Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bear River 2010

I'm back (been back since Sunday night, actually) and I've been avoiding writing about the conference. Ironic, right? I'm having a hard time writing about the writing conference . . .

It was pretty great. In the mornings, there were workshops, and I was lucky enough to be with Jack Ridl again for the first time since my senior year of college. He is a master of creating a safe, warm, happy space for people to write and share and talk without judgment. I wrote some new poetry for the first time in a long time, and I wrote the beginnings of a few other things that don't feel finished yet, but that I know I'll return to at some point this summer.

We had free time in the afternoons, time for writing in an adirondack chair with a view of the lake, hiking up to a meadow, going to a craft talk or panel on publishing, or driving into town to buy Tom's Mom's cookies. I usually snuck back to see Jemma for an hour or so then, too, before returning for dinner and the evening's readings.

The readings! Each night, three of the workshop leaders (real-deal, published authors who have won Guggenheims and Pulitzers and other fancy awards) took turns giving readings to the group, and it was spectacular. We'd grab a beer or a glass of wine, sit back, and listen in awe to stories and poems that haven't even been published yet. I was particularly enthralled by a story called "Chance" by Peter Ho Davies (developed a little crush on him after that, actually, mostly because of the story but partly because of his beautiful accent). On Saturday night, we all drove into town and the night's reading was held at The Perry Hotel, with Jack Ridl, Thomas Lynch, and poet Jane Hirshfield reading to us before we milled around eating and drinking together.

I made a friend (Hi, Beth!), I seized a few hours here and there to sit and think in the quiet that is so rare around these parts, I ate breakfast alone every morning at a picnic table just outside the dining hall that looked out at the trees and the lake. It was just me, my oatmeal and coffee and fruit, and a little pad of paper, which I wrote on when I felt like it.

The last afternoon, I gathered all my courage and read something I'd written to the group. About thirty participants did the same, so we were treated to little 2 or 3-minute blips of story, or poem, or essay - work that had been generated just in the last couple of days in this little camp on Walloon Lake. After I read my poem (and after I stopped feeling like I might pass out), I was thinking about how everyone has a story to tell, and how fortunate I was last weekend that I got to spend some time doing just that.

Here's the piece I read aloud, but before you read it, if you don't know much about Jane Hirshfield, please look at this link first, and click on one of the audio links of her reading a poem. Know that in person, reading in the Reycraft Room of The Perry Hotel, she gives off an aura of soothing Zen perfection. I wrote the poem later that night, in sincere awe, but the people in my workshop thought I was being a little snarky. See what you think.

Driving Home from a Poetry Reading in the Rain

I don’t imagine that Jane Hirshfield has recently

had a fight with her mother

about whether or not to leave the dryer running while she isn’t home. I don’t imagine that she runs out of gas

in the middle of the street and swears at

her husband’s car. I don’t imagine that she glares

at the person ahead of her in the preschool pickup line,

scribbles hasty grocery lists on the back of a receipt while she drives,

leaves the dishes in the sink all day,

the oatmeal hardening onto the edge of the bowl,

the coffee making a black ring on the bottom of the mug.

I don’t imagine that she lets the celery rot in the refrigerator drawer

every time she buys it.

I imagine Jane Hirshfield in a sparse and airy apartment

on the Upper East Side, or perhaps a tidy bungalow near the ocean.

I imagine her slicing one ripe peach,

stroking the fur of a cat,

making tea while a little jazz plays on the stereo.

I imagine her smiling in line at the post office, smiling

as she buys a single jade bracelet,

smiling as she waits

for the person to answer her phone call.

I imagine her sitting down at the desk,

plucking perfect jewels of words out of her mind, arranging them on the page

just so, leaning back and smiling.

I imagine her lulling herself to sleep at night

with the sound of her own voice

while the rest of us muck around in the rain,

careful not to squelch each other’s words,

or dreams.

1 comment:

  1. I love it! I don't see snarkiness here....just your sprinkling of real life into what you admire. Glad it was great!