Squam Spring Retreat 2016

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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.

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Amherst Poetry Festival Events

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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!

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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.

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Poetry Prompt: The Self-Portrait

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In the age of the selfie you’d think we’d have this one covered, right? But if you think about it, the Selfie and the self-portrait, in poetry or visual art, are completely different animals. The Selfie seems intended to flatter the self, to market the self, while the self-portrait seeks to uncover some truth about the self, strip off the mask, or at least knock it askew. The best self-portrait poems reveal truths about the self that are unflattering at best, perhaps downright ugly. Even the kindest most well-adjusted individuals have flaws, weird idiosyncrasies, personality tics that make them who they are but also ripe for the stuff of Greek tragedy. I see the pre requisite of the self-portrait poem to be honest self-reflection. Self what? As a culture we don’t engage in much beneath the prettied-up surface, encouraged to delve only as deep as we can go in a five minute post-yoga guided meditation. Last month I taught a two day Found Poetry workshop at the Squam Arts Retreat (more to come about next year’s retreat) where I led participants in loads of writing prompts to get the creative faculty limbered up and weaken their defenses. People get nervous around poetry, especially if they’re the ones writing it. But these lovely ladies had chosen my workshop so they were all game, nervous but still game. Anyway, one particular prompt had them answering about fifty questions, an index card for each. I asked each question out loud and gave them time to answer. I included some of these in a previous post titled 20 Questions. Some of the questions were easy to answer “surface” questions like: How close do you live to the place you were born? Others could be answered literally or metaphorically: How will you carry all the things you have to carry? Others were more loaded: If you could change one thing in your life what would it be? or Begin a sentence: “I’d be lying if I said…”, which could be rephrased “how do I lie to myself? what do I lie to myself about? Even questions like, do you have a scar? how did you get it? or if you have a tattoo what is its significance, if you don’t have a tattoo, why not? encourage a level of self-reflection we don’t often employ in day-to-day life where our own histories, our own personalities, have become so familiar they’ve achieved invisibility. I answered many of these questions on my own before leading the workshop. The very innocuous first question: Who named you? sparked my own self-portrait poem that got at a truth about my personality that my mother saw in me from the start. I used the anaphoric refrain: My mother named me… My mother herself was named after a dress shop by her father. My grandmother had named the other children and said: “you name this one”. He was driving home from the hospital when he saw the dress shop named Ellena Fay. Even more interestingly, my grandfather was never named by his own parents. His brothers called him Peter Rabbit and so his name became Peter, proving there’s more to a name than meets the eye. In my own poetry, I’ve been obsessed with identity, self-definition and name for years.  Check out Sylvia Plath’s The Disquieting Muses which isn’t called a self-portrait poem but truly is. These portrait poems also have some prompt-type questions to get you started and show how a poem can be constructed in different ways using the same questions. Chase Twitchell’s poem in Poetry Magazine is a mysterious, weird little self-portrait poem. And another by Cynthia Cruz. Read their poems closely and work backwards to questions you could ask yourself that could get at some deep answers and the spark of a poem. As I said earlier, my mother named me, but my name in itself doesn’t have a story behind it or any deep meaning other than the biblical “princess”. It’s an old-fashioned name that just happened to be one of the most popular girl’s names a few years after I was born.

I think titling or calling a poem a Self-Portrait is also a way to say “me, me, me; I, I, I” without attracting the criticism of post-confessionalists. There’s kind of a backlash in poetry these days against the self and against the slightest whiff of sentimentality. Many contemporary poems are completely unpeopled by the first person, or operate so efficiently at the level of irony that you don’t truly know what the ‘I’ thinks, believes, feels. There is a fine line between feeling and sentimentality. Feelings are like that; sometimes they’re gritty, messy like a broken nose, sometimes they’re surreal, but often sappy, self-indulgent. It’s hard to write about feelings with utmost control, but that’s what poetry asks us to do, especially the self-portrait poem. I’m going to include mine below, but wanted to mention the post photo above. That’s my grandmother around 1940, she was probably still in her teens. The photo is obviously not a self-portrait, but I love the incongruity between her prettied-up appearance and the not-so-pretty, a little rough around the edges backdrop. That would have been the section of Lowell, Mass known as Little Canada where the French Canadians settled. The photo below, however, was a self-portrait; a very early Selfie. I do think this one contains a little more self-reflection than the other. It was taken in a mirror.

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Squam and the Poetry of Place

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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.

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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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‘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.

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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

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More to come soon!!!