After attending the Oregon Poetry Association’s 2018 conference, I’ve been thinking about what makes a good conference. I’ve attended many, from small events put on by a few dedicated volunteers to big noisy affairs (AWP comes to mind). What struck me most about the OPA conference was its collegial, non-competitive atmosphere. It was a pleasure to give my workshop, and then sit down in the same room to hear the next speaker. Presenters often referenced the workshops they’d attended at the conference, which helped create a warm feeling of connection throughout the weekend.
The morning started with keynote speaker Kim Stafford, Oregon Poet Laureate and son of legendary Pacific Northwest poet, William Stafford. Kim shared one of his father’s quotes (I’m paraphrasing from memory): “William Stafford said that he wasn’t impressed with people who said they wanted to support the arts; what impressed him was the person who confessed a weakness for the arts.”
After I gave my workshop (“Beyond the Sonnet: New Poetic Forms to Boost Your Writing Practice) I attended six more. I’m happy to report that I came home with inspiration for poems leaping off the pages of my notebook. “Facing It,” given by Judith Montgomery and Carol Barrett, dealt with the challenges of care-giving, including “diagnosis, treatment, and healing.” From the paragraph I wrote in response the word “diagnosis:”
One week later I was in the “mental health” section of the brand-new, beautiful library, whose huge open ceiling and light-flooded bookshelves contrasted starkly with the dark subject I researched. That day I checked out a wobbly armload of books with titles like Loving Your Crazy Kid, Freedom From the Voices, and Bi-Polar Joy. How it hurt to imagine him ending up like the people in these books: alone, afraid, even homeless. I didn’t know what was coming. I held the books against my chest like armor.
In Joan Dobbie’s workshop, “The Mask Speaks,” the only session that included craft supplies, I made a butterfly mask and wrote it a list poem:
If butterflies vanished
I would draw them
on walls on car doors
on windows I would
cut them out of paper out of
cloth I would pin them
onto flowers onto trucks
leave them in hospitals
in daycare centers
paste them all over the bathtub
eat only butterfly-shaped food
wear my butterfly mask
In “The Ordinary as Muse,” given by Cecelia Hagen, we explored the poetry of Mary Ruefle. Using her poem “Full Moon” as inspiration, I came up with this:
It looks like an unfinished pyramid,
as if the Egyptians had run out of mud bricks
one hot Wednesday
and abandoned the job
resigning the future dead king
to a roofless tomb.
I left the conference with a notebook full of potential poems and the satisfaction of having connected with a group of creative, like-minded writers, but without that uncomfortable feeling I often get at bigger conferences (there’s that publisher that rejected my manuscript; is it me, or is everyone here much more successful than I am?)
OPA is an arts organization based in the state of Oregon. Benefits of membership are here. I hope you’ll join, and I hope to see you at a future event.