Several readers have asked if I had any other photos of Ragdale, especially of my room or of the prairie. So on the last day of the month in which I spent two amazing weeks in residency at Ragdale, I … Continue reading
For the last two weeks I’ve been an artist in residence at Ragdale in Lake Forest, Illinois. If you haven’t applied, apply now. The most wonderful people are here to make sure your work comes first and that you don’t … Continue reading
I left my house in Columbus, Georgia at 5:15 am and arrived at the Days’ Cottages at 12:15–7 hours door to door. I flew into Boston, a rented convertible waiting for me, but the forecast was for wind, rain, and … Continue reading
A friend of mine from long ago and far away drove thirty miles into Chicago, so we could visit, and so she could show me Ragdale, thirty miles outside of Chicago and a passion of hers. Grounds, buildings, rooms with … Continue reading
One thing I know for sure: I do not like large groups. Socializing sucks my brain cells and replaces them with that noise that used to come on TVs after a station had gone off the air. But talking to one … Continue reading
If you were to ask me to recommend a novel written in the first person, I would say Anne Enright’s The Gathering. I’ve read it twice and I’m thinking about reading it again. But I just finished her most recent novel, The Forgotten Waltz, and although I didn’t like it as much, in some ways, it makes better or more use of the powers of the first person, in particular unreliability.
In an interview in The Paris Review, Enright says:
The wonderful thing about this kind of unreliability is that it reflects the unreliability of our own narratives about our own lives.
Gina Moynihan is the kind of person who realizes what she’s saying in the saying of it. And I think many of us are similar. Until you start articulating something, you don’t quite know what it is, and you don’t see the mistakes or flaws in your own argument until they’re in the air. She’s in the process of realizing what she’s saying, in the process of realizing what she knows or what she has refused to know–that’s the journey of the novel.
From Gina in The Forgotten Waltz:
But it was the first time I had said the words out loud, and it might have been true all along but it became properly true then. True like something you have discovered. (157)
Two other things. One of my favorite lines ever, which now makes me look at birds in a new way:
I think how kissing is such an extravagance of nature. Like birdsong; heartfelt and lovely beyond any possible usefulness. (81)
Finally, writer Hermione Lee wrote a dead-on but spoiler review in The Guardian, which includes this great summary of some of the wine lines to be enjoyed in The Forgotten Waltz:
They measure out their lives in large glasses of imported wine: there’s the phase of being “mad into chardonnay”, the “sauvignon blanc” years of happy marriage, alsace riesling as a spur to adultery, cracking open a “Loire white” as a reaction to bereavement.
So I started writing this post early this morning, then stopped to exercise and run some errands, and now it’s almost 3:00, and I have to leave my desk again. But I find I have still more to say about this novel. Until tomorrow…
On my way home from Montpelier, Vermont and the successful completion of a two-year low-residency MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. This last residency went by so fast–it’s hard to believe it’s over.
Both my lecture and reading were on January 1st. And graduation was yesterday.
This morning, breakfast at the Skinny Pancake. Then a drive to Burlington and a flight to JFK. Now waiting to board a flight to Atlanta. Then I’ll have an hour and a half drive to Columbus.
As many of you know, I love traveling and airports. Today, especially, it’s nice to have all these hours in transit to mark the transition.
Why do you refuse to admit that in poetry, as if in a mirror, I attempt to collect and to see myself, to pass through and beyond myself.
Last week, for a few days, it was doing nothing–long walks on the beach, listening to the ocean, watching the sea foam extract itself from the waves that produced it and scatter down the beach. Staring at the flower of a jellyfish, remembering being stung as a kid.
Oh, this innate bad habit of always existing in places where I do not live, or in a time which is past or is yet to come.
One week until I send in my last packet. In seven weeks I’ll be in Vermont. In a little over eight weeks, I’ll have graduated.
The memory of it would have vanished utterly had he not enclosed it in a fortress of words…
No Place on Earth by Christa Wolf (born in 1929) is a different kind of book than what I usually read. Wolf is a German author, who in this slim volume writes about the imagined meeting in June of 1804 of an unknown female poet and a famous male writer at a social gathering “for tea and conversation.” One hundred nineteen pages of almost no action and some dialogue. Mostly, it’s the back and forth of the relentless minds of these two characters, as if their minds were communing, on the subjects of life and death, the freedoms of men and women, the necessity of art:
That time should bring forth our desire, but not that which we desire most.
The repressed passions.
We are not worthy of that which we long for.
We must understand that longing needs no justification.
I was just reading over the upcoming November 1 How We Spend Our Days post by Mari Strachan (which is wonderful).
In her post, Mari recites the names of some Welsh towns, each one of which sounds magical. Her list reminded me of a list I had jotted down in June on my way to Vermont.
Is it just my love of the northeast that transforms the names of these towns into music? Or is it the fact that the names are unfamiliar to me–in the sense that I’m not usually driving by these towns?
Yesterday, I was driving from Columbus to Birmingham. I passed signs for Opelika, Auburn, Alexander City, Sylacauga, Pelham. I didn’t make any notes.
Perhaps I’m being unfair to the Alabama towns not to list them vertically.
Inside there’s a new feeling–no more books on the floor, no more clutter, lots of space. And there’s movement.
Things are changing. Now I stand to write and walk when I feel like it. I can also sit, which I find I sometimes need to do if I’m having to work really hard to turn an inside thought out.
Inside I’ve cleaned out drawers, moved things that haven’t been moved in years, given away books. Created white space.
Poems and novels, histories and memories, dictionaries and blue-books; books written in all languages by men and women of all tempers, races, and ages jostle each other on the shelf. And outside the donkey brays, the women gossip at the pump, the colts gallop across the fields. Where are we to begin?
~Virginia Woolf, The Second Common Reader
For a writer whose days are mostly spent by choice by herself in front of a screen, eleven days of amazing and stimulating workshops, lectures, and readings–connected by speaking to people, finding seats, speaking to more people, making plans for dinner, and speaking to yet more people–can be quite disorienting.
I used up all my words.
The people in charge of the residency encourage us to get away from it even while we’re in the middle of it. So I would often run, or take a walk and take photos.
One of the main events at residency is the announcement of the advisers for the next semester. The list is posted around 7pm on a bulletin board. People trickle in, huddle around, emit small sounds or large ones, sometimes kick things.
My adviser for my last semester will be my first choice–Douglas Glover of Numéro Cinq and the author of, among other books, Elle, which won the 2003 Governor General’s Award. This semester I will finalize a creative thesis of 75 pages, write a 45-minute lecture, and prepare for a 20-minute reading. I will give the lecture and the reading at the winter residency, on the last day of which I will graduate, ending this wonderful journey.
I have this thing for the ocean. But in a pinch, a pond, a creek, a river will do.
The Winooski River flows through Montpelier, Vermont. From the balcony of the old Victorian, we could actually see the river.
And when I was out running, I discovered the cool bridge below:
Yesterday, I drove from Montpelier to Boston, flew from Boston to Atlanta, drove from Atlanta to Columbus, where I pulled into the driveway about 6:15 last night.
I had big plans for today, but I’m just drifting from one thing to another, not getting anything done.
11 days at VCFA, and now a series of photo posts to unwind myself, to spit me out into the world again.