Sunday, January 23, 2011

Palm Beach Poetry Fetival

I am the worst blogger - every time I promise to make this a regular habit and post weekly, or biweekly, or whatever, I backslide again. Well, at least now I have a good reason for a post. I had the pleasure of attending the 7th Annual Palm Beach Poetry Festival in Delray Beach, Florida from January 17 to 23, and it was without a doubt the best conference I've attended yet. The list of "all-stars" was mind-boggling: Jane Hirshfield, Thomas Lux, Heather McHugh, C.D. Wright, Stuart Dischell, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Vijay Seshadri, and Alan Shapiro, plus performance poets Taylor Mali and D. Blair, and a special poetry-with-jazz performance by former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. The schedule included morning workshops, afternoon craft talks, evening readings by the above-mentioned "faculty". Wednesday evening featured a gala dinner and Robert Pinsky's reading, and Saturday was an evening performance-poetry event with Blair and Mali, plus DJ dancing and drinks.

I had the great fortune of getting into Jane Hirshfield's workshop, and it was a wonderful experience. She worked with about a dozen of us all week, which included five all-morning sessions and a brief one-on-one conference with each participant. I was a bit anxious beforehand, not so much about meeting and working with Jane, but with the level of skill of the other participants. Would I feel like a hack in their midst? But no, despite the fact that they were an extremely talented bunch, I felt like a peer and an equal. We started each day sharing a favorite poem by another poet, then had a writing "experiment", as Jane called it, after which we shared our results with the group. Then we critiqued each others' poems submitted for the workshop. It was a productive and rewarding week. Jane is a wise, warm and gracious lady - and one hell of a poet. She even went out to dinner with all of us on Saturday evening.

There were also readings on two afternoons by the workshop participants. I read a poem I wrote in workshop, "Suitcase", which got a good response. I also re-connected with my old poetry friend Lorraine Stanchich, who has been involved with the festival before and was asked to be Mr. Pinsky's assistant. I got to meet him afterward too - really nice guy. And of course, on top of all of this, the weather was in the 70's and 80's almost the whole week - a wonderful if brief departure from winter in New Jersey. Now I have to return to the "real world". Sigh....