Friday, September 14, 2012

Poets on the Coast --- What I Learned in 2012 about Creating a Retreat

Three happy poets
I am still thinking about this year's Poets on the Coast weekend retreat and marveling at the magic created on the Oregon Coast. We were 24 women in total --- from our late twenties to early seventies --- from two different countries and many walks of life. And yet. And yet we came together as a group of poets and nurtured each other in community. Maybe it's just me, but it seemed each poet treated the others with real kindness --- no matter what our personal stories. A democracy of poets! I'm wondering what made for such an amazing confluence of feeling. Here are some ideas:

1. Start with a party. On Friday afternoon most of us had never met each other before and yet by the end of the evening, women reported that they felt comfortable with the group. A few snacks, some homemade apple sauce and blackberry crumble worked wonders. Also an ice breaker we planned ensured that everyone would speak to as many others as possible.

2. Offer gifts. Like happy dwarves, Kelli and I raced around the hotel leaving a gift outside each poet's door the first night. Local presses were extremely generous and each poet left with a few new books and journals to read. Most poets mentioned how cared for they felt finding surprise "poetry swag."

3. Location. Location. Location. The facilitators of a group are just one part of the overall weekend. Where we stay, the ocean is just outside the door. Walks on the beach and meals in a local pub make this location top notch in a windy ragtag kind of way.

4. Listen to your audience. After our first year doing Poets on the Coast we asked the poets what they would like to see more of and less of the next time. There was an overwhelming desire to have critique groups and so this year we made sure to include this.

5. Yoga! Thanks to our dear colleague Kay we are able to offer optional yoga classes each morning before breakfast. One amazing woman did yoga for her first time with us. My sense is that the supportive atmosphere (and superb teacher) allowed her to take more risks --- physical as well as creative.

6. Snacks. This one's self explanatory.

7. Attract amazing women. This seems the real key to the success of the weekend. We had an amazing group of women from across the United States (and one Canadian).

8. Nurture above all. It was easy with these women to find ways to lend support or point out the strengths of their work. Amazing what happens to us all when we feel safe and cared for.

9. A resident cat is good. I believe that Shelley (as in percy bysshe shelley) as the hotel cat gave us a sense of being at home away from home (for the cat lovers) and helped with number 8 above.

10. Be your most genuine and open-hearted self. It seemed everyone was doing this --- and reaping the results. Three women told me that the retreat had been life changing for them. And in a different way it had been for me as well. To nurture others is a way to nurture oneself. In fact, I'm addicted.


  1. Love this post!! Will share! Thank you, Susan for all that you did to make this event SO incredible!

  2. This sounds wonderful! I very much hope to attend the event next year if you host it again! =)

    1. Dear Lissa,

      We are hosting again -- September 6 -8, 2013. We are about half filled with alumna but will open registration on November 1st. Kelli and I will announce it on our blogs on that date... Would love to have you. It's been a really magical journey.

    2. Thanks, Susan and Kelli. You have taught me so much about being a poet in ways that go far beyond the act of writing words on a page. I've already sent in my registration for next year--can't wait to go again!

  3. Thank you, Angie. It's a total pleasure working with you. I'm so glad that poetry has brought us together as friends. Looking forward to seeing you soon. And fantastic that you'll be with us again next year!