What Makes a Writing Retreat Ridiculously Wonderful: Poets On the Coast Year 5

Kelli and me at the evening reception
Year 5! For five years we have led workshops, offered advice on the writing life, provided one-on-one brainstorming sessions and supplied many snacks to an amazing array of women poets ranging in age from 21 to 79. From all corners of the country and even a few internationals, women have joined us for a long weekend of writing and community.

Who could have predicted it? Not us.

We began with a simple idea over a glass of wine. What if we created the retreat that would have benefited us as we began our writing lives? What if we could focus on nurturing writers? What might happen?

One thing I've learned is that offering support and poetic love to the women that appear each year creates energy -- not just for the women but for Kelli and me as facilitators.  A good portion of the women return each September and the change in their poetry and their confidence is palpable. Some women have used the retreat as a launch pad to enter MFA programs (after raising families) and some women view Poets On the Coast as its own kind of graduate program --- one filled with gift giving and generosity.

Each year we try to expand our programs so that nothing ever feels "so last year." this year we added a public reading at the local Methodist Church where Naomi Shihab Nye and other Skagit River Poetry Festival poets have read. For the second year we've partnered with the Museum of Northwest Art for an ekphrastic session of poetry centered around their exhibits which can be viewed on the museum's website.

Poets on the Coast,  2011
Five years is a long time in my world. In this time it feels that the Poets On the Coast have grown-up together. We began with 18 women showing up for an unknown weekend and this year 30 women joined us in La Conner, WA --- many of the women returning for a 2nd, 3rd, 4, or 5th time. We celebrated with a sit down dinner in the garden of the oldest house in town, the wonderful Katy's Inn. There were toasts, singing, and celebrating well into the night.

The town of La Conner has embraced us and we are thankful. There's a river path that runs though town and from the balcony of the Channel Lodge poets can watch herons and eagles soar. It is a town made for poetry.

I've thought a good deal about why we've been successful in creating Poets On the Coast. A few things stand out: we attract amazing women with generous hearts; Kelli and I honestly love creating the best experience we can for supporting women writers; and most importantly, something magical happens when we write together. It's as if the ideas and words of each woman becomes part of a collective unconscious and we all are lifted into better poems. It sounds a bit woo-woo to my ear and yet it's true. Our collective is stronger than the sum of its parts.

I keep thinking of the movie about the guy who loves baseball and creates a beautiful diamond outside his house: "If you build it they will come." And that's what's happened here. Poets On the Coast is not just a weekend but a frame of mind. Friendships, writing groups, tips on publications and many other things continue throughout the year. And of course, we are already planning for next year. Feel free to join us if you are a woman poet -- we'd love to have you. Check it out and scroll down the page for Frequently Asked Questions.

Class of 2015


  1. It was my first time at this retreat and it exceeded my expectations in every way! If you are a woman poet considering a retreat for 2016 I can't emphasize enough how productive, customer focused, and rewarding Kelli and Susan make the experience. I am returning next year for sure!

  2. The comment above is mine -- Yvonne Higgins Leach. Not sure why it shows me as Unknown.


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