Tuesday, April 06, 2010

poetry events and other transformative musings

At the very start of 2010, I had the amazing privilege to take a week-long writing and improv workshop with Ann Randolph at Esalen Institute in Big Sur. Esalen don't come cheap in any shape or form, and staying there was out of the question. So I bounced around to a couple places, the stories behind which all deserve entries of their own. One of them that became home for two nights was the tiniest room at Deetjen's Big Sur Inn.

I arrived late – too late for a personal check in, so a map was taped to the office door for me. No keys. The doors don't lock from the outside.

My room was called “Petite Cuisine” and it charmed me instantly.

The room is made for one person. One. Different. If you go into a restaurant and see someone eating alone, do you, like me, begin to create stories about that person? Why they are there and what they are thinking as they sit in silence, the other place settings scooped up and swept away as if the table were always meant for solitary dining. In the case of Petite Cuisine, there was nothing to scoop up. There was a single bed in the tiniest room you've ever seen. Only solo sojourners need apply.

Here you can imagine away, though there are more clues to the backstories than in those restaurant scenes albeit with their own mysteries thrown in. The people that stay here don't do so in silence. The shelf over the bed is filled with journals which, in turn, are filled with the ramblings, poems, dreams and screams of past occupants. I could live there for months, just reading and recording these written treasures. The earliest guest book there is from 1996. The latest entry is from a week before I arrived. I obsessively put them in chronological order and notice that 2001 is missing. The year I got married. The year long stretches in my own journal contained sketches of towers – two of them side by side. Only that.

I pull a book with a flowery printed fabric cover off the shelf and open at random. The date I flip to: February 5, 1997. Before I ever set foot on the west coast. “I am 26 today,” it says. I continue to read. She's had her heart broken. They were supposed to come here together. She still decided to come, alone. She'll be about to turn 38 as I read along and I wonder how many more times her heart has been broken in the last dozen years and what she thinks now of her 26-year-old self.

In an entry that I barely catch as I flip through another journal there is this: “Don't forget to look in the copper tea pot.” The advice is 10 years old. Still, I see it. A small copper kettle perched on the window sill just over the bed. I open it with, I admit, a certain amount of trepidation. It is chock-full. Small slips of paper spill out as I remove the lid. Hundreds of scraps of loose leaf, business cards, notes and prayers on whatever people could find. I read a few and close up the lid again to save the whispers inked there for the next guest.

We are all in the process of transforming. Sometimes what we put on paper is a shedding of an old skin, sometimes it is a vision of a future life. In hashing ideas about in my journal trying to hit on possible themes for a couple upcoming reading/poetry events, the thing that kept coming up over and over again was people in the process of transformation, past and future selves.

I have not done a (poetry) reading in a while, but things are popping up again.

One is a reading next month for something that I've participated in several times in the past. It's called Women and Food (website is not up to date, but there is a past poem of mine on there). This year it is at 7pm on Friday, May 14 at the Felix Kulpa Gallery in Santa Cruz, CA. A group of women poets will read their work on whatever aspect of food and their relationships to it that they've dared explore in verse. The evening is also a benefit for the Second Harvest Food Bank, so if you are in the area and can make it, bring canned stuff for the bins. We also create a symbolic place setting for ourselves at the banquet table for whatever might be “on our plates” at the moment.

Here are a couple of my past place settings: One called “Starved for Time” (and no, I don't really eat the crap on there) and the other complete with seeds and dirt, based on growing food, since that year I read several poems about my former English as a Second Language students who are field workers.(Here's one.)

This year I have lots of food stuff going on, though none of it is feeling very poetic. “Gluten-free” and “hypoglycemia” don't make for the smoothest of metaphor candidates.
The other event will hopefully happen in June – a show of my poems presented as broadsides in a local cafe. Broadsides are basically framed, poster-sized pieces - graphically or artistically pleasing somethings behind the text of a poem. It essentially allows poetry to have a physical presence, just like visual art does. More on this as I actually convince myself I can do it, but suffice to say if transformations were tangible, this might be part of my old/new skin tangled at my feet, scales shining in an orange sun.

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