Readings & Workshops Blog

Memory, Lyric, and Line: Workshops for Kinship Elders

Nordette N. Adams received an MFA in poetry from the University of New Orleans. Her poetry has appeared in Rattle’s Poets Respond series, Unlikely Stories Mark V, Quaint Magazine, About Place Journal, Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse, and included in social justice curricula. Her essays have been referenced in multiple books and journals and media outlets including HuffPost, Pajiba, SheKnows, NOLA.com, Slate, Vox, and the Washington Post.

Ms. Lodonia, a white-haired senior citizen, recites from memory a poem written by her mother. Ms. Charlotte comes with verses of a Halloween poem she’s penned and a meditation on her visit to India. Ms. Mary, Mr. Lloyd, and Ms. Quencell listen to lines of a ballad. Their faces brighten as they recall their youth, and Mr. Francis, who is blind, weighs every line, every lyric he hears. When he adeptly analyzes a verse, other workshop members nod in agreement. These were the participants who sat in my Friday workshop series last October and November at the Kinship Senior Center in New Orleans—most past seventy—some struggling to recapture memories, others with memories sharp as crystal.

My goal with the workshop series, sponsored by Poets & Writers, was to engage seniors with poems I believed they could access and explore. Too often people are afraid to discuss poems much less attempt to write them, so I opened the series with a bit of fun, a type of Name That Tune music game with selections from decades the seniors were likely to remember. I told them that song lyrics are the kissing cousin of poetry. After hearing part of a song, the seniors named it and at least one artist who had covered the song. The first person to answer scored a point. Three songs later, they discerned what the songs had in common and guessed, based on the song selections, the subjects of the poems we discussed that day.

The first week, songs were narratives about fathers, the next week mothers, and by the last week, songs of political protest. Often, after a few bars, one or two seniors would start singing along, sometimes with great gusto which led to laughter and the sharing of life stories. Then I would introduce them to poems with the same themes as the song selections by both well-known and locally-known poets. Participants might observe a poem’s form or lack of form. Did they hear rhyme or feel a rhythm? What was the speaker’s attitude toward the subject, and did the poem move them? Seniors offered profound insight into darker poems as well as witty takes on lighter poems. I asked them to write a few lines of their own on the theme of the day or to try writing something in a similar style, blues for example.

I hoped to plant a seed, to help them remember a former love of verse, or to discover a new love. I believe the workshop series succeeded in sparking an appreciation for poetry in its different shades and colors. The seniors were grateful for the sessions, and I am grateful to Poets & Writers for making the workshops possible for them, and for me.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New Orleans is provided, in part, by a grant from the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others, and from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Nordette N. Adams (Credit: Nordette N. Adams). (bottom) Workshop participants with Nordette N. Adams.

Latinx Poetry Series at Bronx Community College

Vincent Toro’s debut poetry collection, STEREO.ISLAND.MOSAIC. (Ahsahta Press, 2016), was awarded the Poetry Society of America’s Norma Farber First Book Award and the Sawtooth Poetry Prize. He is a Poets House Emerging Poets Fellow, a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Poetry, and winner of the Caribbean Writer’s Cecile de Jongh Literary Prize and Repertorio Español’s Nuestras Voces National Playwriting award. Toro is a professor at Bronx Community College, a contributing editor at Kweli Journal, a writing liaison for the Cooper Union’s Saturday Program, and participates in school programs for DreamYard and the Dodge Poetry Foundation.

When Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta and I started the Latinx Poetry Reading Series at Bronx Community College (BCC) back in 2016, our intention was to provide the students in our Latino Literature classes the opportunity to have direct contact with some of the writers they were studying. What began simply as a means of adding dimension to our curriculums quickly became so much more.

Ninety-six percent of the students at BCC are students of color. Sixty-three percent of that population is Latinx. A great many of these students are first or second generation immigrants. In contrast, the majority of the faculty is white, and outside of the Latino Literature classes, Latinx authors and texts are grossly underrepresented on class reading lists. This makes the school’s Latino Literature classes one of the few places in which they can find themselves, their own cultures and histories, represented in the curriculum.

The lack of access to writing by, for, and about Latinx people extends itself beyond the campus and into the Bronx. As of 2016 (when Barnes & Noble in Co-op City closed its doors), the Bronx, a territory with 1.5 million residents, has exactly zero bookstores. Even our college lacks a physical campus bookstore (it was closed during the 2017-2018 school year). The message to the students, and to the Bronx community at large, is that literature—both that which reflects their experience and any other kind—should not be considered important in their lives.

Nevertheless, our students cannot contain their excitement when they begin reading Latinx texts in their classes. In all my years as an educator, the Latino Literature classes at BCC are the only classes where the students regularly do not want to leave when time is up. Students who formerly claimed to never read anything that wasn’t assigned in a class suddenly ask me for further reading suggestions.

This enthusiasm is only amplified when we get them in a room with Latinx poets. At each of the BCC Latinx Poetry Series readings, I survey the audience to see how many of them are attending a poetry reading for the first time. As it stands, about ninety percent had never experienced a live poetry reading. Yet during these readings and the Q&A sessions that follow, they’re riveted. They keep the poets there long after the reading is over to take pictures with them, get books signed, and ask more questions. This year, after an hour, I had to drag the poets away from students so they could catch their train. Many students have asked where they can find more poetry readings afterwards.

Clearly, there is a need for these kinds of literary and cultural events at the school and in the Bronx. But because BCC has an underserved population of people of color in an underserved borough of people of color, there are no resources to support these events. It is only with the assistance of Poets & Writers that we are able to provide compensation for our guest poets. Now in its third year, the BCC Latinx Poetry Series has hosted some of the most exciting and important Latinx poets currently working in the United States. We have been visited by Darrel Alejandro Holnes, Nancy Mendez Booth, Rosebud Ben-Oni, Bonafide Rojas, Raquel Salas Rivera, Roberto Carlos Garcia, and BCC’s own Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta, who is a widely published author, associate professor in the English Department, and coorganizer of the reading series.

We are already in the early planning stages for next year’s reading. It is our hope that the series will be around for many years to come and that over time its audience will build, drawing in more members of the college and the public while helping to fulfill the need for greater support of Latinx literature in the Bronx and beyond.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Vincent Toro (Credit: David Flores). (bottom) BCC students with Vincent Toro, Dr. Grisel Y. Acosta, and guest poets Raquel Salas Rivera and Roberto Carlos Garcia .

If We Just Listen, We Can All Hear Ghosts

For over a decade, Poets & Writers has cosponsored creative writing workshops at Hillsides Education Center, a therapeutic residential and day school that offers individualized education for students with social-emotional, learning, and/or behavior challenges in Pasadena, California. Last fall, poet Douglas Manuel returned to Hillsides for a second time to work with teens. Manuel is currently a Middleton and Dornsife Fellow at the University of Southern California where he is pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. He has served as the poetry editor for Gold Line Press, as well as one of the managing editors of Ricochet Editions. His poems have been featured on Poetry Foundation's website and have appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry Northwest, the Los Angeles Review, Superstition Review, Rhino, North American Review, the Chattahoochee Review, New Orleans Review, Crab Creek Review, and elsewhere. His first poetry collection, Testify (Red Hen Press, 2017), won the 2017 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for poetry. Below, Manuel reflects on his experience with one student who he calls C.

C is at least a full head taller than I am. His cropped blond hair looks even more yellow under the fluorescent lights of the library. I’ve mispronounced the word “thaumaturgic” while reading the class our example poem “canvas and mirror” by Evie Shockley. As soon as the word incorrectly leaves my mouth, C nearly yells to correct me and pronounce the word correctly. I thank him and keep it moving, trying not to smile and steal peeks at C following diligently along as we continue through the poem.

C is in the eleventh grade and is autistic. I’ve been told that he would rather come to my P&W–supported creative writing class than go to his other classes, so each week he comes to both of the Wednesday late morning sessions. Each time he returns for the second session he loudly greets me, and we shake up. All of the students at Hillsides mean so much to me, but I must admit that C is perhaps my favorite. Right now, as I think of his voice, my lips slip into a smile.

My last day with the students was on Halloween. I brought three Halloween poems for the students to imitate: William Shakespeare’s “Song of the Witches: ‘Double, double toil and trouble,’” Carl Sandburg’s “Theme in Yellow,” and Kiki Petrosino’s “Ghosts.” After reading through these poems together, I told the students to choose one poem to imitate. C chose “Ghosts” and asked if I would help him. So, I asked him what kind of ghosts haunt him. I told him that sometimes my dead mother stalks me and visits me when I need her. I asked him if he has any ghosts like that around. He began to tell me about how his favorite YouTube star McSkillet died, and revealed to me that sometimes McSkillet speaks to him in his dreams, and tells him it’s all right to be autistic and don’t mind when people make fun of him. I told C that everything he just told me would be perfect for a poem. He then looked directly at me and quickly began writing.

Every week, in both of the sessions he attends, C tries my assignments and writes. He usually writes very short poems, so in the second session on Halloween, I challenged C to write a poem that filled a full page in his small notebook, which has the character Dory from Finding Nemo on its cover. C gladly accepted my challenge and began scribbling. I watched him as I walked around the room to help other students with the assignment. All of the focus in his body was applied to this assignment. He never looked up from his journal. I had never seen him write for this long without talking to me or other students.

At the end of the class, C shared his McSkillet poem. When he was finished, the whole class was silent because C had never written about anything so serious before, had never been so honest before, or shown how self-aware he was before. He had never revealed how much he hated being labeled autistic, or told the class how much he hated it when people made fun of him.

All of the students at Hillsides mean so much to me, but I must admit that C is perhaps my favorite.

Support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Douglas Manuel (Credit: Stephanie Araiza). (bottom) Hillsides librarian Sherri Ginsberg with Douglas Manuel (Credit: Jamie FitzGerald).

Dominican Writers Association Presents Julian Randall and Gabriel Ramirez

Mariela Regalado is a relambia who loves to tell stories, specifically about her experiences as a Dominican American growing up between New York and Santiago, Dominican Republic. As director of college counseling at Brooklyn’s Juan Morel Campos Secondary School, she was named Hometown Hero in Education by the Daily News for her work with students in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Her writing has appeared in Remezcla, Fierce, La Galería Magazine, Harvard Latinx Law Review, St. Sucia, the Manhattan Times, and the Bronx Free Press.

On December 20 the Dominican Writers Association, with support from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program, hosted a crucial conversation centered on the idea that there are missing voices from the literary canon that deserve to be amplified. The decision to host the event at Word Up Community Bookshop, a multilingual, nonprofit community bookstore run by volunteers in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, was an easy one as they share many of the same values as the Dominican Writers Association, an organization created and run by writers of Dominican heritage in New York City that aims to support and foster the development of creative writers.

Writer and teacher JP Infante, who hosts a regular series at Word Up, led the conversation between poets Julian Randall and Gabriel Ramirez. The chairs were set up in a semicircle and the two guests sat in the center. Infante opened the conversation by introducing Julian Randall, a living queer Afro-Dominican poet from Chicago and MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Mississippi.

Randall’s debut poetry collection, Refuse (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2018), won the 2017 Cave Canem Poetry Prize. While browsing the shelves of new and used books before the event, I spoke briefly to Randall, who was wearing a burgundy T-shirt with white bold letters that spelled out the word REPARATIONS. I asked what reparations meant to him and he replied: “It means to me, a redress of grievances, a possibility for a new beginning.... There are certain ways in which we’ve been deprived; even of the ability to begin narratives where we would like to begin them. It means the ability to revise history.”

Gabriel Ramirez is a queer Afro-Latinx poet, activist, youth mentor at Urban Word NYC, and MFA candidate in poetry at the University of Mississippi. The first question of the night was: “What is a poet? What is the function of a poet?” Ramirez replied: “What isn’t a poet? What is it to be a breathing archive?” Ramirez’s work is moving and inspiring with intergenerational moments weaved carefully into his writing. His outfit that evening, a black-and-white checkered suit belonging to his late grandfather adorned with gold accessories that were made in the Dominican Republic, also paid homage to his roots.

The intimate conversation between these poets was shared with a kind audience who embraced them like family. There was a shared connection and a feeling of being seen, validated through the words of poets and writers who demonstrated through their stories and pieces that we are not alone.

Attendees were able to chime in during the conversation and asked for clarification in the answers given by Randall and Ramirez, and some were even comfortable enough to share their own anecdotes. I was filled with solid encouragement that there is a space for Latinx writers. To close the event, both Randall and Ramirez delighted us with a reading of their respective works, bringing to life the challenges and struggles they have both experienced as queer Latinx writers.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Mariela Regalado (Credit: NYC Toledo). (bottom) Julian Randall and Gabriel Ramirez with JP Infante (Credit: NYC Toledo).

2018 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Winner in Poetry: The Literary Community

Anushah Jiwani graduated summa cum laude from Hendrix College with a BA in English–Creative Writing and International Relations. She is the 2018 recipient of the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award (WEX) for poetry sponsored by Poets & Writers. She took honors in the 2017 Southern Literary Festival Competition and won third place in the statewide 2017 Jeannie Dolan Carter Collegiate Poetry Contest sponsored by the Poets’ Roundtable of Arkansas. Jiwani also won the Fourth Annual Short Fiction Contest sponsored by the Hemingway-Pfeiffer Museum and Educational Center in 2017. Much of her writing centers on the duality of her Pakistani American identity and aims to provide a space for the immigrant voice.

In May of 2018, I found out that I was the recipient of Poets & Writers’ Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry. In addition to a generous honorarium and a reading, Joshua Idaszak, the winner for fiction, and I would get the chance to meet with editors, authors, and publishers in New York City. Bonnie Rose Marcus worked tirelessly to arrange meetings, and welcomed us with open arms in November.

What I learned: editors, publishers, literary agents—they’re all just ordinary people. They want to know about you, and it’s as easy as one simple conversation. This prize creates the opportunity for that conversation to happen, with generous support from the team at Poets & Writers.

Through these conversations, many things became clear: internal relationships mattered, there would be little money in poetry, literary agents wanted novels over short stories, small presses are dedicated to their authors, and within all this business, community around writing was a precious thing.

Among others, I chose to meet with Paolo Javier, who works tirelessly to create community and accessibility around writing at Poets House, and Sarah Gambito, cofounder of Kundiman, who is seeking holistic points of entry and multidisciplinary forms for audience engagement.

These poets have been motivated by lack of opportunity or equity in the writing world, and are trying to create honest spaces for established and growing writers. We talked about embracing rejections, finding the right MFA programs, expanding community programs, the discipline required for publishing one’s work, and our love for literature.

As a writer, I learned an incredible amount about the inner workings of the literary world through this trip. But what was more significant, personally, was being able to connect with other writers of color who shared their experiences about navigating and succeeding in this sphere.

The Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors.

Photo: (left to right) Joshua Idaszak, 2018 WEX poetry judge Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, Anushah Jiwani, R&W (east) director Bonnie Rose Marcus, R&W fellow Arriel Vinson, and R&W program assistant Ricardo Hernandez (Credit: Christian Rodriguez).

Writing in Community

Jim Hornsby Moreno is a Vietnam veteran and an adopted member of the Smuwich Chumash tribe. He is the author of Dancing in Dissent: Poetry for Activism (Dolphin Calling Press, 2007), and two CDs of poetry and music: reversing the erased: exhuming the expunged (Dolphin Calling Press, 2016) and A Question From Love (Dolphin Calling Press, 2017). His poems have appeared in Tidepools, Magee Park Poets Anthology, the San Diego Poetry Annual, and others. Hornsby Moreno is a teaching artist with San Diego Writers, Ink, and on the advisory board of the Poetic Medicine Institute in Palo Alto, California.

On November 18 I facilitated a workshop at San Diego Writers, Ink called Gems of 10 Imagists: Masterpiece Poems of Imagism. The course description began with a quote from Wallace Stevens: In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all. This quote captures the essence of how I teach: Write from your heart. Don’t let your editor write your poem. Let your poet write the poem. Then, as many have said, turn it over to your (internal) editor so the craft can begin.

My workshops are not critique classes. I go out of my way in my course descriptions to make that point. I also point out that if you are looking for an audience for your poems, my workshops are not for you. I teach poetry as discovery, as Joy Harjo often describes her writing process. Or as Julia Alvarez wrote: I write to find out what I am thinking. I write to find out who I am. I write to understand things.

After one of my classes in San Diego’s Juvenile Hall I sent Joy one of my student’s poems. I had read “She Had Some Horses” in class, Joy’s poem from her book of the same name. The young woman had written a poem from her heart, obviously influenced by the Muscogee poet. Joy sent me a box of books and CDs with a short note thanking me for the poem. She also encouraged me to continue teaching. A nice prompt from a master prompter.

My workshops involve a lot of research. In the five years I lived on the Pala Reservation, I saw the differences and the similarities of tribes that were just a few miles down the highway from each other in San Diego’s North County. From that experience, my workshops have two parts. The first part exposed students to the poetry of e .e. cummings, Amy Lawrence Lowell, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and the founder of the Imagist movement T. E. Hulme, among others.

The second part of the workshop focused on poets from other genres, cultures, and generations that resonated with the poems of the Imagists: Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Octavio Paz, Lawrence Raab, Sonia Sanchez, and William E. Stafford. A three-hour workshop takes two to three weeks of research and is a labor of love finding the bridges that unite poets and people.

Writing in community is different than writing in solitude. When you find a safe space with an instructor that invites you to grow as a writer, your writing will take off because of the consciousness in the room and your innate talent as a storyteller, waiting for you to take on the blank page. Write from your heart and listen to your muse.

Support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Jim Hornsby Moreno (Credit: Jack Foster Mancilla)

2018 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Winner in Fiction: Timeline

Joshua Idaszak is the winner of Poets & Writers’ 2018 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award (WEX) for fiction. His stories have appeared in Ploughshares, the Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. His fiction has won Boulevard magazine’s 2015 Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers, was a finalist for the 2015 Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award, and has been listed as distinguished by Best American Mystery Stories 2017. Idaszak received an MFA from the University of Arkansas, and has received support from the Fulbright Program and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He lives in Massachusetts and is at work on a story collection and a novel.

It was a misty, cool morning in May when I heard from Bonnie Rose Marcus that I had won the 2018 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for fiction. I had just emerged from two days on the Lost Coast Trail and was standing in a small beachside parking lot in Shelter Cove, California, a town made famous (to me, at least) by the opening of Denis Johnson’s novel Already Dead. I had just completed my MFA from the University of Arkansas after four years in Fayetteville, teaching, studying, and writing fiction. I was in the midst of determining what came next—for my writing, for my life—when I listened to Bonnie’s voicemail.

Manhattan is not Shelter Cove. In place of redwoods were skyscrapers, and we were ascending them. Bonnie, director of Readings & Workshops (East) and the Writers Exchange, was our fearless leader. She shepherded Anushah Jiwani, the winner for poetry, and me around Manhattan for four days of meetings with agents and editors and poets and publishers.

At Penguin, we met Lee Boudreaux and asked about editing Ben Fountain’s fiction. At Ecco, Megan Lynch talked about Deborah Eisenberg’s short story collection Your Duck Is My Duck, and how a book and its cover come together. Jonathan Galassi of FSG recalled his time studying poetry under Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. I had carried poet Charles Wright’s Negative Blue during my Lost Coast walk, and I was excited to hear that FSG would be publishing Oblivion Banjo, a compendium of his work, next spring. Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, this year’s poetry judge for WEX, helped us celebrate at a wonderful dinner with our families after our Sunday reading at McNally Jackson in Soho.

Writing is solitary work. The drafting and revision often happen in quiet rooms, often alone. It can feel, sometimes, like we’re plucking the strings of our very own oblivion banjo. It was a joy to step outside of that: to sit across from Brigid Hughes and hear about her work to create space and time for writers through the fellowships and residencies of A Public Space, to hear Emily Nemens speak about her plans for the Paris Review, or to discuss possibilities for invigorating public readings with Sarah Gambito.

The trip was a reminder (or rather a series of reminders) that there are so many of us engaged in this calling. That we love books, love reading, love watching people and thoughts rise in language. And ultimately, that our work is vital, and always ongoing.

The Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award is generously supported by Maureen Egen, a member of the Poets & Writers Board of Directors.

Photo: Joshua Idaszak, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, and Anushah Jiwani (Credit: Christian Rodriguez).

Pine Reads Review Invites Dhonielle Clayton to Tucson

Christy Duprey is a graphic artist, and a staff writer and podcast producer for Pine Reads Review, an online publication for young adult literature showcasing new and established writers. She has also interned with Sonora Review and volunteered at the Champlain College Young Writers’ Conference. Currently a senior at the University of Arizona, Duprey created the podcast Pine Reads Pod Reviews, which invites their interns, and guest hosts, to review the best and latest young adult literature.

On September 27, author Dhonielle Clayton—cofounder of Cake Literary, a literary development company, and the chief operating officer of the nonprofit We Need Diverse Books—made quite the splash in the Sonoran Desert of Tucson, Arizona. Clayton, whose novel The Belles (Freeform, 2018) was recently recommended for the 2019 CILIP Carnegie Medal, came to Tucson at the invitation of Pine Reads Review and with the support of a grant from Poets & Writers’ Reading & Workshops program. She was able to organize two events at the University of Arizona, highlighting her accomplishments both as an author and an advocate for increasing diversity in children’s and young adult literature.

The evening event featured Clayton speaking about her journey into the literary world, focusing in particular on her mission to tell underrepresented stories. After an introduction from Pine Reads Review’s director Stephanie Pearmain, Clayton began by saying, “you can’t be what you can’t see,” pointing out that too few kids and teens see their own lives on the page. Not just lives centered around systemic struggles of race, sexuality, or disability, but lives that are about having fun. There are a great many stories out there of Black children facing down the horrors of slavery or civil rights abuses, she reminded the audience, but shockingly few about Black children discovering a magical land or going on a secret quest. When asked why her writing and the work published by her book developing company tend to skew more towards delightful adventure than inherited cultural pain, her answer was simple: “I want to create books that are just about kids doing fun stuff, and not dealing with drama.”

The evening talk attracted members of the community ranging from teenage fans to teachers and librarians, as well as local writers hoping for insight into the publishing industry.

In addition, Clayton held a workshop earlier in the day with the university’s publishing class to offer wisdom on the ins and outs of “the business” to juniors and seniors. In an environment where students are frequently pushed to—and often beyond—their breaking points, her advice was refreshing. She advocated for slowing down, for taking the time you need to get the writing right and take care of yourself. A round of chuckles followed her pronouncement: “There are days where you just have to be disgusting and watch Netflix, and then the next day you’re back to the grind.” It was a breath of fresh air to a room full of young writers hoping to enter an industry where burnout is common and stress levels are often high.

Clayton’s visit served as a reminder to aspiring writers that even when books are the focus, it’s the people who matter. She offered a vision of publishing that lifts others up. “As writers,” she said, “we have been given the great privilege to create something that gives people a space to explore who they are.”

Support for Readings & Workshops in Tucson 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.

Photos: (top) Christy Duprey (Credit: Victoria Pereira). (bottom) Dhonielle Clayton at the University of Arizona (Credit: Stephanie Pearmain).

The Image Is: A Poetry Workshop

Aldrin Valdez is a Pinoy artist and the author of ESL or You Weren’t Here (Nightboat Books, 2018). Their poetry and visual art has appeared in the Felt, Femmescapes, Nat. Brut, Poor Claudia, and the Recluse. They have presented work at Dixon Place, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Poetry Project, and been awarded fellowships from Queer/Art/Mentorship and Poets House. Currently Valdez curates the Segue Reading Series with fellow poet Joël Díaz.

On October 27 I led a workshop at the Bureau of General Services–Queer Division (BGSQD), currently hosted by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center in New York City. The workshop was organized by Sarah Sala, founder of the Office Hours poetry workshop, with support from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. I haven’t led many workshops before, so this was an experiment of sorts. I called the craft class “The Image Is _____” and its focus, of course, was the image. A series of questions motivated this workshop:

  • What is an image?
  • Where and how do we encounter images today?
  • As prose writers, poets, and artists who use text, how do we each relate to images?
  • Do images factor into our individual works?
  • How can we use images to surprise our writing?
  • Is there an image that haunts/grips/inspires you, will not leave you, or one that you invoke often?
  • What does the image contain?
  • Is the image a dam we choose to break? What language emerges if we do?
  • Does the language trickle out? Or is it a torrent, flooding us/out of us into writing?
  • Are we prepared to write through this flood?

To guide the workshop, I shared poems by Derrick Austin, Anne Carson, Rio Cortez, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Lara Mimosa Montes, and Justin Phillip Reed. I see their work as having complex, dynamic relationships with images. They’re aware of how we are surrounded by, and surround ourselves with, images and the tools with which to make them. And they acknowledge and question images as historical, political, and personal. What can we learn from their works in thinking about our own creative processes?

In a series of exercises I asked the class to interact with images—those around them (the BGSQD bookshop and the Center are filled with art) and those on their phones (if they had phones)—as catalysts for writing. One particular exercise, inspired by poems from Justin Phillip Reed’s Indecency (Coffee House Press, 2018) and Lara Mimosa Montes’s The Somnambulist (Horse Less Press, 2016), encouraged the class to think of the page—either as the screen of phones and computers or as a sheet of paper in their notebooks or a printed book—as constituting in itself a visual, physical, and material experience. Do we consider the white space, for instance, as blankness, silence, emptiness, a pause, or a held breath? Does a poem require that you move the book about in your hand? Is the poem concerned with legibility? What happens when a photograph precedes the text or a text precedes an image—how does that affect the experience of reading and our subjective ways of making meaning?

As a visual artist and writer, I enjoyed sharing these questions and activities with the class. It was thrilling to be writing together for a few hours, immersed in poetry—a collectivity I’ve been missing lately. I left the space feeling uplifted by the vulnerability and tenderness with which the group thoughtfully engaged and shared with each other.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Adlrin Valdez (Credit: Aldrin Valdez), (bottom) Workshop participants (Credit: Sarah Sala).

Cholla Needles Monthly Poetry Reading

Rich Soos is the editor of Cholla Needles, which publishes a monthly literary magazine and poetry collections by local authors of the Joshua Tree community in California’s San Bernardino County. The Cholla Needles Arts & Literary Library aims to keep people excited about poetry through writing workshops and a monthly reading series. Soos is the author of over twenty poetry collections and was the editor for Seven Stars Poetry from 1973 to 1998.

The name of the magazine, Cholla Needles, came from a poem I wrote after I fell on a cholla cactus and its needles stuck in my hand and foot. When I made the decision to start a new magazine, I used that poem to inspire my mission statement—asking writers to submit poems that would “stick with you” and make the magazine memorable.

Juan Delgado reading at Cholla NeedlesEach monthly issue of Cholla Needles is celebrated with an open reading and a featured poet. The readings take place outdoors in the beautiful desert of Joshua Tree, California, on the second Sunday of each month.

The audience of forty to fifty neighbors is often joined by visitors from around the world, there to explore Joshua Tree National Park. Readers have come from many countries including Ireland, India, Britain, Italy, Germany, and Brazil. Hardcore locals arrive each month too, no matter what the heat (even at 110 degrees in summer), because it’s simply a joy to celebrate poetry together.

In October, our reading began with a dance performed by youngsters from the community to a new poem by Kim Martin. The party continued with twenty-one other readers, and then the featured reader Juan Delgado, who shared poems from each of his fine collections.

Juan traveled “up the hill” from his home several hours away to delight the audience with early poems that celebrate the joy of youthful discovery, and poems from his newer collections, which celebrate how the passing of old friends enhances our deep understanding of life.

Our featured readers are supported in part by a grant from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. This support allows us to have poets visit from outside the area and keep our monthly parties fresh and exciting. There is tremendous appreciation from featured readers and audiences for Poets & Writers’ support. It provides a sense of pride knowing that someone from outside the area cares enough to help out in this way.

The time and location for our monthly readings are announced on our website. Visitors to the area are always welcome to bring their own work to share with us during the open reading portion of the party.

Support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Featured reader Juan Delgado at Cholla Needles (Credit: Bob DeLoyd).

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