Readings & Workshops Blog

2016 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Winner in Poetry: Key to New York City

Kimo Armitage is the author of over twenty children's books, and his first novel, The Healers, was published by the University of Hawaii Press in April 2016. He is currently looking for a publisher for his first collection of poetry, These Shackles Fit Perfectly.

My writing group tells me to submit to the Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry. I am hesitant. I am not ready for New York City and my inner voice tells me that I might never be ready.

Luckily, my writing group is there for me. We meet monthly and workshop our work. After I receive positive feedback for the poems, I decide to listen to them and send in my collection of poems. These poems are inspired by the traumatic and joyous histories of people in the Pacific who have been affected by colonization, nuclear weapon detonation, immigration, foreign military occupation, and other events. Hawaiʻi is another world compared to New York City and I do not know how I—a Hawaiian, Chinese, Maori, English, and Portuguese Pacific Islander raised by my mother’s parents—will be received. My worry is that my voice and my stories will be dismissed. I am shocked when I am told that I have won.

Now, I am in New York City. I am excited and terrified. I have just arrived on the red-eye into JFK. Alicia Upano, a fabulous writer and the WEX winner for fiction, arrived the day before and we are meeting for brunch at a famous NYC dim sum eatery. She is also from Hawaiʻi and we are friends. My first task is to drop my luggage off at the hotel—included in an all-expenses-paid trip to the city to meet with agents, authors, publishers, and others in the literary community, as well as the opportunity to participate at a one-month residency at the Jentel Artist Residency Program in Wyoming.

I hail a cab to get into the city. My suitcase is filled with gifts for the people that I will meet. There are boxes of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and aromatic coffee from Hawaiʻi. I have also brought along copies of my completed poetry manuscript, These Shackles Fit Perfectly.

Alicia meets me at the hotel. We cab to Chinatown and eat an amazing lunch. We sightsee before heading back to the hotel for our initial meeting with Bonnie Rose Marcus and Wo Chan, who work in the Readings & Workshops (East) department at Poets & Writers.

The week is an amazing mix of meetings, information, and being genuinely starstruck. We discuss literature and topics in Uptown offices, trendy restaurants, private homes, and modest workspaces. Each person listens and offers advice. These resonated with me:

Send your poetry out to different publishers. It will get your name and work out until you find the right publisher.

You have to write. Period.

Storyline is just as important as character (and vice versa).

There is a difference between writing and editing. You need both.

There is no single path. All writers have their own journey.

It is the last advice that cinches it for me. The New York literary scene is intimidating and frustrating and worthwhile at the same time. I am beyond grateful for being chosen to see how it works. But the greatest takeaway for me is that there is no right way to get here. Never pass up an opportunity; it might be the key that lets you in.

Photos (top): Kimo Armitage, (middle) Kimo Armitage and Sarah Gambito, Kimo Armitage and Alicia Upano. Photo credit: Alycia Kravitz. Photo (bottom, left to right): Kimo Armitage, Maureen Egen, Marie Brown, Alicia Upano, Bonnie Rose Marcus, Elliot Figman. Photo credit: Anonymous.

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

 

An Interview With Jennifer Patterson

Jennifer Patterson is a grief worker who uses words, threads, and plants to explore survivorhood, body(ies) and healing. She is the editor of Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices From Within the Anti-Violence Movement (Riverdale Avenue Books, 2016), facilitates trauma-focused writing and embroidery workshops, and has had writing published in places like OCHO: A Journal of Queer Arts, the Establishment, HandJob, and the Feminist Wire. She is also the creative nonfiction editor of Hematopoiesis Press, which has their first issue out this month. A queer and trans affirming, trauma-informed herbalist, Patterson offers sliding scale care as a practitioner with the Breathe Network as well as through her own practice Corpus Ritual Apothecary. Recently, she finished a graduate program with a thesis focused on translating embodied traumatic experience through somatic practices and critical and creative nonfiction. You can find out more at ofthebody.net.

What makes your workshops unique?
The workshops I offer are multi-dimensional. They’re grounded in writing through, with and about trauma (however people define that for themselves), and in reading other people’s writing about trauma and violence. There’s a somatic approach so we attend to the wisdom in our bodies that we sometimes forget, which might look like lying on the ground and breathing deeply. We hold space for each other in a way that feels really loving, expansive, and honestly, these days, it feels necessary and transformative. I’ve offered them in LGBTQ centers, at harm reduction clinics, in veterans hospitals, and universities. We’re living in a burning world and a lot of us have always felt that singe so it helps to unpack it on the page and turn it into something. I mean, trauma is always on the page but centering it in this way, I think, gives people permission to do the work they have been wanting and needing to do.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
First, I thank people for showing up. Showing up is the hardest part especially when you’re inviting people to show up and write about their hardest experiences. I try to let go of demands and expectations and I let people know that they never have to share out loud if they don’t want to. (And actually, more times than not, most, if not all people share out loud.) We build a shared altar. I bring a freshly brewed herbal tea to calm nervousness and support the heart. I remind everyone that wherever they are and whatever comes out of the pen, for that moment, is just right. There’s plenty of time for editing—these workshops are for digging inside and generating.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
Mostly just hearing from people that they felt more connected to their writing practice and, in turn, to themselves. That they feel heard and understood. That they felt something in their body soften or move around just a little.

What affect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
I recently finished a thesis (and soon to be manuscript) on trauma, somatic writing and embroidery—using stitch as a metaphor for making and remaking the wound—and it was incredibly difficult work so I’ve been taking a little breather. Some weeks the only time I write is in the workshop, which feels a bit funny to admit. But I also get to remember how writing supports me feeling more in my own life, more alive.

As someone who has been digging into my own history of trauma as well as collective trauma for years, it feels nice to be connected to other people doing similar work. As a younger writer, I felt so ashamed about the directions my writing took, particularly in wanting to write about violence I had experienced, so I feel really alive when I get to shape these spaces and invite other writers into them. I’m also just incredibly inspired by the quality of writing that I get to experience in these workshops literally every week. I get to remember how many incredible writers there are out there just looking for a room to write in.

Photo: Jennifer Patterson (top). Class materials (bottom). Photo credit: Jennifer Patterson.

 

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 Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

World Beat Center’s Kwanzaa Festival in Balboa Park

Johnnierenee Nia Nelson is an award-winning author of five books of Kwanzaa poetry and two other volumes of poetry to promote social change. She serves as the San Diego County Area Coordinator for California Poets in the Schools, and teaches for San Diego's acclaimed Border Voices Poetry Program. She was the featured poet in the fifth annual El Cajon Friendship Festival with her creation of “A Taste of Kwanzaa” and a featured guest on KPBS’s “These Days” and “The Lounge.” Nelson also performed at San Diego City College in collaboration with Urban Bush Women and at the grand opening of San Diego’s new state-of-the-art Central Library.

Johnnierenee Nelson“Light the candles
beat the drums
pour the libation
for Kwanzaa comes

Bring forth the poet
let her speak
the message of Kwanzaa
the knowledge we seek.”

For the past several years, thanks to support from Poets & Writers, I have been the featured poet at the World Beat Center's annual Kwanzaa festival held in beautiful Balboa Park—the crown jewel of San Diego. Kwanzaa is a seven-day celebration of community, culture, and kin, which begins December 26 and ends January 1. Kwanzaa, created in 1966 by Dr. Maulana Karenga, is based on the year-end “first fruits” harvest festivals that have taken place throughout Africa for thousands of years. It is a family-focused observance steeped in African tradition and replete with rituals such as “drum call,” “ancestral roll call,” and a candle-lighting ceremony using seven candles (three red, three green, and one black), which represent the seven principles of Kwanzaa including pouring of libation and karamu (our feast consisting of African, African American, and Caribbean cuisine). Kwanzaa was explicitly designed to reaffirm and restore our rich African heritage.

Armed with a museum-quality kalimba, one of the many, many African names for what is known in America as a thumb piano, I (aka the Kwanzaa Poet) get to express with the resonating rhythm of this musical instrument the pride and the love I have for this progressive and uplifting holiday as a hush falls upon an audience awed by its chimes and my hypnotic chants and murmurings. Simply put, I love Kwanzaa. It has so much meaning and significance; so much to offer. I love its symbols, rituals, principles, and emphasis upon family. I love its history; the fact that it was created during the black nationalist movement of the 1960s as an act of cultural self-determination.

This year marks the fiftieth birthday of Kwanzaa and for several nights I get to perform such poems as “People in Me,” “Black Gold,” “Kwanzaa Is Rich,” “How I Rejoice,” and “Going the Distance”—poems found in the five volumes of poetry that I created in tribute to this revered commemoration.

The Kwanzaa festival is welcoming. All people are invited to “Come to the Kwanzaa table”—a table laden with fruits and vegetables (representing the fruits of our labor), African artifacts, and other symbols of Kwanzaa, such as the unity cup and the bendera (our flag also in the Pan-African colors of black, red, and green). The beauty and genius of Kwanzaa is in its centerpiece—its seven core principles (the Nguzo Saba), which begins with unity and ends with faith—values sorely needed in today’s climate of divisiveness and turmoil.

Kwanzaa celebrants are encouraged to don traditional West African and reggae attire, which creates a flurry of bright and bold colors, and vibrant geometric designs characteristic of the mud cloth, kente and Kuba cloth, and reggae fashions that friends and family members adorn. Elaborate and elongated African head wraps, as well as leather sandals typify the garments that guests wear. The plethora of sights and sounds associated with this colorful occasion along with the smells of healthy African and Caribbean vegetarian foods served at the World Beat Center’s karamu exemplify community-building and networking at its best.

Last year's festival attracted more than eight hundred celebrants. Each night's program begins with a drum call, a rendition of the African American National Anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and a prayer delivered in Twi, the ancestral language of the Akan people in West Africa. In addition to my poetry performances, this festival incorporates stilt dancing, drumming, singing, storytelling, live music, traditional African dancing, and capoeira (a martial art that combines elements of dance, acrobatics, and music). Cultural fufu for all!

“How I rejoice in the blackness of Kwanzaa
midnight black like Mother Africa
ebony black like.........”

Photo: Johnnierenee Nelson.  Photo credit: Ben Nelson.

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

The Storytellers of Kew Gardens

Leslie Shipman is a poet whose work has appeared in BOMB Magazine, the Kenyon ReviewTinderboxMid-American ReviewLaurel ReviewCosmonauts Avenue, and elsewhere. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and anthologized in Best New Poets. Formerly the assistant director of the National Book Foundation, she is now a freelance consultant specializing in project and event management for arts and literature nonprofits.

The F train takes about an hour to get from my home in Red Hook, Brooklyn to the Kew Gardens Community Center in Queens, site of a long-running, multigenre creative writing workshop for seniors, sponsored by Poets & Writers. Kew Gardens, like most neighborhoods in Queens, is a vibrant community of Latinos, Asian Americans, and an aging population of Jewish refugees who fled Germany after World War II and settled in this middle-class area. The hour on the train is useful. I anticipate the work my students will bring, and think about what craft element I want to introduce.

I work with a small group of ten or so women, ranging in age from mid-sixties to mid-eighties, who are writing poetry, fiction, and memoir. They’re good writers. Serious writers. Writers who are interested in an honest critical response to their work, and ways they might improve it. The range of life experience in this classroom is breathtaking, and I frequently feel more like a student than a teacher, as I read their stories and learn about their lives.

At the end of every class, I give them a writing prompt to help generate new work between classes. Usually it’s a simple exercise that asks them to describe something. The twist is that they can’t describe it from their own point of view, they have to describe it from, say, their mother’s point of view, or their childhood best friend’s point of view. I do this to help them separate themselves from their narrator, so they can feel what it’s like to create a voice that’s distinct from their own, to create a narrative persona, even in memoir.

I also emphasize thinking about sentences. In a class where the students are working in different genres, sentences are what unite us. Words are the building blocks, but sentences, in all their structural complexities, are our raw material. We talk about syntax, and delay of information. We talk about how to create drama and tension, and how syntax can heighten these crucial elements of a poem or story.

With this in mind, I asked them to create a persona to describe their childhood bedrooms. All of their responses to this exercise were fascinating. One writer lingered over the way the light played on her ceiling. I asked if she was familiar with the magic lantern scene in Swann’s Way by Marcel Proust. She wasn’t, but she managed to evoke a similar magic in her own description of the interior light of her bedroom as a child, evoking nostalgia, love, and a difficult relationship with her sister.

The gratitude I feel in working with these older writers is sustaining. I’m the lucky one, privileged to be a small part of their development as writers, to witness their lives in words, and to help shepherd their stories into the world.

Photo: Leslie Shipman. Photo credit: Elena Alexander.

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 Louis and Anne Abrons Foundation, the Axe-Houghton Foundation, the A.K. Starr Charitable Trust, and Friends of Poets & Writers.

Emma Tao White on Writing With Seniors

Emma Tao White was born in Shanghai and came to the United States at age ten, living in the Midwest until she completed her education. For twenty years, she juggled a medical career and managed a family of five children. In her forties, she returned to school and became a licensed clinical psychologist. She now lives in San Francisco, where for the last ten years, she has facilitated writing groups for seniors in senior centers, senior housing, and adult day health centers including the P&W–supported Project Access at the Coronet Apartments. Over the same time period, she has been writing her own life stories.

Senior Writers

For several years, I’ve facilitated writing groups at adult day health centers and senior apartment buildings where the participants range from the elderly and/or disabled with good cognitive and physical functioning to those who have approached dementia and need assistance with the physical act of writing. Writing abilities range from retired professional writers to those who need assistance to write due to brain injury, muscle disease, or arthritis. 

One of the most enthusiastic writers, who I have dubbed “Happy Camper,” has a severe stutter. Each week, he writes a page or more detailing the highlights of his week. With public transportation, he often gets around the entire Bay Area. He frequently expresses joy and appreciation for this group: “I am glad we have an outlet to explore and put down our thoughts and ideas on our journey of life.”

Another writer I call the “Doughnut Man” developed Baker’s Lung from making doughnuts for over thirty years. Since he was still too young for social security, he went on to a second career as a security guard. A few years ago he had a stroke that left him with expressive aphasia that hampered his ability to find and say words. With persistent effort, he has noticeably improved. He shared in his writing how after trying different jobs as a young man, he found doughnut making the most satisfying. 

After having a stroke about twenty years ago, one woman uses the class to practice her handwriting. Her concentration is admirable whether she is practicing her name, numbers, or the ABCs. Another participant writes romantic poems in Spanish, based on song lyrics she remembers from her youth. And yet another participant began her autobiography years ago, and at ninety-two, she still has the ambition to write a book about her colorful life that began in Scotland when her father, a graduate student from China, married his landlady’s daughter. She stopped work on her manuscript just as the Cultural Revolution was to begin.

One of our most prolific writers is a professional entertainment writer in her home country. In the beginning, she wrote about her delight with her cat and how they live together. Then she began to write about her childhood, her health, and what she finds satisfying as she ages. She said she does not want to just “extend arms and open mouth” in her old age.

Among the various immigrant groups in the Bay Area, the elderly Asian immigrants arrived at different ages, some when they were young while others were brought over by their children who came first to study and become established. They get the most pleasure from being around family on weekends and holidays, eating and laughing together. Because many of them live in social circles of other Asian immigrants, they do not see the upheaval of having survived wars and traversed continents as worthy writing material. Or perhaps they have buried their traumatic memories and moved on.

One man recounted how he arrived in this country with his young children and worked for the same company until he retired. After being widowed, he’s very content living with his son. One day, tears streamed down his face as he wrote about how he wished he could see more of the world with his wife, a longing perhaps he had not acknowledged before.

Those who write gain a sense of satisfaction in being able to put their thoughts down on paper, and have a place to voice their feelings and opinions, and at the same time, preserve their precious memories. With the realization that their time on earth is finite, this activity provides a means to leave a part of themselves to others. With their varied backgrounds, the writing group gives them a chance to write and share the rich and full lives they have lived and are living.

Photo: Senior writers reading.  Photo credit: Emma Tao White.

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

Missing You: Honoring Loss and Resilience in South Tucson

Teaching artist Marge Pellegrino recently led a series of P&W–supported writing workshops for the YWCA’s La Escuelita’s summer program. Pellegrino has written about grief and resilience for children. Since 1999, she has directed programming for the Owl & Panther expressive arts project that serves refugees impacted by torture, trauma, and traumatic dislocation. Her book Journey of Dreams (Frances Lincoln Press, 2009) is a Smithsonian Notable Book, Southwest Best Book, and Judy Goddard Award winner for excellence in young adult literature. Her book Too Nice (Magination Press, 2002) is available in five languages.

Missing You Workshop Cohort

The neighborhood surrounding the House of Neighborly Service’s La Escuelita knows loss. Many of the youth who participate in the YWCA’s La Escuelita summer camp have family members who have died too young. Some have relatives who have been incarcerated. Some youth come from mixed-status or undocumented families who are separated from loved ones by deportation.

The series of five P&W–supported “Missing You” writing workshops invited neighborhood youth from five to seventeen years of age to explore new ways to hold memories and reach out to those they love. They played with writers’ tools to create a small body of work that tapped spatial and linguistic intelligences. They let their illustrations fuel a “simile portrait.” They felt the cadence in their “I Miss/I Remember” list poems. They composed letters to the people they love and imagined how the voice of that person might sound in an answer. Some of the participants were particularly engaged when they stitched together narratives that captured details of a time they spent together with the person they miss.

One morning they wrote about the metaphorical trash in their lives on scraps of colored paper. They ripped the paper up, put the small pieces in a blender with water, “transforming trash into treasure,” and created a beautiful handmade paper cover for their book, which held their own story of resilience. Their last exploration held up gratitude. They wrote about things they valued about a brother, a tio, abuela, or the mother who loved them, in order to feel how gratitude can lift their spirits, like the last line of a great poem.

Each workshop ended in sharing within the cohort—a time when their words traveled on sound, when they could see others respond to what they had kept tucked in their hearts. A time when the writing and sharing could break through the isolation caused by a buildup of grief and separation. Hearing the others’ stories let them know they weren’t alone with these feelings.

The series culminated in a shy and proud reading for the community elders.

Photo: La Escuelita “Missing You” workshop with Marge Pellegrino.

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.

Joan Gerstein on Teaching Workshops With Incarcerated Veterans

Joan Gerstein, originally from New York, has lived in California since 1969. A retired educator and psychotherapist, Gerstein has been writing poetry since elementary school, and her writing is featured in multiple San Diego publications as well national and international periodicals. She has volunteered to teach creative writing to incarcerated veterans at the county jail for almost two years and finds it stimulating and extremely rewarding. She has led the workshop for veterans at the Vista jail for six years. Her poetry has been published in Tidepools, Magee Park Poets Anthology, A Year in Ink, Summations, and the San Diego Poetry Annual. She served as the editor of the special Veteran's Section of the San Diego Poetry Annual 2015-16. San Diego Entertainment & Arts Guild partnered with Gerstein recently for a series of P&W–supported veteran workshops.

Joan GersteinWhat makes your workshops unique?
The veterans are in a specially designed program called Veterans Moving Forward and are required to participate in all classes including my creative writing workshop. As such, the men have a wide range of writing skills and interest in the writing process. There is also much fluidity because new participants enter weekly and some depart. I offer a combination of workshops such as poetry, memoir, fiction writing, and if there are requests, classes focused on grammar and sentence and paragraph structure. I also offer my editing, typing, and submission services for those who either wish to enter a contest or are writing something of which they want my feedback. Because they are currently incarcerated and have little access to computers, I meet individually with those men, edit and type up their material, get their approval of final product, and if relevant, submit their entries to various periodicals and veteran anthologies.

What techniques do you employ to help shy writers open up?
Attending the workshop is mandatory but participation varies. I offer a vast number of different exercises to ensure that everyone can hopefully respond to at least some. Sharing of work with the group is voluntary. I often suggest that men work in pairs or groups to allow more reserved men to participate without undue attention. While they are doing assignments, I make a point of walking around the room and working individually with men who rarely share with the group.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher?
The men are extremely appreciative as a group and individually. I look forward to and thoroughly enjoy my weekly workshops and feel especially rewarded when I work individually with the writers, and their submissions are accepted. 

What affect has this work had on your life and/or your art?
I’m not sure this has affected my work except as possible subject matter to use in my writing, however the experience has enriched my life and given me a greater understanding of the challenges facing discharged military. My students range from men in their young twenties to veterans of the Vietnam War, of every race and background, from all over the United States as well as foreign countries. I have definitely gained a greater appreciation of their sacrifices and challenges.

What are the benefits of writing workshops for veterans?
This is a creative outlet for many. For men who already enjoy writing and do it regularly, it is an opportunity to hone their craft and a showcase for them to share their material. If they want, I work with the men individually to fine-tune their writing. I offer several opportunities for the men to submit poetry and prose to various contests or veteran publications. For all the men, I hope to expose them to various styles of writing as well as many writers. For example, I may read excerpts from A Place to Stand by Jimmy Santiago Baca, so the men can see that anyone can overcome odds including incarceration, and even become a great writer. The various exercises we do, individually and in small and large groups, encourage critical thinking. Most participants, even those that insist they “can’t write,” will find some success and surprise themselves.

Photo: Joan Gerstein  Photo credit: Joan Gerstein
Major support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the James Irvine Foundation and the Hearst Foundations. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Growing a Poetry Group and Finding Our Poetic Voices

Currently an adjunct college professor at SUNY Empire State College, Linda Griggs is the founder, host, and coordinator of Palace Poetry Group, which is in its tenth year of existence. She has been a mentor at Empire State College; a mental health counselor; and a transition supporter for Vietnamese “boat people” and refugees from war in Ethiopia and Somalia, using arts and crafts and, sometimes, poetry. With her husband, she is a backyard gardener, making the earth productive and healthy. Griggs self-published the chapbook Love Poems of the Universe (2003), wrote and illustrated The Night of the Starfish People (Willet Press, 2011), and is the author of the chapbook The Balance of Love (Willet Press, 2012).

Palace Poetry Group is free and open to the public at DeWitt Community Library in DeWitt, New York. Our group started in 2007 and has a monthly poetry reading with a different featured reader every month and an open mic. The goal of this poetry group is to help poets find their poetic voices and, in that process, encourage each other. Once a year, we have an additional special reader and a workshop for poets.

I found it was important to be sensitive to the poetic needs of group members and to find featured readers who could challenge those needs. Thanks to Poets & Writers’ grants, we are constantly inspired by excellent poets who expand members’ world views and expose them to different ways of poetic expression.

Three poets who received P&W grants in 2016 were Joseph Bruchac, Michael Czarnecki, and Barbara Crooker. All have different ways of expressing poetry while clearly illustrating their views on the world. Joseph and Michael are master storytellers. Joseph told his stories and read his free verse poems about nature, justice, spirituality, and Native American culture, describing how these themes relate to the good of all of us. Michael used free verse as well as the poetic expressions of haiku and haibun, a Japanese literary form combing condensed prose and haiku, to express experiences he’s had traveling throughout the United States—recording his feelings and his approach to looking at nature and life. Barbara Crooker read her free verse poems choosing ordinary experiences and perceptions of nature to express caring, compassion, and joy in life.

Each featured reader expressed interest in audience members listening to them, using anecdotes and humor to express their ideas. For example, Joseph Bruchac used humor and stories to lead audience members to an understanding of Abenaki culture and beliefs. He listened carefully to each poet in the open mic—including a poet who read in Spanish, a language he is fluent in—and said something positive about each of the poems. Palace Poetry Group members were able to look anew at the way they wrote and fine-tune their own poetry, thus developing their poetic voices, the goal of our group.

Photos: (top, left to right) Lindsey Bellosa, Linda Griggs. Photo credit: Martin Willitts. (middle) Palace Poetry Group tenth anniversary cake. Photo credit: Martin Willitts. (bottom, front row, left to right) Jane Schmid, Donna M. Davis, Paul R. Davis, Eileen Rose, Linda Griggs, Martin Willitts. (back row, left to right) Michael Cheslik, David Harper, David Forrest Hitchcock, Paul Shephard, Stephen Brace. Photo credit: Sue Harper.

 

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.

Rachel Valinsky on the Wendy’s Subway Reading Room

Rachel Valinsky is a cofounder of Wendy’s Subway, a nonprofit library and writing space in Bushwick, Brooklyn. As an independent curator, writer, and translator, she has presented projects at Judson Memorial Church, Lisa Cooley, and Spectacle Theater, and written for East of BorneoMillennium Film JournalBOMBC Magazine, and the Third Rail. She is the editor of Warm Equations (Édition Patrick Frey, 2016) and a contributing editor at Éditions Lutanie, Paris. Valinsky is currently a doctoral student in Art History at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

Since the founding of Wendy’s Subway in December 2013, we have been steadily growing a space for writing and thinking across disciplines. In January 2016, we moved to a new storefront space, which comfortably houses our collection of over three thousand books, periodicals, and printed matter, as well as the Laurin Raiken Archive, an extensive resource for the study of art history and criticism. During the day, the space is open for writing, and on some evenings, we host public programs, including readings and screenings, interdisciplinary talks and lectures, discussion and reading groups, as well as writing workshops. Open to the public, we welcome readers to consult our non-circulating library. Likewise, our membership actively contributes to the operations of the organization, by taking part in the daily life of the space, writing together, and conceiving of projects that are developed independently or as a group, with peers and friends from Wendy’s and beyond.

In 2015, we launched a mobile Reading Room project. Designed by Tyler Polich and Hannah Wilentz, the Reading Room has been presented at a variety of locations in and outside of New York, in each case directly engaging with the context and site of the invitation. It has addressed the topics of experimental writing, visual art, and digital media (for Brown University’s Interrupt 3 conference and “From Line to Constellation” group exhibition) and place and revolution (for Open Engagement's 2015 conference at the Carnegie Mellon School of Art), among others. At NADA New York in May 2015, Wendy's Subway partnered with the Mexico City-based library Aeromoto to present a selection of books by Latin American publishers, paired with books in our collection. Central to the mission of the Reading Room is to develop close partnerships and conversations with exhibiting or presenting artists.

As I write this, we’re preparing for a Political Therapy workshop, led by artist Liz Magic Laser and certified life coach Valerie Bell, which is meant to help participants confront and express their mounting frustrations in the face of this year’s presidential election. The workshop will take place in the Reading Room we’ve installed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) for the Next Wave Festival, which lasts all fall. Here, the collection of nearly four hundred books on display focuses on performance, dramaturgy, theater, dance, choreography, and poetics while also highlighting titles chosen by the artists performing in the festival and the visual artists whose work is exhibited across BAM’s many locations. In the lower lobby of the BAM Fisher Building, the Next Wave Reading Room is a fixture of the festival, open to the public every day for browsing and extended reading.

This is the first time, however, that we have been able to organize a series of public programs with the Reading Room that systematically extend the collections’ reach to wider audiences. With readings and workshops every month of our stay at BAM, we’ve brought in diverse communities of writers, artists, performers, and enthusiasts of all kinds for interdisciplinary programs.

This past October, a program pairing six writers and performers, one of several in this series to receive generous support from Poets & Writers, drew over a hundred audience members. The Reading Room was packed, yet the surprising and meaningful resonances that echoed across each set of readings made for a very intimate evening—one that reminded me of the intimate feel of our space in Bushwick, where we can comfortably accommodate forty people. Supporting writers gave them more resources to develop connections across their work—connections which reverberated across the Reading Room and speak to the collaborative mission of Wendy’s Subway.

Follow the projects and adventures of Wendy's Subway on Instagram.

Photos: (top) Wendy’s Subway Reading Room at BAM Fisher designed by Tyler Polich and Hannah Wilentz. Photo credit: Greg Bosse. (bottom) Drawing of several Wendy’s Subway board members and friends at the Los Angeles Contemporary Archive, AWP Offsite Program. Drawing by Matt Longabucco.

Editor's Note: Wendy’s Subway cofounder Carolyn Bush passed away on September 28. Contributions to a fundraiser in her honor will go in part to Wendy's Subway, "to continue the legacy she started."

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 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.

Joy Ladin on Lambda Literary's Retreat for LGBTQ Writers

Joy Ladin is the author of seven books of poetry, including Impersonation (Sheep Meadow, 2009) and Transmigration (Sheep Meadow, 2015), which were both Lambda Literary Award finalists. Her memoir of gender transition, Through the Door of Life: A Jewish Journey Between Genders (University of Wisconsin Press, 2013), was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist. Her work has been recognized with a National Endowment of the Arts Fellowship and a Fulbright Scholarship, among other honors. She holds the Gottesman Chair in English at Yeshiva University in New York. This past July, Ladin led a P&W–supported poetry workshop as part of the Lambda Literary Foundation's annual Writers Retreat in Los Angeles. Here, she blogs about the importance of this retreat for emerging LGBTQ writers.

Joy Ladin

Outside of MFA programs and writing conferences, it’s pretty queer to be a poet in most places in the United States. I learned that when, during my first job after college, a fellow office worker backed away from me when I told her that I was a poet.

But to many LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or otherwise queer) poets, the poetry world seems just as “straight” as the non-literary world, just as invested in norms that focus attention paid on the work and lives of heterosexual white people (particularly men) and make it hard for LGBTQ people and people of color to feel seen, valued, or understood.

That's why the Lambda Literary Foundation’s annual Writers Retreat for Emerging LGBTQ Voices (supported in part by a grant from Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program) is so important. For many of the LGBTQ writers who attend, the retreat is a weeklong oasis in which they can find the understanding, encouragement, and recognition that all writers need to survive and thrive. As Nico Amador, a poetry fellow, said, “In so many workshops queer and trans writers have to spend more time than we’d like on…educating our straight or non-trans peers enough so that they can engage with a reading of our work that honors our intentions and points of view. At Lambda, it was enlivening to be able to sit at a table with others who could move seamlessly through the varied thematic and poetic discussion in the workshop—applying a queer reading when relevant and leaving it out when it wasn’t. The space this created allowed us to take seriously the goals of each person's work, to offer a diversity of thought, and pose questions that could [help] each of us to grow in our work as poets.”

This past summer, for the first time, I learned firsthand what the writers retreat offers LGBTQ writers, when I led the poetry workshop. After decades of writing and teaching in classrooms where my transgender identity is treated as an awkward subject to avoid, I found myself in a place where my experience as a trans writer was valued. Not that I felt surrounded by “writers like me”: Even within the poetry workshop, we were all very different in our writing concerns, styles, backgrounds, and the complex constellations of our identities. At the retreat, we didn't have to minimize or hide our differences; we could share and celebrate them as sources of poetry, insight, humanity.

But as Julia Tranchina, another poetry fellow wrote: “The best part of the retreat was working on poetry. Breathing, biting, imbibing poetry with other poets.” Those are feelings every poet I've ever met can understand.

Lambda Retreat Poetry Cohort

Photos: (top) Joy Ladin. Photo credit: Lisa Ross. (bottom) Joy Ladin and poetry cohort. Photo credit: Lambda Literary.

 

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

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