Photo of Owen Lake, taken by Jeff Grinvalds

2012 Platte River Writing Retreat

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hangin’, Chillin’, and Rollin’ at the Platte River Writing Retreat and Marathon, September 2012

Ten Nebraska Writing Project Teacher-Consultants convened at the Chokecherry cabins in the ever scenic and serene Platte River State Park for the annual Fall Writing Retreat and Marathon.

 On Friday, the inaugural campfire was lit and the conversation turned away from the daily grind of education, politics and weather, toward the more esoteric concepts of life.   In essence, were we chillin’, hangin’ or rollin’? The matter was left unsettled as Jupiter and its companion, the moon, rose in the western sky, climbing through the brilliant Milky Way, just chillin’.

Photo of geese by Jeff Grinvalds

Saturday brought the annual Summer Institute Reunion on the dock at Owen’s Landing just a few feet from the cabins. Then seventeen Nebraska Writing Project members (and two writing-friendly dogs) spent the afternoon rollin’ together on the fifth annual Fall Writing Marathon. For three hours, they traveled through the park, to a local vineyard, and the nearby town of Louisville, capturing the spaces and places in brilliant prose and poetry. Then they reunited at the cabins for a read-around followed by a glorious potluck dinner and a night of dancing swing, bachata, and even the Wobble.

On Sunday, the campers were hangin’ out at the final event of the weekend, the annual Coffee Klatsch. Books were exchanged along with ideas and warm goodbyes. Next fall’s event is already being planned.  Stay tuned to your NeWP website and listserv for updates!

(Editor’s Note: Many thanks to Jeff Grinvalds and Anne Walden for facilitating another excellent retreat!)

2012 Platte River Writing Marathon participants
This year’s marathoners. Photo credit: Jeff Grinvalds
Chokecherry cabins at Platte River State Park, photo by Jeff Grinvalds
Chokecherry Cabins, this year’s retreat lodgings. Photo credit: Jeff Grinvalds

Retreat Anthology

The Platte River Writing Retreat and Marathon (verse version)

by Jan Knispel

Chokecherry Cabins sparkled with the flash of string lights
And resounded with the boom of Louis Armstrong and swing dancing.
Writers gathered around a billowing bonfire to parse
“hangin’, rollin’ and chillin’” until the late hours of Friday night.
Saturday’s quilt show was breaking out with the batiks and projects
started and finished. The Owen’s Landing noon gathering of writers munched on lunch.
The introduction and then division of locations to be visited commenced:
Church road and the cemeteries, winery bouquet and Heron Bay bar.
Some wandered the park wilderness, others made a new “best” climbing the tower,
Writers became “arty” in downtown Louisville and on purloined patios.
“We are writers,” sharing inspiration at the afternoon read-around;
Later potluck with etoufee and taco soup, fried chicken and chick pea salad served
up with friendship and laughter, discussion and game day dismay.
Sunday morning’s sadness came with departing after the book talk and
plans for the next Writing Marathon in January, as well as a possible date change for
the next Platte River Writing Retreat and Writing Marathon for September, 2013.

Another Ode to the Retreat Theme

The Friday night gathering at Chokecherry cabins riffed on the differences among “hanging,” “chilling,” and “rolling,” all great ways to spend time with friends. Having missed that discussion, the next day those words took me back to the songs of my youth (still my favorites).

Hanging happened to Tom Dooley’s downward directed head.
Rolling was the best way to get down the river for Proud Mary.
Chilling was in the Platters description of that still night.

As I type the words, the old tunes play in my head and lyrics come drifting back. Good times then and good times now at Platte River State Park.

Surface Calm

by Janell Stoeger

covers crater
to the center
heart wide open

South Bend: Next 4 Exits

by Kate Brooke

Road sign saying Welcome to South Bend, Next 4 Exits
Photo credit: Kate Brooke

Nebraska Highway 66 takes us East through South Bend, population 92, a community small enough that for five blocks the highway is Pine Street, also possibly the center of town.  My map shows the City Clerk’s Office on Spruce, the only street which parallels almost the full length of Pine, so maybe Spruce is their main street.  Within city limits, five North/South streets intersect Highway 66, begging the question: why the sign indicating there are four exits?  Which of these five streets does not count as a designated exit, and why not?  Where do the exits lead and, most importantly, who are they for?  As usual, we drive straight through without stopping to explore, so instead my mind nudges me to wander.               

Five cross streets.  Four exits.  328th Street is the only street named with a number, and is further isolated by being the only one that connects the highway from the South.  All the others are Northbound, and each of these four is named for a state: Kansas; Wyoming; Nebraska; Nevada.  Supposing these four are the designated exits, what does it mean for a city with a population of 92 to name one exit “Nebraska” and the remaining three after nearby states?  Is South Bend confronting the fact of brain drain, of out-migration?  Or is South Bend encouraging exploration, but with the idea that at some point one returns home? 

Retreat attendee's hands, writing in notebook
Photo credit: Kate Brooke

No Such Thing

After Ed Ochester
by Stacey Waite

The water reminds me that every good poem says
“to hell with it.” There’s no such thing as being alone
and all the images and syllabic thrusts
wont’ save you. Poems won’t reach out
their arms to help you pretend you’re warm.
They won’t try on your clothes for you,
or make anyone believe you’re any good.

But sometimes, sometimes if you pull out
a poem’s lungs, so it feels short of breath,
so it feels close to dying, so it gasps
and clutches at your hands and face.
Sometimes then a poem will trade its life
for yours. It’ll say, “ok, ok, there’s is 
such thing as being alone. There is
such thing as small, quiet falls.”

Notes from a Woman Observing Girls

by Kim Anthony

Sitting here on the edge of the waterfalls at the Platte River State Park, I am in awe at the carelessness of youth. Their sounds enveloping my quiet pondering as I listen to the language of adults and children juxtaposed, intermingled and clanging against each other. Girls hovering over the edge of womanhood, arrived to the edge of these waters so carefully arranged in bangles, hair ties, bows, and perfect pairings of shirt and shorts. Abandoning their reality television projected ideals of perfection, they delve deeply into the muddy  terrain of childhood, unsure of how long they will be welcomed here. Even the cool-headed teen beauty queens strip themselves of their first tastes of adulthood to wade in the forgotten pools of childhood, not caring how dirty their feet get or how their pale blue pedicures may be ruined. These children so normally consumed with IPAD, IPOD, IPHONE, XBOX, WII, PLAYSTATION, forget themselves in the mud of their original creation, if only for a little while. I am grateful to be the woman to observe this rare relapse. I too long to put my feet in the muddy waters but don’t because I know the moment has passed.

Life is a Cabaret of Writing

by Kim Anthony

(Sung to a shortened version of the tune “Cabaret” from the musical Cabaret based on a book written music by Christopher Isherwood, music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb)

 What good is sitting alone with your pens?

Come hear the writers play.

Life is a writ-ing mar-a-thon,

Come to the Platte State Park.

Put down the Sky-ping ,

The book and your gloom.

Time for some cre-a-tive play.

Life is a writ-ing mar-a-thon,

Come to the Platte State Park.

Come hear the birds,

Come see the trees.

Come shout your words ,

And make them happen,

Right this way,

Your bench is waiting!

No use in pouting 

Your pencil just broke

Open a vein and bleed!

Life is a writ-ing mar-a-thon,

Come to the wri-ting mar-a-thon

And I love-

A chance -to -write! 


by Jackie Byers

wolf-like leashed black dog
searches for sheep to protect
or to sate hunger

monarch butterflies
not ready for Mexico
flash from sun to shade

at Emerald Lake
wind pushed water breathes bright air
as cat tails whisper

cottonwood branches
hang brittle on soaring tree
as death gnaws its heart

Cellar 426

by Susan Martens

It’s like coming home—in the car, in the sun, chatting with Laura about Brazilian drinks and following Jeff’s car, as usual, into another writing marathon adventure.  Hard to beat last year’s discovery of Heron Bay, but as we pull up out of the gravel road, an Echo-dog with a Kong in her mouth wags her tail at us. 

Man processing grapes at a winery
Photo credit: Laura Bartels

Just behind the main winery building at Cellar 426, a big truck stacked with crates of grapes promises a story.  This crew is turning Chambourcin grapes into a pulpy, velvet mash.  A woman on the truck bed hands a bunch of grapes out to us.  “Would you like to try one?” she asks.  “It’s the sweetest thing you’ll ever taste.”  My teeth crunch down before her warning—“Be careful!  They have seeds!”—but I don’t care in the least.  They are divine.  Their rich juice of earthy, early autumn sings to my writer’s blood.

Laura’s been chatting up the vintner, watching the mashing process up close.  The grapes’ story, meanwhile, has been writing itself in splotchy purple across her blue t-shirt.  Undeterred, she tells us that these grapes are from Auburn, actually, and that this is the last day of the harvest but the first time that grapes will be processed in their new facility here at the vineyard.  The crew looks proud, glad to have our questions and our cameras.  Inside, the tasting begins and we sit down to write.

By the end of the read-around back at the cabins, the grape juice stains have miraculously disappeared—faded to the exact shade of blue in Laura’s t-shirt.  Like the rest of us, they’d had their say, and then let it sink into the weave.

Sewing Machines

by Jan Knispel

Only seven inches long and five inches high, my first sewing machine came to me one Christmas before I reached kindergarten. I don’t recall requesting one, but I do recollect watching my mother and grandmother sew. Grandma Bert was an enthusiastic seamstress if not a perfect one. My little red gem of a machine, which fastened to the table with a little metal C-clamp-now lost, took two spools of thread as there was no bobbin mechanism.  I have no memory of completed projects but I retain the machine itself, which rests on the counter in my sewing room along with some antique sewing boxes I’ve gathered along the way. This and a wooden embroidery hoop from Bertha have stayed with me as I improved my skills. I am a better quilter than my grandmother and better seamstress than my mother, but I owe those abilities to both those women.

Reflections in Arty Girls’ Garden

Louisville, Nebraska
by Jan Knispel

Woman in a canoe on dry land
Janel in a canoe. Photo credit: Diana Weis

Canoe sits in a river of gray grass
Surrounded by grape ivy grasping
The red brick, white mortared antique walls.
Hollyhocks with wilting leaves nodding in the September
Breeze say: “Pause, Reflect, Refresh”.
Trust in the Universe that
All the strife of yesterday will fade
With the wind in this green grotto.

Grey Green Grasshopper
Climbs the trellis of shattered
Glass and window frame
Pausing to nibble paint and scribble
His note to next year’s kin.

Bedknobs and bowling balls reflect my gaze
Blue headboards and apple teapots hidden in grass stalks
Flowerpots stacked one on the next,
Blossoms cascading over red, orange, blue
Candelabras lie tilted, untended, unlit in the alley way
Next to the artsy trailer park of old time campers.
Sun glasses of tea and dessert of ladyfingers
Painted cats peer through gray lattice
Overrun by honeysuckle and morning glory
Crowned candy striped canopy of canvas—
We are arty chicks and WRITERS
Ensconced in a planter’s paradise.

What you find in an alley…
Trash cans, sprouts of weeds, unpainted
Garage doors, snarls and yips of unseen dogs,
Children’s chaotic voices and the
Faint rustle of fading growth
Rumble of air being conditioned
Cooling inside the red brick building’s
Tearoom patrons
While writers revel in shade and sunshine.

Jan Knispel reading her work on in front of a colorful mural
Jan Knispel reading her work on Paula’s patio. Photo credit: Diana Weis

Paula’s Patio Haiku

By Jan Knispel

A spider’s merry-
Go-round, striped parasol web
A canvassed world

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