Monday, July 09, 2007

poetry in the mountains

Each year for five years now I and a group of 20 or so Penn alumni have spent three days and two nights at the Straus estate at Frost Valley in the Catskills, studying and discussing modern and contemporary American poetry. And each year a poet--whose work we read--joins us. This web page describes the project and is an archive of previous workshops.

“The few days at Frost Valley were wonderful for me. I had been feeling overburdened and distracted in general. Those three days were like a different world. I think people become better somehow in that environment. And the opportunity to be there and to concentrate on poetry did create magical moments. On a more practical level, it’s hard to believe that there is so much clean air so close to New York. Anyway, even I wrote a poem when I got back, before reverting to my more prosaic self… That you have to read poetry to write it, is true. I immediately understood, on a deeper level, what poets are trying to, and in the case of what we read, did, accomplish.”--Liz Seeley

"For me Some Trees is a true retreat. I do not retreat to vegetate in the sun – I don’t like the feeling of emptiness when I return to the details of my daily life. I prefer to stretch myself, to test my limits. Sometimes it is to challenge myself physically. Sometimes it is to dig deep into my spirituality. Sometimes it is academic and cerebral. And then there is Some Trees, three days and nights that encompass all of these possibilities in the most enjoyable way. I will not wax poetic about our marvelous leader. Suffice it to say that he has brought us the best poets from whom to learn, given us the loveliest environment for discourse and contemplation, enthusiastically led us outdoors to remind us what a wonderful world this is, and most of all, gathered us together to be enriched by each other. I took some heat for being out of the office for half the week, and it was worth every raised eyebrow."--Carol Clapp

Here is a video about the 2006 retreat (the format is RealVideo). The project has become known among the participants as "Some Trees", after the early poem by John Ashbery that has become the one poem discussed every year, a kind of keynote.

These are amazing: each
Joining a neighbor, as though speech
Were a still performance.
Arranging by chance

To meet as far this morning
From the world as agreeing
With it, you and I
Are suddenly what the trees try

To tell us we are:
That their merely being there
Means something....