Wednesday, July 23, 2003

What a crazy weekend—only today, Wednesday, does it seem fully over. My dad and stepmother came to visit and took us to one of the best meals of our lives at Spa Mirbeau in Skaneateles (pronounced "skinny atlas") a beautiful if slightly tchotchke-crazy little town north of here a ways. On Sunday they came over and proceeded to rearrange and redecorate our house. That afternoon Bogie broke a toenail on a rock and it got infected overnight; we had to take him to the vet hospital on Monday and they actually had to knock him out to take it off; very stressful. Yesterday a visiting friend of Emily's and her small daughter found themselves homeless after a lake rental didn't work out and they came to stay with us. Whew. It's the middle of the week and it's finally time to get to work.

My friend and neighbor Gina Franco (a poet and Cornell MFA/PhD who's off to a tenure-track job at Knox College in Illinois this fall: her book is The Keepsake Storm, due out from Arizona this fall) had a small meeting at her place (she lives just upstairs from us) asked me and the students enrolled in Cornell's joint MFA/PhD program to do some thinking about what it's like to live in the two worlds. Which I'm going to do a little later, but I just realized it's almost noon and I have to go to the library and finish reading A.R. Ammons' letters from the 1950s. This has been an interesting experience. Ammons is not one of "my" poets, and I don't have the personal connection with him that so many people at Cornell have. I did enjoy reading Sphere in Roger Gilbert's Whitman seminar, but so far the stuff I've come across in his papers (it's is "I am Ezra" phase) leaves me pretty cold—the whole poetry-science thing that Cornell seems to specialize in (a tradition actively continued by Alice Fulton) is interesting in theory but in practice I find I like to approach the big questions through philosophy rather than through physics, biology, and chemistry (maybe I just don't know enough about these subjects to extrapolate interestingly from them). Anyway, it's still interesting to read the letters of an ambitious poet, just a couple of years younger than I am now, in a very different environment from today's: he's completely isolated in New Jersey, with no MFA program to guide him or his career, just a few individual correspondents like Josephine Miles who can suggest literary magazines for him to submit to. Where I am in his life he's still working like mad to get into Henry Rago's Poetry, little knowing that he was going to become one of the mainstays of that magazine well into the 1990s. He's anxious and unsettled, trying to write some fiction, comparing the urge to write with "the sexual urge," and taking the round of acceptances and rejections from magazines VERY seriously. Many admire Ammons' persistence and eventual success given his isolation from literary circles, but reading this stuff I find myself mostly grateful for the much maligned system that I came through, and which I like to think hasn't damaged my poetic intuition, much less my "voice" (a concept that going through the creative writing system has led me to question). Hm, I seem to circling back to Gina's question and not getting any closer to the library so I'll stop there. But Ammons' palpable loneliness in his letters makes me grateful for the friends I've found in academia, and for blogland (though the latter is largely a subset of the former, I find).

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