BY TAMMY PAOLINO
Reprinted from The Courier Post, January 15, 2004
Peter Murphy likes a room without a view, thank you very much.
Murphy, a light-hearted and gregarious Atlantic City schoolteacher, also is an accomplished poet. But what with the responsibilities of work, home and family, Murphy often found it difficult to make time to concentrate on his writing.
Then he hit upon a plan. More than a decade ago, Murphy began holing up once a month in a New Jersey motel, pen in hand, blank pages spread out on the bedspread before him.
He wasn't there for the room service, the pay-per-view movies or the indoor pool.
In fact, Murphy says, he preferred the rooms with a view of, say, "the scenic New Jersey Turnpike up around Port Newark."
The only reason he was there was for the words. And without the distractions of the day-to-day, the words came.
Murphy, a native of Wales who grew up in New York City, counts among his former professions "heavy machinery operator, nightclub manager and cab driver."
But teaching -- and poetry -- are what have stuck.
He is a consultant to New Jersey's Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry program and also appeared as part of Bill Moyers' popular Fooling with Words poetry series on PBS.
Murphy's poetry has appeared in The New York Times, The American Book Review and many other publications, and has earned numerous Poetry Writing Fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.
Eventually, the prolific poet began telling his writer friends about his poetry getaways.
Of course, they asked if they could come, too.
At first, Murphy resisted bringing other people on what was supposed to be a silent, solo retreat. But then his inherent teaching instincts kicked in and the wheels began to turn.
Fast-forward 11 years. The scene is a Cape May hotel on a wintry Ocean Avenue on Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.
In a fifth-floor ballroom, nearly 200 writers gather to listen to each other read poetry. The poems -- some funny, some touching -- had been written in hotel rooms, poolside, perhaps even on a cocktail napkin in the lounge, sometime during the weekend.
Thanks to Murphy, poets and other writers have an extraordinary post-holiday escape every winter. The Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway offers those who want to work on their writing a creative and energizing adventure.
For four days, beginning tomorrow, workshop guests gather in groups and work together and one-on-one with published poets to create new work.
Just like Murphy's original retreats, the weekend provides a place to escape life's usual obligations and to really get lost in art.
With an assignment and a few creative "triggers" -- a funky postcard, a quote from a newspaper, an offbeat title -- writers produce original poems in every conceivable style and on every possible subject.
Workshop leaders, many from New Jersey, share their work during the weekend, but they are mostly there for feedback and support.
While the Getaway is primarily a poetry event, workshops also are offered for novelists, memoir writers, even songwriters.
Among this year's workshop leaders is Stephen Dunn, the 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.
Returning faculty members include Nancy Falkow, a well-known Philadelphia-area singer-songwriter Toni Black, associate editor of Painted Bride Quarterly, a Camden-based literary magazine and Barbara Daniels, who teaches at Camden County College.
Daniels, who lives in Gloucester Township and teaches creative writing and composition at the college, is returning to the Getaway as a poetry instructor for the ninth time.
"Peter talked about how he went away to write, to hotels and motels, and it seemed like a great way to focus on writing," Daniels said. "It's wonderful (working with poets). I actually have to caution people not to take my suggestions too seriously when I'm working with people who aren't beginners. The poem belongs to the writer.
"Peter has such admirable values. He is sort of a secular saint: He would laugh that off, I'm sure, but the teaching he has done in Atlantic City has made such a tremendous difference to his students and I'm glad that poetry is something that he has given himself to in the same way.
"There are some times, in other situations, where there seems to be a certain amount of competitiveness and nastiness (in writing workshops) and that's never the case in something Peter's running."
Murphy has said the weekend is all about "imaginative risk taking and . . . freedom and transformation in participants' creative work."
As he tells his high school students, the word poem shouldn't be a dirty word -- something inaccessible and off-putting.
Instead, he encourages his students, whether they be adults or teens, to find poetry in the stuff of everyday life.
Murphy, who is Baha'i, is involved in various projects that promote tolerance and diversity. He ends each Getaway on Monday mornings with a special tribute to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
For writers, the weekend is also a chance to gather in a community of like-minded people -- something that modern life sometimes makes rare -- and enjoy a creative bond: no cell phones, no fax machines, no traffic, no ringing phones.
Murphy did make one concession, however: That fifth-floor hotel ballroom offers a breathtaking view of the ocean.
Reach Tammy Paolino at (856) 486-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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