Les Semaines


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


Rockaway Writing Retreat

I confess that I've been skeptical of writing retreats. First off is the space--you're not in your normal place, and there are other people around. When my fiction writing group suggested it, I was certain I would never write anything, but that I ought to go. For the bonding experience, or something like that.

Then Jim agreed to come and we decided to be high maintenance and get a motel room, near the house where the rest of the group would be. Another couple from the group did this, too, though both of them are in the group.

So after a hectic week of Clarion stuff and work stuff enough to make my head spin, Jim drove us the five hours south and west to get us to the Oregon coast and Rockaway Beach. At first my brain was filled with everything I need to do and I could get a clear thought, much less anything else in my head. But gradually, especially driving through the low coastal mountains and forest, I began to lose that fog and get interested in the world in and of itself again. Woods. Streams. Hills. Leaves. A waterfall. The way the trees branched over the road. And then the ocean. Our motel was just steps away from a large, long sandy beach. Two big windows looked out over it. The waves constantly let us know the ocean was Right There. Nothing but it all the way to Asia. And at night there were stars.

We got there about 5:00, and went grocery shopping (there was a kitchenette in our room) then went to the colonyhouse to meet up with the rest of the group who had already arrived. Then we went to local seafood restaurant, where we had a slow meal and the rest of the group gradually arrived.

Saturday was the real writing day. Jim said he'd try working on his handheld with the keyboard in the living room part of our motel room, and so I got the ibook on the little dining area table. I started going through the last couple of chapters of my novel, editing it lightly. Then I got to where I left off--right at the crisis--and followed it through.

And got to the end. Yes, that's right. The end of the novel. Finished. Fini. Done. The End. I still can't quite believe it--that I was so close for so long. Of course I still have lots of revision to do, but I have a complete first draft. It's like some kind of miracle. I had no idea that given four hours when all I was supposed to do was to write that I could and would finish it. And I did.

And then I wrote the first drafts of two Scotland poems that had been banging around in my head for a while, the second highly influenced by being on the beach.

Oh, and about writing retreats? I'm a believer.

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Listened to lots of old tapes while we were on the road. Fun to rediscover them. Deaf School. The Incredible String Band's The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter. Eliza Carthy's Angels and Cigarettes. And more.

last week's listening § next week's listening


The only book I finished this week, after bailing on a couple that I just wasn't in the right mood to read, was N. Lee Wood's Looking for the Mahdi. This is the near-future story of a reporter who has become a producer rather than a reporter, who is asked to go back to the Middle East country she once masqueraded as a man to be a reporter in during a horrible war. They want her to reassume her former identity to deliver a humanoid fabricant to the Sheik as a body guard. This is a strange story of Middle Eastern politics, spies, betrayal, and self-discovery. I don't think it's entirely successful, most particularly the relationship between the fabricant and the main character, but also there are constant infodumps that kept making me aware that I was being directly fed background info. There's some wonderful depictions of the fictional country and its people and the attitudes there, though.

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See above.

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

April - May 1983

1318. Air that only half moves
April 19, 1983


The man who reads portents
knows everybody's names.

He knows my directions: by the angle
branches point out
when they contradict each other
in heavy wind.

When this man comes to your door it is wise
offer him food and a bed

even if your daughter
goes hungry and sleepless. She will
thank you, and her bed in the morning
won't be empty.

If the night he's under your roof
he dreams of red dogs, he will

warn you of fire. If he has dreamt
of nothing at all he will read

the tracks of the a broken-winged bird
left below your window. This man. If you turn him
from your door. If he leaves
before dawn you will know

Then from down the road he will call
your daughter's secret name

and you'll find her bed empty.
When she returns she will say nothing.

but the child she carries in her arms will sing. [1]

1319. Usage & obsession
April 25, 1983

I am not at all who I have suspected myself to be. Right now I have no obsessions. In Seven Robins I had the coast and love. Last year I had love and stories. Now I seem to have the fragments of everything and nothing to hold. This is not despair or depression, or any of that rot. Simply what is. The river I'd like to work on. I need to work more steadily--get things out of the way so I can dwell on my obsessions. I need o write daily, as I had planned. Let's go to the coast! There is night here I could learn to love, or at least use, and the river I have lost contact with, and used in the wrong way. There is Jim, but I am not good with that sort of love poem, and they have no use after all. The only thing I'm obsessed with is the need to have something to carry into words. I feel like I'm falling through life now. Feeling and carrying nothing. I read about El Salvador and other places, See Ghandi and The Year of Living Dangerously and momentarily wonder what craft and art are for, both in life and writing. I want to find it somewhere, yet if I found it written down I'm certain I would not believe it to be true--if it were or not. The only answer for me is my own answer ,and I haven't got that now. My answer has been the coast and myth; I don't know what it is now. Maybe answerlessness. Maybe the fragments of everything and nothing to hold.

1320. Border Crossing
April 26, 1983

This side of the Border
the sun as a golden eye
     between dark cloud and mountain
lets its gaze fall on the back of his shoulder


I put my hands in the water
and began crying. Simply as that,
when all the fragments of my life


No chain of thought unbroken [2] ----------------------------------------------------------

1321. Bending Hass
May 1, 1983

...but our motives are clear,
the parody of self that is sometimes beauty [3]
I'm thinking of how things relate to us, and how they don't touch us, how we know, and don't live accordingly.

1322. Putting Something Together
May 1, 1983

My hands were in water
and I was crying. Simply as that.
It was nothing that mattered.
Th sun was an eye
between cloud and mountain,
focused on the back of my shoulder.
I didn't move.

Simply as that. Wondering
what opens with the sky.
Naming myself in the mirror
with the sun behind me.
What do I do with the lines
racing across my skin,
with the cross-hatching of years
defining my eyes? What do I say
at midnight or later to the man
who asks my name? When he knocks
at the door, I'm still standing.

It's been days since I let
him in. His clothes gather under
my bed and still I never answer
his questions, never wake before
he leaves for work. It's not quite
closing my eye; I'm afraid he will
recognize me. I'm the woman he loved
who lost herself. No matter. He's the man
I loved and lost. Our motives are certain:
the parody of self that is sometimes beauty.
the warm flesh.

Make patchwork of it: the news,
Salvador, modern life, and something
to save me. The dense flesh. Whole
and unopened. She tires while
he waits at the door. Enough of it all,
enough to stitch together to cover
the nake flesh.

Simply as that, the motion is for
falling through life and feeling nothing.
Maybe I'll open the door, and he'll be gone.
And that will matter. When the sun
sops burning my shoulder and the water
is cold, I'll open the door. His skin will warm
my hands, though it won't save me.
Fragments of everything and that's what I hold. [4]


1. This was the first draft of the poem that became "The Prophet as Traveller" in Blood Memory.

2. I am here trying to start the poem that became "Washing At Sunset" in Spells for Clear Vision.

3. Ditto note #2.

4. And here's the first draft of it.

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