Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vacation and Other Interruptions

Four days separate me from work and vacation. On Saturday I will fly out of Colorado, change planes in Charlotte, and arrive in Portland, Maine, where my friend will toss my luggage in the trunk and we'll drive to her house full of poodles and barn full of horses, cats, and goats. Heaven! The next morning we will bug out early for a local horse show. I imagine I will see lots of old friends and repeat myself endlessly about my life here and why I'm not moving back to Maine. Then on Monday, we head north to Nova Scotia, cool temps, cool Canadian scenery, lots of personal and public history. Both Brenda and I descend from Nova Scotia lines--mine French, hers English. We joke about her ancestors exiling mine. We plan not to partake in that sort of division.

I've been packed for days to be sure what I need will fit into a carry-on bag and one tote. The biggest problem is deciding what books to take! I can't imagine a flight across the country without a book or two, but I don't want to carry a tome that weighs more than my head. So, sadly, I'll leave my new poetry collections home and take a couple of paperback novels, Marge Piercy's Gone to Soldiers, and Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose, both recommended by friends who know a good read when they see one. I have, of course, packed three small journals, because, while I may not work for the next three weeks, I will write something, a travel journal, a commentary on genealogy from the ground up, notes about the people I'll watch in the airports. And I'll take to my son a scrapbook with his genealogy in it. I've been working on that for a while now, and whether he values it or not, I want him to have it. Maybe when he's as old as I am now, he'll realize how these faceless people have shaped our minds and personalities.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

School Days Again

Most people feel a sense of relief when they finish their formal education. I did too. Finally, I was free of the pressure from semester schedules, exams, deadlines for papers, etc. So who would think that I am now proposing to myself that I take up a serious course of study when I have so much else to do? Not me! But I am planning just that. When I look at the time I spend on unimportant, frivolous busywork, I know I can do better. When I opened Joseph Parisi's anthology 100 Essential Modern Poems by Women, my ignorance hit me like a blast of cold air. Here I sit with a masters in English lit (Garrison Keillor's infamous English major) and an MFA in Creative Writing, yet I know too little about the poets in Parisi's book, and I should know more. I should know more because there are still places in the world where women cannot go to school, cannot publish, cannot keep their female culture alive. Why then would a free woman who has access to books, libraries, ideas, and poems, not study? I'm doing this for myself--because I can--and for those who cannot study. Maybe there is some catalyst effect, an enzyme for learning, that adds intellectual freedom to the world. I think it's worth a try. I don't need to watch reality TV. I don't need to shop for amusement. I need to model and promote free exploration of ideas and ideals.

So for however long it takes, I plan to read poetry written by women. I will start with the primary sources, their own poems, letters, autobiographies. Then if my eyes hold up and I don't fall out of my chair, I'll go on to criticism and theory. I'll begin with the ubiquitous but poorly understood Emily Dickinson. Yes, yes, of course I've read her poems, some of them. But she wrote 1789 of them. I have work to do. When I get on the plane next week to go on vacation, guess what book will be in my tote bag. When I get back, it's on to her letters, then an exploration of Mina Loy, H.D., Marianne Moore, Eleanor Wylie, and many more.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Books for Sale

Forgive my absence but it's been a busy week since I last blogged. One of the highlights was the Rocky Mountain Paper and Book Fair in Denver. As a volunteer I greeted people at the turnstile and checked their tickets, made sure they had a program, etc. At the end of the day, I helped check books that had been sold for receipts and vendor numbers to be sure they had been sold and not lifted. Vendors came from as far away as Connecticut, a lot of miles and a lot of schlepping boxes and display hardware. They deserve to sell their wares. And their wares were amazing. I've been friends with book dealers for a lot of years, been to a few fair in the process, and never before seen such a clean, well-organized, altogether pleasant event. The Denver Merchandise Mart was air conditioned, spacious, clean--did I say clean? Books so often drag dust and mold with them, that I'm impressed by clean.

I am also impressed by books in general, particularly legendary books way beyond my budget. One of my duties on Saturday was to allow solitary vendors to take a break while I book sat. Mostly it was for short breaks like coffee or restrooms, but in the afternoon a dealer wanted a sitter while he had a handful of books to be signed by a visiting illustrator, one much in demand and the cause of a long line, and a long sit for me. But get this, I was in the company of first editions by Frost, Eliot, Hemingway, Wolfe (Tom, not Virginia, who has, I think, two o's). These books bore asking prices in the thousands, some so expensive they didn't have obvious prices and all assumed that if you had to ask, you couldn't afford them. These treasures were, of course, in glass cases, so I couldn't touch them. I'd probably break out in a sweat and make a mark on their covers anyway, so just as well. I did wonder about all the people browsing booth to booth, who among them could afford such collecting. As far as I know, most of the books I sat with went back to Chicago with their ownership unchanged, but another dealer said he took a deposit on one item that would pay for his trip to Denver. I bought a ten-dollar book as a gift for a friend and was happy with that. I'll go again next year and if I've won the lottery in the meantime, I know just which booth to look for.