Day six is actually the day that the entire Bread Loaf campus takes off. Well, more or less. There’s still food to be prepared, rooms to be cleaned, people to be directed. “Off” applies mostly to the readings and workshops, but it really is a welcome chance to take a collective breath and catch up on laundry, or reading, or calling home, or any of the other things that hover just beyond our consciousness waiting to be addressed.
The morning was devoted to the Writer’s Cramp race: 2.8 miles marked off around the campus. This always takes place the morning after the barn dance–a clever ploy of scheduling that limits the race to only the very hardiest of runners.
The day dawned drizzly and cool, but cleared just in time for the picnic at Robert Frost’s farm. I didn’t make it to the picnic, but heard good things about it. The staff went to town, ate lunch at A&W, a drive-up hamburger joint with root beer floats that is a local fixture. Then we went to Ben Franklin and bought props for the Harley Night at Treman cocktails.
Oni Buchanan gave a kick-ass visual poetry reading, a portion of which can be found on-line, followed by simliarly kick-ass readings by Katharine Noel and Cheryl Strayed. (Pronounce my name like a sentence, she said: Cheryl strayed.) I would also just like to mention that Cheryl and Katharine both brought their beautiful baby daughters with them. Every year I have attended Bread Loaf I have seen evidence that the staff understand that writers have lives beyond the conference and they are very accommodating and progressive in this. Yet another reason to admire the program.
The evening reading was fantastic. Rachel DeWoskin read from her very funny memoir Foreign Babes in Beijing (I hope I’ve got the title right). Then the ending gave me such a visceral reaction that I cried out before I even realized I had. It was so well set up. Following Rachel, Mark Doty read. I am a huge fan. He has been here all week and is so open and friendly and accessible. His partner is with him as well, and all I can say about that is that two finer specimens of male pulchritude would be hard to find. Then he read and wowed us even more. I’m sorry I didn’t get the titles (planning to buy the book…), but there was a wonderful poem about being the only one in his group to hear the call of a bat and taking it as a personal message from the cosmos. He read The House of Beauty is Burning which left me breathless and burning, and a wonderful poem about dogs, retrievers, and Thanksgiving. There was a wonderful section of nonfiction, too. He talked about spirituality and the need to access your own. The Kingdom of heaven is within you, he said, and repeated. But the “you” can be deceiving. He said he prefers to think of it as the collective you. In English, he said, we struggle with this notion of a plural “you” and various regions of the country have dealt with this by employing various plural forms such as youse, y’all, you guys, etc. But it just doesn’t sound as good when you try to insert it: The Kingdom of Heaven is within _____.
A waiter reading followed and this year’s “crop” revealed themselves to be especially impressive writers.
Bread Loaf really is a magical place. Those of you who have been here before know what I mean. Those of you who haven’t…what are you waiting for?