Enriching lives through art and craft

Pentaculum shelf in Heard Resource Center

Why Writers and Why Here?

“Take this page and love it with all your tears, your juice and salsa, the vodka you drank last night, the tea and honey and drink this page…” — Robert Vivian

We are many things.
We are one thing.
We are together.
We are individuals.
Together we make a group.
As individuals we make our work.

To be a writer among a group of artists, we are solitary owls hooting off to our enclaves of quiet, to the snuggeries of the Staff House where words are wooed, and the songs of sentences hummed, coaxing them from the far off and on to the page before us.

Blank pages. New year. A group of 11 writers, who do many other things in our lives, teacher, illustrator, professor, mayor, high school teacher, research writer, science writer, journalist, fly fishermen, baker, sign painter. We are many things. But this week, afforded the gift of time to work on the thing we all really do, the thing that keeps us up nights and out of bed early, is write.

Some among us pay the heat and light bills with writing.
Others pay those bills teaching about writing.
Still others of us do other jobs in order to pay the rent, but when we any of us fill out a form, we fill in the blank titled “occupation” with writer.

We are the writers of Pentaculum 2018.

This week at Pentaculum, among 70 or so other artists, at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, we have been in residence in the Staff House under the leadership Katey Schultz, director of the writing section of Pentaculum. Because of Katey and her work with Jason Burnett, creator of Pentaculum, writers are now included in this weeklong residency.

The first group of writers arrived at Arrowmont three years ago, 2016.
That was the moment of landfall; the moment writers became part of the community of Arrowmont School.
Prior to the arrival of that first group of writers in 2016, no writers have been associated with Arrowmont.

We have changed all of that.

This third year of writers in residence has seen a typewriter in the Clay Studio and poets in the Woods Studio. We have burst forth from the sheltered quiet of the Staff House to interact with the other artists. Kelli wrote a poem in response to Jennifer Davies’ paper composition, made of hand made paper which contains bits of old love letters. Kelli’s words sprang to the page after Jennifer described her work one afternoon this week. Here is an excerpt:


wartime letters
reworked in to paper

He didn’t want them
Something had to be done

textured, white
with dyed flecks of history
folded and tacked in play

— Kelli Fitzpatrick, 2018

Kelli Fitzpatrick writing in Glass Studio

Jennifer Davies’ indigo work

Jennifer Davies’ handmade paper in Pentaculum book

The writers have taken to wandering in to the other studios to observe, to listen, and to touch. We are heady creatures all of us, and need to be tugged back in to our bodies. Touching clay, filling our lungs with the scent of freshly sawn wood, fingering fragile porcelain shapes or caressing newly laid stitches on cloth puts textured mass to the images we spin in our minds. By the end of the week, two writers worked in the unoccupied Glass Studio, laying out a manuscript on ample tables, enjoying the high ceilings and abundant light.

Anne-Marie Oomen writes in Glass Studio

No artists wandered over to our studios, out of respect I think, for our need for quiet, for solitude. We were never interrupted.

Sculptor of Wood infiltrates Writers Studio

Nick Flaherty, a sculptor of wood from Philadelphia, mixed with our ranks at breakfast over coffee, where we pondered our day’s work. Nick’s interest in how writers work, and our mutual interest in his, sprouted a partnership that surprised us all. Tuesday morning, as Nick described a set of small tables he was making this week, one writer said, “what if you had small poems about tables, or related to tables, inscribed on the underside of a tabletop?” Something subtle, something hidden, we thought, a surprise to the viewer looking closely at Nick’s creation. Almost immediately, Aaron said he had a table poem, titled teeter. After a day of marinating the idea and letting it take shape, Nick had four poets ready to inscribe their poems. And 6 more will be sent table tops in the mail for them to inscribe their words. Nick does not know how this project will end up, but soon he will have 10 poems written under his tabletops.

Nick Flaherty

Kane Smego writes his poem

Nick’s tables in parts

This is how things sprout at Pentaculum. Conversations grow wings here.

The Clay Studio mesmerized Heather Clitheroe, of Calgary, Alberta. She set up her typewriter on an empty treadle wheel to write on our second day. The clickety-clack of typewriter keys rose over the purr of wheels spinning, of wet clay being smacked on linen covered worktables. A wandering potter could peer over her shoulder or pick up typed pages to read the story she wrote with fury. Heather carved stamps with Michael Kline, learning other ways of mark making. Over the course of the week, clay dusted Heather’s notebook and new language freckled her pages, potter’s words: slip, extrude, flocculent, eutectic, etch and carve, how clay can shiver away from the glaze.

Heather and her notebook

Heather’s ceramic stamp

Meanwhile, warm inside the Staff House

While our forays out of the Staff House were fruitful and inspiring, it is what happened within the walls of that old building that marked us all. We wrote all day long, or took runs, walks, went fly-fishing, to still our minds and listen better to the words that beckon. We’d meet at meals to talk over the delicious meals prepared by a buoyant kitchen staff. We’d bring each other tea or coffee; we’d touch base if necessary to read a passage that needed the ears of another. And we prepared for our open readings in the Miriam G. Heard Resource Center. There, the seats filled with the work-study artists of Arrowmont, the long-term artists-in-residence, and mostly Pentaculum-ites. We heard 3 or 4 writers an evening for three nights of the week. We heard poems and flash-fiction, essays, and 2 brand new stories written in one day. We heard excerpts from novels, and part of a play performed in rap.

Aaron A. Abeyta

Suzi Banks Baum

Nathan Ballingrud

Heather Clitheroe

Kelli Fitzpatrick

Sarah Gilman

Richard Johnston

Anne-Marie Oomen

Katey Schultz

Kane Smego

Robert Vivian

This was how the members of Pentaculum interacted with the writers. They listened. We were heard. Over the course of the next days, we’d get feedback and appreciation about our work. It was a delight.

But best of all to the 11 of us were our evenings in the Lounge, sunk in to the comfortable chairs of that warm, wood-paneled room, to talk, laugh, cry, listen and listen again to each other. We asked questions, pondered the nature of joy, talked about our readers and where to find them, about our next steps. We celebrated Nathan sending his manuscript in to his publisher on Thursday. These evenings made sweet by chocolate caramel covered apples and tea, a special whiskey that smelled of mossy dirt to some and heaven to others, delivered comfort and inspiration to all of us. There was never a feeling of competition or divisiveness. We let our discussions wander. We took notes and rumbled around the question of what we continually return to in our writing. What happened in the Lounge was hilarious and vulnerable. We let ourselves be known. And from this rose a feeling of a writing family that none of us expected to find when we first arrived at Arrowmont.

I wish you could have heard the readings. Wouldn’t it be grand to have a writing residency at Arrowmont, where the wider community of this excellent school could partake of the writing that happens in this special place? There is a shelf in the library dedicated to works by the writers of Pentaculum. It is sparely populated now, but I expect it will grow and quickly.

Aaron in lounge“Perhaps we are all here to trace and collect words, to sow meaning; we collect that thing which people discard as ordinary and bring it to a page of life where it can flourish and be the map of human struggle and therefore an instruction as to how we can all survive.” — Aaron A. Abeyta

We believe, as a group, that writing is increasingly important in today’s world.

We are grateful for the support of Arrowmont, to invite writers in to the mix of this arts and crafts school. We are artists who craft at our desks and in conversation, seeking the way to say what we mean clearly and with grace. We are fully in support of Arrowmont’s growing interest in integrating the literary arts in to the life of this school and we are proud to be part of the foundation of this new tradition.

As we travel to our next desks, in Cambodia or Chile, in Colorado or North Carolina, we carry our writing family with us, and the larger community of Pentaculum, which has left it’s mark on our souls. We look forward to our return.

I urge you to cultivate literary citizenship. As much as you are the vigorous and supportive community of Arrowmont, read and share this post. Seek out the works of these writers in your libraries and local bookstores.

Other artists mentioned:
Jennifer Davies
Michael Kline

by Suzi Banks Baum

Suzi Banks Baum is a writer, artist, actress, teacher, community organizer, and mom. With roots in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, she lives in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Suzi uses the written word, hand bound books, and photographs to say what she means. Her first book, An Anthology of Babes, celebrates the writing of women artists. Deeply curious about the thresholds we cross in to creative practice, she writes personal narrative with an ear for transformation though engagement with the ordinary. She has an ongoing artist residency in Gyumri, Armenia, where she leads an art and writing workshop called New Illuminations, while also interviewing women artists there about their daily lives. She inspires women to live from the space of creative spirit and to value their contributions to the world and one another through her workshops steeped in book arts, ritual, and writing. Find Suzi’s work on Easy Street Magazine, Literary Mama, Rebelle Society, Mothers Always Write and her blog, www.suzibanksbaum.com.

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