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Miradouro, the Overlook

Sunset at Costa da Caparica, Portugal. Credit: Kristen R. Thompson

By Kristen Thompson, Associate Coordinator, Bluegrass Writers Studio

     Pack light. So many people offered me this advice before I went to Disquiet International in Portugal last summer. I thought they meant light as in little weight, less to carry on my back over the cobblestone hills. I tried to follow their refrain, piling up only what I thought I couldn’t live without. On Portuguese ground, pack light composed itself into a taunt. I metroed, red line, green line, taking up two seats with my obese bags, which weighed in at a total of 81 pounds. With my map buried somewhere in the pack on my back, I stopped for directions. It was in a leather store in the Bairro Alto specializing in luggage. Me? I specialize in baggage. They are not the same.


     Disquiet: Coal Black Horse. Robert Olmstead reads from his old novel like he’s picturing every scene in his mind’s eye for the first time, discovering. I want to see his work on the page and see if it sings so perfectly without his mouth around it. Patricia Reis says your work should be “yours and at the same time foreign.” Maybe that’s how Olmstead pulls it off; he finds the foreign in his own pages and reads them like a reader.

     Reis has just finished writing a book with an untranslatable title, Contra Corpus. The closest she can come to telling us in English is Against the Body, about the complications of a mother/son relationship when the boy turns fifteen. It is what Joao Tordo calls a “self-fiction.” She says, “I left my skin there … all my insides are there and now I can’t write.” This is what I think will happen to me, when I finally tell my story. It will gut me into a place of despair. “I need to have something to say and now I’m empty,” she continues. But she talks her way into revealing that she does have the idea for her next book, and it is also not an easy one. She is holding on to the baggage, weary of it yet knowing that putting it down will uproot such a large part of her that she hesitates to begin.

     I carry my little orange notebook with me everywhere. Like a spray paint can splashing tags and symbols over tile and concrete, I empty myself onto the pages. At least my notebook doesn’t get any heavier as I add things to it that I might need later. I note things I believe on hearing them articulated, like Gonҫalo Tavares’s stand that editing out a word is as much work as writing one. “Write with words, not phrases,” my classmate Kenzie passes on advice she got from a professor. Fellow Bluegrass Writer Brandyn says of someone’s last stanza, “Don’t play past your turn.” Denise Duhamel says it’s a popular consideration that there are two ways to end a poem – you slam the door shut or you sneak out the window. Patricia Portela, in her lecture Rewriting the Writer, says something that speaks to my discomfort at writing a conclusion for my book. “We don’t have the whole story. And if we do, we’re dead.” I listen for something in every lecture, even the ones that aren’t about writing. During the austerity talk, I note “What is the cost of fear?”


    In Lisbon, prolific sunshine wrote itself over the terra cotta roofs. I saw amazing sunsets at southern Costa da Caparica and at Cabo da Rocha, the westernmost point in continental Europe. In Estoril, I sunbathed like the locals (while wearing SPF 100). At the hostel, I stayed up late into the night, talking with my peers. I laughed harder and longer than I have in a long time, and cried harder and longer than I have in a long time. On the same day, hours apart. By the end, I was prepared to pack the light and take it with me.

     Next week, some of our Bluegrass Writers will be going to Portugal for Disquiet International 2014. Pack light, my friends. Whichever direction you can.

Contact Information

Kristen Thompson

Published on June 16, 2014

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