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The American Poetry Review is currently accepting submissions for the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize for Younger Poets. The annual prize is given for a poem or group of poems written by a poet under 40. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in the September/October 2014 issue of the American Poetry Review.

Poets may submit one to three poems totaling no more than three pages with a $15 entry fee. The deadline is May 15; poets may submit using the online submission system, or by postal mail to the American Poetry Review, Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, UARTS/320 South Broad Street, Hamilton #313, Philadelphia, PA 19102. The editors of the American Poetry Review will judge. The winner will be announced by July 1.

Established in 2010, the prize honors the late Stanley Kunitz and his dedication to mentoring young poets. Kunitz (1905-2006) taught at Bennington College, Brandeis, Columbia, Princeton, Queens College, Rutgers, University of Washington, Vassar, and Yale. He helped found the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as well as Poets House in New York City. From 1969 to 1977, he served as the judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, selecting the work of emerging poets such as Carolyn Forché and Robert Hass.

Previous winners of the Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize prize include Ocean Vuong, Alex Dimitrov, and Elly Bookman.

Photo credit: Middle Tennessee State University

No matter how adventurous an eater you are, there's bound to be some foods that immediately turn you off. It could be the smell, the texture, or just the way it looks that makes it unpalatable. This week, write about a time when you were faced with something that is supposedly edible but that you found absolutely unappealing. It could be a food from a different culture, an odd combination of flavors, or a culinary experiment a friend or relative cooked up that didn't turn out as planned. Did you eat it anyway? Or did you leave it for someone else to enjoy?

For the third installment in our weekly Winners on Winning series, we spoke with poet Dexter L. Booth, who was selected by Major Jackson as the winner of the 2012 Cave Canem Poetry Prize for his collection, Scratching the Ghost, which was published in 2013 by Graywolf Press. He teaches poetry and English composition at Arizona State University.

What kind of impact has winning the Cave Canem Poetry Prize had on your career?
A few months after I found out I was selected for the prize I was contacted by the University of Arizona’s Poetry Center and the Pima Writers’ Workshop. At this point the book didn’t even have a cover image and wasn’t real to me yet. I drove to Tucson to give a reading, lecture, and run a workshop that summer. It was the first time I had ever been invited to be a part of something like that. I met a bunch of great writers and made some connections in the academic community, some of which have led to friendships that I’ve come to deeply value.

When the book was released I flew to New York City and read at NYU and met Cornelius Eady. Because Cave Canem is based in New York I also had my first face-to-face meeting with Alison Meyers, the executive director of Cave Canem, and a few others I had been in touch with via email for over a year. I was introduced to a lot of Cave Canem fellows and they were all incredibly nice and extremely supportive.

Working with Graywolf Press has also been a humbling experience. They are so accommodating and flexible. I owe a lot of the publicity credit to them. Jeff Shotts is an amazing editor and he really cares about Graywolf’s authors. Though I’ve made quite a few connections and have been given a number of opportunities, I’m not one to brag about the details. I am very fortunate and I think winning this prize has made my career.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
When I first found out the book was going to be published I was both elated and petrified. I had been sending it out, but I didn’t expect anything other than rejection; that’s a part of the process, a type of battle scar. Suddenly my poems went from being read by teachers, friends, and fellow poets, to having a readership that extended outside of the people I knew. I was so used to writing in solitude and sharing with a chosen few, the thought of the poems packing their sacks and heading out into the world with just one another to rely on was mortifying. For about six months or so I couldn’t write anything new. I had written a lot while sending out the manuscript but suddenly worry over the reception of the book became very crippling. After the buzz of congratulations died down a bit I made a concentrated effort to put it out of my mind. My work had already naturally evolved and I was writing poems that were longer and noticeably more demanding. I threw myself into those new poems as a way of ignoring the book. All of my poems are written out a desire to understand the world; the poems from the book are a part of my evolution as a writer, of course, but I don’t see the publication of the book itself as having any direct impact on the way I write.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
Richard Siken said that sending out your work and getting rejections is a form of participation in the literary community. Pretty early into my MFA I made it a habit to submit my work to various journals and contests. I received a lot of rejections. The first rejection is always rough on anyone, but you get used to it. I was the poetry editor for Hayden’s Ferry Review for a year and I got to see the submission process from the inside. So many poems come through—many of them don’t even make it to the editor, and though a lot of what does is strong work, it doesn’t always meet the taste or aesthetic of the person who reads it. Contests work the same way.

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Be patient and persistent. Rejection is just a part of what we do as artists. People often see the name of the judge for a contest and think their work is perfect and that there’s no way they can’t win, but in reality [a submission] has to go through a lot of hands before it reaches that judge. This can get expensive since there are so may contests out there, but I don’t think submitting to everything is prudent. Do some research and pick a few contests to send to. Send your best work but know that every other person who submitted is doing the same. If you aren’t selected, read the work that was and see what you can learn from it. Consider submissions to be an exercise in participation and don’t think about winning or losing or being rejected. Once the poems are sent, take a walk. When you get back home start writing new poems. If the poems are turned down, take another walk, start another poem. Rinse. Repeat.

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back here every Wednesday for a new installment.

Spring can at times seem like one long daydream. Does one of your characters have the habit of drifting off into a fantasy world? This week, write out one of these daydreams. Use plenty of surreal elements that make it clear this is a fantasy sequence and not just the character re-imagining a scenario working out a different way. "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by James Thurber is a perfect example.

Take a moment to think about where you are from. If that's not so easy to pin down, think instead about a place that's had an impact on you, a place in which you've spent a relatively long time, or the place you live now. Now think about how the people talk there. What are the phrases or cadences that color their speech? Take this local voice and use it in a poem about the place you are thinking of. For example, write a poem about going to summer camp in Maine using the Mainer accent, or about moving to New Orleans in the voice of a Louisiana native.

Submissions are currently open for the Paris Review's Writer-in-Residence program. Cosponsored by the Standard’s East Village hotel in New York City, the three-week residency, valued at $7,500, is given to a poet, a fiction writer, or a creative nonfiction writer with a book under contract. The resident will receive a room free of charge at the Standard’s East Village hotel for the first three weeks in July, as well as breakfasts, unlimited coffee, and a small reception at the end of the residency.

To apply, submit a description and sample of the work-in-progress totaling no more than 50 pages, a letter from the publisher confirming that the work is under contract, a brief letter of intent, and an optional sample of previous work totaling no more than 50 pages by May 1. All materials must be submitted electronically to residency@theparisreview.org. The editors of the Paris Review and Standard Culture will judge.

The residency program was launched in the fall of 2013. The inaugural resident, fiction writer Lysley Tenorio of San Francisco, spent three weeks in January at the Standard’s East Village hotel working on his novel.

The winner will be announced on June 7, 2014.

Mary McMillan lives and works in Lake County, California. She has been facilitating the Writers Circle, a monthly free public writing workshop sponsored by the Lake County Arts Council and supported by Poets & Writers, for more than five years. She worked as a journalist for several years, and has written novels and creative nonfiction. In 2010, she was selected as Lake County’s Poet Laureate and published This Wanting, a poetry chapbook, as well as the textbook Get Inside Your Relationships, related to her work as a marriage and family therapist. Along with a private psychotherapy practice, McMillan works as a mediator for family court and teaches parents in the court system how to communicate better with their co-parents.

Mary McMillan and RosieSince fall 2008, I have been funded by Poets & Writers to facilitate the Writers Circle, a free public writing workshop that meets once a month in the Lake County Arts Council gallery. Located in rural Northern California, in a valley isolated by mountain ranges, Lake County is both cursed with the problems that come with extreme poverty, and blessed by clean air and breathtaking scenery. Many artists, writers, and professionals retire in Lake County, where they can enjoy mountain trails and the largest natural freshwater lake in the state. Centuries ago, a now-dormant volcano created rich soil in the valleys—soil that now attracts small family farms growing organic produce, walnuts, pears, and wine grapes.

Since I took over the position of workshop facilitator, I've been fascinated and moved every month, as participants have brought in material often hoarded and hidden for years—and I have watched these writers bloom into confident authors of exquisitely funny, terrifying, or touching stories and poems.

Ten years ago, Fran Ransley began writing her memoir, This House Protected by Poverty, about being a welfare mother. This month she is preparing to submit the final version of her manuscript to Amazon’s CreateSpace to print her first edition. Each month, when Fran read her stories of frustration laced with irony and wit, participants practically fell off their chairs laughing—appreciating the absurdity Fran saw in every situation— yet offered constructive criticism. For instance, when Fran rambled into interesting or thoughtful digressions, we helped her construct ways to weave those observations into her central narrative.

Writers CircleIn 2010, participant Lourdes Thuesen started writing a short story about a developmentally delayed girl whose mother was addicted to methamphetamine. As we continued asking her questions about this mother and her history, Lourdes ended up writing a compelling novel with the addicted mother at the center of a complex web of relationships. And, recently, a middle-aged man in a wheelchair has joined us, keeping us enthralled with excerpts from his memoir, So You Want to be a Quadriplegic.

Over the years, I have offered an encouraging ear, and ensured a safe place for people to bring sensitive material and tell their stories. I have always felt impressed with the fine quality of both writing and listening that participants bring to the workshop, but even more, I have felt privileged to witness the rich and complex lives they have come to share.

Top: Mary McMillan and her dog, Rosie; credit: Patty Dalton. Bottom: The Writers Circle; credit: JoAnn Sacato.
Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

There are several holidays that incorporate dressing up in costume: Halloween, Purim, and Mardi Gras, to name a few. On these occasions, the goal is to look like somebody (or something) else. But on the days that aren't dress-up holidays or occasions, there are times when you put on a certain outfit or a particular style of clothing and it can feel like you are putting on a costume. Try writing about an experience you've had when you dressed yourself in a way that made you feel like a different person. Was it a pleasant or uncomfortable experience? Did people recognize you? Describe what it felt like.

For the second installment in our weekly Winners on Winning series, we spoke with poet Denice Frohman, who won a 2012 Leeway Foundation Transformation Award. The annual award gives an unrestricted $15,000 to women and transsexual, transgender, and genderqueer artists living in the Philadelphia area who create art for social change. Frohman was also named the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam Champion and received the 2013 Hispanic Choice Award for Creative Artist of the Year. Her debut album, Feels Like Home, is a mix of spoken word poetry and original music.

What kind of impact has winning the Leeway Transformation Award and other prizes had on your career?
Receiving the Transformation Award was a critical step for me in transitioning to a full-time, self-sustainable writing career. It afforded me the financial stability to quit my day-job, write, complete my debut CD, apply to residencies, attend poetry festivals, and begin a rigorous national tour as part of the spoken duo, Sister Outsider Poetry, alongside award-winning poet Dominique Christina. Winning awards can help create a larger platform for your work to be heard. I think that is true for both the Transformation Award and other awards I've received. In my opinion, it becomes even more important to be intentional with the work that you put out because you have a special opportunity to engage a larger audience in important social and political conversations.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
I don't think I would say it has changed the way I approach my work.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
The first time I applied for the Transformation Award I did not receive it. However, it was a really important step for me, because the process of applying required me to give language to my work in a way that I had not done before. I encourage anyone who is serious about their craft to apply for a grant—whether or not you receive it you will walk away with a clearer vision of your work and why the work matters. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
First, look at applying locally. There is no better way to build these skills than in your back yard. Get a sense of what the foundation or publication is looking for and see if your work fits in with those guidelines. I do not recommend "chasing funds"—in other words, do not change the work you do to fit a particular funder. You are much better off doing more research to find a place that is looking to fund the kind of work you are already doing. 

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back here every Wednesday for a new installment.

In David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest, mother Avril Incandenza is remarkably devoted to her houseplants, so much so that she calls them her "green babies." Does one of your characters have a green thumb? Or does she dislike being responsible for houseplants? Think about what this might reveal in terms of the character's personality. What drives someone to take something meant to live outside and bring it inside? Is it a desire to cultivate beauty in her life, or does she prefer a more controlled environment to the wilds of nature?

In an interview with Cynthia Dewi Oka back in 2013, poet Andrea Walls talked about the soap epitaphs she started seeing on the backs of car windows around Camden, New Jersey. They struck her as poems that illustrated "the way that we vanish and the way we say we were here vanishes too." This week, write something using an impermanent medium, paying particular consideration to the medium itself. Write a poem about the ocean on a sandy beach, or about your childhood in chalk on the sidewalk. Write a poem for your partner in the condensation on the bathroom mirror. But most importantly, don't write it on paper. It will vanish, but that doesn't mean you have to forget it.

 P&W-supported presenter Lynn Ciesielski runs the Circleformance Series in Buffalo, NY. Her background is in special education.  She has an MS from SUNY College at Buffalo and taught in city schools for over eighteen years.  When Lynn retired, she turned most of her energy to poetry.  She is currently working on her first full length collection to follow her chapbook, I Speak in Tongues, released by Foothills Publishing in 2012.  Lynn's work has also appeared in Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Nerve Cowboy, Slipstream, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Iodine Poetry Journal and many other periodicals.

Lynn CiesielskiWhat makes your reading series and its events unique?
I regularly introduce poets new to the Buffalo literary scene, whether it be due to their youth, out of town status or lengthy dormant periods. By pairing these artists with those who are well-established here, I am able to garner a welcoming audience for them. Additionally, with the help of Poets & Writers’ financial support, I am able to give many of them their first opportunity to earn money doing what they love best.
These measured risks I take have proven very successful.  Many of the local poets I know fairly well, who come to the readings, have pulled me aside to mention how much they enjoyed the new writer. They ask where I have found these talents.
Another factor that makes us unique relates to the venue. Our readings take place in my co-host’s art gallery. This provides a visual backdrop which fits nicely with the poetry.
 
 
What recent project and/or event have you been especially proud of and why?
On August 13, 2013 I hosted Sara Ries and Elaine Chamberlain. These poets have several things in common. They have strong family ties, they are both phenomenal poets with good standing in our community and most memorably, they travelled to India together the prior winter.  Because I know both of them, I was aware that they had written a fair amount of travel poetry related to their trip. I requested that each poet choose their selections from that repertoire. A lot of the attendees and I were especially interested in the section during which each poet read their own poetic version of specific incidents from the trip. These pieces really highlighted their individuality.
As a special treat, I prepared a vegetarian curry and nan khatai (Indian shortbread with coconut and cardamom). The poets and audience members enjoyed a multi-cultural and multi-sensory feast of flavors and words.
 
What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
We generally have a musician who plays before the poets begin. One month he did not turn up and though we were disappointed, we did not make too much of it. Right as the first poet began, the musician called the gallery to speak to the proprietor (my co-host). He did not realize he was on speaker phone and proceeded to explain why he had been unable to make it to perform that evening. The audience burst with laughter and, though the proprietor and I were embarrassed, there was little we could without being impolite.
 
How do you find and invite readers?
I have a pretty big network of poet friends/ acquaintances in Buffalo and Western New York and surrounding areas. When I run out of ideas, I consult with my co-host who is not only a visual artist and gallery proprietor but a poet and writer as well.
When I am interested in featuring a poet I generally contact him/her via email or telephone.

How do you cultivate an audience?
At each reading I announce the next several dates along with the features. We advertise in local papers and on the Meridian West Art Gallery’s facebook page. I also send out a mass mailing to everyone in my poetry network.
 
What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Buffalo is a very depressed area which has experienced a mass exodus. However, our arts community continues to thrive. I think literary programs elevate morale and give people varied opportunities to communicate and share at a deep and cathartic level. The literary arts encourage those who feel dismay and enhance joy with profound beauty.

Photo: Lynn Ciesielski  Credit: Nicholas Todaro

Support for Readings & 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.

As the weather gets warmer, more and more people are getting outdoors to do some sightseeing. After all, with the trees budding and flowers perfuming the cool breeze, how could anyone resist a little adventure? This week, write about being a tourist. Think of a specific trip you took. Where were you? What did it feel like to be a visitor there? Do you enjoy being a tourist? If not, how come?

In conjunction with the new May/June 2014 Writing Contests issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, we are excited to introduce Winners on Winning, a new regular feature in which we will talk to recent winners of writing prizes, grants, and fellowships who will share their experiences on how winning—and losing—has affected their careers.

For the first installment, we spoke to Rebecca Dunham, winner of the 2013 Milkweed Editions Lindquist & Vennum Prize for Poetry for her collection Glass Armonica ($10,000 and publication for a writer from the Upper Midwest). Dunham is the author of two previous poetry collections: The Miniature Room (Truman State University Press, 2006), which won the T. S. Eliot Prize, and The Flight Cage (Tupelo Press, 2010). She is a professor of creative writing at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.

What kind of impact has winning this prize had on your career?
One of the most rewarding effects of winning the Lindquist & Vennum Prize is that I’ve had the opportunity to meet and develop relationships with more poets from the Midwest. I’ve also had the amazing experience of collaborating with a Minneapolis choreographer, Maggie Bergeron, on a ballet inspired by Glass Armonica. The Lindquist & Vennum Prize is sponsored by a Minneapolis law firm and comes with a generous cash prize. This has allowed me to travel and promote the book, as well as take the summer off from teaching to focus on my writing.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Honestly, I hope it hasn’t. It can take a while to find the right match between a manuscript and a judge, and I try to focus on the writing itself. Having had books published via winning contests has, however, given me more confidence that what I’m writing will someday find itself into the world.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I have racked up more rejections than I care to count. I try to separate the writing from the rejection, but it can be hard. I submitted Glass Armonica to presses and contests for two years, under different titles, and the manuscript changed a lot over that period of time. The one upside to rejection was that before sending the book out again, I would always comb through it, revising, adding or removing poems, etc. Glass Armonica is a tighter and more polished book than it was the first time I sent it out into the world.

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Remember that entering writing contests is the business side of writing, not the creative part of it. I try to handle submissions as dispassionately as possible. I read the guidelines, follow them precisely – sort of like doing one’s taxes. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of where my manuscript is under consideration, and then I try to put the contest out of my mind. For me, that’s the best way to keep anticipation and anxiety from crowding out the pleasure I take in writing.

For more Winners on Winning, read the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and check back here every Wednesday for a new installment.

Dunham: Mark Pioli

What if one day you woke up with a crippling phobia? What if the object of the phobia was something you once loved? This week, incorporate this scenario intoan existing piece of writing, or use it to create a new character. Think about the nature of fear and how it shapes us, how it restricts us yet also protects us. For inspiration, visit phobialist.com.

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