OPA Spring 2013 Conference & Annual Meeting

Oregon Poetry Association/ Silverton Poetry Association

OPA Spring 2013 Conference & Annual Meeting
April 12-14 – Silverton, Oregon

A Rendezvous with Renewal at the Spring 2013 Conference

April is truly the cruelest month. Not only because it breeds lilacs out of the dead land (sorry, T.S.), but also because National Poetry Month lasts a mere 30 days. So many readings and workshops fill every calendar square. I made time this year, however, for my very first OPA spring conference. By doing so, I discovered ways to persuade the muse to make house calls after April. Conference workshops provided a boost for sustaining inspiration even when that muse seems fickle.

With trees leafing out in every shade of green and first blooms popping out at the Oregon Garden in Silverton, we rendezvoused with renewal April 10-12. Renewal assumed many shapes: a goal as poets, as associations and as friends. OPA and the Silverton Poetry Association renewed their relationship, co-sponsoring this year’s conference. The spring gathering also provided many chances to connect with poets from across the state. Workshops, open-mic community events and Sunday morning coffee klatches and consulting sessions gave us lots of opportunities to tune our craft.

Opening night, we gathered in the White Steeple Gallery in downtown Silverton. OPA president Eleanor Berry and SPA co-founder Kelley Morehouse welcomed Oregon poets to a weekend of renewal. As each poet stood up to read, their words echoed almost sacramentally in the former chapel. Featured poets Don Colburn and Jennifer Richter read and told a little of their stories before passing the mic to other poets. Colburn talked about his life transition from journalist to poet. Richter shared her ups and downs recovering from a chronic illness and some poetry inspired by life with two pre-teens.

Saturday morning Silverton Poetry Association members treated us to a potpourri from the Favorite Poem Project initiated by U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. Voices of popular poets Sylvia Plath, Santiago Baca, Billy Collins, and William Stafford mingled with those of lesser known artists including Peruvian poet of oppression César Vallejo and a young girl whose poem appeared on a Portland Tri-Met bus.

Conference poets divided themselves into two workshop spaces devoted to “Obsession” and “Renewal” and set to work on craft. Jennifer Richter evoked Richard Hugo, who talked about emotional ownership of a word, and Mary Oliver who compared poems to boats, “it’s that real of a journey.” Borrowing from the structure of a Joel Brouwer 100-word poem, we set out on new journeys navigating with our obsessive words. Don Colburn’s workshop reminded us that the battle begins when words are first captured on paper.  Don offered us revisionary advice from poets including Stephen Dunn (“Look for the moment that first surprises you – that’s the real first line.”) and Marie Howe (“Feel for the pulse, the warm spots on the page.”)

Before lunch, outgoing president Eleanor Berry presided over OPA’s annual business meeting, Eleanor is known for surprising outgoing board members with thoughtful gifts. This year the surprise was all hers as vice president Tiel Ansari presented Eleanor with a tribute chapbook she had fashioned from members’ Eleanor-inspired poems.  We’ll miss you, Eleanor; all the time you’ll now have for your own poetry is well deserved!

Saturday afternoon began with Spring Poetry Contest winners taking center stage. Hearing award winners, especially those in the “New Poet” category, read their work provides the most joyous moments at every conference. It’s that infusion of new poetic blood, seeing newcomers like Armin Tolentino (who won prizes in several categories) read their prize-winning poems alongside OPA mainstays such as David Hedges.

An afternoon of workshopping and book shopping at the book table made us all several pounds heavier with poetry as we struggled back to our hotels. That evening the Silverton Poetry Association hosted another community event in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed

Gordon House. Its intimate space — all windows and light — was an architectural poem enclosing an intent audience. As twilight fell and deer browsed outside, mid-Willamette Valley poets Chris Anderson, Barbara Drake, Donna Henderson and Lex Runciman conversed about where they look for inspiration and how they keep writing through droughts.

Sunday morning some of us conferred individually with those same “talking poets” to gain new perspectives on our poems in progress. Others came together in coffee klatches to share common experiences as poets. The 2013 spring conference ended in Sublimity with “A Feast of Poets” celebrating seven Willamette Valley poets and morsels from chef Ruth Hudgens at Silver Falls Vineyard. I missed it, since I was hurtling south on I-5 anxious to catch up on the Rogue Valley unit’s National Write a Poem a Day Month forum. But I hear the conference grand finale’s words and food were delicious!

Kathleen Pyle
Jacksonville, Oregon
Board Member at-large

OPA President Eleanor Berry and SPA President Kelly Morehouse introduce the featured readers at the White Steeple Gallery.

Outgoing president and long-time board member Eleanor Berry (R) receives a chapbook in her honor, presented by acting president Tiel Ansari (L).

Jennifer Richter invites attendees to explore their obsessions.


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