Writing has saved me over my long life—the discipline, the discoveries—have made an immeasurable impact on me. Now, helping other writers find their footing, their voices, deepens every aspect of my own experience.
My education was blessedly unconventional. I attended Harvard as an undergraduate adult and savored every minute. Well, not every minute. Spanish was impossibly hard for me. But, oh, how I wanted to be fluent in that beautiful language.
My professors included the Director of the Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology. Another was the director of the Sackler Museum, while with another I studied medieval manuscripts through to the incunabulum. Our classroom was often the Houghton Rare Book Library, where we wore white gloves to examine selections from the extraordinary collection. Once the professor rolled out a very small book caddy on wheels and said we were about to examine a million dollars-worth of materials. With my focus on the history of art, I was in heaven.
Belw is a poem of mine, published by Cimarron Review, about an experience during one class at the Houghton.
DES DESTINEES DE L’AME
I think always of you waiting.
While visiting the Houghton Rare Book library,
my professor, steeped in the Incunabulum,
handed me a small volume, titled
Des destinees de l’ame , saying casually
that it had been bound with human skin.
A woman’s back, she whispered, leaning in
to meet my eyes. And from that moment,
I’ve tried to fashion a story for her.
The author was Arsène Houssaye, dandy
of the Second Empire, a fantaisiste,
like many of the romantics—who even
Baudelaire courted, but secretly ridiculed.
Houssaye presented his work
to his friend Dr Ludovic Bouland, who
had saved the woman’s skin for just
the right occasion, and when the volume
came into his possession, he had it rebound,
expressing his belief that such meditations
on the soul after death merited a human skin.
A noted bibliophile, the good doctor
commanded that the binding be
unadorned—save for a bit of gold trim—
to preserve its elegance, so what lay
in my hands was otherwise unremarkable,
a plain text of greenish-gold hue,
patterned with pores through which
her skin once breathed.
She had been a mental patient, whose
body upon death from apoplexy lay
unclaimed. For years I have yearned
for some quiet place for her to emerge—
in my writing, my dreams.
Then one soft afternoon as I crossed
the back meadow, I came upon her
humming among butterflyweed
and cranesbill, the hem of her
walking dress darkened with mud.
Her hair was swept back into a single
loose braid, and she wore a necklace
of nutmeg and violets.
She did not seem to notice me,
and I stood for a long while observing
her slow, desultory wanderings, pausing
here and there, then scanning
the western horizon, where the sun
was already sliding behind rushes
and wild rye—her sweet face
turning more pensive as if
she had not yet found what she sought,
and it would soon be too late.
Finally, she faded, along with all
familiar things, into the growing dark.
I never saw her again.
I wish I could say I’d felt her—and she
me—that day in the library, through
the mandatory white cotton gloves
we’d been instructed to wear—as if
my turning the book over and over
in amazement might rouse her
from her terrible slumber, rescue her
from the shelf upon which she had stood
for so long—from a life, which, even
in death, did not belong to her.
By this time, I had begun to both write and to paint seriously. I was participating in a wonderful poetry workshop in Brookline, MA, and also studying painting part time at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School. When it was time to think about graduate school, I had a difficult time deciding which direction to take. But when the graduate writing program at Warren Wilson College accepted me, I jumped. I never have regretted that decision.
I have been fortunate to have won many awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, two from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, and the MacDowell Colony. As well, I have won the Grolier and Pablo Neruda Prizes.
Among the many journals in which my poems have appeared are TriQuarterly, Spoon River Review, Prairie Schooner, Salamander, Nimrod, Sojourner, and Cimarron Review.
I have published four books, of which three are collections of poetry—Blood Garden: An Elegy for Raymond, Turning Point; Across the Dark, Main Street Rag Press; and My Own Hundred Doors, Bright Hill Press. A verse-novel entitled Esther was published by CavanKerry Press.
I recently retired from the university setting, having taught in the graduate and undergraduate writing programs at Emerson College in Boston, Franklin Pierce University, and most recently Keene State College, among other institutions.
I now devote my time to working with writers to hone their craft
and their voice.