Friday, April 30, 2010

April 29, 2010

We opened Hamlet at the Wortham last night. I think Adam’s and my scenes went well, but I have no sense of the rest, except that it seemed endless, the longest play that ever was in the history of the world. I would sit in a chair backstage, nod off into sleep, wake up and the play would, incredibly, still be going on.

But when I left the theater, not that long before midnight, the full moon was riding the south between the Jackson Building and City Hall. I stood and stared at it a long time.

Dream based no doubt on the brouhaha surrounding the visit of the President to Asheviile at the beginning of the week. I dreamed that Barack Obama and I were team-teaching a drama course, in a series of tents in an open field. Everything was made more difficult because I had to go through the Secret Service all the time in order to confer with him. In the dream the President was very tall.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

April 27, 2010

Medieval polyphony on the CD, praise God.

The student plays at the Flood last night were, all things considered, pretty awful. Everyone seemed to have fun, though, so I’m telling myself it didn’t matter. I take the blame partially on myself, for erring, perpetually, on the side of permissiveness. My fear of being a tyrant is so great that I let many things slide, leave many unhelpful enthusiasms go unchecked. I expect bad ideas to reveal their badness to the originators sooner than they do. It is possible that the pedagogical advantages of doing things the way we did outweigh the aesthetic offenses, in which case all is well.

Hamlet tech at the Wortham. I was happy doing what I did, among the people who were doing it with me. I do not think that actors can be “geniuses,” but Adam is as near as anyone I know. His instincts are better than unerring; they are adventurous, unpredictable, playful, open always to inspiration. Even his mistakes are illuminating. I serve him a high, slow, elegantly arching ball, so he can spike it back at the speed of light.

Stopped at Fred’s Speakeasy for a vodka after rehearsal. Everyone was throwing darts, including a few former students. I felt at home.
April 26, 2010

I know it’s time for the semester to be over; I’ve started to notice irritating little things: the note at the bottom of the exam which says, plaintively, “I studied all the wrong things.” How is that possible? The material was Hellenistic Civilization; the exam was on Hellenistic Civilization– did you study French? Were you out in the woods birdwatching? Because I get no peace from students unless I specify the number of pages to a paper, I do specify, and then EVERY SINGLE ONE, as though it were something they thought of by themselves, will ask a variation on, “Well, do you REALLY want thirteen pages? I mean, if I’m done in 10 pages, should I just bullshit the rest?” Then there’s the evergreen, “What can I do to do better on my exams?” The answer is, “Have the right answers.” But they affect to think there’s a secret code they should have put at the top of their papers, JMJ, or some way they should have held their pens during the exam. And what I hate with ever increasing hatred is the student who, though never asking about or commenting on any aspect of the subject matter, will go all Jesuitical concerning the exam, demanding particulars, wanting the specific weight and import of each question, whining for a study guide. What is the syllabus but a study guide? And what if I should neglect to lead them step by step through territory they should be discovering by themselves? It is a generation of learned helplessness. And now that’s out of my system–
April 25, 2010

Turbulent night, the moon appearing and disappearing behind rags of cloud. Went to church; worked in the garden; prepared manuscripts; watched a foolish movie called Princess of Mars. I study bad movies to see if one can be objective about what causes badness in art. Yet it remains one of those things that is undefinable but instantly recognizable. The anthem this morning, based on an old country hymn, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” was perfection, simplicity, naivete, profundity all at once. It would convert me were I a heathen. But why? Just the simplicity? Just the comfort of the sentiment? Usually the too-easy availability of sentiment makes me suspicious. When is it too easy and when is it exquisitely simple? Perhaps I am trying to explain things which are not meant to be explained. The part of me which is a teacher is tempted always to explain, as much as the part of me which is an artist scorns explanation.

The yellow rose bloomed in the night rain, even as I prophesied.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

April 24, 2010

“Blessed” I call the rain outside, falling as if it specifically designed to water a garden. I retired exhausted last evening, before I had the chance to hydrate my new plantings properly. This suffices all: the neon-lavender dwarf iris, the sticky uncurling fingers of the cobra lilies, the yellow rose that is going to bloom five-fold in this rain, all.

Towhee sings directly under my study window. Like us, he is singing in the shower.

Hamlet rehearsal better this morning. I was on book for a while, and we are paraphrasing maniacally. Some people will not know, but some will. The Player King is word perfect, and so is Gertrude, and I think I am, though I was not on book for myself. But the good part is that Adam ignited, and put out a performance which could have been a performance, and that fire is what is finally necessary, and it must come from him.

Back in touch with Lynda S after– what? Thirty years? She came to visit me in Baltimore– it had to be in 1973. She is the one who said, “You should try writing plays.” It made me angry at the time, for I was a poet. She is nearly the last instance when the thought of marrying a woman was not entirely abstract.
April 23, 2010

Shakespeare’s birthday.

St. George’s Day.

I painted in egg tempera through the morning. Planted bluebells and ferns in the afternoon, and one forlorn tree peony which the nursery had cast out but I thought I might save. The bluebells and ferns went into new beds, which had to be wrenched from the tangled, almost indestructible mass of ivy roots.

Caroline’s story confirmed that all of us down the row were robbed last Tuesday, our cars rifled. Caroline seems to have been the only one to have lost anything appreciable, though all of us lost our sense of leave-the-doors-unlocked innocence.

Tried to write, got bogged down a few pages in. I’d said everything I had to say and, for the moment, it came to nothing. I hate when I planned to be amusing and I’m not.
April 22, 2010

My Trip Down the Pink Carpet receives an excellent review from the New York Times.

Planted a tiny redbud to honor Earth Day.

Painted in egg tempera in my studio. A Japanese couple pulled up in a 1930's Rolls Royce, with Hawaii plates. The sideview mirror was perched on the spare tire. Lordly.

Phoned a recommendation in to a theater in Colorado for Adam. He got the job. Nothing in the world more gratifying.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New York 5

April 21, 2010

Metropolitan Museum yesterday. There was a members’ preview of the Picasso exhibit, and I am a member, so in we went. I don’t see what people mean when they automatically answer the question of the greatest painter of the last century with the name “Picasso.” Was he? Otto Dix was showing across the street at the Deutches Gallerie, and would a vote for him be so astray? De Kooning? Why such unanimity? Cubism made Picasso a great painter. He wasn’t a great painter before Cubism, and he wasn’t always after. He was certainly present for all the great moments and advances. I tell my students that sometimes just showing up is enough, and perhaps I’ve been right. He was certainly rich in imagination and good humor. I think there are certain names– Picasso among them–that immediately throw such a glamor that people stop looking at the things they actually represent: triumphs of PR, not hollow, not dishonest, but maybe not immune to re-evaluation.

Off in the evening to Under St. Marks, a little basement theater in a charming neighborhood off 1st Avenue. At Union Square we were offered free hugs, which was sweet, but also bewildering. A stunt? The overflow of youthful energy? What was I meant to give in return but hugs back again? Anyway, I had two. Delicious Japanese food across the street from the wrong theater. At the right one (sort of), some guy was trying to decide which of four one-acts his theater should give a full production, and let me tell you, there was no answering, for each was worse than the last. It was brutal. I came as near as I ever have to crying out mid-play and bulldozing toward the exit. I thought they were by different playwrights, but TB thought it was but one, observing, “it’s impossible for four random people to suck so much dick.” We had to clear our palates with many drinks with Kyle the Bartender (from NW Indiana) in the hotel lounge. Kyle looked like Clark Kent and missed his dad and brothers, all of whom probably look like Cark Kent..

When the plane banked over the Smokies, the mountains were pale green and paler green and full-on emerald, the watered valleys flashing here and there with dogwood and redbud, under a pearly shatter of clouds, and I thought I had never seen a land more beautiful. I was glad I lived here. I loved every minute of New York, but I was so glad to live here and visit there that tears stood in my eyes. I told TB so, seeing how his next step is into the City and whatever it has waiting. He was unmoved, as I assumed and hoped he would be.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New York 4

April 20, 2010

Yesterday morning was spent down in the Village, as TB had conceived the idea of going to Tisch for playwriting, and wanted to scope out the facilities. Tisch didn’t look like college too me– too vertical, too crowded, guards at the doors, and where are the cows?– but it was clearly a hotbed of activity, intellectual exchange, and premature ambition. We think TB might have an interview this afternoon. Phoned Mickey from the same Starbucks I had phoned her from after the opening night of Edward the King.

TB’s confidence is stirring. He looks at New York as a city pitiably unaware that it is about to be conquered. Let’s hope it all turns out exactly as he foresees,

Made myself physically sick in anticipation of Leslie’s opening–though, in fact, nothing whatever depended on me, so where all that anxiety came from I don’t know. I’d invested in the show, though the money was already in the “loss” column until it comes back into the “gain,” so it couldn’t have been that. I think I couldn’t imagine what the crowd was going to be like, and was afraid I wouldn’t know how to behave. All was well, finally. There were pink arches and a crowd at the entrance of the little theater on 46th, and celebrities that I didn’t know but the reporters did. The guy who wrote In the Heights wore a jacket covered in flowers and was interviewed all the time. He looked like he had sent a statue of himself, all polished marble and artful blending of skin tones. TB recognized someone from Sex and the City. Jack and Bruce had time in the midst of it all to recognize me, and told me “The next time, this is all yours. But bigger.” I had absolutely no context for that, but took it as exciting news nevertheless. Jack said the problem now is finding a star for Lincoln. I mentioned the handsome bartender I’d met at the hotel, but that’s not what he meant. He meant someone that the cameras would flock around as they were doing the hombre in the flowered jacket. Leslie Jordan’s My Trip Down the Pink Carpet turned out to be spectacular. I’d read the script, but it was all in the delivery, and the delivery was funny, humane, knowing, professional, nuanced just enough, brutal just enough. I laughed. I cried. I thought, “Jesus, I’m in on the real thing.” I was not only relieved; I was proud.

We hiked to the reception afterwards, in the penthouse of the Trump Tower at 1 Central Park West. Elegant, but too damn crowded. Did some networking, among people who were unexpectedly kind and approachable or else such obvious assholes you didn’t care. If you could have got near the windows, you would have seen the city laid out below in a sea of twinkling fire, the dark of Central Park a rumpled velvet.

Released from anxiety into hunger, we bought food from a sinister Arab at the end of 40th Street. He was like a swarthy character in Thomas Mann who signals doom in the midst of festival, and we arrived back at the room, perhaps fortunately, subdued. Visited Eric the bartender for the last time, as he has taken a job near NYU where he works till 4 AM but can wear shorts and a T-shirt. If everyone fell in love as quickly as I do. . . well, I don’t even know how to end that sentence.

New York 3

April 19, 2010

I went to church yesterday morning, and T went to the gym. St. Thomas 5th Avenue, in full ecclesiastical sail. I thought the music wonderful–of course–but a little shrill in the treble, Turns out the boys and men are in DC, and this was the B team, which was nearly as good as anybody else’s A team. The homily, on the miraculous draught of exactly 153 fish, was surprisingly evangelical. Surrounded by congregation altos. Wandered the area south of Central Park, thinking my thoughts. T and I met up for a matinee of Red. Here’s the thing: the play is not actually very good, though it is good enough and serious enough that it stands out in the local sea of frivolity. Alfred Molina macho-ed and thundered his way through a role that calls for macho thundering. Eddie Redmayne was beautiful to look at (as much as one could look from the rafters) but played his role as if he were a tiny bit brain-damaged. I suppose that was intentional, though maybe he had the stutters that afternoon. But for his precise, devastating, learned rebuttals to the bullying Rothko to be expressed in that child-like, perhaps borderline retarded, way was a little precious. Rothko came off as a self-inflating idiot, without sufficient talent (except for that of insane self-delight) to be allowed the orotund opinions he had. A hamster kitted out as a lion in order to frighten those weaker–or simply more polite-- than himself. TB loved it, so I have restrained comment.

Dissatisfied with his haircut, TB bought a razor apparatus and gave himself a buzz-cut.

Overate in an Italian restaurant– TB is very particular about where he eats–then split up, he to meet and old friend in the East Village, I to cross over in Williamsburg to see Owen Thomas’s band, Wylie Toms, at Spike Hill on Bedford Avenue. I loved Williamsburg. The part I saw was scruffy and lively and messy and happy, the architecture looking surprisingly like a TV set for the Old West. Loved, the happy bar, and loved Owen’s band when it came on. Owen looked fragile and beautiful and happy onstage. The music was curious but very inviting, lyric-heavy, shot out by Owen’s sturdy baritone, like a love child of Kurt Weill and Dixieland who was adopted in infancy by Leon Redbone. And tutored by Joanie Mitchell. But better than my description of it. There’s a future there. I sat in the bar, listening, thinking how happy I was. One bartender didn’t charge me and the other gave me my money back, for honesty, when I told her I’d already had three. Back to Manhattan then, where I wandered through Times Square, smiling. Back at the hotel, the Swedish bartender and the Finnish guest were lamenting the changes the Icelandic volcano had made in their lives.

Monday, April 19, 2010

New York 2

April 18, 2010

Light breaks through the buildings, welcome after two days of chilly drizzle. We tried to get into MOMA, but were driven back by the horrendous weekend crowds. Cruised the south edges of the Park, Columbus Circle and the like, then initiated TB into the subway system, ending up on 14th Street, Thomas had resolved on a haircut, so got one from Oscar in a little salon there, while I chatted with beautiful Brianna who lives on 93rd Street. Lured T to the Tic Toc Diner for dinner. We saw the new play Enron last night, the story of what was then (perhaps is still now) the largest bankruptcy in ths history of the world. It is not quite fully dramatized, but with that criticism aside, it is a fascinating piece, Macbeth-like in its investigation of the calamity which arises from the wedding of delusion and ambition. Its hard to find a way to blame people– a way that they can understand– when all they have done is to have mastered a skill which they thought was supreme, in a world so fully delusional that under other circumstances they might have been novelists, or harmlessly mad. No, not novelists, for the minds of people like Skilling are the opposite of the minds of artists– one-tracked, predatory, greedy of palpable triumph, without compassion or imagination that takes in anything to either side of the chosen road. I think it would, like a Greek tragedy, steer anyone from the path of intricate greed.

T was buying candy when I smiled at a man through the shop window. He looked exotic, and I thought he was actually African, but when he spoke he was very American. He came out to the street and said, “You’re the one smiling face in this city, and I have had a bad day.” He stroked my beard, as if wanting to know what the texture would be. His father is homeless in Brooklyn, and when he went to visit him, he was not at his last address. We talked for a while, and then fist-bumped when he moved down the street. He had the most beautiful black damask jacket, beautiful sad eyes. Chatted with the bartender in the hotel. Eric has just moved from LA to start a life in the theater here. My question “Are you an actor, then?” struck him, apparently, as naive. He’s a bartender in a hotel bar, isn’t he? He will be directing As You Like It later this year, and acting in The Importance of Being Ernest with his own company. We designed to meet again Tuesday night.

Young men stand shirtless in the foyers of fancy stores, selling pants or cologne, on posters advertising plays. Thomas tells me which ones he has six packs better than.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New York 1

April 17, 2010

Thirteenth floor ofr the Distrikt Hotel on W 40th, spelled that way to honor Gotham’s Dutch ancestry, the desk man says. Our floor has a mural meant to signify SoHo. We ate at the Thai restaurant around the corner last night, and then walked up to Rockefeller Center and back, threading our way. Everyone was asking everyone to take photos of them in front of 30 Rock. We helped two girls set up a tent in which they were going to way for Saturday Night Live tickets first thing this morning. We did Times Square pretty well. I have to be reminded that Thomas has never been here before, and needs more time to look. Thomas wants me to remark on the abundance of pillows on our beds.

Friday, April 16, 2010

April 16, 2010

Dreams of a straightforward, prolonged sexual nature, without any symbolic content at all. I’m used to this and that being a symbol for sex, but can sex be a symbol for something else? I don’t know what. Well-being, perhaps. In any case, I seem to be very excited about my trip to New York.

Montford Park’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the egregious Art Center last night. It was surely directed, expertly acted, exquisitely done. Though clearly not the best play, it may be the best production I’ve seen by Montford Park. The shambles of the venue may have helped the production, actually, for all that archness and wit in a setting of appropriate grandeur begins to seem. . . well. . . evil. Where it is, is seems but good fun, a youthful jeux d-esprit. Scott and Trinity were flawless. Jason’s direction was exactly right for the space and the players.

One tree peony is in bloom, hugely, a green sky with five pinkish moons.
April 15, 2010

Have begun reading through the material bought and given to me at the AWP. Started with Hugh Behm-Steinberg’s Shy Green Fields. It’s a wonderful book, spare, humorous, metaphysical, elliptical. I sat on the porch, reading, taking in my breath sharply every few lines. I have a vivid memory of the poet when he traded his book for mine, and I would like to meet him again. We are in some ways opposites, in our view of what a poem sounds like, but harmonious in our view of what a poem is.

Yesterday was in all ways perfect. The air was filled with white-green petals fluttering from somewhere. I suspect the sweet gum, for the source had to be very high. I gardened through the morning, moving the water gardens and spading up under their old spots, setting new perennials in their places, filling them with clean water in their new spots, having discovered their old plants were already greening up from the pots. Then I read some, drank a little, and had an experience that I have to call mystical, though it was not deep, but rather airy and sparkling. Tom said at coffee in the morning that he sat on his porch reading, and when the breeze blew one way, red petals fell from the redbud, and when from another, whit petals blew from the crabapple, and he asked, “What, is this paradise?” I asked the same, and realized in the instant of the asking that I had put all my love into that which is eternal, made of beauty paradoxically changeless and yet ever-changing, that which is purity and majesty and mirth, and, given that, what could possibly be amiss?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

April 13, 2010

White lilac, and the bi-colored purple lilac that I saved from the rocks. The violets are in most amazing bloom, like Durer’s paintings of violets, purple and lilac and lilac-purple. Embroidery on a green ground that is the ground. By night the faint perfume moves and shimmers across the ground. I stand over them transfixed. It must perplex the neighbors. It perplexes me. I want to sell this house and go, but I cannot bear to leave my plantings. Not yet. One fat bud like a moon on the white tree peony.

The bitch of a camellia would rather die than grow in my garden. So be it then.

J took the money and ran. I can scarcely believe the invariability of my credulity, my folly. I miss him, though, and the sadness is not tempered even by indignation.

Splendid session with Whitman in poetry class. At least I thought it was splendid. I can’t get through the poems without sobbing. I think I can’t quite hide it from them. If they are also moved to tears by a line, a passage, I wish they would tell me, so I could rest in peace. I tell them there are lines that make you bash your head against a wall, and they think I’m joking.

Embarrassing dream. The movie star Brad Pitt, when he was younger, helped to build my house. He came back for a visit, dazed a little by fame, wanting to “get away from it all.” As soon as he entered the house, the walls fell off. So there is Brad Pitt, helping to rebuild my house. You’d think my dreams could have put such a one to better use.
April 11, 2010

Plane ride home, had a lanky Dane on one side and a cold, beautiful American blond on the other. She said nothing that was not required by courtesy. The Dane showed me his Apple Something with a big screen and a picture of his daughter. Slept some, then played trivia. Could hear the kids farther back in the plane calling my screen name as I trounced them again and again. It was fun, and the time flew. The Dane sprawled against me as he slept. I felt almost that I was reading his dreams.

Gold and orange crown imperial, pink bleeding heart, the blue anemone are in bloom (the anemone about one for every ten I planted). Also trout lily and the yellow wood poppy. The camellia refused to set down new roots, and I pulled it up today. Planted cinnamon fern, cosmos, and Mexican sunflowers, the annuals as placeholders in spots I’ve not committed yet– such as the opening left by the death of the colossal rhododendron, that was big and old when I moved here. More dirt into more holes, the bags weighty from the rain. Thought about writing as I worked. I’m glad I went to the AWP conference, for writing seems a real again, an objective act, rather just something blended in with my subjectivity.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Denver 4

April 10, 2010

Denver Airport. They are paging Miss LaLa Zalou.

Two soft-voiced Iraqis drove me to the airport. They had been interpreters for the Army, and had been relocated here after a time.

My flights were changed in the night, making this ordeal four hours longer than I expected. Nothing to be done. The airline industry is anomalous and amazing: the question being how an enterprise so inefficient, so user-unfriendly, so capricious, wasteful, expensive, and arbitrary should not only be tolerated, but squirm itself into a position where criticism of the mess may be made to look like terrorist intent. Down at the ticketing gates a big blustery man was bellowing at a clerk for making him miss his flight. From what I heard, the big blustery man was right, and had a reason to bellow, but everyone looked on him as an ass and an obstruction and wished he would go away. Not fair, but part of the collusion we find ourselves involved in, in order that the experience might not be too unnecessarily terrible for ourselves.

Reading at a bookstore last night, way off in some college area of Denver, where skyscrapers gleamed in the distance, and from which we were nearly unable to return because all taxis were gobbled up by people leaving a baseball game. During the reading, during this whole week, it was clear that out of every thirty people who call themselves writers, one should be. It’s not a matter of skill or competence or education or hard work. All the readers last night read crafted and well-observed poems. They’d been published in the right journals, had saved time from their busy days to honor their craft. But greatness and permanence require something more, and I wonder if I dare to conclude it is, simply, unfairly, a gift. Nature wants some to be writers, and allows others to live under the roof, but if one listens, one hears the difference immediately. Some are visitors or honored servants. Others are heirs of the House. The same goes for actors on stage, and probably for other disciplines which I am not confident of judging. Some writers write the world, others about their impressions of the world. Some reveal; some investigate, often fetchingly and intricately, their relationship with the things around them. Some are creators and others annotators, and one tires of the annotators much quicker than the two hours plus of the readings last night. Everyone was serious. Everyone was called to a high enterprise. Two were chosen. Everyone knew it too, especially, grievously, those who were but called. They were the ones who talked about process, revision, the circumstance of each work. They were the ones exhausted at the end. Ours is an environment where such things cannot be said aloud, and I think that is, mostly, well. I do not believe one can rise from one category into the other by will or labor, but it is possible that one can, and none should be discouraged from trying. That some were “touched” or “chosen” or “talented” was a given at one time. We resent that version now, and hope fervently that qualitative judgments are merely matters of taste. But I have listened hard. You can hear the reverberation of genius, the airiness, the profound leisure that comes from doing what one was chosen to do. I do not know how this works. I only know that it is.

People who say they hate poetry, or Shakespeare, or art, or whatever it is they hate, may be stupid, or they may have been exposed only to the tiresome versions of it. All through the week I noted that bad poets spend at least twice the time explaining their poetry as good ones do, and that their poetry is twice as likely to invoke what they suppose to be the sweet, tragic, honed sensibility of the poetic mind. I squirm along with the philistines at readings where the poet sets up the poem so exhaustively that the work is dwarfed by the prelude, and the listener is invited to see the poet’s victory over the thing the poet ostensibly addressed. Regard me being a poet. Transcendent beauty cannot be created by an artist seeking to reveal himself. Many of us were taught that revealing ourselves is what we are meant to do, all we can expect to do. Those who learn that lesson will be lost in the great humming din of the Hyatt atrium, a voice among the many. One thinks of Keats. Of course he reveals himself, but as every blade of grass is cut in flame by the rising of the sun, and the effort has not been for the blade alone. One thinks of Shakespeare, or Homer, who, as far as I can tell, reveal nothing of themselves at all.

Of course some believe there is no transcendence, no differentiated and permanent reality, nothing to be revealed but echoes of our own sensibilities. We have nothing to say to one another.

The angry big man from the ticket counter is at my gate. He must be heading for Atlanta. He is working on his laptop, and not calmly at all.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Denver 3

April 9, 2010

My green dawn sky is even more beautiful than it was yesterday. The moon is cut to a sharper, more precise blade of fire.

Woke to a disturbing dream. I was at some festival–here, I think–but with personnel I knew a little better. When things began to break up, AP’s mother invited me to their house for an after-festival party. It was a long way off, and there was a complication of maps, bur I decided to go. The countryside I passed through was clearly Colorado. Just where I was about to make a wrong turn, A’s mother was there in her car to lead me in. The house was very large and beautiful, and sat in a lake divided from the road by a footbridge. A came in a tight black dress to lead me in. The bridge was narrow, without handrails, and arched over rushing water, and when I stepped on it, my acrophobia kicked in and I collapsed onto my knees. I must have grabbed A for support, for she fell too. Her reaction was, I thought, out of proportion, and she ran screaming into the house. Someone came out and showed me a back entrance which didn’t involve the bridge at all, and I went in, to find everyone in an uproar. A was apparently pregnant. She was afraid the fall would cause her to lose her baby. She certainly did not look pregnant. I heard her scream, “Well, I am NOT going to pay for this trip to the emergency room!” I slunk away, but when I was getting into my car, a number of men came boiling out of the house, to a strange vertical thing which was meant to be an ambulance, saying that A was having her baby right then.

It was great having Rick around to discuss that poetry session with. I wasn’t sure of my own impressions, though I was fairly certain something was wrong, though it might have been my losing touch with the last twenty years of poetry criticism.

I went to the Denver Center Theater Company’s production of Mama Hated Diesels. There was no plot; it was the minimal notion of having people give little tidbits of human stories–in this case truckers griping about the road–and interspersing it with songs, and after the first five minutes I expected to hate it, but I didn’t. It had drawn me in my the end, and everyone said it was a better choice than the interminable Othello next door.

Sauntered home from the theater, looking into places I had already entered. Glennis Redmond was in the Hyatt Lounge, amazingly, and I laughed with her and her friends until I staggered off to bed, the blue city gleaming clear and still through my window.


Today:

Went to a session on the poetry of Keats, and realized that my position at the university had made me lazy. What I know and how I express my knowledge of the great poets is enough for where I am and what I do– it keeps well ahead of the students–but it is not enough in the larger sense. I did attend several sessions, but the others were how-to, and unsatisfactory, for there is no way to know how to other than to do– but the Keats got the juices flowing. Sat in the sessions I liked writing poems. Sat in the sessions I didn’t like scanning the room for beauty, or, if disappointed at that, plotting a route to the door.

Rick introduced me to a friend who said, “You’re a genius!” and began citing my books to me. I reacted to the declaration of my genius by misidentifying his wife and generally blathering like an idiot.

Returned to Bayou Bob’s, gave Drew a copy of A Dream of Adonis. He wasn’t there, but will get it when he arrives for his shift. That is the perfect way.

Waiting for the Pecan Grove reading in some remote corner of this flat blue city.
At the AWP


Into the room come nervous female poets who ask on both sides
whether the seat is taken,
come old men–you know them–so used to being handsome
that they do not know how to give it up,
the gray hair hyacinthine, the lashes long.
They are never beside one of the vacant chairs,
never one of those the edgy poetesses ask permission of.

The room is full of the memory of poems.
They can be drawn out of the skull as witness for any side,
or all sides in one moment, like a cliff of explanatory birds.
The room is full of incomplete conversions.
The room is, certainly, full of poets, each
listening for the word that opens-- once, or yet again–
the door to the world they have inhabited all the while.

One is made insensate by so many shafts sunk
beneath the vein, sucking up darkness in the dark night,
so many delvings down and in when the field is a white field
for its flowers, the gold souls dipping and humming.
The room is full of the sadness of the right word come to late.
The angels stand upon the deep places. They alone
are certain when to laugh out loud.
.
And will say for myself only that I have been pure--
pure of intention of any discernible kind, salt-pure,
one white stone in the mountain river pure,
free of whatever flotilla of annotation guards the
single swift ship one should have chosen for one’s own.
I have opened my red beak and sung my single song.
The One, the two I meant to please, are pleased.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Denver 2

April 8, 2010

The sad old moon crossed my window all the night, above the twinkling blue-white city, through the clear prairie air. The east, before dawn, is a succession of colors I have never seen in the sky: dark rust at the very bottom, succeeding to dark sap and then dark emerald before it hits turquoise and the possible blue. Quite amazing. I don’t know why it is still flat dark here whereas the light would be plain and plenty back home, even considering the two hours’ difference on the clock.

For about an hour I thought Denver was going to be a solitary and reflective time for me. But I left the hotel and walked to the Denver Performing Arts Center and met the man running the ticket desk, who spoke to me a long time about the plays, and conspired with me to return on Friday and go to student rush (for which my faculty ID apparently entitles me) to see the play, Mariela in the Desert, about Mexican painters. I don’t know why he concluded I needed a discount ticket– I thought I was dressed rather nattily–but I will do as we plotted. Continued to Bayou Bob’s , off a “market” which is a street which stretches, I’m told, for three miles, with only the traffic of a shuttle. At Bayou Bob’s I was bought, by the bartender, Drew, my first drink in Denver. When I sat down he said, “Are you from the convention?”
“Yes. AWP.”
“I could tell.”
“Yeah?”
“You look like a writer.”
Drew is a writer too, studying film and creative writing at. . . some school I forget the name of. He was a wonderful introduction to the life of the city. He pointed to my vodka tonic and said, “This is on me.”
Wandered a little from there, until I came to Leela’s, an alternative lifestyle cafĂ©, which was featured in the article I opened Westworld (the local arts rag) to read when I sat down at the bar. I was very happy at Leela’s. Two boys were playing on keyboards, quite silently, but with looks of transport on their faces. The dress was leather jackets, multiple piercings, extravagant mohawks. The article was about how cartoonists–I mean graphic writers-- gather there and draw improv based on one another’s ideas and energy at the moment. It would be the place I would find the first evening of a first trip to anywhere. Returned to the Hyatt, plunged into the melee in the lobby. Handsome waiter. Hated the woman next to me because her purse occupied the only available seat. Thought “ she is one of those.” Moved to sit beside an older woman, who turns out to be the poetry editor of Agni magazine. We talked abut her late start in poetry, and how I thought it not only didn’t matter, but might be a useful distinction. We were joined by Chris Arigo, who knew my name from a course he teaches on Environmental Literature. I thought I knew him, too, but realized the person I though he was I met 20 years ago, when this lad was in elementary school.

The man on the plane explained to his son why I was slaughtering everybody at Trivia by saying, “if you live long enough you learn a lot of things.” My struggle to take that as a compliment was largely a success.

Another look out the window, where the green band has devoured all the east and south, and where, oddly, the moon has not moved. Maybe this is a different universe with different rules.

Late afternoon:

Now that I know what I’m looking at, I can see the Denver Art Museum and the mint from my window as well, And, now, in this day of blazing blue clarity, the distant, snow clad peaks. They don’t, from here, look higher than the Blue Ridge, but they are very far away, and start from a plain already a mile high.

Spent time at the Book Fair, going rather systematically from table to table, noting those who had published me, those who had not, and those who had published me so far in the past that nobody remembered it. I bought six or seven books, and was given at least that many gratis, as well as a pile of postcards, leaflets, advertising materials. I enjoyed talking with everybody, and enjoyed the effort that went into being cheerful and encouraging. Emerson Blake from Orion was setting up his table when I arrived. I was going to introduce myself, but it looked like he was already having a bad day. One never knows why one person treats another badly, but in the grand order of things perhaps I had it coming. Stopped by Milkweed and Pecan Grove, stopped by other places relevant to my life where nobody was at the table. I was happy. I felt I was connecting with– something.

Right after the Book Fair I made for the art museum. The building is more distinguished than the collection, like those spectacular frames you see sometimes valorizing a mediocre painting. I liked the cowboy paintings, and certain landscapes, and the overall attempt to have the West stand in for Tuscany and Arcadia. There is a Ghirlandao. Many groups of toddlers gathered at the skirts of grandmotherly docents, naming the names of colors and telling what they saw in this or that passage. One granny let a child call lilac, black. I wondered how that was educational. I approve of the museum as classroom. I don’t always acknowledge that lessons should be taught as though Art were some artifact from Neptune, as likely to explode as entertain.

Sat in the lounge and wrote, and a passionate lad named Jason came to me and told me of his website, and I listened, for his sake, as though there were going to be an exam. Met Rick, and we dodged a kid vomiting in the hallway and went to a session on poetry in the 00's. Fascinating, but combative. The fascinating combatant was wrong and the tedious one was right, and what does that say about the world? I didn’t care. I had forgotten that the point of such sessions is to gather notes for your own poems. I wrote one as I sat in the steamy room with the overflow crowd. Rick says there are 10,000 people at the conference. As I walked to the hotel, two boys were reading from a poem about Columbus, and the light kept pouring down in unimaginable purity, and I suddenly felt very happy to be right here.

Denver 1

April 7, 2010

Asheville Airport, Fought the desire not to make this journey, preferring not lose the three solid days I’d have to work in the garden or the studio. But, here I am, not wishing to lose the money for the flight, having already cancelled my classes with some fanfare. The skunk-smelling but otherwise magnificent crown imperial are ready to bloom.

I haven’t taken time to express gratitude for the end of Holy Week, and the deep sense of revival and redemption– I want to say renewal of mirth–that settled on me.

Photos of Elian Gonzalez on the Internet. He turned into the handsomest boy in the world. It’s only fair.

Exceptional flight from Atlanta. Sat with a father and a son (son about 13) from Charleston, flying to Denver to do some skiing. They had a loving, playful relationship. They were playing a trivia game on the airplane system, and I joined in, and I felt like a kid among kids. Unusual number of assholes elsewhere in the ship: a painfully thin woman who reported someone who was looking “suspicious” and who fussed at the stewardesses to tell people to shut their cell phones off, and generally minded everyone else’s business. Take-off was delayed because somebody in 1st class “refuses to turn off his cell phone.” The van from the airport was driven by the Rain Man, who had to ask everyone to spell their name in the same formula, H as in Hello, O is in Orange, etc, and who had to keep repeating the names of the hotels to remember where he was going. I’m on the 24th floor of the Hyatt Convention Center. I can see the golden dome of the capitol from here. All around is flat and gray-brown. I am told there are mountains.

AWP. Drunken writers in the hotel bar, sounding like a flamingo rookery. Is this a good thing or a bad thing?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

April 4, 2010

Dark before morning. A few birds feel it coming, sing. I woke in turbulence, fearing that I had missed Easter, but I had not. I rose with Easter all before me. It was relief and redemption, simple, sweet. I am not used to those feelings. I am not used to the wholly uncomplicated, wholly credulous versions of those feelings. I stood on the front porch, feeling the morning come, feeling the strange, merry peace, assuring the One who was coming that all is well, and that we await with a shout of gladness.


Good Friday Meditation


I thought I was working in my garden.
Blaze at my back. Blue. That incomparable
April sky.
Music of a bird, or three birds, different.
I will not go to church today.
I will show how little difference it all makes.
I will birth into the ground these blossoms.


Delving, I thought to bring, in due time,
something forth.

But I had been looking down the whole while
at the tangled complexity beneath,
roots whose flowers are forgotten,
the foundations that do not remember
what they lifted up.
Worm. Bones

Music of those different birds, one then:
I could not tell.
The blue stood ablaze amid another blue.

I came to myself
patting dirt around the planted flowers,
learning sorrow from my knees,
solemnity from the heels of my hands.


April 3, 2010

First brush-up for Hamlet. Rough.
April 2, 2010

Good Friday.

My most cherished possession–not even sure it counts as a possession– is the clump of bloodroot blooming on the back terrace. I didn’t plant them in a circle, but they have arranged themselves in a circle. Cheery, pristine white, a clump of snow in a green cradle.

I have given myself the most strange and yet most meaningful Good Friday. The day is so warm and perfect that after coffee with Tom I decided to work in the yard. I dropped a wad at Reems Creek nursery, then came home and wrapped my hand around the shovel handle. My left hand had been in agony either from weights or from earlier gardening– a sheet of pain around the muscles and joints when I so much as lifted a cup or tried to make a fist–and I thought I would get nothing done, but there were only two moments of sharp pain, and the rest was fine. I dug out the clogged roof drain on DJ’s garage. I hauled sacks of dirt, filled in more of the trench on the terrace, and planted it with a variety of ground covers alleged to grow fast and cover the bare ground against erosion, and to bloom gaudily. Dug out weeds and the interlacing vine roots that are all the substorey of the terrace. Planted succulents and lobelia, and two kinds of mint (I think spearmint has the best chance of gobbling up the waste ground). I delved and weeded, dug new beds, freed old ones from their invasions of weeds. I was supposed to sing chants at church at noon today, but I elected not to. The reason I will give everybody is that there are too many basses and I did the balance a favor. But a truer reason is that all the time in the sun, bending my back into the dirt, I was meditating. I can’t say that I was meditating on the Passion of Christ, but I think was. Even in the blinding sun I felt solemn and set apart–churched. I don’t know exactly what my thoughts were, and I take that often as the sign of true meditation. It was very solemn and very happy at once. When I sat down after to have a leisurely drink and read on my front porch, I could hear Kelli and Quincey next door, having the little conversations mother and child have. It was all blessed. Drank, and then slept, and now I am awake on a warm, clear, solemn evening.
April 1, 2010

Proctoring an exam for my poetry students, I found myself writing furiously, completing the first scene of a play. The conversation is two professors talking about having sex with students, so I see where my mind had wandered. Tom had remarked that I never write about being a teacher. So, now I do, and it’s risque right out of the gate.

Endgame in drama class. It could be King Lear if it were only about something.