BY KAILEY TEDESCO
This July, I participated in the Two Sylvias Press Online Retreat for four weeks, and it rocked my poem world.
1. You Don’t Have to Leave Your House (Unless You Want To)
If you’re as comforted as I am by the automated voice in the self-checkout lane at grocery stores, this may be the retreat for you. The daily exercises and workshopping can all be done on your own living room sofa or in your favorite coffee shop. I participated in the summer retreat while traveling with family and found it highly beneficial to wake up, read the prompt, garner inspiration throughout the day, and wind down by cranking out some poetry. The unique structure allowed me to stick to my already established priorities while also allowing me to keep my poetic ventures fresh and momentous.
2. You’ll Receive Vigorous Exercises and Prompts Daily
After very recently (and sadly) completing my MFA program, I panicked that I would no longer hold myself to the same expectations I had been while working with my cohort. When I did write, I also worried that I was still writing for a project that I had already felt was completed — what if I can only write for this ONE manuscript for the rest of my life?! The prompts given were pointed, yet stylized in such a way that I could let free association take the front seat for the first time in a while.
3. You Get Personalized Feedback
Extremely established editors, Kelli Russell Agodon and Annette Spaulding-Convey, will each offer you thorough feedback on two poems of your choosing. These women are amazing, and it will seriously benefit you if you get the opportunity to converse with them. I ended up sending them two poems that were completely different from anything I had been writing during my MFA. The editors carefully responded to everything from line-breaks to mimesis, and then offered a list of hand-picked journals for my future submissions. Some of these included lesser known pagan and occult journals that I had not previously encountered, but now I can’t get enough!
4. Muses Will Guide You
Not only is Two Sylvias Press named after Sylvia Plath and Sylvia Beach (two of the most powerful women whose essences we poets can only hope to channel), but it also draws heavy inspiration from Whitman and Dickinson (America’s poetry grandparents). During the first week of the retreat, I received a handwritten, tarot-inspired post-card with jolly ol’ Whitman wishing me happy poem-ing right on the front.
I also chose a beautiful Plath journal full of quotes and pictures (this was included in the cost of the retreat!). Plath has always been my pan, so to speak. So much so, in fact, that while I was in college I used to perform small spells in the hopes of literally resurrecting her talents in myself. The verdict is still out on that one, but it did feel highly satisfying to write my poetry on pages with her face on them.
5. It’s Mystical and Reflective
Sometimes, I find myself getting caught up in the competition and commerce aspects of poetry. When trying to collect publications over the past year, I’ve found that I’ve lost touch with my art at times, and instead ended up focusing on this excel sheet of which journals had my poems, how long they’d have them, what their feedback was, etc. I’m not proud of this.
The Poet Tarot (provided by the press as a smartphone app) has been extremely helpful when it comes to re-learning how to flex reflective muscles. I began to feel that connective, Yeats-esque energy in my poems and in myself again. I draw a poet card each day and allow myself to reflect on the three different aspects of the writing process: muses, mentors, and letter presses. My favorite drawings are always the major arcana (of course) which consists of ee cummings as the traditional "Fool" and Denise Levertov as "Justice."
Today, I drew the Ten of Muses. This card asks me to think about how my personal values are operative in my creative life. I always find myself writing about feminism, but I’ve found that my ideas are evolving and this shows in the new direction of my most recent poetry. I couldn’t think of a more fitting card.
I finished this retreat months ago, but it was just the kick I needed to find my poetic center and continue my momentum, both creatively and productively. It also reminded me to give myself time — to sit in the bath for an hour, to resume my dream journal, to let myself daydream — and that has been so amazing for the health of my poems.
If you, too, are looking for a comfortable, yet rigorous writer’s retreat this season, I would consider checking out TwoSylviasPress.com for details. The next online session runs from October 10th through November 4th and costs $279 dollars. Hurry though — space is limited!
Kailey Tedesco is a full-time poet and a part-time taxonomist of vintage collar dresses. She will soon receive her MFA in Creative Writing from Arcadia University, and she's the co-founder of Rag Queen Periodical. On any given day, you can find her musing on the Season 5 finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and munching on French pastries. Get to know more at ragqueenperiodical.com or follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram: @KaileyTedesco.