Readings & Workshops Blog

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).

Franklin Electric Reading Series

Will Frazier is a poet whose writing has appeared in Kenyon Review Online, Washington Square Review, Cosmonauts Avenue, and No Tokens Journal. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

In early 2016, my friend Victoria Kornick and I wandered into an open house for a new coworking space in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. We met the owner of Franklin Electric (now known as Work Heights), Sam Strauss-Malcolm, who expressed an interest in hosting free community events in the new space. We offered up the idea for a reading series, and in the following weeks, we kept in touch with Sam and got two other friends involved: Jordan Majewski and Jessica Modi. We all met while studying poetry as undergrads and had all ended up living in New York.

Each of us invited one writer for the inaugural reading in February of that year, and since then, the Franklin Electric Reading Series has hosted monthly readings featuring emerging and established poets, fiction writers, and essayists. Though the events have come together in a number of ways, often we’ll be in touch with one writer interested in reading, and we’ll offer them the option of inviting other writers to create a lineup. It’s become an exciting way to host writers who may be intimately involved in each other’s work—as friends or colleagues—but may have never had the chance to read together.

Memorable moments have included a choose-your-own-adventure nonfiction performance by Kristin Dombek and Stephanie Hopkins, an evening with readings from the entire staff of No Tokens Journal, and our two-year anniversary event last winter when we invited many previous readers back for quick, two-minute readings.

Though Victoria and Jordan each recently relocated to the West Coast, Jessica and I have continued on with the series. This fall, we’ve been grateful to host many poets with new books out—Catherine Barnett, Cynthia Cruz, and Monica Ferrell. We’re also excited to introduce some new formats for the series; we’ll feature Thora Siemsen interviewing Hermione Hoby and Paul Legault on October 6, as part of PEN America’s Lit Crawl. And on October 11 we’ll hear our first musical performance ever—with Nick Flynn and his band Killdeer—as well as readings from Jennifer Franklin and Fred Marchant, which is supported by Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program.

Readings typically take place on the second Thursday or Friday of the month at 7:30 PM, and always at 650 Franklin Avenue in Brooklyn, New York. For the latest, visit our Facebook page.

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, from left to right) Will Frazier, Victoria Kornick, Jessica Modi, and Jordan Majewski. (bottom) Franklin Electric event (Credit: Tag Christof).

Bloom Readings at the Lounge

Sam Perkins is a freelance writer, poet, translator, and editor who has worked in magazines for two decades. His nonfiction work has appeared in the New York Times, Next Avenue, Atlas Obscura, and numerous travel magazines. His poetry translations from Chinese, done in collaboration with Joan Xie, have appeared in Exchanges: A Journal of Literary Translation and in the collection Thirteen Leaves (Three Owls Press, 2018).

Bloom Readings is a series that takes place monthly, always on Sundays at 5:00 PM, in “The Lounge,” an elegant 1920s event space in the Hudson View Gardens apartment complex on 183rd Street and Pinehurst Avenue in New York City. As curators of Bloom, Sarah Van Arsdale and I invite writers of prose and poetry from Washington Heights and beyond to share their work.

One of the most appealing features of Bloom is that we really aim to get the small details right: We have a printed program with suggested reading, we keep the inevitable white wine cold enough to drink without wincing, we have chips and dip, and we enlist the local bookshop co-op Word Up to sell the books of our featured readers. After the reading we go to one of the organizer’s apartments for a simple, leisurely meal.

Sarah, the Bloom team, and I want to make our readings an enjoyable, memorable moment for the readers. One of our challenges is that we’re a bit of a hike for readers coming from Brooklyn, Queens, or New Jersey. We like to think these details count. This year, thanks to Poets & Writers, we’ve been able to offer readers a small honorarium. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Bloom is proud of the roster of writers who have come to read, established voices like Rachel Hadas, Cornelius Eady, Jeanne Marie Beaumont, and Teresa Svoboda, and emerging voices like poets Rico Frederick and Sarah Jewell, and at our most recent reading, short story writer Dennis Norris II. Wherever they are in their careers, all are dedicated to their craft and calling.

For our reading on September 23, translator, scholar, and essayist Leah Souffrant read from her book, Plain Burned Things: A Poetics of the Unsayable, and performed “Thread: Attention to Loving,” a selection from her new manuscript Entanglements, which was accompanied by a video piece “Visual Entanglements 9.” Leah’s reading focused on the difficulty of expressing what is sensed but ultimately unknowable. As she read, Leah projected a series of flowing images on the wall behind her. Straddling the border between abstract and representational, the arresting video sequence reinforced and expanded the themes she tackles in her writing—the frustration and fascination we feel as writers, trying to explain the objective and subjective worlds we occupy.

Dennis Norris II read “Last Rites,” a moving, meditative short story recently published in the anthology Everyday People: The Color of Life (Atria Books, 2018) edited by Jennifer Baker. The narrative moves through the thoughts of a father, “The Reverend,” waiting to be rescued from a car crash. Toggling back and forth through time, we follow the Reverend’s memories of his son as a child, his late wife, and the demons that resurface as he tries to come to terms with his past as a husband and father. Dennis’s career is taking off. It’s a wonderful feeling to give young writers a boost.

Although Meena Alexander was unable to attend the reading, we were treated to a selection of poems from her recent collection, Atmospheric Embroidery (TriQuarterly Books, 2018), read by Leah Souffrant and Sarah Van Arsdale. Even in her absence, Meena’s words filled the room with, as she puts it in her poem “Darling Coffee,” “the periodic pleasure of small happenings.”

Interspersed with the other readers, Joan Xie, a poet who writes in Chinese and English, and I read from our recently published collaborative translation, Thirteen Leaves, an anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry. We chose poems from Lan Lan, Guma, and Arxin, none of whom are well-known in the United States but are widely recognized in China. Arxin’s poem, “Those Years on the Bank of Sanduo River,” sums up a feeling many poets and other creative writers have when they consider the writing life:

... I saw my house on the beach
         — a lone cabin

surrounded, battered
by snow on all sides.

Running a monthly series takes extra work, which couldn’t be managed without our great team: Kate Hogan, Joan Greenbaum, Barbara Blatner, and Gabriella Barnstone. Together, we divide and conquer, and get it done.

This October, we have a great line-up of readers: Nathan McClain, Tishon Woolcock, Glynn Pogue, and Carol Potter. We look forward to having a great 2018–2019 season enhanced by funding provided by the Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program. We’re so grateful for the support!

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

Photo: Sarah Van Arsdale and Sam Perkins (Credit: Wesley Schmidt).

An Explosion of Language: Publishing American Sign Language Poetry

Alisa Besher is the programs manager at the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, and organized Publishing American Sign Language Poetry with Douglas Ridloff, an event featuring a workshop and performance of ASL poetry. Besher is studying in the American Sign Language English Interpretation Program at LaGuardia Community College with the goal of making scholarly and cultural events accessible to the Deaf community and supporting Deaf talent. In addition, she is an artist educator and museum guide, currently working at Dia Art Foundation.

A full description of the image is available belowOn September 13, scholars, authors, and poets came together for a workshop and performance in New York City that approached the question, “How can American Sign Language poetry be published?” In the afternoon workshop, this question was addressed through several angles, from interactive digital publications and the preservation of video “texts” to pop-up books, flip books, and comic strips.

In her introduction to the evening performance, Deaf scholar Rachel Mazique from the Rochester Institute of Technology spoke about Deaf literature as an emerging genre within the American canon, holding its rightful place alongside other minority literatures. However, Deaf literature cannot be found in its own section in most bookstores due to the scarcity of publications and lack of awareness in mainstream literary circuits.

This event was hosted by the Center for the Humanities at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, an institution with no affiliation to Deaf scholarship, but with a long-standing commitment to research and public programming in literature and poetics. Hosting this conversation at CUNY was a deliberate effort to bridge the gap between hearing and Deaf audiences. With a grant from the Readings & Workshops program at Poets & Writers, we were able to offer honorariums to the poets.

The evening included several performances of ASL poetry by Deaf poet Douglas Ridloff, who runs the monthly ASL SLAM at Nuyorican Poets Cafe, and Flying Words Project, a collaboration between Deaf poet Peter Cook and his hearing collaborator Kenny Lerner, who have been performing together internationally for the past thirty years. Deaf author and artist Adrean Clark led an exercise in translation, exploring the creative potentials of the written systems of ASL.

Poet, translator, and publisher John Lee Clark, who is DeafBlind, introduced the potentials of ProTactile literature. If ASL poetry is an emerging field, ProTactile literature is in a phase of incubation. Developed by and for the DeafBlind community over the past decade, ProTactile is haptic, using the whole body to establish space, syntax, tone, and all the elements of a complex linguistic system. Clark performed one of his poems, originally written in English, in ProTactile on the body of his interpreter. This was observed and signed in ASL from one Certified Deaf Interpreter to another, and simultaneously voiced into English by a hearing interpreter. All at once, three languages collided, converged, and delivered a poem which began with the line: “We break our story into eight parts because there are eight of us to tell it tonight.”

The juncture between ASL and English was a theme throughout the evening. “Language, language, language…I can play with language!” Kenny Lerner voiced from behind Peter Cook, with his arms thrust under Cook’s to create a four-armed man. Their two pairs of arms signed the ASL word for “language” across Cook’s chest, crisscrossing diagonally, horizontally, and vertically. Their spoken words and visual signs met and bounced off of each other. If one were to simply read the transcript of this poem, one would miss the truly playful nature of their performance, and the “explosion of language” they created.

Douglas Ridloff performed his dynamic ASL poem about bustling New York City alongside a voiced transcription written in collaboration with Bob Holman, founder of the Bowery Poetry Club. The pair invited interpreter Lynnette Taylor to join them on stage to sign Holman’s spoken words. The audience witnessed the triangulated ping-pong of interpretation as the ASL poem was supplemented by spoken words and simultaneously interpreted back into ASL.

The complex questions proposed by the participants throughout the evening and during the discussion, moderated by Deaf author Sara Nović, do not come with easy answers. What is lost, what is gained, and what new meanings emerge in the tension and translation between ASL and English? How can ASL users assert their own literary genre, their own poetic forms, while also reaching audiences beyond the Deaf community? How can the Deaf community decolonize English’s hold on literary discourse, and how can it flip the script, to mine English for its own benefit? These questions may not have easy answers, but they are worthwhile to examine, to hold in our hands, and to knead and morph into new ideas and discussions as we continue to take steps to honor, respect, and celebrate the talent of Deaf poets.

To read more about the event, visit the Center for the Humanities website.

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.

Photo: John Lee Clark (center) performs one of his poems in ProTactile with four interpreters (Credit: Jordan Lord).
 
Image description: Four people on auditorium stage. An interpreter stands to the left, wearing a black shirt and grey pants, signing with the Y handshape. John Lee Clark sits facing the camera, in a button up blue shirt and dark pants, signing with two V handshapes. Seated facing him and behind him are two interpreters wearing black shirts. Another interpreter kneels in front of John, facing him and the seated interpreters, signing with two F handshapes.

Healing by Writing: Workshops for California Wildfire Survivors

Margo Perin teaches writing workshops that focus on healing and bringing out of the shadows the unheard voices of underserved youth and adults. She is the author of the autobiographical novel The Opposite of Hollywood (Whoa Nelly Press, 2015), and the editor of Only the Dead Can Kill: Stories From Jail (Community Works/West, 2006) and How I Learned to Cook & Other Writings on Complex Mother-Daughter Relationships (Tarcher/Penguin, 2004). Perin’s writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and featured in Heyday/PEN’s Fightin’ Words; San Francisco Chronicle Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Mexico’s El Petit Journal, and Holland’s Psycologie Magazine. She was also commissioned to write a poem for San Francisco’s Spiral of Gratitude public memorial. Perin is the cofounder of Whoa Nelly Press and the Sonoma County Area Coordinator for California Poets in the Schools.

The Healing by Writing workshops and reading held this past June were attended by Sonoma residents who experienced the October 2017 Northern California wildfires. Most of the participants did not see themselves as writers, but as residents of the county seeking healing from the trauma of the fires.

Some had lost their homes, others had been evacuated. Everyone knew someone who had lost a home. Two participants lost their community when their entire neighborhoods burned. Another’s small town housed hundreds of evacuees. The participants shared how they were still trying to come to terms with the fires and were experiencing various symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The workshops were designed solely for the purpose of providing an opportunity for self-expression, with a focus on personal and community healing and transformation. There was no critique to ensure a completely open and supportive environment, and to encourage the participants to write what they felt.

The writing resulted in grief over the losses experienced, anger at a generalized feeling that they should “get over it” and “move on,” fear of the coming summer with its risk of more fires, and gratitude at surviving along with loved ones and neighbors.

Participants used the word “fires” both literally and metaphorically. One described fleeing during last October’s firestorm in the middle of the night and being thrown back by the fierce winds. Another recounted a memory of being burned as a child, and yet another used it as a metaphor for breast cancer. Other themes included a family’s lack of understanding of the trauma experienced from the fires; how a love of fire starting in childhood had turned to fear; and the importance of learning, no matter what, to always make up with loved ones.

Participants were given the option of sharing their writing, both in the workshops and at the public reading. Almost all were excited to share their writing publicly. The Sonoma County audience was openly moved and appreciative of the readings; some even asked the writers to read their pieces again privately in a corner of the gallery, which I understood to be an act of further bonding and community healing.

Knowing that the workshops and reading were funded by Poets & Writers had great significance to the participants and audience members as it made them feel that their experiences and those of the county were supported.

At the end of the event, participants volunteered how “heard” they felt, that they experienced “healing and transformation” through writing and sharing their work, and became aware that when they articulate their experiences, they’re also giving a powerful voice to the county as a whole.

Support for this event was provided, in part, by Poets & Writers, thanks to a gift from Diana Raab. Additional 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, and by the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Margo Perin (Credit: Chris Stewart).

Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford Unveiled at the Silo City Reading Series

Aidan Ryan is the publisher at Foundlings Press, which he cofounded with Max Crinnin, Darren Canham, and S. James Coffed. He is the author of Organizing Isolation: Half-Lives of Love at Long Distance (Linoleum Press, 2017), a collection of visual cut-up poetry. Ryan is a regular music critic for Scotland’s the Skinny and has written on travel and the arts for CNN, the White Review, Rain Taxi, and Traffic East, among others.

Every day, from the early 1900s to the last quarter of the twentieth century, the hundred-foot-tall concrete grain silos along Buffalo, New York’s namesake river and Lake Erie thrummed and hushed with rushing grain. At the city’s peak, thirty-eight of these towering elevators held forty-seven million bushels, and helped to feed the world. Now, on three nights a year, every summer since 2012, those same grain silos hum and echo with poetry.

The Silo City Reading Series is the “heartchild” of poet Noah Falck, education director at the Just Buffalo Literary Center. The series brings together a visiting poet, a local reader, a visual artist, and a musical act to perform for over one hundred people at the center of one of Buffalo’s remaining grain silos.

Silo alumni poets, including Ocean Vuong, Morgan Parker, Hanif Abdurraqib, and Natalie Shapero, have all spoken of the venue’s power to break both performers and audience members free from the traditional boundaries and expectations associated with poetry readings. Every experience is amplified and made more intimate by the concrete cylinder’s natural seven-second echo.

On August 18, the city’s grain silos held a “micro-arts festival” to honor the work of Frank Stanford and herald the publication of a book that takes its title from one of his posthumous manuscripts, Constant Stranger. With the support of Poets & Writers, the festival brought the poets Kazim Ali, Marcus Jackson, and Matt Henriksen to Buffalo for one extraordinary night of performances, which included readings by Stanford’s close friend Bill Willett and a theatrical performance by Torn Space Theater.

Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford began in the late spring of 2017 as an attempt at a themed issue for our poetry magazine, Foundlings. Stanford—both a poet and a publisher, as cofounder of Lost Roads—had a major influence on our beginnings as a magazine and our growth into a press. Though Stanford’s influence stretches from Forrest Gander to Terrance Hayes and beyond, he remains unknown to many, obscure even to some who study him, persistently mischaracterized, and outside the “canon.”

The book sets out to present Stanford in a contemporary context, and make a case for his enduring relevance by publishing not more of his work, but the work of present-day writers who study, admire, or wrestle with him. We hardly grasped just how vital Stanford’s work really was, nor to how many contemporary readers, scholars, and writers, and our themed issue ballooned into a three-hundred-page book with thirty-plus contributors.

Marcus Jackson opened the evening, using the intimate circle of the Marine A silo to read poems from his collection Pardon My Heart (Northwestern University Press, 2018). Following a set by the electronic music group UVB76 and then a short break, Kazim Ali took the stage to read a mix of poetry from his latest collection, Inquisition (Wesleyan University Press, 2018), and unpublished work—including, and very much in the spirit of Stanford, poems conceived that day.

Matt Henriksen and Bill Willett, who has been a constant steward of Stanford’s legacy, read a selection of Stanford’s poems, bouncing back and forth to deliver well-known works like “Linger” and “The Light the Dead See,” knotty excerpts from The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You (Lost Roads Publishers, 1977), and lesser-known “deep cuts.”

To close out the evening, Foundlings Press editor in chief Max Crinnin and I unveiled Constant Stranger: After Frank Stanford, and spoke briefly about the project’s genesis, its meaning for our press, and our hopes for its reception. The book will be officially released at the Frank Stanford Literary Festival on September 21–23 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Everyone who saw it swears the moon appeared twice that night: once orange and full, low above the last remaining factories along the lake, and later, after the Torn Space performance, half-veiled and pale, hung high in the total dark. Whether through the power of suggestion or something more profound, Bill Willett swore it was Frank at play.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Aidan Ryan (Credit: Matthias Spruch). (middle) Marcus Jackson (Credit: Nancy J. Parisi). (bottom) Kazim Ali (Credit: Nancy J. Parisi).

The Roots and Wings Project Helps Prisoners Tell Their Stories

Jesse Bliss is a playwright, director, producer, poet, actress, veteran educator, and curriculum writer. She is the founder and creative director of the Roots and Wings Project, a theater company with a mission to provide a stage and space for voices of the unnamed, unknown, and misunderstood. The Roots and Wings Project is a recipient of a Cultural Pathways Grant from the California Arts Council and has received support from Poets & Writers for its prison programs. Bliss also produces Think Outside the Cage on KPFK 90.7 FM, a radio show voicing truth about mass incarceration, and was featured in Look What She Did!, a documentary directed by Julie Hébert.

The very energy of prison is punitive, designed to drive love out. Perhaps this is why implementing the Roots and Wings Project’s ASCENSION, a P&W–supported theater and writing pilot workshop series at the California State Prison in Lancaster, a men’s prison, and the California Institution for Women, a women’s state prison in Chino, was nearly impossible.

Days and weeks of e-mail requests turned into months. Finally, the workshops were approved. On my first trip out to the prison in Lancaster, where the wind never stops blowing on the exaggeratedly long sidewalk stretches to the entrance, the facility said no to the first workshop session. There was no getting in to speak to anyone after a two-hour drive. On the second visit, it took me two hours to finally enter into A Yard and meet the inmates.

Once I was in, participants at both penitentiaries wrote from the very depths of their souls. Their stories brought to light experiences most could never imagine surviving, and exposed truths about how people are led to incarceration and kept captive with draconian sentencing.

Some of the participants have life without parole sentences. One student went into the prison system at eighteen, three days following his high school graduation. He’s been incarcerated for two decades, and in those years has developed a friendship with his victim’s wife—a friendship she initiated. He writes: “She saw beyond the cold written record of my past into the present, to the core of who I really am.”

Another participant was sixteen months away from her release from prison when she was given a life sentence for a domestic violence charge. Many of the women express that they were put in prison for defending themselves against abusive men. I don’t ask, but if they share about their case in our writing workshops, I lovingly listen. Anna, a workshop participant, writes: “WOMAN. To be strong yet assumed weak, to work and love harder, yet be given less—less pay, less honor, less respect—for our weakness is our strength, our tears our freedom, to feel, to be: humanity in a world of insanity.”

One of our students grew up in a home where both his parents were drug users and dealers. The house was always getting shot up. His diaper was perpetually full. He grew to become what he knew and, while addicted to drugs, murdered someone over a twenty-dollar debt. He is one of the greatest keepers of peace I’ve ever known and a passionate advocate for helping others to transform and heal despite unthinkable intergenerational trauma. He often recites Shakespeare by heart.

Another student played one of the most stunning reggae songs on the guitar that I’ve ever heard called “Beautiful Day.” How, in there, does a human being author that song? He also eloquently writes: “Prison beds are expanding instead of consciousness.... You’ll see one electric fence with prisoners on both sides of it, society is on lockdown and they don’t even know it, out of necessity prisoners become poets.”

We culminated the workshops with powerful readings described in a student’s letter this way: “Soon, the room was bristling with hope and with stories of our children, our mothers, our wives, our communities, even our freedom. And when we returned to the dark confines of our cells, we brought with us a deeper, brighter, lingering purpose in our lives.”

We laughed. We cried. We read. We talked. We listened. We loved, all in the spirit of one of our writer’s words: “By finding the courage to speak up!”

With support from Poets & Writers, and in partnership with Unlock Tomorrow and Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore, the Roots & Wings Project will hold a second series of workshops this fall at the California Institution for Women.

Support for this event was provided, in part, by Poets & Writers, thanks to a gift from Diana Raab. Additional 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, and by the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Jesse Bliss (Credit: Angela L. Torres).

A Community Reading Series: Rockland Poets

Bryan Roessel is a poet, event organizer, and science teacher in New York State’s Lower Hudson Valley and started the Rockland Poets reading series with a couple of friends in order to bring poetry events to Suffern, New York. Roessel believes strongly in the power of art to expose new perspectives and ideas, and writes about science, relationships, and depression.

Rockland Poets, formerly known as Suffern Poetry, has been hosting monthly poetry open mics and slams in the Lower Hudson Valley’s Rockland County since 2011. We’re a pretty small organization, currently run by seven volunteers, all of whom are residents of Rockland County or northern New Jersey. We run our events because art and community are vital. Poetry is an accessible art form in that you don’t need any special training or tools to create poems or to appreciate them. In the spirit of that accessibility, all of our events are open to the public and almost all incorporate open mics, where anyone can sign up to share their work. The grants we’ve received through Poets & Writers over the years have been of great importance to keep these events open and running.

The funding has allowed us to keep admission costs low for attendees, and to bring in diverse poets from all over North America to read. Typically, a featured reader will do a half-hour set before the open mic portion of the event, and we’ve invited established poets such as Billy Tuggle from Chicago and Chris August from Baltimore. To help emerging poets grow as writers, we welcome them to discuss their craft and influences at the end of their sets. In addition to these events, we’ve hosted outstanding creative writing workshops, such as a generative workshop led by Salt Lake City poet RJ Walker, and a performance and choreography workshop led by New York City poet Anthony McPherson.

The community response has been positive and supportive. We’ve started using a computer-based sign-in system at the door to track attendance, and over one hundred and fifty people have attended our events in the past year. Almost half have returned at least once, which signals to me that we’re doing something right. A few of our teen audience members have told us that they find our series really valuable and are grateful it exists. The feedback we’ve received emphasize the “warm environment” and “accepting atmosphere,” as well as the “great writers” that share their work at our events, which helps fuel us as we plan for future events.

This October, we’re hosting the sixth annual Empire State Poetry Slam, a statewide team-based slam tournament held in a different city in New York each fall. We are also considering a collaboration with other local literary organizations to create and host an annual literary or poetry festival. The future of Rockland Poets lies in continuing to gather community support for our organization and events, and to adapt to the needs of our local community and the writers we support. We hope to continue that work for many years to come.

Support for the Readings & Workshops Program in New York is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, with additional support from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Bryan Roessel (Credit: Button Poetry).

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