Sunday, June 29, 2008


Something about my recent writing retreat has changed how I see the early-evening light. I'm not sure what it is -- maybe that, while I was there, I usually took a good long walk or a run about an hour before sunset -- I find myself missing that, being able to step out the door of the inn and be surrounded by green.

Right now there's a small rabbit eating grass & clover in my next door neighbor's front yard. It's nice to have a little wildlife and a little green even here in town. Actually, there is quite a bit of green here -- it's one of the things I love about living here.

* * * * *
Does anyone know how to make a quill pen? I might try to make one out of the turkey feather I found on my retreat. It would seem appropriate. (The 12-pack diet coke carton is there so you can see how enormous this feather is.)

* * * * *

Obama's already running TV commercials here. It blows my mind to think that Indiana could conceivably become a swing state this year. Usually, candidates don't bother to campaign here because, duh, Indiana, red state. If Obama even has a chance of winning this state, I think he should start picking out his inauguration suit. This makes me so happy. I hope it's a trend and Jill Long Thompson gets elected governor here as well. Our current governor gives me the heebie-jeebies.

* * * * *

In my job, I work a late shift every other Monday, from 6 to 9 pm on the reference desk. Usually I go in around 10 am, work until 3, then take a long dinner break (come home, feed the cats, do some reading or watch a little TV, sometimes run an errand) and go back in at 6. I really don't mind at all; I'm not a morning person and it's nice, every other Monday morning, to wake up when the alarm goes off and realize I can roll over and go back to sleep for a bit if I want to.

In fact, I'm coming up on the end of a seven-week stretch of not having to be at work at 8 am on Monday mornings. I had my late shift, then Memorial Day, then I was on vacation for two Mondays, then my usual late shift, then covering the other Monday-night person's shift while she was on vacation, then tomorrow my usual late shift again. That's pretty sweet.

Of course, when I started doing these split shifts, I had every intention of getting up and writing or at least reading for an hour or so in the morning, then being incredibly productive on my "dinner" break. Shyeah right.

* * * * *

Bunny's still there. Guess s/he is a believer in the "slow food" movement. :)

Dusk now.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Still alive...

... just haven't posted in a week. Sorry about that, y'all. I know you were refreshing the page constantly, hoping for some pearls of wisdom...

... oh, you weren't? Guess I'll go eat worms.


My life this week has been completely taken over by a) getting the book manuscript sent out (8 places so far and more to come this weekend; it takes me forever to do each one because I'm so paranoid about forgetting something and, say, not sending a SASP to the ones that say to send an SASP and if I forget to include it they'll decide I can't follow directions and they'll just throw my manuscript away and pretend I fell off the face of the earth, so I check everything fourteen times before sealing the envelope) and b) planning my Bruce Springsteen road trip. (Yes, I'm going to the St. Louis and Kansas City shows -- I have hotel reservations and the vacation time is approved, tickets go on sale Saturday morning, and I am thoroughly psyched -- this will be the farthest I have ever driven for a concert.)

I owe email to a bunch of people. If you're one of them, I swear, I plan to spend a good chunk of the weekend with tennis on my TV and the laptop on my knees, catching up.

Meanwhile, here's a poem I liked.

The Photographer

At the fence of the world
I had my tête-à-tête with the universe

photographed. The proximate
Provincetown ocean bent at the knees

and stood, like the photographer
I didn't know was there

until after my existential hissy fit -- i.e.
"Why, Universe? Why exclude me

from everything?" The universe
didn't like to hear that,

and I've been blacklisted ever since:
consigned to fear dawn,

peninsulas without hospitals,
and the dunes

that lose and gain themselves in weather.
Perhaps if there hadn't been proof --

but no use blaming the photographer.
He and I are alike -- interfering

in what isn't ours, using things
to our heart's content.

--Kathryn Maris
from The Book of Jobs (Four Way Press, 2006)

Friday, June 20, 2008


Apropos of, well, not much:

The memorial service for Tim Russert was apparently very, very nice. You can read about it and see a lot of video clips at The Huffington Post (among other places). If you watch nothing else, watch his son Luke Russert's tribute -- what an impressive young man he is; no wonder his dad talked all the time about being proud of him -- and of course Bruce Springsteen's touching solo rendition of "Thunder Road." (And by "touching" I mean "damn it, Bruce, you made me cry.")

All the news coverage about Russert struck me hard, for some reason. I ended up writing a wee elegy for him a few days ago. Odd, that. Not something I would have expected myself to do. Anyway.

* * * * *

A bit pricey, but you could make it yourself a lot cheaper: Diaper Sushi. What a cool shower gift this would be! Cute, but not icky-cutesy-cute. (Thanks to Karen S. for this one!)

* * * * *
photo credit: Danny Clinch
Speaking of Springsteen, he's announced a couple more August dates, with pretty solid rumors of a few more in the works. I'm thinking very, very seriously of getting to the St. Louis and Kansas City shows at the end of August if the rumors prove true. A great way to wrap up the summer, plus you never know when you're going to find out that the E Street Band in its current incarnation is no more -- and if you've passed up a chance to see them one last time you're gonna kick yourself hard. And by "you" I mean "me." And by "kick yourself" I mean "a whole bunch, and for a really long time."

If STL and KC don't pan out, Nashville is another possibility. Hell, I really need to go to Nashville sometime anyway -- it's only like a five hour drive from here, and I've never been.

-- Breaking news update! I just went over to to check the current rumor status, and apparently the STL and KC dates are official -- so official that Billboard has posted them. Whoop! Goin' to Kansas City...

* * * * *

I wouldn't go so far as to say they are selling like hotcakes (and since when do hotcakes sell like hotcakes, anyhow?), but sales of my chapbook seem to be going pretty well so far. Many, many thanks to those of you who have already pre-ordered! For the two of you on the face of the earth who haven't yet been spammed about it multiple times, you can get all the details here. If you like the sample poems, you'll probably like the chapbook, though I'm hardly an objective judge.

I have to say, it's kind of nice that I'm now focused on getting the full-length manuscript shipped out. It takes the pressure off of my little chapbook. Should Breach get a bad review or something (and I should be so lucky as to get ANY reviews for a chapbook), I can say to myself, big deal, the book is what's important now.

Actually, what's important now (as always) is continuing to write, and push myself to write as well as I can. Publishing is a hobby -- a fun one, and one I take (maybe too) seriously, but really pretty much a hobby. Writing is something bigger than a hobby. I'm not sure what it is, but it's bigger than a hobby.

* * * * *

Finally: Norbert Krapf is the new Poet Laureate of Indiana. Congratulations to him!

* * * * *

A very, very happy Summer Solstice to all...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Forging ahead

Go forth, little book manuscript ... I've scrubbed your face and tied your shoes and fixed the button that was buttoned crooked. Now it's your job to be as charming as possible and make yourself some friends.

Yep, it's out there in the world making its first few visits, with more to come (I have no illusions about sending this thing out to one or two places and striking immediate gold). Hey, anything that gives me a reason to go out and buy new office supplies (printer paper, enormous envelopes, address labels, binder clips) has got to be a Good Thing, right?

I do have to say that as I wrote out the checks for the reading fees, I was grateful all over again for the grant I received that's covering the first flurry of submissions. Very, very grateful.

* * * * *

Speaking of grants, I got word this week that my good friend & fellow poet Shana Ritter received an Individual Artist Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission this year. Go Shana! She's got an interesting project planned.

* * * * *

Poets Weave podcast logoYou can now download the podcast of my recent radio appearance. (You don't have to have an iPod or anything; it's just an mp3 file you can download.) You can go to WFIU's podcast page and scroll down to The Poets Weave, or go directly to the program. You can also subscribe via iTunes. It's always so weird to hear my own voice on the radio!

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Finally, a few pictures from my recent retreat at Clifty Falls State Park.

The Ohio River, viewed from behind the Clifty Inn.

There were tons of these turkey vultures hanging out on the thermals over the river, pretty much all the time. They're enormous, with a wingspan of several feet, and incredibly graceful as they soar.

I saw a couple of these cranky-looking box turtles. When I was a kid we used to catch these and keep them for a while, but you're not allowed to do that anymore.

An early morning walk in the woods. Anyone who says Indiana isn't pretty is nuts.

A desk, a cup of coffee, and a bunch of unruly poems. I think this was somewhere around the time that I was despairing of ever turning this mess into a manuscript.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Retreat Wrap-Up

(Before I jump into this post, just a quick reminder that my chapbook, Breach, is now available for pre-order! Clicky the linky for the details, if you missed my earlier post. Many, many thanks to those who've already ordered it, or plan to.)

* * * * *

So, a few thoughts on last week's manuscript-wrangling retreat -- which was a huge learning experience, and overall a good one, and really I'm inclined to say it was more of an advance than a retreat, hehe.

I had taken along a big pile of books, my iPod, and some DVDs (the box set of "Planet Earth") -- anticipating that with entire days stretching before me, I'd have some significant downtime to fill (nobody can wrangle poems for 12 hours a day). I also kind of thought I'd catch up on email (there are a couple of listservs I haven't even looked at for weeks, sigh). Uh ... no. I did read 4 books of poetry and Ordering the Storm, and I watched a little bit of tennis, but I got behind on blog-reading and even MORE behind on email and I didn't touch "Planet Earth" even once. Apparently, a little reading and some poem-wrangling and some journal-writing and some tromping in the woods pretty much fills up the entire day without even blinking. I wasn't bored for a moment. I did find myself at loose ends the first evening, but remembered that is pretty normal for me when I'm away from home -- even in Provincetown, where I am happy and comfortable, it takes me the first few hours to settle in -- once I made allowances for that, I was fine. I have always suspected that if I ever won the lottery and found myself in a position to quit my job and just be a full-time writer I would be happy as a clam, and my retreat certainly did nothing to disabuse me of that notion. (Sigh.)

Ordering the Storm was moderately helpful. One of the essays in it suggested that the first two poems are what establish the contract with the reader, and so you want to use them to establish the pattern of the book -- but loosely, so that you leave yourself room to maneuver. (I'm totally paraphrasing here based on my understanding of the essay, and am too lazy to get up and find the book to quote from it.) In other words, you don't want both of your first two poems to be sonnets unless the whole book is sonnets, because that sets up an expectation which you will then fail to fulfill. You want to outline both the pattern and the range of the book, I guess you'd say, so you don't want the first couple of poems to be too alike, but you certainly want them to make sense together.

That made sense to me. But what was even more helpful was that I'm currently reading a rather good biography of Bruce Springsteen, which focuses on his music & songwriting more than on his personal life -- sort of a critical biography, I guess you'd call it. Just before my retreat I'd read the chapter about Born to Run, an album which is a masterpiece of structure & sequencing, and (as you know if you've seen the documentary Wings for Wheels) Bruce really agonized over putting it together -- what songs to include, what songs to leave out, what order to put them in, what story he was telling with the album. He's said that "Thunder Road," the first song, is meant to serve as an invitation to the listener, drawing you into the album. And when you think about it, "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out," the second song, really does establish that "contract with the audience" that the Ordering the Storm essay talks about; it's the quintessential E Street Band song, defining the mythos and the sound and really setting forth what the music is all about. The whole album takes you on such a perfect journey that by the time you get done listening to "Jungleland" you feel like you've been somewhere and learned something. So I listened to Born to Run a couple of times during the week, and it really helped things click into place as I arranged the first section of the book. (I'm going to start calling it a book, not a manuscript. Easier to type and, hey, if I believe in it as a book then maybe it will become one someday.)

I also read the chapter about the making of Darkness on the Edge of Town, which is another freaking brilliant album. As I read this chapter I was realizing that I had way, way, WAY too many poems and was going to have to start being fairly ruthless about leaving stuff out, even published poems, even poems I like. And you know what, Bruce recorded so many songs for Darkness that he probably could have made a triple album ... but he didn't, he pared it down to one brilliant, mesmerizing piece of work. And I realized hey, if Bruce could leave "The Promise" off of Darkness, I can leave [poem I really like] out of [manuscript] and the world won't end. (And then when my book becomes a huge best-seller I can put out a Special Deluxe Edition with Special Deluxe Bonus Material, and put some of the stuff back in that I took out the first time around, and people will have to buy themselves a second copy of the book just so they can get the Special Deluxe Bonus Material. Right? Because that happens to poets, right? *grin*)

I also listened to Tunnel of Love, which (if you can get past the Totally 80's Production Values) is, in my opinion, another structurally brilliant and strongly focused album. So, listening those 3 albums actually helped a whole lot -- more, in some ways, than reading over books of poetry whose structure I really like. Thanks, Bruce! ;)

Then I read through all the poems that I'd brought (a huge stack of the things -- well, I have poems I still believe in that date back to my late twenties, and I'm 47 now, so that's basically 20 years worth of poetry to sift through) and made notes on them about season, time, and location. I thought those might be good organizing principles to start with, as many of my poems rely heavily on seasonal imagery, and I have a lot of poems that are set specifically in Indiana or Provincetown or Maui, and a lot of my poems could be classified as "day poems" or "evening poems" or "night poems." I ended up not really using that information, but it helped me get a little distance from them as I read them, so it was a good way to start. I also started jotting down some notes about recurrent themes, images, and words. That part did end up being helpful.

Then I started pulling out the poems that felt like they belonged in the first section. I'd had a first section and a last section loosely in my mind for quite a while, but amusingly enough, what I'd been envisioning as the last section kind of turned out to be the first one, and vice-versa. As I sifted and sorted and pulled different poems up to the top, I kept asking myself, Which one is my "Thunder Road"? And I kept hearing that piano intro in my head, the invitation of it. And you know what, that did the trick.

It took me the first three days to get the poems sorted out into sections, and although I'd originally envisioned three or at most four sections, it turned out to be five. I've tried forcing them into fewer, but it really seems to want to be five right now. Hmph.

Once I had the sections laid out, I went through and got even more ruthless and took out quite a few poems, and tinkered with the order a little bit. There were several poems I felt kind of sad about taking out, like I was rejecting them. But here's the nice thing about blogging: if they don't fit in this book, and they don't fit in the next one (I think a few of them are my first steps into the next one), and they don't get picked up by journals (or maybe even if they do), I can always post them here on the blog. So I don't have to feel like oh, poor little poems, never to see the light of day. Heck, the truth is that even though this blog doesn't have an enormous readership as blogs go, a poem posted here will probably get read by as many people as a poem published in a dinky little print journal. Realizing that made it a little easier to do the necessary weeding & pruning.

Finally, on the last night, I printed out a clean copy of the whole thing, with section dividers and a table of contents and everything (and I even typed up an acknowledgements page, because that's just fun to do). And I put it all in a magical springback binder, and I read through it, and reading the poems one after another & hearing the ways in which they echoed one another was really, really cool. All of a sudden it felt like a whole thing, not just a pile of poems. It's a thing that I will probably keep tinkering with and working on, even while I start sending it out. It's not a perfect thing. But it is, I think, a thing that is ready to go out into the world a bit.

* * * * *

Today I was thinking about my five sections (it's a longish manuscript, about 78 pages in its present incarnation, but even so, five sections seems like kind of a lot). I read through the manuscript on my lunch break today, and made some notes towards possible changes. There's an arc to the whole thing, for sure; the sections are in the order they're in for a reason. But each section also has its own character and could probably stand on its own as a chapbook. There's such a trend towards books that are very unified, very monothematic -- and this is not one of those. But thinking about it, I realized that what I have is kind of like a collection of linked short stories rather than like a novel. And when I thought of it that way, it made sense and it seemed okay.

So now I just have to get the thing sent out (and because there's a line item in the grant for submission fees, I have to send it out to a number of places before June 30th -- no pressure, huh). That will be this weekend's task.

* * * * *

A few other retreat thoughts: Staying in a state park was actually a really, really, really good idea. I had a lot of solitude, but there were people nearby in case I needed them, and that felt kind of good too. I only had one real conversation all week: with a naturalist at the nature center in the park (who was very interested to hear that I was working on a book, and who said he'd really love to see more arts-related activities happening in the state park system). When my head got too full of words, I went out for a run or a walk in the woods, and that was perfect. I saw some cool wildlife: turkey vultures, immature red-tailed hawks, pileated woodpeckers, cardinals, crows, a Baltimore oriole, robins, and other birds; a GINORMOUS wild turkey (I know that should go in the bird part of the list, but it was so huge it almost wasn't like a bird at all); several deer; a couple of marauding raccoons swiping birdseed outside the nature center; a couple of box turtles; a small pond that had about a gatrillion tadpoles in it; and lots of squirrels and rabbits, including a bitty little baby bunny that was just redonkulously cute.

I could have gone into town (Madison, Indiana) if I'd felt the need, but staying within the confines of the park worked really well for me. There was one gift shop and one restaurant at the inn, and I was grateful for the gift shop because they sold mosquito-bite remedy (oh yeah, I should have included mosquitoes in the wildlife list), and I ate at the restaurant a couple of times but mostly I prepared my own meals with the mini-fridge and microwave and coffee maker in my room. If I'd been in a town, I would have been distracted by shops and restaurants and people. As it was, I had solitude without isolation, and I had relief from pounding on the poems without having excessive distraction, so it was perfect.

And all the while I knew that I would have to blog about the whole thing, because I put that in as part of my grant. One of the requirements is that there has to be some "public benefit" from your project, and while it seems a little hubristic to imagine that lots of people will benefit from these thoughts about my manuscript-wrangling experience, there are lots of poets struggling to put together their first books and there is not a whole heck of a lot out there that's been written about the process ... so maybe, in some small way, this really will help someone. I do know that paying attention to my process and knowing that I would have to be accountable for it in some way was helpful for me. I had to approach it with a certain level of mindfulness, and not just throw poems together in an instinctive way but try to articulate to myself what it was I was doing & why, and that has been a good exercise for me.

We'll see what, ultimately, comes of this. But it's been worthwhile, to say the least. Well worthwhile.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Chapbook Announcement

Yes, I'm back from my retreat, with a workable (I think... I hope...) full-length book manuscript in hand. The retreat was just what I needed in so many ways, and I'll write more about it later.

And while the horrendous flooding you may have seen on the news is not far from here (the worst of it is about 30 miles north of me), I am high and dry.

But! It is announcement time! You can now pre-order my first chapbook, Breach, from Finishing Line Press. Just go to their New Releases page and scroll down a bit (they're in alpha order by last name). It is 12 bucks, and if you order it before July 25 you get free shipping. Your very own personal copy will be reserved for you and will ship on or about August 22. They take credit cards, PayPal, etc.; if you prefer not to order online, I can give you their mailing address so you can use a good old-fashioned check.

As those of you who've published with Finishing Line Press know, the number of pre-orders determines the size of the press run as well as how many author copies I receive, so it would make me very happy if a lot of people pre-ordered this beastie!

I've set up a web page for the chapbook, where you can read the blush-inducing blurbs (by fabulous poets Diane Lockward and Christine Hamm), as well as several sample poems and a little bio about me. No, it's not a fancy page, but we're all about simplicity here at the Land Mammal blog.

Finally -- and I only say this because a couple people have asked! -- if you would like to have your copy autographed and don't see me on a regular basis, go ahead and order it directly from the press. Then drop me an email (ahaines at gmail dot com) and I will give you my address; you can send me the chapbook when you get it, and I will sign it with a special purple pen and send it back to you. I'll be so flattered that you asked, that I'll even cover the postage to send it back. :) I also have every intention of being at AWP this coming February, and will happily sign chapbooks there (as well as cocktail napkins, oversized tennis balls, body parts, or pretty much anything else you put in front of me).

So, that's the announcement. I am very grateful to those of you who've already said that you will be ordering it! I hope you enjoy it. I know I'm terribly biased, but I think you will. :)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Quick update: it's a draft!

We had another round of ferocious storms today, and the inn (and in fact apparently the entire town of Madison) was without power all afternoon and into the early evening! Fortunately it wasn't so hot and steamy that being without a/c was onerous (it's supposed to get well up into the nineties for the next few days), and I was able to set up shop at a table outside my room near a big window where there was lots of light -- so I still got a lot of work done today.

In fact, I have sort of a draft of the manuscript pulled together! Er, slight problem, though -- it's just a wee bit lengthy. Like, I need to cut at least 1/4 to 1/3 of it. Oops. It occurs to me that what I might have on my hands is my first manuscript mooshed in with a head start on my second, so I'm going to read through the thing tonight with that possibility in mind and see if that helps me pull some stuff out without sending the entire structure of it crashing down.

General retreat advice, if anybody wants it: I've done a pretty good job of eating relatively healthy food while I've been here, and I think that helps a lot. You gotta be in shape for this kind of work! *grin* I've also realized that it is very good for me to take my meals as a break from working -- read something non-poetry-related, watch a little tennis, surf the web, whatever.

Getting outside and moving around feels crucial, too (when it isn't pouring down a deluge of rain). Tonight at dusk I went out for a nice walk/run, and I saw lots of wildlife: a small snake squashed in the road, a few deer, a couple of raccoons, a bitty little bunny, and tons of birds. (Also: mosquitoes. Hey, that's wildlife, right? Just very small wildlife.)

I also found an enormous turkey feather by the side of the road, which I am keeping as a souvenir. It's the length of my forearm, striped brown & cream, really quite beautiful. I could make a quill pen out of it! I could.

* * * * *

One quick PSA -- this info came to me in the Indiana Arts Commission newsletter. Sounds like a fabulous opportunity:

29 Artist Residency Opportunities in Alaska, La Familia Gallery (Seattle, WA)

Seattle-based La Familia Gallery is now offering 29 annual artist residency opportunities in Talkeetna, Alaska. Accepting applicants from around the world who concentrate in the visual arts, music, and literature, the residency program aims to encourage a better understanding of what one truly needs live, to create, and to be happy. The La Familia Artist Residency program is designed for emerging and mid-career artists who are seeking direction, inspiration, and reflection. Eight, six and four week residences are available. Deadline dates run from June 2008 to December 2008. To learn more, please visit
* * * * *
I'll have another announcement in a few days, so watch this space.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Retreat, the Tuesday update

I'm so easily derailed.

When I went to bed last night the plan was to get up relatively early and go for a run before the day heated up (both temperature-wise and work-wise), then get down to business and maybe take a short hike in the late afternoon. When I got up (relatively early; at least I managed that much!) it was drizzling, so I nixed the run and made coffee. Checking the online news and weather for here and for home (which is 100 miles northwest of here), I saw a fairly good chance of severe storms, and some pretty impressive stuff rolling over the Illinois border. I worry so about my house and especially my cats when I'm not home; my roof already needs replacing, I have a big old silver maple in my back yard that's bound to drop a ginormous branch someday, and one of my cats is terrified of loud noises (thunder most assuredly included). I watched the radar as storms rolled through Bloomington, and held my breath as the tornado warning was announced and eventually cancelled. (There was a tornado on the ground about 10 miles south of my house, as it turns out.) I emailed back and forth with a friend who's almost as tornado-phobic as I am (for those who don't know -- when I was 5 years old a huge tornado whomped up half of the city I lived in and gave my house what-fer [um, apparently hanging out in southern Indianatucky has afflicted my vocabulary] and I've been pretty nervous about storms ever since) and she assured me that Bloomington was, in general, still standing.

Before all of this commenced I had managed to make myself sit down at the desk and shuffle through poems for a while, picking out a half-dozen from the stack that for sure belonged in the first section of the manuscript. (Last night I spent some time reading through everything and made some notes about recurrent themes, images, motifs; that was useful work and helped me see some connections I hadn't really made before. A decent start. What I have is really a hodgepodge of about ten years' work. The second book, if there ever is a second book, will probably be easier.)

Then the storms roared through here: some thunder, a pretty stiff wind, and about as much rain as I've ever seen barrelling out of the sky all at once. Fog rose out of the woods and over the river and the mighty Ohio was entirely obscured. I watched the Weather Channel until rain knocked out the satellite signal, then tuned back and forth on the radio looking for a station that would give me more weather updates than whiny country music. I kept cruising for updates on the Bloomington situation as the second line of storms raced through there and nervously pacing. (Seriously, I really do not like possibly-tornadic storms, and by this time they'd put out a tornado watch that included me.) When it cleared somewhat I opened the windows again (if I'm gonna be in the woods I want some fresh air, dammit!) and thought I'd take a little nap on the couch to get myself recombobulated. Before long, the tornado sirens started going off. Sigh. Turns out it was just a "severe thunderstorm warning but there's also a tornado watch so we'll blow the sirens just in case because these storms can drop tornadoes with no warning" situation, and all we got was more thunder, wind, and rain. Rain waterfalling off the roof of the inn. Rain making a greeny muck of the woods. Rain ... you want rain, we got it and then some.

Well. Eventually I was able to get back to work, and as of right now I've got a draft of the first section (of 3 or possibly 4). Hooray! It's kludgey and will certainly evolve as I continue to work, but at least it's a structure to start from. Last night I listened to the Born to Run album, paying special attention to structure and sequencing; I think that album is an absolute masterpiece in that sense (and in many other senses). "Thunder Road" issues the invitation, then "Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out" lays out the platform that everything else evolves from. "Night" promises that the momentum of this thing is going to be relentless. And so on.

Dinner break now. Thanks to having a microwave and mini-fridge and a certain amount of foresight, I had a very lovely dinner of mesquite-grilled tuna fillet (the kind that comes in a pouch and you just nuke it for 45 seconds or so), roasted potatoes (from the Bloomingfoods deli), and green beans (from one of those "throw the bag in the microwave and steam the things" bags). There is a restaurant here, and on the first night I succumbed to the lure of the fried chicken dinner special (half a chicken, green beans, tossed salad, rolls & butter, mashed potatoes & gravy) -- the Indiana state park inns all make a mean fried chicken -- but my heart will be much happier if I don't do that every night, you know? After I watch a bit of news, I think I'll take a short walk and look at the river for a while, maybe sit outside (if I can find a dry spot) or in the lounge overlooking the river & read some other people's poems for a while ... then back to it.

It's amazing how quickly these days are flying by.

#1 thing I'm glad I brought (besides the laptop and, of course, my poems): really good coffee.
#1 thing I miss: the cats, of course; but after that, a stapler. Shuffling through piles of poems would have been a whole lot easier if I could staple the multiple-page ones together. Doh!!

Monday, June 02, 2008

not fade away

RIP Bo Diddley.

Retreat, First Morning

It's hard to go out
without a watch.

But this is how
I begin this day, I leave
the ticking thing beside
my bed and go

down to the green bluff
that overlooks the Ohio.
The transit of the sun
and the roar of distant industry

mark my time, as does
the urgency of birds.

The morning becomes
a gradual arc, not
divvied up in minutes.
Nothing is fragmented,

not the cloudless summer
sky, not the tiny spider
I shake from this white page.
I'm awake now. I am waiting.

* * * * *

Here by the river there are many vultures -- enormous things, soaring on thermals, spiraling with great broad wings outstretched. I think those wings are solar panels, storing up the energy of this abundant summer sun. I know these birds eat dead things, are scavengers, cleaning the woods of stilled & rotting flesh. I like the thought of all that dead wildness taken up to this boundless sky: bits of deer, skunk, possum gone higher than those creatures could have dreamed in life, warmed by all this riverlight, unhurried, drifting in spirals, soaring.

* * * * *

Also, I am reading this article from the Poets & Writers website: "Putting Your Poetry In Order." I like the idea of manuscript as mixtape ... I've made a lot of mixtapes in my time and always thought I was pretty good at it. :) So, maybe I can handle the manuscript thing too...


Sunday, June 01, 2008

Retreat, Day One

So, part of my project proposal for my grant was that I would blog about the process. I've posted a few things through the year (most notably when I was in Provincetown for the workshop), and now that I'm actually on retreat I should post! I arrived today in the late afternoon and got checked into my room. Clifty Falls State Park is lush and green and wooded, and the southern edge of the park sits on a high bluff that overlooks the Ohio River. It's really lovely.

I had the tiniest of fender-benders on my way out of town, which I think was meant to put me on notice that mindfulness is necessary. I think that may become one theme of this retreat.

The other theme is to listen to myself and give myself what I need in order to be productive and creative. That means eating when I'm hungry (and not when I'm not), going to sleep when I'm sleepy, et cetera. Sounds simple, I know, but it's not how many of us live on a day-to-day basis.

To that end, I decided that what I needed tonight was an evening of relaxation, to set up sort of a buffer zone between "retreat space" and everyday life. I had a nice dinner, after which I sat at a picnic table outside overlooking the river and wrote in my journal & read for a bit. Later on I took a long soak in the tub, which is something I haven't done in goodness knows how long. I am very relaxed indeed. And tomorrow will be for sufficient caffeination and some good productive focusing. When I walk out of here, I have to have a submittable manuscript in my hand. That's the goal, and I will meet it. "No retreat, baby, no surrender!"