My favourite sort of week

with almost nothing on the agenda, or nothing but whatever turns up at the last minute. Yesterday I meant to have lunch in Montparnasse with a friend, but we got our wires crossed and I ended up eating by myself in a sunny (yes, there was sun) window table-for-two, and felt very grown-up. Today it is pouring rain (again), the church roof is wet wet wet, the stones are black-wet, I am working in bed (on top of the covers) with my feet on a hot water bottle. Rereading some Helen Vendler essays and discovering other, more recent ones, online. Tonight we're having dinner in the restaurant around the corner, which, always charming, but not always extra-good for the food, changed ownership and is now serving excellent food, along with the charm. I'll probably go to the gym, read some more. I think I may at last have got into 100 Years of Solitude, which is suggested reading for a class I hope to audit after Christmas when we're back in Stanford.

Thanks to something Vendler said I added a new/old poem to the Ms, whose deadline is rapidly approaching. It seems to fit, but really you need time to assimilate corrections, and time is what you don't have with deadlines approaching. Ideally the editor will tell me that x poems are crap and should be junked. Ideally.

Lunchtime. We leave for the south in a few days so it's cleaning out the fridge time. Two sets of kids arriving after our departure and spending a couple days before they join us, but they either eat out or have finicky diets.

Oh, and note here that the Cafe de la Mairie has expanded into the storefront next door on the Place St Sulpice and will be renovating. They promise they will not turn into the Deux Magots: "The Cafe de la Mairie has its own tradition." Yes. But they can redo the WC.

Sunday afternoon

A walk along the Seine, Right Bank, partly in the rain, partly a walk that turned into a bike ride, when we came across a Velib station and I used my card for the first time. Not many people out. Christmas shopping in full swing. The river high with all the rain and brown, swans being washed on the swell of peniches, gulls arriving from both ends of the river to fight over bread crumbs being scattered by a thin man in a hooded white parka. Tea on the way home in the almost unfindable Mariage Freres tea shop on the Rue des Grands Augustin, it too quiet and though expensive filled with ordinary-looking people speaking quietly, tended by waiters expert in the hundreds, thousands of teas on offer. Back out in the pouring rain to come home and skip dinner, or almost.

Valery, Degas

in 'Degas Danse Dessin': 'At seventy, he [Degas] tells Ernest Rouart: "Il faut avoir une haute idée, non pas de ce qu'on fait, mais de ce qu'on pourra faire un jour: sans quoi, ce n'est pas la peine de travailler.[You have to have a lofty idea, not of what you do, but of what you will be able one day to do: otherwise there's no point in going on working."'

Degas Danse Dessin is the current exhibit at the Musée d'Orsay. My favourites are still the women bathing and the women ironing: they feel so strongly attached to the earth. The ballerinas are lovely, of course, but airy, and looking to lift off, to transcend their earthiness.


Yesterday my neighbour, who lives in an apartment on the roof of the church across the street, put a chicken bone out on the flattish zinc roof for the crows. I suppose the crows are the same crows, usually two flying over, keeping an eye on things, sitting on the buttresses, fun to watch. Anyway one crow let the other crow (dominant?) peck at the bone, as if it, the second, unfed, crow were keeping watch. The second crow, while I was watching at least, didn't get much to eat. Today the bone--which looks clean now--is still there and right now there's a crow sitting on some stones higher up, looking undecided about whether to come down or not.

I've been working on my Ms, which is due at the beginning of January, reading poems I admire, tweaking. It's hard to stay objective about your own--or someone else's poems--you know them too well, so one thing I do, is read others, then look at my own stuff. For half an hour or so I can see my own work as an outsider might see it, then it is again over-familiar, and I need to stop working. When you have time to forget about things for a while, then you can come back to them, but I'm too close to the deadline for this book to let go of them.

Lunchtime. Maybe try to see the Degas exhibit this afternoon--if there aren't lines?


It's turned cold here, around freezing, with a bit of snow in the air, but nothing on the ground. The church had its all-night vigil, so it was earplugs and window barely open (but open nonetheless). Yesterday sat and read the paper in the park until the guardians whistled everyone out at 4:30 pm, as the birds (lots of parakeets around the persimmon tree--apparently they are becoming a nuisance, saw lots in London along the Regent's Canal towpath, too), then stopped in at the Rubens (royal portraits) show, which was warm and cosy and full of people. I thought the most interesting paintings were a self-portrait, the last painting on the way out, and a Valasquez life-size painting of Philippe 4th in hunting attire--all warm shades of brown--with a wonderfully painted dog. I recall from the Prado how much Valasquez likes dogs--better than kings, one suspects.

Lunchtime. Been reading Ashbery, Houseboat Days. Am on last year of Woolf's Diaries and dawdling. Sinead Morrissey, Douglas Dunn, still. Bonnefoy's interviews about poetry and painting.

AR Ammons

Always a favourite poet of mine. This from a New Yorker review I just came across, which I post, because I identify with the problems evoked, this week:


. . . we tie into the
lives of those we love and our lives, then, go

as theirs go; their pain we can’t shake off;
their choices, often harming to themselves,

pour through our agitated sleep, swirl up as
no-nos in our dreams; we rise several times

in a night to walk about; we rise in the morning
to a crusty world headed nowhere, doorless:

our chests burn with anxiety and a river of
anguish defines rapids and straits in the pit of

our stomachs: how can we intercede and not
interfere: how can our love move more surroundingly,

convincingly than our premonitory advice


Derain, Malani

I went to the Centre Pompidou yesterday afternoon, as much for a walk as to see the current Derain exhibit. I have a membership card, so it's easy to wander around, in and out of galleries, without having to consider whether or not to buy a ticket to the current show and whether to spend an hour there or 20 minute or two hours,

So I spent probably about an hour, asking, as the show itself asks, why Derain, so obviously gifted, never pursued his gifts into the first rank of painters of his period. There was the Fauve thing, but it wasn't enough, or durable enough, of an innovation to raise him to the level of his friends, Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso, although Picasso borrowed some of his ideas and built on them. Rooms and rooms of Matisse-ish paintings, and why and what did Matisse do that Derain didn't? Less innovation, less exploration, less intellectual structure? He went to Chatou, to Le Pecq, painted the banks of the Seine, stollers; then he went to Collioure, he went to Estaque, he loved the Mediterranean light. It was lovely, but same-same-ish, not provoking, except in trying to define what wasn't there.


Then I spent a little while in the Contemporary collections, recently re-arranged; there was a show devoted to an Indian woman, Nalini Malani, very politically engaged, hot and cold. A Basquiat I liked too.

The Hotel Eden

Is it crazy to have agreed to do a new collection of poems so soon after the last? When the offer came, I was surprised and doubted I had enough poems. On the other hand, I didn't want to turn the opportunity down, so I assembled everything I had and thought about whether it could all be viable by the beginning of 2018. I decided to risk it. The chance might not come again. I think it's going to be ok but--well, I hope it is. Right now I'm reading a wonderful new collection by Sinead Morrissey, On Balance, which I picked up in London at the Broadway Bookshop in Hackney. I like it a lot, better I think than her previous book, though I must read that one again in the light of this one--perhaps I just wasn't in the right mood.

Also working on a review of August Kleinzahler for the TLS. Just about done with that. Tinkering. I like the tinkering stage of writing, probably let in go on for too long. 

About the new book. I had to do a lot of writing for it, in a very short time, and I'm wondering whether that isn't a good stimulus rather than being hasty.

Just came back from a run around the Garden, which ended in a downpour. Now I have errands to run and it looks as if the rain has slowed or stopped. How lucky is it to be able to go out and run errands in the 6th arrondissement of Paris? Would Beverley Bie of Saskatoon Saskatchewan and Vancouver ever have dreamed she'd end up running errands (kitchen sponges, radiator paint) in glamorous Paris? (Sometimes now I think Saskatoon Saskatchewan sounds pretty glamorous.)

(I'm going to attach a second post with a page from the Saskatchewan Archives, that someone in the archives sent me.)