Poet and essayist Ray Gonzalez once wrote that “home is…the place where an inner being begins and ends.” That’s probably the best definition of the theme woven through Linda Buckmaster’s presentation The Return: Writers Consider Homeplace, which seemed symbolic since there’s one-day left of the Stonecoast MFA summer residency.
I spent eight days hanging with poets, aspiring novelist and creative nonfiction writers. I gained a wealth of knowledge from my peers and instructors in both the workshops and presentations. I got to hang with Tim “the man” Seibles, Patricia “you don’t want it” Smith, and the great Scott Wolven.
I saw Smith and Joy Harjo bring the house down with their performances at Space Gallery in downtown Portland, Maine. My homey Melody Fuller (watch out for her memoir coming soon) hosted an elegant dinner party for me and other members of the newly formed Black Student Union (of which Woven’s an honorary member) at the bed and breakfast she stayed in Freeport.
I’ve enjoyed everything (even the party tonight that Smith’s Djing), but my feelings echo Gonzalez’s other definition for the theme of Linda Buckmaster’s graduating student presentation. He wrote, “Home is the generator of longing.” I miss my fiancée and my bed. Waiting for me an hour-flight away are the sounds of gallon bucket drummers, sticks rapping on cowbells and hands smacking out conga rhythms—all of which make up DC’s soundtrack.
My longing for home echoes those of the six writers in Buckmaster’s presentation. Borrowing from Gonzalez’s definition of home as “the place where our inner being begins and ends,” the grad student described homeplace as a physical place where a significant event shapes the writer. “It is the act of them going back to that place that helps them see that shift inside themselves,” she said.
During her presentation, Buckmaster focused on the “Then (provincial) and Now (sophisticated),” which essayist and critic Sven Birkerts defined in his essay “The Time of Our Lives” from his collection The Art of Time in Memoir. He wrote that the past deepens and gives “authority to the present, and the present (just by virtue of being invoked)” creates “the necessary depth of field for the persuasive idea of the past.”
Of the six writers, Gonzalez was interesting. In his essay “The Border is Open” from his collection The Underground Heart: A Return to a Hidden Landscape, Gonzalez wrote about his journey back to his childhood home in the desert surrounding El Paso. Gone for 25 years, he returns as both native and tourist.
Gonzalez alluded to Buckmaster’s point of how time away and the return home help writers see their inner shift. “I have produced a large body of work that could not have been written if I had stayed in west Texas,” he wrote. “I had to leave my home two decades ago to be a writer…with a more objective view of how a childhood of isolation influenced the way I respond to the world.”
I couldn’t imagine leaving behind everyone I love to spend 25 years trying to be a writer. Ten days away at an MFA low-residency is long enough.
In this morning’s poetry workshop, Joy Harjo unknowingly added context to Gonzalez’s journey while speaking about the spiritual energy of poems.”If there’s a disturbance of home…it’s…on so many levels,” she said. “The person goes out into the world still dealing with that disturbance.”
Gonzalez was dealing with racism in his high school, his parents’ divorce, and his dreams of succeeding in careers that never materialized at home. Coming back after 25 years, the poet’s dealing with another type of disturbance. “Much of the desert where I wandered as a boy is gone, replaced by strip malls and new housing that cover the trails I used to explore alone,” he wrote. “I find more houses in El Paso with iron bars on the windows…with the exception of my mother’s house.” Gonzalez added, “These stark but complex images are the first I see each time I visit.”
Since he left home in 1979, the poet noted the difficulty of creating a sense of home in other cities where he has lived. His home is in his memories. “The memory of the desert creates an invisible nest of roots that allows a native to wander far before finding a way back.”