At the end of 2014, I was privileged to attend The Watering Hole’s 2nd Annual Writing Retreat. The Watering Hole is an online community dedicated to supporting and inspiring poets of color. I was privileged to be a part of the genesis, the 2010 Cave Canem South workshop in Columbia, SC, which were hosted by poets Nikky Finney, Kwame Dawes, Patricia Smith, and Frank Walker. Watering Hole co-founders Candace Wiley and Monifa Lemons envisioned a community of African American writers and sprinted like relay runners! They ran with fervor, passing the baton back and forth when needed, yet never allowing it to touch the ground. Dedicated and committed to their mission, I am humbled and blessed to be privy to their synergy.
I was honored to be among such a diverse group of poets from all over the world in such a sacred spot in Santee SC. I made the drive from Columbia SC, excited, anxious and full of apprehension. I wondered if this retreat would be beneficial or just another mundane vacation of sorts.
After depositing my bags in my cabin, I looked out across the lake and exhaled… something I had not done in a long time. You see I was dangerously close to falling off the edge, giving up everything. Life really meant nothing to me. I was just going through the motions of existing I was tired, trying to think of a way of escape. Writing was missing, my muse was gone…my words didn’t talk back to me…my pen didn’t move. Depression had sunk in and it was dragging me overboard.
You see I have always been a person who lives through my pen. As a writer of poetry and short stories, my escape from life is my words…my characters embrace me…without them I feel dead…literally.
On the first day, I walked down the pier to the lake with pen and paper in hand determined to write. After that moment, every free moment was spent writing. I was afraid to put down my pen in fear of losing the momentum and energy. These frequent trips to the lake between the awesome workshops were beneficial to my process of becoming full circle. One of my fellow tribe members noticed I had missed one of the workshops and she asked, “Where were you?” Embarrassed by my noticed absenteeism, I explained time had slipped away from me on the pier. Her nonchalant response shifted a change of mindset for me.
“Girl I understand, I just wanted to make sure you were okay. Do you. That’s what we’re here for. Shoot do you!”
I must admit it was exactly what I needed to hear. Once I begin to do me, I begin to reclaim what was once mine. I dug in for dear life.
The workshop facilitators pushed me into a space of my life that was uncomfortable, but familiar…
NAACP Image Award winner and Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X Walker, told me to write from the place that I viewed as bitter. A recent divorce only allowed me to spill blood and words of rage upon paper. Scribbled up pieces of papers lined my bedroom floor and each poem seemed only to bridge the last. I told him, I didn’t want to be a bitter poet and I couldn’t get past the hate. “Someone needs to hear that pain, that hate, that frustration…so they can heal. Sometimes people need a blueprint, you’ve experienced it. Perhaps you should give others something to go by.” I was never lost to the fact that someone else’s pain could heal another….I just never envisioned my type of pain as useful.
Editor, Author and Poet Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie ignited my senses. She used my sense of smell and touch to pull the unfamiliar words from my psyche. She pushed me into nature, a place where I have always been able to hear God’s unmistakable voice. While standing at the water’s edge, God and my mother spoke to me. My mother visited me several times at Lake Santee in the form of a redbird, once greeting me good morning when I opened the blinds in my cabin. Her voice was clearer than I’ve ever heard it before. She constantly reminded me that she was enjoying her time there at Santee as well, appreciative that my mind was clear enough to enjoy her memory …without tears.
National Poetry Slam Champion and HBO Def Poet Roger Bonair-Agard took me back to my childhood, a time when I would sit under the kitchen table in my grandmother’s Philadelphia home…listening and writing…watching and writing. Characters would speak to me and tell me their stories. Lately, they were disappointed in me, “Why aren’t you writing?” they would ask. “You’ve summoned us here, yet you just sit there, ignoring us.” When they arrived at Santee, they were overjoyed to hear the scribble of my pen on paper. “She’s writing again” I heard one of them faintly whisper. I settled in one night in the cabin and they told me some remarkable tales.
And alas Nikki Finney, National Book Award Winner, writer, motivator and the list continues. She simply summed up the why of my existence, the “why” of my work, the “why” I must continue to write. Assuring me my desires to be different were normal. Alas, for poets…different is who we are. Dfferent is who I am!
I embraced Monifa on the last day of the retreat and informed her that I had returned from the edge. My life was now back spinning on its axis…turning in rhythm…not dancing to some foreign tune like before.
On Tuesday when I packed to leave, I was sad. I didn’t believe I could keep or reclaim the energy and momentum from Santee once I left the campground. I gathered dirt, and rocks, believing that somehow this would make the difference.
If I could just take some of it with me…
I arrived home, unpacked and lay across my bed.
It was then my muse tapped me on my shoulder and said , “Awesome trip…let’s get to writing.”
I cried, thinking I had left it all in Santee SC.
Monifa and Candace will never know how beneficial the Watering Hole Retreat was to me. I just pray they never stop running.
I’m grateful for the experience and the tribe of poets whose souls and spirits resounded loud and clear throughout each workshop. Traveling through the rustle of leaves, flowing through the breeze. I heard each and every word with clarity.
I’m just grateful to be back on solid ground, thankful to be back on beat.. literally.
Peace, Love & Empowerment