Monday, June 22, 2009

Inspirations for Summer

While I understand that some of you in the upper 48 (as I like to call the rest of the U.S., excluding Hawaii) are experiencing cold and rain, and it doesn't sound like summer at all, we down here in South Florida are experiencing an odd period of dry heat. It's like a milder version of Arizona: we awake to temps in the 80's, but no humidity (odd, odd, odd--it's usually very moist this time of year) and the temps soar into the 90's during the day. Our record breaking temps are usually in the neighborhood of 96 degrees--we're really summer heat amateurs. It's so different from most places I've ever lived where summer is swampy, muggy, and usually comes with at least one stretch of several weeks where the temp soars into the 100's (that's the actual temp, not the heat index). Down here, we usually have a sea breeze, so even our heat, while intense, is bearable. I do miss having nights that cool off. For the next several months, our temp will not dip below 80. Sigh.

This heat can make me feel lethargic. I just want to sit on the sofa and watch movies. I spent much of the week-end watching the 1994 miniseries The Stand. Then I watched it again with the commentary track on.

I did a lot of quilting so that I wouldn't feel like a complete slug. Still, my Inner Critic berates me for not working on poetry. My Inner Critic says, "Oh, honestly, Kristin, you could have assembled a book manuscript in the amount of time you spent quilting."

I like Rebecca Loudon's approach to poetry. In her June 19th entry on her blog, she says, "I’ve been having an interview with Tom Beckett which I don’t like to think of as an interview because that makes me choke up, and so it has become a conversation with Tom Beckett, with me doing most of the writing most of which I delete as soon as I write it, just as I do here. One of the things that I wrote in our conversation was that as a writer who aspires to be a poet you eventually get to a place where poetry is happening all the time whether you’re physically engaged in the act of writing or not. You no longer have a choice. You have stepped into the river and you can’t get out. You can ignore it certainly or bend down and drink if you choose or pick out those flat rivery rocks and fling them at other poets, but you are, indeed, in the river."

I love this idea that poetry is happening all the time. I tell my Inner Critic something similar: "My subconscious is busy at work while my fingers are stitching."

I've been writing long enough to see that the work occurs in cycles. Some months I send out a lot of submissions; some months, I send out nothing. Some months I write a lot of new poems; sometimes, a month will go by with no new work (and yes, I still feel a bit panicky).

I try to do something every day that will move me towards the poetry life I want to have, towards the poet I want to be. Ideally, it would be an hour or two of that activity. Lately, I'm happy for crumbs.

But maybe you're having an energized summer, and you wish that more journals read in the summer. Diane Lockward has done us all a favor with her list of journals that read in the summer. Go here for part 1, here for part 2, and here for part 3.

Maybe you're wishing for a group that would encourage you to read one of the great books. Why not read Charlotte Bronte's Villette? Yes, I said this would be the year that I read Anna Karenina, but maybe I'll start with Villette. I'm inclined this way because there's a reading group over at The Valve. There's a reading schedule and promise of good conversation. By July 7, we're to have read the first 8 chapters, so there's not much time to get started. Go here for all the details.

Part of my dissertation discusses Jane Eyre--in fact, when I read that book again in grad school, I got the idea for my dissertation, as I noticed that victims and perpetrators of domestic violence act in just the way that we now know that they do--but Bronte wrote long before sociological studies of the problem existed. I was baffled by critics who talked about the book as fairy tale fantasy or Gothic or otherwise non-realistic. And voila: a dissertation topic was born! A study of domestic violence in the Gothic, with the thought of proving that the Gothic was actually dealing with some real life scary stuff (domestic violence)--it wasn't just a supernatural spookfest.

I feel guilty confessing that I've never read any other books by Charlotte Bronte. So, let me give Villette a try. I don't think of Villette (or any other 19th century novel) as typical summer reading, but I'm not doing much of that kind of reading either.

Maybe I'll migrate back to my high school self. I was terrified that I wasn't adequately prepared for college, what with my public school education, so I put myself on a reading regime. For every 2 fun books I read, I had to read a classic. Look back with me, to that girl lying by the pool, reading Dreiser and Dickens and Hemingway and Hawthorne, looking forward to a future that she knew would be challenging, but rewarding. Maybe I can find that girl again.

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