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Readings & Workshops Blog

Located in Chula Vista, California, Southwestern College (SWC) hosts a Guest Writers Series. Francisco Bustos, poet, musician, member of the spoken word/music collective Frontera Drum Fusion, and professor of English composition at SWC blogs about the P&W-supported reading series.

Every month SWC invites California-based writers to share their work. We have one bilingual reading and several Spanish language readings each semester. Many writers hail from San Diego County as well as the border cities of Tijuana, Baja, and California, Mexico. Being so close to the U.S.-Mexico border gives us a unique environment, rich in culture and aesthetic diversity. Our invited writers read in various styles, from English to Spanish and from Spanish to Spanglish (a mix of Spanish and English). It is not uncommon to hear audience members switch between languages in the middle of a conversation with a writer. 

On occasion, I participate as a poet/musician in literary and cultural events on both sides of the border. This gives me opportunities to network with writers from North County, San Diego, (the U.S. side of the border) as well as writers from Mexicali (the Mexican side of the border). Because of festivals like the Tijuana Book Fair and other festivals sponsored by the Tijuana Cultural Center, I also get to meet (and subsequently invite) writers who live far from our border region. We've had writers from as far as Mexico City!

This fall we are working on a reading that will involve Uberto Stabile, Spanish editor of the poetry anthology "Tan Lejos de Dios/So Far From God," a compilation of poetry from the Mexican side of the border region. Stabile will be presenting his book across the Mexican border region this November—hopefully, if all works out, with a pit stop at our very own SWC Guest Writer Series.

Photo:  Francisco Busto.  Credit: Gerardo Navarro.

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

Poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Shahid Reads His Own Palm and the memoir A Question of Freedom, blogs about Washington, D.C.-based writers who are making marks.

"Flat Langston" made quite an uproar last year during the Association of Writers & Writing Programs annual conference. For those who are unaware, there was once a cardboard cutout of Langston Hughes at the Busboys and Poets 14th Street location. It was there before poet, photographer, go-go aficionado, and D.C. native Thomas Sayers Ellis relieved it of its duties. The uproar isn’t as important now, forgotten as most things are forgotten.

All that to say, I love listening to stories of the District's past—about spots along the U Street corridor that once housed poetry, about Toni Asante Lightfoot’s legendary reading series, and nights when Holly Bass, Kenneth Carroll, Brian Gilmore, Brandon Johnson, Ernesto Mercer, Joel Dias-Porter, and others could be found with a sheaf of poems in hand burning the night sky. I dig those stories. I dig, too, that nostalgia is the curse that ruins us. While we celebrate the folks who have made marks on the cultural scene of the District, it seems much too easy to forget about the folks who are making marks right now.

Alan King and Derrick Weston Brown, for instance, have both been putting in work as poets and workshop leaders around the city, working with the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop at Hart Middle School and Ballou High School, respectively. Fred Joiner, a jack of all trades,  along with Jon West-Bey, Executive Director of the American Poetry Museum, engineered a cultural exchange with Belfast. Add to that Kyle Dargan,  assistant professor of creative writing at American University and editor of Post No Ills. Add still Simone Jackson of Sulu DC, Silvana Straw of DC Writer’s Corp and the Marpat Foundation. More? Melanie Henderson, forth generation D.C. native and winner of the Main Street Rag prize for her lovely collection of poems, Elegies for New York Avenue.

Still want more? Kim Roberts holds it down. Sarah Browning does her thing. So does Melissa Tuckey. Sandra Beasley. All of whom are wonderful, wonderful writers. Maybe this isn't a renaissance, but it damn sure isn't a drought.

Photo: Reginald Dwayne Betts. Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washinton, D.C., 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.

From May 19 to June 9, 2011, P&W-supported poet D. E. Connelly, author of the manuscript "A Twisted Balance: One-Line Haiku & a Few Senryu," taught a haiku workshop at the Armory Park Senior Center in Tucson, Arizona. We asked her to say a few words about the experience.

D.E. ConnellyThe poet-sage Matsuo Bashō, born 1644, wrote in memoriam of a friend, “never think of yourself / as someone who did not count— / festival of the souls.” Ueda translated this Japanese haiku into English. The poet-artist Marlene Mountain, born 1939, wrote “white sugar white flour white male”—no translation necessary: It was originally written in U.S. English. Mountain’s haiku reflects the three word-cluster device of classic one-line Japanese haiku as well as its device of image juxtaposition: The first and second word clusters are specific images; the third word cluster, “white male,” is metaphoric, resembling one (including males of color and all females) who, offering no nourishment, choose instead to promote oppressive practices that strip people and things of their inherent value. As Bashō’s tone was of his time and place, Mountain’s is of ours—and each poet agitates the soul: Will I be remembered?  How will I remembered? 

Poets & Writers remembered those of us in the Arizona desert at a time when recognition of each individual’s contribution was being white-washed. With its support and encouragement, the Armory Park Senior Center in Tucson was able to host In The Spirit of Haiku: Three Workshops & A Public Reading. Like water in the desert, sponsorship of a poetry workshop at the Center is wonderful, but rare. 

Workshop One, focusing on the haiku of Bashō (as translated by Sato), reviewed the classic poetic devices compressed within this seemingly simple one-line poem (e.g., two unequal phrases; a strong cutting word between; each phrase with its own specific imagery, which might portray the “what,” “when,” and “where” of the poet’s experience; a seasonal reference—all combined to best convey emotion in a syntax natural to the poet). 

workshop participantsWorkshop Two, focusing on the haiku of Marlene Mountain, explored how the initial haiku in U.S. English (introduced, arguably, in the 1950s) evolved into what is currently promoted in English as a form of ten-to-fourteen syllables. Throughout, but mostly in Workshop Three, attendees shared original work: One participant incorporated calligraphy; another haibun; another read haiku in German, demonstrating how sound patterns, even without sense, can convey emotion.

The public reading gave participants a chance to interact with an audience, which included a few people in their twenties from Tucson Youth Development. One youth was deeply moved by an elder’s seasonal allusion of being in her life’s “December,” with feet on fire from pain as well from an urgency to experience fully and profoundly what remains of her life.

A deep bow to Poets & Writers, the workshop participants, the audience, as well as the Armory Park Senior Center who published the participants’ haiku in its July newsletter.
   
Photos: (Top) D. E. Connelly. Credit: Tom Wuelpern; (bottom) workshop participants. Credit: D. E. Connelly.

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 August, Washington, D.C.–based poet Reginald Dwayne Betts, author of Shahid Reads His Own Palm and the memoir A Question of Freedom blogs about poetry in D.C. schools, Busboys and Poets, as well as his memory of being P&W-supported.

The Pen/Faulkner Foundation does great things across the district. Not only does the organization bring writers into the classroom, it also purchases a class set of the writer's book for students to read before the writer's visit. I am amazed at the many ways in which teachers and school leaders are able to tap resources and use them to provide students with a literary outlet such as this one.

Another program of note is the D.C. Creative Writing Workshop. For more than a dozen years, and under the guidance of Nancy Schwalb (the organization's founder and current executive/artistic director), the workshop has placed writers-in-residence in classrooms at Hart Middle School, Ballou Senior High School, and Simon Elementary School. The program's drama club also rewrites classic dramas, then presents their adaptations as motion pictures at the end of each school year. It’s not surprising that the workshop is excellent, what is surprising is that it has become a strong component in the academic life of so many students and is a component that lasts beyond the students' elementary, middle, or even high school years. Former students come back each year to volunteer or say hello.

Finally, there is the Folger Shakespeare Library's Poetry in the Schools program. Teri Cross Davis coordinates the program and does a fabulous job of bringing writers into classrooms across the city for four to six week sessions. All of these programs are amazing, but I’ll add this about the Folger program... I was once sent to Dunbar High under their auspices and, ironically, had the pleasure of working with an English teacher whose first year teaching was the same year my mother graduated high school. A program that is able to reach out to young teachers as well as older, more established teachers is one that should definitely be praised.

Photo: Reginald Dwayne Betts. Credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washinton, D.C., 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.

Poet Olga Garcia, author of Falling Angels: Cuentos y Poemas and the chapbook Lovely Little Creatures, blogs about her experience facilitating a P&W-supported workshop at Southwest Bakersfield Library in Bakersfield, California.

When the California Center for the Book's David Gernand first connected me with Southwest Bakersfield Library to facilitate a memoir writing workshop, I had a sudden flashback.

When I was eight, my parents packed all five of us kids into an old, avocado-green station wagon and drove us to Bakersfield to pick onions. Once there, we toiled in the vicious heat, snapping enormous green scissors, filling coarse brown sacks with dusty white onions. One foreman came by every so often to halfheartedly shoo us kids off the field. Within minutes after he disappeared, we’d run back to our parents to help with the onion picking or the dragging of sacks that inevitably grew heavier with each added onion.

We were supposed to work the fields for several weeks that summer, but at night while we camped out and fought over the bare mattress laid out at the back of the station wagon, we beseeched our parents to take us home. The smell of onions permeated our clothes, skin, and hair. It burned our eyes and lingered on our tongues. After a few days, my father shook his head in defeat, saying we were the worst workers he had ever seen. As we drove out of Bakersfield, we waved goodbye to the onion fields from the rear window, promising never to return.

Thirty-three years later I’m in Bakersfield again, standing before a group of workshop participants at Southwest Library. It’s a small, ethnically diverse group of nine and their ages range from twelve to sixty. Some of them have aspirations of memoir writing; others have come simply to practice writing. I share my onion story as a means to discuss memoir writing (how place, sound, smell, and taste trigger snapshots of what we’ve lived). We do several exercises to probe into the personal stories archived in their bodies.

One exercise asks participants to write about a memorable place. Another asks them to use one of Sandra Cisneros’s vignettes as a springboard to write about their names. Both exercises produce intimate recollections, and it is through the sharing of these intimate recollections that we connect with one another.

Maria, the library branch supervisor, reveals a long-kept secret. “Well, you see,” she says “my name isn’t actually Maria.” The name was given to her by a group of Catholic nuns in the Philippines and it stuck. A great beginning to a memoir. Maritza, from Guadalajara, Mexico, was named after a character in a Brazilian soap opera. And Gene, the middle-aged man whose Mexican parents didn’t speak a word of English, was named after Gene Autry, the American performer known as the "Singing Cowboy." As Gene shares his story, his wife leans into him and mumbles, “I never knew that.”

Photo: Olga Garcia. Credit: Weenobee.com.

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

Poet Olga Garcia, author of Falling Angels: Cuentos y Poemas and the chapbook Lovely Little Creatures, blogs about her experience facilitating a P&W-supported workshop with young Latina women.

In July of 2008, I was invited by Calaca Press to facilitate a two-day workshop in San Ysidro with eight young Latina women. The goal was to nurture these emerging writers via an intense writing workshop, publication, and public reading. The participants ranged in age from eighteen to thirty-three years old, and came from a variety of communities in Southern California—San Diego, Los Angeles, Ontario, and Montclair.

We gathered at The Front, a San Ysidro art gallery exhibiting political prints. Zapatistas and workers in struggle from around the world peered at us from the gallery walls as we began our journey. Our objective: connect with our bodies and excavate poems buried therein.  On that Saturday and Sunday, for fours hours each day, we explored different concepts of the body. We read Lucille Clifton’s “Hips,” Elba R. Sánchez’s “Me Siento Continente,” Michelle Tea’s rant to America, “The Beautiful. Yusef Komunyakaa sang praises to the flesh in his sensational poem, “Anodyne.” tatiana de la tierra gave us “Visions of Colombia.” And, Sandra C. Muñoz gave us a body manifesto entitled, “For My Sister Who Thinks I'm Unhappy Because I like her Don’t Wear a Size Six.” The words of these writers were our guides, providing constant inspiration and great poetic models.

Aside from reading and writing, we also played. Using collage materials from recycled magazines and newspapers, we created poster-sized body maps. These body maps served as springboards into writing exercises, allowing us to venture into poems about flesh, memory, and body scars. Sara Eslava, one of the participants, for example, wrote a celebratory ode to her curves, while Patricia Beltrán birthed a prose piece about a lover who failed to see the beauty in her cesarean scar.

In the weeks following, I worked with Calaca Press to compile and edit a small chapbook consisting of the women’s strongest work produced during the workshop. The women were encouraged to revise titles, flesh out gaps, and polish images. All of the women proved themselves extremely committed to the process and to improving their craft. Being a part of this unique project and working so closely with these women gave me more than they will ever know. They gifted me with the opportunity to be part of their evolution as writers, which has fueled my creative fire.

Photo: Olga Garcia. Credit: Weenobee.com.

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

This August will mark the twelfth year the Readings/Workshops program has supported poets taking part in the Tuolumne Meadows Poetry Festival at Yosemite National Park. The event is cofounded by ranger naturalist Margaret Eissler, who leads the park’s interpretive program and directs the Parsons Memorial Lodge Summer Series, a forum for the arts and sciences. Eissler’s answers to our questions bring to life the profound experiences this festival provides for her as project director, the poets, audience members, and more than a few lucky hikers.

What makes your program unique?
First, to get to Parsons Memorial Lodge, we walk an easy three-quarters of a mile on a trail across the meadow. Parsons Memorial Lodge, an historic gathering place, is a simple, rustic stone building with lodgepole pine beams and casement windows that overlook the Tuolumne River meandering through broad subalpine meadows surrounded by granite domes and peaks—all this with open sky. The lodge breathes this in and out through the windows and arched door. The setting, the intimate space, the audience—a warm and enthusiastic mix of park visitors, park staff, and residents from surrounding communities—make the experience unforgettable for everyone involved.

What have been the most memorable moments?
The consistently rapt and respectful audience. Poet and festival cofounder Patti Trimble wrote, “When I read, in that small room in the middle of Tuolumne Meadows, I felt viscerally that everyone in that room was right there with me. We were all experiencing, at the same moment, our human connection, our shared unexplainable nature within nature.”

Poet Jerry Martien remarking that the experience seemed to him the essence of community in the largest sense of the word: the perfect balance and combination of people with place—the rocks, river, bears, trees….  

Gary Snyder reading his Yosemite trail crew poems within the building made of granite surrounded by the mountains and meadows he loves.

Dorianne Laux reciting, almost singing/dancing, a Li-Young Lee poem by heart during a workshop by the river.

Li-Young Lee, more accustomed to life in the city, saying in wonderment, “Margaret, there is something about this place that is so personal. It is almost haunting. It is sacred.”

David Hinton reading ancient Chinese wilderness poetry.

Brian Turner sharing poems he had written in Iraq—poems that observe the landscape, the war, the people (all people: men, women, children, taxi cab drivers, suicide bombers, soldiers, medics), their culture, history, and relationships—placing the war within a far larger context than we usually hear. He was a messenger from a place most of us know so little about.

The student intern who told me after a presentation by Terry Tempest Williams that he wavers between hope and despair, but the event pushed him towards the side of hope.

The two young women coming off the trail to find themselves unexpectedly at Terry’s event—their eyes bright with excitement.

Cofounder Patti Trimble remembers other moments: “Coleman Barks reading Rumi's poems from seven hundred years ago, and later, saying ‘It's all about love, isn't it?’;  Pattiann Rogers’s long detailed list poems of nature's complexity; David Mas Masumoto’s connecting in a real way the Yosemite watershed with the Great Central Valley; the open mike: Parsons Lodge packed to standing room, fire blazing in the fireplace….”

And I will add, the working together that makes all this happen. That includes Poets & Writers, Inc., to whom I give many thanks for their very existence and long-time support. 

How do you find and invite readers?
I look for diverse voices that complement each other. It’s like planning a menu. I spend blissful hours in bookstores. I subscribe to magazines and investigate ideas. Friends recommend writers or books. I attend readings when I can. YouTube videos or recordings are helpful. When I send an invitation, I feel like I am casting a line. I wait for a response, hoping to get a bite. I love that I can offer an experience that is a gift to the writers and audience alike.

What is the value of literary programs for your community?
The intent of the Parsons Memorial Lodge Summer Series is to inform and inspire, to enrich the visitor’s park experience through a variety of perspectives, and to realize the possibilities inherent when connecting people with a magical place. Poetry fits perfectly within these parameters. I witness people—often people who say they don’t like poetry— discover the beauty and power of poetry for the first time. Ah! What more? Poetry gets to the essence of what it is to be alive, how to be in this world, how to live on this Earth. That’s why I do this.

Photos: (Top) Project director Margaret Eissler; (bottom) interior view of Parsons Memorial Lodge before a reading/presentation by Gary Snyder and Tom Killion. Credit: Arya Degenhardt.

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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