By Suzi Banks Baum
(mend, meld, embellish)
(throw, sculpt, print)
(cut, sand, etch)
(revise, refresh, reorder)
(fire, felt, needle)
(immerse, stir, wring)
(frame, obscure, erase)
(rap, clap, dance)
(ping, pong, sing)
(read, immerse, converse)
(toast, sip, dine)
(exhibit, hide out, hang out)
(serve, sweeten, sob)
(call home, tattoo, retell)
This is the fourth year that writers are included at the Pentaculum residency of Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. We live in the Staff House, the odd ones behind closed doors who may drift through a studio at the edge of the day or after our public readings, mooning over the way enamel changes color in the seconds it is pulled out of a compact kiln in the Glass Studio or lingering in the Wood Studio redolent with sawdust from fresh damp cherry or aged pine or reclaimed church pews. We watch, we inquire, and we take it all in.
We arrived in Gatlinburg ready, but not sure for what. We are open to the experience offered us by Arrowmont, and deeply grateful to be so well housed and fed. Each studio is filled by invitation from the studio heads. The writers are led by Katey Schultz, author of Flashes of War and the upcoming, Still Come Home. Some of us arrive with specific tasks in mind, manuscripts that need line edits or poems that need to be organized for a chapbook. What happens surprises us, because what is suddenly unusual is this open space.
Desiree Cooper writes: “The gift the universe gave me was a severe head cold just as I was coming to Pentaculum. I arrived foggy and achy and dulled–not the way I needed to be in order to be productive. But I should have remembered how ideas bloom in stillness, and how they’re nurtured by engagement with generous, creative people. That’s exactly what happened. My week at Pentaculum was a week of sowing, watering, waiting and reaping. Perfect.”
There is time at Pentaculum to focus. Each of us works in the world in different capacities in a variety of settings, one is a studio potter, one is a letterpress artist who paints murals, one is a radio show host, one cares for aging parents, several teach in university settings, many of us do things other than write, but when afforded the luxury of open space and the treasure of freedom from our daily responsibilities, we do the bigger, deeper, more focused writing work that we yearn to do more of, but must carve that time out of paying work, family responsibilities, and the busyness of daily life.
Terry Gess writes: “For me, in both pottery and in writing the pursuit is in the process. Each activity is in its own way like walking at night, finding myself out of doors in total darkness, walking from my studio to home, my eyes still constricted by the bright studio lights and blind to the path under foot. I’m walking along with a kind of faith in my sense of touch, knowing the way based on having walked it before, knowing by sense the number of steps, the slight slope in the lane at the halfway point. I’m not talking about unconscious sleepwalking here, rather of finding the way by feel, by using one’s own memory, of following a path based on intuition and gathered experience.”
We build new muscles in a residency where hours hold themselves open, blank pages, quiet desks, hot tea and all. Roger Peet is working on a large-scale piece about uranium, the history of mining and the effect of power and greed on the planet. This kind of writing does not happen in short visits to the coffee shop after work. This kind of writing needs time to tape pages and pages to the wall in order to see some order or flow to our work.
We had many discussions with the visual artists of Pentaculum about what it means to have writers on campus, the mostly silent studio who fashion our work out of seeming air rather than blocks of red clay or raw wool. Silence and solitude are key ingredients to our process, while the visual artists work in shared studios abuzz with conversations about craft, often with music blasting, and always the sounds of laughter and activity.
In contrast, the halls of the Staff Lounge are silent. We pad around the house in slippers, we have a designated co-working lounge, also silent, and adhere to quiet hours in the house so that a random phone call will not jar another writer from the temperamental flow of writing that once tapped, we never want to scare off. And yes, we work in our bedrooms. Working in isolation may explain why we are so devoted to our evening conversations in the main lounge of the Staff House where we keep company after our readings with a bottle of Scotch, a gift box of baklava, to pursue questions as a group.
On each of the three evenings we read, all the seats were full of people coming from their studios to listen to us try out new work, relay new ideas, or tell stories from our bigger narratives. It is unique behavior here at Arrowmont to share the creative space with the literary arts. Many artists have told us how meaningful it is, how enlightening, relaxing, and exciting it is to hear our words. Zeke Leonard and Travis Townsend from the Wood Studio told us that listening to our words allowed them to put down the work in their hands and let their emotional lives mingle more in their creative space. Somehow our words soften the interior landscape and let the artists’ precise work subside for an hour. We drew them away from worktables to listen, and they returned to the tables refreshed, the experience of Pentaculum contextualized by expanding their view of expression.
So many of us listen to podcasts and music, the disembodied voices of brilliant creators. It is an entirely different experience to engage with living, breathing writers who are in the middle of the messy process of making sense of our lives, diving deep in to our plots and ponderings and pulling up poetic ore from the cavernous centers of ourselves. Arrowmont’s generous invitation to include writers in Pentaculum allows the firing of new connections welded by shared experience and wider vistas of appreciation and collaboration.
This free space, so desired and so savored during Pentaculum feels like freedom to all of us, potters and printmakers and poets alike. It is what all of us relish in these five days away from our regularly scheduled lives. Freedom. It is what all of us feel in that space between our hands and the wheel or the glass bead or block of cherry wood. This vast region of open space which opens within each of us.
This freedom is what Pentaculum provides.
Artists mentioned above:
Photo credits: Suzi Banks Baum
Embodied creative Suzi Banks Baum is devoted to illuminating the gifts within each person she meets and providing a sacred space for those gifts to be experienced and shared. An actress, writer, artist, and community organizer, Suzi uses the written word, hand bound books, and photographs to say what she means. Her first literary publication, An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice, celebrates the writing of women artists. Deeply curious about the thresholds we cross in to creative practice, she teaches & interviews women across the world, including Gyumri, Armenia where she leads a book and literary arts residency. She teaches yearly for the International Women’s Writing Guild, weekly at her public library, and online in her Powder Keg Writing Workshop. Published work includes poetry, fiction, narrative non-fiction, and articles in a variety of publications. Experience her work online at SuziBanksBaum.com and in person in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts.