Thursday, July 23, 2009

Morning Workshop

The next morning, I woke at the impossibly early hour of 7:30 a.m.—my roommate Wendy did everything short of drag me out of bed in her efforts to rouse me from my sleep-coma. I’d only been in Europe for five days and already my alarm clock was useless. The soft beeping was no match for my heavy sleep. Also, I’d figured out how to turn it off without opening my eyes.

Wendy’s footsteps in the hall did the trick, along with her calls from the staircase. “I’m leaving…I’m going outside.”

“I’m up, I’m up,” I insisted and slipped back into a dreamworld for ten more minutes. But somehow I managed to land in Skocjan for an early morning writing workshop with Mark Cox. The workshop was held under a little awning in a rustic bed and breakfast at the center of Skocjan. The shelter protected us from sporadic rain showers and the rising sun.

As a workshop leader, Mark was our quiet tour guide through the world of writing. He taught in a way that resembled his poems: down-to-earth, honest, and full of moments of transformation.

In “The Tunnel at the End of the Light,” Mark writes,

“The summer my body began to fit,
living seemed fluid
as putting my arm through a sleeve—
when I threw crusts of bread in the air,
they became birds….”

One of my all-time favorite desert-island Mark Cox poems is “The Word.” Here is one little piece:

“Sleep is also the only place I can type with more than three
fingers, I said. But I thought, it’s true, all this,
I speak best and most fully in my sleep. When my heart
is not wrapped in layer after layer of daylight, not prepared
like some fighter’s taped fist.”

The poem is one teacher and the person is another. Which is better—to sit in a room with a poet or to read his/her poems? A teacher of mine studied with Elizabeth Hardwick at Columbia years ago. In class, Elizabeth would talk about mundane things like cleaning house. Sometimes talk like that is more important than analysis of sentence structure and scene design.

In one of Wendy’s poems, she had a quote from Yves Klein: “In art, foolishness is essential.” Here is a picture of Mark Cox having a cigar and talking about something probably unrelated to writing. Behind him, there’s a house with a collapsed roof. Somehow that seems just right.

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