These days, all arts organizations, large and (especially) small, are experiencing hard times. The Writers’ Center of Indiana is one of them. I have a long history with the WCI. It was a brand new organization in 1979, when I finally got up the courage to try to write--I can’t imagine how I’d have begun if it hadn’t been there. I often wonder if I’d have begun. I took my first classes at the Writers' Center, but more importantly I learned that there was such a thing as a community of writers—even in a place like Indianapolis. Over the years, I took more classes, and I attended readings and mini writers’ conferences at the Writers’ Center, some of them featuring accomplished writers, like Tim O’Brien and Mary Oliver. Eventually, I taught classes and was a presenter at Writers’ Center events. In 2002, I became writer-in-residence; in 2006, I became the program director; and a few months ago I agreed to take over the reins as director. Alas, major cuts in funding made it impossible for us to proceed with our plans. We’ve given up our leased space at the Arts Center, laid off our paid staff—but…
The world needs organizations like the Writers’ Center more than ever—and we’re going to do what we can. Which means me continuing as a volunteer and a whole bunch of people helping out where they can. (More on this in later posts.) Sometimes I wake up, bug-eyed, in the middle of the thing thinking, Oh. My. God. I said I would do what?
Really, it is pretty crazy.
But, you know what? The challenge of reinventing the Writers’ Center to suit these difficult times feels a lot like writing a novel. A vision in my head, the pleasures and frustrations I feel as I try to figure out how to translate it to the real world. The surprises along the way—some happy surprises, others disappointing.
That feeling of being “in-process” makes the effort seem worthwhile to me. But what I think about most when I feel discouraged is “Evening with the Muse.” This group of poets meets the second Sunday evening of every month at the Writers’ Center. There’s a featured reader, a break for socializing and refreshments (brought by the regulars), then an open mic. Most of the poets are older, some with many publications to their credit, with a long history of supporting and benefiting from the Center.
Let me give you an example of how important poetry is to them. A while back, I attended Poetry Salon, a free critiquing group run by Richard Pflum, to help plan an upcoming program. One of the regulars, Rohana McCormack, wasn’t there. She’d had an eye operation that afternoon, Richard said. We made our plans, and I left them to their work. As I pulled out of the parking lot, here came a taxi bearing Rohana, wearing a black patch on her eye. I will never forget that. It is a picture definition of what writing means to some people.
As we say in the Writers' trade, "Show, don't tell."
The “Muse” regulars were, needless to say, distressed to learn that they’ll be losing their meeting space, but when they met last Sunday evening, the conversation was less about that and more about their feelings for the group and their long history with the Writers’ Center.
I was touched by this—and, listening, made up my mind to find a way to make this program continue, no matter what.
So for this week’s Poetry Friday, here are two poems that were read Sunday evening at the “Muse.”
ELEGY FOR THE WRITERS’ CENTER, IF NEEDED, IF NOT, I GET A GREATLY EXAGGERATED POEM OUT OF IT ANYWAY
One Last Thing To Blame On Bush
Scatter ashes slowly,
meticulously over the beloved valley.
All around mountains shimmer,
or shiver in the cold.
There are countless trees.
Dust on the needles of the pines.
Needles perform tricks
and necessities in sharpened words.
What forest is this we come from?
What wilderness have we lost?
The sky over this peculiar country
turns and turns.
Seeds in the dark soil persist.
The moon still calls them.
And poems continue in the darkness,
moving toward the light.
Note: The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle of quantum physics posits the impossibility of learning both a particle's position and mass because their measurement necessarily alters at least one.
We gather again
the strange ones
who relish words and feelings
and we each toss in a verse
for our potluck poetry
revealing our peculiarities
and our favorite
We celebratingly study
rivers, trees and mountains
that utterly ignore us.
Hope against hope
that the Heisenberg principle
might apply in this world too,
that the motley verse
might change something.
TRY YOUR HAND AT A POEM
Write a poem about something that matters deeply to you in a way that decribes that thing but does not mention it.