As if I don’t already have enough on my plate, I’ve started this, titled “Helen Webster’s Diary.” Helen Webster is, I believe, a great grandmother of mine, who was a teenager in the 1890s. Beyond that, I know nothing. My grandmother’s sister (great-aunt? I can never keep these things straight) found this diary probably ten years ago and photocopied it for everyone in the family who wanted a copy. My sister passed it along to me, as a curiosity of sorts, and it’s been sitting in a portable file cabinet ever since. I’d long planned to transcribe it, but frankly, the job seemed overwhelming, especially since the handwriting is small and has gone through the photocopier a few times.
But then I saw this story and was inspired. I’ll just start a basic blog and post a new diary entry every day. And I find myself approaching this not as a task, but as a joy. I’ve had to force myself not to transcribe more than a day at a time, and in fact, I find myself deliberately delaying the transcription so as to increase the pleasure I’m getting from it so far.
I’ve put three entries up so far, and plan to run this until it’s done. It’s a way of making the diary more permanent, I guess, and if other people get a kick out of following Helen Webster’s diary, that’s lagniappe.
Back in the old times, before I was the poetry editor at The Rumpus (what do you mean it’s only been a month?), I wrote a review of Carole Simmons Oles’ book Waking Stone for Rattle Magazine. Here’s a taste:
Waking Stone by Carole Simmons Oles, published by the University of Arkansas Press, doesn’t have any titles quite as detailed as Whitehead’s, but the spirit is the same. Oles’ book is largely an examination of the life of the 19th century sculptor Harriet Hosmer. Most of the poems are written in Hosmer’s voice and focus on the challenges Hosmer faced as a woman in a male-dominated field. She pulls from Hosmer’s letters and other sources to produce a solid, sturdy book of poems.
Timothy Egan notes in the NY Times that yesterday was Wallace Stegner’s 100th birthday. I must confess that I learned more about Stegner in that column than I did in the two years I held a fellowship he helped found and which carried his name, so let me make up for it by thanking his memory here.
I owe a tremendous debt to Wallace Stegner and his fellowship. Without it, I’d probably never have lived in San Francisco, and it’s doubtful I’d have the job I currently hold. I never would have met the people I met out there, which means my life would be much less rich than it is. And I’m not just talking about the writers–I’d probably never have worked at Anchor Brewing, met Fritz Maytag and Chris Solomon, and all the rest. I’d never have discovered the beauty in Old Potrero rye whiskey, or seen the sun come up over the Bay, walked the Golden Gate Bridge in both sun and fog, seen Barry Bonds hit his 700th home run, watched antique smut at the Red Vic theater in the Haight. I’d never have played in a real band, even if I was only the backup rhythm guitarist.
But then there were the writers–teachers like W. S. DiPiero and Ken Fields and Eavan Boland. I met Thom Gunn not long before he died, and saw why people like to see Billy Collins read, even if they aren’t wild about his poetry. And my peers–poets with whom I’m still in contact both personally and through their work, people I respect and admire and care for on a personal level.
I’d never have been on C-SPAN’s BookTV, and by extension, wouldn’t now be poetry editor of The Rumpus, since Stephen Elliott is responsible for both those things, and I met him through the Stegner Fellowship.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I owe a huge chunk of my present life to Wallace Stegner, and I’ve been remiss in not reading his work. I’m going to rectify that, starting today. Happy Birthday, Mr. Stegner.
The official awards page is up for the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prizes, and I’m on the list. It’s a poem that grew out of my visit to see my daughter graduate from high school last year, so that makes it feel a little more special.
The only downside of this contest, as far as I’m concerned, is that I can’t enter it anymore. I snuck in under the age restriction this past year–by one day–and so am now officially too old to be considered for this prize. Same goes for the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Ah, that’s when you know you’ve officially hit middle age–when contests won’t take your entry fees anymore.
My review of Dan Albergotti’s The Boatloads just went up at The Rumpus. Here’s a taste:
I have a special place in my heart for literature that juxtaposes the sacred and profane, that challenges perhaps the most successful meme ever to spring from the human brain: the belief that God is unwaveringly good.
That’s the matter at the heart of Dan Albergotti’s first collection of poems, The Boatloads, winner of the 2007 A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize. The one constant in The Boatloads is doubt—doubt about God’s benevolence, about His existence, about the speaker’s worthiness of the blessings he has received—and in a world where certainty is fleeting, doubt plays an increasingly pivotal role.