Note to self: the stanza is your friend

October 29th, 2008

I’ve doing a lot of revision lately – and I’m still enjoying the work of revision almost more than the work of creating new poems – and most of the revisions involve major changes to the form of the poems: breaking long free form poems into shorter stanzas, making each stanza a self-contained unit. Exercising this control tightens the poems, forces me to find the overarching idea and how each stanza contributes – or does not – to the development of that idea. It’s been wonderful, exciting. I even revised a poem using the “many two-line stanzas” form I’ve been seeing everywhere and, frankly, am skeptical of. But over the weekend I used it on a poem that’s been giving me trouble since the summer and wow, did it really turn the poem around. Forced me to cut extraneous language, tighten the narrative, hone the language; there is a growing tension now as the work progresses to the final stand-alone line. Okay, I get it. I still think it’s a form that should be used sparingly, but I get it now.

This is the work of revision, the hard glorious work of revision.

The curse of the mama schedule

October 26th, 2008

I have two small boys at home. They are both pretty interactive little boys (which translates variously as “strongly attached” or “made of velcro” depending on the day). I have daycare for Small Boy two days a week, days on which I used to get a fair amount done – or at least enough to feel as though I had gotten a fair amount done – but as The Boychen grows older and more adventurous (which translates variously as “curious” or “highly destructive” depending on the day) I’ve found that my single-son days are hardly more productive, work- and/or adult pursuits that replenish the spirit-wise, than my double-son days.

I am not one of those people who can get by on a fistful of hours a sleep a night; on the contrary, getting only a fistful of hours a sleep at night brings me dangerously close to a return to the post-partum depression days. Staying up late and working, or waking before the boys (who are early risers), is simply out of the question at the moment. I can work after the boys go to bed until about 9:00 or 9:30 but then it’s time to start getting ready for bed.

Here’s the problem: I find that when I work right up until bed-time, when I lay me down to sleep my mind is racing with ideas, reviewing that poem I wrote or thinking about that journal I might submit to. A phrase comes to mind, a better way of closing out that stanza that was troubling me. I’m wide-awake, as wired as if I were hooked up to a caffeine-IV drip. Last night I was awake until 2:30 this morning – the new 2:30, that is. (I got a lot done – one submission package completed and ready to go out the door and a group of poems picked out for revision and submission to a second journal – but it’s hardly the ideal situation.) Fortunately today is Sunday and R and the boys are over at The Farm for lunch and a little afternoon stroll with the grandparents and I can recover. But when that sort of thing happens on a Tuesday night it’s a bit of a disaster the next day.

So what’s the solution? Only work until 8:30 in the evenings and then spin-down with a book or TV? But Small Boy only goes to bed at 8:00 – that’s hardly any time. Crunch all the work in on the weekends when R takes the boys? But weekends are family together time. It’s a real time-crunch. The hours just are not there and when I steal them from the wee hours, the wee hours take their revenge.

It’s just where I am these days, this is what my days look like right now, but I’m having a hard time accepting it gracefully.

I can’t resist

October 24th, 2008

Before I began Magpie Days I gave a lot of thought to the look I wanted, to the tone I wanted, for this blog. This is the blog that is connected to my writing life, my poetic life. This is the blog I’m using to try to find a community of writers to help me out of this Alpine isolation. This is the blog that might appear in a contributor’s bio. So I want a certain tone here, you understand, a tone I wouldn’t mind being connected to my professional self.

But oh heavens I really, really cannot resist posting this “Song for Sarah (Palin)”:

Normal introspective literary-minding posting to resume soon. Unless I find something this funny again, in which case all bets are off. Hat tip to ReadingWritingLiving for the link.

Dizzy, giddy

October 23rd, 2008

I woke up yesterday feeling strange, cloudy-headed and dizzy. On and off a sudden sensation of light-headedness would wash over me then disappear; it was like a tingling wave rolling through my head; it seemed as if perhaps I might faint, but I never did; they came out of nowhere, repeatedly. It could be a mild case of vertigo– I’ve had it once before, so seriously that it actualy woke me out of a sound horizontal sleep with the sensation of spinning spinning spinning and needing to throw up. That time, about two years ago, I could hardly move; we called a doctor in the middle of the night who did a house-call – at 5 in the morning! oh Switzerland how I love you! – and diagnosed me. Then, as now, I had a baby in the house. That last time it was so serious that I simply could not trust myself to pick up the Small Boy even for a diaper change – we called an organization that provides emergency short-notice in-home help for families with sick parents or sick children (for a fee, of course).

This time around I do not feel nearly as bad but again there is a baby in the house and this time around a flight of stairs as well; again we took the route of better safe than sorry and called for some help. Small Boy is off at the grandparents (oh grandparents, how I love you!), but they’re not in a positoin to take care of both boys all day so The Boychen is at home with me and the home-help aide, D. It is strange staying upstairs trying to rest while I hear Boychen downstairs. But I do have to stay upstairs. First to rest – I’m going to the doctor later today, the same doctor who diagnosed me last time around and who has more-or-less become our Hausarzt (GP), to see what he thinks  – and second because if I go down there and Boychen sees me he will not let D do anything, will not allow himself to be distracted by her and won’t play with her and then it is just pointless for her to be here. So I’ve taken advantage of the day by doing market research and finding a few places to send a few poems.

Whenever I find a promising market, when I send something out, I feel light and giddy with the possibility of it all. Or maybe it’s just the vertigo.

Hockey Mama

October 20th, 2008

I grew up around ice hockey, grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago skating on outdoor rinks back in the day when winter was winter. My father was president of the hockey association; my mother was variously treasurer and secretary. Later my father coached the high school team and also a young adult league. My older brother played hockey from the time he was five or six until he left for college; after college he played in an adult league and coached high school hockey for a few years. Ever the little sister, I played hockey myself for a season, but this was back before a lot of girls played hockey and I was the only girl my age in the league. Not on my team – in the entire suburban league I played in. There was another girl two years older than me, her name was Annie, but in my age group I was it.  After one year of having to stand alone in the hallway while the boys changed in the locker room, of getting checked and knocked down because girls don’t play hockey, I retreated to the stands and the occasional stint in the scorer’s box. But I grew up around hockey.

My mother was a hockey mom. She went to every single hockey game my brother played in for a dozen years. She drove him to practice and car-pooled his teammates and served early dinners and reheated leftovers so that everybody got to eat. She kept his skates sharpened and his equipment aired out and always knew where the hockey tape was. She huddled in warming houses with the other hockey moms and drank cup after cup of bad vending machine coffee. She stepped in as time-keeper and score-keeper when somebody went missing in action and she was the unofficial record-keeper for every team my brother ever played on, keeping track of minutes played and goals for and against and goals and assists and penalty minutes for entire teams of exuberant boys. She cheered and yelled and taught me the phrase “cherry-picking.” She was a hockey mom extraordinaire at a time when nobody cared about the hockey moms.

Since the day Small Boy put on skates last winter and I guided him around the rink by holding his hands as I skated backwards, I’ve been looking forward to this winter, to this year when he would become old enough to start the hockey camp, to being a hockey mom. Hockey school started on Saturday, so I am officially a hockey mom, at last, and I cannot begin to tell you how annoyed – irritated and angry and cheated – I feel to become a hockey mom at a time when the phrase “hockey mom” is associated with someone with whom I have no desire whatsoever to be associated. So please forgive this brief forray into American politics, but I’m feeling the need to reclaim the phrase “hockey mom.”

I like cities. (Most NHL teams, by the way, are found in cities, as are most theatres and opera houses and ballet companies and baseball teams. It just kind of works out that way.) They are vibrant and exciting and give people opportunities to follow their dreams. I like small towns. They allow people to connect more deeply with each other and to look closely into the fabric of their own lives and dreams. I like that I can decide which one fits me better. I am a hockey mom.

I live at the foot of the Swiss Alps and yet I think Yellowstone National Park is the most beautiful place in the world. I believe that geography does not define love of country. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that a blistering slapshot from the point is the most beautiful thing in sports. I am a hockey mom.

I have enough faith in women to allow them to make the most personal decisions about their lives without paternalist outside interference from people who know nothing about them or their circumstances. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that starting a family through in-vitro fertilization is as special as starting a family through sex and I believe that the children of in-vitro fertilization are magical. I believe that the decision to seek fertility treatment is a decision a couple can only make for themselves and I believe that treatment should be available. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that embryonic stem-cell research has enormous potential and that couples who undergo in-vitro should be able to donate embryos to research if they so desire. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that reasoned disagreement is the engine of democracy and that reasonable people can disagree reasonably. The operative word is reasonable. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that the overwhelming majority of global warming is the result of human activity and I believe that the majority of statistical findings support this belief. I am a hockey mom.

I believe in the scientific method and that science is a method, not a subject. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that Wayne Gretzky played a type of hockey that the rest of us could only dream of. I am a hockey mom. 

I believe that wild places like ANWR matter. They matter simply because of what they are, not because of what they can give us. ANWR isn’t about the energy we could harness. Places like ANWR, places like Yellowstone National Park and Grand Canyon National Park and the great network of American parks, are about setting aside something rare and wonderful and preserving it simply because it is rare and wonderful. It is about knowing that there is still something wild and mysterious left in the world. Wild places matter. They matter because they inspire us and teach us. They make us whole. They heal our wounds. They let us dream. They call us to glory and if we listen they teach us the liberating magic of being wholly who and what we are in that moment. They show us, however briefly, a world outside of ourselves. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that while one of us is oppressed none of us is free. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that the world – that new things, new people, new places – can only be approached with an open mind and an open heart. I am a hockey mom.

The word “cosmopolitan” is not derogatory. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that knowledge matters, that facts matter, that expertise matters, that “elite” means highly skilled and that highly skilled people are not, by definition, bad people. I am a hockey mom.

I believe that I am but one of many, that our diversity is our strength, that the sum is greater than the whole of the parts, that we stand together or fall alone, that an open hand is more powerful than a closed fist, that generosity is strength, that I am less when you are suffering and that I am strengthened by your joy, and that greatness cannot exist in isolation, for even Wayne Gretzky needed a team to play on. I am a hockey mom.

I voted for Barack Obama and I am a hockey mom.


October 17th, 2008

Eyelashes in the night

October 16th, 2008

The Boychen* spent a troubled and restless night last night, waking and crying, somehow in pain. I kept waiting for him to throw up, it seemed so much like he needed to throw up but he didn’t, he just spent the night sleeping and waking and crying. Until late this morning, when he did, at last, throw up. And as sorry as I felt for the poor little monkey, I was also relieved. Not relieved that he threw up. Not relieved that he is sick. But relieved that I was right. Relieved that I do know this boy from whom post-partum depression stole so much time, so many moments. So many nights spent sleeping with his father instead of me so that I could get more sleep. So many times comforted by him instead of me. So many naps he spent in the FisherPrice Aquarium Cradle Swing** instead of in my arms. So many of the times he was in my arms I was unable to make them magic moments of stroking hair and counting eyelashes. So many walks in the stroller, walking walking walking through the winter streets of the Old Town, walking until I could breathe again, walking until I loved him again. So much time lost, time we’ll never get back. So much about my second son I never got to know. So many gray clouds shrouding the mother of his infancy.

So many gray clouds in his first months, and yet he loves me. I know this, I see it from the light in his eyes. I see it in the way he comes crawling across the floor to me when I enter the room. He loves me, and I am every day relieved to know this.

So many tears in the house of his infancy, and yet he is a happy child, an unbelievably happy child. Sometimes I think his head will explode from the sheer joy of simply existing. The ecstasy of seeing ducks. Of touching a dwarf goat at the petting zoo. The wild joy of wearing a fireman’s helmet JUST! LIKE! HIS! BROTHER! It is all a great wild adventure to him, to this little boy as happy as sunshine. His every laugh, his every smile, is a relief to me.

And I am relieved to know that even through the fog of post-partum depression I did get to know my second son; I understand him. I was right. I am sorry, for his sake, that I was right but so relieved to know I was right.

And I am so indescribably relieved to discover that although I do not remember quiet hours in the middle of the night spent counting his eyelashes, when the moment came I knew exactly how many he has.

* Formerly known as Little Boy C, a pseudonym that never sat right with me: he has always been my Boychen and Boychen he shall stay.

** Oh, FisherPrice Aquarium Cradle Swing how I do love you!

Pigs in Heaven**

October 15th, 2008

We did our small part for the pigs and deer of the Tierpark: twenty-three kilos of chestnuts for the zoo to turn into animal feed. That’s almost the combined weight of my two sons; had I known that we were so close I would have, for my own perverse satisfaction, tried to equal their weight.

What does twenty-three kilos of chestnuts look like? It looks like this:

and this:

And what do small boys putting the last of their chestnuts into the bag look like? They look like this:

Small Boy* earned 4.60 Swiss Francs, which works out to 20 rappen – about 20 cents US – per kilo, which seems a bit cheap but Small Boy was excited. First he said wanted to use all of his chestnut money for a Lego-Man (he would have been 30 Rappen short, which I would have ponied up), then as we approached the store he said he wanted to put it all in his bank, then he said he wanted to put it in his bank and get a Lego-Man. We finally decided to save half of the money in his bank and put half the money towards a small Matchbox car. He got an ambulance, of course, because he’s all about the Emergency Vehicles. (And yes, he calls them Emergency Vehicles.)

So there you have it. Twenty-three kilos of chestnuts leads to pigs in heaven and one happy boy.

* Previously known as Little Boy A, which was as awkward as Little Boy C.

** edited for clarification as to what we’re planning on doing with those 23 kilos


October 14th, 2008

I’ve been captured by the villanelle lately. It’s a very precise poetic structure with both a rhyme scheme and a pattern in which two lines – introduced with the first and the third lines – are repeated at specified intervals. It does not come easily to me; I find it difficult to pull off a natural, lyrical villanelle. And yet I find myself writing them. I have heard it said – or read it written? – that the villanelle, circling back as it does to those two key lines, is a good form in which to explore obsessions, recurring events, memories one cannot, does not want to, escape. It’s a good form to use when a few images have you by the throat and won’t let go.

The villanelles I’ve been writing are about my father. I remember my father best as a fisherman. As the years pass and specific details fade – what shampoo did he use? what did his voice sound like? what was he wearing the last time I saw him alive? what was he dressed in for his funeral? – there is still a  tightly held clutch of memories, solid like river rocks in my fist, that I can still see, taste, hear almost two decades after his death. Almost always, these memories, these moments, are connected to my father’s life as a fly-fisherman and to the places that life took him, took us. Invariably my memories of my father are bound up with the waters he fished, the waters that became the companions of my childhood and the rivers to which I always, though years may pass, return. The places I love and the ways I love them have everything to do with this simple fact: my father was a fisherman.

That is the line I cannot let go of. The line that will not let go of me. That is what I return to like a salmon to her spawning ground. That is my one true thing.

My father was a fisherman.

My eye intent on all the mazy plan

October 7th, 2008

Sunday night as I was lying in bed I had an idea for the collection of poems I’m working on. Dare I call it a manuscript when I’ve only got five poems I would put in the “ready” pile and the rest are drafts, notes, mere puffs of smoke jotted down in the corners of my workbooks? Not an idea about the poems themselves, or the general theme of the collection – that I’ve known for a long time, since before I realized that I was writing a collection of poems that belong, that could belong, together in a manuscript. What came to me was an idea about the structure of the collection and the order in which the poems might eventually find themselves. What came to me was a plan.

I’ve never done this before. I’ve never said that rather than write this poem and that poem I’m going to write this collection, this – go on, say it – manuscript. I picture nineteen poems (that’s not enough for a book-length manuscript but could make a nice chapbook) on four themes. The themes would determine each poem’s place in the collection. I wouldn’t just have Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV – no, I’d move back and forth between the themes coming back around to each at  certain point. It could work, or it could be too clever by half, or it could go completely un-noticed by any readers I might one day entice into reading all nineteen poems. I might abandon it by the wayside as I continue to work.

But having this plan, this artificial impositon of order on what is by its very nature a disorderly process – the creation of something – makes it all less scattered and terrifying. I can be methodical and practical about something that is neither methodical nor practical. I can say I have three out of the four Theme A poems written and they are poems One, Six, and Twelve. I can say I have one of the Theme B poems written; I’ll make that poem Three. I have a Theme D poem written and it should probably be poem Four. And all of this will probably change but having this structure, this ladder to climb, makes it all seem so do-able now, so completely do-able.