Finding my words — and myself — in Charm City.
I grew up on the unaffectionately termed “Slower Lower” Eastern Shore, where life definitely was slow and sparse. Though I wrote my first novel by 10, and co-authored a fantasy novel with my then-best friend by 13, poetry always felt like the untouchable artform, even more so when I transferred to Salisbury University’s creative writing program in the fall of 2011.
Our first assignment was, of course, a poem. After the initial stutter steps brought on by blank-page terror, I was hooked. I didn’t last more than three semesters in the program (a combination of mental-health struggles and the stifling constraints of academia), but poetry stayed close to me.
Until it didn’t.
In the winter of 2014, four days after Christmas, I’d had enough and left my hometown again, this time for Colorado. Beyond the occasional few lines typed in my iPhone notepad, I’d stopped writing. I had nothing to say, and even if I did, I didn’t have a voice for it.
Such was the lie I told myself until spring 2019, when I found myself in Baltimore. I was on the dark side of my 20s, feeling like I hadn’t amounted to much and had squandered my talent. I hadn’t yet considered the possibilities of the city, which rested quietly while I binged on sushi and “Game of Thrones,” wondering, between bites of shrimp tempura, what came next.
It was poetry.
Poetry found me again. After years of locking the deadbolt to its incessant knocking, I let it back in. Those self-pitying all-nighters converted to toiling over litany poems and Greek myths, slamming coconut water and belting Fiona Apple and Mitski at full volume until I found the exact word I needed.
As I fell in with a new social circle — and after many late-night dramatic readings over boxed wine and Tito’s — I decided that maybe this was finally worth doing, or at least trying. I researched local presses, made connections over Instagram, and applied to my first writer’s retreat.
Through that research, I found akinoga press, run by the inimitable Mychael Zulauf (my future publisher), and Writers and Words, the (sadly) now-defunct reading series co-curated by Maria Goodson and Cija Jefferson, who also hosted the Woods, an annual writers’ retreat in rural West Virginia.
In January 2020, I found myself piled into a Prius with three other writers, headed to Berkeley Springs, WV, for what I’d hoped would be my “coming of age” weekend into the Baltimore writing scene. Between thoughtful conversations on form and process and inspiration, I reveled in listening to Anthony Moll and Celeste Doaks discuss pop culture; cackled through adult Mad Libs led by Baltimore’s reigning Mistress of Smut, Jocelyn Loverling; and chopped it up with Tracy Dimond on running and the merits of socialized medicine.
A sense of relief and belonging came over me then — these writers, whose work I’d admired from afar, were approachable and supportive. By the end of the weekend, I’d told our road-trip crew that I felt like a real writer. Jocelyn reminded me then, and still does today, that I am.
My creative world shifted after that retreat — I landed my publishing deal at akinoga press, submitted and received my first magazine publications since college, and booked poetry readings for the first time in nearly a decade. This thing that once felt like a language I couldn’t learn led me to a profoundly singular community.
Baltimore is a much-maligned city, and often for good reason. The charm of Charm City (and the Mid-Atlantic in general) is largely lost on those who visit or live here. But it is a place teeming with artistic soul and loyal creatives who value showing up for their people and reminding them of exactly who they are when they themselves have forgotten. When life pulls me away for other opportunities and adventures, I’m always grateful to boomerang back to Baltimore and the writing community that became a mirror and a home when I needed them most.
[Editor’s note: This piece is in support of the Inner Loop’s “Author’s Corner,” a monthly campaign that spotlights a DC-area writer and their recently published work from a small to medium-sized publisher. The Inner Loop connects talented local authors to lit lovers in the community through live readings, author interviews, featured book sales at Potter's House, and through Eat.Drink.Read., a collaboration with restaurant partners Pie Shop, Shaw’s Tavern, and Reveler’s Hour to promote the author through special events and menu and takeout inserts.]
Lora Robinson is a poet, photographer, and public-health nursing student from Salisbury, Maryland. She is a poetry reader for Cobra Milk and an alumni of Art Farm Nebraska. Her work has appeared in the Meadow, the Shore, the West Review, Superfroot, Hooligan, and San Pedro River Review, among others. In her spare time, you can find her hiking, fly-fishing, plant-shopping, singing to her two cats, and reading. Her first book, An Essential Melancholy, is available now through akinoga press.