This spring the Cambridge Writer’s Workshop held their retreat in the vibrant city of New Orleans. The weather was amazing and felt like a breath of fresh air to all of the snow we had experienced in this unusually long winter. We stayed in a gorgeous two-story house across the river from the French Quarter in Algiers’s Point.
The retreat started with a night of games and fun during orientation which helped stir everyone’s creative side!
Classes for this retreat showcased: “Rasa: Emotion & Suspense in Theatre, Poetry, and (Non)Fiction” taught by Rita Banerjee; “What’s At Stake?” taught by Diana Norma; and a two-part course on both finding a literary agent and building a literary platform taught by special lecturer Natalie Kimber, a literary agent from The Rights Factory. The classes were as fun as they were informative and educational.
In our free time, we played a group game of Werewolf, sought out local food and drink, saw local sites, listened to jazz in the French Quarter, and most importantly wrote!
The 48-hour Writing Bake Off has become a staple of the CWW, and this trip produced some amazing work by our writers! As per the usual rules each writer had 48 hours to write around twenty pages of work while incorporating elements as chosen by the fellow writers. This Bake-Off needed to include:
- Pastel Colored Houses
- The Powdered Sugar from the Beignets
- A “Big Easy” Attitude
- “Widow-Maker” Trees
Here are some excerpts of what our writers came up with.
Gina Anderson “The Baby Sitter”
I kicked open the door. The creature looked like a Doris Day reject. It held the baby outstretched over the crib readying to extract its soul. “Unhand that child!” I demanded. I’m sure my command came out in a chirpy, garbled mess instead of low demonish.
The woman lowered her palm over the tiny chest of the babe, swaddled up in a blue blankie, as a threat. She opened her mouth up in an unnatural yawn and let out a low hum. The move shut the door behind me and blasted me against it.
The babe was silent. It made no moves to protect itself. This demon babe was rumored to have unimaginable powers. Did the creature stun it with some sort of ability unnatural to this realm?
Very well. If it was going to fight dirty, then the crutches and the pants were coming off. I quickly unwrapped my bandaged legs and feet, releasing my claws, but also thoroughly confusing the possessed creature. I picked up one of the crutches and detached one of the components that doubled as a stake. I only had two left and I only had two shots at getting it right.
The creature stretched the face of its possessed body in that yawn again, but this time it spewed a chemical mist. I coughed to prevent the toxic fumes from entering my lungs. Hey, I’m a birdie with delicate sensibilities. Damn it! These guys just kept upping the threats.
Adi Hernández “Untitled Bake-Off”
Julio had been off sleeping, reading, and doing just about god-knows-what those three weeks nobody could find him, and in-between it all, he would find himself staring out through the window hoping he would one day go back to what he thought he could remember life to be. Since the accident, since the weather that day long ago, since his brother’s death, he stayed in the upper room of a pastel house that had somehow managed to stay intact. He had been stuck there, paging through the same three books he hadn’t read in a while, but he was beginning to think, maybe a trip outside could spare him from having to read them all over again. They made him sick to remember again.
To remember his hometown in Managua, Nicaragua. To remember the days when he and his brother would simply drop the bags of groceries they carried home to run off to the beach at the sight of a glimmer of water. To remember the nights outside their home eating papaya and waving off the heat those summer days created. To remember his mama and papa spending nights together cooking for the rest of the family just before they would have “uninvited” guests over. To remember his brother’s laugh when he fell into the pond searching for the sea serpent that supposedly lived there. To remember them again, and to realize they were too far to offer any help like he knew they would.
“It’s what I get… I guess.” he thought to himself.
Deb Jannerson “Poems”
the only track in my discman’s 56-sleeve carrier that mentioned new orleans was about hookers.
i slipped the disc into its wide plastic mouth anyway, lit a funk ribbon between my ears as
the seventh-circle seraphim perched back from the trolley window, uninterrupted by its muffled bass.
removed from blood context, i offered myself to the necklace-strewn widowmaker branches, to the creaky car film-reeling academic excuses, to the jester-drunk women embracing on quarter corners.
agnostic phantoms marbled my barrier, warmth wet as a lover, leaned through anthony kiedis to hiss there is something here for you to find.
with two more weeks until the
begrudging unlock of the ivory tower, i
regressed into the house of the soot eagle
where i unset through the ticking, then
in a vertiginous spot of mirror-image cruelty:
it really will be a canal street! the
sourdough words would not mix with
her fault-ridden lips.
my brain disappeared, impotent.
i had left its dormant shadow on
the opposite end of the interstate, and
almost expected it to survive.
Gary Zeiss “Thank You for Riding with Jesus”
I rode with Jesus the other day. Ten glorious, spirit filled miles. They were fun-filled, too. Yes, I was touched by the son of God himself, and sitting in the back seat of his 2014 Blue Passat (7EAD313), I felt as if I were being whisked away from all my cares.
Jesus asked if I believed in him. How could I say no? He was sitting there, in the flesh, right in front of me. He would move his hands and the car would turn. He would move his feet
and the car would accelerate or slow down. Of course, Jesus was right there with me, every moment of this journey.
Good thing I became a believer quickly. The 405 was in one of its usual crowding phases, and Jesus was pulling motorcycle like lane splits. Give him this — he could drive like hell. While I was in his holy presence, the day seemed to get brighter. It was if the darkness relented to the holy glory of dawn.
I definitely felt as if I was being touched by an angel — and not just any angel, but the big J. We got off the 405 at La Tijera.
Jesus laid on the horn at the driver in front of us.
“No turn on red” I said, pointing to the sign.
“That’s for you folks, not the son of God!” he laughed, almost rear-ending the Explorer with Utah plates that was standing at the light.
I almost thought I heard him mutter a curse word or two at the careful driver in front of us. I knew just then, What Would Jesus Do in traffic? He’d be just like one of us — pissed off
at the slow driver in front of him, impatient, and ready to honk and curse at a moment’s notice. I felt very close to Jesus at that moment.
Matthew Bargas “Credo: On Truth”
“What is truth,” Pontus Pilate asked. The answer may not be as simple as most would think. In
this day and age of fake news and real news the question is just as relevant as it ever was. Our digital technology can fabricate anything, creat compelling arguments supporting or condemning anything anything, and who is to decide what is real and what is fake.
Aside from science and math, are there any universal truths, or are all truths relative? We hold these truths to be self evident? Really? What does that mean. If life liberty and pursuit of happiness are self evident why is there so much death and destruction, so much oppression, so much misery in our world. How about the divine right of kings? That ‘truth’ was believed by everyone centuries ago. Who knows what everyone will believe in the future?
And there is this excerpt from the song, Wonderful from the musical Wicked:
“We believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history. A man is called a traitor or a liberator. A rich man is a thief or a philanthropist. Is one a crusader or an invader. It’s all in which label is able to persist. There are precious few at ease with moral ambiguities. So act as though they don’t exist.”
Rachel Kurasz “Widow Maker Trees”
I ran into my house and locked the door. I was fine, I just drank too much, I told myself. The wind howled, branches were scratching at my door. I went to my bedroom and laid down on the bed hoping to get a good night’s sleep and deal with the hangover in the morning. The scratching sounds continued and sounded as if they were right at my bedroom door.
I was scared, I was drunk, and I finally decided I needed to say the prayer, fuck it, being foolish was better than ending up like that poor woman’s corpse.
“As I lay me down to sleep I pray…” Shit. “As I lay me down to sleep I pray…” Fuck.
The scratches grew louder.
“As I lay me down to sleep I pray…” I was so drunk and scared that I had completely forgotten the damn prayer. I kept repeating the first line over and over again. And then I saw it. I saw a small branch crawling through the space in the door frame. I prayed faster.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip full of fun, food, and productivity! The Cambridge Writers’ Workshop’s new anthology CREDO: An Anthology of Manifestos & Sourcebook for Creative Writing (eds. Rita Banerjee & Diana Norma Szokolyai, May 15, 2018) can be pre-ordered form C&R Press here! Until next time, stay wonderful NOLA!
–Rachel Kurasz, CWW Media & Communications Intern