Sunday, March 25, 2012
Though this may come as a shock to some purebred Mennonites, I just took my 1st trip to Kansas. Why? I accompanied my 82+-year-old grandma to visit relatives, an adventure that let me see her feistier side (and that indeed, one can fit several wheels of baby swiss cheese and rings of Trail bologna into a carry-on).
Sometimes, things just align in life. When they do, the best reaction is to enjoy the bridges built, not to fight or ignore them (though we sometimes do, yes?) For me, what I will eternally call "The Kansas Weekend" was proof of such Greater-Than-Me alignments. Not only did I have the chance to take a trip with the family matriarch and to see distant cousins, I also reconnected with literary friends who now make their home in Lawrence.
What do writers and lit folks do when they haven't seen each another for years? We have a writers' salon! We add a voice to our Voice! We eat good food and words! We say, "Wow. That was great. I want seconds." We remind each other that writing, in the end, is not a solitary act if we want to live out a rich life of letters. Now mind that word "rich" --please think of the best dessert you've ever eaten instead of dollar bills or tenure contracts. Let's be real here--I'm a poet and songwriter. The work I love most is not done for the sake of a steady paycheck. And yet, when you find yourself in community with artists & writers, your life doesn't walk away empty-handed.
The Lawrence Writers' Salon (filled with some wonderful people I met for the first time and also some dear friends) was my first stop on a book-and-arts tour for my first poetry collection and in celebration of the role of the artist within community, a tour that's been generously (generously!) funded by over 40 folks--friends, family, even strangers--who care about the role of story and mentorship and who want to see contemporary poetry thrive. (MORE ON THESE TOUR BACKERS LATER!) Funds raised will help me travel to different Mennonite-affiliated communities to teach free storytelling and poetry writing workshops for intergenerational women. Many, many other folks are contributing to the tour through buying the book, "holding it in the Light" as the Quakers say, and spreading the word.
Feeling already uber supported among the KU writers' community, I had one more stop to make. The cherry on top of "The Kansas Weekend" came in the form of a special collections library. KU has a pretty great sampling of William Stafford material (Stafford is a poet and human being I greatly admire, and he earned his masters at KU.) I got to hold letters he wrote on his typewriter in Oregon, with his tilting cursive signature in blue pen at the bottom. I got to meet poems of his I'd never known before.
And isn't that what life is all about? Piece-by-piece and person-to-person, we fill in the blanks we never knew were missing. Sometimes, even, we begin to see a bigger picture, start walking in a different direction, simply because suddenly we can. "Step-by-step," the old social justice tune sings, we march the march of the day. And word-by-word, we make a poem out of something that wells up in our living. "To live poetry is better than to write it," Basho said.
I copied and brought back with me several new bits of Stafford wisdom from the KU research library. In "Notes for the Refrigerator Door," he muses, "In any house there should be much reading that has never been published, that is in all states--notes, a start, a stop, the pieces that got said without presuming to be more than they are. Most things aren't finished, and most things haven't yet found their right beginning. Beyond poetry, there is a prose of the way things happen."
I have no idea what to expect from the book-and-arts tour that's only in the brainstorming stages. But I have faith in the gravity of unfinished work--and in bridges of all shapes and sizes.
Special thanks to Jana Tigchelaar for the KS photos