Purple Is the Color

April 30, 2013

Yes, purple is the color of your need
To have your mood made manifest . . .
— Robert Pack, b. 1929
American poet, teacher, and critic
from “Late Summer Purple”

Today is the last day of National Poetry Month 2013. At the beginning of the month I announced my intention thus: “Read one poem a day from [the accumulated copies of Poetry], first the flagged poems and then anything else, post a quotation to Facebook and Twitter for #todayspoem, and write some kind of post for Markings, even if it’s only the poem and a brief observation. And at the end of all, decide if I want to keep this stack of material as it is, or extract the content that interests me, or just discard the whole thing.”

I followed through with the reading and the posting to Facebook and Twitter, but faltered on the posting something here every day. That’s typical for me — actually, that’s better than typical. I completed two-thirds of the planned elements, instead of dropping the whole thing when I saw I couldn’t complete it perfectly.

When I opened the September 1997 issue of Poetry this morning, my eye fell first on the title of the poem, “Late Summer Purple,” and then the name of the author. Except my brain, through eyes made blurry from allergies, read “Late Summer People.” Maybe that’s because I knew who Robert Pack was, that he had directed the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference from 1973 to 1995. He departed that post under something of a cloud of controversy, the details of which I cannot now recall — something about cronyism and more attention to partying (among faculty and contributors) than to teaching. There is a tree on the Bread Loaf campus planted in his honor. The marker, which bears his name and the years he was director, looks something like a tombstone.

So when my blurry eyes saw “Late Summer P___” and “Robert Pack,” I finished the title with “people,” and thought it might be about Bread Loafers. Except we’re there in August, which is actually mid-summer. I read the poem then, and understood that it was indeed about the flowers of late summer, whose colors, varying shades of purple, deepen and ripen.

The mistake was a fortuitous, but not inappropriate. My chain of thoughts went Robert Pack>Bread Loaf>writing>summer>purple>fiction. For reasons I can’t really pinpoint — maybe it started with the purple backpack Lynn carried in 8th grade that I picked off a hook in the garage three years later to take on my first big writing Gallivant, and have carried ever since — purple is the color I associate with my fiction work.

And it’s my fiction work that has taken precedence this month over all my other writing. Now we’re looking at May, Notification Month. The Sewanee Writers’ Conference puts the word out on May 15, Bread Loaf in “late May.” Frequent readers of this space, especially those who persevered through the Reversal of Fortune in 2009 and the Wait it Out of 2012,  know what that means for me.

I had a good experience with the stack of Poetry magazines I looked through this month. And I decided to keep them, one more year anyway.

Thank you for reading, so much, so often.

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