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Readings & Workshops Blog

Jean Grau, author of the poetry collection Riverbend, is a storyteller in poetry and prose. A native of New Orleans, P&W has co-sponsored her readings at local nursing homes and public libraries since 2008. We asked her a few questions about her work with seniors.

Why have you chosen to work with seniors?
My parents respected life in all its stages. I do, too. Seniors are special to me because of their experience, strength, and courage.

What are your reading dos and don’ts?
Wear bright, happy clothes. Make sure those with hearing problems are in the front. Move. Enjoy the poetry, along with the audience. Never forget readings are command performances for very special people. I avoid depressing subjects, except for the adventurous group at The Shepherd Center, whose motto is: "Bring it on. We can handle it."

How do you and your audience benefit from the live reading experience?
I benefit by feeling useful and helpful. They receive mental and emotional stimulation. Even the very sick enjoy the rhythm and soothing properties of poetry.

What are some of the most memorable moments in your work with seniors?
My second book is based on exhibits traveling to the New Orleans Museum of Art, including one that featured Fabergé eggs. On a beautiful spring day at the nursing home St. Anna's Residence, a small group had assembled in the front yard to hear me read these poems. As the activity director began to pass around foot-high color photos of the Fabergé eggs, loud “oohs” and “ahs” began. Attendants who had chosen not to attend the reading came running out, pushing their charges. There was such a commotion. Some workmen "discovered" they had to walk slowly by.

At another event, there was a paralyzed gentleman in intensive care. His head was in a brace, but his eyes were bright and alert as he listened intently. At the end of my presentation, he said in a clear, gallant voice: "Thank you for a great, an animated, flawless performance." He made me feel as though I were on the stage at Lincoln Center taking my bows.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Everyone needs beauty. So many people tell me that in grade school they enjoyed poetry, but in high school they stopped. Readings reintroduce people to the intellectual stimulation, the emotional comfort, and the rhythm and music of poetry.

Photo: Jean Grau. Credit: Patricia Senentz.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans 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.

Longtime P&W–supported poet and playwright Bob Flor blogs about attending readings.

Many of the P&W–supported Pinoy Works Expressed readings have led to the discovery of local Filipino writers, such as Toni Bajado, Oliver de la Paz, Rick Barot, Michelle Penaloza, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, Geronimo Tagatac, Donna Miscolta, and Peter Bacho. Much of the Filipino communities in Seattle and around Puget Sound were unaware of the literary richness of their city. Readings at the Pagdiriwang Festival, Seattle University, and the University of Washington has led these Filipino writers to receive invitations to read at Washington Poets Association-Burning Word!, Elliott Bay Bookstore, Open Books: A Poem Emporium, and Richard Hugo House, among other venues.

I became interested in playwriting around 2005 but quickly realized I didn’t know what I was doing. At a P&W–supported reading, I learned that Toni Bajado, a writer I’ve worked with before, wrote plays as well as poetry. Her play Fish won the Diversity Scholarship From Freehold. A major benefit of attending readings is the ability to share work, information, and resources with other writers. Readings also provide the chance to share and gather commentary about scenes.

Though I’ve also taken a few at Freehold Theatre, I’m currently taking a course at ACT Theatre. There are usually fewer than twelve participants, and the writing exercises include table readings and work revisions. My most recent play The FAYTS–Filipino American Young Turks incorporates balagtasan, a popular form of poetic debate in the Philippines. I learned about the form during a P&W–supported reading I attended, then created one as part of a scene for my course.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Presenter of literary events Robert Francis Flor, who is also the co-founder and director of Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts, writes about his forthcoming P&W–supported event.

A while ago I met with Reni Roxas, the editor and publisher of Hanggang sa Muli–Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul, and Seattle University’s United Filipino Club/Filipino Alumni Association to curate a P&W–supported April reading, something we’ve been doing since 2008. This year contributing writers include several local poets and memoir writers, but the event's success is largely due to the work of our college student cohosts. Responsibilities were parsed out so students had an opportunity to organize and manage the event. They scheduled the conference room, planned and implemented the marketing, arranged for book sales, and even set up and secured refreshments.

  • The April 18 poetry, memoir, and short story program included a welcome from UFC cohosts Michael Cu and Rosalie Cabison, remarks by Silliman University Filipino Alumni Association member Mary Galvez, remarks from Reni Roxas, an introduction to selected readings by Maria Batayola and readings by Eddie Jose (son of F. Sionil Jose), Greg Castilla, Toni Bajado, Jeff Rice, Dorothy Cordova, and myself.

The students are great because they bring curiosity, enthusiasm, and innovation to everything they do. Several have expressed interest in becoming writers, and it’s a pleasure for me to help make their aspirations reality. Few things are better than getting to interact with the next generation of passionate writers.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Writer and energy-work practitioner Deborah Mayaan recently co-taught a workshop for people with cancer and their loved ones in Tucson, Arizona, with Rabbi Stephanie Aaron. The workshop was co-sponsored by Congregation Chaverim and the Readings/Workshops program.

In a recent workshop on embodying our values, a woman wrote about her frustration with her mother, who had agreed to take care of a collection of large household items that had great meaning to her mother. We had been working on extracting the positive values from happy memories, and finding the life lessons in challenging experiences. When searching for what she might learn from this, the woman in the workshop first thought about the benefit of simplifying and not collecting things, because they can be a burden on future generations. But she was open to other perspectives, and several people suggested that the collection could be seen as a gift to be enjoyed rather than curated, and could even be dispersed throughout the family.

We agreed that stories can be the best legacies: They take up very little space in paper form and virtually none electronically. No one needs to dust them or move them from house to house. And when more than one person wants this legacy, there is no fighting over it; it can be shared infinitely among people.

When written down, a story has an enduring quality, so that the original writer’s thoughts and feelings are conveyed intact. And yet, it is still alive. Even when the story is received by someone with no memory of the event, or even of the writer, the reader’s  perspective continues to evolve over time. This last point was especially important to one participant who had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer, who was considering the legacy he would leave his children.

At all three venues where Rabbi Stephanie Aaron and I taught this winter—the Arizona Cancer Center, Casa de la Luz Hospice, and Congregation Chaverim—people felt the power of stories to help us clarify our values and strengthen us so that we can make the most of each moment, and share our legacies with those around us.

Photo: Deborah Mayaan (standing) tells a story about values learned from her mother. Credit: Rabbi Stephanie Aaron.

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.

For the month of April, P&W–supported poet, playwright, and presenter of literary events Robert Francis Flor blogs about his writing life and role as co-founder and director of the literary organization Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts. A Seattle native, Flor has published poems in Soundings Review, 4 and 20 Journal, Poets Against the War, the Seattle Post Intelligencer, among others, and his debut play “Daniel’s Mood–Mestizos,” a Studio Lab selection at Freehold Theatre, was published in 2011.

In 2006 I co-founded Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts with a friend—Maria Batayola. Our objective was to introduce the public to Filipino American writers, and we quickly discovered a number of Filipinos producing poetry, literature, and plays. This led us to launch our first reading at the Pagdiriwang Festival. Since then, writers such as Oliver de la Paz, Rick Barot, Geronimo Tagatac, Peter Bacho, Tess Uriza Holthe, Marianne Villaneuva, Toni Bajado, Oscar Penaranda, Donna Miscolta, Ben Gonio, Rebecca Mabanglo-Mayor, and Angela Martinez Dy have been featured. This month I am hard at work coordinating our 2012 reading series.

Poets & Writers, Inc., has supported Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts readings since 2008. This past year, P&W funded the series at Seattle University and the University of Washington. Peter Bacho, author of Leaving Yesler, and Donna Miscolta, author of When the de la Cruz Family Danced, read from their recent novels. The funding supports the continued success of the readings and has elevated the profile of local Filipino writers. It’s also fostered the interest of the community, and several students have been inspired to embark on writing careers.

Pinoy Words Expressed will also be collaborating with the United Filipino Students at Seattle University and the Filipino American Students Association at the University of Washington to host readings from the anthology Hanggang sa MuliHomecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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.

Bob Flor, co-founder and director of  Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts' on organizing their annual April Reading.

I met Reni Roxas the editor and publisher of “Hanggang sa Muli – Homecoming Stories for the Filipino Soul” with Seattle University’s United Filipino Club and their Filipino Alumni Association to develop an April reading. Contributing writers included several local poets and memoir writers. Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts worked with the UFC or their counterpart, the Filipino American Student Association at the University of Washington, since 2008 to host readings featuring Filipino writers.

I’ve learned a lot, and am continuing to learn a lot, in my classes at ACT, so it’s nice to step back into the role of teacher with these annual readings. Responsibilities are parsed out so students have an opportunity to organize and manage an event. They schedule the conference room, plan and implement the marketing, arrange book sales, set-up and secure refreshments. Students emcee and host these readings, usually attracting 40 to 50 people.

The Wednesday, April 18th evening program of poetry, memoir and short story includes:

Welcome, UFC Co-emcees Michael Cu and Rosalie Cabison
Remarks by SU Filipino Alumni Association, Mary Galvez
Editor's Remarks, Reni Roxas
Introduction to Selected Readings, Maria Batayola
"The Pretenders" narrated by Eddie Jose (son of F. Sionil Jose)
"Bridging the Gap Among Filipinos in America" by Greg Castilla
"First Visit to Balogo" by Toni Bajado
"Sambayan" by Jeff Rice
"The Soil of My Roots" by Dorothy Cordova
"Pinoy Heroes" guest reading by Robert Francis Flor
* Q&A Panel *
12-Minute Audience Writing Exercise: "What Homecoming Means to Me" and sharing of written works
Closing Remarks, UFC Co-emcees
Book-signing and refreshments

The students are great because they bring curiosity, enthusiasm and potential. Several have expressed interest in becoming writers and it’s a pleasure to help bridge the gap of taking their aspirations from dreams to reality. What could be better than getting to interact with the next generation of passionate writers?

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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 presenter of literary events Michael Cirelli, author of Lobster With Ol' Dirty Bastard, Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Everyone Loves The Situation, blogs about his experience as a P&Wsupported poet.

As I began to get a steady hold on the roller coaster that is nonprofit management, while still finding time to engage NYC's rich literary scene, I quickly realized that not only did Urban Word NYC benefit from P&W’s Readings/Workshops program, but I would personally benefit from P&W support.

I was asked to read at the P&Wsupported Parachute Literary Festival in Coney Island. The coolest thing about the reading was that it was held at the New York Aquarium in front of a wall-to-ceiling sized tank of glowing jellyfish! So, while I read poems about robots, the jellyfish floated behind me looking like spaceships. Fitting. It was an incredible event and the venue made it extremely memorablenot to mention The Cyclone roller coaster and Totonno’s Pizza down the block.

My trajectory crossed paths with another amazing P&Wsupported reading, The Inspired Word series. What made this event special, aside from it being a great weekly open mic and feature, was that I was reading as a contributor to Best American Poetry 2011. My former professor and friend, poet David Lehman, hosted the reading and it was an honor to read with esteemed poets.

Being in NYC, the circles seem to get smaller and smaller. What once seemed like a dream, slowly became a reality that always seemed to be connected to P&W. I couldn’t have imagined ten years ago that one day I’d be part of a P&Wsupported reading for Best American Poetry...

Photo: Michael Cirelli. Credit: Syreeta McFadden.

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

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