Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference 2011 – Re-cap

You might have noticed that it’s been mighty quiet around here lately. That’s because I’ve been attending the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference right here in Homer, Alaska. The conference is  always the second weekend of June (next year’s begins on June 8th with Barry Lopez as the keynote speaker) and is the most splendid combination of world-class faculty mixing with participants in casual small-group settings.

This year’s keynote address entitled “Silence and Utterance: The Poet’s Life” was given by Rita Dove. I wouldn’t be able to do it justice by trying to paraphrase the whole thing, but here are some selected quotes that struck me:

  • Language is the sum total of what we cannot be, but long to be.
  • Poetry unfolds at the very heart of language.
  • Writing poetry is an existential expedition.
  • Poetry is a machine for magic.
  • Approach the work with the idea to serve, to act as an intermediary.
  • You find a poem, or better, it finds you.
  • We need to open ourselves so that a poem can find us.

The difficulty with this conference is that there are so many interesting panels and workshops that I can never attend all of the ones that I’d like to. There were several panels about the writing life starting with one about balancing one’s creative, practical and civic lives and another about how to define success as a writer.

The fabulous poet Nichole Brown taught two classes that I really enjoyed, “Breaking into the house: Generative Techniques for Beginning and Revising Poems” and “A Method of Revision: Scrubbing and Filtering a Poem.” I came away with awesome revision techniques from both classes, and some really great ways to generate some fresh topics to write about. (Oh, and you should all buy Nickole’s book Sister, really impressive.

I got to experiment a bit with ekphrastic poetry and prose poetry, as well as delving into an interesting class on poetry and politics taught by Alaskan poet Anne Coray (whose book A Measure’s Hush I’m diving into this evening.) There was so much more (as many classes on fiction and non-fiction as poetry, but you know me, I was at the poetry classes).

There were four sets of readings, including one by Rita Dove that made me cry at least three times and took my breath away many more times. The faculty was as generous as they always are, attending each others sessions, staying late after readings to talk, hanging out around the bonfire to sing oldies with a ukelele and mandolin. It was all quite magical, but then again, what more would expect from a writers conference held in what is known as the “Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea”?

Hope you’ll join us next year!

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