April is upon us, and with it comes the first of many 2016 Cal Price Appalachian Enrichment Series opportunities. On Saturday, April 16, writers – from across the state and of all experience levels – are invited to gather at the Sydenstricker Cabin on the grounds of the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace in Hillsboro for an afternoon of self-discovery. The event begins at 1 p.m.
Following the “What’s in your Blood?” theme of this year’s writing series, West Virginia poet Cheryl Denise, of Shepherds Field, will lead poets on an exploration through their experiences and memories and the subsequent discovery of the moments that have shaped them.
“Sometimes our own stories are the hardest to tell,” she said in a press release. “This workshop will provide writing exercises that pull from our personal/family history. What is the landscape that shaped you? Using the five senses, we will explore memories that open us up to the past and anchor us to the present, and we will stretch [them] from a beginning to an ending.”
Denise’s delve into her personal landscape began with her latest collection of poems, What’s in the Blood, and the title poem. The poem, which focuses on Denise’s past, explores the heritage and history of her family through multiple generations.
The poem begins with her great-grandfather, Daniel Horst, and is told through the eyes of his son as he lingers on one of his earliest memories – his father, a Canadian Old Order Mennonite, being excommunicated from the church for purchasing a truck to bring produce to the market.
At one point in the poem, the son poses the question “Is there any of the Old Order / any of that blood left in me?” and wonders if it is because of his heritage that he farms, raises chickens and wears a wedding band without a diamond.
The poem reflects Denise’s desire to understand what’s in her blood and her past, and it was discovering the sources of her curiosity that has led her to focus her workshop on exploring the experiences and memories that have shaped her fellow writers. She hopes that, by delving into their familial and personal histories, her fellow writers will be able to discover the beautiful, intriguing parts of their landscapes that have been previously missed.
In addition to exploring the landscapes of their heritage, the group will explore ways to awaken and restore their “slumbering” muse.
For Denise, awakening her muse is all about discipline and being present. One way Denise ensures her presence is by setting aside a time each week and dedicating it solely to writing. Experience has taught her to take it one step further and actually block out her writing time on a calendar.
“That way people won’t look at my calendar and think I have a free afternoon,” she explained. “As a poet, having set hours to just write is a big help.”
Finally, workshop participants will confront things in their everyday lives that keep them from writing. Using an exercise inspired by poet George Ella Lyon, Denise will lead the charge against writing road blocks by encouraging her fellow poets and writers to write about what keeps them from putting pen – or pencil – to paper.
“Sometimes even writing about what stops us from writing can be a starting point,” she said of the exercise.
It was the beauty and subsequent recreation West Virginia had to offer that led Denise – originally from Elmira, Ontario – and her husband, Mike, to make the move to the mountain state – where they have spent the last 25 years living and working in Barbour County. She has since fallen in love with the writings of native poets and the ways in which they are able to express themselves through words.
“When I came here, I learned how people tell their stories and how their stories, told through poetry – which can be very potent and honest – are condensed and cut down to the essence. They can reveal the truth emotionally,” she said. “Poets like Kirk Judd – hearing their voices – inspired me to want to write that way and relay the importance of telling stories – be it yours or another person’s – through poetry.”
Denise’s workshop – the first in a series of three – will take place April 16, at the Sydenstricker Cabin in Hillsboro from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., and writers of all levels are welcome to attend. Writers will need to bring their own materials, and light refreshments will be served.
The workshop costs $10 per person, and while advanced registrations are accepted, they are not required. For more information and/or to pre-register, call the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation at 304-653-4430, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The event, part of the 2016 Calvin W. Price Appalachian Enrichment Series, is sponsored by the Pearl S. Buck Birthplace Foundation and the Pocahontas County Convention and Visitors Bureau.