On March 3, 2017, we held our very first event, The Mud Season Salon, in White River Junction, Vermont. Our friend EM Reynolds attended, took photos, and then wrote this terrific recap of the evening. Thank you to her, to the presenters, to the attendees, to Junction Magazine, to Open Door, and to everyone else who helped make this event even better than we had dreamed it might be.
Too often we introverts give in to the need for comfort and home. How could anything compete with pajamas and a book? But what happens if we brave the elements and attend an evening event? Such is the premise that Literary North’s debut event was founded upon. They set out to answer the question, What would entice people to come out on a snowy night?
There is something so liberating, so almost other-worldly about sitting in an audience focused on someone’s words. This evening there were three presenters: Taylor Katz, Robin MacArthur and Jeff Sharlet. Each brought a unique interpretation to the theme of "Sign of the Times," and provided an interesting balance of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.
Setting aside her mug of tea, Robin spoke first, reading from her newly finished manuscript. In her soft eloquent manner, she talked about being beside her grandfather as he died and how the themes of love and loss permeate her writing. As she spoke, she also addressed the ideas of home and land, topics near and dear to her. Her experiences often resonate emotionally, becoming the basis of fictional work. She is, in essence, the translator of her life and the generations before her to the page in front of her. A proud product of the land and her New England ancestors. And, of course, it being March in Vermont, Robin told us of her family’s weekend spent maple sugaring. It brought to mind pots of sap and fire, primal and essential. As she conjured up these images for us, she exalted a slower life. As she finished, she championed authors by claiming Art as witness; speaking to the power of writing and creating as necessity not frivolous luxury. And my inner writer nodded in agreement.
Then Taylor got up to recite some of the poems from her chapbook. I found her to be exactly what she says she is. Forthright and plainspoken, she is refreshingly authentic and original. She’s a poet for hire and a tea farmer, and both occupations inform and support the other. The advantages being you can get down in the dirt, and you can get back to the basic origins of the clichéd metaphors we all take for granted. My favorite poem was “Shout out” in which she praises volunteers and librarians and grannies and mailmen—in short, everybody. She warned us that it was a long poem and we should gird ourselves for the onslaught. But each time she gave another shout out, there was a moment of connection and I was pleased for that group to be recognized. Honestly, I wish that poem could have been longer. She says her long poems compensate for her short stature and that she used to want to be known, but her poems are out in the world and now she is seen through them. She believes that being a little louder helps to make a little goodness grow. She professed her love of adjectives like juicy and spiky, a confluence of construction that perfectly sums up this poetess.
Jeff then took the floor to read from the manuscript of his next book. He too talked about spending time with family members in need of care. When his father was recovering from a heart attack, Jeff made overnight journeys to visit him in Schenectady, NY. It was during this time that he snapped an Instagram photo with his phone and inspiration struck. His focus became about connection and witness, rather than about artifice and polished perfection. The revelation was unearthed that stories are not aligned next to each other, but stacked, piling on top of each other. To which the audience seemed in total agreement. During the time he was working on his book he struggled to put his thoughts on paper; yet even when he thought it was finished, his own heart attack caused him to rethink the end. In rewriting he began to ponder symmetry and coming to terms with what and who we are. He is, as he says, writing his way home.
Journeys became a touched upon theme of the evening, which began with Ben Cosgrove. He played before the authors spoke, these haunting original pieces. They were inspired by land, but they flowed in a way that made me feel as if I were being swept away. Playing involves so much of his body, of which his instrument is an extension. It’s almost as if he’s dancing, the way he puts his head down, pushing the notes to the side.
At the end of the evening there was a Q and A with all four participants. As they answered queries, we could see the connections in their work. The lines were drawn, affixing land to loss to love and the need to put these emotions into words and music.
Each author brought a resource with them to share and also talked a bit about works they’ve been reading lately trying to feel inspired.
For me these events are what lift me up. I feel like I’m part of something larger. Today’s world is crazy and chaotic. Our feelings churn into overdrive when we watch the news or look at our Twitter feeds. It’s hard to look away for fear we may miss something. I would respond that we need to find ways to nourish ourselves, to find strength in gatherings. There is comfort sitting in a room of strangers, but communing in a somewhat sacred space of our own creation. A place where words and ideas are delivered as both balm and benediction.
The whole evening, despite the snow, was a warm antidote to the weather. It was thoughtfully and intentionally orchestrated. The room was beautiful, and after the discussion there were handcrafted refreshments. Because these are the efforts that matter in this world. That’s what we introverts who organize such events do, we try to provide the best way we know how. With warm tea and comfort food, toast, pastrami, jams and nut butters. The paper cranes flanking the door, the exquisite bouquet of flowers, the wheel-thrown mugs—it was all evidence of the handmade. To all of the people who helped to make the evening possible—shout out to all of them!
So much work went into the planning of this event, but with any luck we’ll have more chances to gather to be part of a larger literary community. Some evenings it’s best to come together as listeners and honor words. To step out and step up. Because sometimes ignoring the siren song of a mug of tea and reading at home by yourself is the best thing we could possibly do.
EM Reynolds is a librarian, bookseller, writer, photographer and aspiring ukulele player living in Vermont. Visit her photographs during the month of March at The Norwich Public Library: Through the Lens: a Retrospective of Community at NPL.