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P&W-supported spoken word artist Mike Sonksen, author of I am Alive in Los Angeles, blogs about The Last Bookstore.

I first became familiar with Rothenberg, poet/publisher of Big Bridge and author of more than twenty books, after picking up his book The Paris Journals. The book's format intrigued me immediately, a hybrid poetic/prose travel journey novella about his time in Paris. Rothenberg has edited collections of Phillip Whalen and David Meltzer as well as written several songs for film and television. Rothenberg read this past Sunday at The Last Bookstore.

The Last Bookstore has emerged as a mecca for literary events in Los Angeles and has featured David Meltzer, Sesshu Foster, Pam Ward, the L.A. Noir Poetry Festival, Writers Row, and the site-specific play titled A Record of Light. Located on Spring and Fifth in Downtown L.A.'s Old Bank District, the space has 10,000 square feet, comfortable seats, thousands of titles, and low prices. (They also have several crates of vinyl records.) The ambiance is undeniable in the store and the block itself.

Spring Street is often referred to as the Wall Street of the West; it's a goldmine for architectural historians with the largest collection of pre-World War II architecture in America. The large old banks were all built in classical architectural styles like Beaux-Arts, Art Deco, and Italian Renaissance Revival—elegantly poured concrete gems about a dozen floors each. The Last Bookstore is on the ground floor of a Beaux-Arts building designed by John Parkinson, the architect of Los Angeles's City Hall, the Memorial Coliseum, Bullocks Wilshire, and most of the banks on Spring Street. A plaque in his honor is located on the west sidewalk of Spring near the bookstore.

Literary legends, high school poets, and college students alike speak at the bookstore's events. Their philosophy: three generations on the same stage, all the ancestors on the same page.

Photo: Mike Sonksen. Credit: Chris Felver.

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

Suzanne Lummis, poet and director of the Los Angeles Poetry Festival, blogs about the P&W-supported Lummis Day Festival in Los Angeles.

Now and then at a reading, you nab the whole audience. When the show is over they rush up to you, wild with joy. But other times, it's that reading where just eleven people show up, only one book is bought, and you drive home grumpy. Then much later, someone comes up to you at an event, kind of shy, and tells you how years back she'd been in a sparse audience at some now defunct café, and how that reading persuaded her to give up her career in advertising, which she despised, and become a writer instead. Now she's happy. And, you think, "Ah, so that's whom that evening was for."

On especially felicitous occasions, you get both, the audience and the person who walks away changed. Take last year's Lummis Day for example. The kick-off poetry reading for the annual gala, also know as the Festival of Northeast Los Angeles, has never failed to please a crowd. And, it does draw a crowd—as many as can fit comfortably into the spacious garden in front of El Alisal, the name Charles Lummis gave to the idiosyncratic house he built with river rock around the turn of the nineteenth century. Eliot Sekular, a champion of Northeast Los Angeles, founded Lummis Day, naming it after my grandfather, who Southwest history buffs remember for his advocacy on behalf of Native American and Spanish California culture. So every first Sunday of June, folks drive across the city, or walk over from around the corner, always in high spirits. It is after all, not only a lively reading with a social gathering afterwards, but the beginning of a daylong party, with bands, folkloric dances, and other entertainments.

Last year, in my opening comments, I mentioned that I felt lucky that my parents had been poetry readers, and therefore I'd never in my life lived in a house that did not have poetry on the bookshelves. Steve Kowit then delighted fiesta-goers with his humor and embracing energy, followed by Mariano Zara, who read a moving personal piece, and poetry-loving actor Dale Raoul (Maxine Fortenberry in True Blood), who presented selections from Poems of the American West. While the assembled gathered in the reception area for a "noise" (Lummis disdained the term "salon" and was bored by "party"), a fellow approached me with a title he'd just purchased from the book table, Poems of the American West.  He was beaming. "Could I please write 'For Alfredo?'"  I asked him to tell me a little about himself so I could personalize the dedication. "Oh, it's for him," he said, and pointed to a stroller holding a boy of about two. Then his wife appeared by his side. And I was, well... I don't want to get sentimental. The English have a word for it—I was chuffed. This little boy would grow up in a house with poetry... it's not everything, but it seems to have the makings of a promising start. 

Photo: Suzanne Lummis. Credit: Penelope Torribio.

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


The Center for Fiction in New York City has announced the winner of the 2011 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, formerly the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize. The ten-thousand-dollar award went to Colorado author Bonnie Nadzam for Lamb (Other Press).

The story of a middle-aged man who develops a friendship with, in the words of the author, a "poor and rather dull eleven-year-old girl" and embarks on a road trip with her, Nadzam's novel has drawn comparisons to Nabokov's classic, and controversial, story of intergenerational relations. But, "while kneejerk comparisons to Lolita are inevitable," says Drew Toal of the Daily Beast, which counted Lamb among its "Great Weekend Reads" earlier this fall, "David Lamb is playing a different game than Humbert Humbert.”

Nadzam's novel won out over debuts by finalists David Bezmozgis for The Free World (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Sarah Braunstein for The Sweet Relief of Missing Children (Norton), Carolyn Cooke for Daughters of the Revolution (Knopf), Ida Hattemer-Higgins for The History of History (Knopf), Shards by Ismet Prcic (Black Cat), and Touch by Alexi Zentner (Norton). Each of the authors shortlisted received an award of one thousand dollars.

At the award ceremony on Tuesday, the Center for Fiction also awarded Scribner editor in chief Nan Graham the Maxwell E. Perkins Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Field of Fiction.

Write a story structured around a series of vignettes based on the descriptions of imagined photographs. For an example, read Heidi Julavits's "Marry the One Who Gets There First: Outtakes From the Sheidegger-Krupnik Wedding Album," included in The Best American Short Stories, 1999 (Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

About six weeks after the announcement of the finalists for this year's T. S. Eliot Prize, a fifteen-thousand-pound award (approximately $23,500) given for a poetry collection, two poets have dropped off the shortlist. Australian writer John Kinsella followed British poet Alice Oswald, who won the award in 2002, in withdrawing from the running, both taking issue with the recently-established partnership of the Poetry Book Society, the prize administrator, with Aurum, an investment firm. Aurum signed on earlier this fall for a three-year sponsorship of the prize after the Poetry Book Society got word that it would lose funding from England's Arts Council effective in 2012.

"I am grateful to Alice Oswald for bringing the sponsorship of the T. S. Eliot Prize to my attention," said Kinsella, shortlisted for Armour, in a statement issued by Picador, his publisher. "I regret that I must do this at a particularly difficult time for the Poetry Book Society but the business of Aurum does not sit with my personal politics and ethics."

Oswald, shortlisted for her book Memorial (Faber and Faber), withdrew on Tuesday, citing Aurum's involvement in the management of hedge funds. "I think poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions," she said.

Following Oswald's announcement, Chris Holifield, director of the Poetry Book Society, said the poet would not be replaced on the shortlist with another contender. "It's too late to do that, which is unfortunate as there were other good people who would have liked to be on the shortlist," she told the Guardian. The Guardian reported that the Poetry Book Society declined to comment on Kinsella's withrawal.

Remaining on the shortlist are John Burnside's Black Cat Bone (Jonathan Cape), Carol Ann Duffy's The Bees (Picador), Leontia Flynn's Profit and Loss (Jonathan Cape), David Harsent's Night (Faber and Faber), Esther Morgan's Grace (Bloodaxe Books), Daljit Nagra's Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! (Faber and Faber), Sean O'Brien's November (Picador), and Bernard O'Donoghue's Farmer's Cross (Faber and Faber). The winner will be announced on January 16.

Tonight in Santa Monica, California, United States Artists (USA) fetes fifty American artists, including three poets and a fiction writer, awarding them no-strings grants of fifty thousand dollars each. Among the winners are Terrance Hayes, who received the National Book Award in poetry last year for Lighthead (Penguin Books); poet Campbell McGrath, who won a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship in 1999; 2011 MacArthur fellow A. E. Stallings, a poet and translator; and fiction writer Karen Tei Yamashita, whose novel I Hotel (Coffee House Press) was a finalist for the 2010 National Book Award.

The writers are recognized along with, among others, playwright Annie Baker; choreographer Liz Lerman; musician George Lewis; visual artist Lorraine O'Grady; and John Collins, the artistic director and founder of the Elevator Repair Service theater company, which has created literary productions such as Gatz, a marathon performance of The Great Gatsby, and the Hemingway-inspired The Select (The Sun Also Rises). Complete profiles of all fifty fellows are posted on the USA website.

The USA fellowships have been awarded since 2005 in an effort "to close the gap between the love of art and the ambivalence toward those who create it" (the grant program was created in response to the results of a study done by the Urban Institute showing that while 96 percent of Americans say they value art, only about a quarter believe that artists contribute to the good of society). Over the past six years USA has awarded fifteen million dollars directly to artists.

In the video below, 2011 fellow Campbell McGrath, who lives in Miami Beach, reads at the O, Miami poetry festival last spring.

Think of a person from your past, someone you wish you'd gotten to know better and have always remembered. Think about why you wish you'd gotten to know this person better—did he or she do something that intrigued you, did he or she have a particular way about them, did you share an important moment together? Write a poem to this person, exploring what it was about him or her that has remained with you, even though the person hasn't. 

P&W-supported spoken-word artist Mike Sonksen, author of I am Alive in Los Angeles, blogs about poetry and activism.

Whether MFA candidates, avant-garde scribes, spoken-word artists, or traditional poets, there are more bards alive now than ever before. But, what exactly does it mean to be a poet? I think of a quote from Los Angeles poet Kamau Daaood. Daaood told Erin Aubry Kaplan in the L.A. Weekly, "When people run to open mics these days, it's mostly about ego–getting fifteen minutes... I [see] it as a jam session, swapping ideas, getting inspiration from other people."

In 2005, Daaood's The Language of Saxophones was published by City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Daaood never pursued being published because he was too busy working in the community. Daaood has performed for more than four decades at festivals, galleries, jazz clubs, churches, schools, prisons, or wherever duty calls.

Another poet with the same commitment is Lewis MacAdams. MacAdams studied with Robert Creeley at the University of Buffalo in the 60s and hung with New York School poets. MacAdams became an environmental activist/poet in Bolinas, California, during the 70s and was a fixture at the San Francisco State University's Poetry Center. In 1980 MacAdams landed in L.A. There he discovered the Los Angeles River, and was outraged by the concrete channel housing the watershed. He decided to begin a forty-year performance piece dedicated to returning the river to its natural state.

One night in 1986 he performed a suite of poems dedicated to the Los Angeles River while being dressed up as a totem of flora and fauna specific to the river. This was the birth of the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR). Twenty-five years after FoLAR's founding, the River has had several stretches restored back to its natural state. MacAdams started the river's resurrection with poetry. His new book Dear Oxygen, published by the University of New Orleans Press collects forty-five years of his life's work. MacAdams like Daaood has spent a lifetime using poetry to improve his community. Their work reminds me of the benchmark for which poets should aim.

Photo: Mike Sonksen. Credit: Chris Felver.

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

Just ask William Carlos Williams (or Jenna Lê), medicine and poetry have long fed one another, but perhaps it takes a little competition to draw the poet out of the physician. Yesterday the New York Times Well blog reported on the noteworthy response to a poetry contest held last spring for students of the Yale University School of Medicine and the University College London (UCL) Medical School.

The response by would-be physicians in the two sponsor programs exceeded the expectations of the judges, a panel of doctors of medicine and the humanities who anticipated receiving a handful of entries—more than one hundred sixty entries came in. “It was rare in my generation for doctors to write poems," contest organizer John Martin, who teaches cardiovascular medicine at UCL, told the Times, "but I think there’s a new interest in poetry and how it can arise from what we do."

There's no doubt the fifteen-hundred-dollar first prize, funded by a donation from an anonymous patient, provided an added dose of inspiration. Impressed by the caliber of submissions, the judges—with the help of an additional prize contribution from one of their own—chose to award the prize to two poet-physicians, UCL students Gabrielle Gascoigne for "Mastectomy" and Daphne Tan for "Apices." Noah Capurso of Yale received a three-hundred-dollar runner-up prize for "Aphasia."

The Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine, based in London, also runs a poetry contest for physicians and medical students in the United Kingdom, but with a second "open international" competition for poems on a medical theme written by anyone from anywhere in the world. The Hippocrates Prize, first given in 2010, awards five thousand pounds (approximately $7,800) to a winner in each category, as well as publication in an annual anthology.

Entries are now open for the 2012 Hippocrates Prize, and the deadline for submissions is January 31, 2012. More information is avaialable on the prize website.

And each spring, Bellevue Literary Review, based at New York University's Langone Medical Center, holds its annual poetry (and fiction, and creative nonfiction) contest for works on health and healing. Stay tuned for more on the BLR Literary Prizes in 2012. In the meantime, be well and write strong!

In October, the Alvar Library in New Orleans hosted a fiction workshop with P&W-supported writer Lee Meitzen Grue. Branch Manager Mary Ann Marx reports.

The Alvar Library is located in a very unique neighborhood in New Orleans called Bywater.  Many poets, writers, musicians, and artists reside here. Because of this, the library applied for and received a grant from Poets & Writers, Inc., to present a series of five fiction workshops conducted by Lee Grue, a poet, writer, and teacher who lives in Bywater.

Her themes come from that unique urban culture of New Orleans: its customs, its culture, and her everyday experiences of living here. Her published books are: Trains and Other Intrusions: Poems; French Quarter Poems; In the Sweet Balance of the Flesh; and Goodbye, Silver, Silver Cloud, a collection of New Orleans stories. Lee is the longtime editor of the New Laurel Review.
 
The writing workshops were a wonderful asset to the community and to the city. Writers came from all areas of the city to participate in these workshops. It was wonderful to hear and see the enthusiasm expressed by the participants. As I watched them listening to Lee’s instructions with concentrated attention, I could see that they could not wait for the time when they would be able to read their own work to the group. As each took his or her turn, the others listened and made suggestions for improvements. The ideas for improvement were discussed and rationale explained. Then Lee gently presented her own suggestions for improvements.

As one participant stated, “This writers' workshop is important to me because writing is my passion. To master this art, I have to surround myself with those who have already done so.”

It is only with the support of P&W that these writing workshops can be made available to the public. Funding for programs like this is scarce in New Orleans.

As the sponsor of the program, we have seen a whole new dimension of the work we do. Meeting these writers has influenced our collection development and expanded our network sphere. On occasion, workshop participants have developed poetry and writing programs themselves, which we have also presented at the library.

Photo: Lee Meitzen Grue (second from left) with workshop participants. Credit: Shannon Aymami.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans 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.

Indian American oncologist and author Siddhartha Mukherjee is honored for his "anthropomorphism of a disease" in The Emperor of All Maladies (Fourth Estate), which has won the Guardian First Book Award. According judge Lisa Allardice, Mukherjee, who began the part-memoir, part-biography in an effort to contextualize cancer for one of his patients, "has managed to balance such a vast amount of information with lively narratives, combining complicated science with moving human stories. Far from being intimidating, it's a compelling, accessible book."

The only nonfiction title on the shortlist for the award, The Emperor of All Maladies, which also took the Pulitzer Prize this year, beat out four novels for the ten-thousand-pound prize (roughly $15,700). Also competing for Guardian First Book Award were American Amy Waldman's post-9/11 novel, The Submission (William Heinemann); Down the Rabbit Hole (And Other Stories Publishing) by Juan Pablo Villalobos of Mexico and translated by Rosalind Harvey; The Collaborator (Viking) by Mirza Waheed of Kashmir; and Pigeon English by British novelist Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury), whose debut was also shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize.

"You never write books to win awardsthey are immensely gratifying but unexpected," Mukherjee said. "In recognizing The Emperor of All Maladies, the judges have also recognized the extraordinary courage and resilience of the men and women who struggle with illness, and the men and women who struggle to treat illnesses."

In the video below, the author discusses the origins of the book, and how it evolved into a biography of a disease.

Browse the greeting card section of a local store, looking for an occasion card or one with an image that attracts you. Based on the image or the occasion of the card, write a letter from one imagined character to another. Send the card to its intended recipient, c/o your address. When you receive it in the mail, use it as the entry point to a story. 

Ruth Stone, a poet who received several major awards late in her decades-long career, has passed away. The poet, whose first collection, An Iridescent Time, was published in 1959, won the 2002 National Book Award for her collection In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press, 2002), and the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award for Ordinary Words (Paris Press, 1999). Her most recent volume, What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

When she received the NBA nine years ago, Stone began her acceptance speech, "All of the poets on the panel are fabulous. I think you probably gave it to me because I'm old." She added, "I guess I should say I've been writing poetry or whatever it is since I was five or six years old, and I couldn't stop, I never could stop. I don't know why I did it. It was like a stream that went along beside me. And I really didn't know what it was saying. It just talked to me, and I wrote it down. So I can't even take much credit for it."

Stone, whose other honors include the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award, a Whiting Writers' Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, has also inspired a prize to be created in her name. Hunger Mountain, published in Stone's longtime home state of Vermont, is holding its annual Ruth Stone Prize competition, open to groups of poems, until December 10.

In the video below, author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the genius of Stone's process, describing the poet's attempt to capture a poem thundering toward her across the landscape of her Vermont farm.

P&W-supported poet/activist Kelly Harris, founder of GAP: Girls. Achieving. Possibilities., an empowerment program for African American girls, blogs about Pinkie Gordon Lane's legacy.

I know New Orleans has been the focus of this month-long blog, but I want to speak the name of an important poet who lived about 90 miles from the Big Easy.

Pinkie Gordon Lane. I'm told she was a gentle woman, a painter, a nature and dog lover, a writer, and a demanding instructor. Her poems walk a lyrical tightrope, never falling into sentimentality.

Her legacy includes being the state's first African American poet laureate. Lane travelled the state vigorously–reading, visiting classrooms, and promoting poetry. Some locals say her work as laureate has been unmatched. In 1967 Pinkie Gordon Lane became the first African American woman to earn a PHD from Louisiana State University, where her papers would be housed.

I never got the opportunity to meet Pinkie Gordon Lane, but lately I've been studying her poetic craftsmanship and quiet lifestyle. As a young poet, I often feel anxiety about not having a collection published as yet. It feels like a rat race sometimes, it's either publish or perish. Pinkie Gordon Lane came to poetry late in her life and I believe it afforded her patience in her work.

Her poem, "Lyric: I am Looking at Music," was featured in the 1997 motion picture, Love Jones. In a 1997 phone conversation with Dr. Jerry Ward, English Professor at Dillard University, she said actress Nia Long got the poem right in the film, "even the sniffles."

This year, the Pinkie Gordon Lane First Annual Poetry Contest Awards Program was held in April on the campus of Southern University and A&M College where she served as Chair of the English Department. The contest awarded local student writers with small prizes... her legacy continues to inspire and impact a new generation.

Photo: (top) Kelly Harris; (bottom) Pinkie Gordon Lane. Credit: The Archives and Manuscripts/John B. Cade Library/Sounthern university and A&M College/Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans, 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.

Write a poem to or about a person close to you using any of the senses except sight.

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