Squam 2016 Wrap Up


A week ago at this time, I was sitting in a rocking chair on the porch to the right in the above photo, coffee in hand, listening to the loons, water like glass…. You get the picture.IMG_0904.JPGIMG_0906.JPG

I taught my Found Poetry workshop for a second year at Squam Arts Retreats on Squam Lake in New Hampshire. And for a second year, I roomed with my long-time friend Beth of Parris House Wool Works. Beth teaches rug hooking, but is pictured below with her name cut out of paper, origami-style, in a small workshop we took. I’ve known Beth, and her family, for over 15 years. I was the librarian in a tiny library housed in an old jail on Paris Hill in Maine when Beth’s oldest son was young enough to be reading the Redwall Series. In fact, I ordered those books just for him. He’s 26 now! I keep in touch with Beth, but would have no reason to share a small bedroom with her, eating too much chocolate, laughing uncontrollably at 6 a.m., hanging out on the dock, eating meals together for 5 days. Squam has given me that unexpected gift, among others.

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One reason Squam may be so special to participants, teachers, and organizers is because most adults gave up summer camp years ago. I never went to summer camp. And Squam is certainly summer camp for adults, but no one is telling you what to do, when to put the lights out, waking you with reveille (is that just in the movies?) There’s a sense of freedom and aimlessness, coupled with a pretty powerful creative energy, the lake, the trails, that casts a spell.


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‘It’s like a mild amnesia.’ I said to Beth on the second day. ‘I can’t remember what I was worrying and thinking about before I came’.  I’m still calm and I attribute that to one Squam experience in particular: media fast. I’m an NPR news’ junkie and always listen to a couple hours every night while I’m making dinner and cleaning up afterwards. I also listen while I’m driving, and I do an inordinate amount of driving. That adds up to a lot of tragedy, scandal, violence, subterfuge, and a smattering of interesting news. I didn’t listen to any news at Squam and only checked email occasionally. Now, this was also the case last year, but in true Squam style, this year was a different year. My media fast delivered the dawning realization that I was happier, calmer, more clear-headed without the constant barrage of ‘news’ and voices cluttering my thinking. When I returned home I didn’t resume my news’ habit. I’m listening to audio books on long rides and nothing at home. Interestingly, maybe predictably, that sense of calm is still with me.


Important lesson number two: body image. Most of the participants at Squam are women. They come in all shapes, sizes, colors, abilities; they have myriad talents, day jobs, beauties. I recommend that all women spend a few days with a large group of women from all over the country and the world. I didn’t see one stereotypically perfect body in the mix, but I saw beautiful, unique women, laughing, eating picnics on the docks, swimming, hiking, knitting (lots of knitting), creating art, sharing art, huddled together in deep conversation and, most importantly, being completely themselves.


13321910_10153821596754107_5350180866818969896_n.jpg          For all these reasons, the students I’ve encountered in my poetry workshops at Squam have been a pleasure to teach and write with. Most don’t have a regular writing practice, aren’t pursuing poetry to any end; they bring other reasons why taking the workshop was a high priority. Every one of my Squam students has been surprised by what she’s capable of writing, the memories that the writing process draws forth, the writing of her fellow students. It’s so fulfilling to lead poetry workshops at Squam because the experience is truly immersive. Students engage in the writing process for hours at a time, the combined focus and introspection create the perfect energy and atmosphere for writing. They aren’t jaded by years of writing workshops and they aren’t writing with publishing as the major goal, they’re writing to experience the joy of writing, which is pretty refreshing. This year, one of my students gave an impromptu evening reading of the poems she wrote during workshop to her 12 or so housemates. And, because it’s Squam, all the students love the mini magnetic poetry kit making. This year, two students had never worked with Mod Podge, so I was the crafty expert for a change.





And it doesn’t hurt when your classroom looks like this:


So Squam has commenced for another year and this introvert is still surprised at how easy it was to share a cabin with eight women. In fact, I wish I had been more social, gotten to know people a little better, spent more time by the fire and in long conversations. It takes a lot to get me out of my head and into the world, to appreciate the communal aspects of life, get me into swimming shorts, to turn off the news, share a bedroom, lead a class for six hours, and feel completely comfortable in my own skin.You did it again Squam! Thank you.









Last Call for ‘Found Poetry Project’ at Squam Art Retreats


The last day of registration for June 2016 Squam art Retreats is May 12th! If you’ve considered going, have always wanted to check out the Squam retreats, or are on the fence about going, I’m here to push you off! I first experienced Squam two years ago when I gave a reading and held the book launch for my first poetry collection in the camp’s playhouse. It was a great crowd of knitting women, encouraging me with their warm smiles and clicking needles. Last year I went back to Squam as an instructor. I led The Found Poetry Project with another great group of women (there are men too, really). Each left with a handful of poems she’d written during our six hour workshop, a binder filled with goodies, plus a nifty mini magnetic poetry kit (see above) which each woman decoupaged with cool vintage ephemera included in their kits. Sooooo, it’s nearly May and I’m ramping up to teach The Found Poetry Project for a second year. This year’s retreat is held June 1-5 on beautiful Squam Lake in Holderness, NH. Let me just say, if you’re not from the woods or blessed to be living in a beautiful New England landscape, the experience will be a spiritual one. I watched it happen to many Squamies last year. Not only are the lake, woods, the flora and fauna (swimming deer, yes, true!) a calming tonic for body, mind and spirit, but the place just has great energy, due, in large part, to founding director Elizabeth Duvivier. Squam Art Retreats are retreats in the true sense of the word. You’ll relax, create, take your time by the lake and on the paths, eat good food and make friends. It’s summer camp for adults, with all the fun and none of the awkwardness of being 12. Join me!







Squam Spring Retreat 2016


The Squam Arts Retreats 2016 calendar is up and The Found Poetry Project is in the mix for a second year!

Here’s what you need to know:

When: Wednesday, June 1- Sunday, June 5 2016

Where: Rockywold and Deephaven camps, a 1930s rustic retreat on the shores of Squam Lake in Holderness, NH

How it Works: Participants choose two workshops to attend during the retreat. Workshops are approximately 6 hours long. The first is held over two days, the second entirely on one day. This year’s offerings include book making, rug hooking, knitting, drawing, photographing your creations, poetry (that would be me) and more! Besides workshops, there are nightly presentations with professional creatives, yoga classes, one hour activities like Zentangle and making herbal concoctions, a Saturday night craft fair/party, great food, lake fun, etc.

Amenities: You will stay in a rustic cottage; cottages accommodate from two to a dozen people. Your fully furnished cottage will have at least one fireplace with plenty of wood, an ice chest stocked with blocks of ice harvested from Squam Lake (this is true), bathroom with shower, kitchenette, a porch…. Meals are in the historic dining hall which overlooks the lake and looks like it could be part of an alpine ski lodge. But, the best part is the people. Squam attracts creative, kind, fun folks. The combination of woodsy vintage camp charm, the lake’s magic, and the great people, create a happy energy sweet spot. Some photos of my Squam experience last year, and a post about my experience teaching at Squam.

I would love, love to see some of you there. Participants come from all over the world. One teacher comes from Great Britain every year and wouldn’t miss it. So…. if you’ve got the time and resources and want to splurge on yourself, you won’t regret it, and I can almost guarantee you’ll go back a second, third, fourth time.


Amherst Poetry Festival Events


I will be taking part in the Amherst Poetry Festival in two events on October 3rd and 4th. First off, on October 3rd from 3:45-4:45 I’ll be on the panel “From Zero to One: First Books and What We Wish We’d Known” along with Amy Dryansky, Susan Kan, Karen Skolfield and Michelle Valois. We’ve held this panel at both The Berkshire Festival of Women Writers and the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. Moderator Karen Skolfield has also conducted the panel, with different participants, at AWP.  The panel will be held at the Jones Library Woodbury Room on Amity Street.

On October 4th I’ll be leading the ‘Found Poetry Workshop’ (a shorter version of the one I taught at Squam Arts Retreats) from 2:15-3:45, also at the Jones Library Woodbury Room on Amity Street. The workshop is heavy on prompts with optional sharing of one or two prompt-generated pieces at the end.

The festival lasts 4 days and is filled with readings, workshops, lectures and wacky poetry fun like poetry tarot and the annual poetry marathon where participants read Emily Dickinson’s poems (relay-style) non-stop for days!

A Successful Reading, An Upcoming Workshop!


Last night’s poetry reading at the APE Gallery with three amazing woman poets was a huge success! There were well over 60 people, all chairs taken, many standing, with several wandering in off the street. It didn’t hurt that Northampton was in full summer weekend revelry. It was like a block party down there. I may have to rethink my bias against reading first, it was a great slot. The audience was enthusiastic and putting out some great energy. The variety of tone, subject matter and style of the poems, coupled with the short 15 minute readings made for one of the best readings I’ve ever been to, let alone been part of. I’d like to thank photographer Kate Way for her photography, Susan Kan for pulling together such a successful event, my fellow readers Carol Edelstein, Amy Dryansky and Michelle Valois, all talented, smart, kind and supportive. And a big thank you to the audience for choosing a poetry reading over all the other exciting, more fun, things you could have been doing on a warm night in August. You bolstered my spirits!

I got word yesterday that my proposal for a workshop, titled: The Found Poetry Workshop was accepted for inclusion in this fall’s Amherst Poetry Festival. The workshop will be 1 to 1.5 hours of prompts that give the poet a little something to start with, or, in the Cento’s case, the entire poem cribbed from other sources. I taught a (much) longer version of this workshop early in the summer and was amazed at the stunning poems my poet/students produced. They were a little amazed too. The Amherst Poetry Festival takes place the first weekend in October. More to come on the time, place and particulars of my workshop.


Squam and the Poetry of Place


I’ll write a longer blog post in a few days about my amazing experience leading seven writers through a six-hour found poetry workshop at the Squam Arts Retreat where we braved the chill of our renovated sugar house classroom (COLD few days in NH), dodged some well-fed, yet still hungry mosquitoes, but were rewarded with the above: blue sky, blue water, sun (almost 70)  and, in my case, the sight of two deer swimming toward shore at 6 a.m. Whew, that was one sentence, kind of sums up those intense five days of Squam for me.


Home for five days, my cottage (which I shared with an old friend from Maine) aptly named ‘Bungalow’


The day I broke camp fireplace rules (because I didn’t read the rules) and kept the fire burning all day. The night before had been in the 40s, outside and in. ‘Nough said.


Standing in the ‘kitchen’ one can see the living room (also my bedroom) and the porch


The lovely dining hall. Check out that vintage wooden canoe hanging from the beams


A submerged sitting area. For reference I included the one high and dry on the dock. Always the poet, I kind of loved the juxtaposition and the fact that both are empty, pointing in the same direction as if inhabited by invisible occupants.


‘Rock’ is short for ‘Rockywold’ the name of one of the camps, but Rock Dining sounds very romantic, conjures images of a Victorian picnic on boulders. This is one woodland path at the camp which would look just like my backyard in western Mass but for the knit bombs.


The Sugar House, my cold but picturesque classroom. This building does appear to have functioned as a sugar house in the past, when it would have been steamy warm and sweetly fragrant with boiling maple. I had space heaters.


My class. I hope to have a couple more photos of the class in action for my longer post. We’ll see.




Enormous dream-catcher with everyone’s hopes and dreams written on the dangling feathers.


I love this sentiment: “Art is my constant companion, my dearest repose” Also kind of sums up the Squam ethic and the attitude of everyone there.


This loon and its mate were quite close to the dock I was sitting on. Loons everywhere and their sad, eerie, beautiful song echoing off the hills and Rattlesnake Mountain behind the lake.


As if workshops, the lake, knit bombs and swimming deer weren’t enough, Squam has a Saturday night craft fair with ice lanterns.



More to come soon!!!

20 Questions: A Poetry Prompt

Call and Response

I got the original for this prompt in Wingbeats: Exercises & Practice in Poetry a collection of in-depth, creative, sometimes simple, sometimes complicated poetry prompts by different poets. The prompts could also be adapted for other genres. The original prompt, titled: Teaching Imagination, was created by Blas Falconer. I plan to use it in my found poetry workshop in June, so I’ve altered it and added some additional components to suit my goals. I used a few of the prompt’s original questions and made up the others. It would also be fun to collect oddball questions from different sources. This prompt would lend itself to all kinds of variations and extensions.

The Basics: Answer the following 20 questions on index cards, one card for each answer. The original prompt says to form your answers as complete sentences, but I found that can result in homogenous sentences that begin ‘I was’, ‘I did’, ‘I went’. So I’ve altered the prompt and am encouraging you to mix things up. Write some very short sentences, some longer, and some incomplete sentences, two-word phrases, basic images. Once you’ve answered the questions and have 20 index card answers, choose 10 and play around with their order for your poem. You can write the ‘poem’ down as is, or add connective tissue.

Variations: Call and Response: On 20 additional cards, write the questions. Now mismatch questions and answers to create a call and response poem. These questions answered straightforwardly would not be good fodder for the call and response poem, but could be strange and off-kilter enough when mismatched. The beauty of the call and response is its strangeness, the way the questions and answers exist on different plains and the freedom the poet has to consider the questions metaphorically, to write from an illogical place. This prompt could also be done with ‘questions’ from odd sources or questions taken out of context, like this one from an 1877 Catholic Catechism: “Must we then not make any image at all?”. This question is in relation to the making of graven images, but taken out of context could be answered in all sorts of creative ways. Form: Use 14 answer cards to make a sonnet, try to adhere to the form’s tenets. Make a Pantoum (4 line stanzas, the 2nd and 4th lines of each stanza are the 1st and 3rd lines of the next). Use as many cards as you’d like to make the pantoum long or short. Haiku and Tanka are other possible forms. Or, create a poem from your answers and then actually write the Haiku or Tanka in the spirit of your poem.

I love this and the other prompts in ‘Wingbeats’ because they simultaneously encourage writing with some kind of imposed rules or form and free-play with words, images, ideas;  breaking and remaking what you’ve already written.

As I said, I think this prompt could be endlessly altered and branched. You could add questions and thus have more answers to choose from. Play around and let me know what you come up with.

The Questions:

  1. Who named you? Why did they choose your name? What does your name mean?
  2. How near do you live to the place where you were born?
  3. How are the landscape of your birthplace and your current residence different?
  4. What is one scene or image from a movie that has stayed with you?
  5. Describe the last dream you can vividly recall?
  6. Describe a scar you have and how you got it. (skip if you have no scars)
  7. Write something in another language (do your best)
  8. What is your favorite bird? for plumage? for song? other? Describe its plumage and song.
  9. When was the last time you had a laughing fit. Who were you with? What were the circumstances?
  10. If you have a tattoo, describe it, why did you choose it? If you don’t have a tattoo why have you made that choice?
  11. Describe your first job.
  12. What’s your earliest memory?
  13. What natural landscape suits you best? What landscape do you have an aversion to?
  14. Do you sleep on your back, stomach or side?
  15. Describe the kind of child you were.
  16. Write a sentence that begins: “I’d be lying if I said…”
  17. If you could change one thing in your life what would it be?
  18. How do you visualize the days of the week (grid, line, calendar, other?)
  19. Describe a disaster without naming it.
  20. Write a sentence that includes the words: sinter, thin, blades.