From its initial poetry gathering in the Sierra to its annual series of writers’ workshops, the Community of Writers celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021. Instructors and attendees are inspired by the magic of the Olympic Valley. They share insights about their craft. They listen to each others’ stories. They exchange wisdom about the publishing industry. But mostly, they write. The majority of each day is devoted to making magical connections between words.
To celebrate this monumental anniversary of the poetry program, the Community of Writers published an anthology entitled “Why To These Rocks.” It includes the work of instructors and attendees from throughout the history of the workshops.
Brenda Hillman did not attend the first meeting of poets, but she has been to many of the subsequent gatherings. She now serves as Director of the Poetry Program for the Community of Writers. Blas Falconer first came to the sessions as a participant, and returned as a leader. Hillman and Falconer both teach poetry at the university level throughout the year and meet with other published poets in the Olympic Valley every summer.
Blas Falconer on the moment he fell in love with poetry
“I remember the moment it happened. I was in a class at George Mason University. It was a contemporary poetry class, and we were reading the Poulin anthology, the contemporary American poetry anthology, and we read a poetry staff member’s poem from The Community of Writers – it was Lucille Clifton. I read her poem, and I just stopped because I couldn’t believe that this was poetry, that poetry could sound like that and say these kinds of things. And I went out that day and bought my first poetry book, which was Quilting, her book of poetry. And I read it over and over and over again, and I just kind of knew I wanted to do that for the rest of my life. I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t think about publishing, but I knew I wanted to write.”
Brenda Hillman on her poetry crush
“The sound of the King James Bible was my first literary crush, and I read the psalms, especially, and Song of Solomon, and that sort of haunted, strange, gorgeous sound of that translation was my first crush … I feel always drawn to the fact that the inner and the outer invisible natures connect and in a way that I haven’t heard before.”
Blas Falconer on the key to education
“Last fall, I presented a number of modules working through many, many years of poetry, just giving them a sampling. And what I would say is, find your love. If we’re looking at medieval lit, and you love this mode of writing, I want you to dive deep into that. When we’re looking at the Renaissance, if you love the sonnet, dive deep into that. Whatever it is that you love, I want you to explore it. So my job is to expose them to this history and help them to find what they love.”