One more Sunday Studio at Montalvo, 3/25 + A word in favor of writing exercises

For the past two Sundays, we’ve been meeting here in one of the two composer’s studios at Montalvo Arts Center  while I’ve been here on a residency for the month of March.  I was fortunate to be assigned a Composer’s Studio because for part of the time, I’ve been collaborating with Composer/Cellist/Vocalist Theresa Wong on On Growth + Form, a series of poems and compositions based on the decorously ecstatic 1945 natural history compendium by Sir D’Arcy Thompson. More on this in another entry!
Because it’s been such a splendid place to have the writing studio, I thought it would be nice to meet here one more time, (even though tomorrow wasn’t on the regular schedule) so tomorrow we’ll meet at the regular time, 4:00 – 6:00.  But as this is an unplanned session, I thought we could dedicate it predominantly to writing “exercises” rather than our usual structure (part generative exercises, part workshop, etc).  Working with Theresa, and living in this acoustically plush studio for the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking alot about the relationship of language and music, and about the value in writing, of some equivalent to vocal warm-up exercises and playing scales, etc.

I sense a kind of stigma against writing exercises, but I’ve always found them to be useful in the way they can often allow you to come into a preoccupation from an oblique angle, or just loosen up some calcified habit.  I was kind of amazed (and vindicated!) to hear Louise Glück, at her colloquium last month at Stanford speak in favor of writing exercises.  I think of her as so delphic.  But to be both delphic and in favor of writing exercises is not necessarily contradictory.   – if you’re going to be an instrument, it’s good to be tuned – as CA Conrad’s oracular (Soma)tic Poetry Exercises so fully demonstrate.  And now there are 27 of them gathered together in his new book, A Beautiful Marsupial Afternoon.

Yes, writing requires wide swaths of solitude, but there’s something very grounding in the hum of collective attention in the room when everyone is writing together.  So we’ll play with that tomorrow and settle in and see what happens.

Then on April 1, the studio will resume at its usual place and time in the Art Lounge at City Center from 4 – 6.
Also, Theresa teaches a Vocal Workshop in Berkeley (next one:  3/31) and for this month she’s focusing the workshop on graphic scores.  If you live in the Bay Area, I highly recommend trying it out, if you’d like to relate more fully to your voice, whether you think of yourself as a vocalist or not!


&,  coming up:  I’ll be teaching an all-day workshop at City Center on May 20, The Feast of Losses:  Writing into Transience.


The Feast of Losses: Writing into Transience

Here’s a workshop I’ll be teaching at SFZC City Center on Sunday, June 10 from 10 – 5.

The Feast of Losses: Writing into Transience

“Death is the mother of beauty.” – Wallace Stevens

In “The Layers,” Stanley Kunitz asks, “How shall the heart be reconciled / to its feast of losses?” Grief and loss can feel like a solitary, unprecedented process. Encountering a poem that speaks to our experience can help us find connection and perspective, and provide a way for us turn toward what is difficult to bear. How can a poem about death instruct us in the full catastrophic miracle of being alive? We will read work that explores the possibility that there is no monolithic proposition that can be simply called loss.

What is the relationship of creativity and grief? Is there a place no poem can reach? Or can reading, or writing, a poem actually help us reach depths of feeling previously inaccessible to us? What do we find here and how is it different from what we fear?

We will write short poems and prose pieces exploring grief and loss with an eye toward shaping the pieces into a longer poem or lyric essay.

Please bring:

  • plenty of fresh paper and a juicy pen
  • a piece of your own writing (for discussion, not required)
  • a short poem or prose piece that has provided a sense of company in a difficult time
  • a photograph and/or an object that has resonance for you

A reader including Mark Doty, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Olena Kalytiak Davis, Marilynne Robinson, Marie Howe, Richard McCann, Dorothea Lasky, Naomi Shihab Nye, Stanley Kunitz, Elizabeth McCracken, Mark Doty, Jillian Weise, Joan Didion, Jane Hirshfield, Rainer Maria Rilke, Matthew Dickman, and others will be provided.

For an additional $25 fee, students can arrange to meet with the instructor for an individual one-hour conference (to be scheduled by instructor and student).

Questions? Feel free to email Genine.

Retreat fee: $90; $81 current SFZC members; $72 limited income.

Registration: please visit, or call 888.743.9362  or 415.475.9362.,119&pageid=3164