Interim arrangement

interim89Today, the last day of a weeklong academic break, I went searching for my copy of a 1989 issue of Interim, the magazine in which my poems made their first national appearance. I was an undergrad at Rutgers when I sent them off, after scouring Poets’ Market for venues. (No web sites to browse back then, and Nevada lit mags didn’t make it to New Brunswick bookstore shelves very often.) I was on a cross-country road trip after graduation when the acceptance letter came–Chris opened it for me during one of my rare calls back home, from Texas, as I recall. (No cell phones, either.) When the issue arrived, I was deep into my first term of graduate coursework, still writing poems but basically abandoning for years any serious effort to get them published. I was ambitious, and poetry remained a lifeline, but the workload at my fancy PhD program was overwhelming, my peers brilliant, and my confidence shot to hell.

I found the red-and-white issue buried under memorabilia (look at those old IDs! I was such a baby!) in a box in my attic. People have accused me of keeping a relatively orderly house, but those people haven’t climbed the attic stairs. Added to many of our old letters, notebooks, and yearbooks are now the kids’ most precious toys and diaries, AND several boxes of photos, papers, and offprints from my mother-in-law, in assisted living. When Chris brought Judy’s boxes home, we were both sobered. Who will ever look again at all those articles on epidemiology, the NIH grant applications, and other evidence of scientific ambition? But who could simply recycle them? Up to the attic they went.

The occasion for today’s search was my second publication in Interim, 28 years later. The current editors very kindly took three poems from what I hope will be my next poetrinterimy collection which is, as it happens, concerned with ambition, from the vantage of middle age in a small, small town. The poems “Ambitions: Bath” and “Ambitions: Lexington” are from a series of list poems reflecting various impossible aspirations. They’re strongly rooted in place because for me, coming to terms with feeling stuck has meant digging down and taking in some history. If you’re having trouble shooting up, why not root down? I’m seeing what I can learn, anyway, from planting my feet and so far the answer is: a lot.

During this overstuffed week I spelunked the attic, put together new submissions, booked future travel, graded essays, and organized lesson plans. I didn’t fulfill all my goals, but my goals were pretty ridiculous, as usual, so getting partway through the plan feels okay. And it’s interesting to take the long view for an afternoon, comparing my old and new poems and dreams. The new Interim, edited by Claudia Keelan and Derek Pollard, is in most ways better than the old, founded and edited by Wilber Stevens. But my undergrad apprentice-work was published only a few pages away from William Stafford’s “The Anxiety of Influence”–a head-trip. “You can’t realize your panoply of influence,” Stafford writes, “reaching out from a quiet life,/ and sometimes power extends far over/ a wide part of the world, especially downwind.” The joke is that the “influence” he’s referring to here is literally human stinkiness, wafting along a hiking trail and intriguing some coyotes. I like the way he pricks ego’s balloon: aspiring poet, your words may not be as impressive as your body odor.

It’s fun, too, to reread my now ancient-seeming poems, “Stones” and “Crocus,” as Interim published them ages ago. The latter poem is about potential and striving against hostile elements; it translates other senses, and the nonhuman world, into sound and voice; and it’s slant-rhymed (“thought”/ “thawed,” not bad!). Maybe not so much has changed after all, in the interim.


Boarding around and some valentines

“Barding around” was Frost’s way of describing a poet’s itinerant life, giving readings anywhere and everywhere for your supper. “Boarding around” is the variation on Frost’s phrase that’s been running through my head lately. I’m the chair of the Mid-Atlantic Program Directors’ Caucus for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, which means attending the annual convention is a little like being a minor sub-sub-host of a tremendous, complicated literary party. I’m not at all in charge but I will be helping with various kinds of hospitality, introducing the introducers and cruising the book fair to ask vendors how they’re doing. I’ve also organized a small reception at an alum’s nearby apartment on Friday evening, 6-7:30. Some of our current students will be there (it’s rare for an AWP convention to be so close to my little rural college), as well as alums, professors, and friends. If you’re around and want to sip beverages and nibble food with us, please let me know and I’ll send details.

I’m also delighted to be hanging out at the Poetry by the Sea table in the bookfair on Saturday from 2-3, signing copies of Radioland. I’m going to steal a friend’s idea and donate the money from any sales to the ACLU–$10 per copy or whatever you can afford (cash or check, because I don’t have a swipe thingie, or you can just promise to donate $ later). I hope you’ll stop by and say hello. Also, I hope you’ll buy LOTS of poetry from authors and editors at the bookfair who need the funds more than I do, and maybe even support the AWP with a donation, if you can. Art offers counter-truths that have never been more vital. We really need the cash-strapped organizations that support literature to remain healthy.

Finally, check out the new issue of Talking Writing. I have a couple of poems in there, one of them last year’s science fiction valentine to Chris–I hope you’ll hear the Bowie echo. And I’ll leave you with a view from my Payne Hall window sill, with orchids from a friorchidend. Work has been seriously terrible for the last few months–really, for almost five years. Some welcome news has just mitigated that, and I’m really excited about a search we’re currently running. I feel damaged–talk about gender shrapnel!–but also have hope spring is around the corner, at last. I never would have staggered toward this finish line without the solidarity of many friends, the orchid-giver included, and I’m beyond grateful. Flowers for all of you in my sisterhood of sanity!