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Since its inception in 1970, Poets & Writers has provided fees to writers who give readings or conduct writing workshops. Each year, our Readings & Workshops program supports hundreds of writers participating in events in large cities and small towns throughout New York and California, as well as in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Seattle, New Orleans, Tucson, and Washington D.C.
In January of 1949, my husband Max and I were informed by the New York City Housing Authority that we had qualified for immediate occupancy of an apartment at 465 East 10th Street, just of Avenue D. We rejoiced at finally moving into our own home with our three-month-old baby daughter Debby. Ever since Max's discharge from the army two years before, we had occupied the living room of my parent's Upper West Side apartment (only forty blocks from where I now live) and it had been a very stressful experience.
Our rock spins, whirring into black
O but we do not fall from our rock
And oceans never spill a drop.
And houses stand still
and children sleep securely,
cuddled by the towns.
And leaves on trees do not even tremble as they might.
stand and walk
or run or ride
across the planet
that is our home.
Our slender torsos danced under the starry summer sky.
I remember the warmth of your caress, the wine of every kiss.
Pressed between the love letters of long, long ago
are the beautiful rose petals. They still glow.
Soaring as rockets trapped in ascent
reaching toward the heavens.
Anchored in earth which by a miracle
holds them tightly to her bosom.
Mighty sentinels majestically stand.
Yet neither threat nor cannon here assemble.
Silence permeates and we are entranced
while standing in the confines of the ancients.
As in a house of prayer the need arises
to softly whisper in this enchanted cathedral.
May you be here eternally, my friends,
to nurture lost souls and humble the eagles.
It was a big open space.
Despite the cool day, warm.
The walls raw pine, unfinished,
were a light mellow yellow brown.
There was one window
on the north wall.
The ceiling had a hole
in one corner,
ladder vested in it.
Bushels of apples lined
the back wall, floor to ceiling.
The aroma a reminder of
My rent is exempt from increases
I, as a senior citizen, accept this
The devil who disguises himself as
A landlord does not
Certified mail to landlord
No response from Landlord
Lawyer calls him
No response from Landlord
Letter written to him
No response from Landlord
Is it personal?
I think not
Is it greed?
Housing court here I come.
not ice cream scoop,
coming down hard
to make a hole:
I am to be a hole,
an important hole,
to base a footing
for an edifice,
a Grand Edifice,
a Grand Plan
for a construction.
I am to be
crushed with cement,
I am to be an anchor
for the cornerstone,
an anchor in dirt.
"You're the spitting image of your father," I was told, and I loved him, not her. A chip off the old block, the acorn. He took me to work with him on Saturdays at the Baker Brush Company, bought sandwiches for the sour smelling bums in Soho, before it was Soho. He took his daughter to lunch with pride; a big shot to his little shot. The spitting image of my father, I wanted to be like him, seemingly in charge, decisive, willing to spend money; attractive, a big shot who tipped his hat.
I reach into the back of my closet to take out a tailored navy bule sllk dress with a matching short jacket that is lined with a surprisingly brilliant yellow-green fabric. This was my mother's dress-up outfit. She wore it only on special occasions and looked lovely when she did. I don't know why I kept it, other than it belonged to her. I never planned to give it away nor wear it myself. It was hers and so it would remain, a kind of loving keepsake.
Behind the Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens where I live, I enjoy the view from my 10th floor window of the changing seasons.
My dreams as a teenager were abruptly shattered when, in March l939, Czechoslovakia,a small country of 15 million, was occupied by mammoth Germany. To play out “David and Goliath” was out of the question. A month later, Hitler delivered a victory speech from the Prague Castle to a huge welcoming crowd of people shouting “Heil Hitler” and “Sieg Heil”. His admirers were the German-speaking former Czechoslovak citizens who lived in the borderland, referred to as “Sudetenland”, which had been annexed to Germany six months earlier.
It was a late afternoon in June, and yet another sudden thunderstorm had just ended. The schoolyard in back of P.S. 139 was usually filled with kids, but now I was the only person there. The square-shaped schoolyard is probably about one hundred feet on each side, and the two entrances, one on each street, almost form a diagonal, the hypotenuse, they call it in geometry, that line of a triangle opposite the right angle.
Miriam, a tall, graceful, physically beautiful young sixteen-year old girl, was very attractive to her classmates. She was skillful in accenting her long lashes with mascara which made her light brown eyes startlingly lovely. She was always meticulously groomed, her skin velvety and flawless, her lips rosy and soft looking. Her nails were done regularly by her mother’s manicurist.
It all started when Rufus Hareball lost his job and moved in with us. He had been working for the International Pet Patrol agency and was the best detective in the Feline Search Patrol Unit. Pet owners no longer needed the services of I.P.P. Micro chips now locate the strays and reunite the lost with the distraught.
The year was 1976. It was a hot and humid August evening. As I climbed up the subway stairs in Downtown,there was a fine drizzle in the air. I was on my home from my job in Manhattan. As soon as I opened the door to my little efficiency apartment, my four cats and little poodle, Babette, came running to greet me. They were always so happy when I came home.
My home for twenty-two years was beautiful, warm Grenada, West Indies. I was born five years before World War two started. The war affected every one in the island as we depended on imported goods including foods, manufactured goods, textiles, which came by boats from other larger countries. The Caribbean Sea was not safe from the enemies patrolling the area.
I was born in a Bamboo Sea. That was the name of my home town because we were surrounded by bamboo wherever we went. When I was a baby, my cradle and my toys were all made of bamboo—my special little round red lantern, a box, a turtle and a rabbit. It’s true, I grew up with bamboo.
Thanks for inventing the photograph technique, so that people can take pictures of their daily lives and then remember past events that were happy or sad. A picture is a record of a family’s history and a witness to the development of the family. I would like to introduce my four pictures to you.
The telephone was put in ten years ago–the first he’d ever allowed. A great deal of energy had been spent resisting connection with the outside world when it was not of his choosing!Now, here he was, practically an invalid.His legs hardly worked now.The two elegant brass animal headed canes with which he used to play the Victorian ‘bon vivant’ were now unwieldy sticks he could hardly count on.His bent height and portly but still handsome figure had become to him a Galapagos turtle-like shell serving as protection from close encounters–even as it was
The room is so still, so quiet, that I can hear the katydids far away, through the open window. My pink and yellow blanket, with the satin trim, is smooth and tucked in all around me on my parent’s big bed. My favorite cuddly doll and my brown teddy
And that bicycle was a MONARCH. No, not the butterfly, but the Cadillac of bicycles. Even better than a Schwinn. Beautiful color—aqua blue with white pin striping. What a beauty she was.
Such a dark, sad soul
still mourning his long-dead wife
as if her death occurred yesterday.
Half-heartedly he picked up his mantle.
Lacking the courage to join her
he continues to hold himself out
as hers only.
His life is just busy work now:
his children, his church, his car and her cat.
Nothing brings him pleasure.
He awakes each morning to meaningless days.
Till death do us part, but he really
didn’t mean it.
In my favorite comic strip, there is a bird in a tree and a cat in the grass below. Spring has arrived, it’s a glorious day, and the bird starts singing. I know this because musical notes are in the balloon pointing to its beak. The cat looks around and then looks up at the bird. And then the cat starts singing the same song! I feel their joy and want to be transported to their little world on the comic page of my newspaper.
I loved Miss Miller. I was sure that she was the best teacher ever. I was barely five years old and in the first grade--the youngest student in the class. We were learning how to read and to write and how to hold our pencils properly to write clearly. There was a small library of books in the back of the classroom. And Miss Miller would choose a different book each day and read it to us. I just
Looking at my image in the mirror today,
me thought it reflected a touch of decay.
Wrinkled skin and thinning hair turned grey
indicated the end was on display.
A thought suddenly came my way:
look not upon yourself with dismay;
remember you are but an imperfect popinjay
modeled from eternal heavenly clay.
I was first introduced to the library at the age of ten. I would pass it on my way to school and was itching to go in. One day I gathered up enough courage to do just that. Oh, what a treat. I walked up to the librarian and asked if I could look around. She was a real peach and took me over to the fairytale books and picked out a book by Hans Christian Anderson for me. I sat down and opened the book and the words came alive for me. I read and read, often looking up at the clock on the wall so I would not come home late.
Tree burst! Tree burst!
Shards of tree and mortar shell
Whistling down piercing
Helmets and brains
Tree burst! Tree burst!
No leaves raining down
Only sharp cutting killing
Like scythes from heaven
The line is drawn.
The division is sure.
The divergence is marked.
Hope, that sad shadow, glances,
for a moment,
at the tiny green leaves
on the tiny green bushes
that grow on the sides of the path
on which the line is drawn.
In the distance,
a rumbling sound.
a charging through fog and dust.
I see ... yes ... I see ....
The sky is streaked with light, giving everything a luminous glow. Singing, chirping coming alive with warmth, another morning.
You wear your elegant final shades of mustard, amber and curry like Easter bonnets.
“Notice me,” you say, “since I’ll go elsewhere until spring and then return as chartreuse.”
I do notice.
Lunch bell rang and we ran down the stairs
past the plaster
past the cloister door
home to our railroad flats.
Mine was three flights up
my father was home from work
and snoring by now
after two highballs and a long night
Sy and I had been living together for about a year. Our relationship was good and there were no obstacles. We decided to get married. I chose a day in August when my best friend would be in New York from San Francisco and I wanted her at my wedding.
Sy and I looked at several places and chose a lovely restaurant on East 61Street. There was a covered tent over the garden in the rear where 75-80 people could be comfortable during the ceremony and with the restaurant in front for lunch.
As I am looking at my mother’s picture some sixty years after she died, at the age of fifty-nine, I realize how little thought I gave to the kind of person she really was when I was much younger. One of my earliest memories of her takes me back to the tiny village of Lichenroth, Germany, where I was born. She was sitting by the window sewing,watching us children playing outside. I believe that her silent presence conveyed a sense of well being and security in us that can never be lost.
Walking across the hill with my dog
in a delightfully, leisurely stroll.
The sun is bright and warm with wild
flowers that flavor the air.
My dog Jerry and I are anxious to reach
our favorite spot at the top of the Falls.
A great place to play is on the falls.
Across the top of the hill with my dog
to Buttermilk Falls is a mile reach.
Two levels below is a creek; a stroll;
keeping us comfortable with a cool moist air,
the water in the Owego Creek is not wild.
Jerry and I enjoy swimming in water that isn’t wild.
Our walk is to continue to the top of the falls
God, I don’t know why my questions go unanswered.
I love this child You’ve given me.
But I don’t know how to cope with the
Reactions from well-meaning friends
are sometimes hurtful.
Through their eyes they see,
If they could only see
through Your eyes
of divine love and mercy,
I was twelve years, old the baby in the family. Lilly and Theresa, my big sisters, nineteen and twenty-one were always out with their friends, so I went everywhere with Poppa and Momma. I usually made a fuss, but one look from Momma—boy, did she have a look when she was angry—and I shut up.
I opened the windows as I do every morning when I get up to look out upon a bright sun filled day. The colors of the ocean are never the same. Sometimes they are deep blue, sometimes aqua marine (my favorite color) and at other times a line of purple just across the horizon. The ocean on occasion, dredges up forest green seaweed from its hidden floor, darkening the water that noisily hits the beach head. The white caps that roll across the shore vary in size and strength depending on how rough the surf is going to be on any given day.
Seat belts are life savers in this day and age. Age being the operative word was the real challenge in this endeavor. It appeared to be a simple outing on this family reunion picnic. My daughter, Janette, who was eighteen at the time, volunteered to help me out driving my mother, age ninety, and my two cousins ages eighty five and eighty on this beautiful June day.
Well, they asked brightly,
feigning interest politely,
“So, how are you… really?”
And my bowtox smile belied
the voice inside
which wanted to scream
and shout and yell
and really tell.
“Well, since you want to know…. really…
It was a bright, breezy, unseasonably warm Sunday in late March when I pulled into the parking lot of Parker Institute for Rehabilitation and Nursing Care. Earlier that day, I had called Caroline to let her know I would be coming to see her again, and to find out how she was feeling.
“Terrible,” she growled. “I threw up all my breakfast this morning, and I haven’t had a thing to eat since,” she continued in that distinctive gravelly voice of hers.
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Support from P&W enabled me to travel to New Orleans with other writers from Flying House in Chicago to perform at the Rook Cafe. I connected with new writers in this culturally rich city and made lasting personal and professional relationships. This expansion of my intimate writing community is essential to my well-being as an emeging and struggling writer.
Diana Khoi Nguyen, Poet.