Altered Book for Archive

This time of year, I have the lovely task of boxing up an annual accumulation of of my work to send to the Westliff Archive at Texas State-San Marcos. The process began two years ago, when I was very honored to be invited.
Interestingly, the observer effect seems to have kicked in. Since starting to archive, my notebooks have become more elaborate and experimental.
I just sent off this one–a journal superimposed on a collection by Hokusai.







Response to Question Below

This arrived via Twitter from tanka poet and editor M. Kei. Thought you’d enjoy it:

Miriam Sagan
True or False: The only time you are alive is when you are on the wire via @wordpressdotcom – 27 Jun

M. Kei
@MiriamSagan The good thing about poetry: you can do it anywhere. No wire required.

True or False: The only time you are alive is when you are on the wire

The only time you are alive is when you are on the wire. The rest is just waiting.
Flying Wallendas

I read this quote when I was a teen-ager, and loved it. It seemed to apply to me as a writer. In the great movie ALL THAT JAZZ the choreographer protagonist recites it to himself in the mirror–while stoned on ups and downs.

So–what do you think? Is this an accurate portrayal of creativity, or not?

Three Poems by Mary Strong Jackson

She dusts the high desert from the gouged and pitted
years and layers of living drift before her eyes
bits of others sweep into her dusting cloth 
a word from another time and place comes to mind 
a place where the air was damp and dusting far between 
where an old man named Meryvn said the word “chiropody.” 
She says it aloud, chiropody, chiropody 
it seems like a dream sketched deep as the pitted wood 
yet far away in that time with the unswimmable pond
her dear ones and herself, when her eyes 
tried to see across an ocean, and an old man of eighty said, “Do you mind?”
And lifted her foot, removed her shoe, wiped it with a soft cloth,

then the other shoe, so gentle, she could have cried, and he wiped it with the cloth.
He held her foot for moments lost in thought. For sixty years his work was chiropody.
I like your accent he said, not harsh like some Americans. “Do you mind?”
he asked, as he felt her small toe, then picked up his tools made of wood
and her shoe, continued in the way of ritual, the way of work. He looked in her eyes
“I miss my wife beyond what words can tell.” Now the ocean of death lies between.
An ocean of death separates some, a living ocean roars between
her prairie family and herself. Mervyn wipes his eyes with the corner of his cloth.
“Beyond what words can tell is how much I miss my wife,” he says again. She wipes her eyes.
He plays his wife’s music box with meerkat figures on top. “Chiropody
gave us a good life. She fed me crumpets. Her love solid as ironwood,
soft as the skin on the top of your foot. I miss her hands. I miss her mind.”
Mervyn and five brothers, shoe repairers all, but only Mervyn minded
customers’ feet, the care of feet, the care of shoes, no difference between
the two in his gentle hands. He shaped shoes like an artisan shapes wood.
He shapes hearts like a chocolatier, wipes sweet or sad tears with the soft cloth
always in his pocket. Chiropody, care of the feet, Chiropody,
care of the soul is Mervyn’s work. He leans across his grief to see into her eyes.

He sees loneliness in waves, picks her foot up again, again his eyes
swim through sadness but he lets it wash away to focus, to mind
the store, to mind the feet, he picks up her other foot again. “Chiropody.”
Do you know the meaning of the word?” he asks between
caring for her feet and speaking of his dead wife, and again the soft cloth
to wipe his eyes, to wipe her eyes. If only we could turn to wood
and then be shined by a soft cloth to ease our single mindedness
where we could say the word chiropody as we close our eyes
and everything sad would fall between the cracks of dusty wood

              I Must Confide

I don’t know if stalagmites 
hang down or rise up
or how one thing seems like another
making metaphor the mother of all

I confide
I don’t know why sad settles in some
settles in shoulders, edges of eyes, soft corners of mouths
why it doesn’t rise like bread dough or elevators or angels
but hangs on heels, 
a sucking dredge fastening feet to floors

I must confide
I love and hate dichotomies
I don’t know how the morning’s kindness
weaves itself into the cushion of time

I don’t know the difference between the shapes of birds
and the stanzas of poems
the way red-winged blackbirds
connect like drops of ebony
in waves of rhythm and cadence
 to become silent poems
across prairies

I must confide


Longing for the Light

his brother sits in his room all day
their father says it was the war

the boy thinks of the bird’s eye 
wet with something and wonders if his brother
saw the eye of someone he killed
and if it was wet
and if the person looked at his brother
like the bird had looked at him

the brother says that America is in two wars without end
      Glory be to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
      as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be world 
      without end. Amen
Father Maximos says “without end” means there are no accidents 
there are no accidents his brother says
we have done this on purpose


Kathleen Spivack’s WITH ROBERT LOWELL AND HIS CIRCLE or Why I Left Boston–Part 2

With Robert Fitzgerald, I wrote a thesis on Theodore Roethke. Which one member of the Harvard anointed with a magna and one attempted to fail. A third reader was pulled out, passing me with a cum laude. At the time I was vaguely aware that the English department housed enemies, with opposite modes of thinking. I’d used Roethke’s own words and ideas about poetry to dissect his work–unwittingly falling into one camp. And thus attacked by the other.
The Boston confessional school, like the Harvard I attended, was marked by suicide, misogyny, alcohol, drug abuse, class stratification, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. This vocabulary is Spivak’s–and I am indebted to it. Spivack does more than admit this–she examines it in terms of both Lowell’s and her own life.
But at the age of twenty-one I had little grasp on this. After all, Boston was also politically radical and intellectually honed. It also seemed to rain or snow continuously, over low lying buildings, in a series of endlessly gray skies. My boots leaked. I coughed. It started to feel as nothing real was every going to happen to me again.
So I went to San Francisco and later Santa Fe, falling under the sway of the Beats in the person of Phil Whalen and ripples emanating from San Francisco Zen Center. The Beats were also misogynist, suicidal, alcoholic. San Francisco was also rainy and gray. But inside that fog was an endless supply of Chinese hot and sour soup, gamelons, performance art, and something that Boston never had–hipness.
I had come for a reason.
Robert Lowell and Allen Ginsberg appeared on the same stage and held the same anti-war politics. Spivack sees the similarities and well as differences in tow different American streams of poetry.
I am grateful she wrote this book. Do read it.

Kathleen Spivack’s WITH ROBERT LOWELL AND HIS CIRCLE or Why I Left Boston–Part 1

Kathleen Spivack has written a wonderful book, WITH ROBERT LOWELL AND HIS CIRCLE (Northeastern University Press), which chronicles how as a young student from Ohio she studied with Lowell in the famous workshops he gave that included Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. Spivack was able to maintain a deep friendship with Lowell for the rest of his life, despite his madness, erratic personality, occasional cruelty, his elitism, and his mixed attitudes towards women. (No woman could be a major poet, yet he supported and fostered several who obviously were.)
This book has vivid portraits of Adrienne Rich, and Elizabeth Bishop, among others. Kathleen Spivack’s multi-faceted friendship with Anne Sexton makes that glittering self destructive genius seem much more like a real person than usual accounts.
It is a beautifully written book by Spivack, who is memorable as both a poet and prose writer.
And yet it made me realize in a deeper way than before why I left Boston, fleeing as if for my life when I was twenty-six, headed for San Francisco.
I did not study with Robert Lowell at Harvard, though I had the chance. I attended the first day of class, and he scared me. The lights were not on in the room. Lowell wandered about, introverted, mumbling, asking, what is that noise? It was the lawn mower outside. It unnerved me. I dropped the class and worked instead with Robert Fitzgerald, the classicist.

To be continued.