Wednesday, December 20, 2006
"Though we may work for potential love or fame, applause for our old work is nothing if we are not making new poems."
I found this in "Writing Poems," an essay published in an out-of-print gem called Creativity and the Writing Process, edited by Olivia Bertagnolli and Jeff Rackham. It was required by my undergraduate Creative Writing prof, Bob Flanagan, and speaks to me now more than ever.
I found the above passage underlined, and it's extremely apt for me today (I will not say why precisely, Dear Reader).
Hall goes on to say:
"When we are not in the midst of working, applause is almost a curse; it is a reminder that we are no longer the person who did the old work... the pleasure of writing the poetry is one-fiftieth in the praise, and the rest in the act of making a metaphor."
It is time to do the work: begin now, little by little throughout these bumpy holidaze, and focus more and more, create more space in the new year for the work. The work, the work, the work.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
My youngest sister Katy, her husband, and their 7-month old son were in a serious car accident yesterday. Katy and Seth are uninjured, but Gabe did not survive.
Fortunately, their older son Sammy was at my parents' house and not in the car.
Gabe was a wonderful husband, father, brother-in-law, uncle. His curiosity and good nature added so much to all of our family gatherings, and we had just spent time with them on our vacation in August.
He was one of Stella's godparents--we chose him because he has two younger brothers with Down syndrome, and his parents, Bob and Midge Custer, were so supportive right after Stella was born.
Here is a photo of the family right after Seth was born in March.
The full obituary can be read at this website.
Gabe's loss is immeasurable and I don't know what else to say.
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
My friends--those whom I do not see in my daily travels, or around the office--are probably starting to wonder. I want to stay in touch, but the routine is exhausting. Email is the only way for now, because I can't take a break during the day and by the time we get the kids down in the evening I have no energy left for phone calls.
I need to maintain these relationships with those who are important to me, but I am in a whirlwind. It will pass. Things will shift again. I will be back in touch.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
We were fortunate: our electricity did not disappear, but we did lose our phone, internet, and cable TV for five days (thank you, RCN! I'm namin' names now.) In fact, it seemed almost a conspiracy to keep us from getting any work done during regular business hours, as the services were magically restored at 5 p.m. Friday almost on the dot.
Our little shopping district, 31st Street and Ditmars (which the Brits would call "the high street"), was devastated. The Key Food was closed. So was the Rock, our gym (not that I've set foot in there for several months, but I really was going to start up again). The post office. Even the Starbucks. CVS was open, lines long as ever, thanks to a dumpster-sized generator they had apparently rented for the duration. Our health food store, which we patronize quite religiously, was still digging out on Friday. I hope they survive this setback.
The neighborhood has been crawling with Con Edison trucks all week, scrambling to at least look like they're trying to fix this disaster. No manhole unopened, no block without jackhammers tearing into pavement to search for decrepit cables lurking in tangles, ancient cobras poised to strike, burn, melt.
Saturday night I came home from my friend Lee's art opening at Westbeth Gallery to find a truck parked on the sidewalk in front of the corner store, lights flashing as if anyone could miss it. I hope they found what they needed. By morning they were gone.
On Sunday we got out of the city, to Bear Mountain State Park in Rockland County. Played frisbee, rode the merry-go-round, ate ice cream, and rented a rowboat, which Bob very skillfully navigated around Hessian Lake. Then had dinner at Schades in lovely Highland Falls (home of West Point).
When we arrived home with two soundly sleeping children, the answering machine was blinking (a sight we had just started getting used to after the long dialtone-less dry spell). It was a lovely message from our dear benevolent Con Edison asking us to call them (and doubtless wait on hold for hours) to let them know if we had power. "Con Edison cares about your health," the recorded female voice said.
I hit Erase. Thank you, Con Ed!
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Where else can you walk past a tiny Greek corner restaurant that used to be a private social club and now has signs advertising vegetarian offerings? Then a few paces away see young Williamsburg/Greenpoint hipsters lining up around the block to get into the Bohemian Hall Beer Garden?
Where else do Italian grandmas sweep their patch of sidewalk while their next-door neighbors sit on the stoop smoking and discussing their latest off-off-Broadway project in twangy Midwestern accents?
Unfortunately, my beloved neighborhood has been "discovered." Astoria is the new Park Slope, rife with transplanted Manhattanites looking to buy and real-estate venturers driving the market sky high. We've been in the same tiny 2-bedroom since we moved here, a decade ago in August, grad students, newlyweds without kids or steady jobs. We're spilling out the seams but have to stay put a little longer, I suppose.
Monday, June 12, 2006
I write out of necessity, out of desperation. I write because there is no other viable alternative. I write because there is a hole in my heart even though the hole in my daughter’s was repaired years ago. I write because my son has heard me screaming and has started screaming at me. I write because my husband is sad a lot of the time, and it makes me sad, and it makes him less able to help me when I’m sad, and vice versa. I write because there are things I never got to do as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult in her twenties. I write because I always pictured myself in the turret study of a Victorian mansion, typing or scribbling away, sending page after page off into the world, wearing glasses and being a Famous Author. I write because when I was five I thought I would be an artist but I can’t draw to save my life. I write because my dream was always to be an actress, like Julie Andrews. I write because my singing voice is subpar, because my violin is dusty and my calluses gone, because I have given up on music, because there is something to say and I get tired of hearing it in my own head, and sometimes there is just no one else who will listen.
I write because I am good at grammar, because I was the Spelling Bee Champion of my school in both seventh and eighth grades, because English was always my favorite subject. I write because I am obsessed with words, and with books, and because reading is a way for me to get lost and get out of this rattling cage of a mind-body when I feel stuck. I write to thank my favorite authors, the patron saints looking down upon me from literary heaven, and to bless the muse, who may or may not exist in any real sense, but who gives us something to believe in other than the blank page, the pale screen wavering on the monitor, the too-crisp notebook with uncreased spine.
I write to take up space, to say I AM HERE, or later perhaps, I WAS HERE. I write for my parents, my grandparents, my great-grandparents, my children’s children. I write because I have living blood relatives to whom I have not spoken in nearly a decade. I write because the little brothers and sisters I diapered and bounced on my knee now are bouncing their own children on their own knees, and they all live so far away. I write because my parents, my siblings, and even my closest brother have all been taken by a belief I cannot relax into, though I have tried several times because it seems to explain things in a way that satisfies them. I write to understand the way I understand the universe, to distinguish this way from all the other ways.
I write because it hurts. I write because it takes the pain away. I write to stir things up. I write to quiet down. I write to stimulate, even to anger. I write to placate, to ameliorate (that word so close to my own name), to make people like me or at least not be angry with me anymore. I write because I can’t help myself, because it is what I do, because I can’t imagine living any other way.
I write for me, I write for you. I write by hand, I write on a machine and print it out on another machine. I write in the morning, at lunchtime, late at night. I write in the kitchen, in a café, on the subway, in the dentist’s waiting room. I write in summer, fall, winter, and spring. I write in the bright sun, in the rain and snow, in the cold, on the elevated train platform with my gloves on, the ink freezing in the pen. I write because I have no choice, because I have to, because I can’t think of anything else to do, because I can.
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Anyway, I do know a few things about my dear Louise:
- She was the poetry critic at the New Yorker for nearly four decades.
- She published a very small body of poems as a result of writing all that criticism (she needed the money, didn't have an independent income like Marianne Moore and other contemporaries).
- She never completed university but clearly received an extraordinary education, mostly at Boston Latin Girls' School. Yet she had somewhat of a chip on her shoulder about her "lack of schooling."
- In high school, she came home every day and wrote "a long poem or sonnet sequence." Every day. She was greatly influenced at the time by the Pre-Raphaelites, especially Swinburne.
- Despite Louise's literary prowess, the principal of her school spoke with her mother and told her "No Irish girl could be editor of the school magazine." She suffered greatly from discrimination she experienced as a "mick" in Yankee New England.
- She was praised by (mostly male) critics for her skill with rhyme and meter, and for her decorous, reserved, poems unsullied by messy "confessions."
- Whatever the apparent "detachment" in her work (and I query this notion), her life was at least as tumultuous and racy as that of bohemian goddess Edna St. Vincent Millay (about whom my friend Moira is presenting on our panel).
- She suffered horribly from depression and was hospitalized three times. One of these visits resulted in the poem "Evening in the Sanitarium." (There is life left: the piano says it with its octave smile.)
- Her adult ills can be connected to some trauma in her early life: her mother, a handsome and high-spirited woman married to a worker-bee five inches shorter than herself, had numerous affairs and would sometimes leave the family for days or weeks at a time. Also, her brother was killed in WWI when she was a teenager.
- She was not the most attentive mother herself; after separating from her first husband, who subsequently died, she left her small daughter Maidie with her parents and took a Greenwich Village apartment, immersing herself in the literary scene of the day. Later, friends (including Margaret Mead) chided her for failing to mention she had a child.
- Her poems are perfected with lapidary skill, polished like gems, precious to the reader, "talismans" according to one critic. I find that many of her lines stick with me, and have for years.
Well, there is much more to say, but I will let Louise have the last word.
Solitary Observation Brought Back from a Sojourn in Hell
At midnight, tears
run into your ears.
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Fast forward to a bright sunny room, Segovia playing Bach streaming around, pain and pushing and more pain and pushing pushing pushing "Poosh the baby out," says Anna, the Swedish-Czech midwife who had also been there for our first. The baby comes out. She is on my chest. She is a dark purplish color. I make the midwife and nurse take her to get the color better. They make her pink and give her back to me. I see her face, I feel the roundness and chubbiness of her body. I see her eyes. "Does she have Down syndrome?" I ask. "I think yes," says Anna, too quickly, the wrong answer entirely, so wrong it feels like a slap.
There is a black and white photograph that I believe was taken right at that moment; I am holding the baby, a sheet partially covering my body, and the expression on my face has nothing to do with the pain of childbirth. This is a new sort of anguish, the crashing of worlds, the death of all kinds of particular visions, the beginning of a raw opening into whatever will be the future.
Sometimes we have to go back to those moments, to that point where everything changed forever. Even though it is the last place we want to go, or think our readers (if indeed we have them) want to go. So blogging it? Why not? A good place to start. I am inspired in this by Paul Guest's post , which I read yesterday and cannot get out of my mind. Sometime you just gotta write it. Memoir is life and writing is living. Wherever it happens.
Friday, May 26, 2006
Final grades are done (as of 8 a.m. today), and I am ready to throw myself wholeheartedly into an exploration of the poetry of Louise Bogan. Specifically, I'm looking at her use of form. I'll also, I'm sure, be thinking about her writer's block when it came to poetry (she focused on writng literary criticism for so long that, Mary Kinzie suggests in A Poet's Prose, she became too self-critical).
It's good to be back in a somewhat scholarly mode, for a little while at least.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
It's that time of semester. The grades are slowly, slowly getting done. The sun has come out and the air is a little warmer. I am starting to feel as if there is an end to the madness, very very soon.
I'm posting this image purely as an incentive to get through all the piles of work. . .
Friday, May 05, 2006
- commenting on 38 poems, 19 short stories, and 19 manuscripts and finishing participation grades for my online Creative Writing class
- grading 18 6-8 pp. case study papers and presentations for my Creative Imagination class
- marking 22 research paper drafts and presentations for my Poetry class
- class prep, answering emails from students, updating my classes' Blackboard sites
- actually teaching the classes with some semblance of sanity and order (oh, yeah)
- finishing a proposal for a new course
- Assistant Chair, English & Speech Department administrative schtuff (don't ask)
- meetings, meetings, meetings (ditto)
- introducing Sally Ball at Barrow Street reading/Marymount Manhattan College, Wed. 5/10
- Poetry Club flea market Thurs. 5/11 (please come by and buy some stuff!)
- family in town for my sister-in-law Rita's commitment ceremony (next weekend)
- rehearsing to sing at said ceremony
- helping Bob finish the lyrics for the song he's writing for Rita and her partner Matt
- finding something for Bobby, Stella, and myself to wear
- [your request here--c'mon, pile it on!]
What goes by the wayside?
- quality time w/kids and Bob
- eating (if only)
- and, of course, writing
Thursday, May 04, 2006
My faithful friend and paramour throughout these many years, we have known each other for so long now. Aren't you tired of torturing me yet? Why do you hang around at the worst times, when my desk is piled with ungraded papers, my notebook is gathering dust, and deadlines are whizzing past?
If I could only break free of you, of my obsession with your enticements--the random googling, the elaborate snack I just have to prepare and subsequently devour, the other email I desperately need to send, the fascinating New Yorker article that is just so important I can't wait to read it, the latest VH1 junk TV show--
I would have finished that novel, the memoir, dozens of poems, and probably a couple of book proposals. The circles under my eyes would vanish. My temperament would even out (right!) and everyone would find me much more pleasant to be around--especially my longsuffering husband.
So how about it, Procrastination? Can you give me a break? You can keep the horse. . .
Saturday, April 22, 2006
I've just had the distinct pleasure of spending a great deal of the past two days in the presence of that poetic force of nature, Denise Duhamel. She had a sort of mini-residency at FIT this week--a reading, a Q&A session, and four classroom visits. Whew! Good thing she has as much energy as her poems!
So much more to say, but I'll have to post later. For now, just know that she was excellent and inspiring to all!
Monday, April 17, 2006
I've been reading a bunch of these blogs for awhile now and there are some I go back to over and over for their humor, perspicacity, and downright wackiness. And, of course, there's the ever attractive gossip factor. Not to mention cute baby pictures (e.g., Reb and Deb). Others, however, feel like homework, and I have enough of that already.
I do admire the poet-bloggers who are able to incorporate cogent discussions of craft, current aesthetic debates, their favorite new work, recent literary mags, and so forth. And I admit that I find it all quite intimidating. How, I wonder, do they find the time and brain space??? I guess I have to accept the fact that I'm just not that kind of blogger. . .
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
I particularly love this quotation from Margaret Walker:
People ask me how I find time to write with a family and a teaching job. I don't. . . . It is humanly impossible for a woman who is a wife and mother to work on a regular teaching job and write.
OK, so that's my problem. Here's to doing the impossible!
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
This is the most recent photo of all four of us--taken on Christmas Day at my parents' in Ohio. Notice Stella's winning smile and little black dress, and Bobby's pensive look. (Come to think of it, Dad looks a little glum, too.) Probably just tired after all the family festivities!
You can click on the image to see a larger version. Notice one of the photographers--my brother-in-law Steve--in the mirror.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
As those of you who know me (and many who don't) are all too well aware, I have been working for over a year on organizing a conference for SUNY faculty on the topic of "teaching creativity."
Well, after all the preparations, which have become increasingly frantic over the past few weeks, the day is nearly upon us. Friday, March 31st, from 9-6 in the John E. Reeves Great Hall at the Fashion Institute of Technology, to be exact.
I've been spending tons of time updating the conference website, dealing with technical set-up, catering arrangements, working with the budget, coordinating panels, etc. etc. etc. Last night I was up until 1 a.m. putting together a document with presenter bios, to be included in the program. I had to edit many of them, copy and paste them from dozens of separate emails and attached documents, format everything--they were even in alphabetical order.
This morning, when I went to open the document, I discovered that somehow it had not been saved to my C drive. Apparently, it had been in some "temporary" drive, and the computer had totally deleted it. Imagine my chagrin.
I have to say that I have an incredible team helping with this herculean effort: graphic designers, display and exhibit people, facilities coordinators, media services staff, print shop and graphics lab folks, and most of all, my long-suffering collaborator, Desiree Koslin, and Celia Baez, for whom the term "assistant" is a misnomer, an understatement, and so forth. They have kept me (somewhat) sane, as has my "wife" Bob. And I also must thank Beth and Steve, my Smarthistory friends, who have two conferences under their belts, and who have provided invaluable advice throughout the process. (Check out their blog--they have really cool sound files of their tandem responses to famous paintings--I tease them that they're the morning drive radio of art history.)
Anyway, I must try and get a little sleep. Teaching Prufrock tomorrow, and Spencer Reece, and Kim's "Sonnenizio on a Line of Drayton" (with the Drayton original). And Marvell's "Coy Mistress" and Annie Finch's great response. It's all about history, folks! Oh, and of course, CREATIVITY.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Other social highlights: I was one of an apparent cast of thousands who dined with the fab Denise and Nick at Stubbs over the course of their stay (though I am nowhere to be found on Carbonator--I think I broke the camera). Ran into Carly, who was staying on the same floor, and old friends from Cincinnati: April Lindner, Stephen Frech, Lee Newton, Don Bogen (my dissertation director!). Watched bats fly out from under the bridge. Saw Piotr, Peter, Sarah, Martha, Kevin in the book fair, missed Gaylord, Deborah, and many others. Hung out with Randy for about 2 minutes. Met Aimee in the elevator, and Mary in my discussion group in the Pedagogy Forum multi-genre session--and at the Rhino table. Ran into Scottie and Jose, Mark, C. Dale, Sandra, et al. New Yorkers Anna and Stephan were staying in my hotel. If I have forgotten anyone, please let me know!
Oh, and of course there was the actual conference. The Pedagogy Forum rocked, thanks to Brian, Leilani, Liz, and Ander; I was glad to be a part of it. Greatly enjoyed panels on teaching creative writing to non-English majors, a pow-wow of Creative Nonfiction bigwigs, and prosody for 21st century poets featuring Tom Cable, Tim Steele, Annie Finch and the incomparable Marilyn L. Taylor. Readings by a number of fine poets. The Book Fair with its usual hyperventilation-inducing plenitude. And, of course the hotel lobby bar and after-hours parties, where the names on your syllabus come to (often inebriated) life. You gotta love AWP!
Props to Beth Frost and Charles Flowers for getting me through the flight there, to Rachel Wetzsteon for the New Yorker mags, and to John Talbird for distracting conversation on the flight back (including a lovely sojourn in Hartford due to fog at JFK). Read a cool article on absinthe while bumping over the stormy midwest in the little Embraer jet. Finally made it home in a gypsy cab at 1:30 a.m., only 4 hours late. Whew.
Sunday, February 12, 2006
So I tried it. There are so many things I am afraid of, many of them specifically related to writing. As I embark on this memoir project, putting my toes in the water, I am filled with fear. I am afraid I won't measure up in prose, having concentrated so much on poetry. I'm afraid I won't be able to do justice to my experience in the writing. I'm afraid I won't have enough time and energy to really make it work. I'm afraid of what people will think if I write how I really feel about Stella's disability, and all the issues it brings up. And I suppose I'm afraid it won't matter to enough readers, or matter enough to readers, or whatever.
Well, I suppose the only way to deal with all of this is to "Write it!" (like disaster, says Elizabeth Bishop).
What are you afraid of?
Tuesday, January 31, 2006
There's nothing like a good bout of the flu to remind us of our helplessness in the face of microorganisms.
In other news, classes have started at FIT and I'm looking forward to working with a new batch of students, and some return customers (victims?). Creative Writing online, Poetry (an intro lit course), and a brand new honors course: "Creative Imagination: Theory and Process" all promise to be exciting and challenging. I've ordered a bunch of books and videos on creativity for the FIT Library, who are so good to me. They're even doing a special display about these resources, tying it in with the conference I'm organizing:
Getting to Aha! Teaching Creativity at SUNY. Oh, and there's the FIT Poetry Club (website forthcoming). I'm the advisor and we have to submit our budget requests ASAP and plan events for the semester. And, of course, the usual planning, advising, and general putting out fires of my administrative work for the department. Fun, fun, fun!
OK, time to rest now. Just thinking about this makes me tired!
Monday, January 23, 2006
Anyway, I thought I'd get back into the flow with a quick review of this restaurant. We took the kids here tonight after the triumphant first day of Bob's Creative Music Workshop (the new education program he's started with some of our excellent jazz musician-educator friends).
The hot chocolate was AMAZING but too strong for the kids, so Bob and I finished it. Sigh. It was tough, but parents do have to sacrifice. I also had the aforementioned chocolatini. Wowee. Bobby and Stella eschewed the yummy-sounding kids’ menu and stuck with bread and frites. Mom had a burger, Dad some amazing pasta with greens.
Excellent service. Highly recommended for a splurge. Amazingly kid-friendly and chic at the same time.
So. Block broken. Now, that wasn't so bad, was it?
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Most of you reading this probably know me, so I don't need to tell you that I am a writer (mostly poetry, some nonfiction and fiction), I teach at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I'm married to jazz impresario Bob Bowen, and I have two fabulous kids (whom you can see below). Bobby is six and Stella is four. (The pics are from our summer vacation on the Outer Banks with the extended Lemmon family.) Oh, and (in case you haven't noticed) I love parentheses.
I'll try to post every couple of days--once a week, at least--and keep things interesting. To the right you'll see a list of some of my favorite women poets with links to their work. I've also started a list of my fave blogs--if there's one I should check out, please hip me to it (as Bob would say).
And now we come to one of the really cool things about blogs: I only show and tell what I want to, so I'm somewhat in charge. And you can read this without my even knowing. I can't see you, either, so if you're just getting to know me you don't have to worry about the look on your face when I tell you that Stella was diagnosed at birth with Down Syndrome, or when you read a couple of my poems. Dudes, we're all off the hook!
Above all, Saint Nobody (the blog, the poem, the as-yet-unpublished book) is about shrugging the mantle of sainthood (it keeps slipping off, anyway). Stay tuned and see what Nobody is up to.