In Retreat

Get ye to a nunnery!
(Heard that line a lot this weekend.)

L-R: Colleen, me, Dawn, Cindy, and Kevin

Back from my retreat and it’s official—I have written my way home. The retreat, run by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Laura Boss, was absolutely terrific.

Red wheelbarrow, anyone?

My traveling companions to St Marguerite’s Retreat House were poets Kevin Carey, Colleen Michaels, Cindy Veach, and Dawn Paul. Since we knew it would be a large group attending this time (29 participants), we went early enough to get the rooms we wanted, which were all on the same wing of the house. The winter retreat is located on the convent grounds of Saint John the Baptist in Mendham, NJ.

From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, we were in six workshop sessions that, for me, produced six poems—all of which I will develop. I say that because last year I wrote as many poems and didn't revise any of them. After writing 20 soulless poems in November, these poems went deep. DEEP! Surprised myself each time. One of the workshop participants said about his experience, “ Being here … it makes writing fun, not like something that you have to do.” I knew exactly what he meant.

This retreat is laid back with writers at all skill levels. From the first prompt, something in me opened up and I was in the poetry zone. I don’t think I have hit that zone at all this year! Maria and Laura put the emphasis on getting the poem down on paper first, then editing later. I think everyone in my writers group felt maybe we tend to edit too much in the beginning. Maybe we kill our poems before we give them a chance to live.

There’s one TV on sight, which I don’t think anyone every turned on while there. The rooms are Spartan to say the least. Plenty of grounds to walk around, contemplate your naval, and then write about it. The food, which is prepared by church workers and nuns, was plentiful, and every meal with lots of fruit and snacks in between.

For us, it was a chance to do something purely for ourselves. We bonded over poetry, of course, but who knew Dawn was good at ping pong? And after our group poetry reading on Saturday night, the Massachusetts crew, as we were referred to often, stayed up late with Bob, another friend and participant (not from Massachusetts), who played his guitar into the wee hours. Who knew an acoustic version of “You’re So Vain” could bring out the Carly Simon in all of us?

Bob and Kevin

By Sunday, I couldn’t have written another poem if I tried. I was happy to get home and see my kids. Now the trick is figuring out how to bottle up those good feelings and access them again and again and again.



Maureen said…
Sounds like a great retreat.

Jericho Brown is guest-posting at @BestAmPo this week. Some great posts there already.

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