SwampFire Retreat for Artists and Writers


5th annual retreat, 13-15 July 2012

The 5th annual retreat was held at the lakeside home of Steve Smith, Professor Emeritus of Art at Defiance College. Smith provided space for twelve people to attend SwampFire at his Indiana home. We escaped the heat of the 2012 summer drought in Lime Lake and had two days of writing and drawing, with evening sharing time. Because of the draught and fire ban in Smith's county, there was no fire to sit around in the evenings, but Steve's deck was comfortable for sharing writing on Friday evening.

Saturday evening's gathering was the highlight of the retreat, for it was held nearby at Smith's 4 Corners Gallery, located as he puts it, "just south of Tom's Donuts at Lake James." At the gallery—known for its fine pottery, jewelry, painting, and collaborative mixed media—SwampFire participants made themselves comfortable for an evening of carving images, runes, and poetic phrases on bowls. Smith and one of his studio artists, Rebecca Sweinhagen provided the studio space and bowls for carving. Another studio artist, Jennifer Creighton, also helped with the clay carving.

Smith and his associates finished the process by applying "slip" to the bowls and firing them in his kiln. The pieces of pottery art will be distributed to the retreat participants at a later date. The bowls serve to remind writers that the language arts are inseparable from arts that immerse us in the visual and tactile realms.
Visit Steve Smith's 4 Corners Gallery: Studio and Pottery site

View more photos of the clay-carving session at 4 Corners Gallery


Jennifer Creighton

Click here for her photos of
bowl-carving at 4 Corners Gallery






Alex Friedman, Linda Bale, and Andrea England deep in their thoughts

L to R: Dawn Comer, Rachel Baker, and Eva English listen to a reading

Alex Friedman gazes into Saturday morning, Rachel Baker with her coffee

Elizabeth Clark and Elizabeth Alexander relax at dinner in Steve's house

Marian Plant and Rachel Baker also enjoy the Saturday evening meal


View more photos of the clay-carving session at 4 Corners Gallery

And now for some SwampFire 2012 reflections . . .


Eva English

Dragonflies and injured doves
there's too much mud in the water
I wanted to swim
but the weeks grasped my feet
and you'd taken the rum to the dock
The rain, seeming poised
never did come
The tequila tastes like paint
I fell down the stairs reading MC's poems
my rabbit hole shaped like a lake
Bury me in an open kiln.


Elizabeth Clark
A Good Time

"I don't wanna lose a writer in the lake . . .
. . . except the ones that are on purpose."

"And how many is that?"

"Oh, about 1 in every 10."

"Well there are twelve of us."

~Conversation with Steve Smith,
Dawn Comer, and Elizabeth Clark

Gooey clay mud sucking feet down. Should it be disgusting or amazing?
The flicker of firelight and the steady beat of voices. A ring of keys. A dance.
A song. An obituary. Rain song chases us into the house. Baking talks and
a teacher's spider walk across the floor. The most fun to be had outside a


Elizabeth Alexander

SwampFire is an amazing experience. It is nice to have permission to do nothing but be creative.
It is refreshing and probably saved my sanity.







Marian Plant

Swamps do not receive the respect they deserve from us city-fied, sterilized folk. Swampfire does.
Fire is romanticized or demonized but rarely realized in the belly or soul. Swampfire is.
Time and space in a place of swamp and fire feeds embryos of creation and creativity, brings to birth the unarticulated, lays before companions spun tapestries and rag rugs of words.
My second year was as charmed and restful—even more restful—than my first.



Linda Bale

Even though I am not a "writer" in the sense everyone else here is, I had a very enjoyable time—sparks of creativity . . . synapse popping!







Rachel Baker

After years of living, new venues, experiences, faces, stories—written and told and in-the-moment—after wrestling demons of brain and memory and parallels—finally, a time of calm.
Reflections on an aspirational obituary—what would the world be like if the world were filled by 7 billion of you? What are the snapshots, the words we leave in the care of others? Those memories revealed in the living. Quiet love notes to tuck away for later moments. Companions gathered for the love of words, pulled together over food and distance—again the play of distant and internal. Inferno. Let go—move forward—without the hesitation, the lizard brain protests, the angst over an errant scrape of tool on clay and slip.
—new things are birthed, new possibilities, the currents futures inherent in creativity, love, living. Be open when the calm comes. Be open.


Alex Friedman

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Andrea England

On the last morning I swam to the dock with my notebook, almost treading water. The juvenile bluegill exfoliated my hands and a mayfly stayed with me, fawn colored, spotted, peanut brittle through the sun. One does not need rose colored glasses here—not even a pencil, just an open mind, family, and water.





Melissa Dey Hasbrook

~a poem inspired through our
1st night's conversation

i want to dance

i want to dance with you
her words cut free
our temporary link

she resurrected
a cousin lost young
to cancer

wielding his memory
a shield
from her fears

from my words
of loss
memorializing trees

soon to die
and those already

i want to dance
she formed
a sword

to ward off pain
and the uneasy

built by a drum
as i beat

and she tied
loose ribbons
around the may pole


Mary Catherine Harper

I come to this place
this space filled
with your faces
because the dragonfly lives
here ever lighting
on your hand,
your laptop,
because the bluegill come
to your hand
as you slip it in
the lake.

photo by Jennifer Creighton


Dawn Comer

Awake in a sleeping bag on a balcony beneath the stars, knowing I should sleep but alert to the quiet of night, I watch the white shimmer of stars treading water in black sea space and remember a night of stars a quarter century ago, me walking behind a dozen camp peers and one friend, all of us with flashlights gleaming along the path before us and sometimes up into the sky, me talking (or maybe just thinking) about some half-remembered fact about how light travels and how long it will take for my flashlight beam to reach a solid surface and bounce back to earth again in exactly the same spot but different with me not there but dead and gone from the earth a long, long time, and me in awe believing that what I was doing shining my light into that black starry sea would one day be returned; and so with reverent attention to the instrument in my hand, I swept my light across the sky, flashed a staccato S.O.S., the only morse code I knew, then in grand cursive sweeps wrote across the sky my own name, or so that is how I remember that night of being in my own body and feeling the hugeness of the universe and of me in it and of even the skittery daddy long-legs which I was not afraid to pluck from the grass and set upon my wrists and watch ascend and descend the mountain slopes of my arms as I, awake and alert, walked big beneath the stars even as now I lay small and silent beneath them in a sleeping bag on a balcony, knowing I should sleep but alert to the quiet of night, watching the white shimmer of stars treading water in black sea space, and imagining my own flashlight beam returning, which it doesn’t, though a star does slide the slope of the sky from the northeastern reaches of my vision’s universe to plunge southwesterly towards the lake, made all the more beautiful by the blur from having laid aside my glasses for sleep.

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