One of the books I’m making for the tour (scroll down; left-hand side). The poem is here. Making these books reminds me how pleasing it is to make things physically/materially and not only be writing them. Sometimes writing can be bewildering in a way that is not conducive to my work—some bewilderment is excellent, difficult though it may be, but other times it is just me running the labyrinth brain without a reason, a kind of neurotic repetition without an exit from the loop. Making things with my hands is a good exit from the loop because it takes time and it has a visible/tactile result. I find laying the inners of these books out both very frustrating and very rewarding (once it finally works) and making the covers—getting to design ideal covers for my poems!?—that is a pure pleasure. A game, delight. This one has two different covers (actually many of the books will have two cover versions) and the cover is printed on a ‘vellum’ or transclear paper. J likes it better on white. I’m not sure. I also am thinking about the potential that colored paper (gray, tan, beige, pale blue, pale pink, yellow) has for transforming information that’s put on it without lots of extra color. (That’s something Longbarrow Press does well.)
Gerard Manley Hopkins. Since I was 20 or so, one of my Spring Poets. I never get tired of his greenness. I am grateful he, too, felt the things I feel (rightly or wrongly, with or without perspective). And I am grateful that even in the middle of complaining (ugh, is everything always going to be shitty? Is it always going to be this difficult?!) he is noticing so particularly—noticing how ‘banks and brakes’ are ‘leavèd’ and ‘lacèd’ (the off-accent of his sprung meter also giving a sense of intricacy and pattern) with ‘fretty chervil’. I have recently seen chervil appearing in stores here—springtime food—and it is indeed ‘fretty’; both in the sense of ornate (as in fretwork) and in the sense of overly precious and overworked. ‘[B]irds build—but not I build’, he writes; the most downtreading thing for me at the moment. To be without work, without things I am expected to do, to be not building but straining. When he asks for rain at the end of the poem, Hopkins has just finished comparing himself to a plant—not to birds, who build (are active). He only ‘strains’, like a plant does, pushing itself slowly forth. The work goes on, unseen, inside. The roots need rain. The work of the plant is slow. It seems not to be happening at all. Then one day it puts shoots out, the leaves unfurl, it might make a flower. The slow work of flowering (of writing, too) needs rain on its roots. I love this poem because Hopkins puts his complaint about how hard it is into the substance of the thing that is hard. I love its rhythms (MINE, o thou LORD of LIFE, send MY roots RAIN). And I love it because of his dual attention to the world around him and to his internal ache for something ‘fair’. He can’t get away from observing what he loves (the ornate leaves of chervil lacing the riverbank). The attention to the world tempers that ache, so that by the end the poem is not saying it’s just not fair!; it’s saying, this is what I need, please help me. It goes from anger and frustration and maybe fear to humility and desire. I often think of it when I am having a hard time managing my own envy of and attention to others’ successes (or even just their ability to work or to appear to be working) and it always makes me feel less alone that Hopkins, so long ago, in his own situations, also felt these things, and gave me language, a perfectly formed piece of language called a poem, for them.
Lilac time now. Walking in Zuidpark at twilight (which falls around 9:30 p.m. these days). It had rained off and on all day, sometimes quite heavily, and the ground was saturated and the damp rose from it smelling of earth. Around us the leaves which had begun unfurling two weeks ago were almost all fully open. We found lilies-of-the-valley, many varieties of lilac, trees with star-shaped flowers. The park is not very nice in the winter (cultivars of mud, gravel, ice, dog poo) but suddenly in the spring it becomes a kind of wonderland. Someone(s) has/have taken the time to think about the plantings and care for them. The trees are as old as the 1913 World’s Fair that was held here.
The forecast is rain for the next ten to fourteen days, but then it will be June and surely we will have some sun?
I have begun this, as a kind of textual accompaniment to this. Where the latter is a visual accumulation of things for my novel(s) and other writing, the former is maybe more like the notes I took in college.
Also in preparation, a sort of tour; a tour of sorts. Details will appear here—scroll to the bottom, then look on the left-hand side. I’m making editions of small books to sell and give as gifts while traveling. If you live along my route (west: Tucson-LA-Bay Area-Portland-Seattle; midwest: Minneapolis; east: Philadelphia, New York, Boston, Vermont, Maine; UK: London, Nottingham; anywhere else in Europe) and want me to come read in your (bookshop/library/living room), please get in touch.
…depending on the day. Honor to the workers!