Ellen Bass

Keynote Address: Saturday, February 15 – 1:30 PM
NOTE: All Keynote Speaker sessions are included in a Conference Registration, and are available for Single Ticket purchase.

Like A Beggar: Poems about Sex, Death, and the Human Comedy
Rilke wrote, “O tell us, poet, what you do? I praise. But those dark, deadly, devastating ways, how do you bear them, suffer them? I praise.” Ellen Bass will read poems from her new book, Like a Beggar, which offer up praise for the “whole catastrophe” of life. She’ll also talk about the craft of poetry and share how some of these poems were made.

Session 4: Daily Workshop #407 – Friday, February 14, 11:00 am
Discovery: Writing at the Edge

Monday Workshop #1 – Monday, February 17, 9am-1pm
Location, Location, Location: The Poetry of Place

Monday Workshop #2 – Monday, February 17, 2 – 6pm
Metaphor: What is it Like?

Scroll down for workshop descriptions. You can review all Daily Workshops sessions here.

San Miguel Writers' Conference Ellen BassEllen Bass’s poetry books include Like A Beggar (forthcoming from Copper Canyon Press in February, 2014); The Human Line (Copper Canyon), named a Notable Book of 2007 by the San Francisco Chronicle; and Mules of Love (BOA), which won the Lambda Literary Award in 2002. She co-edited (with Florence Howe) the groundbreaking No More Masks! An Anthology of Poems by Women (Doubleday, 1973).

Her work has been published in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The American Poetry Review, The New Republic, The Progressive, The Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, The Sun and many other journals.

San Miguel Writers' Conference Ellen BassSan Miguel Writers' Conference Ellen Bass Her poetry has been widely anthologized and frequently read by Garrison Keillor on “The Writer’s Almanac.” Among her awards for poetry are a Pushcart Prize, the Elliston Book Award, The Pablo Neruda Prize from Nimrod/Hardman, the Larry Levis Prize from Missouri Review, and the New Letters Prize.

Her nonfiction books include Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies, I Never Told Anyone: Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuseand The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, co-authored with Laura Davis, (HarperCollins, 1988, 2008) which has sold over a million copies and been translated into twelve languages. She teaches in the MFA writing program at Pacific University.

Session 4: Daily Workshop #407 – Friday, February 14, 11:00 am
Discovery: Writing at the Edge

Almost every poet who writes about poetry talks about discovery, because this “turn into the unknown” is at the center of a memorable poem. Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” Marie Howe says, “If a poem from beginning to end is something you already know, you’re still on the diving board.” Anne Sexton said, “Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard.”

It’s not enough to report—even beautifully–what we already knew before we began to write the poem. Instead, we want the experience to reveal itself, to be enacted, within the poem itself. In order for this to happen, we have to enter a state of not-knowing. We have to let go of the story we know in order to find out more about ourselves and the world.

The challenge is to be open to what the poem wants to tell us. In this workshop we’ll explore strategies for getting beyond our previous knowledge. We’ll look at poems by three contemporary poets—Mark Doty, Sharon Olds, and Joseph Millar—that demonstrate different ways a poem can open up into discovery. And we’ll explore practical strategies to push into our own uncharted territory in order to write poems that take us where we’ve never been before.

Although we’ll focus on poetry, this workshop is highly applicable to writers of memoir as well. Discovery is at the heart of all personal writing.

Monday Workshop #1 - Monday, February 17, 9am-1pm
Location, Location, Location: The Poetry of Place

Not all poems need to be set in a specific location, but you start out with a great advantage in writing a narrative poem that is situated in a particular landscape. A poem that is set on the coordinates of time and space is rooted in this world. As human beings, we live in time and space. We’re born, grow up, live and die somewhere. Story happens in time and space. As Richard Hugo writes in his famous essay “The Triggering Town,” “If you ain’t no place, you can’t go nowhere.”

An accurate description of landscape (be it forest, city street, kitchen, closet, battlefield, or bed) can do a lot of work in a poem. Description is one way the poet can show us his or her consciousness because description says as much about the describer as it does about the thing being described.

Description is also a primary way to invite the reader more closely into the world of the poem. Stephen Dobyns wrote, “If the poet can get us to believe about a small thing, we will be more likely to believe the poet about a big thing. One of the quickest ways to establish the reader’s trust is through precise description of physical setting.”

In this workshop we’ll look at contemporary poems that have a strong foundation in place and explore how that setting works to create both the meaning and emotion of the poem. Then we’ll write our own poems that strive to achieve a detailed, accurate, evocative sense of place.

Monday Workshop #2 – Monday, February 17, 2 – 6pm
Metaphor: What is it Like?

Poetry is rooted in metaphor, in which we see the similarity, the oneness, in disparate things. One of the deep challenges in writing, is to discover the connections between things that we don’t yet understand. It’s one way we attempt to order the chaos of the world.

But of course it’s necessary for the metaphor to be fresh enough, vital enough, to actually do its work. The best metaphors are there not just for decoration, but because what we want to say can’t be said directly. We’re always searching for ways to express the mysteries, not only to our sophisticated minds, but also to our hearts. Metaphor is an intimate communication. It forges a bond between the writer and the reader and makes it possible to say the unsayable.

In this workshop Ellen Bass will discuss the use of metaphor in poetry, illustrate how metaphor works in sample poems and also provide specific, practical advice for writing more vivid metaphors in your own poetry. She will present a writing exercise that will give you an opportunity to practice using metaphor, and we’ll have a chance to share our writing. Expect to surprise yourself!