Don Rogers: Poets return to Olympic roots
This year, we’ll have to trek to cooler climes to hear the poets.
They came to Miners Foundry before the pandemic, once during a great heat spell, enthralling listeners even as we roasted and strained to hear over portable fans brought in for relief. Call it sweat equity, a sense of earning what’s now a treasured memory.
The nation’s best of the best poets come for the first of two Community of Writers conferences each summer. I come in support and appreciation for how their words swirl and dance, starlings, though I’m slow to grasp their full fleeting shapes.
That’s my essential problem with poetry. I listen for story and can’t always follow the lines. Of course, that’s because they are meant to be felt while I’m hunting so hard for logic, those short threads.
The poets will perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 23, at Bar One of the Olympic House in the base village at Palisades Tahoe. This is only fitting.
The whole Olympic House went silent these past two years after however many of the 49 years of the conferences had readings and panels and craft talks and consultations enlivening these rooms. Last summer, I wandered there and found only ghosts, memories in empty space, with the chairs tucked away in stacks and the events carried out in an ether only Zoom could touch.
Zoom was fine when that was all we had, surprisingly much better than nothing. But I prefer my spaces like Bar One alive, bartenders busy, audience abuzz in neat rows of those chairs, maybe a beer in hand, anticipating.
No Amanda Gorman this time, alas, but Pulitzer and National Book Award winners, and at least one former national poet laureate among them: Camille Dungy, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Major Jackson, Ada Limón, Sharon Olds and Matthew Zapruder — a fine Murderers’ Row for verse.
Easy for us fans to get spoiled, then, but seeing the big hitters is not expensive. General admission goes for $30, and there are discounts down to free, depending on need.
The event also is a fundraiser for the next Amanda Gormans and poetic versions of Grandma Moses. That kind of talent has come through the Community of Writers conference before and will again. So I’m not exaggerating.
The poets herald the Community of Writers summer conferences. First the poetry conference and then the writers. This will be the 50th of the in-person ones.
COVID stole, as it stole so much, from the fanfare planned for the official 50th in 2020. This year will be more resurrection than triumphant review, I think. My feeling is new beginning.
The true beginning was born of Olympic Valley neighbors, avid tennis players and literary lions Oakley Hall and Blair Fuller over drinks, lots of drinks, if I understand the lore correctly. They started what has become the granddaddy of the West Coast literary conferences.
There is a lot of lore to these conferences with the literary luminaries who have served on the faculty or cut their teeth in the workshops, or both. I think of the novels we know well that perhaps would have gone unpublished, the poems unwritten, along with the memoir and nonfiction overlooked but for the Community of Writers. Sounds a little dramatic put that way, but no less true.
A recent cover story in The Writer’s Chronicle is fairly typical, I think. Kazim Ali, among the lineup in one of the cooler evening readings at the Miners Foundry, gave this shout out: “It was at Community of Writers that I met lots of other poets for the first time who were serious about doing it well.”
The experience led him to further study and deeper work and acclaim. I know poets don’t reach for acclaim any more than starlings swarm like the Aurora Borealis just to show off. At their finest, both can’t help but touch something of the same spirit. Something very true to behold.
For more information: https://communityofwriters.org/events/event/2022-benefit-poetry-reading/ or call 530-470-8440.
Don Rogers is the publisher of The Union and Lake Wildwood Independent. He can be reached at email@example.com or 530-477-4299
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