Poet Catherine Jagoe and nonfiction writer Judith Woodburn will be in residence at Write On for most of January. While here, they will lead writing programs based on scent and memory at Scandia Village in Sister Bay and Anna’s Place in Sturgeon Bay. I had the opportunity to talk with them about their writing and their plans for their time at Write On.
Write On (WO): The two of you had your first residency last winter and are returning for a longer residency this year. What did your first residency allow you to accomplish and what do you hope to work on this time?
Catherine Jagoe (CJ): I was able to do a lot of reading and generate some new poems and prose poems last time. It takes me about two weeks to really sink deep into my thoughts and engage with my work on retreats. Last time, I felt like I was just hitting my stride when it was time to leave. For me, longer – ideally a month – is better, especially if I’m working on essays or a book manuscript. I have an essay collection that I plan to work on during this time.
Judith Woodburn (JW): The residency last year enable me for the first time in my adult life to devote full time to writing non-commercial work. Having that much focused time was transformative, and allowed me to set a more ambitious timeline for the collection of essays I hope to publish. I’ll continue to work on that collection during my upcoming residency.
WO: You led a program for residents at Scandia Village, which you will offer again this year at both Scandia and Anna’s Place, using smell as the inspiration for sharing stories. How did you come to develop such a program? Were you surprised at all by any of the stories that came out of your first program?
JW: Several years ago, after my mother’s death, I inherited some of her perfumes and was stunned by their power to evoke memories and emotions. It made me deeply curious about the phenomenon, and as I sniffed around the fragrance community, I discovered I was hardly alone in this experience. I have conducted writing workshops in the past using both verbal and image prompts, and began to wonder how scents would work as springboards for expression. Scent—both in the form of fragrance and, perhaps even more powerfully, in the ordinary smells of the world around us—is an effective catalyst in part because so much of what we attend to in the modern world is devoid of smell. (You can’t smell a television program, a book, or a news article—at least not yet.) Smells often catch us off guard, and opens us up. The most memorable part of the Scandia Village program to me was how fearless the participants were in relating both the delightful and more difficult sides of their experiences.
WO: What is the best writing advice you ever received?
CJ: Write something every day, even if all you can manage is one sentence.
JW: Distraction is the mortal enemy of the writing process. Of any deep process for that matter.
WO: What book or writer inspired you to become a writer and why?
CJ: As a young person, I wrote whenever I was inspired to; as an adult, it was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way that showed me how to commit to being a writer and nourishing your creative self, not just waiting for inspiration to show up.
JW: It’s a little embarrassing to say, but at the age of 9 or 10, I was inspired to begin keeping a journal and writing stories after reading the novel Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. Meticulous and candid observation of her world, and the people in it, gave Harriet a way to navigate and understand her life. This was a kind of power I definitely wanted for myself! Decades later, writing remains my central way of learning about and making sense of the world.