Forward and Back



I am listening to Arcade Fire and Alexi Murdoch's Time Without Consequence--weather for an overcast day. I am filing. I am cleaning. I am doing my damn taxes. 


Last night I heard Naomi Shihab Nye at the Folger. I so deeply admire her: her poems, her style at the microphone, her incredible generosity to each and every reader. I love what she does for poetry in this world. I love that's she's a citizen of the world, yet also deeply Texan. I shyly presented my copies of Fuel and The Red Suitcase, books I've owned for years, giddy as any teenybopper. 


Afterwards, my sister and I detoured around the Tidal Basin. We visited the Jefferson Memorial under the moonglow. We wandered through the FDR Memorial, noticing how the bloom of cherry blossoms matched the rosiness of the quartz walls, and sat in front of those amazing water installations, and read inscription after inscription of President Roosevelt's words. The one that always stays with me is: "They (who) seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers... call this a New Order. It is not new and it is not order." 


Whenever I think of leaving this city, I think: but how could I leave these monuments?


Three days ago I was reluctantly making the long drive back to St. Louis from Carbondale, Illinois, where I got to sit on a panel with Joe Meno, Matt Guenette, and Rick Bass, then read poems of my own, which apparently helped inspire this post over at Basalt Magazine. For the record I agree with Travis's advice 100%. Also for the record, the SIU program is one of the best in the country if you are up for the model of a small town that focuses students into a cohesive community (versus a New York scene); it helps when the students are so incredibly friendly, chill but dedicated. 


Afterwards some of us--thanks to the deft ambassadorship of Allison Joseph and Jon Tribble--had dinner at Tom's Place, a hidden gem 20 minutes outside of town.To understand Tom's you must know 1) that the apostrophe is shaped like a heart, 2) that it is nestled between two strip joints--and 3) that it is the only restaurant in the world qualified to recreate the starring meal from Babbette's Feast. I had duck, perfectly done duck breast with a lingonberry reduction. I finally got to chat with poet Traci Brimhall, who is going to take the world by the roots of its hair. I talked to Jake Adam York, which always makes me happy. Matt recounted teaching "The Experiment" (from Theories) to his students, which was beyond generous; I'm digging my newly signed copy of Sudden Anthem, and I can't wait to get my hands on American Busboy


Here they are--the troublemakers, the friends, the bards:
(with me behind the camera--someone had to do it)


Five days ago I was getting lost in the woods of Sweet Briar College, prior to giving the opening reading of their creative writing conference with John Casteen. In wandering up a hillside to look at a slave graveyard, I somehow veered from the "easy" path to the blue-blazed trail for expert hikers. A recent storm had uprooted huge trees, the root-balls towering ten feet above my head. I came to a lake. I needed to be on the other side of the lake to get back. I planted one foot, then another, on slippery-mossed rocks at the low part of the stream leading away from the lake. I wondered about falling in. I clambered up a hillside. I picked up (but luckily, quickly discovered) a deer tick. The ground cover was fiddlehead ferns and tiny purple flowers. I had no cellphone reception. I was getting lost. The sun was shining.  


Tomorrow I drive to South Carolina, to visit Coastal Carolina University (so looking forward to visiting with poet Dan Albergotti and Sewanee-mate Jason Ockert). Friday I read in Charleston, which is getting its National Poetry Month on. On Saturday I will stop off en route to see a couple more poet-friends, in our natural habitat: a whiskey bar. And on Sunday I will wake up in the arms of Oxford, Mississippi...finally. Finally.