When I was a high school freshman, I came to the Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival with pens packed in my pockets. With each step I took, the paper from my empty notebook clashed against my fingers. I remember rubbing my eyes because the night before I stayed up and re-read each author's bio over and over, re-read pieces I already analyzed because how could one choose a workshop to attend with such an abundance of good writers? I remember being beyond eager to take a “real” workshop from published writers and college professors.
Schedule in hand, I had messed up the times and ended up in a poetry workshop. I thought to myself, “Poetry. Yeah, right. The only thing I can do is write nonfiction.” My palms sweat, my stomach clenching, I sat down. This wasn’t any poetry workshop; this was the workshop of Patricia Smith, the woman who could make Hurricane Katrina beautiful, all through fresh lines packed with imagery and diction. Ms. Smith stood at the podium moving the hair out of her face. What I didn’t know at the time was that she was going to ask me to write the most difficult exercise I had ever done. To write a poem where the person you have had a difficult relationship with is dead in an empty room, laying on a marble slab, and you had to dress them.
For starters, at this point in my life I had never written a poem I was proud of, or even considered writing something this complex. Ms. Smith just kept telling us, all we had to do was try. By the end, I had dressed my father in an Armani suit and leather loafers. Towards the end of the workshop, a couple of people shared what they had written, a couple of people cried. I didn’t write a great poem, or something that would make anyone cry, but I did write something real, something packed with emotion, and thoughtful decisions on why I chose the words I did.
After the workshop I bought Patricia Smith’s book Blood Dazzler, and fell in love with the way her poems made me feel. She signed my book and, as I write this now, I look at it and am still as inspired as I was that day to become a poet. It reads: “Mary, I hope you find light here.” I realized that it wasn’t poetry I was afraid of; I was afraid of the journey poetry would take me on. Two years later, with several portfolios of poetry I am proud to say I have written, I look back on that day and am thankful for the exposure it gave me, as well as the inspiration.
With the 2016 Douglas Anderson Writers’ Festival line up full of amazing writers, I anyone who attends can have the same experience I did, if they just try. You too can find light here.
- Mary Feimi, Junior Editor-in-Chief