I haven’t written a blog post in two weeks! It’s because I’ve been teaching at the Stonecoast MFA Program. Once I got over the flu, I only had a few days to prepare, and then I was off on the train up the coast, to Freeport, Maine. Stonecoast is a low-residency MFA program, one of the best in the country, and I’m very lucky that I get to teach there. I’m particularly lucky because Stonecoast has a Popular Fiction section, which means that I get to teach not just writing in general (although I certainly teach that), but also specifically writing fantasy, science fiction, and mystery. This time, I led a workshop specifically on writing fantasy and made a presentation on Agatha Christie’s plotting. In a low-residency program, students spend each semester working closely (but at long distance) with a mentor, and then they gather for the twice-yearly residencies. That’s where I was: the winter residency.
But now that I have some time to write blog posts, I’m going to write about my experience at Stonecoast. So I’ll tell you how my residency went . . . And the first thing I’m going to do is post some poetry. I arrived at Stonecoast last Friday and immediately plunged into greeting faculty members and old students, meeting the new students, and of course the work of the residency. That first night, we had our first reading, and I was one of the readers. I read two poems, both of them about ravens. So I thought I would reprint them here! In my next few blog posts, I’m going to describe some of the things I taught. Of course I can’t give you the full flavor of what it was like — you had to have been there. But it will at least give you a sense of what I did during the residency, and some thoughts on fantasy and mystery (the two genres I focused on this time), as well as teaching in general.
(People sometimes ask how they can take create writing classes with me. The answer is: at Stonecoast. That’s it, I’m afraid. It’s the only place I teach creative writing, to the Stonecoast MFA students. But if I teach any place else, I will post that information . . .)
So to start us off, here are the raven poems that I read, with expression of course, that first night:
Some men are actually ravens.
Oh, they look like men.
Some of them in suits,
some of them in shirts embroidered
with the names of baseball teams,
some in uniforms, fighting in wars we only see
But underneath, they are ravens.
Look carefully, and you will find their skins of feathers.
Once, I fell in love with a raven man.
I knew that to keep him I had to take his skin,
his skin of feathers, long and black as night,
like ebony, tarmac, licorice, black holes.
I found it (he had taken it off to play baseball)
and hid it in the attic.
He was mine for seven years.
I had to make promises:
not to hurt ravens, to give our children names
like Sky, and Rain Cloud, and Nest-of-Twigs,
spend one night a week in the bole of an old oak tree
that had been hollowed out by who-knows-what.
I had to eat worms. (Yes, I ate worms.)
You do crazy things for raven men.
he spent six nights a week in my arms.
His black feathers fell around me.
He gave me three children
(Sky, Rain Cloud, Nest-of-Twigs,
whom we called Twiggy).
And I was happy,
which is more than most people achieve.
You know where this is going.
One day, I threw a stone at a raven.
I was not angry, he was not doing anything in particular.
It is just
that raven men are always lost.
Think of it as destiny,
think of it as inevitable.
I was not tired of our nights together,
with the moon gleaming on his feathers.
Or maybe he found his skin in the attic?
Maybe I had taken his skin and he found it,
and he picked three feathers from it
and touched each of our children,
and they flew away together?
Maybe that’s how I lost them?
I don’t even remember.
Loving raven men will make you crazy.
In the mornings I see them hurrying to their offices,
the men in suits. And I see them in bars
shouting for their baseball teams, and I see them
on television in wars that have no names,
and I say, that one is a raven man,
and that one, and that one.
Sometimes I stop one and say,
will you send my raven man back to me?
And my raven children?
Some night, when the moon is gleaming,
the way it used to gleam
on long black feathers falling
around my face?
And here is the second poem:
On the fence sat three ravens.
The first was the raven of night,
whose wings spread over the evening.
On his wings were stars, and in his beak
he carried the crescent moon.
The second was the raven of death,
who eats human hearts. He regarded me
sideways, as birds do. Shoo, I said.
Fly away, old scavenger. I’m not ready
to go with you. Not yet.
The third was my beloved,
who had taken the form of a raven.
Come to me, I said,
when darkness falls, although
I’m afraid you too
will eat my heart.
This is where I was staying last week, at the beautiful Harraseeket Inn, in Freeport, Maine:
And this is a bird’s nest I saw as I was walking down the snowy street, the last day I was there. It was filled with snow . . .