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Wick Poetry Center News

Bisbee Workshop Student Reflects on Arizona Experience

Posted Aug. 28, 2012

Robert Wick and Ellie ShoreyFor a week this summer, I traveled with four undergraduate students and David Hassler, the director of the Wick Poetry Center, to Bisbee, Arizona for an intensive writing retreat. Though our writing projects were not uniform, common themes seemed to connect our individual writings.  

For instance, the notion of Robert Bly’s “shadow bag”—that each person unloads his or her shameful, guilty, or painful experiences into an invisible bag that drags and collects girth with age—crept into our Bisbee group’s writing prior to our trip to Arizona. It seemed that each group member’s current writing project lacked force; certainly, I felt stunned by my lack of personal feeling in my more recent poems. After reading an article by Bly, in which he asserted that self-actualization comes only when you’ve ripped open the “shadow bag,” I was reminded of why my own writing had been stale and uninspired all summer. I had neglected writing anything of merit or truth, personal or otherwise. I approached my trip to Bisbee with the attitude that I would let the scenery and new experience open my writing back to a vulnerable mindset.

I had been writing with an observer’s glance, both impersonal and impressed with the scenery rather than experience. Even though I knew I would play essentially the same observer role while in Bisbee, I still was hopeful that the new scenery and luxury of time to write would help shake up my current portfolio. I had compiled notes about poems I wanted to write long enough; I was anxious to get away from editing previously written poems, which felt whittled to the bone. The desert would be the perfect place to unload a “shadow bag” item or two onto the page.

In Bisbee, our mornings at the Wick property were spent walking the property and writing about Bob Wick’s sculptures as exercises. Our group huddled around each sculpture and spent roughly twenty minutes writing about what stood in front of us, or how the sculpture informed some other idea that had travelled to Arizona as well. After the twenty minutes, we would each share whatever we had written about the particular piece. More often than not, our writing shared similar characteristics in the initial reaction to the sculpture before our language branched into personal feelings or experiences not directly related to the trip. These writing exercises were invigorating. When we would return to the house with a few hours to write on our own, I would sift eagerly through my notebooks and begin adding new lines to old pieces I had once deemed unworkable.

I found writing with the mountains in plain view therapeutic in the sense that I was allowed so much physical space to cast out ideas with literally nothing blocking my way. I realized that many of the listless poems in my notebooks became new realizations once I cleared my head of the self-doubt and contempt. In Arizona, I awoke each morning with a sense of clarity. My writing improved; I even finished one poem that had eluded me for months. I wrote many lines about one of Bob Wick’s sculptures, named “Land Bridge,” that echoed my current writing transformation: “heartbeat, the only pulse whose wave/remains the same from the old world to new.” I plan on continuing to write in the same pulse—the true bridge between old notebooks and new poems.

--Ellie Shorey