Crafting Community: Impressions of Campbell Folk School

We come to Campbell Folk School to craft some thing – a bowl, a scarf, a decorative rod of forged steel, a poem. We come to study and practice our crafts and, in the learning, we create for ourselves an entire community.

Find your community, the instructor tells us. This is imperative. Make a commitment and build your audience. And we set to work.

The writing is easier and better here, more forceful and clear, in the company of others. You meet gifted artists who don’t recognize their own gifts, people, who, like you, are plagued by self-doubt. You begin to notice that the joys and challenges and struggles are universal. You aren’t doing this thing alone. People notice your work. Your specific work. A specific line. A specific tone or phrase. And when they praise, you trust them because of the specificity of their praise. And you take second and third hard looks at your own work to help it be ready to share.

And the generosity of the instructor, laying down sheaf after sheaf of poems, a riot of prompts and exercises. You meet the older fellow, a librarian like you, but struggling today with his nerves, not sure he has found the right words to say what needs saying. You work it through together. Celebrate discovery of the right words. You laugh. You share. You allow yourself to be ridiculous, to say possibly stupid things. You are excited by everyone else’s success. Their success is your success.

The meals are a community of first name neighbors. You eat with black smiths, weavers, musicians, wood turners. In their other lives they are engineers, teachers, research economists. They gather here from Tennessee, Ohio, Florida, Russia, Bulgaria. You pass the bread. You offer each other second and third helpings. You clear the table together. You bring each other coffee. The meal is locally sourced and unbelievably fresh. Michelle jokes that the salad is so fresh someone found a snail in theirs.

And you befriend the elm outside your workshop door. It stands majestically tall, like a magical giant from another age. And only as you are driving home do you realize that the archaic majesty of this mighty tree is a true thing. This tree is thing you have never seen. There are no more elms where you live. They all died of Dutch Elm disease before you were born.

We offer our poetry aloud at 7:30 morning song. People listen. They comment. They applaud.

And in this spirit of wide generosity, poetry is moving. You are writing more today than you wrote the entire month of May. And it is good, strong writing. It is connected, specific. It has something to say.

This place draws art out of you. It helps you believe you are capable of creating beauty. It helps you remember that the effort of art is worthwhile.

And the sunlight is a smiling force. And there is harmony and all is well and all is right and you are finally ready to claim the gifts you have picked up so many times before only to set them right back down again. This time, you know, you can hold on to them. You can shape those gifts into a craft and let those gifts shape you.

This is why you are here. It is why any of us are here.

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