Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT August 12th 2020

We opened with 28 participants from New York, California, Dallas, Philadelphia, central
Massachusetts, Montreal, Hamilton, Bahrain, the Philippines, and elsewhere.

The text was Ron Padgett’s poem “Hello Central,” and the opening question was “Who
is this poem’s narrator?” Who is telling the story? The first respondent thought this
speaker could be any one of us. Someone else offered that the positioning of the
speaker outside of “central” suggested that she or he is part of a marginalized group.
Several people mentioned that they weren’t sure the gender of the speaker, though
some thought the speaker may be female given the pointed reference to “illustrious
men” and the speaker’s position outside of the majority group. Still another person
thought the speaker might be the poet himself. We spoke about the poet’s move from
the general to the particular or, as one responder put it, from the community view to the
individual view, from the communal history to the experience of one individual. Nostalgia
was another theme of our discussion. Participants found that the rather mundane
descriptions of the first stanza took on a warmth and even a romanticism in the
nostalgic recollection of the second stanza. Another noted the direct address in the title
“Hello Central,” pointing out that such an address posits a speaker and a listener. The
decentralizing of the school also reflects the decentralizing of the poem’s speaker. But
by the last stanza, the remembered teacher calls for response, thus restoring the
student and speaker of the poem back to the center. Another mentioned that the
student even sits in the “center” row. Another question we wrestled with was “What
does the phrase ‘useful as a brick’ bring up for us?” One reader saw the poem’s very
form (two stacked stanzas) as brick like. Others mentioned the deceptively plain
language of the poem, a blandness that reflects the poet’s view of “Central” as
colorless and odorless. Another said that by the end of the poem we’ve lost the bricks
and mortar of the school, but there’s still the brick and mortar of its existence in

We wrote to the prompt, “Write a place you returned to.” Our first reader turned this idea
around. Beginning with the idea that “there’s no going back,” she explored what the
alternatives might be. We noticed that how this response highlighted something
embedded in the prompt’s call to think about returning to a place: that the place,
wherever and whatever it is, holds importance to us. Our second reader used poetic
devices like alliteration of s-words to whisper to us about an outdoor space, quite in
contrast to the plain prose about a very plainly named building that was featured in the
prose poem where we started our session. We also remarked that when we return to a
place, we often also return to the age we were when we were there before, as the
poem’s narrator imagines being back in a classroom with Miss Quesenbery. Our fourth
reader used metaphors of traveling in circles to describe her thoughts. And, curiously,
those thoughts were pulled forward by the tracks in the dirt, rather than making the
tracks. Her idea of things she couldn’t help returning to added yet another interpretation
of the prompt. In the day’s final piece, we heard about a narrator who saw the “same
lush trees of June” but found them distorted because she was not the same and never
could be. We thought about how the passage of time means we can never return to the
same space.

Participants are warmly encouraged to share what you wrote below (“Leave a Reply”), to keep the conversation going here, bearing in mind that the blog of course is a public space where confidentiality is not assured.

Also, we would love to learn more about your experience of these sessions, so if you’re able, please take the time to fill out a follow-up survey of one to two quick questions!

Please join us for our next session Monday, August 17th at 6pm EDT, with more times listed on our Live Virtual Group Sessions page.

Hello Central by Ron Padgett

I attended a high school whose name was colorless and odorless: Central
High School. It was called that because it was built in the middle of town,
so that students could converge on it equidistantly. Then the city added
other high schools, all named after illustrious men. The students there
could associate their schools with these figures, but we at Central could
no longer even associate our school with centrality, since by then the
city had expanded and become lopsided. The name Central had become
totally abstract. After sixty years the structure was deemed inadequate,
and a new Central was built—in the northwest corner of town—discon-
necting the school’s name from its last vestige of meaning.
       In the many times I have returned to my hometown I have never once
driven out to see the new Central. Instead I cruise past the renovated old
structure that now is used as an office building. In my mind’s eye I dash
up the steps and into the hallways crowded with students who only an
hour ago were lost in sleep. I enter room 212 and take my seat at the back
of the center row and feel the day click into place when the bell rings and
Miss Quesenbery looks at her roll book, brushes back an errant strand of
hair, and starts down the alphabet. A rush of anticipation rises in me as
she approaches my name, and when she says it, I answer “Here” in a voice
that makes me feel useful, like a brick.

“Hello Central” by Ron Padgett from Collected Poems. © Coffee House Press, 2013.

6 thoughts on “Live Virtual Group Session: 12pm EDT August 12th 2020

  1. Patricia D

    There is no going back.
    All that was there
    no longer is.
    I no longer am
    who I was then;
    nor do I wish to be.
    I decamped on purpose.
    Roamed the globe
    without a destination
    perhaps because I
    knew that where
    was not important.
    Who, what, where, when
    did not start or end my story.
    neither then nor now.
    Rather than return
    I seek to be at ease
    with who and where I am now.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jennifer Griggs

    Write about a place you returned to…

    The ritual of the return,
    greeting the tree whose
    bow extended
    long over the water,
    always willing to bear our weight.

    Sun-soaked boulders on
    which we would lie,
    absorbing the heat into our skinny

    I swear, even the damn
    frogs were the same ones we’d left the previous year.
    When I was young and easy.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A place I returned to~~~

    After 40 years I returned to my hometown, the place of my birth.
    The town now seemed overgrown with buildings,
    nondescript facades of cement block and brick littered my range of view.
    Vacant lots now were filled in with quick-marts and gas stations.
    The quaintness that once pervaded this community was replaced by the mundaneness.
    I looked around and I felt sorry for the place I once called home.
    My heart ached.
    It had become congested, worn, and sad;
    a place now where open space was a scarcity.
    Hardly a space to breathe,
    hardly a space for a 5-year-old to try out her new 2 wheeler bike.
    Too little grass for Bobby to play ball with his puppy.
    Too many boxes, too many people crowded into those boxes.

    The town has outgrown me.
    My memories of it,
    the way it used to be,
    are what my heart tries to hold onto.
    I guess maybe you can not return home,
    at least the home as you last remembered it.
    All things inevitably change,
    that’s supposedly called progress.
    But for this town, my hometown,
    I wish progress had taken a detour.


  4. In response to “A Place I Returned To”

    I had only been there for two weeks thirteen years ago, but when I returned, it felt like home. I had never been in a place that I felt so familiar. Other than home, of course. But Texas doesn’t count here.

    Maybe it was because the house in the banana leaves had been in my family for six hundred years. Maybe my bones felt kinship with those of my ancestors, who had been up, walking, cracking as bones do, only moments ago (to the house, that is). Maybe my heart could feel theirs still pulsing… or maybe I had just returned to the place so often in my head that the actual place wasn’t very different than my many hours of memory-fueled imagination. Placebo effect, anyone?

    But I did feel something ancient, almost a force, drawing me to that land. Not gravity – or maybe, a different type of gravity. One not of physics, but of love.

    Of course land is never really owned, but we had those few acres in India for a while (To give you context, the adjacent four-hundred-year-old house two feet away is called “the New House”). We kept the houses, first Old, then New, then Old and New, from some colonizers and then other colonizers and I think, eventually, the dirt wormed its way (along, probably, with other things) into our skin; after all, epigenetics are real.

    I think, in that time I visited, we recognized each other, the land and I. And walking barefoot on the ground, picking lemongrass with my grand-aunt, I couldn’t shake the heaviness.

    Sometimes, even across the Pacific Ocean, even in Texas, I feel it still.


  5. Marisa

    Write about a place you returned to:

    The story in my mind,
    made history upon a cyclical return.
    A feedback loop.
    Like the tracks in a dirt road,
    magnetically pulling the speeding rotation of wheels,
    so deep that there is no option but to follow that logic.
    And no escape.


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