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On August 10, 2012, P&W–sponsored poets Wilfredo Borges, Caridad De La Luz, and Iya Ibo Mandingo performed at Dances With Wordz: Orisha Poetry in New York City, an event organized by Latinos NYC. Readings/Workshops program intern Nikay Paredes reports.

Wilfredo "Baba" BorgesDances With Wordz: Orisha Poetry, curated by Latinos NYC founder and CEO Raul K. Rios, featured performances celebrating the Yuroba faith of West Africa. The poets, garbed in white from head to toe, were an immaculate presence inside the Nuyorican Poets Café even before they took the stage. The Nuyorican has long been a venue and community for artists looking to elevate poetry, music, comedy, theatre, and the visual arts in a diverse, multicultural environment.

Dances With Wordz began with an open mic dedicated to the faith. Poet-nomad Wilfredo “Baba” Borges blessed the audience with a prayer-song. He spoke of ancestries, mothers and fathers, exclaiming proudly: “Where I’m from is a land of defiance, not defeat.” Poetry performances were complemented by song and dance, including a drumming performance by batá group Conjunto Oba Ire. The batá or Yoruba drum, they explained to the audience, is inhabited by Orisha or guardian spirits of the Yoruba faith.

Caridad "La Bruja" De La LuzNuyorican darling Caridad “La Bruja” De La Luz read from her first collection, The Poetician, then proceeded to rap and sing after reciting what she fondly called “straight up poetry.” Writer, actor, and painter Iya Ibo Mandingo performed last, conjuring images of home: luscious mangoes and coconuts. He ended his performance with a declarative poem, inciting reactions from the audience, which ranged from the gleeful to the guttural. 

Raul K. Rios closed the reading with these apt words: “Don’t praise behind closed doors. Let the conversation exist.” Rios, through Latinos NYC, aims to transform drug-ridden communities in New York City with feeding programs, clothing drives, and poetry readings.

He thanked P&W for helping him with the transformation: “Having Poets & Writers on our side every year means Latinos NYC can put on a better event and compensate the poets for their time and talent.”

Photos: (Top) Wildfredo “Baba” Borges. (Bottom) Caridad “La Bruja” De La Luz. Credit: Nikay Paredes.

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.

Now that fall has almost arrived, ruminate about all that happened over the summer. Choose a moment or a scene that you distinctly remember and freewrite about it. What took place? Who was involved? Is it important? If not, why did you remember it? How did it make you feel? Review your freewriting and transform what you discover into an essay that transcends the subject at hand, so that it has universal appeal to readers.

Write a story with two major threads, each with two characters. For example, the first could be a man and a woman driving in a car–where are they going? what happens along the way? what are they discussing? The second thread could be about two boys in a canoe–do they get along? what is the relationship between them? what happens to cause tension between them? Switch back and forth between each thread, spinning each of the stories. Find a way to slowly weave the stories together: Do the two sets of characters cross paths? Are they somehow related? Is one story something that happened in the past of a character from the other story?

Write a poem that incorporates the following words: transfer, single, impend, knot, rhapsody, revue, air lock.

The Poetry Foundation and Poetry magazine have announced the winners of the 2012 Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships. The prestigious $15,000 awards are given annually to five emerging United States poets between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-one.

The 2012 fellows are: Reginald Dwayne Betts, the author of a poetry collection, Shahid Reads His Own Palm (Alice James Books, 2010), and a memoir, A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison (Avery, 2009); Nicholas Friedman, a lecturer at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; Richie Hofmann, who has received an Academy of American Poets Prize and the AWP Intro Journal Award for Poetry; Rickey Laurentiis, whose poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Callaloo, the Indiana Review, and jubilat; and Jacob Saenz, who received the Letras Latinas Residency Fellowship in 2011 and is currently an associate editor of the poetry magazine RHINO.

The editors of Poetry magazine chose the winning manuscripts from more than a thousand submissions. On the Poetry Foundation website, editor Christian Wiman said of the winners, “The history of Poetry is filled with some of the best-known names in American poetry; my guess is that these young poets will be among those we'll be talking about in the years to come.”

The five Ruth Lilly Fellows will have their work featured in the November issue of Poetry and on the Poetry Foundation website.

Established in 1989 by philanthropist Ruth Lilly to “encourage the further writing and study of poetry,” the Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowship program gives $75,000 in fellowship prizes each year. The program is operated by the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation, which also publishes Poetry magazine.

Founded by poet, editor, and literary scholar Harriet Monroe in 1912, Poetry is the oldest monthly magazine dedicated to the form. The magazine has published the work of T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, and Carl Sandburg, among many other distinguished poets, as well as numerous emerging writers. The Poetry Foundation is a literary organization that “exists to discover and celebrate the best poetry and to place it before the largest possible audience.”

The 2012 Ruth Lilly Prize in Poetry, an annual award of $100,000 given by the Poetry Foundation to a living United States poet, was awarded to poet W. S. Di Piero this past spring.

Brendan Constantine, September’s Writer in Residence, was born in 1967 and named after Irish playwright Brendan Behan. An ardent supporter of Southern California’s poetry communities, he is one of the region’s most recognized authors. He is currently poet-in-residence at the Windward School and regularly conducts workshops in hospitals, foster homes, and with the Art of Elysium. His latest collections of poetry are Birthday Girl With Possum (2011 Write Bloody Publishing) and Calamity Joe (2012 Red Hen Press). He lives in Hollywood, California, at Bela Lugosi’s last address.

Brendan Constantine at HillsidesHow do you do. My name is Brendan Constantine and I’m a poet living in Hollywood, California. As I write this, there are two people arguing in the street beyond my window. One of them just shouted, “It’s not religious, it’s my God damn parking space.”

As this month’s guest “blogger,” I’ve been asked to submit for your consideration my thoughts on poetry, poetry workshops, and what it’s like to work with Poets & Writers. As Howard Nemerov said, “I shall be interested to find out what I do think.”

One of the things I think is this: If you write poems, it’s easy to forget that poets are not the target market for poetry, any more than doctors are the only people who need medicine.

“Bastard!” That’s what the person outside just shouted. How on earth am I going work that into my point? I suppose I could make some parable (a lot of people have already) between the ideas of ‘bastardism’ or legitimacy and the status of poetry in art; the complaint among poets that their work is marginalized, de-prioritized and several other words ending with “-ized.”

Frankly I consider many of these complaints to be a stretch. Poetry is a legitimate art (as legitimate as painting, certainly) and it’s more readily available now than at any time previous. A disregard for poetry is not necessarily an uninformed response.

You can always have the best of something and still not like it. I, for one, can’t stand rhubarb pie. One might argue that poetry is a higher pursuit than pie, in which case we can change the analogy to Truth. Ever had enough of that? The guy outside my apartment has. I think he’s moving his car.

When I look at the histories of poetry, (not just in English), I see the same patterns emerge again and again: how it precedes written language, how its shapes and subjects evolve. People invent poetry as a means of expressing something they can’t easily say. The desire to talk about special things in a special way, the desire to change, elaborate or deliberately misuse language for the purpose of greater communion is all but universal.

Our work as poets, like it or not, is only ours while we’re writing it. Once we share, it belongs to the reader. Who is the reader? Anyone who reads, even by accident. Who is poetry for? Same answer. Is poetry for anyone in particular? Anyone who’s had to search for words. Is that really such an issue? You should hear the other guy outside. He’s finally trying to answer the last ten things that were shouted at him. He’s gotten this far: “Man, you’re like...you’re acting like... like...” 

This is one of the reasons I enjoy conducting poetry workshops with people who have no desire to be professional poets. Every few months, for instance, Poets & Writers sends me to a foster care center in Pasadena. It’s called Hillsides and is home to a number of young people challenged by a variety of circumstances, among them homelessness, depression, and PTSD. I’m not there just to complement a standard education but to help cultivate an emotional vocabulary. As my friend, poet Ed Skoog, says, “Metaphor is a gateway to compassion.”

“Dude, that’s not what I’m saying. What I’m saying is you’re like totally... you’re getting all caught up with... you’re like a vulture that doesn’t care what it... I mean...” The guy outside is getting close to something. He’s still struggling, though. If he has any poetry in him, he may find the words. If he is a poet, the struggle won’t end.

Of course, there are other uses for poetry, other aims. There’s a lot of poetry that seems (to me, anyway) predicated on the idea that art is a debate, that each new work is a new argument in an old conversation about excellence; a necessary and relevant conversation, but not a very urgent one.

No, the most pressing topics are likely being mumbled in a car outside your door. Who knows where they will lead?

Meanwhile, thank you for having come this far with me. I hope you’ll visit this blog over the next weeks. All comments are welcome. See you next week.

Photo: Brendan Constantine with students at Hillsides in Pasadena, California. Credit: Nikola Wilkens-Miller.

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

In July, P&W–sponsored poets Brendan Constantine, Nicelle Davis, Larry Eby, and Robbi Nester kicked off LitLandia, a new reading series in California’s Inland Empire region. Project director Cati Porter reports.

LitLandia readers with Cati PorterFor a number of years now, I had been contemplating the fact that there is no regularly occurring literary reading series in Riverside, California. This is not to say that there aren’t the occasional events, including an annual Writers Week at the local university, or other reading series in neighboring counties; just none in my city, or even the other cities in closest proximity. So, I decided to remedy that.

Starting a reading series can seem a little daunting, but in my case, I already had most of the infrastructure in place. I searched the two literary journals that I founded and edit (Poemeleon and Inlandia: A Literary Journey) for contributors, and I drew upon my work with the regional literary nonprofit, the Inlandia Institute. At Inlandia, we have been producing quality literary programming for years, including presentations during Riverside’s monthly ArtsWalk, but the offerings are diverse, and my vision was more focused: LitLandia was designed to bring to this region a regularly scheduled quarterly reading series that includes an open mic component so that attendees (mostly writers themselves) can participate.

I knew this series would be special because we have such a ridiculously amazing and talented pool of authors to draw from, but I really was not prepared for how much fun this first event would be. My first clue was when Nicelle Davis walked in carrying a frilly lump of fabric under one arm and an enormous colorful felt book under the other. Shortly thereafter, Robbi Nester and Larry Eby arrived, each with their entourage. We were chatting and going over the reading order when Brendan Constantine rushed in, absolutely certain he was late. (Fact: He was way early.)

Robbi Nester went first, reading an atmospheric poem about whale watching as well as several from a series on yoga poses that promote “emotional stability” from her aptly-titled book Balance. Larry Eby read from his manuscript-in-progress, including one titled “My Father’s Garage,” a moving villanelle titled “Pillow Talk,” and an ekphrastic piece after artwork by an instructor from the University of Redlands.

Nicelle Davis's felt boardThen Nicelle Davis read; I say read, but really, “audience engagement” is a more accurate description of what occured. Drawn from her collection Circe, which retells The Odyssey, Davis used puppets and props to invite readers to pluck the heart out of Odysseus the Pig, and to gouge out Circe’s eyes and pluck a booger from her nose.

Brendan Constantine, the final reader, read his usual unusually smart and witty poetry, including a cento comprised of lines from letters written to him by the legendary FrancEyE.

Afterward, we held a well-received open mic, with new work by talented local writers Mike Cluff, David Stone, Marsha Schuh, James Ducat, Pierce, Karen Greenbaum-Maya, Judith Terzi, and Richard Nester.

As everyone was leaving, the only child in the audience presented me with a glittering gummy worm, and I held in my hand a felt unicorn attached to a rainbow, a gift plucked from the froth of Nicelle Davis’s felt board book: fitting gifts for a delightfully surreal afternoon.

Photos: Top (from left): Larry Eby, Robbi Nester, Cati Porter, Nicelle Davis, and Brendan Constantine. Credit: Mike Sleboda. Bottom: Nicelle Davis's felt unicorn. Credit: Cati Porter.

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

The New York City-based PEN American Center recently announced the winners of the 2012 PEN Literary Awards. For over fifty years, PEN has given awards to the most promising and distinguished voices in the literary community. This year, eighteen grants, awards, and fellowships have been given to emerging and established writers from all over the country. The following are just a few of this year's winners.

Susan Nussbaum received the inaugural PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction for her manuscript, Good Kings Bad Kings. Founded by author Barbara Kingsolver, the $25,000 prize is given biennially to an author for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice. The prize also includes a publishing contract with Algonquin Books. Rosellen Brown, Margot Livesey, and Kathy Pories judged.

Vanessa Veselka won the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for her novel, Zazen (Red Lemonade, 2011). The $25,000 award is given to a fiction writer whose debut work, published in the previous year, “represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.” Lauren Groff, Dinaw Mengestu, and Nami Mun judged.

Fiction writer E. L. Doctorow won the PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction. The $25,000 prize is given to a writer “whose body of work places him or her in the highest rank of American literature.” Don DeLillo, Jennifer Egan, and George Saunders judged.

James Gleick won the PEN/E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award for The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Pantheon Books, 2011). The $10,000 prize is given for a book of literary nonfiction on the subject of physical or biological sciences published in the previous year. Elizabeth Kolbert, Charles Mann, and Dava Sobel judged.

The late Christopher Hitchens received the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay for his essay collection Arguably (Twelve, 2011). The $5,000 award is given for a book of essays published in the previous year that “exemplifies the dignity and esteem of the essay form.” Robert Boyers, Janet Malcolm, and Ruth Reichl judged.

Robert K. Massie won the PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography for Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House, 2011). The $5,000 award is given for a biography published in the previous year. Blake Bailey, Daphne Merkin, and Honor Moore judged.

Fiction and nonfiction writer Siddhartha Deb won the PEN Open Book Award for his memoir, The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India (Faber & Faber, 2011). The $5,000 prize is given for a book by an author of color published in 2011. Alexander Chee, Mat Johnson, and Natasha Trethewey judged.

Poet Toi Derricotte won the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. The $5,000 prize is given to a poet whose “distinguished and growing body of work represents a notable presence in American literature.” Dan Chiasson, Aracelis Girmay, and A. Van Jordan judged.

Jen Hofer won the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation for her translation of Negro Marfil/Ivory Black by Myriam Moscona (Les Figues Press, 2011). The $3,000 award is given for a book-length translation of poetry into English published in the previous year. Christian Hawkey judged.

Bill Johnston won the PEN Translation Prize for his translation of Stone Upon Stone by Wiesław Myśliwski (Archipelago Books, 2011). The $3,000 prize is given for a book-length translation of prose into English published in the previous year. Aron Aji, Donald Breckenridge, and Minna Proctor judged.

Margaret Sayers Peden received the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, which is given to a translator “whose career has demonstrated a commitment to excellence through the body of his or her work.”

The winners and finalists of this year's awards will be honored at the 2012 Literary Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, October 23 in New York City. PEN will begin accepting submissions for its 2013 Literary Awards on October 1. For a comprehensive list of this year’s winners and finalists, and for information and guidelines for the 2013 prizes, visit the PEN American Center website.


Tell a story through the journal entries and/or correspondences of the central characters. Note how the switch between different perspectives and the reliability—or lack thereof—of the characters affect the way the plot is revealed to the reader. For inspiration, read Gary Shteyngart’s novel Super Sad True Love Story.

Spend a day at a museum or reading an art book. Choose a piece of artwork that you enjoy or that you find thought-provoking. Rather than composing an ekphrasis that comments on the artwork itself, try your hand at writing a poem in the “mode” of the artwork. This may mean writing a poem in the poetic style that you think is reflected by the artwork, or it may mean trying to write in what you perceive to be the “tone” or "voice" of the artwork.

Author Rick Moody will serve as the judge for the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review’s inaugural Gertrude Stein Award for Fiction. The winner will receive $500 and publication in the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review.

Eckleburg, the literary journal housed by the Johns Hopkins University M.A. Program in writing, launched the first annual competition, which is currently open for submissions, this past July. Writers, editors, publishers, and agents may submit short stories of up to 5,000 words, along with a $10 entry fee, by January 1, 2013. Second- and third-place winners will also receive publication in the journal.

Taking its name from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the online quarterly publishes original fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and translation from emerging and established writers. In addition to work by Rick Moody, the journal has also featured original writing by Stephen Dixon, Moira Egan, and David Wagoner. The journal looks for character-driven storytelling that is eclectic and experimental; it welcomes magical realism, surrealism, metarealism, and offbeat realism, and "humor that explores the gritty realities of the world and human experiences.

“It is Eckleburg‘s intention to represent writers, artists, musicians, and comedians as a contemporary and noninvasive collective, each work evidence of its own artistry, not as a reflection of an editor’s vision of what an issue 'should' be," the journal’s website states. “It is our intention to create an experience in which readers and viewers can think artistically, intellectually, socially, and independently. We welcome brave, honest voices.”

Rick Moody is the author of five novels, including Garden State, which won the Pushcart Press Editors’ Book Award in 1992, as well as four short story collections and a memoir. He has received a PEN/Martha Albrand Award, an Addison Metcalf Award, the Paris Review’s Aga Khan Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.

For more information on the Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review or the Gertrude Stein Award, visit the website. 

Compose a table of contents for your life. Include titles, subtitles, sections, and chapters that outline a period—or the entirety—of your life. Once you've finished the table, write a brief summary for each section.

Writer and literary organizer Rochelle Spencer blogs about P&Wfunded writers, Patricia Spears Jones and Tan Lin, and how they engage their audience. Rochelle teaches at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, New York, and is the author of the e-book Ella Jones and Her Magical Vagina.

"You can't just write for your own amusement."

Patricia Spears JonesOne of my writing mentors gave me this advice after I'd shared with her a story that I thought was quite clever. (It really wasn'tI just thought so.) But my mentor's pointthat writing should be an unselfish act, that we should seek to engage the outside world each time we pick up a pen or click on the keyboardmakes more sense to me these days. As I seek to reinvent my writing and move away from the random sexual puns and allusions that have dominated my style, I find myself drawn to hearing other writers' voices, to uncover how they've made their audiences part of their storytelling process.

Two writers whom I admire, Patricia Spears Jones, author of Painkiller (Tia Chucha Press, 2010) and three other collections of poems, and Tan Lin, author of HEATH COURSE PAK (Counterpath Press, 2012) and the recipient of a Getty Distinguished Scholar Grant, have each shared their work at LaGuardia Community College, where I teach. In addition, Patricia Spears Jones has received support from the Readings/Workshops Program at Poets & Writers for many years at venues including: The Dwyer Cultural Center, Poets Out Loud, The Coney Island History Project, and the Brooklyn Public Library. Tan Lin has also been funded through the Readings/Workshops Program for his readings at the Asian American Writers' Workshop.

After Patricia and Tan's reading at LaGuardia Community College, the audience flooded the writers with questions about their work.

How does a reading produce such an engaged audience?

When I spoke to Patricia, she laughed. "I'm trying to connect with as many different kinds of people and things as I can," she said. In poems like "Painkiller," Patricia shows how diverse groups are connected, how "the murderer and the martyr/the adulterer and the healer can at any moment change positions." Patricia says sometimes people are surprised by her diverse, universal themes, but they shouldn't be: "As an African American, I come from a huge, sophisticated culture, not one that has often been seen as one note or one idea. Our culture is a lot more heterogeneous than is often presented, and I feel I am part of that heterogeneity."

Tan also connects with audiences; in fact, he says that audience is so important to his work that he's uncomfortable with the term "author's readings." Embracing Roland Barthes's idea about authors and their demise, Tan argues that the reader, and not the author, performs the work and what interests him is the audience's reaction to that work.

"You try to get the audience to perform the book in as interesting ways as possible," Tan says. "At LaGuardia, I did a video presentation where you see one word and then another word over a seven-second sequence. It's reading in a wayit may not be a novel or a poem but it's how language is processed, one word at a time. I am really interested in what people may call the social production of language, language that is produced within some kind of environment."

Indeed. And, I think my old writing mentor would be delighted by both Tan and Patricia's workwriting that involves, engages, and interacts with their readers.

Photo: Patricia Spears Jones. Credit: Thomas Sayers Ellis.

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.

The Center for Fiction and the American Booksellers Association have announced the short list for the 2012 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize. Of the seven finalists for the prize, the winner—to be announced in December—will receive $10,000.

The seven short-listed titles include: Absolution (Riverhead Books) by Patrick Flanery; Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco) by Ben Fountain; The Dog Stars (Knopf) by Peter Heller; Girlchild (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) by Tupelo Hassman; The Snow Child (Reagan Arthur Books) by Eowyn Ivey; Seating Arrangements (Knopf) by Maggie Shipstead; and Alif the Unseen (Grove/Atlantic) by G. Willow Wilson. Each of the finalists will receive $1,000.

Established in 2005 as the John Sargent, Sr. First Novel Prize, the Flaherty-Dunnan Prize is given annually for a debut novel published in the previous year. Author and Center for Fiction board member Nancy Dunnan, who has supported the award since 2010, renamed it for her father, the journalist Ray W. Flaherty. 

In order to help promote the seven short-listed titles, the New York City-based Center for Fiction announced a new partnership with the American Booksellers Association this past January. The ABA will select 450 United States bookstores to receive displays, posters, and other promotional materials for the seven books. Additionally, sixty-five independent booksellers from across the country were asked to serve as first-round readers for the 2012 prize.

“We believe that there are no better readers than the people who continue against all seeming odds to own and operate independent bookstores,” Center for Fiction executive director Noreen Tomassi said in a press release. Once the first round of readers recommended a long list, a panel of judges comprised of distinguished American writers then selected the seven finalists.

The winner will be announced at the Center for Fiction’s annual benefit and awards dinner on December 11 in New York City.

Past winners of the prize include The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Riverhead Books) by Junot Díaz; Lamb (Other Press) by Bonnie Nadzam; Matterhorn (Grove/Atlantic) by Karl Marlantes; Woodsburner (Nan A. Talese) by John Pipkin; The Good Thief (The Dial Press) by Hannah Tinti; and Special Topics in Calamity Physics (Viking) by Marisha Pessl.

Compose a story by making a fairy tale or old folktale contemporary. Aim to retain the basic plot of the original tale, but have the characters' tensions and fears reflect twenty-first-century encounters and conflicts. For an added challenge, offer an alternate ending or tell the narrative from an unexpected perspective.

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