In my last post I wrote about James Hoch. How nice to see that he has been selected as the resident poet at The Frost Place for the summer of 2008. As such he will live for the summer in Frost's house, work on his own poetry, and lend his expertise to the various conferences held over the summer. Funny, I'd been thinking that Jim would be perfect for this spot. Of course, by the time I was thinking that, the decision must already have been made. But I'd like to think I have amazing powers.
Two summers ago I was invited back to The Frost Place, this time as one of the four featured poets at the Conference on Poetry and Teaching. Later I was asked to write about the experience for the newsletter. Here's what I wrote:
The Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching
It was my pleasure and privilege to be one of four guest poets at this summer’s Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching. As a former high school English teacher with 25 years experience, I know firsthand how little attention poetry all too often receives in the classroom. I also know how poetry can energize a classroom and work a kind of magic there. So I believe deeply in the conference’s mission of helping teachers become more effective teachers of poetry and was delighted when Baron Wormser, the conference director, invited me to be part of this year’s program.
My day as poet du jour was Thursday. I arrived on Wednesday evening in time to attend Major Jackson’s excellent reading and to be introduced to the group of teachers who cheered my arrival as if I were a rock star and made me feel immediately welcomed. Although the teachers had been together only three days, it was clear that strong bonds had already formed. Everyone was talking poetry, talking writing, talking teaching.
As a poet-in-the-schools, I often give workshops for teachers, but I’ve never presented to such a responsive and enthusiastic group—perhaps because they were there by election, not by mandate. And perhaps, too, because the program has been so carefully designed by Baron and Don Sheehan. During my morning talk on teaching strategies (“Beginning with Mystery”), everyone joined right in. These teachers were the ideal class! Before I knew it, it was time for lunch on the porch overlooking the gorgeous White Mountains. The afternoon close readings of some of my favorite poems by other poets was also gratifying because I had such an energetic group of participants. Together, we devoured those poems. As Mark Strand might say, There was no happiness like ours.
Thursday turned out to be a lucky day for several reasons. First, the heat and humidity gave us a bit of a break. Then there was an evening cookout and dinner on cloth-covered tables in the barn. I ate my first veggie burger. Then the tables were cleared away and the chairs set up. After Baron’s beautiful introduction, I read my own poems. If there’s a better place to read on this earth, I don’t know where it is. To stand there in Frost’s barn and to feel so surrounded by so much poetic history was just exhilarating. And I’m sure a more supportive, appreciative audience would be hard to find. The reading was additionally exciting for me as many of the poems I read had been written or worked on at The Frost Place.
I’m sure every guest poet feels honored to be invited to The Frost Place, but for me it was extra special because this is the place that truly nurtured me as a poet. This is the place I went to shortly after I started writing poetry. In 1995 I nervously found my way there—and was made by Don and everyone else to feel that I belonged there. I went back again and again, then graduated to Baron’s seminar. So to go back as one of the guest poets felt like the completion of a circle. Then to sit in the audience for the teachers’ open reading, to hear them read their own poems, many of them written during Jim Provencher’s afternoon workshops, to cheer them on—well, it was just lovely.
On my way up to The Frost Place this time, somewhere along US 91, I saw a billboard with a picture of Kermit the Frog. Next to him were the words: “Eats flies. Dates a pig. Hollywood star.” And below Kermit, the words: “Live the dream.” And I thought, “That’s what I’m doing. I’m living the dream.”