This year’s Writer’s Festival helped shape my notions of community as it applies to writing and to art more generally. We began with a reading on the lawn of Gorgas House. I read my own work here along with several other interns, and I began to realize the importance of events like the one we put on. Of course, that is the key to learning anything worth learning—do it yourself, dive in. This is the essential ethic of Slash Pine. When reading, I felt a connection to the audience, learned about my own work, my conventions. I felt the audience draw closer when something worked, felt them lose interest when something didn’t. This was a workshop experience, but more useful, because the audience could not hide behind quaint phrases and evasions. There was a fundamental energy in the crowd, a non-verbal communication between reader and listener that was brutally honest and (at times) stunningly rewarding. People who attended the reading brought lawn chairs or spread out on the grass. As the reading was happening, they thoughtfully pinched blades of grass out of the earth in tiny clumps.
The next day, we kicked off with a reading at 10:00 A.M at Gorgas Library (I have to specify the time because it seems awfully early in poet time, to those of us who usually go to raucous readings at bars that last late into the night) which included a fantastic reading by Bruce Covey. He electrified all in attendance with his poetry, which was both insightful and (at times) hilarious. This reading also included Alabama’s J.M. Gamble, whose work is stunningly beautiful and mature. I was reminded again why I am so lucky to go to this school and to run in the circles with such incredibly talented people.
Next reading was in the afternoon at Green Bar. A University of Alabama professor, Ashley McWaters, read her work, which was astounding. Since her reading, I have reread the poem she included in the Slash Pine Writer’s Festival Anthology over and over, rolling each line around in my head until I begin to understand why her poetry is so effective. It meant a great deal to just let words topple on me for a couple of hours (well, for the entire weekend).
Finally, we had a night reading at Mellow Mushroom. In this reading was the incomparable Carolyn Hembree. She was the most engaging reader I’ve ever seen. Her work is astounding, and being able to hear it read aloud was a fantastic experience. It was truly a gift. The festival closed out with Slash Pine’s own Will Gillette, who is a similarly engaging reader. His was a standout performance. He is a poet who seems to have an endless supply of perfect words strung together and tucked away somewhere, and his work was impressive enough to be included with the work of the various professional poets who were invited to the festival. Overall, this was my favorite reading. The readers delivered a stunning performance, and I went home exhausted and dreamed lyrical dreams.