The Hermit Poet

July 25, 2005

Coming Back from Idyllwild

Filed under: General — Neil Aitken @ 8:58 am

Pacman Poet

I rolled in late Saturday night after a week of poetry out at Idyllwild. While it wasn’t the same earthshattering groundbreaking headsplitting heartrending experience as Kundiman, it was still a great retreat.

Arriving on Wednesday, the first things I missed were the air-conditioned dorms we had at University of Virginia. Idyllwild is a boarding school for gifted kids in the arts during the regular school year, so it has a definite summer camp feel to the place. Bunkbeds in the rooms. No a/c. Limited range of foods offered for meals at the dining hall. Lunch everyday was cold-cut sandwiches (build them yourself).

The Idyllwild campus is beautiful in a natural sense. Great views down the mountains. Lots of forest and animal life. Squirrels and lizards everywhere. Snakes occasionally. Someone saw a blue-ribbon snake (I believe that’s what it was called). Bugs. Plenty of bugs. For the thick-furred forearmed such as myself, the bugs were a mere annoyance — buzzing by ears, flying into the face, or once directly into my eye which was luckily shielded by my contact lens. For others though it was a serious ordeal — one girl was almost eaten alive by bugs every night, huge lumps and scars on her legs from nasty bites. Evidently she reacts very strongly to any insect contact.

When I arrived on Wednesday afternoon, it was minutes before the office was to be closed. The office staff were very nice and stayed around to get me signed in and ready. An English girl named Katie even fixed my name button to have my name spelled correctly — and assigned an additional title to my badge, “Pacman Poet” in honor of the pacman path she had drawn on the map from the office to my dorm.

My roommate was another student there on scholarship, Santee Frazier. Santee and I had a lot in common with regards to taste in poetry, so we hit it off early and had several great conversations about poetry and craft. It was also a nice coincidence to find that we had were in the same workshop sessions with Terrance Hayes.

Which brings me to the high points of the retreat — I think ultimately when you come to a writing retreat, laying aside from the business and politics of meeting and mingling, the real test of how good a retreat is – is simply this: how much you learn and how much you write.

On both counts Idyllwild was fantastic. I learned a great deal not just from Terrance Hayes (who is an extremely gifted teacher and poet), but also from the lectures given by the other faculty. Robert Wrigley gave two lectures which were both very insightful — the first was on “the Art of the Withheld” and the second on “Making Music of Sense.” Of course, Wrigley also has a great reading voice which doesn’t hurt — a way of presenting that strikes a deep resonating chord within. A little like Levine’s reading style which I also love.

Maxine Kumin was witty and adroit in her discussion of the sestina, presenting a fascinating history of the form from its Provencal origins to various modern adaptations.

More to come…

2 Responses to “Coming Back from Idyllwild”

  1. Anonymous Poet Says:

    Sounds lovely!

  2. Santee Frazier Says:

    You forgot my snoring. Yes, I am ashamed of it but hey its the truth:). Though the workshops paticipants seems to want praise more than actual help with their work. Don’t get me worng the experience was worth. Red cedar forest, Terrance, Natasha, etc… were always willing to help.


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