Middle Path at Kenyon College
Each year, The Adroit Journal enlists the help of two established writers-—one poet, one prose writer-— to guest-judge the annual Adroit Prizes. The Adroit Prizes recognize the best work from undergraduate and secondary school students that we receive through out the year. This year, Richie Hofmann judged the Adroit Prize in Poetry and selected five winners from hundreds of poets, including sixteen-year-old Maddie Kim as an honorable mention. So what happens months later when Maddie arrives at The Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and finds out that the very same Richie Hofmann will be her mentor for the next two weeks? Let’s hear what Maddie has to say about her very fun and very coincidental experience at Kenyon.
Back in February, the phrase “somewhere, a young mother renounces her title” swarmed through my head for days. I wrote it over and over in my math notebook, sang the anaphora in my head, and eventually made it the opening line of my poem “Mothers in July.” A friend had told me about The Adroit Journal and the work they do with younger writers, so I submitted the piece. Come April, I learned that 2014 Adroit Prize for Poetry judge Richie Hofmann had chosen it as an honorable mention in the Adroit Prize in Poetry.
Three months later, I stepped off a plane at Port Columbus International Airport, frazzled and panicked. I worried that I would be unable to find baggage claim and the group of Young Writers waiting to be shuttled over to Kenyon College for the summer. It was my first time flying alone, but I soon found the lone baggage claim in the small airport and the nearest bandana-d Kenyon advisor. As one of the last writers to arrive on campus, I sat alone in my dorm room as orientation came to a close. I read through the sheets of colored paper inside my purple program folder only to discover, to my great surprise, that Richie Hofmann was my instructor.
While I’ve lived through some major unlikely occurrences, this coincidence makes the top three. Maybe it’s number two, after running into Billy Ray Cyrus on my way to pick up my sister from school. Richie had always been a distant name on a screen, a brooding poet whose cropped black-and-white photo remained my only visualization of him. To me, he was some guy who had read a bunch of poems and happened to like mine. We had both ventured to the depths of Gambier, Ohio for the same session of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop, he with brimming poetic wisdom, and I with my Starbucks card in my wallet, praying for at least a hazelnut macchiato.
During our very first workshop, I hesitated mentioning anything to Richie—at least not during class—while he enthused over his love for Bach. Did my mother poem hold any worth in comparison to a thirty-dollar Bach biography from a trendy independent bookstore? I thought that maybe I could casually bring up Adroit in a discussion somewhere down the line, but the thirteen members of our little ensemble were silent.
As Richie looked over his neon green sheet of workshop groups to learn our names, he began to recognize mine. “I’m familiar with your work, aren’t I, Maddie?” He smiles like it’s my birthday and he’s about to surprise me with a plate of homemade brownies. Although I tend to speak with a hyperbolical valley girl drawl and an embarrassing amount of “literally’s,” this is no exaggeration.
Over the course of the next two weeks, my workshop group continued to bond. My fellow workshoppers became my friends, despite my initial fear of reading my work or saying “hello” first. We discussed the ethicality of keeping whales at Sea World, whether or not tying a cherry stem with a tongue is a true indication of one’s kissing ability, and the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of summer flings. With just as much ease and enthusiasm, we analyzed Carl Phillips poems and the significance of bird imagery.
Richie was an incredible teacher. I wrote some of my best pieces in his class. When I found out he was friends with Jacques J. Rancourt, I knew my love for him and his hilarious quips would be eternal. He created a safe environment in which we all became comfortable sharing our biggest fears, and, arguably more importantly, our work. We discussed enjambment and where we were from, Richie always with the most sparkling responses. “I’m from eighteenth century Vienna. Well, not actually, of course, but it’s where I’m truly from.”
For my first experience congregating with other writers, the Adroit community was ubiquitous. I found a welcoming family of writers, many of whom already knew of the journal, Richie, and the Adroit Prizes. I was given the opportunity to work with an amazing poet (with a book coming out next year!) who was already familiar with my work and who inspired me to write prolifically and fearlessly. I met a reader for Winter Tangerine Review and a published poet who was jealous that Peter LaBerge wrote on my Facebook timeline for my birthday. One of my best friends, Lindsay Emi, turned out to be a fellow mentee in the Adroit Summer Mentorship Program. (We performed together in the talent show, and we’re going out for Din Tai Fung dumplings soon. It’s casual.)
More than anything, attending the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop helped me realize the sense of home I will find with other writers everywhere—when it comes down to it, we’re all from the same place, and that place is different for everyone. I read “Mothers in July” at a coffeehouse reading on one of the first few days there, and people came up to me afterwards either saying they knew Adroit, wanting to know more about mother poetry, or with suggestions of authors that I may like. I made lifetime friends who didn’t mind the number of times I said “like” or complained about the 60-degree morning weather. I played ukulele in the grass. I wrote unabashedly and let the work of my peers bring me to tears.
As Richie told us from the beginning, “let your freak flag fly.” And for those two weeks, we listened.