Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Reasons We Need Cave Canem

Well, our little poetry project pretty much failed miserably. After the first day, no one in the group could manage to turn in or comment on poems, mostly because life got in the way. Fortunately, we all understood that without having to come out and say it. It wasn't a lost week, though. I know Aracelis has been on the road promoting her new book, John is getting ready for not one, but two trips to Provincetown, Kamilah (Aisha) is teaching and rediscovering the beauty of New York, Samantha is doing readings and writing companion books for a critically acclaimed television show and I managed to get off a few applications for some serious grants.
So, work was being done, we just couldn't manage to do the kind of work we would have done had we been at the Cave Canem summer retreat. But, in a way, I think that's as it should be.

Attending the Cave Canem summer retreat is like entering a different world. It's the only place I've ever been where I turned off my cell phone and ignored my e-mail for a week, survived on less than four hours of sleep per night and still managed to turn out a new poem every single day. I have written six new poems in the past month, and it has been a very, very good month. However, at Cave Canem, six new poems come in seven days and most of them turn out to be pretty good poems. This is part of the beauty of Cave Canem. The isolation and insulation it provides forces and allows you to do things you simply can't do at home. Last week, while we were in the midst of our CC alumni poetry challenge, I thought about writing a poem everyday. Between the forty-hour work week and all the deadlines wrapped up in it, grant applications, journal submissions, family obligations, bible study, cleaning house, friends and sleep, I just couldn't manage to find the time to write, at least not a poem a day. I wrote something everyday and did have a very productive week, mostly because I kept telling myself, "If you don't have a poem to send out today, you better have a darn good reason for it." So, John's challenge actually did help me write, just not in the way he originally proposed.

The Cave Canem retreat gives you the freedom of time and space, but it also gives you the tools you need to continue your work as a poet. It prepares you for submissions deadlines and applications. While I was completing grant applications this week, I realized that, without Cave Canem, I wouldn't have the work or the clarity of craft that I needed to even apply for most artist grants. I had the work and knew how to support it, but still didn't know how to condense it all and churn out a sharp proposal, so I had to call someone for help. Of course, it was a CC alumna. This confidence in our wok and the connections we make at Cave Canem are invaluable. This is why we need the place; it is a necessary gift.

Congrats to the 'newbies' who got their first taste of CC this year, the second years who knew how to tread the waters and the third years for completing the journey. All love to the ever-increasing fold.