Registration for the 2016 Clockhouse Writers’ Conference & Retreat is Still Open!
On a balmy summer night last year, the participants of the Clockhouse Writers’ Conference & Retreat gathered in the Clockhouse at the center of Goddard’s Vermont campus for the conference’s first readings. Some of us knew each other well already, and some had just met. We were about to share an intimate week together, so by way of preparation, we went around the room saying our names, genres, and assorted facts about ourselves. Poet Maggie Cleveland mentioned that she works for NEIEP, the National Elevator Industry Educational Program, “although I don’t come from an elevator background.” When I stopped laughing, I started to wonder why it was funny. Like the 2015 Plenary Panel topic, “Getting Lost,” this year’s topic began as a chuckle and opened into a series of fruitful questions.What are our backgrounds, and in what ways have we stayed in place versus sprinting, strolling, or dragging ourselves until we can stand in front of a different scrim? What kinds of backgrounds do we claim or renounce? What matters in our backgrounds, and what is left behind, outgrown, or papered over? “In the Background” suggests to me the idea that our pasts are open to certain types of alteration. We can rethink, rewrite, and compensate, but never fully escape. I also relish “backgrounding” and “foregrounding” as verbs, processes through which we decide what to bring into razor focus and what will remain exquisitely blurred.
“In the Background” could be about families and their pasts; it could be about art and the easily-overlooked detail that turns out to be the key to everything; it could be about the distractions and white noise that play quietly in our minds while we try to do something else. It could be about the experience–one I first had in 1998 as a nervous twenty-something beginning my MFAW– of putting our full-time lives briefly on hold as our Goddard lives come to the fore. For five days, we have a pared-down set of responsibilities and a luxurious array of artistic challenges; we are transplanted out of our usual communities and into one which is no less vivid and meaningful for being ephemeral. I’m thrilled to be speaking on the 2016 Plenary Panel with Michelle Embree and Susanna Graham-Pye. Maggie Cleveland, having already provided inspiration, will also be our moderator. I hope you can join us on June 27 as we riff on the background and move forward with our Goddard lives.