The one thing you get at a writing residency that you don’t get back home is the opportunity to define yourself as a writer and nothing else. Not a teacher, not a coach, not a skier, not a planner, not any other role that you play. Here, the past doesn’t define you. You are not who you’ve been. Here, you are who you are being right now.
Matt Hart was our visiting writer for the last week of the residency. Wow – you should see him read a poem from his book Debacle Debacle, rocking back and forth, incantatory, rhythmic, powerfully engaged in each word. At his craft talk he discussed the essence of noise as an effect in poetry, connecting its effects to the noises in punk rock music. He toured for almost 2 decades as a punk musician.
At one point in his talk he mentioned that in a collected book of poetry by Dean Young, the poems are ordered alphabetically rather than by a context of theme as the poems had previously been published. The effect, Matt said, was that he didn’t recognize poems he knew, and other new poems seemed familiar to him.
I think that this effect happens to artists at residencies – they live out of their usual context in this new place within this new juxtaposition of associations, artists, new friends. What used to come before and after them has been taken away, and the result is that they can become closer to a creative self of theirs that may have been covered up by habits, by distractions, by other noises of how that life is being lived. And the opportunity to create noises never heard before in your work is the freedom to grab hold of here.
I asked some poet friends who had attended VSC for advice for making the most of my stay here. They said make a plan of action, then make a plan b, and then prepare to take a third unknown path. Once here, I opened myself to these new and unexpected influences to try to write in a way I had never written before. I wanted to let myself be surprised by bold moves that my singular identity here gave me a new confidence to take.
Listening to Matt read his poems and talk about writing, I was inspired by how loudly he expressed a gratitude for life. He said in his talk that noise is the predominant state of our lives, and what saves a poem is the announcement of noise against a backdrop of expectations. At a residency, you have the freedom to drop those expectations of your life, and to play with what happens next.