Friday, December 16, 2011

Another day another, ahem, learning opportunity.

Got an email today from a big deal journal asking me to write a review essay. It's on a new book that addresses a (the?) topic near to my heart. Indeed, it's by the Scholar Formerly Known as my Nemesis. Of course I jumped at the chance, dazzled (and let's be honest, flattered) as I was by having been asked in the first place.

And now I have to actually, you know, write a review essay. Guess I'd better learn the conventions of that odd genre. Shit.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

In praise of difficulty, part two.

One of my students came to my office today, this last day of the term. She is graduating, and this morning made the last trip to campus that she will have to make in her college career.

She lives high in the mountains, in a rural outpost of Wyoming, a full state away from my institution. She has a ranch there. During the summer she clears firelines for the forest service. Otherwise, she's been in school, which makes for some long days. Every morning she wakes up at 330 to start getting the cattle fed. They sledge out the hay to the far-flung herd. It takes 3 or 4 hours. At 530 on her class days, Tues and Thurs, she gets on the road and starts driving, so that she can make a 930 class. She stays all day, hitting the library between classes to do her research. Then when her last class ends in late afternoon, she drives back up to the ranch. Sometimes her truck breaks down, because sometimes extreme cold can make an engine uncooperative, and in many spots out here in the region where we live, there's no cell phone service, so she has a full truck-repair box. Sometimes the winds blow snow over the roads. She takes heat and food, just in case. And then she does it again the next week.

Today, she got a little choked up in my office because she was so damn proud of herself for, as she put it, sticking with her dream to graduate from college. A couple of men in her family had been to college, she said, but no women--the men didn't see any need for their wives to go to college, and so they didn't. She said that she was proud to have spited all those generations of "controlling men," and was proud to be the first women to earn a college degree. And proud to have done it on her own terms, balancing the demands of school against, or with, the demands of the life she's chosen to pursue. And the difficulty of her endeavor was both intellectual and physical, the very topography an impediment to her intentions.

And then she thanked me for teaching a difficult class, because she knows that the only things she's ever valued in life are the things that she's struggled to achieve.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

That blows.

By which I mean, the wind. Which hit 100 mph in these parts last night around 3am. What was that crashing noise that shocked me from my slumbers? As it turns out, the fence demarcating my backyard, or rather, the fence formerly demarcating my backyard and currently demarcating hither and yon, the general breadth and depth of the gale. If our inland hurricane stops tomorrow, I guess I'm going to have to go build myself a fence in the next few weeks...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bloxistential crisis

So. Not a lot of blogging of late. And I'm not really feeling exercised about that. I'm not really sure what this blog is for anymore. As you may recall, I started it as a valve for book-writing anxiety. But now my book has been burnt down and reborn and rebuilt and submitted and somewhere along that way the anxiety got jettisoned. I'm not really interested in journaling, and even if I were to treat this blog as a journal, my days are pretty much all the same, as I imagine all of our days are, and those departures from routine are probably more interesting as experiences than as reports anyway. I could blog about academia and its issues, but other bloggers do that far better and with far more thoroughness than I have interest or time to do. I could blog about teaching, but what's to say?: I love teaching, and, Grading takes time. I could easily focus on the food-porn, but again, other people already do that well and also I won't trouble myself to take pictures and besides I run out of interest and it starts to sound like I'm just congratulating myself on eating good things. (On tap for tonight: pumpkin gnocchi with a browned butter and brown sugar sauce, raisins, and crisp-fried sage leaves.) I could de-anonymize and turn this blog into some sort of PR organ to complement my real website, but I don't actually care about the Po-Biz, so I'm not sure what I'd say beyond promoting readings which my website already does.

The thing is that I have really valued the perspective of folks I've got to know through this blog, and I'd hate to lose that. But it's hard to justify the time-expenditure of blogging, and hard to commit to making a public utterance that's worth someone else's reading time.

Maybe I'll just stop feeling like this is an obligation, and post something when I feel moved to do so.

Saturday, October 29, 2011


12 quarts of grape juice bottled and stored. Next up: apples.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

From the Department of Shortsighted Civic Zoning

Just got back from Neruda-town, where on the main thoroughfare there is a crematorium next door to the Holocaust Museum.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

My last month.

Grade, grade, race to keep up with reading for my classes, grade, homework with kids, grade, sneak time to write, grade, five days with Neruda here, catch up in both grading and reading after that pleasant but ill-timed lull, grade, get neutered, grade, cook some amazing soups, grade, finish conclusion, send manuscript off to cool editor at Big UP, grade, skydive.

* I don't mean to be crass or glib or TMI re: the "get neutered" thing; I had this procedure done, relatively recent in development, technically called "permanent transcervical sterilization." So noninvasive, such quick recovery (which is to say, immediate), and so freaking humane. I think its development constitutes a real and qualitative advance in women's reproductive health, and I'm really, really impressed. I have this impulse to let all the women know about it, because I wouldn't have known it existed if I didn't go digging for options.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Conclusion musings

No one really writes on Herrick, and no one really has for years. He's so out of critical fashion. Why is that? The poetry seems too cute, too playful, too much like "light" verse?

Thom Gunn used to say that Herrick is the English poet most perfect in his craft.

Friday, September 16, 2011


Okay, so I bought myself a little time to write a real conclusion. Actually, that phrasing makes it sound like it was some kind of effort. I explained that my conclusion wasn't done, and the editor said, in effect, no big deal, send the whole thing when you're done. So that's what I'll do.

I'm going to try to impose, again, the paragraph-a-day rule that has served me well in the past. I only have to produce about 20 more pages, so it shouldn't even take more than three or four weeks. But have I mentioned: The. Grading. Oh. My. Lord. The. Grading.

Those people who can churn out fully-formed articles during the school year? During a semester? They're freaks.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011


And just for the record, I remember well the night this was originally broadcast. I was glued to it. Glued, I say.

Sunday, September 11, 2011


I am haunted by the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. In college, I had been a student leader of Amnesty International, and I had involved myself pretty actively in a number of international circumstances of injustice. I was not naive about the inhumanity that raged among the ranks of humanity, but still I watched that terrible mass-murder unfold over its hundred days with a mixture of astonishment and rage and horror and impotence. The Hutus were killing Tutsis in Uganda. Thousands of them, indiscriminately, to say nothing of the brutal ancillary violence against women. Every day. Until almost a million people had been butchered. A million in a hundred days. But nobody did anything. No jets were scrambled. Many days, it wasn't even a topic on the nightly news. And what was I going to do, big shot former human rights organizer that I was?-- Really, I was just a 23-year-old kid in a politically inconsequential section of the country, vaguely headed for grad school, with no money, no connections, no army at my disposal. I could only watch, futilely, dumbly. It still makes me physically sick to think of it.


When 9/11 happened, I was living in California. I had an infant. Every night I turned off the phones so no one could wake us early, sleep-deprived as we all were. I didn't really have time to watch television. By the time I knew that anything had happened in New York or Washington or Pennsylvania, it was after 10am Pacific time--1pm on the east coast. In other words, I didn't experience the events of that day in progress. I didn't have the jolt to the guts at the realization that something terribly wrong was unfolding before my eyes. I didn't have the transfixed numbness of watching the towers fall. I didn't know anyone who worked in any of those places. I didn't even know anyone who lived in those places. It was, in many ways for me, like a television show--a narrative I didn't feel I had any right to claim ownership over or sentimentalize, because I had and continue to have no more personal connection to the events of 9/11 than I had to the events in Rwanda. And if I allowed myself to grieve fully over Rwanda, the scope of it would incapacitate me.


Over this past weekend I attended a performance of John Adams' majestic piece "On the Transmigration of Souls." Adams was commissioned to write the piece after 9/11. It's a discomfiting and beautiful work, filled with city noise and lamentation and also anger and discord, and also transcendent hope. As I was sitting there in the great symphony hall, I thought that what that music resembled more than anything else in my aesthetic experience was a cathedral of sound. All echo and aspiring and sonic contradiction with a fundamental through-line of drone. It's not, at the end of the day, a work about 9/11. It's about the tension between the urge to monumentalize and the ephemerality of mortal life. It valorizes the cry without pretending to efficacy.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

No mojo

So I brought home a batch of diagnostic short research papers from one of my classes on Thursday afternoon... And haven't looked at them since. I cannot work up the energy to deal with these papers. I so do not have the Eye of the Tiger, and it's only the second week of the semester, of the academic YEAR, for crying out loud.


If only someone would come do all the laundry, and wash my damned dishes.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Publishing bleg

Hey all--a quick question, hoping that your collective wisdom can give me some direction. I've almost finished polishing and ligamenting this book manuscript together, and I think I'll make my goal to mail it out the day after Labor Day. But there yet remains a glaring hole in the pages: I haven't written my conclusion. Though I frame it out tentatively in my proposal/abstract, I haven't actually produced the pages. In part, I've wanted to wait until I heard back from some reviewers, so make sure that what I'm thinking the conclusion ought to do aligns with a potential publisher's vision of what the book does and how it should wrap up. So it's not laziness on my part so much as perhaps overdeveloped circumspection.

Folks who've been through this process: should I worry? Should I attempt to bang out a fast and necessarily slapdash conclusion, or should I just acknowledge that it's still germinating?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Props. (Warning: sentimentality ahead.)

I've wanted to write this post for a while, but I didn't want anyone out there in the blogosphere to think that it was a response to any post s/he may have written. It's really not. I guess I feel like I need to say that because there's a way in which someone who's had a different life experience than mine might feel like I'm smug, or lecturing, or dismissive. I hope I'm none of those things.

What I am, and what I've been increasingly over the course of the last couple of years, is grateful for my parents, and the rest of my immediate fam.

I'm very, very lucky to have been raised in a family that genuinely enjoys all its members. My ex-husband used to say, amused, "You guys like each other pathologically." When I was growing up, I liked best to hang out with my family, and with the cousins that were attracted by my parents' gravitational pull of fun and acceptance. I didn't go through that teenage phase where my parents were stupid and I preferred my friends, nor really did my siblings. During hard and awkward adolescent years, I withdrew into the safety of that family circle. My parents' home was the house in which all the friends--mine, and my siblings'--congregated. My parents and sibs played games until the wee hours of the morning and went midnight sledding with my high school buddies and me. My parents took in at least three of my younger brother's friends when those boys' own families had invited them to leave.

I took my current job in part because I could live near my parents. When I finished my PhD, I had one child, and was planning that one more was in the future, and I wanted my kids to know their grandparents, and to feel the same sense of support and love that I had received. And when I split up with their dad, I moved into my folks' basement for 2 years. I understand that this situation would have been impossible for many people. For me it was a godsend, and a great blessing to have that grounding place to land when my world was falling down.

In this year, the year of my fortieth birthday, I've realized that for all my stress and striving and work-related anxiety, I am pretty much content, centered. Happy. An academic friend was visiting this past weekend and sent me an email afterward in which she expressed appreciation for my ability to just, you know, be happy--an ability she felt was connected to this fundamental sense of well-being and support that I've been gifted with my whole life.

And she's right. And I have felt the need to give credit where it's due for many, many months. So there it is: three cheers for all the good peeps who growed me, and whose example I aspire to meet as I raise my kids.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What's that burning smell?

Ah, yes. That's my ass on fire. Back now from Nerudaland, I find myself plummeting headlong into a new academic year. Syllabi to write. Articles with end-of-summer deadlines. And what?--a book manuscript to whip into swift shape.

The whole thing is pretty much drafted (except for the conclusion, which I feel may need to wait until I get some external perspective from a reader or two), but the chapters need polishing, ligamenting together, and in a couple of cases, several pages of expansion/ restatement of contribution to whole project.

So I'm on it. Banging away at the computer keys, to the neglect of swamp cooler repair and weed-encroached garden. I'm hoping to get this book in the mail to that editor by Labor Day.

Hope you all transition into this new year with minimal administrative stupidity.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Well, that's a coincidence.

Overheard at dinner the other night, from a neighboring table filled with stereotypically obnoxious American tourists:

"Who was St. Francis of Assisi?! He was this really famous Franciscan monk."

Sunday, August 7, 2011

We interrupt this vacation....

So here I am minding my own business in a little medieval hill town in Nerudaland (did I mention that Neruda concludes his exile in TWO WEEKS?!, which will mean that we can return to our regular cross-country commuter marriage after a year of our jetsetting intercontinental marriage), and I get an email from that Big Name UP editor with whom I met at MLA saying he's read my proposal and sample chapter and is very interested and wants to consider the whole manuscript. Totally unexpected, because as I have said that press tends toward more theoretical projects than the one I'm doing, big Game Changer books. So I'm surprised, and to be honest I still doubt very much that they will take the book, but it's gratifying to know that the proposal shows well. The downside is that the real world has now intruded into my food-stuffed idyll, and my brain is now half-agog at, say, cathedral art and the best gelato I've ever put in my face and half scurrying around trying to figure out how I need to get this manuscript in submittable shape in a timely fashion. So yay! and crap.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Now, where'd I put my A-game? I swear it's around here somewhere....

This essay I'm working on was going breezily enough until I got the email with the list of contributors to the volume, and suddenly it has become much, much more important to produce a solid piece of scholarship. Which is unfortunate, because I've sort of weighted my summer increasingly on the non-academic side of things, and am enjoying that very much indeed, thank you.

Okay, RG. Focus. Focus.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Rage, rage: race results

So, that mercifully night-scheduled half-marathon was last night. So fun. SO FUN. I think I may have to seek out more aggressively the nighttime races. It was, for me, just like going for a run like I always do at night, except that more people started off at the same time. Everyone wearing elaborate arrangements of glow-sticks and necklaces. And out on the course, away from the more populated start- and endpoints, it was surreal and a little psychedelic to see these disembodied glow-accoutrements bouncing along in the dark air. Fun, fun.

My goal was to finish in 100 minutes. I missed my goal by 5 minutes (dang!--I hit this wall around mile 11 and slowed down until around mile 13) (but I did run my first 7 miles in 49 minutes, which makes me happy). Still, I did come in around 40th out of a field of 1500. I was the 8th woman to finish, and placed second in my division. Of course, as you will recall, my division is now the over-40 set. So, among all those women who are not going gentle into that good night, I am going the second least gently.

I'm going on Google now to see when and where I can do this again.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Greetings from the actual world.

So last year, really, was the year that wasn't. From the time my leave started April 10 2010 to the time I started teaching again in January 2011, I spent every free minute I had at this computer drafting my book. I didn't hike, really, other than maybe a time or two with the things. I didn't ski. I didn't watch movies. (I haven't seen many movies since I had Thing 1, to be honest.) I didn't do anything. I said, "All those things will wait until I finish this @*$%S book."

This summer, I have decided that I could dribble away all the minutes of my life at this computer. So. I bought myself my first bike since I was, like, preteen. The technology has advanced since then! It has gears and shocks! And I've been riding it EVERYWHERE! Also, have been rockclimbing much. Also, will be skydiving in a couple of weeks. Also, going back to Nerudaland for one last visit before he returns from exile. And then there was the extendo-camping-hiking-fishing-mountain-to-desert-trip from which I posted photos last post.

And guess what? I'm still getting work done. I'm still productive. I'm not, you know, drafting a book or anything, and I haven't been writing every day, but certainly making good progress, working consistently (if not obsessively) on my 2nd article for the summer. And I don't think I'll hit this fall semester feeling like I got run over by a truck, for a change.

I got so focused on the checklist for a while there that I forgot to have a life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Some summer.

Some fishing. Some hiking. Some scenery. Some olfactory-identification of the trees. Some megafauna. Some microfauna.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

80 minutes.

I don't tend to run distance races, because I don't (can't) run in the morning: I'm not a morning person, never have been, and I don't do well in heat/sun (headaches, overheating). But there's this halfmarathon in two weeks that starts at 10pm. So I figured I'd do a long run tonight, and if my time was okay, I'll enter the race. It'd be fun. And cool. And dark. And I ran 10 miles in 80 tonight. Not Olympic quality, to be sure, but I'm not technically trying to qualify for the Olympics. And it was 100 degrees when I started (earlier than 10pm)(can you believe that shit?!)(I miss winter)(though I did go up to 9500 feet today and there were still several feet of snow, and loads of shorts-wearing skiers). And I didn't take water tonight, so I kept having to ask lawn-watering dudes to give me a drink and to water my steaming hot head. So anyway, about this race, I think I'm in. I could easily have gone 3 more tonight. I'll do a 12 next week, which should ready me well enough to eat the whole banana. (Is that a real expression? I may have just made that up. It sounds vaguely lewd, actually.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

The fun part.

As I mentioned, the Book and I are on a break right now. I've been working on an article on an entirely different subject, and what has been most amazing to me in this process is how much freaking fun I'm having! I've now finished the article and mailed it off to what I think is its appropriate home (we'll see, whatever), and I felt nothing but pleasure in mailing it off, but not in the way that would indicate a sudden unburdening, a sigh of relief. Rather, the pleasure of having written something good and then, without fanfare or crisis, finishing it.

This sensation has been, a bit, lost for me in the process of writing the Book. I have at various times felt exhausted by the Book, exasperated, overwhelmed, overmastered, and outclassed. I have at times felt like my entire human potential dangled from the Book's thin thread. And it made me forget how much pleasure there is in writing a persuasive argument about something cool you've noticed. There's something exciting about seeing some old text in a new way and drawing other folks' attentions to that new discovery.

I have another essay that I must get to work on, due at the end of the summer. And instead of feeling laden and stressed about writing it, I'm really just looking forward to it. This may be, after all, the fun part.

I may actually have landed in the right profession after all.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book report.

So it's now been some months since I posted anything about my book, I think. Perhaps since MLA. I returned from MLA to the suckerpunch of the semester, and since my term ended I've been working on an article, and I have another to write that's due before the end of summer. So my book and I are on a little bit of a break right now. Which is, I think, healthy.

If you read earlier posts, you may recall that I met with an editor from a Big UP at MLA. He was generous, thoughtful, full of both goodwill and evident care for good scholarship. He was what one hopes all academic editors are, and no matter what happens with this point I'm really happy to have had the chance to meet him, because he changed my sense of what a good editor is and does.

Our conversation was helpful, and both encouraging and daunting. What became clear over the course of our discussion of my project's argument is that my book, as it stood back in December, was at a kind of crossroads. See, I had written a book that gestured toward a very big argument--gestured so far as to propose a wildly ambitious concluding chapter that may or may not have imagined itself as surveying the entirety of poetic history to the present time. This very big argument, the kind of argument that, if I did it right, could actually be a game-changer in my field and possibly in the wider field of literary criticism, about the relationship between poetic structures and cultural systems of thought. This big argument was anchored, to that point, by a series of chapters with far narrower focus, examinations of particular writers in a particular tradition. These chapters are strong, solid pieces of argumentation, but their focus is narrow. Really, too narrow to arrive at the big game-changing argument that my proposal promised they would.

The editor in question asked to see my chapters, which was very nice, and I finally got around to sending them his way in late April. But it's pretty clear that he's really interested in publishing the Big Argument book--no surprise, given his press's roster of studies.

And here's the thing: ten years ago, it would have been crucial to my sense of self-worth to write that Big Book, to be a game-changer. But I'm not sure that my psychology requires it anymore. I am really good at textual scholarship, and my project has something very smart and important to say about the poetry I love most, the poetry that, to my mind, does influence all the rest until now. But do I need to aspire to be the Greenblatt of poetic theory? Do I really need to change any games? Really, I don't, especially knowing what it will cost me--both in time and in stress, and in the way that it would trap me in this moment of my life for unknown months or years more. I sort of need to be able to move on with my life, to put this project to bed and start working on other interests that I have, to stop being held hostage to this one set of ideas. Because really, I could keep refining and expanding these ideas--any of us could, I suspect, keep working on the ideas that rock our minds, producing ever wider and more far-reaching projects. Indeed, I can envision the arc of another version of my book, the Big version of it, can see how its argument develops and the conclusions it suggests. I see it. But to write that book would require at least a couple more years of intensive labor. Probably more, given the other responsibilities in my life.

I love this subject, and my future projects will--perhaps inevitably--be informed by the discoveries I've made while I've been working on this book (they are, in so many ways, my pet issues, the questions that drive all kinds of productivity in various genres for me). But I like my modest project. I like what I've discovered. And I'm ready to let it go.


The other press I've been in conversation with is, and has always been, my fave UP. I get a ton of use out of what they publish. I read and learn, and that seems like the kind of company one would want to keep. It's not the hugest name in UPs, but it's certainly very reputable in my field, and I really, really want to place the book there. Like, really. (Like, I'm almost afraid to type these words, not because I might jinx it but because in doing so I am admitting my desire in clear terms, which will make potential disappointment all the more profound.) As I mentioned in an earlier post, the editor there, who expressed real enthusiasm for the project many months ago when it was still in progress, died. The press just named hir replacement a month or so ago. I've emailed the new editor a whole new proposal and indicated the predecessor's interest, but really I'm starting from scratch, and I don't even have a body of existing books to give me a sense of what kind of work this new editor will be sympathetic toward. I wish I knew the magic words. I'll just have to hope that they're somewhere in my writing sample.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Stage one of grief: denial.

Went to campus today, after nearly 2 months away, for a grad thesis defense. And thank goodness I did. Got into my office to find that some kind of leak--busted pipe? rain?--had occurred. Don't know when, but clearly the damage has been going on for some time. My office smells like a low-rent English hotel. There's mold growing on shelves. And the books: well, on the upside, very few books were damaged, along with a couple of years' worth of RQ. But those books that WERE damaged: damn sam. The shelves and shelves of replaceable books are fine. What got ruined: every last one of my poetry mentor's books, each one lovingly inscribed, each one infolding all his correspondence to me over the years. And also a 19c edition of Piers Plowman that used to be owned by another dear sorta mentor friend of mine from my PhD program, the Shakespeare Sonnet guy, also lovingly gifted to me with an irreplaceable inscription. Now its cover print isn't even make-out-able through the mold.

I'm sure the library's conservation folks can fix it. Right? RIGHT?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Game on, Thing 2

Upon seeing a life-sized animatronic T-Rex today:

"I could take him."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Practical rapture

I’m not one of those who is expecting the end of the world tomorrow. My own tradition takes more a “No man knoweth the hour” approach to the whole question. But I do have to say that I’ve been surprised and a little disturbed by the cultural response to this little calendrical phenomenon. I’ve heard hostility, sarcasm, dismissal. I’ve heard these believers called “nut cases,” “superstitious” and “frauds.” “False prophets.” “Insane.” “Brainwashers.”

There’s a Jewish teaching that you should treat everyone you meet as if he or she might be the Messiah, because hey, you never know. I don’t think it would be the worst thing in the world if large or even small numbers of people behaved as if they were hoping to welcome the divine.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A poem by Thing 2, age 6

We bees,
We buzz.

We sing,
We sting.

We fly.
Good bye!

An uncanny Gwendolyn Brooks echo here, huh?

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ain't no use jiving / Ain't no use joking / Everything is broken.

Here is a list of the stuff that has gone south at my house:

1) My 4-month-old refrigerator. Had the compressor replaced Friday (yup, yesterday) and today it decided to stop freezing. Thing 1 made several trips with partly thawed food across the street to our neighbors while I mopped up a puddle of purple melt from frozen blueberries.

2) Back deck boards have started to spring up; after all these years, this year is apparently the one they have chosen to loose their screwholds on the substructure.

3) Electric lawnmower battery no longer takes a charge. Cannot mow more than 3 feet at a time before it goes dead. I can replace the battery for about $200, only slightly less than just buying a new lawnmower.

4) My bathtub is cracking. I caulked it, but reglazing is certainly in the near future, and it's possible I may need to replace it.

5) The toilet in Thing 1's bathroom won't stop running. Sometimes. Sometimes it's fine. And then it goes through phases in which it won't shut off. Yes, I've sanded the calcium deposits out of the stem. Yes, I know I need to replace the works.

6) But I'm going to have to disassemble and flush my upstairs bathroom sink first.

7) And the ballast in two of my light fixtures, which may or may not be a fire hazard..

I'm pretty self-sufficient and capable, in a handy sort of way. (Except, as we have seen, when feral beasts are concerned.) But there are times when I wish I had...not a man around the house, but another adult around the house, a partner who could, you know, at least sit on the phone with the fridge people and yell at them while I took care of one of the other crises lined up.

(And yes, I could certainly call my dad, and he'd be here in 20 minutes. For those of you who haven't had the pleasure of meeting my dad, he is MacGyver. Better: have you read James Galvin's The Meadow? [If you haven't, you should. A true modern masterpiece.] My dad = Lyle. But I really, really don't want to be the 40-year-old who has to keep calling Daddy to fix things. I do not lack skill. I do, however, lack hours in the day.) (And, at times, calm decision-making power.)

Update: dateline, 620am. Fridge part went out overnight. Must go to convenience store up the road to get ice. Thank goodness I camp and have many coolers.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger is eating comments!

I leave them, they disappear. I get them, they get swallowed up by the internet.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


Today: weeded, mowed lawn, bought vegetables for the things to plant, manured garden, mulched, cut back trees!

Tonight: homemade papardelle with morels and fava beans.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I admit that it was a stupid poll. I got an email from an eager-beaver summer-planner student asking that question, and I thought I'd throw it out there. But of course the only possible answer is, "It depends." Depends on what you're looking for, and to what use you'll put the info. I think that MS contains more rigorous scholarly investigations, but I read perfectly useful stuff--seemingly with a less grave prose style--in MQ. Maybe it's all a matter of aesthetics. MS looks heftier than MQ. Anyway. Just thought I'd toss it out there, but no catchers.

Yesterday I made my slightly-more-than-semi-annual running shoe update. And for the first time since I was 14 years old, I didn't buy Nikes. The shoe guy (who just came in 20th in a serious triathlon, by the way) said to me, "Whoa. Leaving the monster." I don't like the new Nikes: weird technology, awkward padding, bad colors, and they seem to be sizing wider than they used to. In any case, I got Asics Nimbus, which these two nights have lived up to their name. We'll see how many miles they go.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A poll.

For Ren folks and anyone else who has an opinion.

Out of curiosity, and because I'm moving toward assignments for my Milton class this fall. Which do you think is the better journal: Milton Studies or Milton Quarterly? Bonus question: Why?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dropping plates.

With all that plate-spinning, it was bound to happen.

First, I seem to have lost the final paper of one of my students. I graded it, recorded the grade, and remember it, but when I went to hand it back....nowhere to be found. Damn.

More grievously, I cannot find anywhere, at home or in my office, my reading copy of Paradise Lost. With 20 years worth of marginal notes. I don't think I'd have lent it to a student, but I have very blurry memory of the last hectic semester. I've turned my book-rooms over trying to find it. It's loss is, honestly, making me a little sick to my stomach, especially as I was going to spend the rest of the month writing an article on PL. Sure, I have other copies, but hells bells I simply can't lose the one with all my notes, cross-references, and ephemera slid in.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011


Q: What did you do today, RG?

A: Not a damn thing.

Q: Didn't you have a to-do list, as you do each and every day?

A: Yes. It had, mirabile dictu, one item on it today: call my lawnmower manufacturer to ask about a replacement part.

Q: Ah. And did you accomplish this one task?

A: Nope. Couldn't work up the energy.

Q: Did you work diligently on that article you have cooking? Fiddle with that poem you've been trying to finish since April 2010?

A: I skyped Neruda for four hours and took a nap. Later, I thawed some tomato-orange soup I'd made a few weeks back and ate it for dinner.

Q: For what time must you set your alarm tomorrow morning?

A: For the first time since January, no alarm.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Poetry month, we hardly knew ye.


Rain rains on rain
The sales manager drops her keys in a rivulet
Everything seems haplessly minor
The disabled roofer ducks into the County Offices
The don't-kid-me cop is dripping
The old man who likes Johnny Mathis is soaked
Three schoolgirls shriek amid puddles
Someone utterly obscure hauls brown plastic bags
into the bedraggled alley …
The wet poet dries slowly in a deli.

"Rain patters on the uncaring streets"
"Rain shines on the mindless black pavement"
I needed all those times of writing in effect this
even if in effect only this
"Emptiness wears the gleam of October rain"

Beauty of the knowing you are enduring (while
you get to hint you might not)
in the drizzle on the rock in the rock drizzle world

Beauty of choosing instances in the long pour

Behind the counter at Drisch Drugs
Ethel says to Marie "I brought me some crackers
and peanut butter and a banana"
Marie nods very slightly to mean "That's nice enough."

Yeah the world has its own banana
The world don't adore that poet drying off in the deli
The world brought its own crackers
Yeah the world is just its rainy drisch self

but beauty of saying so, real particular-like,
at many nice tables across this big real nation.

--Mark Halliday

Friday, April 29, 2011


This one's mostly, though not exclusively, for my Ren peeps: Who knew? (Wait for it...)

Mourning in November

A clutter of bird cries
In air deaf as concrete
When daylight is terminal.

Widows of fallen leaves
Flaunt orange lipstick,
Fooling no one.

Chattering into midnight,
I stockpile bromides:
Hard and shiny as acorns.

--Heather Dubrow

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A cool poetry collection.

Habeas Corpus, a series of 60 sonnets each based on an American execution, from the 17th to the 21st century. Here's one.

June 19, 1953: Julius and Ethel Rosenberg
Ossining, New York

Electrocution set for eight p.m.
Two hours before they took him to be prepped
the matrons asked her if she’d like to see him;
the warden said that they could take some steps
to let them talk. A screen of metal mesh
between two wooden chairs outside her cell.
Romantic. Pyramus and Thisbe, rushed
in writing letters to their kids, to tell
them Remember: we were innocent, and could
not wrong our conscience. Now we press you close
and kiss you with all our strength.
Before they stood
to go he kissed two fingers, pressed them both
against the screen, to hers: first white, then red.
Their final touch, through screen. So hard they bled.

--Jill McDonough

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance

Thus should have been our travels:
serious, engravable.
The Seven Wonders of the World are tired
and a touch familiar, but the other scenes,
innumerable, though equally sad and still,
are foreign. Often the squatting Arab,
or group of Arabs, plotting, probably,
against our Christian empire,
while one apart, with outstretched arm and hand
points to the Tomb, the Pit, the Sepulcher.
The branches o fthe date-palms look like files.
The cobbled courtyard, where the Well is dry,
is like a diagram, the brickwork conduits
are vast and obvious, the human figure
far gone in history or theology,
gone with its camel or its faithful horse.
Always the silence, the gesture, the specks of birds
suspended on invisible threads above the Site,
or the smoke rising solemnly, pulled by threads.
Granted a page alone or a page made up
of several scenes arranged in cattycornered rectangles
or circles set on stippled gray,
granted a grim lunette,
caught in the toils of an initial letter,
when dwelt upon, they all resolve themselves.
The eye drops, weighted, through the lines
the burin made, the lines that move apart
like ripples above sand,
dispersing storms, God's spreading fingerprint,
and painfully, finally, that ignite
in watery prismatic white-and-blue.

Entering the Narrows at St. Johns
the touching bleat of goats reached to the ship.
We glimpsed them, reddish, leaping up the cliffs
among the fog-soaked weeds and butter-and-eggs.
And at St. Peter's the wind blew and the sun shone madly.
Rapidly, purposefully, the Collegians marched in lines,
crisscrossing the great square with black, like ants.
In Mexico the dead man lay
in a blue arcade; the dead volcanoes
glistened like Easter lilies.
The jukebox went on playing "Ay, Jalisco!"
And at Volubilis there were beautiful poppies
splitting the mosaics; the fat old guide made eyes.
In Dingle harbor a golden length of evening
the rotting hulks held up their dripping plush.
The Englishwoman poured tea, informing us
that the Duchess was going to have a baby.
And in the brothels of Marrakesh
the littel pockmarked prostitutes
balanced their tea-trays on their heads
and did their belly-dances; flung themselves
naked and giggling against our knees,
asking for cigarettes. It was somewhere near there
I saw what frightened me most of all:
A holy grave, not looking particularly holy,
one of a group under a keyhole-arched stone baldaquin
open to every wind from the pink desert.
An open, gritty, marble trough, carved solid
with exhortation, yellowed
as scattered cattle-teeth;
half-filled with dust, not even the dust
of the poor prophet paynim who once lay there.
In a smart burnoose Khadour looked on amused.

Everything only connected by "and" and "and."
Open the book. (The gilt rubs off the edges
of the pages and pollinates the fingertips.)
Open the heavy book. Why couldn't we have seen
this old Nativity while we were at it?
--the dark ajar, the rocks breaking with light,
an undisturbed, unbreathing flame,
colorless, sparkless, freely fed on straw,
and, lulled within, a family with pets,
--and looked and looked our infant sight away.

--Elizabeth Bishop

Monday, April 25, 2011

Quick nostalgia trip.

Would you believe this is the first poem that ever blew my mind, back in high school? Probably you would.

You Fit Into Me

You fit into me
Like a hook into an eye

A fish hook
An open eye

--Margaret Atwood

I'm not sure this poem works anymore, in the way it's meant to, in the age of Velcro.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest's creases; | in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature's bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart's-clarion! Away grief's gasping, | joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world's wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Friday, April 22, 2011


And quite possibly repeating an earlier year's selection, but I don't really care.

Good-friday 1613. Riding Westward.

Let man's soul be a sphere, and then, in this,
Th' intelligence that moves, devotion is ;
And as the other spheres, by being grown
Subject to foreign motion, lose their own,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a year their natural form obey ;
Pleasure or business, so, our souls admit
For their first mover, and are whirl'd by it.
Hence is't, that I am carried towards the west,
This day, when my soul's form bends to the East.
There I should see a Sun by rising set,
And by that setting endless day beget.
But that Christ on His cross did rise and fall,
Sin had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for me.
Who sees Gods face, that is self-life, must die ;
What a death were it then to see God die ?
It made His own lieutenant, Nature, shrink,
It made His footstool crack, and the sun wink.
Could I behold those hands, which span the poles
And tune all spheres at once, pierced with those holes ?
Could I behold that endless height, which is
Zenith to us and our antipodes,
Humbled below us ? or that blood, which is
The seat of all our soul's, if not of His,
Made dirt of dust, or that flesh which was worn
By God for His apparel, ragg'd and torn ?
If on these things I durst not look, durst I
On His distressed Mother cast mine eye,
Who was God's partner here, and furnish'd thus
Half of that sacrifice which ransom'd us ?
Though these things as I ride be from mine eye,
They're present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them ; and Thou look'st towards me,
O Saviour, as Thou hang'st upon the tree.
I turn my back to thee but to receive
Corrections till Thy mercies bid Thee leave.
O think me worth Thine anger, punish me,
Burn off my rust, and my deformity ;
Restore Thine image, so much, by Thy grace,
That Thou mayst know me, and I'll turn my face.

--John Donne

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Sunflower

Ah, Sunflower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun,
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;

Where the youth pined away with desire
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go.

--William Blake

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Check out this sumptuous language surface...

God Commends His Love Unto Us, In That While We Were Yet Sinners, Christ Died For Us. Romans 5:8

Thou pry'st thou screw'st my sincking Soul up to,
Lord th'Highest Vane amazements Summit Wears
Seeing thy Love ten thousand wonders do
Breaking Sins Back that blockt it up: us snares.
The Very Stars, and Sun themselves did scoule,
Yea Angells too, till it shone out, did howle.

Poore sinfull man lay grovling on the ground.
Thy wrath, and Curse to dust lay grinding him.
And Sin, that banisht Love out of these bounds
Hath stufft the world with curses to the brim.
Gods Love thus Caskt in Heaven, none can tap
Or breake its truss hoops, or attain a Scrap.

Like as a flock of Doves with feathers washt,
All o're with yellow gold, fly all away
At one Gun crack: so Lord thy Love Sin quasht
And Chased hence to heaven (Darksom day).
It nestles there: and Graces Bird did hatch
Which in dim types we first Pen feather'd catch.

God takes his Son stows in him all his Love,
(Oh Lovely One), him Lovely thus down sends
His rich Love Letter to us from above
And chiefly in his Death his Love Commends,
Writ all in Love from top to toe, and told
Out Love more rich, and shining far than gold.

For e'ry Grain stands bellisht ore with Love,
Each Letter, Syllable, Word, Action sounde
Gods Commendations to us from above,
But yet Loves Emphasis most cleare is found
Engrav'd upon his Grave Stone in his blood
He shed for Sinners, Lord what Love? How good?

It rent the Heavens ope that seald up were
Against poore Sinners: rend the very Skie
And rout the Curse, Sin, Divell, Hell (Oh Deare,)
And brake Deaths jaw bones, and its Sting destroy.
Will search its Coffers: fetch from thence the Dust
Of Saints, and it attend to glory just.

My God! this thy Love Letter to mee send.
Thy Love to mee spell out therein I will.
And What choice Love thou dost mee there commend,
I'le lay up safely in my Souls best till.
I'le read, and read it; and With Angells soon
My Mictams shall thy Hallelujahs tune.

--Edward Taylor

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

One thing I love about poetry month

Our semester starts early, and we have no spring break, so I'm done for the summer around April 12 every year. So my little ad-hoc anthology project makes it look as if I'm a very vigorous and committed blogger, when actually I'm trapped in grading hell.

From Pamphilia to Amphilanthus


When night's blacke Mantle could most darknesse prove,
And sleepe (deaths Image) did my senses hyre,
From Knowledge of my selfe, then thoughts did move
Swifter then those, most switnesse neede require.

In sleepe, a Chariot drawne by wing'd Desire,
I saw; where fate bright Venus Queene of Love,
And at her feete her Sonne, still adding Fire
To burning hearts, which she did hold above,

But one heart flaming more then all the rest,
The Goddesse held, and put it to my breast,
Deare Sonne now shut, said she, thus must we winne;

He her obeyd, and martyr'd my poore heart.
I waking hop'd as dreames it would depart,
Yet since, O me, a Lover I have beene.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Enough with these upstarts, these whippersnappers.

From Idea


Like an adventurous seafarer am I,
Who hath some long and dang'rous voyage been,
And called to tell of his discovery,
How far he sailed, what countries he had seen;
Proceeding from the port whence he put forth,
Shows by his compass how his course he steered,
When east, when west, when south, and when by north,
As how the pole to ev'ry place was reared,
What capes he doubled, of what continent,
The gulfs and straits that strangely he had passed,
Where most becalmed, where with foul weather spent,
And on what rocks in peril to be cast:
Thus in my love, time calls me to relate
My tedious travels and oft-varying fate.

--Michael Drayton

Saturday, April 16, 2011

That Sure is My Little Dog

Yes, indeed, that is my house that I am carrying around
on my back like a bullet-proof shell and yes, that sure is
my little dog walking a hard road in hard boots. And
just wait until you see my girl, chomping on the chains
of fate with her mouth full of jagged steel. She’s damn
ready and so am I. What else did you expect from the
brainiacs of my generation? The survivors, the nonbelievers,
the oddball-outs with the Cuban Missile Crisis still
sizzling in our blood? Don’t tell me that you bought
our act, just because our worried parents (and believe me,
we’re nothing like them) taught us how to dress for work
and to speak as if we cared about our education. And
I guess the music fooled you: you thought we’d keep
the party going even to the edge of the abyss. Well,
too bad. It’s all yours now. Good luck on the ramparts.
What you want to watch for is when the sky shakes
itself free of kites and flies away. Have a nice day.

--Eleanor Lerman

Friday, April 15, 2011


My heart, my dove, my snail, my sail, my
milktooth, shadow, sparrow, fingernail,
flower-cat and blossom-hedge, mandrake

root now put to bed, moonshell, sea-swell,
manatee, emerald shining back at me,
nutmeg, quince, tea leaf and bone, zither,

cymbal, xylophone; paper, scissors, then
there’s stone--Who doesn’t come through the door
to get home?

--Cynthia Zarin

Thursday, April 14, 2011


Remember her strapped to the air,
her grey dress flapping a little?

The field mice ran beneath her feet
learning new technologies.

I don’t scare anybody, she complained,
smiling, a nest on her head.

Which was how much I loved her,
all through the harvest
and dismantling.

I am the morning dove
who nests in the gutter.

I am singing sadly to the barn.

--Matthew Zapruder

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

[my riches I have squandered. spread with honey]

a song of the prodigal son

my riches I have squandered. spread with honey
the arval bread in my pocket and nary a farthing

lived for a spell among roaches in a rickety squat
between the alcohol detox and the catholic church

peeled my plump white bottom. a sauvignon grape
[now exsiccated: the wizened sultana makes no golden cake]

crouched in the gulleys. wiped with leaves
cooked roadkill: topped with government surplus cheese

snuck in underage at club 21 (2121 21st street, long gone)
wastrel opal-throated bird: a moulting quivers along the pinion

I fear my mucus: its endless volume and amorphous shape
a demon expelling from my lips. the moon wags its tongue

each dull morning the mirror imagines me a future: older misshapen forest: stinging adder and sprawling spider

the way to haven seems interminable. I creak and shuffle
listen, you wilderness: make plain and let me pass

--D. A. Powell

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


It seems impossible that there could be
any anscestral link between the turtle—

plodding, benevolent creature they keep
in a glass terrairium—and any bird,

but once the teacher suggests it, they begin to see—
in the blunt beak stained with mulberry juice,

the low brow, the scales on its legs—certain,
if, at first, strained resemblance. Then, even

in its poor posture, they are convinced of another
sky into which ir withdraws, not to become

invisible, but to soar, fearless, inside
itself—small dome of safe, starless heaven.

--Claudia Emerson

Monday, April 11, 2011

Notes for My Body Double

The plot hole by which you must enter in
to the story is a doozy, a real humdinger,
if you will, and it is all made of fire,
the way the stars are made of fire,
though we dream them to be utterly cold
and prickly with a sad light. Nothing
ever stops in my world to hear me
singing to you. I have always loved you,
sweet twin, beloved doppelgänger,
alien lump of word in my mouth,
language I spent three years learning
only to forget when it grew too hard
the phrases that meant something:
Dear, I am your long lost butter cookie;
and, I am sorry, it was accidental,
but I have dipped the poodle in laudanum.
Let us do away with digression
for the night, though to me
it has always seemed the heart’s core,
and think on our motivation
for the lines to follow:
the suddenness of our sorrow is shocking
and the day is hollowed out
and here at this moment,
this crucial hinge of the breaking heart,
I think of the day years ago
when I was a boy and came upon my uncle,
a fish’s tail clamped in his teeth,
tearing the skin from the fish with such force
I could hear it —
and I felt so strange and empty
I have never spoken of it
to anyone, or let myself on a day
whole with sun think of it.
What he was doing, and why,
I never asked; there is never
an answer large enough for a world
so huge with meanness.
And I was pulled from myself
but couldn’t feel a thing,
and this is your motivation,
mirrored self, speaking back
the words I make wrongly,
lifting the heavy, crude lot of anything
I can’t. You must know me
exactly, apart from yourself,
to give back to the world what I can’t.
You must know the angles
of light so well the shadows
will accept you like a brother.
You must not choke back my breath
when the ashes on the wind
blind even the birds in the trees.

--Paul Guest

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Just Now

a ladybug, its carapace blown open
so a translucent trace of orange gleams
from its body, has ascended link by link
the smudgy silver curve of my watch band.
It must have helicoptered past the sill
while I was slumped here squinting in the paper
at the ashen packaging another bombing's
made of a minivan. Made available
in the photo like the homeless in a poem.
The pain is far away. But then for moments
utterly clear: molten metal guttering
down from the Milky Way to fall on us.
And sometimes, God, it lands with all its will.
My spluttered prayer for it to hold its distance:
how ludicrous to blurt it from this comfort.
Still it impels itself from me. Please stay
away from me. Please stay away from this
insectile soul who only weeks ago
was wind and shit and jasmine leaves and rain.

--Peter Campion

Saturday, April 9, 2011

from Bucolics


yes I’ve tried to hide my face
behind a tree I have been glad
to see the river run with mud
so fast it will not hold my look
but believe me Boss I can not hide
I can not muddy you I can
not chop you from my stony field
you’re like a weed you’ve got yourself
a common name but a name I can’t
forget a name like honey Boss
you pour it in my ear you pour
it in my mouth you make me say
it Boss your name it’s like a bird
that’s come to roost upon my lips
no matter what it will not stir
it sings a single note sometimes
it’s just a whisper others it’s
a shout it doesn’t matter how
I feel about it what I ant
from you is nothing Boss compared
to what you want from me you want
it all to always go your way
though I could give you daisies you
would just as soon have weeds it if
were in your favor Boss I guess
you’d prize a briar for its thorns

--Maurice Manning

Thursday, April 7, 2011

My mentor.

On such a day, I feel the urge to give a shout-out to my first mentor, without whom I'd be some sciency person, in a lab or an operating room somewhere. I am who I've become because of him.

Our Masterpiece Is the Private Life

For Jules


Is there something down by the water keeping itself from us,
Some shy event, some secret of the light that falls upon the deep,
Some source of sorrow that does not wish to be discovered yet?

Why should we care? Doesn’t desire cast its
rainbows over the coarse porcelain
Of the world’s skin and with its measures fill the
air? Why look for more?


And now, while the advocates of awfulness and sorrow
Push their dripping barge up and down the beach, let’s eat
Our brill, and sip this beautiful white Beaune.

True, the light is artificial, and we are not well-dressed.
So what. We like it here. We like the bullocks in the field next door,
We like the sound of wind passing over grass. The way you speak,

In that low voice, our late night disclosures . . . why live
For anything else? Our masterpiece is the private life.


Standing on the quay between the Roving Swan and the Star Immaculate,
Breathing the night air as the moment of pleasure taken
In pleasure vanishing seems to grow, its self-soiling

Beauty, which can only be what it was, sustaining itself
A little longer in its going, I think of our own smooth passage
Through the graded partitions, the crises that bleed

Into the ordinary, leaving us a little more tired each time,
A little more distant from the experiences, which, in the old days,
Held us captive for hours. The drive along the winding road

Back to the house, the sea pounding against the cliffs,
The glass of whiskey on the table, the open book, the questions,
All the day’s rewards waiting at the doors of sleep . . .

--Mark Strand

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

It's official.

I have SECS.

And something blue.

Bad News Blues

When Bad News comes to town, hold on to your heart.
When Bad News comes to town, the troubles start.
He’s a hit, marked with a bullet, climbing the chart.

His smile swings open like a pocketknife.
He smiles like he could slice right through a life.
Nobody’s daughter is safe. Nobody’s wife.

He plays the odds. He needs just half a chance.
Sooner or later he’ll ask you to dance.
He gets his own way like an ambulance.

He’s got your number, and he dials direct.
He’s calling you long distance and collect.
You gasp—something is wrong, somebody’s wrecked.

He’s standing outside your door. It’s quarter to three.
You know he’s out there, and it’s quarter to three.
There is no knock. He’s got the skeleton key.

--A.E. Stallings

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Something borrowed.

Ode 1.25

More rarely now the bold youths shake
your fastened windows with frequent blows,
or from you slumber steal, and the door
adores its jamb

which once moved easy on its hinges.
You hear less and less now,
“While I--yours!--through the long night perish,
Lydia, do you sleep?”

By turns, old bag, you’ll weep
your playboys’ disdain-- solitary in some nameless
alley, as the Thracian wind raves up
beneath the dark moon,

while blazing love and desire, which stokes
to flame the mares, savages
around your pock-marked heart--
and not without complaint

because the laughing young cocks delight more in ivy
verdant and myrtle dark, leaving
parched fronds to the east wind,
the consort of winter.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Yesterday: something old. Today: something new.

Letter to the Pistolsmith

As I watched my dog roll inside the ribcage of a long-dead cow I thought of you. Your name escapes me, but please allow me to describe the cow: she was half a ribcage, really, and rented hide. As for color, you may assume splotches, black- or brown-and-white, but you must picture my yellow dog ecstatic inside of her. I smelled what it was that the cow was becoming and although the spires of her ribcage had been picked prettily clean, it may only have been a matter of weeks. She had been found. Some explanation as to the matter of the dog's ecstasy escaped me, but I wanted it (happiness, I mean). As for myself, I have my own immaculate ribcage, a one-room schoolhouse, and even though I (I admit) have been picked at as if by beaks, I am not so tattered. We met once. You talked of metal, wood and mother-of-pearl, but I was distracted with my death. What I mean to say is that I never knew your name, but I understood the thing you said about happiness, what it meant, even temporarily, like an oyster with a pearl. I am certain you meant the gun, but I was distracted because I wanted to be a mother. In your workroom the rain was made of metal, I was being hit by triggers. Your workroom limned by by barrels black as a river a cow dies beside. What was that thing you said about the body? I am certain you meant the gun, but I was distracted because I wanted description and the gun had already been described.

--Cecily Parks

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Back to the beginning

Even if you don't speak OE, there's something really beautiful, and bodily, about the sounds here. Say them out loud!

Caedmon's Hymn

Nu sculon herigean heofonrices weard,
meotodes meahte and his modgeþanc,
weorc wuldorfæder, swa he wundra gehwæs,
ece drihten, or onstealde.
He ærest sceop eorðan bearnum
heofon to hrofe, halig scyppend;
þa middangeard moncynnes weard,
ece drihten, æfter teode
firum foldan, frea ælmihtig.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Don't overlook the front matter

Here's a poem from a recent collection whose title I adore: Aim Straight at the Fountain and Press Vaporize.

Instructions for Inhabiting a Miniature World

Somewhere in da Vinci’s notebook lies an earth that can’t be flattened. When you find the fairy you must speak to him, in Latin. Demonstrate your expert knowledge of the forest and your urge to decorate his nook with odd-shaped, dimpled pearls plucked from the rings of widows. He will crinkle his small face. “But I am just a mannikin. I don’t like playing games upon the bridge-too-far.” Then you will disappear into the cool sfumato of his vale and the things inside his leery gaze will twitch their iridescent horns. The inflection of his words will do a dance around the crude gleam of your evening English as it rusts in chunky piles. Amo, amas, amat. Flirtatiously, you’ll try to utter sounds that will explode his world into abstractions. But all you have are nouns and birds torn from the sky by winds so strong they turn the recto into verso: a rabbit’s foot, a lake of blood, a root system that dives below the underbrush to penetrate the forest floor bidding us to join the revels in extended metaphors.

--Elizabeth Marie Young

Friday, April 1, 2011

Let the Poetry Month festivities begin! [fanfare]

In what has become a minor tradition here in the land of Green Thoughts, I'll try to post a poem a day during the month of April. In the crunch of the semester, I'm always happy to have the gracious distraction of poetry month, in part because this little 30-day anthology project of mine is a nice way for me to focus on pure pleasure.

Here's one that recently appeared in Slate. You can go listen to a reading of it on the Slate site, or just enjoy it in silence here, though it's not so much a silent poem.

The Rooster King: East of the Western Fence

And lo, the Rooster King, how he slums like the Lord!
And lo, the Rooster King, how he chases from these vacant lots the lesser, more domestic, cocks!
And lo, the Rooster King, how he spreads, as gasoline,
His wings, O, stained-glass butterfly!

Even half-blind, his right eye burned
Out with a cigarette, is he not the rocket and the rocket
Launcher? Does he not walk, as Caesar, robed
In lightning, his tail feathers,

Phosphorescent, flinging out
Like tracer fire? He is Fat Sam, Lord of the Gorgeous, the Ayatollah of Osceola,
The Phoenix of the Vinegar Works! He throbs
Like a cut throat and doesn't

Bleed. And when he bleeds,
He bleeds whiskey—Fighting Cock: 103-proof Kentucky Straight
Bourbon—the light of the world.
The light of the world:

Ruined. Magnificent; ferocious, gorgeous—
So what? You think he's afraid of fire? He wasn't born; he was forged.
He's the napalm love letter, the sweetheart
Carpet bomb, the 1967 Pontiac

With a straight-6, single-barrel
Boot in the face. No ram unto
The shackle, this bantam assassin, his death-red hackles flaring like a funeral pyre.
He's the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Wound 'round with barbed wire, the crucified
Christ tattooed on the back of a contract killer.

Lo and


--Jay Hopler

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Greetings from Nerudaland.

What I'm not doing: teaching, looking at a clock, thinking about professional anything, worrying about my to-do list, keeping a to-do list.

What I'm doing: eating, walking all over the damn land, viewing spectacular limestone massifs and considering which one to scale, eating, going for lovely runs in the mornings (a new and pleasant sensation: seeing my surroundings while running), and eating.

See you on the flipside, yo.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Chop wood, carry water.

So I seem to have been awarded an honor. A fellowship, technically. No, not that one, the one whose very nickname might calm down my self-doubt for more than a week. Still, it is an instant-name-recognition fellowship, whose recognition cuts across disciplines. I say "seem to" because the fellows need to be officially ratified by the trustees of the institution of patronage before it's all officially official. I will, I think, refer to this honor henceforth as the Sidney/Essex Circle Support, because there's a beneficent family philanthropy thing in play, and because it acronymizes to SECS, and suggests thereby some pleasure.

When I first heard, I was totally shocked. Stunned. Never thought I had a shot, but as I've said before, you can't hit the target if you don't throw the dart. So I threw the dart.

But that initial exhilaration has given way, in the days since, to a more settled kind of acceptance. I'm pleased, certainly, to have my work supported, and even more pleased to know that the stuff I do in the hermetic solitude of my own intense mind actually resonates beyond my head. That's cool. But it's also, at some level, just good luck that the panel that reviewed my work looked favorably upon it. It could have been a different bunch of people, readers with a different set of aesthetics. It doesn't mean I'm a different person, or a better person, or a better writer, or a more deserving writer, than I was before it landed on me. Sometimes you hit a target.

A couple of weeks ago, I was buried in grading, exhausted by housework, by that unending damn pattern of laundry, of washing the dirty dishes and shelving the clean ones, spending way more time than I should putting this stupid conference together. Not enough time to shovel snow off the whole driveway so I do two parallel wheel-trails from street to garage. Need to get some boots resoled but haven't made it to the cobbler. Getting no scholarly writing done, but circling around a new project, an article I hope to write this summer if I can get out from under this term; squeezing out a line or two of poetry a week while I'm running, as usual. Now, having gotten me some SECS, my life looks.... well, pretty much the same. And will be for the foreseeable future, because this is the life that I've chosen: the teaching, the momming, the researching, the writing. It's just what I do, and what I hope to continue doing until I can't stand up anymore, and beyond.

I'm glad that the heady initial rush of surprise has given way to perspective. Work goes on. The work goes on, whether it gets accompanied by a fanfare or proceeds in silence. And I'm glad that I'll have been living happily with that knowledge for some weeks by the time it becomes official and there are receptions to attend and various folks wanting to discuss it with me as if it were hype worth believing.


Speaking of the Sidney/Essex Circle, next week I'll stop in at one of the patronage family's modest little bungalows, maybe run my fingers over the garden waterwall, because Imma be heading with Neruda to see La Boheme at La Fenice. Then north to do high-altitude things around here:

Then, after I do a lecture thingy at Neruda's Compound of Exiles, we'll head south to hang out around here:

Now that's worth getting excited about!

Monday, February 28, 2011



Are you freaking kidding me?!!!

(Very, very good news, of the as-yet-unofficial kind.)

(No. Not about the scholarly book. [Sigh.] The other stuff.)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Vanity sizing in action

Having been given a gift card for my birthday for new clothes, I set out today to The Gap. Longtime readers will recall that I don't shop. I hate to do it. I avoid stores if at all possible. So I hadn't encountered this particular phenomenon.

Grabbed some pants in size 8 Long and 10 Long to see what would work. These seem like more or less the size I should wear. But the 10 drowns me. And then the 8 does too. And I ask the attendant, with real confusion, if they're mislabeled. And she says that they're certainly not, and retrieves for me a 6 Long. They fit, a bit loosely but fine. Now, I'm athletic, but I'm not tiny like that, and I'm tall besides, and I have not been a SIZE SIX since GRADE SIX. Clearly, The Gap wants me to feel very self-satisfied and reassured in my artificially tiny clothes.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The hiring thaw

Like many institutions, mine is beginning to be released from the clench of a hiring freeze. This year, though we have an astonishing three lines at our disposal, we're pursuing one candidate quite vigorously, because s/he works in a field where we have developed real need because of recent retirements and faculty moves, and because s/he is pretty amazing--already constructing an active professional profile, well-published, and thoughtfully imagining syllabi both inside and outside hir specialization (one class this candidate has spoken with me about verges on one of my fields, and it would be a very exciting and very welcome addition to our department's offerings).

Still, I'm surprised to have heard some comments on both sides of the hiring process about the thaw climate. Some of our institution's faculty have said, "Great! Now that we can hire, let's just get bodies into lines and secure them all up!" Such a response is shortsighted, of course, but it's a natural one when one feels (rightly or no) oneself to have been deprived for any time. I have no interest in hiring anyone but highly competitive candidates, and if the candidates we most want end up taking another job..., well, in the immortal words of Ian McCulloch, "that's the way the bee bumbles/ that's the way the thunder rumbles," and we'll search again next year. And keep searching until we hire someone who is both good for us and good full stop. Why pursue mediocrity for the sake of a line? (Aside from the hiring freeze, we haven't had any lines seized from us in my memory, if at all.) It's such an embattled sense of institutional identity to cultivate, and I'm not sure that my institution prompts it--it's not got a tyrannical use-it-or-lose-it mentality toward TT lines.

More surprising are some comments I overheard at MLA this year, from shiny PhDs or near-PhDs jumping into the market fray. Said one: "Departments will be especially desperate this year now that their hiring freezes are lifting." Said hir interlocutor, "Yes, our chances are so much better than if we'd gone on the market before the recession." These kids seem to be involved in a folie a deux with my shortsighted colleagues, and while I don't think that such a view would necessarily make grad students feel like they don't need to be competitive in order to conquer ailing and desperate departments, it certainly follows from the logic here.

What I'd say: our hiring committee is getting much more careful, much more selective, in part because it's still a buyer's market; lots of PhDs came out from their programs during the bad, bad years. Some of them took postdocs and are readying to reapply, having spent some years writing and publishing. Some of them have been teaching widely, and have very smart things to say about pedagogy, and about the interdependence of their teaching and their research. And in part we're being very selective because we want the investment to be a long term one, with lots and lots of payoff. We want new hires to outshine the folks they're replacing, not merely fill their lines.

I'm not actually writing this to put the fear of God into folks on the market--most of them have plenty of that already--but rather to register this point as it affects me. Because, you know, it's all about me. I have a very good job, but not the job I want to die in, and I'm perpetually aware of what I'd look like if I decided to throw my hat in for a job at another institution. I'm running as fast as I can to stay competitive in two fields, and while I'm doing okay on the CW side of things, on the Renaissance side my scholarly book still isn't out in the world, nor even contracted, and I'm worried that with every passing month I'm looking less and less like the good long investment for the selective hiring committee. (Note: I'm not seeking pep talks or compliments here, folks; just trying to deliver a snapshot of Associatehood.) Would I hire me? The more time passes, the more I doubt, and the more I start to hope I'd get a "Fill the line!" committee.

Now, I'm not on the market, and because of my shared custody, I'm not going to be on the market anytime soon, except to the one institution in my virtual backyard for which I'd gleefully trade in my 50-mile commute. (And even after my kids are grown, the geographical boundaries of my aspiration are tight: I need mountains and snow and dry barrenness and westernness and some vegetarian restaurants, and there are pretty much three towns to which I'd move from my present happy seat.) I just want to be solid on paper if that job, wherever it is, should ever open up--to be as competitive a candidate as I can be knowing that expectations just keep going up. Because from my standpoint, the thaw doesn't mean a warm rushing torrent of hiring, it means the icy trickle of discrimination.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Mental health weekend.

I am getting my ass well kicked. The grading, the grad mentoring, the conference organizing, the teaching, the momming, the new project for which the publisher needs some material (no, not that project--I'd have told you; something else), the endless scholarly book project that has been backburnered but lingers in my consciousness (yes, I have bloggable thoughts on that subject, but no time to construct a real post).

Friday night I got home from playing host to a visiting writer, and put on my running clothes, and proceeded to watch a mindless action movie on the couch while eating fruit and yogurt. I didn't go running. I sat on the couch, and then I went to bed and finished an Icelandic mystery. Saturday I woke up late and went XCskiing for several hours--30 or 40Kish. Then went to see the stupid recentest Harry Potter movie at the $1 theater. Then made myself an outrageously decadent pappardelle with wild mushroom cream sauce, went running, got my kids from their dad, and went to bed. Today: no grading, and the week looming up on me. Tomorrow, I'm going to make cookies with the boys. I can't quite locate the energy to process all the piles of professional crap in front of me. I'm sure I will, but this weekend I can't get worked up about it.

One month to Nerudaland.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

A haiku by Thing 1

The syllable comes
And then the syllable goes.
The poor syllable.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Surefire poemkiller:

Reading reams of shitty undergrad poetry.

I swear I remember writing some decent lines, but interposing itself between me and cool words is this pearl:

"you either give up,
give up and fall into a cold, dark embrace
or fight back."

(That's an approximation, but you get the idea.)
I need to floss my brain.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Now we're cooking.

Personal and professional overscheduling recently = no kitchen time. A pity, since I really do manage to relax when I'm cooking. This week I've been making sure to make time for that outlet, and I have to say, (kisses fingers).

Sunday: French lentil soup with escarole
Monday: Sweet potato gnocchi with browned butter, crispy sage leaves, and toasted pine nuts

Today's a long day at school, and I gladly eat leftovers. Tomorrow I'll have folks over: Risotto with leeks and arugula; spinach salad with pomegranate arils, Point Reyes blue cheese, and toasted hazelnuts; flourless Meyer lemon torte.

And lest ye think I'm squandering time I should be spending reading through that giant stack of papers on Chaucer and those 4 grad theses I need to respond to in the next week, I say: I need sustenance, both body and soul.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

They have long necks.

I swear this is a true story, though every part of it does sound dubious.

For reasons that are better left unelaborated, Neruda and his fellow exiles sought recently to rent a giraffe. They called the office of an organization that advertised itself as hiring out "large exotic animals." The woman with whom they spoke said, "Well, we don't have a giraffe per se..." When Neruda wondered what that could possibly mean, she said, "We have an ostrich."

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Have they reformulated blueberries?, or, A Gastrointestinal Mystery

(NB: This post = way, way TMI. You've been warned.)

I eat mostly fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and cheese. (It's not a religion, or a fanaticism, I just don't really have a sweet tooth, and I'll happily eat stuff like white-flower tortillas and English muffins, which I make at home though I don't pretend that's for any noble reason: they're just yummier homemade.) (Indeed, all my dietary moves are because I think it's yummier.) And I eat a lot. I also drink a LOT of water.

As you'd expect, I am, as my late grandmother would have put it "very reg'lar." Like, bionic. I poop 5 or 6 times a day, usually. Twice in the morning, once after lunch, once or twice around dinner, and once after I go running. It's a system. Predictable as any other part of my daily schedule.

So why is it that in the past couple of months, I am getting arrested mid-run? Every couple of days, I'll get about three miles into my course, and suddenly I realize that it's Now. Time. To head home. Via the least circuitous route. Possibly walking with controlled breathing toward the end. I haven't changed my diet. I haven't changed my running routine. I haven't changed my sleeping schedule. But my post-run ritual is asserting itself earlier into the program.

I blame Socialists.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Never again.

I'm nearing the end of a three-year term as the president of a regional scholarly association. It has been, on the whole, a decent gig, marked by collegiality. And I think I've contributed something to the association: I've found a permanent home for our records, I've streamlined the organizational documents, I've increased our profile in the wider scholarly community by doing some joint things with other associations.

I don't know how I got suckered into it, but I'm co-organizing this year's conference. A few years ago, we needed a host site for 2011, and a very prolific, near-living colleague of mine who happens to be an independent scholar said that the two of us should organize it together. I shrugged and said, "Sure."

I don't know whether it's that we're organizing this conference in an executively transitional year (in which the president-elect will take the helm at the upcoming conference, and a new secretary, and all this just after the treasurer's position having transferred last year), or that the unaffiliated status of the lead-organizer means that we're doing it without the conference being attached to an institution (also, my institution is too far from the conference site to host, really, and it was the independent scholar's baby in the first place), or the fact that this independent scholar seems to be taking advantage of my own responsibility gene and leaving a lot of the details (like how in hell we are to take registration payments) to me....

Whatever it is, it's living hell, and I'm never ever going to organize a conference again.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Pop quiz

If you were a graduate student, and your professor let you borrow a rare book from her personal collection so that you could complete a short research assignment while she left town for the MLA weekend, would you:

a) Guard the book with your life until you could return it directly into your professor's hands after she was back at school the following week?

b) Leave it with the department secretary and let the professor know in whose safe hands the book awaited retrieval?

c) Leave the book, when you finish using it on Thursday night, in the department copy room on a counter, without notifying the professor that it's there so that she might send someone to get it before her return five days later; and then, when queried (in sick horror) about the book's whereabouts when it is nowhere to be found, shrug and say, "Wow, sorry about that"?

If you selected c), congratulations! You must be my shitwit student.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A course in comparative gerontology

Men at Forty

by Donald Justice

Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.

At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.

And deep in mirrors
They rediscover
The face of the boy as he practices tying
His father's tie there in secret

And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something

That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.


RG at Forty

So much for reflection and rumination. Happy birthday to me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

English professors are cool!

I just found this, which may be old news to all y'all, but will be useful in my early Brit survey, in which students must jump through the recitation hoop (a hoop I'm including because I enjoyed doing it years ago):

Monday, January 3, 2011

Collateral damage

My leave ends as of tomorrow at 12:05 pm. Sigh. Got some stuff done, banged out most of a book, and though its chapters do not yet transition one into another, at least the guts are there.

Still, some things became the innocent victims of my full-bore dedication to writing.

* My yard: mowed the lawn maybe 4 times this summer. Never weeded the grass. Raked leaves in the front yard, but never in the back, so that I must have piles of molding blackness under all that snow out there. And speaking of snow, I shoveled two tire-tracks up my driveway every time it snowed, and that's about all. I weeded the garden haphazardly, and watered when I remembered. It's looking a little unkempt around here.

* My festivity: I put up one string of Christmas lights on my porch--didn't climb up on the house to do the whole shebang--and I didn't carve pumpkins, and I didn't put a wreath up in my gable, in fact a brass sun is still shining bravely there.

* My hair: Haven't cut it since April.

* My fingernails: Heh. At least they're UNIFORMLY nubbish. That makes it look intentional.

* My ass: Let us not discuss my ass.

* My record-keeping: Baby books, photographs, journals for Things all utterly forgotten in the past year.

* My cultural awareness: Haven't seen a movie in a year. Except Black Swan, which I saw with a friend, and liked. But then, I have very little to compare it to.

* My professional engagement: I swore off conference papers until I've finished this book, so I haven't even looked at a CFP since last January. Also, haven't attempted to get a poetry reading anywhere in that time.

* My mountains: I hiked twice in the last year, and have not yet XCskied this winter but for one time, and all with the Things, because if I didn't have the Things, my butt was in this chair.

* My good humor: Occasionally, but also

* My sense that my value as a human being was tied to this book. Not sure how that happened, or where along the way. Perhaps just the doing it, the seeing that it could be done, helped me to understand that it's just something one does, not something one is. Hoping to place this book, certainly, and hoping to place it well, but maybe I've finally shed my conviction that I'm a dilettante, a poseur, a fraud. Because I did, in fact, write a book.

Happy new year, all.