Lately, I’ve been looking over some of the writing I did at Rockvale Writers’ Colony during the summer. As I’m doing so, I’ve discovered that some of the poems I created were more for myself than for publication. This is as it should be, I suppose. When one goes on a retreat for creative purposes, usually there’s a project in mind (as there was this time), but also, the getaway serves as a kind of “reset” switch for the creative brain. One such “just for me” poem came from the experience of wading Flat Creek:
Flat Creek at Dusk
All day, cicadas have echoed each other,
but now their calls grow soft
as the warren-drawn rabbit:
brown omen of evening.
Otters have stopped their playing,
the small black fish have gone,
limestone bed rocks settle their quarrels
as clear and shallow water darkens.
Creek, I have felt your cool
across my hike-tired toes,
pressed your slick moss with aching soles,
and wondered how many have trod
your stony, whispering trail
before me — another pilgrim
feeling Tennessee beneath
bare flesh smoothed by water.
It is likely I will never submit this piece to a journal or contest. I will probably refrain from including it in a packet of poems to an editor or publisher. This poem was a visceral response to a single and solitary experience, and it is precisely the kind of personal writing I referred to above. It isn’t intended for a large audience, but rather, it allowed me to be more present in the moment I encountered. Writers’ retreats often have this effect: They center the author, providing balance through seclusion. I am thankful for the time I spent at Rockvale Writers’ Colony, and one day, I may return. For now, the returns keep pouring in. I have a set of poems I “intended” to revise and perfect during my time there, but I also have these little treasures that allow me to return to a particular experience and feel that response to it again and again.
Sometimes people ask, “What good is it to go to a writers’ colony?” The evidence you see here is the answer. Time spent there is an investment that can never become lost or depreciated. Well after the stay is over, creativity continues to grow and flourish. Thinking back on the place and the emotional resonance of it gives the writer a small taste of peace, and often that taste is enough to open the channels of thought and innovation. Peace, after all, is a priceless and timeless gift.