June 23, 2008
Students refine prose at writing retreat
Camp Owahta hosts retreat for Cortland wordsmiths over weekend
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
From left, 10th-grade Cortland student Emily Williams and creative writing advisor Amanda Triplett listen as 10th-grader Kate Torti reads from her journal during a writing retreat Saturday at Camp Owahta in Solon.
SOLON — Sitting on the porch Saturday of the main building of Camp Owahta, Cortland High School English teacher Amanda Triplett described an exercise for later in the day.
The 17 students who were part of the school-sponsored Words Less Traveled writer’s retreat were each going to be given a plastic cup, and they would write a story about being the cup on the cup itself using markers.
Triplett explained to graduating senior Chrissy Brandon that the participants would then read their stories aloud at the bonfire that night.
“Where do you come up with these things?” Brandon asked Triplett.
It must be all that creative thinking.
Triplett said the writer’s retreat has grown out of the school’s Ink Peppers writing group, which formed last November with only four members but is now up to 50. For the retreat, the students arrived at Camp Owahta Friday evening and stayed over to Sunday.
Writer’s retreats are common tools for literary types, allowing wordsmiths the opportunity to clear their heads, hone their chops, take in a change of environment and get some good writing done.
This was the first retreat planned by the school, and Triplett said that she thinks it would be repeated next year.
Brandon said she had gotten some writing done in her journal, adorned with text and pictures — everyone had been required to personalize a notebook for the weekend.
“I’ve liked it so far. I’m writing random stuff right now,” Brandon said.
There was only one rule at the camp — anyone caught without their journal in hand or not in the same room, at least, would be subject to a punishment decided on by the entire group.
The punishment would likely veer more toward the absurd, but Brandon began thinking back to when a couple of her peers had left for the showers without their journals.
Triplett reflected on the character of those who were part of the retreat, a diverse group of students who transcended typical high school cliques but were still united by the need to express themselves.
“They’re really deep kids — I mean, they really have a lot to say,” Triplett explained. “I think they feel like they don’t really have an outlet for their voice.”
As a founding member of the Ink Peppers writing group, Demmarie Boreland, who heads to 10th grade next year, said her interest in writing had never previously had a group outlet at the school.
“The group is just really supportive, and it’s just a great place to be creative and be yourself,” Boreland said.
English Department Chair Brian Bosch spent his weekend at the camp directing food preparation, and after the morning bell rang out and the air horn blasts shook the camp — the latter courtesy of the boys’ cabin — Bosch, who is known as “The Writing God” within the group and on his apron, made some of his “Writing God Omelets.”
Triplett lauded Bosch and the other eight or so chaperones who were keeping an eye on the participants over the weekend. Bosch’s strength is pulling out other teachers’ strengths, Triplett said. For example, ninth and 10th grade principal Mac Knight would be moderating an activity session based on gender and behavior, an interest of his own.
“What we try to do is play to people’s passion a little bit,” Bosch said. “I always try to compare it to a buffet and we’re stronger if we’ve got a lot on the buffet. Every teacher has a different dish.”
“It’s also building a community of teachers around the joy of writing and the belief that writing’s important,” Triplett said.
Part of Saturday’s focus was nature writing, and the majority of the students had headed off into the woods with chaperones to reflect and discuss nature’s own poetry. However, part of the group moved a little faster than the rest and some of the students and their chaperones spent a little longer in the woods than they would have liked. Shortly before they stumbled back to camp, Alyssa Ladd trudged up to the camp’s main building, muddy and exhausted.
“I’m never going hiking again in my life,” Ladd told her mother, Melody Ladd, who had come along on the retreat as a chaperone.
Alyssa Ladd said the group had sat down and done some writing while it waited for another chaperone to find them and help guide them back to the camp.
“I wrote about how I got lost,” Ladd said.
James Beach, an eighth-grade English teacher who had been with the group, denied the tale being told by the students. Apparently, all of these creative writers were embellishing a bit.
“We weren’t really that lost,” confided Beach, who was working on a horror story about the camp.
While Boreland hopes to turn writing into a career, Brandon said she just enjoys it as a hobby.
“I write constantly — it’s just a way to get out emotions and issues without yelling at people,” Brandon said.
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