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The finalists have been announced for the inaugural Write a House residency, a new program through which a formerly vacant home in Detroit is renovated and given permanently to a creative writer.

The ten finalists are Lydia Conklin of East Sandwich, Massachusetts; Matthew Fogarty of Columbia, South Carolina; Adam Morris of San Francisco; Anne Elizabeth Moore of Chicago; Jason Reynolds and Casey Rocheteau, both of Brooklyn, New York; Aisha Sabatani Sloan of Los Angeles; Valerie Vande Panne of Detroit; Darryl Lorenzo Wellington of Santa Fe, New Mexico; and Monika Zobel of Bremen, Germany. Finalists' bios can be found on the Write a House website.

The winner will be announced on September 19, and will be invited to move into his or her new house soon thereafter.

Write a House received roughly 350 applications in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction from throughout the United States and abroad. “Many of our best applicants came from right here in Detroit,” the organizers wrote in an announcement on the Write a House blog. “There were many excellent and inspiring submissions, and if we could give a home to every talented writer who applied, we would.”

The organization plans to open applications for its next house in early 2015.

The judges were Write a House cofounder Toby Barlow, along with poets and writers Billy Collins, dream hampton, Major Jackson, Sean MacDonald, Michael Stone Richards, and Tamara Warren. Finalists were selected based on the quality of their work and for their potential to contribute to the neighborhood and the literary culture of Detroit.

For more information on Write a House, read an article on the program currently featured in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine.

Photo: The first Write a House property, located in Detroit’s Banglatown neighborhood. Credit: Andy Kopietz.

P&W supported poet Aliki Barnstone blogs about her reading for Saint Julian Press in Houston, Texas. Barnstone is also a translator, critic, and editor. Her books of poems are Bright Body (White Pine, 2011), Dear God, Dear Dr. Heartbreak: New and Selected Poems (the Sheep Meadow Press, 2010), Blue Earth (Iris, 2004), Wild With It (Sheep Meadow, 2002), a National Books Critics Circle Notable Book, Madly in Love (Carnegie-Mellon, 1997), Windows in Providence (Curbstone, 1981), and The Real Tin Flower which includes an introduction by Anne Sexton and was published by Macmillan in 1968, when Barnstone was twelve years old. She is Professor of English in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Missouri, Columbia.

Aliki BarnstoneOn April 4, 2014, I participated in a reading at Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Houston, which was organized by Ron Starbuck, editor and publisher of Saint Julian Press, and cosponsored by Poets & Writers. Ron beautifully orchestrated the event in a truly unique way that I found exhilarating and profound.

There were three poets—Melissa Studdard, Leslie Adrienne Miller, and myself—and there was a pianist, John Hardesty. Before the reading, we poets e-mailed Ron the poems that we planned to read, which was a first for me. There was a bit of back and forth between the four of us, so we could get the timing and the length right. Then Ron arranged the poems into sets. I was a little disconcerted when he changed the order of the poems I’d sent, but I was also open to the adjustment because the whole event was so unusual (and his re-ordering proved to be a much better unfolding).

The usual circumstance, as the readers of this blog know, is that each author is given a certain amount of time, and then whatever happens, happens—which can work well or can lead to some consternation when someone reads too long or if one person is miffed to read first and perceives that he or she is a “warm-up” for the “headliner” who reads last.

All those prospects for unseemly drama were eliminated by Ron’s process. He printed out scripts for us, which were ordered in three-ring binders and placed on music stands. John Hardesty played a prologue, each of us read a set, and between readers, John responded with improvisation. We each read two sets. John’s music was meditative and created an atmosphere that was receptive to poetry and to the ineffable.

When I give readings, I usually have a set list with alternatives, depending on how the audience responds. The musical interludes combined with the script made this unnecessary, so the part of my mind that usually considers whether I’m reading the right poems was free to listen to the music and my wonderful fellow poets, and to commune with all the souls present.

The format freed me in other ways too. I must admit, I find that when I’m reading with others I can’t be as attentive as I’d like. If I read after someone, I can’t give my undivided attention to his or her reading because I’m too revved up (and I’m also thinking about alternative poems to read that might better dovetail with the reader before me). However, if I read before someone, then I may still be too distracted to concentrate fully on the person’s work, because I’m recuperating from my own reading. Despite my regard for the other person’s work and my best intentions, there’s still a bit of noise in my mind.

Ron’s arranging genius allows the readers to interact wholly with each other, John’s music, the audience, and the place itself. For me, it was a particular joy to immerse myself in Leslie’s and Melissa’s work, and to hear their poems performed aloud while simultaneously seeing them laid out on the page.

Four at TrinitiyThe venue and the audience contributed to a feeling of connection, high spirits, and aesthetic abundance. The series is held in the beautiful chapel of the historic Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Houston, with its gorgeous stained glass windows and paintings. The chapel was filled to capacity with people who are regular attendees, as well as newcomers.

This event came at a pivotal moment in my career since my book, Madly in Love, was just reissued as a Carnegie-Mellon Classic Contemporary. The fact that I could celebrate this significant publication in Houston, where I have familial ties, was especially gratifying. My uncle, Howard Barnstone, designed the Rothko Chapel; my aunt, Gertrude Barnstone, is a well-known artist and activist; and my cousins, George Barnstone and Lily Barnstone Wells, and their families still live in Houston and are active members of the community.

In the course of meeting people in Houston, making connections and reconnecting, I was deeply touched to discover that people see me as part of a legacy. The reading generated a lot of interest in my work, and the fact that there was a lot of talk about bringing me back makes me very happy.

Hear recordings of Barnstone and her fellow readers from this event.

Photo: (top) Aliki Barnstone. Photo Credit: John Farmer de la Torre.

(bottom) John Hardesty, Ann-Marie Madden Irwin, Leslie Adrienne Miller, and Ron Starbuck. Photo Credit: John Farmer de la Torre.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Before online shopping became a convenient and popular method of purchasing things, one would have to go to a specialty store to find uncommon and rare items. Many of these specialty stores are closing their doors due to rising rent prices and dwindling customers. Is there a specialty store you used to frequent that has since closed up shop? Or do you wish there was a good video store stocked with foreign films, or a record shop with an incredibly knowledgeable staff in your town? Think about the process of going into a store and sifting through their stock until you discover something, versus having Amazon recommend something based on your previous purchases. Is there any difference? Which method do you prefer?

Some people, once they find a place they like, really make themselves at home. This week, write a story about a regular at a local bar, restaurant, or coffee shop. Why has this person latched on to this particular place? Does he or she always order the same thing? How do the other patrons feel about this person? Try to have all the action in the story take place inside the establishment.

8.26.14

From: The Time Is Now

In the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, award-winning poet Louise Glück discusses her craft: "For me it's tone—the way the mind moves as it performs its acts of meditation. That's what you're following. It guides you but it also mystifies you because you can't turn it into conscious principles or say precisely what its attributes are....You have to be surprised by what it is capable of unveiling." Focus on tone this week as you write, and see where it takes you. Don't think about facts, about what's real or true, but instead the fleeting impressions, strange daydreams, and disjointed thought patterns that bubble to the surface throughout your day. Let your mood be the filter through which your verses come to light.

Submissions are open for the twenty-seventh annual Oregon Book Awards, sponsored by the Portland-based nonprofit Literary Arts. The annual prizes are given for books by Oregon residents published in the previous year. The winners will receive $1,000 each and will be announced at an awards ceremony in Portland in April.

Awards are given in the following categories: poetry, short fiction, the novel, creative nonfiction, general nonfiction, children’s literature, young adult literature, drama, and readers’ choice. Submit two copies of a book published between August 1, 2013, and July 31, 2014, with the required entry form and $40 entry fee by August 29. Submissions should be mailed to Literary Arts, 925 SW Washington, Portland, OR 97205. Writers who are Oregon residents and who live in Oregon for at least six months of the year are eligible. Self-published books are eligible. The judges for each category will be announced when the finalists are announced in January; all judges are from out of state.

The 2014 winners include poet Mary Szybist for her collection Incarnadine (Graywolf), chosen by Kwame Dawes; fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin for her story collection The Unreal and the Real (Small Beer Press), chosen by Alan Cheuse; nonfiction writer Jay Ponteri for his memoir Wedlocked (Hawthorne Books), chosen by Ander Monson; and fiction writer Amanda Coplin for her novel The Orchardist (Harper Perennial), chosen by readers.

Literary Arts has administered the Oregon Book Awards for twenty-seven years. The organization also offers the Portland Arts & Lectures series, Oregon Fellowships, Writers in the Schools program, and Delve Readers Seminars.


Photo: Ursula K. Le Guin, the 2014 fiction winner. Credit: Motoya Nakamura

Climbing is an exercise that's both exhilarating and exhausting. This week think of the highest you've ever climbed. It could have been a ladder to your childhood tree house or Mount Kilimanjaro. Were you climbing for fun, or out of necessity? How did it feel once you reached the top? If you feel you've never climbed to any significant height, would you ever want to?

Usually if someone's in love, they know it. Love is an all-encompassing emotion, often casting a person's life in a pleasant, rosy glow. But as with most emotions, love can be confusing. This week, write a story in which your character doesn't realize she is falling in love. Do her friends notice the development and try and make her see what's happening? Does she remain completely oblivious, or does she adamantly deny any affection towards her love interest? Is she even aware of her love interests' feelings towards her? Consider the fine line between close friendship and romantic love, and how difficult it is to tell whether that line has been crossed.

This week focus on sound. Not just the background noise of your day-to-day routine, like the ticking of the clock or the drone of the air conditioner, but the sound of the words you hear people speak. Notice the word choice of the news anchors on television, the radio talk show hosts, and the people at your workplace. Deconstruct the common phrases you hear, like "Have a nice day." When you say this, consider the way your mouth moves to create the shape of the words. Notice the cadence, rhythm, and inflection of your voice. Write a poem to be read aloud—speak it first, then put it on paper.

Submissions are open for the inaugural Gulf Coast Translation Prize. An award of $1,000 and publication in the April 2015 issue of Gulf Coast will be given for a poem or group of poems translated into English. Translator and poet Jen Hofer will judge.

Submit up to five pages of poetry translated into English with the original text with a $17 entry fee by August 31. Preference will be given to translations of work published within the last fifty years. Translators may submit using the online submission system, or by postal mail to Gulf Coast, English Department, University of Houston, Houston, TX  77204. All entries will be considered for publication; two honorable mentions will also be published in the April 2015 issue of Gulf Coast.

Judge Jen Hofer is a poet, translator, educator, bookmaker, and social justice interpreter. She has published three poetry collections, several handmade chapbooks, and four translations of poetry by Mexican women. Her most recent translation, Ivory Black (Les Figues Press, 2011)—a translation from the Spanish of Mexican poet Myriam Moscona’s collection Negro Marfil—won both the 2012 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets and the 2012 PEN Award for Poetry in Translation. Hofer also cofounded the language justice and language experimentation collaborative Antena with John Pluecker.

Gulf Coast is the student-run literature and arts journal of the University of Houston. Established in 1982 by Donald Barthelme and Phillip Lopate, the biannual journal was originally named Domestic Crude. The journal also offers annual prizes in poetry, short fiction, short short fiction, and creative nonfiction.

News and social media channels are buzzing about the recent outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus. This week, write a story in which one of your characters is a doctor responsible for treating patients that have contracted a highly contagious virus. Think about how she handles the risks involved, and what emotions she’ll struggle with. Maybe there is a lack of proper medical equipment or limited space in hospitals and treatment facilities. Is there information on this virus, or is it something doctors have never seen before?

This week, think about what you need to hear and write a letter to yourself. In it, try and touch on all the things you feel have been tripping you up recently—all the things that have been bothering you or getting in your way, all the things that you need to remind yourself of more often, and all the things that you wish people told you on a regular basis. Go ahead: Give yourself some love and celebrate the goodness you bring into the world.

The Academy of American Poets defines anaphora as “a type of parallelism created when successive phrases or lines begin with the same words, often resembling a litany,” and is regarded as one of the world’s oldest poetic techniques. This week, try to write a poem with each line beginning with the same phrase. Refer to William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet No. 66” or Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” for inspiration.

Heather Buchanan is the owner of the Aquarius Press, now celebrating its fifteenth year. She, along with longtime partner Randall Horton, created the press's literary division, Willow Books, which develops, publishes, and promotes writers typically underrepresented in the field. A graduate of Wayne State University (WSU) and the University of Michigan-Dearborn respectively, Buchanan was a WSU National Institute of Health Research Fellow in cognitive science. Actively involved with work in the field of narrative psychology, she has taught Composition, English, African-American Literature, and World Literature at several colleges and universities, most recently for UM-Dearborn and the College for Creative Studies. In addition to teaching, she presents on arts and literature at conferences across the country, most recently for the Ragdale Foundation. A past Poet-In-Residence for the Detroit Public Library system, she also served on the Board of Governors for UM-Dearborn's College of Arts & Sciences Affiliate and was the Chief Operating Officer of the Wayne County Council on the Arts, History & Humanities. A musician, Buchanan is currently working on a musical project honoring the Harlem Hellfighters and a World War I centennial book.

Out of the bustling mass of high schoolers being dismissed after our poetry workshop, one young man stopped in the doorway to utter these words, "that thing changed my life," with a look of wonder upon his face. His classmates had already reinserted their earbuds and pulled out their phones for the bus ride back to school. After this student had said his piece, the look faded and he went to catch up with the group. Fleeting moments like that keep me inspired.

Authors from our press had just completed day one of a two-day workshop and public reading program in Detroit, my hometown, at the Carr Center. “Life, Imagined: Michiganders in Literature” was a writers residency for authors who had published literary works about notable Michiganders. The authors gave public readings with a Q&A for the general public and held poetry readings and workshops with Detroit-area high school students. The event was co-sponsored by the Michigan Humanities Council and funded in part by Poets & Writers, Inc..

The program’s goal was to demonstrate how literature intersects with history to provide meaningful cultural experiences for contemporary audiences. Moderated by Randall Horton and Angela May, the fall 2013 Writers-in-Residence were Lita Hooper author of Thunder in Her Voice: The Narrative of Sojourner Truth and Derrick Harriell author of Ropes. The public reading was also a debut for Harriell’s collection, which contained a suite of poems on famed Detroit boxer Joe Louis. The spring 2014 program featured Karen S. Williams author of Peninsula: Poems of Michigan and Curtis L. Crisler, a Michigan native whose newly-released Wonderkind is a poetry collection on the musical genius Stevie Wonder.

The students were from areas typically underserved when it comes to arts programming, so this program was inspiring for more than one reason. The students were not only able to engage with poetry itself, but were able to engage with poetic scholars of color. In addition to making history come alive for these students, the authors shared their experiences as published writers who also teach on the college level. At the outset, only a handful out of the approximately 125 students said they read poetry. After the program ended, however, post surveys showed that 65 percent of the students were now more likely to read poetry and could even envision themselves as poets in the future.

As the students shared the poems they had created in the workshop, the air was electric. There was a sense of pride, accomplishment, and camaraderie for fellow readers. Sadly, during both workshops, more than one female student shared her own story of abuse. Any teacher in Detroit will tell you that many of our youth carry a great deal of internalized trauma and need creative outlets to process and express it. Our workshop was a safe space where everything could be said aloud, if only for a little while.

The Poets & Writers Detroit program has enabled our press to put on several great literary events over the years, but I count this project as one of the very best.

Photos: (top) Heather Buchanan, (bottom) Curtis L. Crisler, Angela May, Karen S. Williams with students.  Photo Credit: Mike McMurray.

Support for Readings & Workshops in Detroit is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Are you a crafty person? Or would you like to be the type of person who gives handmade presents to loved ones for the holidays? This week, write about something someone has made for you. What makes this item so much more special than an item you could purchase in a store? Or, write about something you want to make for someone else. Maybe you are working on the item right now, or maybe you still need to acquire the skills necessary to make it. What would you have to learn? How long would it take, and what makes the effort worth it?

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