Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thursday right after school I drove just under two hours to Ashland to see Mark Doty. Culture shock just to drive from my little left-out town over the mountains to the mini-urbanity in muted toned nubbly fabrics of Ashland. Let alone going to see a major poet. How frightening would that be, to be written about as a major poet? Last year I went to Ashland to see Li-Young Lee. It's hard to think though since I'm sitting in the town library where a skeleton hand with a little speaker in its wrist and a motion detector somewhere laughs in a scary Halloween voice every couple of minutes. The motion detector is broken, it isn't that there are dozens of passersby at the desk. The librarian's smile has gone a bit grimace but she's game enough to keep the thing on, which draws the kids wandering around every so often so she can tell them about the free movie (Monsters vs. Aliens) at 2pm in the big room here at the community center.

Which reminds me of how Mark Doty's reading began, after the interminable fawning introduction that drew attention to the fact that the speaker whoever she so prettily was had heard him first at the Geraldine R. Dodge poetry festival. Finally, he walked on stage, they sorta hugged, sorta shook hands, he said a bit of a syllable (sorry, I don't remember which,) and then a prerecorded woman's voice boomed from the speaker above his head, telling us to keep our feet off the seats in front of us, this being the high school's very beautiful theater, and then the regular stuff all theaters remind us about. It'd have been nice to have done that bit before or perhaps during the stint of the introducer.

Doty opened by celebrating the broadside the one letter press printer in Ashland made for his reading, which I had bought before going in in the lobby for $10 (a bargain.) Before reading his poem he read the poem that he said it sprang from - "In the Same Space" by the Greek poet (I always think ancient Greek when someone says Greek poet, but I caught up) C. P. Cavafy. Here's that poem:


The setting of houses, cafes, the neighborhood
that I've seen and walked through years on end:

I created you while I was happy, while I was sad,
with so many incidents, so many details.

And, for me, the whole of you has been transformed into feeling.

-C.P. Cavafy

Doty said the last line over again, and we knew this line was what carried him into his poem of the same title.

He read in that markedly slowed down manner that puts me off for about a poem and a half and then draws me into the words. Jane Hirshfield does a similar thing - when I heard her last year my first thought was "how affected," but then I was transported. Ditto Doty.

The couple to my right just moved to Ashland from Zila, near Yakima. He was a journalist, she a children's librarian sucked up into management. They were so pleased with their relocation. Ashland has a cultural life, from the Shakespeare Festival to the Varsity Movie Theater to the Bloomsbury Bookstore, and the Chautauqua Series that brings poets like Mark Doty, who not only read at the evening event but work with the kids in the high school. No wonder they're pleased. It's also physically beautiful, and whatever my meaner thoughts about the slight affectation of the gentlefolk farmers in the vicinity, there's lots of wonderful local food, including artisan cheeses.

And now the librarian is talking with another local who brought in an unwatchable DVD he'd checked out, returning it now unwatched, complaining "you know how people are around here." Sigh.

Doty read a handful of new poems, one of which, about being greeted by the emissary goat from a herd, I really liked. He told an anecdote about Stanley Kunitz at his 98th birthday, then talked about his puzzling over Kunitz hitting his poetic stride in his 70's and 80's. "I think it's because of his garden," Doty said. Kunitz loved all phases of the garden - all year, from upsurge to rot. Like most of the rest of us, Doty said he struggles with any kind of acceptance of mortality. He read his poem "Heaven for Paul" wonderfully - it's set in an airplane about to crash, and features his partner Paul going glowily beatific facing death while he panicked. I liked his talk about Kunitz better than "Heaven for Stanley," but that's just me.

During the q & a, which I'm always grumpy about, the questions usually being more along the lines of "LOOK AT ME!" than sincere questions, someone asked about how Doty got started writing prose. He said after his lover died in 1994 he couldn't write poems - what he was going through wouldn't let him make poems. He started writing in sentences, then paragraphs, in prose. He began looking at them, thinking, "now, that sentence there could be better..." He said that opened an aesthetic distance, paused, then said, "Aesthetic Distance can Save Your Life." (caps mine.)

Afterwards, I wandered the lobby watching folks lined up to have their books signed. My broadside had come presigned so I didn't have to stand in the line. I hate standing in the line, forcing the exhausted poet to engage with WHO? little me there with my book out wanting his actual hand on my paper. Pah! And the fear I'll say something. If I could just thrust the book forward, stay mute, I'd avoid the possibility of blather. Kiss the anti-blarney stone before standing in a signing line.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

I'm jangling - we asked for money for our trip to Bend and have gotten LOTS of money for our trip, which has made me weepily grateful and worried that some of the seniors are trying to not go because. I don't know why. Because we are old people. Because we (the teacher and I) are white. I know in one case that is probably true. BORING and STUPID and TRUE. Ok, I'm using boring the way the kids use boring. I don't understand what's going on and I want it to go away.

I must email the teacher to see how we can be sure everyone is on board we want to be on board. I worry we'll have fewer Tribal kids than the college has assigned Tribal guides. Isn't that dumb of me? But at this point I feel we OWE everyone who has donated our absolute danged best to SHOW THE HECK UP!

Which is the theme pretty much of a well-lived life: SHOW UP. Goof up. Mess up. SHOW UP again. Sometimes don't trip over anything or say a spazzy thing or spill coffee down the front of your white shirt. SHOW UP the next time. Say "I wonder what blah blah will be like?" and SHOW UP. Get nervous. Chew your nails and the inside of your face but SHOW UP. Wear what you wore to bed last night trying to keep warm but SHOW UP. Hitchhike. Scramble through the brambles, the sage, take a kayak, a bus. When your car breaks down, stick out your thumb. When you get bad news, grieve, and then, put on the walking shoes and SHOW UP.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

I read two Matthew Dickman poems to the seniors today, as preamble to our trip to Bend to see him read with Sherman Alexie and Karen Karbo. The first poem I read was called "Amigos" - over a page long, single spaced. The second poem, "Love", I was afraid to photocopy and pass out due to its adult subject matter - sex. Sherman Alexie's young adult novel was banned a hundred miles from here because the narrator says (this is a paraphrase, but pretty accurate,) "I masturbate. I admit it. I'm pretty good at it. I'm ambidextrous." In "Love" Matthew Dickman (coincidental last name) mentions a woman having legs around someone's waist, and oral sex. Though three junior girls spent fifth period discussing anal sex, I'm probably not allowed to knowingly expose the seniors to any sexual references. Oh well, oops. I told them I was going to read them a poem probably inappropriate to school and that I was only going to read it to them once. Then I made copies and handed them out.

In fifth and sixth periods the students are making books. They're in the early getting it together phase, so I did a show and tell of book making. A few are interested in pop-up books, so I'll see what I can put together for Thursday's show and tell, including a storyboard for planning. We're out of my expertise area, but what the heck, I like to wing it and see where we go. I love to explore the intersection of word and image. The important thing is for me to stay on track and not confuse those who need more structure by heading off in many possible directions. "What am I supposed to do?" they ask. And they want one answer.

Friday, October 16, 2009

In answer to a question from one of my students, Sherman Alexie replied, "A successful literary career is mostly about postage, and I guess email now." In which case the last two days I have been mid-very-successful-literary career, having sent out probably 13 submissions, not counting the book manuscript I sent to a contest. Now that I've reproofed (I reprove myself for not having done this BEFORE sending to the contest having caught several typos from what I thought was a 100% clean manuscript) the book, I might as well send it off to some other book contests. I've duct taped the big flapping lips of my inner critic and set her out in the bike and kayak shed to entertain the clumsy and loud-walking ground squirrel with her deep sighing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The teacher's back! Yay! All of us need his structure and that feeling of purpose that comes with it. He's younger than my younger child and so much older than the high school kids. Luckily I stopped aging when I gave birth for the first time.

The sophomores, here in this rural school where everyone is Indian, white or maybe Mexican, did not like Amiri Baraka's "Bang, Bang, Outishly (for Monk.)" How is this poetry? They said. I wouldn't download it for free, they said. I'd played them a little Thelonious Monk beforehand and that didn't seem to register - the connection between the music and the poem. Such a different response than from an urban classroom. Is this relevant? I don't know. I do know these kids are very afraid of what they don't know or understand, that is not already in their world. Maybe part of it? I played the Monk quietly through the period while we wrote poems - today we wrote "Where I'm From" poems inspired by last year's poems from our book THE NEWS FROM CHILOQUIN and a little bit by Georgia Ella Lyons' poem which had started those last year poems. I'm trying to heavily insert the reality of the book into proceedings. Thursday will be revision day.

I forgot there is break after second period and walked out of the class when the bell rang since the teacher had left, saying something about coming back. I didn't realize the break mistake until I was driving towards, nearly to, the library where I now sit typing instead of talking about syllabi development or going to meet with the principal to see if we can take the seniors off on an overnight trip to Bend. HA! No issues there. None. Zip zilch, cannot think of a way things could tip off the high dive into the deep end there.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

10/7/09 Daily Crossword Poem Draft

I advise you buy the bag with clasp
not one sagged open that says naif
or nothing in your wallet, Euro earl
noble pearl, ramparts tumbled, vent
to sky events, sleet, drizzle, rain, etal
Rochester, the moors, and heather
in the flu borne English weather. Nod
and hope I'll lope along and leave you
to your purchase, hie me home to sew
or show whatall I know to one who
isn't you. Dispense with talk as you
disburse to buy that purse I bet
I'll bless you yet and yet I'm double
parked, my tires marked, the chalk
but not the ticket. Oh sticky wicket
I'll call you at home another day
cut crusts away and harvest cress
your guess as good as mine for
who am I to say or bless unless
that fanny pack's zip has broken.


Third teaching day without the teacher in the classroom - Thursday, Tuesday, now this Thursday. Six days and maybe counting he's away and all his order and purpose far away and how many days will that take to rebuild? I pick up litter, put the desks back in order, shelve the books and still he is not here and tensions and chaos rise. Today's sub was a stickler writing referrals right and left, making good she said, following through she said, but breathing discord in this room where trust was building block by stick by gluey mortar, now a tumbled heap. There's a history here of teachers, English teachers, fleeing. The kids feel uneasy. "Is he in the state?" a teacher asked in the teachers' room. A question. He's been on the phone or email calling in his absences. I want him to come back, a student says. I want him to come back.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

October 6 09 Crossword Puzzle Poem Draft

I collected postage stamps from Chad
that came in glassine slip covers, rode
the bus to school, strapped on skates
to circle the basement, drew hula
dancers on construction paper, aped
my elders, made a plaster of paris tibia
took in TV from Miss Elaine to Igor.
National Geographic meant the Nile
and piles of sunken gold refound, the
flu was more TV and toast and jam
but here I am and I am groping
not to scream, my mother phoning
news that she is old and failing. I let
her worry, as I always have, aloud,
which worries me but I don't dare,
I spin my skate wheel, still eleven.