Dober den from Sofia, Bulgaria where I am currently spending the month, participating in the World of Co residency. Sofia is a beautiful city underrated by Americans and Western Europeans or just entirely ignored. I admit, if not for my girlfriend, Diliana, who is from here, I, too, would be ignorant of such a charming and spirited place. It is a big city that feels small (though not provincial). The close-knit energetic and artistic community I’ve discovered here in the past month, reminds me of the community I once found in Long Beach, CA (see next issue of Shrew). So, you can keep your Paris. Keep your London. Keep your New York City. And keep your L.A. These places are artistic tombs. Museums for once vibrant artistic communities that expired decades ago. Playgrounds for the nostalgic and wealthy now.
If that last bit sounds too negative, I can’t say enough positive things about being here and the World of Co residency. This is not your usual writing residency, whatever that is, as I’ve never participated in one. This residency is run by three of the brightest and spirited young people I have ever met who, after witnessing other artist residencies while living abroad, came back to Sofia with the dream of establishing a place to welcome international artists into the already vibrant artistic community here, which they saw as something missing from the city.
This has mostly been a residency for visual artists (though they are open to all types) as I am currently the only writer, which has been a unique experience, and even included my participation in workshops far out of my comfort (or skills) zone such as taking a woodcarving class. What I like about this though, is it forces me to engage with things I would never engage with, like how to carve a line into wood rather than sitting around critiquing each other’s lines (and yes, I have already written the poem about it). I feel there may be much more to gain from such an experience (I also took a carpet weaving and graffiti art workshop) than what you might experience in a traditional writing residency. These workshops, established for the visual artists, are optional, but even as a writer who can’t draw a stick figure if his life depended on it, have proven to be fruitful to my own work.
It’s also been a great experience spending so much time with visual artists who see the world in a similar, but slightly altered way than I do. They remind me to see the world as image, just how Pound might have instructed, which is quite useful for a poet. They’ve reminded me of the thing itself, like the way light looks in the morning or how the fabric of a woman’s dress walking in front of us folds, whereas I might have gone instantly to imagining a narrative about the woman’s life.
I don’t envy these artists though. To show up in a foreign country and have to find all the materials to create their art, then have to find a way to either ship back the work they create or leave it here somewhere or even destroy it. Writers, we have it easy. Just remember to save your files.
The other day, one of the artists was transporting a box with a sculpture in it and when she opened it up, found her sculpture had broken. She just shrugged and said maybe it’s better this way. Now she has two sculptures. Which reminded me of those accidental moments in the editing process that can make a piece of writing better. A poem, too, can break accidentally and lead to a new and exciting discovery; or we can break it ourselves when it’s become too familiar, too dead, too cliché, and follow it into a new and unexplored city.