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Readings & Workshops Blog

Sarah Rafael García is the current artist-in-residence at the Grand Central Art Center in Santa Ana, California. As part of her residency, García is creating the LibroMobile, a bookmobile that integrates literature, visual exhibits, year-round creative workshops, and live readings. In addition, García is the author of Las Niñas: A Collection of Childhood Memories (Floricanto Press, 2008), coeditor of the anthology pariahs, writing from outside the margins, founder of the reading and writing youth empowerment program Barrio Writers, and a 2016 Macondista. Below, she blogs about the mission of LibroMobile, as well as recent and upcoming P&W–supported events. 

Sarah Rafael GarciaLibroMobile, a project of Red Salmon Arts in Santa Ana, California, is a bookmobile designed to cultivate diversity by offering affordable books by writers of color; bilingual and Spanish books for children, youth, and adults; as well as books that speak to culture and social justice issues relevant to the local community. LibroMobile also includes a community board to post local resources and a traveling Little Free Library—a book exchange for those who cannot afford to buy a book off the bookmobile. 

The design of the LibroMobile is reminiscent of the iconic paletero carts or fruit vendors that are part of Downtown Santa Ana. LibroMobile’s literary events and creative writing workshops provide Santa Ana residents of all ages opportunities to meet award-winning writers of color, and to write, revise, and submit their own work for possible publication.

This past month, with the help of Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program, LibroMobile launched its inaugural exhibit and literary event, Macondistas en SanTana, featuring Macondo Writers’ Workshop attendees (known as Macondistas) Reyna Grande and Emmy Pérez. Pérez led a free workshop for participants sixteen years old and older and was later joined by Grande, where both performed alongside the AntenaMóvil, a literary project whose designers helped in the conceptualization of the LibroMobile.

Emmy Perez WorkshopThe LibroMobile resides at Grand Central Art Center (GCAC) and travels throughout Santa Ana visiting a variety of communities, including Alta Baja Market at Calle Cuatro and the monthly Artwalk in the Artist’s Village, doing its work to build community and promote literacy. Upcoming events include: A Bilingual Children’s Reading Hour with authors René Colato Laínez and Amy Costales on September 24, and Poetry of Resistance: A Tribute to Francisco X. Alarcón, a free P&W–supported workshop and reading with Javier Pinzón and Odilia Galván Rodríguez on October 27.

LibroMobile is indebted to Poets & Writers, Red Salmon Arts, the GCAC, and the City of Santa Ana’s Investing in the Artist Grant Opportunity for empowering this project to provide diverse books and host marginalized literary voices that can effectively support, inspire, and challenge our Santa Ana residents to read, write, and build community.

For more information about LibroMobile and upcoming events, visit the Facebook page and website.

Photo 1: Sarah Rafael Garcia. Photo 2: Workshop participants.

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.

Joy Leonard, teaching artist and program director at New Settlement's Program for Girls & Young Women serves adolescent girls in the Southwest Bronx with arts and leadership development classes after school, on weekends, during school breaks, and in the summer. Participants in the program are young women of color, 99 percent from low-income families, often attending underperforming schools. The program strives to connect young women with established artists and educators, who will introduce them to relevant, high-quality materials and guide their development as artists, while also supporting their engagement with social justice issues. In her other life, Leonard is a mother of two boys, an actor, director, and executive producer of the Synaesthetic Theatre Collective.

This spring we were fortunate enough to find (with the help of the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers, Kamilah Aisha Moon: author, poet, and gifted teacher. Kamilah led a seven-session workshop series titled Drop the Mic for program participants ages fourteen to twenty. Kamilah began each session with a group reading of two or three selections of poetry, linked by themes or similar poetic devices, and then led the group in a conversation about what they noticed, what resonated with them, and how language was used. She would then offer the group a writing prompt for the evening, related to the readings and conversation.

Participants wrote about their names, their perceptions, and evoked places of memory. Inspired by Langston Hughes’s “Mother to Son” and Gwendolyn Brooks’s “We Real Cool,” they experimented with writing from the perspective of someone else, in a voice not their own. Kamilah selected relevant pieces from a wide range of poets, with a heavy concentration of women and people of color, but she also kept the young women tuned in with critical discussions of motifs in popular songs, like Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” and encouraged them to relate to works that moved them. In response to Nina Simone’s “Blackbird,” one young poet wrote:

Why you wanna fly, Blackbird? You ain’t ever gonna fly.

Flying is for the Good, never for the ‘hood.

Us, suspended in the air – you, paying your fare. Ha!

So why you wanna fly, Blackbird? You ain’t gonna make it.

All that you can do is get on a plane, so please, face it.

Birds of a feather flock together. You the one getting blown away in the bad weather. Ha!

Kamilah effectively drew them into expressing opinions and considering why poets had chosen the language, rhythms, and images used in each piece. While the group was often loud, raucous, and challenging to channel in conversation—you know, teenagers—once Kamilah explained the prompt for each evening, they settled down to commit themselves to paper with a seriousness and focus that sometimes surprised the program staff. Everyone wanted Kamilah to read their work and provide feedback. They wrote funny, daring, surprising pieces, and over the course of the workshop it was clear they felt comfortable enough to risk expressing themselves in new ways.

The Program for Girls & Young Women is indebted to Poets & Writers, and Bonnie Rose Marcus, in particular, for enabling us to work with Kamilah Aisha Moon, a poet and teacher with the experience and compassionate personality to effectively support, inspire, and challenge our young poets.

For more on the Program for Girls & Young Women, visit their Facebook page. For samples and video clips of the young poets performing work created in the workshop, visit the Drop the Mic 2016 website.

Photo (top): Joy Leonard. Photo credit: Chris Nichols. Photo collage (bottom): Kamilah Aisha Moon and participants. Photo credit: Kamilah Aisha Moon, Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Oliver Baez Bendorf is the author of The Spectral Wilderness (Kent State University Press, 2015) and cofounder of the Mount Pleasant Poetry Project. His writing and comics have been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Blackbird, diode, Indiana Review, Ninth Letter, Troubling the Line: Trans and Genderqueer Poetry and Poetics, and elsewhere, and he holds an MFA and an MA in Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has taught recent workshops on poetry-comics, visual thinking, watercolor comics, and cartonera books, at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors, 826DC, Rare Book School, the Allied Media Conference, BloomBars, and Mount Holyoke College.

What is your writing critique philosophy?
The closest thing to critique in my workshops is that we listen and look at each other’s work together with close and careful attention. I believe it’s one of the most powerful things we can give one another, especially in these times when focused attention is scarce. So I facilitate that for my students and have come to find that my workshops aren’t complete without enough time built in for this. Drafting dots have become one of my most used supplies for this reason. They are great for sticking drafts up on the wall. I recently led a Poetry Comics Crash Course in my living room and everyone made a single-panel comic, a strip, and a page over the course of the day. After each sprint we hung up everyone’s work on the wall and looked at it, talking about each piece and what we noticed.

The other head of the friendly monster is asking a good question, the kind that comes from looking closely at a piece, noticing what you notice and communicating that. My philosophy is that there is no shortage of critique from our own heads and from other people, and there are plenty of other venues through which writers and artists can seek that kind of critique. So my workshops are less about that. I aim to create the conditions for people to take creative risks, trust their own impulses and intuition, and for us to celebrate those risks together. This, as with almost everything I know about teaching, comes to me from the influence of my own teacher, Lynda Barry, who has said that people always ask her, “How does the good work happen if you don’t tell people what to fix?” and what she says is that she has found that the good work happens anyway. I have found the same. The things that people have written and drawn in my workshops, in such a short amount of time, blow me away.

How does teaching inform your writing and vice versa?
Prepping to teach a workshop involves me taking inventory of what it is that I know and find useful, and how to break that down into communicable and repeatable steps. So it’s pushed me into a level of reflection and metacognition on my own process that is both challenging and incredibly useful. When I get stuck, I try to pay attention to what tools and resources I’ve accumulated for moving through stuckness, so that I can document and share those not only with my students but with my future stuck self. This feedback loop has been very useful for my own creative work. I am inspired by the creativity of my students and the directions they take the exercises—in ways I couldn’t have dreamed of.

What makes your workshops unique?
Almost all of my workshops these days combine writing and drawing. So they’re very interdisciplinary, on purpose. I gear them to both the practicing/published and the beginning/returning. No drawing experience is necessary, and I build in a quick tour through getting over a fear of drawing. I use a lot of worksheets. Often we make a kind of zine or collaborative book together.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
A timer. I learned almost everything I know about teaching from my own teacher Lynda Barry, including the value of setting a timer during a free-write or other exercise, and not letting it go too long. Maybe it is counterintuitive, but I have found that it helps minimize dread, including for myself. If people know that there is a timer running, there’s no time to delay, panic, or even erase—all ways that we talk ourselves out of the good stuff, the risky or weird stuff we want to write and draw. I use a lot of prompts and exercises designed to get ideas down on the page and dig deep into them from new angles. I don’t tear anyone’s work apart.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for special groups (i.e. teens, elders, veterans)?
I’m invested in the imaginations of folks on the margins. Teaching writing and art is a way to prioritize the creativity and world-building of people who are routinely left out of decisions about what they need. For participants, a workshop geared toward a particular group, shared experience, or identity (such as a watercolor comics workshop I recently taught at the Queens Center for Gay Seniors) opens up possibilities by changing the audience and the gaze receiving their work in the workshop setting. It means a poem doesn’t need to be an explainer, it can just be a poem.

For more photos of workshops and comics by Oliver Baez Bendorf, click here.

Photos: (top) Participants of the Poetry Comics Crash Course from August 2016. (middle) Poetry comics drafting tools. (bottom) Bendorf teaching the Poetry Comics Crash Course 2016. Photo credit: Oliver Baez Bendorf.

Support for Readings & Workshops events in DC 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.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers. This program is supported by public funds from the New York City Council, in partnership with the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and Department for the Aging.

Caridad De La Luz is considered one of America's leading spoken word poets known as “La Bruja.” She was awarded Comité Noviembre’s Puerto Rican Women Legacy Award in 2014, the Edgar Allan Poe Award for excellence in writing from the Bronx Historical Society in 2013, and honored as a Bronx Living Legend by the Bronx Music Heritage Center. She was presented with a Citation of Merit from the Bronx borough president and named “Top 20 Puerto Rican Women Everyone Should Know.” The New York Times called her "a juggernaut" and she is best known for her captivating performance on the HBO series Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry.

On August 19, 2016, I performed as host and master of ceremonies for Bronx Fashion Week for the third time since it began. What was unique about this summer fashion show was that it celebrated young fashionistas, designers, and child models ranging from three years of age to teenagers. The performance on the runway went seamlessly, pun intended, and proud parents sat in the audience beaming with pride. It took place in the center of the Mall at Bay Plaza in the Bronx, allowing shoppers unaware of the event to come and look on from all levels of the mall. They cheered and watched excitedly. It was a lovely sight and for most of the models, it was a first time experience.

I performed a poem I wrote called “The Bronx,” an ode to the borough I love so dearly. Born and raised, I will always reside here. It felt so empowering to share that poem to close the event, leaving the audience with words to ponder and pride to celebrate. The audience walked away knowing that after a lovely event held in our very own community, great events will continue to take place, but what they don’t know is that this event was made possible by Poets & Writers.

Poets & Writers has funded performances organized by community producers that I’ve been hired to host. With their openness to fund and support me, I have been able to incorporate elements of poetry and spoken word onto the platform of the runway in the fashion world where poetry is rarely, if ever, heard.

So many literary events have taken place over my twenty-year career with the support of Poets & Writers, helping me to reach my community and expand their awareness of what being a contemporary poet and writer really means. My mission is to inspire people to express themselves more openly and poetically, and thankfully, Poets & Writers has been instrumental in that mission.

Poetry has always been a platform where beautiful things emerge, so now it can be said that poetry is in fashion—even on the runway.

Photos: (top) Caridad De La Luz takes the stage. (bottom) Young models walk the runway. Photo credit: Juan Carlos Guevara Peek-A-Pose Studio.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Poets & Writers' sixth annual Los Angeles Connecting Cultures Reading took place on June 30, 2016, before a packed house at Beyond Baroque Literary/Arts Center. Ten writers representing P&W–supported organizations Beyond Baroque, the Los Angeles Poet Society, Mixed Remixed Festival, QueerWise, and the Roots and Wings Project came together to celebrate the diversity of the SoCal literary community and Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops program. Readings & Workshops (West) program associate Brandi Spaethe blogs about this lively annual event.

Connecting Cultures Readers

This past June, Connecting Cultures marked its sixth year celebrating the Los Angeles literary scene with a diverse group of voices and work. It feels like each year grows in power—with these organizations continuing to cultivate and support writing that’s unique, emerging, and all-around stunning. At the reception before the reading, I witnessed, and gladly participated in, rounds of hugging, handshaking, and wide smiles. We come to these spaces to let ourselves share what makes us human and this reading was no exception.

If only we could replace traffic citations
with love tickets, demanding
that one be more affectionate with their children.
If only there was a love meter you had to feed
every hour, or a
love-station where
the trains are never on time
but nobody cares because they're
all listening to
their love-pods or
updating their status on Lovebook.

Armine Iknadossian, representing literary organization and host for the event, Beyond Baroque, opened the night with the above lines from her poem “United States of Love” from her collection United States of Love and Other Poems. Beyond Baroque serves the Venice and larger West Los Angeles community through a long-standing free workshop series and a generous list of events and readings throughout the year.

The ever-elegant Dorothy Randall Gray brought a walking stick she had rescued and read a poem inspired by it—a kind of found art ekphrastic piece. She represented the Los Angeles Poet Society, an organization a few years old and dedicated to bringing people in the literary community together. The outreach and pure positive energy that project directors Jessica Wilson-Cardenas and Juan Cardenas give to the community is what keeps this organization strong.

Jackson Bliss, first runner-up for the Poets & Writers' 2013 California Writer's Exchange Award in fiction, represented the Mixed Remixed Festival by bowling us over with his moving words: “Siddhartha watched the silent miracle of correspondence unfolding before his eyes and wondered how many countries the postman carried in his hands today, how many miles his envelopes had traveled to inhabit aluminum boxes, where one day they would hibernate forever inside old shoeboxes, spongy minds, and expansive landfills. It seemed like such a waste of language.” The Mixed Remixed Festival is the nation's premiere cultural arts festival celebrating stories of the Mixed experience, multiracial and multicultural families and individuals, through films, books, and performance.

Laura Davila

There isn’t enough room in a small blog post to give you the power from all the voices in attendance. Like from QueerWise, a group of queer, senior spoken-word performers who brought Randy Gravelle and Jen OConnor to the stage, gifting us with stories of being queer in this world from perspectives reaching far back beyond our time of growing acceptance and celebration of queer lives and identities.

The young writer who closed the night, and who had been at this reading two years earlier representing 826LA, was the Roots and Wings Project’s very own Laura Davila, who delivered a poem responding to the part of the world that sees her blindness as a burden. “How brave you are,” she mimicked the voices she heard around her or “I wonder what it’s like to get up in the morning for you,” as if she was somehow missing something. “People reduce me to some pair of ‘broken eyes’ / as if sight is the only way to experience / the world.” Hardly a dry eye stood in applause with the closing of Davila's poem, which capped a reading where every voice, unique and explorative in its own right, gave us something honest and vulnerable and necessary.

Photo (top): Los Angeles Connecting Cultures group. Front (L-R): Jamie Moore, Patricia Zamorano, Brandi M Spaethe. Back (L-R): Heidi Durrow, Joe Levy, Jackson Bliss, Jesse Bliss, Laura Davila, Jen OConnor, Kalpna Singh-Chitnis, Richard Modiano, Dorothy Randall Gray, Norman Molesko, Jessica Wilson Cardenas. Photo credit: Jamie FitzGerald. Photo (bottom): Laura Davila. Photo credit: Brandi M. Spaethe.

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.

David Campos is a CantoMundo fellow, the author of Furious Dusk (University of Notre Dame Press, 2015), and winner of the 2014 Andrés Montoya Poetry Prize. His poems have appeared in the American Poetry Review, Luna Luna, Prairie Schooner, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, and many others. Campos received an MFA in Creative Writing and Writing for the Performing Arts from the University of California in Riverside in 2013 and his BA from California State University in Fresno in 2010. Currently, he lives in Fresno and teaches English at Fresno City College and College of the Sequoias. As a part of Poets & Writers' Rural Libraries Tour project with California Center for the Book, Campos taught workshops at the Kings County Library, Tracy Branch Library, and Voices College-Bound Language Academies in California's Central Valley.

David Campos I drove down Highway 99 and took the 43, a two-lane highway, watching developments turn into vineyards, orchards, and the expansive agricultural land California’s Central Valley is known for. A tourist might be entranced with the plant life, but I couldn’t help but think of the houses, the sheds, the men, women, and children covered in the ninety-degree heat. The town of fifty-three thousand was quiet when I drove in on a Saturday morning where the Kings County Library in Hanford was still closed. They opened early for the workshop I was to give; I entered the space and prepped, greeting each of the twelve attendees trickling in.

And I knew not a lot of writers trickle into a small town’s library to give workshops and readings. In a town that lacks access to writers, poets, and artists in their area that can mentor, shape, or inspire the future in their medium, my presence was appreciated, and I accepted the responsibility of giving everything I could in the short amount of time we had together.

The Hanford Branch library group that had signed up for the workshop brought it. We worked on creating one single poem based on a tangible object that they held dear. A high schooler, accompanied by her mom and another family member, blew me away with her final draft. So much so that I told her if I was an editor, I’d publish it. I suggested she submit to places. Each one of the participants worked through their drafts diligently and with purpose. I felt honored to have worked with them. 

Then up the 99 I went to visit the Tracy Branch Library to give another workshop. While we drafted a poem, we mostly talked about where to write from, the sources we think could be used and those that they hadn’t thought about.

Lastly, the wonderful group of middle schoolers at Voices Academies engaged in bilingual poetry. Their workshop was focused on names—names given, names earned, names of things they’re associated with. They wrote lists, and then on a large piece of butcher paper, they combined their work in both Spanish and English.

I walked away from each of these sacred learning places thinking about the responsibility we have as artists and writers—at least those with the means to travel—to visit those smaller “markets.” It’s too easy to become complacent in our larger cities, and larger markets, to only read at universities or bookstores. I know I’m guilty of this, but I know the poetic spirit doesn't just exist near the meccas of literature. It lives in Hanford. It lives in Tracy. It lives in the young and bright minds at Voices Academies. The literary landscape of the future needs us. Go there. Find the voices eager and ready to change the world.

Photo: David Campos.

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.

Virginia Bell is the author of the poetry collection, From the Belly (Sibling Rivalry Press 2012). She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for both the Lamar York Prize in Creative Nonfiction, sponsored by the Chattahoochee Review, and the Center for Women Writers’ Creative Nonfiction Contest. Her work is forthcoming in Hypertext Magazine and has appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Cider Press Review, Gargoyle Magazine, Spoon River Poetry Review, Cloudbank, CALYX, Poet Lore, Pebble Lake Review, Wicked Alice, and other journals and anthologies. Bell is a senior editor at RHINO Poetry, and an adjunct professor at Loyola University Chicago and DePaul University. This fall, she is joining the faculty in the Creative Writing Conservatory at the Chicago High School for the Arts. She has a PhD in Comparative Literature and was the recipient of a Ragdale Foundation residency in 2015.

On June 5, 2016 at 1:30 PM, in a meeting room at the Evanston Public Library, poet Nate Marshall asked the thirteen poetry workshop participants to share their favorite words. The answers ranged from the minimalist “tin” to the Portuguese word for tenderness, “ternura,” and the vernacular “thing-a-ma-gig.” Marshall then spoke persuasively about the possibilities of using one’s own vernacular traditions, one’s own “slang,” in the production of a liberating poetic practice.

As the author of Wild Hundreds (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014) and editor of The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Haymarket Books, 2015), Marshall described his own fascination with the word “finna,” as in “I’m finna go to the store,” a word that might translate as “fixing to” or “going to,” but that also carries the connotations of planning, intention, and agency. He then read one of his own poems that includes the word “finna.”

In the ensuing discussion, participants explored the difference between avoiding cliché or tired language on the one hand, and the personal and political energy derived from a contextually powerful deployment of vernacular words and phrases. There was also discussion of the idea that all humans, at any given time and place, practice and invent vernacular language, not just so-called “standard” language; in other words, emerging and changing vernacular traditions are a fundamental expression of human poetic creativity.

After this presentation and discussion, Marshall facilitated the peer critique of participants’ poems. Each participant circulated a poem, read it aloud, and then listened to the constructive feedback. Marshall led the group in a spirit of collaboration, with warmth, enthusiasm, and respect for diverse aesthetic practice, and wise suggestions for revision.

Indeed, RHINO has a long tradition of hosting poetry workshops in the spirit of collaboration. Founded in Evanston, Illinois in 1976 as a grassroots poetry workshop, RHINO began to publish an annual journal in 1978 to support the poetry community in Illinois. Since then, RHINO has become a nationally and internationally recognized journal of literature, publishing poems, flash fiction, and translations by new, emerging, and established writers. As an independent, all volunteer organization, RHINO continues to maintain an active local community presence, primarily through two programs: free monthly workshops led by accomplished poets and RHINO Reads!, a monthly reading series.

Other recent workshop leaders include Keith Leonard on “The Contemporary Ode,” Aricka Foreman on “Facing It: Memory, Melancholia and Waking,” and Cecilia Pinto on “Creating the World in Words: Poetry as Genesis.” Workshops are free and open to the public, and held on or near the fourth Sunday of the month, ten months a year.

Funding from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program has made this program a success! All the workshops are well attended and well received. Several adult participants are “regulars” who return month after month, while others may be attending the first poetry workshop of their lives. RHINO welcomes experienced and novice poets alike. In Dean Young’s terms, we like to encourage “the art of recklessness,” but in a supportive and informative environment. To find out about upcoming workshops and readings, how to host a RHINO reading in your area, how to donate to RHINO, and how to submit to the RHINO Poetry, please visit our website!

Photos: (top) Virginia Bell. (bottom) Nate Marshall with workshop participants.  Photo credit: Virginia Bell

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago 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

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