Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The end of March

A poet,teacher, friend of a friend named Emily Moore makes by hand these amazing yearly calendars and gives them as presents. I have coveted them for years, and Bruder finally scored me one to stop my drooling. Filled with poems, illustrations - and yes, also days of the week - the calendar is almost too precious for me to write in. I carry it around with me and read it everyday, but I don't want to mess up the pages with my scrawl. I'm really digging the blank, open possibility of them. I have another calendar in which I record my real and very messy life (April is giving me an incredulous look at the moment), and while I can't function without it, I don't feel the least sentimental about it either. Just at a loss when it's gone missing.

So here is the poem that Emily chose for this month. Seems to capture that perfect impossibility of my blank calendar, and the reality at the moment of the other.

"The Poem That Can't Be Written"

is different from the poem
that is not written, or the many

that are never finished - those boats
lost in the fog, adrift

in the windless lassitudes,
the charts useless, the water gone.

In the poem that cannot
be written there is no danger,

no ponderous cargo of meaning,
no meaning at all. And this

is its splendor, this is how
it becomes an emblem,

not of failure or loss,
but of the impossible.

So the wind rises. The tattered sails
billow, and the air grows sweeter.

A green island appears.
Everyone is saved.

~ Lawrence Raab

Monday, March 29, 2010


I've been trying to figure out what to read next after struggling through, finishing, and ultimately loving Let the Great World Spin. I want to believe that this has never happened to me before, that reading novels has never before felt like work. But I know this isn't really new; it's just an extended phase. So after turning to Robert Creeley and Stephen Dunn and Mary Oliver for solace the last few weeks, I finally figured it out this a.m. I was in the middle of teaching The Joy Luck Club when I walked by my bookshelf and saw exactly what I wanted to read:The Odyssey. Not a novel, not just any poem. Pages and pages of epic poetry. I actually picked it up and hugged it to me, mid-point. Bruder gave me this Robert Fitzgerald translation, so maybe I was sending her a little love, too.
Haven't read this since eighth grade, and I can't wait. mmm. Here are the opening lines:

Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy...

The Odyssey has been in my head anyway since I'm planning to show Cold Mountain to my seniors as we finish up Brooks's Civil War novel, March. Jackpot, indeed...

Monday, March 22, 2010

I think my problem is -

Spent a stolen hour in the poetry section of the bookstore this weekend, far away from paper-grading. New find: Leslie Harrison's book of poems Displacement. Still pondering this one..

"I think my problem is - "

that I want to live on earth as I do
in my head. Days when I have
no skin and the exchange rages
until, like mist rising from a lake,
the boundaries grow indistinct
in a haze of molecular fire.

And those days I lean
like paintings gilt-framed in language
against the walls of all the days
I cannot find a hammer, hanger, ruler.
And it does not matter -
the walls are all stone and may not be adorned.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

Completely smitten with this book, this author. This after complaining on my blog and to everyone else back in December about how I could not possibly get into Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin. I'm pretty sure I was calling it the poor man's Mrs. Dalloway. Eek. Retracting that statement here, especially after realizing halfway through that he IS playing marvelously on Mrs. Dalloway (her airplane morphs into his tightrope walker. Clarissa becomes the American Claire here. And I don't think its a stretch to say that Corrigan parallels Septimus). Mrs. Dalloway, for me, has always been about noticing beauty in the ordinary, amid grief and war and alienation. So, too, with McCann's novel. I was so jaded by the bleakness of the first few chapters - lives marred by drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and war - that I closed the book on them. Thankfully I picked it back up (not one to let the book club down) and discovered that all of these characters' lives intertwine in sometimes tragic, sometimes beautiful ways. The central action of the novel is based on a true incident: in August 1974, Philipe Petit walked a tightrope wire between the World Trade Centers. McCann re-imagines this day, and how the tightrope walker's act of genius and bravado rippled through Manhattan and beyond. What a gorgeous metaphor, really: suddenly crowds of people are looking skyward - mesmerized, momentarily connected, and lifted above the dailiness of their lives. McCann explores this moment of connection through a series of different relationships in the novel: two brothers, a mother and daughter, marriages, friendships, work colleagues.
I wasn't around in 1974 to remember this event; however, I am assured by some of my book club members who were that the tightrope walking incident fired up the imagination and brought tremendous joy and excitement to so many people. Every time one of my friends remembers her experience of it, her face just radiates happiness. It is lovely to see.
I did experience New York in September 2001, and I relate entirely to the sense connectedness, though of an altogether different mood and kind. 9/11 hovers over this novel; it will for anyone who reads it. I really love the publisher's description and will quote here since I'm still not ready to trust my own words on the subject: "Let the Great World Spin captures the spirit of America in a time of transition, extraordinary promise, and, in hindsight, heartbreaking innocence - awakening in us a sense of what the novel can achieve, confront, and even heal."
Did I mention already that I love this novel? Such a great American story. We had the best time discussing it at book club. The 70s attire and music did not hurt the conversation either...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

In Just - spring

Mid-March in Nashville is - right now anyway - mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful, to borrow from e.e. cummings. Never thought I would love mulching and pruning and weeding under cold, grey skies. But there is something about spring-cleaning a yard, a house, that is making this weather kind of magical. Transformative. I'm grateful and pleasantly surprised that I've learned to love it. I mentally drifted back this morning to springs in Chapel Hill a few years ago. Nonstop rain for weeks. The only thing to do, it seemed, was to buy a solid pair of rubber boots and stride through all the puddles on the way to class. So, too, with this Nashville weather. Jumping into it seems the best way. I would have missed so much if I had stayed indoors the last few months. A sidenote: I'm kind of stuck on Emerson's "Nature" essay, which I'm teaching to my seniors. He says all this, too, and so much more eloquently, but maybe I'm just understanding it for the first time myself.

"Long Afternoon at the Edge of Little Sister Pond"
by Mary Oliver

As for life,
I'm humbled,
I'm without words
sufficient to say

how it has been hard as flint,
and soft as a spring pond,
both of these
and over and over,

and long pale afternoons besides,
and so many mysteries
beautiful as eggs in a nest,
still unhatched

though warm and watched over
by something I have never seen -
a tree angel, perhaps,
or a ghost of holiness.

Every day I walk out into the world
to be dazzled, then to be reflective.

It suffices, it is all comfort -
along with human love,

dog love, water love, little-serpent love,
sunburst love, or love for that smallest of birds
flying among the scarlet flowers.
There is hardly time to think about

stopping, and lying down at last
to the long afterlife, to the tenderness
yet to come, when
time will brim over the singular pond, and become forever,

and we will pretend to melt away into the leaves.
As for death,
I can't wait to be a hummingbird,
can you?

Friday, March 5, 2010

"Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War"...

My students read the first chapter of Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic for homework today. They came into class and were handed the following assignment...

Write for a few minutes on one of following quotations that Horwitz uses as epigraph:

"Southerners are very strange about that war." ~ Shelby Foote

"There never will be anything more interesting than that Civil War never."
~Gertrude Stein

They grumbled.
"What do you want us to write about?"
"We have nothing to say on this topic!"
"I don't think about the Civil War!"

Funny, after ten minutes they just couldn't stop writing...didn't even want to stop.