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We have dictionaries and encyclopedias to provide us with official definitions, but sometimes the personal definitions we construct take precedence. These personal definitions may be created from experiences, memories, the opinions of others, or the truths we've come to discover. This week, choose a word you've created your own definition for and write a personal essay in the style of a dictionary entry. Begin with the pronunciation, the part of speech, and origin of the term. Then go on to state the definition and historical significance of the word.  

Every so often, we run into people we recognize but can't quite place. Perhaps you catch sight of a strangely familiar face at your favorite coffee shop, and then later at a diner while visiting family out of town, and are puzzled by the coincidence. Write a story in which two of your characters keep crossing paths, either accidentally or because of particular circumstances. What keeps them from properly introducing themselves? Could they become good friends, or will they become adversaries?  

This week, concentrate on the sounds of words and pick four or five words that you love to hear and pronounce. Don't worry about whether these words are complex or commonplace, just focus on the way they sound when spoken aloud. Then using one as the title, incorporate these favorite words into a poem. Create a narrative if you wish, or allow yourself to focus completely on sound as you piece together your poem. Consider the similarities between the words you've chosen, in terms of their meaning and their internal music.

Submissions are currently open for the Bard College Fiction Prize, given annually to a fiction writer under the age of 40 who has published at least one full-length work of fiction. The winner will receive $30,000 and a one-semester appointment as writer-in-residence at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The recipient must give at least one public lecture and meet informally with students but is not expected to teach traditional courses.

Submit three copies of a published book of fiction, a cover letter, and a curriculum vitae by June 15. There is no application fee. Submissions can be made via postal mail to P.O. Box 5000, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY 12504. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Established in 2001, the Bard Fiction Prize is “intended to encourage and support young writers of fiction to pursue their creative goals and provide an opportunity to work in a fertile and intellectual environment.” Recent recipients include Laura van den Berg for her second story collection, The Isle of Youth (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013); Bennett Sims for his debut novel, A Questionable Shape (Two Dollar Radio, 2013); Brian Conn for his debut novel, The Fixed Stars (Fiction Collective 2, 2010); and Benjamin Hale for his debut novel, The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve, 2011).

The Bard College Written Arts department offers an undergraduate major but no graduate degree in creative writing. Core faculty members include Benjamin Hale, Michael Ives, Porochista Khakpour, Ann Lauterbach, Joseph O’Neill, Susan Fox Rogers, and Mona Simpson.

Veronica Santiago Liu is the general coordinator of Word Up Community Bookshop, a collectively managed volunteer-run bookshop and arts space in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Her writing, comics, photography, and silkscreen prints have been published in Broken Pencil, Quick Fiction, We'll Never Have Paris, and other journals and zines.

When Word Up Community Bookshop first opened as a temporary “pop-up” shop in June 2011 in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, the longtime New Yorkers who’d wander into the storefront would take one look at our makeshift space—our donated home furniture only hinting at a retail environment, our scattershot collection of small press books and broadly encompassing events calendar (indeed, the whole ad hoc system created by neighborhood volunteers) —and say, “This feels just like the Lower East Side once did.”

We were frequently compared to a few community art spaces in particular, spaces that made people feel at home while representing a greater artistic community. A Gathering of the Tribes—the longtime gallery/salon and home of Steve Cannon—was one such downtown space. Thus, we were ecstatic to host a crew of esteemed poets from A Gathering of the Tribes on April 25 with support from the Readings & Workshops Program at Poets & Writers. Though many have sorely missed Cannon’s magical living room on East Third Street since the eviction by a new owner in 2014, the creative people who gave the place life are still doing their thing all over the city: creating and sharing adventurous, irreverent, intimate poetry and stories.

The presenting poets were excited to reunite; indeed, coorganizer and Washington Heights-based poet Sheila Maldonado marveled that everyone was actually on time for the reading. A mix of uptowners and downtowners representing all the colors of the people of New York City sat in the audience, or peered out from behind bookcases where they shopped, transfixed by the words. Through it all, the evening’s energy was palpable—I mean, really, literally everyone cheered at every welcome and introduction.

The legendary Steve Cannon—who Poonam Srivastava later called a testament of the life of the city—kicked off the night’s tellings, with stories of getting to the event that very evening, and stories about each of the poets present whose work he’d published. Everyone was unsure of when he’d started a poem or had slipped back into a story of now, highly amused all the same.

Reading next was Ron Kolm, poet, bookseller, Unbearables member, and author of Welcome to the Barbecue  (Low-Tech Press, 1990), Rank Cologne (P.O.N. Press, 1991), Divine Comedy (Fly By Night Press, 2013), and Suburban Ambush (Autonomedia, 2014). Sheila Maldonado whose poetry collection one-bedroom solo was published by Fly by Night Press in 2011, read from her book as well as new work.

Poonam Srivastava, whose book is forthcoming this summer from Fly by Night Press, told a not-quite allegory about driving in the city and in the refrain of the evening, asked for just a little more lesbianism, please. After a short intermission, Frank Perez, author of the chapbooks Rhythm of Life and The Short Cut, took the mic, followed by Chavisa Woods, the award-winning author of The Albino Album (Seven Stories Press, 2013) and Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind (Autonomedia, 2012). Mariposa Fernandez, author of Born Bronxeña: Poems on Identity, Love & Survival (Bronxeña Books, 2001), read next and Melanie Maria Goodreaux warmly closed out the evening with a heartfelt reading!

Photos: (top) Steve Cannon. (bottom) Poonam Srivastava. Photo Credit: Veronica Liu

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, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Homes often feel like they contain the energy of those who live there. Once the occupants are gone, whether they've moved on to another home or passed away, the house may suddenly feel vacant, even when the furnishings and decor remain. This week, write about a home or place so special you would consider it sacred, and how you felt when that space underwent a significant change. Recall fond memories and the absence experienced in that space.

Cooks usually have a specialty dish that is made with pride—one that is requested by friends and family for special events and holiday gatherings. This week, write about a character who is known for his or her specialty dish. It could be as basic as chocolate chip cookies, or perhaps he or she has invented an original dish with unheard-of ingredients. Has this character's culinary genius been influenced by a family member? Is this cook a raw talent?

Consider someone you've been thinking about recently and write a poem as a tribute to her. Perhaps she did you a much-appreciated favor, paid you an unexpected visit, or just popped into your head as you went about your daily tasks. Take some time to consider what this person means to you and why you're thankful to have her in your life. Examine the bond between the two of you, and why you are important to each other.  

Dan Godston teaches and lives in Chicago. His chapbooks include Splice Poems (Argotist Ebooks, 2012) and Sonic Textures Triptych (Linguiscope Books, 2010), and his writings have appeared in RHINO, Chase Park, After Hours, Beard of Bees, Drunken Boat, Horse Less Review, and other publications. Godston also directs the Borderbend Arts Collective.

The Borderbend Arts Collective presents boundary-pushing arts programming by connecting artists with communities to create year-round musical, literary, and multi-arts programs involving new and unique arts practices. A big part of Borderbend’s programming involves community arts and multidisciplinary collaborations—such as the “Armitage Arts: Summer Edition” program that we are presenting during Night Out in the Parks. We are grateful to receive support from Poets & Writers to help present this program at Chicago’s Mozart Park on June 24.

The poets include Elizabeth Marino, Steven Schroeder, Janina Ciezadlo, Charlie Newman and Wayne Allen Jones, and the musicians include Adam Zanolini (flute, saxophone, djembe, electric bass), Angel Elmore (clarinet, piano), Lou Ciccotelli (drums), and Dan Godston (cornet, small instruments). This program is part of an ongoing cultural corridor-building initiative along West Armitage Avenue. Other Armitage Arts programs have included the 2014 Armitage Arts Festival and events at the Segundo Ruiz Belvis Cultural Center and Rosa’s Lounge.

Several years ago Tim Hunt and Allan Johnston performed with Chicago Phonography at the Evanston Art Center, with support from the Poets & Writers' Readings & Workshops Program. The audience that evening was treated to sonic combinations of poetry by Hunt and Johnston with CP’s real and imaginary soundscapes, surrounded by the eye-popping CUT paper art installation in the gallery.

Our upcoming program at Mozart Park is another example of Borderbend’s ongoing commitment to fostering multimedia collaborations, and connecting talented local artists with appreciative audiences. I look forward to experiencing the simpatico cross-disciplinary imaginings and juxtapositions that will be sparked during the program. The program is just a few days after the summer solstice, and is a great way to kick off the summer. All are invited to come and join in the fun.

“Armitage Arts: Summer Edition” is presented as part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks with the support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Arts programming in neighborhoods across the city advances the goals of the Chicago Park District and the Chicago Cultural Plan.

Photo: (top) Adam Zanolini, Lou Ciccotelli  Photo Credit: Kristen Brown

Photo: (bottom) Janinai Ciezadlo. Photo Credit: Rob Kameczuna.

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.

Submissions are currently open for Midway Journal’s Monstrosities of the Midway Contest. A prize of $1,000 and publication in Midway Journal will be given for a single poem, a group of poems, a short story, or a work of nonfiction. Midway’s editorial staff will select a group of finalists, and award-winning poet Dorianne Laux will select the winner.

Writers are encouraged to submit work that “complicates issues of performance and identity.” Using the online submission manager, send up to five unpublished poems of up to twenty pages, or a piece of fiction or nonfiction of up to six thousand words, along with a $15 entry fee by this Sunday, May 31. Multiple entries will be accepted for publication. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

Launched in 2007, Midway Journal is a Minnesota-based quarterly that aims to “act not only as a bridge between aesthetics (and maybe even coasts), but…to create a sense of place as well. And like any good fair, place is a relative term as the contents and attractions change frequently.”

Submissions are currently open for the 2015 Munster Literature Center Fool for Poetry Chapbook Competition. A cash award of €1,000 (approximately $1,090) and publication by Southword Editions is given for a poetry chapbook. Emerging and established poets from any country are eligible to apply.

One runner-up will receive €500 (approximately $545); both first- and second-place winners will receive fifty copies of their chapbooks. The winning chapbooks will be nominated for the U.K. Forward Prize for best poem and anthology, and winners will be invited to read their work at the 2016 Cork Spring Poetry Festival. The deadline to enter is May 31.

Submit a poetry manuscript between 16 and 25 single-spaced pages, along with a cover letter and a €25 entry fee, to foolforpoetry@munsterlit.ie. Poets based in the U.K. and Ireland may submit their manuscripts via postal mail to The Munster Literature Centre, Frank O’Connor House, 84 Douglas Street, Cork, Ireland. Multiple manuscript entries are accepted. Visit the website for complete guidelines.

The Munster Literature Centre established the Fool for Poetry Chapbook competition in 2005. Previous winners include Virginia Astley and Victoria Kennefick.

Founded in Cork, Ireland, in 1993, the Munster Literature Centre hosts festivals, workshops, readings, and other events to promote and celebrate literature.

5.28.15

From: The Time Is Now

This week, write a map leading to where you live. Start as close or far from your home as you wish and trace the paths, obstacles, and landmarks that lead you to your door. Think about who you're creating this map for and when they would have an occasion to use it. How would you describe the geography of your neighborhood to someone who's never been there? Consider the elements that are special to you and make where you live feel like home. For inspiration, read David Connerley Nahm's installment of Writers Recommend.

Take some time this week to discover the work of a well-known photographer. Whether you visit an exhibition at a museum or peruse the internet, look for photographs that capture your imagination. Examine a photograph closely and write the story you see in the frame. Rely heavily on descriptive language and offer details of the composition through your writing. What did the photographer keep in focus?

Robert Francis Flor, PhD, is a Seattle native and cochair of Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts. His poetry has been selected for Seattle King County's program “Poetry on Buses,” and has appeared in Soundings Review, Four Cornered Universe, and numerous other journals. He is currently completing a poetry chapbook, Alaskero Memories, and writes plays about the Filipino community in Seattle. Flor blogs about a P&W–supported reading he helped organize which took place at the Seattle Public Library this past April.

Robert Francis Flor

While most are familiar with Greek, Roman, Scandinavian, and Judeo-Christian mythologies, we often fail to recognize that people throughout the world have stories, journeys, villains, and heroes that shape their beliefs and behaviors.

Modern societies may overwhelm and impose their values on more traditional ones while wearing a mask of cultural superiority, even though ancient civilizations often have myths that share universal qualities. The late Joseph Campbell noted in Myths to Live By (Penguin, 1993) that when "old taboos (myths) are discredited, communities immediately go to pieces, disintegrate, and become resorts of vice and disease."

Pinoy Words Expressed Kultura Arts (PWEKA) and La Sala, two Seattle-based arts organizations from the local Filipino and Latino communities, aimed to cast a light on this issue through poetry by presenting readings that exposed the public to different mythologies.

With the help of two Seattle University student organizations—United Filipino Club and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán—and the Seattle Public Library, we hosted three Filipino poets and three Latino poets in two readings exploring their cultural mythologies.

The poets were all from the Pacific Northwest: Roberto Ascalon, Jim Cantú, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Gabriella Gutiérrez y Muhs, Emily Lawson, and Sam Rodrick Roxas-Chua. The City of Seattle's Office of Arts & Culture and Poets & Writers supported the events.

The poets delved into cultural mythological influences of both indigenous and shared colonial origins. Mexico and the Philippines both had lengthy histories with Spanish and American influences. Like many colonized parts of the world, they also had native cultures with unique mythologies. The readings also demonstrated ways that civilizations adjusted to and accommodated the insertion and overlay of myths from more dominant cultures. Jim Cantú’s poem "Sacred Mother" depicted the transformation of Tonitin, the "Mother Earth" Aztec goddess, into "Nuestra Madre Dame," Our Holy Mother, when Mexico fell to the Spanish conquistadors.

Chris Higashi, Seattle Public Library’s Manager for Literary Programs, said she was "so pleased to have taken on the event. It drew a diverse audience of eighty attendees, about eighty percent of whom were of the cultures represented in the poetry and under the age of thirty—not a typical audience for the library."

My sense is that the readings opened windows for many who attended. The question and answer periods that followed were filled with inquiries about identity and cultural poetry, accompanied by a general tone of gratitude for readings that recognized the importance of culture. One young Mexican-Filipina woman remarked she was "surprised and thankful” when she looked at the library events page and found it included something about and for her. The students at Seattle University have already indicated a desire for a similar presentation next academic year. I believe the reading touched something deep within the students and the community.

Watch the video from the event.

Photo: Robert Francis Flor. Credit: Lauren Davis.

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.

Sometimes seemingly unrelated notions have surprising similarities. This week, take some strips of paper and write down the names of objects, places, and people. Throw them in a hat and draw out two at random. Then write a poem attempting to connect the two things you've selected. Perhaps you pick out "fireworks" and "lavender," or "honeybees" and "B. B. King"—stretch your imagination to its limits when considering their potential relationship. 

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