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Sunday, August 27, 2017

Working with Marilyn Nelson

      This week, as the grand finale of my much too brief summer vacation, I took a little road trip up to Wolfeboro, New Hampshire to attend a couple of workshops taught by Marilyn Nelson. She is one of my favorite author / poets and I had never met her so was really looking forward to the day.

       She first read to us, poems by four poets and had us attend to particular words that stuck with us while she did. I especially enjoyed learning about YA artist Curtis Crisler's Tough Boy Sonatas.
        During our writing time she asked us to "think about the US at this moment" and then challenged us to write golden shovels using some of the words we'd attended to during the readings. I had tried writing golden shovels before with little success, and I'm not sure I did any better this time but I include my attempts below.

     If you are not familiar with the golden shovel form, a type of found poetry created by Terrance Hayes, here is a link to a full introduction:

       I took this photo in the church, of the altar behind Marilyn, which I found so well suited to the mood of the poems we were working. (Created by a VT fiber artist, name unknown to me.)

Golden Shovels for Our America

    We survive so many yesterdays
gleeful or garbage
addiction ripening
holy blood in
your syringe, my syringe, pass the
spoon down the shit-hole hall.

I smile though grayed
dazzle in
flying and
wonder white bread gray
my dream
survives, makes
me pause just for a
minute, I become giddy
my poem the sound
I am not
supposed to make, turns strong.

                                I wonder will I?
                        I wonder if we shall?
                            Can we just create
                              a better ending if
                        we try harder, try not
                                          to make a
      joke of our freedom, a foot note
in a democracy that devolved into a
                                         shit - hole.

With this last one I excused myself from using words from the prompt poems to see what would result.

So many yesterdays
      accumulate like garbage;
            old apples ripening,
                    having fallen in
                          the shade, decomposing in the
dirt, uncherished, while a wooden bowl sits empty in the hall.

             Thanks to Marilyn, Arts on the Edge
and  Rev. Gina at The First Congregational Church for a wonderful experience. The following photos are from other stops made that day; a quick swim and feeding dinner to a duck out of my hand at the lake, a pullover at the Governor Wentworth summer house site (he's featured in my book ).

 I saw poetry prompts all over town!


  1. Sounds like an amazing day. I like that you excused yourself from some golden shovel requests to let the poem be what it wanted to be.

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