Celebration Electives

Below are this year's offered electives for attendees to the Celebration. All attendees will select one Morning Elective and one Afternoon Elective, as well as second choices for both. Electives are categorized as either a Conversation or a Writing Activity

Registration for electives is now closed.

Morning Electives



A Leap into the Void: Craft, Imagination & Duende


Federico García Lorca’s essay, “Theory and Play of the Duende, has been studied, praised, quoted and cited as essential reading by poets whose work and sensibilities would seem to have little in common. Lorca uses Goethe’s definition: ‘A mysterious force that everyone feels and no philosopher has explained.’  We recognize this mysterious something in the poems that move us, yet what that mysterious something is remains ineffable. Perhaps one way to approach understanding duende is through poems that seem to have it. Bring favorite poems by others that have offered you the experience of duende.

Fathers & Sons, Mothers & Daughters, Daughters & Fathers, Sons & Mothers


Some of the most beautiful love poems have been not about romance or lost love, but about the others we love so much: our parents or children.  There can be enormous complexity in these relationships. Love, trust, rejection, acceptance, regret and gratitude can all make up the emotional collage of the feelings between children and their parents. We will look at examples that consider the rich, poignant variety of perspectives that poetry about these relationships offers.  Participants are invited to bring poems of their choice that speak to this topic.

If That's Not a Poem, What is?


Asked on one occasion how you can know if something you’ve written is a poem, Robert Creeley answered, "Every time you write a poem you can think, 'Is that a real poem or is it just something I made up myself?' If what you have written is not a real poem, then what is a real poem?"  Ask ten people, and you’ll get eleven different answers. Let’s discuss the infinite definitions and possibilities of what this ancient and magical art form seems to be.

Free Writing Away

Writing Activity

Often writers are told that they must find their voice.  What if we have more than one voice?  What if by relying too much on what we define as “our voice” we’ve fallen into a rut?  How do we rediscover the Beginner’s Mind that made us open to the many voices we heard around us, in our heads, in our reading?  Through guided free writing, we’ll try to break out of our familiar voice, shake up our practice and see where it takes us.

Getting Lucky

Writing Activity

What role does plain old luck play in the appreciation, reading and writing of poetry? Why does it seem some poems come into our lives at the very moment we need them? Or that poems, seemingly unbidden, almost compose themselves? Join us for a session in which, with any luck, we will collect some strong ideas for future poems. Lucky poems will be provided.

Hidden Poetry

Writing Activity

There are poetry prompts everywhere, but often we’re too distracted to see them. In “Song of the Open Road,” Whitman declares, “You road I enter upon and look around, I believe you are not all that is here,/ I believe that much unseen is also here.” What if we try to see what we haven’t seen on the roads we’ve traveled upon?


Writing Activity

There are important moments in our lives that especially call us to poetry. The birth of a child, the death of a parent, a wedding, a divorce, and the first time we’ve seen a particular place, are just some examples of times in our lives we remember with particular acuity. In this session we will briefly look at one or two particularly vivid “milestone poems” and discuss briefly what makes them so impactful. We will then set about making our own milestone poem followed by an invitation to share what we have written and what we might have discovered on our writing journey. 

Such a Cut Up

Writing Activity 

We’ll use poems from the day’s Giving Voice packet in this writing activity that is part cento, part collage, part free association game and part assemblage. We’ll work with poems, images, words, lines, some by others, some of our own creation, to make connections, associations, play with language and see where our imaginations might take us.

When Something (Some Thing) and Nothing (No Thing) Collide

Writing Activity 

A number of readers have commented that not even William Carlos Williams stuck to his own mandate: “No ideas but in things.” Perhaps a less intimidating revision of this might be something like: “No ideas? Try things!” Sometimes when we think we’ve got nothing, we can start with some thing. Let’s try to mine our immediate surroundings to unearth pieces that might be started just by looking at the things around us. 

Afternoon Electives

A Conversation with Sapphire: On the Life of a Poet

This very informal gathering invites participants to join in a conversation with poet and novelist Sapphire on poetry and poets, her work, her life in the art, teaching and whatever arises.

A Poem in Spite of Itself


Hatred, anger, disgust with others!  Poems that revel in what we usually call “negative emotions” make up an underappreciated genre. Let's show our appreciation. Bring in your favorite poems by others that are angry—a mad at the ex poem, a mad at the landlord, or neighbor, or boss or the universe poem, or any other nasty or sarcastic poem that you think would be good to share with others. Just as the Blues can make us smile, sometimes these poems can, too.

Come Closer and I’ll Tell You a Secret


Confessional poetry made its mark in the 1950’s with poets such as Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, and Anne Sexton but what would the movement look like today? Contemporary poets such as Marie Howe, Jamaal May, Saeed Jones, and Phillip Levine use “I” poems in a deeply personal way to connect to the reader, discuss the state of the world, and convey the interior lives that so many of us can relate to. Bring your favorite first person poems that seem “confessional” to you, and we will discuss why “I” poems are still so relevant in our increasingly global community.

Putting the Fun Back in Profundity


"Putting the fun back in profundity" is how Alice Fulton recently praised Billy Collins' poetry. Tony Hoagland has quoted Robert Pinsky as claiming that American poetry would be a warmer, more inviting place if it included more sex, humor, and violence. Can poetry sometimes take itself too seriously? Do we dare to have a laugh? Bring some of your favorite fun poems and let’s share some examples that bring laughter, warmth and maybe a little danger into poetry.

Erasing into Shape

Writing Activity

Traditionally, the writing process has been tied to production – the creation of something where nothing previously existed. But Michelangelo claimed he did not so much carve his statues as release them by eliminating the unnecessary stone around them. In this writing session, we’ll employ his art of stripping away as a means of producing something new, specifically by erasing words to uncover a new poem’s shape.

On the Scent of Memory

Writing Activity 

Proust made madeleines famous for the flood of memory a single bite of one released. But the strongest and most evocative sense for long-term memory is smell, which can take us places and summon vivid images with inspiring freedom and speed. This interactive activity will include guided meditation and on-site and take-home writing prompts.

Voice of a Portrait

Writing Activity

Portrait painters and photographers strive to find the one image that captures the essence of their subject. Some portrait artists have gotten themselves in trouble with their (sometimes powerful) clients for capturing the truth a little too accurately. We have all had the experience of staring into the eyes of a portrait and feeling there is someone staring back at us. Who is it who meets our gaze?  We’ll have a wide range of portraits to choose from and, in this activity, try to imagine (or summon?) that person’s voice.