As a writer, I am dubious about whether creative writing can be "taught," suspicious of an art form that, when everything is flowing, brings words that link themselves together with an almost supernatural effortlessness. But one conversation with Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez, the youngest author, at just 19, to present a workshop during this year's Nature of Words, has opened my mind. Ekiwah, who has been called a poetic prodigy, began writing poems at the age of 10, he told me, because, "I fell in love with a girl and had to write a poem about it. It was the first feeling that poetry really pulled me into its world. It wasn't so much that I chose it, but that it chose me."
What struck me most about Ekiwah was that, for all of his success, including multiple book publications and the much-coveted respect and endorsement from poet Mary Oliver, he seemed just as interested in me and my work as a writer, and also what he can learn from coming to Bend.
Ekiwah is a poet's poet, with a desire not only to share his work but also to learn from his students. "I strive to make my audience know that I wish to be in a conversation with them as a writer and as a person. I try not to put boundaries between who's a poet and who isn't," Ekiwah says and it's clear his intent is connection. "My poems are little excuses to trigger something within others. Can my poems resonate with something in someone's heart or mind?"
Born with cerebral palsy, Ekiwah sees poetry as his way of "moving through the world."
"A very powerful form of motion is the written and spoken word," he says. With the positive example of turning a physical challenge into an asset, Ekiwah stated, "Immobility helps stop me in my tracks and notice what's around me."
This is the type of wisdom that we will be exposed to during the Nature of Words. The event, founded by Ellen Waterston in 2005, set its mission to, "foster an appreciation of the literary arts and humanities in the High Desert." This year's authors promise to live up to the mission. Along with Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez, Nature of Words 2008 includes poet Judith Barrington, journalist Charles Bowden, naturalist Craig Childs, multi-genre authors Luis Urrea and Pam Houston, sci-fi and fantasy icon Ursula K. Le Guin and 2008 National Book Award Finalist Patricia Smith. Smith is one of the few performance poets whose work translates to the page, to brilliant effect in her latest book, Blood Dazzler (Coffee House Press), a collection of poetry that chronicles the destruction of Hurricane Katrina.
Tina Davis, owner of Camalli Book Company, says, "Having a literary event of this magnitude is unique, especially in a town Bend's size. We're lucky to have it here, and Ellen Waterston has been the driving force behind its creation and growth over the years."
Then I turned to Jason Graham, who performs and regularly places as Mosley Wotta at the Bend Poetry Slam. His scores in the last slam helped him win a free workshop with Patricia Smith.
"The last slam was a jovial night to say the least," Graham said. "I am just really looking forward to this workshop. I am very curious and afraid, but in a good way, because I am hoping to be changed or opened."
Maybe that's what we, as a community, can hope to take away from this year's Nature of Words. The variety of talent leaves many options for many different tastes, some as wild as a poetry slam, some reserved, yet just as powerful. Maybe the Nature of Words will open us all, as Ekiwah Adler-Beléndez told me at the close of our conversation, right before wishing me a magical day, to "Poetry...part of the living dream of life."
For more information on the Nature of Words authors and events go to www.thenatureofwords.org