Novelist. Poet. Professor.

Novelist.  Poet.  Professor.
Novelist, poet, professor, and mother of dogs.

Monday, December 30, 2013

In this Season of Arrivals and Departures

Because yesterday we saw my mother off at Philly International:

and because the one thing harder than the give and take of family life is disconnection and separation:

Rooby watches my sister drive away

I share the following poem, begun in the window seat of an airplane:


At cruising altitude the earth comes clean,
the makeshift garbage heap of man-made things 
and nature’s thousand tangled hues of green,
made tidy by the miles.    Seen past our wings,
roads run straight, and silos glint like dimes,
each swimming pool slick as a polished gem.
Even mountain ranges, wild sublimes
of river, butte and canyon, figure trim
and tailor cut, their splendid disarray
mere patterns on a rug.  Obedient
and orderly, the planet curls away,     
its edges gently smudged, but on descent
it tugs us back,  its noise and ample mess                                  
as welcome as a lover’s sloppy kiss.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Christmas Misadventures of Nico

I start this post with the wise and kindly face of Reuben, our resident senior dog, and the avatar of sanity and reason, especially compared with You Know Who:

A few nights before Christmas, little Nico saw his opening and took it.  My Mom had just arrived from Florida.

Picking up my Mom at Philly International Airport
We were getting her settled in when we noticed that we hadn't seen Nico around for a minute or two.  Given his penchant for sneaking out the front door whenever it opens, we started running from room to room, calling his name with increasing hysteria until someone heard a vague rustling sound coming from under the bed.  

It was the paper wrappers from a box of twelve Godiva truffles: my Christmas present, which had been hidden deep in the bedroom closet.  By the time we detected Nico, he had snarfed down eleven of those yummy, decadent, dark chocolate nuggets of kryptonite.  And he was none too happy when we took the twelfth away.

One call to Poison Control later and we were rushing Nico to Old Marple Animal Hospital.  He rode happily between us, excited to be going for a late evening jaunt!

Twelve hours later, Nico was sent home from the hospital. While I never did get a taste of what turned out to be an almost thousand dollar box of truffles, I did get some lovely Christmas gifts, especially this double portrait of my Dad in World War II and his Dad in World War I:

and some books and music I was longing for:

and of course the gift of Christmas itself surrounded by family.

Still, one of the holiday's best gifts was undoubtedly the continued presence in our lives of Nico the chocolate-seeking missile:

Notice the look in his eyes.  We're pretty sure he's plotting his next misadventure.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve 2013

My Mom and sister are in the house!  We've been shopping, cooking and wrapping, listening to show tunes, eating soup, lavishing attention on the dogs.

And we're taking this moment to wish everyone happy holidays and a lovely new year.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Check it out! A New Video from Drull

A while ago, my son's band Drull launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund a video for their song Persona.  Thanks to the generosity of friends and fans, a very professional video now exists for a beautiful (and, I think, catchy) song.  Please click on through, as every view helps...and hit the little YouTube thumbs up symbol if you're inclined.  

Thanks, friends!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Nico Checks In

I looked at my calendar this morning and realized, with surprise, that Nico has been with us for over a month.  How is that even possible?  The last month has flown, and though we've been busily teaching him not to steal food and bare his teeth at male houseguests, his social graces are still a work in progress.

On the other hand, he's gotten very good at learning to lie down on his mat on command, and on being housetrained--well, most of the time.  And he and Reuben are 99% friends now.

This afternoon my Mom arrives for the holidays, so Nico will meet another member of his extended human family.  And the Christmas season will kick into high gear!  

Happy holidays from our frenetic and fur-filled household to yours.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Regardez-moi!: A Villanelle by Michael Cantor

Michael Cantor is my poetry sibling, in that both our collections recently were published by Able Muse Press.  I've long been an admirer of Michael's sharp wit and his way with poetic form.  Today I thought I'd share a delightful poem of his about a pair of sneakers far more chic than anything I could scare up for a photo shoot.

Buying Sneakers
The designer’s iconic plaid on this canvas high top lace-up sneaker ($275) is hand sprayed to give it a slight degradé effect.  
(Advertisement in the New York Times)

The look I want is slightly dégradé;
aloof and elegant, yet with a flair
that hints of darkness in an offhand way;
exquisite, yes, but not too recherché,
and at the same time, more than ordinaire.
That look!  I want it slightly dégradé,
just right to make the scene in St. Tropez,
or stir up gossip of an old affaire
with hints of darkness and the offhand way
that one once murmured, je suis désolée,
and left a lover twisting in the air.
The look is wan, and jeune, and dégradé.
Now that my Nikes have become passé
I need a soupçon of aggrieved despair
that hints of darkness in an offhand way,
so show me something that is distingué,
that cries regardez-moi , and makes you dare
to look. And want me slightly dégradé!
I hint at darkness in an offhand way.

A New Review of CATHERINE

New York City plus a legendary nightclub.... a touch of this:


Which is all just my way of saying thanks to the lovely book blog I Swim For Oceans for this recent review of Catherine.  

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Santorini Dreaming

With my grades turned in at last, I have been able to take some time and revisit the novel I was working on this summer, about a high school study tour to Greece.  I've been tweaking the story's outline, trying to see it as a whole before I return to the point where I left off: about a third of the way through, on the island of Santorini, with its electric blue waters and its mule trains that carry tourists from the old port all the way up to the city of Thira, perched like white frosting on top of a dark many layered cake.

Sadly, the little memory card with my best pictures of Santorini disappeared before I could load it onto my computer.   I took about a thousand mule pictures too--so I'm sure a few would have turned out better than the one above.

But even without all my lovely lost photos, I'm hoping I've got enough sensory impressions to cover the blank spaces of my canvas.

And in the weeks between now and spring semester, I'm hoping to make a little progress, to add on some chapters, inching slowly but surely toward a complete first draft.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Excuses, Excuses....

I haven't been feeling very bloggy lately, what with a big stack of blue books to grade, a house to clean, and a puppy to keep out of trouble.  

But I hope to get back in the swing of things soon.

In the meantime, I wanted to alert my friends to an interview featured yesterday at the lovely book blog I Swim For Oceans.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Grading in the Snow with Dogs

If I have to grade forty freshman papers (and I do) it might as well be on a snowy day, with the Christmas tree lights on, and Nico nearby for moral support.  

Later, if I get enough grading done, I may allow myself a hike to Starbucks.  But that would mean changing out of my p.j.s, so then again, maybe not.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Surprised by snow

Today, eastern Pennsylvania was surprised by snow--much more of it than we'd been expecting.   I've been cleaning, cooking, and enjoying Nico's reaction to what might be his first deep snowfall.

There he is, the little black blob on the left.  He seems to find the world beyond the fence much more fascinating today.  As do I.

Because I wasn't expecting a mini-blizzard, I hadn't prepared a cache of snow poems, so I turned to my Facebook friends and I was not disappointed.   There were many suggestions, some of which I will need to keep in reserve for winter days to come.  

For today, though, thanks to David Sanders, for suggesting a poem by Donald Justice that hauntingly captures the hush of snowfall in an unexpected place:


It's snowing this afternoon and there are no flowers.
There is only this sound of falling, quiet and remote,
Like the memory of scales descending the white keys
Of a childhood piano--outside the window, palms!
And the heavy head of the cereus, inclining,
Soon to let down its white or yellow-white.

Now, only these poor snow flowers in a heap,
Like the memory of a white dress cast down...
So much has fallen.

And I, who have listened for a step
All afternoon, hear it now, but already falling away,
Already in memory.  And the terrible scales descending
On the silent piano; the snow; and the absent   
     flowers abounding.

Friday, December 6, 2013

December update (featuring a poem by Mark Jarman)

These are the gray days of early December, with stacks of papers and portfolios piling up to block the view.  I'm yearning to pick and trim a tree, to bake gingerbread cookies and read a book in front of the fireplace, but most of those things will have to wait until the last class is taught, until finals are given and grades are turned in. I know I'm not alone: this time of year it can feel like so much stands between us and celebration.  So today I want to share a poem I love by Mark Jarman, one that's all about celebrating--and finding the sacred--in the natural world.  Busy and distracted as we are, so much waits for us to notice it and give it a name, as Jarman does here:


Is this word truly fallen?  They say no.
For there's the new moon, there's the Milky Way.
There's the rattler with a wren's egg in its mouth,
And there's the panting rabbit they will eat.
They sing their wild hymn on the dark slope,
Reading the stars like notes of hilarious music.
Is this a fallen world?  How could it be?

And yet we're crying over the stars again
And over the uncertainty of death,
Which we suspect will divide us all forever.
I'm tired of those who broadcast their certainties,
Constantly on their cellphones to their redeemer.
Is this a fallen world?  For them it is.
But there's that starlit burst of animal laughter.

The day has sent its fires scattering.
The night has risen from its burning bed.
Our tears are proof that love is meant for life
and for the living.  And this chorus of praise,
Which the pet dogs of the neighborhood are answering
Nostalgically, invites our answer, too.
Is this a fallen world?  How could it be?

And can I just add that "the night has risen from its burning bed" is one of my favorite lines of poetry ever?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Revisiting Munich

A cheese shop in Munich with my name on it?

Today, at 4 p.m., I reached the end of the Love, Lucy copy edits, and turned my revision back in to my editor, feeling relieved, and pleased, and nostalgic--for Lucy and for the world she wanders through.

So tonight I'm revisiting the photos I took at the start of this particular  journey, when I set out to research the novel by walking in my character's footsteps, from Terminal A at Philly International Airport to Munich, then overland to Florence and beyond.

By now the Munich section of the book has been edited down to a quick flashback, but I didn't know that would be the case when I started.  I took thousands of photos and copious notes, obsessively storing up sensory data without a clue about what sorts of details I might need.

A store full of dirndls?  Check.

A charming graffito?  Check.

A circle of bunkbeds at The Tent, the funky Munich hostel where I stayed once upon a time, and where Lucy and her friend Charlene have their first falling out?  Check.

And, because I knew I was writing about a street musician, at least one picture of every busker I passed.  This guy, for example:

And this guy:

And even this guy:

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Black Sunday

This Thanksgiving break, I've been steering blessedly clear of the malls, breaking (delicious) bread with good friends and with my sister who drove from West Virginia for the holiday. And today I've been plowing through the Love, Lucy copyedits, wrestling with a timeline that just doesn't fit.  

I've had plenty of lovely company, though.  Working is so much better when I can do it in bed, with Radio Mozart, surrounded by dogs.

I hoped to be all done by tonight, but, alas, that isn't going to happen now that it's 4:47 and my writing companions are telling me it's kibble time.  

In tribute to work that must be set aside, here's the wonderful Neil Patrick Harris singing Stephen Sondheim's "Finishing the Hat":   

Free the Mice!

  Thanks to Bearings Online , for publishing my poem about trying--and sometimes failing--to be kind to the mammals who only want to sha...