I spent a big chunk of last weekend surrounded by poets at the fourth annual Northwest Poets’ Concord in Newport, Oregon. Approximately 140 of us met at the Hallmark Inn & Resort overlooking the Pacific. Sunshine and a sparkling blue ocean provided the backdrop for our explorations of poetic verbiage.
Not everybody likes poetry. One workshop leader, the poet Henry Hughes, compared it to ballet. Only a small percentage of the population ever see ballet or like it. But those who do REALLY like it.
Ditto for poetry. Who else would spend a gorgeous beach day in a hotel meeting room talking about things like line breaks, themes, and inspiration and listening to dozens of poets read their poems in that slow every-word-means-something manner that is standard for poetry?
Everyone seemed to have a sheaf of fresh poems in their purse or backpack. It’s like a secret passion we all share. Reminds me of the dart-throwing convention with which I shared my hotel last week in Portland. Dart-throwing? They have conventions? I wonder about the wisdom of mixing cocktails with darts, but they seemed to be having fun.
Our darts are words. Keynote speaker David Biespiel, poet and columnist for the Oregonian showed us how to take a poem apart and read it in a way that makes it mean so much more than a quick zoom through the words. Poems are different from novels or newspaper articles. You can’t skim or speed-read poetry and get anything out of it. They’re little pieces of art, photographs, tiny stories that call to be studied, like looking at a painting. You could glance at it and walk by, but you get so much more if you stand there for a few minutes and really look.
Last year, I wrote a lot of poetry during the Concord. This year, it was more a weekend of listening and absorbing. However, I did write a poem a day in April for one of the National Poetry Month challenges. Here’s one that I read at the Concord.
The Dog has a Question
Warm from the tub the woman sat on the floor,
naked except for her woolly robe,
and applied an orange plastic razor
to the stubble on her legs.
The dog, lonely, lay her heavy head
on the woman’s lap and watched,
scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape,
until the woman sighed, running her hand
along her smooth, hairless skin.
The dog looked up, bewilderment
wrinkling the fur between her ears,
wordlessly asking, “Why did you do that?”
Thank you to Sandra Ellston, poet and recently retired Eastern Oregon University prof, who organized the Concord. Sandra is also president of Writers on the Edge, of which I’m on the board. WOE produces the monthly Nye Beach Writers Series, third Saturday of the month, 7 p.m., at the Newport Visual Arts Center. Impressive guest artists and an open mic. Visit the WOE web page, as well as the Northwest Poets’Concord page. Try a poem or two. Think of it as mind candy.
Author: Sue Fagalde Lick
California native, Oregon resident
Author of Freelancing for Newspapers, Shoes Full of Sand, Azorean Dreams, Stories Grandma Never Told, Childless by Marriage, and Up Beaver Creek. Most recently, I have published two poetry chapbooks, Gravel Road Ahead and The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. I have published hundreds of articles, plus essays, fiction and poetry. I'm also pretty good at singing and playing guitar and piano.
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