Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wanderlust, Dickens and Poetry

It is cold here. Colder than I think it's been in the last three years. The leaves have all changed and most have fallen. It's time for scratchy wool sweaters and hot cocoa. And from deep within me I feel the call to roam, to read Dickens and to wrestle with poetry. The wind howls and calls these things from their hidden places.

The first time I left home as a teenager, was at this time of year. Traveling by Greyhound from Augusta through strata of green leaves, then orange, then brown and finally to the barrenness of the Midwest in November. Though totally crushed by my little world- that motion, that refusing to stay still felt so much like freedom. It felt like standing for the first time, on the conviction that I was "I", uniquely me, breathing deeply and with purpose. Since then I have always equated the cold with wandering, the cold with freedom.

One of my fondest memories of adulthood comes from wandering around Idaho with my oldest son when he was a toddler and my mom. With no destination in my mind-- and only the drive to keep driving in order to keep that challenging little being asleep for just a wee bit longer--we rolled into
Stanley, Idaho. It's a tiny town with boarded sidewalks, and surrounded by snowy, jagged mountains. When I think of that place, the mountains, the cold-my heart increases, like the Grinch when he gives back Christmas.

The other call out of the cold, is one of the great loves of my life- Charles Dickens. The first Dickens I ever read voluntarily was Bleak House when I was 20. I stayed up late December nights immersed in Jarndyce and Jarndyce and themes of spontaneous human combustion. It was again that feeling of discovering something uniquely me. Since then I have purposefully limited myself to one Dickens a year-sometimes skipping it altogether when there's a little baby in the house, so that I don't fail to savor it. For some reason, Dickens is never summer reading-never something I grab for as the dogwoods are blooming. Rather it is inevitably the first long cold snap, when that surety comes that Dickens is what I must do with the next two weeks of my life. This year it is Our Mutual Friend, which I began last night under a wool blanket as the wind whipped the windows.

And finally there is one of the final pieces of winter Shannon-ness: poetry. When I met my husband it was cold. He was reading a biography of Charles Olson. I was wrestling trying to find a voice, my voice, in poetry for the first time ever in a studied and concerted way. The first gift I ever gave him was the Library of America Wallace Stevens when it first came out. The first gift he ever gave me was a couple of used Charles Reznikoff books tied up in twine. We would sit outside in the cold on our breaks from the bookstore-drinking coffee and approaching poetry in our completely different ways--freezing on the metal chairs outside the coffeeshop--and yet for me, feeling again like I was accessing the very foundational uniqueness of who I was created to be. I write so very little now- not with the urgency which I had then as I was shrugging off girlhood --but in the dim light of late November and early December, my heart aches for and longs for poetry.

What does the cold mean to you? What does it conjure up from your depths? Do you come alive as the world around you dies?


  1. I've PMed you a comment about how much I enjoyed this but am still struggling to figure out how to post comments and to find how I can subscribe to this.

    I will read and maybe comment on yor other entries later.


  2. Oh Shannon! How is it that you waited until now to start this blog?! I am so glad to have helped inspire you to share your writing- it makes the world a better place.

    This is the time of year when Jason & I were getting to know each other too, and it always stirs up those wonderful memories.

  3. Oh I forgot to say- you are inspiring me to start reading more. I have a large gap in my reading history- I went from hating the required reading of my AP English classes to not reading at all for several years, to reading parenting books. I need to get back to basics and get some classics under my belt! Take me in your hands, oh Book Guru. Tell me what to read. LOL

  4. Awwww...I am so glad you helped me, too. It's been nice to actually force myself to sit down and write and think in a longer than toddler attention span.

    Well with reading, let's see--have you read To Kill A Mockingbird ? Maybe if you tell me the kinds of books you have liked when you read them?? OOOhhhh...ever read Dharma Bums by Kerouac? I think you might really like that!

  5. Yes I did read TKAM and liked it a lot. I've actually read it a few times. I'll check out the other one you mentioned, and next time we get together you can counsel me further :D

  6. Maybe the first time I read this entry I read it for whatever news it might bring since we had fallen out of touch, so either I missed or neglected to comment on the elegaic beauty of the writing!