My Wobbly Bicycle, 175

Posted by on Aug 11, 2019 | 9 comments

When Stan Rubin emailed me 14 years ago and asked if I’d like to join the faculty of  Rainier Writing Workshop in Tacoma, WA, I must have somehow missed the point of the message. Days went by, and he called me. So, would you like to join the faculty? I doubt it, I said. I was still in my last few years teaching at the University of Delaware and summers were precious. Did I want to disrupt our time with family at the lake in Michigan to travel all the way across the country for ten days? But of course I really, really wanted to do it. Jerry said, in his characteristically generous way, “If you want to do this, we’ll make it happen.” So.


This year  I’m retiring from the program. I’ve missed two residencies. One was the summer after my cancer treatment. Judith Kitchen, who directed the program with Stan, speaking from her own cancer experience, said,  “I can tell you, you’ll be so very tired. It’s too soon.” She was right. And then this past summer, after Jerry had had one surgery after another and really needed my help, I didn’t go.


It’s not that I’m tired of students. It’s not that I’m tired of teaching. It’s that I’m just tired. Traveling across the country, designing classes and preparing for them, responding to student packets . . . it all seems the work of someone younger. I’ve had my time. That’s what I want to write about—my gratefulness.


Just when I was looking toward retirement, a whole new world opened up, the world of the low-residency MFA program. Not just any MFA program, but the one designed by Stan and Judith, with their impeccable sensitivity to what would work best. They chose a faculty with high powered credentials, but not rock stars (well, maybe some). But more like Indie movies, I’ve always thought. You go there to see what’s quietly really good. I must say, Judith Kitchen being one of the most brilliant literary critics of her time, knew how to pick ‘em, both faculty and students.


And, Stan and Judith said they were looking very consciously for faculty who would not project a hierarchy, who would mix with students and with each other without arrogance.  That has come to pass, it seems to me. And then when Judith died, Rick Barot took over the directorship with grace, wonderful tact, and the same good choices.


Back to gratefulness. David Biespiel said in his morning talk, “We are all so privileged to be gathered like this when much of the world is plunged in darkness.” There’s that.

I’m also grateful to have been able to have an influence on writers, to watch their work grow, their understanding of the work grow. I’m grateful that my own work is still changing, keeping me interested and sometimes excited. It seems as if I am just beginning to see how to do this work. And of course to see that it will never be perfected and never be completed. The process is my life’s work.

I’m grateful that this is my life’s work. I don’t know how it happened, it seems sometimes that it was almost by accident. I wrote a little, I wrote a little more, and the momentum kept bringing me along. I think what I’m most grateful for is that I am clear that I want to write a good poem (or essay) more than I want accolades for writing a good poem. That feeling was/has been slow in arriving, that feeling of being my own critic, with no blame, only a spirit of trying to figure it out.  I’m grateful that I’ve lived long enough for this to happen. Quoting Jane Kenyon, “It might have been otherwise.”

I’m grateful I’ve had a supportive and loving husband and a loving family. As any of the graduates of our program (whose families are here today, for graduation) can tell you, the work can’t happen without that.


Okay, I’m writing myself a graduation speech here.


As David said in his talk, “What is at stake for a writer other than to save the human race?”  Another way to put that might be, to keep breaking open language  so that it can’t harden against us or against others.



  1. Even thought I was never in the poetry department at RWW, you have made a terrific impact on my life, for all the reasons you have attributed to Judith and Stan. Thank you!! Thank you!!!

    • Thank you, Judith. I am so happy you said that. Smiling now.

  2. Ah Fleda, and so the world turns . You and your thoughts and essays are truth when we seem surrounded with lies.

    • One can only put it out there, what seems like truth. I dunno, I just do what seems to be what comes next. 🙂

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  4. Congratulations on your time with the program and best wishes for whatever will come next. I miss mixing with you.

    • Hi Holly. I wonder what comes next. But then that’s always been the way, right? How could we write if we knew what comes next?

  5. How can you retire? You are only 30 ears old – or will always be in my eyes. Well done, my friend.

    • The next phrase is supposed to be “good and faithful servant,” right? 🙂 I am wondering what will be next, which is pretty nice, I think, to leave things open-ended. You will also always be 30 in my eyes, too.
      I think we are all our ages inside.

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