Last month, on November 10, I attended the Writer’s Center of Indiana’s 2012 Gathering of Writers. I attended last year’s conference and had such a fantastic time, that I wanted to attend another one.
The theme of this years Gathering was “Got Muse?”.
This time I brought my camera.
Again the conference was held at the restored Methodist church turned Indiana Landmarks Center in Indianapolis. The architecture is absolutely beautiful and its located amongst historic homes and it has a cobblestone parking lot.
The interior is no less beautiful.
Our keynote speaker was award-winning author of six poetry collections Allison Joseph, and she delivered an passionate message about being a writer in the digital age.
She posed a pertinent question:
How do we persist in our writing, our sustenance and solace, in the midst of our language being corrupted?
She encouraged us in this regard:
- To be our own Muses.
- To make time for self-care and nourishment in a world that doesn’t care.
- To surround ourselves with other writers.
- To catalogue and chronicle the world as it exists before it disappears to preserve things for yourself and generations to come.
One of Ms. Joseph’s own poems was called Elegy for the Personal Letter and was featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac program. As a person who still loves to hand write letters, I felt connected to this poem on a personal level.
She believes we can write our own elegies, not just to mourn individuals but to mourn and preserve the memories of lost things.
She believes words are maps, and we need to maintain courage to write them in an age when words don’t matter.
She spoke of the poetry of witness…of writing as a vessel…that we can be witnesses in our own communities.
Imaginative writing endures. And not only can writing poetry be used to mourn, but it can be used as a conduit for joy.
She recited to us a poem of Mark Strand’s to highlight the joy and whimsy of words and ideas:
Ink runs from the corners of my mouth.
There is no happiness like mine.
I have been eating poetry.
The librarian does not believe what she sees.
Her eyes are sad
and she walks with her hands in her dress.
The poems are gone.
The light is dim.
The dogs are on the basement stairs and coming up.
Their eyeballs roll,
their blond legs burn like brush.
The poor librarian begins to stamp her feet and weep.
She does not understand.
When I get on my knees and lick her hand,
I am a new man.
I snarl at her and bark.
I romp with joy in the bookish dark.
I was so inspired that I took two poetry classes.
The first one was Jazz & the Poetic Riff: Writing Toward Understanding by poet and Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Mitchell Douglas.
He asked us what does free verse and jazz have in common?
He told us: experimentation, freedom, and improvisation.
We practiced “riffing our way to new and original metaphors” while listening to jazz selections. We first wrote a free verse poem about a scene that the music made us visualize with as much sensory detail as possible, and for our next exercise, encouraged us to write three things down that we always wanted to write about but couldn’t. And he asked us to then pick one and write a free-verse poem about it while we continued to listen to jazz selections. I wasn’t sure I liked what I wrote at the time, but it’s grown on me since then.
I was reminded of my former friend Craig whom I’ve written about the jazz metaphors he loved to tell me about. We had something really fun going for a while. I haven’t met another person like him before, or since.
We then had a lunch break and I spent some time outdoors on the patio, taking in the view, and warming myself in the sun. It was a gorgeous fall day.
The second poetry class was The Sacred Object in Poems by author of Beautiful Motion and In the Truth Room and National Endowment for the Arts fellow Dana Roeser. “The objects may be attendants to memory, emblems of self, or randomly happened-upon flashes from the ordinary that become extraordinary”. I have to admit, I wrote a deeply personal poem and this was the only time I was moved to share my writing. I could barely get the words out while reciting it. It wasn’t too bad, and it did feel really good to have it heard. I’m rather fond of the confessional poetry style.
The last class I took was a non-fiction class called Mining Memory: How to be Your Own Best Muse by Jean Harper, teacher at Indiana University East, author of Rose City: A Memoir of Work and National Endowment for the Arts Fellow.
For our workshop, she asked us for three lists:
1) a list of details describing one of our hands (which made me smile because I remembered my post I wrote about my hands some time back).
2) a series of 20 seemingly unrelated questions and
3) a list of as many details we could remember about a significant day.
Then we had to pick 12 details pulled from each of the lists that called to us the most and make a new list. Once complete, we had to make connections between the seemingly unrelated details. Interestingly enough, there was story to be written there. I never thought it would be possible. I think if I get stuck and ever need some inspiration, I can mine my own memory in this fashion.
For me, it was a very cathartic writing day. All of my writings were involving some personal concepts I have been struggling with that apparently begged for my attention. I was grateful for the opportunity to “remember in order to forget” some of the things that happened and to help honor painful memories yet put where they need to be, firmly rooted in the past, where they can’t hurt anymore.