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Readings & Workshops Blog

Cybele Knowles works as a program coordinator at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where she coordinates the PW-funded Center’s Reading and Lecture Series, Classes & Workshops program, and Closer Look Book Club. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona and an MA in English from U.C. Berkeley. Her poetry and prose have appeared in the DestroyerSpiral OrbDiagramPindeldyboz, the Asian Pacific American JournalFaucheuse, and the Prose Poem.

In my final post, I’ll share some homage tattoos spied in and around the University of Arizona Poetry Center. These tattoos reference poets, writers, artists, and artworks that have a special significance to the wearer.

My interest in such tattoos originated when poet Philip Jenks came to Tucson in 2010 to appear in our Reading and Lecture Series, a program supported by the Poets & Writers Readings/Workshops program. I knew about Philip’s fabulous tattoo of Emily Dickinson, and asked him if I could take a picture of it. He was gracious enough to allow me to capture his Emily in all her glory.

Philip Jenks

This is a powerful Emily Dickinson, with large hands and a tribal halo. Philip also chose to depict Emily as she might have looked in her later years (the only known photos of Emily are from when she was very young). As you can imagine, encountering Philip and his Emily sparked in me an interest in other tattoos that reference loved writers, artists, and artworks. It turns out that such tattoos are everywhere at the Poetry Center, on the bodies of our visitors, volunteers, colleagues, friends, and patrons. Here are just a few homage tattoos I’ve discovered at the Poetry Center. With each image is a statement from the wearer about the origin, history, or personal significance of the tattoo.

Zachary Schomburg: Poet, Editor, and Poetry Center Visiting Poet (October 2012).

Zachary Schomburg

“Much of the history of this Aram Saroyan poem was spent at the center of political controversy over the value of public funding for the arts, but now it represents more of a marker of that successful resistance. This tattoo then embodies not only my commitment to poetry, this unbound experiment of language that the poem itself embodies, but also its defense. Plus, it is an entire poem I can fit on my wrist. I’m sure I’m one of many with this poem on my body, but I wear it also in unison with two of my good friends, Mathias Svalina and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. We share a Frank Stanford line too. I’m developing this compulsion of wanting to be completely covered with language and images. Tattoos and pens. I like writing on myself. When I write on myself with a pen, it quickly disappears. Without this particular photo, I wouldn’t have ever remembered writing that scribble on my hand. I think it says, ‘Maybe everybody is trying to kill me and failing.’ I don’t know if I ever called TS. Who is TS? Some owls? My fingernails are dirty.”

Kate Bernheimer: Writer, Editor, and Poetry Center Colleague/Teacher/Friend.

Kate Bernheimer

“I used to live in Portland, Oregon, and every winter I would come spend around a month in the Tucson Mountains, out near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, at my friend Lydia Millet’s place. I had to get out of the rain and I revere the high desert. Lydia had renovated what was basically a trailer into a compound of sorts and had space for a guest among the many creatures and incredible botany there. We would work from sunrise to sunset—we would write for more than eight hours, it was serious bliss—and then we would have drinks in her kitchen with the lights out and watch javelinas feast on a quail block. As we wrote, I could hear Lydia chortling at her computer at the other end of the house. Her laughter carried me through the end of my first two novels. In 2000, the year she wrote My Happy Life (and chortled through it, which is hilarious because it’s a terribly heartbreaking book), I completed The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold. The day I finished the novel, we drove over Gate’s Pass into downtown Tucson and I got my tattoo on Fourth Avenue after having a vodka and soda at Plush, though I’m not sure if it was called Plush at the time. I think so. I had just the one drink, I wasn’t drunk. I had planned on getting a tattoo of the word ‘Mom’ written inside a winged heart, to match Lydia’s, but at the last minute I decided on the angel with chicken feet. The tattoo is a version of an illustration by Alexander Alexeieff that appears on the title page of Russian Fairy Tales, collected by Aleksandr Afanasev and translated by Norbert Guterman. She also appears in The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold—a description of her, not a picture. Portions of the novel are based on the tales in that book, and I had the book with me when we left Lydia’s spread in the desert and went into town. I pretty much took it everywhere I went, at the time, along with a collection of Brothers Grimm tales. Both have now completely fallen apart.”

TC Tolbert: Poet, Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, and Poetry Center Friend.

TC Tolbert

“I got this tattoo of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain just as I was beginning my gender transition from female to something less visibly female (also often called male but, unlike many trans folks, I don’t identify as male, I identify as trans—anyway). At the time I was in grad school for poetry, reading Poems for the Millennium, and it was Mallarmé, then Dada, that gave me a poetic lens for my body. And, in turn, my (trans and genderqueer) body gave me a physical/spatial lens for my poetic work. It is not an exaggeration to say that I transitioned partly because the avant-gardes (plural, as Richard Kostelanetz points out) gave me permission to interrupt the narrative, the confidence to experiment with form. Trans and queer coming-out stories are important to me, but even more encouraging, and less prescriptive, has been the work of Gertrude Stein, Stéphane Mallarmé, Marcel Duchamp, Trisha Brown, Shen Wei, and C.D. Wright. Fountain embodies Cage’s dictum: It’s lighter than you think. I needed that. I still do. To remember that my body (my bodies) is (are) a readymade—that I actually have very little idea of the different things it is, it can become, it can do. It’s also fascinating to see how different people read the piece. Among the many guesses: an athletic cup (jock strap), a regular old urinal, a hunk of roast beef, a steak. Judith Butler says that one ‘exists’ not only by virtue of being recognized, but, in a prior sense, by being recognizable. So too for the trans body, the experimental poem.”

Cameron Louie: Poet and Poetry Center Advisory Board Member.

Cameron Louie

Ad astra per alas porci: ‘to the stars on the wings of a pig.’ The Pigasus is, in a sense, John Steinbeck’s truest signature. It symbolized him, and I think it symbolizes all of us who try at writing, as ‘lumbering souls but trying to fly.’ It is an impossible thing, and imaginary. Most importantly, while riding the Pigasus, one gains the gift of poesy...”

Adam Kullberg: Nonfiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Adam Kullberg

“I didn’t read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, on which this tattoo was based, until I was in my early 20s. But when I did I found myself fascinated with his use of the Martian landscape—a place I viewed as foreign, lifeless—to convey the beauty, as well as the ugliness, of the world in which I lived. I meant for this tattoo, through its watercolor style and surreal landscape, to convey one of the strengths I find in all of Bradbury’s short stories and novels: that he speaks to both the artist and the child, the ordinary and the fantastic, the real and the magical, that are tethered to each of us.”

Mike Powell: Fiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Mike Powell

“This tattoo is of a muted post horn, the symbol of an underground mail-delivery service in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. I got it when I was 19 or 20 in a strip mall next to a sushi restaurant near the edge of Charlottesville, Virginia. I imagine that some people get tattoos of images they think are singular or uniquely expressive. Part of the reason for getting this tattoo is precisely that I knew other people who already had it: friends of friends of friends, cousins of friends of friends, strangers I’d met at parties. It wasn’t a mark of separation, but of connection. Plus, while I’m not particularly attached to physical mail or mail delivery, I liked the idea that the symbol belonged to an underground mail-delivery service, which seemed like an elegant metaphor for both the romantic appeal of subculture but also the superfluity of it. (The USPS has always served me just fine.) Twice or so a year, I meet people with the same tattoo. I’d be lying if I said it brought me closer to them, necessarily. Not all groups are predicated on spiritual kinship. For these people I reserve a quiet smile, and take heart in the idea that we know something, however irrelevant, that other people don’t. (My other tattoo is of the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger.)”

Laura Miller: Fiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Laura Miller

“When I was feeling as if I’d never be a legitimate writer, a Steinbeck or a Chekhov, science fiction showed me the writer’s imagination cracked open on the page and gave me a way forward. This tattoo is from the first science fiction film, Le Voyage dans la Lune, and I love the harshness of the film: the un-romanticized depiction of space, the moon-image characterizing man’s capacity for destruction. I worked closely with the tattoo artist to retain that gruesome quality. The moon paradox, a symbol of darkness, of mother, of spiritual guidance, is something I think about a great deal in my fiction. Moons have—since childhood—haunted me.”


Thanks to Philip, Zach, Kate, TC, Cameron, Adam, Mike, and Laura for sharing their homage tattoos, some of their favorite authors and artists, and their stories with me!

Photo Credit: Cybele Knowles.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

In January, Poets & Writers convened its third annual Workshop Leaders Retreat for Los Angeles-area writers who teach workshops for underserved communities. Readings/Workshops Fellow Andrew Wessels writes about the day.

Just Kibbe with his poetry/art carIn the back room of 826LA in Echo Park on a wintry Sunday afternoon, a group of dedicated workshop leaders gathered to make connections, share advice, and enlarge each others’ repertoires of writing prompts. The Workshop Leaders Retreat was P&W’s way of thanking the writers who help us fulfill our mission, and providing them with resources to continue their work.

The meeting began with an exquisite corpse poem. Each workshop leader wrote a line (or two) of poetry that communicated something that he or she wanted the group to know. As each line was written, the page was folded over to conceal what came before. The resulting poem, which can be found at the end of this post, included imagery ranging from dinosaurs to DeLoreans.

The group transitioned from the whimsical to the practical, engaging in a free-flowing conversation that covered administrative strategies, contract negotiation, and maintaining good relations with site directors.

They also shared techniques that inspired workshop participants to new levels of writing. Just Kibbe prompted his high-school students to create their poems right on his car. They spray-painted words and numbers connected to their identities on the car, which he continues to proudly drive (and which has been used now by multiple classes as a mobile writing platform).

Why do writers do community work, especially when the pay is minimal and the Blue Book value of one’s car might be lowered as a result?

“Part of writing is to teach how to be in the world,” offered Jeremy Radin, who has taught workshops for teens and people with eating disorders.

After a lunch break, the group reconvened for the highlight of the afternoon: the writing prompts. Radin began by leading the entire group through one of his tried-and-true workshop sessions. Here’s the prompt:

Workshop Leaders Retreat attendees“You are the ghost that haunted the house you first lived in. The one that makes the house creak and the wind sing so strangely in the windows. You (the ghost) have a message to deliver to child-you (the author). It can be a message about child-you’s future, something that is happening right now, something you need in order to be free, etc. What is the message and how do you deliver it? You are a ghost, so moving physical objects requires incredible expenditures of energy. Have at it!”

The fifteen-minute writing session guided by Radin produced a wide range of responses, from the humorous to the emotionally charged. The group then broke into two, led by Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Hannah Menkin. Kato-Kiriyama led her group in a minimalist prompt: “And when…”.

Menkin’s prompt, by contrast, was slightly more involved, beginning with the Rabindrath Tagore quote: “There is a point where in the mystery of existence contradictions meet; where movement is not all movement and stillness is not all stillness; where the idea and the form, the within and the without, are united; where infinite becomes finite, yet not.” Menkin then asked her group members to respond, thinking specifically about the stillness of poetry.

As both groups shared their responses, the energy in the expansive room was anything but still.

(Want to see more prompts? Check out The Time Is Now.)

Exquisite corpse poem:

“Back to the Future Now and Again”

I am on my metaphorical walk back to the future
I am 100 years of age
When I was a boy, I’d stand the broccoli
Up on the plate, pretend I was a brontosaurus
Feasting on trees. Wished I could leave this behind.
Wish I could cry about it
But the tears no longer fall
My only choice is to stand tall
A caffeinated DeLorean sends me spinning
Into the unexpected, yes…
It’s poetry again, coming to soothe the soul,
Opening windows, releasing tears, swirling dust
In the room. Writing rocks.
Pink stains on paper towel, stomach full of cherries.
And scattered she slumped bed-ward, a sink sink sink.
Translate the books into art, into the landscape
Of the sea and sunset.
Voices are verbs unwritten given to pen to paper from tree.
Reverse the reverb and make verbs with me.
They are lining up outside.

Photos: (Top) Just Kibbe with his poetry/art car. (Bottom) Workshop Leaders Retreat attendees. Credit: Andrew Wessels.

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

Cybele Knowles works as a program coordinator at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where she coordinates the PW-funded Center’s Reading and Lecture Series, Classes & Workshops program, and Closer Look Book Club. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona and an MA in English from U.C. Berkeley. Her poetry and prose have appeared in the Destroyer, Spiral Orb, Diagram, Pindeldyboz, the Asian Pacific American Journal, Faucheuse, and the Prose Poem.

In this post I’m going to lead you on a tour of the University of Arizona Poetry Center. As I think you’ll see, in its design and function, it combines elements of a library, university, theater, community center, garden, workspace, home, aerie, and even church. In Fall 2007, after a decade of envisioning, designing, fundraising, and construction, the Poetry Center moved into this custom landmark building.

University of Arizona Poetry Center Exterior

The spaces of the building allow us to do so much more than ever before!

University of Arizona Poetry Center Interior

Perhaps most importantly, our entire library collection of over 70,000 items is now housed under one roof. We have open stacks (pictured here), an archive room, and a rare book room.

University of Arizona Poetry Center Book Stacks

Here are a few treasures from our rare book room. From top to bottom and left to right: Accidentally on Purpose by Robert Frost (Christmas card). New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston, 1960. Book of Common Prayer. 1764. Second Avenue by Frank O’Hara. New York: Corinth Books, 1960. Field Talk by Frank Stanford. Seattle: Mill Mountain Press, 1975. Fast Speaking Woman by Anne Waldman. San Francisco: City Lights, 1975. Chartings by Lyn Hejinian and Ray Di Palma. Tucson: Chax Press, 2000.

University of Arizona Poetry Center Rare Books

Since our move to the new building in 2007, we’ve been able to mount permanent and rotating exhibits. Here’s my favorite of our permanent exhibits: a collection of posters for Poetry Center readings from the 70s and 80s.

University of Arizona Poetry Center Reading Posters

In addition to permanent and library exhibits, we exhibit work by visual artists. Our current art exhibit by Karen McAlister Shimoda (mother of the poet Brandon Shimoda) includes this piece. It’s the artist’s wedding dress, on which she inscribed a history of a history of her marriage, from when she met her husband-to-be through to the divorce.

Karen McAlister Shimoda Exhibition at the Poetry Center

Here’s a close-up. Being a fan of both words and textiles, I’m rabidly in love with this piece.

Karen McAlister Shimoda Exhibition Detail at the Poetry Center

The Poetry Center is bordered by a minimalist meditation garden. In this photo, you can also see the Poetry Center’s “Turning Wall.” Perhaps this wall was inspired by the fact that the word verse comes from the Latin root -vert, for "turn or turn away, bend, incline.”

University of Arizona Poetry Center Turning Wall

At the back of the meditation garden is this memorial fountain for poet Steve Orlen (1942–2010), creative writing professor at the University of Arizona for decades, and beloved teacher.

University of Arizona Poetry Center Steve Orlen Fountain

At the opposite end of the building is the room where we hold events that are part of our Reading and Lecture Series, a program supported by Poets & Writers. Here, poet Thomas Sayers Ellis reads his work for an audience of middle- and high-school students.

Thomas Sayers Ellis Reading at the University of Arizona Poetry Center

Here’s a special peek into a private space of the Poetry Center: our guest house for visiting poets and summer residents. It’s just steps away from the library, but hidden from view. It’s decorated with broadsides and a few furnishings from the original Poetry Center of 1960.

University of Arizona Poetry Center Guest House

We’ve inhabited the building for five years now, and I have a real fondness for the signs of our habitation. The little details. Like this drawing, hanging in Renee’s office, created during one of our children’s programs...

University of Arizona Poetry Center Children's Program

...this print of H.D. (and her hedgehog) by Gwyneth Scally, commissioned by the Poetry Center, and hanging in the Children’s Corner...

HD and Hedgehog Print by Gwyneth Scally

...and this text/art object, created by one of our Classes & Workshops students, abandoned by the creator, but rescued by me, and now displayed in my office.

University of Arizona Poetry Center Workshop Text/Art Object

Our virtual tour of the Poetry Center ends here, with the feet of poets Joyelle McSweeney and Zachary Schomburg (who read together at the Poetry Center in September 2012). But there’s a lot more to see; we hope you can stop by for a visit sometime soon!

Joyelle McSweeney and Zachary Schomburg Read at the Poetry Center

All Photos Credit: Cybele Knowles.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

Since 2008, P&W has supported readings and workshops presented by literary publisher Marick Press. Its founder, Mariela Griffor, answered our questions about her experience publishing writers from around the world out of Grosse Pointe, MI, a small city neighboring Detroit. Griffor was born in the city of Concepción in southern Chile. She is the author of Exiliana (Luna Publications, 2007) and House (Mayapple Press, 2007). Her work has also appeared in Passages North, Cerise Press, and Washington Square Review. Her forthcoming translations include Canto General by Pablo Neruda (Tupelo Press, 2013), At Half Mast by Carmen Berenguer, Militant Poems by Raúl Zurita, Desolation by Gabriela Mistral and Bye, have a good time! by Kristina Lugn. She is Honorary Consul of Chile in Michigan.

Mariela GrifforWhat makes Marick Press unique?
Marick Press strives, across boundaries of nations, cultures, and languages, to create fine literature and make it a personal experience. We seek out and publish the best new work from an eclectic range of aesthetics—work that is technically accomplished, distinctive in style, and thematically fresh.

What project have you been especially proud of?
I’m proud of every single book I've published, but the translation series is something very, very special. This series includes some of the most accomplished and original writers in the world, translated into English.

I have always been able to find a special or unique book of poetry that has been overlooked in its original language or is essential to understanding the complete work of a poet. Particular cases of this are INRI by the Chilean poet Raúl Zurita, and From Threshold to Threshold by Paul Celan.

What’s the most memorable event you’ve hosted?
P&W sponsored a festival of poetry held in Marick’s home town of Grosse Pointe, MI. The writers, publishers, and public shared some of the most remarkable readings I’ve experienced. It was the first time a poetry festival had been held in our community. For many in attendance, it was their first personal experience of fine literature—and it was new, fresh, and exciting!

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
A community with a literary program is an intellectually vibrant and relevant community not only for itself, but for its surrounding communities. I admire the work of Ann Arbor District Libraries here and in Ann Arbor. Individuals and community groups in my area use a lot of its resources.

I could not live in a place that is not interested in literature. Once a community experiences literature personally, it will go to any lengths—establishing writing programs, festivals, and public readings—to perpetuate and expand the personal experience of writing to everyone. If you counted how many writers of note have been attracted to, or were raised or born in Michigan, you would be stunned!

How has publishing and presenting informed your own writing and life?
If you are a publisher, you learn to be humble. You struggle, you struggle more, and then you get some satisfaction when the book is out. The creation of a book is not an easy task. It is a work of art, but also a responsibility. Very few can handle the weight of this work. You listen, take notes, produce, and through it all get to know people as they are.

The writing community in the United States is very assured, very eclectic, and much more resistant to foreign influence than those in other countries. Being a publisher and the host of a reading series has taught me the blessings of comparative literature among living writers.

Photo: Mariela Griffor. Credit: Javiera Denney.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Cybele Knowles works as a program coordinator at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where she coordinates the PW-funded Center’s Reading and Lecture Series, Classes & Workshops program, and Closer Look Book Club. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona and an MA in English from U.C. Berkeley. Her poetry and prose have appeared in the Destroyer, Spiral Orb, Diagram, Pindeldyboz, the Asian Pacific American Journal, Faucheuse, and the Prose Poem.

Cybele KnowlesThe University of Arizona Poetry Center is run by a staff of eight arts administrators and librarians with specializations in education, grant writing, fundraising, marketing, and more. Most of us work full-time and, being employed in the nonprofit sector, we work intensively. Each of us also has an important other job: We are all poets and writers.

Here’s where the phrase “finding a balance” tends to get yoked up. That tired old plowhorse. For me, the phrase “finding a balance” evokes a delicate and precise action, like a jeweler weighing out diamonds by the milligram. But I experience the process of negotiating between the roles of worker and writer as…somewhat more rough. For me it’s like being a perpetual beginner on the balance beam—falling off, landing hard (puff of chalk dust), and then getting back up, but this time with a sore butt. And repeat.

I asked my coworkers how they manage the demands of their day jobs, their calling as a writer, and all the other business of being human. They had wonderful responses, some practical and some perceptual, but all helpful and genuine.

Renee Angle, Programs Coordinator: When I get down about how much I’m not writing, I think of my heroes: Frank O’Hara who wrote in short bursts and did not seek out publications or residencies but the company of other artists; William Carlos Williams who became a doctor because he wanted to write and write what he wanted, not what a publisher expected; and Wallace Stevens who worked all day in order to come home to a fabulously expensive library each night. But then, of course, my heroes did not care for young children as I do. So, I think of my heroines: Sor Juana Inéz de la Cruz who devoted her whole life to reading and writing despite extreme pressure to do otherwise and Anne Bradstreet who wrote poems without a microwave or dishwasher.

Allie Leach, Education Programs Assistant: For me, staying focused and on track with my writing is super hard without deadlines and encouragement. For that reason, having a writer’s group has been a life saver. Not only do we hold each other accountable with oral and written feedback, but we are also cheerleaders for each other. Another plus: Our meetings always include wine and cheese (and sometimes cupcakes).

Sarah Kortemeier, Library Specialist: My solution so far has been twofold: First, to create a regular block of time for writing and another for submitting, both once a week; second, to give myself permission to devote free moments outside those times to other activities. When I was in graduate school, I tried to write every day, and I’ve had to accept the fact that that schedule isn’t very productive for me (I seem to need a lot of space around my writing time). A “writing morning” once a week, on the day I work the late shift in the library, is the best compromise I’ve come up with.UA Poetry Center Staff

Julie Lauterbach-Colby, Development Program Coordinator: I would honestly get depressed if I were to treat only the time I actually sat at my computer and wrote as writing time. The guilt, the shame by comparison as I hear love stories between other writers and the weekly six-hour stints they have at their computers. So I’ve had to retrain my brain to “practice” writing in everyday ways: by thinking, by looking, and focusing on everyday scenes, conversations, stories, images, and treating those as written opportunities. I carry these scenes with me in my head. I mull them over. If I’m around my notebook, I write them down and then I think about them some more until they’ve manifested in my mind as something more solid. Sometimes this could be just a word: I’ll focus on, say, speed, and like a practice in mindfulness breathing, that word will become a way to constantly “return to writing” throughout my day. It’s like Pinterest, but in my head.

Annie Guthrie, Marketing Director: I try and banish entirely any dichotomous inner argument about time/not enough time, which I have found to be a seductive whirlpool of a time-waster in itself. “Not having time” is a cultural spell I’d like to undo. It’s a spell that becomes a chant. I am interested in seeing what I can do with the time I do have, and how I can come into it, my life, as a writer all the time. For example, if I can become more alert and more observant and more thinking and more feeling during even the most mundane of tasks, then I feel I am making the most of my time.

Speaking for myself: I've worked as a desk jockey for years in a variety of professions, and I've found that compared to any other job I've held, working in literary arts administration is, itself, a great support to my writing. The job and the calling synergize. As an example, every day at the office I have the opportunity to think and talk about literature with the talented working writers quoted above. That’s pretty fabulous.

Top Photo: Cybele Knowles. Credit: Allie Leach. Photo: (back row) Cybele Knowles, Wendy Burk, Sarah Kortemeier, Allie Leach; (front row) Renee Angle and Annie Guthrie. Credit: Meg Wade.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

Cybele Knowles works as a program coordinator at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where she coordinates the PW-funded Center’s Reading and Lecture Series, Classes & Workshops program, and Closer Look Book Club. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona and an MA in English from U.C. Berkeley. Her poetry and prose have appeared in the Destroyer, Spiral Orb, Diagram, Pindeldyboz, the Asian Pacific American Journal, Faucheuse, and the Prose Poem.

Cybele KnowlesI have served as the coordinator of the University of Arizona Poetry Center Reading and Lecture Series for four years. The longer I work with this literary program, the more I admire it and understand its power. This year, the series celebrates its fiftieth anniversary. It has been sustained over the decades by an extensive community of individuals and organizations, including Poets & Writers through the Readings/Workshops program. It is capacious and generous, representing many poetic voices, and (for the most part) free and open to the public. One of the things I particularly admire about the series is that our poetry readings regularly attract audiences in excess of 150 people. In today's post, I want to share a sketch of how the Poetry Center creates an audience for poetry, using the example of a reading by Mary Jo Bang with Joni Wallace on October 6, 2011, which was supported by Poets & Writers.

We (the Poetry Center staff) conceive of our task as creating an audience not just for poetry events, but for Poetry with a capital "P." Therefore we treat each reading not just as an event, but as an occasion to educate local communities about the poetry being presented. To get people reading the poems before the event, and to help keep them engaged afterward, we schedule ancillary programs in conjunction with each reading.

In the case of the reading by Mary Jo, the ancillary events included a visit to a University of Arizona literature class and a “shop talk” about Mary Jo’s work. Shop Talk is the Poetry Center’s poetry discussion group, which is free and open to the public. We also led our Poetry Center docents (a group of fifteen dedicated volunteers at the time; currently, there are many more) through an introduction to Mary Jo’s work. The reading itself, attended by 160 people, was recorded for the Poetry Center’s online audiovisual library, voca. Recordings are tagged with accurate metadata, which enhances their value as an archive. Now available on voca, Mary Jo’s reading can continue to be enjoyed and experienced by many others. And last but not least, about a year after the reading, we scheduled our Closer Look Book Club to read Mary Jo’s translation of The Inferno. Typically our book club reads prose, of course, but we took advantage of a seasonal theme of “Narratives in Translation” to “serve up” poetry to our prose readers. Both the Shop Talk and Book Club were led by poet Joni Wallace, who also read with Mary Jo, and whose first book, Blinking Ephemeral Valentine, was selected by Mary Jo for the 2009 Levis Prize.

We have additional ways of connecting visiting poets to local communities. Other ancillary events we schedule for a visiting poet might include a meeting with middle- and high-school students, or a workshop offered through our community Classes and Workshops program, or a meeting with Poetry Center donors or other specific community- or university-based group.

Through this multi-pronged approach, we introduced Mary Jo to many readers, and I know that through this process she garnered new fans, as did Poetry with a capital “P.” As you can imagine, pulling all this off took a lot of coordination! Even though the Reading Series is only one of the Poetry Center’s many areas of activity, all eight of the Poetry Center staff, and many volunteers, must pitch in to produce the series in the manner described above. In my post next week, you’ll meet some of the hard-working team at the Poetry Center.

Photo: Cybele Knowles. Credit: Allie Leach.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

P&W-supported poet Tim Stafford is a poet and public school teacher from Chicago. He is the editor of the classroom poetry anthology Learn Then Burn (Write Bloody Publishing). You can find him onstage at the Encyclopedia Show, the Louder Than a Bomb Poetry Festival, and in June throughout Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. In December, Stafford taught a workshop at Team Englewood High School in Chicago and facilitated the Riots on the Warp Land slam. We asked him to blog about the experience.

Tim StaffordTo some, Team Englewood High School on Chicago’s South Side seems like an unlikely gathering spot for over one hundred young poets. Englewood is a neighborhood that many folks view negatively, even though a large number of them have never stepped foot inside. The Riots on the Warp Land poetry slam, now in its third year, was created to bring awareness to some of the great things that people who live and work on the South Side are doing.

The Riots on the Warp Land (the title is borrowed from South Side poet Gwendolyn Brooks) is a regional prelude to the Louder Than a Bomb Teen (LTAB) poetry slam festival, a citywide event that occurs every February. The two events share a similar goal: get kids from all over the city together in a safe space to create and share their own stories. 

The event’s founders, Dave Stieber, Stephanie Stieber, and Melissa Hughes, invited me to facilitate some of the bouts and help out with the group writing workshop. All three of the founders are public school teachers who wanted to create more poetry-based community-building outside of the LTAB festival.

The event kicked off with an activity called “Crossing the Street,” in which kids on the fifteen teams split up into brand new groups. The groups got to work on prompts given by myself and teaching artists from Young Chicago Authors centering  around identity, community, and neighborhoods. They created poems collaboratively. Before we started the actual “competition,” some groups presented their work to the crowd of about two hundred students and guests. The kids were familiar with the workshop model and were able to create some fascinating work despite the limited time.

Riots on the Warp LandAs far as the slam itself, there were three preliminary bouts, with the winner going to finals. I won’t go into detail about who won or who scored the highest. I, the promoters, and Young Chicago Authors don’t place emphasis on the competition, and we tell the kids that from the get-go. Writing and interaction are our goals. Calling it a poetry slam is our gimmick to get kids and community excited about poetry, which is why slam was invented.

This is the second time I’ve been able to take part in this event, thanks to Poets & Writers. Seeing the progression in the quality of the written word from one year to the next is a humbling experience. The passion and attention to craft instilled by their teachers, coaches, and mentors is paying off in poetry that is mature beyond the years of its young writers. I look forward to seeing some of you next year at the fourth annual Riots on the Warp Lands.

Photos: Top: Tim Stafford. Bottom: The winning team is announced. Credit: Stephanie Stieber.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers' Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

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