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Readings & Workshops Blog

P&W-sponsored poet Michael Czarnecki blogs about the New York State literary events he's participated in this past year.

A sliver of a moon shines off to my right, low in the western sky. Straight ahead, Jupiter guides me as I drive south, home on Wheeler Hill a little less than an hour away. A short while ago I left the Lima Public Library. A half dozen people attended a writing workshop that I facilitated, excited about the method presented, anxious to do some writing. Behind the wheel, I felt good about the ideas I presented, the encouragement I had given.

Lima is a small village, about 2,500 people, in upstate New York. The surrounding area is mostly farmland and newer rural suburbia. My home, Wheeler Hill, is even more rural, isolated. Dirt roads and Old Order Amish neighbors. I am a country person, but also a poet and small press publisher. For more than two decades, I’ve made my living solely through creative work. Much of that work on the road is in small communities, like Lima.

In the past year I’ve given readings and/or held workshops in many small communities throughout New York State: Big Flats, Tupper Lake, Indian Lake, Watkins Glen, Henderson, Warsaw, Gouverneur, Dundee, Naples, and Mexico. These programs could not have happened were it not for the support of Poets & Writers. Many of these are repeat venues for me. The first four have active writers’ groups that were formed, in large part, because of my continual encouragement over the years.

Of special note is Watkins Glen. Seventeen years ago Charlotte Dickens called me (I didn’t know her) and asked if I could help her start a writers group in the community. She had been given my contact information from the local library, where I had facilitated a program a couple of years before. Over dinner we talked about possibilities. We left with a plan that I would facilitate the first few of the monthly meetings and then she would take over. I also suggested she have a monthly reading series, featuring published writers followed by an open reading. I felt strongly that hearing experienced writers would benefit burgeoning writers who met around the table every month. The writers group still meets twice a month and the reading series continues to flourish! This, in a village of a little over 2,000 people and a county with about 20,000! Scores of poets and prose writers have read in the series, local and regional, as well as those from distant states.

As I turn into our one third of a mile long hayfield driveway, the moon hangs even lower in the western sky, soon to be gone. I am pleased with another successful workshop in a small upstate community. Pleased that I have been invited to come back again next year. Pleased that Poets & Writers encourages such programming throughout the whole of New York State, supporting events in all sixty-two counties every year. And finally, I’m pleased to return to quiet, peaceful home on Wheeler Hill.

Photo: Michael Czarnecki.

Support for the Reading/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.

Poet Collin Kelley, curator of the Poetry Atlanta reading series, gives a shout-out to Atlanta/Decatur R/W-sponsored presenters of literary events.

At this writing, nearly fifty organizations have applied for funding in the Atlanta/Decatur area. To close out my time as the inaugural R/W blogger, I want to name those organizations. Whether you’re reading in Atlanta or one of the other cities eligible for P&W funding, you’ll see just how diverse this list of grantees is, and if you are a presenter/curator of literary events, the time to apply for funding is now.

Atlanta/Decatur grantees: Academy Theatre, AJC-Decatur Book Festival, Atlanta Queer Literary Festival, Atlanta Vet Center, Below the Radar, Black on Black Rhyme, BreakinIce, Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, The Chattahoochee Review, Charis Books and More, Chris Kids, Inc., Clark Atlanta University, Composition Gallery, Duck & Herring Co., E- Period, Epiphany Services, FFX Free Forum Xchange, Finding Eve Café, Five Points, galerieMC, Georgia Poetry Society, Georgia Writers Association, Georgia State University Creative Writing Program, Hammonds House Art Galleries, Holiday Theatre Festival, Indie, Java Monkey Coffee House, Just Queen Productions, LaGender, Inc., Lasnyte Entertainment, Louise Runyon Performance Company, Mercer University, MJ of Poetry Entertainment, Natural Reignz, Inc., Oglethorpe University, One Mic Entertainment, Organized Rhyme, Poetry at Tech, Poetry Atlanta, Inc., Shambhala Meditation Center of Atlanta, Spelman College, The Ace of Spades, Inc., Three on Third, Verbal Slick, Working Title Playwrights, Inc., and Yesterday's Girl.

P&W’s fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30. In some cases, the available funds for your city might have already been tapped out, but July will be here before you know it. Apply now if you have an event coming up in 2011/2012. The application takes ten minutes to complete and can be faxed or e-mailed to P&W – it doesn’t get any simpler than that.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

We asked SPLAB project director Paul Nelson to update us on Poets & Writers-sponsored author Nathaniel Mackey who recently gave a reading and hosted a workshop in Seattle.

The SPLAB Visiting Poet Series welcomed Nathaniel Mackey to Seattle March 11 and 12, 2011. This event set a new high water mark for SPLAB.

The prose reading on Friday night at the Northwest African American Museum was Mackey’s first Seattle reading in seventeen years. He read from his novel From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. Letters from N to a mysterious figure known as the Angel of Dust relate the experiences of a jazz band in Los Angeles in the late seventies/early eighties. Jeanne Heuving of the University of Washington, Bothell interviewed Mackey, and a Q & A followed, fully engaging the audience.

Nathanial_Mackey

Mackey also led a workshop at SPLAB on Saturday, during which he suggested we consider “incident versus narrative” and said he was interested in the “vivification of incident,” as well as consideration of the “sound/sense ratio” of poems. His grace and warm presence allowed for intensity, and his insights, often delivered at the end of each poet’s feedback, were very incisive.

Saturday night's reading included work from Splay Anthem, Nod House, and new work from an as-yet-untitled collection. The two threads of his ongoing serial poem, Mu and Song of the Andoumboulou, continued into these last two as-yet-unpublished works. The Andoumboulou, as Mackey points out in Splay Anthem, are “rough draft human beings” from the Dogon culture of West Africa. Lines such as “each the other’s increment” and “star wobble gave us away” give one a sense of Mackey’s reach, from the indigenous and intimate to the galactic.

The visit leveraged contributions from local and regional arts funding agencies, new partnerships, as well as community contributions of lodging and meals. The first grant, from Poets & Writers, acted as catalyst for the rest of the contributions.


Photo: Nathaniel Mackey. Credit: Meredith Nelson

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-SPONSORED WRITER: Collin Kelley

Poet Collin Kelley, author of Slow to Burn scheduled for re-release in July, blogs about his experience as a longtime R/W-sponsored writer.

My chapbook, Slow To Burn, launched in 2006 at the dearly missed galerieMC, owned and curated by my friend Marscha Cavaliere. With its gleaming floor, wall of windows and beautiful photography, galerieMC was a hip, central place to hold the first reading for Slow To Burn.

Forty people showed up on the afternoon of the event (not a bad turnout), but at the time I was very disappointed. I had been spoiled by the more than 150 people who turned out for the release of my first collection, Better To Travel, back in 2003 during the Atlanta Festival of the Book. I’ve grown wiser and more realistic over the past five years. If I get twenty-five people out to an event, I’m thrilled.

On any given day, a poetry reading is competing with four or five other events, soccer practice, traffic, weather, exhaustion. With entertainment now a click away on YouTube and poetry available for purchase at Amazon or to be read for free on dozens of online literary journals, live readings and signings are almost an anomaly. With Kindles and iPads, printed books are going the way of vinyl records.

There is still a place for readings and workshops, for human interaction with literature. Even if only four or five people show up, there is a rare opportunity to share knowledge, and communicate on a personal level. Use social media to build your audience, but don’t forget that face-to-face contact still has currency. All the Facebook fan pages, tweets on Twitter, and YouTube videos in the world can’t replace hearing an author perform their work live.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

P&W-SPONSORED WRITER & PRESENTER: Robbie Q. Telfer

We asked Robbie Q. Telfer to update us about his work with teens at Young Chicago Authors, which has been funded through the Readings/Workshops program at Poets & Writers, Inc., since 2000.

I’m the director of performing arts for Young Chicago Authors, which runs creative writing programming year-round for high school-aged students in the Chicagoland area. One of the most exciting programs I get to be a part of is the Louder Than A Bomb Teen Poetry Festival. This three-week festival is the largest youth poetry festival in the world, with over fifty individual events, directly engaging over six hundred young people, and featuring seventy-two teams of poets from different high schools and community organizations.

The reason it’s so exciting to work on this festival is that it feels like we are tapping into an energy that is greater than just the once-a-year event we stage. For our young people, the poetry is a ticket to an ever-growing and loving community that is interested in celebrating difference, seeking commonality, striving toward justice, and honoring conflict. I have constantly found that there are always more youth capable of benefiting from our programs than we have financial, logistical, and temporal resources to serve, which can be one of those good problems I keep hearing about.

So right now, we’re a festival that happens once a year, but I am envisioning for us (with some more support and infrastructure) a “regular season” of poetic workshops, competitions, and performances, where our festival is the championship at the end (not unlike this “March Madness” thing the kids are into these days).

Also this year, thanks in part to the great promotions we’ve received nationally due to the documentary made about our youth slam, we are beginning to work with other cities around the country to create their own Louder Than A Bomb poetry slams. It would be wonderful if we could replicate our model of youth empowerment through poetry in enough cities so that we could have a national LTAB championship festival where the winners of each city come together for even more workshops, performances, and competitions. Then, of course, the world!

Big, unwieldy plans aside, what’s most rewarding about the work we do is quite simply watching the young people turn into who they are to become. I know that we are not the only influence on their lives, but we can be a big one, and any help we lend our students in tackling whatever problems they encounter is far more rewarding than media and political attention. If we ever lose sight of the actual youth in all our big schemes, then we’ll have failed them as just another American reality show dreamchaser. We’ll be like that guy who told everyone his kid was in that homemade dirigible just to get on TV. No one should ever want to be that guy. For recordings of Louder Than A Bomb poetry going back to 2005, please visit our WBEZ, our media sponsor and presenting partner. 

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago 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.

Collin KelleyP&W-SPONSORED PRESENTER: Collin Kelley

Poet Collin Kelley, author of After the Poison, Slow to Burn, and Better to Travel, and curator of the Poetry Atlanta reading series, blogs about his experience as a longtime R/W-sponsored presenter of literary events.

I’ve had the honor of organizing and co-hosting the annual Voices Carry reading in Atlanta for the past seven years. The reading began at the request of my friend, the late Chante Whitley-Head, in 2004 as part of the Atlanta Festival of the Book. Nearly two hundred people crowded into the rotunda of the Jimmy Carter Library to hear Cherryl Floyd-Miller, M. Ayodele Heath, Alice Lovelace, Tania Rochelle, Ralph Tejeda-Wilson, Kodac Harrison, the late John Stone, and my partner in crime, Cecilia Woloch.

There was an electricity in the room that September night; one of those readings where every poet is performing their best work, the audience is enrapt awaiting the next line, and there are murmurs and gasps when a poet has found just the right combination of words to elicit uncontained emotion. Those transcendent kinds of readings are rare.

Voices Carry was supposed to be a one-off event. There was no money to keep it going, Cecilia was moving back to Los Angeles, and Chante was stepping away from the festival after being diagnosed with cancer. But everywhere I went for months afterwards, people kept asking when the next Voices Carry reading was going to be held. Even from LA, Cecilia was game to put together another reading and to fly back to Atlanta to assist and read.

Poetry Atlanta saved Voices Carry. A twenty-five-year-old nonprofit organization, Poetry Atlanta’s mission is to promote the local poetry scene as well as produce the award-winning Atlanta Review. I was asked to sit on Poetry Atlanta’s advisory board and suggest projects. The first project I brought to the table was Voices Carry. There was a little money in the coffers, but where would the rest come from? Enter Poets & Writers’ Readings/Workshops program.

We were able pay honoraria to poets (who included Jon Goode, Dan Veach, Beth Gylys, Eric Nelson and Sharan Strange), which freed up funds for us to rent the Carter Center space again! The 2005 reading was held on September 11th and it was a double whammy of remembering the terrorist attacks and the still unfolding horror of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath on the Gulf Coast. It was an emotional evening.

Cecilia and I are already talking about the 2011 edition of Voices Carry. My applications will be in the mail to P&W soon. And, as always, we’ll remember our friend Chante, who put us on this road in the first place.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

P&W-SPONSORED WRITER: Delia Tomino Nakayama
HOST ORGANIZATION: St. Anna's Episcopal Church

From October 18 to November 15, 2010, poet Delia Tomino Nakayama held five free "PoetryProcess" workshops at St. Anna's Episcopal Church in New Orleans. We asked Nakayama how she approaches workshopping.

What's your writing critique philosophy?
A lot of good comes from refraining from giving critique in workshops if the students are open to such an idea. An air of unconditionality then permeates the environment, and people can really go places they don't normally go and explore different ways of writing without feeling scrutinized. “Good” examples, writing exercises, and time spent writing together in silence can guide people in a gentle way to reach their potential. I also feel that the answers people are looking for regarding their work are usually inside of them, though it might take some time to find. Those answers are apt to be more appropriate than another person's, as the writer really knows the writing.

What is the strangest question you’ve received from a student?
“Do I really belong here?”

My answer was: “Of course!”

This person didn't really feel like a “writer” yet. Anyone who wants to write, whether they have or not in the past, “belongs” in any workshop I give.

How does teaching inform your writing and vice versa?
The knowledge I have as a writer and human being comes out as I teach, and though I knew that I “knew” something, my insights go through an actualization process where I am verbalizing what I know viscerally/subconsciously.

I think about how it was when I was starting out as a poet and writer, and how I doubted myself. I also remember getting bad and discouraging critiques. That process of development as a writer informs how I teach. I try to be as sensitive as possible to each student and give people a lot of space to move in, so they don't feel monitored or limited. I also do a lot of encouraging and praising. I don't say something is great if it isn't great (to me) or butter people up gratuitously, but I always aim to be positive and supportive. Praise and encouragement works.

I have had the great luck to teach some very talented writers who I have thought of as “better” poets than myself (though I don't really like to use that word and compare in that way), and those people have inspired me and challenged me to write more and “better.”

What has been your most rewarding experience as a writing teacher?
Teaching children and young adults poetry is the most satisfying for me. Giving a child a notebook and a pen, and letting him or her just write is amazing. It's like watching a flower bloom before your eyes.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for special groups, such as teens, elders, the disabled, and veterans?
For groups of people that don't feel heard, or feel misunderstood, writing is a powerful tool to get clear on how they feel and see things, express those feelings effectively, and find an outlet where they can communicate and tell their stories to others in an interesting, engaging way. Writing empowers people and gives voice to stories, and perhaps even secrets, that need to be brought to light.

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.

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