The Fellowship of Writers

The Conference Bonfire - photo and fire by the amazing Sherry Simpson

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!

Oh, Uncle Walt….

Is it your birthday again? 193, you say?  Still in love with the vagaries of the flesh, the grass, the sounds of water and hammers? What is there left to say, but that I am thankful for your temerity, that your confidence in your own work lets me look more kindly on my own and on the world.

I like to imagine bringing you a cup of tea and setting you in a chair on my porch facing the mountains while the sun runs his warm hands upon you and the peaks. We are mostly silent. Sometimes you hum a bit. You ask for more hot water. Bread and butter.

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle,” you say. I nod my head.

Image Credit: Akira Beard

Remembering Adrienne Rich

The poetry world has lost a lion today – Adrienne Rich, a poet and essayist who tread upon such ground that women might follow and know that someone understood their dreams and nightmares.

But it was not enough for Rich to speak for women, instead she spoke for the human race and she spoke for herself. She decried war, sexual inequality, and hatred. She championed us all with lucid and luminous words. I loved her poetry, but perhaps, and there are some that this would be heresy, I loved her prose better. The self-assured rationality that she imposed upon irrational things, the grace that she illuminated the work of the poet, the steadfast insistence on the beauty and terror in the world in equal measure.

Goodnight Adrienne Rich – your words will carry you forward into our hearts and into the hearts of those to come for a long long time.

What Kind of Times Are These

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.

I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.

I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.

And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

by Adrienne Rich from The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems, 1950-2001