Sunday, February 15, 2004

Nicole Cooley - Glen Ridge, NJ

Nicole Cooley's oldest daughter has something to tell me when I first arrive: "MY NAME IS MINNIE MOUSE!" She later amends her name to "Snoop," but she says the former with real conviction and it's still in my head several hours later. I meet the whole family right away, Nicole's husband Alex, the new baby Arcadia, and of course Minnie Mouse (who sometimes is called Meridian by her folks.)

Nicole and I climb two sets of steep stairs to her study at the top of their delightful home in suburban Glen Ridge, a pretty and homey town a little east of New York City. I'm carrying the ever-present bag of cameras and recorders, and that plus my own formidable belly make the climb something akin to going up K2 for a regular guy. But it's worth the trip. It's a light and airy room with purple walls and two desks. An easel is set up to the side of Nicole's computer; this is where Meridian does her drawing sometimes while Mom works on her own creations. On the large drawing pad are two versions of Glinda the Good Witch. It appears below this paragraph, but I must confess that it has been electonically enhanced by this author with one of the many pieces of software I keep around just for this purpose.

The easel and the drawing is important to me because it represents something imporant about this visit. Nicole remembers watching her father write when she was little, Meridian's age or younger. Nicole's dad is Peter Cooley, a poet we visited last month, one who appears in the 01/18/2004 archive to the left. Just as Nicole grew up with a poet in the house, so will Meridian.

Nicole tells me about attending poetry readings when she was little, crayoning away in the back row. By the time she was in high school, she and her dad took to doing their "mall poetry," small assignments they would give each other while slurping bad coffee at a donut shop or eating bad something else at a rundown food court in a dilapitated (and now closed) shopping mall. As Nicole tells me about this, I see the light of recognition in her eye as she sees the easel and realizes that Meridian is getting the same start she did.

Nicole has lived the life of an academic nomad already. Her schooling and teaching have taken her from Louisiana to Rhode Island to Iowa to Georgia to Pennsylvania, and now to New Jersey where she lives while teaching at Queens College in the city. But she's comfortable here, and part of that comfort has enabled her to put a world of research into her second collection of poems, The Afflicted Girls, a collection of poems about the Salem witch trials that is already pulling in raves.

All during our conversation I hear happy noises downstairs. Even the baby sounds content when she bellows for more food or more Daddy. Nicole and I talk about her work a while longer and then head downstairs and outside into the 20 degree weather for some last photos.