have guessed – she was also “out of sight” and deep in work mode.
The second set of definitions, commonly used:
1. to lose value or quality
2. to stop working
My trip here to Knoxville to write for a week at Firefly Farms, run by Sundress Academy for the Arts, was anything BUT the second set of definitions. Once I gave myself permission to escape, to fall, to drop out of sight, the quality of my drafting and revision work did NOT suffer. I stopped working occasionally, but only because my brain was grinding its gears in overtime for so long that it needed breaks. (And food. And human contact.) From now on, going South will have a different connotation for me than for most people. Tomorrow we rise early to start the long drive home. I’ll be ridiculously happy to be reunited with my husband, my dogs, and my own bed, but the writing I did here and the feeling I had while doing it will go with me. That’s a pretty good week, y’all. Goodnight.

The Blessing

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Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings. Not all things are blest, but the seeds of all things are blest. The blessing is in the seed. ~Muriel Rukeyser

Half the residency week has already flown here at SAFTA. Surrounded by green and no sounds but chirping, braying, crowing and wind, I have had plenty of headspace for words to roam around, and I am pleased and a bit surprised by the amount of new work that has made its way to the page so far this week. Some is detritus – practice lines, throat-clearing, pen on paper. Some has promise – some good language, the kernel of an idea that is not fully formed. And a few – yes, a few – are those rare things that surprise even the writer, that come with a force and an organic form that seems to need little meddling. I am very excited about all the draft work, but those few especially. After they are put away for a while, read aloud, fine-tuned, I will be proud to start putting them out into the world. (I’m coming for you, Don Share! I have made a vow to make it into Poetry before I turn 60 – I’ve only got six years left…)

But how does that relate to the Rukeyser quote, you ask? (You may not have asked at all. You probably didn’t notice. But I’m going to tell you anyway.) Somewhere between marching up the hill to water the chickens and baking the goat mineral cookies,  I realized that the poems I had grouped to possibly become a third manuscript were not speaking to each other well. I realized that the fifty poems I had gathered needed to be winnowed down substantially and reorganized, realized that I need to write into these emerging themes even more. And so, after a sunset march up the ridge with my residency roommate, this evening I ripped apart what I thought was a staunch and strapping seedling, stripping away at least twenty poems from the stem. I am back to sowing. And that’s okay.

Roadies

Early Sunday morning (really early), Kristin LaTour and I are taking our show on the road. Well, we don’t really have a show. Perhaps we should plan a dance routine or something. Jazz hands? Grapevines and do-si-dos? Maybe not. But we’re taking our poems on the road and heading south to Sundress Academy for the Arts for a week-long residency at the Knoxville farm as well as taking a side trip to Nashville for a reading at East Side Story bookstore in collaboration with The Porch Writing Collective. And, in addition to the writing time and two readings, there are other bonus elements to this trip. A baby shower! Mom time for me with my son in Nashville! Chickens and goats and Jayne the donkey!

We both have writing tasks that we want to complete over the course of the week, and we are good working partners, knowing how to give each other space and how to support when the going gets tough. And it will get tough. Drafting new poems and organizing manuscripts can be mentally taxing, taking you down roads that aren’t on your internal GPS, leading you to places that may seem a little scary until you get acclimated. And that’s okay. Because road trips always come with a sense of the unknown. Getting there is half the fun, and driving those roads, both rural and neural, with one of my best friends will certainly be worth the ride.

we see into the life of things

School was finally out Wednesday, and having looked forward to time to read and write for the last several weeks, I am now enjoying the quiet solitude of days where I don’t have to speak to anyone (except for the dogs). I started the summer with fiction, something I don’t usually read during the school year. Yoko Ogawa’s The Housekeeper and the Professor was a poignant character study, full of pathos and math, and the story of Peter Heller’s The Painter lived up to one of the best openings I’ve read in a long time:

“I never imagined I would shoot a man. Or be a father. Or live so far from the sea.
As a child, you imagine your life sometimes, how it will be.
I never thought I would be a painter. That I might make a world and walk into it and forget myself. That art would be something I would not have any way of not doing.”

That last line. This is how I feel when the writing is going well, that I am in a world where I forget myself. And how writing has become something I cannot imagine “not doing.”

I have been reading poetry as well, re-reading Octavio Paz’s Piedra Del Sol (Sunstone) as well as lots of issues of journals I bookmarked during the busy days of April and May. I have also been following Emari DiGiorgio‘s poem-a-day for Tupelo Press – every draft has been a winner. Read for yourself as she blogs about each day’s draft.

Drafting. Although I don’t know how well I would react to a public commitment to writing a poem a day, I have drafted a poem each day since Wednesday. Surprisingly (to me, anyway), two of the poems have been responses to current news, not something I normally do. Suffice it to say that the news has made me think a lot about safety and ignorance – the poems are trying to make sense of that. If anything can.

Which leads us to the title of this post. Good advice from Wordsworth:

With an eye made quiet by the power of harmony, and the deep power of joy, we see into the life of things ~William Wordsworth