- A. E. Stallings
I got a call from Adam Ross,Or rather, message from the blue,Had I a tale I'd like to gloss(Some seven hundred words would do)About my sometime summer boss?A sort of Festschrift-cum-Review,In honor of Director Wyatt.Could it be verse? OK. I'll try it.
For thirty years there's been a spotUpon the Cumberland PlateauWhere writers gather when it's hot(And sometimes when it rains) to showEach other how to write, or not—For poets are just born, you know,Not made. That's why the argot irks—"shopManuscripts around" and "workshop." [End Page 749]
Wait, did I mention thirty—thirtyYears of the conference going strong,Some poets die before that—shirtyShelley did not last that long,And poor John Keats, who had been flirtyWith Fanny Brawne, and wrote a songOr two—throw Byron in the mixWho bowed out only thirty-six.
Of course it's not just poets—othersWork in essays, plays, and stories,Would-be musicians, some, by druthers,And many wreathed in laureled gloriesMedals and prizes—ask their mothers.And look at their back-inventories—All of the genres there must be—So says the will of Tennessee!
I've seen some summers—maybe seven—A scholar once, those many yearsAgo—Sewanee seemed like heaven!Like summer camp, without the tears.Or tears sometimes, a kind of leavenTo helpful edits from our peers.I've heard the banjos on the porchesAs lightning bugs lit tiny torches.
Soon faculty and fellows gather,A herd of cats, perhaps, while staffArrange the bar. All are ablather,It's time to take that photograph— [End Page 750] Some sit on chairs, others would ratherSit on the ground. "Don't talk, don't laugh,"Miriam warns. Beneath tall oaksDick Bausch goes right on cracking jokes.
Then there's a writer's talk on craft—Some clever, funny, wise, or dark—On plot or rhyme, on the first draft,On how to end, or to embark.My talk's on nothing, Mark Strand laughed,He spoke on nothing, left his mark:In twenty brilliant minutes done,A blizzard of naught—one minus one.
I think it's craft-talks I like best,And though I've sat through many a readingThat put the sitzfleisch to the test,The joy in others was exceeding.I think how Hollander would rest(And snore) right in the first-row seating.He co-taught then with Rachel Hadas.A master-class. And it was bad-ass!
Those were the days when scholars flockedNot to the French House, but insteadTo Rebel's Rest—and talked and talkedLong after faculty went to bed,But nobody could rest—it rocked."You're drunk, go home!" the poet saidTo younger poets with a frown.Now Rebel's Rest's at rest, burned down. [End Page 751]
The staff alone are on a parWith faculty, in terms of writing,Although they might be tending barOr other problems less exciting,And each one is a rising star,And make the Conference more inviting.(Let's face it—don't we one and allWith bated breath, await the call?)
The Conference is a place apart,It's down to generosity—Of time, of food, and drink, and art,Of lectures about prosody,And words that issue from the heart,But at art's weird velocity—In nothing does the Conference scrimp—Yes, I'll have more of Barbara's shrimp.
And all the vision of a poet—A Navy man who once played ballAnd has the shoulder now to show it—Imposing, being rather tall,And erudite—but don't you know it—With a wry sense of wit withal—I hope I don't sound ubi-sunt-y—Let's lift a toast to Wyatt Prunty!
A. E. Stallings is an American poet who has lived in Greece since 1999. Her most recent poetry collection is Like (from FSG). She has recently published a verse translation of...