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The Spirit of Vitorchiano

A Writers’ Retreat Deep Inside Italy

The fortress of Vitorchiano
The fortress of Vitorchiano.

Approaching Vitorchiano

Before making the trip to Vitorchiano, where I had arranged to spend a writers retreat, various attempts were made in vain to find the village on the map. I had been informed by the host of the creative writing retreat—an American writer named Linda Lappin—that she would be very surprised if the town was to be found on any map. The best she could say was that it was somewhere between Viterbo and Orvieto. In a way, this was rather unsettling. Now I can safely admit that it also intrigued me.

Such thoughts passed through my mind as I sat in the taxi, ambling down the dusty road until the town finally came into view. There it was, like the clenched fist of some benevolent, mythological defender, rising up from the earth from immeasurable gorges on either side—a silent, massive giant that seemed to be awaiting me.

Here it had been for centuries, hidden from the world, invisible to countless cartographers no doubt, yet so majestic in its beauty. How, I asked myself, could anyone have missed this?

A wonder was awakened within that had long been lying dormant. Like Vitorchiano, the spirit in my soul that compelled me to write had always been a part of me, but the space in which I now found myself, the writing center called Centro Pokkoli, whispered it gently to the surface.

Homes in the village of Vitorchiano
Homes in the village of Vitorchiano.

Ms. Lappin’s Creative Writing Workshops

Perhaps it is fitting that the workshops Ms. Lappin organizes should be focused on the spirit of place, since for me, Vitorchiano was the setting where my sleeping spirit was awakened. Far from the tourist-choked streets and throngs of museum seekers that is the daily grind of Rome and Florence, Vitorchiano’s tranquil surroundings and unhurried pace is but one of the differences that sets it apart.

Within its immense structure lies a separate presence that is bound not only by the age of its weathered peperino stone foundation or the solid village dwellings constructed above it, but the feeling of a spirit of serenity and enchantment that comes from the natural beauty of the place itself.

Ms. Lappin describes how Vitorchiano became her choice as the location for her vision of Centro Pokkoli as a collective refuge and awakening for writers worldwide:

“I am one of those writers who has been immensely enriched by living and traveling abroad and by coming into contact with the mysterious deity known to the Ancient Romans and Etruscans as the spirit of place.”

Having now seen Vitorchiano myself, I would say that when Ms. Lappin set about to unify that spirit of place with the writer’s spirit, she succeeded when Centro Pokkoli was born.

“I helped create the writing center and retreat at Centro Pokkoli, with encouragement from friends of the Geneva Writers Group,” to make a place where other writers could meet, exchange, and learn from each other. Our original idea was to host writing workshops and writing groups, but we have also organized theater events, art shows, art workshops, and Italian culture and language seminars,” says Lappin.

The Centro Pokkoli is run by the Officina Culturale Pokkoli & Co., a nonprofit cultural organization based in Rome and operating under Italian law.  Since 2005, when the first writing workshops were held, over 120 writers have come to Vitorchiano to participate. These have included groups organized by the Kenyon Review Writing Workshop, Converse College in association with its alumni program,  Alimentum Literary Journal,  and poets from Imprint and the University of Houston, and the Paris Poetry Workshop directed by Cecilia Woloch.” 

Photo from a window in the Centro Pokkoli
Photo from a window in the Centro Pokkoli in the village of Vitorchiano.

Writers’ Testimonials

New York writer Dahlma Llanos, who participated in Ms. Lappin’s workshop on “The Spirit of Place,” recollects the sense of another time and the unique setting that brought the purpose of the workshop alive:

“There was certainly the natural and architectural beauty of Vitorchiano with its winding streets and potted gardens and ancient walls. There were the scattered medieval towns of Tuscia overlooking the lakes and valleys that few American tourists get to see. But beyond that, there was a heavy sense of a different time and people, that made the location of the workshop so special. Linda's lecture on the Spirit of Place was particularly helpful to me since in my journal writing I try to capture the essence of the place as well as its physical beauty. 

I enthusiastically encourage writers who are considering taking this workshop to do so and to be open to all aspects of the experience, a much richer one than I had anticipated.” 

Anna Duke Reach, assistant to the Kenyon Review, and participant in a “Spirit of Place” workshop session held during the Kenyon Review workshop in 2006, comments on Ms. Lappin’s guidance connecting the participants with the heart of Vitorchiano:

”Linda Lappin arranged an insider's trip to Vitorchiano that made each and every member of our group feel like we belonged to the town. Centro Pokkoli is an intimate, creative space that inspired literary discussion and offered one of the most perfectly framed window views of bucolic countryside.

Her ‘Spirit of Place’ workshop offered us a moment to pause, savor and reflect upon the layers of inspiration the town offered.  Many writers created new work set in the town, but imagination transformed time. The place certainly transformed all of us—it was a wonderful trip!”

California writer, Sandy Sims, Program Chair of the Bay Area Travel Writers association—who took part in the writing workshop led by Peter Selgin—recalls the location of Centro Pokkoli within the walls of Vitorchiano and the surrounding terrain which invoked its spirit:

“Centro Pokkoli is a long room, with a kitchenette and a bathroom. The square window of the main room of Centro Pokkoli overlooks the deep, lush gorge, where swallows glide over hazelnut trees. The view is enchanting.

Linda's ‘Spirit of Place,’ was fascinating. She talked of place having ‘Indwelling Spirit.’ That is spirit indwelling the land itself, and that people, unknowingly, are always communicating with this spirit. That humans are an expression of their landscape. It's good to know the history of a place to understand this indwelling spirit.

I have read several pieces and books of Linda's and she captures place beautifully and deeply with details that bring a place to life. I think a full week working with her would be a major asset to my or anyone's writing.”

As a deeply appreciative recent participant, I would urge you to experience Centro Pokkoli for yourself at one of two upcoming workshops in Vitorchiano for the summer of 2009.

More about Linda Lappin

Novelist, poet and translator, Ms. Lappin is the author of "Wintering with the Abominable Snowman" poetry from Kayak press in Santa Cruz, The Etruscan, Wynkin de Worde, Galway Ireland, and Katherine's Wish, which is finalist for the Foreword Book Award for the year 2008 in general fiction. She can be reached at: md2948@mclink.it

In addition to the Spirit of Place workshops, the Centro Pokkoli can host workshops organized by private individuals and institutions. They can make arrangements for hotels, meals, workshop space, excursions, events and local transportation. More information can be found at their website: www.pokkoli.org.


Leah Cano
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