November 29, 2014 § 3 Comments

Mark Strand has died.

His was among the first American poetry I read as a teenage girl (apart from the obligatory Robert Frost of my childhood schooling). I was looking for Answers and Alternatives and poetry often pointed the way into and out of myself.

In true teenage fashion, I especially sought those words I could appropriate for my own emotionally exaggerated ends. My seventeen year old self got some good melancholy mileage out of poems like Keeping Things Whole: 


In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.


I remember Strand’s Elegy For My Father was particularly impactful too, especially this second section of the long poem. It rendered the complexities and contradictions of truth—the truth of truth—which my sixteen year old self intuited but could not yet articulate (still often can’t).


Why did you travel?
Because the house was cold.
Why did you travel?
Because it is what I have always done between sunset and sunrise.
What did you wear?
I wore a blue suit, a white shirt, yellow tie, and yellow socks.
What did you wear?
I wore nothing. A scarf of pain kept me warm.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept with a different woman each night.
Who did you sleep with?
I slept alone. I have always slept alone.
Why did you lie to me?
I always thought I told the truth.
Why did you lie to me?
Because the truth lies like nothing else and I love the truth.
Why are you going?
Because nothing means much to me anymore.
Why are you going?
I don’t know. I have never known.
How long shall I wait for you?
Do not wait for me. I am tired and I want to lie down.
Are you tired and do you want to lie down?
Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down.


Yes, I am tired and I want to lie down. Wherever I am I am what is missing.

Who was that teenage girl? I can barely remember. But I know those words were my truth, that I found a mirror and comfort in them. I needed them then in a way that I can barely feel or fathom anymore. And perhaps they are the reason I no longer need them with such intensity, if that makes sense. They got me to a different place, a place where they wouldn’t be needed so much, or needed for other reasons. Those lines mean something different to me now and their meaning will change again and again, though they remain the same.

Thanks be to poetry. Thanks be to words and the writers who write them, knowing we might yet still need them long after they are gone. Thank you Mr. Strand.


Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.



The Uninvited

November 28, 2014 § 1 Comment

Last night I dreamed I was skating on glass. Nobody wants for mold to appear unbidden, and flourish, in the airspace between their double-paned windows; but, if it must, they can only hope for the crystal kind whose fine filaments creep into your nighttime with whisperings of snow.

From the Old Norse vindr auga came the word window: ‘wind eye’. Longboats and trade winds carried the word, along with other cargo sounds (fog, freckles, moss, gasp, sky), and it took the place of the Old English eag thyrel—eye-thirl, eye-hole. Words, like men, live and die. The Old Irish heard vindr auga as fuin deóc and their word for window is now fuinneoig. Sounds twist on the wind, morph, reshape themselves and, so, survive.

The mold on my window appeared slowly, at first, as a fog, but soon snow-like crystals surfaced like islands in a frozen sea: archipelagos of spores, remote colonies advancing slowly on the hazy center. A single stray hypha, trapped in the warm air between two panes of glass, has blossomed and burrowed its way into my dreams, a soft and silent invasion.

A dream is an invasion and it is also an evasion—from reality, the quotidian. The view from my window has become mundane; I hardly noticed it until the mold came, obscuring afternoon’s glow on red brick and the wooded slopes of Portland’s west hills. Nothing ever happens here is not the truth of the view, but only my perspective on it, which, too, may reshape itself.

By day, I think: I should call somebody, do something about this. But when night falls, I am skating. I am spinning fast on thin glass. Snow falls down around me and strange words float my way on the wind, replacing one world with another.

Deborah Reeves Window View 2

I was prompted to write this little essay when I saw a contest on The Paris Review website in celebration of Matteo Pericoli’s new book Windows on the World. 

I like these kind of contests – with a limited word count on a specified theme (this contest was 300 words). Like all writing prompts, it alleviates the pressure to think of something (God, forbid!). I often procrastinate writing because I’m waiting for a worthy idea to strike.

Though, I must admit that I needed the incentive of potentially being published on The Paris Review blog to sit down and write about the view from my window. If I saw this prompt in a workbook, I would probably press the snooze button, but I was surprised at the imaginative places my mind wandered to when I thought it might be read by other people.

Writing these micro-pieces requires focus, restraint, and thoughtfulness as every word and sentence counts. I love when an unexpected sentence or idea emerges but, too, I found that I was frequently questioning what, precisely, it was that I wished to communicate, or what feeling I wanted to create in a very short space, and tried to adhere to that and cull the excess and extraneous.

Of course, these things are required of everything I write but it’s easy with a longer essay or story to hold onto a sentence because it’s pretty, or so innocuous as to go unnoticed, a good sign that it’s not indeed needed.

Anyhoo. These ideas are not novel but I thought I’d share them anyway. Needless to say, my strange little mold essay did not win the contest but it’s been a while since I posted a window into my world, so here you go!

(The replacement windows arrived last week, by the by. In case you were wondering if I ever did pick up the phone, call somebody, do something about it.)


Two Lovely Things, Briefly Noted

November 2, 2014 § 3 Comments

1. My first short story, ‘Lay Down The Dark Layers’, has been published by the Irish literary magazine, The Stinging Fly (hurrah!)

2. This anthology—Winged: New Writing on Beesis essential and beautiful and its existence in the world makes me happy (about some humans and all bees).


I could be content being a one trick pony.

September 4, 2014 § 1 Comment

Someone, put me out to pasture with an apple and a wand. No. Wait. Sugar cube and a cape.

“The gift of writing is to be self forgetful…

May 3, 2014 § 1 Comment

…to get a surge of inner life or inner supply or unexpected sense of empowerment, to be afloat, to be out of yourself.”

– Seamus Heaney.

Rehearsals of ‘Buried Child’ begin at Profile Theatre

April 22, 2014 § 2 Comments

Last evening, cast and crew gathered in a back room for the first read-through of Sam Shepard’s Pulitzer Prize winning play.

The very first production of Buried Child was directed by Robert Woodruff who, many years later, would have Profile’s Artistic Director, Adriana Baer, under his tutelage at Columbia University. Last night, Adriana addressed her actors, crew, and guild members, speaking of her excitement to step into her chapter in this particular lineage.

The Pulitzer was awarded to Shepard based solely on the merits of the written page (performance/production is usually taken into account by the Drama jury) and the actors were encouraged to read through the play naturally. Often Shepard’s plays are read and staged ‘heightened’ because of the surreal and crazy situations his characters find themselves in.

For now, it was okay to just have the words—“we’ll find the situation later,” said Baer who encouraged us to embrace the play’s contradictions without judgement. For the characters in Buried Child, everything is true in the moment, and the truth changes, while remaining true, from moment to moment. The play only seeks to ask questions and the audience is to find their own answers to whatever they feel, think, believe, those questions are.

Before the read-through, we also heard a little from those lovely folks behind the scenes who are busy with costumes, music, props, and lighting. I particularly liked this little model that holds true to Shepard’s sparse stage conception. It’s a visceral as opposed to a literal architecture. The designer imagined the home as a contorted place that is reacting to and rejecting the people who exist there, poisoning their own lives, perpetually stuck inside their story.

Bleak stuff.

And yet, not—or not always.

Typical of Shepard, humor cut through horror, levity grappling with loneliness and longing, and the reading elicited many laughs and wry smiles from those of us who were lucky enough to sit in on it last night.

The actors are already so good—particularly those playing Dodge and Shelly. It’s fascinating to attend these first readings and I’m excited to see where they go with it in the next six weeks.

If you’re living in the Portland area, Buried Child plays May 29th through June 15th and I think it will be one to watch.

Buried Child at Profile Theatre Portland


Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead

April 12, 2014 § 3 Comments

“After lunch I’ll go out in the boat again; I might see something interesting. There should be a lot of interesting things around after a flood like this. Surely in all this water someone must have drowned.”

Offbeat, droll, macabre. Whimsical, charming, strangely delightful.

Barbara Comyns’ Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead is the last book that I was truly smitten by.

(At this point, it might be worth noting that the word Smitten is the past participle of Smite which means to strike with a firm blow. It is equally correct to say She was smitten by the handsome boy; she was one smitten kitten, as it is to say, The town was smitten with an outbreak of influenza—or madness; or murder.)

I don’t write too many reviews these days—I might start calling them “For Your Consideration” pieces—but this dark, enchanting book, and the sometimes ghastly, sometimes lovely, Willoweed family it follows, has lingered with me long after I first read it.

First, there is a flood:

“The ducks swam through the drawing-room windows…. Round the room they sailed quacking their approval; then they sailed out again to explore the wonderful new world that had come in the night.”

Then there is a death.

Well, many of them. The sorrowful hens commit suicide, the peacocks are drowned. Then Grumpy Nan who lived in the cottage by the mill croaks it. Then Mrs. Hatt, the doctor’s wife. Then another, and another. It is all very strange. It is all very dark and funny and matters terribly and doesn’t matter at all. Life goes on.

“Upstairs Emma sat on her bedroom window-sill and combed her marmalade coloured hair. She closed her eyes and forgot the sad, drowned sights of the morning. A feeling of deep satisfaction came over her as she felt the warmth of the sun and combed her hair, dreamily…. “Oh, how I would love to go to a dance and wear a real evening dress,” she thought, “but nothing like that will happen—no dances, no admirers. I shall just me me, and nothing will happen at all.”

Yes, it is a weird little gem of a book.

I was surprised to read that it was first published in 1954—by a woman born in 1909 and raised in an English country house with servants and a governess. Its simple, playful sentences; steady accumulation of strange details and observations; non-sequiter dialogue and diversions; and surreal images encountered by her characters as mundane or a nuisance, seem to predate the postmodern writing of the 1960s á la Donald Barthelme. Others have compared her to Angela Carter and consider Comyns a neglected genius. Still others have said she is not like anybody else at all and that is fine by me too:

“Barbara Comyns is always being compared to writers X, Y or Z “on acid.” The acid part is a cop-out; her voice is clear and direct, even when describing surreal or hyperreal situations, and her crisp descriptions are not kaleidoscopic or druggy in the least. The comparisons to other writers, apt or not, are never a list of her formative influences; she didn’t have any.” – Emily Gould, writing in The Awl in 2010. 

What is certain is she has been largely overlooked and I feel lucky to have happened across her.

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead was banned by The Irish Censorship of Publications Board (though, what book wasn’t? one might ask). I happened to hear about it one night, deep in the interwebs, when I came across Dorothy, a publishing project who reissued the by then out of print novel.

“Dorothy is dedicated to works of fiction or near fiction or about fiction, mostly by women. We want to publish books that, whether conventional or un-, are uniquely themselves, that do not lean against preconceived ideas of what is wonderful, but brilliantly and purposefully convince us that they are, themselves, wonderful.”

Marvelous! I thought. And it really was.

For your consideration:

Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead



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