The Sweet Water of Craft by Jennifer Bartell

I was born and raised in South Carolina and know that a journey to a watering hole is not a wasted trip; it’s a trip of necessity. It’s a place where you can drink water that is so essential for life. The Watering Hole poetry group functions similarly: it’s a place where page poets, spoken word poets, slam poets, and others can drink the sweet water of craft. I remember when Candace first sent me a request to join the page on Facebook. I didn’t know exactly what I was getting into then, but I knew that it was a place I needed to be as a poet writing in and about the South. It was a place I needed to be as the MFA workshop was a place I felt I didn’t belong.

At our first retreat late last year, I grew more and more ecstatic about The Watering Hole. There are very few retreats where you have the opportunity to work with three practicing poets in a small group setting. There are few retreats that focus on craft, which is the bare bones of poetry. Even fewer retreats are open to people of color and is in the South.

We opened up to one another in ways we had never before. We looked at excerpts from The Triggering Town, we read and analyzed work by Gwendolyn Brooks and Jericho Brown. We workshopped each other’s poems with an honest focus on the line, on symbols, on metaphors. We cried. We laughed. We fellowshipped. We forged new friends in the field and across fields. We read our own poems and generated new poems. We had readings. We worked on sonnets until two in the morning. We had folks from New York, Milwaukee, California and folks like me who were from just around the way. We had college students and seasoned elders. And we did all of this at an affordable price. I was lucky enough to also get a one-on-one consultation with Tyehimba Jess, which helped me immensely in completing my thesis.

The strength of this group is what made my experience at the retreat so powerful. This beautiful tranquil space that is Santee State Park, on the banks of Lake Marion was a place where seeds were planted. But we didn’t just sow those seeds in that one spot and left them to the weeds.

We took those seeds back to the fertile ground of the Internet. The virtual community of The Watering Hole via the Facebook group is important. We share successes, upcoming events, ideas for generating new poems, trivia, and latest news in the field. It’s a way of continuing the watering and tending to the garden. The Online Master Classes are another effective avenue of bringing a mini-retreat atmosphere to the virtual world. And that is the strength of The Watering Hole. It’s not one physical space. It is everywhere.

My challenges for writing groups outside of academia in SC has been finding one that focuses on poetry. Most writing groups focus on fiction and nonfiction, so for me, The Watering Hole provides an opportunity to share with fellow poets. The retreat last year gave me the motivation and vision I needed to complete my thesis. I look forward to being pushed once again this coming December when we return Santee State Park.

Furious Flower Poetry Conference: Seeding the Future of African American Poetry September 24-27, 2014
James Madison University, Harrisonburg, Virginia

Panel: The Power of Collectives
The Watering Hole: A Space that Sustains Black Poetry and Community
Friday, September 26, 2014
Panel members: Candace Wiley, Monifa Lemons, Remica Bingham-Risher,
Amoja “MoMan” Sumler, & Jennifer Bartell


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