I attended the first ever Crazyhorse Writing Conference at College of Charleston, a campus with a long history that pulses with the poetic rhythms of life. Charleston wore her Spanish moss hair down and flowing over the paths of blooming azaleas and dogwoods. Sip the city or drink her in gulps, either way you’ll find yourself intoxicated by the exquisite beauty and southern charm of Lady Charleston.
My husband, who realized as we checked into our hotel room, that he had let his driver’s license expire, had to rely on me for rides, meaning I missed a few events so he could visit nurseries. I didn’t miss many sessions though. It made me nervous to think I might not hear what speakers such as Sherod Santos, poet and playwright, and Robin Hemley, author of both fiction and nonfiction, had to say.
If you're not familiar with the works of Sherod Santos you'll need to google his name. Most of my followers know his works well and will understand when I say his credits are too many for me to list on this blog. But I will tell you that after hearing about Santos' Michael, a boy who delivered five tomatoes, the last tomatoes of the season, to the neighbors who were in the middle of an emotional storm, I found myself trying to hold something as liquid as tears in my scarred, wrinkled hands as I contemplated the alignment of five tomatoes on house steps: tomatoes left in silence; tomatoes left to be found; tomatoes lined up from the largest to the smallest. I’m still struggling with it, a meaning slipping through my hands, as though I might find another tomato between the lines. I know one thing: we cannot give what is not already inside us, and with that thought, I dwell not only of the alignment of the tomatoes, but of the giving.
After hearing Doug Dorst, author of two books, read about reptiles, I dreamed of an alligator-like creature with half a face reading to me poetry written on the bellies of frogs. He’d hold the little amphibian in his hand, read from the soft underside, then pop the poem into his mouth. Instead of turning away from the primitive actions in my dream, I stayed and listened to the reptilian creature, wanting to hear more, even if it meant sacrificing the lives of frogs. I woke up with an odd feeling as though I’d sinned and needed to ask forgiveness, knowing I wouldn't.
|Author Doug Dorst and Tony Varallo, author and fiction editor of Crazyhorse|
Anthony Varallo, reading My Enemy, made me laugh out loud. He's the kind of person you want with you when the plane goes down. Even as the plane crashes, I suspect he’ll lean into the pilot’s microphone and whisper, “I agree with the pilot. You need to prepare to crash—you and all your enemies.”
I read Jewel several years ago and loved it. I have it stashed among bookshelves; yet while emailing Bret Lott about the conference it never occurred to me that Bret Lott was THE Bret Lott of Ancient Highway, former editor of The Southern Review, author of A Song I Knew By Heart. It is no secret that he's an excellent writer, but I discovered for myself that he's a nice man who is thrilled to share his knowledge of writing with others, who longs to see others succeed. I bought Dead Low Tide from a Barnes & Noble during the trip home. Of course, I don’t have a signed copy. Next time I'm in Charleston, I'm going to hunt Bret down and get a signature from him.
Today, during my online ordering frenzy, I will order a book by Robin Hemley, one of the guest speakers at Crazyhorse. His own history is so rich I imagine I could sit and listen to him tell one story after another about his family. He’s written eight books. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship and two Pushcart Prizes among a slew of others. By the end of the month I will own and will have read, Nola: A Memoir of Faith, Art, and Madness, a book about his sister.
Emily Rosko, author of two poetry collections, seemed to keep everything moving and on time during the conference. And between work, she managed to read a few poems. She reads poetry with a soft melodic voice. And not that it matters, but she does have a contagious smile.
At the Charleston Library Society, Director Anne Cleveland spoke for only a few minutes, but during that time she taught me more about the library society than I’d ever known. She shared the details of a few unique discoveries at the library society. I was captivated by the letters in the collection between George Washington and Charles Pinckney.
At Crazyhorse Writers Conference, I was surrounded by people I admired. I wanted to speak to Carol Ann Davis, poetry editor at Crazyhorse and author of two poetry collections, but my husband needed a ride. As I mentioned earlier, his license expired. In February, he turned 65 and he jokes that his memory shattered when he received the medicare card in the mail. He’d been driving from state to state for a month when he realized he was illegal. Unfortunately, I had to choose between Ms. Davis and my husband. I’ll catch a moment with her next time.
|Author Bret Lott and Marian Young (They Young Agency)|
|Author Robin Hemley, the man wearing the white shirt.|
|Charleston Library Society|
|Books written by the speakers.|
I’m going outside now, to look at my tomato plants, to think about a boy named Michael and what he might have been thinking when he lined tomatoes on a doorstep, to think about gifts, to wonder if I’ve come up short. I'd like to pluck a tomato from the plant in my garden and hold the new life in my hands. I'd squeeze it and let the juices drip between my fingers, examine the seeds left sticking to my hands, but as yet, we are fruitless.
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