1. What counts as writing? Thinking about writing while sweeping up the mysterious grit that mars a peaceful walk from the bedroom through the kitchen to my desk? The sweeping? Is this preparation or a diversion from my task? (What task?)
2. Try writing about the unexpected big splash I witnessed over the top of my monitor and on the edge of the woods where there isn't supposed to be any water? A deer leaping? (I saw no deer.) A hawk swooping? (I saw no bird.) Another tree falling? Four in the last week, drowned in rising water table, then knocked six ways to Sunday by the winds.
A. R. Ammons got famous writing quotidian texts memorializing Florida garbage and his days. Was he any more interesting than myself? (probably) Here at least arguably a shard of a writing life: a detoured reading: The Poetry Foundation take on Ammons. The point: This melding of the personal and the social is something I try to do. Ammons becomes an inspiration even when I have not re-read him lately.
3. wrestle with this ‒ too literal and concrete. Qualities that assist the historian or journalist in me; qualities that make poetry. . . difficult.
4. The poem that was rejected in under 48 hours? Just before bedtime? Did I lose sleep over it? I did not. What sort of a writer am I that I took this unjust rejection ‒ I think the poem is pretty good ‒ with equanimity?
5. Is my curiosity about that fall of water a good sign or a bad sign? It does not leave me alone. And as the wind keeps blowing and as there are 40 foot-long hangers waiting to drop on the unwary in the breeze ‒ oh, plus the trees still standing ‒ it does not seem wise to go outside even in my galoshes to get the facts, to see a carcass perhaps or maybe a few feathers a bit of fur, or maybe a branch that dented the earth just enough to lie unseen from my writing window. Would any of that make a decent metaphor? Do I really need to see what fell? Shouldn't the mystery be enough to start my fingers on the keys?
There is is again ‒ that unfortunate search for facts, which is enough to destroy any piece I could fathom today.
BTW ‒ caged by Covid, every day is my writing day.
6. Checked out BlazeVox Fall 2021 Journal. If I ever fitted in there ‒ no more. Entertaining hour. Geoffrey Gatza as enthusiastic as ever. Michael Basinski as wild and brilliant. Me, too buttoned-up.
A touch of golf. Why? Have you bored yourself? Poets play golf? Probably. Do they write poems out there if they do? Only when they bogey? Are there hymns of triumph?
7. Does it count that I am reading Maggie Doherty's The Equivalents oh, so slowly and carefully? If I finish it today will that count for this writing day? Or will it count only if I make use of it in some writing way, not simply that it informs me, but that it also causes me to make writing?
8. And this evening a book launch of TKS books 2021 collection? That I already have in hand two of those pieces? Messy Archivist #2 ‒ which is glorious and I've been corresponding with M C Kinniburgh who wrote it ‒ plus the bonus of Gil Sorrentino's “Tomato Sauce” aerogram to Ammiel Alcalay, which Kinniburgh included in her elegant packet of paper and stickers and whose archivist's career encourages me along a faint path. Will she teach generosity to me?
9. Making my mother's recipe for hard sauce (which is neither difficult nor alcoholic) this afternoon for plum pudding to have after the launch ‒ does that count for archiving? I pulled my favorite recipes out of her collection and typed them (pre-computer) and distributed them to my siblings ‒ an early exercise in archival preservation, requiring delicate discrimination. I did not retain the liver-and-onions recipe.
The archivist may, on occasion, exercise her own taste as long as it does not twist her project out of shape. And can do so honestly by defining the project properly ‒ “desserts only” in this case defines the borders of the project and eliminates the liver. Such moves, no matter how passionately driven can cause the loss of her stew, but not if the pressure cooker recipe book is preserved.
10. The screech of Canada Geese passing overhead reminds the writer not to forget sound. Her readers are not deaf.
11. Should note that the writing day begins with a journal that registers correspondence, phone calls and writing progress ‒ a day-book rather than a diary ‒ occasionally early notes for a poem, but failed to note ‒ so tell it here ‒ I drive brother to his booster shot only to find the appointment was never recorded in the database. No booster. He remains caged, as am I. Also, weather, and try like an Eskimo to describe the sky outside the upstairs window as the Eskimos describe snow. “Raining” is not enough.
If you don't write it down, it will never become a poem.
12. Sarah Thomas. In the Shadow of a Giant: Elizabeth Bishop's Key West Legacy. History Magazine. Fall 2021. Pp 14-15. My tastes are coming through. I like the comparison of Bishop's The Fish with Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, the personal connections. Difficult to imagine more disparate personalities.
Soup is cooking. Ten minutes until TKS begins. Trot.
13. TKS https://www.granarybooks.com/pages/books/3007/tks-2021-complete-set
A presentation of artists' books that feed the writer's soul. M C Kinniburgh, Ammiel Alcalay, Miriam Nichols who handles Robin Blaser's literary estate, two daughters of Steve Clay. When the discussion drifted to archiving and preserving digital work, I spoke about the Electronic Literary Organization and its efforts to archive, Millie Niss's and my experiences with work that was published and well-received and which now is beyond anyone's vision and hearing unless they go someplace special, like the computer media lab at University at Buffalo. I came to think of this work as similar to a magazine printed on very poor paper. It disintegrates and is not retrievable. The result for me: I have returned exclusively to print.
Perhaps I should have kept these thoughts to myself.
What I didn't say ‒
I am not known in this circle and it was off-subject in any event ‒
is that the digital and video work that I did with Millie has fundamentally
influenced the way I use the page in print ‒ a cross between the visual and
the lines of text. The use of space ‒ white space especially. The Last Collaboration (2012)
in particular was constructed like an
interactive website with symbols leading the reader through the book, not
necessarily in page order, but with the option of following threads.
This theme has carried through to my most recent books, making each page into its own independent work, the links, the mix of graphics, texts, sources and opinion.
And, of course, this all works off high school days of editing the school paper, learning to lay print before there was digitization, learning to check layouts in hard type.
So, it all came around today, although I did not write a single line of poetry.
What I did do, however, was to set up a series of steps toward deepening my use of poetry.
In the last two years, Martha Deed has published four books and re-set another. The pandemic has given her the unbroken period of time necessary for this work. Her Writing Day essay depicts her coming up for air and re-setting poetry as her primary writing a week after finishing five major writing projects in the last two years. Two poetry projects in process. Welcomes ideas for single poems as well. Two Pushcart nominations egg her on.
Much of Martha Deed's recent work has been triggered by her exploration of hundreds of family documents -- many dating back nearly 200 years-- that have made their way into her house. She has been making poems of some, digitizing many, constructing sets of what-merits-preservation to libraries and museums, including 40 Civil War letters of a Union Army Private to New York State Military Museum, Saratoga Springs, NY, a set of letters from two school teachers who traveled to Italy, Germany (where they attended a Hitler speech), and Japan as WW 2 was breaking out to the Rockland County Historical Association, bird records of Rockland County, NY, from 1840-1980, compiled by her father, to the Ornithology Laboratory at Cornell University.
Investigating personal history and its far deeper social and political meaning are themes that grab her imagination. This is a good thing, because she still has three boxes to unravel.
Chasing Whitman. Huntington Historical Society. 2019. Results of research on her family's connections with Walt Whitman.
Under the Rock . FootHills Publishing. 2019. Poetry collection.
The Kingston Mystery. 2021. Based on family papers and research. Non-fiction genealogical mystery.
The Notebook and Diary of Flora Brewster (1879-1899). Transcription, annotation and index of a Flora Brewster (1849-1939) diary Martha discovered in a box at Kingston (Massachusetts) Public Library's Local History Collections and published with permission of the library.
Birth: Where Medicine and Culture Meet. The Pierre Vellay Portfolio. 2017, re-set 2021. Meeting Lamaze successor Pierre Vellay in Paris, attending his childbirth education classes and performing a longitudinal study of women's childbirth and breastfeeding experiences at his maternité clinique, made famous by Marjorie Karmel's Thank You , Dr. Lamaze. Booklet contains the interview protocols and report of findings to Dr. Vellay.