Poetry in Community

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Poetry in Community

Can’t Hold Us


This place. It’ll lean on the eaves of your ribs long after summer fades.  Smoky ochre sunrises, rising to meet the tree canopy, underscored by endless stars, so many stars, filling the night with so much luminosity.


The first time I went to overnight camp, I was nervous.  I overpacked. I underestimated the beauty. I didn’t know how to make fortune cookies (and still don’t, but that’s another story for another day) or how to play Capture the Flag.  I was pretty certain I’d get eaten by a bear (or an inordinately large spider). I’d never written a skit or created a dance on the fly. And I certainly had never been sorted into a tribe.


By the end of my week, I felt I’d been part of the community for 7 weeks. I carried campfire songs in my hip pocket. I loved Capture the Flag & playing pickup soccer since someone was always kicking around. I loved hearing about England & Spain & France & Massachusetts & NYC. The world was everywhere, and everywhere was here, in the dining hall, on the playing fields, on the dock. We were poets, painters, builders, singers, actors, athletes, unicorns, rappers, astronomers, linguists, comedians, fabulous & everyone was everyone. The hikes led us beyond boundaries, past our fears, gave us new stories to write across the skyline later, posted with the perfect post-mountain ascent duck face selfie.


I didn’t become bear tapas. I learned to give spiders my best stank eye. I welcomed the morning fog with an undeniable grin. It snuck out each morning, leaving the sun to radiate across the hill, like, well perfect sun-soaked New England. I learned how much everyone loves listening to nightfall, see the stars breathe, and maybe even write about it (especially after lights out). I loved the reverb of breakfast jams, campers singing along to whatever gloriousness was being played in the kitchen. It feels amazing to be part of a community, for a week, or an entire summer, that is bigger than you realize, the way it pins down your heartstrings, makes you want to affect change everyday after. 


Here’s the thing: the first time I went to overnight summer camp was as an adult & a mom. Garrett & Jess brought me in to teach some poetry workshops to the campers. Funny story: they taught me. They were the poems I want to learn to write. Brilliant, radiant, affecting, hilarious, curious, phenomenal young people, who welcomed me, made me one of their own, and lent me a part of their summer. Could we all be so lucky.


I made a playlist while I waited to board my flight back to my family, to try to explain how it felt to leave. How it felt, to not want to leave. A way to process the miss. A way to play the summer’s slideshow to anyone who ask how it felt to sleep lakeside in the starswept hammock of New Hampshire. I’d hit play. And Ed Sheeran, John Newman, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Bastille, Emeli Sandé could croon out all the photographs I couldn’t quite articulate. Even as we drove away, I was composing lyrics, behind my too-big sunglasses, (behind my too-lame excuse of allergies causing the tears in my eyes). In the rearview, a poem too short, too long, too everything.


My family was waiting for me at our hotel. I hugged my husband, my extraordinary little son.  “Wow, you smell like camp”, my husband laughed.  “Hey, you need to hear something”, I replied. And I put the summer on blast. Played the moments in the car for my little clam, who one day, I hope will build his own playlist to narrate all the ways camp can change a person, build upon the best parts of their core, send them growing tall.



- Jacey Blue Renner holds an MFA in Poetry from Lesley University. A recipient of the Harwood Emerging Artist Fund's Marion & Kathryn Crissey Award and a former guest poet for bentlily, her poetry has been published in the anthologies Looking Back to Place and Best of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project 2013, among others.  Most recently, you can find her poetry in O-Dark-Thirty, as part of the 2016 Tupelo Press 30/30 Project & included in a forthcoming collection of ekphrastic poetry drawn from photography of the Iraq War.  

During February 2014, she curated Couplets for Campers: 28 Poems in 28 Days,
which raised scholarship funds for the Hawkeye Campership Fund, and helped assist some of the radiant lights referred to in this piece, so they might find their way home, to Camp Hawkeye.


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