Why I Fell In Love with the Martha's Vineyard Writers Residency
by Laurin Macios
I’ve been to the Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency, run by the Noepe Center for Literary Arts, twice—in September 2013 and 2014. My first visit was also my first time to the Vineyard, and to put it simply, I fell in love.
The Noepe Center website explains that “Noepe” is the Wampanoag name for Martha’s Vineyard, and means “land between the currents.” The website states, “We see this island and the work of the center as a still place, a place of refuge, a sanctuary from which great writing will emerge.” I went there for exactly that still place, that refuge, and it did not disappoint. Here are my Top 3 favorite things about my time there, in no particular order.
1. The Noepe Center itself
The building itself is beautiful and peaceful. A white wooden building with a gracious front porch and a whimsical side terrace, it’s a former B&B. The inside is the lap of luxury: two libraries, cozy-chic furniture, a great big kitchen, and a long welcoming dining table around which the residents share meals and stories. The bedrooms are all a little different (In 2014, the first to arrive, I took the liberty of peeking in the open doors that lined the path to my room!), and in each there is a little space devoted to your work, complete with bookshelf and writing desk, providing the privacy and peace many of us need to unwind, forget to-do lists, and enter the space of our work (or play).
2. The community of writers
Noepe Founder and Director Justen Ahren and his family are warm and welcoming people who kick each residency off with a communal dinner—my first year we gathered around the table for pizza, and my second, Justen cooked us a meal himself! Their visits to the Noepe Center to check in, and the reading nights that Justen and house manager Jack Sonni hosted, were some of my favorite evenings. It was great to meet writers from all over the world and to get to know their stories and interests and their writing. In 2014, there was a wonderful Italian poet there named Sarah Fruner who runs what I might call a friends and film outreach group (and website) back home in Italy, through which she chooses a weekly movie and asks the public to join her at a certain theater to see it together. Meeting interesting people with passions like that is one of the benefits to a place like this, and the two movie outings she arranged for the group were fantastic affairs--how fun it was to see a screening of Il sorpasso with our own Italian film aficionado, and Land Ho! was fantastic, too.
You don’t have to roam far from the MVWR grounds to explore and be inspired. It’s a five minute walk, if that, to the Edgartown harbor where people fish all day, and where ferries scuttle back and forth between Chappy and Edgartown. One of my favorite things to do was take a walk to the harbor and sit on one of the many wooden benches, watching the people and watching the clouds shift through the sky. The sunsets were also the perfect time to be there, and having a little water bottle of wine in your bag didn’t hurt. But you were also just a few minutes from losing yourself in thick woods and beautiful buzzing ponds. One long walk had me skirting Sherif’s Pond and following the winding wooded paths until I suddenly (to my surprise) came out on the shore near the Edgartown Lighthouse. I loved letting myself get lost just to see where I’d end up. And that walk itself provided the inspiration and landscape of two poems I wrote during my stay. (Underside and But When You Feel Longing)
The island is big though, and there is so much to see, from the colorful cliffs of Aquinnah to the peaceful shore at Menemsha where I sat in the sand sipping coffee on several mornings as the sun rose.
I was so inspired by the Vineyard landscape that the opportunity to soak it in my first year there became a turning point for my writing. Seemingly every view transported me into what felt like an Impressionist painting, and I was hard-pressed to ever stop reaching for my pen. Jules Castagnary satirically gave the Impressionist painters their name, saying they were “Impressionists in the sense that they render not the landscape, but the sensation produced by the landscape.” To me, the sensation is the whole point of the art, of the poem, and the Vineyard was one big muse. The sunlight and shadows illuminated and blurred and brushed the already gorgeous landscape of trees, ponds, dirt roads, stone walls, and seagulls into breathtaking scenes that dropped my jaw and continuously stopped me in my tracks. I never would have named nature as one of my inspirations, but it was all I could do to try to evoke the sensations in my poems that the Vineyard produced in me, and that has led to a shift in where I find my inspiration, no matter where I am.
Laurin Macios is the program director of Mass Poetry. She holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire, where she taught on fellowship for three years, and her work appears or is forthcoming in Salamander, Third Wednesday, Mudlark, Boxcar Poetry Review, [PANK], and elsewhere. More on her website at laurinbeckermacios.com.