I have to bend down to enter the door and I sit, straight-backed on a stool, under a pair of meat hooks. It’s a canning house, an outbuilding on my old farm, built into the hillside, out of uneven brick, lined with beadboard, and in shelves. The canning house is where food—rows of jars, hanging hams—was once stored, and I think I use it because I want to take putting by as my model. Perhaps I can write something as enduring as preserves. I don’t imagine mine will be canonical masterpieces, but I would like to think I could write a poem worth revisiting, the way the complex taste, even the resilient texture, of summer’s rhubarb is when un-canned again in winter.
The shelves are empty now. I don’t display a single item or keep even one book out there. There’s no phone line or electric light, no heat or fan, no window glass. What there is—though I am otherwise a meticulous housekeeper and groomer—is a fair amount of dust, a pile of fallen leaves. Many writers benefit from having a particular chair, title, or talisman on hand, from having their space arranged in a specific way. But I don’t bother with anything in the canning house—with what I have or what I don’t—because my wish is that my writing might go beyond my concerns.
This is not to imply any particular purity on my part. I am not religious about writing or much else, and I am often to be found balancing my laptop on my kitchen counter or on my knee between other obligations, typing with one hand and eating with the other, or writing amid intervals of wasting time on the internet. But even when I don’t go to the canning house, in these unromantic, contemporary situations, I am practicing my refusal to have a practice. I am writing regardless of circumstance and comfort, hoping my poems can be more than me—certainly above the indignity of my crumby keyboard, above my quickly acquired and lost hyperlinked knowledge. Maybe a few will even reach as high as the meat hooks, get a hold the way they do.
Rose McLarney’s first book of poems, The Always Broken Plates of Mountains, is out tomorrow from Four Way Books. She grew up in rural western North Carolina.
Canonical, perhaps not; do not be cowed, however. ‘Broken Plates’ opened places for me that makes canon superfluous, and will need revisiting as I need reminding.