Archive for February, 2013

The Necessity of Absolute Rubbish

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013


The three weeks I studied directly under the poet and teacher Paul Matthews had a tremendous impact on the way that I think about writing and the teaching of writing. More so than any other writing course I’ve taken at any age, at any institution, including MFA writing courses at the University of Minnesota. Paul’s class turned a lot of my ideas upside down and brought me face to face with myself in a way I hadn’t ever quite experienced before.  It was kind of like magic—interactive magic—but using only words. The work was great fun, but it was also clearly undergirded by Matthews’s extensive understanding of the history of language and many branches of philosophy. In several places here on the Elephant Rock website, I try to describe what is unique and powerful about the way Matthews approaches writing workshops (and, in turn, how I have come to approach them). However, there is nothing like hearing it straight from the source. (more…)


The Bounty and the Wreck

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

Boy with popsicle and toy sailboat, 1920

WHEN MY SON Max was very, very small—with his luminous and still disproportionately large brown eyes peering out from a fringe of dark lashes, his small round face yet unformed and dough-like—he was mesmerized by water and fire. His first words included boat and candle. By the age of four, he had developed a fierce interest in all manner of watercraft, disasters, and horrible combinations of the two—in particular, the sinking of the Titanic. This was well before the movie.

I am nearly certain that he and his sister Sophie were the youngest ever to attend the regional meeting of the Titanic Society. Meetings convened in a dusty town hall in the rural county where we then lived. My children sat at the edge of their metal folding chairs in rapt attention as senior citizens took turns sharing painstakingly dry accounts of wreck-related discoveries and survivor updates. (more…)


Your Fierce Original Voice

Friday, February 8th, 2013
I like the word fierce. Why? Because it means so many things: you can love fiercely, believe fiercely, live fiercely, and write fiercely. It’s not an angry word. It’s a courageous word. Watch a toddler at play, or a child swallowed up in the ethereal underwater world of deep concentration, and you will see fierceness. Fierceness is an essential element of our humanity, an essential element of what some now describe as “flow.
As we grow and adapt to the world, putting on our outer armor, we can lose touch with our fierceness, we suppress our fierce original voice. As adolescents, we do this purposefully, in the most painfully self-conscious way, expressly to blend in with the crowd. Later on, we may even poke fun at teenagers while believing, often falsely, that we’ve outgrown the habit of striving toward invisibility. This, I would suggest, is the most dangerous delusion of all: the drowsy conviction that we’re expressing authentically when we’re not. (more…)

Land of Lakes

Friday, February 8th, 2013

This very special guest post is from my daughter, Sophie, twenty-two, a recent college graduate, and a hopeful MFA applicant in creative writing (currently awaiting responses from her programs of choice). You may have read about Sophie recently in my post Hands Above, Feet Below. Sophie has been writing all her life. This essay was part of her portfolio of work for her senior seminar at Smith College. Enjoy!

Land of Lakes by Sophie Ouellette-Howitz


I live near a pond called Paradise now, but my home is the Land of 10,000 Lakes.  According to the Minnesota Department of Natural resources, we possess precisely 11,842 enclosed basins large enough to produce wave-swept shores. That is my Minnesota: a land of lakes and lighthouses, of shores and skies. Fitting since the territory stole its name from the Dakota word for sky-tinted water. Or is it water-tinted sky? (more…)


The Curve of Our Bodies

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013


This is about bodies. Mine and yours. About flesh and rawness and dirtiness, about throbbing and sensing and sexiness. And brokenness. And heart-stopping sweetness. It’s about our bodies’ betrayals … and their divinities and their astonishing service.

For me, nothing captures all of this more potently than Dorianne Laux’s poem “The Shipfitter’s Wife.” I have been obsessed with this poem since I first read it several years ago. It electrifies me for the way it portrays a woman’s love for her husband, for his whole self, his entire calloused, pulsing physicality:

I loved him most / when he came home from work / his denim shirt ringed with sweat / and smelling of salt / the drying weeds of the ocean. I’d go to where he sat / on the edge of the bed, his forehead / anointed with grease, his cracked hands / jammed between his thighs, and unlace / the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles / and calves, the pads and bones of his feet (more…)