Hey! I have a poem in the new issue of Tinderbox. It’s called “Poem Written After Reading a Poem With a Boat in It.” This is a poem that started with the title, and is kind of a poke at myself for liking poems with long titles. It’s also a homage to the Chinese. And an ode to motherhood, and an observation about a statue, and a nod to Weltschmerz. It’s anything you want.
Watched: Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon). #great
Discarded: A blouse I loved but didn’t suit me. I would have continued to let it hang in the closet as if I might someday wear it, but apparently I wore it enough to get a stain on it. Saved the buttons and threw it away.
Received: A letter from Sardegna with a small seashell from my Italian daughter.
Waiting is a weed that promises blossoms. It endures the worst conditions, growing even near the end of the road.
In the bookstore, there’s one customer who regularly reads the last page before deciding on a book, then finds the experience spoiled: The vines are thwacked. The step-mother dies. Making his rounds, the hunter comes. Or doesn’t.
But life’s not a peephole.
Most of the time you are the little man hunched in the snowglobe waiting for a shake.
Here goes nothing, you say, angling into an anticipated wind.
Outside the warehouse, the bus stop bench sits in a tangle of mayweed. You lean back. If not for the search lights, these clouds wouldn’t be lit like this, from underneath.
The fields fill, and the trees and the housetops, and the chimneys choke. And the bricks turn red and there’s a heady scent of something that is not smoke.
It’s the slow city you built in a bottle that makes these blossoms possible.
Q. is on p. 33 of 640 of The Bone Clocks: "I feel the vibe when I pick it up. I feel the heat - this is going to be a mind-bending, memorable journey of a book. I want to remember this moment, the whole book ahead of me. Because when it is over, I will want this moment again, when the whole book awaited me."
A. is on p. 59 of 640 of The Bone Clocks: "An easy read, but (as I was warned), not yet an enticing one. Well, not until page 58. It may be about to take off…"
J. is on p. 170 of 640 of The Bone Clocks: "Hugo is a horrible douchebag. I hope he dies sooner rather than later. Or changes. Or something. "
J. is on p. 187 of 640 of The Bone Clocks: "Charming, but not convincing. Not bad, but well below my expectations. Maybe things will change. That happened with Ender's Game, where a decent book was crowned by an incredible ending. There's still hope . . . "
F. is on p. 254 of 640 of The Bone Clocks: "This middle bit is quite good. Iraq. Shades of The Yellow Birds, though not so poetic. This section might have made a great standalone novella.”
F. is on p. 292 of 640: "The last section was great. But now Mitchell is trying too hard to make his characters hip. Also, is he trying to inoculate himself against bad reviews through self-deprecation? I appreciate the "meta" of it all, but it seems like trying too hard. I'm probably going to be lynched by Mitchell fans."
C. is on p. 321 of 640: "I don't know whether the metafictional aspects, like the entry of characters from his other works, is fun or a bit too self-consciously clever. I'm also irritated by the gratuitous use of names with a variety of accents, presumably because it's easy to typeset. Nevertheless, I keep turning the pages…"
F. is on p. 374 of 632 of The Bone Clocks: "NOW it's getting interesting. Good thing I plowed through the poorly-written part, i.e., THE FIRST 350 OR SO PAGES!"
A. is on p. 403 of 640 of The Bone Clocks: "A magnificent mix of brilliance and bombast so far. Also, a fantasy waiting (waiting, waiting, waiting...) to happen."
Q. is on p. 516 of The Bone Clocks: "Had to slow wayyyy down. This last third gets more and more sci-fi as we go."
U. is finished with The Bone Clocks: “like hitting a home run and stopping at 3rd base.”
Read: About a German soldier in WWII who forged documents for Dutch jews. “Klemke, whose artwork made him a consummate storyteller, never talked about that stage of his life. A cartoonist who knew Klemke said that aspect of the story might not make sense in an age when people log on to social media to boast about minor accomplishments.” Recommended read.
Listened to: Langley School Music Project, fun, and a tearjerker
Discarded: Unread newspapers
Received: A rejection after 10 months. Gets kind of annoying, that.
Saw: Got on a bus stuffed with senior citizens, strollers and a guy with a loudly wheezing bulldog. After 4 minutes on the road, the driver pulls over and gets out to inspect the bus. He looks up and down and behind, and finally opens the middle door, where he sees the rhythmically rasping animal. OH, IT’S THE DOG! he says.
Decided: Old German drunks are among the funniest (from afar, of course) because of German, which in some mouths makes you sound drunk already.
Failed: Mismanaged time left and right.
Dreamed: My daughter told me she dreamed I was a fascist concocting an elaborate plan to poison her. I said my dream was more exciting: I dreamed I broke three mugs in our kitchen and had to replace them.
Laughed: Found a tweep whose shtick is to implant “your mom” in CNN headlines, as in “Your Mom Drenches Mexico,” and “Boy Bands Are Now Doing Your Mom.” Gets more mileage than you’d expect.
Word of the week: Liebeskummer, German for ‘love troubles’ or ‘lovesickness.’
Pithiness of the week: O useless soulmate of my tedium. (Pessoa)
Failed: After chatting happily with several colleagues, discovered broccoli between my front teeth in the ladies’ room mirror.
Triumphed: Ate lunch on the steps outside St. Paul’s, defying all reluctance, self-consciousness, uptight Protestant work-ethic.
Forgot: After 22 years without a dryer, how pleasurable it is to peel the delicate lint from the lint filter.
Learned: “sturmfrei,” the German word for the fun of having the house to yourself (for adolescents).
Missed: Luisa, my Italian daughter, who left for Sardinia for a month to take language classes.
Observed: A tour guide on the streets of London foolishly shouting: “You are history! You are London!”
Realized: I love a few nights alone in a clean hotel. Own bed. Own bathroom. Own desk & chair. Own nakedness.
Decided: To sign up for some kind of salubrious movement course.
Discarded: Old, unloved potholders.
Received: Moleskine bookshrine, compliments of husband.
Word of the week: Candescent, too much in the shadow of incandescent.
Pithiness of the week: “There is a species of bird which pecks holes in the thickest hollow trees, and it credits its beak with such strength that after each peck it is said to go to the other side of the tree to see whether or not the blow has gone right through it.” - Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
After work Wednesday I headed to the traffic-tangled intersection of Ludgate Hill & Fleet St. to visit Waterstone’s, only to find it had closed. What a let-down. It was a convenient and close to my hotel, not really inspired as bookstores go but serviceable for a poor ex-pat like me.
Thursday my colleagues directed me to Daunt on Cheapside, up behind St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was a stroke of luck that Waterstone’s closed, because Daunt was rich and gorgeous and peppered with fabulous books.
Near the entrance was a display including NYRB novels and novellas from the Melville House series. And the different thing about Daunt is it organizes much of the store by country. I was skeptical, but it worked. In the France section, for example, they had all the de rigueur French writers, plus novels set in France, plus history and diaries, etc. Ditto Canada, India, Eastern Europe, etc.
I sat a spell beside Italy browsing the Leonardo Sciascia titles. I’d heard of Sciascia with his tactile last name, but was never drawn to him. Daunt had five of his books, three from both NYRB and Granta. The translations were identical, only the packaging differed. I shelled out the two extra pounds NYRB wanted for The Day of the Owl just to acquire that odd, hot/cool cover.
(I’ve obviously become a slave to beauty. I almost don’t care if the book is any good. While in London I also bought a dainty glass teapot and loose rosebud tea so I can watch the pale pink buds floating, and smell the heady flowers. The drink is secondary.)
At Daunt, I also bought Penelope Lively’s Heat Wave, JG Ballard’s Crash, Upamanyu Chatterjee’s English, August, and The Everything Store by Brad Stone, a book about Amazon. The cashier told me he and his colleague had been discussing how much they liked the cover of Crash, and I had to shove The Day of the Owl up in his sweet young face.
Pithiness of the week: “The US dumbing-down that is seizing Germany more and more is one of the gravest consequences of the war.” - Albert Schweizer (seen on the wall of one of my husband’s Italian students, an 80-year old former nun who lives in the woods)
In the afternoon, the hour of five falls like quintuplets from the clock.
To live in the moment is a frightful thing. In all the past I never lived in the moment. I was saving those moments for now.
The future is no better place. The future is coming with the sole purpose that I might regret it.
I once loved someone who said things like, “when we’re older and you write my biography…” What a presumptuous jerk. But more pathetic was how I adored him, and how he still crosses my mind every day, at least the person he was, not our failure.
Nothing nourishes suffering like nostalgia.
At dusk, while the stars sort out their sleep patterns,
I don’t pretend to know anything, including the French word for hell. I don’t even know if the English word for hell is quite correct.
After feasting, mint restores coherence.
Although anyone who looks can see it, and even explain it, the daytime moon always seems something secret and subversive.
It is good to put an hour aside for thinking. Slow down. Behold your horses.
Fed up with sleeping teenagers, I visited the cemetery Sunday with my cemetery kit: three books, two pens and paper. I read some of all the books - The Collected Works of Billy the Kid by Michael Ondaatje, a book of Benjamin Peret poems, and Kaputt by Curzio Malaparte.
The Peret poems wearied me with their crazy energy. Billy the Kid, which I’ve read many times, was good, but chilled me - also because the day was cold - and made me tired. I closed my eyes, I felt cold. I’d chosen a bench in the sun but there was no sun. My eyelids drooped; more than anything I longed to lie down, but it seemed disgraceful. Still, I had nothing anyone could steal while I slept, and it was unlikely anyone would accost me, there were so few people there. As an experiment, I put my legs up on the bench. I couldn’t go through with it.
The last thing I wanted to do was go home and start innerly burning about my lazy do-nothing-all-day teenagers. So I moved on to Kaputt, with its slightly sleazy, sympathetic narrator:
“I had just returned to Italy a few days before after having lain in a Helsinki hospital where I had undergone a serious operation that had exhausted my strength. I still walked with a cane and was pale and emaciated. (...) My martini shook in my hand I was still so weak.”
On the ground floor of my office building there’s an upscale furniture store that sells cool, elegant pieces like the Eames chair and its splendid ottoman. I pass by daily and never see a customer inside. I assume they need sell only a single sofa every month to pay the overhead.
I said to a colleague today my wish is to get a position inhabiting that display window tucked beside the entrance. I could sit beneath the lights there, showing the deep-pocketed how stylish solitude is.
As you see in the picture, the current display is all black & white - a little bit of pine ringing the stools and trolley, a Tapiovaara chair poised attentively in the corner like a fragile animal.
I think I could abandon all I possess and sit there with a book, tapping the ash of a cigarette onto a black saucer.
I wouldn’t brood or fret about the future. I wouldn’t obsess about sins I committed half my life ago. I could turn my back on Israel and Palestine. I’d be glad to drink a glass of sparkling water with lime to jolt the color scheme, or import some black-eyed susans from what until then I’d called my backyard.
The text of this book is set in Duchat, an angular typeface based on the handwriting of Emmanuel Duchat, royal scrivener to Nicolas II. Duchat expressed his intelligence in a barbed tongue, his wit evinced in the reams of correspondence he left behind. Duchat the man was an epicure: his spacing provided ample separation, inviting readers to savor every shape and word.
Duchat wrote in an quick hand, his bowls evoking eyes that squint at the heavens in inquiry, be it daytime, midnight, or eclipse. The typeface that bears his name bristles with loops and tails; its ascenders emerge like figures leaping up on tiptoe.
The letterforms are a lean creation, sparingly adorned, marked by acute curvature. Steep swoops dictate the pace, while the capitals are not overlarge, like an emperor who is respected, but not given too wide a berth.
We came back today from a short vacation in Sardegna. The weather was great. People, including me, complain about the maestrale wind but I liked it this time because it didn’t spit sand at me, and it brought waves. I did enjoy lounging on the beach, protestations otherwise aside.
I’m sure the highlight of my trip, however, was reading Villette. (Guadalupe, I hate you!) I sent the boys to the beach in the mornings without me so I could drink all the coffee and read and take notes. I really missed my calling as a scholar of Victorian literature. Oh well, I've made this my Brontë year in any case, and am making up for lost time.
As ever, the publisher found a very uninspiring painting of a solitary woman for the cover. It’s called the Charlotte Brontë Cover Art Disease. Is there not a person with another idea?
While I was gone, Escape into Life ran its ‘Dog Days’ summer poems. Thanks to Kathleen Kirk, my prose poem “As Smoke Enters My Mustache” is included. It’s a complaint poem, or rather, a recovery-from-complaint poem. I was lucky to have another canine ode - Song of the Small Dog - at EIL last year, too.
Before I fly off, here are links to some of the poems I’ve had published lately.
DMQ Review published "The Uppermost Affliction," a sleep poem. The table of contents is here.
RHINO published two typeface poems, and is gradually making all of its new issue available online. Here’s the table of contents - scroll down for "Typeface #77 (Moog)." Its partner #71 should be liberated soon, too.
And this isn’t newly published, but Right Hand Pointing nominated my poem "Heiress to a Small Ruin" for Best of the Net.
On the submission front, I've gotten rejections from Barn Owl and Linebreak, but acceptances from Beloit Poetry Journal ("Inksleep") and Sugar House Review ("Clinic Lilies" & "Schnapps Distilled from the Flight of Doves"). So I'm counting myself glad.
We leave for vacation tomorrow - a week in Sardegna with our son and one of his friends. I hope it won’t be boring for them. God knows after a week I’m bored as can be, which is why I don’t like going for two weeks. I like the sea and all, but get stir-crazy with nothing else to do. Of course I bring books and write, but I still feel so stranded.
To reveal another negative-energy thing about myself: the vacation starts tomorrow but for me it began Saturday when we took the dog to friends. Like the sea, the dog is nice and all, but I can’t pretend I love coming home after 10 hours of work to cook dinner, clean up and walk the dog. It is just a time-suck, and I feel so obligated.
For a few frantic hours I considered buying an iPad to take on vacation, but was unsure whether I could store documents on it. I want it more for that than the Internet. Although the Apple guy said I could keep documents directly on it with Pages, I was skeptical because my iPad-carrying colleagues said they don’t know how to. With vacation threatening I felt like I was going to buy on impulse without really being informed.
Then on the phone my mother told me how she was going to save $100 a year by not having caller ID on her phone, and that was what the iPad sleeve alone was going to cost me and suddenly I felt so spoiled and wasteful.
So here’s some of what I’m taking on my scenic, calm, non-technological vacation:
My grandfather had a tavern in Scranton, PA, aptly named Sloat’s Tavern. He quit the business and retired on his stock exchange winnings, now evaporated, before I was born, but the tavern is part of the family lore. My father has told many stories about sweeping up there after school.
I remember at the bar at his own home my grandfather had these tall aluminum tumblers in metallic colors like purple and teal, and whatever you drank out of those tasted tall and metallic and cold whether it was cold or not. He kept a gold one in the bathroom for rinsing your mouth.
My grandfather was a Highball man who used shakers and crushed ice and was never in a bad mood. His bar was outfitted with stools, stirrers, a mounted bottle opener and packets of powdered Whiskey Sour mix. My sister Lisa and I used to play ‘bar’ there, you know, it was a like playing ‘house.’
Threw out: Emergency t-shirt, bought 7 years ago when Alitalia lost my luggage Bought: Earrings
Learned: There are 115 women for every 100 men in Switzerland Forgot: To buy a new toothbrush. I gave my son my new-fangled one, which he admired, but was left with his ancient one for days because I kept forgetting ...
I love this for the juxtaposition of the old-timey title, taken from a 1764 Walpole novel, with the accessible, conversational tone of the poem, which is almost funny, but of course quite serious, and reaches out to help me in my great envy (of this poem).
I love this for the surprises and free associations and because the view is the problem with geese. (This was at the top before, but the Swarm link isn’t working, so rather than discouraging readers on the first poem, I moved it down here. Try it - it may have since been restored.)
I spent a night in Berlin, checking in Sunday before it got dark. Since my former boss always booked a little hotel called Hotel Albrechtshof, so do I, and it’s charming. It’s a Christian hotel with a little chapel in the basement. Next to the chapel is an “IT Room,” which consists of a slow computer, and an iron and ironing board.
Rather than chocolates, there was a little stapled-together book of poems on my pillow. And, unlike many hotels, the windows opened! Which was good, because it was very warm.
I love checking into hotels alone. Christian or not, a clean, impersonal room makes me feel chaste and contained. The towels are clean. The bedding is fresh. There is a desk.
I went for a walk while it was still light and found a restaurant with tables outside, where I had a salad and a puddle of Sauvignon Blanc. There was a hipster couple a table over. An American family came in and, after determining the menu would suit everyone’s allergy mix, they sat behind me, where the father immediately cracked open the laptop. He began reading from a webpage about the Berlin Wall & Checkpoint Charlie & daring East-West escapes for the benefit of all nearby diners.
The hipsters and I exchanged smiles, but really the family was breaking my heart. The teenage daughter was hating it; the mother was trying to accommodate everyone, sending back the pizza because there was chili pepper on it; the boy was the pre-teen variety of indefatigable; and the dad was trying to make it all “worthwhile.”
Here are all the books and chapbooks I read in the first half of the year. I did a lot of reading this month especially, thanks to airplane travel and vacation.
Best novel was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë. Best discovery was Emily Bludworth de Barrios' chapbook. Best whatever was Cheryl Strayed's Tiny Beautiful Things. All ladies! #readwomen2014
1. Apocalypse Theory: A Reader by Kristy Bowen (Jan 4) 2. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens (Jan 26) 3. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson (Feb 8) 4. My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard (Feb 18) 5. The Book of Beginnings and Endings by Jenny Boully (Mar 5) 6. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Marie Remarque (Mar 22) 7. Dick Wad by Deena November (Mar 22) 8. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (Mar 3) 9. Sum of Every Lost Ship by Allison Titus (April 6) 10. Trench Talk by Julian Walker and Peter Doyle (April) 11. The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell (April 24) 12. let us now praise the empty parking lot by Jason Heroux (April 27) 13. The Son by Philipp Meyer (May 10) 14. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (May 27) 15. The Sick Rose by Richard Barnett (May 29) 16. Ah Xian Skulpturen/Sculpture by Dieter Brunner (Jun 3) 17. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë (Jun 6) 18. Smoke and Mirrors by Toni Clark (Jun 8) 19. Sea/Words by Crystal Gibbons (Jun) 20. A Wicked Apple by Susan Slaverio (Jun 8) 21. The Grotesque by Philip Thomson (Jun 8) 22. Art & Love: An Illustrated Anthology of Poetry, ed. Kate Farrell (Jun 9) 23. Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan (Jun 11) 24. Everything, Vol. 1 by Lynda Barry (Jun 11) 25. Extraordinary Power by Emily Bludworth de Barrios (Jun 15) 26. The World of the Brontës by Jane O’Neill (Jun 16) 27. The Brontës, ed. Harold Bloom (Jun 17) 28. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (Jun 18)* 29. The Best American Crime Writing, ed. Otto Penzler (Jun 19) 30. Seriously Funny: Poems about Love, Death, Religion, Art, etc., eds. Hamby & Kirby. (Jun 30)
I was recently reading two books that presented the face and body as landscape. The first was a book I ordered on the Chinese artist Ah Xian, who imbues the traditional sculptural bust with the look of Chinese pottery; the second was “The Sick Rose” by Richard Barnett, a book of medical illustrations from before the days of color photography.
It was only coincidence that I read these beauties at the same time, and yet they spoke clearly to each other. Both books offered corporeal images intricate and exquisite, but one was kind of dreamy and impossible, and the other vivid and all too gruesomely real.
I suppose that, in the imagination, breaking out in a rash or weeping sores could be like sprouting the flowers native to your homeland.
I prefer to wake up plain.
I don’t have any particular reason to mention this now, except with a beach vacation approaching, I was thinking today of mix-n-match bikinis, and the notion of swapping one look out for another that might fit a body just as well brought this juxtapositional reading/art experience to mind. I'm not much for the grand display of my own design and intricacy: my favorite beachwear is the cover-up.
On my one visit to New York this trip I went to the 9/11 Museum. It opened just a few weeks before I flew over, and the hype - if you can call it that - penetrated as far as Germany. So I put it on my list.
But once in the states I got the feeling some people considered it kind of tasteless, a sort of polished ‘disaster tourism.’ I worried it was going to make a spectacle of people’s pain. I also worried it would be an excuse for jingoism. Still, I had a ticket, and off I went.
And I was impressed. The museum itself is solemn and gorgeous, almost like a sophisticated archeological dig. Its giant artifacts of catastrophe most resemble Anselm Kiefer sculptures, delivered by the dada of disaster. The interactive memorial room offers a biography for each victim, with as much added info as loved ones wanted to provide. It was all laid out beautifully.
To me the most enthralling part was the wall projections in which (mostly) survivors recounted their steps that day, stories both chilling and very moving. There are also phone calls from the dead. There’s a large, meandering area with a timeline along the walls, also offering artifacts and various media. It is informative and grimly fascinating.
In the end I didn’t budget enough time for the museum. After nearly four hours I had to rush through the final rooms, which did look kind of Americanaesque, and for all I know veered into we’re-the-greatestism, but I just did a quick nod-and-thank-you through that part, still wanting to visit the Strand bookstore and get to my dinner date on time!
At $24 a ticket it was worth seeing. And it was a gorgeous day in New York.
The last couple years when I visit my mother I go on what I call my library suicide mission, where I go to the library and load up on stuff I’m going to force myself to read before I leave. I love going to the library because, wow, they’ve got stuff you never imagined. Here’s what I took and some things I didn’t.
Everything by Lynda Barry
The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan
The Brontes by Harold Bloom
The World of the Brontes by Jane O’Neill
Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
Funeral Customs Around the World
Practical Electrical Skills
Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society
Nothing by Stephen King (though I was tempted by 11/22/63)
Nothing for Dummies
Nothing by Stephen Hawking
So Fat, Low Fat, No Fat
My Sister from the Black Lagoon
T: Would you like to have a Talbot’s card?
M: No, thanks.
T: Are you sure? You’d save 10% on top of the 30% you’re saving now.
M: I don’t live in the country.
T: Where do you live?
M: I live in Germany.
T: That’s so cool!
B: Would you like to apply for a Bloomie’s card?
M: No, thanks.
B: You’d be invited to special sales.
M: I don’t live in the country.
B: Where do you live?
B: You don’t have any accent!
J: Would you like to have our J. Crew card?
M: No, thanks.
J: Are you sure? We’d email you when there’s a sale.
M: I don’t live in the country.
J: Where do you live?
J: Oh, wow! What’s the weather like there now?
M: Right now it’s warmer than it is here.
J: I’m going to Italy in October. Do you think it’ll be good weather there when I go?
M: Yes, it will be good.
I finished The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and enjoyed it inordinately. I have now traveled the Brontë trinity from A to E and hope to read Villette (C) and Agnes Grey (A) this year, too.
In looking at my own volumes of Brontë books and those on Amazon etc. my only disappointment is the very unimaginative book covers the Brontë books are slapped with. About 85% of the time it’s a dim 18th century painting of a woman in a cloak or voluminous dark dress. I’ve also seen a couple goth cartoonish covers, and some that look like Harlequin Romances. Yuck all around. There must be more to these stories than clothing and landscapes.
For Jane Eyre I found the Penguin Drop Cap series of hardcovers, which uses the author’s last initial in fancified, illustrated typeface. I do like that. It’s bold. You can see the cover Of Jane Eyre and the 25 others classics in the series at this link. Unfortunately I don’t need another copy of Jane Eyre. Or do I?
Penguin makes a gimmick of it and suggests you check out your initial, and the author quote on the back of the book. Mine would be S for John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Too bad I’m not a Steinbeck fan.
My favorite design among these is the D for Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I’ve read twice, followed by the Q for Ellery Queen's The Greek Coffin Mystery, which I’ve never read. Can an elegant Q convince me?
While I’m at it I also like E, G, J and L! It looks like the whole alphabet would cost more than $500 new, so better just to spell your name, or your favorite four-letter word.
If I had an e-book reader I could have started Villette this morning, since it's free on e-format at Amazon. In fact I do have a Kindle on my home computer and downloaded it, but I won't be schlepping that with me on a plane to New Jersey tomorrow. No, as usual when I'm about to embark on a trip, I'll be lugging a many-million page tome, this time Juliet Barker's family biography The Brontës. 1158 pages, not counting the introduction and middle bit of illustrations.
I took a day off for my son’s 16th birthday but for some time I was home alone since it’s not yet a national holiday. I went to the store and bought kid food, including chocolate milk, strawberries and a box of cornflakes. This box didn’t seem to be half-smashed, which is usually the case, but full of hale and whole flakes. So I sorted through in search of Jesus’ face, or Mary’s, or any remnant of the saints, prophets or apostles, or even George Fox or Ron L. Hubbard, but none appeared.
Instead I found:
I decided to read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall because months ago I started a long biography of the Brontes, and thought it would be worth reading Anne before going any further, having read the other sisters. I’m a big fan Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, less of Emily’s Wuthering Heights, which is a bit of an eye-roller. I do like Emily’s poems, though.
I’m enjoying Anne. Here we have a scoured hearth, and a weak but sufficient fire, enough for a single woman escaping a dreary past with hot tea, a small income and a mended dress.
And we’ve got looooong sentences that don’t skimp on punctuation. As in the sentence with 19 commas and one semi-colon on p. 8:
“Nothing told me then, that she, a few years hence, would be the wife of one - entirely unknown to me as yet, but destined, hereafter, to become a closer friend than even herself, more intimate than that unmannerly lad of seventeen, by whom I was collared in the passage, on coming down, and wellnigh jerked off my equilibrium, and who, in correction for his impudence, received a resounding whack over the sconce, which, however, sustained no serious injury from the infliction; as, besides being more than commonly thick, it was protected by a redundant shock of short, reddish curls, that my mother called auburn.”
Or the one on p. 14, also with 19 commas, which is even longer and squeezes in 2 semi-colons:
“Her hair was raven black, and disposed in long glossy ringlets, a style of coiffure rather unusual these days, but always graceful and becoming; her complexion was clear and pale; her eyes I could not see, for being bent upon her prayer-book they were concealed by their drooping lids and long black lashes, but the brows above were expressive and well defined, the forehead was lofty and intellectual, the nose, a perfect aquiline, and the features in general, unexceptional - only there was a slight hollowness about the cheeks and eyes, and the lips, though firmly formed, were a little too thin, a little too firmly compressed, and had something about them that betokened, I thought no very soft or amiable temper, and I said in my heart - “I would rather admire you from this distance, fair lady, than be the partner of your home.”
I was invited to participate in this tour by Drew Myron, poet and publicist. Drew keeps a gorgeous blog at Off the Page. Thank you, Drew.
1. What are you working on?
I’m working on the amplification of moonlight and a kind of belligerent mind-cinema. There’s a baseball backstop I felt very sorry for as a child and I’m trying to make it up to it. One day not long ago I saw a squat cream-colored ceramic bowl that I wanted to be more than anything, and I am working on that.
2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?
It’s less famous.
3. Why do you write?
I don’t think too much else is really worth the time, even though my e-wastebasket is wadded with sorrow. For me writing is a way to escape my body, my looks, my circumstances, the stupid desk I am sitting at. Even my fate is not safe.
4. What is your writing process?
I wish I knew. I take small bites because I have a full time job, two kids and a dog that demands walking. I am also a chain worrier. I try not to get too distracted, though distraction entertains.
Mostly I read and let that inspire me. Poetry, prose, sentences, the dictionary. Besides reading, I like misreading because reading madman where it says madam reveals another possible world.
The tour now noodles on with Kathleen Kirk. According to the rules, I should tag two people, but since Kathleen is a poet, editor, wife, mother, neighbor and all around interesting person, I am counting her as two.
I’ll be off yodeling in Switzerland this weekend, the land I hate to love. I complain often about the country that separates us from Italy with its overpriced everything and inconvenient currency. But whenever I arrive it’s so amazingly gorgeous that I chide myself for being petty. Anyway,
Not to miss Mother’s Day! Here’s a photo from 1996 that says motherhood is not an endless feast of cuteness and bubbling good moods. It is also isolation, doubt and enormous, eternal inconvenience. Rather like Switzerland. (That baby is also gorgeous.)
Escape into Life was kind enough to include one of my poems, Dear Scum, in a poetry feature this month on motherhood. The poem was a reaction to a pornographic letter and drawings a disgruntled schoolmate of my then 8- or 9-year old daughter left on our doorstep. Certainly exercised my motherly outrage that day, week, month and pretty much year. There! I broke the “don’t-explain-your-work rule.” You'll live.
The Son by Phillip Meyer. One cover blurb says “Remarkable,” and a remarkable thing is when sitting at my desk with the book in my peripheral vision I keep trying to grab the cloud on the cover. It looks like a tissue I wadded up and left there.
Why are you reading this book?
A ex-colleague recommended it to me, and our tastes overlap, at least in the areas of masculine voice preferences and depraved violence.
What is The Son about?
It’s kind of like the song ‘I’m My Own Grandpa,’ but with Texas vegetation and hostages.
What genre is it?
Family Saga - Revisionist History - Adventure - Stockholm Syndrome - Cowboys & Indians & Mexicans
And what did you read before starting The Son?
The Siege of Krishnapur by J.G. Farrell, whom I have mixed up many a time with J.G. Ballard. Two Different Guys.
What kind of book is that?
It’s a Demise of the Empire story about a ragtag bundle o’ Brits in India who suffer an extreme lack of self-awareness, in addition to cholera.
Did you like it?
I admired it. Despite the poor defenses portrayed, every sentence was built like a tank. I wouldn’t call it gripping. There are some good characters, without there being too much character development.
After weeks of sunshine we finally got our rain and wind. With everything gone wet and green, the wind is like a big swirling and mixing. I love the sound and the blur. They mowed the grass at the park, too, without raking, so it’s a great mush over there, an olfactory munchie.
Anyway, thank whatever it’s Friday. I’ve got some poems up at Right Hand Pointing in an issue of just three poets. Very happy to be included - I almost didn’t submit. On the last or second to last day I said oh just go ahead and was so lucky.
One rarely reads about one’s own voice in writing, so it was good to read the editor’s take: "(she) is wry; she tells it slant. Her poems are on their way somewhere. They will cast you a sidelong glance and a half-smile, before passing on."
I caught a cold. I thought I could fight it with vitamins. And coffee. But I succumbed. I have a headache, a sore throat and two eyeaches. Not to mention unwashed hair.
I looked at a diagram showing what happens when you sneeze. It showed the nose, mouth, eyes, chest and lungs. And the “sneezing center in the brain stem.” That’s a place.
But really, doesn’t the whole body participate in sneezing, even the hair? Usually there’s some tilting at the waist or great full-body shudder. The shoulders pull up in a shrug. The considerate also use a hand to cover the mouth and nose, hopefully equipped with a tissue.
Anyway, having a cold is a good way to get out of doing a whole bunch of stuff I don’t want to do, like sitting through a four-hour opera. I am its prisoner. It would be a lie to say there’s no pleasure in it.
“Despair itself, if it goes on long enough, can become a kind of sanctuary in which one settles down and feels at ease.” – Charles-Augustin Sainte-Beuve
“At times it is strangely sedative to know the extent of your own powerlessness.” – Erica Jong
Realized: In 1900s Paris what a woman needed most of all was a good hat
Dreamed: I was at a camp or vacation spot with a group of people I only vaguely knew & when I woke up in the (dream) morning they were sitting in a semi-circle waiting for me to empty the dishwasher & fold the laundry & I was like I already have a family & began angrily throwing their clean clothes into a pile on the sand.
After surveying my younger (than me) colleagues, I acknowledge that - as suspected - half of them do not wear wristwatches. No, they rely on their cell phones to tell the time. Nor do they use alarm clocks, instead keeping their phones on the nightstand, set for 7 with their favorite ringtone, which changes capriciously. They don’t know what their favorite ringtone is. They don’t worry about batteries running out, or contracts expiring. Their minds are free.
I, on the other hand, am attached to my wristwatch. Sometimes I sleep with it on because it is so handsome. It’s not even self-winding - I must remember to jig the little knob back and forth to wind it. It doesn’t contain any apps; it doesn’t measure the temperature; it doesn’t store phone numbers, or know where the nearest Chinese restaurant is. It doesn’t do anything but tell time. I lash it to my wrist every morning like a sail to a boat, and no wind, no tidal wave, no change of fashion will remove it.