SwampFire Retreat for Artists and Writers


4th annual retreat, 15-17 July 2011

Held at the Lime Lake home of Professor Emeritus Steve Smith, SwampFire days were hot but pleasant at the cool, shallow lake, and a wide range of art was produced and shared. SwampFire participants worked on the Smith grounds on Friday and writers offered their drafts for critique around the evening campfire. On Saturday some participants worked at the lake while others traveled to the nearby Pokagon park area for their day's production.

On Saturday evening Smith taught participants to apply layers of "slip" to pottery bowls and carve designs into them. Stockman described his process of developing pottery ideas and engineering those designs into seemingly free-form pieces, such the asymmetrical pitcher he passed around. Other professors described their creative processes, and students offered more drafts for critique. Sunday was a day for more shared insights and fruit-topped waffles before departing.


L to R: Monica Switzer, Emily Arnold, Kevin Dillinger, and Rachel Baker


More photos of the SwampFire participants are below. . . but first . . .
here are reflections by workshop participants:


Something, Nothing, Anything
We are together, sitting
Or are we sitting together?
Did I say something?
Or did he say nothing?
Could we say anything?
Do we stay here and do nothing?
Or leave for anything?
Perhaps as long as it’s something?
~Emily Arnold
Had a great time with such wonderful, creative, and encouraging people.


These are not words,
but I write them with hope that
one day they will be,
And that these words will create
~Kevin Dillinger


SwampFire 2011 was a blast.
It was great to meet everyone and have great discussions with everyone.
What a great way to start my career at Defiance College.
~Jason Stockman


I don’t know what happened to my neighborhood, all those Defiance people,
but then my surprise, the longest I’ve ever sat by the lake, quiet, fish jumping,
nice surprise.
~Steve Smith


This was an amazing weekend filled with so much creativity!
I enjoyed every conversation and everyone’s input and thoughts.
Thank you all for a wonderful experience.
~Monica Switzer


Clear lakes
clearer thoughts
Clean skies
crisp, fresh conversations
Colleagues and colleagues-in-
training, cross-
training one another
Clockless days
timeless fireside nights
Word-smithing. WORD-smithing.
Thank you.
~Marian R. Plant


There were no human-eating
fish in Lime Lake to pull
us into adventure, so we made
our own of fire and stories,
clay and waffles,
and a snow storm that taught us
the colors of magic.
~Mary Catherine Harper


Begin with clay, shaped but pliable
See the possibilities among
the flow of collective creativity
Gather your tools and begin
Scrape loose the surface
to reveal the “telling”―
Find the connection between
a sombrero, changing weather,
the pulse at work
Aspiration, not perfection,
is the soul of revision.
~Rachel Baker


Reflections on a Hummingbird Nest
Our stories encircle us like hummingbird nests. Woven delicately from spiders’ webs, camouflaged dull green with lichen, these Faerie creations on slender branches proffer strange comfort, deep strength. Somehow these improbable homes hold firm, cradling eggs that stretch and bend the qualities of the word “egg” itself.

Like Saran-Wrap pulled around and around and around a playing child who then wiggles and shuffles and loosens herself to slip through the bottom, or calls upon sisters to set her free, these story nests flex, twist, shape shift without changing substance. Such is the advantage of building not with sticks or mud, but with arachnid threads made undeniably visible only when woven together to arbor, not strangle, life.

So it is that our stories invite a sitting within, a rest from from caffeinated flight. So why should I be surprised when flight rips free from eggs that cannot crack?
~Dawn Comer


And Dawn added this thought by a late-medieval mystic:
And so in this syght y sawe sothely that he ys alle thynge that ys goode as to myne vndyrstandynge and in this he schewyd me alyttille thynge the qwantyte of Ahaselle Nutte lyggande in the palme of my hande & to my vndyrstandynge that it was as rownde as any balle. I lokede þer opoun and thought whate maye this be and I was aunswerde generaly thus it is alle that ys made. I merveylede howe þat it myght laste. for me thought it myght falle sodaynlye to nought for litille and I was Aunswerde in myne vndyrstandynge it lastes and euer schalle for god loves it And so hath alle thynge the beynge thorowe the love of god.
~Julian of Norwich, 1342-c.1416


Dawn Comer and Monica Switzer begin the first day with computer and coffee

Alumna Rachel Baker returns to SwampFire Retreat

Monica Switzer and Kevin Dillinger look out toward the day . . . and the lake

Writer and artist: Dawn Comer and Jason Stockman

Kevin and Rachel posing for the camera, the lake shimmering in the background

Professors sharing the evening meal: Steve Smith and Marian Plant

More professors at SwampFire: Mary Catherine Harper and Dawn Comer

Getting ready for the evening's writing and art workshop

What are you planning to read tonight?

Amazing what a small prompt offers a writer

Off to Pokagon woods: Monica rides "shotgun," Emily Arnold takes backseat

Rachel, deep in journal writing

Evening two, writers working with clay: Kevin and Emily discuss the arts

After dinner: What will the evening workshop bring?

Two artists watching the fire, listening to students share their day's productions

Marian works into the night, as comfortable with clay as with words

Fire in the swamp

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