By Alec Woodard
Meet Mariposa participants and Maritza Rivera during a reading at The Writer's Center on Sunday, August 13 at 2 p.m.
|Photo by Mig Dooley|
A writer is a powerful force, but communities are the foundation of society. To strengthen that foundation, writers may retreat into nature and each other, into worlds of words and ideas that come to shape the broader communities to which they belong. Maritza Rivera has published several collections of poetry, been awarded local and international poetry grants, and since 2011, has run the annual Mariposa Poetry Retreat. The weekend opportunity invites 25 writers to step deeper into their work and away from the stresses of daily life. I recently spoke with Rivera about her work as a mother, a soldier, an artist, and a community leader.
Rivera has adopted the name Mariposa - the Spanish word for butterfly - in many of her endeavors: The Mariposa Poetry Retreat, Casa Mariposa Press, the Mariposa Poetry Readings. “I have been fascinated by butterflies since I can remember, and I have a large collection of butterflies in my home,” she said. The poet wanted her writers retreat “to be an extension of my living room. I want people to feel comfortable and at home.” Rivera is open and effusive about her efforts: “My intent - because I was a single mom for a long time and . . . many events were too expensive to attend - was to build something, to create something I would have liked to have available to me: a place for inspiration and community.” Despite rising costs of living and consumer goods, Rivera said of the Mariposa retreat, “I really try to keep it affordable, the fee is all inclusive - room, board, the whole fun-filled weekend. You get a lot in a short time.”
When asked what set her venture apart from others, she said, “I like to know everyone by name.” Her warm and friendly demeanor draws people in, and they look to her as a leader. This closeness has resulted in success, as “there have been occasions when participants from a previous year became faculty in a subsequent year . . . that’s part of what creates community.” This personable and community-based strategy works. "[Approximately] 50% of people who have been before, 50% new [people]”make up her yearly retreat. Rivera pairs past attendees with new ones in shared rooms that create a tight learning community. Participants come to see this tightness as part of the formula.
The popular retreat and its spirit of community as resulted in sponsorship. These writers are dedicated to the success of their peers, and they donate registration fees anonymously. Rivera calls the attendees and teachers at her retreat the “Mariposa Family.” This family is the reason she organizes reunion readings for former participants in the retreat, so that they can come together and strengthen the bonds of the community they have built.
My conversation with Ms. Rivera ended with a more personal discussion of her time in the military and the influence of military on her life generally. Brought up in what she called a traditional Puerto Rican household, she said “it was marriage versus army and I picked army.” She did not regret her military experience, but she was more affected by the experience of her two children, both of whom went on to serve. The work Rivera said she is most proud of, a book of poetry titled “A Mother’s War,” came out of her experience as a mother to two soldiers.
To Maritza Rivera, poetry is an integral part of life, an outlet for emotion, and a road to community. Register for the October 2017 weekend Mariposa Retreat by visiting www.mariposapoetry.org/mariposa-poetry-retreat-2016/registration-information
More Washington and Baltimore-area Writer Retreats