Wednesday, June 06, 2007


In this, my first week back at work after a year on maternity leave, it's strangely appropriate that I've been reading John Steffler's The Grey Islands.

This long poem focuses on a summer of deliberate isolation on an island off Newfoundland's coast.

Though in some ways it doesn't compare, it reminds me of the three weeks I spent in a farmhouse in Arnes (the house functions as an artist's retreat in the memory of MB author Patricia Blondal) a few years ago.
I had two weeks' worth of groceries, a bike, and my two feet.

And while I was grateful to have been awarded a stay at the house by the MWG, I wasn't prepared, mentally, for three weeks in three rooms.

I walked for hours every day, camera in hand, but I was still in the middle of nowhere.

But instead of writing my way out of the isolation, like Steffler, I stewed and fretted.

(I remember telling M "It's hard to hate people if they're not around..." and I was only half joking....)

And so, when a friend came to visit, three or four days before I was supposed to leave, I took my chance and bolted back to the city.

The first year of my daughter's life wasn't something I could opt out of, however.

In the dead of winter or in the midst of a heat wave, without a car, I felt just as isolated, sometimes, as I did in that farmhouse...

And so, in a way, I feel like I can understand a little of Steffler's experience of isolation but also that of his wife, who cared for their two children while Steffler was away.

Since starting The Grey Islands, I've had two eight hour stretches out in the world.

I got to go the Underground, one of my favorite restaurants in the Exchange District where I work, and steep in the (civilized) noise: people talking in measured tones, people chuckling wryly, people eating in a leisurely fashion.

And today, I'm back at home, with my daughter. Having had both company and a measure of solitude, I'm more...comfortable...with my duties, baby-wise.

(Oh, before I forget, I picked up Steffler as part of my effort to read all the books on The Northern Poetry Review's List of Essential Poetry Books. I've added the list to a tracking site, so if you want to read along, you can do that too...)


Anita Daher said...

Mmm...I would love a retreat at that house in Arnes. Unfortunately, like you, family duties are not something I can easily opt out of. My girls are teens, and can manage well enough. My HUSBAND however. Well, he (and the dog) would be lost if there was not coffee made, socks washed, and kibble in the bowl at exactly the right time, three times a day.

Brenda Schmidt said...

Cool that you're reading all the books on that list.