I don't ever plan to be a contestant on Project Runway, partly because I am not a fashion designer, but mainly because I recently had a little taste of the pressure those people are under and I know I couldn't hack it. I did however, manage to survive eleven days of Chatham University's Summer Community of Writers. SCW was workshop, conference, readings and prompts to grow the student's creative writing life. Like Project Runway, only with words. And nobody gets voted off the show. I could spend a week writing out all the details of the experience, but I kind of already did that. Each day we had to write 500 words in a journal about some part of our experience from that day, to be turned in at the end. So instead of a generic recap, I'll share what I wrote on one day towards the beginning. ~~~~~
Saturday July 26, 2014
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Julia Spicher Kasdorf’s craft lecture today. I often feel lacking when it comes to poetry, and going into it I hoped I could figure out how to simply keep up.
Not being used to her speaking or mannerisms, it took me a while to get on the same level; and as she talked, plenty of things went right past me, over me, beyond me. But something else started to happen as she talked. I became more and more fascinated as she elaborated on her work and the work of those poets she used as examples. I also found myself becoming more engaged as she shared her experiences with the fracking project, a topic near to my own heart and life living in upstate New York.
In the lecture, I not only learned more about writing and poetry, but I began to look at the world in a larger way. In New York, we are battling over fracking, looking out over a chasm that no one wants to fall into; but we have yet to feel the physical ramifications of what that process can do to a state. As I heard Julia speak, and looked around the room at so many local Pennsylvania faces, I realized that people here aren’t at the edge; they are in the middle of the war.
And I remembered that “real” world out there of fighting and suffering and hatred. I’d forgotten that world while immersed here at SCW the past few days. Now I began to look closer at the connection between art and “reality.” How is a poem relevant to fracking? How can an essay change any of the bad things happening in our world? Julia answered this in response to a student’s question; she said “Maybe a poetry book can travel to someplace that the newspapers can’t.” I took this to mean that maybe this literary work will reach minds that need to hear it, or have a lasting power that won’t be replaced by next week’s celebrity marriage. All that I understand to be good and true.
But that doesn’t hold enough power for me. What truly answers the question for me, How can a poem change the world? is something Julia also said in the talk. She was quoting someone else (I forget who!) and said “A poem may not keep someone from dying, but it can keep someone from dying miserably.”
Now that, that is something to fight for, to live for. That reasoning hits me in the gut and makes me remember why I am here, why this work is good. No, the next essay I write may not stop the gas companies from wreaking their havoc on New York State. But maybe it will fall into the hands of just the right lawmaker or teacher or mother. Maybe. But even more importantly, maybe it will fall into those hands and make that lawmaker or teacher or mother see the world as a little less dismal, and a little more hopeful. And equally important, the creation of it might make my world a little bit more hopeful too.
Julia's an amazing poet doing great work, and a really nice person. Check out her work at her website.