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Longtime P&W-supported sponsor and writer M. L. Liebler, author of fourteen books of poetry including The Moon A Box, which received the 2005 Patterson Poetry Award of Excellence, blogs about his monthly workshop at St. Clair Shores Library in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.

They all gathered, once again, as they have on the third Wednesday of the month for the past twenty-one years. Students, mothers, senior citizens, retired politicians, teachers, librarians, real estate agents, retired cops, and the occasional visitor who heard about us and wanted to “check us out.” Last night’s visitor was a fellow named Skippy, a retired Navy man from Connecticut who was so impressed with the quality of the work he heard and read that he politely asked if he could publish some of it in his church paper back home.

I love these folks. I have met monthly with them as a small way of giving back to the community where I was raised and still proudly live. In fact, I live in the same house that my wife grew up in, and where I walked to every night while dating her when we were fifteen-year-olds.

Last night we heard and workshopped wonderful poems by the former County Commissioner who lamented the destruction of the ecology of America by contrasting it with the beauty of Spain’s wide-open spaces and well-kept urban areas. After this piece, a widow read her satirical poem about a suburban man who lives his life in a rush and doesn’t realize the beauty around him.

Another cool, outside the box, poem was a wonderfully rich work entitled "The Ascetic Life" by a retired librarian who explored the contemplative life of a “Holy Fool.” A young teenager read a poem that was written to get “something off [her] chest.” It was a poem about how her younger sister has continually belittled her and put her down her entire life. The poem was her empowering response that she “wasn’t going to take it anymore.” The poem received cheers from the seniors and an “I know exactly what you mean” acknowledgement from another teen in attendance.

The evening concluded with another moving poem from one of our newer regulars, an eight-six-year-old widower who never wrote a poem in his life until he joined our group. He wrote about frequently waking up thinking there were “a lot of people in [his] house,” only to realize that he was alone.

To quote Walt Whitman, “Have you ever felt so good to get at the heart of poem?” These people, young and old, are doing just that, and the great majority of them have never written a poem in their lives until now. I am grateful and honored to spend time with this diverse and welcoming group of poets. For me, this is where the real poetry in America lives!

Photos: (Top) M. L. Liebler. (Bottom) M. L. Liebler with workshop participants. Credit: Pamela Liebler.

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.

Transform a poem that you've written or write a new poem without using the first person.

Instructor of applied theater at Cornish College of the Arts, Caroline Brown has facilitated workshops for diverse groups, including veterans, AIDS widows in Kenya, and incarcerated women, as well as P&W-supported writing/performance workshops with BABES Network-YWCA and Compass Housing Alliance in Seattle, Washington. Caroline shared some reflections on her work with us.

What makes your writing workshops unique?
For the most part, my focus has been on the use of theater and performance as a means of helping marginalized communities share their stories with a wider audience. Writing has inevitably been an integral part of this process.

What techniques do you employ to help writers open up?
I conducted a five-week writing workshop with Seattle-based BABES Network-YWCA, an organization that supports women living with HIV/AIDS. I asked the women to help me create group guidelines for the duration of the process. One woman shouted “spelling doesn’t count!” I was so pleased to hear her say this, as I know were the rest of the women. This simple guideline gave the women permission to avoid self-editing, trust their instincts, and find their voices.

I offer exercises that reveal commonality and reduce feelings of isolation amongst the group. I do this by asking participants to create collective poems or short stories that reflect both the diversity and similarities of the group. While conducting the workshop with Compass Housing Alliance, an organization that provides services and housing to homeless and low-income people, we created a composite character that reflected each individual’s respective experience. The group chose a key turning point for the character and took turns answering questions as that character. They were able to collectively narrate the story of how he met his goals. I feel strongly that the participants would not have been as engaged had the same subject matter been discussed outside the context of a fictional story.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for underserved groups?
The work can be tiring and there are times when I yearn for a more conventional career. It is during moments of doubt that I remind myself of experiences such as the one I had working with incarcerated women in the Rhode Island state prison system. Upon completing a writing exercise one of the women asked me through tears if “we did these exercises on the outside.” She was being released from prison the next day and was scared of “going back to her old ways.” The workshops helped her to recognize herself as a good person, something she had never felt before. Her fear was that without such an outlet, she might forget this feeling and start making unhealthy decisions again. What stopped me in my tracks was the fact that such workshops are not so readily available to those who need them the most.
 
What effect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
I am inspired by the risks individuals take within the creative process and the freedom they gain from doing so. My greatest challenge in this work is to remember how important that journey is to everyone, including myself. After seven years of encouraging others to endure the challenges that come with the creative journey, it is important to remind myself to embark on the same. I owe it to myself as well as to those who have shown so much courage in the face of their own hesitations toward the creative process.
 
Photo: Caroline Brown. Credit: Sven McNichols.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Seattle 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 scene for a story with two characters involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Use news stories about the movement in order to gather details to create a realistic setting.

Eighty-year-old Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was named winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature at an afternoon press conference in Sweden today. "Because," says permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Peter Englund, "through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality."

Tranströmer, whose profession is psychology, investigates the "big questions," says Englund, such as death, history, memory, and nature, but in a way that does not belittle the human condition, but rather "makes us important."

Translated into sixty languages, Tranströmer's most recent collections published in the United States are The Great Enigma: New Collected Poems (New Directions, 2006) and The Half-Finished Heaven (Graywolf Press, 2001). U.K. publisher Bloodaxe Books released an updated volume of their 1997 translation, New Collected Poems in 2010.

The Nobel has not gone to an author from Sweden since 1974, when Swedish poet Harry Martinson and Swedish novelist Eyvind Johnson shared the award.

The National Book Foundation has announced the latest crop of emerging writers to be recognized with the organization's 5 Under 35 honor. Nominated by former winners and finalists for the National Book Award, the five young fiction writers will be feted later this fall at an event hosted by John Waters in New York City.

Shani Boianjiu of Jerusalem, the youngest of the honorees at twenty-four, was selected for 5 Under 35 by Nicole Krauss. A veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces, Boianjiu is working on a novel titled, "The People of Forever Are Not Afraid."

Danielle Evans, author of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize–winning story collection Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self (Riverhead Books, 2010), was nominated by Robert Stone. Evans, a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, lives in Washington, D.C.

Julia Glass selected New York State native Mary Beth Keene, author of The Walking People (Mariner Books, 2009). Keene, a mother of two boys, is working on her second novel.

Alaska-born Melinda Moustakis, whose first book, Bear Down, Bear North: Alaska Stories (Unviersity of Georgia Press, 2011), won the Flannery O'Connor Award in Short Fiction, was selected by Jaimy Gordon.

Oscar Hijuelos chose Louisiana author John Corey Whaley, the first 5 Under 35 author to be recognized for young adult fiction. Whaley's debut is the novel Where Things Come Back (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011).

The 5 Under 35 celebration, held on November 14, will kick off National Book Awards week. The awards in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and young people's literature will be announced at the foundation's annual dinner on November 16.

The Winter Anthology, a "collection of contemporary literature informed by history and older art, twenty-first-century science and philosophy, and the ending of print culture," is accepting entries for its 2011 contest. All submissions will be considered for publication online and subsequently in Volume 2 of the anthology, alongside the poetry or prose of the winning writer, who will be awarded one thousand dollars.

This year's judge is poet Lisa Russ Spaar, a professor at University of Virginia whose poetry books include Glass Town (Red Hen Press, 1999), Blue Venus (Persea Books, 2004), Satin Cash (Persea Books, 2008), and the forthcoming Vanitas, Rough, which Persea will release next year. Spaar has also published essays in Shenandoah and Virginia Quarterly Review, and her poetry appeared in Volume 1 of the Winter Anthology, with poems by Lucie Brock-Broido, Jean Valentine, and Charles Wright and novel excerpts by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Magdalena Tulli.

Works of any genre are eligible for the contest. Each entry, which may range from two poems or a single essay or story to an entire book of up to fifty pages, must be accompanied by a ten dollar reading fee.

The address for print submissions and a link to the Winter Anthology's Submishmash entry page (which requires writers to submit an eleven dollar entry fee) are posted on the contest website. Entries must be submitted by November 15, and a winner will be announced in the winter.

For the month of October, longtime P&W-supported writer M. L. Liebler, author of fourteen books of poetry including The Moon A Box, which received the 2005 Patterson Poetry Award of Excellence, blogs about the literary arts scene in Detroit, Michigan.

It’s Alive!!! From the early days of Robert Hayden in Paradise Valley to the new slam poets at the annual urban street festival, Dally in the Alley, being a writer in Detroit has always been a struggle. Motown writers have survived it all with the generosity of organizations like Poets & Writers (P&W). Since the early 1990s, P&W has helped our city’s literary arts scene sustain diverse programming through near-crippling recessions, anti-arts funding governors, Tea Party naysayers, unemployment, and the general hard times of the auto industry.

The Detroit poetry scene started to gain recognition among nontraditional audiences in 1987. Shortly thereafter, P&W expanded to the city to further stimulate the funding culture and help local arts organizations such as the National Writer’s Voice Project, Terry Blackhawk’s school-aged InsideOut Literary Arts Project, John D. Lamb’s Springfed Arts, and the Detroit Public Library leverage dollars for more literary programming. The support allowed Detroit’s struggling literary arts organizations, libraries, colleges, churches, and small reading series at galleries and coffeehouses to host writers with dignity by allowing venues to offer writers monetary compensation.

Some of Detroit’s unique literary programs that I have been fortunate to direct and host over the years include the annual Lit Fest-on-the-Lawn at the Detroit Festival for the Arts, readings at the Detroit Opera House, The Scarab Club Downtown/Uptown Series, the monthly Detroit Tonight Live at the Music Hall, and the now legendary Annual Labor Poets Program. Our 2010 P&W-supported Annual Labor Poetry Program brought together suburbanites, urban residents, high-school and college students, professors, and union members. This has become the typical audience demographics in Detroit for the last several decades.

Writers from around the country who visit Detroit for readings, workshops, or signings quickly become aware of Detroit's supportive and dynamic literary scene. I have heard writers say they want to “move here to write and work.” In fact, some have: John Berryman, W. D. Snodgrass, Eugene Redmond—heck even Joni Mitchell lived and wrote some of her classic songs on Wayne State University’s campus in the mid-1960s.

In the poetry and lit biz, Detroit is where it’s at. From the Wayne State University Press’s long-running Made in Michigan Book Series to the local open mic down the street, Detroit is a literary arts oasis in these trying times. We are, indeed, Alive!!! Come see about us.

Photo: M. L. Liebler.

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.

Find a poem that is different in style and approach than the kind of poem you usually write. Read it repeatedly until it opens for you, scan it to better understand its musical qualities, and finally memorize it. Write your own poem inspired by the poem you've studied. 

A major catastrophy has occurred that has changed the way we live and the environment in which we live. Write a story that conveys this post-apocalyptic environment without describing what has happened, using the setting and characters to suggest it instead. 

After odds were released earlier this week citing Syrian poet Adonis as top contender for this year's Nobel Prize for literature, the Millions released an open letter calling for Philip Roth to receive the honor—one of the only major awards missing from the Connecticut writer's resumé. As of Monday's forecast by British gambling company Ladbroke's, Roth has twenty-five-to-one odds of taking the Nobel, given to an author who has produced "the most outstanding work in an ideal direction."

"Can we please stop the nonsense and give Philip Roth a Nobel Prize for literature before he dies?" begins the letter, written by Michael Bourne, who recognizes Roth for his brilliance at tackling the subject of "the essential unknowableness of the human heart."

"The case for Roth's candidacy for a Nobel Prize isn't that he's a nice guy; it is that he's a genius, and in Roth's case, his genius lies in his audacity," Bourne says. "Audacity without intelligence begets mindless spectacle, but Philip Roth is the smartest living writer in America, and his work, good and bad, brilliant and puerile, is among the best this country has ever produced."

According to Ladbroke's, among the authors heading up the list of Roth's competition are Tomas Tranströmer (with projected odds of nine to two), Thomas Pynchon (ten to one), and Haruki Murakami (sixteen to one). Fellow American luminaries Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, and Joyce Carol Oates join Roth in the twenty-five-to-one camp.

The winner of the ten-million-kronor prize (approximately $1,463,830) will be announced on a yet-undisclosed Thursday in October.

The National Poetry Series has announced the 2011 winners of its Open Competition, the annual contest for books by poets at any stage in their career. The five writers, representing both coasts and three Midwestern states, will receive one thousand dollars each and publication of their manuscripts by participating publishers.

This year Penguin Books judge Lucie Brock-Broido chose With Venom and Wonder by Julianne Buchsbaum of Lawrence, Kansas. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop who is currently a university librarian, Buchsbaum is also the author of A Little Night Comes (Del Sol Press, 2005) and Slowly, Slowly, Horses (Ausable Press, 2001).

Bernadette Mayer selected Chicago poet Hannah Gamble's debut, Your Invitation to a Modest Breakfast, for publication by Fence Books. Gamble's poems have appeared previously in journals such as Indiana Review, Mid-American Review, and Ecotone, which originally published the title poem from her forthcoming book (reprinted on the web forum As it Ought to Be).

For Coffee House Press, Ange Mlinko selected Green Is for World by Juliana Leslie of Santa Cruz, California. Leslie is also the author of More Radiant Signals, published in 2010 by Letter Machine Editions.

Patricia Smith chose New York City poet (and translator) Idra Novey's second collection, Exit Civilian, for publication by University of Georgia Press. Novey's first book is In the Next Country, which won the Kinereth Gensler Award from Alice James Books in 2007. Her translations from the Spanish and Potuguese include On Elegance While Sleeping by Viscount Lascano Tegui (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010), Birds for a Demolition by Manoel de Barros (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2010), and The Clean Shirt of It by Paulo Henriques Britto (BOA Editions, 2007).

D. A. Powell selected Marcus Wicker's first book, Maybe the Saddest Thing, for publication by HarperCollins. The Ann Arbor, Michigan, poet, a Cave Canem fellow who was recently a resident poet at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, has published work in DIAGRAM, jubilat, and Ninth Letter, among other journals.

The five winning books will be released by their respective publishers next summer. The deadline for next year's prize will be announced later this year.

In the video below, Wicker reads poems, including one from a series of love letters to his "secret heroes," at Cave Canem's annual retreat for fellows.

The sixth annual Dayton Literary Peace Prize, recognizing "the power of the written word to promote peace," was awarded yesterday to novelist Chang-Rae Lee and journalist-cum-memoirist Wilbert Rideau. Lee received the ten-thousand-dollar award for his fourth novel, The Surrendered (Riverhead Books), and Rideau won for his memoir, In the Place of Justice: A Story of Punishment and Deliverance (Knopf).

Lee's novel unfolds during the Korean War, examining the repercussions of violence in the decades that follow the event. "This is a big novel which steadily transcends any thematic constraints and steps into real art," says fiction judge Ron Carlson, adding, "the dimensions of the book insist on a gritty and complex understanding of our best impulses in the worst of times."

Nonfiction judge Eric Bates says of Rideau's book, completed after the author spent forty-four years incarcerated in Louisiana prisons, "For his reporting alone, Rideau has made a critical and lasting contribution to our understanding of a prison system that long ago gave up on the notion of rehabilitation. But his memoir goes far beyond the limitations of journalism. He brings to his story a deep devotion to the power of literature, drawing on traditions as diverse as Saint Augustine and Frederick Douglass to craft a dramatic and moving tale that is both deeply felt and richly observed."

The winners will be presented their awards at a ceremony on November 13 in Dayton, Ohio, the seat of the historic Dayton Peace Accords, initialed there in November 1995.

In the video below, Lee discusses his winning book with Leonard Lopate of New York City public radio station WNYC.

Writer Patricia Roth Schwartz blogs about facilitating a memoir writing workshop series in historic Seneca Falls, New York.

It’s a beautiful spring day in historic Seneca Falls. We meet in the town Recreation Center, a low brick building on the canal, which connects to the Erie, where lazy houseboats drift by on the gentle green waters dotted with ducks and waterfowl. The room we have has one enormous windowed wall. Four participants, two middle-aged and two seniors, regulars at most of the literary programs held locally, have gathered.

We plunge into our topic: "Telling the Stories of our Lives: Writing the Personal Memoir." After some discussion, we start an exercise. Following the guided visualization, everyone is asked to write from a childhood memory. As we’re beginning, a woman and her twelve-year-old daughter join us, apologizing for their lateness. I initiate introductions, settle the latecomers into chairs, bring them briefly up to speed, then encourage them both to start writing. The mother goes ahead, but the girl just sits, looking scared and confused. We’d advertised the workshop to all ages, but she's the only youngster. Her mother said she loves to write, but right now I know exactly how she’s feeling, afraid of embarrassing herself, of doing it "wrong."

My background as a psychotherapist jumps into play. "I'll help you," I say, and hunker down beside her. "Who were you thinking of?" "My granddad," she whispers. "Okay—great. Can you write him a letter, telling him what you remember?" She thinks about it. "Yes!" Her pen leaps to the page. "Good—good—keep going," I say. "Put in a lot of details, like you were looking at it in a movie."

Before we knew it, everyone, including the girl, has completed a piece. One by one the writers read aloud. When it's her turn, the girl is pleased with and excited by her letter. She shares it willingly, how her granddad would hoist her up on his shoulders when she was really little and carry her around. The group loves it and tells her as much.

"Okay," I finish. "Now when you go home, write it up really nicely and mail it to him!" The young girl beams.

Photo: Patricia Roth Schwartz. Credit: Sandy Zohari.

Support for the Reading/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.

Transform one of your poems into an artisanal object of some kind using found or recycled materials. Send a photograph of it to editor@pw.org for possible inclusion in a slideshow. Include Artisanal Object in the subject line.

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