Knox Writers’ House 1st Birthday Sound Off

Posted on January 21, 2013

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Knox Writers’ House Contributor’s Pick of the Week 1/21/2013

A year ago Knox Writers’ House went live. In honor of this and how our map-house continues to stand and grow, the original four KWH creators retell stories from its making. Thank you to all who have read and listened. And to Galesburg Illinois, in whose soil this seed took.  

Who You Are and Where You Live by Writers in the Knox Writers’ House

Chosen by Monica Berlin in Galesburg, IL who says:

When I try to talk about The Knox Writers’ House, I get knotted, fray at the edges, start to unravel a little. It’s a holy holy thing to us. Proof that words mean something. Evidence that time spent making something is not time lost. And for me, somehow, it has served as a marker of a period in my career where the most remarkable fact of making a life with poems at the center means that on any given day a dozen of us might sit in a room with the same pages in front of us, sometimes talking and sometimes not talking, but always listening and listening hard.

Where we begin—our origin maybe—never stays the same. It depends who is telling the story. It depends who is listening. This month, Bryce will say we began here. Sam here. Emily knows to tell me The Knox Writers’ House began in my office, or in my classroom, or sitting beside me on the patio in the center of campus, the spring light trying to hold on. Emily sometimes knows to say, There would be no house without you, because she knows that I need to hear it that way when I’m knee-deep in writing a grant application to keep us on the road, or fighting with the back-end of the technology we rely on so completely. But we all know the truth: early on, I signed some paperwork. I called in some favors. I helped make a list of names. I said, Read this. I opened a door and moved out of the way.

In this way, in many ways, the experience of watching The Knox Writers’ House take shape was often solitary and from a distance. I was almost never there, with them, on the road or recording. Sometimes I stood on the curb and waved goodbye as they pulled away. Sometimes I stood on the porch and called them home. Sometimes I stared out the window, waiting, phone in hand, though it could be days before they’d return. Sometimes I handed over my car keys. Sometimes my office keys or the keys to my studio. Always my heart. Sometimes, just before they left or just after they’d return, I brewed a pot of coffee and we’d sit a while not talking. Sometimes I’d spend the last dollars in my wallet to feed them. Sometimes I had to take the keys away. Sometimes I had to say, Don’t make me turn this car around. Sometimes I had to say, Hey, slow down. Most times I said, Come back with stories and poems, but thought, Please just come back.

Hours turned to years. Hours found us sitting in the same room, all working on different parts of the projects, only sometimes interrupting the others to turn up the volume, to say, Shhh, listen…. Hours found us each alone working in separate rooms, sometimes in separate cities, sometimes in separate parts of the country. Me? I was most often on a couch in a living room, editing text and web pages, listening again and again to certain audio tracks, learning by heart Robert Hass’s beautiful “After the Gentle Poet Kobayashi Issa” or listening to Nancy Eimers read Larry Levis’s “Winter Stars” or Ralph Angel’s unbearable “But Not in Life” and “This.” Hours in my office, the light disappearing. Hours of coffee, of patting the round head of Baby, our resilient microphone, and cooing. Hours spent reading and responding to correspondence between writers—soon to be recorded, just recorded, long ago recorded—so many words of kindness from new friends and old ones, like Laura Mullen, like Peter Orner. Hours spent listening to stories of generosity, the warmth of strangers, the near-missed-connections, and then, of course, how many times someone finally said, Oh my god, Monica, wait until you hear this… And, of course, too many hours behind us before I finally said, Hey guys, I’m going to record you three, and how we did, in my office, early winter coming on, Sam heading towards New Orleans, Bryce to Chicago, Emily about to go out East. 

We wanted to make a place where we could all live, not just the four of us and the ones we love and can’t live without, but also where all of us could live—all these voices. A one bedroom flat wouldn’t quite do. When I think of the rooms of this house we’ve made, I also find the hallways of the life I’ve been living for a good while now, think about the way Emily and Bryce and Sam helped remind me how to live where I live, how to be other places too—the house somehow also a map of roads travelled and not yet travelled—but how to most of all be here, where words do indeed light up even the darkest darkening windows. When I think about the rooms we made together, for all of you, and when I fear we might not make it to another year or that no one listens, I turn here, to the one audio track that says again and again what we are made of, what drove the project, what keeps it going. I love that moment, around twenty seconds in, where Michael Martone forgets the second part of the question, and I can hear my dear ones gently nudging him forward. There’s a lot of audio like that, though not on the site—all my loves talking to their loves, a kind of intimacy shared, the laughter, a tender sigh. What you don’t hear on the edited recordings from those sessions are those sighs, or the gasps, or when one of us swears under our breath, the mic still hot, about what a thing! we just heard. I listen to those recordings too, sometimes. But most of all, I listen to this collage of just a few of our hundreds of giant voices. Hearing their voices together like this puts me on the road, in the car, traveling toward the place on the map that says, again and again, You are here, and here and here, again and again. That says here all those places matter not only because we’ve moved through them, but because they’ve moved through us—the grace of the fact of that, and every, here, finally heard. 

this map (1)

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