As World War I began, New England poet Robert Frost moved his family from England to the small town of Franconia, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Here, he wrote and farmed for several years. The house he inhabited, now called The Frost Place, is a home and museum owned by the town and used each year for poetry seminars and conferences.
One of these conferences is The Frost Place Conference on Poetry, which offers writers the chance to spend a week learning through workshops and lectures, readings and writing periods surrounded by award-winning faculty members and participants from all over the world.
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Maudelle Driskell is executive director of The Frost Place. A poet herself, she loves to be able to meet and work with poets from all over the country, representing different ages and ethnicities. “It’s a Who’s Who of American letters rubbing elbows in a tiny place in the middle of the White Mountains,” she says. “I never know what the day will look like, from breakfast with prize-winning poets to sitting around with them in the evening enjoying a cocktail or tea. It’s a magical, creatively charged experience.”
The Frost Place Conference on Poetry, held July 8-14 in 2018, offers several scholarships, including the Latin@ Fellowship and the Gregory Pardlo Scholarship for Emerging African American Poets.
What you’ll learn at the Frost Place Conference
During the day, faculty members present hour-long classes focused on writing practice. Last year, two publishers talked about how to organize a manuscript and what specific things publishers look for in poetry. Driskell also talked with participants about how to change one’s revision strategies by listening to music. “It focused on the way our brains react to listening to certain types of music and how this affects our revision process,” she explains.
Staff and participants share breakfast and lectures. During the second half of the day, attendees participate in faculty-led workshops with poems they received through the mail and read and critiqued previous to arriving at the conference. Each session is capped at eight participants, creating an intimate classroom setting.
Driskell notes that the poetry submissions show a huge range in terms of voice and topic. Participants might be in a workshop with someone who’s published two books or two poems. “You’ll be there with people who have concerns that you maybe don’t think about in your daily life,” she notes. “It’s so exciting to get new perspectives on the world. A good poem takes you and puts you in a fresh place. Being able to experience something about that person makes us feel more connected as a human being, which we’re all crying out for, whether we know it or not.”
After a day of workshopping and craft talks, free time and meals, people head to Frost Place for evening poetry readings by faculty members. “We gather together in the gloaming with the tiki torches warding off the mosquitoes,” Driskell says. “Everyone gathers together to listen and dance, sometimes with cake, champagne, and sparkling soda. On the last night, there’s a reading by participants, who showcase some of the work they’ve done.”
Featured presenters at the 2018 Frost Place Conference on Poetry
In addition to directing the conference, Martha Rhodes will teach a workshop in 2018. Rhodes is the author of five poetry collections and the director of Four Way Books, a small press focusing on poetry and short fiction.
Other presenters include Driskell, Hurston/Wright Legacy Award winner Vievee Francis, poet and anthology editor Kevin Prufer, poet Jason Schneiderman, and poet Connie Voisine, who directs the arts outreach organization La Sociedad para las Artes in New Mexico.
Advice for first-timers
On a purely practical note, Driskell tells people to bring everything from swimsuits to long-sleeved shirts. “During the day, we’ll go through a lot of different weather,” she says, and adds, “Emotional weather, as well.”
She advises new participants to be open to the environment and to everything that’s occurring during the week. “Participate with generosity,” she says. “If you’re willing to read people’s work and focus on receiving critiques, then you’re going to succeed.”
She cautions against offering empty statements such as “I like this” to fellow poets during workshop critiques at the conference. Instead, she says, learn to craft a justification for any detailed comment you might make. Studying others’ work, she adds – being able to talk about it in a way that’s helpful to them – teaches poets so much about their own writing process.
“No one wants to leave,” she says of the last day, during which people offer tearful goodbyes and an exchange of contact information. “There’s a creative generosity and community you can’t find anywhere else.”
Contributing editor Melissa Hart is the author of the middle-grade novel Avenging the Owl (Sky Pony, 2016). She teaches frequently at writing conferences across the Pacific Northwest. Web: melissahart.com.