A salon is a gathering of people under the roof of an inspiring host, held partly to amuse one another and partly to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of the participants through conversation. These gatherings often consciously followed Horace‘s definition of the aims of poetry, “either to please or to educate” (Latin: aut delectare aut prodesse). Salons, commonly associated with French literary and philosophical movements of the 17th and 18th centuries, were carried on until as recently as the 1940s in urban settings.
A few weeks ago a group of writer friends got together for a weekend to focus on (mostly) poetry, without distractions. Life is busy, schoolwork takes a lot of your energy (whether you are student or teacher), children and pets expect a basic level of care, jobs demand our mental attention, and it can be difficult to fit your own writing time into all that. Escaping, even for a weekend, takes advanced planning, so we were all quite excited to hang out and just be writers.
In true introvert fashion, we spent lots of time sitting quietly in odd corners of the house, each doing our own thing. But we also had meals together, had a “submitting party”, spent a morning drafting from prompts, and – delightfully – had an evening salon. Gathered under the watchful eye of house ghost Burton Abbott, we sipped old-fashioneds and just read poetry.
As writers, we put a lot of focus on producing – writing poems or prose pieces, editing, editing again, editing one more time (at least), then getting those polished pieces out the door and hopefully published. Of course, the point of all that work is to share. And in a world where we can post links to thousands of others via social media, we certainly hope that we are sharing, but it’s hard to know how many people are really reading. If they are reading, are they delving into the piece, sitting with it? Or is the writing just getting a cursory glance on the way to work/school/daycare pickup/grocery shopping, etc.?
Given all that, what a pleasure to take an evening and do with poems what we are meant to do – enjoy them. Everyone around the table loved writing, and found profound emotional connections in certain pieces. So, for the price of admission (which was nothing! you can sit around a table with your friends absolutely for free!) we got a curated reading. We shared some of our own pieces, and we shared the pieces that keep us inspired. Amazing poetry and CNF, chosen by writers forwriters. Adrian Bleins, Maggie Deets, Jill McDonough, Ross Gay, Diane Seuss, Hayden Carruth, Jack Gilbert, J. Robert Lennon, Ted Kooser. Every piece made your breath catch in your throat. Every piece made you want more.
So let’s bring back the salon. Get some friends together. Have coffee, tea, an adult beverage if you like. Ask everyone to bring a few pieces of writing that just knock their proverbial socks off, and read to each other. If you need an audience, Burton is always available.
–Originally published on SonjaJohanson.net
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Sonja Johanson is a New England poet whose work focuses on ecology and feminism. She has work appearing in numerous journals and anthologies, including BOAAT, Mid-American Review, Poet Lore, THRUSH, The Writer’s Almanac, and the Best American Poetry blog, and has served as a contributing editor at the Found Poetry Review and Eastern Iowa Review. Sonja is the author of three chapbooks: Impossible Dovetail (IDES, Silver Birch Press), all those ragged scars (Choose the Sword Press), and Trees in Our Dooryards (Redbird Chapbooks). Sonja divides her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western Maine.