Poetry and fiction in West Tisbury
Michael Morse, a poet from Brooklyn, New York, described "Void and Compensation," the working title of the poems he read on March 11 at the West Tisbury Library's Wednesday Reading Series, by saying, "They are about feeling emptiness and loss and how we compensate for the void left by loss."
For some, the title of Mr. Morse's deeply felt work might apply to the feeling of being in a lingering winter on Martha's Vineyard with its quiet towns, seasonal withdrawal, and only a few meager daffodils daring to emerge in some sunnier yards.
Photo by Lynn Christoffers
But the West Tisbury Library, in cooperation with the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, is doing its part to fill the decline in the cultural landscape every Wednesday at 5:30 pm.
The Wednesday Night Reading Series is in its second year at the library. For five consecutive weeks in March and April, two fellows from the Fine Arts Work Center (FAWC), one fiction writer and one poet, make the trek from Provincetown to share works-in-progress with Island audiences. Without boarding the ferry, it provides the opportunity to hear talented, emerging writers in an intimate setting before they bloom in the larger literary world.
Jennifer Tseng, a former West Tisbury librarian, organized the reading series to expose Island writers to other voices, and to give fellows isolated in Provincetown a venue in which their voices could be heard. Ms. Tseng, a two-time fellow of FAWC, felt it was important for those voices to have an outlet.
FAWC was founded in 1968 by a group of artists and writers who wanted to foster a supportive community of peers. Today, it is one of the leading long-term arts communities in the country. Each year, 10 writers receive fellowships to FAWC. From October to May they live and work on their craft in Provincetown. Many notable writers have been FAWC fellows in the past - Yusef Komunyakaa, Jhumpa Lahiri, and Louis Glück to name a few.
Novelist Sophie McManus, also a Brooklynite, shared the room with Mr. Morse last Wednesday. Her novel-in-progress follows a wealthy New York City family in rapid financial and moral decline. The novel is written in an unconventional and difficult third person omniscient voice.
It was a narrative choice that writers in the audience commented on during the informal question and answer session that followed. Ms. McManus said the voice chose her. "I had a deadline in graduate school. I hadn't written a thing. When I began to write, this all-seeing voice just came out." She looked at Michael, "perhaps it was compensation."
For those of us living and writing on Martha's Vineyard, the opportunity to hear and ask questions of writers of this caliber is rare. Donald Nitchie, who teaches a poetry workshop at Featherstone, brought his class to the reading. "This is a good opportunity to get a little taste of great writing," he said. "We don't even get this opportunity in the summer."
For those engaged in the discipline of writing stories and poems of their own, readings and discussions of this sort can give a sense of connection in what is often a lonely undertaking. And whether you write or not, hearing voices fashion language into fresh landscapes may be just what is needed to break the dormancy in your landscape.
The audience last week asked thoughtful questions: Did Ms. McManus feel the narrative voice she'd chosen was successful? What form did Mr. Morse employ to create the music in his poetry?
As the discussion came to an end, Mr. Morse commented, "This has been one of the most attentive audiences I've read for."
For those who haven't yet attended, two more readings still remain before this year's series ends. On March 25, novelist Amanda Coplin, whose stories have appeared in Third Coast, reads with Sarah Rose Nordgren, a poet and former poetry editor of the Greensboro Review. The following Wednesday, April 1, second-year Fiction Fellow Nadia Kalman shares her novel about immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and New York University graduate Erica Ehrenberg reads from her first poetry collection.
Justen Ahren is a poet and freelance writer who lives in West Tisbury.