It’s been another fast-flying week, already (thankfully) the end of March and I hope, the end of snow. Today, the sun came out for the first time in over a week, and it took me a while to figure out what made the morning seem so different. Was it maybe that the miserable grayness has disappeared for a few hours? It’s been good weather for staying indoors and reading, though I’ve been looking at the beat-up old Adirondack chairs in the backyard with quite a bit of longing. It may be many more weeks before I can sit outside and read.
This week, I got started on Kay Redfield Jamison’s new psychological biography of Robert Lowell, Setting the River on Fire. I’ve been very interested in Lowell as a poet ever since reading Eileen Myles’ poem, “On the Death of Robert Lowell.” Who was he to have made Myles write, “O, I don’t give a shit./ He was an old white-haired man/ Insensate beyond belief and/ Filled with much anxiety about his imagined/Pain.” That Lowell’s patrician, Boston Brahmin upbringing would clash decisively with Myles’ raspy raw persona goes almost without saying. I also found myself very interested in the so-called “confessional” style of writing that Lowell is the prime exemplar of, and how this kind of writing has become subsumed into contemporary memoir, sometimes not for the betterment of the genre. And last, I very much admire Kaye Redfield Jamison as a writer, a psychiatrist, and a person with manic-depressive, or in the contemporary usage, bipolar disease. Many years ago I read her book, An Unquiet Mind, which was extremely helpful in helping me understand a close family member’s struggles with the illness. Of course, I want to read Lowell’s poetry, too, and Jamison’s book so far is an excellent guide through his works in the context of his own psychological suffering and the extreme pain his illness caused to those who loved him.
I finished The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit, and I’d like to reread it after thinking through Roxanne Gay’s “Bad Feminist” essays. There is commonality here, just coming at the same issues from different directions. Here’s Solnit: “Change begins at the margins and moves to the center; social media has made the edges more powerful and the transit from margin to center more swift–or maybe even blurred the distinction, as mainstream media sometimes scurries to catch up to a vibrant public debate in social and alternative media.”
And I reread Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts because a friend of mine read it for the first time, and I wanted to experience with her the power of Nelson’s writing. I also read the copy my daughter had so helpfully annotated when she read the book last year in a gender studies class she was taking. There was so much that I got the second time around–connections between sections, references and attributions, and themes that thread through the pages that are not divided into any kind of separate chapters, but instead flow organically from beginning to end. I also read a poem by Dana Ward, “A Kentucky of Mothers” that Nelson writes about in her book. This is a stunning, completely stripped of sentimentality long poetic work that Nelson raves about and with good reason:
“Fill its search field with some bluegrass. Press return.
Kentucky is mainly a myth I abide because I learned to love inside its stories.
For me it’s a maternal place but not the mother-land.
It’s where my heart when it was young & small & lacked impressions
took its wealthy shape in songful opulence
Who were they? All these mothers who seem mothers to me still? ”
And so it’s been my typical rabbit-hole week: start one place, end up somewhere completely different. I’m still working through my page count; 174 for Solnit, 143 for Nelson, 24 for Jamison (it’s a big book with 423 pages, so I’ll be here for a while). 341 pages for this week puts me……somewhere!