Tuesday night

which would make it only 16 hours from my last post, right? Wow.

Today we got our mentor assignments. I’ll be working with Alicia Ostriker (Yeah!), who was my first choice, because I want to launch right into exploring poetry and liturgy. But everyone here is so great that I could be doing great work with anyone. Next semester I think I’ll ask for someone whose work is really different from mine, to help me push the ways I boundary my own writing and thinking.

But for now — Alicia, yeah!!! I’ve been reading and using her work in my own for so many years now.

Also got the full review of what will be due and when. All I can say is this — please invite me for meals from time to time, okay, so I remember to leave my desk and eat actual meals? Or ask me to walk in the park so I don’t fade to some kind of ghastly pallor. (ok, given that I’ll be spending time in Miami, the latter is not a given, but still….)

Today was a lecture about how sound and form influence the meaning of a poem. Like the books I’ve been reading about poetic form, the talk pushed me to know I have to deal with this stuff. In college, back in the olden days, I hated formal poetry, but of course it was all by straight white men and so irrelevant to my life. Now I have so many examples of how writers use formal structures to make radical new meaning, so I have no more excuses. Poet Dan Bellm, in his book Practice, has a crown of sonnets (a complicated interwoven pattern) that links Torah, his own Vietnam experiences, the Gulf War, and the situation in Israel/Palestine. In rhyme and meter that is totally background on first read, as the content and language sweep you along. But anything remotely similar I would try right now would be narrative and take four times as many words — the boundary of the form makes the language so tight and clear. I wanna do that. Not sure how, but I know what I’ll be doing for the next two years.

Great quote from William Stafford — as we write and rewrite, he says, “strange things with meaning begin to occur.”

Tonight’s faculty reading was Martin Espada and Ross Gay. I’ve heard Martin several times over the past year, so had heard all the pieces but one before, but he is a wonderful, engaging, bold, and funny reader, so one more time is never a problem. Everyone here was freaking out about the imminent arrival of an ice storm, but Martin just laughed, since he lives in Amherst, MA. “Western Mass,” he explained, “is like Canada but without the health care.”

Ross Gay was new to me when I applied to this program. He grew up in Levittown, and writes often about Philadelphia, and is just a damn fine writer. I knew the pieces from his book Against Which, but he also read new poems, which were just breathtaking. One great line: “praise the body/its miraculous stutter and thrum.”

One of his poems nearly made me cry, though, for it was about a boy and an old old dog named Max. Earlier today, Hannah called to say she had to put down her cat Max. He was 20, and had been having seizures for a while. Last night he just crashed. I’ve only known Max about a year and a half, but he had a huge personality, and I really cared about him, and I’ll miss his cranky old self. The picture is Max sleeping on Hannah’s temporary bed the first morning in Miami. happy-cat-on-bed

Tuesday morning, pre-coffee

1. No, I’m not sharing a suite with boys, or with anyone. Now if only I had keys to the other rooms…

2. Lying down last night, I realized this room is the same size as my sukkah. All metaphors or inferences are now up to you.

3. I brought everything for my coffee bar except a coffee scoop. Standing there, pre-coffee, trying to decide how many pinches of coffee would equal three scoops, my bleary mind fixed on the little half-n-half plastic cups. Yes! They are about the size of a coffee scoop, and even have a little tab to use as a handle. All is well, supplies are secure, no need to call the Coffee Calvary to rescue me.

5. Dai’eynu — it would have been luxury enough to be sleeping in a room that is thoroughly warm, after my drafty house and Fear of PGW Bill life, but here the heat won’t stop, so I got to sleep in a room that was thoroughly warm AND have the window open to let in the crisp January air.

6. Waking up this morning, on a bed for which “cot” is a more accurate name, I remembered that I did, in fact, have plenty of sex in college on just such a “bed.” Was I that much smaller and flexible? Or just hormonal and desperate? Or was it all heterosexual and pretty much limited to the missionary position? College beds are lesbo-phobic, pass the word and start a petition!

Here’s a photo of my command center, where the magic will happen for the next ten days. And of the in-room coffee bar, which will help fuel the magic.

Coffee, shower, breakfast with poets (starts at 8, but in an effort to not be a total geek I won’t be there when the doors open….)where the magic will happen for ten daysin room coffee bar

Monday night

Tired tired puppy. All day was orientation stuff — forms, parking permits, student IDs (discounts for theatre and museums, here I come!). Then dinner — cafeteria food is cafeteria food is….. Then a faculty colloquium, each of the eight members reading and discussing one poem they love. In my notes, I seem to have described this as a “composium,” which is definitely a word I’ll use sometime soon. Would you like to come to a composium on a winter’s afternoon?

Opening the writer’s notebook I swore I’d carry everywhere, I found drafts of four poems of which I had no memory whatsoever. I’ll put them up soon, once I build a working-drafts space for myself on here.

Jean Valentine read two poems by Mahmoud Darwish, “They Didn’t Ask What’s After Death” and “And We Love Life.” Given the disaster unfolding in Gaza right now, this line is echoing around my chest: “How does blood flow from a ghost?” While she was describing Darwish and his work, I began to really think about the fact that he died last August right before Tisha B’Av. I have scribbled notes of what may be a poem about that — check back soon.

Alicia Ostriker read a poem by Jane Mead called “Concerning the Prayer That I Cannot Make.” One line there summed up so much of this experience for me, especially the fear that my writing is not strong enough to convey everything bursting to be said out of the complexity that I experience as a four dimensional web woven tight around the world: “I am not equal to my longing.”

Time to sleep, pondering on that one. Tomorrow starts early, orientation stuff for we student poets while the faculty meets to decide on who mentors who. Oy.

I’m Here!

Monday January 5, 2:05, have navigated 2 hours of NE corridor traffic, hoo-hah about necessary vaccines, a warm welcoming committee, and a 3rd floor dorm room possessing no elevator but warmed to semi-tropical heat zone temperatures. From the names on the doors, it may be that the res life folks have put me in a suite with the guys, all sharing one bathroom. Hmmmm, I’ll let you know how THAT goes. Having just unpacked a lot of stuff, moving would be annoying.

But who cares??? I AM AT POET SCHOOL! I have way too much stuff with me! But again, WHO CARES, I AM AT POET SCHOOL!

Ok, gotta put a few more things away and then go back and force myself to be social, which is hardly my strong suit. Guess I’ll leave all the clothes in the suitcase, just in case I have to wheel it down a hall or some such. But if I do — WHO CARES, I (you can finish that yourself)

defining poetry

from A.E. Housman, The Name and Nature of Poetry (1933):

A year or two ago, in common with others, I received from America a request that I would define poetry. I replied that I could no more define poetry than a terrier can define a rat, but that I thought we both recognized the object by the symptoms which it provokes in us.

on bees

I keep finding wonderful poems about bees and honey, or snippets of poem, or little pieces of text or lyric or thought. Why is it that poets like to write about bees? The sweet and the sting? The hive mind? The thrushing, droning hum of their buzzing?

Here’s the first of many posts to come. If you have favorite bee bits, please share!

from “Song” by Joan Larkin in My Body: New and Selected Poems:

You crashing the keys with
huge paws, pulling wild honey
from a broken hive.
Roaring your song at me
so you don’t have to sing alone.