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Readings & Workshops Blog

San Diego-based poet and presenter of literary events Ilya Kaminsky, awarded an American Academy of Arts and Letters's Metcalf Award, a Whiting Writers Award, and a Lannan Fellowship, blogs about the wealth of P&W-supported events in San Diego.

Contemporary literature is alive and well in San Diego! This city is home to some of the nation’s best authors and translators, including Jerome Rothenberg, Rae Armontraut, Sandra Alcosser, David and Eleanor Antin, Marilyn Chin, Steve Kowit, Jericho Brown, Steven Paul Martin, Harold Jaffe, David Matlin, Deniz Perin, Joseph Thomas, Lorraine Graham, Mark Wallace, Halina Duraj, Michael Davidson, Christina Rivera Garza, and others—most of whom are P&W-supported poets.

San Diego has the San Diego Writers, Ink, founded by the inimitable Judy Reeves, and at least four major literary arts festivals, all of which are P&W-supported!—City College International Book Festival, Grossmont College Literary Arts Festival, San Diego County Library Book Festival, and Border Voices, a beloved festival that brings together major authors and high school students.

The P&W-supported &Now Festival was held at University of California San Diego (UCSD) in 2011 and showcased some of the most innovative writers. Local colleges and universities also have reading series, such as Living Writers Series at San Diego State University. At the UCSD, acclaimed poet Ben Doller heads the New Writing Series. Award winning writers Jericho Brown and Halina Duraj host the University of San Diego's Cropper Writers Series, which brings Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winners to town. At California State University San Marcos, Mark Wallace heads the Community and World Literary Series.

This year, I was able to visit several diverse and exciting community-based reading series, including the Agitprop Reading Series, run by the talented Lorraine Graham at San Diego Museum of Art as well as the warm, community-oriented and P&W-supported Upstart Crow Reading Series run by a veteran of the San Diego literary community, Seretta Martin. There is the Poetry & Art Slam at the Museum of Living Artist, Collective Purpose spoken word performances, Write Out Loud, open readings at Blue Stockings Books, and others.

Writers Ink (also known as Ink Spot) has served the San Diego community for many years, offering a number of workshops and literary happenings. There is the San Diego Poetry Annual anthology and the San Diego Book Awards. If you are in La Jolla, there is a lively reading series at the Jewish Community Center. La Jolla Day School also has an established literary series that brings such P&W-supported poets as Carolyn Forche and Philip Levine. Hosted by the talented poet and teacher Bruce Boston, this series is one of La Jolla’s best kept secrets!

Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.

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

Lisa Bowden is the publisher and co-founder of the P&W-supported Kore Press in Tucson, where P&W has been supporting literary events since 2008. A poet who works with dancers and musicians, she is also an award-winning book designer and currently serves on the advisory board of Girls Write Now. A graduate of the University of Arizona, Bowden has made her home in Tucson for nearly three decades.

What makes your press and its programs unique?
Kore is one of six presses left in the country dedicated to publishing the intellectual and creative work of women writers. The press is also entering its nineteenth year, which is a bit of a coup for a small, nonprofit house.

In addition to publishing, we have educational and literary activism projects that take writing off the page to engage the public in innovative ways. For example, we just completed a Big Read using Emily Dickinson as our focus of inquiry to help heal our city after the 2011 shootings. We collaborated with forty organizations, businesses, and individuals to reinterpret Dickinson's work and find new ways of reading and writing (using dancers, musicians, actors, students, libraries, pastry chefs, the bus system, translators, a videographer, visual artists, etc.). P&W helped fund a writing workshop by visiting poet/art critic Eva Heisler.

What recent projects have you been especially proud of and why?
We adapted the book Powder: Writing by Women in the Ranks, from Vietnam to Iraq to the stage. We used the production, “Coming in Hot,” as a tool for civil discourse by touring it in high schools and non-theater venues to get people talking about difficult issues women face in war times.

Kore also runs an after-school writing-as-activism program for teen girls and transgendered youth to help them get their story into public circulation. Most recently, the girls created a short film based on peer interviews exploring issues of sex and identity, which screened in our local independent movie house.

What’s the most moving thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
After watching our play, female veterans who had never been able to talk about their experiences overseas felt a catharsis and liberty to speak. One female veteran, who ended up following us as we toured the play to high schools to answer students's questions, said that seeing the play and working with us saved her life.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
I am honored whenever I'm listed as a reader or speaker at someone else's literary program, as I know how hard the work is! After doing so much of the same work myself, it's always nice to be on the other side. It's also heartening, as a writer, to participate and learn from fellow presenters and writers. It's such a rich writing community we have in the United States.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs in your community?
Tucsonans are fortunate to have both the University of Arizona and the Poetry Center in our city, as well as many non-university/institutional literary organizations that do a variety of programming. We are steeped in literature of all kinds. We relate with and through a love of words, understanding, and staying in positive conversation with our crossroads culture and western borderlands.

Photo: Lisa Bowden. Credit: Sam Ace.

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.

San Diego-based P&W-supported poet and presenter of literary events Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa and co-editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry blogs about San Diego literary journals.

Among the literary presses and journals in San Diego is Sandra and Ben Doller’s 1913 press and  1913: a journal of forms. Founded almost ten years ago, the press and journal publishes some of the most innovative writing around—Eleanor Antin, Jerome Rothenberg, Rae Armantrout, Cole Swensen, John Yau, Claudia Rankine, John Keene, and Sawako Nakayasu, among others. Sandra and Ben Doller, important contemporary poets in their own right, are very generous to donate their time and resources to make this literary feast happen in San Diego.

Another exciting literary journal published in San Diego is the P&W-supported California Journal of Poetics. This beautiful online journal that includes interviews, reviews, literary panels and conversations is presented with a profound desire to expand the literary discussion in new ways. Recent issues include interviews with longtime P&W-supported poet Robert Pinsky and a profile of Tomas Transtromer.

Certainly the oldest literary journal in San Diego, Fiction International, was conceived almost twenty years ago, and is considered one of the country’s leading literary publications. Having published such greats as Clarice Lispector, Allen Ginsberg, Kathy Acker, J.M. Coetzee, and many others, Fiction International promotes honest, musical, literary prose.

One is pleased to see that there are new journals and presses being launched in San Diego, even at this time of deep economic uncertainty. Just last week, I heard about the new national journal for undergraduates with a particular emphasis on literature in translation, Alchemy: Journal of Translation @ UCSD (University of California San Diego). The journal was founded by Amelia Glaser, a talented translator and first-rate scholar of Slavic and Yiddish literature!

Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.

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

P&W-supported poet, fiction writer, and playwright Joan Murray, author of Dancing on the Edge and Looking for the Parade, and recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, blogs about readings and workshops conducted across New York State.

Years ago in an economic downturn, my family left New York City for Buffalo—a city that has two nicknames: "City of Good Neighbors" and "City of No Illusiions." I liked Buffalo for being both. It was welcoming and self-deprecating—as well as artistically progressive. Yet, I was puzzled when people kept asking me, "Where are you?"

What they meant was: "Which college are you teaching at?" I'd been teaching college in New York City, and with my publishing credits, people assumed I must be at a college there. It still mystifies me how people can believe that teaching eighteen-year-olds at a college is prestigious and important, while teaching seventeen-year-olds or seventy-year-olds in the community isn't. At one of the first readings I did in Buffalo, I was introduced as having poems in the Atlantic Monthly, and Harper's, which made someone say, "What are you doing here? "

What I'm "doing" is bringing my writing to people, getting it on its feet, and sharing my moves with others who want to discover theirs. Last year, with P&W's help, I brought my writing to people at the Merritt Book Festival in Millbrook; the Wadsworth Library in Geneseo; the Thomas Cole Site in Catskill; the Elsewhere Café in Albion—as well as to a teen writing conference, a college literary club, a senior residence, and the Hudson Opera House.

But there's one place I keep returning to because it has an admirable mission and a fabulous view—Wiawaka Holiday House, the women's retreat on Lake George. Founded in 1903, by an industrialist's enlightened daughter who wanted factory women to have a holiday, Wiawaka now welcomes women of all backgrounds, asking the more advantaged participants to help subsidize the less advantaged.

My Wiawaka schedule usually involves a Saturday morning workshop, a Saturday evening reading, and a Sunday morning "poetry service" on the dock. Some participants come specifically to work with me. Others just drop by. One who stopped by last July wrote a poem that stunned the rest of us, and left her in tears. She told us afterwards that her husband had died suddenly that winter and she'd been numb inside till the poem released her.

I can't predict who I'll be working with at Wiawaka. It might be members of a lesbian book club, along with cancer survivors and serial knitters. And I can't predict how things will go. Once when I was reading a poem about a violent incident, a knitter exclaimed, "If that's contemporary poetry, I don't want any of it!"  What was my take-away from that? Obviously, the poem had done its job (who knows where the emotion took her later). But, more immeditately, another knitter gave me a terrific discount on a scarf.

But my big take-away is the active, authentic engagement with people (lots of different people), which can be stimulating to a writer, as well as challenging and fun.

Photo: Joan Murray. Credit: David Lee.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

San Diego-based P&W-supported poet Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa and co-editor of Ecco Anthology of International Poetry, blogs about Southern California's Red Hen Press

It is impossible to begin a conversation about literary presses and happenings in Southern California without instantly mentioning P&W-supported Red Hen Press, which is a great deal more than just a literary press. Red Hen’s Kate Gale and Mark Cull, both talented authors in their own right, have created something very special with Red Hen—it is a press, a community force, an organization behind several reading series in Southern California, an outreach program for writing in schools, and many other things.

One Red Hen book I read recently moved me, the new novel by P&W-supported writer David Matlin, “A HalfMan Dreaming”—a second installment in his epic trilogy about the beauty and violence of the American landscape. Lupe, a protagonist is taken from the world of rose farms and egg ranchers in post-World War Two America, from a town haunted by the Enola gay and the nuclear Bomb, to prison in Detroit. The book is as terrifying as it is gorgeous, with beautiful, sensuous prose.

Another book of contemporary prose that I have read in recent months that just won’t let me be is Garth Greenwell’s “Mitko”—winner of Miami University Press’s 2011 Novella Contest (one of the very few such novella prizes in the country), this is a book about betrayal, forbidden desire, where sentence structures are as engaging as the plot lines and prose is musical, meditative and evocative; this is the story of an American who finds himself in Sophia, Bulgaria. A new take on Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” Greenwell’s novella is able to ask hard questions about loss, sexual desire, and loneliness. In Southern California, where I have heard many a writer complain of loneliness and absence of literary community, this work, somehow, particularly resonates. Garth Greenwell will read from his new workon April 16 at San Diego State University.

Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.

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

On November 30, 2011, Urban Possibilities held a culminating reading for Dorothy Randall Gray’s nine-week, P&W-supported poetry workshop, which served men and women living at the Los Angeles Mission on Skid Row.

Urban Possibilities, a nonprofit organization that brings inspiration and a variety of services to homeless men and women, held a reading for their Published Writers Program, taught by Dorothy Randall Gray. The event began with a warm reception and an introduction by Eyvette Jones Johnson, founder and executive director of Urban Possibilities.

There is a “sea of untapped potential in the inner-city,” Johnson said. “No matter where you are or what you’ve been through, [you] have gifts and talents to share.”

To write about their struggles, Johnson said, the participants had to have their “hearts wide open.” She asked that audience members reciprocate.

Gray was so proud of her students and the writing they produced that she said, “I feel like I almost gave birth.” She dedicated the piece she read, “You and Me, Me and You,” to her students. She described being “stranded at the corner of walk and don’t walk” and “invisible to those who will not see.” The poem repeated the phrase “they fly.”

All of the workshop participants came to the mission after living on the streets. Many have dealt with substance abuse, gambling, addiction, prison, and abusive relationships. “I felt like I was failing life,” participant Anthony Tate said. Another student said of the workshop: “It just sort of woke up my dream…I had put it on a shelf.”

To close the reading, the students stood together on stage and had the audience participate in an exercise. Each student said one word or phrase, and the audience said it back. After reciting the phrase “carpe diem” back, the whole auditorium burst into laughter when the voice of one young child echoed the phrase back a few moments afterward, provoking a whole new meaning and a sense of hope.

At the reception, participant Michael T. Williams reflected, “I was sleeping in graveyards, ‘cause I thought that was the safest place to be. Now I feel like Pinky and the Brain, and I’m ready to take over the world.”

Photo: Dorothy Randall Gray (center) with workshop participants. Credit: Craig Johnson Photography.

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

For the month of January (Happy New Year!), San Diego-based P&W-supported poet Ilya Kaminsky, will blog about the literary life in San Diego and Southern California. Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa, was awarded an American Academy of Arts and Letters' s Metcalf Award, a Whiting Writers Award, and a Lannan Fellowship, among others. Kaminsky begins the series with new books by San Diego authors or authors who will soon visit San Diego.

Next month will mark the first year of the establishment of the new literary press based in San Diego, Calypso Editions, which has, in just twelve months, published such authors as Tolstoy, the great Polish poet Anna Swir, the lively anthology of New Romanian poetry edited by Martin Woodside, and collections of talented debut prose and poetry from Beth Myhr and Anthony Bonds.

The work the press has done in barely one year is really astounding. The Anna Swir book, Building the Barricade, is a brilliant translation by Piotr Florczyk, who is fast becoming one of the best Polish translators. This book is filled with eros and witness.

Of Gentle Wolves: An Anthology of Romanian Poetry edited by Martin Woodside is a wild book—probably the most wild book I have read this year—filled with tenderness and empathy and beautiful wordplay. Woodside is able in this small anthology to bring across the whole tradition of modern Romanian poetry, which is a huge undertaking.

Elizabeth Myhr’s debut collection the vanishing & other poems is special. Her language is filled with urgency of our moment, a dwelling in which the silence speaks.

In Anthony Bonds’s novella, The Moonflower King, the hero is forced to make a journey from New York City to his ranch home in East Texas, to find the meaning of death, in a beautifully written story. Bonds is able to pull off a wise, tender book that is both a literary novella and a page-turner. A wonderful debut.

On March 19, Myhr, Bonds, and Woodside will give a talk at the P&W-supported Living Writers Series at San Diego State University to discuss the challenges and joys of starting the co-op press and will also read from their new work. On the same day, Chris Baron, a brilliant poet associated for many years with City Works Press—known for its P&W-supported major event, the San Diego City College International Book Fair—will also read. City Works has done a great deal for literary life in San Diego, publishing both local and nationally-known authors.

Photo: Ilya Kaminsky.

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

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