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Make your New Year’s resolution the title of a poem. Write a poem exploring the dimensions of the resolution, perhaps considering what would happen if you kept to it strictly for an entire year or if you broke it right away. Read Mark Halliday’s “Refusal to Notice Beautiful Women” for inspiration. 

Using John Ashbery's poem "And Ut Pictura Poesis Is Her Name" from Houseboat Days as a model, tell a story by telling us how to tell a story. Scaffold the narrative by meditating on the nature of storytelling.
This week's creative nonfiction prompt comes from Vijay Seshadri, director of the nonfiction program at Sarah Lawrence College and author, most recently, of The Disappearances (Harper Collins, 2007).

Ruminate on the past year, remembering both your achievements and your failures. Write a story about one of your failures or regrets from the perspective of someone other than yourself. Consider rewriting the past, to transform this incident into an achievement by changing the facts around it or by changing the way your protagonist perceives it. 

P&W-supported spoken word artist Mike Sonksen, author of I am Alive in Los Angeles, blogs about City Lights authors.

City Lights Publishing just released David Meltzer's new book When I Was a Poet. The work opens with the title piece, a reflection on a lifetime of poetry. Packed with pathos, precise syllables, and cacophonic crests, Meltzer's work has been described as "Bop Kabbalah." Thurston Moore says, "Enlightened by jazz, psyche/folk energy, the trees outside the academy, and a woozy sex drive, David's enchantment with dream/mystery/beauty make him a musician's poet."

Meltzer's lines maintain haiku density throughout the work. In "California Dreamin" Meltzer riffs on his Bohemian days in the Golden State, celebrating Anita O'Day, Lord Buckley, Miles Davis, Coltrane, the Troubadour, and Hollywood Boulevard.

City Lights also recently released a new book by Surrealist poet Will Alexander titled Compression & Purity. Los Angeles born, Alexander emerged from Watts in the 70s and has gradually emerged into one of the most avant-garde poets. I heard Alexander read at Beyond Baroque this past September. His thermonuclear images and electric vocabulary transmitted in the black box theater with such intensity that I bought two books.

 Ry Cooder's Los Angeles Stories, a collection of eight short stories, was also published by City Lights. The first of City Light's new "Noir" series, this collection of fiction exists in the old gritty Los Angeles of the 40s and 50s. Cooder's characters inhabit lost landscapes like Chavez Ravine, the Pacific Electric Streetcar, Bunker Hill, and Historic Filipinotown. Cooder captures the colloquial: "Sit down, take a load off, try some pork fried rice. Dig it and pick up on it, it happened like this."

The characters emit warmth similar to Fante's Arturo Bandini. There are unsolved murders a la Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain. Filipino poet Carlos Bulosan makes a cameo. Aficionados of Los Angeles letters will recognize Cooder's influences. Fortunately his synthesis is well-crafted. Cooder, a Los Angeles native, loves untold stories like the San Patricios or Chavez Ravine. Considering his many groundbreaking musical albums on such subjects, it's no surprise his first book upholds the same level of verisimilitude.

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.

Write a poem that is an elegy for something or someone you've had to let go of this year.  

One-year-old literary app Storyville, which offers subscribers digital deliveries of new and archival stories, is holding its first one-thousand-dollar prize competition. The winner of the Sidney Prize, named for New Orleans politician Sidney Story—the app's namesake—will be published on the app, which is currently available on iPad, iPhone, and Kindle.

Selecting the winning story will be publishing innovator Richard Nash, former helmsman of Soft Skull Press who recently founded indie publishing platform Cursor and the literary prose imprint Red Lemonade.

For a $4.99 entry fee, the cost of a half-year subscription to the app, writers may submit a story of up to five thousand words (for current subscribers, there's no fee). The deadline is February 15.

For contest guidelines, and to sample the Storyville community's short fiction predilections via "top-ten" lists by authors such as Josip Novakovich and Emma Straub, visit the Storyville website.

Choose a place from your childhood—the house your grew up in, your grandparents' home, or another place you visited often—and draw a map of it, with as much detail as possible. Let the map ignite your memory about what happened in this place and who was there. Write a scene for a story based on a fictionalized account of one of your memories, using this place as the setting and your map as source of description. 

The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center in Hartford, Connecticut, is looking for works of poetry and prose from collegiate writers whose literary work advances social justice, in the spirit of Stowe's activism through storytelling. Accepting all types of previously-published writing, from poems to stories to blog posts, the inaugural Student Stowe Prize competition will award twenty-five hundred dollars to a current college or university student.

The winning work will also be republished on the Stowe Center website, and the writer will be recognized at a ceremony on June 7, 2012, alongside a secondary school student whose writing also strives to make "a tangible impact on a social justice issue critical to contemporary society." Eligible works may touch on questions of, for instance, race, class, or gender equality, and must have appeared in a notable periodical or blog.

Student writers may submit entries, which should be accompanied by three references, until February 27. For complete guidelines, visit the Stowe Center website.

A form that requires remarkable economy of narrative is tightening its belt even further in Electric Literature's holiday short short story contest. The literary magazine is asking writers to "show a little restraint," telling a story in thirty to three hundred words and using each of those words only once.

There is no fee to enter the competition, and, while there's no cash prize, either, the three top stories will be published on the Outlet, Electric Literature's blog. The top winner will also receive a print edition of Electric Literature Volume 1 (six issues) and the book Dirty! Dirty! Dirty! (Soft Skull Press, 2011) by contest judge Mike Edison, arguably an expert on the opposite of restraint.

The first runner-up wins a digital edition of Electric Literature Volume 1, and the third-place prize comes courtesy of a master of literary constrictions, the Oulipo's Raymond Queneau—the second runner-up will receive Queneau's Exercises in Style, an illustrated short short story collection and field guide to Oulipean language play.

Story entries, which should be submitted via e-mail, are due to Electric Literature on December 31. For the "nit-picky" rules concerning duplicate usage of possessives, plurals, etcetera, visit the Outlet's fine print page.

P&W-supported spoken-word artist Mike Sonksen, author of I am Alive in Los Angeles, blogs about the L.A. poetry scene.

I was at Beyond Baroque in October to witness a book release party for Wanda Coleman. Promoted as her last public reading for an indefinite amount of time, it was worth the congested drive to Venice on a Friday night to see her live. The World Falls Away is her second book published by University of Pittsburgh Press.

She is more blunt than ever, writing, "There is no poison I have not swallowed." Coleman reflects on her childhood in L.A., two marriages, and the loss of her son. Douglas Kearney says, "Wanda Coleman's hard-edged new collection interrogates death's nearsightedness. Mother outlives son. Feet wear out before the heart. And the truth teller dies before truth frees her. These poems don't go gently."

Her sharp poetics always hit with musicality, which is a great fit for the Pitt Poetry Series. The series dates back to 1967 and is dedicated to publishing progressive poetry. Wanda's forty-plus years of work places here among the greatest poets ever to come out of L.A.

Wanda Coleman is one of the major writers covered in Bill Mohr's new book Hold Outs: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance 1948–1992, University of Iowa Press. Mohr's book is one of the first real treatments of the history of L.A. poetry. There have been many books on slices of L.A. poetry like Charles Bukowski, the Watts Writers Workshop, and the Venice Beats, but there's never been one book as expansive as this one.

Over a fifteen year period Mohr published a literary journal and several books through his imprint Momentum Press. Mohr's anecdotes about Wanda Coleman, Leland Hickman, Ron Koertge, Gerald Locklin, and Suzanne Lummis bring the Carter and Reagan era alive. His book captures the ethos of the small press movement. Mohr describes the lively circuit of independent bookstores and small press publishers, cataloging the Southern California scene from the Venice Beats to the beginnings of the spoken-word movement.

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.

Write a poem in the style and voice of a personals or classifieds ad. Read C.D. Wright’s “Personals” for inspiration.

The Montreal Poetry Prize, an international award established this year by a new nonprofit in Canada, was given last night to a poet from Australia. Mark Tredinnick of Sydney received the prize, an unprecedented fifty-thousand-dollars for a single poem, for "Walking Underwater."

"This is a bold, big-thinking poem," said judge and former U.K. poet laureate Andrew Motion, "in which ancient themesespecially the theme of our human relationship with landscapeare recast and rekindled."

Tredinnick's poem was among fifty shortlisted for the prize (including one other piece written by him), all of which will appear in an anthology published by Montreal-based Véhicule Press. The longlisted poems were published in an e-book, which the prize organization is offering for free on its website.

Another of the shortlisted poets received an unanticipated award, the publication of her work as a broadside designed by U.S. artist Eric Fischl. A limited edition of "The Grasshoppers' Silence" by Canadian poet Linda Rogers will be released in 2012, and proceeds from sales of the signed broadside will go to fund future awards and efforts of the Montreal International Poetry Prize nonprofit.

In the video below, Rogers reads the title poem, itself artfully rendered as a broadside, from her book Muscle Memory (Ekstasis Editions, 2009).

Author of the novel Motown Burning, and the poetry collection Stone + Fist + Brick + Bone, Detroit native John Jeffire teaches English at Chippewa Valley High School where he’s organized P&W-supported after-school performances. Jeffire shared with us how these events have enriched the students’ lives.

What is your most successful literary program?
Our most successful program is our open mic performance night, which includes Rock the Mic events and the annual Motown Word Fest. We bring over 150 high school kids into our cafeteria on a school night to read, sing, play music, rap, and tell jokes. It's magic. It truly is amazing how diverse and talented the performers are.

What makes your programs unique?
We invite local metropolitan Detroit poets and musicians to perform, and then mix the kids and their acts in with them. Some, such as poet M. L. Liebler, actually bring kids up onto the stage with them to perform. It's a blast.

What are the benefits of your programs for your students?
The performers we've brought in have been very generous with the kids, encouraging them to write and express themselves and keep the faith. It's tough to be a teen today—they are expected to know and be so much more than the kids of my generation. I don't know how they keep up. And here in the Detroit area, times are tough. So many of the kids have lost their homes or their parents have lost their jobs. The world they live in is not always kind to them. It's nice to provide them some hours of sanctuary where textbooks, smart phones, laptops, problems, and pressures are put away, and language is their muse.

What's the craziest thing that's happened at an event you've hosted?
I'm proud to say that in several years of putting on these events we've only had one kid suspended for using inappropriate language. The kids are enthusiastic and eager to express themselves, but they've also been respectful. Most of them are not star athletes or members of student council—this is their one opportunity to shine in front of their peers and open up. They really are brave.

How do you find and invite writers?
I invite people I've heard before at the various literary venues around Detroit. John Lamb, Jabiya Dragonsun, as well as P&W-supported writers La Shaun phoenix Moore, Olga Klekner, jessica care moore, Aricka Foreman, M. L. Liebler, and others are all performers I've seen live and respect a great deal. Most of all, they are people who understand that their participation is going to help expose kids to the magic and power of language.

Has literary presenting informed your own writing life?
I've become more attentive to how emotionally significant and potentially powerful those first experiences reading in front of an audience can be. For some kids, this is the greatest act of courage they've ever taken. I relive that sense of fear and also triumph in sharing words for the very first time.

What is the value of literary programs for your community?
The community celebrates dunks and touchdowns—why not poems, stories, melodies, and words? We give a segment of our student population a chance to be heard and make an impact. This is their big moment and it's celebrated. Even the kids who don't perform benefit—they see poetry in a different light after they experience someone like jessica care moore. Attending just one event, they become turned on to literary art. Mission accomplished.

Photo: John Jeffire. Credit: Lea Jeffire.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit, 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.

The Poetry Foundation in Chicago, supporter of emerging young poets through its Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships, has announced that it will once again administer the Emily Dickinson First Book Award, an occasional prize for unpublished poets of at least forty years of age. The competition, which awards ten thousand dollars and book publication, is open to American poets who have not published a full-length collection of verse.

Graywolf Press will publish the winning manuscript, which must be forty-eight to eighty pages long and never before submitted for this particular prize. The Minneapolis-based indie also published the two previous winners' collections, Everything Preserved: Poems 1955-2005 by the late Landis Everson and The King's Question by Brian Culhane.

The Poetry Foundation will begin accepting entries on January 16, and the competition will close on February 17. The winning poet will be notified before the close of National Poetry Month on April 30.

For complete guidelines, visit the contest web page.

Write a story that opens with your main character doing something that is completely antithetical to his or her personality. Let the story be about how this character came to do what he or she did.

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