Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Provincetown / 2

I've thought how to explain what the Provincetown Residency means to me. My ideas for how to express it seemed too shallow. Today, my eyes fell upon a Theodore Roethke poem. My good friend Roethke will help me to explain. His poem, "The Right Thing" speaks my inner thoughts today:

The Right Thing
by Theodore Roethke

Let others prove the mystery if they can.
Time-harried prisoners of Shall and Will--
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Yes, I have been that prisoner of "Shall" and "Will." I have let my brain be torn apart by fear and doubt. I have had a preconceived idea about what is "the right thing" for me. I have tried to second-guess life. This year when I filled out the application for the residency, I just told the truth and let the chips fall where they may. I wasn't nervous or afraid or lacking in confidence. I was calm and peaceful and confident. When I chose my writing sample, I didn't second-guess. I sent a recent story that is simple and true. In short, I was happy. The Provincetown Residency will be the vehicle for helping me to live in that place for an extended period of time. I won't find it and then be jerked out of it by obligations or other realities.

The bird flies out, the bird flies back again;
The hill becomes the valley, and is still;
Let others delve that mystery if they can.

I try too hard. Obligations take me out of my soul. The bird flies back to my soul. It is a rending, a tearing. Sometimes I think it will make me mad. One day I'm on a hill, confident, exuberant; then right behind that is the valley, doubts and darkness. But what if the hill and the valley were the same? What if there is no right or wrong; it is the same thing? It is all "right" if we accept that it is right, feel that.

As Yoda said, there is no try, only do. In that moment of doing, all is right.

God bless the roots!--Body and soul are one!
The small become the great, the great the small;
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Perfect balance.

Child of the dark, he can out leap the sun,
His being single, and that being all:
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Perfect balance.

Or he sits still, a solid figure when
The self-destructive shake the common wall;
Takes to himself what mystery he can,

Put the currency of the soul in the bank, so when you feel ready to give in to doubt and fear, you can plumb the mystery again of perfect balance.

And praising change as the slow night comes on,
Wills what he would, surrendering his will
Till mystery is no more: No more he can.
The right thing happens to the happy man.

Acceptance. Complete acceptance. Pure acceptance. Whether the slow night is doubt and fear or the passing of time towards mortality, you do your best. Make changes where you can, surrender you will when you cannot. It is not a mystery; just be. Find that true place. Live from there. Then you are happy. Everything, no matter what, is the right thing.

The Provincetown Residency will take me on this voyage, into the true place where everything is the right thing. What a gift.

Provincetown / 1

"Congratulations! on being selected as a Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center Summer Residency program artist. ..." (Ohio Arts Council)

Don't you just love it when you open a letter and the first word is "Congratulations"?

I've known since the third week of March.

Now, I have just a little over 3-weeks to plan for the most exciting adventure of my creative life. With the generous support of the Ohio Arts Council, I will be in Provincetown, MA at the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC) June 2 through August 24. What this means: the whole summer to write on Cape Cod; Traveling expenses; A place to stay; Living expenses; An opportunity to take three workshops; An opportunity to give a public reading.

Don't you just love the word, "Congratulations"? It almost makes up for all the letters you get that say, "We regret to inform you..."

Monday, April 28, 2008

50/50

Of all things, carrots.

Someone in the Honors Seminar brought a bag of mini-carrots on the last day of class and passed around the bag. Everyone was happily chomping on carrots as we witnessed final presentations.

Maria wrote a play, which we performed. Jacob gave a sermon. Libby did a work of art. And Jim, who joked while eating carrots, who placed a carrot here or there on his face to suggest some animal or other (forehead / unicorn!), wrote of Camus and Kierkegaard. Deadly serious stuff about death themes in Carl Theodor Dreyer and Ingmar Bergman. But there he was, Jim, pretending to be a unicorn with a tiny carrot-horn. What a way for our time together to end.

Thus comes to an end my fascination with seeing if I could write 50 blog entries during 2008. I said I would do so and so I have. Amen.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

49/50

Interpreting "The Pike" by
Amy Lowell

Lowell's pike is in the brown water.
Her pike is sleeping, unnoticed.
Lowell sees the pike, but we don't.
It is lost.


Then the suddenness, she says.
Her fish flicks its tail.
A green and copper brightness
flicks its tail.
The water is liquid and cool.
The fish is liquid and cool.

The fish is a symbol for god.
Poets do that.
They like to do that.
They all do it.
They can't help themselves.

Lowell's pike darts beneath the brown water.
Her pike's bright colors join with sun-colors
reflected on the water.
"Green and copper," Lowell says,
"A darkness and a gleam."

What does she want us to see?
The brown water animated by the fish.
The brown water animated by the sun.
Brown is water,
brown is us,
green is earth,
green is us,
copper is belly of earth,
we are belly of earth,
gleam is sun,
gleam is us.

A darkness and a gleam.
Bright colors on brown water,
bright colors in brown water,
a fish in sun drenched water.
God in water.
Water is god.
Fish is god.
Sun is god.
Poet is god.
We are god.
Jesus is criminal,
nailed to the cross.
Criminal is god.
God is a darkness and a gleam.
We are a darkness and a gleam.

The fish is not noticed.
The fish is lost.
We don't see it.

Close your eyes.
Do you see the fish?
Open your eyes.
Do you still see it?

Friday, April 25, 2008

48/50

I have just finished my last class of the semester and finished conferences. We had student readings in the Fiction Workshop. When the readings were over, I repeated to the class what I had said at the beginning of the semester: They will not remember exactly what people had said about their stories, but they will remember the community created in the classroom--if we did things right, they would remember that. And we did do things right. What a great class.

Then I chatted with students outside the classroom for the Native American Literature class as they finished the teacher evaluations. One shared his journal writings with me. He said he'd never written until he was sixteen. His journal was full of his own poetry and drawings. Another student talked about how Native American Philosophy had blown his mind (We used a text called Native American Thought). He is in the military and has traveled all over the world. He is so open to ideas and to adjusting his own life-philosophy.

Allen is picking me up at 5:30 and we're going to meet two friends for supper at an Indian restaurant, the Tandoor. Life is good.

47/50

It seems when we hear a skylark singing as if sound were running forward into the future, running so fast and utterly without consideration, straight on into futurity. And when we hear a nightingale, we hear the pause and the rich, piercing rhythm of recollection, the perfected past. The lark may sound sad, but with the lovely lapsing sadness that is almost a swoon of hope. The nightingale's triumph is a paean, but a death-paean.

So it is with poetry. ...

But there is another kind of poetry: the poetry of that which is at hand: the immediate present. In the immediate present there is no perfection, no consummation, nothing finished. The strands are all flying, quivering, intermingling into the web, the waters are shaking the moon. ...

--D. H. Lawrence

46/50

Spring Night in Ohio

It's cold enough tonight to have a fire in the woodstove.
It's cold enough tonight for long sleeved pajamas.
Our cats are huddled together somewhere in the barn.
Our dogs are under the covers of our bed.
It's cold enough tonight to listen to Jim Croce's "I've got a name"
And to remember he's a long time dead,
His bushy moustache that I loved somewhere under the dirt.
It's cold enough tonight listen to Frank Zappa's "Dirty Love"
And to remember: he's gone now, too.
It's cold enough tonight to think of adieu.
Adieu: Said to wish a fond farewell; good-bye. ...
good-bye. ... good-bye.
Wood disentegrating in the stove,
smoke escaping from the chimney,
good-bye.

Monday, April 21, 2008

45/50

from Preludes
by T. S. Eliot

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways,
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps,
And then the lighting of the lamps.

Ah, the boredom and the horror of human life. Eliot captured it like none other, I think.

Even as the Spring semester winds down (one more week!), I'm thinking ahead to Fall and teaching Modern Poetry again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

44/50

From Sweeney Agonistes
by T. S. Eliot

DORIS: That's not life, that's no life
Why I'd just as soon be dead.
SWEENEY: That's what life is. Just is.
DORIS: What is?
What's that life is?
SWEENEY: Life is death.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

43/50

A friend of mine from "Library Thing" just sent this poem to me by e-mail. He said it reminded him of me. I presume this is because I had been discussing D. H. Lawrence's essay "Etruscan Places" on LT.

Strange. I'd just digested the Frost poem about depression and now, from cyberspace, from someone I've never actually met, comes this wonderful poem about the mind...

I'd never before read this poem by Delmore Schwartz. But I'm struck by how this poem relates to Frost's "Desert Places." The mind can truly be a "ruined and eternal" place, ruined in the sense of the ravages the mind must endure, eternal in the sense of the continuity of humans within civilizations throughout time.

We come from darkness "dusk" and are to dusk returning ("Snow falling and night falling fast oh fast" --Frost). Schwartz also comments on the "dread terror of the uncontrollable."

That we cannot control our lives is a hard fact for humans to face. Realizing this fact, we can be suffocated by the "dread terror" or we can learn to let go of our semblance of control.

Mental illness, which Schwartz had (and Frost, too) is so often experienced as a "dread terror." I think Schwartz captures the terrors of the mind very effectively in this poem.

The Mind Is an Ancient
and Famous Capital
By Delmore Schwartz

The mind is a city like London,
Smoky and populous: it is a capital
Like Rome, ruined and eternal,
Marked by the monuments which no one
Now remembers. For the mind, like Rome, contains
Catacombs, aqueducts, amphitheatres, palaces,
Churches and equestrian statues, fallen, broken or soiled.
The mind possesses and is possessed by all the ruins
Of every haunted, hunted generation's celebration.

"Call us what you will: we are made such by love."
We are such studs as dreams are made on, and
Our little lives are ruled by the gods, by Pan,
Piping of all, seeking to grasp or grasping
All of the grapes; and by the bow-and-arrow god,
Cupid, piercing the heart through, suddenly and forever.

Dusk we are, to dusk returning, after the burbing,
After the gold fall, the fallen ash, the bronze,
Scattered and rotten, after the white null statues which
Are winter, sleep, and nothingness: when
Will the houselights of the universe
Light up and blaze?
For it is not the sea
Which murmurs in a shell,
And it is not only heart, at harp o'clock,
It is the dread terror of the uncontrollable
Horses of the apocalypse, running in wild dread
Toward Arcturus—and returning as suddenly…

42/50

I am so tired of Robert Frost's two most famous poems. Whose woods are these? And two roads diverged. I've heard these poems repeated and repeated, endured countless references to them in the media and in student work to the point of becoming so sick and tired of Robert Frost. And all those images of him on TV shaking that gray head of his...and those eyebrows! Those eyebrows!

And that's why I've put off getting into Robert Frost's poetry. However, tonight I was skimming through an anthology and found a Frost poem that I like very much. I really must look at some of his less read work. He was a stunning poet.

Desert Places
by Robert Frost

Snow falling and night falling fast oh fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

I know, I know, another snowy evening. But this poem makes me curious to look back at that other, oft repeated poem. Maybe there's something I can salvage from that old standby. The woods are lovely, dark, and deep. Suddenly that sounds a bit menacing. The first line in this stanza certainly sounds menacing: snow and night falling "fast oh fast." It feels almost apocalyptic. The weeds and stubble showing through the snow has always gripped my attention and tried to tell me some strange, elusive truth.

The woods around it have it--it is theirs,
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

Notice, the animals aren't "safe" in their lairs, but smothered in them. Even the promise of home and a warm bed holds no appeal to this speaker. And the speaker doesn't even warrant being counted among the living: "I am too absent-spirited to count..." Even loneliness, personified here, doesn't notice the speaker! That is an extreme form of alienation.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less--
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

As profound as this present loneliness is, the speaker knows it will grow before it will diminish. Life will become an even "blanker whiteness" than it is now. The speaker is nearly completely hollowed out, having "no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars--on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.

The speaker cannot be frightened by any form of alienation, not even the vastness, the airless void, of outer space. The speaker's "own desert places" are places most terrifying and void of spiritual significance. It is the void in the speaker's own psyche.

Thankfully, there have been few times in my life when I've felt this empty and alone. But I have felt it, and so I know how true this poem is to the experience.

I really must begin paying more attention to Frost. I've got to shake my head free from the old prejudices that have gripped me so long.

I think I need to learn the lesson that the great critic Lionel Trilling learned in 1958:

In 1958, when Frost turned 85, his publisher gave a party in his honor at the Waldorf-Astoria and invited Lionel Trilling to be the featured speaker. Trilling, who preferred cities to rural idylls, shocked everyone by confessing that he had only recently come to admire Frost's work, specifically for its overlooked grimness. ''I regard Robert Frost as a terrifying poet,'' he announced. Trilling sent a letter to Frost apologizing for the stir his remarks had caused. ''Not distressed at all,'' Frost wrote back. ''You made my birthday a surprise party.''

41/50

Yesterday, coming home from work, I noticed many of the fields looked suddenly green.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

40/50

The story that human beings are most inspired by is the hero’s journey.

In the story of Icarus, a young man, full of ambition and excitement, plummets to his death because he flies too close to the sun. How are we to interpret this death? Ovid suggests the story of Icarus is a cautionary tale: Fly the middle way! We can neither be ruled entirely by reason (the sun) nor by passion (the sea). We must balance these in order to live effectively.

But in Anne Sexton’s poem "To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Triumph," the poet writes:

Consider Icarus, pasting those sticky wings on,
testing that strange little tug at his shoulder blade,
and think of that first flawless moment
over the lawn of the labyrinth.
Think of the difference it made!

Here, Sexton is talking about breaking through boundaries, testing the limits of what is considered possible. In this context, Icarus's adventure amounts to a freedom of the imagination from previous constraints:

There below are the trees, as awkward as camels;
and here are the shocked starlings pumping past
and think of innocent Icarus who is doing quite well:
larger than a sail, over the fog and the blast
of the plushy ocean, he goes.

I love this part of the poem; it is the perfect description of how we look back at our former constraints and see how "awkward" our thinking had been.

In the final section of the poem, Sexton asks us not to feel sorry for Icarus but rather to admire him:

Admire his wings! Feel the fire at his neck
and see how casually he glances up and is caught,
wondrously tunneling into that hot eye. Who cares
that feel back to the sea? See him acclaiming the sun
and come plunging down while his sensible
daddy goes straight into town.

Who cares that Icarus failed, she asks. He tunneled into that hot eye of the sun and in that moment he was fully alive. Icarus embraced pure knowledge, while his "daddy," safe but sadly "sensible," "goes straight to town."

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

39/50

Something I found in a file drawer when I was looking for tax documents:

Brian Williams Love for Love

Hi Mom I Love you
Evry time I see you
I feel That I must huge you
and evry time I huge you
I have to pull you closer to me
for feer that I will loose you
and evry time I kiss you
sweatness runs throw my veins
Hi mom I Love you

December 10, 1995

38/50

Yesterday, I accidentally read the wrong student stories for my workshop, so I wasn't prepared. That's never happened before and I don't know what I was thinking.

In addition, one student also asked if we could have workshop outside, and I declined, and she pouted in a good-natured kind of way.

So last night I dreamed I was a workshop student, and I was unprepared. I had not read all the stories under discussion. The teacher was a former professor of mine, a thin, enigmatic, intense man with curly hair. It was night, and we all sat around a huge wooden table in the middle of some woods. The trees were black-barked and bare. The sky was clear. A big full moon shone through lacy branches.

I had several thick, unread manuscripts before me.

I thought to myself, How weird, this situation, this place.

37/50

Imagine my surprise when I got home from work tonight at 9:30 and heard the whirring throats of frogs in our back yard.

I love their gentle, lonely sound, the sound of life.

I stood in the dark a long time, and listened.

Monday, April 07, 2008

36/50

My students would rather be outside.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

35/50

Went for a three-mile walk beside the Maumee River this afternoon. It was so nice and warm outside, and the water had so much current in places it looked like it was boiling.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

34/50

Dream

Last night I dreamed I was doing some research on Emily Dickinson and I found some artwork she had done, specifically a "needlepoint" that she had made for D. H. Lawrence. The subject matter was the nude female human form. That Emily, who knew?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

33/50

Aaaarough! Allen got me TWICE today with April Fool's jokes! First he woke me up and told me the actual time was a half-hour later than it was. Then tonight he was lying on the floor and I put my feet on him (he always begs me to do this; he claims to like it), and he told me my sock was stinky.

I reacted with horror both times. Allen got a big kick out of it, though. I swear, I am so EASY.

32/50

The discussions with the two classes about The Bridge went very well. As usual, I was more on my game in the second class. By then I had found the true center of what I wanted to say and was able to lead the discussion more efficiently. However, both classes dealt with the difficult subject matter admirably. I was proud of them.

The Bridge does not seek to answer why people jump from the Golden Gate Bridge, but it does seek to explore how we deal with the suffering of others.

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Northwest Ohio, United States
"I was no better than dust, yet you cannot replace me. . . Take the soft dust in your hand--does it stir: does it sing? Has it lips and a heart? Does it open its eyes to the sun? Does it run, does it dream, does it burn with a secret, or tremble In terror of death? Or ache with tremendous decisions?. . ." --Conrad Aiken

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Fave Painting: Eden

Fave Painting:  Eden

Fave Painting: The Three Ages of Man and Death

Fave Painting:  The Three Ages of Man and Death
by Albrecht Dürer

From the First Chapter

The Secret of Hurricanes : That article in the Waterville Scout said it was Shake- spearean, all that fatalism that guides the Kennedys' lives. The likelihood of untimely death. Recently, another one died in his prime, John-John in an airplane. Not long before that, Bobby's boy. While playing football at high speeds on snow skis. Those Kennedys take some crazy chances. I prefer my own easy ways. Which isn't to say my life hasn't been Shake-spearean. By the time I was sixteen, my life was like the darkened stage at the end of Hamlet or Macbeth. All littered with corpses and treachery.

My Original Artwork: Triptych

My Original Artwork:  Triptych

Wishing

Wishing

Little Deer

Little Deer

Transformation

Transformation

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Looking Forward, Looking Back
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