As the Hunger Mountain Intern, I had the opportunity to attend some excellent lectures and readings during the Vermont College of Fine Arts Residency this past week and a half.
Here are a few highlights:
-Lecture by Matthew Dickman (VCFA Faculty, Poetry) on "...depression and suicide through poems...". Not the best subject at 9am. Suicide in the Morning! Even though they sometimes go hand in hand (suicide and depression), it seemed as if the focus was more on suicide than depression, really. The poems he picked to illustrate his points were amazing though: Jack Spicer (A Poem Without a Single Bird in It), Anne Sexton (Wanting to Die), Joe Bolton (In the House of Death), one of Dickman's own (Trouble). Powerful. Even more powerful, at the very beginning of the lecture, he asked for anybody who had experienced suicide in any way-knew somebody, survivor-to stand up. Nearly half the audience stood up. Very intense. -An artist's (writer's) responsibility is to engage the dark.- Paraphrasing a bit.
-Reading by Robert Vivian (Hunger Mountain CNF Editor & VCFA Faculty) and Claudia Emerson (Visiting Faculty). Good God, this was one of the best readings I have attended in a long time.
Vivian read a chapter from his forthcoming book, Water and Abandon (2012). Mesmerizing. Somehow I imagined his voice to be different than what I heard: shy, slow, a bit quiet. I think I might have to get the book when it comes out.
This was the first time I heard Claudia Emerson read as well. What a presence! It completely filled the room. The way she presented her work-slow, methodical, precise-so you'd understand everything within the poem was excellent. She flowed so easily from one poem to the next, from one intro to the next.
She read from several of her books including, The Late Wife and Figure Studies, as well as a few new ones. From Figure Studies: "Latin Teacher" , "The Girls Dissect Eye of Cow" , "What They Are Missing" and " A History Lesson". This collection seemed to be a little more on the lighter side and at a distance, whereas The Late Wife was completely more personal and written mostly in the 1st person. Titles such as "The Cough" and "The X-Rays" set the mood for The Late Wife: highly emotional and personal. She mentioned after this particular collection, the first person was "not allowed" in her writing because it was so personal, emotionally exhausting. The need to create distance from that voice was necessary to regroup creatively.
I'll have to grab some of her books as well.
-Hunger Mountain's The Writing Life Assistant Editor, Jennifer McGuiggan, gave a lecture on The Secret Life of Language. "We experience language bodily (through the five senses) first, then mentally": the taste, the sound, the feel of words. The "five S's" of how we experience language: substantive, sensuous, spiritual, subversive and sassy. Heavily quoted from Virginia Woolf's essay, "Craftmanship" from the the The Death of the Moth and other Essays. One of my favorite quotes from Woolf's essay is as follows:
"They [words] are the wildest, most freest, most irresponsible, most un-teachable of all things. Of course, you can catch them and sort them and place them in alphabetical order in dictionaries. But words do not live in dictionaries; they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in moments of emotion et there is the dictionary; there at our disposal are some half-million words all in alphabetical order. But can we use them? No, because words do not live in dictionaries, they live in the mind."
A nice surprise: a recording of Virginia Woolf's own voice reading from her essay. Also, an excellent list of Resources and Books to follow up after the lecture. Much more to the lecture-use of language, how we learn it, how we use it, how it uses us. Is language more than just a way to communicate? Overall, a fascinating lecture, particularly for those who love all aspects of language.