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Poets laureate traditionally compose and present ceremonial verse for official events and occasions, like a commemoration to the opening of a bridge or the unveiling of a monument. Write a poem dedicated to a familiar landmark as if you were introducing it to the world. You might research the actual historical significance, or invent a completely made-up history. What unexpected facts—real, or imagined—would you include for future generations to learn about this particular landmark?

Poets & Writers' fifth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading took place on June 11, 2015, before a packed house at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center. Eleven writers representing P&W–supported organizations Alexandria House, Literary Soul Symposium, Los Angeles Poet Society, Red Hen Press, and Wellness Works, Glendale came together to celebrate the diversity of the SoCal literary community and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program. R&W (West) program assistant B Spaethe blogs about this lively annual event.

“As I now watch from the sidelines, and see all of the remarkable women in the military today, I stand here to tell you they deserve a military institution worthy of them. They deserve to be safe.” Cheers erupted as Terre Fallon Lindseth of Wellness Works, Glendale read from her essay, “Be All That You Can Be.” Wellness Works, Glendale is a nonprofit veteran welcome center that aims to facilitate self-healing for veterans and their families and is one of five organizations who shared stories at the event.

Connecting Cultures is a reading series put together by P&W’s Readings & Workshops program in both Los Angeles and New York City in order to showcase a variety of diverse organizations funded by the program. Each year, the blend is unique and this year was no exception.

Alexandria House, a nonprofit transitional residence and house of hospitality for women and children, brought two brilliant readers: Sandy Fredrick, whose story explores the tumultuous world of a girl who gets caught in a drug deal, and Tabia Salimu (QueenMama Tabia) whose story gives a vivacious anthem to the power and allure of the black man. In addition, Director Judy Vaughan spoke about the rise of homelessness in Los Angeles and a need for places like Alexandria House.

GLBT-supporting Literary Soul Symposium unleashed the tenacity of Toni Newman who told her moving story of transitioning from male to female. Newman’s book I Rise: The Transformation of Toni Newman is the first memoir written by a member of the African-American transgender community. Dontá Morrison also read with high emotion about the love of two men falling apart in a hospital room.

Other highlights included the locally-focused Los Angeles Poet Society, introduced by Jessica Wilson Cardenas who brought Alexis Rhone Fancher, her sultry work a highlight of any event. Celeste Gainey read from her book the GAFFER, published by Red Hen Press's imprint Arktoi Books which was established by former Los Angeles poet laureate Eloise Klein Healy. Gainey's energy was infectious as she read about being the first woman gaffer to be admitted to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE).

Los Angeles Connecting Cultures 2015

A blog post can’t fully capture the power of these voices in one room together or the sound of pens scratching down contact information and cards swapping hands so that there can be further dialogue. At the end of the night, we felt opened up to one another. Jessica Wilson Cardenas said, "I can't wait to work with some of these writers! I've already invited many of them to collaborate with the Los Angeles Poet Society."

You can see more photos from the Los Angeles Connecting Cultures 2015 event here.

Photo: (top) Terre Fallon Lindseth. Photo Credit: B Spaethe
Photo: (bottom) 2015 Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Group. Front: (L-R) Jessica Wilson Cardenas, B Spaethe, Jamie FitzGerald, Celeste Gainey, Terre Fallon Lindseth, Leilani Squire, Richard Modiano. Back: (L-R) Juan Cardenas, Dontá Morrison, Toni Newman, Sandy Fredrick, Judy Vaughan,Tabia Salimu, Glenn Schiffman, Ramon Garcia.

Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Submissions are currently open for the Masters Review Short Story Award for New Writers. A prize of $2,000 and publication on the Masters Review website will be given for a short story. A second-place prize of $200 and a third-place prize of $100 will also be given.

Using the online submission manager, submit a previously unpublished story on any subject of up to 6,000 words with a $20 entry fee by July 15. Writers who have not published or self-published a novel-length work at the time of submission are eligible to apply. Multiple and simultaneous submissions are accepted. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Based in Portland, Oregon, the Masters Review exclusively publishes work by new and emerging writers. The review publishes fiction and nonfiction online year-round, as well as an annual print anthology of short stories.

Writer John Berger says: “What makes me write is the fear that if I do not write, something which ought to be said will not be.” This week, make a list of five things that you feel urgently need to be said about current events. Choose one of them and write an essay expressing your personal opinions—recount related anecdotes, share emotions, and reflect on why this matter is important to you.

In Elegy for a Dead World, a creative-writing video game featured in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, players write stories and poems while traversing through deserted worlds inspired by the poetry of Shelley, Keats, and Byron. This week, find fictional inspiration by choosing a Romantic poem and writing down, in complete sentences, the mood or atmosphere. Describe the visual landscape that you imagine, then create a scene and introduce characters.

The tanka is a type of classical Japanese poem, most popularly known in its five-line form, with syllable counts of 5/7/5/7/7. In ancient Japanese tradition, the short poetic lines were exchanged between lovers in the morning, after spending an evening together. This week, try your hand at writing a tanka. Start with a concrete image or object you closely associate with a loved one. Then create a dramatic shift in thought or emotion to express the speaker's personal response. For inspiration, read examples of the tanka compiled by the Academy of American Poets.

Adrienne Perry blogs about her P&W-supported writers of color workshop and reading at Writespace in Houston, Texas. Perry earned her MFA from Warren Wilson College and is a PhD student in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. She serves as the current Editor of Gulf Coast and is a Kimbilio Fellow. Perry's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Tidal Basin Review, Copper Nickel, and Indiana Review. She is at work on a novel and a collection of short stories. 

Adrienne PerrySome of the best advice I’ve heard about writing came from a high school guidance counselor. When seniors grew nervous about writing college essays, she calmed them down by saying their job was simply to: “Tell a story. Tell a story only you can tell. Tell it in your own voice.” In her view, if the college essay met those three criteria, the student had investigated their life and experience enough to say something unique, something that mattered to them and would be more likely to matter to admissions officers combing through hundreds of personal narratives.   

I’ve carried the “tell a story, tell a story only you can tell” advice around for years, even sharing it with my own college counselees, but I had never run it by creative writers. This April, I decided to share it with my writers of color workshop at Writespace in Houston. What happened? It became a mantra seeping into the workshop rhetoric. One of the frustrations I’ve heard from writers of color, in this workshop and elsewhere, is that people so often make unconscious assumptions about the kinds of stories writers of color will tell and the voices those stories will be in.

Telling our own stories in our own voices takes courage and pushes the imaginations of both white and nonwhite readers. Charles Redd shared that our writers of color workshop “created something special in me, [and was] impacted by shared experiences.” Another writer from the workshop, Ima Oduok, wrote in an e-mail: “When I saw Writespace was hosting a workshop for writers of color, I was ecstatic. The literary world is still mostly filled with white men, and that imbalance makes me hold back in other workshops or conferences. There's an unspoken, unsubtle message that literature is not for us. Workshops, such as this one, invite those who would normally be shy about developing.”

On the last day of the workshop, we ended early and held a reading. For a city as racially and ethnically diverse as Houston, this reading and this workshop at Writespace were both, in some ways, a first. And except for one or two of the writers, the reading was a personal first, too. The Writespace studio is small and cozy, so we took the long tables into the hallway and set up tight rows of chairs, wondering who would come to hear us telling stories only we could tell and in our own voices. Turns out, quite a few. By the time the reading started, the room was packed.

The man who made perfectly shaved ice in San Antonio, a waitress who used a Taser on an attacker after a late night shift, a woman unwinding from a night of partying on a balcony in Virginia Beach, the dissolution of a marriage as seen through a favorite TV show—each reading was singular, a reminder that not only should we write the stories only we can tell, but that doing so in a workshop for writers of color can be a powerful part of that process.

Photo: Adrienne Perry. Credit: Lesli Vollrath.

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.

“Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it. Don’t wait for it. Just let it happen.” These words of wisdom from Special Agent Dale Cooper, a character in David Lynch’s television series Twin Peaks, are extremely important to remember—especially when you feel overwhelmed by responsibilities. Write about your pleasures, guilty or otherwise, and how they enhance your life. If you treat yourself to the same thing every day, like a morning Starbucks latte, does it still feel special? Or has it become more of a habit? Maybe you need to expand your definition of the word present. Sometimes moments of peaceful solitude, like taking a walk to the park during your lunch break or soaking in a hot bath before bed, can be just enough.

The Dublin City Council announced today that British author Jim Crace has won the 2015 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. Crace, who won for his novel Harvest (Doubleday, 2013), will receive €100,000 (approximately $113,000). The annual award, which is one of the world’s largest prizes for a single book, is given for a novel written in English and published in the previous year.

Now in its twentieth year, the IMPAC award only accepts nominations from libraries. Crace’s novel was chosen from 142 titles that were nominated by libraries in 114 cities in thirty-nine countries. The Swiss library Universitätsbibliothek Bern and the Tallahasee, Florida–based­ LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library both nominated Crace’s novel. Valentine Cunningham, Christine Dwyer Hickey, Daniel Hahn, Kate Pullinger, Jordi Soler, and Eugene R. Sullivan judged.

“It has been an overwhelming surprise and a delight to discover that my latest book has won the IMPAC Dublin award,” said Crace. “Harvest proved to be a generous novel in the writing. Readers and critics were more than generous in their responses. And now, thanks to the further generosity of a whole wide-world network of book-loving strangers, Harvest has struck lucky again—it will be included in the distinguished and twenty-year-long list of fiction honored by this truly international and discriminating award. No writer could hope for more than that.”

The shortlisted novels for the prize were Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; Lulu Norman’s translation from the French of Mahi Binebine’s Horses of God; The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan; Burial Rites by Hannah Kent; Sue Branford’s translation from the Portuguese of Bernardo Kucinski’s K; Geoffrey Strachan’s translation from the French of Andreï Makine’s Brief Loves That Live Forever; TransAtlantic by Colum McCann; Someone by Alice McDermott; and Sparta by Roxana Robinson.

Previous winners of the prize include Juan Gabriel Vásquez for The Sound of Things Falling, Colum McCann for Let the Great World Spin, Per Petterson for Out Stealing Horses, Colm Tóibín for The Master, and Edward P. Jones for The Known World.

Photo: Jim Crace. Credit: Matt Writtle.

You know that weird notion that sometimes surfaces when you meet new people—that feeling that you already know them, but can’t remember why or how? Write a scene for a story about two people who both experience the same déjà vu upon meeting, with a plot driven by their need to figure out how they know each other. Use this opportunity to add an element of magical realism to your story. Perhaps they were married in a past life, or maybe they met in a dream. Once they solve the puzzle, how does this impact their lives going forward? Do they even believe the answer, or do they agree it’s too far-fetched?

"There's only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you've got to be kind." Take to heart Kurt Vonnegut's words, from his 1965 novel, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, or Pearls Before Swine, and spread some kindness through your poetry. Pick someone you admire and write a poem to this person about all the things you want to say to him or her, no matter how personal or embarrassing. Try to avoid focusing on physical appearance or material possessions, and instead celebrate the personality traits or the fond memories you’ve shared. Consider sharing your poem with this person, or at least say some of the lovely things you’ve written to him or her. Kind words have such power; they can lift your spirits, boost your self-esteem, and even change your life—and your poem.

Submissions are currently open for Southern Poetry Review’s Guy Owen Award, given annually for a poem. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in Southern Poetry Review.

Submit three to five poems totaling no more than ten pages with a $20 entry fee, which includes a one-year subscription to Southern Poetry Review, by June 15. Submissions can be made via the online submission system or via postal mail to Department of Languages, Literature, and Philosophy, Armstrong Atlantic State University, 11935 Abercorn Street, Savannah, GA 31419.

Southern Poetry Review staff established the Guy Owen Award in 2002. Recent winners include Traci Rae Letellier for “Outlaw Country,” chosen by the late Claudia Emerson; Janet Smith for “The Children’s Section,” chosen by Arthur Smith; Susan Schmidt for “If They Came Our Way,” chosen by Kathryn Stripling Byer; and Catherine Staples for “Red Rover,” chosen by Carl Dennis. Established in 1958, Southern Poetry Review is published biannually.

Photo: the current issue (Volume 52, Issue 2) of Southern Poetry Review

Submissions are currently open for the inaugural Latin@ Scholarship for the Frost Place’s Conference on Poetry, given to a Latina or Latino poet. The recipient will receive tuition, room, and board—valued at $1,500—to attend the Frost Place’s Conference on Poetry in July in Franconia, New Hampshire.

Poets who self-identify as Latin@, have a strong commitment to the Latin@ community, and are at least 21 years old are eligible to apply. Submit three to five poems of any length with the required entry form by June 15. There is no application fee.

The winner will attend the Frost Place’s annual Conference on Poetry, held from July 12 to July 18 at Robert Frost’s former homestead in Franconia, New Hampshire. The conference features poetry workshops, lectures, craft discussions, readings, and time to write. The 2015 faculty includes Gabriel Fried, Joan Houlihan, John Murillo, Patrick Phillips, and Martha Rhodes.

Poet Javier Zamora, a former attendee of the Conference on Poetry, helped establish the Latin@ scholarship. “My time at the conference was essential in cementing relationships that helped my writing’s early stages,” says Zamora. “Although the faculty is diverse, while at the Frost Place I saw a lack of a Latin@ presence within the attendants….The purpose of this scholarship is to begin to increase our visibility in these spaces. The idea is to create more possibilities for inclusion.”

We have dictionaries and encyclopedias to provide us with official definitions, but sometimes the personal definitions we construct take precedence. These personal definitions may be created from experiences, memories, the opinions of others, or the truths we've come to discover. This week, choose a word you've created your own definition for and write a personal essay in the style of a dictionary entry. Begin with the pronunciation, the part of speech, and origin of the term. Then go on to state the definition and historical significance of the word.  

Every so often, we run into people we recognize but can't quite place. Perhaps you catch sight of a strangely familiar face at your favorite coffee shop, and then later at a diner while visiting family out of town, and are puzzled by the coincidence. Write a story in which two of your characters keep crossing paths, either accidentally or because of particular circumstances. What keeps them from properly introducing themselves? Could they become good friends, or will they become adversaries?  

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