I could look up the date. But trust me, it was a long time ago. I was a trembling student, with eleven other trembling students, in Sir Stephen Spender’s poetry workshop at the Duke Writers’ Conference.
Every morning we’d gather around a long table in a sweltering classroom on Duke University’s West Campus and wait for our instructor to arrive. He would lumber in, out of breath and perspiring, wearing a black suit and black wide-brimmed hat, papers falling from his arms. Each day he would critique two students’ poetry. Each day two students would be devastated. One left for home before he could even get to her work.
Even though he was rough on us, impatient, demanding, implacable, I felt as though I was getting a glimpse of what poetry was all about. Every night I went back to my hot little room and wrote poem after poem on my Olivetti manual. I made myself stop – sometimes, as light was rising in the window — so that I could sleep enough to be able to wake in the morning and find my way to the workshop. And that workshop was – surprisingly – an important turning point for me. I was buoyant, I was churning toward the next step in my writing, I felt I could see everywhere!
Now I’m teaching at Table Rock Writers Workshop, an offshoot of the Duke Writers’ Workshop. The tone of this workshop is quite different from the one I just described. No one trembles here. No one leaves in a huff mid-week. In fact, we leave at the end of our time together wishing for just one more day. Our aim is this: We want to meet you where you are, gently tug you along in achieving the writing goals you’ve set for yourself. We want to convince you that yes, you can do it. We’ll share what we know. We’ll teach craft. We’ll do everything we can to move you from where you were at the beginning of the workshop to where we believe you can be.
Please come! We’ll care deeply about your writing. We’ll be available to you during class, mealtimes, walking about, at happy hour each evening. We’ll help you find the same magic I found years ago in my cramped little dorm room. We believe you’ll find your magic here, bending over your laptop in your comfy room, Table Rock Mountain out your open window, the promise of a cool breeze.