Monday, December 29, 2014

A Weekend Workshop in Delaware and a Book Contest Reading


Several months ago I was invited to be one of three final judges for the 2014 annual Dogfish Head Poetry Prize, a full-length book contest open to poets living in the Mid-Atlantic states. The other two judges were Gerry LaFemina of Maryland and Larry Woiwode, Poet Laureate of North Dakota. The contest was overseen by poet Linda Blaskey of Delaware. Linda and her team of readers culled the entries down to six manuscripts, then sent those to each of the judges who made the final selection.

Linda also invited me to spend a weekend in Delaware, the weekend of December 13-14, leading a group of poets in a workshop. I happily agreed. I drove to Delaware on Friday, was kindly put up in a hotel by the group of poets, and then spent three hours each on Saturday and Sunday with the best group of poets I’ve ever worked with, sixteen of them. We met in a spacious room in one of the Rehoboth Art League buildings.
Building where we met for our workshops
Linda told me ahead of time that the group wanted some craft talk and prompts that focused on craft. So that’s what I went armed with. I did not use any material from The Crafty Poet as I’d been given to understand that most of the group already had the book. In fact, three of the poets are in the book! Many of the group members also knew me as they are subscribers to my Poetry Newsletter. We spent our time together reading some sample poems I’d brought and discussing the craft in them and then writing to prompts that zeroed in on a particular element of craft. We did some reading of the drafts with minimal critique, mostly appreciative noises.

I alternated the craft prompts with ones that work well on those days when you have nothing to write about—and who doesn’t have some of those? The writing was wonderful and the group was incredibly supportive of each other’s work. I gathered that they have been working together and cheering each other on for years.

Saturday night was the announcement of the contest winner and presentation of his book. This event was held at the Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware. It’s a real brewery, with all kinds of craft beers, a bar, tours, and a food truck. Since it’s located about 30 minutes away, one of the group members picked me up and another one drove me back to my hotel. Apparently, the owners are big poetry fans and have supported this contest for years. They gave a nice bag of goodies to me and to Gerry who also attended. We both joined the winner in a reading. Gerry read first and then me. Then Linda announced the winner: Lucian Mattison of Norfolk, Virginia. The evening ended with a reading by Lucian, the presentation of his prize which included a check and two cases of beer, and a signing of Lucian’s book, Peregrine Nation, published by Broadkill River Press.

Part of the audience. That's the DE Poet Laureate JoAnn Balingit, with the scarf
Gerry LaFemina
Linda Blaskey introduces the winner, Lucian Mattison
Winner Lucian Mattison reads from Peregrine Nation and pauses for a sip of beer
Presentation of the Award
I returned home after our Sunday session, feeling invigorated by the weekend. It was a true pleasure and privilege to have worked with such a terrific group. I am very grateful to them for having invited me. I felt honored by the invitation. I salute this group for the support they give each other and for giving themselves the gift of a weekend of total immersion in poetry. I’m looking forward to seeing the poems that eventually emerge from the weekend. I'm sure that many of them will land in some very fine journals.

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