Although I’m taking a second workshop in the same form (ekphrasis) with the same leader (Christine Stewart) at the same location (BMA), I have been pleasantly surprised to find myself facing new challenges as a poet. So far I have started three poems about three different portraits, whereas in the previous workshop I only chose objects or landscapes, and in the most recent assignment we wrote poems with partners, another new approach for me.
My partner was a lovely writer who has published a book of short stories and is quite well known in Maryland literary circles, so I was thrilled to get to work with her. We chose the painting together (my third portrait) and then went to work seperately, getting our first impressions down on paper. Once we each had a draft, we emailed it to each other, read them over, and talked on the phone about how to combine them into one poem. It was really instructive for me: Lalita has a more elegant style than I do, which matched the portrait’s tone, and it was interesting to try and hold myself to that same level of eloquent restraint. My usual pattern is to lace the poem with as many sound effects (alliteration, assonance, all kinds of rhyme) as I can and to choose the most vivid vocabulary words I can, but for this poem, the new approach felt natural. The combined draft was tight and spare without being simplistic, and it was a satisfying experience all around.
On the teaching front, my professional meetings start this week, and I have re-decorated my bulletin board. On the personal front, my girls start first grade tomorrow, and my husband starts law school. Wish us luck, won’t you please?
Remember how I said I was fine with letting the summer fade away? I went to school today and realized how much I still need to do before the students come back, and all that contentedness flew out the window. Ah, well.
I also turned thirty this past weekend, and treated myself to some kitchen toys: new canisters, an ice-cream maker, and two new cookbooks, one for use with my new toy, and another simply because I couldn’t resist it.
I have never subscribed to Gourmet magazine– in fact, I think I’ve only seen one or two issues at all, always thinking that it was probably way out of my cooking league. But then I read and loved Tender at the Bone and Comfort Me with Apples, both by Ruth Reichl, who is now the EIC at Gourmet and who writes with such a passion for food, but never in a food-snob kind of way.
So when I saw The Gourmet Cookbook on sale at my favorite local bookstore, I figured I should risk it– and so far, I’m so glad I did! My love for cooking and baking has been fostered in part by excellent food writing and cookbooks, and this one is no exception, with anecdotes, tips and explanations bolstering over a thousand intriguing recipes. And in case you’re like me, there is a wonderful range of recipes from classic to essential to adventurous, which makes me feel like once I’m ready to move beyond my current repertoire, this cookbook will have riches for me to experience. Until then, I’m looking forward to trying their recipes for apple pie and chocolate chip cookies, too!
My summer is quickly dwindling, but I’m feeling pretty content with the summer of ’08 and so am feeling fine about watching it go. We took a short trip to the beach, and I remembered how much I like to read short stories on vacation. They’re easy to dip in and out of, and you can still get a deep reading experience in a short time frame. My girls and I stopped at a favorite bookstore on our way out of town and I bought The Age of Grief by Jane Smiley, part of my ongoing project to read all of her published work. I hadn’t read any of her short fiction before, and I found it true to her style and satisfying for that reason. The title novella is truly a quiet heartbreaker, about the way a marriage can roil and quake under a placid surface.
I also bought and read an older edition of Best New American Voices, a series I always enjoy. I managed to read the majority of both, not on the sand, but a fair portion of it on a balcony with a lovely bay view. I know people often complain about “workshoppy” tones in the fiction produced in the great university writing programs today, but Sue Miller takes this complaint head-on in her intro to this volume and dismisses it, and I completely agree with her. Each of these stories had a fresh voice that I enjoyed reading. I also read Amanda Eyre Ward’s How To Be Lost, which I enjoyed, but found a bit predictable at times.
This weekend I also went to my poetry workshop, the second one I’ve taken at the BMA and with Christine Stewart. This time, we have the whole museum at our fingertips, but have to choose one piece we will write about for our final poems, the poems the museum will be looking at for inclusion in their new audio tour. I was really struck by the sculpture I chose as my final piece (which is not pictured in that link, but should give you an idea) and have already made great headway on the poem I’ve written about it. I find that for me as a poet, sometimes when I am really gathering steam on one poem, that will spill over, and I find myself revising poems I’ve been stuck on or haven’t looked at in a long while. That has been another great gift of these workshops for me, and I have also found that looking to visual art for inspiration is a very useful method of recharging my creativity.
This poem was new for me in that I had never written about a sculpture before. My next assignment for the workshop– to use a portrait for inspiration, which will be another first for me. I’m not often drawn to portraits, and also in this week, we’ve been asked to think about engaging with the artist as we imagine them, not just the artwork itself. Should be an interesting challenge.
When I signed up for the poetry workshop I took this spring, one of my goals was to find some community here in Baltimore for myself as a writer, even if I didn’t enjoy the form. Well, as it turned out, I really loved the form, but also, I got to make some new friends and meet a widening circle of writers here in Baltimore, which has turned into opportunities unfolding one after the other.
This Saturday, I went to a workshop at The Writer’s Center, a place I had read about but never visited. A new writer-friend had signed up, and we rode to Bethesda together for a three-hour intensive workshop on submitting work for publication with Nancy Naomi Carlson, a widely published poet who gives workshops there regularly. If you are in the DC/VA/MD or even Pennsylvania area, I can’t recommend the experience too highly. I learned so much practical, useful information and came away with new ideas for how to do market research on different publications, how to think about my own aesthetic as a poet, and how to divine the aesthetic of a journal and whether it matches my own. I have new ideas on how to track submissions, acceptances, and rejections and feel a new surge of energy in regards to revision, and even rejection.
This week, I’ll be working on a poem for the new workshop at the BMA I’m taking, again with Christine Stewart and again in the ekphrastic form. I also bought myself some new books of poetry this weekend: a volume of collected Marilyn Hacker, who I saw read a few years ago and loved, and Against Love Poetry by Eavan Boland. I’m taking them both to the beach with me this week, along with one or two paperbacks, and am looking forward to have beautiful words in my head and sand between my toes.