Participants Speak

Laura W., CO

I wanted to say thank you for the work and thought you put into last weekend’s conference. For a while I had been feeling adrift, both within my own poems and within the poetry community. I left feeling confident in the direction I want to take my manuscript and in my poetic voice. What I didn’t expect was to meet such great, generous, and urgent poets and to forge the friendships I did. (I certainly never expected to be so happy to have a roommate!) I feel I will be returning often to our time together in Truchas and will always be thankful to have spent time with you, Ellen and all the other poets you brought together.

Vanessa P., TX

I loved the conference! It was well organized, the conference staff created a warm, nurturing environment, and provided excellent feedback. It was amazing what we were able to accomplish in a short period of time. The Truchas Peaks Place was

Deborah B., NH

I brought my second book manuscript to the Colrain Conference because I was stuck—it was not getting taken and I did not know what to do with it. At the Colrain Conference critiques from Joan Houlihan and Peter Covino, editor of Barrow Street Press, told me clearly and kindly what was not working and what I needed to do. Since then I have been revising, happy to have a clear direction as well as an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of my work. I have been to many conferences post -MFA and even since my first book; this was by far the most useful, pointed, effective. Don’t hesitate to go, even though it seems pricey. Joan is a marvelous, articulate reader. Watching her and the editor respond to the manuscript was an education in contemporary poetry and a thrilling experience.

Jenny G., MA
The experience of the Intensive Conference in Greenfield was, in a word, intense! I appreciated so much everyone’s commitment to delving into the diverse manuscripts. The one-on-one work with Joan was extremely helpful– Her sixth sense about poems is a rare gift. I am working to follow her advice to remove my epigraphs, and the poems are emerging with new strength. Peter Covino was amazing in his energy, enthusiasm, and love for poetry. His reading and commenting on our work out loud was respectful, tough, and precise. I will not forget his “chicken dance” for a poem of mine that he liked! The people I met at Colrain are people I will stay in touch with. We have a plan to meet once a month on the computer, organized by one of the participants.

M. Hasemann, NY
Thank you for everything; what a wonderfully provocative weekend! I have attended many many conferences and workshops while lurking through the swamps of arranging a manuscript, and the revelations of the time at Colrain were the most concrete realizations I have had in the past few years of this work. Thank you for providing the structure and guidance to allow epiphany.

Elizabeth Harlan-Ferlo, Portland, OR
“I was hoping to gain insight into how to make my work better, and to better understand the poetry publication process, both of which happened, but I did not expect the intense generosity of the faculty and the other participants throughout the whole weekend. I can’t say enough about how enriched I feel as a poet by a day around the table with Rusty Morrison. I am proud to be a Colrain alum and am ready to approach my work with renewed vigor.”

Joanne Clarkson, Olympia, WA
“Since coming home I have been reading and writing like I haven’t been able to for over a year. I finally know the questions I am trying to ask and answer…If you get the chance, a Colrain is worth every penny and every bit of effort. There is one coming up in September on Whidbey Island.”

Read more: http://joanneclarkson.com/poetry/thankful-for-colrain-conference

Robert Fanning, Mount Pleasant, MI

And as for conspiracy theories about wizards behind the curtain or cruel editors with flamethrowers torching piles of manuscripts and laughing? Pure bunk. Here were editors and poets, in the case of my conference faculty (it changes conference to conference), who, prominent as they are, were some of the friendliest, most down-to-earth and most passionate readers of poetry I’ve ever witnessed, offering us a rare and pure transparent glimpse into their editorial process and the thinking they do—while reading our manuscripts aloud to the group—a process poets aren’t often privy to. They could be tough on the poems, on the manuscripts, yes, and thank goodness(!), but their insight was so staggeringly dead-on, their critical connections so complex and instantaneous, that, frankly, I caught myself gasping a few times. I gained a great deal as a teacher, too, and can’t wait to bring some of these new skills back to my students.

It was a terrific experience: editors at the same table with poets and busy with a mutual task—doing the micro-work of the poetry workshop on a more macro-level, widening (and narrowing) the lens, helping us to get a clearer picture of the book inside the manuscript, while also offering their insights and wisdom about publishing trends and giving advice related to the highly competitive world of poetry publishing.

More…

Reginald Flood, Quaker Hill, CT
participants_aI have been in a lot of workshops and the supportive rigor of the first day was one of my positive productive experiences in poetry. There was a solid critical undertone that engaged the work on its own terms, but demanded that each poem lived up to the aesthetic contract laid out in the best of the manuscript.

I felt welcomed and very comfortable…and the diversity was a real strength of the program. It was wonderful to experience honest rigor with people from different backgrounds. I cannot express how much the generosity of spirit and the authentic recognition of difference at the conference made for a very special weekend.

The conference EXCEEDED my expectations.

Fran Abbate, Beloit, WI Visiting Professor of English, Beloit College
I learned far more about the editing process than I expected. I don’t think I’ll realize how much until later. It’s not just objective knowledge—it’s the whole background and seeing/feeling what an editor goes through with manuscripts. Fascinating, frightening in some ways, and definitely worth knowing!

Steve Fellner, Brockport, NY
The Colrain Manuscript Conference managed to pack into a weekend what a lot of grad school teachers never had time to do in their classes or individually: offer finishing touches to a manuscript eager to be picked up by a publisher. Fred Marchant, my workshop leader, was so incredibly smart and helpful: his advice and knowledge about publishing was useful, information I’ll pass onto my friends and my own students.

Dawn Fewkes, Horseheads, NY
participants_bMy consultation completely changed the way I view the manuscript. The thing I really will never forget is that any poem that I have second thoughts about has to come out.  Since the editor sometimes only looks at two or three poems, if they happen to land on one that is not really representative of the other work, you’ve lost your chance to be considered by that press.  Lesson learned in spades on that one.  I almost can’t believe I didn’t realize this before.  I also learned a great deal from hearing the comments on other manuscripts, since my future manuscripts will surely have different issues than this one.

I needed working poets with sharp technique to look at my work and tell me frankly what they understood it to mean and what was and wasn’t working in terms of technique.  People were very generous with their energy and attention throughout the conference and I feel I have formed a fairly concrete ‘to do’ list in the reshaping and tightening of the manuscript.  I would highly recommend this workshop to any of my friends as they shape their various manuscripts.  I especially liked that no one style dominated.  The workshop leaders took their cues from the manuscripts and from the poet’s themselves and helped the poets come to solutions that were compatible with their own aesthetic instead of trying to make every manuscript fit their own individual aesthetic.  This was extremely helpful and I think Fred did a great job of this. From what I heard from other participants, the other group leaders were equally sensitive to varying aesthetics.

I think the pre-conference exercises definitely prepared the writer to ask themselves questions that the editors might ask.  I also think they were a good starting point for the workshops, since it provided a consistent frame of reference in dealing with a variety of manuscripts.

I expected to leave the conference knowing what needed to be done with the manuscript and I left knowing that, so it completely met my expectations. The setting was quiet and lovely and the food was very good.  I would definitely attend another workshop at this location.

There is nothing like what you are providing. Kudos!

Joanne Diaz, Chicago, Illinois, doctoral candidate, Department of English, Northwestern University
I’m finally able to see this old material with new eyes. Because I’ve been a finalist in five book awards, I’ve become skeptical about the value of my MS. But now I can see that at least some of the poems do have value, and that I can further amplify that value with some serious revision.

LouAnn Muhm, Park Rapids, MN, Teacher, Creative Writing
I am amazed by the amount of information and instruction I gleaned from such a short time. I’m still unpacking it all from my brain (and from my notebook).  I tried to be a sponge, because there was so much high-level conversation going on all the time.  The formal periods of instruction were excellent and informative, but the informal interaction was just as valuable. Just from listening (sort of eavesdropping in some cases) I came up with a huge reading list.  It was a goldmine for me especially, removed as I am from the academic world and from a community of serious poets.

The pre-conference assignments made me look at the manuscript in a detailed way that I would not have if not forced.  I found this intense reflection difficult, and resisted it.  I kept going, however, and made great discoveries.  I know how to do a close reading of a poem; I had not known how to do a close reading of a collection of poems.  I’m still working on this skill. They forced me to think as an editor, so I better understood not only their processes, but their explanations of their processes. Martha (Rhodes) gave suggestions not only on ordering and on the manuscript as a whole, but also on individual poems.  Her suggestions on those specific poems are transferable to many others.

The best way to gain an understanding of the editorial process is to be put in the place of an editor. Listening to others’ editorial processes heightened my learning.

I loved it!

Note:I just had a chapbook, Dear Immovable, accepted for publication by Pudding House Press.  I’m excited!  The feedback I received at Colrain certainly helped me refine both the poems and the manuscript, so thanks to all of you!

Sam Cherubin, West Hartford, CT
My consultation was enormously helpful, and in specific ways. It was also very helpful to hear responses to the other manuscripts, seeing similar weaknesses in everyone’s manuscripts: poor order, weak poems besides great ones, losing the reader, etc. Other observations: the quality of participants’ poetry was exceptional. Some of the best contemporary poetry I’ve seen, with new voices. Spending time with Joan and Fred was a major highlight. I understand much more about how a book should be structured. The venue was great.

Claire Keyes, Marblehead, MA Professor Emerita, Salem State College
The pre-conference assignments were so thorough that they helped me to think through the nature of my ms. I thought my order made sense. I learned that logic isn’t necessarily of primary importance when ordering the poems! Yes. I loved it (the Round House). The way it was built helped us to bond with one another.

Tracy Kroetsky, Berkley, CA
The word “valuable” doesn’t do the (pre-conference) assignments justice. They were deep: illuminating, provocative, and weirdly, simultaneously comforting and disconcerting. I don’t think it’s possible to see one’s own manuscript in the same light after doing them. In fact, I suspect they will affect the way I read all volumes of poetry from now on. While my (editorial) consultation was helpful, the consultations cumulatively were …well they were definitely amongst the most profound writing experiences I ever had. I learned so much during that day as I eavesdropped on the operation of an exquisite sensibility in action. Jeff (Shotts) was kind and very generous to every one of us — I can’t overstate that — but even more relevant, he was precise, his articulation consistently lucid, his assessments, incisive. With Jeff Shotts, I climbed a bigger, higher ladder than I had ever even had access to before, and you know, he made it so easy, I didn’t even feel scared up there.

Attending the Colrain Manuscript Conference was undoubtedly the most profound poetry experience I’ve ever had. What I learned in forty-eight hours will be with me for years to come. I felt intellectually nourished and supported. Oh, and I really laughed a lot.

Mary Crow, Fort Collins, CO, Poet Laureate of Colorado
The consultation was helpful in many, many ways.  I made a long list of things I wanted to consider that were generated in sessions with the entire group.  Almost always the editors used specific examples to indicate general principles and those applied to every manuscript.  We all needed to hear about optimum spacing, about correct pagination, as well as diction weaknesses, ordering ideas, etc.  I also found it valuable to have my own manuscript reacted to.  The responses to the early poems included suggestions for revision of one of them, the query for me to address to myself about the third poem and how its operating in a different way from the first two could be justified, etc.  He also asked general questions that I will apply to my revision, including “Are the epiphanies readymade?”

Also extremely helpful to hear responses to the other manuscripts.  I learned as much or more from the critiques of others’ manuscripts as I did from the critique of mine.  It was not only not distracting it was essential.

Excellent food, excellent setting and atmosphere.  The sleeping accommodations were basic but the price was right.  We got a great deal given what we paid. I would definitely attend an event here again.

Linda Young, Plattsburgh, NY, Editor, The Saranac Review
The pre-conference assignments were the most valuable part of the conference overall: even more so than coming! They got me thinking anew about the book and got me excited again. I definitely came away with useful ideas for my manuscript. I loved the venue! Rebekah was fantastic, and I found the food to be fabulous! I would defintely attend an event here again. Thank you to Rebekah for her loving presence and wonderful cooking.

Lauren Rusk, Palo Alto, CA, Teacher of Writing and Literature, Stanford University
Our time together remains vividly in my mind; I very much enjoyed getting to know you and Fred a bit, as well as several of the participants, and I anticipate continuing these associations. The most useful parts of the conference for me were doing the thought-provoking and instructive pre-conference assignments, hearing the editors speak on the panel about their motivations and daily realities, and receiving your insightful feedback on the parts of my manuscript we discussed in the workshop.

Connie Hershey, Concord, MA, Founder, Artifact Press, Ltd.
My ms. was pretty much dead on the shelf.  The opportunity to attend the conference brought it and the poet in me back to life.  I revised it very substantially before the conference, with a bit of help from the assignments.  Then, the actual conference gave me new insights about what is possible with ordering the ms. and a new determination to weed out weak poems.  Major revision ahead.  It also gave me the kick I needed in order to move ahead and start submitting it.

Allegra Wong, Boston, MA
The workshops showed us what an editor is seeking. My consultation with Dennis Maloney, White Pine Press, was helpful in several specific ways. I also found it helpful to hear responses to the other manuscripts. I found it very exciting to watch how he handled each manuscript.

Poets Joan Houlihan, Teresa Cader, and Fred Marchant are dedicated and dynamic workshop leaders. I know now ever more about the publishing world–how presses receive hundreds of fine manuscripts and how they must select among so many fine ones.

I would attend an event at this venue again. For the oneness it allowed us all.

Daniel Blasi, Boston, MA
The pre-conference assignments were very insightful. They allowed me to look at my manuscript in a new way. Prior to using the pre conference exercises, I would rip apart my manuscript in a frantic haphazard way after getting a round of semi-finalists or finalists letters from contests. I was sure I needed to do something drastic to get my book for the next level. But these exercises, gave me a logical and grounded way to look at my manuscript and its short coming. Whether it was problems with diction, order or problems with weak poems, all of the exercises prepared me to receive feedback and understand where the leaders and the editors were coming from.

What I enjoyed most about the workshop (and the conference as a whole) was that everyone was a colleague. Were we tough, yes, but we were honest and respectful. It was also great to share “war stories” of why we were at the conference and what we were looking to get out of it. The workshops were more like “editorshops” where we were acting as editors critiquing each other’s work, but also turning that editor eye back onto our own manuscripts. After the workshop session I knew what poem my editor would tell me to chuck.

Better than useful ideas, I came away with a title. And it works. I also came away with a new order and that works. I also came away with what needs to be cut.

My editor was an excellent reader/editor. It was nice to hear his process, and then have him go through the process. Read your poems out loud and hear why it was working or not working. How it addresses the overall manuscript, or not. He offered me ideas about cutting lines in poems, order of poems and a poem to take out. Also he let you know, if he were reading a mms. for a contest, where it would rate, semi-finalist, finalist, second reader, etc.

Most helpful was being in a group; to have him read the other participant’s mms. He would make a point about something specific, like a mixed metaphor and how it is not working, and I thought, “um, I’ve got a few of them that I should look at more closely.” Or stacked images, and I would think, I’ve a few of them that I can get rid of in my mms.

It was nice to be with people who were in the same boat as you—whether they were the new Poet Laureate from Virginia who was looking for a new publisher, or someone whose book of fiction is coming out from FSG, but really is a poet, or someone who graduated from an MFA “X” years ago.  The exercises reinvigorated me and gave me a new way to look at the poems in my mms. The workshops, though exhausting, were great, and the final meeting with the editor was great.

Regina Nervo, Westminster, CA
I have so many new ideas for my book as well as a sense of urgency to bring poetry to more people by selling books and a new wild idea that Long Beach needs a poetry center too!

Tom Lombardo, Atlanta, GA
My editor was very, very helpful. He directed all of his comments to the GROUP as well as the individual. He did an excellent job of generalizing his comments outward from the specific so that we could all learn.

The conference exceeded my expectations. I had one basic expectation going in: I wanted to meet small press editors and publishers and exposed them to my work. This is a networking issue, not a writing issue, and I’m being sincere about that goal. So, I met that goal as I had a chance to meet Jeffrey Levine and April Ossman, talk with them, and get to know them, and hopefully, they got to know me a bit. That was an important goal.

But the conference went beyond that expectation. Frankly, I had NO expectations that I would receive any help on my ms. itself—on the ordering and inclusion of poems—because I thought my ms. was in great shape already. Well, I learned that the poems are terrific, but I need to restructure the ms. I learned that I have two long series (the chapbooks noted above) that MUST be lifted out and submitted separately as chapbooks. This is an important admission on my part. Those chapbooks are really good, but they need to exist on their own.

I would certainly recommend this conference to my colleagues (and already have).

Pat Lowry Collins, MA
The Colrain conference was everything I’d hoped it would be and more. I feel well on my way, now, to a publishable manuscript and have made many new friends. I came away with useful ideas for my manuscript and with a confidence in it I didn’t have when I arrived.

The editor’s consultation boosted my confidence greatly and made me think of my work in a different light. I have a better idea now of what to eliminate and tighten, and I feel as if the work as a whole is more cohesive than I first thought .

It was also very helpful to hear responses to other manuscripts. It gave not only a broader view, but also a basis for comparison that clarified what was strong or weak in own work.

Dr. Barbara McGrath, NM
I’d already done a lot of hard work ordering my ms. and had some good, legitimate help from some very reputable poets and poet-teachers. However, at Colrain I got many additional good suggestions, mainly for fine-tuning—and that could make all the difference. I have a list of “ms. tasks” I’m going to undertake as soon as possible. I’ve attended many conferences over the years and been most helped by tidbits of information and felt lucky if I came away with one or two. This time, I came away with many. I had to use shorthand to get them all down.

The pre-conference assignments helped me, and will continue to help me, consider my ms. in new ways.

I got more from this conference than I have from most poetry conferences I’ve attended—and I’ve attended many—from Alaska to New York and many places in between.

JoAnne McFarland, Brooklyn, NY
The pre-conference assignments were enormously provocative, helped me clarify many things, gain an in-depth knowledge of my manuscript. I thought I already had that, but no. Also, it helped that I had an extended period of time in which to consider the questions. I used it all, mulling, switching things around, obsessing.

I gained a good sense of how an editor might proceed (or not) through the manuscript. He made an effort to note positives as well as ‘areas of challenge’. It helped enormously that he read a few poems aloud, so that then I got a good sense of where he might trip up. He was methodical, describing the reasoning behind each point he made. I found him very clear, and since his knowledge is encyclopedic, it was great.

Both days have proven to be more helpful in moving the work to the next level than I thought they would be. In ways I hadn’t forseen.

I was hoping for a new way of looking at the manuscript; I got that.

Judith Zukerman, Madison, WI
The whole process, my preparation before the preparation exercises, the preparation exercises, the thoughtful feedback from my workshop leader and others in my manuscript group, looking at the other manuscripts especially the high quality of the work, and the feedback that I got from the editor all have helped my work immeasurably.

I felt the quality of my manuscript group was superb, both Fred Marchant and the feedback from the other participants in the group.

The countryside is beautiful and gives you a feeling of being removed which adds a special quality to the conference and people act in genuine and good ways with one another. The food is excellent, healthy and tastefully prepared and even the one helping out assignment is good. People get a chance to interact with one another in a different way and sometimes work with someone that isn’t in any of their groups.

Kristin Kelly, Iowa City, IA
It [the conference] was an intense—emotionally and physically—but the kind of intense that winds up, after aches and pull, being good for you.

[Jeff Shotts, Graywolf] was incredible. Very generous with his comments across the board. He was respectful, but constructive, which I believe is the best combination.

I’m surprised at how incredibly well the whole conference went. It’s amazing how much we got through in two days!

Holly Guran, Roslindale, MA
What I know now: how important the initial poems are; what title I need to use (and not use); that I should keep the manuscript shorter rather than longer and include only the strongest work; that some poems I thought were weak are strong and vice versa.

The food was great, I loved Rebecca’s energy and pizzazz and the round house environment. Walks down the road offered beautiful scenes, and the sun shone down on us. I slept in the annex which was very comfortable.

Marissa Martinez, Arlington, MA
What a fabulous opportunity to see what an editor experiences when opening the manuscript envelope. He provided a step-by-step guide through his thought process as he opened the manuscript, considered a number of things not related to the work itself, but which can influence his openness to reading it, and then a thoughtful consideration of the poems he selected to read. I found them [his comments] honest and the whole process for him risky. He was exposing himself and his thought process as much as the writers were in their poetry. If I had simply wanted someone to say, “great job; can I keep this?” I would have given them to my grandmother.

My approach to the process was similar to any other approach to a sales opportunity. While that may seem crass and go against the “artist ethic,” the truth is, we are trying to sell our manuscripts, albeit to someone with a poet aesthetic if not a poet themselves. In that case, I had everything to learn and gain from hearing what he said. As with any feedback, I always have the choice to accept or reject it (perhaps at my peril (smile). Either way, he has something to teach me—I just need to figure out what that is.

I personally appreciated his honesty, his focus on the work, what worked for him and what didn’t, and even ideas for things I could try—primarily attention to syntax and possibly line breaks. Overall I was encouraged by the process.

About the venue: Christopher Alexander, in The Timeless Way of Building, talked about creating spaces within a building that encourages gatherings both large and intimate. This building [The Round House] provides that. I loved that the musicians in the group picked up the instruments on occasion and displayed the acoustic nature of the larger space.

Ellen Miller-Mack, Northampton, MA
The conference was a great experience. It was mindbending (if I may quote myself) & the total emersion aspect of was provocative & rich. I’m just beginning to send my work out, and even though getting published is a remote possibility, I learned enough over the 4 days to feel more savvy about the nuances of the process, & oddly enough, more optimistic. Being around Fred Marchand was a major highlight. I am dazzled by the energy he sustained over a long day & the whole conference, both in relation to the written work & the actual people. His skill & knowledge are substantial, & he seems like a gentle soul. I consider myself very lucky to have been in his workshop.

Barry Koplan, Virginia
To learn how to view my poetry through an editor’s eyes was invaluable. Every aspect of my manuscript was examined in meaningful detail. Having others to share questions with produced a dynamic synergy that facilitated learning. What I was able to understand in three days would have taken years. In one particularly revelatory session, I pinpointed the central weakness of almost every poem I had ever written…

The organization of the conference was impeccable in a most inspiring way. Not a moment was wasted.

Ellen Wehle, Salem, MA
It was extremely helpful to hear the editor musing aloud on all of the manuscripts, and to finally get a glimpse into the editors’ process. For example, I never knew they really do take a look at (and care about) journal publication. I was also glad to hear his explanation of the manuscript as a work of art or holistic entity.

Fred [Marchant] was marvelous at creating a sense of safety and group-ness: I noticed that even the beginning writers were comfortable “baring” themselves. Considering we only met for one session, it was amazing how detailed our discussion became and for this Fred gets all the credit…he created the right conditions. A truly gifted teacher.

I came home rejuvenated & loaded with ideas.

Tracy Kroetsky, Berkley, CA
The word “valuable” doesn’t do the (pre-conference) assignments justice. They were deep: illuminating, provocative, and weirdly, simultaneously comforting and disconcerting. I don’t think it’s possible to see one’s own manuscript in the same light after doing them. In fact, I suspect they will affect the way I read all volumes of poetry from now on. While my (editorial) consultation was helpful, the consultations cumulatively were …well they were definitely amongst the most profound writing experiences I ever had. I learned so much during that day as I eavesdropped on the operation of an exquisite sensibility in action. Jeff (Shotts) was kind and very generous to every one of us — I can’t overstate that — but even more relevant, he was precise, his articulation consistently lucid, his assessments, incisive. With Jeff Shotts, I climbed a bigger, higher ladder than I had ever even had access to before, and you know, he made it so easy, I didn’t even feel scared up there.

Attending the Colrain Manuscript Conference was undoubtedly the most profound poetry experience I’ve ever had. What I learned in forty-eight hours will be with me for years to come. I felt intellectually nourished and supported. Oh, and I really laughed a lot.