Poetry; Florida; Writer’s Conference

Palm Beach Poetry Festival: Final Notes

Friday evening, Claudia Emerson (my workshop leader) and Campbell McGrath gave their readings. McGrath read mostly from his new work. Emerson spoke about what influenced the poems she read. She had been the dean of a boarding school and has written poems on the subject. Those of us from her workshop tried to do the “wave” at the end of her reading but weren’t quite coordinated enough to make it work. The thought was what mattered.

Saturday brought more of the workshop participants’ readings. Emerson’s workshop read first. My selection was my poem “On Arriving in India and Walking the Streets of Mumbai in Monsoon Season” which I wrote for Lorrie Divers’s father since he had traveled there extensively during his career. I felt it important to read this particular poem since Mr. Divers passed away New Year’s day.

Saturday afternoon all of the workshop leaders gave a brief talk on their most “beloved” poems. Emerson and Sharon Olds both selected from Dickinson. Addonizio chose Whitman. I’d be happy to tell you the others’ selections if only I could find my notes…

Sharon Olds and C.K. Williams were the final poets to read on Saturday evening. Olds read the audience onto a train of emotions with her interspersing her more personal familial poems with more humorous recent work. The most impressive poem she read is the title poem from her forthcoming book One Secret Thing. The poem centers around her bedside presence at her mother’s death watch. The speaker of the poem describes moistening the lips and inner tissues of the mother’s painful mouth. This resonated so well with me because that is an act I could not perform myself while at my own mother’s deathbed when her mouth had become an entire cracked wound.

I would like to say that I enjoyed Williams’s reading though I found myself unable to connect with his poetry as he read. The only poem I specifically recall was “The Dog” though I can’t say it truly reached me on a visceral level since the speaker of the poem behaved in an unremorseful and judgemental way.

I would highly recommend this Poetry Festival to any poet who seeks serious consideration of one’s work and who is willing to give the same. You will probably never find me at a conference in the mountains, any mountains, but I’ll be motivated to be anywhere there’s a beach and powerful poetry. Should my dog ever accompany me I may not return to the tundra in Rochester.

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