Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My poor state

I'm a little behind in my New Yorker reading but thank God I didn't just skip the last few issues because then I would have missed one of the more lovely poems that has been written about my state. Bob Hicok's "A Primer" was published in the May 19 issue and it perfectly captures the complicated feelings I have about my state.

is thirteen months long in Michigan.
We are a people who by February
want to kill the sky for being so gray
and angry at us. "What did we do?"
is the state motto.

but also:

...daffodils are asked
by young men to be their wives...

This is such a gorgeous place to live and such a problematic place, too. The economy, much of the business mindset and the politics are so ass backwards that sometimes it makes me want to pull my hair out. It's easy to love California, but loving Michigan is like loving a smelly little cousin who happens to have a beautiful singing voice. You really have to convince people to get to know him. I know people who moved here to teach at the University and who really never get this place--they stay in our little People's Republic of Ann Arbor and flee to other places for vacations. If they don't get tenure, they leave the state with a feeling of relief. And sometimes I understand where they are coming from. There are days when I wish we lived someplace else, someplace where I could celebrate what is obvious rather than defend what is (mostly) hidden or spend a lot of energy finding and promoting the pockets of goodness and hoping that we can turn the messed up parts around. But other times, my love of this state is so strong that I can't imagine another place providing the same level of satisfaction.

I'm feeling particularly tender towards Michigan since we just got back from a 50 mile 3 day, 2 night canoe camping trip on the Au Sable river, from Grayling to Mio. It was exquisitely beautiful, perfect weather, pleasant and well-kept camp grounds, and lovely people, none of whom rolled their eyes when our 7 year old was eating his 5th s'more and running in circles singing the melody of Ode to Joy at 9:30 PM.

The river was moving (at least until we got to the Mio dam pond) and we played dodge-the-fly-fisher-people and discovered that whistling while paddling is a good way to give them enough acoustical warning that you are coming so they don't hook their waving fly lines in your head. We saw huge beaver dams and trees that were in the process of being chewed through. We found snails and crayfish and played with June bugs and caterpillars. We saw people in their racing canoes training for the Au Sable River Canoe Marathon.

And best of all, we got to know another pocket of Michigan that is exquisite, but humble.


Anonymous said...

Lovely post, Kate. Glad to hear you had a nice time on your trip.

I pasted something Charles Baxter, in a 1999 interview in Ploughshares, said about living in the Midwest. I'm sorry he's no longer in Ann Arbor but glad he's still in our corner of the country.


Baxter explains that he enjoys contradicting the notion that Midwesterners are not “story-worthy.” In one of his poems, Baxter compared living in a landscape with no oceans or mountains to a woman who will not kiss you back. “There’s something about the restriction, the glamour of the finality here, that fascinates me,” he says. The limits of geography tend to elicit introspection, and when even a small calamity befalls Baxter’s characters, they brood over surprisingly large issues of morality and theodicy, grappling with good and evil and the mysteriousness of existence.
Full interview here

Anonymous said...

Very lovely post. I've liked Bob H.'s poetry for a while now and was especially impressed with that poem. I feel like I know Michigan better than any other state, because even though I lived more years in Illinois, most of those were as a kid, and I never saw/knew as much of Illinois as I did of Michigan.

I canoed on the Au Sable once (just a day trip), when I lived in Saginaw, and it was lovely. Also made a few trips to the beach at the state park in Caseville, in Huron County. You've made me miss, even (especially) the People's Republic.

Stella said...

ah, Michigan. I do miss it!

Kim said...

I love Michigan too and I really enjoyed your post. I can't understand why this state has such a huge middle-child inferiority complex when it's such a beautiful place and has so much to offer. I think that sense of being under-appreciated comes much from reticence and pragmatism of many of the hard-scrabble people who settled here. Michigan needs more people to be passionate in their devotion to its forests, meadows, rivers, fields and freshwater coasts. I love the human scale of this place.

From other people, I get the sense that unless there are mountains or oceans, the place isn't really on their emotional map. That's a pretty limited view of the world. Michigan is my home place, beautiful in the way that my mother is still the most beautiful woman in the world.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post and the link to the poem. I've never read his poems but enjoyed reading this one.

I am one of those people you have to convince to get to get to know that smelly cousin called Michigan.
I can see the great talents of so-called smelly cousin. Yet, in my mind, I think, "Dude, he/she is still smelly, though."

I also liked what he said at the very end:

Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us tell each other everything we can.

I think your description of Michigan is very true. I *know* it's easy to love California and not as *easy* when it comes to loving Michigan. Yet, I do see the beauty that lies here, particularly when we have a chance to spend time outdoors.

The poem's 3rd and 4th lines you quoted immediately spoke to me. The long and harsh winter has given me a profound appreciation for what there is to come in the changing of seasons --- but also what I used to have, which was year round perfect weather and the ease and joy of being a locavore in California. Indeed, mountains and oceans aren't necessary for life but they do make it ever more enchanting.

My husband and others say Paradise is what you make of it. I'm not quite on that same page but maybe one day I will be.

Anonymous said...

I like what you said about the people who come here to teach and just stay in A2, vacation elsewhere, and flee when another/better job comes up. I totally agree. I also get irritated with "OMG I can't leave Ann Arbor!!111!1!1!" people, who chastise me for daring to teach at a school district that is not Ann Arbor. (You could not pay me enough to teach in A2, but that's another story). For goodness sake--the Mitten State is beautiful, even Detroit has many beautiful things and beautiful people!