Miguel Poetry Week: A Poet's Dream Come True
reprinted fromThe Miami Herald
I first told my daughter I planned to attend a poetry workshop
in San Miguel de Allende, she replied, "A
poetry workshop? I'd rather have root canal!" I understood. A week
spent reading, writing, critiquing and listening to poetry does
not add up to paradise in everyone's lexicon. But if you, like
me, derive almost as much pleasure from describing a pineapple
as from eating one, the San Miguel Poetry Week is one event you
won't want to miss, either as a participant or as a spectator.
(Nightly readings are open to the public free of charge.)
Each January, poets--newcomers and pros alike-- descend on San
Miguel in Guanajuato, a town renowned for its cobblestone streets,
lush vegetation and colonial ambiance. (A more poetic place would
be hard to find.)
They are drawn by an event unique to Mexico, a weeklong celebration
of the craft of English language poetry. For the past nine years,
under the able guidance of its founders, Barbara Sibley and Jennifer
Clement, sisters and poets raised in Mexico City, the San Miguel
Poetry Week has offered the opportunity to meet, study and consult
with like minded individuals, among them some of the most distinguished
poets writing in English today.
include: Yusef Komunyakaa, Robert Hass, Alfred Corn, Cornelius
Eady, X.J. Kennedy, W.D. Snodgrass, W.S. Merwin, Forrest Gander,
Patricia Geodicke, C.D. Wright, and Naomi Shihab Nye. (Marjorie
Agosín, Mark Doty, Alistair Reid and Carolyn
Wright have been invited for 2005.) All are widely published and
anthologized and include a former poet laureate, the recipient
of the Premio Gabriela Mistral, and several Pulitzer Prize winners,
along with the beneficiaries of prestigious fellowships and awards.
Unlike poetry programs where guest poets are accorded celebrity
status and kept at a distance, poets and workshop participants
are lodged in the same hotel, the centrally located Posada de las
Monjas. Though a little down at the heels, it is clean and comfortable,
radiates a funky charm all its own, and makes casual socializing
over breakfast or a snack almost inevitable. Where else could you
share a plate of huevos a la mexicana and discuss literary venues
or Mexican handicrafts with the person whose poetry has been your
source of inspiration?
first participated a little over a year ago and was immediately
struck by the group's diversity. Aside from the faculty, which
consists of four major poets and the two organizers, my fellow
participants included a Newfoundland fisherman, a Canadian farmer,
a photographer, several academics, a blues guitarist, an author
of children's books, and a social anthropologist. They ranged
in age from youngsters in their twenties to retirees in their
eighties, and hailed from all over the United States and Canada.
(Included as well were a few expatriates, like myself.) Some,
but not all, had published extensively and were recipients of
grants and prizes. (Applicants, regardless of experience, are
chosen on the basis of their work, and preference is given to
those who have attended previously. Close to 75% choose to return.)
Each year, in spite of their differences, participants are drawn
together into a cohesive unit, which results, in part, from skillful
leadership as well as from our shared interest in the craft of
poetry, a love for the English language, and a desire to share
our work and learn from each other.
the first day, we congregate at the Instituto de Bellas Artes,
an impressive colonial style building placed around a courtyard
garden, and our meeting place for the length of our stay. We
are then assigned to one of four groups. Throughout the week,
each group meets daily with a different poet, and its members
are given the opportunity to
"workshop" their poems. Afternoons allow ample time to sightsee,
write, and socialize, and participants often meet informally to
read each other's work. Evenings are set aside for readings by
faculty and a few invited guests--including a number of Mexican
poets like Luis Miguel Aguilar and Victor Manuel Mendiola. These
events, held in the Instituto de Bellas Artes' ample auditorium,
have become popular with San Miguel's English speaking residents.
This year I was unable to participate for the entire session but
decided, a few weeks in advance, to drive up for the last poetry
reading when faculty, guests, and participants each present one poem.
But when I called the hotel for reservations I was told they were
"I'm sorry," the receptionist told me, "but
that's when the poets are coming."
"But I am a poet," I
in that case there's no problem. We'll find you a room."
Nowadays, being a poet may not open many doors, but it's nice to
know that in San Miguel it can still make a difference.