On Saturday, a poet-friend from Sappho’s Circle and Grapevine Group and I went to Ithaca to the Spring Writes! Literary Arts Festival. Our primary purpose was to hear Heather Dorn, the founder of Sappho’s Circle, and her friend Sarah Jefferis read some of their poems. Here is the blurb from the festival program, with links to their author pages:
Reading: What Enters the Mouth and How to Play House
Dr. Heather Dorn and Dr. Sarah Jefferis will read from their new poetry collections. Heather Dorn is the founder of Sappho’s Circle: A Women’s Writing Workshop for local women poets in Binghamton NY. Her work can be found in Requited, Ragazine, the Kentucky Review, the Paterson Literary Review, and other similar journals. Her first book of poetry, How to Play House, is forthcoming from NeuroQueer Books, an imprint of Autonomous Press, in September. Local author Sarah Jefferis will read from What Enters the Mouth, poems about surviving trauma and poverty in the South. “Fearless poems- a reckoning of the violences of girlhood rendered with grit and clarity.” – Ansel Elkins.
The reading was amazing! Their poems are very powerful and not infrequently heart-breaking. It was especially interesting to me to hear Heather read a couple of poems that I had heard her read previously, as time and a new audience can cause modulation in the presentation. I also got to observe how they structured a longer reading session. I am more used to attending open mic, where each poet reads just two or three poems, so I appreciated how they each chose among their poems to vary the mood and pacing.
The biggest surprise was when Sarah told us that she had just returned from a residency program with Tupelo Press at MASS MoCA. As my poet-friends know, I was blessed beyond belief to attend the first residency collaboration between Tupelo and the museum in November, 2015, which led to the formation of my beloved Boiler House Poets. You can view the video reading from that residency and the collaborative videopoem from our first reunion residency. We also have a book which sprang from an exercise we did with Jeffrey Levine during our first residency. Plans are already in place for our second reunion residency this fall. (There are numerous blog posts on the residencies. You can search the MASS MoCA tag or in the archives for November 2015 and September/October 2016.)
After the reading, we joined Sarah, Heather and her husband for lunch. It was nice to talk about poetry, education, and family over delicious Asian cuisine.
Later in the afternoon, we attended a panel discussion about publishing a first book after forty. We had another nice surprise when two more Grapevine poets appeared in the audience. It was interesting to hear about people’s journeys to publishing a book at 40+; as a poet who didn’t start writing until reaching my fifties, if I ever publish a book, I will fall into that category. I admit, though, that I was feeling insecure because it seemed that everyone on the panel and a good number of people who asked questions in the audience were English teachers and/or MFAs. Given that I am neither of those things nor someone who studied English and creative writing in college, I was wondering if there is still a path for me. Fortunately, on the drive home, my friend was able to offer some perspective for me. So my hope for my book is still alive, even though it will likely take longer to complete and submit than I had hoped.
Life does give poets something to say, but its demands can slow the writing process down.