I'm in need of grounding myself this morning. This past weekend, I participated in a writers' retreat at Black Earth Institute in Black Earth, Wisconsin. Founded in 2004 by Michael McDermott and his late wife, the poet Patricia Monaghan, Black Earth promotes thinking and creating across realms—including the environment, social justice, and spirituality. The institute is tucked into the side of a hill in a rambling house with a rambling, multi-tiered garden surrounding it. The physical place is called Brigit Rest, and I found it to be an earthly paradise in Wisconsin's driftless area.
Brigit Rest gets its name from the Celtic goddess and Christian saint of the 5th century. Perhaps it's because Michael is an Irishman, or because the bookshelves are full of books about Celtic lore, or maybe it's just because there's so much green everywhere, but I felt transported to the land of Céad Mile Fáilte, Gaelic for "a hundred thousand welcomes." Brigit Rest is a very welcoming place.
The retreat was organized by my friend and fellow poet, Sarah Sadie Busse. The other writers present were Cris Carusi, Marnie Bullock Dresser, Margaret Rozga, Wendy Vardaman, and yours truly. We didn't have a preconceived plan. We talked when we wanted to talk. The rest of the time, we worked on whatever we'd brought to work on. Thanks to our hosts, Michael and Charlene, we ate really well, enjoying fresh food from the garden all weekend.
Sarah created a good frame for our time together by reminding us of the five keys to writing that are ours for the taking, or rather, the embracing: space, time, community, courage, and permission.
As we wrote, ate, shared, read, and wrote some more, we realized we all struggle to find time to focus on writing. All the responsibilities of life pull us in many directions, so whether we write poems, plays, novels, short stories, blog posts, or articles, we can't always find the time we need. But we agreed that focus is necessary and encouraged each other to do that. We also talked about the urge to do more collaboratively, to work with others to combine word and image, or word and action. There's so much to do. It's good to take stock with friends from time to time and acknowledge the many ways that our work unfolds into the world.
I'd like to stay connected to the magic of Brigit Rest. In the weeks and months ahead, I'll find myself walking far on this earth. In fact, I'll go all the way to Malawi, Africa, where I'm going to start the process of planning and building a children's reading garden with the help of friends there. More on this in the days to come.
As I go, I'll keep a little sliver of Brigit Rest in my back pocket, a reminder of all the ways that we inspire each other, all the ways this world can be both heaven and earth at the same time. Despite all the roadblocks and pitfalls out there, and we know they are out there, my time at Brigit Rest reminded me that the world is lush and nourishing, always a poem in the making.