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Readings & Workshops Blog

Longtime P&W-supported poet and author of the collections Raw Air, Night When Moon Follows and Convincing the Body Cheryl Boyce Taylor blogs about the late P&W-supported poet Rodlyn Douglas.

In 2004, I took a leave of absence from the P&W-sponsored Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center's senior writing workshop. I sought out Rodlyn Douglas, a warm and talented poet/performer from Trinidad, to be my replacement. Rodlyn could break into laughter one minute and prayer the next. She knew how to pull work out of people and enjoyed working with seniors.

Each week the group read poems by poets they had never heard of before. Whenever participants asked about her life or her work, Rodlyn never hesitated to share her personal stories.

Rodlyn charged the group with exploring their silences, to look within and be honest. Rodlyn encouraged them to leave a legacy of truth and dignity.

When the group had difficulty opening up, she would say, "Memories and Stories: Once Upon A Time!" This phrase opened doors to hidden places in their lives and enabled them to write from experience and memory. The phrase also became the title of their anthology, edited and published by Rodlyn in 2009.

It is important for me to note that Rodlyn completed this anthology during a period when she was seriously ill. Throughout it all, Rodlyn always expressed to me how proud and happy she was to be able to teach poetry, the work she loved so much.

Photo: Cheryl Boyce Taylor and Rodlyn Douglas. Credit: Desciana Swinger.

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.

Poet and presenter of literary events Cheryl Boyce Taylor, curator of the Calypso Muse reading series and the Glitter Pomegranate performance series, blogs about Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center's P&W-supported senior writing workshop.

Shortly after 9/11 I began teaching a senior writing workshop at Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. The workshops were designed to create a safe and nurturing space for seniors to express the impact of the tragedy on their lives. Additionally, it offered an opportunity for seniors to recall, explore, and document their own amazing stories. 

The workshop had a wonderful mix of seniors, which made for interesting and, sometimes, challenging sessions. Among our members were a retired school principal, a fashion designer, a WWII veteran, a fiction writer, a multi-lingual social worker, and a Caribbean heiress. Some of them were shy, while others had a more take charge attitude.

That first year we wrote stories, poems, and letters about childhood, parenting, health, and 9/11. We wrote to music, explored poetic forms like haikus, tankas, centos, and free verse, and invited emerging and established poets to read their work and discuss poetry. One of the invited poets was the late Rodlyn H. Douglas. The group fell instantly in love with her warmth, storytelling abilities, and poetry.

During that year, we collected poems and stories for an anthology and made artthe class painted and wrote text on rocks and made picture frames with poems and family pictures inside. The highlight was the P&W intergenerational reading held each summer. We joined other P&W-supported workshops comprised of young and older writers. Readers invited friends, family, and P&W staff. What a joy it was to see them rehearse, then dress up for their special reading. There were many wonderful parts of my teaching experience there, but I couldn't have been more proud than when I heard them read their own work with pride and confidence.

Photos: (top) Cheryl Boyce Taylor; credit: Artis Q. Wright. (Bottom) Rodlyn Douglas (standing) and workshop participant Mae Del Gilmore; credit: Cheryl Boyce Taylor.

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.

Devoya Mayo is a poet, playwright, former radio personality, DJ, tastemaker, and events coordinator with P&W-sponsored The Soulflower Group. Based in Fresno, she dedicates her time to curating events that bridge the divide between the diverse communities residing within California’s Central Valley. From 2005–2006, Mayo was P&W’s Central Valley outreach consultant. Under the moniker Ms. Soulflower, you can find her spinning music in dimly lit establishments, organizing and hosting gatherings, and creating art via Etsy.

What makes the Soulflower Group unique?
We are a consortium of designers, DJs, musicians, photographers, poets, and organizers connected by the tenet that creativity and culture are essential in building community wellness.

What recent project have you been especially proud of?
The P&W-supported Soulflower Speakeasy featuring Sunni Patterson, along with Stephen Mayu, Connie Owens, and Joy Graves, was the easy standout of the year. Sharing space with someone who had appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam, performed at major spoken-word venues, and worked with several well-known artists and performers—including Sonia Sanchez, Wanda Coleman, and Amiri Barakawas spiritually motivating and an honest-to-goodness awakening. From the moment Sunni walked on stage with her son, she offered us a glimpse into her soul through poetry, reflecting the strife, angst, joy, and hope that many of us were feeling.

How do you find and invite readers?
I find writers via word-of-mouth, social networks, and the occasional open-mic night. You can’t walk down the street in a place like Fresno and not run into a writer of some kind. California’s Central Valley has always been home to a host of heavy hitters like Connie Hales, Tim Z. Hernandez, Juan Felipe Herrera, Lee Herrick, Philip Levine, and Gary Soto.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
One night a crowd favorite walked on stage, placed a gym bag on a stool, and began to read from his chapbook. As he read about the abuse inflicted by various objects, he began to reach into his bag and toss out the offending objects. He threw boots, belts and, yes, even an iron into a crowd of poetry lovers. Needless to say, there were lots of near misses and, afterwards, we enacted a no-Gallagher-type-antics disclaimer for future events.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
When I’m part of an event, or in the process of curating one, my literary antennae are on high alert. I push myself harder and listen more than I speak, which is hard... let me tell ya. The elements that speak to me, or don't speak to me, inform what I want to provide.
 
What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Very few have the power, resources, or authority to demand more programming. This is how we knew we had to do more than just daydream about what it would be like if we were really to invest in our artistic futures.

Photo: Devoya Mayo. Credit: Joe Osejo Photography.

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

Poet and presenter of literary events Cheryl Boyce Taylor, blogs about the P&W-supported Calypso Muse Reading Series in New York City.

In  the summer of 1994, I founded the Calypso Muse Reading Series. I wanted to create a place where Caribbean poets could nuture their work and native dialect. First, I called some of my favorite poets to tell them about the series. They were thrilled and jumped at the opportunity to share their work. Next, I contacted P&W to inquire about its Readings/Workshops program. My next call was to my friend Sigrid, who owned a small cafe in SoHo.

We opened that September to a full house! Rodlyn Douglas, Suheir Hammad, and Hal Sirowitz were my first features, along with a stirring open mic. The series boasted a bevy of poets from diverse backgrounds, some of the poets included: Sekou Sundiata, Jewelle Gomez, Elena Georgiou, and Cheryl Clarke.

Poets from Calypso Muse past have parlayed their voices into writing careers! Hal Sirowitz was awarded an NEA, Suheir Hammad won the Audre Lorde Writing Award, and Rodlyn Douglas was the P&W-supported writer at Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center's senior writing program.

P&W gave Calypso Muse its first grants of twenty five dollars per reader! The support we received helped to nuture our stories. The series' poets reminded audiences that every voice is authentic and deserves celebration.

Since 1994, I have received P&W funding for a number of programs, including: Trini Girls Take Brooklyn, The Womens Reading Series at McNally Jackson Books, and the Calypso Muse House Reading Series. With P&W support, I've become a force in the literary community!

Photo: Cheryl Boyce Taylo. Credit: Artis Q. Wright.

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.

Playwright Jill Patrick, who runs Working Title Playwrights in Atlanta, Georgia, blogs about the organization's P&W-supported Playwrights &... series.

There is no greater danger than an artist without an outlet, which might be why so many playwrights write in other genres. Launched in 2005, Working Title Playwrights has provided playwrights the opportunity to write in other genres and to present their original work to the public. Held in bookstores and other non-theatrical venues, the readings bring together Atlanta-area playwrights and audiences that may have no interest in live theater. The audience is made up of folks who like to read, poetry enthusiasts, or those who may have just stumbled across the reading.

I was one of the original three Working Title Playwright members to participant in Playwrights &... (along with Pamela Turner and Marian X). I am a decidedly navel-gazing poet, slowly luring adverbs from my belly button. It took the challenge of putting together an hour-long reading of my own work for me to realize that my best writing had variations of the same ingredients: food and family. Eating the Singletaries: Tales from a Tall Redhead was a journey of discovery for me as a writer, and an emotional roller coaster ride for the audience. Not only do I have a lot to say about family, but there is an audience for my work (and not one word of it was meant for the stage). To my surprise and delight, I realized that I am not a playwright who writes poetry, but a poet who writes plays.

Through Playwrights &..., Patricia Henritze (co-author of Anthony+Cleopatra Remix, a re-imagining of Shakespeare's original) presented excerpts from her own memoir, Learning To Talk: My Life Story and Other Fiction. But, the program isn't limited to memoir. Hilary King presented Matthew, Mark, Luke & Potluck: Church Poems. Hank Kimmel paid tribute to the peerless Spalding Gray, The Last Stand of a Stand-Up Comic. Raymond Fast, Karla Jennings,Vynnie Meli, and Topher Payne were also introduced to audiences that may have otherwise been unaware of their diverse, dynamic voices. Playwrights &... will resume this fall with a reading by Lisa Brathwaite, author of True Hotku: 69 haiku celebration of women and our real hotness.

Photo: (left to right) Jill Patrick, Daphne Mintz, Sherry Lee. Credit: Perry Patrick.

Support for the Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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 November, P&W–supported writers Philip Levine and Adam Falkner read at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City. P&W’s development and marketing associate, Auzelle Epeneter, writes about attending her first Readings/Workshops (R/W) event.

This fall I decided to really make a go of it—I was going to carve out the time to attend my first P&W–supported event. I joined P&W’s staff over the summer to manage the Friends of Poets & Writers program, but between finding my sea legs in this new role and planning (and executing) a wedding, it took me some time to make the space in my schedule.

Being present at an R/W event was of particular importance to me because the program is supported in part by gifts I help raise through the Friends program. My daily efforts contribute toward sustaining all of Poets & Writers’ programs, including Poets & Writers Magazine and pw.org, but I wanted to see firsthand what an R/W event was all about.

On a rainy night in November, I found space in a packed house at Bowery Poetry Club for Page Meets Stage’s monthly offering—that night, Poet Laureate Philip Levine read with NYC-based spoken-word poet Adam Falkner. Page Meets Stage has been around since 2005, and its website describes the series as one that “pairs more page-oriented, academic poets with poets who come from a more spoken-word or performative background. Both poets are on stage at the same time and read back and forth, poem for poem.”

That night, Levine and Falkner presented their work to a crowd of rapt listeners. The juxtaposition was a real pleasure—Levine quiet, distinguished, and simple in his approach, Falkner bold, thoughtful, and raw.  But each showed genuine interest and delight in hearing his counterpart read, and each allowed their seemingly disparate styles to build upon one other. The dialogue developed throughout the evening and resulted in a resonance that left everyone in the room buzzing.

To attend a reading of well-crafted poems by great writers is, to me, a rare treat. But to experience two people in conversation, discovering together how their connections make up similar but unique pieces of the evolution of American poetry, was something else altogether.

Photo: Philip Levine (left) with Adam Falkner. Photo credit: Lee Weston Taylor.

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.

For the month of February, longtime P&W–supported poet and presenter of literary events Cheryl Boyce Taylor blogs about her favorite subject: poetry, among other topics. Taylor is the founder of the Calypso Muse Reading Series, which takes place in New York City, and author of the collections Raw Air, Night When Moon Follows and Convincing the Body.

I was born on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, in the town of Arima, a small town nestled between mountains and red hills. My mother grew up in this town as well, and from her I inherited my love of poetry. When my mom was a child, part of her school curriculum was to read and memorize poetry. She was excellent at this, and at the end of every school year she would win the poetry recitation contest.

When I was a toddler, my mother was getting dressed to go to a local poetry reading. I began begging her to take me along. It was already past my bedtime, so she said, "no," but I put up such a fuss that she told me if I could dress myself, I could go. My mother says that I left the room and when I returned I was fully dressed, including socks and shoes. The only thing she had to do was zip the back of my dress. She was astonished because she didn't know I could dress myself. My mother took me to the reading that night... I like to believe that that was the beginning of my love affair with poetry.

As I grew older, I too enjoyed memorizing and reciting poems. In my grammar school years our country was under British rule and we were forced to study and memorize English poetry. We studied the works of Shelley, Byron, Keats, and Shakespeare. These were beautiful works of art, but I began to lose interest. I wanted poems that I could hold, poems that I could ask questions of and find myself in the answers. I longed to see myself in the poems that I loved. I wanted poems that had mangoes, coconut trees, and star apples, poems with brown girls with shiny cocoa skin, and thick nappy braids contained by huge red and yellow bows, not just girls with milk-white skin and ringlets of golden curls blowing in the wind.

So, when I first heard the political and social musings of Calypso, coupled with the African-Griot rhythms of steel pan and dialect, I began to feel the stirrings of different poems taking root inside me. Calypso is an uptempo rhythm with roots in West Africa. Calypso evolved as a way of spreading news around the island, its lyrics explore issues of skin color, hair texture, family life, and everyday political and personal struggle with humor and story... I was finally hearing stories of my life, and the lives of the people I lived with and loved.

At thirteen, I immigrated to New York City. Right away my dialect set me apart. My peers and teachers laughed at my accent, but something inside said: Love your dialect, it is your birthright, part of a proud heritage. Inspired by that voice, during the summer of 1994, I founded the Calypso Muse Reading Series, which brings poets of all nationalities and languages together.

Photo: Cheryl Boyce Taylor. Credit: Artis Q. Wright.

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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