Spell bound! Looking Back at the La Romita Poetry Retreat, October 2018

Spoken Word Poets in Terni, October 9th, 2018

In Italy

IV

Road shouldered by enclosing walls with narrow
cobbled tracks for streets, those hill towns with their
stamp-sized squares and a sea pinned by the arrow
of a quivering horizon, with names that never wither
for centuries and shadows that are the dial of time. Light
older than wine and a cloud like a tablecloth
spread for lunch under the leaves. I have come this late
to Italy, but better now, perhaps, than in youth
that is never satisfied, whose joys are treacherous,
while my hair rhymes with those far crests and the bells
of the hilltop towers number my errors,
because we are never where we are, but somewhere else,
even in Italy. This is the bearable truth
of old age; but count your benedictions: those fields
of sunflowers, the torn light on the hills, the haze
of the unheard Adriatic, while the day still hopes
for possibility, cloud shadows racing the slopes.

Derek Walcott from White Egrets, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

The truth of this poem is never far away in Umbria. For the second Recovering Words La Romita Poetry Retreat eight of us felt it wherever we went. Not the sea held by arrows but large Lake Bolsena anchored down by old towers and houses. The narrow cobbled tracks of Spoletto, San Gemini, Perugi, Assisi, and on and on. And the truth that when our poems arrived, some utterly grounded in the sites and sounds of this place, we also so often brought the somewhere else of our lives. Our stories, our memories. Joys. Grief. Its what we do, we poets.

But what is not captured by Walcott was Tuesday evening in early October, 2018, when the poets and artists from la Romita School of Art made their way to  a performance venue in a restaurant in Terni. Where seven poets or should I say seven “incantatrici” or sorcerers made their way to the mic to read spell poems written en plein air the morning before in an large archeological site nearby.

Poster for Public Reading Terni – Our Spell casters or Sorceresses

Most of the poets had never read out loud to an audience. Certainly not their own new work! And yes the artists were there, another rich part of our retreat, supporting us like crazy but also others we did not know. You wouldn’t have known it. And to make it more interesting they read to musical accompaniment. The performances were confident and arresting. I wish we’d been able to fly home with the musicians and do it again at Planet Earth Poetry in Victoria.

And to cap off a marvelous night, as we were leaving someone noticed the sign on the window of the clothing store across from the venue. MyPoem! Can’t make this stuff up. If that wasn’t a photo op I will never know what is!


What was especially notable for me with the reading was that everyone chose to read! But if a few days before at the start of the retreat the reading had been mentioned I think there may have been no takers! Who knows. But what I do know is the magic spell of poetry, la Romita School of Art and Italy conjured up a very special evening.

Poetic High Climbers on La Romita’s old Monastery Walls

For sure our ten days in Umbria based out of La Romita had us all spell bound. Our poems, the home-style meals, the community of eighteen artists and poets living together on the grounds of an old 16th century monastery where the original chapel with its massive religious art still stands.

The rich continuity of our time there  becomes a flow I still feel. The walks some of us took most mornings by 8  up to a town more than 6oo feet above us, then the out trips to places to explore and write in near by or a morning at home in a circle talking and writing poetry. And afternoons if we were still at La Romita finding hot spots against the walls to sit and write and sometimes talk. And through it all the poems arrived. And arrived.

Poets in Carsulae Archeological Site, Umbria – Going to Find a Writing Spot!

As I look back I see the inside white stone walls of the 11th Century Church of S. Cosma and Damiano on the grounds of the large Carsulae Archeological park. I see us writing there and watch as we all walk out and make our way through the low hanging mist to finds spots among the ruins to keep writing. It felt as if the day had waited for us. The writing adventure I had collected before we left had vanished. But the back up was there: spell casting poems! With all that mist and people moving in and out of it a perfect setting for incantatrici! As I said before you can’t make this stuff up. Spellbound!

Writing in Spoletto in an Old Church Museum

And the stone walls of the museum church in Spoletto. All of us there on the second floor gallery looking down at the sanctuary below where the year before we had heard a riveting musical concert. But not this day. As we wrote the soft sounds of chants and other religious music filtered up to where we wrote. Spell bound.

So many memories. Laughter, tears and great

What A Day at Lake Bolsena

fun. The evenings around the long La Romita dining tables sharing stories from the day and our lives. The October swim at lake Bolsena.
And for me the privilege of reading poems at some meals and on the bus on our way to another remarkable place. And why not bookend this piece with Derek Walcott his celebrated poem Love after Love. I recited it more than once! And below the poem many more pictures of our time spell bound in Italy.

Love After Love

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott from Collected Poems 1948-1984, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1986

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