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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.

“O, thou ever restless sea / 'God’s half-uttered mystery,'" wrote Albert Laighton in his poem “The Missing Ships” (1878). While significantly fewer ships go missing nowadays, search teams have recently been pouring all of their efforts into finding the wreckage of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. The longer the search takes, the higher the likelihood the secrets inside the aircraft’s black box will be lost forever. This week write a poem about searching for a “lost ship.” Consider the ocean’s depth, the cleansing powers of its salt water, and the hopelessness of its vast magnitude. 

Today in New York City, the Pulitzer Prize board announced the winners and finalists of the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes. Of the twenty-one prize categories, awards in letters are given annually for works published in the previous year by American writers.

The winner in fiction is Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown). The finalists were Philipp Meyer’s The Son (Ecco) and Bob Shacochis’s The Woman Who Lost Her Soul (Atlantic Monthly Press). The winner in poetry is Vijay Seshadri for 3 Sections (Graywolf Press). The finalists were by Morri Creech’s The Sleep of Reason (The Waywiser Press) and Adrian Matejka’s The Big Smoke (Penguin).

A complete list of winners and finalists in each of the twenty-one categories is available on the Pulitzer Prize website. Winners will each receive $10,000.

Last year’s winners included fiction writer Adam Johnson for The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House) and poet Sharon Olds for Stag’s Leap (Knopf).

The Pulitzer Prizes, administered by the Columbia University School of Journalism, were established in 1911 by Joseph Pulitzer, a Hungarian-American journalist and newspaper publisher, and were first awarded in 1917. Longtime prize administrator Sig Gissler, 78, recently announced that he will retire later this year. The Pulitzer board has formed a committee to nominate his replacement; inquiries about the position can be directed to Susan Glancy at nominations@columbia.edu.

Submissions for the 2015 prizes will open in May. 

The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry announced the shortlist for its 2013 Griffin Poetry Prize on Tuesday. Two awards of $65,000 CAD (approximately $59,253) each are given annually for poetry collections published during the previous year, one by a poet living in Canada and another by a poet living internationally.

The international finalists include Rachel Boast for Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador), Brenda Hillman for Seasonal Works with Letters on Fire (Wesleyan University Press), Carl Phillips for Silverchest (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), and Mira Rosenthal for her translation from the Polish of Tomasz Rózycki’s Colonies (Zephyr Press). The Canadian finalists include Anne Carson for Red Doc> (Knopf), Sue Goyette for Ocean (Gaspereau Press), and Anne Michaels for Correspondences (Knopf).

The seven finalists will each receive $10,000 CAD (approximately $9,114) and will be invited to read on June 4 at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. The winners, who will each receive $65,000 CAD (approximately $59,253), will be announced on June 5 at the Griffin Poetry Prize Awards ceremony.

The 2014 judges, chosen by the Griffin Trust trustees, are Robert Bringhurst of Canada, Jo Shapcott of the United Kingdom, and C. D. Wright of the United States. They read 539 poetry collections, including 24 translations, from 40 countries.

Based in Toronto, the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry was founded in 2000 by chairman Scott Griffin and trustees Margaret Atwood, Robert Hass, Michael Ondaatje, Robin Robertson, and David Young. Carolyn Forché joined as a trustee in 2004.

Publishers may submit books for consideration by the annual deadline of December 31. Visit the Griffin Trust website for more information and complete guidelines.

Fady Joudah and Candian poet David W. McFadden won the 2013 Griffin Poetry Prizes. Joudah won for his translation from the Arabic of Palestinian poet Ghassan Zaqtan's Like a Straw Bird It follows Me (Yale University Press); McFadden won for his collection What's the Score (Mansfield Press).

Phillips: Dinty W. Moore; Carson: Peter Smith.

Rachel Guido de Vries is a poet and fiction writer. She has written three books of poems: How to Sing to a Dago, (Guernica, 1996); Gambler’s Daughter, (Guernica, 2001), and The Brother Inside Me (Guernica, 2008). Her first children’s book, Teeny Tiny Tino’s Fishing Story, (Bordighera, 2008) was a winner of the Paterson Prize for Books for Young People Award. Bordighera Books will publish a new collection of her poems, A Woman Unknown in Her Bones, and a new children’s picture book, Stati Zita, Josie, in 2014. She is a poet-in-the-schools, and gives workshops independently. She lives in Cazenovia, New York.

One of the things I love about Poets & Writers is the support of readings and workshops outside of the academy. Don’t get me wrong: I went to grad school at Syracuse University in the mid to late '70s and I have received funding from P&W to do readings at colleges and universities for thirty-some years. But it has been the readings and workshops outside of the academy that have most enriched me. This support has allowed me to offer poetry to male and female inmates at a psychiatric center for convicted felons in Marcy, New York, where I was a poet in residence for over ten years; at migrant farm worker camps in western New York, where workers left the fields after sunset, and after a day of digging potatoes. They would shower before coming to workshop, and that often meant we would be writing poems after nine at night, in a small trailer, or in the juke, the common kitchen area at a migrant camp.

I’ve done workshops with senior citizens and with inner city kids and adults in the city of Syracuse. What a gift this has been. I have seen poems blossom in every setting, and I have come to cherish working with marginalized communities—I feel enriched by what I have learned from these students, and I hope that I have at least on occasion brought to celebration voices not frequently heard, by writers too often silenced by poverty, education, or class, race, or gender.

For me, the support of Poets & Writers has been a kind of writer’s lifeline, connecting me to students I would never otherwise encounter. Their desire to write, and their love of words, their ability and interest in the image as a way into meaning, and into sharing the meaning of their lives is profound, and often startling. Asking young poets to write about peace, a seven-year-old wrote: “War is as savage / as a hunter in deer season / Peace is a descendant of Aphrodite / War is a descendant of Ares.”

A convicted felon in the prison workshop wrote a poem beginning: “My heart is like a little bird…” His big, muscled frame the cage of safety, perhaps, for that little bird beating away inside of him. A Christmas poem written by a young inmate was heart breaking—he wrote all about what he did not want for Christmas, including no more living on the street, no more shame to his mother. The repetition of the phrase “I don’t want” followed by such poignant hopes is a poem that has stayed with me for decades. In fact, I often use that idea—what one does NOT want for Christmas—as a poetry exercise for students.

In a way, I think the sheer honesty and truth of these poets have kept me humble and in awe of the power poems have to move us to voice and insight. Their work has sharpened my own work, the clarity of image, the meaning I hope to evoke. The pure imagery created in these workshops, without artifice or self consciousness, is moving. I believe and have always believed that poetry is a gate to true literacy; that the image is often a key to unlock what I call the “Blue Door,” the door within each of us, behind which all we need to say and all we know is waiting to be set free on the wings of poems, borne up on faith and the belief in what one knows.

Photo:  Rachel Guido de Vries.  Photo Credit:  Anonymous

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.

There are certain events and activities that can feel odd to do alone. Going to the movies, attending a concert, and eating in a restaurant are common things that people would rather do with a buddy. But what about the times when you simply can’t find anyone to go with you, for whatever reason, or when your buddy backs out at the last minute? Write about an experience you’ve had when going by yourself was the only option. How did it make you feel? Did it turn out all right in the end? If going to an event or engaging in a typically social activity by yourself is not a big deal, or you happen to prefer it, write about a specific instance that exemplifies why you feel this way.

Dieting is the most common New Year’s resolution, and the most difficult to stick to. Sure, we essentially know what’s healthy and what to avoid overindulging in, but when a doctor or nurse tells you to change your eating habits it weighs much heavier on your conscience. Does one of your characters have a diet that is putting his health in jeopardy? Try writing a scene in which that character is told by a healthcare professional to overhaul his eating habits. How does this character react? If this character can no longer have some of his favorite foods, how does this affect his mood and his day-to-day routine?

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction, formerly the Orange Prize, has announced the shortlist for its 2014 award. Now in its nineteenth year, the £30,000 (approximately $50,000) London-based prize is given to a woman writer from any country for a novel written in English and published in the previous year.

The finalists are Nigerian American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie for Americanah (Knopf), Australian author Hannah Kent for Burial Rites (Picador), British American author Jhumpa Lahiri for The Lowland (Bloomsbury), Irish author Audrey Magee for The Undertaking (Atlantic Books), Irish author Eimear McBride for A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing (Faber & Faber), and American author Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch (Little, Brown).

This year’s shortlisted books were selected from a longlist of twenty. The shortlist boasts one previous Orange Prize winner, one previously shortlisted author, and three debut novelists.

The judges for the 2014 prize are Helen Fraser, the chief executive of the Girls’ Day School Trust; Mary Beard, a professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge; writer Denise Mina; Times columnist, author, and screenwriter Caitlin Moran; and Sophie Raworth, a BBC broadcaster and journalist.

“We are very excited by the books we have chosen for the shortlist,” said Helen Fraser, the chair of judges, in yesterday's announcement. “Each one is original and extraordinary in its own way—each offers something different and exciting and illuminating.” The winner will be announced at a ceremony in London on June 4.

Established in 1996 to celebrate and promote fiction by women throughout the world, the Women’s Prize for Fiction was renamed and took on new sponsorship last year after a longtime partnership with telecommunications company Orange. The prize is anonymously endowed, and is the UK’s only annual book award for fiction written by women. Any woman writing in English, regardless of nationality, country of residence, age, or subject matter, is eligible.

American author A. M. Homes won the 2013 Prize for her novel May We Be Forgiven. In the video below from the Guardian, British author Jeanette Winterson interviews Homes about her winning book.

Frank O’Hara wrote Lunch Poems while sitting in Times Square during his lunch hour. This week, take time during your lunch hour to pause and reflect on what’s going on around you. Write down a description of the space you’re in, the details of your lunch ritual, the conversation you’re overhearing or participating in, or any other such observation.

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