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?

lost HOME found

I was supposed to go to my 30 year high school reunion this summer. For a variety of reasons I chose instead to wait until November to quietly visit my high school best friend who still lives in town. I hadn’t been back in 10 years. My family moved around a lot (they even moved to Africa after I graduated), so I have to make an effort to visit Missouri…and most of the time I don’t really feel the need. But after an intense week of touring New England with my Water Ways co-author in October, I was glad for a chance to sneak away.

I knew from Facebook that my old high school had just been demolished. I also knew from my last visit that my old house had burned down. What I didn’t know was that my church had been torn down and a used car lot built on the site. Having connected so readily to my new landscape in New Hampshire yet never connecting to my 16-year landscape in California, I often think about the concept of home — how there are places we feel it and places we don’t and how it doesn’t seem to depend on time lived in a place. Missouri is one of those places where I failed to connect. Where I lived and was known, but never fit.

Where my school used to be

Looking back 30 years later, a lot of the failure to connect was on me. The transition from northern Illinois to southern Missouri was tricky. There were different accents to contend with and a living situation that was more institutional than domestic. But after this last trip I think I’ve discovered the core issue: alienation from landscape.

My family was never the outdoorsy type, but when we lived in rural Illinois I was allowed to roam free. I had a secret hiding place in the drainage ditch beneath a mulberry tree. I could ride my bike down gravel roads lined with soybean and corn fields, and even cross the tracks to my friend’s sheep farm. I climbed well-placed limbs on mature lawn trees and did cartwheels in the grass. My family may not have gone outside, but I did. Because I could.

But in Missouri the landscape was different. Hostile. There were chiggers and ticks. There were no lawn trees to climb, just acres of scrubby woods so thick I couldn’t make a path. What little lawn existed was too hilly for cartwheels, and the drainage ditches were too steep and muddy to get up and down. When my family finally moved into town, I could at least escape to the park if the Hubble Creek ford wasn’t flooded. But I’d spent four prior years trapped, and they’d left their mark.

Which is too bad, really. We only lived a few miles from the Mississippi River and Trail of Tears State Park. On this trip, my friend took me to the river walk in front of the flood wall in Cape Girardeau so I could photograph the power of the Mississippi’s flow.

Cape Girardeau flood wall

She also took me to a wilder section of Hubble Creek in Jackson, the same creek that ran behind the tennis courts where I spent countless hours hitting against the backboard. Surprisingly, the bed of Hubble Creek reminded me of the limestone pavements my husband and I recently walked in the Yorkshire Dales. The water was running, but calm enough to climb down the bank and photograph the texture of the water. I stepped across flat-topped rocks to reach the middle without getting wet. I noticed flow patterns and reflections and vegetation zones and flood markings.

I connected. Finally. And now I’m driven to return. Not just to continue investing in lifelong friendships, but to get reacquainted with the moods of Hubble Creek. To explore its swallowing of Goose Creek, Foster Creek, and Williams Creek. To watch it join the Castor River Diversion Channel. To then see those merged waters slide into the Mississippi River as it makes its way down to the Gulf of Mexico.

It had been there the whole time: Hubble Creek, my more-than-human connection point to a place I should have called home. It’s still there even though my house, my church, and my school are all gone. It will always be there, even if its course shifts or its inhabitants change. Because water always wins. Its power can be tempered or directed, but never tamed. And while I’m sad that it’s taken me this long to recognize the virtues of this humble creek running through a modest town, I’m relieved to have thought — for a moment — that it’s running through my town. My hometown.

My old band

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?

    Testing: Lake Ossipee

    I’m feeling the urge to share some of my recent explorations of waterways, but I’m wondering about the best way to share them. Which video solution do you like best?

    Vine seems to have poor resolution (even though my original is fine, even on my big computer screen), but it plays in a fun continuous loop and is easy to turn the sound on/off:

    YouTube gives the full view (not cropped square like Vine) but seems to have poor resolution too, and then you also get the “next video” and ad things popping up:

    Flickr seems to have the best resolution, though still not great. Plus its playback window is tiny and can’t be customized. However if you’re my friend on Flickr, you can go to the site and download the video to see it crisp and clean.

    Lake Ossipee

    Feedback? Opinions? Help!

    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.

    SUNSET [SÓLSETUR]

    After Michigan’s miles       marked with graves
    and Ohio’s highways       hindered by cones,
    I landed some lodging       in a lakeside town.
    I planned to unpack       and plop on the bed.
    But I went to the window       to watch the traffic
    and noticed — through noise       and nuisant wires —
    sweet-light from the sun      setting over the lake.
    Driven, I dashed       down to the lobby
    where a man marked       a map to the beach
    on Presque Isle (the piece       of peace where my son
    waded and watched       the waves last year).
    I revved along roads,     racing the sun.
    I lost. But the last       liquid red
    shone on the shingle.     The shore glowed.
    The wave-rhythm washed       away the roar
    of a day spent driving       and dodging pot-holes.
    The sand massaged       the soles of my feet.
    I paced. I took pictures.       My pulse    slowed.
    No matter that I missed       the moment of setting.
    The fade was fantastic:       a finish worth
    extending my trek.     Two days to go —
    impossible made possible       by peaceful Lake Erie.

    ©2014 JS Graustein
    Erie, Pennsylvania USA

    an oceanesque sunset on Lake Erie
    an oceanesque sunset on Lake Erie