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Readings & Workshops Blog

Best known for How I Became Hettie Jones (Grove Press, 1990), her memoir of the “beat scene” of the 1950s and 1960s, Hettie Jones is the author of twenty-three books for children and adults, including the award-winning Big Star Fallin’ Mama: Five Women in Black Music (Viking, 1974) and Drive (Hanging Loose Press, 1998) which won the Poetry Society of America's Norma Farber Award. Since 1979, Jones has taught creative writing at various universities, and is now on the faculties of the New School’s Graduate Writing Program and the 92nd Street Y Poetry Center. She was a member of the Literature Panel of the New York State Council on the Arts and subsequently served on the Board of Directors of Cave Canem. Jones was a NYFA Fellow in Nonfiction Literature in 2009, and a 2013-14 recipient of a Civic Engagement Grant from the New School as well as a grant from Poets & Writers for her work with New York City’s Lower East Side Girls Club. Love H, a selection from her forty-year correspondence with the sculptor Helene Dorn, is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Duke University Press. Full Tilt, a collection of new and selected poems, and In Care of Worth Auto Parts, a collection of linked short fiction, are also forthcoming.

There’s a danger, we’ve been warned, in knowing only “the single story.” Given any chance to change—or at least improve—this situation, I’ve jumped at it. But I’m certain I couldn’t have made those leaps without the help—and just as important, the validation—of Poets & Writers.

My first P&W-funded workshop took place in the late eighties at Sing Sing prison. A year later there were others, at the Bedford Hills women’s prison and elsewhere. By then I’d also taught writing in colleges for a decade and knew that a lot of voices were still to be heard. So over the years I’ve traveled, sometimes long distances, not only to prisons but community centers and senior centers and libraries and any other place set aside for a writing workshop. I’ve met all kinds of people and brought out their words.

But I’ve also been lucky enough to come home to the Lower East Side of Manhattan. And now—double luck!—I’ve been able to teach here, in my very own neighborhood, to both make a difference and keep it in view at the Lower Eastside Girls Club Center for Community.

And what a sight I was treated to when I arrived! A brand new building with a planetarium—moon and stars and space! A bakery and a sewing machine room for hands-on skills! A recording studio! A performance space! I had signed on to teach for a semester, but knew I was hooked. And when I discovered that I’d be teaching not girls but their mothers, I was thrilled. A mothers writing group, my first!

We began with poetry because most inexperienced people come to a writing workshop to write there—just as they’d go to woodworking with similar expectations—and it’s best to start short and provide a few relevant examples. But prose works, too (memoirs, personal essays). Such personal writing, as has been mentioned and I agree, should really not be called nonfiction but instead, non-poetry.

This past fall the Mothers Writing Group was into non-poetry. We wrote every Wednesday from 6:00-8:00 PM, in a large, high-ceilinged room on the second floor, with comfortable tables and chairs as well as a big couch where one of us might curl up and be alone with her pen and paper. Writing done, we read our work aloud, offered suggestions, and often were moved, sometimes to tears and always to applause.

Did I mention that, like any good mother, the Girls Club fed us snacks that were worthy of being called dinner?

Our chapbook of last fall’s work is still in preparation, but Poets & Writers will have their copy when it’s hot off the press. By the way, in our group photo below, the Airstream trailer we’re standing in front of is a recording studio where we recorded our first podcast. A trailer on the second floor? It was hoisted in before the roof was on. The Girls Club Center for Community is high-minded!

Photo Top: Hettie Jones. Photo Credit: Colleen McKay

Photo Bottom: Hettie Jones, WGRL station managers Kiya Vega-Hutchens and Odetta Hartman, and the Mothers Writing Group. Photo Credit: Amelia Holowaty Krales

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Caitlin Rother is the New York Times best-selling author and coauthor of ten booksfiction, nonfiction, and memoirincluding the forthcoming novel from Pinnacle, Then No One Can Have Her. A Pulitzer-nominated investigative journalist, Rother teaches narrative nonfiction and digital journalism at the University of California, San Diego Extension and San Diego Writers, Ink, and works as a book doctor and writing coach.

Caitlin RotherHow do you prepare for a reading or workshop?
I look for excerpts that are action-oriented, funny, hold some personal meaning or that I think will resonate with the audience. When I launched my mystery novel, Naked Addiction (WildBlue Press, 2014), at a library reading in La Jolla recently (thank you P&W), I chose one of my favorite passages, which describes a ceremony at Windansea beach that we locals call “Sunset.” The passage incorporates my personal connection with the beach and the ocean, and I hoped that reading it would help build a connection with audience members and entice them to read my book. I also read passages that were inspired by tragic personal events, including my late husband’s suicide. These provided me with a springboard to discuss how I draw from my own emotional knowledge and experiences when I create fictional characters, and when I write about the real people and events featured in my nonfiction books.

What’s the strangest comment you’ve received from an audience member or workshop participant?
Here’s one from a thirteen-year-old that made me laugh:
“Are you rich?”
“No,” I replied. “It is an urban myth that authors make tons of money on their books. That is really the exception. You should come outside and take a look at my car, which I’ve had since 1997.” 

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
I find that audiences respond to humor, honesty, and sincerity. One of my favorite jokes, which never fails, is when I tell audiences that I used to cover politics for a living, but I found that writing about murder felt, well, less dirty.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been a part of?
I was leading an exercise on how to tell true stories at a teen writing workshop recently (thanks again to P&W) and was amazed at some of the serious subject matter the participants came up with. One fourteen-year-old girl, whom I’ll call Marcia, volunteered in a quiet voice that a friend had confided to her that she’d been cutting herself. Marcia didn’t know what to do or how to help her. When I asked if anyone else knew about this, she said no, the friend hadn’t told anyone else and neither had she. I suggested that Marcia tell her own parents because that was a heavy burden to carry. It seems that everyone, at any age, has a deeply personal story to tell.

How does giving a reading or workshop inform your writing and vice versa?
It’s always rewarding and helpful to see what passages or topics resonate most with readers. And leading a workshop often reinforces the best practices to fix my own writing tics. 

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
I believe that sharing common or unique experiences through reading and writing is a good way to build a strong, supportive, and educated community.

Photo: Caitlin Rother    Photo Credit: Joel Ortiz

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

Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, Director of Poets & Writers’ California Office and Readings & Workshops (West) program, blogs about the California program’s twenty-fifth anniversary celebration, which took place on March 6, 2015, in Los Angeles.

Ryan Tranquilla

The excitement in the room was palpable. The open mic sign-up sheets were filling up with names (fifty-two, to be precise!). Free copies of Poets & Writers Magazine were flying off the table. The audience of nearly one hundred sat in chairs, congregated in the aisles between bookshelves, and leaned on the balcony railings of downtown Los Angeles’s the Last Bookstore for a special celebration.

For twenty-five years, Poets & Writers has served California through the Readings & Workshops program, providing grants to thousands of writers and reaching an audience of tens of thousands annually. We offer regular roundtable meetings for the literary community, sponsor an annual cross-cultural reading, and much more.

The evening’s featured readers were introduced by emcee Mike “the Poet” Sonksen, himself a P&W-supported writer, and included Gloria Alvarez, Olga Garcia Echeverria, Kate Gale, Dorothy Randall GrayPeter J. Harris, Richard Modiano, Ruth NolanCati Porter, and Terry Wolverton, as well as past Readings & Workshops program directors Ryan Tranquilla and Cheryl Klein. Together, these writers represented organizations that included Avenue 50 Studio, Red Hen Press, Urban Possibilities, the World Stage, Grand Performances, Beyond Baroque, Inlandia Institute, and Writers at Work. Between open-mic readers, program assistant Brandi M. Spaethe raffled off fantastic P&W door prizes!

Group

Writer Ruth Nolan, who drove to Los Angeles from the blooming desert of California’s Inland Empire to participate in the event, thanked P&W for building writing communities in unlikely places with unlikely people.

Poet and teacher Dorothy Randall Gray, who has received P&W support for her Urban Possibilities workshops serving Los Angeles’s Skid Row, summed it up: "I sometimes think of writers as swimming in a sea of creativity—and, you know, in this sea we have tidal waves and monsoons and tsunamis. We also have blue skies and smooth waters and smooth sailing. I think of Poets & Writers as people, as vessels, who help us get to the shore of success by giving us their support—but even more than support, by saying, We believe in you and we believe in what you're doing, and we're going to put our money where our mouths are. They have always been there to support, to guide, to say, Hey, we're gonna back whatever you do. So I just want to give a huge thank you. Thank you, thank you, for all the support that you've given to me and all the writers that are sitting in this audience, and those writers to come."

Poets & Writers is proud to serve and partner with the writers and literary presenters of California, and we hope to do so for years to come.

Photo 1: Former program director Ryan Tranquilla. Photo 2: (Left to right): Featured poet Cati Porter, featured poet Richard Modiano, P&W intern Tammy Tarng, P&W program assistant Brandi M. Spaethe, P&W program director Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, former P&W intern Leticia Valente, featured poet Ruth Nolan, emcee Mike “the Poet” Sonksen. Credit: Katy Winn.

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

A Washington, D.C. poet, Carolyn Joyner has been featured in many publications and anthologies including Obsidian, Amistad, and Beltway Quarterly poetry magazines, Gathering Ground, Beyond the Frontier, Mass Ave Review, and the 2004-2005 Cave Canem annual collections. She is a former WritersCorps and River of Words Project instructor, and was a fellow at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Cave Canem. In 2010, she cohosted Poet’s Corner, a program on local D.C. radio station, WPFW, and in 2003 and 2013, she received an Artist Fellowship grant from the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Joyner has a Master of Arts degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University.

“They strutted like peacocks,” she said.

Upon completion of writing poems in a workshop for displaced women, a colleague likened the pride swelling from their chests to the swagger of the glorious peafowl. I was studying to be a poet at the time, and was immediately smitten by her comparison. It not only seemed to flesh out the emotion of the women’s newfound self-respect, but awoke in me the warmth and delight she felt about it. How great to limber up the imagination enough to stir lyrical life into those who didn’t know it was there. I vowed right then that I would do my best to achieve this impact when it was my turn to lead a workshop, and when I attended one, I would expect nothing less. This was a tall order for a newcomer, and the challenge persists to this day.

When I was first invited to conduct a Saturday workshop for the CentroNía community in Washington, D.C., which is funded through the Readings & Workshops program at Poets & Writers, I was asked to identify my implementation strategy. Would the focus be on the use of visual and sensory imagery? Would it be theme-based? Understanding that this would be the least of my concerns, I settled on a “generative” workshop—one designed to generate poems.

The poetry workshops at CentroNía have always been exciting and unique. I lived in the community and had attended many. The participants are very eclectic and representative of the intergenerational, varied ethnicities and cultures of the community, writers who range from the experienced to those just trying their hand. And this was the challenge—to tailor a workshop that would address the literary needs of such a diverse group and have them leave “strutting like peacocks.”

Workshop preparation took me well beyond the usual outline of discussion and accompanying exercises. I threw myself into my own thoughts, sensations, and feelings about poetry, and moved away from placing too much importance on the distinct characteristics of the target group. I thought of the workshops I had attended where my “imagination machine” was awakened, censors were turned off, I trusted my inner guide’s prompt, and wrote with ease and patience. This is what I wanted for the participants, and I set about constructing ways to ignite the “intrinsic ardor” that Phillis Wheatley referenced in her poem, “To the University of Cambridge, in New-England.” I’m always encouraged and amazed when reminded that she understood, at such a young age, that we carry the will to become poets despite the obstacles around us. 

My literary desires and expectations include many of the same things as the workshop participants: to stretch the mind, feel free to go off on a writing tangent, be irrational, and embrace the “intrinsic ardor” of our calling. I began to realize how essential the repeated exposure to poetry is through community workshops, for the participants, as well as for those who lead them. We read and discussed the works of a wide spectrum of poets—from Wallace Stevens to Langston Hughes, Maya Angelou to Emily Dickinson, Genny Lim to E. E. Cummings—and we let poetry “dance carefully in our minds.”

The work that Poets & Writers is doing for so many cities is nothing short of revolutionary. The philosophy embodies the belief that once a mind expands, it resists contraction, and therefore, narrow-mindedness.  As a writer, I have become more pliant, my writing is more imaginative, and my ability to blend abstract and concrete elements has greatly improved.

I had no idea whether those in attendance would accept the dare to recreate themselves and write poems that would make them “strut like peacocks,” but most gave it their all, and left happily with an awesome starter poem in hand. I didn’t wait to see their swagger, I had my own.

Photo (top): Carolyn Joyner.  Photo Credit: Mignonette Dooley. 

Photo (bottom): Carolyn Joyner reading. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Bruce

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.

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Kara Krauze founded Voices From War in 2013 and teaches literature and writing in the workshop for veterans, along with writer Nathan Bradley Bethea, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. Krauze has worked in publishing, the mental health field, and community organizing. A writer of fiction and creative nonfiction, her work has been published in Quarterly WestCenter: A Journal of the Literary Arts, Highbrow Magazine, the Daily BeastHypothetical Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. Krauze holds a BA from Vassar College in International Studies and a MA in Literary Cultures from New York University. Voices From War offers writing workshops for veterans and related literary programming.

I’ve been thinking of Virginia Woolf and her “moments of being,” the captured experiences and memories that press up, suddenly intense and vivid, and the “room of one’s own” she argued for as a necessary space to write (and of course there is her call for an income to make it possible—five hundred pounds, was it?). Mostly, I have thought of this space as literal. In New York City, perhaps not a whole room in our cramped living quarters, but at least a corner. Right now I’m thinking of the room where the Voices From War workshop meets, not in an apartment, not tucked away, but in a community center at the 14th Street Y in New York City. Instead of an empty room for solitude, the physical space is populated. Around the table are veterans from multiple generations, mostly men, a woman or two. Mark the participants’ ages and then the decades, and we can unpeel eras of war: Iraq and Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea. A lot of unknowns within a wide array of experiences, even among those with commonalities. But the space is shared and everyone has stories, some of which they will write about.

This has become more important to me than I expected, more important than I can even understand. These writers and their stories are the tiles in the mosaic of our history. Stories not yet written, stories (factual or fiction) not fully formed until they arrive from their authors on paper, later edited, shared, and revisited.

I’ve never been in an active war zone. I’ve never held a gun—a sentence that falls far short of the stories, absences, and significant details lurking behind its assertion. But when a student writes of wishing to cradle an M-5, I know just what he means. In the middle of that sentence—the words buoying the gun, holding it—I might have been writing about one of my babies, my children.

This is what I mean about the room: Virginia Woolf’s room, the room in our New York City East Village community center, a preschool by day (that a few years ago my own two boys attended) and now where veterans of varied ages and experiences (before, during, and after war) meet with me and my coteacher, Nate. Nate, who was deployed to Afghanistan and was posted in South Korea, is just one thread running quietly through the room—a fifty-year gap between instructor and the workshop participant who served there during his war. The room is a space we’ve made. We remake it each week, pushing away the noise of the outside world. 

Many individuals and key institutions help create that shared room with its white walls and empty space that suddenly fill with people, fill with words. The wonderful supporters at the 14th Street Y who understood and understand why this class matters. All of the participants in the workshop—from our start in season one in fall 2013, to this latest group, both returning and new, as we begin season four.

I am continually amazed, impressed, humbled, and educated by the individuals who have given their service in complex times and places, and who continue to serve in multiple ways. Jacob Siegel, a talented writer and veteran, helped launch seasons one and two. Nathan Bradley Bethea, who was a coteacher in season three, continues to share his insightful analysis and exceptional craft now teaching in season four. Designer eperez gave visual representation to Voices From War by designing our logo. The two smallest members of my family continue to teach me why and why not with their Lego battles on the floor, the toy soldiers on their desk, and in bed with their stories, still shielded from the all too real blood in the world.

A huge thank you to Poets & Writers, an invaluable supporter from our first workshop, for advocating again and again for writers and readers, for veterans, for voices shaping their stories and waiting to be heard. Poets & Writers and the 14th Street Y in Manhattan’s East Village give us the physical room that creates the interior room—a space of community, of voices shared that lift each other up and care for their words. These stories matter.

Photo (top): Kara Krauze, coteacher of Voices From War. Photo Credit: James Burry

Photo (right): Nathan Bradley Bethea, coteacher of Voices From War. Photo Credit: Yoonkyung Lim 

Photo (middle): Voices From War classroom photo. Photo Credit: Nathan Bradley Bethea

Photo (bottom): Group photo from the Voices From War "Literary Showcase" event with Veteran Artist Program.

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, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers.

For six years and counting, Poets & Writers has supported poetry writing workshops at Hillsides, a home and school for foster youth in Pasadena, California. The partnership began when Hillsides school librarian Sherri Ginsberg expressed an interest in holding a creative writing workshop series for students in the library. P&W staff suggested Brendan Constantine, who for three years worked his poetic magic on her students. In 2012, Mike Sonksen stepped into the role of workshop leader, forming a close bond not only with the students, but with Ginsberg as well—so much so, they cowrote this post!

Sherri Ginsberg and Mike SonksenMike Sonksen, also known as Mike the Poet, is a third-generation Los Angeles native acclaimed for his poetry performances, journalism, and as a mentor for teen writers. His books include I Am Alive in Los Angeles (iUniverse, 2006) and Poetics of Location forthcoming from Writ Large Press. His weekly KCET column, L.A. Letters, celebrates literary Los Angeles. Sonksen recently completed an interdisciplinary MA in English and History at California State University Los Angeles and teaches at Southwest College.

Sherri Ginsberg has been a librarian for over thirty years, and has designed libraries and written book reviews. For nearly nine years she has worked at Hillsides, bringing in authors, musicians, magicians, and many others as guest speakers. One of her favorite workshops is poetry with Mike the Poet.

Sonksen: Dating back to September 2012, I have been visiting Hillsides in Pasadena to teach poetry workshops in the library with the teens who attend there. Each week I bring a different poetry exercise. Sherri is always there to offer students an encouraging word or a book recommendation. We have greatly enjoyed working together. The fruits of our collaboration have led to several on-campus readings and the publication of a few chapbook anthologies.

Ginsberg: Mike has been coming to our library for over two years now and has a "poetic" touch with our very challenging students. The kids are always excited to see him and ask for him when he hasn't been around for a few weeks. He appears and they start writing. It always enhances our program since these kids are extremely reluctant, not only to write poetry, but to put any of their thoughts on paper. We are thrilled with this program.

Mike entices the students to write some very cool poetry that we wanted to share. For privacy, the names have been removed from these excerpts: 

Drawing of Mike SonksenIf I was invisible
I would scare people and get into concerts
without being seen by security.

Me against the world
against stress
the strain
Maybe I need to just let go,
to let it flow.

Dogs are great
without hate
never fish without bait
because love is stronger than hate.

My mom tries to hold on to the little kid
but I know she's gonna hurt
the day I tell her I gotta go.

The care she had for me was unconditional.
Her face was so beautiful.
I miss the spark in her eyes that would look into mine
to say how much she loved me.
I feel the hardest
I cry the heaviest
My tears draw blood
and glow brightest
I'm terrified of my past

Sonksen: The Hillsides students write very powerful words, and I am always thrilled after one of our afternoon sessions. What started in the fall of 2012 with a five-week session has evolved into a workshop that we have continued over the last two-and-a-half school years. After we finish each five-week session, I usually come back a few weeks later to start another round. I am thankful for Poets & Writers’ sponsorship of these workshops, and for introducing me to Sherri Ginsberg and Hillsides.

Photo (top): Sherri Ginsberg and Mike Sonksen. Photo (bottom): Student drawing of Mike "the Poet" Sonksen.

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

Tim Kahl is the author of Possessing Yourself (CW Books, 2009) and The Century of Travel (CW Books, 2012). His work has been published in the Notre Dame Review, Prairie Schooner, Mad Hatters' Review, Indiana Review, Metazen, Ninth Letter, Sein und Werden Review, the Really System, Konundrum Engine Literary Magazine, the Journal, the Volta, Parthenon West Review, and Caliban, among others. He appears as Victor Schnickelfritz at the poetry and poetics blog the Great American Pinup and the poetry video blog Linebreak Studios. Kahl is editor of Bald Trickster Press and Clade Song, and the vice president and events coordinator of the Sacramento Poetry Center. He has a public installation of his poetry in Sacramento, California called In Scarcity We Bare The Teeth. He currently houses his father's literary estate—one volume: Robert Gerstmann's book of photos of Chile, 1932.

Tim Kahl

What makes your organization and its programs unique?
The Sacramento Poetry Center is a community-based literary arts organization that has been in place for over thirty years. We provide Monday night readings on a weekly basis as well as specialized readings that are organized on a come-as-they-may basis (as we have for Sacramento’s Beer Week, or the poetry/jazz/visual arts reading at the Sacramento Fine Arts Center, or for UC Davis’s MIND Institute to support autism research). We also organize a number of outreach programs for youth literacy and guidance and counseling for youth. One night a week there is a workshop sponsored by the center geared towards making line edits. There are other privately-led workshop groups that use our space during weekday evenings.

The thing that makes Sacramento Poetry Center unique is that it provides readings with a different host every week so that the range of work varies significantly from week to week. For this reason, we are pretty much free of any ideological or aesthetic biases. As long as you have an inkling for how to read and perform your work, you will be considered for a feature and can always participate at the open mic that is generally part of the Monday night reading. We maintain our programming free of any educational institutional support, and our events are almost always free.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
A special event that Sacramento Poetry Center sponsored was the West Coast premiere of Stephen Dunn’s book Lines of Defense. Over two hundred people packed the spacious entryway at the Sacramento County Public Library to hear Dunn and others give a reading.

Our annual conference in mid-April is an all-day affair that features workshops, lectures, and discussions by many prominent academics who come to lead these small group sessions. After the workshops in the morning and early afternoon, lunch is provided, and the main presenters give a combined short reading in the late afternoon. Energy and enthusiasm is always high for this event. It tends to sustain the energy of attendees for weeks.

The Tule Review is our semiannual literary magazine that features writers from across the country and has organized events to feature those readers in Los Angeles and San Francisco, as well as Sacramento.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
There was an evening when Kate Greenstreet came to perform her poems for her book The Last 4 Things. I didn’t realize that she likes to “get in character” for her readings and channel the voice that is speaking in the book. Often for books that are more conceptual, or at the very least not very narrative, I like to ask the author some questions about the overall project of the book—about craft and more—in order to help both writers and non-writers in the audience have a better understanding of the work. As I did this with Kate (unwittingly getting in the way of her channeled character), she started to shoot darts at me with her eyes. I didn’t quite understand why I was off-target with these kinds of questions. Other writers had gladly fielded them before.

After the reading, Kate informed me where she was coming from, and I apologized for my misunderstanding. The next time she came, for her book Young Tambling, I stayed out of the way and was treated to her mysterious manner of creating the live voice behind her work on the page. I was surprised by the different feel to her reading. There was a general feeling of her embroiling the audience in a circumstance of mysterious pronouncement. These were poems on the page in a book, but she had transformed the reading into a piece of theater that had provocatively aligned itself with the audience. The fourth wall had disappeared. I found myself riveted, entranced, and I wondered how that happened, how she did that.

How do you find and invite readers?
All kinds of ways. We are continually receiving solicitations from writers and poets throughout the country who are passing through town (Sacramento is a little over an hour away from San Francisco) or are setting up book tours in general. Also, there are thematic readings that occur from time to time that a host will put together. For these, the host will actively seek readers who might have something to offer for the theme of the night. Sometimes the readings are assembled in line with the release of a local literary magazine or publication. 

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
Often I write for the “stage” as much as I do for the page. Even when I do write specifically for the page, I am fully cognizant of how a piece might be read or performed. Works that I have written in the past that weren’t explicitly aware of themselves as spoken artifacts seem dry when I look at them today. As the old poetry adage says: Ya gotta make it sing. Sometimes this means literally as well as figuratively. Put another way, in Ken Babstock’s words, “Poetry is a vocal prosthetic for people who can’t sing.” And for people who can sing? That road is open, too.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
The organization serves as primarily a support group for both experienced and inexperienced writers in the area. It gives both of these groups an opportunity to interact freely without any inhibiting and uncomfortable formal social constraints or power relations getting in the way. It makes the literary arts approachable.

We also provide financial support to other local literary arts organizations. Other literary organizations use our Facebook page to promote their events so that the site becomes something of a local literary billboard.

Sacramento Poetry Center allows poets and writers to pursue their form of literary art in the purest sense without any status-conscious posturing that might occur at some institutions of higher education. It allows for comfort and camaraderie, and it permits artists to venture to extremes without worrying about stepping on any official toes.

Photo: Tim Kahl    Credit: Penny Kline

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

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