My wife & sister both said on separate phone calls that I sounded good this week, sounded like I was floating. We can blame the floating on the Cave Canem summer retreat I attended outside of Pittsburgh this week. A hard (not soft) break from work, untethered – no Blackberry, no webmail in the cloud. This type of letting go is usually unexpected when in a position of partially being the glue to an operation. (check in, check email, answer back, call back, if you’re unlucky dial into a conference call 3,000 miles away – but I couldn’t possibly call my retreat a retreat if I stayed on the work grid.) I did use a grey ethernet cable to jack in and set my “out of office” message up on day 2.
The Unexpected – #1 sleep deprivation
I came prepared as a first year fellow to write & write. I just didn’t know how writing would go. I am a slow flow-er. I have written one or two poems as exercises in 30 minutes, and that one or two flash pieces have actually been published without a lot of heavy handed editing. Usually doesn’t happen that way for me. Partially because I haven’t been disciplined enough to set a regular date with myself and push a timer button to work my writing out. But at Cave Canem the right before bed or hang out on a bench to 4 in the morning fellowship reminder is “10 at 10 in the bin.” A poem a night, 10 copies printed and ready for a three hour workshop by 10 am the next day no matter what time you went to bed 11 pm (hah!), 2 am (maybe), 3:45 am (too often.)
The Unexpected – #2 mentored craft talk
I came prepared to see Cave Canem founders Toi Derricotte & Cornelius Eady, the 2012 faculty Thomas Sayers Ellis, Nikky Finney, Terrance Hayes, Angela Jackson, with guests Amiri Baraka & Nikki Giovanni. I did not come prepared to be with the faculty; I did not come prepared to hear loving gestures in their questions signaling (you might want to take a closer look at this part.) In one case Terrence asked out the starting gate “why is this a poem?” in a tone that suggested we would engage in a brief (welcome) philosophical discussion on the elements of poetry. Truth is the tell was – nice job bro but this thing here on the Buffalo Soldier on the western border is a personal essay… I did not expect Nikki Giovanni to ask to come sit in our workshop, then ask me a question “Til Pharoah and Tell Pharaoh, is that what you meant?” On the solid, secure in my work but a little star struck, I answered, “yes” not a bit unsure if my telling Nikki & the class til meant until and tell meant say something about something. Reading between the lines, those soft faculty questions were a telegraph to the deeper craft talk they often danced around in terms of going all in or not – perhaps you should make that more clear so your reader knows it ain’t a typo.
The Unexpected – #3 star struck – black poetry rock stars & legends
Yes, I brought cash to buy books for signing. My only disappointment was not having enough greenbacks to buy one of each! And the readings – I made sure to get front row seats so I could be, see, & hear everything these wonderful poets had to share.
Amiri asked, “where you from?” (a question I think he asks everyone to break the awkward ice when signing a book for a complete stranger clearly in the state of AWE.) “LA originally but I live in San Francisco,” he responded with a wicked chuckle. “LA is an awful place. Don’t know why anyone would want to live there.” Underneath, I agree with a smile and walk away from the extended line with a signed copy of Razor.
The Unexpected – #4 City of Asylum Pittsburgh
I had not heard of the City of Asylum in Pittsburgh & sister organizations/projects before Cave Canem. Thank you Toi for your involvement on the board & connecting your fellows to the mission of this important work providing housing to writers in-exile.