Merna Hecht and Rob Crawford, Writers-in-Residence

Merna Hecht

 

We had the tremendous pleasure of sharing Merna Hecht and Rob Crawford’s company for several weeks this spring. We loved their stories about life on a blueberry farm in Washington as well as learning about what experiences made them both who they are today.  Both Merna and Rob have participated on a number of writer’s retreats and I asked them to share their reflections about the value of ‘time out’ and how the process works for them.

 

Merna: In retrospect, after two weeks at Bordeneuve , I understand the importance of leaving the press of the familiar behind. The new landscape widened my thinking and nourished my work as nothing else could. I knew I wanted time and space to write an essay and that I wanted to pose difficult, provocative questions within it. I also felt a longing to get back to my own work as a poet. I imagined that leaving home for a completely different setting and rhythm to my days would allow me to turn to my writing and rekindle my ability to focus and concentrate. Even though we live on a sweet little blueberry farm on an island in Puget Sound outside of Seattle, work life, family life and social life were over-full and far too busy; I was yearning for a time and place of rediscovery and renewal.

Now, back home, I realize how essential it is that after arrival at Bordeneuve one must immediately learn to befriend long periods of solitude and learn to treasure them. The idea is to take full advantage of the deep quiet and to go into it with the awareness that you will live with yourself and your work in a different way. It seems important not to have expectations of what solitude will ask of you, but to trust that a balance will emerge that becomes as essential as the need to go into yourself and your work. There were many aspects of the retreat that provided a lovely pattern that both Rob and I learned to embroider into our days. After the quiet of a work day, always punctuated by a walk or bicycle ride, there was the evening and with it came a glass of wine, an aperitif, and often a beautiful shared meal with rich, enlivening conversations with Noelle and Karl.

Both Rob and I are writing about challenging topics. The expansive workspaces and surrounding beauty helped us settle into a willingness to take on the difficult subjects of our respective work—mine about working with young refugees and other young people who have experienced loss and trauma and about the failure of public schools in the U.S. to provide children with meaningful and applicable education as it relates to our complex world. Rob’s work is about human rights abuses and he also researches and writes about political ideologies that promote war—all toward understanding how we might possibly resolve conflicts and achieve peace. Though our topics were indeed somber, every once in a while a poem would surface which was a delight. I also returned to the pleasure of writing in my journal or drawing the contours of a nearby pebble beach where the stream swept in like the arc in the middle of a fairy tale. I heartily recommend to any and all residents that they take the time for journaling or sketching. Rob wisely took time out from his writing to search for the Golden Oriole and play his jazz piano and a few times with Karl on saxophone.

Rob Crawford

Rob: I imagined and hoped for a place in an uncommonly beautiful setting, where I could stay put, write for five to six hours on a daily basis and then go into the countryside and discover a new environment. From previous experience I knew and expected that a writing retreat would be a refuge from the daily demands of our house and our small farm and all the rest.  I hoped the space would provide individual solitude and a good work space.  Bordeneuve exceeded all of these expectations, with the additional surprise of our generous and kind hosts—and free ranging conversation.  Noelle and Karl are exceptional and I have every intention of returning to this unique place and part of the world.   I feel deep gratitude for my time here.

A few recommendations: Eat a late dinner; savor the wine, don’t expect to work later in the evening, get up early for work; rise with the dawn for the birdsong and go outside as soon as possible.

Merna: Finally, I think it’s of utmost importance to mention and Rob agrees wholeheartedly, that the retreat does not end upon one’s return. Therein lies both the gift of Bordeneuve and a great challenge because it is easy to slip back into routines and old, established patterns. Yet, it is far more compelling and energizing to be as mindful as possible about holding onto what was gained during the residency and to keep insights fresh and change in motion as best as one can.

 

Alex Muller, Poet-in-Residence

We hosted Alex Muller, a young poet from South Carolina this past month and are happy to share some of the poetry he wrote here as well  his song Red House. Alex is younger than most of our residents, but we were inspired by his determination and forthrightness. Here are a few of his reflections on his residency at Bordeneuve:

 

The first day I walked out into one of the fields at Bordeneuve I had this moment where I realized, “there’s no way I can come back from this the same as I was.” I’m happy to say that I was right. Being at this place changes the way you look at the world, yourself, and your art.

I came to Bordeneuve to see if I could live like a “real” writer for two weeks.  I wanted to settle into a schedule that had me writing every day for several hours at a time, (which is something I haven’t ever been able to do consistently).  I had looked into a few different residency/retreat programs, but none seemed to be the perfect fit.  Because I am still in my undergraduate studies, I was intimidated at being in a program with “established” writers; however, programs that invited writers “of all skill levels” seemed somewhat condescending.  Still other programs seemed too industrial or sterile.  Finding Bordeneuve was a treasure. I knew at once I had found a program that was run by real, honest people who have a passion for the arts. 

The environment was more than ideal, but was I ready as a writer? Before I left, I remember having a couple of nightmares about getting out there and not being able to write at all, realizing I wasn’t cut out to be a writer, or something equally as terrifying.  I’m happy to say, however, that I found my time quite productive and inspiring. Most importantly, I learned how to be comfortable alone with myself, to listen to what my head was trying to tell me, and to turn my former stress and anxieties into poetry. I quickly learned that everyone settles into a pattern at Bordeneuve, and although many artists will call the barn their home for various weeks out of the year, it still retains a deeply personal feeling. And even though I was excited to settle into a routine, nothing felt cold or systematic about it; rather, it was natural and nourishing.  Writing at the big table at Bordeneuve, I felt a connection to those that had been there before me, and I could hear their voices lining the walls, whispering into my work.”

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Red House #3

 

This house is a glass of wine spilling down

Broken base. Bottle found. Pour it out.

 

The patchwork of receding years is sewn

into the drunken weekend’s winter coat,

while we’ve been sleeping, mattress on the floor,

under lullabies of alarm clock radios.

 

But we will stay until you go.

When you are done, just let us know.

 

This house is a bag of quarters spent on payphone calls.

Six months of moving south, a snowflake bruise, a bleeding mouth.

 

This is what you won’t understand:

how broken glass turns into sand,

how emptiness is holding hands

with our memories as they run and run.

 

But I will stay just so I know,

to get a taste, then let it go.

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Motet 10: Bordeneuve**

 

This morning

God is

White-bearded yesterday

 

I was watching

the garden growing

the weather was awful

 

a spider tripping on its own legs

at first all unseen reaching but then

gray and curling colorless

 

the clumsy origami of passing time.

the cycle of sprouting hand-shakes and hello-agains.

nothing but sun tomorrow.

 

**This poem may be read in two different ways: first as a normal poem, then as a separated piece—the first line of each stanza forms a new poem, the second line of each stanza forms another, and the third line of each stanza forms another.

 

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Alex Muller is in his final year at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina where he studies creative writing and music.  This past year he was one of his university’s recipients of The Geraldine Trammel Hurley Fellowship, which he used to travel to France for three weeks, two of which were spent in a residency at Bordeneuve.  Alex spent his time at Bordeneuve focusing on poetry that he hopes to turn into an honors thesis next year and possibly a chapbook after that. Recently he has been writing in a form that he’s invented, which he calls the “motet.” Derived from the medieval musical style of the same name, this form celebrates polyphony, containing interlocking lines that can be read in different ways. Beyond the motet form, Alex has been interested in the role of mutable language in poetry, often crafting lines that shift depending on the reading. The process of reading becomes highly rhythmical and musical for Alex, and as a singer-songwriter, he is always conscious of the musicality of language.  In addition to his poetry, Alex has been writing and recording music under the name “This is For My Friends” since 2009, self-releasing two full-length albums that he recorded in his bedroom.

 

Irina Pivovarova, Writer-in-Residence

Irina

 

We hosted Russian writer Irina Pivovarova in April and had such a wonderful time getting to know Irina. Many thanks to her for sharing so much laughter and so many great stories. Here is a brief interview with Irina at the end of her residency:

Where do you come from? I come from Moscow, Russia where I live and work.

What do you do professionally? I’m a scriptwriter and I work both for TV and Cinema.

 

Why did you decide to do a writing retreat? What project brought you to Bordeneuve?

I’m a mother of two adorable daughters of 2 and 7 years old who are at the same time my biggest inspirations and the reason that I couldn’t concentrate on the project that I wanted bring to life. I tell them bedtime stories and then I thought that I probably could connect the stories and write a book for my children. And perhaps for other children too. So I needed a quiet and calm place to work and to do not think about anything else but the story. Away from it all – my daily routine, my work, etc.

What was the experience at Bordeneuve like?

It was even better than I imagined. The place was designed for a person like me – I could wander in the forest thinking about fairies and ogres, sit and write by the crackling fire, and draw on a long wooden table where I could put all my stuff. That was all I cared about. The rest of it was taken care of. The food was amazing, the respect of my silence and concentration was almost sacred. I wrote  like mad because I couldn’t let down the whole idea of this supreme writer’s paradise. Really I couldn’t think of  BETTER conditions for a writer than at Bordeneuve. I guess I could describe my time there as the one of the happiest and most fruitful in my life.

What advice do you have for others considering going on a retreat? What makes a writing retreat successful and satisfying?

I guess you should bring your own ideas and your strong will to succeed. The rest is all there. You have all that is necessary for concentration and inspiration here. It this house, in those beautiful fields and mountains, in the magical chorus of the birds.

Artist-in-Residence Anna Caione

 

Anna at work

Anna Caione, artist in residence

Australian artist Anna Caione is delightfully complex. Her work reflects her own contradictions, her restlessness, her transplanted roots, her ease with city life and her yearning for a simpler existence, outside the city. Her work is delicate and loving, almost ephemeral and in some ways unsettling.  An endless fairy’s web of red string loops over and around heavy, wooden beams, creating an alarming juxtaposition of weight and color. Bound tightly beside that is my piano stool, transformed into a gagged package, the black piano stark against abstract bits of red. A crazy quilt of incidental pieces of fabric, jute and cardboard inadvertently suggest an inverted American flag. The lightly textured collage works hung beneath the quilt document her long-ranging travels and her complex web of heritage and loyalties.

String installation

Anna was confronted very quickly with the realities of the remote countryside when she began her residency this month. She adapted happily to the seclusion and found unexpected freedom in working with limitations. “This experience resulted in a body of work based on spontaneity, limitation and the found object. I had no car, no artshop and no familiar terrain.”  Anticipating this while packing in Australia, she allowed herself only a small palette of colours and materials, relying on what she could find in nature and in boxes of my odds and ends.  “Small works are visual diaries about travel, borders, globalization, movement, limitations and connections. The works are authentic in that they include found objects such as tickets, dockets and receipts that are then incorporated into abstract compositions.’

During her residency, she was feeling inspired by Kandinsky, by process art, the abstract expressionists and Arte Povera.  Anna ventured off into the fields around the house for several hours a day to draw tiny landscapes in ink. During her second week she ventured off into the forest and gathered slim branches. Over the course of several days, she assembled them to become awkward dance partners, tipped with bright primary colors and loose pieces of string.

Garden Sculptures

Anna was born to Italian parents who immigrated to Australia in the 1950’s. She holds several degrees in art from schools in both Australia and Italy. She met her husband Roberto, an architect from the Piedmonte, while pursuing studies in Turin. They currently live in Melboune with their 6-year old daughter. Anna is represented by the Catherine Asquith gallery and teaches design theory at tertiary level. Her works belong in private and public collections in Australia, Italy, Holland and Ireland.

Collage by Anna Caione

 

 

Here are a few photos from Anna’s residency. On Friday the 19th, we hosted a small vernissage to show off her works to a handful of friends. It was a lovely evening. We so enjoyed Anna’s company and thoughtfulness. Hopefully we’ll  see her again soon!

Bound Stool

The Bound Stool

Work Table

Artist’s worktable

 

Collage

 

 

 

 

Garden dancers

 

Rebecca Stebbins, Painter

Rebecca Stebbins at the Bordeneuve Artist Retreat France

Rebecca Stebbins, Painter

I knew Rebecca and I were going to get along when I saw the Gloria Swanson quote on her website

“All creative people should be required to leave California for three months every year.”

Having grown up in the Bay Area, I understand the prudence of that statement. One can get a sort of tunnel vision living there. Rebecca is the inverse: raised in the midwest, she transplanted herself to southern California for love many years ago.  As an adult, she started painting and developed (as so many do) a love affair with the light and the landscape of our beautiful state. But she hasn’t forgotton that it is not the only place in the world and that people live to a different rhythm elsewhere. And thus, as a passionate painter of landscapes, she travels.

Rebecca is typical of the people we attract in that she has a very full life outside of her art. Family, garden, pets and a teaching job all make demands on her time and so she dedicates a few weeks every summer to travelling in landscapes that speak to her and painting them. This is a woman who lives very deeply in the moment. At Bordeneuve she painted in the morning, practiced yoga indoors, away from the intense noon sun and carried on painting in the afternoons.   She then relaxed in the setting sun with us over a glass of rosé and a light meal. Rainy days had us rummaging through cupboards for interesting bottles and food for still-lifes and on sunny days we set out in the car looking for beautiful places to paint (of which we have no shortage…!). She writes “I can’t stay enough about how much I gained from my stay there. Not only was my painting experience wonderfully productive, the retreat itself was so beneficial for my wellbeing…I loved being in that space, and the simplicity and slower pace helped contribute to my peace of mind.”

Rebecca exhibits regularly around Santa Barbara, CA and has graciously allowed me to share a few paintings with you – these are a few of my favourites:

A view of the Pyrenees

 

Study in blue and orange

 

Bordeneuve

 

Hollyhocks