I don’t think I have ever felt more exhausted in my life—and in the best way possible. I did a lot of research about Bread Loaf before attending, research that went beyond the conference website so that I could try and ascertain the opinions and experiences of former attendees’ time on the mountain. Much of this was discovered on blogs, essays, and articles, and although the details and perspectives varied each time, the pangs of physical and mental exhaustion resounded again and again in everything I read. But knowing this and experiencing it are two different things.
Each day, all day, brims with important and stirring readings, lectures, classes, workshops, and events. But it is also limited. Unlike AWP (a very different kind of conference with very different objectives), Bread Loaf doesn’t have scores of panels or lectures about the same or similar subjects taking place during multiple times over several days. At Bread Loaf, it’s now or never. A lecture or reading is given once, and then it’s over, so see it now or lose the chance, (hence the difficulty in deciding what’s “acceptable” to miss in order to decompress and conserve one’s energy).
So, on a given day, a scheduled event nears and we all stagger into the rustic, wooden barn known as the Little Theater, bleary-eyed and shivering (it’s been rather chilly and damp up here, rather reminiscent of autumn) to share the same space and exhaustion while listening to the work, wisdom, and guidance of experienced and established writers who teach us something, everything, and perhaps manage to quell that precise issue we might be grappling with in our own work. Butthese are also individuals who are like-minded, who are here and who continue to return for the same reasons that we sit (and sometimes squirm) in “butt-numbing chairs” hanging onto each word: we are all just people who share a passion for writing, reading, and the process and progress of both as well as the belief in the necessity for contemporary writing and the breadth of its capabilities in our troubled world.
Somewhere in the deep woods of my mind, I always imagined reading and/or experiencing poetry with other people while sitting beside a fire. Clichéd? Perhaps. But I suppose it always seemed romantic, luscious, warm, decadent, and so inviting. It happens here at Bread Loaf, and not just with poetry, of course, but with all of the participating genres. And it is beautiful. So, so beautiful. And since the weather has been cooler, it’s been perfect. Hearing the fizzle, crack, and snap of a fire tumbling around in the hearth while the soft Irish lilt of Eavan Boland’s voice glides over her gorgeous poetry is some kind of blessing that I can’t explain. During each reading, particularly during the poetry segments, I find myself tearing up, feeling foolish and maudlin. But when the sun goes down, the Vermont air is cool, and the mountains are shadowy titans in the background, I look around and I am surrounded by the silhouettes of almost 300 people gathered around the same warm flames, listening to the same poems and stories that move us, scare us, comfort us, connect us, and ultimately, change us. Wouldn’t you cry, too?