Sunday, June 26, 2011

Titling the Chapbook

97º ~ sun setting, low humidity keeping us all somewhat sane, a good wind keeping life bearable out there, have resorted to watering the lawn

Today has been quite a roller coaster dealing with the sick cats, and while I promise not to make this a "tending for your sick cat" blog, I think it is important to acknowledge that we don't write/work in a bubble. 

After a rough morning, I sat down on the couch with Jeannine Hall Gailey's new book, She Returns to the Floating World.  While I only read two of the five sections, I can already recommend this book without hesitation, as we say when writing student recommendation letters.  As I read through some of Jeannine's haibun, I paid special attention to her craft, given that I've recently written three and the form is new to me.  By chance, the poem exchange I mentioned several posts ago included the three haibun.  I received my friend's comments on my poems during the height of the cat crisis and the thoughtful responses have been lingering in the back of my mind, even while I was too exhausted to work on the poems.  Today, as I read Jeannine's book, I was called to get up off the couch and go back to my computer and work on revisions.  It is not often that I feel this calling, a force almost outside of myself propelling me to the desk, perhaps because I keep a more regular schedule, so there's no reason to be called.  Regardless, I'm in Jeannine's debt because her poems lit a fire under my butt and I put it back in the chair.

Despite developing a fierce headache (lack of sleep, a bit of dehydration) as I worked, I kept going as long as the energy remained.  Between my friend's solid comments and my inspiration, I feel like I've made good progress on all three poems.  WAHOOOOOOOOOOOO! 

Finally, though, I had to succumb to the headache and the exhaustion and I went back to the couch for a nap.  I don't sleep well during the day, but I did close my eyes and rest in a quiet room for an hour or so. Toward the end of the hour, my brain began to mull over a title for this chapbook I'm working on.  The poems are newly created fairy, haunting, cautionary tales about a girl from the Midwest.  There is a bit of Grimm reference, but it doesn't overwhelm the book.  I want to use the word "Tales" in the title, but I'm sorting through.  In the meantime, I read Aimee Nezhukumatathil's Lucky Fish just before the crisis began, and in "The Soils I have Eaten," she references a variety of state soils.  Imagine my shock to discover that there are state soils out there.  Me, a dirt girl through and through!  Sure enough, Iowa has one: The Tama Series.  After reading up on it, I bookmarked a couple of websites with information and let the words sink into the mush of my disordered brain.  Today, all of that might have come to fruition.  At the end of my not-napping, but-resting time, I wrote this down:

Black Hawk County Nursery Tales

I have no idea if this will stick, but it feels like a step in the right direction.  So, thanks to Aimee and Jeannine for their beautiful books, which inspired me today.


Saturday, June 25, 2011

A Quote for Beginning Writers

90º ~ conditions the same, a weak breeze

Every time I teach creative writing, every time I'm asked for advice by beginning writers, I say the same thing:  READ, READ, READ.  There are sound reasons for my saying this, reasons beyond the fact that when I began reading poetry in-depth and with an eye to figuring our how the poet created the magic of the poem, my own work took off in new and amazing directions.  However, I've never heard such a direct explanation of the advice as what Rita Dove had to say about it in an interview in The Writer's Chronicle from Oct/Nov 2005.

"...if you don't like to read, you're not writing for the right reasons.  You're not writing because you love poetry; you're writing because you want attention.  And yes, we all want someone to listen to us--but poetry involves craft and there's a rigor to the craft that the true poet learns to embrace and loves to see executed in others' poems."

As I re-read that quote last night, I had to confess, Dear Reader, that in my younger days, when I didn't read and study other poets, that's exactly what I wanted.  I had all these pressing emotions and observations just bursting to be said; however, without reading and discovering how others had crafted their own poems, I was stumbling through the dark shouting at the top of my lungs, a crazed thing trying to get attention.

I plan to start with this quote in creative writing this fall and see where it takes us as a class.


Not a Poetry Post

87º ~ back to our regularly scheduled heat wave, with highs close enough to 100º to count, no rain in sight, grass starting to show signs of stress, crinkly & browning

This is not a poetry post, but a post to explain my absence this week. 

As the week began, we learned that Lou-Lou (3 years old, black & white kitty) had a high fever, accelerated heart rate, and anemia.  (She had been growing more lethargic with a lessened appetite each day over the course of two - three weeks.)  Blood tests showed some infection had "shredded" all of her mature red blood cells.  The good news: her blood does contain immature red blood cells, which means her bone marrow is working correctly.  She is currently on a steroid and an antibiotic to try to kill the infection and allow her system to rebuild its stores of mature red blood cells.  We test her blood again next week to see if the cells are maturing and thriving.

In the midst of this, as we waited for results for Lou-Lou, I thought Libby (7 years old, tabby kitty) was breathing funny.  I told myself I was being paranoid.  Then, when it didn't go away in 12 hours or so, I took her to the vet.  She was in heart failure and will always be in heart failure for the rest of her life.  She has hydropthropic cardiomyopathy, a genetic disorder that causes some parts of the heart to continue to grow muscle when it shouldn't.  I was able to see her heart on an ultrasound, and the vet showed me the part that was enlarged to twice the normal size.  In addition, one wall of her heart is barely contracting at all because it is so thick.  This is something that was happening her whole life.  On Tuesday night, her heart could no longer keep up and fluids built up on her heart and lungs, causing the breathing difficulty.  The vet put her on Lasix & a heart regulating med and sent her to an overnight clinic to stay in an oxygen cage until the meds could get some of the fluid off her heart and lungs.  The long and the short of it is that she may only have about a year left with us and she'll need to be on meds for that time.  She is responding well to the meds, so we are hopeful.

According to multiple vets, nothing we did caused any of this, and with Libby, there was nothing we could have done to prevent it.  With Lou-Lou, we might have caught the infection earlier, but we did catch it in time, we hope. 

Today, I've caught up on my sleep and as both cats appear to be stable for the moment, I'm getting back to a sense of normal, trying to come to terms with our new reality.  My wise mother reminded me that we always knew that we would outlive our pets, and that is true.  Also, we give them lots of love and attention every day and they live a good quality of life here in the Kangaroo house.

I confess, I'm a bit angry with the universe/god/creator/etc. at the moment, as my precious kitties are true innocents, well Libby is anyway...Lou-Lou does have a bit of the trouble-maker in her, but she still doesn't deserve this! 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Empty Nest, Sick Kitty, & a Query

83º ~ what's this? not 95º by noon? storm clouds here and there, a good wind knocking down the trash cans, maybe, maybe a bit of rain to come

It's been a tough couple of days, Dear Reader.  We have a really sick kitty and are waiting to hear back from the vet with a diagnosis.  We do not handle this kind of waiting well here at the house of the Kangaroo.  C. and I are both soft-hearted to the point of weakness.

Alas, the robin's nest is empty.  One fledgling has been spotted learning to fly in the back yard, hopping around after whichever adult is still tending it.  It's a mad squawker.

Well, now that I've violated my poetry-only rule not once but twice, let's get down to it.  My hours at the desk have been spent in two ways this morning.

1.  I read through and made initial notes on a set of poems from a good friend.  We exchanged drafts yesterday.  Ah, the luxury of summer, to have the time to recreate the camaraderie and support of a workshop without all the BS.  Reading this person's work always makes me want to write, and that's a wonderful bonus!

2.  I prepared a query to send to a publisher for In a World Made of Such Weather as This

desk sprawl
I have a bad habit, Dear Reader, of printing information off the computer or receiving it in the mail and then setting it aside "to do later."  The result of this is a sloppy pile of bills, letters, books received, calls for submissions, rejections, &etc. all tilting and slipping beneath my printer (which is raised up on a shelf meant for kitchen cabinets so that this sprawl doesn't take over the entire surface of the desk).  Today, I grabbed the stack and started at the top.  I refused to allow myself to set anything aside.

About three tasks down, I came to the folder for this particular press and a new set of submission guidelines that I'd printed out, which included detailed instructions about what the editors wanted to see in the query: a letter explaining the book, a current CV, and a writing sample.  I must admit that when I began the task, I thought it would be a snap.  I suppose I thought this because submitting to contests is so easy: manuscript, check, SASE, done.

Two hours later, I saw the error of my supposition.  How to summarize this book in one paragraph in a query letter.  I know, I know, this is one of the top five things you are supposed to do when you think the book is ready to be published.  I've read this on countless blogs and sites:  write a one-paragraph narrative about the book's subject and themes.  But it is so much simpler to just print the manuscript out and shove it in an envelope!

Now, I'm so glad that I did this.  It really helped me clarify my own thinking about the book, and when I was selecting the sample pages to include with the letter, I kept checking them against the paragraph.  I opened the complete file of the book and then scrolled through each poem, highlighting the ones I thought would make a good sample.  As I did this, I asked: Is my description honest and accurate?  Do I really understand my own motivation for ordering the book the way I did?  Do these poems matter?  Do they offer music, image, and wisdom?  Is reading this book worth the precious time out of someone's life?

While I received yet another no-go yesterday, the process today was a huge confidence builder.  It helped me reconnect with the book and the poems.  It gave me a little bit of faith in the long process at work here.  So be it.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fledglings and Manuscript Scramble

91º on our way up to 100º, though we're supposed to drop down to highs of 90 or so by mid-week, bright, bright sun, a good breeze, and branching fledglings

Our baby robins are fledglings!  There are three chicks.  One has made its way out onto a branch quite far from the nest; one hops out of the nest and back in; the third is still nest-bound.  I've tried to get some pictures, but the quality is poor, although I'll share the best of them.  This busy day in the tree is providing a bit of distraction to the poetry work going on (explained below).
Oldest fledgling, wandering a bit far from the nest
Two chicks left in the nest
 I'm not patient enough to learn to use a quality camera, but on days like this, I wish I were!

I've been away from the blog for a bit, helping to celebrate the marriage of two close friends and then having them as house guests.  A true joy.

Now, I'm settling back into my routine.  I've been fussing over the old manuscript, In a World Made of Such Weather as This, as I received the no-go news from two presses over the past week.  As most of you know, there was a massive reorganization of this manuscript last fall, and that reorganized version is still out at ten presses, so all my fussing could be for naught.  I'm good with that.  Knowing that if the book is picked up at one of those ten presses I'll be overjoyed, but also knowing that maybe there is something about the order that is holding the book back, I read it through cover to cover again today with an eye to organization.

The result, I added four poems that fit the themes and don't fit where I'm going now.  I titled my sections as a way to clarify why I have sections and as a way to think about the order.  Finally, I switched section one and section two around and might have moved one poem out of each established group.  I also switched the order of a few poems within section one. 

In other words, I fussed.

Of course, I still have the old order saved on my computer, so if I regret these decisions tomorrow, no harm no foul.

Perhaps I just needed to do something with this angsty state of mind.

Interestingly, a few days before I got the call from Anhinga about Blood Almanac, I'd pretty much gutted it and reorganized. Will history repeat?

My patience appears to be lacking in book publishing as well as in learning photography.

Finally, in the time it took me to write this post, that second chick abandoned the nest altogether, although it is stationed quite near, in a secure nook.  I'm pretty sure I can see the first one, out there on the thin limb, growing as I type.  This world is AMAZING!!!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Draft Process: A New Cautionary Tale

81º ~ a bit of a reprieve for the next few days with highs in the low 90s and a slight chance for some rain, predictions that we will rise back to the upper 90s by early next week, all here is sun washed and bleaching ~ the feeding frenzy continues at the nest, climbed the desk to see what could be seen, alas, the thing is titled outward, grow baby birds, grow, so I can see you

Oh Happy Day!  A new draft!  Wahoo!  I can't help it; I still get a lovely thrill when I've written a draft, an upsurge in energy and possibly a brief release of endorphins.

Without pushing it, I've had the idea of a few more fairy/cautionary/haunting tales in the back of my mind for the past few days.  Somehow, everything just clicked from the get go today.  Wish I could bottle that magic!

I opened the journal and took a quick look at my list of Midwestern icons and when I hit the word "hawk," the line was already forming.  I flipped as quickly as I could to a fresh page and wrote:

Once there was a girl who knew the hawk's eye was always on her...

The rest unfolded from there, but two curious things happened.

1) I felt the need to go directly to the computer rather than drafting more of the poem by hand.  That's new for me.  I remember when the lovely Mary Angelino read at the Arkansas Literary Festival.  Her MFA is newly minted and she's a bit younger than me, but I was still surprised when Mary mentioned that she drafts all of her work on the computer, no handwriting at all.  It hadn't even dawned on me, I suppose, that this was a way of writing.  Still, I'll take it any way it comes. 

2) My girl in this poem does not come out on top, she is not empowered by the end of the poem and she has not made her own choices.  Tied in with this is the fact that the hawk is the 'bad guy' if you will, and I LOVE hawks; they are my second favorite kind of bird.  (FYI:  1 = great blue heron, 2 = Cooper's hawks b/c they are the species I grew up observing most in my part of Iowa, but I really love all hawks)  Normally, in these tales I've been telling, the elements of the land & air are the 'good guys' who aid the girl in discovering her true nature, even if that includes some violence, and the adults, usually fathers but some of the mothers too, try to make the girl conform to a 'normal' way of Midwestern life.  Hmmmmmm... a new direction.  And I'm glad for it, since I've looked at the poems as a chapbook and don't want them to get boring or all run together.

For now, the poem is titled "Cautionary Tale of Girls and Birds of Prey," but I'm not settled on that.

An immature Cooper's Hawk, courtesy of Creative Commons

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Moby Dick Art and Submissions

83º ~ reaching for 98º today, then a bit of a drop off into the low 90s for the rest of the week, whew, lots and lots of feeding activity going on in the robin's nest, no rain in the forecast for the next four days at least

Today, with great delight, I received the four pieces of art that I purchased from Matt Kish, who created one piece of art (often pen and marker drawings on found paper) for every page of Moby Dick.  Matt's website contains all of the art from this project and several others.  This fall, Tin House will release all of the drawings in a book, and I cannot wait to buy that book.  As I've said before, I've never been able to finish the novel, but perhaps, with Matt's book in hand, I'll give it another go.

Here's one of the four pieces that arrived on my doorstep today.

Page 428 : In 1778, a fine ship, the Amelia, fitted out for the express purpose, and at the sole charge of the vigorous Enderbys, boldly rounded Cape Horn, and was the first among the nations to lower a whale-boat of any sort in the great South Sea.

Before the mail arrived, I spent my desk time today working on submissions.  I've had June 1st on my radar because that's when Barn Owl Review opens their reading period. In the past, journals with summer reading periods have been difficult for me because I haven't been able to keep up with writing new poems during the school year.  I am so happy to say that I had five poems ready to send out, poems that haven't been sent out before this, or were only sent out a few weeks ago.  Thanks to yesterday's big time revision work, submitting today was a piece of cake!

With the one journal firmly in mind, I did glance through the lists of journals reading this summer to see if anything else clicked.  Sure enough, I found three others that opened on June 1st as well, or were reading year round and enough time had passed since my last attempt for me to try again.

After submitting, I went to check the mail, where I found the above mentioned art.  For anyone who thinks the acceptances just keep piling up, alas, there was a rejection envelope as well.  And so it goes....  I must admit that the art helped soften the blow.  Thanks, Matt!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Suspicion of Baby Robins and Revisions

88º ~ I will NOT complain about the heat b/c I prefer it much more than the winter, but sweet mother of all breathing things, it's hard to catch a deep breath amid the soggy furnace blasts

Today, at around 10:00 a.m. I noticed some new activity on our robin's nest: both parents sitting on the edge of the nest with a worm being torn apart between them.  Then, one of the adults dipped its head down into the bowl of the nest, below my sight-line.  This activity went on for about 30 minutes, with the adults hopping down to the yard to get more worms/bugs and then resuming what I can only presume is the first feeding I've observed.  Now, the female robin has resumed her nestling and sitting; however, after watching the Decorah, IA eagle cam this spring, I know that the adult bird will sit on the newly hatched birds as they grow and that is okay, so I'm less alarmed than I might have been.  In a few days, I'll try standing on the desk to see if I can get a view down into the nest, but there are more leaves in the upper branches, so I'm not sure what I'll be able to see.

I'll keep y'all posted, but for now, here's another link to the eagle cam.  Our baby eaglets are quite grown up now and should take flight this month or early next. By the way, this pair of eagles has a history of raising two and three healthy eaglets each year, pretty remarkable!  Somehow, I think Iowa must have something to do with this.  :)

When I wasn't on robin-watch 2011, I was busy at the desk this morning working on revisions.  I've really got hold of this chapbook idea for the group of tales I've been writing, so I gathered them all up in one document this morning.  I went through page by page and tweaked the healthiest poems here and there.  As I said yesterday, there are two that I think are a bit weak, so I really dug into them today.  Guess which two they are?  The two longest ones.  This past spring I was so proud when I started writing longer pieces, but you know what?  They just aren't sitting right with me.  I keep finding what looks like flab that needs to be cut.  While the two super-revisions I worked on today are still longish poems, both now fit on one page.  The first, remains in tercets, but I cut about ten lines.  The second, the longest I'd written and the prosiest, is now in prose poem form.  Hmmmmmmmmm.

Now, I get to fuss about with trying to figure out the order of the things.  I also need a few more poems to get to the right page length, as I'm sitting at 15 now and that seems a bit small for a even a chapbook.  I poked around the internet and found that most presses ask for 20 - 30 pages, with the least that I found being 16.  I think I'm going to aim for 22 or so.

I must also title the darned thing, of course.  I've been playing around with the original Grimm's title:  Children's and Household Tales.  I'm wondering about something like:  Midwestern Nursery and Farm Tales, but I'm not loving that.  I shall ponder.

Oooh, it looks like another round of feeding, definitely head-in-nest, butt-in-air time for the adult robin.

Distractions, distractions.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Draft Process: Haibun #3

80º ~ heat wave continues, may get a 'break' on Wed/Thurs, when the highs will only be in the low 90's, long-live the South, it may stifle, but at least it doesn't freeze

I'm happy to be back in drafting stage, here at the desk of Earnestine, my kangaroo guide.  I've toyed with declaring a poem-a-day goal for a set number of days, but I'm just not feeling it.  I think I'm doing well as I am, so we'll see how it goes.

For today's session, I did practice my mental gymnastics of telling myself "I'm going to write a poem tomorrow morning" all through the evening yesterday and then "I'm going to write a poem this morning" as I went through my morning routine.  Believe me, I am happy to be writing and drafting, and I do feel like I have things to say, so this is not an attempt to force the issue.  Rather, I find that it helps me focus and turn off the monkey mind that tends to plague me.  I also keep a notepad handy so when a monkey-mind thought pops in, say something I need to pick up at the store, I can jot down the reminder and put it aside.  Hey, it works for me.

So, I came to the desk this morning and cleared it of everything except my journal and my folder of poems in progress.  I minimized all screens on the computer and set the iTunes for classical music only.  The stage was set. 

Given my review of Mary Biddinger's chapbook of Monica poems yesterday, I've been thinking more and more of making a chapbook of my cautionary/fairy/haunting tales.  Yesterday, I'd counted up the pages I have and I'm pretty close to being there, but two of the poems feel a bit weak.  I thought I'd return to that form this morning, although my girl persona hasn't really been singing to me much lately.  I flipped back in my journal to the jotted lists of Midwest icons that resulted from Kristin's comment back in March.  The first word I saw was "windmill," and this line materialized:

No Don Quixote windmills these...

I jotted down three lines from that and then got stuck, so I went back to my list of words and found Rath Meat Packing (a plant in my hometown that went out of business during the farm bust of the 1980's, but that was a fixture of my childhood).  So, I started a tale about a girl whose father worked second shift at Rath's.  It lasted for four and a half lines and went nowhere. 

Mental gears grinding, frustration level rising.

I opened my folder of in-progress poems to see if that would spark anything.  I got sidetracked with a few minor revisions, which turned out to be exactly what I needed.  Just playing around with lines that already existed was like adding oil to those stuck gears.  I took a glance at, but didn't read, the two haibuns that I'd drafted most recently, and then things just clicked into place and I knew I had to write another "Cornfield, USA" haibun.  I went back to my windmill image and off I went.  I'm not sure how sturdy these haibun are, given that the form is new to me.  Time will tell.

For someone who used to swear she never wrote poems in a series, ahem, I seem to be doing just that now.  Who would'a thunk it?

Finally, as I prepared to draft this post, I knew I wanted an image of a modern windmill, but I'd forgotten to take one on my last trip up home.  Many thanks to Michelle, of reunion fame, for telling me about, a site that offers images and text for use because the owners of the material have said it is okay.  I had to settle for an image from China, but these are the type of windmills the poem is about, so there you go. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

What I'm Reading: Saint Monica

90º ~ reports of temps over 100º all around town yesterday, but not on our official record yet, the robin labors on the nest (not a mammalian labor, of course), no rain for days and none in sight, so far all green things are holding fast to the remains of last month's floods, dead calm

Mary Biddinger is one of those poets who seems always to have been with me.  I could not tell you when I first came across her name or her work, whether it was from reading a poem or seeing her name as editor.  She is one of those amazing multi-talented people who seems to do it all: raise her beautiful children, write amazing books of poetry, edit the journal Barn Owl Review, direct the NEOMFA program, and teach at the University of Akron.

I'm pretty sure she's a superhero.

I know she's a superhero poet.  For full disclosure, I reviewed her first book, Prairie Fever, here

Saint Monica is a chapbook, recently released (as in, I can still smell the glue on the binding and the ink setting on the page) by Black Lawrence Press.  Weighing in at 18 poems of one or two pages each, this is a mighty chapbook, and I suspect that the poems may be composed of the theoretical dark matter; they drag me in and weigh heavy on my heart.  They are a black hole in the best possible sense. 

(If you are a scientist and I screwed up those metaphors, I beg your forgiveness.  Feel free to leave a comment of explanation!)

As I mentioned in my review of Lee Ann Roripaugh's On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year, I admire the well-used epigraph.  Biddinger offers us the entry for Saint Monica from the Patron Saint Index, and in doing so, sets the tone for the book and prepares us for some of the more difficult content to come.  Aside from the biographic details, we learn that Saint Monica is the patron of such people as:  abuse victims, alcoholics, disappointing children, housewives, victims of adultery, wives, &etc.

Each poem title begins with "Saint Monica..."  For example, we have "Saint Monica of the Gauze," "Saint Monica Gives It Up," and "Saint Monica and the Itch."  Each poem is a persona poem featuring Monica, a girl of working-class heritage, and we see her progress from childhood to a difficult adulthood.  Several poems weave an alternate life for Monica, a life in which she chose a different man, a better man.  These are narrative poems written in a well-balanced variety of forms.  There are couplets and tercets and longer stanzas, and there are several prose poems. 

One of the things I admire most about Biddinger's work is her ability to write narrative poems without losing the music of the well-chosen word.  Here are a few excerpts of "Saint Monica of the Gauze," the first poem in the book, as example.

the opening:

The room is red with iodine.  Her ears stop
and her thighs slacken against 
the bed.  The owls would like to unwrap

her, as owls do, always looking
for the next loose shutter ... .

the closing:
...They say that she will get out.
There will be time and muscle
enough for hanging wet towels on a line.

Listen again to "slacken against" butting up against "unwrap" and the way "next loose shutter" sounds like a stutter.  Then, at the end, hear how "line" echoes "time" and "muscle" works with "wet towels" to give us that sense of a girl wrung out by life.  The whole book is filled with this kind of subtle music building a dirge for Monica. 

Perhaps the most blatantly heartbreaking poem in the book is a prose poem, "Saint Monica Stays the Course."  It is too lengthy to quote in its entirety here, but we get the overview of Monica's life very early in the book.  The poem begins with Monica as a girl having been granted the privilege of walking in the May Crowning procession and receiving instruction on what to do in case someone passes out or gets her period or pukes along the way: "whatever happens, do not stop marching."  Variations of this phrase "keep marching" are repeated throughout the poem (and throughout Monica's life), providing a key poetic element in the prose form.  Later the refrain is lengthened to include "proceed as planned," and the setting moves to Monica grown up, now with a job as a cocktail waitress and an abusive man in her life.  The poem ends with a description of physical abuse and then this:

If he appears above you in the middle of the night, reeking of Wild Turkey and Kools, do not push him away.  Proceed as planned.  You have done this before.

Ah, sweet Monica, you are so like many of the girls/women I've known, both personally in my youth and now in my job as a community college instructor, these women who become trapped in a brutal life because they were told from their childhood that this was their fate, that they are to blame for their own bad choices and must take whatever comes as a consequence, that they will always be doing penance with no hope for redemption. 

Towards the end of the book, we do find some joy in Monica's life, some hope for the future, in her son.  Biddinger writes in "Saint Monica and the Babe":

Since the day he was born he was never
quite real.  Monica keeps him in
her bed at night, won't share him
with the crib rails or midnight creaks.
She wonders if she should pray to him,
ask him questions nobody could answer.

The poem is bittersweet, as Monica seems to be placing an unbearable burden on her son, but for a moment there is tenderness and love there.

Throughout the book, Catholicism lingers in the background.  While the poems do not judge the Church and its rites, they do ask the reader to question the relationship between Catholicism and the working-class characters in the book, especially the women who seem to take on suffering like a shroud. 

Support a Poet / Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Saint Monica
Mary Biddinger
Black Lawrence Press, 2011

***Remember that if you buy directly from the press, they make a ton more money and will be more likely to stay in business.  If not the press, consider buying from Better World Books, which offers discounts comparable to those of the major chains and uses its profits to promote literacy in the US and abroad.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The Narratives of Our Lives

85º ~ highs in the mid to upper nineties for the next week, at least, possibly 100 on Monday, oh joy, summer has obliterated any little bit of spring we had left, the robin on the nest pants continually to try to stay cool, the eggs may hatch early due to the heat, according to my sources

Where I've been?  Lebanon, TN (30 miles east of Nashville).  Why?  Reuniting with a college roommate (hi, Michelle!). 

one of the Nashville bridges
Like many people in the pre-email, pre-Facebook days, Michelle and I graduated and kept in touch for a few years.  Then, life intervened and we drifted apart.  We were living half a continent apart, when long-distance phone calls were still expensive, and both of us were starting careers and working on relationships. 

Luckily for me, when my book came out and Michelle read about it in our alumni newsletter, she emailed me and we reconnected.  Emails were great and then Facebook made things better.  Last year, I took a look at the map and realized that we both live on I-40 and that somewhere east of Nashville would be halfway.  The planning began.

On Tuesday night, we saw each other in person for the first time since 1994, and, magically, we picked up right where we left off.  We talked and talked and talked and walked in some heat while we talked, ate in some diners and restaurants while we talked, and drank coffee in one excellent bakery while we talked.  While we had filled each other in over email on the basics of our lives, there were lots and lots of gaps, lots and lots of stories that needed telling. 

As I drove home yesterday, I thought about the narratives of each of our lives, and how we chose to tell them.  We were not chronological.  Our stories skipped like rocks on a flat Minnesota lake.  Luckily, we had bonded at that age just between our youth and our adulthood, and so we had a lot of foundational knowledge about each other.  I also thought about how I framed each of my stories, trying to be honest and thorough.  This is one of the amazing things about a true friend: that even after nearly two decades, I was still comfortable talking intimately with Michelle and I knew that she would treat my narrative with care.  Michelle is one of the most amazing, talented, and caring people that I know, and I am so thankful that she is back in my life!


Now, aside from a brief and nearby weekend trip, I should be settled down at home for at least a month.  Expect the poetry to begin churning!