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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 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.

Elena Martinez, advisory board member for Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco) and folklorist at City Lore, blogs about the P&W-supported readings with the Bronx Music Heritage Center (BMHC). Martinez has an MA in Anthopolgy and an MA in Folklore from the University of Oregon. She co-produced the documentary, From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale, which won the National Council of La Raza 2007 ALMA Award for Best TV Documentary. She is currently on the Advisory Boards for Casita Maria/Dancing in the Streets' South Bronx Cultural Trail, WHEDco's Bronx Music Heritage Center, and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies Archive at Hunter College.

Since 2010, I have been part of a group of musicians, artists, advocates, and educators driving the planning and development of the Bronx Music Heritage Center (BMHC). We were brought together by the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco), a Bronx-based nonprofit that sees value in preserving and promoting Bronx music and cultivating Bronx artists as a way to spur neighborhood revival and bring cultural programs to the community. Currently, BMHC programming takes place in the BMHC Laboratory, a storefront in the Crotona East neighborhood of the South Bronx.

This fall, I worked with Grammy-nominated musician Bobby Sanabria to co-curate Bronx Rising! Music, Film & Spoken Word of the Borough, a new series at the BMHC Lab. Our goal was to showcase art about the Bronx, by Bronx artists, or significant to the Bronx community. Over the course of the series we maintained a loyal audience but struggled to get community members, who might peer in the windows, to come into the Lab and stay awhile.

Thanks to Poets & Writers, we were able to present two exceptional Bronx Rising! poetry nights in honor of Puerto Rican Heritage Month. On November 19, 2012, we hosted Americo Casiano, an original Nuyorican Poet. Americo was backed by his NuYoRican Poetry Jazz Ensemble, which accompanied his poetry seamlessly. During the program, two young men, enticed by the activity they viewed from the sidewalk entered the Lab. These newcomers actively listened, participated, and quickly became Lab “regulars.”

The December program paid homage to the declamadores of Puerto Rico, who use the language and themes of the area’s African heritage throughout the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. While the declamadores work within oral tradition, historically literary poets have also been proponents, among them Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rico) and Federico Garcia Lorca (Spain), whose poems were included in this program. The poetry was recited by organizer and declamador Sery Colón, Prisionera (Paula Santiago), and Tato Laviera, another original member of the Nuyorican Poetry Movement. This evening was once again punctuated by a few new faces that had been drawn to the prophetic personalities and socially-minded works filling the Lab. Robert, a first-time visitor, likened the event to “a revival." He said, “Once the crowd got going, the energy was infectious and I began to understand why these powerful messages needed to be delivered that way.”

These events, where new community members interacted with the BMHC, were symbolic for the series. Over the last few months, audience members who came into the Lab for hip hop stayed for Latin Jazz. People who came in for a photography exhibit returned for African drums.

On our last evening of Bronx Rising! Word(s) on the Street, five minutes before the program started, I realized we had a new problem on our hands. We ran out of chairs. For the first time, the BMHC Lab was packed to the brim with nearly 100 audience members. With this momentum, we are looking forward to our next season. We hope to see you there.

Photo: (left to right) Chris Nieves, Tato Laviera, Prisionera, Sery Colón, Elena Martinez, Jorge Vazquez. 

Photo Credit: Thomas Haskin.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by 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.

PW-funded poet Camille Dungy blogs about the daily life of writers and the role Poets & Writers' Readings/Workshops program plays in that life. Dungy is a professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. She has published three collections of poetry—Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Book Prize; Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press); and What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press).

Camille Dungy

1) The writer asks questions.

2) The writer answers those questions.

3) The writer elaborates on the answers. In other words, a writer doesn't just stick with ROYGBiV answers, but answers questions the way a bird can see colors, as in more completely, more complexly, more deeply than most humans can imagine.

4) The writer imagines.

5) The writer worries. Does anyone care? Does it matter? Is anyone out there? Can anyone see what I say I have seen? Does anyone care?

6) The writer asks a series of questions that override the worry for awhile. What, for instance, is it about writing, the writer asks, that would cause a group of young people in Mozambique, a nation devastated by decades of war and until recently listed as one of the 10 poorest in the world, to found Revista Líteratas, a blog dedicated to discussing the vibrancy of Afro-Lusophone literature? The writer won't rest until she can begin to understand what is it about the literature that keeps the writer going back to the page, even if the page is written in something as foreign as Portuguese.

7) The writer works toward penning answers to those questions. This is what the writer might call the spreading of truth. This is what the world might call translation.

8) The writer elaborates, wondering how the time she spends writing her own poems or translating others' can honor the time writers in organizations like California Poets in the Schools spend teaching second grade students, and high school students, and hospital-bound children, and children moving through the juvenile correction system, and students moving past the juvenile correction system, and junior high school students, and first graders how to learn to love poetry. The writer could go on and on about the importance of expanding people's access to literature.

9) The writer worries that the questions she is asking have been asked already or that the answers, those particular answers the writer spent so much time elaborately imagining in tones far beyond red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and even violet, have been written already by someone who is better at writing than the writer believes herself to be. The writer also imagines that the answers she has taken such care elaborating upon will reveal Poets & Writers' secrets and will, she half worries, trigger the release of some agent who will set out hot on her tail. Will the agent laugh at the writer's tail?

10) The writer asks what on heaven's earth is the relationship between a tail and a trail and a tale and when the words diverged or converged, if ever they did either; and how to most colorfully get this cacophony of ideas down on the page without confusing the reader, if there is a reader out there to confuse; and if these are questions worth spending time writing about...

That's what writers do all day.

Go ask a writer.

Photo: Camille Dungy.  Photo credit: Marcia Wilson/Wide Vision Photography.

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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