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Poets & Writers Blogs

If you’re having trouble starting a poem, begin at the end. Take a single collection of poems and make a list of the last two words from each poem. Then write your own poem using only these words. Be vigilant at first utilizing just the vocabulary from the list. After a couple of drafts, stray from the limited words to help bring the poem to its full realization. 

Adrienne Perry serves as the current editor of Gulf Coast, is a Kimbilio Fellow, and a member of the Rabble Collective. She earned her MFA from the Warren Wilson Program for Writers and is a PhD candidate in Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Houston. Perry's work has appeared or is forthcoming from Copper Nickel, Tidal Basin Review, the Journal of Creative Writing Studies, and Indiana Review.

Adrienne PerryWhat makes your organization (press, series, etc.) and its program(s) unique?
Houston, Texas is fortunate to have a vibrant literary community and Gulf Coast hosts just one of its several popular reading series. Over the last few years, the Gulf Coast Reading Series has welcomed to the same stage authors in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, and authors who live and work outside of the Bayou City. At any given reading, we offer a mix of poets and prose writers, some of whom are up-and-coming and others who are—like Jamaal May, Caitlin Horrocks, Wayne Miller, and Wendy Walters—established in their careers. A Gulf Coast reading may take place on the shadowy second floor of Rudyard’s British Pub or among the brightly lined shelves at Brazos Bookstore. Parts of the reading may be in Old English or in Korean. Either way, these readings are entirely student-run and they are fierce. As the only nationally distributed journal of literature and fine art in Houston, we feel a need to make each reading worth folks’ while. 

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
Most recently, Gulf Coast partnered with the Failure to Identify Series and Project Row Houses to bring 2015 National Book Award winner Robin Coste Lewis to the Eldorado Ballroom. We’re proud of this reading not simply because it was an honor to have Robin reading beneath the Gulf Coast, Project Row Houses, and Failure to Identify banners, but because we are eager to pair up with other arts and cultural organizations in Houston to produce exceptional programing. People still remember Caitlin Horrocks’s reading from her story “Mermaid and Knife,” and we know people will remember Robin’s reading for a long time, too.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
This question brings out my inner drama queen. Recalcitrant audiovisual devices, late speakers, readers who hijack the microphone, albeit in a well-meaning way—but all of the ups and downs have actually been run of the mill. That said, during a reading at the Houston Printing Museum, the artist Chitra Ganesh was talking about the virtues of Choose Your Own Adventure books when the sky opened up and rain pounded onto the roof, interrupting her for several minutes. Or, maybe it was when one of our fiction editors, Dino Enrique Piacentini, brought his own prop—a little red Dirt Devil vacuum—to a surrealist-themed reading at the Poison Girl Bar.  

How do you cultivate an audience?
This is such a good question and I think this is something we still work on. Because we want to both cultivate an audience and at the same time serve those folks who’ve been devoted to us across time. Cultivating an audience is about making sure that our programming doesn’t just speak to one kind of people. We’re conscious of trying to mix up poets and prose writers, include and acknowledge different identities, aesthetics; and our reading series curators, Martin Rock and Erika Jo Brown have been phenomenal at this. Our events are free, but that doesn’t mean we should be nonchalant about the fact that busy people have taken time out of their day to give a nod to art, to beauty. There’s a kind of responsibility in that. We’ve also learned to stop going it alone. When we pair up with others, our programs are inevitably richer.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Houstonians love literature in a deliciously unpretentious way. Houston comes out to hear writers who bring them pleasure. We don’t stop enough to consider the vulnerability and pleasure that comes from seeing someone read their work. It’s more than self-expression; it concerns a different way of hearing and seeing and, most importantly, reading.

Photo: Adrienne Perry  Photo credit: Lesli Vollrath

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Houston, Texas 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.

The University of Georgia Press has announced that poet Christopher Salerno of Caldwell, New Jersey, has won the inaugural Georgia Poetry Prize for his collection Sun & Urn. Salerno will receive a cash award of $1,000 and publication by the University of Georgia Press in February 2017. He will also be invited to read his work at the prize’s sponsoring institutions—the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, and Georgia State University—and will receive an additional $1,000, as well as travel expenses, for each reading.
Christopher Salerno is the author of three previous poetry collections: Whirligig (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2006); Minimum Heroic (Mississippi Review Press, 2010), which won the 2011 Mississippi Review Award; and ATM (Georgetown Review Press, 2014), which was selected by poet D. A. Powell for the 2014 Georgetown Review Poetry Prize. Salerno currently serves as associate professor in the creative writing and MFA programs at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

Thomas Lux, the final judge of this year’s award, said of Salerno’s manuscript, “Christopher Salerno’s Sun & Urn is a highly accomplished (he has learned his trade!), a madly imaginative, and, ultimately, a brilliant and deeply human book. Read it, please, thrice!”

The Georgia Poetry Prize is a national competition established in 2015 to celebrate poetic excellence. The prize is to be administered annually; submissions for next year’s prize will be accepted from October 1 to November 30. Visit the website for submission guidelines and more information.

Go outside, with only yourself. Find an isolated bench. Or stay near and settle into a chair at home. Or climb the rungs to the roof and take your place above the city. Sit. No phone, no laptop. Nothing but you and you. For about thirty minutes or so, sit and do nothing. And when you’ve been there long enough to settle into yourself, to feel the voice that’s deepest inside you, the one that only you know, the one that only you hear, go and take up the page or turn on the screen. Listen. Start an essay from that hidden voice. 

This week’s creative nonfiction prompt comes from Jill Talbot, author of The Way We Weren’t (Soft Skull Press, 2015). Read Talbot’s installment of Writers Recommend for more inspiration.

“‘Working in a soup kitchen is great for a writer or any artist. There are many unproductive days when you might hate yourself otherwise. You are eating the food, using the water, breathing the air—and NOT HELPING. But if you feed the hungry, you can’t deny you’re doing something worth doing,’” writes Annie Dillard to John Freeman in “Such Great Heights” by Freeman in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine. Write a scene in a short story in which a character with creative inclinations feels like he’s not being a helpful member of society. How does he shake himself out of it? Does his chosen course of action help his productivity as an artist? What does this change reveal about his place in the world of the story?

Since 2011, P&W has supported creative writing workshops for Los Angeles seniors through the sponsoring organization EngAGE, a nonprofit that fosters the arts, wellness, and lifelong learning for seniors in Southern California. It started with workshop leader Hannah R. Menkin, and since then P&W has supported workshops led by Morgan Gibson, Mike "the Poet" Sonksen, Michael C. Ford, and Oshea Luja. The workshops, which now take place at both the Burbank and North Hollywood Senior Artist Colonies, bring together creative seniors in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and some even in their nineties. Participants are multitalented—some paint, some sing, some act—and all of them have discovered or rediscovered a love of writing. In part two of a two-part blog report, Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, director of the Readings & Workshops (West) program, reflects on an interview with a few of the workshop participants. (Be sure to check out last week’s blog post by the McCrindle Foundation Readings & Workshops Fellow, Melissa Sipin.)

Kit Harper, Jean T. Ritchie, Lucius Foster

One of the most gratifying aspects of teaching creative writing is witnessing what flows forth when a student, who had no idea they could write or thought they couldn't, discovers they can. Now imagine if that student were someone in their seventies, eighties, or nineties.

"I don’t believe I wrote a poem before I started the workshop," said Abigail Howard, when we sat down to interview her and fellow participants in the P&W–supported poetry writing workshops presented by EngAGE.

Similarly, Jean T. Ritchie commented: "I have never been involved in poetry writing in my life," and ninety-three-year-old Lucius Foster said: "I’ve avoided it all the way through. But things are changing, things are happening...."

Things really are happening at the Burbank and North Hollywood Senior Artist Colonies, where workshop participants have found out something late in life: They can write—and it gives them satisfaction and purpose. 

"I didn’t know I had it in me," said Ritchie. "And I’m very proud."

Foster held P&W staff rapt as he read a poem about his escape from a German POW camp in which he exchanged clothes with a German civilian and rode off on her bicycle, then regaled listeners with other stories of his incredible World War II experiences.

Kit Harper, who has always been an avid writer, credits the workshop with rekindling her passion for poetry: "It is the great passion of my life, I love it very much, and I am at my happiest when I am sweating over the computer." She continued, "I’m grateful that I’ve been given this gift, and I want to do something of value with it."

Harper commented that the workshop has taught her "to blow Darth Vader off my shoulder. The little critic that says: You can’t do it. You’re not Dylan Thomas. That stuff goes on forever!"

The workshop gives students the tools to steer clear of other barriers. “I keep practicing,” says Howard, “I keep picking up the pen. It’s like I forget how to do that. And we come here together and I remember how to do it again.”

It doesn’t take a study to see how these writing workshops are enhancing the lives, not just of the seniors in these workshops, but of the teachers who teach them, and anyone who comes to listen to their wise and wonderful words.

See photos and video from the 2015 Lit Crawl event, On Being a Kid: A Poetry Reading by Los Angeles Senior Artists, which featured participants from the P&Wsupported EngAGE writing workshops at the Burbank and North Hollywood Senior Artist Colonies.

Photos (from left): Workshop participants Kit Harper, Jean T. Ritchie, and Lucius Foster. Photo credit: Tess. Lotta.

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

Write a poem exploring a broad topic or theme—like love, death, kindness, the passage of time, or faith, for example—that uses vivid, sensory detail. Utilize language from familiar worlds such as animal behavior or everyday household objects to form connections to these larger subjects. For inspiration, listen to the late C. D. Wright read “Obscurity and Voyaging” in the latest episode of Ampersand: The Poets & Writers Podcast.

The deadline has been extended for the upcoming Pacific Coast/Beyond Baroque Books Award, given for a poetry manuscript by a writer living in California, Oregon, or Washington. The winner will receive $2,000 and publication in the Pacific Coast Poetry Series, an imprint of Beyond Baroque Books. Beyond Baroque editors Suzanne Lummis and Henry Morro will judge.

To apply, submit a manuscript between 48 and 70 pages with a $5 submission fee via postal mail to Pacific Coast Poetry Series, Beyond Baroque, 681 Venice Boulevard, Venice, CA  90291, by May 1 (the original deadline was February 15). For more information, visit the website or e-mail Liz Camfiord at liz@beyondbaroque.org.

Beyond Baroque, a literary arts center dedicated to advancing public awareness and involvement in the literary arts, was established in 1968 as an avant-garde poetry magazine of the same name, which published emerging and overlooked writers, particularly from the Los Angeles area. Beyond Baroque Books was launched in 1998, and continues to “unearth cult rarities as well as collections by noted performance poets, educations, and cultural leaders.”

Fatimah Asghar says, “I write for the people who come before me and the people who might come after me, so that I can honor them and create space for what is to come.” Write a personal essay about who, or what, you write for. Is there a specific audience or philosophical goal that you aim to reach? What space do you hope to see created in the literary world for future writers and yourself?

A black bear wanders into a backyard in Florida and tries out lounging in a hammock. A sloth is found stranded on a highway in Ecuador, clinging to a guardrail for dear life, and is rescued by transportation officials. A rabbit gets catapulted up onto a roof during a windy storm in Northern Ireland and is saved by firefighters. Write a scene in which a character—human or animal—finds himself in a situation where he is a fish out of water. Does he explore the new and foreign environment surrounding him, or is he in need of rescue?

Scientists recently reported that 2015 was the hottest year on record, and yet certain areas of the North Atlantic Ocean experienced unusually low temperatures, and New York City had its second largest snowfall last month. With these historic weather events in mind, write a two-part poem with a tone shift involving hot and cold climates. Move beyond the most frequently used images and vocabulary associated with extreme temperatures, and explore fresh new ideas, sounds, and textures that achieve chilling or sweltering effects.

Since 2011, P&W has supported creative writing workshops for Los Angeles seniors through the sponsoring organization EngAGE, a nonprofit that fosters the arts, wellness, and lifelong learning for seniors in Southern California. It started with workshop leader Hannah R. Menkin, and since then P&W has supported workshops led by Morgan Gibson, Mike "the Poet" Sonksen, Michael C. Ford, and Oshea Luja. The workshops, which now take place at both the Burbank and North Hollywood Senior Artist Colonies, bring together creative seniors in their sixties, seventies, eighties, and some even in their nineties. Participants are multitalented—some paint, some sing, some act—and all of them have discovered or rediscovered a love of writing. In part one of a two-part blog report, Melissa Sipin, the McCrindle Foundation Readings & Workshops Fellow, reflects on an interview with a few of the workshop participants. (See part two by Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, director of the Readings & Workshops (West) program.)

Oshea Perry-Luja, Felicia Soisson-Segal, Abigail Howard

“It always helps me to look at the world in the kind of sensuality that poetry pulls out of you,” said Felicia Soisson-Segal, one of the participants in the P&W–supported poetry workshop for residents at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony.

After an hour-long drive across the sprawl of Los Angeles, from the Westside to Burbank, I had just arrived with my colleague, Readings & Workshops (West) director Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, to meet with a group of senior writers for an interview on the workshop series and their creative process. What Felicia said struck me in a profound way, reshifting how I understand poetry’s effect on my daily life—how it allows me to think-feel the world more sensually, to be more present, even after enduring the mind-numbing traffic of L.A.

I first met Felicia and the other participants after Poets & Writers and the cosponsoring organization EngAGE held a reading for seniors from the North Hollywood and Burbank Senior Artist Colonies. The event was called “On Being a Kid: A Poetry Reading by Los Angeles Senior Artists,” and the poems that were read during the event harkened back to Felicia’s sentiments, that the power of writing allows one to think-feel the world, as if we were curious children again. 

Abigail Howard, another Burbank workshop participant, expounded on what Felicia said by describing the writing process: "When I started the poetry workshop and started writing poetry, something opened up. And the feedback from other people said: This was okay; what opened is good.” She continued, “It’s as if I lived in a little dark cave inside of myself and I was able to open up little tiny windows to let something out that I didn’t even know was there. And then that got bigger and bigger.” Abigail’s words reminded me that it is poetry then, and what it pulls out of you, that liberates you from the “dark cave,” which alludes back to the centuries-old allegory of Plato’s cave and the enlightenment of self.

Oshea Luja, the workshop facilitator for Burbank, instructed his classes with this in mind, saying: “I believe we have been working on the soul.” Over the course of the workshops, Oshea and the participants became very close, affectionately dubbing themselves “Oshea’s OWLs—Old White Ladies” after they visited one of his open-mic sessions for youth in Inglewood and recognized they were among the few white audience members there. Oshea described the workshops as a harmonious cross-cultural and cross-generational experience: “We all come from different backgrounds, and yet we are able to harmonize through writing. It’s been music that we’ve been creating together.”

It is my belief that poetry brings out what the body think-feels, which is what D. H. Lawrence once said: “The body’s life is the life of sensations and emotions.... All the emotions belong to the body, and are only recognized by the mind.” This is what poetry pulls out of us: the ageless and timeless inner life.

See photos and video from the 2015 Lit Crawl event, On Being a Kid: A Poetry Reading by Los Angeles Senior Artists, which featured participants from the P&W–supported EngAGE writing workshops at the Burbank and North Hollywood Senior Artist Colonies.

Photos (from left): Workshop leader Oshea Luja and workshop participants Felicia Soisson-Segal and Abigail Howard. Photo credit: Tess. Lotta.

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

Submissions are currently open for the 2016 Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, an annual award given for a full-length manuscript by a poet living in the Upper Midwest. The winner receives $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions.
Administered in partnership with Milkweed Editions and the Lindquist & Vennum Foundation, the award was established in 2011 with the goal of celebrating the work of exceptional poets from the Upper Midwest; poets residing in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin are eligible to apply. The editors of Milkweed Editions will select five finalists, and acclaimed poet A. Van Jordan will select the winning manuscript.

To enter, submit one hard copy of an unpublished, book-length collection of poetry, along with a single-page cover sheet that includes contact, submission, and biographical information to: ATTN: Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry, Milkweed Editions, 1011 Washington Avenue South, Open Book, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55415.

The deadline to submit is March 1. There is no entry fee. The winner will be announced in April or May. Visit the website, or call the Milkweed Editions office at (612) 332-3192 for more information.

Milkweed Editions is one of the nation’s leading independent, nonprofit book publishers. Established in 1980, the publisher’s mission is to “identify, nurture, and publish transformative literature, and build an engaged community around it.” The press publishes fifteen to twenty titles per year.

The State of the Union is an annual address in which the President of the United States delivers a speech to Congress on the condition of the country and reports on plans, priorities, and recommendations for the future. Choose an arena or environment that you preside over in some way, such as a bedroom, office cubicle, spot in the backyard, or table at a café. Then, write a personal essay in the form of a speech addressing the state of things in your chosen entity—describe the current conditions and announce any plans you have for the future.

In the January/February issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, Tom Spanbauer talks about using the “redemptive voice,” which “can have the effect of a third-person omniscient voice...but also the very important added benefit of having a personality, actually being a part of, and speaking from, inside the story.” Write a short story in which your narrator’s voice is both informal and informed. How will you take advantage of a point of view that can travel through time and space?

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