- Sadie Williams
- Danielle Thierry
On Friday, April 29, the BCA Center will open its doors to artists who specialize in the written word. The Burlington Writers Workshop is throwing a launch party for The Best of the Burlington Writers Workshop 2016, its annual compilation of poetry, short fiction and nonfiction by member writers. The event celebrates not only the new publication, but also BWW's move to new quarters.
BWW was founded in 2009 on the social networking site Meetup, where it was originally called the Burlington Writers Group. Participants held workshops in bars, coffee shops, houses and, for a short time, the basement of Burlington's Halflounge. In 2013, BWW rented a full-time space at Studio 266, which was followed by one at 22 Church Street. In February 2014, the group became a nonprofit with the League of Vermont Writers as its fiscal agent.
The Church Street space posed accessibility problems, though, so this March, the Burlington faction — BWW also runs workshops in Middlebury and Montpelier — up and moved to 110 Main Street. "We wanted to stay downtown," says BWW organizer and Best of editor Danielle Thierry, "but we felt it was important that everybody could access the space. Our previous location was great — aesthetically — but unfortunately we had two flights of stairs and no elevator."
The new digs on Main Street are on the second floor, but an elevator provides access. A large wooden table occupies most of the small, hardwood-floored space. A clean white sofa is tucked against the back wall, and big windows let in lots of light, offering encouragement to cozy up and discuss the craft of writing.
Currently, Thierry says, BWW has 244 active members registered on Meetup, in Burlington, Montpelier and Middlebury. Workshops generally draw between five and 12 participants; they range from traditional poetry and fiction workshops to discussions of novels such as Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities to sessions on related crafts, such as songwriting. The organization takes submissions from writers anywhere for its monthly online journal, Mud Season Review, whose second annual print issue will be released in May.
This is the fourth year BWW has put out its short Best of anthology. This year's iteration includes poetry, essays and short fiction by 15 Vermont writers — who, like the workshops themselves, represent an eclectic range.
Some have already published work in literary journals — such as Montpelier writer Linda Quinlan, whose work has appeared in New Orleans Review and North Carolina Literary Review, among others. For this year's Best of, editors chose Quinlan's poem "Chelsea, MA," a compelling piece about how others can seek to quash our internal rhythms in the cruelest ways. Get out your pencils for this one: To appreciate the seeming lack of meter, it helps to mark the stressed and unstressed syllables. Only then does the even timing of the last line shine through, adding another layer of complexity to the poem.
Other writers are receiving their first publication in the anthology. Ashleigh Ellsworth-Keller, camp director for the DREAM Program, has two poems in this year's edition — one of them, titled "Bones," opens the collection.
Thierry says the editorial staff, composed entirely of BWW members, thought "the imagery [in Ellsworth-Keller's poem] was particularly powerful ... it really spoke of writing as a process. You know," Thierry continues, "kind of digging and excavating, then breaking out and putting in new configurations of those pieces to make something new." She draws a parallel between the exposed bones of Ellsworth-Keller's poem and the vulnerability that writers often experience when sharing their work in a workshop setting.
Other works in the collection address similarly sober topics — such as "Saying Goodbye," Mark Hoffman's poetic reflection on the necessity of forgetting lost love; or "Bug," Natasha Mieszkowski's unsettling short story about a young boy in a precarious emotional state. But not all of Best of is so serious. A short poem called "Meow Cat," by Milton poet Jimmy Tee, adds a note of levity. Amid these often emotionally weighty works, who wouldn't be refreshed and amused by the image of "a furry squeak box proudly / climbing boxes like Everest / and napping everywhere"?