23.04.2014. Art & culture
A plaque commemorating Norman Douglas' sojourn in a house near Nerano in May 1908 while writing Siren Land.
Le Sirenuse owes much to two great writers. One was John Steinbeck, whose wrily affectionate essay ‘Positano’ helped to launch the fortunes of the Amalfi Coast village, and the hotel which the Sersale family had recently opened here, when it was published in Harper’s Bazaar in May 1953.
The other is Norman Douglas, whose 1911 travel memoir Siren Land, on the lives and legends of Capri and the Amalfi Coast, lends its name to our annual creative writing workshop.
The week-long Sirenland Writers Conference was first held at Le Sirenuse in 2007. Its aim is to foster creative writers of all persuasions in a setting that has provided inspiration for so many artists over the years. The eighth edition, held from April 6-12, saw a group of 31 participants join tutors Dani Shapiro, Meg Wolitzer and André Dubus III for six days of workshops, readings and discussions, aided and abetted by inspirational talks and tips from Dani’s husband, screenwriter Michael Maren, Hannah Tinti, editor and founder of One Story magazine (who shares Sirenland organisational duties with Dani) and this year's guest speaker, Egyptian-born writer and distinguished literary professor André Aciman.
For the first time this year, Southern California literary foundation and bibliophile forum Literary Affairs has taken over the sponsorship of the Sirenland Fellowship, awarded annually to a writer with an ongoing project who has not yet published a book. This year’s recipient was New-York-based Scott Cheshire, whose first novel, High as the Horses’ Bridles, is forthcoming from Henry Holt and Co. Scott joined thirty other writers young and old, veterans and novices, plus assorted spouses, progeny and paramours, for a week of literary stimulation, cultural excursions, good food, back-country treks and convivial conversation. Among the highlights of what has become a regular season-opening week at Le Sirenuse were dinner at the house of Carla and Antonio Sersale with 'open microphone' readings, and a closing gala dinner preceded by readings from all the tutors and guest speaker.
One of the participants, upcoming 21-year-old poet and short-story writer Devin Kelly, jotted down the following lines as he waited for his flight back to New York. We love its raw lyricism, its fresh, questioning, bebop view of Positano. Grazie Devin, and grazie mille to all of those, tutors and students, who made the 2014 edition of Sirenland such a resounding success.
for Antonio and Carla
when i left the town there were two fires
rising from trees below, trees that grew
on a plot of land no bigger than a child.
bigger things come before the smaller
set aside their doings-wrong. i ate a dark
chocolate and watched the sun loom low
as if a mule was towing it up a slope.
sweet love, my love, i never thought i could
feel for a place that was not america,
but i was wrong. i understand you now
as i understood you then, watching two
women stoop low and proper into the heat
of fires and smoke prosciutto while sipping
water. it could have been holy water.
everything then was tinted and rimmed
with orange, as if steeped and stopped
in that moment before a blaze. nothing
ruined, nothing yet, nothing ever.
sweet love, my love, what will we do
when we are tired? will we escape?
i am at an airport now watching people
of different shapes retreat or return.
there must be a place where stillness
lingers just a moment longer than we
know. where there is a moment after
the moment of silence. sweet love, my
love, let me take you to positano.