Monday, July 22, 2013

back to school

University of Iowa ... check out the moon right next to the old capitol building
I have had the opportunity to attend the University of Iowa's Writing Festival in Iowa City (thank you Fund for Teachers). I am enrolled in a poetry workshop. I've been so busy since school let out that I really haven't had a chance to think about coming here or imagine what the experience would be like. I drove out on Sunday and went right into the festival. And I have to say, I was sort of nervous.

As I hit campus,  I ran into droves of incoming freshmen who were here with their parents for orientation. It immediately brought me back to the time when I first went to college. As the university is in Iowa, the weather is hot and humid, not unlike Carbondale, my undergraduate town. I checked into the union's hotel and had little to no time to get ready for the welcoming event. As I walked the blocks over to the site, I felt like I was 18. After my mom dropped my brother and I at school for my freshman year, I remember sitting in my dorm room and thinking: now what. The now what was nerves of course. And I think that I had a dose of those as I walked up the hill toward the Old Capitol building pictured above.

I sat at a table of strangers, and though  you would think that the thing that holds together, writing, would be the topic of conversation, it wasn't. As it happens, many of the people here have been to many of the festivals in the past ... even this summer's earlier sessions. One woman described herself as a 'writer's groupie.' She had taken sessions across the spectrum: playwriting, memoir, novel. I wonder if she would be better served if indeed she intends to write, to pick a genre to craft?

After a brief introduction to the week, we immediately set off to meet with our group in our assigned room. A short walk across campus, and we were a group. I wasn't surprised that all but one of the 12 were women. And interestingly enough, not one person was from the same place, let alone state. The intent of the meeting was to introduce ourselves to each other, and assign the first readings. The prof, Danny, had asked us each to bring three poems to the meeting to distribute. For the first three days, we will workshop each poem. Of course, when it came down to it, he asked us to pass 'round only one of our poems for the first reading. Danny! I had offered to go first for Monday ... hey, I know what it is to be a teacher and no one wants to go first! And then he said: one. He has no idea how hard it was for me to choose the three of the hundred that I've written in the last year. And one??

In our introductions, he asked us to talk about the things that inspire us in our writing. Most in the group talked about poets or maybe a novelist. When it came to me, I was almost at a loss for words. Well, almost. My favorite poets are Irish: Seamus Heaney and Nuala O'Fallon. I understand them ... and their underlying sense of tragedy that is their good friend. My favorite book to teach is Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye (more tragedy, held carefully by the beautiful form of Morrison's writing). As I told them, this is the summer of Daft Punk for me ... I've been hanging around my nephew this summer and they are his favorite 'band.'  Well, then there's the magazine habit that I have ... oh, the snippets and tidbits that I find there! So I imagine that all of this has something to do with what I write.

After the hour of introductions, we went off into the night with our first assignment. As I left the building, I couldn't help but be transported to 18 again. The building smelled like college. The corners were dusty, the halls dimly lit. Butterflies swooped into my belly ... not of nerves, but excitement, I suppose. It's an odd little group that I'm in from Toronto, Los Angelos, Montana, Reno ... I know that their read of my work will be constructive. And I look forward to reading work that I don't have to grade.

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