Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



October 2009

"To Judy---who tills the same field. We both fertilize the profession."

Donald M. Murray, personal inscription in A Writer Teaches Writing.

Report from the Field

Dear Reader,

The inscription above could be taken a couple of ways, but I believe Donald Murray was offering me encouragement as a writer and a teacher. If I succeed as a writer, I owe a lot to him. I read his books and took classes with him, and every day I use the tools he gave me oh, so many years ago.

Tools? For my current project (Judy's Journal, 2009-July), I sometimes feel like I need a backhoe and a crane for starters. No delicate spades or shovels for this one. I remember Don and forge on, trying not to whine when the writing and researching tasks seem enormous and too numerous. He used to say to us, "If you have to complain about being a writer, go sell junk bonds."

Donald Murray was super-organized. So am I. He was resourceful. So am I. He had a work ethic that wouldn't quit. So do I. He had Minnie Mae. I have John. But I wonder if there were days when he thought it was just too much to handle. If he were still alive, I would call him up and ask him. Right now, I am feeling overwhelmed because I have made no space, except for work.

I will give you my report from the field by touching on the various parts of the Stanley Kunitz project I described in July. Not surprisingly, as some parts seemed as if they might be edging toward completion, others have popped out.

As I write this, I am surrounded by piles of folders, books, and notebooks. I could possibly be crushed if there were an earth tremor. Has anyone ever been killed in a paper slide? Well, as a matter of fact, there is a new book where that happens to one of the main characters (E. L. Doctorow's Homer and Langley). I probably should read it. Better yet, I should stop writing this and take time to sort out the piles. Donald Murray's first principle: get organized or perish. But I can't stop to do that because I am meeting another deadline: mid-month Judy's Journal for my web manager, Patsy McCowan.

So, here is my report, written in question and answer format.

What is happening with The Stanley Kunitz Childhood Home Docent Outline? This guide/booklet/outline, which is written in six sections that correspond to an introduction and the five areas of the house tour, has undergone hundreds of revisions since I began to write it. That's natural for a piece of research that is essentially a huge buffet of information and stories from which docents can pick and choose to shape their storyline. The outline is approaching 40 pages, which are dense with information necessary to a docent's full understanding of the fascinating story of the childhood of Worcester-born poet Stanley Kunitz and the twenty-year friendship he and his wife, artist-poet Elise Asher had with the couple who inadvertently bought his childhood home in 1979.

So, the docent outline is done. I wish. Yes, it is "done," except for revisions that become necessary when I find out new information. For example, Kunitz referred to the house on Woodford Street as the "marriage house" of his widowed mother and her husband. You might think they were married right before the house was built in 1919. Wrong. I knew I had to find out when, so I sent a letter to the Archives Division in Boston requesting that information. According to the license, they were married in November 1910. So, what do I make of that? A theory: Woodford Street was the first house they owned, not rented. Don Murray used to say, "There is no such thing as a final draft." Was he ever right about that.

What about the training of the docents? How is that coming? There were six (now five) docent volunteers, and we had our orientation. It was intense! There was so much information to take in and integrate. I designed activities that had us thinking about "docents we have known." Remembering other house and gallery tours helped us begin to write our goals. I modeled one room and then divided the group into pairs; they each took one room and presented it to each other. It seemed to work, at least to give us a sense of what it meant to take the material and transform it from the page to an oral presentation.

Two weeks later, we had our first training session. Teams took on three areas and presented them to each other. The next sessions will be built on the docents' previous experiences with the house. The training should finish about a week before the house tours are scheduled in October. We look forward to giving the tour to lots of visitors! For more information, please visit and look for the Footsteps in History link.

What happened with the effort to put the house on the National Register of Historic Places? It is a three-tier process: local, state, and federal. On August 27th , the Worcester Historical Commission voted unanimously to forward a favorable opinion to Boston about the eligibility of Stanley Kunitz's childhood home, restored to its early twentieth-century glory by Greg and Carol Stockmal. It was a happy day. Now, everyone who worked on this effort waits with bated breath for the state's decision.

What has happened to the Stanley Kunitz-Stockmal Collection? The correspondence, newspaper and magazine article, posters, programs, video and audio materials that reflect the twenty-year friendship totaled 299 items which needed to be appraised before Clark University could accept the Collection. Everyone who worked on this effort waits with bated…didn't I say that already?…some things take time, and this is another part of the process that requires patience.

So, what is happening with the book that springs out of all this research? I look around and the mountains of paper are growing. I am conducting interviews. I am filling out an application for a fellowship to support this effort. Trust me: this is a full-time job.

And then there is my painting. True, I have not been in the studio in the last few months as much as before. But I have been in there. It is keeping me sane. Well, almost.

When I finish writing this, I will clear my head and begin to organize the paper piles in order to set a schedule which includes a certain number of studio days. Don Murray's first principle: get organized. What a life.