Staff Meetings, Poetry, and Why We Do What We Do

Karen Shoemaker

Friday, September 25, 2020

Our Larksong staff meetings, even the long ones requiring close attention to long and detailed legal documents, are as close to what they could be to a dream I might have had about how staff meetings should go – if I’d ever dreamed about staff meetings at all. We’re reasonably organized: we set an agenda for each meeting, but we write it in pencil because, well, Life. We know we need to roll with whatever it throws our way. We understand the importance of living integrated lives. Needs of Larksong, of family, of our creative dreams and plans, all deserve attention when the attention is needed, not just when we “have” time for it.

This morning’s meeting, for example, was to be dedicated entirely to reviewing the documents needed for completing our application for non-profit status, but first Linda had a poem revision in want of attention, one that she had been working on since the workshop with Grace Bauer last weekend (the beauty of Grace’s teaching is the time-release quality of it. The lessons just keep on giving). So, we added time for poetry to our agenda. That seems not only reasonable for an organization dedicated to the literary arts, but necessary to it. Plus it was down-right fun to play with poetry for a while!

As we were wrapping up our “pop-up” poetry workshop, one of us commented that we really know how to curate a staff meeting, and the other one said, “I love that word, ‘curate’.” Well that sent us down the ever-inviting rabbit hole of etymology. We had to track down the origin of the word. Turns out it comes from the Latin word cura, meaning “care.” On its way to English, via Old French, it took on the meaning of “looking after” and eventually led to the English word “cure.” In the odd way of language development, the word also gave birth to both “curious” and our word of the day, “curate.”

The modern definition of the noun “curate” includes “one responsible for the care of souls.” The verb means “to act as a curator for” – to select, organize, and look after the items, performers, or performances in an arts event or program.

It struck us that that’s not too far off from what we do here at Larksong – we select and organize and make things happen for writers. That the word we were drawn to encompasses the idea of caring for souls, not just offering classes and reading, gives you an idea of how seriously we take our work, even when we get distracted by poetry or other stories.

Though we didn’t plan it, that diversion was the perfect entryway into the task actually on our agenda for the day: reviewing 40-plus pages of by-laws and other legal documents. The meaning of every word became even more important, though not necessarily as entertaining. We knew we were in for a long slog when we turned our attention to the task, but having that word “curate” in our pockets as we set off on that journey of precise and belabored reading seemed to make the trip easier. It was a reminder of why we’re doing what we do and who we’re doing it for – we belong to a community of literary minded people, writers who love words as much as we do, and our mission is to care for – to curate – this small acre of that community – the one we named Larksong and are loving into being, one productive, meandering staff meeting at a time.

Travel, Writing, Life

Karen Shoemaker

Friday, September 18, 2020

This week Facebook offered up a flurry of five-year-old memories of a trip to New York City, sparked by a photo of me standing in front of the KGB Bar sign that was taken just before I was to give a reading there. The photographer was my good friend Teri Youmans, a poet from Jacksonville Florida, who a year later would travel with me to London where we both would read at a place called the Horse Hospital, an event venue that was, in the distant past – not surprisingly – an actual horse hospital in that historic city.

This week my planner also offered me two full weeks of smudged pages, sad evidence of a multitude of erasures. If not for the Covid pandemic, I would be in Greece right now, this time in the company of another writing friend, Dorothy Ramsey, with whom I’ve joined dreams to create writing retreats in exotic locations. Our first planned endeavor was/is a writers’ retreat in “the birthplace of literature,” but travel bans put a temporary kibosh on that.  

What I mean to say here is, I miss traveling. I miss every memory-making moment, every mundane detail, every rushed, almost-missed connection, every blurred photo op, every blistered heel, every life-changing epiphany born of confusion and fatigue. I miss it all.

What about you? What do you miss from the Before Time? The days before the pandemic?

I know I’ve been incredibly lucky, all my life in general but here I’m referring specifically to the time during the pandemic. My family and I have remained safe and healthy, and I’ve actually had more time to focus on writing. My writing life, though I publish mostly “Nebraska stories,” has been deeply connected to my traveling life. Better writers than I – Cather and Kristeva, for example – have addressed the need for a kind of exile from the motherland in order to grow, to truly see the meaning of home. For me, to experience voluntary exile, the kind of disruption of routine that is the very nature of traveling, is to experience exhilaration and growth beneficial, and even necessary, to my writing.

In some ways, the months of this pandemic has felt like a kind of exile. Even though I am living almost entirely within the confines of my house, yard and neighborhood, breaking out now and then to pick up groceries or other essentials, I still feel as if I’m in a foreign country, sometimes. Where is this familiar place now that the context all around us has changed? Who even is this person living my life now?  

Life keeps moving, despite and because of all the changes, and here at Larksong we’re moving into a new phase, expanding and growing our community. This week we launched a series on-line classes at Larksong with a new group of leaders and writers. The ever-inspiring Lucy Adkins began a 4-week Memoir Writing class, Grace Bauer led a fabulous two-day poetry workshop, and I began a 5-week MFA-style writers’ workshop with a small group of dedicated writers.

It was an exhilarating launch of events for our young organization. I loved a million things about it – not the least of which was being able to write over the erasure smudges in my planner, recording details of the life we’re living now, COVID be damned.

P.S... A note about our trip to Greece - I hasten to say those dreams are delayed, not ended. We have re-scheduled it for next September! Check out the details on our website under Workshops. Join us!


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