Thoughts at the end of a workshop

At the Preserve - March 16, 2011

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.

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10 thoughts on “Thoughts at the end of a workshop

  1. Although I’m not in the CCNP workshop, this post reminded me how grateful I am to share in the reading, writing community you’ve created. Questions and ideas that we could think about for the rest of our lives. Repository heart! And the gift of the sketch is such a nice physical incarnation of all those other gifts. So nice.

    • Thanks, Andrea! I’m more grateful for it than I can say. Everyone in all of my workshops gives so generously of themselves – it is a rare day when I am not touched by the incredible energies that have come together at these tables in Davis, Sacramento, and Woodland where we come to read and write and find new ways of thinking and being together…

  2. Kim Rosen comes to mind when reflecting back upon the Mark Doty workshop at Cache Creek Nature Preserve this winter. My life has been enriched by reading (and coming to love) poems. I am changed. I’ve learned by heart one, and plan to add more. Joni and I were walking after our gathering the day Arturo had been in our classroom. We ran into him and noticed he carried artist tools. He generously shared a peek at his notebook and my breath was taken away by the sketch of our group…so unexpected! We hadn’t noticed he was drawing while in the room. I’d been imagining all kinds of reasons he was there…one of Rae’s students, an observer from the gravel company (“Are they accomplishing anything there with our grants????”) and so, lo and behold, we were blessed by this animated, lovely man and his vision.

  3. I am thrilled Arturo captured my forehead in profile so well…that’s the part of my visage passed directly from my father, his mother, her father…the Shaw in me!

  4. Rae, our discussions are always full of tidbits that I like to go back and revisit. Every week something new, but I’m definitely paying a lot more attention to what it is I do as I describe, and why it is I am compelled to do so. It’s such a pleasure to be meeting regularly with other people who recognize that poetry is a strange but necessary aspect of their lives. I think the one “thing” that’s stayed in my mind these weeks is the interplay between the senses and experience and then between experience and representation – and the tension of staying true to all of it, even when there’s conflict between them. I’m also compelled to be the best “ground” of my experience that I can be – as in: Pay Attention!

    This, then, has called up all sorts of questions about what it means to write good poetry (and how and why)…oh help, I think I’ve passed the point of no return…

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