ORIGIN late Middle English (denoting a board strewn with sand on which to draw figures):
from Latin, from Greek abax, abak-‘slab, drawing board,’ of Semitic origin; probably related to Hebrew ‘ ā b āq ‘dust.’
On the Title
Why “Abacus: Lines Drawn In Sand”?
All credit is due to my former student, Emma Bolden, with thanks to the late Jeanne Leiby for an inimitable cheer of encouragement. Bolden, author of three poetry chapbooks—The Mariner’s Wife (Finishing Line), How to Recognize A Lady (Toadlily Press’ Quartet Series), The Sad Epistles (Dancing Girl Press) and the full-length collection Maleficae (GenPop Books)—and this suggestion because she knows I detest the two “b-words”: those used to designate, respectively, both personal essays and jacket recommendations. “Surely the ugliest in the language,” I wrote Leiby while she was editor of the Southern Review, “along with ‘crotch,’ “fungus,’ and ‘mudkill.’” Leiby replied that my statement had made her laugh so hard that she snorted Diet Coke through her nose, which I continue to take as a high compliment indeed.
Why “lines” rather than “line” “drawn in sand”? I’m neither interested in polemics nor encampment thinking, i.e. anything that ends with “–ism.” If I currently pledge my allegiance to received forms and poetry that is rhymed and metered–but not metronomic or singsong–that doesn’t mean I condemn free verse, and certainly not prose poetry, which fascinates me increasingly as a subgenre. I read as a writer. Louise Glück once claimed to feed, vampire-fashion, on the manuscripts she received as Judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets; I’ve used a similar analogy, but drawn from the sea, though told it was “unpleasantly shark-like.” But except for a fifteen-year exile in a landlocked state, which made me feel horridly claustrophobic, it seems natural to express my process of living and writing as swimming ceaselessly through currents, searching, always searching, sensing on my skin the very vibrations that lead to the next subject, the next poem, the next image…