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2004 Writers' Forum
Belle Randall

Belle Randall's most recent book is True Love from Wood Works Press (2003). Other books and chapbooks include Drop Dead Beautiful (Wood Works Press, 1998), The Orpheus Sedan (Copper Canyon Press, 1980), and One Hundred and One Different Ways of Playing Solitaire (University of Pittsburgh Press). Her poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals-- The Threepenny Review, Poetry, The Southern Review, Triquarterly, and PN Review (England)-- as well as such anthologies as A Gift of Tongues (Copper Canyon Press) and Contemporary Religious Poetry (Paulist Press). In 1990 she became one of the founding editors of Common Knowledge, an interdisciplinary journal published, first by Oxford University Press (1990-2000), and now by Duke University Press (2001-3). A former Wallace Stegner Fellow and Jones Lecturer in Creative Writing at Stanford University, and a long time faculty member at Cornish College of the Arts, Belle currently teaches the Master Class in Poetry in the University of Washington extension Writers' Program.
photo credit: dean wong
Introduction to the 2004 Jack Straw Writers Anthology:

According to Littlewood's Law of Miracles, unlikely coincidences happen surprisingly often. Littlewood was a mathematician teaching at Cambridge in the second half of the 20th century. Because he was a scientist he defined "miracle" very precisely. A miracle is "an event of special significance that happens with a probability of one in a million." He reasoned that during the time we are alert and active in our lives, roughly eight hours a day, we see and hear things happen at a rate of about one per second. So the total number of "events" which happen to us is roughly thirty thousand per day, or about a million a month. So a miracle happens about as often as the phone bill. I guess that would apply also to things too terrible to contemplate.

I thought of Littlewood's Law when I recently learned that three of us in the 2004 Jack Straw Writers Program were friends with the same poet forty years ago, although none of us knew one other at the time. Strange to feel these connections knotting and branching beneath the surface of our lives. For a long time I was a writer without a community. I met writers in college but we quickly disappeared into our adult responsibilities. As for the much admired poets who were my teachers, my very admiration kept them in another world. It wasn't until I was thirty that I became friends with a poet and experienced the pleasures of a friendship based on a mutual love of poetry and the activity of writing. I'm speaking not just about writers rubbing elbows socially, but of kindred spirits, an intimate friendship based on a love of language and literature, and an enthusiasm for one another's work. Even now I can count on the fingers of one hand the friends who are willing to agonize with me over a word choice. At the same time, in my experience, the friendship of writers has proved tenacious, sometimes outlasting even marriage in the course of our lives. What is it Creeley says?

For friendship
make a chain that holds
to be bound to
others, two by two,

a walk, a garland,
handed by hands
that cannot move
unless they hold.

The fourteen writers in this year’s Jack Straw Writer's Program were not chosen because they are friends, yet enduring friendships exist among them, including a marriage--John and Roberta Olson--and chums Elliott Bronstein and Stephen Thomas, who came to me asking to read on the same evening, like school boys asking to sit next to each other, because they've been writer buddies for so long. The small coincidence, which is the fact that three people here were friends with the same poet but not one another forty years ago, is of course no more a coincidence than that death rhymes with breath, or womb with tomb, but it gives me a sense of what is meant by "hands that hold" and of our roots growing as unself-consciously as language does, while, like language, they are our own creation, the result not of careerist networking, but of bonds between genuinely kindred spirits. It isn't that we all hang out together (though Jack Straw is helping that happen). It isn't that we are all of the same school or movement. We write in different genres--fiction (Elliott Bronstein, Kathryn Christman), poetry, and essays (Irene Wanner); and we employ different styles--surreal (Martin Marriott), experimental (Richard Denner, Ezra Marks), formal (Don Kentop), ekphrastic (Janée Baugher, James Reed) and plain (Clemens Starck). We range in age across five decades (Mike Kloss is twenty-three and I'm not saying). As far as the Seattle poetry scene goes, we represent different crowds--to the extent that we represent crowds at all, though most of us, I suspect, are writers who prefer to represent not crowds but that which is both more specific and more universal. Different as we are, interacting with these writers, and interviewing them in our little glass house, I've felt completely at home. The Jack Straw Writers Program has permitted me to cull from close to a hundred applicants fourteen people who are writers because they cannot be otherwise. They are all intensely committed to the activity of writing and determined to make it the center of their lives, sometimes at great personal risk. Each is deeply involved in craft and intent on making, whether essay, story or poem, an object that can walk by itself apart from them out into the world. For these writers language is not so much a tool that carries out their intentions, as it is like eyes that enable them to see. Like all those who love language, they belong to The Brotherhood of Frequent Miracles, for they have seen how many unlikely rightnesses can come together in a single word. In sum, they are artists, and I am proud to be a member of the club.

Belle Randall, Curator

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