Auld Lang Syne

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The heat and my head and writing

One of the reasons I love Maine is the lack of oppressive heat in summer. I remember a few days when I was growing up here that the temps got "up there" and the mug was so thick that we could barely breathe. Those nights we slept downstairs on the dining room floor, and those were the nights our dad would pile us into the car in our jammies to take us out for ice cream. But basically these were rare times. Maine (coastal Maine I ought to say) is pretty cool in the evenings even when the days are "scortchy." The tide will turn, a breeze will blow in off the sea, and everything chills a little, just enough to sleep at least.

Well, last night was a no-sleep kind of night. The temps had been close to 100 all day, no relief. The wind blew in from the west. The air got very very still after dark. I slept downstairs in my chaise chair, my hubby braved the upstairs under a ceiling fan. Hot. Just plain hot. We'd gone to a movie in the late afternoon and then to a restaurant for supper, all AC'd and cool enough. Back at home, we watched the ballgame (Sox won) and then tried to sleep. I was so distracted yesterday by the heat that I could not DO anything I wanted/needed to do. No writing (except the blog) and no meaningful domestics. UGH.

This morning is overcast and the weather widget says there is rain all around us. We need it. We WANT it, a nice gully-washer please. I need my head washed too, some kind of flood to clear it and make me feel creative again. I am certainly happy my workshop got canceled or I'd be getting ready to teach and feeling inadequate to do so.

I'm also getting physically and mentally ready to cook my Lobster Curry Mac 'n' Cheese with crispy crab topping at the upcoming lobster festival here in town. My recipe is one of five chosen and I am the only "cook" from Rockland, so a little bit of pressure there. I get to make the recipe "live" at the festival. So, now to assemble all I need and do a practice run. THAT will happen next Wednesday. I have 4 happy volunteer tasters coming to my house for that.

But today I write. It cooled down a bit overnight and my head doesn't feel so furry. I have poetry group on Tuesday and need to figure out what to take along for critique.

I heard in the news about a shooting in Norway at a youth camp, and the nearly simultaneous bombing of a big building in Oslo. Nearly 100 people dead. Why Norway? I think of Norway as a peaceful place, with laid back people. And Norway is not exactly on the world radar for terrorism. What gives there? I guess there are crazy people everywhere, nut jobs who think nothing of human life. Makes me sad.

So, this blog is a bit of a mish-mash. Figures, given the state of my head since yesterday. Heat. Killer of writing and clarity. Be gone!  Makes one long for a good snowstorm.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Pets and writing; I am probably stepping in it here

It keeps coming up. Chatter about the cats, the doggies, the fish swimming around and around in the bowl on the desk. Sigh. I read a blog this morning wherein the author apologized for not blogging because her kitty was sick. She thanked the person who gave her a recipe for tuna popsicles. Y I K E S !!! I read on another blog that the blogger's "muse" is her iguana. She "discusses" her writing with him, "gets his opinion" on revisions. In my opinion, these folks need therapy. The iguana blogger needs to take her meds. I need to hear about raspberry popsicles not tuna popsicles. Oh my... lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Before someone out there in blog-land decides I am a pet-hater, I will state that, although I am currently pet-free by choice, I have had beloved pets: cats, dogs, birds, fish. All of them are dead. All of those deaths hurt me. All of those pets enriched my life in some way, or the lives of my children. But I can say without reservation that I am not at all interested in pets that consume so much of a person's life that human beings take a back seat. My sister is one of those people for whom the dog is #1, excluding herself from visiting me because I don't want her to bring her terrier to my home. Sigh. When she once called me "Aunt Carol" to the dog, I drew the line. And listening to her refer to herself as the dog's "Mummy" sends me over the edge. How must that make her actual children feel?

But what does this have to do with writing? There are tons of poems out there dealing with pets, immortalizing pets, including pets in some way. I have to say that never in my experience have I seen one of these poems where the inclusion of the pet made the poem better than it would have been with the pet OUT of the poem.

As poetry editor of Pulse Literary Journal ( I get submissions of "pet poems" all the time. I never take them, never publish them. It is not that I hate pets, but that the poems are not good. I don't care that the dog nuzzled the author and made the author cry for missing her dead mother. I don't care that the cat seems almost human in the way she touches her paw to the author's cheek to wake her. Really, it is not the stuff of poetry. It well may be the stuff of kiddie lit, but not poetry. (By the way, here is where I have probably stepped in it.)

This is not saying that animals should not be in poems. WC Williams and his white chickens for example: right way to include animals, as symbolic of something else, of a greater truth.And of course there is the long poem by T S Eliot that led to the play, CATS. Well done, pertinent symbol of the workings of humanity. But let's not get all Bambi or Old Yeller here. Enough with the Lassie Come Home approach to writing about animals or including them in our poems. Make that animal or pet work for his spot in your poem.

Having said this, I would love to hear from you who hold the opposite opinion here. I'd love to see a poem or two where having the pet as a featured character is not sappy or schmaltzy. Come on, make me take back my words!

Meanwhile, I am still happily pet-free and writing without having to consult my hamster or my goldfish.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Early bird catches worms? Aaaargh!

I'll start right out by saying I do not advocate eating worms. I don't advocate getting up early either. Leave both of those things to the birds and my neighbor, Jan. But since summer started I am up early every day. It's that sun, light, chirping outside my window thing I guess. So what to do? BLOG

I admit I enjoy doing the blog early-ish in the day. My head is usually filled with dream-cloth fuzz and I feel a bit like sharing (if I'm up, you have to be up and reading my blog).

Today what is on my mind is Henry Beston and his Outermost House. I just found an actual Society formed for him and his work and for the little dunes cabin where he penned his most famous book. The cabin was "claimed by the sea" in the 1970s so no one can actually "go there" at this point, but the Society touts his adventure there in the late 20s as having begun the Cape Cod National Seashore. (good job, HB!)

I have a personal reason to love HB and his seminal book. I read it in January of 1967 for the first time. I was a college drop-out and living in a 2nd story walk-up flat near the bus station in Burlington Vermont at the time, working for the phone company. I had no social life to speak of and no money AT ALL to be spending on books. I lived very frugally out of need. I had a few bric-a-brac items in my apartment, a little green blown glass cat and a tiny amber jar. (I still have these, keep them to remind me of leaner days). I had a few books left over from college (I left over a dispute with the head of the English Department and her stubborn views of literary analysis).

I remember the day I found the Outermost House as if it were yesterday. I had walked downtown from my flat, window shopping and wanting to go to the stationary shop (McAuliffe's on Church Street) to buy some writing paper. They had the BEST onion skin paper. What was especially nice and very intriguing about McAuliffe's was their upstairs book area. I loved going up there and browsing. I felt at home, safe, perfect. On this particular day, it was very bright and cold outside, a nice soft snow having fallen the night before. I remember stamping my boots up the wooden stairs, stuffing my gloves into my coat pocket as I went up to the book area. I remember taking off my coat and laying it over the banister at the top. Sunlight was burrowing its way in between the rows of books from an upper window. I was alone and I was happy. Books. So many books. I made my way along the shelves, running my fingers over the spines. Now there is a saying "you can't judge a book by its cover." We all know this is true, but we all also know you can PICK a book by its cover. That is exactly what happened the day I "met" Henry Beston in McAuliffe's. I noticed a slim yellow spine sticking out just a bit from the neighboring spines. Just a tiny bit. I pulled  it out rather than smoothing it into place as I often did unevenly shelved books. I was immediately intrigued by the bright simplicity of the cover: a hand-drawn dunes shack window looking out on a beach. I was drawn to the title too. What in the name of all that is holy is an "outermost" house. WHERE is one? I sat right down on the floor of McAuliffe's and began reading. One hour later, NO KIDDING, I was downstairs with book in hand, digging in my coat for change. $1.45 was the cost of that first TOMH copy. I forgot entirely about buying the writing paper. I had to get home and finish the book. I still have my original copy, my $1.45 copy. Over the decades since then, that book has gone everywhere with me. I have moved 22 times since then. I never considered leaving that book behind. I have bought countless other copies of TOMH, given away to friends and colleagues or to students or family members. I try to find copies with the original cover, though I have purchased copies with a modern cover. (I don't much care for those copies; they seem fake to me). The most I have paid for a copy (modern cover) is $12.95 + tax.
The point here is that I want to share this wonderful, inspiring book with other writers and with readers. So I keep buying copies and giving them away.  I was heartened to notice a copy of the book on the bed in my spare bedroom this summer when my 18 yr old grandson was here for an extended visit, one of the copies I'd gotten recently with the good cover. I asked him if he was reading it. I asked if he'd like his own copy. He said yes. That copy went back to college with him. Success! Another generation of HB readers!

So what is it about the book that is so wonderful, that made me know I could do this writing thing? It's the language, the attention to detail, the magical connection between HB and the sea, sky, landscape. It's the way HB connects everything in such a natural way. I am a poet of place because he made place sacred.

Now you go get a copy for yourself and one to give away. (you will NOT want to give yours away)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

ahhhhhhh, breathing day

Well, today is Sunday and I have nowhere I am SUPPOSED to be today. I will take a few long deep breaths and enjoy the final day of my daughter's visit. Off to church together and then out to breakfast then maybe a drive to Lucia Beach or to Lincolnville Beach.

I do want to take a moment to thank everyone who had fingers crossed for me in the Maine Literary Awards. Even though I did not win, I feel like a winning poet. Really, anytime you can go to a library or bookstore and see your own book on the shelves, it is a win. And anytime you are invited to read your poems and get to chat with people who want to HEAR your poems, it is a win. Yesterday afternoon I read at the Personal Book Shop along with two poet friends, Gayle Portnow and Wendy Rapaport. The owner of the shop provided tea (iced) and lovely goodies with fruit and chocolate and we sat in comfy chairs. The people who came were very good about asking questions and making comments and were so ENGAGED in hearing our poems. It was great.

So now a bit of a breather. But only a BIT... coming up are some very interesting events for me. I am in the final stages of preparing for a weekend workshop at Ripples Inn in Rockland which takes place NEXT weekend. We have a meet and greet on Friday evening and the workshop on Saturday, with a wrap-up on Sunday morning. Sandi, the owner of the B & B is a gem, a very enthusiastic person who came up with the idea that her guests might enjoy having something planned for them other than just soaking up the scenery (not that doing that is a bad thing of course). She came up with Express Yourself, a series of artsy-crafsty weekends. I am weekend #1. What I have planned for her guests (and others who signed up for the workshop) is a look at how one can use the natural or contrived (urban) landscape as material for writing. In other words, WRITE WHERE YOU ARE. I am looking forward to this event very much.

Before the writing weekend, there is one other event on my calendar. I am driving to Portland on Tuesday (19th) and meeting 2 other Native American writer-friends for lunch and an interview with Prof. Siobhan Senier of the University of NH. Siobhan is interviewing the three of us for a project she is doing on NA women and writing. I look forward to seeing these three amazing women and having a nice lunch at DeMillo's (SP?) on the wharf. It will be a refreshing time and invigorating. What will be especially good for me is that our chatter will have a native flavor and focus. I find it hard sometimes that non-native writers do not "get" the cultural tone, references, etc. in my writing. I often have to explain myself in terms of some references and certainly in the way my mind works. (really, can anyone understand my mind workings? maybe not...  LOL)

I know in advance, however, that Cheryl and Alice do "get it" and that feels so good. Siobhan gets us too and understands our culture. What is even better than just being three native women is that we are all Wabanki women (Alice is Miq'mac and Cheryl and I are both Abenaki) and our cultural base is one in common tribally. I can hardly wait. I've known these woman a long time, though I have not met Alice in person. I consider Cher a sister. One of these blog days I will talk a bit more about that.

So, time to get out of my jammies and get my daughter moving (ahh, that feels a bit like the old days getting her up for school! ha ha). It's a beautiful day here in Rockland and most of the Blues Fest folks are still abed after a lively pub crawl last night. So if we want a quiet breakfast (the Brass Compass, where else?) we need to get downtown.

More poetry tomorrow, I promise.  Again, thanks to all of you who were rooting for me in the Maine Literary Awards. I am honored that you rooted!