Wednesday, March 26, 2008

From New Hampshire to Bread Loaf to Denver

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while might recall that one of my very favorite authors is a New Hampshire native, named Ernest Hebert. He’s the author of The Dogs of March and eight more novels, all set in New Hampshire and about working class New Englanders. I love his work.

He teaches at Dartmouth and he’s got a web site that hasn’t been updated in a long time, but he's got a number of essays on it that bring me to tears. One of my favorites is a piece called, “How John Gardner Kicked My Ass and Saved My Soul”. I’d always remembered Mr. Hebert’s description of the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference he attended over thirty years ago:

“The conference was held in a compound in the woods up slope from Middlebury College in Vermont. Medora and I didn't have much money, so to save on coin we didn't lodge at the conference center but in a tent in a nearby campground, primitive living for three weeks. I was in an agitated state of mind. I imagined myself a prisoner going up before a one-man parole board -- John Gardner.

I didn't like the scene at the conference center. It was too much like a summer camp for adults with tennis courts and cocktail hours and schedules and a hierarchy that consisted of published writers, darned-near published writers, wait persons; at the bottom were myself and the other wanna-be's who had paid money to get in. The weather was sunny, the people civil, the talk gossipy, full of good humor, subtle irony, even joy. I would have preferred dark skies, austere surroundings, and serious conversation.

I particularly hated seeing other conferees enjoying themselves. In particular, I hated Poet Mark Strand. He was six feet six, handsome, kind, warm; he played tennis in white shorts and beautiful women fawned over him. I would have hated him less if he'd been a mediocre writer, but his poems were beautiful and insightful.

The daily workshops, nightly readings and lectures put me on edge. I went out of my way not to listen. I was hanging around for one reason -- my impending conference with Gardner.

He was clearly the number one pooh-bah here, even bigger than Mark Strand.”

The name, Mark Strand stayed with me, but since I didn’t read or write poetry, I never bothered to find out who he was.

A couple of weeks ago I got my monthly newsletter from Lighthouse Writers Workshop and in May, there will be a Writer's Studio event with former US Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Mark Strand. Aha. This was a message meant just for me. I did a search on Mark Strand to learn more about him and found this essay he wrote on the Poetry in the World. If anything appeals to me, it’s the idea of a “serious” poet with a sense of humor. In the essay, Strand recounts the difficulty of coming up with talk for a speaking engagement he’s been invited to.

“Days went by. I wrote nothing. I began to think that I should come up with yet another title, but I knew that I'd be giving in to a weakness I had for reduction, that were I to let myself go, I might end up with a title like "A Couple of Words in Space" or "A Syllable in the Woods." In other words, the less inclusive the title, the less I would feel obligated to say anything. But I also knew that without the obligation to speak, I might remain silent. A silent lecture! The ultimate reduction! But, alas, beyond my ability to perform. I decided to stick with ‘Poetry in the World’.”

The rest is here and is excellent.

From Hebert in New Hampshire to Bread Loaf with Gardner in Vermont to Strand in Denver – all things seem somehow connected.


Charles Gramlich said...

These are some links I'll follow later today, once the work day has quietened down.

Yes, sometimes the feeling of connectedness is intense.

Melissa Marsh said...

I've heard good things about the Bread Loaf conference. I'd like to check it out sometime.

Larramie said...

Lisa, did you know that April is National Poetry Month?!

Shauna Roberts said...

Another great abstract by Scott!

Fun post. Gave me a smile.

Lana Gramlich said...

Don't you love when that happens? When things are just too coincidental to be coincidence?

Lisa said...


I think you'll enjoy both of the essays. I love the Hebert essay and his reflections on his insecurities and the devastation at Gardner's critique, but also his ability to buckle down and get to work doing what he needed to do to become a better writer.


If you check Wiki, you'll see it's the oldest and most prestigious writer's conference in the country.


One more message from the universe! No, I did not know that -- or maybe, on some level I did :)


He'll be happy to hear that. He's got two new ones that are gorgeous, but they are 24X48 so the photos don't size right in blogger :( but you can see them on his website.

Yes, both the Hebert and Strand essays really humanize them. Those are my favorite author pieces.


I do -- and it seems that the more I look for serendipity and connection, the more it finds me.

I had a dream the other night that Scott and I were in New Orleans for some reason and met up with you and Charles for dinner. In the dream, Charles and Scott insisted there be no talk of painting or writing. What do you make of that?

Billy said...

Fascinating account. I've always heard that these conferences were bed-hopping affairs, with published writers loving the attention from their fawning female admirers. Love this man's take on Mark Strand and Gardener. Thanks for sharing, Lisa!

Bernita said...

I enjoy Mark Strand.

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Literary Quote

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything.

Virginia Woolf