Vo l . 7 N o . 1 write clearly and without too much ornament after Yeats had taught me the opposite. Elizabeth Bishop taught me how to be confessional without going to confession. Focus on your poetry and not on becoming known as a poet. Imagine an ideal reader and write for him or her. I always joke that a creative writing conference is where a few hundred writers come together to complain how lonely the writing life is. There are probably more poets than plumbers today. This is a good development because it means poetry is more democratic, if not better. Large gatherings have always made me anxious so I avoid them. The first few times I gave a public reading I almost passed out. I still get nervous before I read. I am very fortunate that the University of Alaska has published three of my books given that I maintain a rather low profile. I have another manuscript in the works. I consider solitude a blessing, something I need in order to write. A reviewer for the New York Times called me a hermit. I take that as a compliment. My ideal image of the writing life has always been of a solitary figure sitting at a desk trying to write something that people will want to read in two hundred years, then sending it out and watching the mailbox for a response. Now I check my email. My approach to the writing life may not be for you if your aim is to be popular, but it has its satisfactions. The sense of elation I feel when I have written something that I know cannot be improved is one of them. This usually occurs after many revisions. From time to time, a poem writes itself. In time you will know when you are in a zone just like a well-trained athlete knows, but it takes constant practice. If on the other hand, your view of the writing life is to be an active member of a writing community and you need the input of other writers to stimulate your creativity, then seek them out. It would be foolish to do otherwise. This is the path most writers choose. There must be hundreds of conferences, workshops and retreats every year where you can meet and talk with other writers and literary agents and those who make things happen. Editors usually publish writers they know or know of. For better or worse, I have chosen a more solitary path. The path you take should be the one that suits your temperament. I still have my tweed jacket.
48 Oak Street: A Memoir A voice on the radio is saying that if you imagine you had a happy childhood you will have had one. Tempting, but I believe it’s best to remember the happiness in the childhood you had, however fleeting it might have been. For that reason, I return to my hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, whenever I can to walk the streets I walked as a boy. Someday I hope to understand why, like dislodged pebbles rolling downhill, we were always on the move until my mother’s unfortunate death. I thought everyone moved once a year and left the furniture behind for those who were moving in. Was there a particular incident that I’ve forgotten that began our descent? Was it somehow my fault? Hoping to find answers to those questions is why in November of last year I was standing once again across the street from 48 Oak Street in the Belvedere section of the city where I remember being as happy as a child could possibly be. A man walking toward the house from the truck he had just parked noticed me and came over to ask me what I wanted. He was friendly but cautious. Most of the old single family homes have been cut up into small apartments so there are always strangers in the neighborhood and not a little crime. I told him that I lived in the house when I was a boy and named a few neighbors he might have known. He recognized one of the names and decided it was safe to invite me inside to look around. He told me the house was built in 1730 and was probably the oldest house in Lowell, but he had to just about rebuild it when he bought it because in the distant past there had been at least three fires. “It was a shingled farmhouse once,” he said. I remembered that my father had to stoop to get through the front door. My mother was less than five feet tall. I asked him about the brick beehive oven my father found behind a wall with reluctance because I was afraid I might have invented that magical snowy Saturday not long after we moved in when we found the oven. He smiled and said, “It’s next door. The house has three units now.” In fact, it sort of looks like an Italian villa from the outside. His name is Tony.