Zen and the Art of Conferences

Last year I needed to find zen or I would die. My muscles were in such knots at the end of the school year my chiropractor prescribed regular massages, hot baths, and as many vacations as I could manage.

I went to New Hampshire.

Here I am again. This time I am at the Conference on Poetry and Teaching at the Frost Place in Franconia, a tiny little place where the air is clear and the nights are darker than I’ve experienced in a long time.

This conference is different: Only 14 participants this year. All focused on the art of poetry. Some are frost place signworking poets. Most are working teachers. I heard about this conference on a Twitter chat, and since my return trip to the UNH Literacy Institute, which was already planned, happened to be on the calendar for next week, the stars aligned. I find myself here, staying at a gorgeous bed and breakfast listening to rain fall gently on the old but sturdy roof.

It is day four, and I’ve learned more about poetry and poets and revision and analysis than I learned in all the classes leading up to my degree in literature. Oh, to give this kind of learning to my students!

Here’s some highlights and why you will want to come to this place as soon as you are able:

1. Guest poet workshops. Iain Hailey Pollock visited first. He shared lessons from his classroom, his experiences as a writer, and the most engaging Poetry Death Match, a contest with one poem survivor. That evening Iain read his work. If you are not familiar with his poetry, order the collection Spit Back a Boy immediately. Next, Meg Kearney, poet and author of two YA novels in verse:  The Secret of Me and The Girl in the Mirror, taught some creative writing activities with a selection of extended metaphor poems, and we wrote our own (or tried.) Meg read a piece she’d been asked to write about her evolution/revolution as a poet, which stung my heart — her hope and search for her birth mother, her raven dreams. So beautiful and haunting. When she read that evening my heart was on fire. I know why people fall in love with poems and poets.

2. Teacher presentations. Each day individuals have 20 minutes to share ideas. Might be something from their classrooms, something they are reading, some questions they just want to ask. Lisa from Indiana shared a packet with titles and descriptions of YA novels in verse. (Can you guess what the next shelf I’ll build in my classroom library?) Nicholas read an argument he wrote about the need to introduce students to contemporary, accessible poetry, before they meet the master, William Shakespeare. Michael shared a random word activity, and we all wrote random poems. Here’s mine:

(thunderstorm, mouse, moose, faster, shark)

Like a thunderstorm during a shark attack

my heart beat faster and then exploded

like a mouse with the soul of a bull moose.

I present tomorrow. Before I came I was nervous. Poetry was never my thing. Now, I am confident. A community can do that to a person.

3. (Although I haven’t done it yet) Each participant was challenged, just short of pressured, to read a poem tonight at the evening reading. Talk about scary and intimidating. The director Dawn Potter is a working poet. Read her poems and you will see why my knees are already shaking. Her collection of poems is Same Old Story. You will want to own it. And Teresa Carson’s My Crooked House, too. Teresa read on Sunday.

Encouraged and inspired by Teresa and Dawn’s work, and Meg’s awesome poem “Creed,” I wrote my own that I will share tonight. It’s modeled after Meg’s in form, but I only lifted three of her lines.

I believe in heaven and hell

although hell seems easier to believe in. I believe

writing is a key to knowledge earned

through paper and pen; I believe peanut M & Ms

are good for stress; I believe I am a petite

in a full-sized dress, which does not

make me weak, indulgent, brazen, or fat.

I believe “mother” is the greatest name

on the planet; I believe my hands

have the power to heal tho words

soothe wounds much swifter. I believe in dancing;

I believe in email; I believe in knocking on wood, we make our own luck,

and if I finally have the perfect hair day, it

will rain — not because I am vain, but

because life is often a pain. I believe in pain:

kidney stones, a grandma’s death, a small child’s heartache,

child birth, child birth, plus four more. I believe in the long tight

hugs of my friend Kenny who holds on like each moment is 

the last. I believe in drinking the last can of Coke, and

it’s a good idea to hide the evidence. Holding grandbabies

is a blessing of the good life unless they live too far away.

I believe marriage should be between a man and a woman, and 

the foundation of my Faith rests on it. I believe in God, and if I pray enough,

everything is easier. Do you know He loves you? Do you know His son?

I believe the day my mother died her mom and dad were there to greet her,

and when I felt her squeeze my shoulder from

an earthlife away, I knew the spirit goes on living. 

We never got to say goodbye. The disease robbed much more

than her words. I believe that’s why I have this ache

in my heart. Sometimes it’s a whisper. Sometimes it’s a

tornado. I believe I will miss my mother every day of my life.

I believe that holy scripture is the best kind of poetry. I believe

good teachers plan, great teachers plan with students, and if I’d only stop trying to

control everything I’d need less massage. I believe

fathers should be present; I believe plants are better gifts than flowers. I believe milk 

should be pink on Valentine’s Day, and “There’s a Right Way to Live and

Be Happy,” Cowboy Stadium could have bought a billion books, and the best frozen custard

is in St. Louis. I believe in action movies, White Christmas, Michael Buble, and 

Friday Night Football, and that my future grandchildren

are my guardian angels. I believe in the honest work of my children, and if you touch me

righthere, right here at my heart, you’ll feel the

wholeness of a mother’s love and the completeness in my marriage.


I have fallen in love with poetry. You, dear reader, should meet me at this conference at the Frost Place next year. Simply amazing.

I am blessed.



4 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of Conferences

  1. Dawn Potter June 26, 2014 at 2:35 pm Reply

    Amy, your presence at the Frost Place has been a joy and an inspiration to me. Thank you, thank you for taking the risk and making the trip. XX


  2. Kathleen Armstrong June 25, 2014 at 10:25 pm Reply

    I love your poem, Amy, for it’s honesty and depth. You shared what is in your soul with us with courage. Keep writing. You have a gift. I haven’t written poetry for a long time, but this inspires me to begin again. Thank you.


  3. motherofallreaders June 25, 2014 at 6:35 pm Reply

    That poem is beautiful, Amy. I’m so glad you get to go up to New Hamshire again to rejuvinate and learn. I love hearing your voice in the poem and that you were confident and strong in sharing your beliefs about God and family. Thanks so much for sharing this experience with us!


  4. Whitney Kelley June 25, 2014 at 5:01 pm Reply

    What powerful words, thoughts, images. I can see you resting easy in poetry – it suits you. Intellectual, open, deep, provocative, personal, heartfelt, reflective, creative. Yes, poetry suits you my friend.


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