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R. Erica Doyle is the Brooklyn-based author of proxy (belladonna*, 2013), which won the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America, and was a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award in Poetry. She is a Cave Canem Fellow who has facilitated other Poets & Writers-sponsored workshops for queer women and transgender and gender-nonconforming people of color and for youth in public housing.

Please, let today not be the day, I muttered under my breath, as I ran around my office, jury-rigging a dummy copy to make into our workshop chapbook. I copied, cut and pasted, printed and folded and cut again, sweating since my office, like most old public school buildings, has a radiator several degrees hotter than the ninth circle of hell. Please, please, not today.

I finally checked: No indictment, read the texts. No indictment, cried the statuses, the New York Times. No indictment. The hope I’d held that we would be different, somehow, that today would not be the day, not that day, broke into shards.

I sat at my desk for a few moments as tears ran down my cheeks. Then, I got up and finished the chapbook.

That night, the students of my poetry workshop Into the Chaos: Poetry Conversations, were reading their work, created over two and half months of meetings at the Cave Canem conference space. Cave Canem had created these workshops for emerging poets of color, with the support of Poets & Writers, to give diverse writers a space to explore their craft within a supportive and safe environment.

My inspiration for the workshop was grounded in a 1980 interview by Audre Lorde where she states:

We must first examine our feelings for questions, because all the rest has been programmed. We have been taught how to understand, and in terms that will insure not creativity, but the status quo. If we are looking for something which is new, and something which is vital, we must look first into the chaos within ourselves.

In “Notes for an Oppositional Poetics,” Erica Hunt explains how our attempts to resist may lead us to replicate the oppressive structures and tired tropes we are trying to write against. Claudia Rankine has recently called on us to recognize the power of the imaginary, in our writing and the world, and to emancipate our imaginations. I hoped for Into the Chaos to be a place to challenge our imaginations in a space where we shared multiple languages, histories, sexual identities, and gender expressions.

Through exercises and readings, small group and whole class readings, free writes and interpretive poetry performances utilizing sound and movement, I supported my students in thinking about their practice, their decisions, and encouraged them to push beyond their own programming. They shared the chaos that night with choral readings, humor, and depth in community with brothers, lovers, and friends.

That third of December, I cried over losing hope for a peaceful existence in my lifetime. That day, my student said she knew our reading was the safest place for her brothers, young black men, to be that night. We looked at the empty seats and knew that some of our friends who would have been here were out there, crying our outrage and pain to the world. That day, we would join them later, and day after day after that. That day, I realized there was no place I would rather be held, and held up right then, in a reticulum of voices gesturing ever towards. That here, we were part of that day, too and we, like this movement, would not be deferred.

Photo: R. Erica Doyle  Photo Credit: L. Rubin

 

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 New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Do you have a time period you routinely set your stories in? This week, choose a story you’re struggling with and reimagine it in a different decade or century. Perhaps setting your story further in the past will help you get your point across in a more engaging way. Maybe placing your main character in the future will enable him or her to accomplish a goal that would otherwise be unfeasible. Although it can be easy to become fixated on a certain era, think about the story holistically and consider how the setting can help direct your writing. 

The holidays are over and the year is new. Now it’s time to take stock of what you have—what you’re starting with and what you will build from. First, read the late poet Tomaž Šalamun’s “I Have a Horse," and then write a list poem of your own. Begin each line with “I have . . . .” Write about the things that are important to you, the possessions you couldn’t live without, and the curious items you’ve acquired that you can’t bear to throw out. 

The Rose Post Creative Nonfiction Competition, sponsored by the North Carolina Writers’ Network, is currently open for submissions. The annual prize is given for a work of “lasting nonfiction that is outside the realm of conventional journalism and has relevance to North Carolinians.” The winner will receive $1,000.

Eligible forms include personal essays, reviews, travel articles, profiles or interviews, place or history pieces, and cultural criticism. Writers who are legal residents of North Carolina or members of the North Carolina Writers’ Network are eligible to enter. The winning essay will be considered for publication in Southern Cultures magazine.

Writers may submit two copies of an essay of up to 2,000 words with a $12 entry fee ($10 for NCWN members) via postal mail or using the online submission system by January 17. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Jason Frye, a travel, culinary, and culture writer from Wilmington, will serve as the final judge.

Laura Herbst of Chapel Hill won the inaugural prize in 2014 for her essay “Breast Cancer: A Love Story.” Jason Hess of Wilmington won the second-place prize for his essay “The Adopted Person” and Joanna Catherine Scott of Chapel Hill won the third-place prize for her essay “How I Went to Adult Prison as a Child.”

The award is named in honor of Rose Post, who worked for the Salisbury Post for fifty-six years as a reporter, features writer, and columnist. She won numerous state and national awards for her writing throughout her career, including three O. Henry Awards and the 1994 National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ Award. The NCWN’s Rose Post Prize is made possible through a grant from the Post family.

There's only so much you can carry with you before the weight becomes unbearable. Take a moment to think about all the things you haul around with you. First, focus on your physical burden. What do you keep inside your messenger bag, purse, pocketbook, or backpack? How much does it weigh? What do these things mean to you—and why do you keep them within reach every day? Consider carrying only the absolute necessities and write about how your load has been lightened. Then try to do the same thing with your mind. Write down everything that you feel has been cluttering up your thoughts lately. Now that you've written it down, give yourself permission to stop thinking about these things. Take a deep breath and turn to a clean page.

Strong characters are key elements in any well-constructed story. You may have clearly illustrated their history, occupation, likes, and dislikes, but to make them truly compelling you must have a basic understanding of these characters' psyches. Choose a story you've written and make a list of the characters you don't really know yet. Next to each name, jot down notes about what that character's aspirations and motivations are. How do these characters see the world? Who are the people they look up to, want to impress, or model themselves after? Where do these characters want to be in the next five years—or in the next fifty? Will they reach their dreams, or are they destined to get sidetracked? Let this information serve as a reference when you are deciding how a character should react in a situation, or how the plot should progress.

"Poetry forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action," wrote the late poet Audre Lorde in her essay "Poetry Is Not a Luxury." "The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives." As the New Year begins, heed Lorde's message. Poetry is the means by which we build a future, not just for ourselves, but also for the world at large. Take a moment now to think big. Write down all the hopes you have for the year to come and weave them together into a poem. Keep this poem with you as a guide—read it when you feel you're drifting off course.

Fred Rogers, host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, once said, “I like to compare the holiday season with the way a child listens to a favorite story. The pleasures in the familiar way the story begins, the anticipation of familiar turns it takes, the familiar moments of suspense, and the familiar climax and ending.” What would you compare the holiday season to? This week, write a personal essay on the momentum of the winter holidays and how they carry you through to the new year. 

This week, pick a character and write a passage describing the childhood bedroom he or she grew up in. Consider the smells, the angle of sunlight through the blinds, the faint murmer of the television in the living room. What secrets are hidden under the floorboards, or etched in the closets? If the house still stands, and his or her family still lives there, have your character return for a visit.

Year after year, we receive gifts from family members that we only see on holidays. These gifts are sometimes inappropriate. Perhaps you’re vegan and someone gives you a leather wallet, or you keep getting sugar-scented soaps and lotions and you don’t have the heart to say that you’d prefer something else. This week, pick a gift and write a poem about how you felt after receiving it. Here is your opportunity to be honest, so let it all out. 

Leilani Squire's poetry and short shorts have been published in magazines including the Sun, Eclipse, and Gentle Strength Quarterly. She has been a featured poet with the Valley Contemporary Poets, Alex Frankel’s Second Sunday Series, and at Beyond Baroque, and is at work on her first novel. Squire facilitates creative writing workshops for veterans at the Greater Los Angeles Veteran’s Hospital, Wellness Works in Glendale, California, and online for bookscover2cover. She is the senior editor of Returning Soldiers Speak: An Anthology of Prose and Poetry by Soldiers and Veterans (Bettie Youngs Books, 2013) and is the founder and director of the annual event Returning Soldiers Speak: An Evening of Prose and Poetry, a venue for veterans and soldiers from different wars and conflicts to read their poetry and prose to the community. 

Returning Soldiers Speak 2014

I began working with veterans four-and-a-half years ago, with the goal of helping them write about their experiences so that they can heal from the wounds of war; and for those who haven’t been on the battlefield, to begin the process of integrating back into society after their military experience. I facilitate creative writing workshops and work with veterans from the Korean War through Operation Enduring Freedom.

On November 8th, the fifth annual Returning Soldiers Speak: An Evening of Prose and Poetry reading was held at Beyond Baroque in Venice, California. People from all sectors of society and from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Riverside counties, came to hear the veterans read. Veterans from Arkansas, Oceanside, the Mojave Desert, and Los Angeles read their prose and poetry.

The reading began with a letter written during the Korean War by a Navy Seaman deployed on an aircraft carrier telling about the birth of his daughter. Then, stories of the Vietnam War were told: how photos were not taken out of respect for the dead, how a corpsman was embedded with the Marines doing humanitarian work in Vietnamese villages, the gritty reality check of a soldier humping through treacherous Ashau Valley, and of another soldier loading bombs into an airplane. As I listened to the Vietnam veterans read, I sensed I was witnessing something extraordinary. I was in the presence of combat soldiers, who lived in and through war. And their stories touched something primordial within. It was an honor.

The audience was grateful for the breadth of humor that followed, with stories about how to survive in the jungle, the benefits of boot camp, and the lighter, satirical side of being a woman in the military. Others spoke about more recent events. Two combat veterans read about their experiences during the Gulf War. A woman veteran read an excerpt from her memoir about how her superior officer repeatedly raped her and how she kept silent for fear of being dishonorably discharged. The Operation Iraqi Freedom generation read about the challenges of posttraumatic stress disorder, suicide, and what it means to come home and integrate back into society.

One of our favorite readers from Returning Soldiers Speak, James Mathers, passed away this summer. A conscientious objector during the Vietnam War read a short piece called “Poet Time” written by Mathers. The last sentence goes: “If we’ve got any poets out there, now’s the time to step up.” These words were an inspiration and validated the evening’s event by giving the veterans and the audience, permission to write and tell their stories. It was a perfect way to end the reading.

For the first time, because of the generosity of Poets & Writers, Returning Soldiers Speak was able to give the veteran-writers a stipend for reading. We gathered on the staircase in Beyond Baroque’s foyer. I announced their names like roll call and distributed their checks. They were so grateful and proud. And so was I.

Photo: Leilani Squire (at left) with P&W–supported readers from Returning Soldiers Speak. Credit: Chuck Smallwood.

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

An old song goes: “Make new friends but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” Does making new friends come naturally to you, or is it easier said than done? Do you use social media sites like Facebook to make new connections, or do you prefer to meet new people at social events? This week, write a personal essay reflecting on how you get to know people, and how they become a part of your life. 

Jorge Luis Borges once said, “I have always imagined that paradise will be a kind of library.” Libraries are fascinating places, full of knowledge and mystery. Think of a library you’ve been to in the past. It could be the local library you went to as a kid to look at picture books, or a library you visited once to kill time. Take this library and use it as the setting for the beginning of a new story. Consider the librarian on duty, the regulars, the dark corners, and old books with strange, scribbled notes. What brings people to this library? What are they trying to find?

As the weather turns colder and the days grow shorter, it may be a nice time to gather some friends and write together. This week, try writing a renga, or “linked poem.” The first poet begins by writing a stanza that is three lines long and contains seventeen syllables. The next poet adds the second stanza, a couplet with seven syllables per line. The third stanza repeats the structure of the first, and the fourth mimics the second, and so on, until the poem comes to an end. To make sure the poem has a narrative arc, each poet writes his or her new stanza by referring to the stanza immediately preceding it. 

Rose Mary Salum (Mexico) is the founder and director of the award-winning bilingual magazine Literal, Latin American Voices. She is the author of Delta de las arenas, cuentos arabes, cuentos judíos (Literal Publishing, 2013), Spaces in Between (Literal Publishing, 2006), a book of short stories, and co-author of Vitrales (Edamex/Mexico, 1994). Her poems and short stories have been included in anthologies in the United States, Argentina, Mexico, India, Australia, and Spain. She has published fiction and essays in many periodicals. Salum has received international awards for her literary and editorial work including the 2014 International Latino Book Award, the Council of Editors of Learned Journals (CELJ) Best New Journal for 2006, and four Lone Star Awards, among others.

Rose Mary Salum

What makes your press and its programs unique?
Well, for some reason the word unique feels a bit ambitious. However, what we have tried to accomplish all these years at Literal is to try and bring the most established authors from Latin America into the consciousness of American readers.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
I’m happy about a few of them. We recently invited David Miklos, a very well-established writer in Mexico, for an event. People fell in love with him because he unveiled very intimate family situations that engaged the audience. These powerful themes run through much of his work. Another excellent author and thinker who has joined us is Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez. People wrote us afterwards asking for more writers like him. The thing is that when we bring these authors to Houston, Texas, we create not only awareness, but also a liaison that connects people to their roots.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
When David Miklos was speaking about both his adoptive mother and his biological mother, the latter was there in the audience, not understanding what he was talking about. She didn’t know him well (this was the second time she saw him after more than forty years) and yet, her eyes were sparkling with joy. It was touching, but at the same time mind-blowing. Did she feel regret? Was she happy that he became such a successful person? All these questions were on everyone’s minds, and yet, the audience received her presence with such welcoming warmth.

How do you cultivate an audience?
With the magazine, the books we produce, the cultural events, social media… with everything that we can think of!!!  In a world that is bombarded with so much information, invitations, activities, reminders, and so on, it’s hard to cultivate a faithful audience, but we try.

How has running a press impacted your own writing and/or life?
I’ve learned so many things on so many levels that it would take me weeks to explain. In fact, I’m tempted to write a memoir only related to what I’ve learned, who I have met, and the funny stories that accompany the kind of work I do.

What do you consider to be the value of small presses in your community?
In my opinion, they are the ones that bring the jewels of the world of literature to readers. The larger publishing houses are more concentrated on what they will sell to pay every month’s commitments. Sometimes the quality they offer is not as great as what the small presses bring to the public. Small presses are the ones that take more risks to open spaces for new and talented authors.

Photo: Rose Mary Salum

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston 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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