Monday, May 19, 2008

Notes from the Skagit River Poetry Festival 2008

I'm back from a weekend of poetry in the darling town of La Conner, where they hold the Skagit River Poetry Festival. The Skagit festival is a smaller version of the Dodge Festival in New Jersey, it's the West Coast version I guess.

First thing I noticed was that there weren't as many people attending as in other years. In years past, if I even arrived to a panel or reading late or a few minutes before it began, I was destined to stand in the very back. Maybe because there were more panels, workshops, and readings, that we were better dispersed. I hope so as I hate to see attendance dropping on such an incredible event.

I have to say, I have not been able to recapture the magic I felt at the first and second festivals, which have been beyond anything I've ever experienced in the poetry world. Both of those years, everything fell into place, the poets were incredible, the readings-incredible, and I just remember feeling carried from place to place. Don't get me wrong, I still had a lovely time, but it wasn't as magical as those first years.

Someone suggested that maybe it's because I know more people or have seen "behind the scenes" in such an event. Sort of like being a kid and seeing your favorite Disney character without his Pluto head or realizing that the man who just gave you a gift was not Santa, but an uncle dressed like Santa. I'm not sure, but I'd love to get a little more of the magic back and will try to...

I did notice that some (poets/audience members) seemed a tad crankier than usual. I heard a few petty comments and I was reminded of that scene in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Sally said, "I only want what I have coming to me, I only want my fair share." I don't like to think about the "business/career path" of poetry, that takes away the magic of it for me; it makes it more like a job, less like an art. I know some of the harsher comments came from a place of insecurity, and I tried to remember that. I too have felt insecure at times, worried about where I fit in the poetry world. We poets are such fragile-hearted folks. We need to work past the details of awards and books and who's doing what and just bathe in the words that these poets are sharing with us and with whatt we share. We are all so flawed and passionate and there's a beauty in that.

Here's what I liked best about the festival and some highlights

Getting to spend time with some of my favorite people and poets--I made a point to make sure I got some one-on-one time (or group time) with my favorite people (I even skipped two panels just to talk with a friend) and these were some of my favorite times and conversations.

Being at the Women Speak reading and hearing Jane Hirshfield and Nancy Pagh.

Peter P's Poetry and Healing panel with Gloria Burgess and Bryan Patrick Miller (afterwards I made a point to tell Bryan how much what he had said had meant to me having lost a friend last week and his response to me was so generous).

Nancy Pagh, Tom Lux, and Robert Wrigley's reading on humor. They read, but then also left time for questions and discussion, which I appreciated.

The Morning Poems with Kurtis Lamkin in the Methodist Church. I took my daughter there with me and it was probably one of my top highlights of the festival. I confuse poetry with religion and in fact, it may be part of my spirituality. But being in the church with his words, the music of the Kora (the 21 sting instrument from West Africa) before much of the town was awake was a perfect way to begin my Saturday.

Lorna Crozier being the last reader of the festival and how she ended it perfectly, thoughtfully, and with such style. She has become a new favorite poet of mine as she was just incredible.

Dinner the first night at Kerstin's and THREE desserts circling the table. Ah, if you remember my post from last week, you'll be happy to know, no one said they were on a diet, we all shared easily. My perfect group of diners!

At the same dinner, a funny conversation about "big bottoms," which led to us trying to recall who sang "I Like Big Butts" and a hilarious moment when a rapper was invented "Rap Master Flash" - sort of superhero and rap artist. (Though there really is a Grandmaster Flash.) And in case you didn't know, it was Seattle's Sir Mix-a-Lot who wrote the butt song.

Sam Green's workshop on details of a poem was incredible and he was generous with notes and handouts, which I loved.

Seeing the wild turkeys wander the streets (and no, I'm not talking about the poets here).

The fresh cookies provided all day by my inn.


Here are some things I think could be improved--

While they have a volunteer to make sure poets/readers/presenters have water, I wish someone would introduce the sessions, just briefly. Not the long bio notes, but just a "this is X, X, and X. And we're hear to discuss __________." I think it would just open the sessions a little more cleanly and we'd no who everybody was.

I'd love to see some new faces at the festival. The last years, they've had a lot of the same folks and while I do love their work, I think some new faces and voices would add some good energy.

Just 15 minutes for lunch!

* * *

Here are some of the notes from my small black notebook. They are random and odd, but maybe you'll find something of interest in them and maybe a little magic--

Bryan Patrick Miller on poetry and healing (and his mother having cancer for many years before she died & yet he was also experiencing authentic joy at other things) "I cannot reconcile those two experiences." Then later he said, "Poems get at the central experience of being human and the murmur of these voices is the radio of my life."

From Sam Green's workshop called Stop, Look, & Listen--

We need to work at being more in the "hereness."

When we have a poem on the page, it's our job to get the reader from the first word to the last.

In keeping a notebook-- "If you notice it, write it down."

If you don't know where to start, start with a detail (that will ground the reader and s/he can more forward.)

Hayden Carruth "Not 'things,' but the relationship of things."

Nothing exists in isolation

* * *
Elizabeth Austen's advice in putting music in a poem: "Read through a poem saying only the vowels." By doing that, it allows you to hear the melody and where the poem falls flat.

Kathleen Flenniken said that she feels she's really writing when its' not the sound leading the poem or the ideas, but both.

* * *

"Reading is 80% of writing." Thomas Lux

Regarding making a time to write and showing up to write, Joseph Green said, "You have to open the store, it doesn't matter if anyone comes in."

Paul Hunter suggests to put a date, time, place, weather report in every journal entry, anything to help you return to that place at a later date.

On finding time to write--
"How will you spend the cash of your life?" Paul Hunter

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this update. It's nice to hear about festivals happening on the West Coast.

    I liked these two observations especially:

    *In keeping a notebook-- "If you notice it, write it down."

    *If you don't know where to start, start with a detail (that will ground the reader and s/he can more forward.)

    Funny you mentioned the Dodge festival because I just posted their lineup on my blog.


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