Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Paris Palooza

As I recall it, and this was many years ago, Richard Jones and his new wife missed their flight to Paris, and the plane crashed, killing everyone. In Paris (Tebot Bach*, 2021), on a later visit, everything is calm; it's a beautiful city, filled with history, poets, painters, composers, sculptors, ex-patriots, and flâneurs, even the Little Prince. You'll find conversational rambles here, sweet interactions with other tourists; quiet, inward moments. In "Brancusi":

     Consolation is not what I came here for,
     but it is better than anything I might have wanted
     before I came to Paris.

I might say the same about the book, Paris! I just spent the weekend--of Lollapalooza--in Chicago, seeing a play, plus family and friends, roaming my old neighborhood on a beautiful, breezy summer day. We, too, were flâneurs, stopping at a sidewalk cafe for mojitos, perfectly muddled with mint. How lovely to visit a city that, because I once lived there, still reminds me of home. How consoling, after witnessing the crowds, actually to come home! In Rodin's gardens, Richard Jones misses his own...

Playwright August Strindberg, alas, "could find no solace."

     He came searching and found nothing---
     Paris almost did him in.

In contrast, in "Strindberg and Miller," Henry Miller did, and became brave enough to face the future by accepting the present. Look at this:

     But in Paris,
     Miller came to understand
     freedom is obtained by the acceptance of suffering
     and by giving suffering meaning.
     He foresaw the future of poetry,
     the terrible day when poets
     would deliberately make themselves unintelligible
     and renounce their power to move us.
     Such poetry, he said, is worthless,
     a betrayal of trust.
     The world, Miller insisted,
     hangs on the poet's every word;
     the place of renewal is the heart, he said,
     and there the poet must anchor himself.

Richard Jones does anchor himself in the intelligible, via the heart. His Paris is full of photographers and philosophers, booksellers and bakers, children and old men, bicycles and boats. The play I saw, after the mojito, was called Riding the Bicycle. I love these lines from "'The Drunken Boat.'"

     The bicycle woke me to the fact
     I was walking Saint-Germain's winding streets
     a little bit like a drunken boat myself,
     adrift on a sea of reveries.

I'd tell you more, but it's late, I'm sleepy (I'm drinking wine to make sure I sleep), and, as Richard would tell me...

     ...in our numbered days
     we will never finish
     all the work we are put here to do.

(And this is only Day #2, of the Sealey Challenge.)

* "tebot bach" means "little teapot"!

Monday, August 2, 2021


Here I am, as predicted (based on current trends in my sleep patterns), to report on Lily-Livered, by Wren Hanks, a wonderful chapbook from Driftwood Press, first up in my pursuit of the Sealey Challenge to read a poetry book a day in August. The fabulous cover art is by Denis Sarazhin, cover design by Sally Franckowiak, and book design by James McNulty. I loved finding an interview with the author at the end, conducted by Jerrod Schwarz, co-founder of the press. I learned so much from both the poems and the interview. "I don't know how to exist as a trans person," says the poet in the interview, "even one with a good deal of privilege, without wondering whether I'm safe every time I'm out in public." I think of one of the poems in the book, the last one, as the "safe" poem. Titled "Transiversary," as are several in the book, honoring the date the poet began medical transition with testosterone, it begins, "The therapist is safe" and lists what else is safe, and I sigh with relief and awe at the poet's resilience and triumph. I love the poet's handling of form and content--how they interact--all through: repeated lines, resonating as in a sonnet crown, plus great wild rambling moments and prose poems; rich and risky. And I love what the poet says about "speaker" in the interview: "The speaker of the poem has a job to do, and it's not the same job as if you were telling this same story at a party or a friend's couch. In my opinion, the speaker exists to serve the poem's truth, not to relay every detail of a moment just as you remember them." Lots of other good advice here, too. Lily-Livered begins with an epigraph from Macbeth, from a moment where a scared boy brings a message during battle, and ends courageous, compassionate, and, I hope, at last, safe.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Almost August

It's almost August, and I'm still behind in all things poetry-related but so enjoying each day, each moment of life in summer. Today, I did post a review of What Happens is Neither, by Angela Narciso Torres, at Escape Into Life, and another review is coming soon, August 4, of Dialogues with Rising Tides, by Kelli Russell Agodon. Indeed, my fond (meaning both affectionate and foolish) hope is again to attempt the Sealey Challenge, reading a poetry book a day in August, and posting about it here. My friend Kim enjoyed that last year, as did several of the poets who found themselves here, and I love the whole idea of the challenge. But can I do it this year? 

Today, pursuant to the challenge, I did read a chapbook in advance, as I will be otherwise occupied on August 1 (volleyball, friends). Still, I may post in the middle of the night.

I'm swimming again, which is meditative, a wonderful body-mind blend. I continue to be busy with many details. I think I have a weensy bit of what they are calling "re-entry anxiety," though I feel calm most of the time, and not at all troubled by wearing a mask into all businesses, even if others aren't, but my particular county is a current hotspot and masks are being required again, not just recommended, so maybe we'll see more...masks...or rude resistance, alas. The schools will be requiring masks, a relief!

Also this weekend, I'll be seeing a new play, in a theatre, in a big city, socially distanced, in a mask when I walk in. I'll be eating in restaurants--ack!--again, masked when I walk in, unmasked when I eat and drink. So far, I've only done that outside or via takeout.

To calm myself in preparation for all this, I am reading and writing in the sun and breeze, doing small household chores, packing in stages. To stay calm in a general way, I have been attentive to each moment, and also oddly color-coordinated. That is, I stack my recently-read books on the stairs in color-coordinated stacks. These stacks can be moved to some bookshelves-in-waiting when winter comes, and the stairs get stacked with small bins of hats, scarves, mittens, and gloves. As I pick each book now, I choose a bookmark to match, mainly via color or design but sometimes also via content. A book with a woman's face on the cover may get my Edna St. Vincent Millay bookmark from the American Writers Museum in Chicago. Right now I'm reading The Writer's Library, by Nancy Pearl and Jeff Schwager, about books that various authors love, pulled from the "Yellow...Is It Me You're Looking For?" display at the library, and the bookmark I chose for this says, "I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library." --Jorge Luis Borges. I do like that idea of a heaven. And I hope to hold body & mind together...in the meantime. By swimming. A heaven in body-mind.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Off the Grid

I was off the grid for a week in early June for a family gathering in Michigan, and now it's nearly mid-July, and I've been "off the grid" in all kinds of ways before and since. My last post, in early April, was mostly about March, and time still feels suspended. I wrote a poem a day in April, as planned & hoped, and I have continued to read books of poetry but am way behind in my reviewing,* as that takes concentration, re-reading, and a clear mind. I'm also reading fiction, nonfiction, essays, comics, and letters as a kind of escape as well as a way to focus. I'm walking to work. I'm swimming laps again, as this year the pool opened! I feel good but weird.

I guess I'm surprised that coming out of Covid isolation was somehow harder than being in. But why?** I'm not scared, just wary. I worked from home till June 1, 2020, and have worked masked at the workplace ever since. I'm vaccinated and go unmasked with other vaccinated people, friends and family I trust. I still wear a mask to the grocery store, though many customers, cashiers, and other employees don't. Cases (and deaths) went way down where I live but are on the uptick again. I accompany my parents to medical appointments, where people all wear masks in healthcare settings. I was part of a masked theatre audience and will be again. But I walk to work unmasked, and it is so nice to see people's faces again.

My poetry life continues in slow motion, and sometimes I forget about it. I have publications forthcoming, but I have to look at my lists to recall them. I make notes about poems to write, and wrote one for a particular contest & deadline to spur myself on. I write poems in my head as I walk but fail to write them down. I haven't pulled my chalkboard back up from the basement to write small daily poems for social media and people at my porch in real life. Forgive me.

* I did review a chapbook by Keith Taylor, but chapbooks are short!

**Probably because I am shy and an introvert. Staying inside wasn't a problem for me.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Long Hard March

Prescient?: My mom in fur with a cane, Cemetery Walk 2009 

It was a long hard March, and now evidently it’s April, as the poems and flowers prove. On March 6, my mother fell down the (carpeted!) stairs—we hope only 2 or 3 of them—and broke several bones in “non-displaced” ways. That, and the fact that both parents were already fully vaccinated, was the lucky part! She is making a steady and remarkable recovery, with good days and bad days, and great home health care, plus lots of family and local support. Our fragility and resilience continue to amaze me. 

During this time, I participated in an outdoor event on the steps of the history museum, a Remembrance of those lost to Covid-19 in the past year. Candace Summers, Education Director at the McLean County Museum of History, had arranged it, bringing speakers, a singer, young dancers, and me. “I’m no Amanda Gorman,” I had warned her, but I was honored to be asked. My inspiration came from our shared experiences over the last year, plus words from the community, offered in the 12 Months in 6 Words project, and I used many of the shared words, ideas, feelings I found there, creating a poem of 6 stanzas of 6 lines each of 6 words each. (The 666 association was, sadly, not lost on me.) My sister, who had come from Nebraska to help, set it up on her laptop for my parents to watch as it streamed live, and the audience sat or stood in the blocked-off street at safe social distances, bundled against the March chill. Candace had placed 175 small white flags on the museum lawn, one for each of our community’s residents who died; later, updated statistics raised that number to 200+. It was good to come together, safely, solemn and amazed. 

Zooms continued, Passover came, Palm Sunday and Easter, I brought Jessy Randall to Poetry is Normal Presents via Zoom at the library, and I’m offering an annual poem-a-day forum in April, as usual, in an online writing community I visit, but time feels even weirder and more suspended than it already was during this pandemic year, a year now stretching as if into forever, despite the increased availability of testing, treatment, and vaccination. So many of us learned what we value, what we find important, necessary in our lives, and not so necessary. So many of us suffered losses and changes. My thanks to all who are helping each other adjust. My thanks to those helping my family in our time of need, and to those helping you and yours.