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This week, imagine you have been deprived of one of your senses for a year, and then suddenly regained it. What specific sensations might you have missed and be eager to experience again? Write a poem about the longing and appreciation for this sense, focusing on creating fresh and unexpected phrases and descriptions. For example, if you choose the sense of taste, how might you express the sweetness of something without using the word sweet?

This blog features a double interview with international poets Dominic Berry and Barbara Erochina, both recently featured in the 2015 Capturing Fire Queer Spoken Word Summit and Slam. Berry has performed poetry on BBC TV’s Rhyme Rocket and UK Channel 4′s My Daughter the Teenage Nudist. Winner of New York City’s Nuyorican Poetry Cafe Slam and Manchester Literature Festival’s Superheroes of Slam, he is currently touring Britain with the family comedy poetry show When Trolls Try to Eat Your Goldfish. Erochina is a Toronto-based storyteller, facilitator, writer, and performer who examines how untold stories transform our lives and our world. Her experiences as an immigrant queer woman, ex-minister and student of Gestalt psychotherapy focus her work towards feeling, embodiment, identity, and spirituality. She has performed on stages across Canada, and after completing a residency program at the Banff Centre for the Arts, has recently composed her first feature-length show.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Berry: I am a queer, vegan poet from Manchester, U.K. who came to D.C. this summer to perform at a number of poetry readings, including Busboys and Poets, La-Ti-Do, and Regie Cabico's Capturing Fire Queer Spoken Word Summit and Slam. I've been doing this as a self-employed freelancer since 2007 and mostly gig up and down Britain. I've had the occasional mainland Europe booking, but this is only the second time I've been invited to share my stuff in the States (or indeed in any other continent), so I've been hugely excited and happy to have this happen.

 

Erochina: I am most interested in the power of stories to heal. There are so many ways to do this work: Personal anecdotes shared with a public audience, politically charged proclamations made over media channels, or even the private choice to become an active narrator of the stories we tell about our own lives. All of these acts of storytelling are transgressive and healing, and it is this choice for boldness that drives me as an artist and a person. Also, I’m a recreational cat impersonator and a queer lady. That’s important, too.

 

How do you prepare for a reading?
Berry: I prepare for any show by allowing myself to be nervous. I always get nervous, every time, after all these years. Nerves are good! I do not try to deaden them with alcohol. Nerves just mean I want to get it right because it matters to me. Sure, too many nerves can be destructive, but being well prepared and having rehearsed loads keeps nerves to a healthy, helpful level.

Erochina: I adore Dominic’s answer! I am all about welcoming the nervousness and knowing that it is a sign that I care, that I am invested. I also tend to have a fairly intense personality which means in preparation for a big performance, I become hyper-focused and immerse myself in my creative work. Thankfully, I have a wonderful partner who is also a poet, so she understands and supports my process by giving me lots of space and feeding me regular meals. Thanks Tanya!

What are your reading dos?
Berry: Something I personally think is a good thing to do is try to learn your poem. Even if it's not fully in your head and you still need to look at paper or a book, you'll say it so much better for all that practice. Eye contact and experimenting with where you will pause is integral—pauses are everything.

Erochina: My main do is to connect with the audience. In Gestalt psychotherapy which I have studied formally, we call this connection, contact. For me, it is really about opening myself up to my audience, and to all the possibilities of our interaction. I like to ask myself: What is the gift I am offering this audience today?

What’s in the works for you?
Berry: Later this summer I will be performing a full run of my video game poems called Up Your Game: The Downfall of a Noob at Scotland's Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I have done so for the past two years (with different collections) and it's a fantastic way to spend a month. If you're in Scotland this August, come check me out!

Erochina: Capturing Fire was an amazing and unique opportunity to lead a workshop of my first show, Wrestling God and Girls. The show traces my younger years and tells the story of what happens when evangelical Christianity is met with lesbian sexual awakening. Both hilarity and emotional trauma ensue. I am spending the summer finalizing the rewrites and rehearsing before doing a run of it in the fall in Toronto. The plan is to take it on tour sometime in late winter. I plan to have many dates in the U.S. and hope to bring it back to Washington, D.C. in its final manifestation. Everyone is welcome to check out my Instagram account @barbaraerochina to follow along.

Photo: Dominic Berry. Photo Credit: Ian Wallis Photography

Photo: Barbara Erochina. Photo Credit: Tanya Neumayer

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Washington, D.C. 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.

What happens when you tell the story of a real event from another person’s point of view? Think of a situation in which you disagreed with someone—it could be a slight difference in taste or a fight with far-reaching consequences—and recount the opposing opinions each of you expressed. In the first-person voice, write an essay about the disagreement from the other person’s perspective. Take into consideration how the words you uttered during the event could be interpreted differently by the other person.

This week, jot down a list of five actions you perform on a daily basis—maybe it's tying your shoes, getting off at a certain bus stop, buying a cup of coffee, or brushing your teeth. Choose one of these mundane moments and write a scene in which a character is in the middle of performing this everyday task. Then bring in an element of the fantastic: Does an extraterrestrial or a doppelgänger appear? Is the character suddenly transported into the past or future? Explore the possibilities of what can occur when the ordinary collides with the extraordinary.

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."

See more highlights in these photos and videos from the Los Angeles Connecting Cultures 2015 event.

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.

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