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“He walked warily, stopping often to scan the clouds for clues to an impending downpour...” A recent article in the New York Times explores why the National Weather Service is not able to better predict and track storms like this fall’s Hurricane Matthew, and speaks to a meteorologist and professor of atmospheric sciences about the need for improvement. Write an essay exploring an experience that disrupted plans in your life—perhaps an illness, a breakup, or an unexpected opportunity—that you were not able to predict. How did you respond to the challenge? In retrospect, were there signs or clues of the change to your forecast?

In Julio Cortazar’s short story, “Graffiti,” two graffiti artists develop a relationship admiring each other’s work and create a dialogue through their art like love letters. This week, think of a recent encounter you had with someone you admire. Then, write a short story where you reimagine that experience from the perspective of the other person. What might be noticed about the interaction that is different from what you interpreted? Will the feelings expressed be mutual?

Paul Beatty has been awarded the 2016 Man Booker Prize for Fiction for his novel The Sellout (Oneworld), a satirical look at race in America. Beatty will receive £50,000 (approximately $61,000).

Beatty, fifty-four, is the first American author to win the prize. Of his winning book, 2016 chair of judges Amanda Foreman said, “The Sellout is a novel for our times. A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humor disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.” 

The Sellout was selected from a shortlist of finalists that included Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (Hamish Hamilton), Graeme Macrae Burnet’s His Bloody Project (Contraband), Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen (Jonathan Cape), David Szalay’s All That Man Is (Jonathan Cape), and Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing (Granta Books). Each finalist receives £2,500 (approximately $3,050). 

“I can’t tell you how long this journey has been,” Beatty said in his acceptance speech, at the Man Booker awards ceremony this evening in London. “Writing has given me a life.” 

In addition to its Booker win, The Sellout received the 2015 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

This is the third year that the Man Booker Prize, established in 1969, has been open to any novel written in English and published in Britain, after having previously been given only to writers from the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. Previous winners include Margaret Atwood, Peter Carey, and Marlon James. 

(Photo: Paul Beatty, Credit: Alex Welsh)

Edward Gorey wrote and illustrated more than one hundred books, including several alphabet-driven works such as The Gashlycrumb Tinies (“A is for Amy who fell down the stairs”), The Glorious Nosebleed (“She wandered among the trees Aimlessly”), and The Just Dessert (“Apologize”). In the spirit of Gorey’s dark humor unexpectedly combined with a children’s alphabet primer, write a macabre poem similarly derived from the first ten letters of the alphabet, or any ten letters of your choosing.

Joy Ladin is the author of seven books of poetry, including Impersonation (Sheep Meadow, 2009) and Transmigration (Sheep Meadow, 2015), which were both Lambda Literary Award finalists. Her memoir of gender transition, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has been recognized with a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship, among other honors. She holds the Gottesman Chair in English at Yeshiva University in New York. This past July, Ladin led a P&W–supported poetry workshop as part of the Lambda Literary Foundation's annual Writers Retreat in Los Angeles. Here, she blogs about the importance of this retreat for emerging LGBTQ writers.

Joy Ladin

Outside of MFA programs and writing conferences, it’s pretty queer to be a poet in most places in the United States. I learned that when, during my first job after college, a fellow office worker backed away from me when I told her that I was a poet.

But to many LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise queer) poets, the poetry world seems just as “straight” as the non-literary world, just as invested in norms that focus attention paid on the work and lives of heterosexual white people (particularly men) and make it hard for LGBTQ people and people of color to feel seen, valued, or understood.

That's why the Lambda Literary Foundation’s annual Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices (supported in part by a grant from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program) is so important. For many of the LGBTQ writers who attend, the retreat is a weeklong oasis in which they can find the understanding, encouragement, and recognition that all writers need to survive and thrive. As Nico Amador, a poetry fellow, said, “In so many workshops queer and trans writers have to spend more time than we’d like on…educating our straight or non-trans peers enough so that they can engage with a reading of our work that honors our intentions and points of view. At Lambda, it was enlivening to be able to sit at a table with others who could move seamlessly through the varied thematic and poetic discussion in the workshop—applying a queer reading when relevant and leaving it out when it wasn’t. The space this created allowed us to take seriously the goals of each person's work, to offer a diversity of thought, and pose questions that could [help] each of us to grow in our work as poets.”

This past summer, for the first time, I learned firsthand what the writers retreat offers LGBTQ writers, when I led the poetry workshop. After decades of writing and teaching in classrooms where my transgender identity is treated as an awkward subject to avoid, I found myself in a place where my experience as a trans writer was valued. Not that I felt surrounded by “writers like me”: Even within the poetry workshop, we were all very different in our writing concerns, styles, backgrounds, and the complex constellations of our identities. At the retreat, we didn't have to minimize or hide our differences; we could share and celebrate them as sources of poetry, insight, humanity.

But as Julia Tranchina, another poetry fellow wrote: “The best part of the retreat was working on poetry. Breathing, biting, imbibing poetry with other poets.” Those are feelings every poet I've ever met can understand.

Lambda Retreat Poetry Cohort

Photos: (top) Joy Ladin. Photo credit: Lisa Ross. (bottom) Joy Ladin and poetry cohort. Photo credit: Lambda Literary.

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

The end of October is fast approaching, and with it comes not only Halloween but also a number of contest deadlines. Today we’re rounding up poetry contests with October 31 deadlines that offer at least $1,000 and publication. Whether you have a single poem, a chapbook-length collection, or a full-length manuscript ready to submit, don’t let these passing deadlines haunt you.

If you’re looking for a contest for a single poem, submit to the James Hearst Poetry Prize, which includes $1,000 and publication in the Spring 2017 issue of the North American Review. Award-winning poet Major Jackson will judge. Submit up to five poems along with a $20 application fee, which includes a subscription to the North American Review.

Ready those chapbook manuscripts and submit to the Tupelo Press Sunken Garden Chapbook Poetry Prize, which includes $1,000 and publication by Tupelo Press. The winner will also give a reading at the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival in Connecticut. Poet Maggie Smith will judge. Submit a manuscript of 20 to 36 pages with a $25 entry fee.

Kentucky-based Finishing Line Press hosts an annual open chapbook prize of $1,000 and publication. Submit a manuscript of up to 30 pages and a $15 entry fee.

Looking to publish a full-length book? Elixir Press sponsors an annual prize of $2,000 and publication for a poetry collection. A second-place prize of $1,000 and publication is also awarded. Jane Satterfield will judge. Submit a manuscript of at least 48 pages with a $30 application fee.

The Vassar Miller Prize awards $1,000 and publication by University of North Texas Press annually for a poetry collection. A. E. Stallings will judge. Submit a manuscript of 50 to 80 pages with a $25 entry fee.

Visit the prize websites for complete application guidelines. For more contests with upcoming deadlines, visit the Grants & Awards Database, and check out the Submission Calendar.

“Self of steam,” “from the gecko,” and “lack-toes intolerant” are examples of the verbal errors that became points of inspiration for editor and writer Daniel Menaker, whose book collaboration with cartoonist Roz Chast, The African Svelte: Ingenious Misspellings That Make Surprising Sense (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016), is featured in News and Trends in the November/December issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Keep your eyes peeled for a verbal error in signs or newspapers, or think back to one you remember encountering in the past—perhaps even song lyrics you once misheard. Write a short essay inspired by the poetry of the mistake noting the memories, images, and idiosyncrasies that allow the error to “make surprising sense” to you.

Fanny Longfellow, wife of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, tragically perished in 1861 when her dress caught on fire. The combination of long dresses, flammable materials, oil lamps and the open flames of fireplaces and candles—in addition to the chemicals and toxic materials used in the manufacturing of many types of clothing—increased the frequency of fashion-related ailments and accidents in the nineteenth century. Write a spooky short story in which a character’s downfall is brought about by her wardrobe choices. Read about lead makeup, toxic socks, hatters poisoned by mercury, and arsenic dyes in this National Geographic piece on “Killer Clothing” for further inspiration. 

Last week, in a surprising decision, Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Dylan is the first musician to win the award and in its citation the Swedish Academy, which administers the prize, credited Dylan with “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.” Whether you agree with the decision or not, examine some of Dylan’s lyrics. Then, write a poem that begins with a line you find compelling. 

Natalia Mount is a dynamic cultural producer with extensive experience in arts leadership, innovative programming, development and communications. Mount has worked at nationally significant institutions such as MoMA PS1 and Clocktower Productions, both in New York City. Currently, Mount is the executive director of Pro Arts in Oakland.

Pro Arts Gallery Hybrid Series Once a month, poets, writers, visual artists, and musicians come together at Pro Arts Gallery in downtown Oakland and collaborate on a cross-genre presentation of new work entitled the Hybrid Series. To date, Pro Arts has hosted poets and writers Sara Mumolo, Emily Hunt, Harmony Holiday, Norma Cole, Gillian Olivia Blythe Hamel, Candace Eros Díaz, and Louise Mathias.

Conceived and curated with the aim to serve as a departure from the more conventional mode of presentation of material, the Hybrid Series swaps the standard practice of same-genre groupings—such as the poetry reading, artist talk, music performance or lecture—for that of a community gathering, a format that is open, fluid, and accessible to diverse audiences. The main idea of the Hybrid Series is to actually connect ideas, text, image, and sound. We believe that the hybridization across life-spheres and aesthetic experiences yields positivity and promotes cultural symbiosis and plurality across genres, elevating the artist above the hierarchies inherent in the myopic nature of academically grounded work. Along with our other programs, the Hybrid Series at Pro Arts is designed to expand the possibilities for experimentation and innovation in contemporary art. After only four installments of this series so far, we are convinced that the platform we have created to accommodate the series can and will continue to foster new collaborations among artists. 

To give a taste of what you might expect should you attend, I will summarize here our first Hybrid Series event that took place on March 12, 2016. We opened the night with an artist talk by Adia Millett who discussed her practice as it related to her solo exhibition entitled Re-Connect (installed at Pro Arts at the time). Topics that prompted larger conversation with the audience revolved around questions related to feminist aesthetics, abstraction, and community identity. Next, Elisabeth Nicula presented her new work entitled Sense Memories, an exploration into image and experience. For Sense Memories, Nicula searched through her hard drive and cell phone for snapshots that she had forgotten, treating her digital cache as a source of found objects that are discrete moments from her life, remembered by machinery. Human memories are imperfect, exaggerated, or conflated, but exist in the fullness of an inner life.

SL Morse performed “The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus”—a conceptual rendering of the seminal work translated into Morse code. SL Morse performs modernist literature through Morse code translations from text to musical notation for a drum kit. “The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus” followed the arc of the essay, where Sisyphus is condemned to ceaseless, pointless labor, has a temporary reprieve, then returns to pushing a heavy rock up a hill that always falls down, finally reconciling himself to his fate that absurd labor is preferable to nonexistence.

Last, audiences enjoyed a reading by Oakland-based poet Sara Mumolo, who read from her collection of poems, Mortar (Omnidawn, 2013). In accompaniment to her reading, Sara chose to screen various repetitive yet entertaining videos, found on the internet and YouTube. This gesture both complemented her words and provided another access point to her ideas. By straddling both worlds (text and moving image), Sara was able to break away from the mold of a traditional format for poetry reading—shifting her perspective, the perspective of the audience, and the notion of what poetry reading might entail.

Photo: Pro Arts Gallery Hybrid Series.  Photo credit: Pro Arts.

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

In a surprising decision out of Stockholm this morning, singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for, in the words of the Swedish Academy, which administers the prize, “having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Dylan, 75, is the first musician to win the award, and the first American to win since novelist Toni Morrison, in 1993. The decision comes as something of a shock to the literary world: Although Dylan has been included in prize predictions for the past few years—along with perennial favorites Don DeLillo, Haruki Murakami, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, and the poet Adonis—his chances were considered outside at best, as, some argue, his work misses the mark in the categories that the prize traditionally honors—poetry, novels, and short stories.

In the wake of the announcement, the literary Internet is grappling with this very question. At Literary Hub, Lisa Levy considers Dylan's artistic identity and the “Poet vs. Songwriter vs. Showman” debate. At the Guardian, meanwhile, Richard Williams defends the Academy’s decision, extolling the many reasons why Bob Dylan deserves the Nobel.

Naturally, many writers also took to Twitter as the announcement came in. Salman Rushdie tweeted: “From Orpheus to Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.” Mary Karr also showed support of the decision:

Others were not so supportive.

The Washington Post rounds up more writers’ responses to the Nobel decision.

Dylan, who was born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1941, has written and recorded dozens of albums “revolving around topics like the social conditions of man, religion, politics and love,” the Academy writes. “The lyrics have continuously been published in new editions, under the title ‘Lyrics.’” In addition to his records, Dylan has also produced experimental work like Tarantula, a 1971 collection of prose poetry, and the 1973 compliation Writings and Drawings. The first volume of his autobiography, Chronicles, was published in 2004.

The Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded since 1901 to writers who have produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.” In that time, 114 writers have received the award. (Only 14 have been women. This year, every Nobel Prize, across all disciplines, went to men.) Belarussian journalist Svetlana Alexievich won last year’s prize; French novelist Patrick Modiano won in 2014; and Canadian short story writer Alice Munro won in 2013. The annual prize carries with it a purse of 8 million Swedish kronor, or approximately $900,000.

In announcing the prize this morning, Sara Danius, a literary scholar and the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, called Dylan “a great poet in the English-speaking tradition,” comparing him to Homer and Sappho. When asked if the decision to award the prize to a musician meant an expansion of the definition of literature, Danius responded, “The times they are a-changing, perhaps.”

What do you think? Weigh in with a comment below, or send us a tweet @poetswritersinc.

As creative nonfiction writers, we face the difficult task of trying to capture people we know, often intimately, as characters. Here’s a prompt to help. Pick someone in a piece you’ve been working on. Choose the sense memory that best personifies your relationship with that person, the one moment or event that most purely embodies your particular dynamic. Write it as a scene. From that scene (my mom teaching me to bake bread as a little girl), list the qualities (capable, patient, encouraging) that person embodied and the emotions you felt (reverent, curious, happy). Every time you write a scene with this person, think about how the actions and dialogue exemplify the qualities and emotions on your list. Or if it is a scene in which this person behaves in a surprising way, focus on how the qualities and emotions in that scene are the opposite of your expectations.

This week’s creative nonfiction prompt comes from Sarah Tomlinson, author of the father-daughter memoir, Good Girl (Gallery Books, 2015). Read Tomlinson’s installment of Writers Recommend for more inspiration.

For the first time in the United States, bees—seven species that are native to Hawaii—have been placed under protection on the endangered-species list. Write a short story in which a seemingly commonplace animal species suddenly becomes endangered or extinct. Do your storytelling instincts take you to environmental activism, a futuristic sci-fi universe, or an adventure in the wilderness? Or perhaps, to an apartment scene in which this news seems, for the time being, to have no bearing on the characters?

Craig Czury has spent three decades conducting poetry, life-writing, and writing as healing workshops in schools, universities, community centers, juvenile detention centers, homeless shelters, and mental hospitals. Czury is a lecturer at Albright University, an editor, publisher, tireless arts advocate, and the author of over twenty books of poetry, most recently, Thumb Notes Almanac: Hitchhiking the Marcellus Shale (FootHills Publishing, 2016), a poetry documentary woven from his hitchhiking interviews and observations taken while hitchhiking through the heart of "fracking" in his home region of Northeastern Pennsylvania. He is the cohost and artistic director of the Old School Poetry Series at the Springville Schoolhouse Art Studios, where he lives, works, and plays bocce.

By Craig Czury


Because I will never know where it is you find
your courage to speak without fear of punishment
   fear of ridicule  or invasion

Because I am always a stranger  new in town
                        new in school  new among best friends

But when we speak to each other from that place
inside ourselves where we're not afraid
      even if it's the kitchen where we don't sleep at night
our words don't turn back on us like a cracked mirror
in the world that wears masks


Because when your voice sifts through me
I need to talk with you from a familiar table
               table set by the silenced  not allowed voices

so we can sit  talk and find out where we are

I’ve been a road dog for poetry ever since I was awarded the First Book Award from the Montana Arts Council in 1980. Invitations to conduct poetry writing workshops in schools began coming in and I found out that I was really good at stepping into a classroom and exciting students with language, getting them to write their own poems. For the next twenty-five years I made my living as an itinerant poet in schools, prisons, homeless shelters, mental hospitals, and community centers through various state arts councils and arts foundations, until No Child Left Behind knocked us all out of the water. In 2005 I went back to school to get an MFA in creative writing at Wilkes University and began teaching as an adjunct professor at Albright College, a small private school in Pennsylvania—not at all the same game as stepping into a room, making it spontaneously combust with poetry, and driving off to my next unknown excitement.

With the publication of my new book, Thumb Notes Almanac: Hitchhiking the Marcelus Shale, I took a leave of absence from my college teaching, bought a ’99 Volvo station wagon to bunk in, and, thanks to my publisher Michael Czarnecki of FootHills Publishing for introducing me to Poets & Writers, and my agent Kimberly Crafton, I set up a reading series throughout upstate New York. Within six months, I rolled into Cuba, Peru, Rome, Macedon, Utica, Bath, Endicott—global names of towns fitting the global consciousness of poetry. The salary I earned from my P&W–sponsored workshops and readings, afforded me airfare to Italy for a reading tour in May and June, where Thumb Notes Almanac had been translated and published into Italian. And when I returned, P&W kept me afloat to not only work on my next book of poems, but to encourage others, in out-of-the-way communities, to explore and take more seriously their own writing.

In the words of poet Carol Elaine Deys at Books Etc. in Macedon:

Expansive, eternal and occasionally soundless
in the world of choice - the every day world -
the world which requires us to sustain.
We write.
We determine as whole and well on Planet Earth.
We sustain, because we must.
The Voice of the Poet remains intact despite all
rumors to the contrary -
and we shall be blessed because of it.

Photos: Craig Czury.  Photo credit: Kimberly Glemboski

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York  is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from Friends of Poets & Writers.

Taking inspiration from the “Dear President” feature in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, in which fifty American poets and writers were asked to write several sentences addressing the next president, write a short poem of address that starts with the words, “Dear President.” Touch upon one or two of the most important issues to you about contemporary society and/or government. Share any advice, wisdom, wishes, or requests.

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