The End of May: useful abandonments

by Jeff Oaks

The blog has fallen behind. I imagined it as a place for me to work on occasional prose, imagined that, I should say, at a time when I was writing only poetry and syllabi. But this summer, as I write prose exclusively and toward a large manuscript of autobiographical pieces, the blog is a kind of distraction. A kind of chatty afternoon prose after I’ve written the more interesting exploratory morning prose. I’m glad to abandon chattiness iF there’s a conflict. And most afternoons I’ve been using for the gym and reading Knausgaard’s My Struggle, both of which have been remaking me at profound levels.

I’m more or less committed to writing a blog piece a week, but I’m also deeply lazy during the summer which I view as the time I take to return to myself after nine months of thinking of my administrative work and my students’ work. The summer is a time to abandon those things, to walk away from the usual schedule and to let time be less structured, more improvisational. To read. To just sit with the dog in the grass. To just walk around.

One of the projects I’m working on is an essay alphabetizing the kinds of escapes I had as a child, the things that kept me awake, that helped me to grow up, that protected me. I started it with A for the Abandoned Places where I could meet and dream of other lives. Here is the first draft’s first paragraph, in which I use all the letters of the alphabet at least once, which is the challenge I gave myself this time:


If not for those abandonments, those plots behind lawns, at edges of railroad tracks, forgotten by farms, unassessed, wild-appled, where strange water ran or welled up or undermined. Hilled, too thick, too rambled, too ivied, too riddled or rocky or aslant, askew, junked with quit appliances, beyond the bounds, buzzing with, burrowed into, existing in spite of, out of sight of taxes, rock-walled, high-grassed, full of spider-lightning, frog-throb, bee-lines, mint growing wild over water-trickle, snake-snap, antwork, cricket-fiddle, shell after shell lived in, burned out, reinvented. There I invented myself for years.