With just half a bag packed, I’m behind in my preparations for the annual trek to North Carolina’s portion of the Blueridge Mountains. Picking my dates each year to coincide with peak fall colors is a challenge, but I usually get it at least partially correct. Perhaps not this year: I’ve heard fall arrived a little early. Apparently the trees scoff at the Gregorian Calendar.
Books I’m taking: I’m really enjoying the selected works of James Wright, so it’s coming with me. Other than an obligatory poem or two (most likely from a Norton Anthology), I only knew Wright peripherally. I recall his “Lying in a Hammock at William Duffy’s Farm in Pine Island, Minnesota” from college, with it’s pastoral imagery and surprise ending (read here). I’ve always wondered how many undergrad English papers have discussed that poem’s last line.
I’ll also bring a book of essays by D.T. Suzuki, and maybe Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” Favorite line: “To the Zen student, a weed is a treasure.” Before I leave Tucson I’ll make sure to pull all those “treasures” in my backyard.
I’m bringing the latest manuscript for Unusual Sorrows, which I hope to edit while I’m there. Editing’s an odd art form, something you should only do when you’re about half inside your left brain. I’ve been known to ruin entire poems when I’m not in the correct mindset, and I’ve learned to go carefully but swing the scythe hard when there’s a problem. But actually admitting there’s a problem . . . is in itself a problem.
So there it is. I’ll head south to see Carl Sandburg’s place and let him know you all said hello. Over at the Asheville cemetery I’ll sit with Thomas Wolfe and agree with him that he’s right: you really can’t go home again. I might even leave a penny on William Sydney Porter’s headstone. He’s best known as O. Henry. And if I’m brave enough, I’ll float the frigid French Broad River and have a little lunch close to Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville (a favorite place).
But mainly I’ll rest. The last few years have been a little rough personally; it’s high time I lay low for a bit. And who knows, I might just write something worth sharing. And I might not. November’s coming, and Robert Lee Brewer’s poem-a-day challenge looms large. Perhaps I’ll try to imagine the prompts Robert’s devising for the chapbook contest and get a head start. That’s generally called “cheating,” and that brings to mind a Billy Collins’ poem to share before signing off:
The Trouble with Poetry
The trouble with poetry, I realized
as I walked along a beach one night–
cold Florida sand under my bare feet,
a show of stars in the sky–
the trouble with poetry is
that it encourages the writing of more poetry,
more guppies crowding the fish tank,
more baby rabbits
hopping out of their mothers into the dewy grass.
And how will it ever end?
unless the day finally arrives
when we have compared everything in the world
to everything else in the world,
and there is nothing left to do
but quietly close our notebooks
and sit with our hands folded on our desks.
Poetry fills me with joy
and I rise like a feather in the wind.
Poetry fills me with sorrow
and I sink like a chain flung from a bridge.
But mostly poetry fills me
with the urge to write poetry,
to sit in the dark and wait for a little flame
to appear at the tip of my pencil.
And along with that, the longing to steal,
to break into the poems of others
with a flashlight and a ski mask.
And what an unmerry band of thieves we are,
cut-purses, common shoplifters,
I thought to myself
as a cold wave swirled around my feet
and the lighthouse moved its megaphone over the sea,
which is an image I stole directly
from Lawrence Ferlinghetti–
to be perfectly honest for a moment–
the bicycling poet of San Francisco
whose little amusement park of a book
I carried in a side pocket of my uniform
up and down the treacherous halls of high school.