That plucky writer above with the grin-so-hard-it eats-your-upper-lip-smile is me, at the 22nd Winter Poetry and Prose Getaway, sponsored by Murphy Writing at Stockton College. As I described in this post, I won a scholarship to the conference through the Jan-ai Scholarship Foundation. Without this scholarship, I would never have been able to attend, as I am deeply in student loan debt (with a dash of credit card debt thrown in for fun–side note, if you find yourself in a similar situation, please visit this site, it has been a saving grace for me).
Now that I’ve used all of my allotted hyperlinks for one post, on to the enormous amount of fun I had at the conference. I met a woman there named Vashti who came all the way for this conference from Nigeria (!!), and she was assigned to be my roommate. She gave a tear-jerker of a lecture about Boko Haram’s effect on her students (she is a university professor) and how she uses poetry to help them navigate their fear. It was so incredibly moving, and I felt a greater appreciation for American culture and the privileges it affords its citizens than I have in a long time. Plus, Vashti’s husband calling us at 2 AM from Nigeria gave me a funny story to tell each morning (albeit groggily).
I met a bunch of other cool folk, and had a really interesting conversation with a woman named Kyle about being realistic about your talent. This is something I am very much coming to grips with. I am not one of today’s hottest young poets, sky rocketing into The New Yorker straight out of the crib, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t still publish and get my book out there. It’s hard to fully encapsulate the conversation and what it meant to me, but in sum: it meant a great deal.
I worked with poets J.C. Todd, Luray Gross, and Kenneth Hart, and Kim Addonizio and Stephen Dunn were there as well. Luray has become my new mental cheerleader–meeting with her was wonderfully powerful, and really spurred on my ambition for my manuscript, to push it further and see what I am leaving unsaid. I very much hope to stay in touch with her in one capacity or another. Kim Addonizio’s closing reading was hilarious and moving at the same time.
And there was intergenerational dancing!! Which is my favorite kind of dancing. When I am dancing next to a 75 year old man along to “Shout” that is really where life feels a-okay! All weddings, all the time.
I wrote one poem that I am convinced I will include in my manuscript. I brought it to Leonard Gontarek and crew for review, and he had some great suggestions on how to improve it. I was writing a difficult poem about my mother’s mental health, and only had an hour and a half to do so (that’s part of The Getaway structure), so adopted this refrain to push through the writing process. Leonard is suggesting I remove this refrain on account of cleverness, and leave the poem more vulnerable in its approach.
It reminded me of my manuscript consultation with Luray, where she wanted me to try saying what I was leaving unsaid on account of it being too difficult. Both teachers really pushed me over the course of this one week. Handling personal subject matter can be complicated in this regard, you can have all the poetic tools in the world, but if you don’t have the emotional fortitude to write what needs to be said to bring about the poem’s truth, it’s going to flop. You (I) run the risk of just having emotional subject matter on the page for the reader to be voyeur, but without making the connection to the reader of why it should matter to them.
In last words, I’m going to make a push for a workshop that very much helped me when I first moved to Philly, which I have linked to previously: The Red Sofa Salon. If I weren’t still in the financial dire straits I find myself in, I would be your classmate in a heartbeat. Which isn’t to say it’s not affordable, at $40 a class for her (Hila Ratzabi’s) expertise, yummy vegetarian food, and cocktails, it winds up being a bargain I am very sad to miss out on.
In final final words, I am off to the dentist. Look for poems about root canals in the near future.