Readings & Workshops Blog

The Inspiring Rebecca Hoogs on Seattle Arts & Lectures

Rebecca Hoogs is the author of the chapbook, Grenade (GreenTower Press, 2005) and the poetry collection, Self-Storage (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013), which was a finalist for the 2013 Washington State Book Award in Poetry. Her poems have appeared in Poetry, AGNI, FIELD, Crazyhorse, Zyzzyva, the Journal, Poetry Northwest, the Florida Review, Cincinnati Review, among others. She won the 2010 Southeast Review poetry contest and is the recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony and Artist Trust of Washington State. Hoogs is the Program Director for Seattle Arts & Lectures and occasionally co-directs and teaches in the Summer Creative Writing in Rome program for the University of Washington. 

Rebecca HoogsWhat makes your organization and its programs unique?
I think what makes Seattle Arts & Lectures (SAL) unique is not only the breadth of our programming, but the way we interweave our public programs with our education program, Writers in the Schools (WITS), whenever we can. At each of our lectures and readings, we open the evening by featuring a young student writer reading their original poem, story, or memoir. After, we encourage the young writer to sit beside the featured author at the booksigning table—two peers, side by side—to sign copies of their work for the audience. These moments in the spotlight can be utterly transformative for our young writers—often we hear that it’s the first time their parents are seeing them in such a positive light. These are magical moments and it’s an honor to use the SAL stage not only to present the best authors of our time to Seattle’s readers and writers, but to give them a glimpse of the best writers of the future, as well.

Many of these writers also visit a WITS classroom while they are in Seattle. For instance, James McBride, the opening speaker in this year’s Literary Arts Series, spoke with a group of several hundred students at Garfield High School (where some classes were reading his 1996 memoir, The Color of Water). Bringing real-life authors to students during the school day is just as important to us as bringing them to the evening presentation.

What recent project and/or program have you been especially proud of and why?
Last spring, after many years of trying, I finally succeeded in persuading Anne Carson to return to Seattle to appear in our Poetry Series. As Anne and her partner Currie and I planned for their visit, what would happen onstage evolved: We added musicians, invited collaborators, and I was asked to track down “as many sheets” as I could get. The resulting performance was a one-of-a-kind night featuring Anne’s words in many voices (including her own), a chorus of Gertrude Steins, music by the lovely local musicians Jessika Kenney and Eyvind Kang, and, of course, those sheets rising up and down in a meditative dance-poem. It was a magical night that took risks, pushed boundaries, and asked the audience to join the performers in riding on the possibility of failure or flight. It was a dream come true.

What was your most successful literary program, and why?
What a hard question! There are so many ways to look at success and so many different kinds of successful programs. However, I feel that our Literary Arts Series event with George Saunders last spring epitomizes our most successful programs. He was one of the most moving, funny, and inspiring people I’ve ever heard speak and many of our long-time audience members left saying that it was one of the best—perhaps even the best—lecture that they’d ever heard in the twenty-six years of our series. That, to me, is pretty high praise. Different events will appeal to different folks, but my ultimate goal is that—at the end of every lecture or reading—someone leaves saying, wow, that was the best event I’ve been to in years.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve hosted?
Watching the World Series with Robert Hass at a sketchy bar down the street from our venue, fifteen minutes before his reading.

Helping an author undo the forgotten tailor tacks on his new suit, ten minutes before he took the stage.

Hearing 2,500 voices sing “Because the Night” with Patti Smith after her reading from her memoir Just Kids.

And, just last week, being blown away by the visual kismet and crazy layering of Matthea Harvey reading her poems (sponsored by Poets & Writers—thank you!) about glass girls in a glass factory in the Glasshouse at Chihuly Garden and Glass, under the Space Needle and below a full moon occasionally pierced by planes. It was an amazing night in which the setting magnified and reflected her work in all the best ways.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
I strive to put together series that are not only comprised of my personal favorite writers, but who are the favorite writers of our community (or who will be!). As a result, I read much more broadly than I would otherwise and am more open-minded. To then get to hear authors in person speak about their work, to offer insight into their process, to reflect on their career, is a gift that just deepens the experience of reading.

As a poet, the Poetry Series provides the most direct inspiration for my own work. As host for the series, I am preparing for weeks in advance—reading casually at first, perhaps, and with increasing intensity and adrenaline (and yes, anxiety) as the event looms and my introduction and interview of the poet near. Preparing in this way reminds me of what I always loved (in the end) about school—reading work deeply and then synthesizing through writing and questions, lodging the work into my own conscious and subconscious. I am sure that this kind of deep reading has inevitably given me new tools, ideas, and forms to experiment with, but most of all, it has given me pleasure.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
There’s critical synergy in the work we do. Through Writers in the Schools, we’re cultivating the next generation of readers and writers while simultaneously supporting our region’s writers (we pay more than $200,000 a year to the fabulous local writers to serve as WITS writers-in-residence). These young writers are featured on the stages of our public programs and the writers-in-residence also receive free tickets to our Literary Arts Series and Poetry Series (free inspiration for their own writing life!). Each year, thousands of readers and writers of all ages are uplifted, challenged, and ultimately changed through tales of persistence, insights into the writing process, new cultural context, critical lenses into literary history, and intimate vignettes of partnership. Together, we remember what it means to be human and share a story. Together, we write that story.

Photo: Rebecca Hoogs      Credit: Libby Lewis Photography
Support for Readings & Workshops events in Seattle 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.

The Hummingbirds of Elizabeth House

Marcia Arrieta blogs about her experience teaching a P&W–supported writing workshop series at Elizabeth House, a place of refuge for homeless pregnant women and their children in Pasadena, California. Arrieta is a poet, artist, and teacher, whose work appears in Of/with, Alba, Rivet, So to Speak, 13th Moon, Eratio, Catch & Release, Alice Blue, Melusine, Osiris, Web Conjunctions, Sugar Mule, Cold Mountain Review, Dusie, and the Last VISPO Anthology, among others. The author of one poetry book, triskelion, tiger moth, tangram, thyme (Otoliths, 2011), and two chapbooks, experimental: (Potes & Poets, 2000) and the curve against the linear/An Uncommon Accord (Toadlily Press, 2008), she received an MFA in poetry from Vermont College. Over the years, she has led numerous writing workshops at Franklin High School and John Adams Middle School in Los Angeles, and The Women’s Room and Centennial Place in Pasadena. Arrieta edits and publishes Indefinite Space, a poetry/art journal.

Marcia ArrietaIn the first poetry/writing workshop in a series sponsored by Poets & Writers at Elizabeth House in Pasadena, California, a young mother writes about a hummingbird:

She looked at me and then flew away.
That’s when I knew on the floor—I shouldn’t stay.

Five weeks later at the culminating reading and book publication of Writing from Elizabeth House, a hummingbird hovers in the center of the cover collage. The hummingbird, a symbol of goodness, sweetness, and light, became a symbol for us of perseverance, writing, and communication, as did Maya Angelou’s powerful poem “And Still I Rise.”

The mission of Elizabeth House is “to provide shelter, hope, and support to homeless pregnant women and their children, addressing the physical, emotional, spiritual, and economic needs in a nurturing atmosphere.”

When I first arrived there to lead my workshop, I learned that not only would I have eager, creative young women around the table, but also their babies—ranging in age from weeks old to six months. Needless to say, we had a lively time between the reading, discussing, writing, and sharing of our work, and the babies—sometimes crying, nursing, content, yelling, sleeping (ah, for the baby sleeping!).

Elizabeth House writing workshopThroughout the workshops, several women told me they were so happy to be writing again and in touch with their creativity. One woman expressed her gratitude for the workshops since they were exactly what she needed at this time in her life, with a six-month-old and her uncertainty as to a job and place to live after Elizabeth House. Another woman revealed she never wrote or read poetry, but by the final workshop, she was able to express herself in a beautiful poem entitled “Life.”

At the reading, the audience was very impressed with the quality of the women’s work—especially the honesty and depth of thoughts and emotions expressed. The book I created for them will always be a reminder of their time at Elizabeth House.

I was amazed and inspired by these young women—their lives, their babies, their writing. It was a privilege to work with them and learn of their dreams, struggles, and strength. I think I brought them optimism and hope through the literature we analyzed and the biographies of the poets and writers we studied—Maya Angelou, Joy Harjo, Nikki Giovanni, Langston Hughes, Edgar Lee Masters, Emily Dickinson, Jimmy Santiago Baca, and Audre Lordemany of whom also experienced difficult times, but ultimately triumphed.

Photo (top): Marcia Arrieta. Credit: Kevin Joy. Photo (bottom): Elizabeth House workshop participants and Marcia Arrieta (at right). Credit: Kali Ratzlaff.

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

Behind the Scenes of the Honey Badgers Don't Give a B**k Tour

Eugenia Leigh is the author of Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows (Four Way Books, 2014). The recipient of fellowships and awards from Poets & Writers, Inc., Kundiman, Rattle, and the Asian American Literary Review, Leigh serves as the Poetry Editor of Kartika Review. She received her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and is currently a PhD student in the Program for Writers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The book tour was a risk. On good days, we called it an investment. Averaging early thirties, we were young enough to “stop everything and do this!” but old enough to be concerned about our finances. We decided against crowdfunding, dug into our savings, and reminded each other, “you only live once.” We would never publish first books again.

The four tour-bound poets—Michelle Chan BrownCathy Linh CheSally Wen Mao, and I—found each other through Kundiman, a nonprofit organization that serves emerging Asian American writers and instills in its fellows, an irrepressible belief that their words matter.

Book tours, we discovered, were a lost art. With few contemporary examples to emulate, we fashioned our tour from imagination. We created haphazard lists of venues, cities, and people we know or sort-of-used-to-know. The lists gave birth to the Honey Badgers Don’t Give a B**k Tour, our homebrewed, multi-week, poetry performance on wheels.

We woke early on futons and air mattresses (and once a yoga mat) strewn across the homes of strangers and friends. While we rewarded ourselves with the occasional Red Lobster feast or a quick dip in a lake, the tour was hardly a glamorous affair. We spent our long drives catching up on sleep or on freelance work, plus tweeting and tumbling so our moms could keep track of us, up and down the east coast.

When Joseph O. Legaspi, one of Kundiman’s founders, invited us to read with acclaimed poet Patrick Rosal as part of New York City’s Bryant Park Word for Word series, we jumped at the chance—especially when we learned that the Poets & Writers Readings and Workshops program would fund the event.

With over two hundred people in attendance, the Word for Word reading was our largest gathering on tour. It was a life-giving privilege not only to perform, but also to be financially compensated for a performance at the Bryant Park Reading Room, a space created during the Great Depression to welcome the out-of-work masses.

Several nights later, at one of our final readings in a Washington, D.C. bar called Petworth Citizen, only one person showed up. A community activist whom none of us knew personally.

Michelle, Cathy, Sally, and I exchanged surprised glances as we had nearly resigned to packing up without doing a reading at all. Then we resolutely pulled our chairs into a circle to include our new friend, plus Michelle’s husband, our second and only other audience member. We took turns performing our poems in that circle with as much energy as the first time. Then, we thanked the woman who sat with us by gifting her signed copies of each of our books.

I understood then that the fuel we had received in New York City took us through D.C. and to numerous other communities. It would not be a stretch to say our small gesture was an extension of the gifts first given to us by organizations such as Kundiman and Poets & Writers.

The extension continued when, a few weeks after the tour, I moved to Chicago and became one of the friends with an air mattress, as I hosted Cathy Che and poets Jess X. Chen and Paul Tran on a stop for their visual poetry tour, Lights Trauma Revelation. I read my poems, as one of four local poets, for their performance at the Marble Room, a Chicago reading series that hosted us in a Wicker Park dance studio, tucked under a train station. And there, Poets & Writers showed up once again to fund part of the reading.

I joked recently that I get paid as a poet when a stranger writes to say he resonates with my book, or when an old college friend finds a copy at an independent bookstore.  But with the Readings & Workshops program's generosity, I'm blessed and grateful to receive occasional financial compensation, as well. Whether friend or funder, I want to thank you, dear supporters, for your continued confidence in the importance of our words.

"Blood, Sparrows and Sparrows" - Book Trailer from Jess X Chen on Vimeo.

Photo (top): Eugenia Leigh. Photo Credit: An Rong Ku

Photo (bottom): Patrick Rosal, Cathy Che, Eugenia Leigh, Sally Wen Mao. Photo Credit: Honey Badgers Don't Give a Book Tour Tumbler page

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, A.K. Starr Charitable Trust and Friends of Poets & Writers. 

Support for Readings & Workshops events in Chicago and Washington, D.C. 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.

Katonah Poetry Series: Forty-Seven Years and More to Come

For over forty-five years, the Katonah Poetry Series (KPS) has hosted nationally and internationally acclaimed poets in the welcoming and intimate setting of the Katonah Village Library in Northern Westchester County. Each reading is followed by an interactive Q&A session, as well as a reception and book signing. The distinguished poets who have appeared over the years include six poets laureate of the United States, six poets laureate of New York State and sixteen winners of the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. Billy Collins, U.S. poet laureate from 2001-2003, directed the series for seventeen years and continues to serve on the poetry advisory board. The series draws an audience, not only from Northern Westchester, but also the greater Tri-State region. The series provides a valuable service to the community—hearing live poetry is an important experience that differs from reading a poem on the page. KPS believes it is important to broaden the audience for poetry, and reaches out to regional high schools and colleges. The series is pleased to take part in creating a vibrant and intellectual literary community of readers, writers, and educators.

How many years and poets does it take to make an incredible reading series? In the case of the Katonah Poetry Series (KPS), forty-seven years, six U.S. poets laureate, sixteen Pulitzer Prize winners, and a host of renowned poets. This lively poetic scene would not be possible without vital support from grantors like Poets & Writers, a dedicated group of poetry lovers of all ages, and the wonderful venue of the Katonah Village Library.

The series began in 1967 with Robert Phillips showing up at the library with a gallon of wine, some cheese, and a poet in tow. When Bob left to join the faculty at the University of Texas, he handed the baton to Billy Collins. A few years later, prompted by the small turnout at a Samuel Menashe reading, I offered, as good friends tend to do, to help Billy with the series. I didn’t realize that I would inherit most of the organizational duties due to his 2001 inauguration as U.S. poet laureate! After my stead as Co-director, Director, and now as Poetry Advisor, I continue to be nourished by my involvement in the series and fondly refer to it as my personal MFA program. As Billy Collins aptly said, “If you sat on the steps of the Katonah Village Library for the past twenty-three years [and now forty-seven!] without moving, nearly every notable American poet would walk by you."

The intimate, informal atmosphere of our readings, and the book signing reception that follows, encourages everyone to interact with each other and the featured poet. Visiting poets often comment on the vibrancy and enthusiasm of our audience. Not only have we built an audience, but along with them, a thriving community of readers and writers.

Some highlights:

• Stephen Dunn’s reading two weeks after September 11, 2001, which audience members said helped them cope with the tragedy

• The Ilya Kaminsky reading in 2003 moved people to tears

• Many moments of laughter provoked by Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, Ellen Bass, and other poets

• A young mother with leukemia who credited the series with upgrading her quality of life as she underwent treatment

• Dylan Thomas’s "A Child’s Christmas in Wales" recited by James Navé every December, a community ritual drawing families and folks of all ages

Given the current strength of KPS, it is hard to believe that in the 2009-2010 season, the series came close to losing solvency. Help came in the unlikely guise of a September 2010 article in the New York Times, “Even Poetry is Undergoing Setbacks.” Surprisingly, unsolicited checks arrived from as far away as California! With those funds and the creation of a new Executive Committee, the series was revived. KPS now offers four annual readings, as well as some additional community events and workshops. The Katonah Poetry Series also has a new media presence to take it into the twenty-first century, including a website (featuring unique poet interviews), a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and coming soon—Instagram! Our recent Billy Collins reading attracted nearly three hundred people, and we are confident that we will be celebrating our fiftieth anniversary in 2017. Does that make us one of the oldest— and newest— reading series in the United States? Please “friend us” and we’ll look forward to welcoming you to the KPS family.

Photo: (top) Committee members from left: Van Kozelka, Director of Katonah Village Library; Leisha Douglas, Ph.D., KPS Poet Advisor; Julie Nord, KPS Publicity; Andy Kuhn, KPS VP; Moira Thielking, KPS President; Marlene Gallagher, KPS; Stephen Peeples, KPS Treasurer; Jessica Bennett, KPS; Barb Chintz, KPS.
Photo: (2nd from top) Ellen Bass reading from her new collection, Like a Beggar (Copper Canyon Press, 2014).
Photo: (3rd from top) Billy Collins Reading.
Photo: (bottom) Billy Collins connecting with fans. Photo Credit: Leslye Smith, Studio Smith Photography.

Support for Readings & Workshops 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.

Douglas Kearney Raps, Scats, and Grows Beautiful, Thorny Horns

Poet, performer, and librettist Douglas Kearney’s third poetry collection, Patter (Red Hen Press, 2014), examines miscarriage, infertility, and parenthood. His second book, The Black Automaton (Fence Books, 2009), was a National Poetry Series selection. He has received residencies and fellowships from Cave Canem, The Rauschenberg Foundation, and others. His work has appeared in a number of journals, including Poetry, nocturnes, Pleiades, The Boston Review, The Iowa Review, Ninth Letter, Washington Square, and Callaloo. Raised in Altadena, CA, he lives with his family in California’s Santa Clarita Valley and teaches at CalArts.

Douglas KearneyWhat are your reading dos?
Gosh—reading dos. I remember that the writing of these poems was driven by some kind of dynamic source—intellectual, emotional, physical. If I remember that, it animates the poems, even the quieter ones. Going to hear a reader read a poem is simply not the same thing as reading it yourself. So as a poet giving a reading, I see no point in being absent from the work while presenting it live (reading in Times New Roman, I call it). That’s what the book is for. That does not mean that you have to shout, switch accents, and sing (though that’s often an honest part of the composition for me and many others)—but I think being present is necessary and audiences can tell, even when your version of present is to read without much affect.

How do you prepare for a reading?
Most of my preparation is around getting my voice ready. I’ll scat a bit so I know where my range will be and to get my tongue limber. It’s funny, it also gets me surer of enunciation. Then, there are two rap tracks I perform: Mos Def and Talib Kweli are Blackstar’s “Definition,” and Latyrx’s “Say That.” Both are two-emcee crews, so it stretches me out a bit in terms of timbre, cadence, and breath control. As the work has gotten more mercurial, more shard-full, I sometimes do Nicki Minaj’s verse from “Monster.” Then, I pray that I don’t get in the way of the work, that I don’t embarrass my ancestors and contemporary friends and family, and give thanks I get to do this at all.

When it comes to picking my “set,” I want to do a different one for every reading. But if I’m a bit nervous, I lean on past sequencing. I want to get out of that habit—explore the “deep cuts” (ha!) a bit more.

What’s your crowd-pleaser, and why does it work?
I don’t know how pleased crowds are with my poems that work. I’ll say the ones that are probably the most likely at getting the unsettled responses, that I think the work solicits, are the “Miscarriage” poems from Patter, and my “peppy poem about the Middle Passage,” “Swimchant for Nigger Mer-folk” from The Black Automaton. These work because most folks seem to know how they should react to the surface subject matter—yet, the poems don’t go there without some complications. I think the surprise of that is engaging to audiences.

Additionally, I’ve come to pay a lot more attention to the banter between poems as an extension of the writing in a live setting. So I rework setups a lot. A dear friend of mine, playwright, performer, poet, and musician Eisa Davis has referred to the banter as “my stand-up.” I do study comedians to work out timing, cringe humor, and audience interaction.

What’s the craziest (or funniest or most moving or most memorable) thing that’s happened at an event you’ve been a part of?
Two things! Once, way back at a group reading in San Diego, some guy stood up in the middle of one of my poems, shouted “Parasites!,” and stormed out. That was fun!

And once, I was having a public dialogue with Amiri Baraka in the Bay Area. I read a poem called “The Chitlin Circuit.” This involved me leaping from the stage and stalking around the crowd, getting louder and louder as I repeated a passage of the poem. When I got back to the stage, Mr. Baraka looked at me like I had grown horns—but bright, beautiful, thorny horns! Then, he read “Ka’Ba”—and it was like a balm spread over the room. I had never truly known so much love and yearning for peace was in that poem—and I understood viscerally something about the late poet and the power of poetry I had never known before.

What you probably spent your R/W grant check on:
Something for my kids. They are working at being high-maintenance.

Photo: Douglas Kearney     Credit: Eric Plattner

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

A Reading Series for the Neighborhood

Richard Jeffrey Newman is the author of The Silence of Men and has translated from the Persian, The Teller of Tales: Stories from Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh. His poetry and essays have been published in Diode, the Good Men Project, Voice Male, 66: The Journal of Sonnet Studies, Ozone Park, and Newtown Literary. He blogs about the impact of feminism on his life as a man and the relevance of classical Iranian poetry to our contemporary lives. In June 2012, Newman took over as curator of First Tuesdays: A Neighborhood Reading Series

My favorite part of hosting First Tuesdays, the neighborhood reading series I run in Elmhurst, Queens, is building the “cento,” which has become a tradition for me to close with at each month’s open mic. A cento is a poem made from the lines of other author’s poems, and represents a collaboration between the poet composing the cento and the poets from whose work he or she borrows from. At First Tuesdays, this collaboration happens in real time. While the first open mic reader shares his or her work, prose or poetry, I listen for language that moves me. When the reader is finished, I recite that line back to the audience, and then I take (or sometimes the audience suggests) a line or phrase from each subsequent reader. In this way, line by line, we build a poem that represents the literature shared that evening.

Part of the fun is that I don’t write anything down until the entire cento is finished, making the poem a true collaboration. Indeed, the audience often helps me remember the lines, especially when the list of open mic readers is long. This communal participation, the fact that the people who come to First Tuesdays see themselves as a community, is what I cherish most. We are a diverse group, including writers at all levels of accomplishment and from many walks of life, and I am inspired by how warm and welcoming everyone is. Almost every month, we become the first audience for someone who has never read their work publicly before; and there are always people who come just to listen. Some of them have become regulars, as well.

I took over hosting First Tuesdays for the 2012–2013 season, though circumstances made it impossible for me to apply for Poets & Writers funding. Starting from the fall of 2013, I have applied for every reading, and the money I’ve received has made it possible not only to pay our featured readers a respectable honorarium, but also to demonstrate that our small, neighborhood venue—and the work that it does as a small, neighborhood venue—matters. The smiles and head nods I see when I announce that Poets & Writers has sponsored a reading tells me people are happy, and even proud, about that.

Here is September’s cento, the first of the 2014–2015 season, composed of lines by Allison, Keron Dinkins, Herb Rubinstein, Valerie Keane, David Mills, Amanda, Lydia Chang, Norman Stock, Marty Levine, Norka Del Rios, Sean Egan, and Peter Marra:

Everyone Downstairs Can See Directly Up My Skirt

A blind man suggests an offering:   
A family of skeletons released,
Seeking a way out of the suction of Eros,
   Blazing the way you are
when you finally return
   To be grossed out by little peckers.


Perhaps they will wonder why I have so little hair  
 Waiting for the lion
to return.

Be nice to your mother  
 In the presence of the holy one blessed be
he.

That melody of love was interrupted.

I whisper secrets to her pillow to see what it says.   
She always
carried a contempt for daylight.
   
I cried for a while and then the
humor of it struck me.


–Composed at Terraza Cafe, September 2, 2014

Photo: Richad Jeffrey Newman. Photo Credit: Beech Tree Images.

Photo: Terraza Cafe. Photo Credit: Richard Jeffrey Newman.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by funds from the New York State Council on the Arts,and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

The Center for Book Arts Gives Voice to Poetry Chapbooks

The Center for Book Arts, located in New York City, is committed to exploring and cultivating contemporary aesthetic interpretations of the book as an art object, while invigorating traditional artistic practices of the art of the book through classes, exhibitions, public programs, artist opportunities, and collecting. Founded in 1974, it was the first not-for-profit organization of its kind in the nation, and it has since become a model for others around the world.

The Center for Book Arts, now in its fortieth year, is pleased that once again Poets & Writers joins forces with us to present our upcoming Poetry Chapbook Reading. This annual program is an invaluable opportunity for emerging poets to receive feedback from established writers and to have their work formally presented to the public.

Each year, the Center invites a notable poet to serve as guest curator along with program curator Sharon Dolin. For 2014, the American poet David St. John graciously agreed to fill this role and has selected, out of a wide variety of submissions, Sara Wallace as featured poet, and M. Callen and Carol Ann Davis as honorable mentions.

The Poetry Chapbook Reading will take place October 17, 6:30pm, at the Center for Book Arts and will feature readings by St. John, Wallace, Callen, and Davis. The Center is currently producing a limited edition, letterpress-printed and hand-bound chapbook for guest curator St. John—designed and printed by artist Amber McMillan—as well as for the featured honoree Wallace—created by artist Ed Rayer. The Center is also printing a broadside of poems from each of the honorable mentions. The chapbooks and broadsides will be shown for the first time at the reading, and a reception will follow.

David St. John has described featured honoree Sara Wallace's work Edge as: "A brilliantly conceived collection that is both searing and tender by turns. Visceral, fierce, and unapologetic, these poems confront the reader like a series of shattered mirrors. Operatic in scope yet incisive as a laser, this work will seize you—so be warned—and refuse to let go."

St. John also commended M. Callen for Preferred Apocalypse, calling it: "A stunning sequence of raw-edged yet impeccably crafted poems. This is the chapbook I will happily carry with me when that apocalypse finally arrives.” He praised Carol Ann Davis' work as well, noting: “Davis is a remarkable poet of elegant, sweeping lines that enfold us in their meditative beauty. Busy Their Hands is another of her gorgeous and consoling collections.”

Poet David St. John has been honored with fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, among many others. He currently teaches at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, where he founded and directed its first Ph.D. program in Literature and Creative Writing. St. John is the author of ten collections of poetry as well as a volume of essays, interviews, and reviews. He is also the coeditor of American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of the New Poem.

Program curator Sharon Dolin, a Fulbright Scholar to Italy, received the 2013 Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress and holds a Ph.D. in English from Cornell University.

The Center for Book Arts invites submissions to its 2015 Poetry Chapbook Program, which will feature guest curator Cornelius Eady. Submissions must be received by December 1, 2014. For more information, visit their website.

Photo: (top) Broken Glish: Five Prose Poems, by Harryette Mullen, guest curator of the Center’s 2013 Poetry Chapbook Program. Letterpress printed and bound at the Center by Delphi Basilicato. Photo: (bottom) Sharon Dolin. Photo Credit: Center for Book Arts.

Support for Readings & Workshops in New York City is provided, in part, by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, with additional support from the Louis & Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Red Hen Press and the Annenberg Community Beach House Series

Red Hen Press, founded by Kate Gale and Mark E. Cull, has been a part of the Los Angeles publishing world since 1994 and remains one of the few literary presses in the city. Red Hen hosts a series at the historic Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica. A P&W–supported reading on September 9, 2014 featured poets Afaa Michael Weaver, Douglas Kearney, Brett Fletcher Lauer, and Robin Coste Lewis and was moderated by Red Hen Press founder Kate Gale. R&W (West) program assistant, Brandi M. Spaethe, attended the reading and writes on her experience.

Annenberg Community Beach House

My first time at the Annenberg Community Beach House, I arrived when the sun was still just high enough to sink into the ocean as four wonderful poets read their work. One reader commented: “How can I compete with that?” The audience faced the reader who faced a wall of windows. We were all part of the spectacle for each poet who stood at the podium. They were a reflection of the setting sun and the turn of day to night.

In the 1920s, William Randolph Hearst erected a mansion for Marion Davies on the site where the Annenberg Community Beach House currently resides, and it became a place for Hollywood stars to congregate. Joseph Drown purchased the house from Davies in the 1940s and converted the property into a hotel and beach club. Many years later, the state took over and continued to run it as a beach club until the Northridge earthquake in 1994 damaged all properties on site. The Annenberg Community Beach House was built via a grant from the Annenberg Foundation as a place for the Santa Monica community and surrounding communities. 

Red Hen Press has sparked a tradition of poetry at the beach house with past readers who include Susan Straight, Ilya Kaminsky, Camille T. Dungy, and Ron Carlson. One of the night’s readers, Brett Fletcher Lauer from Brooklyn, New York, joked with me about arriving far ahead of schedule due to a warning from the locals about the traffic. He said it gave him a chance to sit outside the beach house and enjoy the scenery. After the reading, P&W–supported writer Douglas Kearney waxed poetic about the ocean at night and how daunting a thing it was. Many of us made note of the space, commenting on its magic.

First to the podium was Robin Coste Lewis, who is currently in the PhD in creative writing program for poetry at the University of Southern California. Her elegance and poise matched the power of her words while the low sun highlighted her beautiful ensemble. Brett Fletcher Lauer read work from his recent book A Hotel in Belgium, making note of its darkness, which was never deprecating or pitiful, but rather stunning in its revelations—enough to make you consider your own station. P&W–supported poet Douglas Kearney, in true Kearney fashion, shifted the tone of the reading with eye-opening crescendos and anaphoras from his published work, including his most recent book of poetry, Patter. His performance asked us to sit up and pay attention. The sun sank lower, almost out of sight now, almost gone. The final note, and a rising one, was P&W–supported poet Afaa Michael Weaver. He shared poems from a variety of his publications with a wisdom that seemed to come from a life of having seen much darkness and written through it. The audience listened intently, catching its breath as he delivered each line. 

Red Hen Press will host the next Annenberg Community Beach House reading on October 14th at 6:30 PM, featuring Leia Penina Wilson, Genevieve Kaplan, Jessica Piazza, and Mary Johnson. The readings are free. More information can be found here

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

Tucson's Deborah Mayaan on the Healing Power of Writing

Harnessing the healing power of words through writing helped Deborah Mayaan recover from serious illness. Her essays and poems have appeared in a wide range of publications including Woman of Power, Sin Fronteras, Maize, Unstrung, and Rattlesnake Review, and anthologies including Sister/Stranger and She Who Was Lost Is Remembered. Her journalism articles on health and spirituality topics have appeared in Spirituality & Health Magazine, the Arizona Daily Star, Tucson Lifestyle, the Tucson Weekly, and the Arizona Jewish Post. She loves teaching writing workshops and earned an MA in educational psychology. She also brings writing opportunities to people through art installations in public spaces. The Tucson Pima Arts Council awarded a grant for her installation “Fountain of Peace” in which participants write about what they need to release or strengthen to be at peace. Mayaan has led P&W-sponsored workshops with the Tucson Medical Center, University of Arizona Cancer Center, and Congregation Chaverim.

Deborah MayaanWhat techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
I put a strong emphasis on creating a group that serves as an emotionally safe container. Each time we meet, I reiterate the importance of confidentiality and also attend to physical needs. I not only remind people of the location of drinking water and the bathroom, but also check in about their comfort with the temperature, lighting, and room configuration (with, of course, a great deal of variability depending on how much we can change in different spaces). I also remind people that sharing writing is optional. If people do choose to share, they also choose if they’d like to receive feedback, and what kind. I often use a meditation bell timer to set time boundaries on shares so that there is an opportunity for everyone to share at least once in a smaller group, or to give more people an opportunity in a larger group.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a workshop leader?
It’s been very rewarding to witness real shifts in people’s lives. In a recent workshop at the University of Arizona Cancer Center on the topic of “What am I living for?” I appreciated seeing how energized people were by developing visions and goals for challenging phases of life. I liked hearing about how it helped them focus and take action. In a recent workshop at Tucson Medical Center Senior Services, the focus was on writing a will of ethics and values as a way to pass on a spiritual legacy. A woman said that it helped her open up her heart. Several people commented on how the plan for sharing the ethical will with their families, and updating it regularly, had great potential for changing the family dynamic in order to express feelings and to share personal growth.

What effect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
Working with people who are facing death helps keep me awake to the present moment, and reminds me not to play it too safe. The practice of writing a will of ethics and values is rooted in my Jewish culture and teaching it has helped me become clearer about my own values. The combination of these reminders has given me the courage to become increasingly vocal in addressing current issues in Israel. I’ve organized healing rituals and written about them. I’ve recently started writing creative nonfiction that includes reporting, memoir, and political reflection. Here in Tucson, some of us are drawing connections between border issues in Israel and Palestine and the U.S. border with Mexico. On both borders, separation walls, guard towers, and the detention and questioning of people based on their ethnicity are all used to restrict the movement of people through regions that have been their homelands for generations. Israeli writers like Avraham Burg and Ari Shavit have written about how the unhealed trauma of the Holocaust may possibly be reenacted in Israel—in the creation of a state system of racial discrimination, along with those eerily similar guard towers and detention camps. A friend of mine is currently on a trip to Germany that includes speaking publicly about U.S.-Mexico border issues and praying at Dachau, and our conversations have helped bring all these threads together. Since I’ve seen such deep healing shifts in myself and others, I have hope for the healing of societal issues when we address our shared needs for safety, security, and self-determination. I don’t yet know what actions I’ll take to share and place this writing, but I’m carving out time to write.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for seniors?
Seniors usually have the time to write, but can hold themselves back, not trusting their voice, feeling constrained by what people will think, or simply procrastinating without knowing why. Writing workshops give a structure in which people can write an entire ethical will, or get started on a larger project like a memoir.

Photo: Deborah Mayaan     Credit: Amy Haskell
Support for Readings & Workshops events 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.

South Sudan, Georgia, and New York Meet on the Shores of Lake Ontario

Estelle Ford-Williamson, is coauthor of Seed of South Sudan: Memoir of a "Lost Boy" Refugee, and editor of the Lou Walker Center Writers Anthology, Vols. 1 and 2. She has received Poets & Writers grants to teach creative writing to young adults who have timed out of the foster care system in Atlanta, Georgia.

On the other end of the phone, a willing librarian listened: Would a library in north-central New York State be interested in a former Lost Boy of Sudan and his coauthor reading and discussing their recent book about his experience fleeing death in a religious/ethnic war, and his subsequent life adapting to Atlanta and now living on two continents?

Fortunately, the answer from Oswego Public Library’s Edward Elsner was yes. My coauthor Majok Marier and I began to put together an extensive road trip that included readings in four cities far from our Atlanta roots: Lakewood (Cleveland), Ohio; Oswego and Syracuse in New York; and Washington, D.C. One grant to appear at the Oswego Public Library was the catalyst that encouraged us to set up other readings–the grant was through Poets & Writers. During our tour, we met former Lost Boy John Bul Dau, author of God Grew Tired of Us and a South Sudan aid leader, and many others involved in refugee issues.

Our book, Seed of South Sudan: Memoir of a “Lost Boy” Refugee was published in May by McFarland and Company. It updates the story of the young men and women, thousands who arrived in America in 2001. Their resettlement was a part of an unprecedented airlift to provide futures for the young children facing limited lives in refugee camps due to a decades-long war. Now young men and women, they are spread throughout the United States (Australia and Canada, too) as they pursue an education and jobs that enable them to support family back home, as well as help build the new nation of South Sudan.

The welcome was warm at the Oswego Library, the “Castle on the Hill.” The historic building is a shrine to abolitionism and to the Free Library movement as the library was built by noted abolitionist Gerrit Smith. Our book tour coincided with heated protests in another part of the country to block entry of underage migrant children from Central America. It was probably one of the most emotional times in the recent national debate on refugees in the United States.

The reading yielded only appreciation, encouragement, and a desire to learn more about Majok and our journey together as coauthors of his story–his semi-nomadic life as young Dinka tribesman in the Rumbek area before fleeing his village in the war. Even more interest centered on his goal of drilling the first water wells in such villages.

Our trip affirmed the value of such face-to-face exchanges, and I highly recommend that writers contact this library and other venues in states and cities served by the Readings & Workshop program. All it took was a minimal amount of research, a willingness to cold-call possible sponsors, and an interest by a library to enrich their patrons’ literary experiences.

Photo: (top) Estelle Ford-Williamson. 

Photo: (bottom) Estelle Ford-Williamson, Majok Marier, and John Bul Dau. Photo Credits: Richard Williamson.

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

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