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Poetry and Utopian Communities

Forrest Gander, the 2019 Pulitzer winner (for his collection, Be With) was the keynote speaker at the Sierra Poetry Festival.   

The theme of his address was what was poetry’s role in Felt Experience?  Recording?  Expression?

He described his current work – ReWilding 

The  film focuses on the residents of intentional communities in South Eastern US.  His goal was to record the voices of people living off the grid.  Ad using those interviews and comments to create poetry.  He asks – and answers the question: What does it mean to live off the grid?  What does it mean to live intentionally?

While we are answering that question using film, music and the spoken word –  his message to this audience was that it is okay, even desirable to feed your poetry through the study and exploration of seemingly obscures subjects.  What is your passion project?  (We discussed this, remember?)  Can working on your passion project feed your poetry?  I argue that such project can feed much more.  Your passion project can reveal something you need but didn’t before recognize.  It can inspire you to leap to the next fabulous project.  It can be itself, a project that delivers wonderful meaning to your life.   

To be brutally honest I did not find the depiction of these  Intentional Communities  inspirational. I couldn’t help but recall all the Utopian communities that flourished then faded in the late 19th century. My favorite was Fruitlands, founded by Bronson Alcott, a dreamer,  philosopher  and lousy provider. Fruitlands was based on – you guessed it – fruit.  Vegan before it was a thing, the small hardy band of utopians, mostly the girls and Louisa’s mother, Abby May, moved to a displayed farm house and proceeded to follow the new healthy restrictions of the community.   Bronson and his invited friends wiled away the spring and summer days talking philosophy, while all the women worked themselves almost to death. It was all good until winter.  

A brief insurrection was staged and the group moved back to town.

Louisa May was never a fan and does make a few asides about these communities in subsequent novels.

But the point, rather than discussing the joys of living wild, and eating road kill and growing your own pot, is that Gander as a poet, is continually exploring and testing limits.  That is the take away.

What weird and crazy thing do you want to explore?

Remember,  Google can be your friend. And you don’t need to be vegan to create your own alternative community.

Post your poetry and ideas to my facebook page What’s Your Story?


Catharine Bramkamp is a successful writing coach and author. She has published over 300 newspaper and magazine articles in publications like Modern Maturity (AARP), SF Chronicle and Santa Rosa Magazine. She was a contributor to two Chicken Soup Books and has published anthologies of her work, non-fiction works and novels. Her work has also appeared in a number of poetry and fiction anthologies. She has experimented with the self-publishing world since 2001. She has published and self-published seven books through companies like Author House, author assist companies like 3L Publishing and through traditional publishers like Write Life. Her poetry collection, Ammonia Sunrise, will be released in August 2011 by Finishing Line Press and her mystery novel, In Good Faith will be released by Write Life in 2011. Catharine holds a BA in English from UCSB and a MA in English from Sonoma State University. She is a 25 year member of California Writer’s Club. She is an adjunct professor for the University of Phoenix. She works with authors of both fiction and non-fiction to make their dream of producing a book come true. For more information on that, visit her at Catharine has lived in Sonoma County for 25 years and considers wine a food group. She is married to an adorable and very patient man who complains he’s never featured in any of her books. Her grown children who are featured in a few of her books have fled the county.

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