The greenhouse is officially enclosed, with just some work remaining on the bottom “curtains.” At least no fear a strong wind will send it aloft. This photo is before the cap was put on it. I’ve taken to calling it “the crystal palace.” It’s incredibly impressive.
Unfortunately, I’ve had a terrible head cold, so missed the main event on Thursday, though was really glad to have the quiet house to myself to hunker down in and sleep several hours. Since the festivities were just across the way, Steve brought me a plate of delicious food and checked in on me.
This morning Steve got up at 4 a.m. to take three of the visitors to the airport, and Catherine got up at 5 to head out to see some swans on a lake in Clearwater. I warned her it was destined to be anti-climactic, and it was. A mere five miles from the attempted crane sighting a few weeks ago, they stood on the shore and saw some unhappy swans that had partially frozen into the lake overnight pecking their way out. Not the dramatic sweep of hundreds of swans illumined by the first rays of dawn she was hoping for.
What I have been doing is zeroing in on the task of organizing a poetry manuscript. My book of poems, H is for Harry, will be published by North Star Press in March 2016. I’m very excited.
Ordering a poetry manuscript, unless you’ve written it as one consistent project over a short period of time, is tricky. My last book of poems like this (not the 100-word story collection, Habits) came out in 2003. That means potentially there are 12 years worth of poems to be managed. Plus, I don’t want to put them chronologically, or even thematically. I want them to interweave, without sections, into a solid manuscript.
A friend who read the manuscript for me gave me a challenge: Don’t start with the title poem. It’s a “childhood” poem, and leads easily to some other childhood poems about learning to read and reading books. Childhood, tweenhood, teenhood, adulthood… Yeah. She pulled a poem about 20 pages in and said: What happens when you start with this one? It’s a brilliant suggestion, actually, a poem about “the work of the poet,” but it takes place right in the middle of my life, at 26 years old, living in Brooklyn. What starting place is that?
I laid all the poems out on the floor in basically four groupings or stories. There is the story of my divorce and remarriage. There is the story of my encounter and ongoing work to bring written language and living things together– to make a world of language come alive. (In a way, maybe that is what all poems are doing, but these are sort of “meta,” drawing attention in one way or another to that task.) There are poems about monks and other religious people and ideas. And there is the story of the flora and fauna of this place: sandhill cranes, hummingbirds, yaks, gardens, fieldstone, etc.
None of these stories seem separate from each other to me. But they were tricky to weave together. I’ve also wanted to take out four or five poems, to make it a little leaner. But the only poems I think I could take out, that rub up less comfortably against the others, are ones that have been published in literary magazines! Publishing in literary magazines is so random and such a long process, that in many ways these poems don’t “fit.” There are a lot of other poems in that category that I’ve written these dozen years or so, but I can discard them easily. Having “acknowledgements,” demonstrating that some of these were previously published, is kind of important. So they, at least as of now, get to stay.
The divorce and remarriage is the most chronological set of poems, the most narrative. It becomes a backbone running through the collection. In some ways I think these are the most powerful poems, too. He is going to leave; he leaves; I date; I remarry; I am a second wife with a new husband.
Around these poems, but neither competing with them nor giving them too much importance to the overall manuscript, are my ongoing themes and discussions. What is art and inspiration? How does the world speak and what do we say back? What can we make of words? How praise the world? How lament? How reach into a moment of time and pull out a crystallized moment or image that expresses what it means to be human? What beauty there is in the world and in imagination. How lucky to be alive and out in it and with words to tell the tales. Hopefully the themes unfold as the manuscript links one to another.
I’m going to turn it over to the editorial team, if not today then certainly by Monday. Then it will just be a matter of getting it to look good on the page. I can’t wait to have it to offer to you! Thank you for the part you’ve played, encouraging and reading along, in this particular journey.