OK, I admit it. I’m not competent at assembly projects, although I do live with one gigantic IKEA wardrobe that I managed to put together by dint of much time, sweat, and profanity. I am repurposing for “Retrospect” this poem that I wrote a number of years ago.
WRITER’S WORKSHOP (Deer Isle, Maine)
The view across the bay is stunning The dormitories spare but inviting The grounds are festooned with a cornucopia Of sessions in sculpture, and painting, and woodworking, and glass blowing. I ask if I may visit the writers' workshop And am directed to slide open a tall, hefty door Wooden, with vertical slats I can barely move it.
Have I opened the wrong door, then? The students in this workshop And perhaps the instructors, too, for I cannot tell which are which Are busy with chisels and hammers and files and wire cutters At first they appear to be carpenters or sculptors or metal workers OR laboring perhaps at a medieval craft I'm not familiar with "I was looking for the writing workshop," I say To a pony-tailed fellow Who's cranking a vise gently but firmly closed "You're in the right place," he tells me "We wrote rough drafts last week, and now we're getting them smoothed up a bit." I move around the workshop A woman with goggles and an apron Has the first chapter of a novel Whirring around a metal lathe She pokes at it lovingly, with a file Shavings fly off in all directions She clicks the machine off and re-examines her work. "Still too sentimental," she mutters to herself And clicks the lathe on again and chooses a flatter, wider file. A playwright has what look like calipers but are not "Motif detectors," he rasps "State of the art "Hand designed by a guy who used to be a palace guard for the Emperor of Ethiopia" "I always wondered what happened to those guys after the military coup," I say, and ask him thename of his play "Renegade," he says. "I like that," I say. There's someone pushing lines of dialogue closer together By heating them till just below the melting point And cooling them with a bellows "The scene was too long," he says "But not too full"
I return to the pony-tailed fellow And peer closer at what he's gripping in his vise It's a short story He cranks the vise Takes out a very delicate-looking saw Drawing the saw in slow, smooth motions towards his chest He opens a nice groove in the manuscript Deftly then he moves the tool forward and back, forward and back Two paragraphs fall to the floor in one piece And are tossed in the recycle bin I ask him if he ever considered drawing a line with a pencil before cutting Sheepish, he smiles. "Brilliant! I could tell you were a writer when you walked in." He asks me if by any chance I am Stanley Elkin; He heard Stanley Elkin might be paying a visit at some point Tells me I resemble him I don't know who Stanley Elkin is I find out later he writes short stories and novellas But I tell him I know for a fact That Elkin always makes his cuts with a pencil
Dale Borman Fink retired in 2020 from Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, MA, where he taught courses related to research methods, early childhood education, special education, and children’s literature. Prior to that he was involved in childcare, after-school care, and support for the families of children with disabilities. Among his books are Making a Place for Kids with Disabilities (2000) Control the Climate, Not the Children: Discipline in School Age Care (1995), and a children’s book, Mr. Silver and Mrs. Gold (1980). In 2018, he edited a volume of his father's recollections, called SHOPKEEPER'S SON.