Friday, February 12, 2010

Not So Seraphic

*

I am husband-less again. And hungry. These two states seem to go hand in hand. I find it incredibly difficult to take care of my own lone self. I don't want to get up in the morning. Or make the bed when I do get up. Or get dressed. Or let the dog out. Or go to the store. Or eat. Or anything. These are some of the many reasons I am Not So Seraphic these days.

I returned to the Kingdom of Fife on Monday, dog tired with too many relatives, too many airplanes/ports, and an overabundance of jetlag germs. The flat was cold, the sky was grey, it was--after all--Scotland in early February. I don't mean to complain--really. But be compassionate on a poor sinful soul. Everyone has "that kind of week" every now and again. Forgive also the purely journalistic blog post. Intellectual vigor is temporarily lacking--so this is the best I'm gonna do.

Thursday was the day I was to meet my NEW TUTOR: the Illustrious DON PATERSON (i.e. won the T.S. Eliot prize TWICE--which is something that even Seamus Heaney hasn't done). And--not only was I to MEET him, I was required to bring him a poem...a poem written by *myself.* This is, of course, why I came to Scotland in the first place. I am THRILLED to be under the tutelage of one such as Don Paterson. But January has been tough on the poetry-brain of Mary of Egypt. Too much darkness, not enough Muse. For the past month I have been working fitfully on a poem about jars. Yes, JARS. Like glass things you put salty vegetables in and they last for 100 years.

But also "jars" that hold things...like acorns, which hold that yellow stuff, birds' eyes that hold everything they see, eggs that hold baby birds. Etc. etc. This has been really worrying me--all these jars. So, over the past month I accumulated various word documents which contained little phrases like:

"pinatas...maybe. in a tree."
or
"pod of milkweed. cortex. peas."
Or
"getting rotten?"
or
"seeds in a cone of mud (kind of jar)."

With the help of my moleskin and my little thumb drive, I worked on this "poem" for 28 days in four countries, six cities, and on several computers.

On Monday I returned to my Scottish abode. I pulled out my notebook, my laptop, and my trusty thumb drive--finally ready to synthesize and refine my jar poem, to make it worthy of the likes of DON PATERSON. Thumb went in disk drive...cursor to "documents," "open..."Jars"". "Jars" would not open. I tried laptop number two. "File Corrupt," says laptop number two. What does this mean?? "Corrupt??" Like, full of sin? Like, my jars of seeds and strawberries and things were "getting rotten"??????? "File Corrupt."

Needless to say: I PANICKED. I called a friend who has a boyfriend who is a computer guy. He is sweet and tried to help but to no avail. I sent the "Corrupt" file to my father-in-law who has a computer science degree from CalTech, but to no avail. Alas. "Jars" was totally corrupt. Rotten to the core. Gone. Zippy.

So I screamed and cried and the dog hid under the bed.

This was Monday and my meeting with DON PATERSON was on Tuesday morning. So--I rallied (finally) and wracked my jetlagged brain and scoured my little messy notebook. I worked hard and long, while trying to maintain a Divine Parnassian Calm.

To make matters a bit more traumatic, Wednesday was a Very Important Day for non-poetic reasons. Namely, it was the day that Seraphic was to come to St Andrews and discourse upon the vocation of Singleness and the vocation of Marriage to our Catholic Chaplaincy. "Seraphic" (which is not her real name but a blog moniker) is one of my favorite bloggers, who writes about things like marriage, (the practice of) writing, Catholic theology, Catholic liturgy, shoes, and Scotland. All these things I find fascinating in themselves, but Seraphic has a particularly engaging style and eager wit, so I love her.

I invited Seraphic to come to Catholic Night because I hoped all my Popish friends would like her too. I am so very happy that she came. She is truly delightful in flesh as well as blog. She discoursed admirably upon delicate subjects. She put up with our singing at Compline. She even went to the pub to be jolly with the little people. BUT she came upon Black Wednesday. I hope my personality did not appear too dour in Seraphic's eyes. And I wish I wish I wish I could have gone to the pub to be jolly with the papists...but alas. I went home to struggle with "Jars."

After a night of little sleep and many tears, I finally shored my fragments against the ruins and produced something resembling the Thing I had hoped to make originally. I stumbled to workshop to face DON PATERSON.

And--to my utter astonishment--DON PATERSON *liked my poem.* He said things like "lovely" and other nice adjectives. Not that there weren't lineation problems, clarity problems, syntax problems and other trivial glitches...but--overall--he liked it! I was so relieved. I nearly wept.

THEN--after a few minutes of further edifying discussion, one of my colleagues--unaware of my sleep-deprived, emotionally delicate state, chose to point out a SIN AGAINST REALITY which was lurking in my FIRST TWO LINES! A Sin which "totally delegitimized" the entire poem for my colleague. The first two lines are:

Swallows in October hoard
seeds in cones of spit and mud.

Can you spot the Grave Error?? Well, let me tell you, loveys. SWALLOWS do NOT store up seeds in their little mud houses. They store eggs and baby swallows. And they DON'T do it in OCTOBER. I am not being sarcastic. This is a major problem. Poets, of all people, should be true to reality. If they choose to write about swallows, their verse swallows may not do things that real swallows never do. I recognize the error of my ways and repent in dust and ashes. (Now whether or not this error "delegitimizes" the *entire* poem...I remain unconvinced.)

This shattered me. I still haven't quite recovered. Surely sleep and food will give me strength and courage to face my swallows again and take away their seeds and their October hoarding. Maybe I'll do it after dinner. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe the day after.

As I stated at the beginning: Not So Seraphic. Oh Well.

**the picture at the beginning is for the benefit of DON PATERSON who (hopefully) will never see this post. DON PATERSON hates cat poems (this includes the T.S. Eliot book of the same). Whether or not he hates *actual cats* has yet to be determined.

5 comments:

  1. Thank you for saying those lovely things! I had no idea you were so worried, and I did not think you were dour. I thought you were nervous on my behalf. Oh, alas, had I realized your state of worry, I would have cheered you up with funny writing stories where all turns out in the end. (One exception: Hemingway's first wife lost all his drafts of a book on the train, and they were never found again. The marriage failed, alas. Simply the worst writerly thing I ever heard of, even worse that the Ph.D. student's thesis that perished in a fire.)

    Meanwhile, the trick to preserving all writing is to email it as soon as it is done to a friend and not erase it from the Send file. That way it is in cyberspace almost forever. But I am happy your poet-mentor liked your poem and I think "jars" is a fascinating topic for a poem.

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  2. Poor poor poor Mrs Hemingway. At least it was my computer that screwed my poem...and not my Spouse. I'm glad I didn't seem too worried! And I WAS a bit concerned about our potentially crabby Canon and your lack of podium...though, in the end, I think the stool with "Risk" and "Life" on top was so very apropos...as you yourself noted!

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  3. Sarah! I wish I was half the poet or the narrator that you are. Thank you for your words, I really like your blog... Also, isn't God amazing? How he plays with our little lives? I love him!

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