Journal Snippet: England 2018

While Sitting in the Remnants of Reading Abbey on the UK’s National Poetry Day
4 October 2018, England

Above the flint-filled ruins and
The Blade, a Red Kite
glides ‘round on thermals, never lands
or feasts within this site
of dissolution. Two Magpies, though,
pick at the only flesh on abbey’s bones:
a wall-top meadow that centuries have sown.

©2018 by JS Graustein


Poem patterned after the second stanza of Tudor-poet Henry Howard’sComplaint of the Absence of Her Love Being Upon the Sea.”

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A Writer in Every Port

I’m not sure why I can’t stay put — why I always need to be planning the next trip to [insert destination here]. I adore my house on wooded acres, tucked into the hills above a tourist destination. Maybe I caught my grandad’s wanderlust that he caught from his dad’s work on the railroad. Maybe it’s genetics, stemming from the same urge that drove my ancestors to trade one continent for another. But it’s more likely a by-product of moving: having so many loved-ones in such a long string of scattered places. Social media is fine for keeping up with the facts of someone, but it’s no replacement for real-time bonding with someone over a shared meal. Even as a child, my parents made sure we traveled on what little discretionary funds we had to maintain the relationships that were important…relationships I would later rely on after my parents left for Africa.

So it’s no wonder that as an adult I followed their example. And once the internet created the ability to meet and collaborate with strangers-who-become-friends, my string of scattered people became a web that now spans oceans. Since 2009, I’ve made a point of meeting up with writer-friends whenever family-travel brings me into close proximity. I’ve shared pints with Mel Bosworth, toured the Louvre with Dorothee Lang, dined in Beacon Hill with Tim Bridwell, took Yorkshire tea with Samantha Priestley…and New York City? Rose Auslander, Casey Tingle, Elizabeth J. Coleman, Paco Márquez… These meet-ups play a critical role in a key component of my writing life: creative kinship.

Dinner at an Irish pub with Ben Moeller-Gaa in St. Louis

Creative kinship is what sparked the idea for my calligraphic treatment of Ben Moeller-Gaa’s haiku. His guidance on what is and isn’t appropriate for English-language haiku crossed-pollinated with my guidance on what is and isn’t reader-friendly book design. Our geeky discussions yielded a unique approach to a frequently mistreated poetic form. My practice of that approach over the course of four haiku poets’ collections has honed my calligraphic skills while giving me wabi-sabi instincts. Now I can’t write haiku to save my life, but I have enough awareness of their spirit to help another haiku/haibun poet, dt.haase, develop two works-in-progress. The only thing that could have beat dining with dt. one night and Ben the next on my latest train journey would have been for the three of us to dine together! Maybe someday…

Eating the world’s best pizza (Giordano’s) with dt.haase in Chicagoland

I’m sure it’s possible to write in seclusion and only share work with faceless entities, but I can’t imagine it’s much fun. Working for a press out of my home, writing at a desk in my home — the internet makes these possible. Having to drive an hour+ to engage with poets in real life, however, sometimes leaves me isolated. The creative kinships I’ve developed over the years have opened up collaborations that have taught me skills I never would have gained on my own. And it’s the endorphins that come from these intense, trusting partnerships that carry me through the long, dark January nights when the roads are too icy to attend Writers Night Out…or Down Cellar Poets…or Boston Bookbuilders…

If you have grown thanks to creative kinships, please share in the comments. How did you meet? Have you ever met in real life? What works of art exist in the world now because of your creative kinships?

Fluid Timetables

I am sitting on Amtrak 449 in the railyard just outside Toledo’s Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza. We are:

  1. an hour behind schedule (even with the time change falling back overnight)
  2. being passed by countless Norfolk Southern freight cars on both sides
  3. still.

I know to expect this having taken the Lake Shore Limited before. This time I’m going with the flow. This time I have no kids with me and no connections to miss. I even snagged six hours of sleep. Sleep that was interrupted by the stops and starts of yeilding to freight trains. Interruptions that kept me from missing:

  • red crossing lights multiplied and smeared by rain on my window
  • navigation lights reflecting off an invisible black lake
  • a heron fishing in the Maumee River, just below the fog.

Maybe it is just this line, but I think there’s a tension between water and railroads. There’s so much water near these tracks and some of it is in full photogenic view. But much of it is obscured by defoliating trees or a moonless night or trestle beams…or a passing freight train. This is water that must be savored in the moment. It cannot be captured and made to fit in a frame – static perfection that can be counted on. Sometimes this water inundates these tracks : Sometimes these tracks impede this water. It’s a matter of perspective…

…just like Amtrak’s timetables. There may be an ideal hope printed on a brochure or posted on a website, but reality is never confined within those banks. Time on the rails spills out in uncharted directions, along tracks awash in relativity. This time I welcome it. I choose to enjoy the tea Rachel is serving. I watch for more hidden water. And I know that lunch in Chicago will be just as good as breakfast would have been.

    To see the moments I do manage to capture, visit my ILMO2017 album on Flickr or follow me on Twitter. This trip I’ve got a black & white series of phone pix going.

    An Evening of NH Landscape Readings with Three Authors

    Very excited to be reading in New Hampshire with my mentor and friend, William O’Daly. The Griffin Free Public Library is a cozy, historic venue with a lovely group of patrons. Hope to see you there!

    November: Lamprey River

    So I think after yesterday’s feedback, we’ve ruled out Flickr as a water-clip host. I also did some digging and found tutorials on how to get better quality uploads to Vine and YouTube. In the process, I found out how to place text on the videos then get the edited version from my computer to my phone for upload to Vine.

    Vine:

    YouTube:

    Any new thoughts?

    BLUE [BLÁR]

    after repeatedly listening to Njörður P. Njarðvík’s baksneidd-braghendas in Icelandic for 90 minutes

    Canada’s smoke
    has curled around
    the Cape and shifted

    out to sea—
    my spirit lifted

    with each breath
    the sky has gifted.

    ©2014 JS Graustein
    Meredith, New Hampshire USA

    click to zoom in on Flickr
    click to zoom in on Flickr

    FINALLY [AÐ LOKUM]

    on the work-for-hire publication of HOW TO WRITE AN EXCEPTIONAL THESIS OR DISSERTATION for Atlantic Publishing

    My tome began three months before
    the World Cup 2010.
    I had twelve weeks to take their notes
    and send a book back in.

    Through migraines, travels, and lost sleep
    these 67,000 words
    turned into cash which I then used
    as my earned payment towards

    a laptop for The Fold. I thought,
    With all Atlantic’s rush
    my book should come right out this spring.

    (This thought now makes me blush.)

    Another World Cup came and went.
    I moved cross-country too.
    I gave up hope of holding it;
    what else was I to do?

    But yesterday, the red mail van
    arrived with box first sent
    to California, then sent here—
    its corners awfully bent.

    Yet safe and crisp inside the box:
    six copies of my tome.
    Four years, one month, eleven days…
    My book is in my home!

    ©2014 JS Graustein
    Meredith, New Hampshire USA

    click for more info at Google Books

    NEBISKAT [DÖGG]

    small water maker

    not possessive
    not personified

    a being that is
    a being that does

    unseen
    unknown

    whose handiwork
    appears at dawn

    recognized
    by the Abenaki

    We just call it dew.

    ©2014 JS Graustein
    Meredith, New Hampshire USA

    click to see full size on Flickr
    click to see full size on Flickr

    RAIN [REGN]

    The sky turned black and we were stuck behind
    a three-mile line of cars. I’d tried to find
    a back way home from Megan’s Boston doc
    but didn’t figure in the five o’clock
    non-weekender just wanting to get home
    to Essex County, Mass (I’d hoped to roam
    its Whittier spaces). Rain began to pelt
    the car as Haverhill came in view. We felt
    quite nervous when we couldn’t see if there
    were two or four lanes ‘cross the bridge over
    the Merrimack. Our wipers set on max
    could not keep up. We followed tracks
    of a one-ton truck until it led us through
    a flooded patch of Main Street. Thus we knew
    we had to park and let the deluge pass.
    We turned uphill and looked for treeless grass
    to park beside. Rain-Bound. No debate:
    John Greenleaf Whittier’s farm would have to wait.

    ©2014 JS Graustein
    Haverhill, Massachusetts USA

    Click to read SNOW-BOUND at Google Books.
    Click to read SNOW-BOUND at Google Books.