What was 5 days celebrating poetry at Omega Institute in Rhinebeck like? First, the thrill of seeing beautiful Marie Howe again, brilliant poetry goddess, balanced in head, heart and wit. It was seeing her daughter, Grace, so perfectly named, as she grows into her lovely, sweet, beautiful and very polite daughter.
What is it about Omega that makes it feel like you've really been on vacation even though you're sitting in folding chairs, working hard on new ideas about writing? It is the staff, mostly volunteer college kids in T-shirts and head wraps, mellow as the summer day is long. It is that there is no TV, or newspaper, or sight or sound of cars. No, it's not that; it's the local, fresh, organic produce, an amazing choice of healthy dishes, three times a day. No, it's not just that they have that, but that we don't have to shop, cook, clean, or think about food, except to enjoy it.
No, it's not that, it's the paradise of tall green trees, bubbling creeks, rolling landscape, lakefront with hammocks, tents, canoes. No, it's the cushioned walks on mulch paths. No, it's the hike up the stone steps to the sanctuary. No, it's meditating in the sanctuary. No, it's the massage therapists--the deep work they do. No, it's the 91 other poets who attended, especially the 81 who didn't talk so much. No, it's the open mic, 4 minutes per poet, Charlie's first reading, maybe someone else's last, the quiet respect and appreciation.
No, it's the exercises, given freely and shared afterwards in small groups. No, it's the opening up intimately with other writers. No, it's the exchange of poems we never knew and now will never forget from our teacher's wealth of knowing.
Was it Patricia Smith's daring us to go down the darkest path to the poem we avoid writing? For someone, yes. But for me, no, it was the three hours of laughing at Billy Collins and then, when I met him on the path, that moment I got to make him laugh.
No, it was being in the same room with Mark Doty, hearing his voice, seeing the light of his eyes, even as he saw us larger than life after 4 eye surgeries.
No, it was having breakfast with Nave, who we met at the Taos Writing Salon, and lunch with Frances, who we met at Omega years ago and Block Island Poetry Project. And the new folks, all so grateful to be just where we were. No, it was being with my husband--the only "couple" in the workshop of 92, and hearing folks say, "It must be nice to share this with each other," and be able to nod, yes, it is.
Is it just that? No, it's learning to look at things from a different point of view. To say yes. To say no. To pack up the car, empty of our books, journals full, hearts bursting and astonished.