My hometown is Redlands, California, and I left it for the MFA program at The University of New Mexico. On my last night in Redlands, I was mugged 1.2 times. It was two separate events, but really each was a fraction of a full mugging. All you need to know is that during the first occurrence a gun was brandished, because I reminded the gunman of someone else, and the second occurrence happened moments after the first and involved two teenagers on Razor scooters who made off with my cellphone and favorite hat. They also took a stack of books that I was carrying, which quickly became a trail away from the scene. I guess they didn’t realize they stole books and dumped them.
On that particular night I was walking home from a well-known bar in our city, where my writing group organized a “going away” reading in my honor. It was a night filled with many of the group writers reading their best work over pints of Redlands’ best IPAs. Of all the things I was leaving behind in Redlands, this writing group, known as PoetrIE, was among the toughest to leave.
So you’re sitting there saying, “Big deal, Aaron. I’ve been in a writing group before, and it’s pretty prescriptive.” Well, that’s not the case with this group.
PoetrIE started as a small workshop by a handful of writers who were interested in creating a space for other aspiring writers in the area to practice their craft. It has since grown to numerous workshops across the region, hosts a monthly reading series, and is now a nonprofit organization. It truly has become a literary hub in the Inland Empire of California.
What I love about this group isn’t necessarily what it became but how it got there. PoetrIE really began to flourish in those moments when it forgot that it was a bunch of writers trying to publish and was simply a group of artists trying to contribute to a movement. As an illustration, our group once decided to read our poems and excerpts of fiction on the street corners of Montclair during a popular art walk. Small crowds gathered and even folks who weren’t apart of our group were sharing some of their writing that was saved on their phones. It was beautiful the way writing was bringing together complete strangers.
Some of my favorite memories of the group are from these impromptu late night writing and sharing parties. It’s exactly how it sounds, the first part of the night would be writing or critiquing new work, and the second half would be a combination of drinking wine and reading that new work. Every time we were pushing our aesthetics, trying new moves, and celebrating each other’s vulnerability. Even the early Saturday morning hangover workshops were fun—they essentially boiled down to discussions of the writers we were reading and why.
Since moving to Albuquerque, I haven’t really found something similar to what I had back home. To be honest, I don’t have a lot of time to search for it as I am grad student who teaches freshman courses at the university. I need it, though. I need a group that shares laughs and ideas about writing. I need to be reminded that somewhere in all of it, in academia, I’m an artist contributing to a movement and not simply trying to land a book deal. Although, that would be nice.
Consider this my business card if you’re in the Albuquerque metro area and want to read poems over a bottle of Trader Joe’s brand merlot.
O.k., you might be wondering why I was carrying a stack of books on that drunken night of 1.2 muggings. Well, my writing group gave me those books as a sendoff. When I noticed that the muggers had dumped them I made sure to pick up every last one.
Aaron Reeder is the Poetry Editor of Blue Mesa Review