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Seven Tables: Poetry and Sustenance

Writers Who Read attended the Visual Arts Center reading and workshop by their teachers, Seven Tables: Poetry and Sustenance, on December 10th. Students who had taken a poetry class at Visual Arts in the past year, were gifted a copy of the anthology The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink. Visual Arts poetry teachers read a poem of another author, a poem of their own, and gave a prompt on the topic of food and drink.

Leslie Shiel organized the event and started the afternoon off with having attendees list three people that had given them sustenance in the past - the people behind the scenes in the kitchen. She then read an excerpt from Elizabeth Alexander's The Light of the World - A Memoir, which she said deals with the question, How do you shape a life as an artist. Leslie's own poem, Folding, is about her father and she read it at his funeral. Her prompt was to list seven tables you've eaten at in your lifetime. They don't have to be literal tables; she recalled eating McDonald's with her siblings in the back of the family station wagon as a child. Take one of the tables and see where it leads you.

Lauren Miner said Leslie's prompt called to mind her aunt's table in NC, which grew with extensions that she stashed out of the way, when not in use, under beds and inside closets. She read Sylvia Plath's Mushrooms and spoke about restraints on language and how restraints can bring energy into your poetry. Her own poem told of viewing Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay, Alaska at lunchtime on a cruise ship. Her prompt

involved tension. She said to imagine a scene where people are gathered around a table but something keeps drawing their attention away - the negative space of the event. How does this outside distraction prove either an obstacle to connection or an opportunity to connect in an unexpected way.

Next up was Randy Marshall. He described his 40th birthday table in NYC where the food and drinks appeared magical - cocktails with dissolving cotton candy and hushpuppies that oozed clam chowder. He read a local poet, Jeannette Drake's, work - Train Ride and Daughter of Abraham.

His own poem was called a self portrait and he talked about creating quick, narrative poems. He gave a handout with 20 steps - a recipe for a story - that was adapted from Jim Simmerman.

Roselyn Elliott talked about the first table of all - her parent's table in rural New York on a dairy farm. She read Jane Kenyon's Drink, Eat, Sleep and then her own poem The Dipper. Her poem contained powerful images and her prompt was to think about images from times when you felt parched, either physically or emotionally.

At the end there was a call for announcements:

Marsha Owens will be teaching a day workshop on Myers Brig testing and characters in your writing on March 4th at Visual Arts Center.

Wendy DeGroat will be holding a one day documentary creative writing class on February 25th at Visual Arts Center.

Roselyn Elliott will be teaching an epistolary poems class in Charlottesville at Writer House on January 14th.

University of Richmond will have free literary events the first week of April.

Leslie concluded the readings with the sentiment that, as well as with food, it is good to know when it feels like you're full and you've had enough. She read Merwin's West Wall and said it made the ordinary shimmer with eros.

Look up the numerous writing classes and other creative art classes available at Visual Arts Center.

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