Poets in the Park 2004: Opening Remarks

The following is my welcome speech given at the 2004 Poets in the Park conference, for which I was the founder and director. The conference took place at Clise Mansion in Marymoor Park in Redmond, Washington, 3–4 April 2004. A second conference took place 19–20 March 2005 (see its opening remarks). You can see a photo of me giving the following speech on my Appearances page.

 

“The Reading”

 

In crumpled, bardic corduroy,

The poet took the stage

And read aloud his deathless verse,

Page by deathless page.

 

I gazed at him as though intent

On every word he said.

From time to time I’d close my eyes

And smile and nod my head.

 

He may have thought his every phrase

Sent shivers down my spine.

Perhaps I helped encourage him

To read till half past nine.

 

Don’t ask what it was all about—

I haven’t got a clue.

I spent a blissful evening, lost

In carnal thoughts of you.

 

Laughter is one response to poetry, and this poet, Wendy Cope, gets us to laugh by working the poem through a specific process, knowing her audience, and having confidence in her language and the human frailties it pokes at. All good poetry tends to produce specific responses, whether sadness, happiness, anger, or compassion, tapping into the full range of human emotions. The best poems are not only reliable in producing those responses, but elicit them in sometimes subtle, disarming, startling, challenging, or profound ways. With our poems, we typically seek to connect with someone, to make him or her nod in recognition, swell with empathy, tense up with indignation, or have any of a number of other feelings or ideas. Many poets want a response, and a good poem generates specific responses, even if they don’t have a mythical “ideal reader.” Our weekend here at Poets in the Park is designed to focus on getting to this point—to explore both process and product to see how we can improve our poetry, get the responses we might seek, and make ourselves more aware of how to accomplish this. My aim today and tomorrow is that we can do this as a community, in mutual support, and I look forward to doing this together.

        So, welcome to Poets in the Park! I’m Michael Dylan Welch, director of this event, which is sponsored by the Redmond Association of Spokenword, or RASP, with financial and in-kind assistance from Friends of Marymoor Park and Residence Inn Redmond, Parkplace Books, and Kinko’s. If there’s anything I can do to help you at any time, please don’t hesitate to ask. My assistant directors are Cora Goss-Grubbs and Rebecca Meredith. You’ve already met Faith Allington, who has been in charge of registration, and she has also given you lots of information through the website, which she also managed—and done a superb job of. If you need help with anything, let any of us know (you can recognize us by our coloured name badges). I’d also like to acknowledge Laura Lee Bennett, RASP president, who does a tremendous amount of volunteer work for RASP and for poetry and other writing events on the eastside.

        Above all, thank you for coming, for bringing your enthusiasm and passion for poetry, and for your eagerness to help make this event the most that it can be. I recognize that many of you who signed up to attend this event could very easily be panelists or workshop leaders yourself. We have an exciting mix of workshops, panel discussions, and readings lined up, and I’m looking forward to hearing lots of poetry and discussion and to enjoying each other’s company.

        I have some general announcements to go over:

 

1.       Don’t forget to pay $1.00 for parking (today and tomorrow).

2.       I’d like to remind you to turn off your cell phone ringers, please.

3.       Time change on Sunday morning (the clocks “spring forward,” so we’ll all lose an hour of sleep tonight).

4.       Bathrooms are out in the hall, and there’s another one upstairs.

5.       Please wear your badges at all times to help facilitate conversation. If you want, take a moment to write something interesting, informative, or quirky about yourself under your name.

6.       Check out your the registration packet. Among other things, you’ll find the following:

a.       Your registration information.

b.      The schedule (green).

c.       A list of attendees.

d.      A sheet of biographical information about each presenter.

e.      Local restaurant information and a Redmond map.

f.        Information about upcoming RASP events.

g.       An event evaluation form (please fill out today if you won’t be attending tomorrow, and place in the white box marked to receive evaluation forms).

7.       A note about the bios. We have a tight and full schedule this weekend, and we trust that most of you have looked at the bios on our website and have learned about our presenters. If not, the bio sheet gives you full information. As a result, throughout this weekend we’ll be keeping introductions fairly brief.

8.       The book fair is being held in the Bookfair Room, and I’m very grateful to Rebecca Willow of Parkplace Books for staffing this event, providing sales assistance for everyone with books to sell, yet without charging you a percentage. Please do buy some of the books she’s brought from Parkplace Books—you’ll find some great titles, including books by a number of our presenters this weekend.

9.       I’d also like to explain where our meeting rooms are. This room is the Great Room, and most events will be here, unless indicated otherwise on the green schedule. The Reception Room is where you came in. The Willowmoor Room is down the hall to the east. The Poets Lounge is upstairs, which has easy chairs, and that will remain open for anyone who wants to relax and chat, except when it will be used for one of the workshops this afternoon. Please do not take any food or drinks upstairs.

10.   If you’ve preordered a box lunch, it will be available at noon in the hallway.

11.   If you did not preorder a box lunch, please note that all other food must be eaten outside the building, because of facility agreements. Feel free to enjoy the “Poets Off-Leash” area out on the lawn, enjoy the porch or the courtyard, or go look for the windmill nearby.

12.   Before we continue, are there any other announcements or questions?

 

I hope this weekend will be educational, enjoyable, sociable, and occasionally challenging. Before we start our morning workshops, I have a few more remarks, first about the community I hope we can build this weekend, the second about our weekend’s theme. At events like this, there’s sometimes a feeling of “us” and “them.” If you’re new to poetry conferences, you can sometimes feel a bit apart or separate. I hope that doesn’t happen here, because I’d like us all to feel part of “us.” So how do we make this happen?

        Some of us don’t know anyone else in this room—yet. A few of us know one or two people, or may recognize faces from poetry readings or other events. And some of us know a lot of people in this room. I’d like us all to feel welcome and engaged, for all of us to feel part of this event. Don’t worry, I’m not about to ask you to hug the stranger next you. But sometime today, do try to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know. Introduce yourself. Take names. Write things down. Don’t be shy—ask questions, be unafraid. If you’re more experienced at poetry and at attending poetry events, take the initiative. We are all poets, writing poetry because we feel compelled to, doing the best we can, seeking to communicate ideas, impressions, and emotions with other people. Some of us have more experience than others in the process of publishing our poetry, and some of us are more experienced with the craft of writing simply because we’ve been at it for longer, or have more time to devote to it. Some of us are new and intoxicated, and bring a valuable enthusiasm and curiosity. Whatever our situation, we can learn from each other. Remember that the empty cup needs a tea strainer, and that the full cup can’t receive fresh tea.

        Again, our theme this weekend is “process and product.” The poetry community has some measure of dispute about these topics, and I hope we’ll have some lively debate and discussion this weekend. But I don’t see the dichotomy as process versus product. Rather, one can lead to the other. I see process and product as a continuum. You can’t have the finished poem (the so-called product) without inspiration, writing, and revision (the process). Sometimes, as with poetry therapy, process may be all that’s needed. In such a case, the product, the goal, is to sort things out for yourself, to exorcise a demon. Some people are not concerned about publication, thus reaching the goal of finishing a poem may be unimportant. Others write poetry because they are drawn by a desire to change the world, or by a desire for accomplishment, recognition, money (ha!), enjoyment, sharing, self-expression, story-telling, or any of numerous other motives—or even drawn to write by unexplained forces. For them, it can be important to get to a finished product—something that is worthy of publication or sharing. Again, wherever we find ourselves on this continuum, that’s okay. It’s up to each of us to decide what’s important for ourselves. I hope this weekend we will enjoy lots of poetry, write some new poems, be open to all the discussion and feedback that will make us think, and take away many fresh ideas and a renewed enthusiasm for our writing.

        In a moment we will separate for the morning’s two workshops, by Sheila Bender and Peter Levitt. Check your personalized registration information to see which workshop you’re headed to. To keep workshop sizes balanced, we ask you to honour the assignments even if you didn’t get your first choice—though most of you did. Also note that, immediately after the workshops end, you can pick up your lunch, starting at noon, down the hall, eat outside, or go somewhere for lunch. During the lunch hour, our first featured reading will be here in this room, starting at 12:30 pm, so please do keep that in mind.

        Before we separate, though, let’s have our first “Instant Featured Reader.” If your name is drawn from the hat, please be prepared to instantly come to the front to read a poem of yours, limited to one page or two minutes. Let’s see who’s first!