I admit it. I used to sit down with every intention to write a poem and only stared at the empty page in my journal. It seemed so foreboding and austere, so empty, and the responsibility to write something worthy, so overwhelming. It was times like those that I yielded to the call of the laundry, to the dinner dishes left in the sink. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to write. It wasn’t that I didn’t know how. It was more about the difficulty of settling my mind into the creative nook necessary to link words to emotion. Yes, I admit it. I let the busyness of my life overshadow my poetry.
Poetry comes from the deepest part of who I am, my emotions, my connection with other people, with my world. Writing is almost meditation, where the surface self dissolves and the deeper self emerges quietly, shyly, until it feels safe enough to clear its throat and speak. I think about the times I’ve been “in the groove,” when writing seemed effortless and the words were fighting to be written down. Those times were when I was a writer-in-residence at a writers’ colony.
I know what you must be thinking. That’s not reality. Taking two weeks or a month to hide away somewhere and write is a luxury not everyone can afford – monetarily or time-wise. And yet the fact remains true: for me, my most productive writing times have been when I was removed from my usual surroundings, when the distractions and responsibilities of “my real world” couldn’t reach me. It may be partly about discipline and training the mind to let distractions slip quickly by, but I think it has more to do with permission. The times I was at a writers’ colony were the times I allowed myself the freedom to put poetry first, to put me, the poet, first. That’s not a gift I typically give myself when I’m at home.
Over the last three years, I’ve been on four different residencies ranging from two weeks to a month. Each time I felt something shift within my work, like the poems themselves knew it was safe to come out. My mind felt free and open, a faucet of creativity running full force. I wrote like a wild woman and the ideas and images that flew out of me were just as wild. I called it magic, but it might have been just space and time – the freedom to let my writer persona be in control.
At the end of March 2018, I let my writer persona stand on the top of the mountain and shout to the world. I bought a property in College Grove, TN with the intention of turning it into a writers’ colony. After six months of repairing, painting, planning, and praying, Rockvale Writers’ Colony opened for applications. The property is beautiful – sixty-five acres of rolling hills, farmland, and forest. It’s in a rural setting but close enough to the big city of Nashville that no one needs to feel isolated.
It used to be a bed and breakfast – or rather, as the previous owners called it, a four-star country inn. The bedrooms are beautifully furnished, and each has a large private bathroom. Every suite has a unique feel, different colors, different styles, but they all say welcome. I added a writing desk and chair to each room – it IS a writers’ colony, after all! – but most of the furniture and décor I left as is. The common areas include a library, a reading room, a writing porch, a dining room, and a wonderful farmhouse kitchen.
When I started contemplating our first mini-retreat, I knew it had to be connected to poetry. After all, it was poetry that sent me off in search of that inexplicable “something more,” a way to connect more to my writing. It was poetry that settled inside me as I wrote during the residency weeks. It was poetry that urged me to create a place where others could feel what I felt – a sense of acceptance and purpose that circled around words.
We settled on Poetry of Calm and Comfort and combined that with the Danish custom of Hygge, finding warmth, kindness, and coziness during the cold months of winter. Eight poets arrived on a cold, rainy Saturday, the first weekend in December, but it wasn’t long before the warmth that had bloomed inside me at a writers’ colony was also growing inside them. They felt that sense of welcome and acceptance, the peace for deep reflecting, the assurance that the gift of time they were giving themselves was deserved and should be celebrated. The weekend was a beautiful affirmation of both poetry and writers’ colonies, of words and deeds.
As Rockvale Writers’ Colony prepares for 2019, a year in which we hope we can welcome many writers of all genres, not just to group retreats but to private, individual week or weeks-long residencies, I think back to those days of sitting at my kitchen table, struggling over a blank page. Now, I get to listen to other writers’ exclamations of joy at their productivity and describe their experience much like I described mine – magical.
Do I really think there’s a bit of magic involved? In as much as it’s ever magic when words flow from a writers’ heart and land on the page, when a writer knows, beyond any doubt, that they are doing what they are meant to do, when a writer accepts and honors that call to write, yes, I admit it. I think it’s magic!
For more information about Rockvale Writers’ Colony, or to apply, please visit the website, www.rockvalewriterscolony.org
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Sandy Coomer is a poet, artist, and endurance athlete living in Brentwood, TN. Her poetry and art have been published in numerous journals and magazines, and she is the author of three poetry chapbooks. A full-length poetry collection, Available Light, will be published in 2019 from Iris Press. Sandy is the founding editor of the online poetry journal, Rockvale Review, the creator and curator of the Ekphrastic poetry project 20/20 Vision: A Poetic Response to Photography, and a past poetry mentor in the AWP Writer to Writer Mentorship Program. Sandy is the founder and director of Rockvale Writers’ Colony located in College Grove, TN. Her favorite word is “Believe.”