A Better Way to Fail

Colorado. 1955.

 

The crumpled piece of paper had gotten stuck in the back corner of the cubby, wedged into a gap in the cherry veneer. I had been slowly working my way across the row of shelving, clearing out the academic residue of another sixth grade year. With a bit of wrangling the paper came loose, unfolding to reveal an old Latin quiz I had given my students months earlier. Read More

Radical Correspondence

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We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us.

– William Butler Yeats

I was twenty when I learned what is essential about metaphors. The poet Albert Goldbarth asked his introductory class to open the bundle of photocopied poems he’d made, and directed us to a page that lay, purposefully out of time, between Wordsworth and Sappho. Upon it were twenty words by Gregory Orr:

Washing My Face

Last night’s dreams disappear.
They are like the sink draining:
a transparent rose swallowed by its stem.

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Bright and Shining

MICHIGAN BAND
I finished revising my debut novel and graduated from an MFA program in the same month. I am tired. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to write. Of course, one of the first apocryphal rules you learn when you start writing is do it every day. Put that butt in the chair and fashion yourself after the Postal Service. Snow? Sleet? Debilitating fatigue? Doesn’t matter. Put those words down, son. Read More

Have you been writing lately?

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In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us…

It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

- From “Ars Poetica?” by Czeslaw Milosz

“Have you been writing lately?” I cringe a little every time I’m asked that question. There is no good answer:

Yes, I’ve been writing and no, you can’t see it; or

Yes, I have been writing but it’s all terrible; or

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A Modern Voice Can Survive

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I collect books about hunting and fishing from the 50s, 60s and early 70s. In them I see the images and hear the voices that taught my father to hunt and fish, to be outside in pursuit of something, and I hear strains of how he taught me: this is a personal obsession much more than an academic one. Still, I love titles like Why Fish Bite and Why They Don’t (1961), and Game Cookery (1967). I love the examples of some of the first mass printing of color photography, and captions that read “A quiet afternoon on the lake is the best way to enjoy the Great Outdoors.” I love the authoritative voices of the authors detailing the best way to build a duck blind, or how to tie an Improved Clinch Knot. Read More