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Write a contemporary adaptation of a fairy tale using first-person narration from the point of view of the villain.

Write a poem in the form of a letter to an imaginary friend in which you ask them for help that begins, Dear Friend. Keeping the person or creature or entity you’re writing to in mind, include details and images that reveal your imaginary friend’s characteristics as you craft your entreaty.

The recipients of the inaugural Windham Campbell Prizes in fiction, nonfiction, and drama were announced this morning at Yale University. Each of the nine winners of the new prize will receive $150,000 to support their writing.

The winners in fiction are Tom McCarthy, James Salter, and Zoë Wicomb; the winners in nonfiction are Adina Hoffman, Jonny Steinberg, and Jeremy Scahill; the winners in drama are Naomi Wallace, Steven Adly Guirgis, and Tarell Alvin McCraney. 

Sponsored by Yale and established with a gift from the estate of the late writer Donald Windham, the Windham Campbell Literature Prizes recognize English-language writers at all stages of their careers. The prizes are named in honor of Windham and his longtime partner, the journalist and publisher Sandy M. Campbell. The prizes are administered by the Beinecke Rare Book Room and Manuscript Library, which also houses Windham’s papers. The awards join a list of esteemed literary prizes already sponsored by Yale, including the Bollingen Prize for Poetry and the Yale Series of Younger Poets.

“Yale is a place that hopes to inspire and recognize greatness in every field,” said Peter Salovey, president-elect of Yale University, in a press release. “The Windham Campbell Prizes allow us to fulfill that ambition in the field of world literature in ways we are only beginning to understand.”

There is no application process for the Windham Campbell Prizes. Established professionals in each category are asked to nominate names for consideration, and a selection committee meets at Yale to name up to nine writers to receive prizes. 

The winners of the inaugural prizes will receive their awards at a ceremony at Yale during the Windham Campbell Literary Festival from September 10 to September 13 in New Haven.

“I look forward to the dialogue the winners will inspire on the Yale campus and around the world,” Salovey said. “We will learn much from our prize-winners, particularly in these first years of awarding the prize.”

In the video below, Salovey announces the prize and the first annual winners.

P&W-funded Regie Cabico is the coeditor, with poet and novelist Brittany Fonte, of the recently published anthology of queer poetry and spoken word, Flicker and Spark (Lowbrow Press). His own work has appeared in over thirty anthologies, including Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, Spoken Word Revolution, and Chorus & The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry. He received the 2006 Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers for his work teaching at-risk youth at Bellevue Hospital in New York. He is a former Artist in Residence at NYU's Asian Pacific American Studies Program and has served as faculty at Banff's Spoken Word Program. He resides in Washington, D.C.

I recently flew to Oakland to jump-start the debut of Cupid Ain’t @#$%!: An Anti-Valentine’s Day Poetry Movement. The series, started by J. Mase the III, has a strong, queer spoken-word bent, with poets of color and queer allies coming together to rail not just about love, but also about political identity through a humor and candor that you don’t get in a lot of poetry readings. In its fifth year, the series has gone to Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., and Oakland. Having performed as a gay Filipino poet for the last twenty years, it occurred to me that the Cupid Movement is giving voice to a queer culture that embraces queer allies and also fosters an intergenerational queer positive environment.

I flew in from Washington, D.C., and into The Living Room Project, an Oakland-based organization devoted to healing, wellness, and serving the queer community. I rode the BART with poet Baruch Porras Hernandez, who curates the Queer Open Mic, the longest running series in the Bay. We were later joined by J. Mase, who flew in from Chicago, as well as trans comedian Natasha Muse. The Cupid show brought in an intimate crowd of a dozen or so: mainly queer folks who heard about the show from queer artists they had been following from New York. Deb Malkin, a college friend and her girlfriend, Cholla Soledad, showed up and made the reading a Valentine’s Day compromise—since Cholla is an anti-V-day cupid-downer. Deb is a Libra romantic. As a poet who performs constantly, you never know who will come or how many folks will show up.

Mase’s poem “Neighbor” was a big hit. The poem is about a homophobic neighbor who gives Mase nasty stares: “Queer people fuck better...and you know it because you live next door...to me.” Baruch’s poem on being “thin” is the best queer poem on body image: “If I were thin I would move a pile of needles naked from one room to another...and sleep with so many skinny boys in my bed because I’d be thin and we can lie in a line on the bed...” Natasha Muse broke her stand-up set into progressions during which she spoke of coming out as trans, starting out as Ewan McGregor and then ending up looking like Nicole Kidman, so watching Moulin Rouge hits her in a very personal way. Natasha concluded her set by talking about becoming a mom and living with her female spouse. The evening had some of the best comedic queer material that I have come across. The owner of The Living Room Project, Micah Hobbes, was impressed by the talent and acknowledged humor as a healing tool.

Photos: (Top) Regie Cabico. Credit: Carlos Rodriguez (Bottom) From left to right: J Mase III, Natasha Muse, Baruch Porras-Hernandez, Regie Cabico.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Washington, D.C. 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.

Last night, during a ceremony at the New School’s Tishman Auditorium in New York City, the National Book Critics Circle announced the recipients of its book awards for publishing year 2012. 

D. A. Powell won in poetry for Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys (Graywolf); Ben Fountain won in fiction for Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco); and Andrew Solomon won in nonfiction for Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner).

Leanne Shapton won the autobiography award for Swimming Studies (Blue Rider Press); Robert A. Caro won the biography award with The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson (Knopf); and Marina Warner won the criticism award for Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights (Belknap Press). 

The winners were chosen by a panel of established literary critics from a list of thirty finalists announced this past January. The shortlist in poetry included David Ferry for Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations (University of Chicago Press); Lucia Perillo for On the Spectrum of Possible Deaths (Copper Canyon Press); Allan Peterson for Fragile Acts (McSweeney’s Books); and A. E. Stallings for Olives (Triquarterly). The finalists in fiction were Laurent Binet for HHhH, translated by Sam Taylor (Farrar, Straus and Giroux); Adam Johnson for The Orphan Master’s Son (Random House); Lydia Millet for Magnificence (W. W. Norton); and Zadie Smith for NW (The Penguin Press). 

The annual National Book Critics Circle awards are given for books published in the previous year. For more information about the awards, visit the NBCC website.

In the video below, watch the finalists read from their work at last night’s ceremony.   

Jennifer Karminmultidisciplinary projects have been presented at festivals, artist-run spaces, and on city streets across the United States, Japan, Kenya, and Europe. A founding curator of the Red Rover Series, she is the author of the text-sound epic Aaaaaaaaaaalice (Flim Forum Press, 2010) and her poetry was recently published in I'll Drown My Book: Conceptual Writing by Women (Les Figues Press, 2012). Jennifer teaches in the Creative Writing program at Columbia College Chicago and at Truman College, where she works with immigrants as a community educator. She will be a guest faculty member at Naropa University in the summer of 2013.

With fellow poet Laura Goldstein, I curate the Red Rover Series (readings that play with reading). Founded in 2005, each Chicago event is designed as a reading experiment with participation by local, national, and international writers, artists, and performers. To date, we have hosted over sixty events featuring a diversity of renowned creative minds. The Readings/Workshops program at Poets & Writers has helped support many of our programs in the past few years.

Here are Laura and I in dialogue about our curation:

Karmin: From the beginning with co-founder Amina Cain and our subsequent curator Lisa Janssen, Red Rover has tried to create an environment where anything can happen and often does. Our audience never exactly knows what they're walking into. We're interested in an interdisciplinary approach to events. This often includes nonliterary genres, audience participation, exploring a theme, and playing with seating in the space.

Goldstein: I really think that our series looks at all the elements of a typical series and tries to experiment with them in order to engage an audience with being as aware as possible about what they are experiencing. How are the words presented? How do I relate to the other readers tonight? How can I incorporate the space? How can I incorporate the audience? I think that these elements are taken for granted at a lot of readings.

Karmin: We see the curator as a facilitator of group experience for the writers, artists, and audience members. This is one way we're trying to challenge the usual hierarchies that often play out in the literary and art world. Our main mode of operation is collaboration.

Goldstein: Sometimes people send us proposals as a group, and those are usually a pre-packaged deal. Those writers have been in contact so they come up with a title based on their proposed experiment. If we get individual proposals, we connect the performers and ask them to communicate a bit about what connects their ideas.

Karmin: To experiment is to try something new. To move out of your comfort zone. It's a kind of creative freedom where there's no success or failure.

Goldstein: We call them experiments because whoever is producing the poetry is asked to experiment with the ideas surrounding the work and turn that into a mode of presentation. We also like to call them experiments because there is less pressure on the participants to have something "perfect" or "complete"...it's just something that we are encouraging writers to try out in the community.

As part of the 2013 IN>TIME Festival, Red Rover Series brought the writers of Black Took Collective to Chicago for three February events. Co-Founded in 1999 by Duriel E. Harris, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Ronaldo V. Wilson at Cave Canem, a retreat for African American poets, Black Took Collective is a group of Black posttheorists who perform and write in hybrid experimental forms, embracing radical poetics and cutting-edge critical theory about race, gender, and sexuality. We happily received support from Poets & Writers, Creative Writing at the University of Chicago, Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago, the Creative Writing Programs at Columbia College Chicago, and the Writing Program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Thoughts on Black Took Collective’s recent Chicago visit:

J’Sun Howard, writer and dance artist: Two Macbooks with blank documents open for the audience to read periodic automatic writing from the collective, as the piece went along, spread across opposite walls from each other. The third wall facing the audience housed another projection that was a small phantasmagoric video of smiling faces behind a clear makeup-ed mask, Wilson dancing while Lundy read, and more text in bold white letters contrasted eerily with the sleekness, absoluteness, and unfussiness of the other automatic writing projections. In the center of the floor, a table held all the equipment and was flooded with microphones, water bottles, more text, poetry books, props of a gun, and a black mask.

Kenyatta Rogers, poet and teacher: At the Black Took events, I found myself engaged in an experience that combined multiple voices and mediums to give me a different vision of myself as a Black man and in some senses a ‘thing’ to be feared or misunderstood.

Jen Besemer, poet and artist: Dear Plurality of One/s, To say yes and. I can't put any of my questions into words, can only nod my kangol head as the talk happens. I am obsessed with that gun, like ‘is that thing loaded, little caps, what?’ I want to move, too. The words I can't say in the audience I could say onstage. Now why is that? I thank you.

Laura Goldstein:

our bond as an audience in the blue light, paper is hung, within
letters skip, turn into that knot ronaldo was taking about. what fits
in frame. duriel's fairy tale: feel skin, found doubt, in you. each for
each. and dawn the tone and tongue. gently peel back the sack, give heart attack.

At the end of Black Took Collective’s evening of performance, I lead a short tribute to poet, performer, and activist Jayne Cortez, who died on December 28, 2012. Calling for five volunteers from the audience, we presented a choral reading of the Cortez poem "Find Your Own Voice". One by one, I tapped the readers on their shoulders and asked each to start reading. Listening to the voices spontaneously weave together, I was reminded that curating is often a form of making a live collage and witnessing the ways creative community gets formed.

Photo: (from top) Jennifer Karmin. Credit: Amina Cain. Ronald V. Wilson, Dawn Lundy Martin. Credit: Laura Goldstein. Duriel E. Harris. Credit: Laura Goldstein.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago 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 2013 Susan Sontag Prize for Translation will award a grant of $5,000 for a proposed work of literary translation from French into English by a translator under the age of thirty. The deadline for applications is April 12.

The grant will be awarded in late June, and the translation must be completed by November. Eligible works include novellas, plays, and collections of poetry, short stories, or letters originally written in French. Applicants wishing to translate longer works should contact the Susan Sontag Foundation before applying so that supplementary materials can be included. Preference will be given to works that have not been previously translated.

Translators may submit a five-page sample translation of the proposed work and the same passage in the original language, along with the required application form, a personal statement, a project proposal outlining the work and describing its importance, a bibliography of the author, one academic letter of recommendation, and an official transcript from a current or most recent academic institution. Applications must be submitted via postal mail to the Susan Sontag Foundation , 76 Franklin St. #3, New York, NY 10013. Visit the website for complete submission guidelines

The winner will be notified in late June, and results will be announced on the Susan Sontag Foundation website. The winner will also be expected to participate in symposia on literary translation with established writers and translators, and give public readings of their work once the translation has been completed.

The 2012 prize was split between Julia Powers and Adam Morris, who translated Contos d'escárnio/Textos grotescos and Com os meus olhos de cão, respectively, by the Brazillian poet and novelist Hilda Hilst. The 2011 prize winner was Chenxin Jiang, for her translation from the Italian of Destino Coatto, a series of prose vignettes by Goliarda Sapienza.

The Susan Sontag Foundation Translation Prize was established in honor of Susan Sontag, who devoted much of her life’s work to championing literary translation. The prize, given annually in alternating languages, seeks to increase the practice and recognition of translation in the United States. For more information about the prize or the foundation, visit the website.  

One of the challenges of writing memoir is balancing truth and one’s subjective experience of the past. Write an essay about something that happened in your past that involved family or friends who you trust. Send your essay to one or more of these people, and ask them to read it and to point out any differences between how you presented the event and how they remember it. Use their input to revise the essay.

Dialogue, when it’s working well, moves the story forward and more fully develops your characters. Keeping this in mind, write a scene for a story that is only dialogue between two characters. Let what the characters say reveal the plot and their personalities and motives. 

As poet Ted Kooser writes in The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets (University of Nebraska Press, 2005), “When it comes to the form your poem takes, you can determine it as you write....As you work on your poem, try to see what shape the poetry wants to assume.” Following Kooser’s advice, write a draft of a poem and analyze its structure. How many lines does it have? How many stanzas? How many stressed syllables per line? Look for a dominant pattern in what you’ve written and revise the poem to fit that pattern consistently.

Cybele Knowles works as a program coordinator at the University of Arizona Poetry Center, where she coordinates the PW-funded Center’s Reading and Lecture Series, Classes & Workshops program, and Closer Look Book Club. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of Arizona and an MA in English from U.C. Berkeley. Her poetry and prose have appeared in the DestroyerSpiral OrbDiagramPindeldyboz, the Asian Pacific American JournalFaucheuse, and the Prose Poem.

In my final post, I’ll share some homage tattoos spied in and around the University of Arizona Poetry Center. These tattoos reference poets, writers, artists, and artworks that have a special significance to the wearer.

My interest in such tattoos originated when poet Philip Jenks came to Tucson in 2010 to appear in our Reading and Lecture Series, a program supported by the Poets & Writers Readings/Workshops program. I knew about Philip’s fabulous tattoo of Emily Dickinson, and asked him if I could take a picture of it. He was gracious enough to allow me to capture his Emily in all her glory.

Philip Jenks

This is a powerful Emily Dickinson, with large hands and a tribal halo. Philip also chose to depict Emily as she might have looked in her later years (the only known photos of Emily are from when she was very young). As you can imagine, encountering Philip and his Emily sparked in me an interest in other tattoos that reference loved writers, artists, and artworks. It turns out that such tattoos are everywhere at the Poetry Center, on the bodies of our visitors, volunteers, colleagues, friends, and patrons. Here are just a few homage tattoos I’ve discovered at the Poetry Center. With each image is a statement from the wearer about the origin, history, or personal significance of the tattoo.

Zachary Schomburg: Poet, Editor, and Poetry Center Visiting Poet (October 2012).

Zachary Schomburg

“Much of the history of this Aram Saroyan poem was spent at the center of political controversy over the value of public funding for the arts, but now it represents more of a marker of that successful resistance. This tattoo then embodies not only my commitment to poetry, this unbound experiment of language that the poem itself embodies, but also its defense. Plus, it is an entire poem I can fit on my wrist. I’m sure I’m one of many with this poem on my body, but I wear it also in unison with two of my good friends, Mathias Svalina and Joshua Marie Wilkinson. We share a Frank Stanford line too. I’m developing this compulsion of wanting to be completely covered with language and images. Tattoos and pens. I like writing on myself. When I write on myself with a pen, it quickly disappears. Without this particular photo, I wouldn’t have ever remembered writing that scribble on my hand. I think it says, ‘Maybe everybody is trying to kill me and failing.’ I don’t know if I ever called TS. Who is TS? Some owls? My fingernails are dirty.”

Kate Bernheimer: Writer, Editor, and Poetry Center Colleague/Teacher/Friend.

Kate Bernheimer

“I used to live in Portland, Oregon, and every winter I would come spend around a month in the Tucson Mountains, out near the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, at my friend Lydia Millet’s place. I had to get out of the rain and I revere the high desert. Lydia had renovated what was basically a trailer into a compound of sorts and had space for a guest among the many creatures and incredible botany there. We would work from sunrise to sunset—we would write for more than eight hours, it was serious bliss—and then we would have drinks in her kitchen with the lights out and watch javelinas feast on a quail block. As we wrote, I could hear Lydia chortling at her computer at the other end of the house. Her laughter carried me through the end of my first two novels. In 2000, the year she wrote My Happy Life (and chortled through it, which is hilarious because it’s a terribly heartbreaking book), I completed The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold. The day I finished the novel, we drove over Gate’s Pass into downtown Tucson and I got my tattoo on Fourth Avenue after having a vodka and soda at Plush, though I’m not sure if it was called Plush at the time. I think so. I had just the one drink, I wasn’t drunk. I had planned on getting a tattoo of the word ‘Mom’ written inside a winged heart, to match Lydia’s, but at the last minute I decided on the angel with chicken feet. The tattoo is a version of an illustration by Alexander Alexeieff that appears on the title page of Russian Fairy Tales, collected by Aleksandr Afanasev and translated by Norbert Guterman. She also appears in The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold—a description of her, not a picture. Portions of the novel are based on the tales in that book, and I had the book with me when we left Lydia’s spread in the desert and went into town. I pretty much took it everywhere I went, at the time, along with a collection of Brothers Grimm tales. Both have now completely fallen apart.”

TC Tolbert: Poet, Assistant Director of Casa Libre en la Solana, and Poetry Center Friend.

TC Tolbert

“I got this tattoo of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain just as I was beginning my gender transition from female to something less visibly female (also often called male but, unlike many trans folks, I don’t identify as male, I identify as trans—anyway). At the time I was in grad school for poetry, reading Poems for the Millennium, and it was Mallarmé, then Dada, that gave me a poetic lens for my body. And, in turn, my (trans and genderqueer) body gave me a physical/spatial lens for my poetic work. It is not an exaggeration to say that I transitioned partly because the avant-gardes (plural, as Richard Kostelanetz points out) gave me permission to interrupt the narrative, the confidence to experiment with form. Trans and queer coming-out stories are important to me, but even more encouraging, and less prescriptive, has been the work of Gertrude Stein, Stéphane Mallarmé, Marcel Duchamp, Trisha Brown, Shen Wei, and C.D. Wright. Fountain embodies Cage’s dictum: It’s lighter than you think. I needed that. I still do. To remember that my body (my bodies) is (are) a readymade—that I actually have very little idea of the different things it is, it can become, it can do. It’s also fascinating to see how different people read the piece. Among the many guesses: an athletic cup (jock strap), a regular old urinal, a hunk of roast beef, a steak. Judith Butler says that one ‘exists’ not only by virtue of being recognized, but, in a prior sense, by being recognizable. So too for the trans body, the experimental poem.”

Cameron Louie: Poet and Poetry Center Advisory Board Member.

Cameron Louie

Ad astra per alas porci: ‘to the stars on the wings of a pig.’ The Pigasus is, in a sense, John Steinbeck’s truest signature. It symbolized him, and I think it symbolizes all of us who try at writing, as ‘lumbering souls but trying to fly.’ It is an impossible thing, and imaginary. Most importantly, while riding the Pigasus, one gains the gift of poesy...”

Adam Kullberg: Nonfiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Adam Kullberg

“I didn’t read Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, on which this tattoo was based, until I was in my early 20s. But when I did I found myself fascinated with his use of the Martian landscape—a place I viewed as foreign, lifeless—to convey the beauty, as well as the ugliness, of the world in which I lived. I meant for this tattoo, through its watercolor style and surreal landscape, to convey one of the strengths I find in all of Bradbury’s short stories and novels: that he speaks to both the artist and the child, the ordinary and the fantastic, the real and the magical, that are tethered to each of us.”

Mike Powell: Fiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Mike Powell

“This tattoo is of a muted post horn, the symbol of an underground mail-delivery service in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49. I got it when I was 19 or 20 in a strip mall next to a sushi restaurant near the edge of Charlottesville, Virginia. I imagine that some people get tattoos of images they think are singular or uniquely expressive. Part of the reason for getting this tattoo is precisely that I knew other people who already had it: friends of friends of friends, cousins of friends of friends, strangers I’d met at parties. It wasn’t a mark of separation, but of connection. Plus, while I’m not particularly attached to physical mail or mail delivery, I liked the idea that the symbol belonged to an underground mail-delivery service, which seemed like an elegant metaphor for both the romantic appeal of subculture but also the superfluity of it. (The USPS has always served me just fine.) Twice or so a year, I meet people with the same tattoo. I’d be lying if I said it brought me closer to them, necessarily. Not all groups are predicated on spiritual kinship. For these people I reserve a quiet smile, and take heart in the idea that we know something, however irrelevant, that other people don’t. (My other tattoo is of the now-extinct Tasmanian tiger.)”

Laura Miller: Fiction Writer and Poetry Center Volunteer.

Laura Miller

“When I was feeling as if I’d never be a legitimate writer, a Steinbeck or a Chekhov, science fiction showed me the writer’s imagination cracked open on the page and gave me a way forward. This tattoo is from the first science fiction film, Le Voyage dans la Lune, and I love the harshness of the film: the un-romanticized depiction of space, the moon-image characterizing man’s capacity for destruction. I worked closely with the tattoo artist to retain that gruesome quality. The moon paradox, a symbol of darkness, of mother, of spiritual guidance, is something I think about a great deal in my fiction. Moons have—since childhood—haunted me.”


Thanks to Philip, Zach, Kate, TC, Cameron, Adam, Mike, and Laura for sharing their homage tattoos, some of their favorite authors and artists, and their stories with me!

Photo Credit: Cybele Knowles.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Tucson 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.

In January, Poets & Writers convened its third annual Workshop Leaders Retreat for Los Angeles-area writers who teach workshops for underserved communities. Readings/Workshops Fellow Andrew Wessels writes about the day.

Just Kibbe with his poetry/art carIn the back room of 826LA in Echo Park on a wintry Sunday afternoon, a group of dedicated workshop leaders gathered to make connections, share advice, and enlarge each others’ repertoires of writing prompts. The Workshop Leaders Retreat was P&W’s way of thanking the writers who help us fulfill our mission, and providing them with resources to continue their work.

The meeting began with an exquisite corpse poem. Each workshop leader wrote a line (or two) of poetry that communicated something that he or she wanted the group to know. As each line was written, the page was folded over to conceal what came before. The resulting poem, which can be found at the end of this post, included imagery ranging from dinosaurs to DeLoreans.

The group transitioned from the whimsical to the practical, engaging in a free-flowing conversation that covered administrative strategies, contract negotiation, and maintaining good relations with site directors.

They also shared techniques that inspired workshop participants to new levels of writing. Just Kibbe prompted his high-school students to create their poems right on his car. They spray-painted words and numbers connected to their identities on the car, which he continues to proudly drive (and which has been used now by multiple classes as a mobile writing platform).

Why do writers do community work, especially when the pay is minimal and the Blue Book value of one’s car might be lowered as a result?

“Part of writing is to teach how to be in the world,” offered Jeremy Radin, who has taught workshops for teens and people with eating disorders.

After a lunch break, the group reconvened for the highlight of the afternoon: the writing prompts. Radin began by leading the entire group through one of his tried-and-true workshop sessions. Here’s the prompt:

Workshop Leaders Retreat attendees“You are the ghost that haunted the house you first lived in. The one that makes the house creak and the wind sing so strangely in the windows. You (the ghost) have a message to deliver to child-you (the author). It can be a message about child-you’s future, something that is happening right now, something you need in order to be free, etc. What is the message and how do you deliver it? You are a ghost, so moving physical objects requires incredible expenditures of energy. Have at it!”

The fifteen-minute writing session guided by Radin produced a wide range of responses, from the humorous to the emotionally charged. The group then broke into two, led by Traci Kato-Kiriyama and Hannah Menkin. Kato-Kiriyama led her group in a minimalist prompt: “And when…”.

Menkin’s prompt, by contrast, was slightly more involved, beginning with the Rabindrath Tagore quote: “There is a point where in the mystery of existence contradictions meet; where movement is not all movement and stillness is not all stillness; where the idea and the form, the within and the without, are united; where infinite becomes finite, yet not.” Menkin then asked her group members to respond, thinking specifically about the stillness of poetry.

As both groups shared their responses, the energy in the expansive room was anything but still.

(Want to see more prompts? Check out The Time Is Now.)

Exquisite corpse poem:

“Back to the Future Now and Again”

I am on my metaphorical walk back to the future
I am 100 years of age
When I was a boy, I’d stand the broccoli
Up on the plate, pretend I was a brontosaurus
Feasting on trees. Wished I could leave this behind.
Wish I could cry about it
But the tears no longer fall
My only choice is to stand tall
A caffeinated DeLorean sends me spinning
Into the unexpected, yes…
It’s poetry again, coming to soothe the soul,
Opening windows, releasing tears, swirling dust
In the room. Writing rocks.
Pink stains on paper towel, stomach full of cherries.
And scattered she slumped bed-ward, a sink sink sink.
Translate the books into art, into the landscape
Of the sea and sunset.
Voices are verbs unwritten given to pen to paper from tree.
Reverse the reverb and make verbs with me.
They are lining up outside.

Photos: (Top) Just Kibbe with his poetry/art car. (Bottom) Workshop Leaders Retreat attendees. Credit: Andrew Wessels.

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

The finalists for the thirty-third annual Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, given in ten categories for books published in 2012, were announced today. 

The finalists in poetry are Louise Glück for Poems: 1962-2012 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Rowan Ricardo Phillips for The Ground: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), D. A. Powell for Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys: Poems (Graywolf Press) Bin Ramke for Aerial (Omnidawn), and Cole Swensen for Gravesend (University of California Press).

The finalists in fiction are Jami Attenberg for The Middlesteins: A Novel (Grand Central Publishing), Michael Chabon for Telegraph Avenue (Harper), Ben Fountain for Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk (Ecco), Lauren Groff for Arcadia (Voice/Hyperion), and Lydia Millet for Magnificence (Norton).

The finalists for the Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction are David Abrams for Fobbit (Black Cat/Grove/Atlantic,Inc.), Kevin P. Keating for The Natural Order of Things (Aqueous Books), Lydia Netzer for Shine Shine Shine (St. Martin's Press), Maggie Shipstead for Seating Arrangements (Knopf), and Robin Sloan for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Book Store: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

For embracing new electronic forms of narrative, novelist Margaret Atwood will receive the Times Innovator's Award. Atwood’s recent projects include writing a serialized e-book for Byliner and posting her work on the collaborative writing website Wattpad. A new award series hosted by Wattpad, the Attys, whose inaugural winners were recently announced, were named in Atwood’s honor.

The winners of the 2012 book prizes will be announced at an awards ceremony on April 19 at the University of Southern California. The ceremony is open to the public; tickets will be available in late March. For more information on the event, and for a list of finalists in the additional award categories of biography, current interest, graphic novel/comics, history, mystery/thriller, science and technology, and young adult literature, visit the L.A. Times Book Prizes website

Read through your past writings—drafts of essays, journal entries, letters, stories—looking for themes or images that are repeated. Choose one of these and write an essay about it, exploring as much of it as you can. Incorporate your personal connection to it, as well as outside sources, such as definitions in the dictionary, historical information, and/or cultural and literary references. The idea is to dive deeply into this theme or image to discover the root of your obsession with it. 

Choose a short story by a writer whose style is very different from yours. Type out the story, reading it out loud as you go. Then analyze the opening of the story: Does it begin with dialogue? An anecdote? Setting? Begin a story of your own, modelling its opening after the one you've read and incorporating its style and rhythm.

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