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Write a work of flash fiction, a story that contains the classic elements—a main character who faces a conflict that is resolved—but one that is only three hundred to one thousand words in length. For guidance, read David Gaffney’s advice in the Guardian or visit the literary magazine Flash Fiction Online.

Make a list of ten words by flipping randomly through any book—a dictionary, a poetry collection, a novel, an encyclopedia–and choosing a word you see on the page. Incorporate these words into a poem made up of three stanzas composed of five lines each.

PW-funded poet Thomas Lux blogs about Bill Knott's new collection Selected Poems. Lux is Bourne Professor of Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology. He has two new books out this fall—the poetry collection Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and his nonfiction debut From the Southland (Marick Press).

If you want to read the best poems by a poet who’s been struck by lightning at least twenty-two to twenty-three times, and you have $3.94 (three dollars and ninety four cents for a handsomely produced 192 pages!), order this book. The poet is Bill Knott, and the book is Selected Poems. I’ve loved Knott’s poems since I first read The Naomi Poems: Corpse and Beans, as an undergraduate in 1968. Many poems in this book I still think of as the most penetrating short lyrics of the last fifty years or so. I believe I’ve read everything he’s published since then. He’s always shifting, changing, yet always maintaining a sharp poignancy along with having an ear like a fucking angel! He plays, he dodges, and darts. Many of his poems move through me like electric eels. He’s published several books over the years—from BOA, Random House, University of Iowa Press, University of Pittsburgh Press, etc., and, most recently, in 2004, The Unsubscriber, from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Selected Poems opens with a few pages of what I’ll call anti-blurbs. They make a kind of lacerating found poem. “Bill Knott should be beaten with a flail” is one of my favorites. Nullius in verba: Don’t believe anything anyone tells you. It seems Knott’s poems piss some people off. Someone (I think S.J. Perlman) said: “What’s the point of writing if you don’t piss some people off?” Let the reader know: There are just as many positive quotes he could have used, and the prominent words that occur in those are “original” and “genius.”

Full disclosure: I know Bill Knott and saw him quite frequently—in Boston/Cambridge, Chicago, and other locales—during the ’70s and into the early ’80s. Sporadically since then. He’s also been painting for over twenty years and I have some of his artwork from the early ’90s in my house and office. We’ve been in touch recently, and he’s sent me several more paintings. They’re mostly abstract, with an occasional figurative moment, and often the ghost of a figure. I love their colors. I sense some correlation between the music/voice of his poems and the way he uses color, though I am unable to articulate that.

A small press I edited from 19701975, Barn Dream Press, published two of Knott’s early books, Nights of Naomi and Love Poems to Myself. Young poets often did that in those days (and young poets still seem to be doing it today, in print magazines, and now too with the great advantage of the Internet): you started a magazine, a small press, a reading series. The one unwritten rule then (at least to my understanding) was that you didn’t publish yourself. I reiterate: $3.94. Bill Knott, Selected Poems. One thing I remember him saying, several times: “Poetry’s an art form, it’s a craft.” Indeed it is, and he is a master of that craft. Get this book. Read the anti-blurbs first. Then decide for yourself. If you don’t find it worth $3.94, I’ll refund the money myself (if you send me the book), and I’ll refund, as well, my memories of you.

Photo: Thomas Lux

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.

Readings/ Workshops (West) assistant director Jamie FitzGerald describes a visit to the P&W–supported  EngAGE senior writing workshop taught by Hannah R. Menkin. Menkin is an educator, poet, and visual artist, who uses an integrative approach to help adults, older adults, and veterans discover their own voice through oral history, memoir, storytelling, and the creative/expressive arts.

Writing workshop membersOn November 7, 2012, the morning after Barack Obama was elected for his second term as President, my co-worker Andrew Wessels and I made the hour-long drive across the sprawl of Los Angeles, from the Westside to the Burbank Senior Artists Colony, where we met with a group of “confident,” “relieved,” “peaceful,” “hopeful” seniors (words they chose to describe how they were feeling that morning).

We were welcomed by poetry workshop facilitator Hannah Menkin, whose work with seniors and veterans P&W  has supported since 2009. The poetry workshop at the Burbank Senior Artists Colony is facilitated by EngAGE, a nonprofit organization that fosters the arts, wellness, and lifelong learning for seniors in Southern California. The group in session that morning was holding a special Poetry & Tea celebration. They were delighted to have representatives from P&W visiting them, and the all-female group referred to Andrew humorously as “the rose amongst the thorns.”

Participants spoke about why the writing workshop was valuable to them and shared a few poems. Kit Harper, who writes every day, had this to say: “I love this group. They’re like my sisters. We’re all here to dig deep.” And dig deep they do. Menkin acknowledged that as we age, we experience more losses. In her workshop, it’s understood members can freely address loss, and anything else, together in a safe, uncritical environment.

The group has enjoyed each other’s company for more than a year, and the bonds they have formed show in their easiness with one another. Dolly Brittan, originally from South Africa, attested to this: “We’ve all developed trust amongst each other. It’s a safe place. Poetry has really helped me to cope with my life.”

The most senior member, 90-year-old Karolyn Merson, said of the workshop: “I came here and just blossomed out. It ignited my life.” Later, Merson passed around her chapbook full of astute and often humorous haiku, as well as a booklet of collaged found poems culled from the pages of the Los Angeles Times.

Menkin’s teaching style encourages self-expression without criticism. She has told her group to banish the inner critic and trust in the “true voice,” which needs no revision. Still, the seniors in her workshop spoke of craft and working on poems at home in their spare time. Subtly, Menkin manages to pass on the message of daily work, craft, and revision that is foundational for any serious writer.

Menkin also recites contemporary poetry to her group. The day’s selection included an ars poetica by William Stafford and a poem by the ever-popular Billy Collins. She has her students writing from prompts—found poems, acrostic poetry, sensory-based poems, and so on.  But the mechanics of poetry are secondary to the sisterhood that has formed in the group. The love these women have for poetry is humbling and the tranformations it has clearly wrought in them renews one’s faith in the act of writing things down.

Photos: Hannah Menkin (holding flowers) with her Saturday workshop group, including the “sisters”: Kit Harper (next to Hannah), Karolyn Merson (wearing scarf), Dolly Brittan (next to Karolyn), and Felicia Soissons-Segal (far right). Found poem collage by Karolyn Merson. Credit: Jamie FitzGerald.

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

New York City-based Poets House has extended the application deadline for its second annual Emerging Poets Fellowship Program to December 10. The four-month fellowship is open to emerging poets living in the five boroughs of New York City.

Funded by the Jerome Foundation, the program includes weekly writing workshops, mentoring sessions, meetings with guest speakers, and free access to the Poets House Library in lower Manhattan. From the Poets House website: “The program aims to deepen participants’ artistic practice by offering a robust professional network of poets and literary professionals, including special visits from editors and publishers, who will assist each writer with their artistic development and career.”

Emerging poets of any age may submit the required application form, a narrative biography, a personal statement, a curriculum vitae, and a work sample by mail to Poets House, Emerging Poets Residency, 10 River Terrace, New York, NY 10282. There is no application fee, and tuition is free for all poets accepted into the program. Recipients will be announced February 1.

The 2013 fellows will meet on Tuesday evenings from March 12 to June 4, 2013. Fellows will also meet one-on-one with workshop leaders and guest faculty, including poets Jen Bervin, CAConrad, Cornelius Eady, Ben Lerner, Evie Shockley, and Jean Valentine, throughout the residency.

Founded in 1985 by the late U.S. Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz and arts administrator Elizabeth Kray, Poets House offers a variety of programs and resources—including classes, readings, lectures, exhibitions, and a 50,000-volume poetry library—to emerging and established poets in New York City. For more information on the Emerging Poets Fellowship Program, and to find an application form and complete submission guidelines, visit the Poets House website

Write a scene about a very specific experience using only sensory imagery to describe what happened. For instance, if you're writing about being in a car accident, describe the sounds of the glass shattering and the crunching metal, the smell of smoke as the airbag deploys, the feeling of your body being thrown back and forth. Try to avoid referring to the event explicitly or including any narrative buildup ("I was driving a Dodge Neon when the accident happened"). Focus instead on the moment itself, and on what you see, smell, hear, and feel in order to build the scene. 

Write a story that is a retelling of a classic myth set in contemporary times. How do the characters change? What is the effect of a contemporary setting? Does the story end the same way? For inspiration, read Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red.

 

Make a list of the ten to twenty words you rely on most often, those that make up your personal lexicon. Write a poem that incorporates these words but use them differently than you normally would or transform the words by replacing them with related ones or with their opposites. When you've finished the poem, freewrite about why you use these words so frequently. What is it about their meaning, their rhythm, and their sound that appeals to you?

American author Kevin Powers's debut novel, The Yellow Birds (Little, Brown, 2012), a fictional account of one man's experiences during the Iraq war, has received the 2012 Guardian First Book Award. Powers will receive ten thousand British pounds.

Inspired by Powers’s own experiences as a machine gunner in Iraq, The Yellow Birds takes its name from a marching song that Powers learned while serving in the army. Lisa Allardice, judging panel chair and editor of the Guardian Review, reported that Powers “utterly fulfilled the first book award criteria of promise, originality and raw talent.” Allardice was joined on a panel of judges by authors Ahdaf Soueif, Kate Summerscale, William Dalrymple, and Jeanette Winterson, and Guardian deputy editor Katharine Viner.

Powers was chosen from a shortlist that included two other debut novels, Scottish author Kerry Hudson's Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-cream Float Before He Stole My Ma (Chatto & Windus, 2012) and American novelist Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding (Little, Brown, 2011), as well as two works of nonfiction—Lindsey Hilsum's account of the Libyan revolution, Sandstorm (Penguin Press, 2012) and Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity (Random House, 2012), which won the National Book Award in nonfiction in November.

Established in 1999 by the editors of the U.K.-based Guardian, the annual First Book Award is given for a debut work of poetry, fiction, or creative nonfiction published in the previous year. Powers joins an international cast of winners that includes Siddhartha Mukherjee, who received the award last year for The Emperor of All Maladies (Fourth Estate, 2011), as well as Philip Gourevitch, Yiyun Li, Jonathan Safran Foer, Zadie Smith, and Chris Ware.

For more information about the Guardian First Book Award, visit the website. To listen to a discussion from the judges about this year's shortlist and an interview with Kevin Powers about his winning novel, check out this podcast from the Guardian

PW-funded Thomas Lux blogs about his readings at the Dodge Poetry Festival and with The Poetry Initiative in Santa Barbara, California. Lux is Bourne Professor of Poetry at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia. He has two new books out this fall—the poetry collection Child Made of Sand (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and his nonfiction debut From the Southland (Marick Press).

From October 11 to 14, about fifty other poets and I participated in the Dodge Poetry Festival in Newark, New Jersey. I’d been once before, in 2000. It’s held at the gleaming New Jersey Performing Arts Center and other venues close by. On Friday, October 12, High School Student Day, Prudential Hall was filled to capacity with 2,800 students and teachers, mostly from New Jersey and other nearby states. I did meet one couple, both teachers, who drove sixteen hours straight from Gainesville, Georgia, in a van with a bunch of their students. I feel special respect for teachers, especially public school teachers. They’re overworked, undervalued, and immensely important. The Georgia teachers were operating above and beyond the call of duty. A high school teacher once said to me after a reading at her school: “You performed a miracle.” I said: “How? Because the kids didn’t throw hockey pucks at me?” She said: “No, at one point you held the entire assembly totally silent for twenty-seven consecutive seconds.”

Well, during readings at Prudential Hall, with many poets reading, the entire audience (remember, mostly teenagers) was silent—when they weren’t cheering, applauding, laughing. Not a dead silence, not an eerie silence, but the silence of complete and rapt attention. I think it was Edward Hirsch who said: “The state of poetry would be better if every state had The Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.” May it live long. It’s held every other year (and has been since 1986), so you have time to start planning for 2014.

After a few days at home in Atlanta, my wife and I went to Santa Barbara, California, where I’d been invited to read and teach a workshop for a new community-based group called The Poetry Initiative. The reading was in El Presidio Chapel, part of a Spanish Mission that was restored to honor Santa Barbara’s heritage and history.

A terrific bonus was seeing my sweet friends, the poets Kurt Brown and Laure-Anne Bosselaar. Stanley Kunitz said somewhere: “I have a tribe, but we are scattered.” Kurt and Laure-Anne recently moved from New York City to Santa Barbara. I have known Brown since the ’70s (during our reprobate years), when he was director of the Aspen Writers Conference. I met Laure-Anne a decade or so later, when she was my student in the Warren Wilson MFA Program.

More and more, I love my friends, especially those with whom I can “trace the laughing days.” I saw many pals, old and newer, at the Dodge Festival, too. I hope it’s clear by this third blog (I hate that word by the way) that I feel there is a great deal of good poetry—many kinds, room for many kinds—being written and disseminated, spoken, throughout this country today and ditto in many others countries. For those who think: too much, too many, not good enough, etc.—relax. Time will do its work. And it’s a good time to be alive for those of the tribe. It’s an even better time to be a young poet of the tribe (which I’m not) and alive.

Photo: Thomas Lux. 

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

In October, P&W-supported poet April Naoko Heck participated in a group reading at the University of Maryland’s Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House in College Park, Maryland, to celebrate the unique residential program’s tenth anniversary. She blogs about her experience.

“All men want to sleep with supermodels,” reads one poet at the open mic. A fiction writer draws more laughs while describing characters named after A. A. Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” tales. Another poet talks about a miraculous survivor of bombings at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Yet another reader shares a poem about her father, an avid lover of music whose first purchase as a newlywed is a piano—not the proverbial marital bed.

This reading by students, alumni, and staff of the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House is the culmination of an evening of good eats, speeches, games, and door prizes to celebrate the House’s ten-year anniversary. 

Named after Katherine Anne Porter and Juan Ramon Jimenez, two writers whose literary legacies left lasting impressions upon the University of Maryland, the Writers’ House is a unique residential creative writing program. Founded in part by UMD’s Michael Collier and Laura Lauth, the program’s roughly fifty students study, write, and live under a single roof on campus in Dorchester Hall (a.k.a “Dork-chester,” the inevitable moniker). The current faculty and program director Johnna Schmidt also spend their working and teaching hours in Dorchester Hall. The result: an extraordinarily tight-knit community of students and teachers sharing a singleness of purpose and a passion for creative writing.

Jenna Brager and Vivianne SalgadoImagine a faculty office located beside the dormitory kitchen, which is next to the student TV lounge, which doubles as the reception hall following public readings by visiting authors. Classroom lessons spill over into passing conversations; the queue for the microwave turns into a discussion about Ginsberg. The House can’t help but become a vibrant community of young writers.

That they are often poring over poems and stories while clad in bunny slippers, or business suits, or soccer gear only adds to the feeling that literature is integrated effortlessly into daily life at the Writers’ House. Creative writing is as essential here as so-so cafeteria meals, raucous Terp football games, and Starbucks runs.

As a former assistant director and instructor (2004-‘07), I arrived too late for the crab rangoon and sushi, but I enjoyed a slab of red velvet cake, catching up with old students, meeting new ones, sharing my poetry, and most of all, cheering on the program’s remarkable ten-year run. The House has flourished through the toughest of economic times—a testament to the University’s commitment to educating young writers.

The day after the celebration and reading, I caught one of the last trains before Hurricane Sandy would close down New York City. As the storm approached, thoughts of the Writers House and its ongoing mission kept me warm and brightened the way.   

Photos: Top: April Naoko Heck reads (credit: Kyle Bodt). Bottom: alumna Jenna Brager (left) and Assistant Director Vivianne Salgado (credit: Kerry Gantt).

Support for Readings/Workshops events in the Washington, DC, area 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.

On Tuesday, the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) announced the recipients of the 2013 Creative Writing Fellowships. The annual grants, which are given in alternating genres, were awarded this year to poets. Each of the forty fellows will receive $25,000.

The 2013 fellows are: Jose Perez Beduya of Ithaca, New York; Miriam Bird Greenberg of Berkeley, California; Sarah Blake of Havertown, Pennsylvania; Traci Brimhall of Kalamazoo, Michigan; Jenny Browne of San Antonio, Texas; Suzanne Buffam of Chicago; Ken Chen of New York City; Maxine Chernoff of Mill Valley, California; Eduardo C. Corral of Rego Park, New York; Lisa Fay Coutley of Salt Lake City; Meg Day of Salt Lake City; Ansel Elkins of Greensboro, North Carolina; Jill Alexander Essbaum of Austin, Texas; Reginald L. Flood of Quaker Hill, Connecticut; Sarah Gorham of Prospect, Kentucky; Pamela Hart of South Salem, New York; Sy Hoahwah of Benton, Arkansas; Elizabeth Hughey of Birmingham, Alabama; Joshua Kryah of Las Vegas; Rickey Laurentiis of St. Louis, Missouri; Sarah Mangold of Edmonds, Washington; Kerrin McCadden of Plainfield, Vermont; Shane McCrae of Iowa City; Philip Metres of University Heights, Ohio; Simone Muench of Chicago; John Murillo of New York City; Jacob Rakovan of Rochester, New York; Srikanth Reddy of Chicago; Roger W. Reeves of Chicago; James Richardson of Princeton, New Jersey; Rachel Richardson of Greensboro, North Carolina; David Rigsbee of Raleigh, North Carolina; Atsuro Riley of San Francisco; Allison Seay of Midlothian, Virginia; Solmaz Sharif of Los Angeles; B. T. Shaw of Portland, Oregon; Ryan Teitman of Berkeley, California; Sarah Vap of Santa Monica, California; Jake Adam York of Denver; and Rachel Zucker of New York City. 

The NEA received 1,137 eligible fellowship applications this year, which were narrowed down to 110 finalists by a panel of 22 professionals from the literary field. Final selections are made each year by the chairman of the NEA.  

Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts has given more than four billion dollars in grants to individual artists and arts organizations in support of literary, visual, and performing arts. Tuesday’s announcement also named 832 arts organizations—including a number of independent presses, literary magazines, and universities—which will receive 2013 grants through the NEA’s Art Works program.

The application deadline for 2013 translation fellowships is January 3; the 2014 creative writing fellowships, whose deadline has not yet been set, will be given in fiction and creative nonfiction. For more information, visit the NEA website

Write about something that has been passed down through your family for generations. It can be anything from an appreciation for music to a healthy appetite, or even a political bias. Explore both the positive and negative implications, exploring how this inheritance has shaped you. 

Write down snippets of conversation that you overhear throughout the day. Choose a few compelling lines and write a story based on this dialogue, letting it direct the story line and the characters you imagine.

Take two lines you love from a poem that isn’t working. Write a new poem using one as the first line and the other as the last line. For an added perspective, try writing a second poem switching the two.

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