It was an autumnal Sunday evening. The wind was whistling. Kenyon College looked empty, except for a file of students shuffling into the Cheever Seminar Room in Finn House. Clutching pencils and paper, they took their seats in silence. They were about to take part in HIKA’s first student-led writing workshop, The Plums.
HIKA, Kenyon’s oldest literary journal, launched its workshop on Sunday, Sept. 30. The meeting kicked off a series of bi-monthly creative writing workshops led by members of the HIKA editorial staff.
The members of staff passed around packets of poetry and prose to the rest of the students. The front page read “Hika: The Plums,” and below this title, William Carlos Williams’ poem “This is Just to Say.” The Plums workshop takes its name from a line in the poem (“I have eaten / the plums /that were in the icebox”).
The Plums offer a “routine, creative space for the exchange and critique of original writing,” according to a decorative flyer. The group also offers campus-wide readings, collaborative projects, and artistic community.
The four students who lead The Plums — Katherine Franco ’21, Emmy Roday ’21, Noah Dversdall ’19 and Dante Kanter ’21 — began the workshop by explaining the reason behind forming the group. (Kanter is also the features editor for the Collegian.)
“As freshmen last year, some of us were disappointed to find that Kenyon lacked an informal space to share and critique writing with peers,” Franco said. “Plums gives students a space to write in the company of others without the official presence of a professor. It was important for us to establish a student-run group independent of the curricular writing program.”
The group proceeded to read aloud pieces of writing they found inspiring and thought-provoking: Dean Young’s “Dear Friend,” Frank O’Hara’s “Why I Am Not a Painter” and Emily Dickinson’s “I dwell in Possibility.”
Students then critiqued each piece, discussing what they liked and disliked about the writing, what they could learn from each author, and the elements from the poems they hoped to integrate into their own writing.
Finally, The Plums moved on to the free-write section of the workshop. Students turned to the last page of the packet, which contained two writing prompts: “In this stucco house there is nothing but air…” and “I could pick anything and think of you.”
Both of these lines come from the poetry of Rita Dove, who is the keynote speaker of the Kenyon Review’s Literary Festival this year. Former poet laureate and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Dove will visit Kenyon in November to receive the Kenyon Review Award for Literary Achievement. In preparation, HIKA and the Kenyon Review teamed up for a literary contest, using Dove’s poetry as writing prompts. Editors of HIKA will select one featured poem from all the submissions for publication in their upcoming issue.
Students wrote away for a furious 15 minutes. Once time was up, Kanter told everyone to stop writing and asked if anyone was willing to share. At first, there was silence. Then, one person shared. Then another. Soon enough, everyone was sharing their poetry and prose.
As The Plums made their way out of Cheever, the sun was beginning to set. Some students walked to Peirce Hall; others went back to their dorms. Franco was satisfied with their first workshop. “It went well,” she said. “Hopefully our workshop will be so tempting that students will want to keep plucking from the icebox.”