The Hermit Poet

February 6, 2008

Road Trip that Becomes Something Else

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 11:59 am

Yesterday I woke, dressed, and was out the door by 10 am to drive to Riverside for the 31st annual Writers’ Week at UC Riverside. It was arguably a spur-of-the-moment type of thing — the electronic flyer arrived in my inbox on the weekend reminding me of the event and as luck would have it, I just happen to have no classes on Tuesday. I’d also been meaning to make a return trip to say hi to old professors and meet up with some friends in the area — so this seemed like a perfect opportunity to do so.

I made the hour long drive out there from LA, slowed down by only one accident and arrived by 11:30 and found parking on campus. Chatting with the parking / info kiosk person, I realized that something had changed — the usual conference location had been changed to a new building. A new building which hadn’t existed when I was on campus in 2006. Strange how quickly the world changes in a year or so.
Evidently over Christmas break, the entire Creative Department had relocated its offices to the 4th floor of this brand new building. It’s a gorgeous building and the layout and features of the building made me envious of the current and future students in the MFA program. In addition to housing all the faculty offices on the same floor, it also features a large graduate student TA cubicle farm (everyone gets there own) and a separated conference section, a large lunch break area with gorgeous view, a computer room, a large work office space for staff and interns, a separate office for the literary journal staff (no more sharing with the TAs), and a gigantic windowed room for receptions and conferences (this is on the 4th floor and is in addition to the downstairs auditorium). I was blown away by how much space has been given to the writing program — it’s an amazing place — I’d do a second MFA there.

Anyway, I had made the trip out to catch the poetry day of the conference. On the bill were Paisley Rekdal, Richard Shelton, and Ed Ochester (the focus was on the Pitt Poetry Series). My old professor Chris Buckley was supposed to conduct and moderate the day’s events. Unfortunately both Ochester and Buckley had to cancel at the last minute to due serious health-related issues. The other faculty covered for Buckley in the first two readings, but had other classes or family things to attend to, and so asked if I would be willing to do the introduction for the poet they had asked to fill in for Ochester. I agreed and also agreed to serve as the moderator for the evening panel at the downtown Riverside library.

Here’s the odd bit of serendipity. The poet invited to fill in was none other than C.G. Hanzlicek, the final judge of the Philip Levine Prize who selected my manuscript as the winner! Very strange. I was delighted to meet him in person and give the introduction, even more delighted to hear him read his own work.

I enjoyed listening to all the poets whose work was both varied and compelling. We ate together for dinner with some of the grad students, then headed over to the library for the panel. I managed to stumble through the moderation duties, grateful that each of the poets proved so articulate and engaging in both their readings of other Pitt poets and their own work, and in their responses and discussion afterward, that in fact I had little to actually do beyond introducing the poets and posing the occasional question when the discussion seem to draw to a close on a previous topic.

After the panel was over and the poets headed across the street to their hotel rooms, I drove a friend back to UC Riverside and had a great conversation about the program at Riverside, about writing in general, and about Kundiman as a writing family. It is a rare and wonderful thing to have a circle of writing friends whose presence (even in email) fills you with such immediate joy. I’m looking forward to this summer and the opportunity to come “home” again to that family. I think whether you find your writing “family” among friends, in an MFA or PhD workshop, through blogging, or through a retreat, that family is vitally important. Knowing you have a “home” to come back to, people who both love and critically nurture you as a writer, and a sense of security that allows you to try new things– all are essential in reminding us that as much as writing can be lonely work, that what we do is part of a larger community of voices, and that some of the greatest joy we feel is knowing that we are not singing alone, even if we do not sing the exact same songs.

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