Friday, August 27, 2010
What Can Words Do?
There is so much to say about the Sun Valley Writers' Conference. Appropriate, considering that it is a writers' conference - a gathering of intellectuals, all invited to Idaho for one weekend to discuss a certain theme, this year's being 'What Words Can Do.' Naturally, there's a lot to say.
I can start with words of thanks, to Margo who brought the conference into our lives in the first place. Margo has a home in Gimlet, a woodsy region not far from the lodge where the writers convene. The perfect hostess, Margo makes us feel at home in her home. Her house is the cozy type where everywhere you look is a place to curl up with a blanket, with tea and a muffin, to read your book. Appropriate, considering that after listening to talks and discussing them afterward, all you really want to do, is read.
And hike. Margo knows Sun Valley like the back of her hand, so while we weren't cuddled up at her house or doing conference-y things, she led us to some of the more scenic hiking trails I have ever seen. Switching back and forth on the path, I was engulfed by the angles, slopes and trees that make up this new paradise to me.
When we weren't soaking in the great outdoors, in between conference events we talked about anything and everything we've heard, every harrowing challenge or inspirational incite. The conversation between Paul Holdengräber and British psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips on topics ranging from resourcefulness to television, from balance to tickling. The heated Q&A with Aayan Hirsi Ali where she presented her fierce advocacy for the human rights of Muslim women. Supreme Court Justice Breyer speaking about years of patience. All of these ideas and concepts provided for endless conversation. The experience is one where we listen, but it's also an opportunity to open our eyes so we can see.
What can words do? Um, everything. Before heading to Idaho, I perused the "line-up" and saw that poet and memoir writer Mary Karr would be in attendance. Conveniently, I was in need of a good book to read. I bought Lit and, unable to put it down, finished it on the airplane just as we made our final descent into Sun Valley. I'm always embarrassed to cry on an airplane, but I just went with it. I can't help what words can do.
I'll tell you one thing words can't do is even try to describe what it was like to hear Mary Karr speak about the process of writing Lit, as well as her take on how to enjoy a good poem. Obviously, meeting her was the highlight of the weekend, but listening to her speak was the real treat. Ms. Karr gave two outstanding presentations.
The first, to a larger crowd, was about memoir and truth. The second, to a much more intimate gathering, was about poetry and why we don't always understand the poems we read. In an even more intimate conversation (see above) she told me that when it comes to my own writing I need to trust myself. If ever there was a writer to prove that where there is truth there is poetry, Mary Karr fills that position. She signed my copy of her poetry collection and wrote, "Good luck with your words."
What can words do? Begin...