Les Semaines


what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout


Turkey Week

A better week, though Rick still isn't out of the woods and it's still raining. We had one of our drains cleaned out by Roto Rooter and we're hoping that helps a little with leak into the bedroom. At least, we still don't have the time or money to get that fixed.

So it has been an odd week, waiting to hear news about Rick and not hearing much of anything--his condition really hasn't changed at all, but he is still alive. He's unconscious, but mostly because he's heavily sedated and still on a respirator. The doctor said the damage to his liver was a four on a five-point scale where five means you're dead. That and his punctured lungs are still the scary parts. And we found out that all of his limbs are broken. We'd heard earlier that his left arm wasn't broken, but it was. It's very strange getting news from different family members, because they all have different versions of what's going on.

Thanksgiving was fun. We spent it with Tamar and her boyfriend. We provided an apple pie (Jim baked it from scratch--it's a point of pride with him that he can do it in the space of a 35-minute cd, Single Gun Theory's flow, river of my soul.) and I cut up sweet potatoes, which Jim mashed (it's another of his specialties because he likes to mash them and add just the right amounts of milk, butter, and freshly ground pepper), and I made gravy (one of my specialties). Tamar's boyfriend made cranberry sauce, which seemed pretty good (but I'm not a cranberry fan), and roasted the green beans and slivered almonds we brought with a black bean sauce. Tamar made the stuffing (loads of stuffing! pounds of stuffing!) and the delicious turkey, which was rubbed with a wonderful herb butter. Truly a special meal, and it was fun to just hang around with them for several hours. We have more leftovers to look forward to tonight.

I spent a lot of the weekend doing updates to The Ectophiles' Guide to Good Music, which I hadn't been paying the proper amount of attention in recent months. But I think I made up for it. Good, because now I'm going to have to ignore it in favour of getting ready for Xmas, which always sneaks up on me. Being away and distracted for so much of November, it's doubly so this year. I haven't done much shopping yet and usually I try to mail all our out-of-country gifts next week. This is not good. A number of our friends are clearly going to get gifts in the New Year instead of at Christmas: Hogmanay or Epiphany gifts perhaps? I also need to start working on our holiday card--I usually put together a one-sheet greeting with a poem from each of us and a brief run-down of the year's news. Time to get working on that! (And hey, if you're not on our mailing list already and would like to get one, please just email me with your snail mail address and I'll add you to our list--of course they may be New Year's cards this year!)

Spent a couple of hours yesterday running errands (getting cat food was part of it) and then helping hold the ladder while Jim cleaned out the gutters. Glad we got around to that one! What a wonderful lot of muck and mud he found in them.

But now it's Sunday. I hate the Sundays of a four-day weekend because now it feels as though my time it all up. I had four days to work with and I wasted them or at least didn't get quite enough accomplished, and now they're over and it's time to get back to the day job. Oh alas.

last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing


Listening to all kinds of things but nothing in particular.

last week's listening § next week's listening


Adèle Geras' young adult novel The Tower Room is a re-telling of the Rapunzel story, set in the early '60s at an English boarding school built from a mansion. Megan, who is orphaned and whose guardian is a teacher in the school, shares a tower room with two other students and is looking out the window when the new young male assistant science teacher arrives and sees her looking out the window. They are both immediately stricken with each other. This is an interesting mix of fairy tale but strongly based in reality, following all the choices Megan makes from the moment of seeing "the prince". Worth reading, but not to me essential the way so many fairy tale stories feel.

Rebecca Reisert's The Third Witch is a wonderfully realized retelling of the Macbeth story. It is the story of the third of the witches who confronts Macbeth with his fate, setting him off on the path that leads to his destruction. In this Gilly is an orphan who has been raised in the woods with two strange women who live in the fear of being killed as witches. Gilly has always hated Him (Macbeth) and turns her life into a dagger aimed at His heart. She will do anything to destroy him. We don't find out why until much later, though we are given hints, and Gilly's single-minded drive for revenge leads her on a fascinating trail. The world and characters depicted here seem real and dark and complicated. A fascinating read.

Adèle Geras' Pictures of the Night is the third in the fairy tale series begun with The Tower Room above (the library hasn't coughed up the second one yet). This is the story of one of the other roommates of the tower room at the private school, of Bella, who is beautiful and a jazz singer and suspects that her stepmother is trying to kill her (a re-telling of the Snow White story). Like The Tower Room, it's a well-told story with a strong voice but to me it's missing that certain pizzazz to lift it above being simply a good read.

last week's reading § next week's reading


Working on that poem again, the one connecting the west coasts of Scotland and North America. It's mostly only existing in my head but I'm working on it. It's not an easy one.

So interesting to read so much about my process of writing in The Phonosnout below. It has been fascinating watching the process of my putting together the poems that eventually made Seven Robins. It's a book that I've spent some time being embarrassed about, it being a first book and all. But on my recent reading tour, when for each of the five joint readings I opened with a poem from Seven Robins, I was surprised to know that there were so many that I was willing to read. I think it's a better book than I thought. But then, it has been hard for me to put aside the emotional damage I got when it came out when I was still a graduate student at the University of Montana, when people were made charming snide and jealous comments about how much easier it was to get published in Canada. They made me hate the book and hide it away, and it took me years to recover and get up the nerve to put Spells for Clear Vision together. I wish I hadn't let myself be so affected by their comments. In my head I knew not to take it seriously but it was hard not to, emotionally.

Seven Robins is an interesting book now that I can look back on it with more perspective. Young, definitely, but it certainly describes what it was like for me to grow up on the west coast. Here it is, a book about a young, imaginative woman growing up near a forest near the ocean.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

November 1980

1190. What is a metaphor?                            November 8, 1980

...or how do I make this work? Like Graham [1] in "The Nightfishing" I want to work on this duality, where the thing is both what it is, strongly, and a metaphor. These eagles, they must be both themselves, and that which consumes me, and hopefully partly me. I am not ready to do this but I have to try, it is time. (I mustn't let myself escape.)
     The eagles have appeared in three guises, in a sequence that is part of the pattern I must understand. The first eagle was temporarily defeated, rained on and miserable. The second flew at me, and away, like a vision. The third had just at that moment swept on its prey. And my angle of vision--first from below, then face to face, then from above--is some strange kind of reversal, but a complementary pattern. All three times I have doubted and known what I have seen. Three times there has been a change in the air, the light, and the season. Is it that I am defeated now, or that I am the victor with the third eagle? But the answer is that I am both. I am the eagle, the spectator eye, the prey, and I am the year they describe [2].

1191. Shikasta                            November 11, 1980

...I have just read and want to believe. It made me think about how different things could and should be. How much psychological difference it would make if we lived for a few hundred years rather than a few decades--it is an immense difference that may be the key to a change in human nature that Lessing suggests--in conjunction with the SOWF she speaks of.

1192. At Bone                            November 15, 1980

...at bone I am twelve times your stranger. I am what I am afraid to become. I am the cutting November air that I let into my gray room, this dull womb that I am and I am in. I am myself constantly tearing out pages one by one because I have let out a voice I wanted no one to see. At bone I am twelves times my own stranger.

1193. Lines for Graham [1]                           November 17, 1980

The Space Speaking

I am the darkness
that surrounds your words

this is no pronouncement
of danger or even identity

I am

      the blackness
of your white page
the silence

pressing your words
into each other        [3]

1194. Fragments and more                            November 24, 1980

I am now preparing the manuscript for Harold's and my booklet [4], thinking ahead to my later manuscript--I think they both will be better than I have thought in the last while.
     I am still writing new poems but mostly fragments. I am weighed down by the revisions and expansion and changes I must do. At least this one thing is getting done. It is November and nearly the end of my favourite season, outside it is raining.
     Poems must be more than embroidery between fragments of real poems, and I am frightened this is all these will become. I keep hoping for sparks that will jump the poem off from what I have, or that, perhaps, the fragments will somehow fit together. There are poems I have been talking about for a long time that are still only fragments, nothing more.
     I am learning how to live in my busy days--how to get a few things done in them. This is almost too much of a valuable lesson to me. One day I may even learn to cope with it all.

1195. Collecting the fragments                            November 25, 1980

3 X Eagles

The first is something forgotten
in the rain. He has travelled in
the wind that now thrashes
around him

eagles huge & dark
over me, flying
the year in three
--eagles through the seasons
and beyond them
--eagles in this time are
eagles, flying [5]

other scraps
--Cloud thick and unable to land
  pushed by the movement of air and days--
--already it is night
  and I'm in solitude-- [6]
--the windows blow me all ways--
--writing from this far place--
--his name moves as fire-
--I will plant rain and a bough
  of cedar
  and how to grow a rainforest
  like this around me--
--I am left holding only
  a small stone in my hand,
  turning it over. [7]


1. W.S. Graham, the Scottish poet who lived in Cornwall and was a friend of Robin's. No blood relation to me. Sadly.

2. This poem appeared in Seven Robins looking like this:

Three By Eagles

This is the first step--my foot
resting on what is not quite
dry land, nor air surrounding
me: cloud and sky, wind and soil
I begin to understand
these sudden differences.
The first step and I walk
toward the eagle that is
less bird than winter: I should
mention the lack of snow, and
the mild, barely chill weather,
and the rain. This has brought him
here from wherever it is
he comes.
          The eagle on the
dying or dead branch, neither
resting nor flying. We both
take the step from this time to
shelter. This eagle is the
first step into myself, I
who am the eagle in rain.


The second step comes to me
by surprise. I am off guard
and the eagle flies at me,
he stops at my eye level
and I know now that he moves
straight ahead, inside. The earth
rolls beneath me, twists away
from my feet (or is it I,
turning?) This is the eagle
that I know too well, the one
flying through me, the eagle
with his tense claws on my heart.


The last step is the eagle
I see from above, the one
spread out below me, like an
offering, like a hunter.

He just dove for prey, a small
animal screaming in the
old grass. As I watch he is
smaller than the smallest prey,
older than the grass, and more
hollow from this uncertain
angle I ride. I am old
and tired, hollow-boned and dry.

If this is the fourth step, the
eagle is farther below
me, the wind pulling at me,
and I spot the eagle as
he does his prey. The eagles
are what I see or what I
think I see. Charcoal moving
in burning fields.

3. This poem didn't make it into Seven Robins, but only made it--with different lineation--into the limited edition chapbook, Travelling in Place, of which I have only two copies left. Limited, rare. Feel free to take one of those last two copies off my hands.

4. Travelling in Place, see #3 above.

5. See how the poem really appeared in #2 above.

6. Appeared in the poem, "This Far Place" in Seven Robins, changed into second person.

7. Appeared in the long poem "Heart of Stone" in Seven Robins.

last week's Phonosnout § next week's Phonosnout

Last Week § Les Semaines index § Next Week

Email comments, questions, and complaints to neile@sff.net § Neile's main page

3199 people have wandered through this week with me