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P&W-supported poet Tim Stafford is a poet and public school teacher from Chicago. He is the editor of the classroom poetry anthology Learn Then Burn (Write Bloody Publishing). You can find him onstage at the Encyclopedia Show, the Louder Than a Bomb Poetry Festival, and in June throughout Denmark, Sweden, and Germany. In December, Stafford taught a workshop at Team Englewood High School in Chicago and facilitated the Riots on the Warp Land slam. We asked him to blog about the experience.

Tim StaffordTo some, Team Englewood High School on Chicago’s South Side seems like an unlikely gathering spot for over one hundred young poets. Englewood is a neighborhood that many folks view negatively, even though a large number of them have never stepped foot inside. The Riots on the Warp Land poetry slam, now in its third year, was created to bring awareness to some of the great things that people who live and work on the South Side are doing.

The Riots on the Warp Land (the title is borrowed from South Side poet Gwendolyn Brooks) is a regional prelude to the Louder Than a Bomb Teen (LTAB) poetry slam festival, a citywide event that occurs every February. The two events share a similar goal: get kids from all over the city together in a safe space to create and share their own stories. 

The event’s founders, Dave Stieber, Stephanie Stieber, and Melissa Hughes, invited me to facilitate some of the bouts and help out with the group writing workshop. All three of the founders are public school teachers who wanted to create more poetry-based community-building outside of the LTAB festival.

The event kicked off with an activity called “Crossing the Street,” in which kids on the fifteen teams split up into brand new groups. The groups got to work on prompts given by myself and teaching artists from Young Chicago Authors centering  around identity, community, and neighborhoods. They created poems collaboratively. Before we started the actual “competition,” some groups presented their work to the crowd of about two hundred students and guests. The kids were familiar with the workshop model and were able to create some fascinating work despite the limited time.

Riots on the Warp LandAs far as the slam itself, there were three preliminary bouts, with the winner going to finals. I won’t go into detail about who won or who scored the highest. I, the promoters, and Young Chicago Authors don’t place emphasis on the competition, and we tell the kids that from the get-go. Writing and interaction are our goals. Calling it a poetry slam is our gimmick to get kids and community excited about poetry, which is why slam was invented.

This is the second time I’ve been able to take part in this event, thanks to Poets & Writers. Seeing the progression in the quality of the written word from one year to the next is a humbling experience. The passion and attention to craft instilled by their teachers, coaches, and mentors is paying off in poetry that is mature beyond the years of its young writers. I look forward to seeing some of you next year at the fourth annual Riots on the Warp Lands.

Photos: Top: Tim Stafford. Bottom: The winning team is announced. Credit: Stephanie Stieber.
Support for Readings/Workshops events in Chicago is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from Poets & Writers' Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Claremont Graduate University has announced the finalists for the 2013 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Given annually for a book published in the previous award year by a poet in midcareer, the Tufts Award is one of the most prestigious prizes given to an American poet. The winner receives $100,000.

The finalists are Marianne Boruch for The Book of Hours (Copper Canyon Press), Edward Haworth Hoeppner Blood Prism (Ohio State University Press), and Paisley Rekdal for Animal Eye (University of Pittsburgh Press).

Boruch is the author of eight previous collections, including most recently Grace, Fallen from (Wesleyan, 2008), and a memoir, The Glimpse Traveler (Break Away Books, 2011). She is a professor of creative writing and poetry at Purdue University. Hoeppner is the author of two previous collections, including Rain Through High Windows (New Issues, 2000). He directs the creative writing program at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. Rekdal is the author of three previous collections, including most recently The Invention of the Kaleidoscope (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007). She is an associate professor of English at the University of Utah. 

Claremont also announced the finalists for the 2013 Kate Tufts Discovery Award, a prize of $10,000 given annually for a debut poetry collection. The finalists are Rebecca Morgan Frank for Little Murders Everywhere (Salmon Poetry), Francine J. Harris for Allegiance (Wayne State University Press), and Heidy Steidlmayer for Fowling Piece (Triquarterly Books).

This year's panel of judges for both awards includes Linda Gregerson, David Barber, Kate Gale, Ted Genoways, and Carl Phillips. Winners will be announced in March and recognized during a ceremony at Claremont Graduate University in April.

Timothy Donnelly of Brooklyn, New York, received the 2012 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for The Cloud Corporation (Wave Books). Katherine Larson received the Kate Tufts Discovery Award for Radial Symmetry (Yale University Press).

Authors, editors, and publishers may submit books for consideration for both the Kate and Kingsley Tufts Awards. For the 2014 awards, books published between September 1, 2012, and August 31, 2013, are eligible, and must be postmarked by September 15. Visit the website for more information and complete submission guidelines

In honor of the 100th anniversary on February 1 of New York City's famed Grand Central Station, write an essay about a time in your life when you travelled—it could be daily travel, such as the commute to and from a job; seasonal travel, such as heading to a beach community every summer; or a vacation, such as a trip to a foreign country. Focus on what compelled you to go and the transition of leaving one place and arriving in another.

Write about a main character for a story, focusing on his or her occupation. Freewrite for five minutes about this character, considering the following: What is his or her job? How did the character get it? How long has he or she held it? What does he or she like and dislike about it? Set your freewriting aside, then research details about this occupation, taking notes along the way. What kind of language would a person with this job use? What kind of equipment? Where would the office be located? Who would be the boss? What would the job title be? Use your freewriting and your research to inform a story about this character.

Elena Martinez, advisory board member for Women's Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco) and folklorist at City Lore, blogs about the P&W-supported readings with the Bronx Music Heritage Center (BMHC). Martinez has an MA in Anthopolgy and an MA in Folklore from the University of Oregon. She co-produced the documentary, From Mambo to Hip Hop: A South Bronx Tale, which won the National Council of La Raza 2007 ALMA Award for Best TV Documentary. She is currently on the Advisory Boards for Casita Maria/Dancing in the Streets' South Bronx Cultural Trail, WHEDco's Bronx Music Heritage Center, and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies Archive at Hunter College.

Since 2010, I have been part of a group of musicians, artists, advocates, and educators driving the planning and development of the Bronx Music Heritage Center (BMHC). We were brought together by the Women’s Housing and Economic Development Corporation (WHEDco), a Bronx-based nonprofit that sees value in preserving and promoting Bronx music and cultivating Bronx artists as a way to spur neighborhood revival and bring cultural programs to the community. Currently, BMHC programming takes place in the BMHC Laboratory, a storefront in the Crotona East neighborhood of the South Bronx.

This fall, I worked with Grammy-nominated musician Bobby Sanabria to co-curate Bronx Rising! Music, Film & Spoken Word of the Borough, a new series at the BMHC Lab. Our goal was to showcase art about the Bronx, by Bronx artists, or significant to the Bronx community. Over the course of the series we maintained a loyal audience but struggled to get community members, who might peer in the windows, to come into the Lab and stay awhile.

Thanks to Poets & Writers, we were able to present two exceptional Bronx Rising! poetry nights in honor of Puerto Rican Heritage Month. On November 19, 2012, we hosted Americo Casiano, an original Nuyorican Poet. Americo was backed by his NuYoRican Poetry Jazz Ensemble, which accompanied his poetry seamlessly. During the program, two young men, enticed by the activity they viewed from the sidewalk entered the Lab. These newcomers actively listened, participated, and quickly became Lab “regulars.”

The December program paid homage to the declamadores of Puerto Rico, who use the language and themes of the area’s African heritage throughout the Spanish-speaking Caribbean. While the declamadores work within oral tradition, historically literary poets have also been proponents, among them Julia de Burgos (Puerto Rico) and Federico Garcia Lorca (Spain), whose poems were included in this program. The poetry was recited by organizer and declamador Sery Colón, Prisionera (Paula Santiago), and Tato Laviera, another original member of the Nuyorican Poetry Movement. This evening was once again punctuated by a few new faces that had been drawn to the prophetic personalities and socially-minded works filling the Lab. Robert, a first-time visitor, likened the event to “a revival." He said, “Once the crowd got going, the energy was infectious and I began to understand why these powerful messages needed to be delivered that way.”

These events, where new community members interacted with the BMHC, were symbolic for the series. Over the last few months, audience members who came into the Lab for hip hop stayed for Latin Jazz. People who came in for a photography exhibit returned for African drums.

On our last evening of Bronx Rising! Word(s) on the Street, five minutes before the program started, I realized we had a new problem on our hands. We ran out of chairs. For the first time, the BMHC Lab was packed to the brim with nearly 100 audience members. With this momentum, we are looking forward to our next season. We hope to see you there.

Photo: (left to right) Chris Nieves, Tato Laviera, Prisionera, Sery Colón, Elena Martinez, Jorge Vazquez. 

Photo Credit: Thomas Haskin.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by 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.

Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of American poet Robert Frost. To honor this day, read Frost's poem "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" on the Academy of American Poets' website. Analyze the poem's structure, and write a poem with the same rhyme scheme and number of lines.

The Loft Anthology: New England Poetry and Art is accepting submissions for its annual Loft Prize for Poetry until February 1. The award, which includes $1,000 and publication in the Loft Anthology, is given for poems about visual art, written by poets who reside in or are natives of New England.

Poets may submit up to two poems by e-mail with a $15 entry fee. Poems inspired by a piece of artwork from a New England museum are eligible. A list of museums is available on the Loft Anthology website; artwork can also be found online at the Athenaeum. Winners and finalists will be invited to read at an awards reception at the Providence Public Library in Rhode Island on June 6.

Poet Denise Duhamel, whose latest collection, Blowout, will be released by the University of Pittsburgh Press in February, will judge.

The Loft Anthology is published by the Cranston, Rhode Island-based Poetry Loft, a nonprofit literary arts organization that provides free poetry workshops in Rhode Island. The anthology publishes original work by both established and emerging poets in an effort, as stated on the website, to paint “an intimate portrait of the rich state of poetry in our region, informed by the distinct voices and souls of New Englanders. We humbly seek to inspire and disseminate the best poetry of New England.”

Copies of the 2012 anthology can be ordered through the Loft Anthology website, and are available for purchase at Brown Bookstore, Books on the Square, Symposium Books, and Cellar Books in Providence. For more information and complete submission guidelines, visit the website or send questions by e-mail to info@thepoetryloft.org.

PW-funded poet Camille Dungy blogs about the daily life of writers and the role Poets & Writers' Readings/Workshops program plays in that life. Dungy is a professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. She has published three collections of poetry—Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Book Prize; Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press); and What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press).

Camille Dungy

1) The writer asks questions.

2) The writer answers those questions.

3) The writer elaborates on the answers. In other words, a writer doesn't just stick with ROYGBiV answers, but answers questions the way a bird can see colors, as in more completely, more complexly, more deeply than most humans can imagine.

4) The writer imagines.

5) The writer worries. Does anyone care? Does it matter? Is anyone out there? Can anyone see what I say I have seen? Does anyone care?

6) The writer asks a series of questions that override the worry for awhile. What, for instance, is it about writing, the writer asks, that would cause a group of young people in Mozambique, a nation devastated by decades of war and until recently listed as one of the 10 poorest in the world, to found Revista Líteratas, a blog dedicated to discussing the vibrancy of Afro-Lusophone literature? The writer won't rest until she can begin to understand what is it about the literature that keeps the writer going back to the page, even if the page is written in something as foreign as Portuguese.

7) The writer works toward penning answers to those questions. This is what the writer might call the spreading of truth. This is what the world might call translation.

8) The writer elaborates, wondering how the time she spends writing her own poems or translating others' can honor the time writers in organizations like California Poets in the Schools spend teaching second grade students, and high school students, and hospital-bound children, and children moving through the juvenile correction system, and students moving past the juvenile correction system, and junior high school students, and first graders how to learn to love poetry. The writer could go on and on about the importance of expanding people's access to literature.

9) The writer worries that the questions she is asking have been asked already or that the answers, those particular answers the writer spent so much time elaborately imagining in tones far beyond red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and even violet, have been written already by someone who is better at writing than the writer believes herself to be. The writer also imagines that the answers she has taken such care elaborating upon will reveal Poets & Writers' secrets and will, she half worries, trigger the release of some agent who will set out hot on her tail. Will the agent laugh at the writer's tail?

10) The writer asks what on heaven's earth is the relationship between a tail and a trail and a tale and when the words diverged or converged, if ever they did either; and how to most colorfully get this cacophony of ideas down on the page without confusing the reader, if there is a reader out there to confuse; and if these are questions worth spending time writing about...

That's what writers do all day.

Go ask a writer.

Photo: Camille Dungy.  Photo credit: Marcia Wilson/Wide Vision Photography.

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

P&W-supported poet James Arthur recently gave a reading at Seattle’s Hugo House in celebration of Copper Canyon Press. Arthur’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, Poetry, and The American Poetry Review. He has received the Amy Lowell Travelling Poetry Scholarship, a Wallace Stegner Fellowship, an Amy Clampitt Residency, and a Discovery/The Nation Prize. His first book, Charms against Lightning was published by Copper Canyon Press in October 2012. Event coordinator Elaina Ellis blogs about the event below, and has a few questions for Arthur.

Copper Canyon poetry party participantsWho do I write for?
For you, and everything alive inside of you.
                --Vicente Aleixandre

On December 14, Copper Canyon Press launched our fortieth anniversary celebration at Seattle’s Richard Hugo House, elbow to joyful elbow with nearly two hundred of our closest friends. This was no typical end-of-year soiree, and it was definitely not your average poetry reading. It was a poetry party, and it was every bit as nerdy and exciting as that sounds.

For the first hour of the event, we simply let conversations unfold. Highlights in the crowd included the teenager who shyly inquired how she might learn to write poetry; the seventy-three-year-old visual artist who told us, “I came for the food, I’m staying for the poems”; and faces from all corners of the literary world, including booksellers, slam poets, and teachers.

At  eight p.m. we ushered the crowd into the theater, where local writers including Ed Skoog and Matthew Dickman performed the works of C.D. Wright, Hayden Carruth, June Jordan, Natalie Diaz, and Pablo Neruda. Our featured poet for the evening, James Arthur, gave an impassioned reading that was supported by Poets & Writers. He was met with audible enthusiasm from listeners, and we couldn’t help but hope that this room might represent the future of poetry. We asked James to share his thoughts below:

James ArthurWe had quite a lively crowd at this particular reading. How does the character of an audience impact you?
I depend on the crowd’s enthusiasm. When an audience is excited, I get excited. If an audience seems bored, I take that to heart. I know some poets feel uncomfortable reading their poems publicly, and are writing primarily for the solitary, silent reader; I have no argument with those writers. But I want my poems to be heard. Half the meaning is in the rhythm.
Readers today seek poetry in a variety of venues: e-books, YouTube, poetry slams, and of course that old-fashioned bookshelf. Where do you hope poetry goes from here?
E-books and the internet have already affected how poetry is published, and I’m sure they’re affecting how poetry is written, too. My method is pretty old-fashioned; I go for long walks, I look at the things around me, and I compose my poems by sound association.
I try not to cultivate any prescriptive ideas about how poetry in general should develop. It’s easy to get drawn into arguments about how poetry should be, and about how other people should write—but for me, at least, those debates are unhealthy. They eat away at my doubt and curiosity, and those are the two qualities that a poet needs most.

Who do you write for?

I want my poems to explore serious questions and still be widely accessible. I write for anyone who’s listening! 

Photos: Top: "poetry party" participants (James Arthur is on the right). Credit: Hugo House. Bottom: James Arthur. Credit: Shannon Robinson.
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.

The finalists for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize, which recognizes one fiction writer for a body of work, were announced today. Of the ten authors only three write in English, including American novelist Marilynne Robinson, who was first short-listed for the award in 2011. The winner, who will be announced in May, will receive sixty thousand British pounds. 

Representing nine different countries, the finalists were annouced this morning at the Jaipur Literature Festival. The list includes U R Ananthamurthy of India, Aharon Appelfeld of Israel, Lydia Davis of the United States, Intizar Husain of Pakistan, Yan Lianke of China, Marie NDiaye of France, Josip Novakovich of Canada, Marilynne Robinson of the United States, Vladimir Sorokin of Russia, and Peter Stamm of Switzerland. 

While many of this year's authors are relatively lesser known, Robinson, who teaches at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, is no stranger to literary prizes. Her debut novel, Housekeeping (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1982) won the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for best first novel and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction; what is perhaps her most widely known novel, Gilead (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction; and her most recent novel, Home, also published by FSG, received the 2009 Orange Prize. 

The current panel of judges, which has grown in size from previous years, includes chairman Christopher Ricks, critic and translator Tim Parks, critic Elif Batuman, and novelists Aminatta Forna and Yiyun Li. On the Man Booker International website, prize administrator Fiammetta Rocco attributes the wide range of finalists to the expanded scope of judges, each who represents a different geographical focus. “Now that we have five judges, we have been able to read in far greater depth than ever before,” she says. “Fiction is now available in all sorts of forms and in translation in more countries. This list recognizes that and is the fruit of the judges' collective reading.”

The award is given every two years to a living author who has published original works of fiction in English, or whose books are widely available in translation. The finalists and winners are chosen solely by the judges; there is no application process. 

Past winners of the prize include American novelist Philip Roth, Canadian short story writer Alice Munro, Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, and Albanian author Ismail Kadare, who won the inaugural prize in 2005. The winner of the 2013 prize, who may also choose a translator of their work to be awarded fifteen thousand pounds, will be announced on May 22 in London.

Think about an important conclusion or insight that you've had at some point in your life but that took time to fully realize. It could be anything—the need to end a relationship, the decision not to pursue a certain career, or the hard truth about a life challenge. Write an essay structured around the many moments that led you to your final conclusion or insight. Consider using headings for each section, such as The First Time I Realized X, The Second Time I Realized X, etc.

Choose two people who you know well and write a detailed character description of each one. Next, change their gender, name, and physical traits. Begin a story with both characters standing on the platform of a train station, waiting for a train.

In this ongoing series, we talk to prize recipients about the ways in which winning literary awards has affected their work and writing life, what they’ve learned from winning, and what advice they might offer to writers applying for awards.

This installment features an interview with fiction writer Daniel Alarcón, author of the short story collection War by Candlelight (Harper, 2006), which was a finalist for the PEN-Hemingway Award, and Lost City Radio (Harper, 2007), which was named a Best Novel of the Year by the San Francisco Chronicle and the Washington Post, and won the 2009 International Literature Prize given by the House of World Culture in Berlin. Alarcón received the prestigious Whiting Award for fiction in 2004, and was named one of the New Yorker’s 20 under 40 in 2010. He is the associate editor of Etiqueta Negra, a literary quarterly published in his native Lima, Peru; the founder of Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language storytelling podcast; and a contributing editor of Granta. His two forthcoming books—a novel, At Night We Walk in Circles, and a short story collection, The King Is Always Above The People—will be published by Riverhead Books in the fall of 2013 and 2014, respectively. Alarcón discusses how winning literary prizes has at times allowed him to write full-time and pay the bills, and has motivated him to keep writing.

Has winning literary prizes such as the Whiting Award changed your career? Were you able to put the prize money toward something specific, or did you make any important connections as a result of winning?

Winning prizes is nice, and yes, it has changed my career for the better, even before I realized I had “a career,” per se. The Whiting Award came before my first book had even been published, so it felt like an absurd and undeserved bit of good luck; but I can’t deny that it gave me some confidence to keep working. The piece the judges read was the opening fifty pages of my second book, Lost City Radio, and winning gave me some validation to push forward when I really had no idea what I was doing. By luck or coincidence, awards in my case have tended to come at key moments, just when I needed them to lift my spirits, to remind me that someone was reading, that someone appreciated what I was trying to do. As for the money, yeah, that helps too, but it never lasts. I’ve spent it all by now, but it kept me clothed and fed, the rent paid, at critical junctures. I feel like I should state the obvious: in many cases, this prize money isn’t extra money; it’s the only money. You might not have any other income for six months or a year. Economically, writing is a high-wire act (try getting a home loan as a self-employed novelist) and that’s not going to change unless something crazy happens. Prize money has meant the difference between having to work a real job and enjoying the luxury of writing full-time, or close to full-time. Prize money means being able to turn down teaching jobs. The money I’ve won was never used to go on vacation (I haven’t had one of those in years) or to start a restaurant or buy an Audi. I used it to pay rent and live, which sounds mundane, but there it is.

But sometimes winning isn’t everything. I first met Junot Díaz when we were both finalists for an award (which he won, naturally) and we’ve been friendly since. He’s a writer I’d always admired, and the “prize” at that point was meeting him, sharing a drink, and—crucially—beginning to think of myself as a colleague of writers of that caliber. I was a finalist for [the PEN-Hemingway Award for debut fiction] in 2006, which Yiyun Li won, and the more I’ve read of her work, the more I admire her and the prouder I am to have been a finalist alongside such a talent.

Has receiving awards, or being selected as a finalist, had an effect on the decisions you've made as a writer, or on the path you have chosen to take in your work?

No, not really. I’ve written stories, began and tossed out novels, tried my hand at narrative nonfiction, political reportage, investigative reporting, theater, graphic novels, and now radio storytelling in Spanish—and always done it according to whimsy. I do the things I like doing, and I realize this means I’m very fortunate. Maybe winning prizes has helped, I don’t know. Maybe certain editors will respond to my emails because they know they’ve heard my name somewhere, but you’d have to ask them about that.

What advice could you offer for writers looking to contests as a way to get their work into the world?

Contests have their place, and nowadays, when I serve as a judge, I try to read with the same openness, optimism, and excitement that I had when I was a younger writer, putting my work out there for the first time. I was jury member for the Aura Estrada Prize last year, and it was a real honor. I knew Aura, and there could be no better memorial for someone of her vision and potential than a prize like this one. I read those manuscripts and kept looking for something dynamic, something beautiful, something full of the same hope that is implicit in any sincere artistic pursuit. Most manuscripts didn’t pass muster, didn’t seem good enough to earn a prize with Aura’s name, but then I found it. When one voice managed to push through the clutter, it was incredibly exciting. The writer’s name was Majo Rodríguez. Look for her. That’s what prizes and contests can do. They put a writer on the map.

For more information on the work of Daniel Alarcón, visit his website at danielalarcon.com. On February 5 in New York City, Radio Ambulante will host a Benefit Evening of Latin American Storytelling featuring Alarcón, Junot Díaz, and Francisco Goldman, at 7:00 PM at the Instituto Cervantes at 211 E. 49th Street.

Choose any word from the dictionary and read its definitions. Write a poem using only the language of these definitions. Try repeating them in different combinations and using line break to create unexpected phrases. Experiment with how far you can push the limits of the language you're working with. Use the word you've chosen as the title of the poem.

PW-funded poet Camille Dungy blogs about the daily life of writers and the role Poets & Writers' Readings/Workshops program plays in that life. Dungy is a professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. She has published three collections of poetry—Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Book Prize; Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press); and What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press).

Camille DungyThus far in this blog series, I've talked about how a two-page questionnaire distributed to writers whose events are co-sponsored by Poets & Writers directly engages some of the things writers do all day: We answer questions: We worry about whether we'll find an audience willing to read our answers.

This week, I want to talk about another thing a person who calls himself a writer must regularly accomplish: The writer must find time, somehow, to write.

How does a person who wants to be a writer find the time to write? There are so many responsibilities and distractions and interruptions in this world. How on heaven's earth (Where did that phrase come from? When did heaven get to also possess earth?) does a writer stay focused on the task at hand?

The final question on the two-page, salmon-colored questionnaire distributed to all writers who are paid to participate in a P&W co-sponsored event reads as follows: What was the impact of receiving support from Poets & Writers on your experience of this event, your career as a writer, your relationship with your audience, etc?

One way I interpret this question is that it asks what it means to be paid to talk about what I write.

Short answer: It means a lot.

More elaborate answer: It means my time is valued; my craft is valued; my words are valued; my relationship with the community to whom I am speaking has a value; that a community has taken the time to write a successful grant proposal to prove their dedication to a life of letters, and this has a value. When I receive a check for speaking to a community of people about writing, it supports me as I continue to seek answers, and it encourages me to work to write those answers down for other people to read.

I am not writing out of a desire to make loads of money. If I intended to dedicate my life to financial return, I would have gone into global finance. Those folks are storytellers too. I made a choice to get my poetic license because writing is sacred. It is necessary for my survival. In the same way I have to regularly make time to exercise my lower back and core muscles so the lumbar region of my spine doesn't give out and cause indescribable pain, I have to write regularly so the questions that fill my head don't bring me grief. It is an immense comfort to know I am not talking to myself, but I would write whether there was anyone to read what I wrote or not.

Writing is the means by which I come to understand myself. Writing is the means by which I come to understand my community, my world. Perhaps you know a runner, the sort who is not herself until she has logged her miles for the day. Though she may be on a business trip in a city far from home, before she heads to her morning meetings she has already logged eight-miles and can tell all the other traveling salesmen the layout of the town where they've stopped for the night. That is who I am in relationship to the page. I am lost without it. I find time to write because it is through writing that I find myself.

The impact of receiving support from Poets & Writers is the ability to hire a babysitter, or buy better writing equipment, or purchase meals that save me time and labor in the kitchen. The impact of receiving support from Poets & Writers is the affirmation that people are reading what I write. That affirmation keeps me going, sometimes, through the long lonely hours. The impact of receiving support from Poets & Writers is that I occasionally have to the opportunity to articulate to others why on heaven's earth I care so much about writing that I want to share my love of writing with the world. The impact of receiving support from Poets & Writers is the affirmation that the time I take to write has a value.

How does a writer find time to write? She comes to believe that the time she takes to write is precious and should be treated as such. Her community can support her in this. She also has to believe in herself.

Photo: Camille Dungy.  Photo credit: Marcia Wilson/Wide Vision Photography.

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

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