Whiteley Scholar Penelope Moffet, Poet and Writer from Los Angeles

Penelope Moffet is always on the lookout for an inspirational place to write, a place that will allow for meditation and draw out new ideas. Her work is “influenced by the environment” and relationships with the people around her. She has spent countless hours putting pen to paper in the dry landscapes of southern California. Her two stays at the Friday Harbor Laboratories’ Whiteley Center allowed her to get to know a new landscape and explore new aspects of her writing.

“Each place I visit tends to bring about a different kind of work; there are things I got into at the Whiteley Center that I wasn’t able to write about before,” says Moffet.

Moffet has been a poet her entire life. She has also written fiction and nonfiction, and has spent time as a freelance journalist, yet her heart lies in poetry. “I love prose, I mean I love prose. But poetry is the most essential and most important to me personally.” Her work is drawn from the common threads we all share as humans—love, loss, change, connections to people and place. She writes about the ebbs and flows of nature, often experienced firsthand at writing retreats or while in the outdoors. Yet her work can also be inspired by the seemingly routine parts of anyone’s day—a trip to the farmers market or watching the flick of a cat’s tail.

Unencumbered by the requirements of her ordinary life, at the Whiteley Center Moffet made sure to keep her days open for writing and meditation. “I had a feeling of time being wide open; there was rarely anything scheduled,” she says. “I would write, read, go for a ramble, write on my ramble, and then write again in my cottage.” Visits to the dock and encounters with folks in the dining hall all served as food for thought. “The conversations with people doing scientific research were really interesting and contributed to the poems I was writing.” For instance, when she learned from a graduate student in the dining hall that a gray whale has really bad breath, that detail was added to a new poem called ‘Thumbprint.’ “No other retreat I’ve been to has offered access to scientists doing research,” she says.”

The cottages at the Whiteley Center inspired as well, each tapping into different veins of creativity. “Each cottage inspired different things. Anne’s is in the shade and you look deep into the cove; it’s very introspective and took me into a deeply meditative state, which I loved. Charlie’s is higher up and more gregarious with a different view. The light is different too.”

Moffet says the Whiteley Center stands out to her as an extraordinary place of beauty, one where both scientists and creative people can gather together. “I knew I liked the northwest, I had been a number of times, but I was still really stunned by the beauty at the Center. I went without a plan. The discovery of the place and what it brings up for me—that is what I like.”

You can read some of Moffet’s work in It Isn't That They Mean to Kill You and on the website Poetry and Places and Rise Up Review.

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