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Do you remember how you used to play with toys as a child? If you sat down today with your blocks, your old train set, or your favorite doll, the way you’d interact with these toys would probably be very different than when you were five or six years old. This week, try and enter the mind of a child crouched on the living room floor, building a world fueled by imagination, and translate it into a short story. Think of the weird names kids give to their toys, and the strange logic that comes from the innocence of trying to grasp mature concepts. Good examples can be found in The Lego Movie, which came out earlier this year.

Sometimes keeping a secret can seem like the most daunting task in the world. This week, write a poem to someone about a secret you’ve been wanting to tell him or her. Play with metaphor, perhaps leaving the subject open to interpretation. 

Amber Atiya is the author of the chapbook The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop (Argos Books, 2014). Her poems have been published most recently in Nepantla: A Journal Dedicated to Queer Poets of ColorBoston ReviewBlack Renaissance NoireAtlas Review, and Apogee Journal. A proud native Brooklynite, she is a member of a women's writing group that will be celebrating thirteen years next spring.

Question: Where does a word-rich, money-poor poet from Flatbush inevitably end up?

Answer: At the food stamp office.

Office of clients in faux furs and bubble coats, of institutional green walls like the abortion clinic I accompanied a friend to. Land of city workers, collecting mugshots and electronic fingerprints, "to cut down on fraud," as one supervisor claimed, through a mouth full of jelly beans. The chaos of the food stamp office—aka the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—has been great fodder for writing practice. Security guards escorting irate clients from the waiting area; the man who kept yelling at case workers to “check the schematics,” told me all he wanted was to cook a nice meal for his fifty-third birthday; the stranger who chatted me up during my train ride to the SNAP center, teaching me a spell to make a man fall hard (hint: it involves Haitian rum and drilling a hole into an apple), and pulling out his Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to show me a picture of himself, femmed up, in a bobbed wig.

These are moments I live for as a writer, scribbling notes in the margins of a SNAP booklet ("What You Should Know About Your Rights & Responsibilities") or on the back of a voter registration form I’ll never use. Occasionally, these moments become poems, a couple of which appear in my chapbook, The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop, recently published by Argos Books. (Shout out to my nephew J----, who checked my ego by constantly asking, “Ams, what’s the name of your book again?” Only to walk off, chuckling, before I could answer.)

My mentor, musician and writer Norman Riley (the “Great Sage of Hell’s Kitchen”), once advised me to say, “yes” to any creative opportunity that felt right, that allowed me to sleep at night. I’ve performed at over ten events so far this year, which for a poet making chump change, has been financially challenging.

Two of these amazing shows were funded, fully or in part, by Poets & Writers. “Celebrating a Sacred Space for Women’s Voices” was curated by JP Howard, poet and creator of Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (love to my co-features: Keisha-Gaye Anderson, Charleen McClure, and Cheryl Boyce-Taylor). And a reading at Bluestockings Bookstore in New York City was organized by poet Cathy Linh Che (dap to my co-readers: Wo Chan, Cathy Linh Che, Paul Tran, and Javier Zamora).

Real talk: It feels good to be compensated for my writerly endeavors, to not be entirely stressed about how much money’s left—or ain’t left—for my subway fare after a gig. (And I can testify that travel reimbursement goes a long way, all you reading series curators out there. Ten events times $5.00 is…) It feels good to have pocket change for everyday living expenses, to support other poets’ events, a little something-something in my purse for the $8 cover or two-drink minimum plus tip. Thank you for allowing me that, Poets & Writers.

It’s still a struggle from one day to the next, don’t get it twisted. Call me a stubborn Capricorn with Virgo rising. Call me a woman about her business: A chapbook welcomed into the world with the best launch ever (I see you, Krystal Languell, Cynthia Manick, and Betsy Fagin!); an upcoming Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon workshop that I’m facilitating, co-sponsored by Poets & Writers; and a couple of events scheduled for 2015, dates pending. 

Call me a New York poet knee-deep in blessings.

Photo (top): Amber Atiya reading at Poets House. Photo Credit: Arnold Adler

Photo (bottom): Akinfe Fatou, Amber Atiya, and JP Howard at the chapbook launch for The Fierce Bums of Doo-wop. Photo Credit: Ed Toney

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. 

Thanksgiving is a holiday of abundance, good will, good company, and most importantly, good food. We all have our favorites—that platter or dish we set strategically in front of us and hope nobody asks us to pass. This week, write about the one item in your Thanksgiving feast that you look forward to every year. Is it something you make? If not, who usually makes it? Is it a secret family recipe? In an age when most dishes can be purchased or made on any day of the year, take a moment to reflect on how certain dishes become special. 

11.26.14

From: The Time Is Now

When writing, we usually employ as many senses as we (or our characters) typically experience. Take a scene you’ve already written and tally how many times touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell are used to describe the environment, characters, and action of the story. Which one do you rely the most heavily upon in your writing? Remove all of the instances in which that sense is used, and use an alternative sense in its place. How does this affect the tone, the action, or the scene as a whole? 

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, write a poem of thanks. Make it all-encompassing, widely accessible, heartfelt, and tender. It could be a proclamation of all the things you are thankful for, or it could be for someone you want to thank. When you’re finished, make copies of your poem and leave one in a public place, where it is sure to be found. Do not sign the poem, and do not address it to anyone in particular. The poem is for whoever finds it and appreciates it.  

Rebecca Hoogs is the author of the chapbook, Grenade (GreenTower Press, 2005) and the poetry collection, Self-Storage (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013), which was a finalist for the 2013 Washington State Book Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, AGNI, FIELD, Crazyhorse, Zyzzyva, the Journal, Poetry Northwest, the Florida Review, Cincinnati Review, among others. She won the 2010 Southeast Review poetry contest and is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Artist Trust of Washington State. Hoogs is the Program Director for Seattle Arts & Lectures and occasionally co-directs and teaches in the Summer Creative Writing in Rome program for the University of Washington. 

Rebecca HoogsWhat makes your organization and its programs unique?
I think what makes Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL) unique is not only the breadth of our programming, but the way we interweave our public programs with our education program, Writers in the Schools (WITS), whenever we can. At each of our lectures and readings, we open the evening by featuring a young student writer reading their original poem, story, or memoir. After, we encourage the young writer to sit beside the featured author at the booksigning table—two peers, side by side—to sign copies of their work for the audience. These moments in the spotlight can be utterly transformative for our young writers—often we hear that it’s the first time their parents are seeing them in such a positive light. These are magical moments and it’s an honor to use the SAL stage not only to present the best authors of our time to Seattle’s readers and writers, but to give them a glimpse of the best writers of the future, as well.

Many of these writers also visit a WITS classroom while they are in Seattle. For instance, James McBride, the opening speaker in this year’s Literary Arts Series, spoke with a group of several hundred students at Garfield High School (where some classes were reading his 1996 memoir, The Color of Water). Bringing real-life authors to students during the school day is just as important to us as bringing them to the evening presentation.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
Last spring, after many years of trying, I finally succeeded in persuading Anne Carson to return to Seattle to appear in our Poetry Series. As Anne and her partner Currie and I planned for their visit, what would happen onstage evolved: We added musicians, invited collaborators, and I was asked to track down “as many sheets” as I could get. The resulting performance was a one-of-a-kind night featuring Anne’s words in many voices (including her own), a chorus of Gertrude Steins, music by the lovely local musicians Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang, and, of course, those sheets rising up and down in a meditative dance-poem. It was a magical night that took risks, pushed boundaries, and asked the audience to join the performers in riding on the possibility of failure or flight. It was a dream come true.

What was your most successful literary program, and why?
What a hard question! There are so many ways to look at success and so many different kinds of successful programs. However, I feel that our Literary Arts Series event with George Saunders last spring epitomizes our most successful programs. He was one of the most moving, funny, and inspiring people I’ve ever heard speak and many of our long-time audience members left saying that it was one of the best—perhaps even the best—lecture that they’d ever heard in the twenty-six years of our series. That, to me, is pretty high praise. Different events will appeal to different folks, but my ultimate goal is that—at the end of every lecture or reading—someone leaves saying, wow, that was the best event I’ve been to in years.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
Watching the World Series with Robert Hass at a sketchy bar down the street from our venue, fifteen minutes before his reading.

Helping an author undo the forgotten tailor tacks on his new suit, ten minutes before he took the stage.

Hearing 2,500 voices sing “Because the Night” with Patti Smith after her reading from her memoir Just Kids.

And, just last week, being blown away by the visual kismet and crazy layering of Matthea Harvey reading her poems (sponsored by Poets & Writers—thank you!) about glass girls in a glass factory in the Glasshouse at Chihuly Garden and Glass, under the Space Needle and below a full moon occasionally pierced by planes. It was an amazing night in which the setting magnified and reflected her work in all the best ways.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
I strive to put together series that are not only comprised of my personal favorite writers, but who are the favorite writers of our community (or who will be!). As a result, I read much more broadly than I would otherwise and am more open-minded. To then get to hear authors in person speak about their work, to offer insight into their process, to reflect on their career, is a gift that just deepens the experience of reading.

As a poet, the Poetry Series provides the most direct inspiration for my own work. As host for the series, I am preparing for weeks in advance—reading casually at first, perhaps, and with increasing intensity and adrenaline (and yes, anxiety) as the event looms and my introduction and interview of the poet near. Preparing in this way reminds me of what I always loved (in the end) about school—reading work deeply and then synthesizing through writing and questions, lodging the work into my own conscious and subconscious. I am sure that this kind of deep reading has inevitably given me new tools, ideas, and forms to experiment with, but most of all, it has given me pleasure.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
There’s critical synergy in the work we do. Through Writers in the Schools, we’re cultivating the next generation of readers and writers while simultaneously supporting our region’s writers (we pay more than $200,000 a year to the fabulous local writers to serve as WITS writers-in-residence). These young writers are featured on the stages of our public programs and the writers-in-residence also receive free tickets to our Literary Arts Series and Poetry Series (free inspiration for their own writing life!). Each year, thousands of readers and writers of all ages are uplifted, challenged, and ultimately changed through tales of persistence, insights into the writing process, new cultural context, critical lenses into literary history, and intimate vignettes of partnership. Together, we remember what it means to be human and share a story. Together, we write that story.

Photo: Rebecca Hoogs      Credit: Libby Lewis Photography
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.

Submissions are open for the sixth annual InkTears Short Story Prize, given for a short story. The winner will receive £1,000 (approximately $1,500), and his or her story will be e-mailed to the InkTears readership.

Using the online submission system, submit a story of 1,000 to 3,500 words with a £6 (approximately $9) entry fee by November 30. Both unpublished and previously published stories are eligible. The winner, runner-up, and four finalists will be announced by March 30, 2015.

Founded by writer and technology entrepreneur Anthony Howcroft in 2009, InkTears is a website devoted to short fiction. Readers receive a story via email each month. In a short video posted in May 2014, Howcroft—who chairs the judging panel for the prize—offers advice to writers who are submitting to the short story contest: Make it a story only you can tell; read the rules; show, don’t tell; make sure to use a consistent point of view; and focus more on the story than on its grammar.

Tom Serengeti won the 2013 prize for his story “Messenger to Riverlea.” For the 2013 competition, InkTears received over five hundred submissions.

Looking back, can you pick out a moment in your life that was altered by a simple action or pure happenstance? Perhaps someone you met under unfortunate circumstances (a fender-bender, at the doctor's office) ended up becoming a close friend of yours. Maybe, as a result of getting hopelessly lost, you discovered a diner that serves the best cherry pie you’ve ever had in your life.  This week, write an essay about one of these instances. Or, if you’ve had multiple experiences of this nature, try and string them all together in the same piece. 

At a ceremony Thursday night in New York City, the winners of the 2014 National Book Awards were announced. The awards, now in their sixty-fifth year, are given annually for books published in the previous year in the categories of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people’s literature.


Louise Glück won the award in poetry for her collection Faithful and Virtuous Night (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). Phil Klay won the award in fiction for his debut short story collection, Redeployment (Penguin). Evan Osnos won the award in nonfiction for Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Jacqueline Woodson took the award in young people’s literature for Brown Girl Dreaming (Nancy Paulsen Books). Each winner receives $10,000.

The finalists in poetry were Fanny Howe, Maureen N. McLane, Fred Moten, and Claudia Rankine. The fiction finalists were Rabih Alameddine, Anthony Doerr, Emily St. John Mandel, and Marilynne Robinson. Read a complete list of finalists here, as well as the longlists from which they were chosen.

Earlier in the evening's programming, the National Book Foundation awarded Kyle Zimmer, founder of the Washington, D.C.–based children’s literacy nonprofit First Book, with the 2014 Literarian Award, given for outstanding service to the literary community.

Legendary science fiction and fantasy author Ursula K. Le Guin, meanwhile, received the foundation’s annual Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. “Ursula Le Guin has shown how great writing will obliterate the antiquated—and never really valid—line between popular and literary art,” said Harold Augenbaum, the executive director of the National Book Foundation, in a statement. “Her influence will be felt for decades to come.”

In receiving the award, which was presented at the ceremony by Neil Gaiman, Le Guin spoke of the importance of writing in a capitalist society, in which books are often considered commodities rather than works of art. She called upon writers to harness their art as tools of resistance and change: “The profit motive is often at odds with the aim of art…” she said. “The name of our beautiful reward is not profit, it is freedom.”

Top: Glück, Klay, Osnos, Woodson. Bottom: Le Guin.

Surrealism seeks to express the workings of the mind and imagination free from conscious control of reason and convention. This week, try to write a surrealist scene for a story you’ve been working on. To start, you could take a dream you’ve had recently and rewrite it, swapping the characters in your story for the characters in the dream. Read up on symbolism, and consider what certain types of images or events mean in dreams. Use this Dream Dictionary as a resource.

Do you have a message for the world? Something that you wish you could scrawl on the side of a building in spray paint, or paste up on a billboard for all to see? This week, write the poem that’s itching to get out of you. Imagine what the words would look like ten feet tall and try to embody that power on the page.

Marcia Arrieta blogs about her experience teaching a P&W–supported writing workshop series at Elizabeth House, a place of refuge for homeless pregnant women and their children in Pasadena, California. Arrieta is a poet, artist, and teacher, whose work appears in Of/with, Alba, Rivet, So to Speak, 13th Moon, Eratio, Catch & Release, Alice Blue, Melusine, Osiris, Web Conjunctions, Sugar Mule, Cold Mountain Review, Dusie, and the Last VISPO Anthology, among others. The author of one poetry book, triskelion, tiger moth, tangram, thyme (Otoliths, 2011), and two chapbooks, experimental: (Potes & Poets, 2000) and the curve against the linear/An Uncommon Accord (Toadlily Press, 2008), she received an MFA in poetry from Vermont College. Over the years, she has led numerous writing workshops at Franklin High School and John Adams Middle School in Los Angeles, and The Women’s Room and Centennial Place in Pasadena. Arrieta edits and publishes Indefinite Space, a poetry/art journal.

Marcia ArrietaIn the first poetry/writing workshop in a series sponsored by Poets & Writers at Elizabeth House in Pasadena, California, a young mother writes about a hummingbird:

She looked at me and then flew away.
That’s when I knew on the floor—I shouldn’t stay.

Five weeks later at the culminating reading and book publication of Writing from Elizabeth House, a hummingbird hovers in the center of the cover collage. The hummingbird, a symbol of goodness, sweetness, and light, became a symbol for us of perseverance, writing, and communication, as did Maya Angelou’s powerful poem “And Still I Rise.”

The mission of Elizabeth House is “to provide shelter, hope, and support to homeless pregnant women and their children, addressing the physical, emotional, spiritual, and economic needs in a nurturing atmosphere.”

When I first arrived there to lead my workshop, I learned that not only would I have eager, creative young women around the table, but also their babies—ranging in age from weeks old to six months. Needless to say, we had a lively time between the reading, discussing, writing, and sharing of our work, and the babies—sometimes crying, nursing, content, yelling, sleeping (ah, for the baby sleeping!).

Elizabeth House writing workshopThroughout the workshops, several women told me they were so happy to be writing again and in touch with their creativity. One woman expressed her gratitude for the workshops since they were exactly what she needed at this time in her life, with a six-month-old and her uncertainty as to a job and place to live after Elizabeth House. Another woman revealed she never wrote or read poetry, but by the final workshop, she was able to express herself in a beautiful poem entitled “Life.”

At the reading, the audience was very impressed with the quality of the women’s work—especially the honesty and depth of thoughts and emotions expressed. The book I created for them will always be a reminder of their time at Elizabeth House.

I was amazed and inspired by these young women—their lives, their babies, their writing. It was a privilege to work with them and learn of their dreams, struggles, and strength. I think I brought them optimism and hope through the literature we analyzed and the biographies of the poets and writers we studied—Maya Angelou, Joy Harjo, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Edgar Lee Masters, Emily Dickinson, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Audre Lordemany of whom also experienced difficult times, but ultimately triumphed.

Photo (top): Marcia Arrieta. Credit: Kevin Joy. Photo (bottom): Elizabeth House workshop participants and Marcia Arrieta (at right). Credit: Kali Ratzlaff.

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

As Thanksgiving draws closer, it’s a time to be thankful for what you have and to think of those who are in need. Is there an organization you volunteer for in your community? Are there times you wish you had a helping hand from someone? This week, write an essay about what giving and receiving support means to you. 

This past Sunday marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. To celebrate, eight thousand helium balloons were released into the night sky over Berlin. This week, write a story that takes place in Berlin on the day of the ceremony. Perhaps one of your characters grew up with the Berlin Wall up. Maybe one of your characters is traveling across Europe and just happens to be in Berlin that day. In your story, break down some personal barriers between characters, or try to unite them on a common ground.   

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