When the packed audience in Dempsey Hall rose as one to give Kim Bridgford a standing ovation during her opening remarks on the first night of the conference, I was moved almost to tears. This was the culmination of five and a half (was it really only that?) months of planning, organization, and at times sheer graft from the Executive Board–that would be Kim, Natalie Gerber, Kat Gilbert, Cherise Pollard and myself–and here we all were, finally, surrounded by a grateful community of friends in poetry who genuinely appreciated our efforts.
If you are reading this, you were probably either there in some capacity, or wish you had been, so I don’t want to bore or tantalize you with a blow by blow account of “my conference,” even if it is worth pointing out that with two or even three events often available at any one time, your conference might well have looked very different from mine. There were people there whom I barely saw (and I attended events at most of the scheduled times, other commitments permitting.)
Rather, I want to give you a general flavor of Poetry by the Sea 2015, although it would be remiss of me not to draw specific attention to Marilyn Hacker’s inspiring keynote address followed by her reading of her flawless poems on Wednesday night–truly a landmark event.
The thing that many attendees noted, however, was the general level of excellence of ALL the panels and readings, without exception. For example, I naturally went to the Raintown Review Anthology reading, admirably hosted by Assistant Editor Jeff Holt, and starring Erica Dawson, Jehanne Dubrow, John Foy, and Quincy R. Lehr. The readers and poems chosen were excellent (and I think Jehanne said it must have been the filthiest reading at the conference!) but everyone who attended the Children’s Poetry panel, which occurred simultaneously, was equally blown away. Similarly, Quincy’s After Modernism panel (Nick Friedman, Rowan Ricardo Phillips, and Wendy Sloan) was stunningly well-prepared, with a high level of academic fortitude, but so, by all accounts, was the Edgar Bowers tribute, while the Amira Baraka panel reached new levels of potential scholarly debate. And I could go on.
Likewise all four of the one-day workshops (led by Jehanne Dubrow, Spencer Reece, Rafael Campo, and Patricia Smith) received glowing accolades, as did the regular workshops and seminars. (I loved my Timeline seminar–ladies, you are the absolute best!)
I’m not saying the organization was seamless, but I don’t think the participants noticed the occasional glitches (and trust me, that’s as seamless as it gets!) Plus, everyone was in such good humor and so happy to be there (by the sea, in exceptionally warm May weather for CT) that glitches were laughed off, even by spotlight reader Ken Chen, who ended up walking the best part of the three mile journey from Madison station. He simply switched running order with Afaa Michael Weaver, and the whole reading rocked!
It’s easy to laugh things off when out of almost every pretty, white-framed window of every classroom and social space you can see a beautiful shell-strewn beach and the Long Island Sound. Many participants reported enjoying time to walk on the beach or even swim (Nick Everett, with his North Sea constitution!). I don’t think that was a pleasure afforded many of the Exec. Board on this occasion, but maybe next time…
It’s also easier to laugh when you are being well-fed and watered. At Mercy, the meals are delicious and available in generous portions (they had me at double helpings of bacon for breakfast!) plus you could always grab a cup of free coffee from the dining room (much-needed given the inevitable build up of lack of sleep!) Later, wine flowed in the appropriately named Seaside Lounge during the evening receptions (and, yes, there will be more Pinot Grigio and less Chardonnay next year!) Looking around the room, it was so gratifying to see men and women of many different ethnicities, with faces known and unknown to me, both old and young, each engaged in lively discussion about the poetry that moves us all.
And, of course, it’s easiest to laugh when you are with a community of like-minded souls, many of whom you have known for years, if not decades, and when a gathering that you thought had been ripped away from you is somehow miraculously restored…but not just restored! Regenerated, reinvigorated, reborn.
Rebirth. That’s what it felt like. Okay, maybe on this occasion I (along with my fellow Exec. Board members) did feel a bit like I’d gone through 24 hours of back labor to get there, but the result was as miraculous as a perfect newborn baby’s first cry.
And like having a child, the miracle doesn’t stop there. (My eldest starts college in the fall at Penn State, so I know what I’m talking about!) The child turns one, and two, and three… It all just keeps happening.
With that in mind I would like to invite everyone to join us at Poetry by the Sea next year. The dates are booked: Tuesday May 24th – Saturday May 28th, Mercy Center, Madison. Some of the conference will be the same, and some of it may be different, because this is the kind of conference that grows and evolves to better serve its community.
But it will be amazing and magical again, because it’s Poetry by the Sea, people! And because that’s not what Kim Bridgford does, it’s who she is.