More Signs of Fall

  1. The Canada Geese are making a hell of a noise down on the river, getting ready to form up and head south.
  2. At the local farm stand there are no more summer squash, but the selection of winter squash is generous.
  3. Days are warm, but nights are cold enough to fire up the woodstove.
  4. I’m working on poems instead of grading my students’ essays.
  5. (Later) Saw a flock of bluebirds flitting around this morning, getting ready to head south.

Autumn

Our bedroom window looks out over the river, though this time of year the leaves of the maple trees mostly screen our view of the water. This morning I woke around six-thirty and looked out at the trees bathed in soft morning light. The leaves are turning orange now, though there is still quite a bit of green, especially by the water. I could hear Canada geese making a racket over by the island — really a sandbar with some low bushes on it — near the bridge that carries the highway over the river a half mile down stream from us. It is fall. Tonight we built the first fire of the season in the woodstove.

At school I have been reading tenure files and writing tenure letters, teaching, meeting with two groups of independent study students, teaching my classes. I have also†volunteered for a couple of departmental committees, though I am trying to be a little less involved in such work than I have been in the past and am not serving on any university-wide committees. Amazingly, with a couple of retirements this year, I will be among the most senior members of my department. I’m enjoying my teaching this term, though yesterday my poetry students sat on their hands and looked down at their books, giving every evidence of not having read the assigned work. They’ll be getting a quiz on Monday. Same as it ever was.

Later: Why give them a quiz? It is what it is. Why impose my authority that way? Doesn’t it ruin the poetry? Well, I say in reply to myself, they can’t get the poetry — the real juice of it that I love and believe they might love — if they don’t read the poems.

Vietnam Diary 1 (Nhat Ky 1)

Yesterday was the day the Vietnamese officially* celebrate the founding of the nation by honoring the Hung Kings and so I am starting my VN diary on — or at least near — an auspicious day a week before I leave the US. The goldfinches have begun turning gold here in South Colton, but yesterday rain mixed with snow splattered out of the sky all day and then last night turned to snow. It is still snowing. We have about six inches of heavy wet snow on the ground this morning. I’m ready for some warm weather, which will really be getting going by the time I arrive in Hanoi, though I’ll also be heading into the summer monsoon season, so it’s going to be wet. But it will also be green, which will be a relief after the long winter and recent brown thaw here.

So what is it about Vietnam? The history with the US makes it an interesting place, of course, fraught with analytical and moral peril; but for me that’s not really the center of my interest. Dana Sachs says simply what I have tried to say in various complicated ways over the years, that Vietnamese society is different and appealing even while it is strange and sometimes difficult for an American. I wrote a diffuse and impressionistic response to Vietnam during my second trip to Hanoi ten years ago, but rereading it now I have the sense that I was skating over the surface, imposing my patterns of perception on the my experience of the city. [That page of diary entries is, I see, a hodgepodge of things written at different times over two trips — not sure how that particular document came into existence: I was writing for a now-defunct poetry magazine. –jd] I touch on some of this nystery† in a light-hearted way in my recent interview with Ly Lan.

What draws me? Something that seems at once completely clear and at the same time obscure. There is one paragraph from those earlier diary entries that I would keep:

With Dao Kim Hoa Iíve just finished translating five poems by Huu Thinh and I may have learned more about Vietnam from this process than I did in my two months in the country. What I learned, however, seems impossible to describe. Literally impossible. I can tell you about the tree-lined streets of the Old Quarter, and I can tell you about the riverside cafes of Hoi An; I can even have a shot at describing the sense of holiness I felt visiting a little pagoda of no particular significance out among the orchards of the central coast. I could tell you how the older monk laughed with me when we managed to piece together a few sentence in “Vietlish” about the beauty of the evening, and how the two young monks stood smiling among the fruit trees in the courtyard in front of the sanctuary. I could tell you about the lunch prepared by the boatmanís wife on the Perfume River outside Hue. But the mental and spiritual world I have just begun to see into by learning the language is completely beyond my powers of description. Every time I open my Vietnamese dictionary I feel as if I have been granted access to a world that until three years ago might as well have been in another galaxy.

In recent weeks I have been intensifying my study of Vietnamese and over the last few days have begun to understand sentences. This makes me very happy and I think represents a new set of possibilities for my understanding of Vietnam and of Vietnamese poetry.I’m going to try to write something here nearly every day during my travels in the coming weeks.

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*The festival itself is scheduled according to the lunar calendar, but the national holiday occurs on April 6th each year on the Gregorian calendar for the convenience of businesses and government offices.

Something Like Spring

Haven’t been paying much attention to things online because there has been a lot going on offline. Carole left for Pictoplasma in Berlin today and will be gone a week. I’m only a month away from leaving for Vietnam and I’ll be gone six weeks. And the weather has been (slowly) improving, so there have been more dog walks and even a bit of time out on the deck, which faces south, enjoying the spring sun, though the air is still pretty cold and there are no leaves on the trees. Still a few patches of snow in the hollows, but the last of the ice has melted off the river. I’ve been reading a lot of fiction, as well as some things about Modernism, so I think I’ll have some notes to post here and at The Plumbline before long.