I read enough these days that poetry is dying, an anachronism in the increasingly rapid digital world, destined for extinction, irrelevant to today’s world…
And then I read about 100,000 poems from 300 contemporary poets from 204 countries being dropped on London. A sky full of poems. The Chilean arts collective Casagrande has orchestrated poetry drops (poems on bookmarks) five times previously. In their experience, there has never been a need for a massive cleanup afterwards because people have picked up every poem. Cristobal Bianchi, a member of Casagrande, said, “Every time we have done this before there is not a single bookmark on the ground – people collect them all,” he said. “People fight for the poems, and it becomes a collective reading of poetry.”
And then I watch the videos here of smiling people reaching up to pluck poems from the air. Children gathering them by the handfuls. People reading and sharing what they’ve found. Laughing. Poems fluttering down through twilight into waiting arms.
I tell you. It’s enough to make a grown poet cry….
Most writers that I know tend to be a solitary sort. We’re usually the folks haunting the back of the stacks at the library, hunkered down on a rock in a field someplace, or drifting out onto the unoccupied side porch at the crowded party. When you get us all together, you have the possibility of a symphony of endearing quirkitude.
This past weekend, and spilling out into Monday and Tuesday, I had the good fortune to take part in the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference here in Homer, Alaska. The keynote speaker this year was Barry Lopez. One of his over-arching messages was that each writer has a responsibility to the world. He exhorted the audience to be of use and to consider how our work might help those around us (which he did not limit to humans but invoked the other residents of the earth as well as the land itself).
For the rest of the conference, I watched as this sentiment infused discussion of the craft of writing, the “business” of writing, and the basic interactions between participants. One of the hallmarks of the Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference is its collegiality – professional writers attend each other’s seminar sessions, writers of all levels attend the open mic readings, community members attend the open faculty readings, people carry books for each other, save each other seats, mix it up and eat lunch with folks they’ve never met before.
The conference steamed on – three nights of faculty readings, two open mics, a bonfire with amazing music, several fabulous panel discussions, thirty-two seminar sessions, meetings with agents and editors, a boat tour of Kachemak Bay, and lots of writing. That’s another hallmark of this conference: folks actually write at it, and you can go home with the seeds of some fabulous new work.
Alaska State Writer Laureate Peggy Shumaker closed the conference with her amazing paean to the writers, magazines, and support organizations for writers in Alaska. Peggy epitomizes Barry Lopez’s appeal for writers “to try to help.” Honestly, I can not think of one other person I know who has helped so many writers and is so unfailingly supportive and kind. The writer (and faculty member) Valerie Miner noted that Peggy’s warmth embraces the whole conference. I hope that everyone who attended felt as cherished and supported as I did.
By the way, next year’s conference is June 14th-18th and the keynote speaker will be Naomi Shihab Nye. So mark your calendar and make plans to join us!
I confess that as the days grow longer (seventeen hours and 39 minutes today) and warmer, I am captured by green. I spend hours tromping around outside looking at all the new growth, turning over garden beds, transplanting strawberries, putting flowers into pots, sniffing the peppery marigolds and sweet lavender. My garden gloves and I are seldom separated (even if I forget to actually put them on my hands).
What suffers? My reading and writing time erodes a bit around the edges of my spring fever. Oh, and housework, not that I really care about that so much. I tell myself that the rain will come and soon enough the seasons will change. And in all honesty, I think that smell of the soil, the sheer physical grunt work of preparing the earth to accept seed, the close attention to nettle and fiddle-head, these must enrich my writing. Or at least feed my heart, which I confess is filled to spilling with gratitude that I live amongst such wonder.