My Art of Description group met today for the last time out at Cache Creek Nature Preserve, marking the end of our ten-week author study of Mark Doty’s verse and prose. While particularly apocalyptic weather threatened to tear the roof off the education office, we talked about big questions, like: how can one loosen up the patterns one sees in one’s own new work? Like: what doesn’t want words, and yet find words wanting? Like: what’s the relationship between being read to, and learning the receptivity required of one’s future reading? Like: would someone please pass the gluten-free tea cookies?
This has been a particularly satisfying workshop from my end, for a number of reasons. Not only is Mark Doty one of my favorite writers to teach, but he’s also the poet whose work is most responsible for helping me first realize how deeply I love poetry. (The undergrad workshop where I first read his collection Atlantis is where I believe I first located my invested reading self, and I remain astonished at each successive response I continue to have to each of the books of his I teach.) I’ve been amazed at how many new writers are finding their way into the workshop community at CCNP this year, and have really loved getting to know so many new people through their weekly questions, challenges, and enthusiasms. In my notes, I’ve designated so many things to follow up on I couldn’t even begin to count those asterisks. What makes a still life a still life? “Poetic description wants to do anything but reinscribe the already known.” The six principles of figurative speech, the time of earth versus the time of art, the heart as a repository for vanished things. “What is documented is not the thing itself but the way of seeing.”
I’m also moved beyond words by the random gift that fell into my lap last week when one participating poet brought a friend to class, who (unbeknownst to us) sketched a portrait of our group in action during our discussion hour, owl taxidermies in the background and all. It’s the first image anyone’s produced of our community during my (now six year) tenure as CCNP’s Writer-in-Residence, and it renders our gathering spirit beautifully. (PS: I have copies for everyone in the sketch, which I’ll bring to the Preserve next week.) A million thanks to Arturo Balderama for this awesome surprise.
Those of you who participated in this workshop, feel free to share your additional thoughts in the comments if you’d like, now or in time to come. Which exercises lit up most clearly for you? What’s developed in your relationship to description, or in your understanding of its actions? If you were to chose any single line we’ve read in the last ten weeks as an epigraph for the next piece you’ll begin, which line would that be?
And: thanks, (clockwise from far left) Shannon, Kim, Carole, JoAnn, Deborah, Joni, Ron, Charlene, Wendy, & Claudette – it’s been great.