Post-Sewanee

Someone asked me a while back to write something about the Sewanee Writers’ Conference I attended in July of this year. It’s been hard for me to put into words a response to that, but I might have one now.

Every morning, I walked half a mile to the inn to eat breakfast with writers (fiction and poetry and play writers). I’d then walk to a reading of fellows or sit in on a panel of journal or press editors with writers. I’d walk back to the inn for my lunch with writers. I then went to a workshop or attended other readings or other panels with writers. I then walked to dinner with writers. I then went to a reading with writers. I then went to an open mic night and then to the french house after that with writers. I swam in a lake under a brilliant full moon with writers. I danced with writers. 

I’ve graduated from an MFA program. I’ve gone to AWP, but never have I spent so much time with other writers on top of being engaged with and listening to some of the best contemporary literary voices. There’s something about being with your people, that soul-click.

A.E. Stallings was my mentor. She, along with Charles Martin, led my workshop, and then I had an hour long session alone with Alicia where we just talked about my work, and in that meeting, she told me that if I wrote a blank verse poem while we were there that she’d read it. So I wrote a blank verse poem and met with her a second time. Brandon Courtney, a super nice guy and the writer of the stunning The Grief Musclesoffered to read some of my work and give me feedback on it, which was the nicest thing.

There’s nothing like attending the kind of conference I attended.

And since I’ve returned, I’ve found peace. A peace with the book I’ve been tussling with since I graduated with my MFA. A peace with the new project I’m working on that resonates more with me, that’s more honest, and (because I always love my newer work more) better. I’ve written at least seven poems since returning home on August 2nd, and for this poet, that is a success. Not all of the poems have been good. Very few have felt even remotely “done,” but the work is alive and fresh to me in a way my work hasn’t felt in a while.

If anything, the conference dusted off something inside of me that’d become clouded.

I’m so much more happy and alive and joyous when I can write and engage with writing, and I was so happy and alive and joyous while I was at the conference and since I’ve returned home. I made friends that I still keep in contact with. I’ve sent my book out to a few contests. I’ve submitted poems. A journal that previously always rejected me in less than a day has had some of my work for 33 days now. Things are going somewhere. I could feel it when I arrived at Sewanee, like I had boarded a train that I knew was heading somewhere beautiful and I was so grateful to be on it.

Since returning, these are what I’ve understood to be truths:

  • I must connect with other writers on a regular basis. Whether it be through friendships or workshops or one-on-one exchanging of work, I must engage with other writers and their pages. When I engage, I see things I’m meant to see in my own work. I make room for the love, the rawness of seemingly dead-end rough drafts and the hardness of editing and re-editing.
  • I must read good work. I’ve been going to bed with Brandon Courtney’s The Grief Muscles or Alice McDermott’s Charming Billy every night. I read a few pages of one or the other. I go to bed with good sentences in my head. I’m not reading through them quickly at all, but I’m reading good work, and reading good work inspires me to write good work.
  • I must attend book festivals, conferences, and readings. When I walk around with some beautiful set of sentences in my head, I make room for my own sentences to meet them.

I’ll be practicing some of those truths when I’ll be reading at the Mid-South Book Festival and then teaching a student writers workshop next weekend. I’ll also hear as much good stuff as I can and buy some books. If the above are truths to me and I’m not practicing them as standards of behavior (if I’m consistently reading bad writing or Facebooking or refusing to help another writer edit their manuscript), then they aren’t my truths anymore.

I came home changed. I came home better. 

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