Today was the first full day of the Halanei Writer's Retreat, organized by the Pacific Writers Connection. I woke up and drank my morning coffee on the porch, hoping to see sunlight. Instead a dank mist ate the air, which I didn't mind because it (subtly) reminded me of the Pacific Northwest.
Over a dozen of us gathered at the gorgeous Wilikoki house on the beach in Hanalei for a workshop led by Kim Stafford, William Stafford's son. The workshop began with a pule--a prayer where we thanked "the Lord" for blessing us with the present company. I am not religious and felt this to be more spiritual than pious, and joined in on the hand-holding and collective amen.
I expected to be immersed in a hippie-circle-jerk, but was surprised to find all the participants to be female, with varying connections to Kaua'i, gathering together with the commonality of supporting each other and their writing. We did in fact "talk story" as promised by Kim, and some tears were shed during those stories (but my ducts remained dry). I was the only poet among the group. Most people were interested in short stories or their novels in progress. A handful of these women were there just "to be inspired." One woman, from the Himalayas, found herself asking why she was at the retreat among writers, since she didn't consider herself as a writer of anything. Everyone there had stories to be told about motherhood, tradition, responsibility, and 'ohana.
At the beginning of the workshop Kim asked us what we were curious about. I said I was curious about story, and why I might be avoiding it in my writing. I talked about subjectivity and education. I quickly realized that what Kim was calling "curiosity" was what I call "anxiety." From there, we began writing. The prompts were familiar: write abot your first memory, write about things you learned last week, write about the land, write about your childhood bedtime ritual, and write about the first time you realized your "calling" in life. I ended up writing two narrative prose poems, which surprised me, and more Jaimie-esque scribbles. We read some of our work out loud. The first piece I read was in my usual syntax and tone, and the other was a narrative prose poem. But by the end of the day, tired and hungry, I still felt the same way about poetry, and more specifically, about the poetry that I write. A woman came up to me after our group session and told me that she enjoyed my work, that she didn't understand the first piece, but it intrigued her nonetheless. This of course made me smile, not because of what I'd written, but because she confirmed my belief that all poetry is aesthetically subjective, and that perhaps language itself is powerful enough to carry the narrative created by words and the spaces between them.
I left Hanalei, stopped at Foodland for a bottle of water and some pre-prepared salmon, and went back to the condo in Princeville. I didn't want to blog quite yet, because I feel like the day's reflection hasn't quite been set. What I can say is that this has been a great opportunity to take time away--from classes, students, laundry, phone calls, emails, and so on--just to write. I am thankful to have met a strong and powerful community of writers here on Kaua'i--women who have the same "curiosities" that I have. I will do it all over again tomorrow, but instead of going back to my oceanfront condo at the end of the day, I'll be driving the tourist-mobile back to Dollar rental, getting on a plane, and going home to Makiki.