Friday, January 9, 2015

Top Ten Moments at The Watering Hole 2nd Annual Winter Poetry Retreat

The Watering Hole is an online community dedicated to supporting, inspiring, and enriching poets of color. It originated as an extention of the 2010 Cave Canem South workshops in Columbia, SC, hosted by poet icons Nikky Finney, Kwame Dawes, Patricia Smith, and Frank Walker. Watering Hole co-founders Candace Wiley and Monifa Lemons Jackson built a community around those workshop sessions which grew into hosting the first TWH Winter Poetry Retreat in 2013 at Santee State Park in Santee, SC. 

I discovered The Watering Hole through social media. It was the answer to what I desired in my life as a poet. After discovering the organization and its accomplishments, I quickly became acquainted with the poets in the community. 

Courtesy of Anna K. Stone Photography
Before the retreat, my goal was to identify challenges I'd been having in my own writing to excel to the next level of my work. The results of the retreat were spiritual--if not supernatural--in transforming my view on poetry, the poetry community at large, and myself. Below are my top moments that made the retreat the success it continues to be weeks after it ended.

10) Lorraine Currelley's Declaration on Therapy

With her background in therapy, Lorraine set a profound tone for the participants in the retreat with an eye-opening discussion of using poetry as a means of release. As a participant herself, Lorraine opened up a dialogue about what to do when poets reach a place of pain in their writing. "If you bleed all over the floor, what next?" According to Lorraine, letting such a moment pass without any resolution or closure can be detrimental to the self. She offered her counseling services to the other poets present. It prepared everyone for an intense five-day journey into self. 

9) Darion McCloud's Performance Workshops

Photo by Amoni Thompson
Darion McCloud is founder and director of the NiA Theatre Company and Story Squad in Columbia, SC. He held workshops at the retreat on performance poetry for both page and stage poets. The session I attended became intense when several spoken word artists applied Darion's unique visual exercises and movements to their performances. The poets experienced breakthroughs in their craft, and I witnessed them firsthand. The impact was powerful to behold. 

8) Frank Walker's Writing Prompts 

Kentucky Poet Laureate Frank X. Walker graced the retreat with his unique brand of workshops geared entirely toward craft and writing. Simply put, Frank's workshops were poetry boot camp. The prompts he gave us stretched our imaginations on topics from the founding fathers to lost loved ones to colors. We exercised our poetry muscles extensively when Frank was at the helm. 

7) Candace Wiley's Poem

During the morning readings, Candace shared a transparent poem on the final day of the retreat. What made the poem even more intense was the fact that her parents were present as she shared lines she had never shared before about her life. According to Candace, being in the community of poets gave her the courage to express such lines. It showed the power of the community of poets to help each of us face our fears and doubts head on. Candace is a fighter.

6) Group B Night Session

Poets were split into three groups (A, B, & C) to attend workshops throughout the day. My group (B) had excellent poets; we fed off each other's ability to raise the bar with each writing prompt. On a night of downtime, we decided to share poems we brought to the retreat to get feedback from one another. It strengthened our bond all the more culminating in members from other groups joining us in our cabin that night. Our focus on the work drew us closer as individuals.

5) Roger Bonair-Agard's Evening Lecture

Photo by DaMaris Hill
Roger Bonair-Agard is a 2013 National Book Award for Poetry finalist for his collection Bury My Clothes. Currently residing in Chicago, he spent most of his life in Trinidad. Roger's candor about the publishing industry and the black poet's place in it was refreshing. He proclaimed that poets of color should not acquiesce to whiteness, but that we should write our own narrative and blaze our own trails for all races to follow.

4) Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie's Workshop

Ekere Tallie is a poetry editor, author, and an activist. Her emotion and sensitivity exude through her every word. Our group's workshop with Ekere did not begin with a discussion of craft; it began with a journey into self. She asked us plainly what our goals are and what we want our poetry to do. As she heard our responses, she told us exactly what we are truly seeking. For me, she interpreted my goals as a desire for validation and worth. This broke me down to my core. It took me back to my goals before at went to the retreat. Roger's evening lecture confirmed this. My drive to write and publish was rooted in a search to prove my worth--that I had "it"--to prove to others that I am serious about my craft and respected amongst peers. The release of those feelings lifted a burden for me to find that next level I had been searching for. Ekere's openness was the catalyst.
Courtesy of Akinfe Fatou

3) Mariahadessa Ekere Tallie's Morning Lecture

Ekere shared her manuscript entitled Letters to Continuum in which she writes letters to emerging poets and writers answering tough questions she had early in her writing that no one could answer for her. This completely aligns with her compassionate personality. Questions about needing an MFA or PhD, publishing in critically-acclaimed literary journals or other outlets, and knowing when the work is truly ready to publish flowed from her pages. It was in this morning session that my own questions surfaced about why I was at the retreat. Thankfully, those questions were answered in subsequent sessions with Ekere as a guide.

2) Candace Wiley and Monifa Lemons Jackson's Final Moment

Courtesy of Anna K. Stone Photography

After all the smoke cleared and the retreat neared its end, Candace and Monifa shared a touching moment at the center of the floor in the all-purpose facility at Santee State Park called the Village Round. With their tears and hugs for each other, they exuded the hard work, pressure, and obstacles ever present in taking on a grassroots poetry conference. These ladies are pioneers, and in this moment, we received only a glimpse into their daily struggle.

1) Nikky Finney

Courtesy of Anna K. Stone Photography
Whether you are a poet or writer, novice or experienced, if you sat in on what I am calling the Master Class with Nikky Finney on the last night of the retreat, you were inspired to do anything! Nikky Finney is the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry winner for her collection Head Off and Split. Her time there alone could have encompassed this entire blog. She gave us bread from her quotes and moments there that we could feast on for a lifetime.

"Don't keep handing the work out if you haven't done the work on the page...You have to understand that you don't have to be modest: you have to be humble...You've got to be willing to work with the spotlight off...Do not move [from the page] until you write something that surprises you!"

A bonus of the retreat was (not networking) developing relationships with hungry poets who focus on their craft and their place in poetry and history. This was one of the top ten moments of my existence, and its full impact on my life is yet to be determined. This movement among poets of color is set to change the world one line at a time, especially in the face of threats against our humanity.
Photo by Roger Bonair-Agard

For more information about The Watering Hole, visit , tweet @TWHpoetry , or email 

1 comment:

  1. This was a beautiful summation of your retreat experience Len! You had some pretty amazing teachers and you can tell you enjoyed the poetic fellowship! Awesome! :-)