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  • Writer's picturePenny Harter

Back From Two Weeks at VCCA (Virginia Center for the Creative Arts)

This was the first time I’d ever been at an artists’ colony, and it was absolutely wonderful! I arrived on January 10th, after a 6 1/2 hour train ride down to Lynchburg from Philadelphia—which I’d gotten to by taking a New Jersey Transit train from Egg Harbor City. Cora Tabb from Tabb’s Cab picked me up at the Lynchburg train station and cheerily brought me to VCCA. I got there around 9 p.m., tired from travel, though the Amtrak Crescent was very comfortable. Most of the current fellows were still hard at work in their studios or sequestered in their rooms in the residence, but one fellow, Robin Goldfin, a playwright who was leaving on the 13th, was in the living room and welcomed me warmly. The envelope with my room and studio assignments and keys was in the lobby, and soon I was unpacking in my room.

Here I am a few days later, standing by the plaque at the entrance to the Residence, photo taken by Tamara Fitzpatrick:

Penny by the plaque of the Residence at VCCA

The next morning I met more fellow artists at the breakfast buffet—how wonderful it was not to have to worry about preparing meals—then walked down to the office to check in, and continued on to my studio, a brisk five minute walk from the residence hall. The artists who were there with me included a couple of other poets; several novelists and short fiction writers; playwrights; non-fiction writers; a number of visual artists who worked in various media including creating massive outdoor installations using natural objects; working with paint, collages, textiles and wax on wood; two photographers; and a composer. Some left during my time there, and others arrived during my second week in residence. We all remarked that everyone in our assembled group was mutually respectful of one another’s work, and congenial. I enjoyed at least four fireside readings in the living room of the residence (including my own with Jason Ranon Uri Rotstein, fellow poet), two nights of artists’ open studios, and the composer, Andrea Clearfield’s, open studio night during which she shared her cantata in process, and some already finished work. It was very enriching to see the work and process of the artists in disciplines other than writing—and I also learned much from hearing my fellow writers.  I often felt humbled to be among such a talented group!

Best of all, I wrote a total of fourteen new poems and haibun during my fourteen days there. There was something magical about being in such a  supportive and beautiful environment, having a different place (studio) to go to every day with the deliberate purpose of writing, and being inspired by the serious work ethic of all the other artists. Both the studios and the residence building offer wireless access. I had brought my netbook and little Canon photo printer (which prints 8 1/2 x 11 paper beautifully), and once I plugged it all in on the little desk in my studio, poems just flowed.

I had gone with the stated intention of wanting to write in response to excerpted passages in my great-great-grandmother’s journal from 1890 in Utica, New York, a project I had begun some years ago. Eleanor Ecob Morse was a well-known painter—largely of still-lifes—married to the landscape painter Jonathan Bradley Morse (who was also a minister), and she was a consummate writer. I did immerse myself in her journal again and wrote several things in response, but other work wanted out, so I also let it flow. I was particularly interested in pursuing my growing desire to  write more  haibun (prose with haiku), exploring the interface between prose and verse, enjoying the rippling expansion of meaning when adding  haiku to the prose or prose-poem text, and I did so. However, the beauty of the grounds in the foothills of the Blue Ridge, and the random picking up of a book or journal containing something that spoke directly to me, kept inspiring me to write a number of free-verse poems as well.

What else: the food was fantastic, especially the dinners and weekend meals. I frequently felt like I was at a buffet in a gourmet health-food restaurant.And the staff, from Bea, the Office Manager, to Sheila Pleasants and all the others I met, were warm, welcoming, and bent over backwards to make one feel welcome. I took many photos with my cell phone and am exploring how to get them into my computer so I can insert them here. Also, Tamara Fitzpatrick, a wonderful photographer I met there who has become a good friend, took many professional photos of me—especially during and after my reading–with Jason Rotstein’s help.

I’ll insert a few of those below. It’s been hard to come home, to come down from that mountain. I find myself distracted by all the usual things, from household and paperwork, to re-connecting with family and friends. But I intend to try to keep some of that deliberate writing rhythm going. And, of course, I will  reapply to VCCA 🙂 and, perhaps, to several other colonies as well.

In addition to the photo below, here’s a link to Ce Rosenow’s page for Mountains and Rivers Press on Facebook. She was able to post more photographs of me at VCCA:


Reading to Fellow Artists (photo by Tamara Fitzgerald)

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