Are You Going This Year?

Call them festivals, retreats, or extended workshops. They all have many  things in common: the well known faces, the intensive sessions, the performances, the camaraderie. As Chaucer noted so long ago, folk like to go on pilrimage and we don’t seem to have discarded the idea. All this comes to mind for me right now because it’s time to sign up the Palm Beach Poetry Festival, the one actual writing workshop I’ve ever been to. I won’t be going this year, but I wish I could. Sigh.

The Delray Beach Center for the Arts, where the Palm Beach Poetry Festival is held
The Delray Beach Center for the Arts, where the Palm Beach Poetry Festival is held

The Palm Beach Poetry Festival, besides being representative of its genre, has plenty to recommend it. In the first place, Florida in January,: what’s not to like? But there’s more. Celebrating – and they certainly are – the tenth annivesary of the festival, the folk at Palm Beach (though the festival actually happens at Delray Beach, a little bit up the coast) are bringing former poet laureate, Natasha Treathaway, as well as a roster of of luminaries who will be offering workshops throughout a week which will also include public performances, craft lectures, and lots of opportunity for the participants to get to know each other. Well, here’s a quote from the website itself: “As a participant you will experience some of the most celebrated American poets writing in America today up-close.”

Downtown Delray Beach, Florida
Downtown Delray Beach, Florida

They’re not kidding. I went to the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in 2011, when Charlottesville’s own Greg Orr was on the faculty and Charles Wright was the featured poet. I’d never been to one of these things before, but knew many people who had. I expected much and was not disappointed. Well, it did rain a couple of days. Other than that, it was a week of one delight after another. Worth it? You bet.

Just another sight in Florida
Just another sight in Florida

The question that gets asked – it got asked at a writer’s forum held at WriterHouse in Charlottesville not long afterward – is: did this really help your writing? I think it did, in some ways, and I also got exposed to some writing I might not have found on my own, but probably that’s not the real issue. Festivals, retreats, workshops, whatever they get called, and however famous the teachers they offer, these occasions, our writerly pilgrimages, offer concentrated experience of one’s craft as something to treasure and celebrate. They offer a kind of contact with the arts that is unique. So, if you can go, I recommend it. Have a great time. I did. And if you can’t go either this year, maybe next?

 

Susan Shafarzek

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