Resurrecting the Blog & Recapping the Pen Parentis Literary Salon

This week marks the beginning of the new semester. It may, also, mark a return to actual writing on this blog. And perhaps that writing will be ABOUT writing and about reading, and maybe/hopefully slightly less about stress and overcommitment and whatever other nonsense makes me sound (and act) like a crazy person.

We can hope, can't we?

Of course, part of what helps me navigate stress and overcommitment is being able to write about those problems here on the blog: putting them out into the ether and hoping that, if someone reads them, they find in my ramblings some kind of solidarity or kinship, a kind of hey-I-go-through-that-too recognition.

So, I'm working my way back into a regular early-morning reading/writing schedule, as well as a regular exercise/running schedule, both of which also go a long way toward making me more clear-headed and less, you know, anxious/obnoxious. Reading regularly always helps me find my way back into writing, even if it's something completely unlike my own (either in concerns or style). 

I'm finally, FINALLY, finishing Letters: Summer 1926, correspondence between Pasternak, Tsvetayeva, and Rilke, which was recommended to me years ago by S.P. (I've just reached the Epilogue) and also Gary Miranda's translation of Rilke's Duino Elegies, which are lovely (both, I think, Miranda's approach to translation and his versions of the Elegies. They do sound much like the voice present in Rilke's letters to Tsvetayeva, although those too are products of translation -- and someone else's translations, at that).

I find Tsvetayeva interesting, and identify with her, I think, much like I identify with Plath. There's a raw ambition and drive present in her voice, the voice of her letters, and you feel keenly that she really wishes she could spend more time on her writing, her calling, and less on the particulars of domesticity. And yet, she shoulders the responsibility of motherhood and its demands far better than it appears Plath did -- although that may not be fair, because Plath wrote about that quite openly in her journals (which she probably never intended for anyone to read) and what I know of Tsvetayeva's attitude to parenthood consists of what she wrote to Pasternak and Rilke, and I can't imagine she'd want to appear as a cold and reluctant mother to either of those men, whom she clearly adored. 

And it's funny -- just writing that paragraph above makes me want to write a longer piece, an essay, on the two women -- but when will I begin to do such a thing? I have a lot of ideas for essays. For poems. For projects involving poems and essays. I have a lot of ideas. I do not have a lot of poems or essays. There's the problem. I think of these things, but I don't act on them very often.

I should change that. 

Well, the day is about to begin and I have to do a number of things for work and the house -- cleaning up and sorting out in both areas of my life. I'll end this post by recapping last week's reading at the Pen Parentis literary salon, which was a really wonderful and lovely experience right up until the end. Then it kind of went to shit, which wasn't the fault of the organizers but rather the result of audience-member sabotage.

The reading and discussion featured my colleague and office mate Adam Penna, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Jared Harel, Diana Whitney, and myself. We read for around 8-10 minutes and then the  moderator, Christina Chiu, asked us each questions tailored specifically to our work and also more general questions about getting sh** done while parenting. Christina Chiu was really lovely and one of the best moderators I've ever had the pleasure of listening to, mostly because she did an amazing amount of homework before the reading and had really insightful, relevant, and probing questions for the poets.

This may have been the problem, however. She asked Jennifer Michael Hecht about her work as a historian, particularly her research and writing about important persons obscured historically because of their race and ethnicity; she also asked about her latest nonfiction book Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, and of course about her poems. One of the audience members, however, took exception to what she had to say about the first two items in that list, and proceeded to suck the air right out of the room at the end of the night with a series of rambling statements-cloaked-as-questions, and then outright insulted and badgered Hecht while we all, dumbfounded, looked on.

Hecht answered back marvelously at first, but one could tell that she's still quite close, emotionally, to the subject matter of Stay, and she admitted that she wasn't up to talking any more about that subject or the book. That wasn't good enough for the audience member, who clearly wasn't there to listen to anyone but herself, and her continued comments (insults, speculations) drove Hecht right from the room. 

It nearly eviscerated the entire evening -- I'm not sure anyone who attended actually remembers much other than that altercation. 

It was strange, to be sure. And depressing. It wasn't even that the audience member's argument was wildly invalid -- but it WAS wildly inelegant, certainly, and nearly unintelligible -- and without any genuine frame of reference, because it was clear she hadn't read Hecht's work. Rather, she'd heard one or two sentences about it, felt a kind of visceral, gut reaction, and then metaphorically threw up in front of us all. It was so inappropriate for the venue and so unthinking and unkind. I mean, who does that? 

I know the answer. It's not "a crazy person" -- because that's a cop-out. It's just a way of diminishing the situation, to dismiss the audience member as crazy. She was self-absorbed, sure. But not necessarily crazy and I think that's what's so upsetting.

Anyway. I'm still really grateful for having been invited to speak. Really. It was so much fun before  . . . that . . . happened. 

Here are a couple of photos from the event that I lifted off the Pen Parentis effbook page:

The beautiful and
--> über-prepared Christina Chiu!
See? It wasn't all bad! I'm smiling! I had fun!

This may be the only time my name touches the pages of The New Yorker. Enjoy it, people.


The lovely Milda DeVoe, founder and fearless leader of Pen Parentis. (And a superb hostess.)

A.P., wearing his listening face

We're all wearing our listening faces! Also, you can just barely make them out, but I have great shoes on here. Just thought you should know.

The incomparable Jennifer Michael Hecht.

Jared Harel. His chapbook, The Body Double, is wonderful.

Such a big audience! And so supportive, all but one.

 Diana Whitney: parent-HuffPost writer-poet extraordinaire.


Also, Happy Birthday, Derek!
(Walcott, of course.)


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