We begin with a panel discussion: “Besides reading and writing, how did you get this way?”
Right off the bat PF jokes with the audience. “What way am I? We’re weird. That’s why we get to sit up here on this panel.” Later, he tells us about college and how he hated it. He reads the worst rejection letter he’s ever received, which included, among the many blows, the observation that he “lacked personality entirely.” To which PF finally reflects, “In 15 years of education, I really only excelled in daydreaming. Except, I discovered that doing that with a pencil in your hand is like being on acid.”
MB jumps in, “I believe in dumb luck but I also believe you have to be open to it.” He is, after all, a poet laureate and the most published writer (I think) on faculty. Latest work? You’ll find it in The New Yorker. (“Christ,” our program director says, “I don’t even know anyone published in The New Yorker.”)
JB talks about her upbringing on the ranches and how storytelling and allegory were the primary modes of communication as a child. In a pack of siblings, her job was to see where she could offer help to the adults, and to step up when that time came. “I had a lifestyle as a watcher in my small tribe,” she says.
JM, probably my favorite poet on faculty, talks about being a dreamer as a child. He recalls that in order to get some spare change to go to the candy store as a kid, he could recite poetry by heart to his father’s approval in exchange. But no matter what, he says, recognized or published or not, “It’s still a great privilege to be able to say what’s in your heart.”
In the afternoon there is a craft talk on The Writer’s Bestiary by SA, followed by PF’s talk on Description, with particular emphasis describing emotion – and even more specifically, attraction. “If you want to see most writers lose it altogether, have them write a sex scene. More often than not, it just all falls apart.” He reads examples – some terrible, laughable, down right unimaginable. Then he reads the ones who nailed it. By the end of the talk the room is spinning in a small circle around his head and I am completely engrossed.
This is it. The dizzying affect is why I’m here. It’s not the ocean or the hotel room [photo] (which is almost as big as my house, and has running hot water and a flush toilet and stays miraculously at a constant 68 degrees). It’s not even the excuse to travel or the tax write offs. It’s the topsy-turvy ass kicking camaraderie of it all. It’s the inspiration, the encouragement, the chance to speak the same language with people from the same planet as me for eleven days straight.
Later, JM tells a story about the darker sides of the writing life – the times when you’re ready to give up. I scribble a stanza in my notebook that is inspired by his story:
It all fit into one box,
which was probably the scariest part,
and one swift decision
could have sent a lifetime of poems
lost in the loam
cartwheeling corner over corner
into the brine
like disillusioned children
unaware of the riptide
constantly tugging at life.