WOM-PO, a women’s poetry list serve, has had a round of posts in the past week lauding a poem by Alicia Ostriker recently published in Plumean online poetry journal.  “Q&A,” the poem, has touched many women on the list serve, setting off numerous exclamations of “Brava!” and appreciation for the poem’s content, format and effect.

Why are we drawn to questions?  What is the role of literature, of poetry specifically, in asking questions and answering questions we don’t even know we have?  As William Carlos Williams wrote, “It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.”

The truth telling of poetry is the truth telling of breath, how language and thought move through us to create meaning and carry it into the rhythm of our bodies.  Poetry is a distillation of experience into a music that hums under the surface of conscious awareness. A well written poem reaches past what we know about the words collected on the page and tugs at a deeper understanding than what our logical mind constructs from those words, until we understand that we feel something deeper, even if we can’t exactly name what it is.

All of which reminds me of a poem I wrote years ago about exactly this, after asking myself a simple question.


What would be enough? Sometimes
it’s simply getting through
this hour and the next. Sometimes
it’s the hours dropping away, the day
a river of light, the passage
of sun moving shadows across snow.
More rare, the swelling of enough,
like a pool filling at the unreachable
core I can feel but not locate,
that comes sudden and sweet – the thin
chip of a cardinal on a winter
morning, the sun rising north
of the white pine, again, the last
clothespin clipped to the sheet’s corner
as the hemmed end charges a clear sky.



Gratuitous Mimi Love Photo of Ava Having Little To Do With the Blog Post
Gratuitous Mimi Love Photo of Ava Having Little To Do With the Blog Post

“You need to find a sucker who’ll cook for you,” Isabella said.  There was the usual assortment of painters and sculptors and mixed media artists and writers sitting around a long wooden table in the dining hall of Vermont Studio Center, and we were all wondering how we were going to manage returning to our every day lives after almost four weeks of a residency, and specifically, how were we going to manage making meals again?  All we had to do to get fed at VSC was show up at meal time, fill our plates, and bus them when we were done.  We were all doing a residency in order to focus on our creative expressions without the distractions and chores of every day life.  That’s what residencies are for.

“I’m the sucker in my house,” I said.  “I do the cooking.”

Isabella didn’t really mean that someone who cooks is a sucker, what she meant is how much time attending to the daily tasks of life can suck out of a creative focus. How could we recreate the freedom from every day tasks once we got home and continue to concentrate on our creative goals for what felt like almost unlimited hours every day?

We couldn’t, and in powerful ways, that’s okay.  In the spirit of the Zen saying, “Chop the wood, carry the water,” there’s a balance that attention and absorption in every day tasks brings to life.  If I had unlimited time for creative expression every day I’d undoubtedly freak out, as I did for close to the first week at Vermont Studio Center last March.  Not that the residency wasn’t fantastic and that I didn’t get a lot done, because it was and I did.  But that kind of unlimited time for creation, ungrounded in the details of life, wouldn’t work for me forever.  My creativity needs to sit in the center of a life attentive to dailiness if it’s going to be connected to life in a grander sense.  Yes, there’s an ongoing need to value my writing and make space and time for it, to believe it matters, but there’s also a need to take care of daily chores and believe that matters too.

Which is exactly what Michael Pollan talks about in his book Cooked.  Cooking matters. Preparing our own food, from real ingredients we’ve grown or chosen ourselves, connects us to our bodies and our place in the world.  We nourish ourselves and those we feed in ways that go beyond the nutritional elements of the food we prepare.  If we can chop an onion with presence and attention and allow ourselves to value and be patient with the entire process of creating a meal, we can then bring that nourishment, attention and patience to the task of writing a novel (though right now it’s editing a novel I’m trying to get a handle on) or painting a picture or playing the guitar or spinning clay into a bowl.

David read Cooked also and is now joining me in the kitchen more, chopping onions and frying eggs and stirring the pot of chili.  Are we both suckers?  No, we’re feeding ourselves.



The birches and hardwood saplings are bowed again, weighted by another load of ice that slim trees can’t hold up.  Along Canterbury Road, the route we walk most and often our way into the woods, there were trees still hanging over the gravel a week after the heavy wet storm in November and many of them finally broke, young trunks snapped to expose white wood. There is debris all over the old roads we walk in the woods and we’re using the broken branches of maple and lilac we picked up in the yard as kindling. The world falling apart in sticks.

IMG_3447Today it’s ice-bowing time even more so.  The snow last night, overlaid with sleet then freezing rain then rain coated the world with up to a quarter inch of ice and now the birches aren’t just bowed over the road, they’re blocking it.  Our neighbors that live further down Canterbury Road have created a woven path to drive around the ice-laden crowns of the trees now bent all the way to the road.

I’ve just finished reading Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, a book I wouldn’t have read except it’s for my book club, and isn’t that what book clubs are for, to cause you to read books you otherwise might not?  Aside from The Poisonwood Bible, a novel I remember as exceptionally good, I’ve never cared for Kingsolver’s heavy messaging in her novels, how her stories and characters serve a larger statement about some sorry state of the world rather than trusting that describing the trajectory of one life will resonant for others who’ve been on wholly different paths.

IMG_3457And Flight Behavior is no different.  The story of Dellarobia, accidentally named after a cheesy crafting product when the name could have come from an Italian sculptor or scripture, which says plenty about the hardscrabble circumstances of Dellarobia’s life that land her dissatisfied to the point of desperation until she finds a mountainside of monarch butterflies displaced from their usual Mexico winter habitat due to weather shifts caused by global warming.  As heavy as the story could have come off, it works as a novel.  Yes, the warnings about climate change are a bit much, and Kingsolver lays on the symbolism pretty heavily, but I recognized Dellarobia as an interesting person I wouldn’t otherwise know, so I stayed with her story and was not dissatisfied with how it was handled.

IMG_3462On this miserable day of icy snow, which ruined the ponds and lakes for skating (my skating friends and I have been on a pond, the lakes would have been perfect in another day) and doesn’t leave nearly enough snow for skiing, it’s easy to feel the hard reality of climate change.  There seem to be fewer and fewer good years for skating and skiing. Didn’t we used to reliably skate by Thanksgiving, the lakes freezing before the heavy mid-winter snows came?  Snow that when it came always seemed ripe for skiing?

I don’t think I have it wrong.  Something definitely has changed.  That doesn’t keep the ice-encased world from being beautiful, and so today it was a walk, weaving under small trees bent over every road we walked, looking at buds encased in ice, inching our eyes up trunks to  where a tree had broken, immersed in the new world, which is the world every day.