Pen and paper

Writers have options to gather and try out their work.

Ron Slate hosts and facilitates Writing and Poetry Tuesdays at Pathways. — Courtesy Pathways Arts

On Tuesday, March 14, on the eve of the conspicuous Ides of March, Island writers had options and outlets to choose from for their creative pursuits — a memoir writing workshop through the Vineyard Haven library, and an evening of poetry at Pathways Arts. Every Tuesday evening throughout the off-season, in fact, in the far reaches of Beetlebung Corner in Chilmark, Pathways opens its doors at the Chilmark Tavern to local and guest poets alike, in person and on Zoom. The winter program will continue through the end of April before adapting to a new summer location and schedule, still to be determined.

First, at the Vineyard Haven library was the third installment of Caroline Joy Adams’ “Memoir Writing Workshop.” A group of writers joined together on Zoom to be inspired by Adams’ prompts, and then had the option to share their writing with the group. Each week of the workshop tackles a different element of memoir writing, with Tuesday’s theme focusing on setting. There are still two more sessions left in Caroline’s memoir writing workshop, which is free to the public and held on Zoom. The next workshop dates are April 11 and May 3. Sign up and get the Zoom invitation by contacting the Vineyard Haven library.

Pathways Arts is an off-season hub of creative community where a stronghold of year-round Islanders can weather the winter months. A 501(c) nonprofit, Pathways hosts a variety of creative events and gatherings, including musicians, dancers, writers, filmmakers, and visual artists.

Tuesdays are poetry night at Pathways, and each week Ron Slate and Keren Tonnenson, two of the Pathways organizers, collaborate to put on the Open Writing and Poetry Series, bringing in different featured writers to read their original works, and then opening the space up to the community for an open mic. On March 14, the featured writer was Katherine (“Bonnie”) Soniat, a Southern writer originally from New Orleans and now residing in the mountains of Asheville, N.C., discussing her eighth published collection of poetry, “Polishing the Glass Storm.”

Slate, Island poet and event organizer, introduced her: “I remember when her third book came out, ‘A Shared Life’; it received a Virginia poetry award from Mary Oliver. And at the time this was said about her book: ‘There is a controlled, unpretentious consistency to Katherine Soniat’s passionate, wise poetry, that reminds one of the language of Elizabeth Bishop. Yet her voice is singular, there is an elegance of line, a centered quality that makes the poems more courtly than visceral. One tends to trust what is given in these beautifully rendered images and this gentle music. The poems are particularly crafted, partly meditative, yet the poet handles larger themes easily, and with grace, without the shrillness that sometimes seems common in our time. Her gift for metaphoric language is evident. She has an even-tempered, deeply intelligent mode that carries from poem to poem.’”

Soniat appeared on Zoom for the reading, saying, “Thank you, Ron. One day we’ll meet …” Soniat explained that her work is highly influenced by the work of Carl Jung, particularly his end-of-life autobiography, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”: “I treasure archetypes, I treasure dreams, I treasure photography and imagery. So these poems that you’ll hear tonight, about 10 of them, all tell a story in a very dreamlike and imagistic way. I like to think that the images help to blend and bend time and space, so you’re never quite sure where you are. So just sit back and relax …” Soniat’s work takes her readers and listeners on a meditative, contemplative, surreal, and beautiful journey that blurs the line between dream and memory.

She read a poem called “Migration” that was inspired by Martha’s Vineyard. “There’s a whale in it, and there’s the weather in it, and the clouds. They tell their own story.“


Watch the patterned weather, the design of the slow returning whale. Clouds roll by, each shape a whole new species with no purpose yet in mind. They cast illusions on the rhythms in my whale. By evening I want a nocturne on a formal instrument. Wind blows on the bare branch. It makes me small, my shadow long. 

The poems she shared ranged in topic from landscapes, animals, and weather to a photograph of her mother, her dreams, and experiences with a PTSD veteran, Samskara, which she defined as “the bruises and batterings that still hang around in our systems from another life,” and a time sitting in bed playing finger puppets with her granddaughter.

She spoke about the archetype of the warrior, which she hoped we could “do away with,” and the state of education and how schools don’t foster independent creativity and artistry anymore, in her experiences as a teacher from the elementary to the university level.

After about 45 minutes of Soniat reading poems from across the years, and several from her newest book, “Polishing the Glass Storm,” she took some questions from the audience, before Slate and Tonnesen transitioned the space into the open mic night phase of the evening. Readers on that Tuesday evening included Ben Williams, Barbara Peckham, myself, Jenna Bernstein, Robert Skidmore, Rachel Baird, Danyon Russell, and Rick Fisher.

As a reader at the open mic, I can speak to the warm and welcoming environment the Pathways community offers to its participants. Readers and attendants have the option to attend in person at the Chilmark Tavern, or to listen and participate virtually on Zoom. The next Pathways Arts Writing and Poetry event is on Tuesday, April 4, featuring poet and writer Carl Philips.

Pathways Arts has been “keeping the light on in Chilmark” since 2013, with programming at the Chilmark Tavern typically running November to April, which gives Islanders another few weeks to enjoy this cozy hub of community up-Island. Check out the website for the complete list of past and upcoming events and speakers.