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The Workshop at Skimmilk Farm

Skimmilk Farm was found during a Nor’easter in the mid 1950s by Jean Pedrick, her husband, and her niece Nancy Mairs. Located in Brentwood, New Hampshire, until the summer of 1974 the farm had been a summer home for Pedrick, her husband and their two sons, Laurence and John. The workshop at Skimmilk Farm began in the summer of 1974, when Jean Pedrick realized that two of her colleagues at Alice James Books were also her summer neighbors. Because the farm afforded Pedrick a close proximity to other Alice James writers in the Seacoast area, she intended them to take advantage of this and meet to discuss their poems.

Originally they started with three regular participants, augmented by various visitors from Boston. The original three of that summer were: Marie Harris, Elizabeth Knies, and of course, Jean Pedrick. Mondays were chosen for their convenience and the knowledge that any weekend houseguests of Skimmilk Farm would have vacated the premises, freeing Pedrick up to concentrate on the workshop. The attraction of the workshop was the environment in which the critiques happened. Participants were acutely sensitive to the need to give constructive criticisms which would strengthen the work but also to acknowledge the creative process and the person who was the source of the creativity. The Skimmilk workshop was not the cutthroat environment of the university classroom where creative works and their creator are sometimes cut down ruthlessly, with little respect for the process or the person.

As the years went on the workshop expanded in numbers. Members left, and new members joined. Jean’s granddaughter, Emily Kefferstan attended the workshop in the later years. The standard pattern of these Mondays was to arrive in the morning by 10:30 and workshop the poems for a couple of hours. After the workshop, the poets would adjourn for a potluck lunch. Each person who came was expected to bring a dish, even if they hadn’t brought a poem with them. The season usually lasted from late May to early October, when the Kefferstans closed the farm up for the winter.

Participants thrived on the atmosphere of the workshop which respected the craft of the writer, the integrity of the work, and the individual. Out of the hundreds of poems written by the participants, nearly every one has gone through the workshop process at Skimmilk. Occaisionally members of the workshop would gather at Jean’s home in Boston at 48 Mt. Vernon Street on Beacon Hill for some off-season workshopping. The workshop was host to many writers of local and national acclaim. Interestingly enough, the workshop has turned out five Portsmouth Poet Laureates, the most recent one being Elizabeth Knies. Clearly there is formidable talent within the group of Seacoast writers. Among Pedrick’s papers is a listing of Skimmilk workshop participants.

Pedrick died July 31, 2006 cutting the Skimmilk season short for the poets. For a time the fate of the workshop this summer was unknown. Happily, her son John and granddaughter Emily intend to open the farm and would like the Skimmilk Poets to continue their workshop there. During the month of April, NHPTV Channel 11 aired a documentary filmed by Ken Browne entitled, Mondays at Skimmilk. Follow the link for more information on the documentary and the workshop at Skimmilk Farm.