Monday, September 20, 2010

Wednesday afternoon I'll be embarking on a four-day faculty retreat at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Numerous artists--blacksmiths, potters, metalworkers, weavers, etc.--who have previously taught in Haystack's programs have been invited to spend unstructured time at the school working on their own projects, but they'll also have the option to participate in two daily workshops outside their field of expertise: one focusing on performance, the other focusing on writing.

I've been invited to teach the writing workshop, which means that I'll have to work for two hours a day but will otherwise get to sit by the sea and write, read, nap, drink red wine, nap, read, talk, eat, talk, write, nap. . . . You get the idea. This will be the first time I've ever attended an artist's retreat, and I'm hoping that I will actually manage to create some new work. I'm a little nervous, though. What if all I do is nap?

At least for two hours a day I can guarantee I won't be napping because I'll have to be running a workshop for an unknown number of non-writers who are serious artists in their own fields. I'm excited about this because the last time I taught at Haystack I found the presence of such serious non-writers extraordinarily stimulating. It was wonderful to discover how similar the metaphors of working are.

I think of writing and revision as the physical accumulation and ordering of materials, a wielding of tools. This is the vocabulary that a blacksmith also uses, that a canoe builder uses, that a jewelry maker uses, even though our tools vary wildly. So after much thought, I decided to center my workshops around the poems of a single poet--one whose craft has deeply influenced my own writing. Although I tend to read canonical rather than contemporary poetry, I did not want to inflict Miltonic or Donne-ish complexities of syntax and diction on these artists. Language is not their primary tool, and there's no need force them to fight their way into the material. So I chose, as you may not be surprised to hear, three poems by Hayden Carruth: "Concerning Necessity," "Adolf Eichmann," and "John Dryden."

I am going to focus on these poems as material constructions--as compilations of words and punctuation--with the intent of leading participants to consider how the organization of such physical elements can metamorphose into explorations of order versus chaos, beauty versus ugliness . . . in other words, into doing what art has always been striving to do. As a description, this sounds quite pompous, but the participants will be doing the reading and talking and and thinking and writing--and coming to whatever conclusions they come to. I'm excited to see what those conclusions will be.


Maureen said...

I've heard such wonderful things about Haystack. I hope you have a marvelous time.

Dawn Potter said...

Haystack is a remarkable place, no doubt about it.