Monday, April 30, 2007

Final Weekend of National Poetry Month

Well kids, we've made it.  Another poetry month has come and gone (Am I the only one feeling thankful?)  Note to the poetry organizers-- if you have an event, schedule it in October, not April, not in the flurry of words, of poets running from event to event.  I am friendly and kind, but I am not social.  I prefer my desk to a stage, prefer my chaise to stackable chairs. 
My final two events of the month--
Saturday, April 28th, Field's End Writers Conference--
This is a fantastic writer's conference in a beautiful location, Kiana Lodge.  Kiana in the language of the Suquamish people means "Garden of the Gods," which it is.  There was wild salmon for lunch with red potatoes, and raspberry cobbler for dessert. 

But it's more than just food (though isn't that what I always remember), it's about writing.  It tends to be more prose writing, but I was one of two poets welcomed to talk about poetry (the other was Priscilla Long.)  My session was Not a Vacation Planet: Writing Poems that Matter.  We talked about our passions, about writing about the things that really matter to us and how our passions create art if we allow ourselves to follow them.  
What I love about this conference is that they choose *nice* writers.  Have you ever been to an event where it feels as if it's just about of egos dressed in black shoes?  Well, these are the writers you hope to run into in an elevator because they are the people you want to have conversations with (you also hope the elevator breaks because you want to talk with them longer).
Here are my favorite quotes from the conference:

"My own writing is a daily struggle for faith."  Debra Dean
On why she became a writer after being an actor, "Because you don't need someone to hire you first before you do it."
Though she wasn't there, there was a great Sharon Old's quote:
"I was a late bloomer, but anyone who blooms at all is very lucky."
What makes a writer?  "The ability to survive disappointment..." Debra Dean
"Recognize that become a writer is supremely foolish and that it will break your heart, but realize the best hearts have been broken and mended."  Debra Dean
"If you get stuck while you're writing, do more research."  Susan Wiggs
"Let your book be only about one thing."  Susan Wiggs
"Grassroots are only observed by worms and corpses."  Malachy McCourt
"My school was a holding pen for future convicts."  Malachy McCourt
Of Bainbridge Island & Ireland--
"The rhythm of the sea drives people nuts--islands are full of literate people and lunatics."  Malachy McCourt
"Conservatism is a form of brain damage."  Malachy McCourt
In regards to growing up in Limerick, Ireland--
"A dysfunctional family was a family that could afford to drink, but didn't."  Malachy McCourt
"Growing up, a lie was a dream that might come true.. . Never let truth get in the way of a good story."  Malachy McCourt
By the way, if you couldn't tell, Malachy is hilarious and wonderful to listen to.  Meet me in the broken elevator...
Sunday, Poetry Reading with Billy Collins-- (3 p.m., Bainbridge Island)
I'm not even sure how to begin this.  Let's just say it was an unusual reading. 
If you've been to a Billy Collins reading, you know, they are usually full of people and usually quite funny.  We were in a high school gymnasium that was full, but not as many people as his last reading.  Linda Bierds gave him a generous introduction and Billy walked up to the stage looking well rested.  I'm not sure why I noticed that except that the last time I saw him, he looked tired. 
To me, Billy looks like Gene Wilder in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory sans the hat and cane.  I always think of Gene Wilder when I see him, and try not to.   He read some poems I haven't heard before, "Oh, My God!" about how teenage girls pray when they talk-- "Oh my God!"  (The teenage boys in the back row laughed at this one...)
But Billy seemed a bit subdued.  Maybe his timing was off.  The audience laughed, but not that deep belly laugh that usually fills a Billy reading.  Maybe he wants to move away from that poet/stand-up comedian bit, I'm not sure. He read some poignant poems as well as some funny poems.  Maybe the audience didn't know what to expect, I'm not sure, but as it said, something was off for me though I enjoyed hearing him, especially his older poems. I felt like I could be the woman at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert yelling "Play Free bird!" though in my mind what I was really saying was, "Read Marginalia!" or "Read Nostaglia!" 
He had one quotable moment--
"I was reading a book about how to write fiction, so I must have been in a spiritual slump." 
Other than that, he read poems such as Forgetfulness, Tension, a series of Haiku from a new book called SHE WAS JUST SEVENTEEN (a title that took me a few minutes to get--think about it...) 
The bleachers were hard and I found myself doing these weird arm stretches or hugging myself so my back didn't hurt.  Maybe this is why when he finished reading and it was time for the question and answer period, people rumbled out of their seats like cattle.  It was as if everyone thought they were going to be branded and took off.  It was quite awkward--Billy still standing at the mic, the so-called art supporters and poetry-loving community stampeding out the door.  I stayed seating along with the other poets around me hoping the audience would either disappear or sit down again. 
Billy said something like "You can ask a question or be follow them out..." The noise of feet on bleachers was so loud that he said something like, "Maybe we should call it a day..." and the reading was over.  (It was 4:24 p.m.)  I was a little bummed there was no Q&A and a little embarrassed at our arts community escaping a reading so obviously.  But that was the end of National poetry month and a final image of how America treats its literary arts-- people fleeing a poetry reading.  Yes, April is the cruelest month...  Welcome May: National Better Sleep Month, National Good Car Care Month, National Photo Month, National Salad Month, National Egg Month, National Barbecue Month, Revise Your Work Schedule Month, Date Your Mate Month, National Hamburger Month, and Fungal Infection Awareness Month.  May the poets kindly step aside...
And to Peter P. who recently had a question on his blog about whether poetry readings should be entertaining or not-- I think the main thing to remember is --just make sure they aren't too long. 
* * * * *

You had me at Sonnet.

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