“Let’s build a town!”

Blue Rock started during the summer of 2006, in the Poetry Forum at AbsoluteWrite with this post by then-mod, longtime AW member, writer and poet William Haskins:

so, this is something i’ve been thinking about recently, and i’ll begin with the caveat that it might take and it might not. hopefully, some of you fine folks will join in.

one of the “concept” collections of poetry that has really had an impact on me is edgar lee masters’ brilliant work spoon river anthology. basically, it’s a collection of poems about the people of spoon river, written from their graves. it was published in 1916, so i thought, near a century later, that it might be fun to do something similar, but updated.

so, here’s the idea: based on a fictional smallish town (say a population of 500-1000), let’s contribute poems that share the stories of some of the townspeople. write about the mayor marrying off his daughter, the sheriff with the drunk wife, a girl’s high school graduation, whatever you like.

Mr. Haskins pointed out that Blue Rock would have some significant differences from The Spoon River Anthology:

there is no rule that you have to write them post-mortem. the person can still be alive. also, you don’t have to write about “yourself”; you can be one townsperson and write about another.

the only rule is that you title the poem with either the subject’s name or their “role” (in other words, it could be “Elmore Childs” or it could be “The Town Drunk”)

there are no restrictions on form or style.

Mr. Haskins provided the framework of a setting, for any writers who wanted to play along:

about the town: while i want you all to have as much freedom as possible, it’s counterproductive not to have a consistent setting. so, to that end, the town will be called ‘blue rock’. as noted above, it’s got a population about 500 to 1000 people, which means it’ll be of the “one-stoplight” variety.

it’s slouching into the 21st century; in other words, it’s contemporary in terms of technology and culture, but still has an antiquated, smalltown feel. let’s imagine it in a place that gets its share of all kinds of weather (hot summers, winter snowfall) and assume that it has a functional infrastructure—a sheriff, a mayor, a cafe, a church, a school, a doctor, dentist, etc.

okay, sorry this was so long; just wanted to head off any questions that i could answer in advance.

so… have fun and play along if you like. if no one is interested, we can just let it fade into the archives. my feelings won’t be hurt…

i’ll start it off. in the interest of full disclosure, this is not a new poem, but it’ll fit the concept so i’ll throw it out there to hopefully get the wheels turning…

by the way, if you’d like to see spoon river, here’s the table of contents with links to all the poems.

After weeks of cajoling, baiting, and daring each other into participating, the town was finished.

We’ve collected and anthologized the Blue Rock project poems here on a  site of their own, because that summer a few years ago we shared a remarkable experience. Blue Rock was home not only to a great many extraordinary contemporary poets, but to all of us who read along quietly, as well.