Ex-ch-ch-changes, Time to Face the Strange

This Post is Almost a Year-End Review!

The very first thing we did as interns was have a discussion about arts and community, and if you fall back a few pages on this blog, you will find what have been labeled ‘ruminations’ on that topic. I was the only intern lucky enough to experience the full extent of our community based events this year, as I was the only one to participate in every exchange. An exchange is basically an exercise where we take a group of our intern-writers and put them somewhere else. If you would like to hear this in more eloquent terms, we told the DePaul University radio all about it. It’s long, but it has some good writing and interesting things in it, and you’re already reading this, so you must be interested. It can be found at http://depaulsws.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/april-27th-show-listen-now/.

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Alabama and DePaul at the Tracks

Obviously, we went to Chicago. As someone who had never been to Chicago, one would think that I would have been super into the city aspect of it—experiencing big city things in a big city way; however, that would kind of be missing the point of the exchange program, at least from where I stand. The real point is the community, the people, the conversations, and here, at the end of the year, I can confidently say that is what Slash Pine is all about. I think the best way to go at showing you how I came to this grand revelation—which is completely different than merely being told it on the first day of class—is to look at our entire exchange program this semester chronologically.

First, DePaul came to us. Rachel, Al, Spencer, and Marie—four writing students from DePaul—came to experience the South. This happened pretty early in the semester, so we pretty much got to work on planning their itinerary right away. We took them for what I have been told was some amazing food, planned some writing time, showed them Tuscaloosa, and even had a reading—which I have since learned was some of their first public reading. While all of that was awesome, the best parts came from simply being around each other. The exchange environment is pretty immersive: they stay with us, and we see each other more or less 24/7 for about four days. We had goofy writing exercises, some NSFW lines in an exquisite corpse poem, and intense and interesting conversations. There was even free style rap. Not only did we come away from that weekend with four new Chicago friends and better senses of ourselves as writers from those conversations, we also came away as a much closer intern pool, which might have been the most important part in getting us through the rest of the semester.

The next big thing, if you will, was a trip to Fairhope, Alabama for a Gulf Coast Writing Conference. While there, we heard a pretty diverse group read—from a myth-alluding poet from Auburn to MFA’s from our own University. We also read ourselves, for the first time without a predetermined prompt, so in my opinion, I kind of got to hear the other interns’ ‘real’ voice, and got to expose mine for the first time. At the conference, we shared our culture with new people by leading a stitching workshop. Everyone got a chapbook that they had made themselves. It’s a really satisfying feeling to see something you made with your own hands.

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Me on a Mammoth, Obviously.

We even spent one day at Fort Morgan and we even got treated to a reading by the ever fabulous Patti White, founder of Slash Pine. [Check out her poem Tackle Box, and maybe Medical Advice if you’re feeling a little racy] While at the fort, we also had free writing time and read for each other. We spent our nights lounging around what I believe was a bay, reading to each other from hotel beds, and having some pretty deep heart-to-heart talks with each other. This trip was very different from DePaul, as we weren’t really visiting anyone specific. We made some friends from ABAC, met people from all over the Southeast, but really, I think we came away from this an even closer group than we did after planning DePaul’s visit to us.

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I’m a Tourist, sometimes. #sorryboutit

Finally, the exchanges came full circle, and a group of us got to go see our Depaul friends in Chicago. We stopped at Dinosaur World on the way there, and most of my pictures from the trip involve me illegally touching dinosaur statues. The DePaul trip was an amazing experience; we did some touristy things, but all in all, I felt like we got a genuine cross-section of the city. We read for a radio show (link above), read in Wicker Park, experienced the train, and all of the things it had to offer, but most importantly, continued conversations and relationships that had been started months ago in Alabama.

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Everyone Lookin’ Cute, Feelin’ Cute in Chicago

When it comes down to it, those conversations are what an exchange is about. The exchange is representative of community. Community is integral to Slash Pine. So, in my eyes, the conversations we had about writing, voice, identity—those conversations, in a way, are Slash Pine to me. At least they are what I will remember my time with Slash Pine through. Hopefully, too, they continue. Trips are already being planned back to Chicago; the DePaul crew has started their own small press; another Chicago group may well come to Alabama next year. Keep an eye out as the conversations continue within the exchange and within Slash Pine. Who knows what will happen next!

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