Overcoming Writer's Block on Block Island, Rhode Island
Seacoast of Block Island
Overcoming Writer's Block on Block Island
Ever since I saw Block Island in the misty distance from Montauk Point, Long Island, I knew that I must someday go out there for a visit. Perhaps ten years after my stay at Montauk Point, I had the opportunity to take a one-hour ferry boat ride out to Block Island, Rhode Island from Point Judith near Newport. I went with close friends, Gordon and Jean Fader and a fellow writer Ben Benanni, Editor of Paintbrush: A Journal of Letters and Translations. As it was spitting rain and very misty at Point Judith, we all wore slickers and enjoyed the rocky ride out to the island.
Birth of an Idea
We stopped at a Block Island inn for a hot cup of coffee and a sandwich before renting bikes to cycle all around the island. Ben and I carried on a conversation about the possibility of our conducting a writer's workshop entitled "Overcoming Writer's Block on Block Island." Though it was half in jest, the more we cycled along the shoreline past sea bluffs and very green wetlands and unique cottages with highly decorative lattice-work, the more we both thought this idea of a writer's workshop on Block Island might not be too bad an idea.
But as the years passed by and Ben took a teaching position in the Middle East and I became a dean at a small college in Denver, the idea faded deep into the past. Nonetheless, I have always felt that the workshop idea could have sailed quite easily. Well, let me explain what I would have done out there on Block Island if a few interested persons would have signed up.
My Plan for a Workshop
I would have had them rent bicycles and taken backpacks with lunch and a drink and a thick writing tablet with lots of pens or pencils. I would have stopped at the bright green marshlands first and had them walk around to find a suitable spot to sit down and write at least three different haiku: that is, a three line poem with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second and five in the third. The writers would have had to concentrate on the marsh in a very serious way-- to see it in all its moods with contrasts of light and shade and sun and cloud and wind and calm and frog sounds below with seagulls above and literally dozens of shades of green. They would have written a haiku that expresses a sudden awareness of beauty and when ready after an hour or so, share their best three with others.
The listeners would then ask questions and make constructive suggestions before sharing their own haiku. If they wished to create marginal pen and ink illusrations for their haiku, so much the better.
Writing atop Sea Bluffs
Then we would head for the sea bluffs to listen to the pounding waves and high pitched squeaking of arctic terns fluttering around the beach. They would pick a spot suitable for writing and compose three pages of prose on sights of foaming waves rolling ashore, sounds of gulls and distant foghorns, smells of brine and in this three page piece of descriptive prose I would suggest that they employ haikuesque techniques of a sudden awareness of inner or outer beauty through contrast. Perhaps an hour or so later, they might share their writing by reading it aloud, answering questions and listening to suggestions.
Writing About Summer Cottages
Then I would have them ride along the road until they found a cottage to their liking perhaps with unusual lattice-work. I'd have them write a short story, or at least a draft of a short story while they sat near a particular cottage of their choosing and refresh themselves with sandwiches and drink. In their writing, I'd have them speculate on why these cottagers chose Block Island and how Block Island may have entered deep into their psyches for reasdns beautiful or reasons tragic or reasons artistic or whatever they might think appropriate. Did the cottagers' Block Island experience living help clarify their lives, or mystify their lives?
Sharing Our Writing
I would expect them to have finished their rough drafts by dinner hour when would would all take a break, have a nice meal with perhaps a glass of wine and then sit around the hotel fireplace and share their work. If their stories remained unfinished, fellow writers might suggest directions they could take to end their story or to improve their story or to make more vivid their story. Each writer would then go to his or her own room and polish up their writings of the day and create a portfolio of Block Island work that they could take back home with them on the morning ferry boat.. Perhaps some would work and rework their haiku or prose long after they left Block Island which hopefully helped them, through me, overcome writer's block. Some might publish their work on hubpages or, who knows, in the Paris Review.
While Ben and I have not conducted a formal writer's workshop together, each of us has done our bit in promoting the art of writing by giving poetry readings and conducting translation workshops around the country.