Words are therapeutic. Whether poetry or prose, writers can find light by inviting dark experiences onto a blank page. The act of writing is its own form of resilience and survival.
Chautauquans will be able to engage with hope and healing with poet-in-residence John Hoppenthaler and prose writer-in-residence Julie Metz when they deliver their Writers’ Center reading at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in the Hall of Philosophy.
Hoppenthaler, creative writing and literature professor at East Carolina University, plans to read from his forthcoming book, Night Wing Over Metropolitan Area, which he said is almost a “part two” to his previous book, Domestic Garden.
“This will be one of the first readings from that new book,” he said. “I’m excited to take out some of these poems and take them on a little spin around the block and see how they work.”
The book is filled with nature imagery — such as hummingbirds, Japanese maples and snow — as ways to evoke images of “loss, longing, regret and hope.” Hoppenthaler draws from personal experiences, such mental health issues in his blended family and the stress they can have on a marriage, as well as his relationship with his mother.
“My mom had a stroke awhile back and has been in a nursing home, slowly deteriorating with dementia,” he said. “In (Domestic Garden), there were poems about that; she passed on as I was writing (Night Wing Over Metropolitan Area), so that becomes part of it, too.”
Metz will read from her memoir Eva and Eve, a story about learning and retelling the escape of her mother’s family from Nazi-occupied Vienna in 1940.
“It’s a personal family story of escape and immigration,” she said. “It also has wider implications because I delve into a lot of the history of that era.”
She started her memoir career as “an accident,” after her husband died suddenly. Metz said she went through a series of revelations while people around her told her she should write a memoir.
Her first book after her husband’s death, Perfection, prompted her to dive into her mother’s history. While her mother didn’t tell many stories of her time under occupation and as a refugee, Metz said she knew it was a “traumatic experience.”
After her mother died in 2006, Metz was going through her things and found a Poesie album, a book popular at the time used mostly by young girls to collect signatures from friends.
“Often (the Poesie album was) the only thing that a child could bring with them when they left home,” she said. “This was all you had, memories of friends who probably didn’t survive. There was a lot of pain stored in that book.”
Metz will host her own workshop throughout the week teaching focused on memoirs.
“Writing a good scene is such an important skill; otherwise you just have a boring narrative,” she said. “If you really want to get your readers into your story, the best way to do that is to drop them into action.”
In his capacity as a poet, Hoppenthaler frequently teaches workshops. For each one, he said he comes in knowing the level of discourse and experience participants bring.
“I’m going into this workshop with the understanding that most of the folks are not absolute beginners,” he said.
His workshop will focus on epistolary poems, those that are written as a letter, addressed either to a public or private person, but usually never seen. Hoppenthaler is a stranger to this kind of poem, so he will be learning alongside his students.
“I can’t remember the last actual letter I’ve ever written,” he said. “I like to play with different lines in my poems and, to be honest, I’ve never written an epistolary poem.”
Drawing inspiration from contemporary poets or even lyrics from a Bob Dylan song, writers can expect to extend their creative processes.
“It’ll be fun for me to play with those, and hopefully it’ll be fun for the workshop participants as well,” Hoppenthaler said.