Well, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I posted anything on the blog. It’s been a busy few weeks, so a few random updates.
First, we had a couple of really excellent events at Cornell. First, we had a great visit from “Farmer John” Peterson. I showed his movie “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” to my nature writers course and then he visited and spoke with us. He’s a genuine and generous figure. The students and I really loved meeting him (for me, so much so that I hope to go spend some time working on his farm next summer so that I can talk with him and try to write about his experiences and his farm). That evening we had a free community screening and he spoke there as well. A great night. Many drinks with him afterward at the Lincoln Wine Bar and a great experience all around. A few days later, we had our 4th annual “Global Voices” reading with Maxine Case from South Africa and Milos Durdevic from Croatia. This, too, was a splendid evening. They met with some students in the afternoon and discussed their countries, their backgrounds, the arts in their countries, and what it means to be an artist, etc. Then they gave great readings in the evening and were really generous in their discussions about being writers from very troubled parts of the world. Both events were a great way to kick off this year’s visiting writer’s festivities. Up next is fiction writer Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum on Oct. 15.
I gave a public talk at Cornell a while back on my own poetry and creative process (I say “talk” and mean it that way–it was really an open discussion with the audience rather than some formal lecture). I read some new poems that I haven’t shared yet which was a great experience, and the feedback from the audience was quite encouraging and useful. I’ve never really talked about my writing process so intimately with an audience before. A totally new experience for me and really quite useful; I thought about my work in ways I hadn’t before, both from the pressure of articulating ideas for an audience and from the questions and observations they made. And who knew I could have such a useful discussion with an audience about the semi-colon as metaphor!!
Then, I’ve been buried under a class on American Nature Writers that I just finished. It was a wonderful class filled with passionate, curious, engaged students. While it generally kicked me in the butt just to keep up with the class and other assorted work through the month, it was one of the best classes I’ve had at Cornell. If you’re interested in some of their thinking, feel free to check out the class blog here.
Then this evening I just watched the first installment of the new Ken Burns documentary on America’s National Parks. Now, I’ve never really been too keen on Ken Burns as an individual (his tone of voice just wears me down when I hear him speak–I’m pretty sure I don’t want to sit and have a beer with him), but he does some pretty incredible work. And this one seems like it might be his best. It’s beautifully filmed, well written, and incredibly important as we look at the future of the planet in these uncertain times. What struck me from the very first moments, though, was how much I could have used this documentary in the class I just finished. Everything went to the heart of discussions I’ve been having with my students for the last month. I’m sure it will become part of my collection for this class on nature writing, particularly the passages drawn from John Muir. If you missed the first installment, don’t miss the rest! This is at the heart of what we mean by “America.”
Next up, a trip to Asheville next week to visit my sister-in-law and spend some time hiking in the smokies and exploring some brewpubs (what else?).
More news soon!