Chris Howey’s book launch Monday night at Dobama Theater was so much fun. Forty or fifty people turned out to support and celebrate her new collection, If You Should Find Yourself Submerged In a Pond Under Ice. Ever the consummate performer, Chris treated us to a selection of poems from the book as well as a rollicking, slyly perceptive group of pieces referencing her theater days. The audience included many of the poets we see at readings around Cleveland, as well as theater friends. We fell silent as Chris paused at one point to talk about why she has put together this book about the transgender experience, noting that one out of a thousand homicides in this country are hate crimes against transgender individuals.
Yesterday I got up before 6 to fly for the day to Boston. I sound like a jet-setter. I am not, but this year is full of travel for business as well as family. This was my fifth college visit with my son. We’ll be doing two more by car in the next ten days. A year from now, presumably, he will be living somewhere new, launched into the world, more or less.
I’d just returned the week before, as some of you know, from helping my mother settle back into her house after a month of illness and rehab. I spent a week with her, during which time I managed a total of four hours of press work–the job of parenting a parent can be demanding. Handyman, chauffeur, cheerleader, counselor, companion, delivery service and all around go-to-gal, my days were full. By comparison, the drive home through the drenching remnants of hurricane Lee on the winding, breathtaking Pennsylvania mountain highways was a breeze.
On the trip to Boston yesterday I did not even attempt to work. I was 24 hours post-root canal. I was happy just to be well enough to make the trip.
This is life such as we know it, full of lucky and unlucky moments, illness and recuperation, well laid plans tossed to the winds, and symptomatic of the sandwich generation. Like many of you, I am the baloney in that sandwich. Though fast approaching adult autonomy, my kids still need me. And in her eighties, still stubbornly independent, sometimes my mom needs me too.
I decided to carry almost nothing to Boston. One book in my shoulder bag along with the necessary documents. I guiltily perused the small stack of abandoned summer books I’d hoped to speed through on vacation or at my workshop up in Provincetown. Here were several volumes of mostly-read poetry. Here was Rilke’s only novel, a beautiful old hardbound copy of Mitchell’s translation I’d found at Tim’s Used Books, in P-town. And Janet Winterson’s amazing novel, Written on the Body, which I’m nearly done with, but which despite the gorgeous language was so painful to read. A lot of people talk about how the narrator’s gender, in this novel, is never specified—and you can read it fairly successfully with either assumption. What I talk about is how this book, like Rilke’s novel, is the closest I have seen to a complete merge of prose and poetry, language so rich and crafted it could be construed as a series of prose poems.
I selected Hardheaded Weather, by Cornelius Eady, my summer workshop teacher, because of all those books it is the one that leaves me uplifted, and I needed some of that.
As the plane taxied and took off and made its way across Lake Erie to the northeast, I spent some quality time with that book. Eady is an enormously accomplished poet in his prime, whose poetry unselfconsciously spans the daily business of relationship and home, and the political, artistic, and historical context of our lives. You can open the door of one of Eady’s poems and walk right in. They are welcoming, accessible, often loving, but they don’t spare the truth. I was very happy on that flight.
By afternoon, our business on campus concluded, the previous day’s surgery had caught up with me. I was played out, and we had a long wait at Logan Airport before our return flight. I trolled the shops, bought myself another coffee and a copy of the New Yorker, which I read pretty regularly twenty or thirty years ago and now rarely pick up. This issue has a killer poem by Jorie Graham and the usual complement of well written articles, and it felt really good to be reading just for the pleasure of it. I can’t remember the last time I held in my hands a copy of the New Yorker, giggling my way through the prolific comics before settling into Talk of the Town, and working up to the longer articles and stories inside.
I recently decided to subscribe to The Sun, because I was similarly reminded of the delight of an hour with that magazine when Elyria poet, Eric Anderson, gave me a copy. Eric’s got a wonderful poem, “Good Morning, Crisis” in the current issue—a poem that will be in the collection of Eric’s that I am formatting this week.
The hard work of baloney-in-the-sandwich is in the small print of the Loved Ones Contract–mostly ignored till one day it can’t be. Today I’m taking a moment to recover from oral surgery and the various baloney-work of the last two weeks. Then it’s back into the small press fray.
I’ve got to drop off my last six copies of Mary Weems’ Closure, for her reading this weekend in Sandusky (we’ll be printing more, soon). I’ve got a long queue of accepted manuscripts to update, contracts to send out, authors to email. I love my work. I am very excited about the next couple dozen books that will be coming out of Kattywompus Press, and I think you might be, too.