Intern’s Report: West Chester University Poetry Conference
Location: West Chester, Pennsylvania
Last week, Bond Richards ’13, Alex Stinton ’14, Julie Armstrong ’15, and I got to attend the West Chester University Poetry Conference with Professor Dubrow and Lindsay Lusby. The West Chester University Poetry Conference is the largest annual poetry conference in the nation, lasting for four days and including professional readings, scholarly panels, and writing workshops on various aspects of poetic form. Bond studied with author and professional critic William Logan, Alex learned about prosody and rhythm from author and professor Tom Cable, Julie explored her love of experimental forms with innovative poet Terri Witek, and I was able to explore my personal preference for story in a workshop on Narrative Poetry taught by David Mason.
When Professor Dubrow had invited me to attend the West Chester University Poetry Conference a few months ago, I agreed nervously, concerned that I would be out of place as a writer primarily of fiction rather than poetry. But I have to say I fit in just fine and my experience far exceeded the expectations I had had. As Lindsay put it, the Conference felt like “summer camp for grown-ups:” our time was divided between workshops and readings, we ate all of our meals together, and we lived together in the University’s dorms.
I am usually hard-pressed to pick a favorite anything, but of this experience I can narrow it down to two things. First of all, I had a great time getting to know Julie, Alex, and Bond. As the only college students in attendance, we spent nearly all of our time together, and the Conference was a lot of fun because of that.
And secondly, I loved my workshop on Narrative Poetry. As a writer of prose, I’ve generally shied away from writing poetry, but David Mason’s workshop has given me a way into the poetic form: blending story and verse. Really, Mason pointed out, “verse is the oldest form of story” and “most poems have a tendency toward narrative” anyway, whether explicitly or implicitly. Through the workshop, we not only worked on our own pieces but also examined published narrative poems, starting with a passage from The Odyssey and ending with a somewhat silly but completely delightful ballad by Charles Causley entitled “I saw a jolly hunter.” In each example, Mason showed how verse and story work together, and I discovered a new love for writing poetry. Julie said of her workshop that she “definitely left feeling inspired” and I have to say I did as well.
And speaking of feeling inspired, I had the chance to attend several panels and poetry readings. While some panels were not as good as others, the good ones were phenomenal. The Conference’s keynote speaker was Julia Alvarez who began her career with the novel How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents and has since written and published various novels and poetry collections, including Homecoming and The Other Side. A splendid reader, Julia Alvarez shared not only her poetry but also insight into the inspiration for her work and her writing process.
Overall, it was extremely encouraging (if also slightly overwhelming) to be surrounded by professional poets who have dedicated their lives to writing. I could not be more grateful for the generosity of the Rose O’Neill Literary House or for Professor Dubrow’s commitment to exposing students to the literary world beyond college. The West Chester University Poetry Conference was an amazing experience, and I am very glad to have shared it with Alex, Bond, and Julie.