Here’s to You: Guest post by Kelly Thompson

I’ve been hearing from lots of writers who were inspired by this year’s Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference, including Kelly, who provided us with this report. I’m so excited that Michael Cunningham, author of The Hours (great book) will be next year’s keynote speaker. Lucky us!

Since attending my first Kachemak Bay Writers’ Conference in 2005, I’ve only missed one, last year’s. With the news that Li-Young Lee was the 2009 featured writer and the conference focus would be on poetry, unlike the goose bumps that broke out all over my body over the 2007 announcement that Amy Tan was coming, or this year’s announcement that Michael Cunningham will be the 2010 keynote speaker, I sort of shrugged my shoulders. Who’s Li-Young Lee?

Now, I wonder why. Hello? Am I not a poet from way back? Do I not almost die with pleasure upon reading certain poets and poems? Should I not have purchased or borrowed from the library a book of Lee’s before the conference?

Why indeed did my ego tell me, “Oh. Poetry. Blah. No big deal.”

After this week’s introduction to Li-Young Lee, I suspect even more that my main genre as a writer is poetry (how can I be in my fifties and not yet know my own voice?) I’ve long resisted identifying myself as a poet. I figure it has to do with that scarcity versus abundance thing Lee talked about, that “only so much fame and money to go around” thing.

I decided to become an “author” at age six. I became a voracious reader by age four. Like a dandelion, my development as a writer has been random and subject to the direction of the wind. I suspect my admiration for what writers can do, for the worlds their work privileges, for the mystique their magic affords, has lent itself to that life long aspiration I’ve held, to join their ranks. Aren’t poets always the poorest? Don’t they always die young?

I remember the first story I wrote, while down with the measles, at six years old, a rip-off of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, entitled “Rosie and the Three Bears”. I remember the first poems I wrote, at eight years old, modeled on the verses in A Child’s Garden of Verses.

Imitation, they say, is the sincerest form of flattery.

If I lived in another age, they might have arrested me for stalking Maria Rainier Rilke. I might have thrown myself at his feet. I might have? I would have followed his every word, those he issued forth as deftly as Cezanne marked “apple” in paint. There was a point in my life when I read everything by Sylvia Plath I could get my hands on, and Anne Sexton too. I’ve even explicated Yeats The Second Coming.

So why the resistance to poetry? After sitting at Lee’s feet this past weekend, I am sure it has to do with that thing his, and other poet’s, work embodies. Getting beyond ego. Ironically, my poetry is probably my best writing because it is my stepchild. I write it almost as an aside. It has been with me since childhood. I never think much of it.

Having spent a meaningful four and a half days soaking up the rays of the accomplished and talented writer presenters at the conference, I have a list of poets to read, books to track down, I have an idea of the direction I might take my own writing next.

Having spent an hour with Todd Boss as his student (I decided, rather impetuously, to submit a few poems for a manuscript review since it was the conference’s focus), I am inspired to take my work a little more seriously. I am moved to think in terms of my own development as a writer. I am humbled to have my attempts affirmed. I feel a little less dandelion-like, a bit more cultivated.

Lee did direct we writers away from the scarcity principle and, for that, I am grateful. I often feel, though, that I am, as Nancy Lord alluded to in one panel, “writing into the dark”. I might add to that, as well, that I also feel that I am writing “in the dark”.

For each of my peers and betters that read at open mic Monday night, here’s to you. As I, again, return to the blank page before me, alone, I will think of you, writing out there somewhere too. I will think of your light and how it shone, briefly, with mine, together for once during our short Alaskan summer.

I might read a little Robert Frost, meditate on Li-Young Lee’s Virtues of the Boring Husband, send out applications, as Todd suggested, to attend a poetry seminar or workshop, even send out some poems for consideration. I will definitely think of the woman who told me my poem made her cry even though she “didn’t understand why”, of the fellow writer who shared with me her heart because I opened mine.

I will think of the abundance all of us share, how deep are our hearts, how much we care.

How, as Lee said, “There is no such thing as I without Thou.”

2 thoughts on “Here’s to You: Guest post by Kelly Thompson”

  1. Thanks for writing a little about Li-Young Lee and his impact on the audience at the KBWC. I had the good fortune to continue on with him at the post-conference workshop. It would be an understatement to say that he has changed the way that I look at my own writing and poetry in general. Any folks who were not able to catch this amazing, charismatic, and complex poet can gather some insight into his work by reading Breaking the Alabaster Jar, a collection of interviews of Lee. He'll help you expand how you look at poetry. Then read any of his poetry and be prepared to be blown away.

  2. Kelly Thompson

    Erin, you're welcome. I envy you your good fortune. I would so have loved to attend the workshop. I blew a chance of a lifetime to learn from a master by not signing up.

    If I learned anything this conference it is reflected in my sense that I will never again discount the power and importance of poetry. I think my "poetry is blah" thoughts came from a deep resistance to claiming my own voice as a poet. Also, a wise man once told me, "You're bored? That's because you're boring."

    Poetry changes us. No wonder I resist!

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