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In June 2012, Matthew and Michael Dickman released Fifty American Plays (Poems) (Copper Canyon Press), a book of poem-plays about the fifty American states. Choose a state (or region or country outside of the United States) that you feel a deep connection to and write a poem about it. Give the reader a sense of the landscape and mood you associate with the place. As an additional challenge, try to convey a sense of the location without ever naming it in the poem.

As Tolstoy's axiom goes, "All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town." Freewrite for ten minutes about each of these premises, then turn one—or both—into an essay.

Write a piece of flash fiction in the style and form of a recipe. In composing the preparation steps, reveal bits of the fictional recipe-writer’s life. Try to give the reader a sense of the person behind the recipe by giving an emotional dimension to the instructions. For inspiration, read Steve Himmer’s “How to Make Potato Salad.”

P&W–sponsored poet Randall Horton writes about forming relationships with venues. Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, and the National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. A Cave Canem Fellow and member of Affrilachian Poets, Horton's lastest poetry collection Pitch Dark Anarchy will be published by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2013.

Before the publication of my first poetry collection,The Definition of Place, the idea of performing my writing never crossed my mind. I'd been active in several poetry communities, but it wasn't until the book arrived and I held it in my hands that I realized the promotion of it would be a task to which I was not accustomed. It was the early grant support Poets & Writers gave me to go out and read my work that enabled me to introduce myself to a larger and varied audience—and to nurture relationships—especially on the East Coast, which is where I am based. I think it is important that beginning poets understand that the Readings/Workshops Program at Poets & Writers can help provide these opportunities to writers.

With the help of many friends and poets, including the late Adarro Minton, Lita Hooper, and Fred Joiner, I was given a platform to reach an audience at a range of poetry venues including the Social Justice Center in Albany, the YMCA Downtown Writer's Center in Syracuse, headed by the poet Phil Memmer, The Revolving Door Series in Chicago, hosted by Jennifer Steele, the Southwest Arts Center in Atlanta, as well as the American Poetry Museum in Washington, D.C. 

I would like to think all artists pursue their art only to express their passion and creativity, but the reality is it helps to be financially compensated for the work we do. Receiving grants from Poets & Writers makes poets feel worthy, if only in small way, which in turns helps to feed our art. These opportunities also help us reach a larger audience. My advice to beginning poets is to continue to cultivate relationships with venues where you read, and make them aware that funding through Poets & Writers is available, because we all want to feel appreciated, if only for a moment.

Photo: Randall Horton.  Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths 

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.

Describe one of your earliest recollections of fear. What caused you to be afraid? What sensations—physical, mental, emotional—do you recall? How did you react? Next, describe a similar experience you've had as an adult. In what ways have your responses to fear changed since you were young? In what ways have they remained the same?

The 2012 Barthelme Prize for Short Prose sponsored by Gulf Coast magazine, is currently accepting submissions. Ander Monson, editor of the literary journal DIAGRAM and New Michigan Press, whose most recent books include Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir (Graywolf, 2010) and The Available World (Sarabande Books, 2010) will judge.

Writers may submit up to three pieces of prose poetry, flash fiction, or micro-nonfiction of 500 words or fewer, along with a $17 entry fee, via the online submission system or by mail. The deadline for submissions is September 1.

Established in 2008, the annual prize offers $1,000 and publication in Gulf Coast. Two honorable mentions will also receive publication. All entries are considered for paid publication on the website, and entrants receive a one-year subscription to Gulf Coast.

Last year's winner, selected by Sarah Manguso, was Erica Olsen for "Grand Canyon II," which can be read on the Gulf Coast website.

Gulf Coast, a journal of literary and fine arts, is housed within the University of Houston’s English department. Founded by Donald Barthelme and Phillip Lopate 1983, the student-run journal publishes original work in both its print publication—which comes out in April and October each year—and on the website.

This past April the Pulitzer Prize board rocked the literary world when it failed to select a winner for the annual fiction prize. Yesterday, novelist Michael Cunningham—a member of the 2012 fiction jury, which was responsible for selecting this year's finalists—wrote a letter on behalf of the jury for the New Yorker website, detailing his experiences as part of the jury and the repercussions of the board’s decision.

A two-part series, with the second installment appearing today, Cunningham’s letter was not so much an attempt to explain what happened (he couldn’t, really: The final decision was not up to the jury, nor did the board explain their decision) but rather an ode to the finalists, and the many other books that he and his fellow jurors spent a year reading, reviewing, and—at times painfully—eliminating.

Along with Cunningham, the two other jurors this year were Maureen Corrigan, a book critic on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and professor of English at Georgetown University, and Susan Larson, the host of “The Reading Life” on NPR. The jury, Cunningham writes, which changes every year, is charged with selecting the three finalists out of three hundred books. The finalists are then sent for vote to the Pulitzer board—which is comprised of eighteen members, primarily journalists and academics, who each serve a three-year term.

“The jury does not designate a winner, or even indicate a favorite,” Cunningham writes. “The jury provides the board with three equally ranked options. The members of the board can, if they’re unsatisfied with the three nominees, ask the jury for a fourth possibility. No such call was made.”

In part one of the series, Cunningham focuses on the often difficult and sometimes heartbreaking process that he and his fellow jurors undertook to select the finalists. In part two, subtitled “How to Define Greatness?” he delves a little deeper, pondering what it means to search for, discover, and dismiss great new fiction.

In the end, the finalists included three novels: Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Karen Russell’s debut, Swamplandia! (Knopf), and the late David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King (Little, Brown). Tracy K. Smith took the prize in poetry for her collection, Life on Mars (Graywolf), and Stephen Greenblatt won the nonfiction prize for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern (Norton).

The Pulitzer board has denied a prize in fiction nine times, most recently in 1977, and in 1974, when Gravity’s Rainbow was a finalist.

Write a story in which only five minutes pass between the beginning of the story and the end. Experiment with the ways in which you can draw out these five minutes, through interior monologue, flashbacks, switching between different points of view, and other storytelling techniques.

In her essay “The Art of Finding” originally published in American Poet in 2006, Linda Gregg advises poets to be more attuned to the physical world and to find concrete images that possess a special vibrancy. Gregg writes about how she asks her students to keep “a journal in which they must write, very briefly, six things they have seen each day—not beautiful or remarkable things, just things.” Try this exercise for one week, and at the end of the week, use two images from your journal in a poem.

P&W–sponsored poets Mary Fitzpatrick and Judith Pacht were among the writers who performed June 3 at Lummis Day, an annual festival celebrating journalist and activist Charles Fletcher Lummis and Northeast Los Angeles. P&W intern David Chun reports.

Held on the lawn of the historic Lummis Home, El Alisal, the Sunday morning poetry reading at the Seventh Annual Lummis Day drew a friendly audience of families, students, and seniors from diverse backgrounds. A jazz duo set a peaceful counterpoint to the stream of traffic on the 110 freeway rushing by behind the property’s sycamores.  

Chumash storyteller Ted Garcia opened the reading with a traditional blessing, thanking the Creator for our safe travels, our elders, our children, and all that we have. The poetry program included Suzanne Lummis (Charles Fletcher Lummis’s granddaughter), Mary Fitzpatrick, Judith Pacht, Jeremy Radin, and Hector Tobar. All are Angelenos whose work confronts human responsibility in the environment, an issue close to Charles Lummis’s heart. But the diversity in the writers’ styles was a true celebration of Los Angeles literary culture.

Any audience members expecting banal praises of California sunshine had their eyes opened when Suzanne Lummis kicked off the reading with “Gone Baby,” a poem which she described as a fairy tale for the children of the economic collapse. The poem worked as both a eulogy for the golden age of economic prosperity in America, and a prayer of hope for recovery.

Mary Fitzpatrick elegantly flipped from ironic meditations on the innocence of young love to a scathing review of the social masks so normal to Angeleno life. Her poem “Pompeii” concluded with a question: Is our culture evolving, or are we as trapped in artifice as the civilization of Pompeii after the historic volcano eruption encased it in stone?

Judith Pacht’s reading whisked the audience away on a dizzying tour of desert life, then zoomed in on an asphalt parking lot built among the ancient sands “like a buckled mirror [that] twists and distorts.”
A highlight of the morning was a surprise reading from poet Jeremy Radin (filling in for Ilya Kaminsky). His poems “Off Switch” and “Slowdance With Sasquatch” navigated the subjects of parenting and beauty with humor and dark tinges. The audience laughed, contemplated, and applauded. He closed with “The Last Invitation, September 5, 1895,” a piece adapted from historical correspondence between President Teddy Roosevelt and a pig farmer whose stock was so often killed off by bears that he arranged annual bear hunts with the president to get revenge. The farmer pleaded: “bears don’t die like other animals. When the knife bites / into their pulse, you can see them understand.” By the conclusion of the poem, the speaker is wary of the country’s mad rush for private property and subsequent disregard for nature.

Hector Tobar’s excerpt from his novel The Barbarian Nurseries delighted the audience with its meditation on the funny and often painful differences between Mexican and American views on everything from party etiquette to the homeless. 

Suzanne Lummis closed the reading with a heartfelt reminder of the importance of good books in the home. Then the audience made their way across the arroyo, where they enjoyed the live local music and fresh food.  

Photo: Mary Fitzpatrick reads at El Alisal. Credit: Eliot Sekuler.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

New Millennium Writings has extended its Summer Contest deadline to July 31. A prize of $1,000 and publication both in print and online will be given for a poem, a short story, a short-short story, and an essay.

To enter, submit up to three poems (not to exceed five pages), a short story or essay of up to 6,000 words, or a short-short story of up to 1,000 words, along with a $17 entry fee by August 31. Winners will be published in the 2013 issue of New Millennium Writings and on the NMW website. Twenty poetry finalists will also receive publication. David Madden, William Pitt Root, and Don Williams will judge.

The New Millennium Awards are offered twice yearly. The most recent winners, whose work will also be included in the 2013 issue, include Charles Fishman of East Patchogue, New York, who won the Poetry Prize for “Lament for Federico García Lorca;” J. L. Schneider of Ellenville, New York, who won the Short-Short Fiction Prize for “Salvation;” and Elizabeth Heineman of Iowa City, who won the Nonfiction Prize for “Still Life with Baby.”

A selection of work from previous winners is available here.

The journal’s mission is to "promote vibrant imagery, word-craft, and pure story-telling talent” by emerging writers. The magazine, which accepts general submissions in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction year-round, also features interviews and profiles of established writers such as Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, Khaled Hosseini, Cormac McCarthy, and Pamela Uschuk.

For more information on the New Millennium Awards, visit www.newmillenniumwritings.com.

Write a story in which the central relationship is between a human and a machine. The machine can be a common household item, such as a toaster, or something imagined and altogether more sinister.

Write a poem that begins with a description of a photograph you have in your possession. Delve into the memories evoked by the photograph, or reveal what personal significance the photograph has for you. For inspiration, read Natasha Trethewey’s “History Lesson.”

Philadelphia’s Pew Center for Arts & Heritage has announced the recipients of the 2012 Pew Fellowships in the Arts. Thirteen artists from the Philadelphia area, including two poets, will each receive a $60,000 grant.

Poets Catie Rosemurgy and Kevin Varrone, both of Philadelphia, have been awarded the fellowships in the literature category. The “no strings attached” grants, distributed over a one- to two-year period, are given to help writers and artists advance their work. Rosemurgy is the author of two poetry collections, The Stranger Manual (2010) and My Favorite Apocalypse (2001), both published by Graywolf Press. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Alabama, and has been awarded a Rona Jaffe Award for Emerging Female Artists and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She currently teaches at the College of New Jersey in Ewing. Kevin Varrone has had chapbooks published by ixnay press and Ugly Duckling Presse. He received his MA in creative writing from Temple University, where he teaches literature and writing.

“These artists have made significant contributions to Philadelphia’s creative community and beyond,” said Pew Fellowships in the Arts director Melissa Franklin. “The fellowship will provide them with invaluable resources to further their artistic goals and achievements, and to share their work with the public.”

Established in 1991 by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Pew Fellowships are awarded annually to writers and artists at any stage of their career. The program has awarded 268 fellowships to 274 individual and collaborative artists, for a total of nearly $14 million in grants. Past fellows have included CA Conrad, Major Jackson, and Teresa Leo.

Writers and artists are nominated and invited to apply for the prestigious award. Recipients are then selected by a panel of established professionals in the fields of literary, visual, and performing arts.

For more information on the Pew Fellowships in the Arts, visit www.pcah.us.

For the month of July, P&W–supported poet and director of literary events, Randall Horton, blogs about his work with various organizations and events throughout the northeast. Horton is the recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Bea Gonzalez Poetry Award, and the National Endowment  of the Arts Fellowship in Literature. A Cave Canem Fellow and member of Affrilachian Poets, Horton's lastest poetry collection Pitch Dark Anarchy will be published by Northwestern University Press in Spring 2013.

In April 2011, during National Poetry Month, Poets & Writers funded Aquarius Press/ Willow Books to sponsor a workshop in Detroit, Michigan, at the Virgil Carr Cultural Center. The workshop participants included poets Victor Billione, Nadia Ibrashi, and Felecia Studstill, and began as an organic conversation on craft. We read from a wide range of poets, from Rachel Eliza Griffiths to Stephen Jonas to Evie Shockley. We looked at parallelisms in poems (cosmic nature versus the material world), the idea of “the definition” as a form poem, and the art of the line break, which we all concluded to be critical when fine-tuning the lyric qualities in the poem, and the poem as political mouthpiece.

I wanted to tailor each poet’s experience to suite his or her aesthetic intentions. For example:

Victor’s exercise asked: In what ways do you feel oppressed? Choose an object you own that seems to embody that oppression and/or privilege, and write a poem about it.

Nadia’s exercise asked: What communities of people do you identify with and feel you belong to? Write a poem from the voice of this collective “we,” talking about your troubles, your failings, celebrating your strengths…

…and Felecia’s exercise asked: Imagine someone who lives in another part of the world under very different economic and political circumstance. Have that person talk to you about your life in America from his or her perspective. You can also do this exercise by imagining someone else in America, but of a different class, race, and so forth.

Then they wrote. Here are excerpts from the poems created and used with their permission:

Victor: “I sleep well knowing these references are/Framed in revolution/Evolving into stories time has forgotten.”

Nadia: “Finally, we see the words,/the shape of mornings,/the secret place.”

Felecia: “Your anger is fear/you know. You know./You are as worthy of my life/As I am of yours.”

The idea of the workshop was to take writing samples from the participants and tailor each participant’s experience based on writing tendencies, likes, dislikes, and aesthetic intentions. This helped to create a multi-voiced workshop that paid close attention to the writer and ultimately asked the writer to expand beyond his or her imagination.

Photo: Randall Horton.  Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Detroit 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.

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