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Travel writer, memoirist, and novelist Mary Morris, who teaches a workshop called The Writer and the Wanderer at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, likes to send her students on field trips to light the creative torch. “I like to get my students out of the house, and a little out of their heads,” says Morris, whose most recent book is the memoir River Queen (Holt, 2007). “Go away. Listen. Eavesdrop. Find something new. Bring back a souvenir. What do you take with you? What do you leave behind? Sit outside in one place until a story comes to you.” Follow Morris's guidance: Go on a field trip of your own, and discover the wanderer within you.

Write a lyric poem titled "Ode to the Girl in the Red Shoes." Read the Poetry Foundation's definition of the ode, for more information.

P&W–supported poet and presenter of literary events Michael Cirelli, executive director of Urban Word NYC and author of Lobster with Ol' Dirty Bastard, Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Everyone Loves The Situation, blogs about Willie Perdomo's teaching style.

Last week I wrote about my journey from Poets & Writers Magazine subscriber to P&W-supported presenter of literary events. I reflected on the “power of Perdomo’s pedagogy,” which compels forty teens to cram into a small office space on a beautiful spring day to write poems. Here's why they write after a long school day...

Working with various teachers, I've come to understand what makes good teachers great. The best teachers “keep it real” with their students and, even more importantly, with themselves. Willie Perdomo is a master of this. He knows what he brings to the table, and by being an active listener, is able to identify the interests, needs, joys, and pains of his students. He meets his students where they are, then helps facilitate their growth. But how do we meet a student where they are, if we don’t acknowledge where we are? Even the “downest” teacher needs to acknowledge the inherent power dynamic of student/teacher.

I’ve seen countless teachers give up because they take things personally or feel alienated by their students. So, really, the best educators find the intersection between themselves and their students, accounting for all of the privileges, challenges, and ignorance that s/he may have. To do this takes constant research, an awareness of your students, and an awareness of your power/privilege. Breaking down these hierarchies, and creating educational experiences that address these experiences, not only ignites a dedication to learning in students, but also provides the platform for teachers to become more human. Willie Perdomo’s P&W-supported workshops at Urban Word NYC embody it all.

Photo: Michael Cirelli. Credit: Syreeta McFadden.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

The winners of this year's National Book Critics Circle Awards were announced last night in New York City. Among the winners was Edith Pearlman, whose fourth collection of stories, Binocular Vision: New and Selected Stories (Lookout Books), had also been nominated for the National Book Award last year, and went on to win the PEN/Malamud Award.

In poetry, Laura Kasischke won for her collection Space, In Chains (Copper Canyon Press), which recently received the first Rilke Prize from the University of North Texas. Mira Bartók won in autobiography for her memoir, The Memory Palace (Free Press).

Awards were also given in criticism, to Geoff Dyer for Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (Graywolf Press); in biography, to John Lewis Gaddis for George F. Kennan: An American Life (Penguin Press); and in general nonfiction, to Maya Jasanoff for Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World (Knopf).

Awards were also given to reviewer Kathryn Schulz, who received the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, and Roberts B. Silvers of the New York Review of Books, who won this year's Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award.

In the video below, Pearlman reads from her winning collection.

Sarah Browning, director of Split This Rock and DC Poets Against the War, blogs about the P&W–supported Split This Rock Festival in Washington, D.C.

What is a poet to do? The world seems to be exploding around us: The earth is warming at an alarming rate; the right wing attacking the basic human rights of women, LGBT people, and people of color; the rich trying to buy elections; and so many Americans and others around the world suffering from poverty, violence, and repression. How do we keep on writing our poems, telling our stories, perfecting our craft, as this madness rages around us? Split This Rock will offer answers to such questions for the more than 500 poets of all ages who will converge in Washington, D.C., this month to join with others in wrestling these questions to the ground and speak out for another world.

Split This Rock Poetry Festival: Poems of Provocation & Witness, March 22 to 25, will be the third Festival of Poems of Provocation & Witness that we've presented with Poets & Writers' support. The funds from Poets & Writers are helping us bring five of the most visionary voices of our time to the D.C. stage: Sherwin Bitsui, Douglas Kearney, Rachel McKibbens, Jose Padua, and Minnie Bruce Pratt. Other stellar citizen-poets include Homero Aridjis, Kathy Engel, Carlos Andrés Gómez, Khaled Mattawa, Marilyn Nelson, Naomi Shihab Nye, Kim Roberts, Sonia Sanchez, Venus Thrash, and Alice Walker. And, as this will be the tenth anniversary of June Jordan's death, the festival will celebrate and honor the life and legacy of this poet-essayist-activist and teacher.

Panels presented during the festival will address the ways in which “poets (like June Jordan) have been at the forefront of many liberation struggles in the Americas and how poetry has sustained others in their pursuit of social justice.”

White poets who write about race will invite attendees to think about the legacy of slavery and genocide in our country and the ways this history plays out today. Educators will consider strategies for teaching the great diversity of American poetry. And, poets who are organizers for environmental justice will ask, “Who will speak for the river?”

At Split This Rock, we encourage participants to have the difficult discussions they might not have elsewhere and to step outside their self-identified group(s) to attend a reading, workshop, or discussion that might be new to them.  We must talk to one another and read one another's work—across our differences—if we are to figure our way out of the many messes we find ourselves in as a nation.

Friday, March 23, at 4:30 PM, we’ll head to the Supreme Court to use our art form—poetry—to demand that the very rich stop hijacking our national conversation. Money is not speech, the poets will declare in a group poem, created spontaneously on the spot. Poetry is speech!  Please join us!

Photo: Sarah Browning.  Credit: Jill Brazel.

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.

In her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost (Viking, 2005), Rebecca Solnit discusses the importance of allowing yourself to get lost—both in life and in writing—in order to become more fully conscious. The art of getting lost, she says, "is not one of forgetting but letting go. And when everything else is gone, you can be rich in loss." Write about a time when you got lost—physically, emotionally, spiritually, or otherwise—and how getting lost, and perhaps embracing that loss, resulted in something new being found.

Fill in the generalities with details and use the following to begin a scene for a story: CHARACTER NAME sits at his/her desk in his/her office above Guiliani's Pizza on STREET NAME in CITY NAME. He/she leans down and removes his/her shoes, placing them neatly by the bookcase, then picks up the phone.

During the next week collect images, photographs, small objects, lines of poetry that you've written, passages from other writers' work, snippets of conversations you overhear. Throughout the week put these things in a shoe box or something similar. At the end of the week, sit down and lay out each thing around you. Use the things you've collected as the ingredients for a poem.

The Believer, the monthly whose mission, in part, is to "focus on writers and books we like," has named its finalists for the 2011 Believer Book Award for fiction. Of the five books selected by the magazine's editors as the "strongest and most underappreciated of the year," four are published by small, independent presses.

The shortlisted titles are Jesse Ball's third novel, The Curfew (Vintage), which the Believer's editors describe as "a tortuous snake of a story" that winds up resembling "an ouroboros swallowing its own tail"; Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt (New Directions), a novel "preoccupied with the question of what genius looks like"; Lars Iyer's novel debut, Spurious (Melville House), whose pleasures are evocative of Beckett; Widow (Bellevue Literary Press), the first short story collection from novelist Michelle Latiolais, whose "narrators navigate familiar landscapes rendered nearly impassable by grief"; and Ben Lerner, who has previously published three poetry collections, for his first novel, Leaving the Atocha Station (Coffee House Press).

The winner of the Believer Book Award will be announced in the May 2012 issue. Readers' nominations for best books of 2011 will appear alongside prize announcement.

In the video below, the Center for Fiction and n+1 magazine present a dramatic reading from DeWitt's shortlisted third novel (the second segment of the two-part reading is here).

For the month of March, P&W–supported poet and presenter of literary events Michael Cirelli blogs about his history with the Readings/Workshops program. Cirelli is the executive director of Urban Word NYC, a literary arts organization for teens, and author of Lobster with Ol' Dirty Bastard, Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Everyone Loves The Situation.

When I began taking my writing seriously, realizing I wouldn’t be a professional hockey player, I replaced my subscription to Sports Illustrated, with Poets & Writers Magazine. That was in 1999, when I was wrapping up my undergraduate degree at San Francisco State University, beating (pun intended) the pulp out of my poems, trying to find a voice of my own (and maybe even cross paths with all things good that I saw in the magazine). I moved to New York City in 2003 to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at the New School, and found a small part-time position at a fairly new organization for teen poets, Urban Word NYC. Within 6 months, the founder of the organization decided to pursue her PhD full and left me with the reigns. “The reigns” in the nonprofit field ultimately boils down to finding money to do the necessary work.

For the sake of Urban Word NYC, the good work was creating safe, uncensored, and relevant spaces for teens to explore their powerful and unique voices. To create those spaces we needed great poet/educators to facilitate the work. To that end, I had gotten a little closer to the organization whose magazine landed on my Oakland doorstep over a decade ago. For years now, the Readings/Workshops program has supported Urban Word’s effort to have esteemed Harlem poet, Willie Perdomo, lead his popular workshop series (designed especially for us), Word to Everything I Love. This is not just any poet, his workshop breathes the type of radical truth-telling that his own poetry is known for.

Willie’s workshop has been a staple in our organization’s workshop series in both the fall and spring semesters, and is perennially our most attended, with upwards of forty students crammed into our space to write poetry after school. It’s remarkable math when you think of the circumstances: forty students in a cramped space come to write after being in school all day long! This is a testament to the power of Perdomo’s pedagogy, and the work of the young poets from the workshops is always representative of the innovatively powerful voices of New York City teens. Further, many of these young poets celebrate their work each spring at Barnes and Noble bookstore, as part of Poets & Writers annual intergenerational reading, Connecting Generations. I went from reading about poet/educators in Poets & Writers Magazine to P&W-supported writers leading programs for my organization!

Photo: Michael Cirelli. Credit: NIKE staff.

Support for Readings/Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Shenandoah, the literary journal published by Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, has doubled the prize purse for its second annual short short story contest—which still has no entry fee. The Bevel Summers Prize, which received over two hundred submissions in its inaugural year, now offers a five-hundred-dollar award, and the winner will also see her miniature fiction published in Shenandoah.

The judge will be fiction writer Chris Galaver, an assistant professor at Washington and Lee. Galaver is the author of the novel-in-stories School for Tricksters, published last month by Southern Methodist University Press.

Writers may submit up to three stories of no more than one thousand words each by March 31. The winner will be announced in June. For complete guidelines, visit the magazine's prize page online.

Poet Bethsheba Rem hosts the monthly Word Is Born series at the Apache Café in Atlanta. In January the R/W program supported a performance there by spoken-word artists Caroline Rothstein and Moody Black.

The Apache Café in Atlanta has been my home venue going on five years. It’s comparable to the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City, the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge in Chicago, and Da Poetry Lounge in Los Angeles, where Def Poetry procured their idea to spotlight poetry on the largest stage in the world: cable television.

Every fourth Sunday of the month, around 7 PM, a line forms in front of the Apache Café. Veteran attendees know that by 7:30, you’re likely to be holding up the bar with your back if you haven’t grabbed a seat. Late arrivers, self-imposed rock stars, and those who think they have some pull with the host trickle in around ten and miss the sign-up list. The coveted thirty slots to rock your best poem, sing your best cover, or deliver the original tune you’ve been practicing in the privacy of your bathroom with a hair brush and a Misty Mirror are gone as quickly as the chairs.

Recently, we featured Caroline Rothstein, a New York–based writer who is also an eating disorder recovery activist, and Moody Black, an award-winning slam poet who hosts his own slam and open mic in Greenville, South Carolina.

In order to receive their P&W grant, featured poets are required to conduct an hour-long “Word-Shop” in addition to their performance, a quick three-poem punch to the chest. I learned this ratio while touring in Amsterdam, where I was required to do a four-hour workshop and only a ten-minute performance. If done well, both audiences will remember you forever.

Depending on the season, I have been known to bring in pumpkins for carving, eggs for coloring, snowflakes for cutting, and flags for burning (just joking!) to get those not participating in the workshop in the mood for an artsy evening. It only takes a minor amount of instruction and a smile to get people hooked.

But nothing comes without sacrifice. The $7 admission, even with a packed house of 200-plus, couldn’t cover the cost of the venue, host, DJ, and a nationally touring featured poet. That’s where Poets & Writers swoops in to help relieve the daunting task of fundraising.

I learned about the Readings/Workshops program over four years ago, when I received a grant to perform at the Apache Café myself. The grant was small, but a P&W staff member happened to be in town and took a few minutes after the show to talk to me about how her office could help fund some of the shows I was doing in Atlanta.

Photos: (top) Caroline Rothstein; credit: Jonathan Weiskopf. (Bottom) The audience at the Apache Café; credit: Marc Jones.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.

Some details of the legacy late Polish poet Wisława Szymborska hoped to leave writers of the future were revealed yesterday at the opening of her will in Krakow. According to Michal Rusinek, Szymborska's personal secretary, the Nobel Prize-winning poet had called for the establishment of a foundation, among the tasks of which would be to facilitate the creation of a new literary prize.

The nature of the prize was not illustrated in Szymborska's will. The foundation, which will assume care of Szymborska's papers and possessions, will be responsible for determining the type of prize and to whom it might be given.

Szymborska, whose last collection, Here (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), was published in the United States in 2010, died on the first of this month at the age of eighty-eight.

The video below is an animated adaptation of Szymborska's poem "Advertisement," translated by Stanisław Barańczak and Clare Cavanaugh.

Write a list titled "The Ten Things I Will Not Think About in My Last Seconds of Life." Give yourself ten minutes to freewrite the list, then turn the list into an essay. It can be funny, serious, or strange; the points may be connected or not. The important part is to allow yourself to linger on each item in your list and let it grow into its full potential, perhaps keeping it mind for an essay of its own. For this assignment, make sure to incorporate all ten things from the list into your essay.

Write a story in which a character lives alone in a desolate environment—the woods, the desert, the mountains. Describe your character going about the day, and use that action as a backdrop for revealing the reason why he or she has chosen to retreat from the world. Then, have another character enter the scene, describing how he or she arrives. What happens next?

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