Saturday, February 21, 2004

Mark Wunderlich - Provincetown, MA

Provincetown is at the end of the world, the tip of Cape Cod, a tiny windswept collection of B&Bs and fudge shops. We get there a day early so see the entire town, pretty clapboard houses on the water, bigger places out toward the point. We see four lighthouses, stand on frigid beaches (with tufts of snow mixed in with the wet winter sand), talk to couples with dogs wet from the surf. We even see two guys emerge from the Atlantic side hauling surboards, dressed like sea lions in matching black scuba suits. 

It is peaceful, but it is also February. Our B&B is creaky and quaint and they have cider and wine when we come in that night. Jaunty French ballads play on the stereo, with the occasional track from Dido or Mel Torme. We sleep on a rock hard bed and wake to a howling wind threatening to blow in the rattling windows of our room that open to the Cape itself. We eat breakfast in the morning with several couples, Mary and Mary (who are next to us in the King Charles Suite), Rob and Amber (who are likely from Boston and who don't bother putting on socks or shoes in the morning), and Tina and Helen (one very tall, one very short). We have homemade Portugese muffins and hard boiled eggs, and try to see one of the small whippets that the owners keep behind the half-door that leads to the kitchen. Every time the owner sneaks out to bring more juice or coffee, the dogs try to negotiate their way into the main room. Each time, the whole table of guests peer over, hoping the dogs will make it.

It's dreary all morning, but about the time I get to Mark Wunderlich's apartment, the sun is out and Provincetown is bathed in light. He meets me outside and I'm glad to see him. Of all of the poets I've met, he's the one who admits the most freely to knowing about the trip. He checks in on the website from time to time and often tells me that he has the same RV fantasy we had. I think about telling him 5 bad things about RV life - because I am a stinker, after all - but that'd be sour grapes. RVers have to learn. I hope he joins the club soon.

We go into his bright apartment - filled, I must say, with some nutty touches: some kind of skinned rug, a large animal head adorned with beads and baubles, some kind of circa 1950s couch that might be something very hip that I'm too much of a boor to know about, and a fishing rod against one wall with eyelets the size of a pocketwatch.

We sit across a table and, as always, I give some kind of overview of why on earth my wife and I are doing what we're doing. We talk about a poet I've seen recently who Mark knows well, and we share some stories.

Provincetown has a long history of supporting artists and writers. Mark knows this first hand, having won two fellowships with Provincetown's Fine Arts Work Center over the years. After the last one he just stayed and likely would remain except for the continuing skyrocketing cost of living. So instead, he and his partner have made an offer on a giant stone house in the Hudson River Valley, much closer to Mark's teaching gig at Sarah Lawrence, and pastoral like the town in which he grew up in Wisconsin.

Mark talks beautifully about living in New York City's East Village in the early 90s - the night life and the solitary hours of writing in his apartment combining. He tells me about his California years in both San Francisco and L.A., but he's a self-professed lover of the country, and he's eager to get to his new home. We go outside his place and shoot some shots of him on the stairs, up above me, looking over the shingled roofs toward the Cape.