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Poets & Writers Literary Roundtable meetings are great opportunities to connect with fellow presenters, presses, teachers, and writers. They bring together people from all aspects of the local literary community to share ideas, news, and resources, and possibly form partnerships. It's also a chance for members of the community to learn more about P&W and how its Readings & Workshops program might support their literary events. Brandi M. Spaethe, program assistant at P&W Readings & Workshops (West), blogs about a meeting in Fresno, California.

Fresno Roundtable

When I went to the Poets & Writers’ Fresno Roundtable meeting on March 27, I was excited to return to the place where I received my MFA in poetry last May. One thing I told Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, director of the Readings & Workshops Program (West), on the drive up was that not only does Fresno have a rich poetic history, but it also continues to be home to a strong and diverse literary community. It’s a place where inhabitants stick around because they are passionate about their projects and the city. Fresno is a place that wants to be loved.

In attendance was Fresno’s poet laureate, James Tyner, who runs a reading series at the Gillis Branch Public Library in Fresno. Tyner was elected Fresno’s first poet laureate in the fall of 2012. S. Bryan Medina came to discuss his new baby, the Inner Ear Poetry Jam, which features slam poets in the area. Medina told us that the slam community in Fresno has been alive for roughly twelve years, a fact not widely known. Michael Medrano, who was a P&W writer-in-residence for the Readings & Workshops blog in July 2013, has been an important member of the local literary scene with his Random Writers Workshop series that meets monthly in Fresno. Others in attendance included an agent, local literary enthusiasts, and a new member who had recently relocated.

One question we all wanted to explore: What drives Fresno's passion for the arts? What is it about Fresno that attracts writers? Well, it’s not a glamorous place. Fresno is very much a working-class city, they agreed, a place about work. Former United States Poet Laureate Philip Levine has spent a number of years teaching, writing, and living in Fresno and is well-known for writing about Detroit's working-class. This city is a realist city. Its faults are right on the surface and many of its citizens come from blue-collar backgrounds. A strong work ethic, a powerful drive, and sweat breaking over your back can remind you that you're human. That your body is capable of affecting and destroying and building again—if you spend enough time in Fresno you can see it. You can see it in the poetry.

The other thing that drives Fresnans is that they must fight for the arts. Cindy Wathen, treasurer at the Fresno Arts Council, shared with us that there’s just no budget for the arts, thus all efforts are grassroots. A few attendees spoke out about how fighting for your art creates a strong sense of identity, a sense of ownership and pride that comes with building your own establishment. As the largest Central Valley city, Fresno boasts a variety of agricultural communities, folks who have watched the land change and bear new fruit each year, some natives working directly to cultivate the crop. The arts, too, are nourished in this way.

One thing I noticed about my own time in Fresno is how separate the university and the locals were in their literary endeavors. Often the local writers would host events and some students would come, and vice versa with the MFA student events through Fresno State, but crossover was rare. There exists two camps: the nonacademic writer and the academic writer. "In what ways can the two come together?" we wondered. What are some events we'd like to see in Fresno that might bridge the gap? Some suggested a writers conference inclusive of non-academic writers, others mused that a retreat or publication would be a good addition to the scene. Annual show? Fringe festival? Excitement began to build in the room.

Fresno has been a poet’s place. It still is a poet’s place. Folks often forget about it, and the city itself has developed a reputation in the nation for being something that it’s not to the native. There’s a real sense of community there.

I am sitting at the dinner table, rolling a hot dog
into a corn tortilla, boiled beans and white rice,
the air growing smokey from the tri-tip barbequing
outside, my cousin bringing in a plate of pan fried
noodles from the place down the street.

I am home.

I am Fresno.

—James Tyner, "Fresno, California. 2013."

Photo: Fresno Roundtable Attendees  Credit: Jamie Asaye FitzGerald

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

Whether it's with a sibling, best friend, or colleague, there comes a time in most of our lives when we find ourselves engaged in a bitter rivalry with another person. This week, write about someone you've had to go head-to-head with in order to achieve a personal goal. What were you two competing over? What were the driving motives behind the conflict? Were you and your rival pitted against each other by a third party? If this occurred a while ago, try and access the emotions you felt when it was all happening to strengthen the scene.

For the fifth installment of our ongoing Winners on Winning series, we spoke with Tami Mohamed Brown, the winner of a 2013 Loft Literary Center Minnesota Emerging Writers' Grant in creative nonfiction, an award that includes $10,000 and professional development for a writing project. She also received a 2011-2012 Mentor Series Award in creative nonfiction from the Loft Literary Center. Brown is a regular contributor to Minnesota Women’s Press, and her work has been published or is forthcoming in Literary Mama, Mizna, Sweet, and in the anthology Open to Interpretation: Intimate Landscape. She lives in Bloomington, Minnesota, with her husband and daughter.

What kind of impact has winning this prize had on your career?
Like many working parents, I’ve never known a writing life or schedule that is separate or distinct from full-time employment and motherhood, my writing time a constant negotiation of balance to create pockets of time—however minimal—in early mornings, on the bus, squeezed in over lunch hours. Receiving the Emerging Writers' Grant has allowed me funded writing time on a regular schedule to work toward a final rewriting and shaping of my memoir: one day a week away from my full-time job, for a full calendar year. I’m still kind of blown away by that! 

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Receiving this award for funded time on a very specific project has definitely made me take my work more seriously. There was the sense that my work had been validated, which fed into an awareness of the importance of my scheduled writing days—I’ve made a huge effort to protect that time, which otherwise would have been hard fought. These longer, weekly, concentrated blocks of time have provided a sense of expansiveness—time to think actively about and experiment with structure and time to simply get as much as I can down on the page.   

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
I submitted a version of the same proposal to the Minnesota Emerging Writers' Grant in 2012 and didn’t win. When the grant notice was posted for 2013, I revisited what I had written the previous year and tightened things up. The second time around, I asked readers I trusted for feedback on the grant narrative, and I used the resources the Loft provided—an open information session, a scheduled chance to ask questions. In short, I took more time and care with the process and with my work—it was good to be reminded that this can make a difference. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
Do your homework and seek out the opportunities that are a good fit for your work. Follow submission guidelines. Submit your best work. After that understand that timing and luck are part of the process, and persevere.  

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

 

Anne Carson's poem "God's Work" opens with the line: "Moonlight in the kitchen is a sign of God." Have you ever experienced a moment like this? This week, write a poem about noticing tiny glimpses of the workings of some higher power. Are these signs comforting or reassuring? Are they motivating, as they are in Carson's poem? If you are not a spiritual person, write about the signs that remind you how much work needs to be done to make our world a better place.

Most of us have a place we go to when we need to rest, recharge, or recuperate. Does one of your characters need a break from her daily routine? Or did she just experience something traumatic? Send her somewhere to heal her mind and spirit. It could be a relative's home, a beautiful park, or a favorite restaurant — someplace calm and comfortable. Home may be where the heart is, but sometimes it helps to get away for a little while.

Submissions are currently open for the Tell it Strange Essay & Story Contest, sponsored by the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Writer. The winner will receive $1,000, publication in the Writer, and tuition valued at $445 to take a class through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop in New York City or online.

A $500 second-place prize and a $250 third-place prize will also be given; both awards include publication on the Writer website and tuition for a workshop. All three winners will also receive a subscription to the Writer.

Using the online submission system, submit a story or essay of up to 1,000 words with a $15 entry fee by May 31. The piece should respond to one of the following two quotes by fiction writer Annie Proulx: “We’re all strange inside. We learn how to disguise our differences as we grow up (The Shipping News);” or “There’s something wrong with everybody, and it’s up to you to know what you can handle (Close Range).” The winner will be announced by July 1.

Annie Proulx is the author of four short story collections, four novels, and most recently Bird Cloud: A Memoir of Place (Simon & Schuster, 2011). Her novel The Shipping News (Simon & Schuster, 1993), about a family living in Newfoundland, won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Close Range (Simon & Schuster, 1999) is a collection of short stories about Wyoming, including “Brokeback Mountain.”

Established in 1993, the Gotham Writers’ Workshop offers creative writing workshops in New York City and online for poets, fiction writers, and nonfiction writers. The mission of Gotham Writers’ Workshop is “to demystify the writing process through expert instruction and proven methods in a safe, creative learning environment.”


Proulx: Eamonn McCabe/the Guardian

The Poetry Foundation announced yesterday that Nathaniel Mackey has won the 2014 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. The annual $100,000 prize honors a living U.S. poet for outstanding lifetime achievement.

Mackey, sixty-six, is the author of over a dozen poetry collections, most recently Nod House (New Directions, 2011) and Splay Anthem (New Directions, 2006), which won the National Book Award. Often known for his experimental work, Mackey has published four installments of his ongoing serial novel, From a Broken Bottle Traces of Perfume Still Emanate. He teaches at Duke University.

Don Share, editor of Poetry magazine, which is published by the Poetry Foundation, praised Mackey’s work. “The poetry of Nathaniel Mackey continues an American bardic line that unfolds from Whitman’s Leaves of Grass to H. D.’s Trilogy to Olson’s Maximus poems, winds through the whole of Robert Duncan’s work and extends beyond all of these,” he said. “In his poems, but also in his genre-defying serial novel (which has no beginning or end) and in his multifaceted critical writing, Mackey’s words always go where music goes: a brilliant and major accomplishment.”

Recent winners of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize include Marie Ponsot and W. S. Di Piero. The prize was established by Ruth Lilly in 1986, and has honored poets such as Adrienne Rich, Philip Levine, John Ashbery, W. S. Merwin, Yusef Komunyakaa, Kay Ryan, C. K. Williams, and Lucille Clifton.

University of California Press received the Poetry Foundation's inaugural Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism for two of its books, both published in 2014, on the poet Robert Duncan: Robert Duncan: The Collected Later Poems and Plays, edited by Peter Quartermain, and Robert Duncan: Collected Essays and Other Prose, edited by James Maynard. The $7,500 annual award honors the best book-length works of criticism, including biographies, essay collections, or critical editions, that focus on poetry.

Mackey and University of California Press will be honored at a ceremony in Chicago on June 9.

Visit the Poetry Foundation website for an extended interview with Nathaniel Mackey. In the video below, Mackey gives a reading at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 2008.

You know what April showers bring. This week think about flowers. More particularly, think about your flower. Is there a certain flower that you personally identify with or fills your heart with joy? If not, is there a flower that reminds you of a special person in your life or brings up a fond memory? Write about this flower and why it's important to you, taking care to illustrate its beauty.

JP HOWARD, aka Juliet P. Howard, is a poet, a Cave Canem fellow, a member of the Hot Poets Collective, and a native New Yorker. She curates and nurtures Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS) and blog. WWBPS hosts monthly literary Salons in New York, and the blog accepts submissions of poetry from women. JP has been selected as a 2014 VONA/Voices Poetry Fellow, a 2012 and 2011 Lambda Literary Foundation Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow, and a 2011 Cave Canem Fellow in Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She was a finalist for Astraea’s Lesbian Writers Fund for Poetry and the recipient of a Soul Mountain Retreat writing residency. Her poems have been published in Adrienne: A Poetry Journal of Queer Women, the Best American Poetry Blog, MiPOesias iPad Companion, African Voices Magazine, Kweli Journal, the Mom Egg, “Of Fire, Of Iron,” Talking Writing, Muzzle Magazine, Connotation Press, TORCH, Cave Canem Anthology XII: Poems 2008-2009, Cave Canem XI 2007 Anthology, and Promethean Literary Journal. She was awarded an MFA in creative writing from the City College of New York in 2009, holds a BA from Barnard College, and a JD from Brooklyn Law School.

Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon (WWBPS) is a dream come true! After receiving my MFA from the City College of New York in 2009, I wanted to continue to be a part of a community of poets and decided sometimes we have to create the community we desire. WWBPS is a Literary Salon Series, modeled after traveling salons that were popular during the Harlem Renaissance. Our first Salon was held during National Poetry Month in April 2011 and was created with the goal of establishing a venue where women writers could come together in a supportive, creative, and nurturing space. The Salon is also open to men. As curator and nurturer of WWBPS, I host monthly literary salons and writing workshops throughout New York. Poets & Writers has generously funded WWBPS since 2012.

Our monthly Salons have grown and can now accommodate between twenty-five to thirty participants. We have served over six hundred participants in the past three years and continue to expand opportunities for Salon members. This year I started a Spring Reading Series “Celebrating a Sacred Space for Women’s Voices: Women Writers in Bloom” at the Bowery Poetry Club, featuring dynamic and diverse Salon poets. This new Series, also funded by Poets & Writers, has its next installment on May 18, 2014, at 1 PM. We had our first out-of-state Seattle-based Salon during AWP at an off-site venue this year. I was recently awarded my very first Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC) Community Arts Fund Grant on behalf of the Salon. This grant allowed me to rent the gorgeous DUMBO Sky venue for our April celebration. Last month WWBPS was one of four literary organizations whose members were invited to participate in Poets & Writers' fifth annual Connecting Cultures Reading, which was a true honor for the Salon and our members.

It has been an amazing feeling to watch the Salon blossom in both membership and outpouring of support. Our three-year anniversary celebration on Saturday, April 26, at DUMBO Sky was one of our largest, most successful events to date! We had nearly seventy guests in attendance. It was wonderful to have the support of Poets & Writers for this anniversary celebration. Our featured poet, phenomenal performer Mahogany L. Browne, performed an excerpt of her manuscript turned multi-media poetry production, #redbone, along with musical accompaniment by Mel Hsu. The performance was inspirational and mesmerizing. Since a large goal of the Salon is to support and nurture women writers, I also honored two long-time Salon members: dynamic poets Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, curator of the Calypso Muse Reading Series and the Glitter Pomegranate Performance Series, as well as Lorraine Currelley, founder and director of Poets Network and Exchange, were presented with certificates of appreciation in recognition of their outstanding dedication to our writing community. This event was spectacular! Salon members and volunteers donated tons of food, wine, beverages and gave freely and generously of their time. This was an event created for our community and was truly a success because of our community!

Photo: (Top) JP Howard, (Middle) JP Howard, Cheryl Boyce Taylor, Mahogany Browne. (Bottom) JP Howard, Lorraine Currelley. Photo Credit: Akinfe Fatou.

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

There's a beautiful scene in Markus Zusak's novel The Book Thief during which Max, who is hiding from the Nazis in the basement of a German family's house, asks Liesel, their daughter, to tell him what her eyes see when she goes outside. What he gets is an almost magical description: the view of the world through a child's eyes, beautifully unaffected by the dark cloud of World War II looming on the horizon. This week, try to describe something through the eyes of a child. It could be a day, a landscape, an object, a person — anything with a bit of hidden magic only a child can tap into.

For the fourth installment of our ongoing Winners on Winning series, we spoke with poet Christopher Salerno, who was chosen by D. A. Powell as the winner of the 2013 Georgetown Review Poetry Contest for his collection ATM. He received $1,000, and his book was published in March by Georgetown Review Press. His previous collections include Minimum Heroic, which won the Mississippi Review Poetry Prize in 2010, and Whirligig, which was published by Spuyten Duyvil in 2006. He is an assistant professor of English at William Paterson University in New Jersey.

What kind of impact has winning the Georgetown Review Poetry Prize had on your career?
I’m actually up for tenure this year at the university where I teach, and so clearly a prize of any kind is useful for that business. But more important, in terms of my writing, the prize has afforded me the time and perspective to clear the deck, and to be patient and thoughtful about what comes next. I realize that I don’t need to be pushing out books on any kind of set schedule. If it happens, great. Also, I’m sending myself on a modest reading tour this spring, which will allow me to connect with other writers and audiences who may not know about my work.

Has winning this award, or previous awards, changed the way you approach your work?
Absolutely. Winning this award for ATM, and winning an award for my previous book, Minimum Heroic, has given me insight into my revision process, and what it means to “finish” a manuscript. It’s also made me think about the notion of a “project” or themed book, such as ATM. Some presses responded more strongly to the cohesive nature of this manuscript, as opposed to my previous, loosely-knit collections.

Have you ever entered a contest that you didn't win?
Yes. I’ve entered more contests over the years that I can remember. But fewer and fewer as my career has moved along. To some degree I’ve used rejection to push me back into the manuscript and think more about it. I’ve also developed more awareness and respect for what certain presses do and what kind of work they publish, and so if my book doesn’t make the cut I am more inclined to wonder why. I’m rarely satisfied with my work anyway, and I find great enjoyment in pushing the manuscript around to see what other potential is there. 

What advice would you offer to writers thinking of submitting to writing contests?
There are two things I’ve learned. First, you must familiarize yourself with the judge’s work and the work published by the press or publisher holding the contest. You’d be crazy to throw your $20 at a press just because you think it’s grand. How do you see your work fitting there? My advice would be to send, but only if you think it’s a good fit. Secondly, it’s wise to keep in mind that, after winning a prize, it is unlikely that the press will publish that winner’s follow-up book. Some presses are loyal to authors, and others seek the freshness of new contest books. 

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

Maya Angelou once said, "To describe my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power." This week, write a poem describing your mother. What immediately comes to mind when you think about her? What everyday things remind you of her? If you feel like you don't know her very well, describe what you imagine she's like. If you want to make your mom feel extra special, try to find a way to share your poem with her this Sunday.

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.

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