Poets & Writers Blogs

Mike Sonksen: Poetry Meets Activism

P&W-supported spoken-word artist Mike Sonksen, author of I am Alive in Los Angeles, blogs about poetry and activism.

Whether MFA candidates, avant-garde scribes, spoken-word artists, or traditional poets, there are more bards alive now than ever before. But, what exactly does it mean to be a poet? I think of a quote from Los Angeles poet Kamau Daaood. Daaood told Erin Aubry Kaplan in the L.A. Weekly, "When people run to open mics these days, it's mostly about ego–getting fifteen minutes... I [see] it as a jam session, swapping ideas, getting inspiration from other people."

In 2005, Daaood's The Language of Saxophones was published by City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. Daaood never pursued being published because he was too busy working in the community. Daaood has performed for more than four decades at festivals, galleries, jazz clubs, churches, schools, prisons, or wherever duty calls.

Another poet with the same commitment is Lewis MacAdams. MacAdams studied with Robert Creeley at the University of Buffalo in the 60s and hung with New York School poets. MacAdams became an environmental activist/poet in Bolinas, California, during the 70s and was a fixture at the San Francisco State University's Poetry Center. In 1980 MacAdams landed in L.A. There he discovered the Los Angeles River, and was outraged by the concrete channel housing the watershed. He decided to begin a forty-year performance piece dedicated to returning the river to its natural state.

One night in 1986 he performed a suite of poems dedicated to the Los Angeles River while being dressed up as a totem of flora and fauna specific to the river. This was the birth of the Friends of the Los Angeles River (FoLAR). Twenty-five years after FoLAR's founding, the River has had several stretches restored back to its natural state. MacAdams started the river's resurrection with poetry. His new book Dear Oxygen, published by the University of New Orleans Press collects forty-five years of his life's work. MacAdams like Daaood has spent a lifetime using poetry to improve his community. Their work reminds me of the benchmark for which poets should aim.

Photo: Mike Sonksen. Credit: Chris Felver.

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

Poetry Contest as Med Student Motivator

Just ask William Carlos Williams (or Jenna Lê), medicine and poetry have long fed one another, but perhaps it takes a little competition to draw the poet out of the physician. Yesterday the New York Times Well blog reported on the noteworthy response to a poetry contest held last spring for students of the Yale University School of Medicine and the University College London (UCL) Medical School.

The response by would-be physicians in the two sponsor programs exceeded the expectations of the judges, a panel of doctors of medicine and the humanities who anticipated receiving a handful of entries—more than one hundred sixty entries came in. “It was rare in my generation for doctors to write poems," contest organizer John Martin, who teaches cardiovascular medicine at UCL, told the Times, "but I think there’s a new interest in poetry and how it can arise from what we do."

There's no doubt the fifteen-hundred-dollar first prize, funded by a donation from an anonymous patient, provided an added dose of inspiration. Impressed by the caliber of submissions, the judges—with the help of an additional prize contribution from one of their own—chose to award the prize to two poet-physicians, UCL students Gabrielle Gascoigne for "Mastectomy" and Daphne Tan for "Apices." Noah Capurso of Yale received a three-hundred-dollar runner-up prize for "Aphasia."

The Fellowship of Postgraduate Medicine, based in London, also runs a poetry contest for physicians and medical students in the United Kingdom, but with a second "open international" competition for poems on a medical theme written by anyone from anywhere in the world. The Hippocrates Prize, first given in 2010, awards five thousand pounds (approximately $7,800) to a winner in each category, as well as publication in an annual anthology.

Entries are now open for the 2012 Hippocrates Prize, and the deadline for submissions is January 31, 2012. More information is avaialable on the prize website.

And each spring, Bellevue Literary Review, based at New York University's Langone Medical Center, holds its annual poetry (and fiction, and creative nonfiction) contest for works on health and healing. Stay tuned for more on the BLR Literary Prizes in 2012. In the meantime, be well and write strong!

New Orleans Stories: Lee Meitzen Grue Helps Emerging Writers Tell Their Own

In October, the Alvar Library in New Orleans hosted a fiction workshop with P&W-supported writer Lee Meitzen Grue. Branch Manager Mary Ann Marx reports.

The Alvar Library is located in a very unique neighborhood in New Orleans called Bywater.  Many poets, writers, musicians, and artists reside here. Because of this, the library applied for and received a grant from Poets & Writers, Inc., to present a series of five fiction workshops conducted by Lee Grue, a poet, writer, and teacher who lives in Bywater.

Her themes come from that unique urban culture of New Orleans: its customs, its culture, and her everyday experiences of living here. Her published books are: Trains and Other Intrusions: Poems; French Quarter Poems; In the Sweet Balance of the Flesh; and Goodbye, Silver, Silver Cloud, a collection of New Orleans stories. Lee is the longtime editor of the New Laurel Review.
 
The writing workshops were a wonderful asset to the community and to the city. Writers came from all areas of the city to participate in these workshops. It was wonderful to hear and see the enthusiasm expressed by the participants. As I watched them listening to Lee’s instructions with concentrated attention, I could see that they could not wait for the time when they would be able to read their own work to the group. As each took his or her turn, the others listened and made suggestions for improvements. The ideas for improvement were discussed and rationale explained. Then Lee gently presented her own suggestions for improvements.

As one participant stated, “This writers' workshop is important to me because writing is my passion. To master this art, I have to surround myself with those who have already done so.”

It is only with the support of P&W that these writing workshops can be made available to the public. Funding for programs like this is scarce in New Orleans.

As the sponsor of the program, we have seen a whole new dimension of the work we do. Meeting these writers has influenced our collection development and expanded our network sphere. On occasion, workshop participants have developed poetry and writing programs themselves, which we have also presented at the library.

Photo: Lee Meitzen Grue (second from left) with workshop participants. Credit: Shannon Aymami.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans 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.

Guardian First Book Award Goes to Biography of Cancer

Indian American oncologist and author Siddhartha Mukherjee is honored for his "anthropomorphism of a disease" in The Emperor of All Maladies (Fourth Estate), which has won the Guardian First Book Award. According judge Lisa Allardice, Mukherjee, who began the part-memoir, part-biography in an effort to contextualize cancer for one of his patients, "has managed to balance such a vast amount of information with lively narratives, combining complicated science with moving human stories. Far from being intimidating, it's a compelling, accessible book."

The only nonfiction title on the shortlist for the award, The Emperor of All Maladies, which also took the Pulitzer Prize this year, beat out four novels for the ten-thousand-pound prize (roughly $15,700). Also competing for Guardian First Book Award were American Amy Waldman's post-9/11 novel, The Submission (William Heinemann); Down the Rabbit Hole (And Other Stories Publishing) by Juan Pablo Villalobos of Mexico and translated by Rosalind Harvey; The Collaborator (Viking) by Mirza Waheed of Kashmir; and Pigeon English by British novelist Stephen Kelman (Bloomsbury), whose debut was also shortlisted for this year's Booker Prize.

"You never write books to win awardsthey are immensely gratifying but unexpected," Mukherjee said. "In recognizing The Emperor of All Maladies, the judges have also recognized the extraordinary courage and resilience of the men and women who struggle with illness, and the men and women who struggle to treat illnesses."

In the video below, the author discusses the origins of the book, and how it evolved into a biography of a disease.

Ruth Stone, National Book Award Winner and Pulitzer Finalist, Dies at 96

Ruth Stone, a poet who received several major awards late in her decades-long career, has passed away. The poet, whose first collection, An Iridescent Time, was published in 1959, won the 2002 National Book Award for her collection In the Next Galaxy (Copper Canyon Press, 2002), and the 2000 National Book Critics Circle Award for Ordinary Words (Paris Press, 1999). Her most recent volume, What Love Comes To: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2008), was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

When she received the NBA nine years ago, Stone began her acceptance speech, "All of the poets on the panel are fabulous. I think you probably gave it to me because I'm old." She added, "I guess I should say I've been writing poetry or whatever it is since I was five or six years old, and I couldn't stop, I never could stop. I don't know why I did it. It was like a stream that went along beside me. And I really didn't know what it was saying. It just talked to me, and I wrote it down. So I can't even take much credit for it."

Stone, whose other honors include the Poetry Society of America's Shelley Memorial Award, a Whiting Writers' Award, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, has also inspired a prize to be created in her name. Hunger Mountain, published in Stone's longtime home state of Vermont, is holding its annual Ruth Stone Prize competition, open to groups of poems, until December 10.

In the video below, author Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the genius of Stone's process, describing the poet's attempt to capture a poem thundering toward her across the landscape of her Vermont farm.

Kelly Harris On Pinkie Gordon Lane

P&W-supported poet/activist Kelly Harris, founder of GAP: Girls. Achieving. Possibilities., an empowerment program for African American girls, blogs about Pinkie Gordon Lane's legacy.

I know New Orleans has been the focus of this month-long blog, but I want to speak the name of an important poet who lived about 90 miles from the Big Easy.

Pinkie Gordon Lane. I'm told she was a gentle woman, a painter, a nature and dog lover, a writer, and a demanding instructor. Her poems walk a lyrical tightrope, never falling into sentimentality.

Her legacy includes being the state's first African American poet laureate. Lane travelled the state vigorously–reading, visiting classrooms, and promoting poetry. Some locals say her work as laureate has been unmatched. In 1967 Pinkie Gordon Lane became the first African American woman to earn a PHD from Louisiana State University, where her papers would be housed.

I never got the opportunity to meet Pinkie Gordon Lane, but lately I've been studying her poetic craftsmanship and quiet lifestyle. As a young poet, I often feel anxiety about not having a collection published as yet. It feels like a rat race sometimes, it's either publish or perish. Pinkie Gordon Lane came to poetry late in her life and I believe it afforded her patience in her work.

Her poem, "Lyric: I am Looking at Music," was featured in the 1997 motion picture, Love Jones. In a 1997 phone conversation with Dr. Jerry Ward, English Professor at Dillard University, she said actress Nia Long got the poem right in the film, "even the sniffles."

This year, the Pinkie Gordon Lane First Annual Poetry Contest Awards Program was held in April on the campus of Southern University and A&M College where she served as Chair of the English Department. The contest awarded local student writers with small prizes... her legacy continues to inspire and impact a new generation.

Photo: (top) Kelly Harris; (bottom) Pinkie Gordon Lane. Credit: The Archives and Manuscripts/John B. Cade Library/Sounthern university and A&M College/Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans, 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.

Nominees for the Story Prize Speak on Process and Inspiration

The Story Prize, the annual twenty-thousand-dollar award for a short story collection, closed its 2011 competition entry pool earlier this month—and now its blog is offering a close look at the writers whose books were nominated. Authors such as Danzy Senna, William Lychack, Joseph McElroy, Ana Menendez, and Shann Ray, all of whom had collections published this year, discuss their writing processes, sources of inspiration, and the books that made them want to write.

In today's post, Menendez, nominated for her collection Adios, Happy Homeland! (Black Cat), emphasizes practice and training over "witchcraft or pure chance" as key to the creation of our masterpieces, with James Joyce and Vincent Van Gogh to back her up. Lychack, nominated for his second book, The Architect of Flowers (Mariner Books), discusses the importance of another art—judo—to achieving an understanding of balance and dedication in the writing process. And Alan Heathcock, nominated for Volt (Graywolf Press) breaks down his approach to writing into six steps. Thirty-five nominee discussions are currently posted as part of the running series.

The judges are having a word on the blog, as well. Breon Mitchell, a professor of comparative literature who is joined on the panel by Sherman Alexie and Louise Steinman, reveals what the jury is looking for in a Story Prize submission: "Samuel Beckett once said that most people could only enjoy a text if it reminded them of something else they had read. We enjoy hearing echoes of earlier texts in a new one, like musical motifs borrowed from compositions of another age. Yet we also set a high value on originality—we want to be surprised, not just by a turn of events, but by some element we may never have encountered before."

A shortlist of three collections entering the final running will be announced in January, and the winner of the Story Prize will be named on March 21 at a ceremony in New York City.

Thurber House Announces New Residency Contest

Beginning next fall the childhood home of author and humorist James Thurber will open its doors annually to one writer for a monthlong retreat. The John E. Nance Writer-in-Residence of Thurber House, located in Columbus, Ohio, will receive a stipend of four thousand dollars and a private, two-room apartment in which to develop a work-in-progress.

The inaugural residency will be offered to a nonfiction writer, in honor of the prize's namesake, the late author John E. Nance, whose work in the genre includes books on the Tasaday people of the Philippines, where he was an Associated Press bureau chief, and the biography of a master potter. In subsequent years, the award will be given in other genres.

Eligible writers for the 2012 award must have published one book of nonfiction (including creative nonfiction) within the past three years or have a book under contract. The most recent book or manuscript, as well as a brief application, must be submitted to Thurber House by March 15. Complete guidelines are available on the Thurber House website.

Kelly Harris Hearts New Orleans

P&W-supported poet/activist Kelly Harris, community outreach chair for the New Orleans chapter of the Women's National Book Association, blogs about her love for New Orleans.

Before moving to New Orleans for love in 2008, I was a writer who required complete silence to write. Often I'd find a corner of a library, pull my hoody over my head, and dig in. Sometimes I'd plug my ears with headphones without any music. I know, I know, weird, but I needed to tell myself (and show everyone around me) I was occupied.

New Orleans is not a quiet place. It occupies you. Since moving from the Midwest (Cleveland, Ohio) to the South, I've had to adjust how I write. Some family members have wondered how I could be a candidate for marriage because I seemed eerily comfortable as a loner. My husband is always amazed at how often I leave my phone at home on purpose. There's a reason... I'm easily distracted. With so many stimuli, I wonder how poets find useful silence.

By now you're asking, "Kelly, where is there a quiet place in New Orleans?" I don't know, but, strangely, I have found the daily commotion in New Orleans to be useful.

New Orleans Streetcars: Maybe it's the nostalgic wooden seats and clicks of the metal wheels against the metal tracks that inspire me as a writer. Riding a streetcar allows me the opportunity to sightsee, and overhear some of the most interesting conversations.

Rue De La Course on Oak Street: The café is an old, two-story bank with high ceilings. The way voices bounce off the walls create the feel of an old movie where two lovers reunite.

The Moonwalk: This paved sidewalk beside the Mississippi River has nothing to do with Michael Jackson. It's called the Moonwalk in honor of former mayor Maurice "Moon" Landrieu. From here you see the Crescent City Connection Bridge connect the east and west banks of the city. Café Du Monde is steps away.

The combination of music, history, and culture makes this a place where a poem waits to happen.

Photo: (top) Kelly Harris; (bottom) Marching band. Credit: L. Kasimu Harris.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans, 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.

Upper Midwestern Poets Get a New Prize

Midwestern indie press Milkweed Editions has recently launched a new prize for poetry, open exclusively to poets currently residing in Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. The annual Lindquist & Vennum Prize will award ten thousand dollars and publication of a book-length manuscript.

This year's contest will be judged by poet Peter Campion, author of The Lions (2009) and Other People (2005), both published by University of Chicago Press. Campion is a regional resident himself, living in Minneapolis and teaching in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota.

The competition opened for submissions earlier this week and will continue to accept entries until January 31, 2012. A winner will be announced next April, just in time for National Poetry Month.

For complete guidelines and information about eligibility, visit the Milkweed Press website.

Sandra Beasley's Sense of Humor

Sandra Beasley is the author of the memoir Don’t Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life and the poetry collections I Was the Jukebox and Theories of Falling. She received the 2008 Poets & Writers Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for poetry and lives in Washington, D.C., where she's also been a P&W-supported writer. We asked her a few questions about her experience giving readings.

What are your reading dos?
Do make eye contact. Do pause between poems, both for your sake and that of the audience. Do crack a joke or two; this is poetry, not brain surgery. (And actually, I would want the brain surgeon who can crack a joke or two).

...and your reading don'ts?
All poets go through a phase of journeying—to New York, D.C., Los Angeles—to take part in line-ups where they are one of many. Don't try to shoehorn that extra poem in to make it "worth" your trip. You want to be remembered as the poet who left us wanting more, not the one who had us checking our watches.

How do you prepare for a reading?
I make my set list, which is usually about ten poems ordered for thematic flow (i.e., a trio of persona poems) and strategic timing (i.e., not assaulting anyone with two sestinas back to back). I clear my throat. I bounce up and down on the balls of my feet. It's a lot like being a musician, minus the groupies and the free beer.

What's the strangest comment you've received from an audience member?
"[My boyfriend] doesn't speak much English, but your facial expressions and hand gestures were so intense that he could follow along." Apparently I am a vivid performer, as evidenced by all the incredibly goofy snapshots taken of me mid-reading.

What's your crowd-pleaser?
There's one poem I love to read, so much so that I practically have it memorized, and that is "Vocation" from I Was the Jukebox. As poems go, it is short, has some humor, and is dedicated to anyone who (like me) has struggled to pay rent while doing the thing(s) we love to do. "Vocation" was also my first experiment in making video-poems for YouTube.

What did you spend your R/W grant check on?
For my P&W-supported reading, I shared the stage at the Arts Club of Washington with Sarah Browning. It was a quintessentially D.C. night, and I was so proud to read with Sarah, the director of Split This Rock and the author of Whiskey in the Garden of Eden, which I had helped edit when she published with The Word Works in 2007. Though my honorarium wasn't huge, it was an important reminder that our work is valued in this world. What did I spend it on? The usual: dinner with writer friends, a good martini, and more books.

Photo: Sandra Beasley. Credit: Matthew Worden.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in 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.

Nikky Finney, Jesmyn Ward Take National Book Awards

It was a big evening for poetry last night on Wall Street. At the National Book Awards, John Ashbery was honored for his lifetime achievement in the art, Nikky Finney won the award in poetry for her collection Head Off & Split (TriQuarterly Books), and in nonfiction, Stephen Greenblatt took the prize for The Swerve (Norton), an exploration of Lucretius's poem "On the Nature of Things." As poet Ann Lauterbach put it in her introduction to Ashbery, "I thought I should point out, since nobody else has, that we are occuping Wall Street."

Poetswho Ashbery asserted in his acceptance speech, are very much distinct from writersweren't the only voices that rose to recognition last night. In fiction, Mississippi native Jesmyn Ward won for her second book, Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury). Ward remarked in her acceptance speech that she is only at the beginning of her life's work, to write about "the poor, and the black, and the rural people of the South, so that the culture that marginalized us for so long would see that our stories were as universal, as fraught, as lovely, and important as theirs."

In the young adult category, Thanhha Lai won for her Vietnam War–era coming-of-age novel, Inside Out & Back Again (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers).

Each of the winners received ten thousand dollars, and the finalists were awarded one thousand dollars.

In the video below, Finney reads her poem "Penguin Mullet Bread."

Kelly Harris Turns the Page on Katrina

P&W-supported poet/activist Kelly Harris, founder of The Literary Lab, a small business that promotes local writers, and member of Melanted Writers NOLA (New Orleans, Louisiana), a year-old workshop for writers of color, blogs about the post-Katrina literary happenings in New Orleans.

Talk to many New Orleans writers about the storm and they will raise a hand to show you how high the water rose in their neighborhood and lament about all the books that were washed away. The devastation of 2005 was extensive, but in the years since the literary scene in New Orleans has been thriving!

The New Orleans Chapter of Women's National Book Association formed this year. The group includes local women writers, bookstore owners, publishing professionals, and readers. 

In 2010 Loyola University established the Walker Percy Center for Writing and Publishing. The Center fosters literary talent and achievement and advances the art of writing as essential to a good education. The literary arts is flourishing in the Big Easy... The Pass It On open mic series began in 2008 as an attempt to restore the pre-Katrina open mic scene. Its host Gian Smith was a featured poet in the HBO hit series Treme.

This year brought us the first WriteNola!: Spoken Word & Poetry Festival. WriteNOLA! gathered New Orleans's pre and post Katrina poets together to give readings and conduct workshops. The City of New Orleans supported the event and offered the regal Gallier Hall as the venue. Proceeds from the festival benefited the NOLA Youth Slam Team.

The Peauxdunque Writers Alliance, many of whom are students and alumni from the University of New Orleans MFA program, started a reading series called, Yeah, You Write. As always, 17 Poets, a Thursday night reading at the French Quarter's Goldmine Saloon, continues to anchor the New Orleans poetry community. It was the first poetry reading series held in New Orleans after Katrina on October 13, 2005. 

Even the youth have a place in the literary action. This October marks the 2nd Annual New Orleans Children's Book Festival. Civil rights icon Ruby Bridges, whose lonely walk into William Frantz Elementary School inspired a famous Norman Rockwell painting, and Cheryl Landrieu, wife of the city's mayor, established the free festival to promote local children's book authors, literacy, and provide food and entertainment.

The Scholastic Writing Awards of Southeast Louisiana, an affiliate of the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers and sponsored by the Greater New Orleans Writing Project, supports seventh-twelfth grade writers. In 2011, its inaugural year, two students were sent to the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop and one received a $2,500 college scholarship!

Can't keep up with this literary buffet? No worries. Listen to The Reading Life, a show dedicated to all things bookish in New Orleans online. The radio show is hosted by former The Times-Picayune book editor, Susan Larson.

And finally, Louisiana celebrated the opening of the Ernest J. Gaines Center in October 2010 at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, just a mere two-hour drive from New Orleans.

It seems new events and writers are emerging every day. Next time you're in town, attend a reading, buy a book. Help the city continue to rebuild its literary community.

Photo: (top) Kelly Harris; (bottom) Melanted Writers Workshop. Credit: Jennifer Williams.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in New Orleans, 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.

Aura Estrada Prize Gives Young Woman Writer Time, Money

Twenty-nine-year-old Mexico City fiction writer Majo Ramírez has been awarded the second biennial Aura Estrada Prize, an honor that affords a young Spanish-language writer money, publication, and up to eight months of time at writers colonies in Italy, Mexico, and the United States. Named for the late Mexican writer Aura Estrada, who was a student at both Columbia University and Hunter College in New York City when she died at the age of thirty, the prize is given specifically to a woman prose writer, of either U.S. or Mexican citizenship, under thirty-five.

Ramírez receives ten thousand dollars and publication of her work in Spanish Granta, as well as invitations to four residency programs. She is offered retreats of up to two months each at Ledig House in Omi, New York; Santa Maddalena in Tuscany, Italy; Ucross in Wyoming; and Villa Guadalupe in Oaxaca, Mexico.

This year's prize jury included authors Daniel Alarcón, Jorge Luis Boone, Carmen Boullosa, and Cristina Rivera Garza. The founder of the award is Estrada's husband, the author Francisco Goldman, whose most recent novel, Say Her Name (Grove Press, 2011), centers on their marriage and the aftermath of Estrada's death.

For information on the requirements for entry into the competition, visit the Aura Estrada Prize website.

Ann Lynn's Safe Space for Women Veterans

P&W-supported poet Ann Lynn, author of the chapbook In the Butterfly House, published by Finishing Line Press, blogs about facilitating writing workshops with women veterans in Atlanta, GA.

In October 2005, I began a series of writing workshops with women veterans in Atlanta. The women in the group had served in war zones during the Vietnam and the Gulf Wars. One woman drove a truck and was trained to work with hazardous materials. Another worked with the wounded. Some experienced scud missile attacks. All witnessed firsthand the atrocities of war and suffered personal traumas themselves. For the participants, the workshops weren't just an exercise in learning to write better... the workshops served as a lifeline. I was blown away by what these women were writing and sharing, and realized how hungry they were for the healing power of writing.

One of the first assignments I gave was to write about a place where they felt safe and comfortable, an exercise that could be appropriate for anyone, but especially so for people who have experienced trauma. I will never forget what one woman wrote:

My truck is a safe place. In it there is no sound, no music, no talking, just listening to the wind as it hits my windows. My mind can be free there, and I can drive away all the tears, fears, as long as I got gas.

Another time I asked them to pick an object from a bunch I set out on the floor and describe that object with concrete and sensory details. I then  told them to write about one of their parents in terms of that object. One woman wrote:

Mother is like a rock,not a mother,
except in its true instinctual self of how it became,
beginning as loose powder then pressed together,
hardened and roughed-up (tossed, turned, hurt).

I was stunned by the beauty and power of this poem. And, for the writer, it seemed as though the metaphorical language with which she'd chosen to describe her mother had somehow turned on a light in her head, as she began to talk about her life in a deeper way.

For these women, writing, sharing, and the group itself formed a safe space. The group met for three and a half years, and for me it was a life-changing experience. I wrote when they wrote, read when they read, and sometimes cried when they cried. I am so grateful that Poets & Writers believes that art is important for all people, and is willing and eager to fund programs that can make such a difference in people's lives.

Photo: Ann Lynn. Photo Credit: Roby Lynn.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Atlanta 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.