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The Cambridge, Wisconsin–based literary magazine Rosebud is currently accepting submissions to its fifth biennial Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley Award for Imaginative Fiction. The winner will receive $1,000 and publication in Rosebud. The deadline is September 15.

Submit one copy of a previously unpublished short story of up to 4,500 words with a $10 entry fee ($15 to receive a copy of the prize issue) by postal mail to Rosebud Magazine, N3310 Asje Road, Cambridge, Wisconsin 53523. Checks can be made payable to the Rosebud/Shelley Award.

Works of literary fiction, as well as works of science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, and “stories that reach beyond the boundaries of those genres” are eligible. Fiction writer Ray Vukcevich will serve as final judge.

Established in 1993 and staffed entirely by volunteers, Rosebud Magazine is a nonprofit organization that publishes works of poetry, fiction, and essays in three print issues each year. For more information and complete submission guidelines, visit the website. 

Time is what we call the brutal miracle that makes us grow old. Certain months of time remind us of falling in love, burying a loved one, or moving into a new house. This week, as we say goodbye to July, reflect on what August has meant to your life. Begin your poem with your childhood. Then describe how August has changed you and your perception of the world.

In July, P&W-funded fiction writer Alex Espinoza, author of The Five Acts of Diego León, was among the faculty at the annual Community of Writers at Squaw Valley conference in California. Laura Cerruti, Squaw Valley’s director of development, blogs about his visit.
 
Alex Espinoza“Do you love the Community of Writers?” asked Alex Espinoza, a workshop teacher at the forty-third annual Community of Writers. He was introducing the Published Alumni Reading Series, and the audience’s response rivaled the volume of the cheerleaders whose camp often shares our airspace in Squaw Valley—not bad for a group of writers ranging in age from early twenties to late eighties, and from first-timers to seasoned alumni.

Espinoza’s introduction set the stage for an electric evening in the Olympic Village’s Plaza Bar, where even the mountain seemed to be leaning in to listen. 
 
When a writers’ workshop reaches middle age, it becomes as defined by its alumni as by its current participants. Espinoza is an excellent example of this beneficial cycle. A graduate of the UC Irvine MFA program, Espinoza first attended the Community of Writers in 2004, returning in 2005. Community of Writers founder Oakley Hall directed the Irvine program for two decades, and Irvine MFAs have been attending the conference on special scholarships for many years (Ramona Ausubel, Michael Chabon, Richard Ford, Maile Meloy, and Alice Sebold—among others—also attended both programs, and Irvine MFA Louis B. Jones is now the co-director of the Writers Workshop). Espinoza is truly a link back to the origins of the Community of Writers.
 
Espinoza helped make this year’s workshops a life-changing experience, whether participants worked with him in group workshops, met with him during individual conferences, or attended his conversation with Dagoberto Gilb. Born in Tijuana, Mexico, and raised in suburban Los Angeles, Espinoza’s background speaks to a California experience that is often underrepresented in published work. His most recent novel, The Five Acts of Diego León (Random House, 2013), is broad in its scope of depicting an immigrant pursuing his dreams, but also completely grounded in time and place: Hollywood during its golden age.

Most importantly, Espinoza’s generosity to other writers embodies the spirit of the Community of Writers staff. Lisa Alvarez, co-director of the Writers Workshop, noted that, “He’s a consummate teacher. He really wants to support people the way he was supported.”

Photo: Alex Espinoza (center) at Squaw Valley.
Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Thirteen fiction writers make up the long list for the 2013 Man Booker Prize, which was announced this week in London. The winner of the prize—one of the most prestigious awards in literary fiction—will receive 50,000 British pounds, or approximately $75,000.

This year's so-called “Booker’s Dozen” includes Five Star Billionaire (Fourth Estate) by Tash Aw, We Need New Names (Reagan Arthur Books) by NoViolet Bulawayo, The Luminaries (Granta) by Eleanor Catton, Harvest (Picador) by Jim Crace, The Marrying of Chani Kaufman (Sandstone Press) by Eve Harris, The Kills (Picador) by Richard House, The Lowland (Bloomsbury) by Jhumpa Lahiri, Unexploded (Hamish Hamilton) by Alison MacLeod, TransAtlantic (Bloomsbury) by Colum McCann, Almost English (Mantle) by Charlotte Mendelson, A Tale for the Time Being (Canongate) by Ruth Ozeki, The Spinning Heart (Doubleday Ireland) by Donal Ryan, and The Testament of Mary (Viking) by Colm Tóibín.

According to the announcement on the Booker Prize Foundation website, this year’s judges—Robert MacFarlane, Martha Kearney, Stuart Kelly, Natalie Haynes, and Robert Douglas-Fairhurst—read 151 books, and “have found works of the greatest quality in places as distant from one another as Zimbabwe and New Zealand, Canada and Malaysia and from writers at the start of their careers (Eleanor Catton, aged 28, whose book The Luminaries weighs in at a whopping 832 pages) to those who have been at the writing game for many years (Jim Crace, aged 67)—and every stage in between.”

Seven of the long-listed books are written by women, three are debuts, and only Crace and Tóibín are previous Booker finalists.    

Founded in 1969, the Man Booker Prize is given annually for a book of fiction published in the previous year and written by a citizen of the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth, or the Republic of Ireland. Hilary Mantel took the 2012 prize for her novel Bring Up the Bodies, the second installment of her acclaimed Tudor trilogy; the first, Wolf Hall, won the prize in 2009.

A shortlist will be announced September 10 and the winner on October 15. In the meantime, check out an excerpt from finalist NoViolet Bulawayo’s We Need New Names, featured as part of the annual first fiction roundup in the current issue of Poets & Writers Magazine, and an essay by Ruth Ozeki—about the creation of her long-listed novel and the relationship between readers, writers, and characters—which appeared in the May/June issue.

The wind can toss a greasy napkin down a city street, stir dead leaves in the corner of an abandoned tool shed, or propel an ancient sailboat across an ocean. Every wind has unique and varied sounds, smells, and textures. Think of a moment in your life when the wind was particularly prevalent. Describe the wind as if it were a character with a distinct personality—strengths, weaknesses, and quirks. How did that wind influence your thoughts and feelings, and why was it so memorable? Write 500 words.

P&W–supported poet Michael Medrano will blog about the literary climate in California's underserved Central Valley throughout the month of July. Medrano is the author of Born in the Cavity of Sunsets (Bilingual Press 2009). His poems have appeared in Askew; Bombay Gin; The Cortland Review; The Packinghouse Review; Rattle; and The Yellow Medicine Review among other publications. He is the host of Pakatelas, a literary radio show, streaming worldwide at www.kfcf.org, and hosts the Random Writers Workshop in Fresno, California.

Michael MedranoWe poets recognize an unusual reading gig when we see one. We’re used to reading in bookstores, coffee shops—even a hole-in-the-wall isn’t the least bit strange. And every space has its challenges; sometimes it’s the acoustics or an obstruction in the room, a giant beam blocking the view of the poet on stage. Some of the worst readings were ones with an active bar where people became loud and discourteous. But, let's face it: It is a bar and not everybody is a fan of poetry. Otherwise they’d be naming stadiums after poets and not banking institutions.

A great poetry experience can happen when you least expect it. For example, in 2000, when I was a student editor for Flies, Cockroaches, and Poets, I was asked to do a poetry reading at Sears in central Fresno. I was the only editor who was able to make it, since the others were either swamped with work or too afraid to read in a mall. In those days, I never cancelled readings. I’d read with the flu if I had to.

So there I was, the lone poet from F,C, & P, aboard the escalator on my way to Sears to give a reading in the men’s department. During the short ride up the electric staircase, I imagined a mic on top of the counter next to the cash register. That would be cool, I thought. I imagined reading above the people, families leaving their back-to-school-shopping behind, chanting for more of my poetry. Oh, the delusions of grandeur we make up for ourselves minutes before we hit the stage.

Four rows of seats were carved out of the socks and underwear section. The microphone stand was placed in front of the dressing room—for the grand entrance, of course! Behind the last row, two ladies from the catering company prepared appetizers. They were careful not to get grease on the stack of 501’s next to the cutting board. I sat and waited for thirty minutes. Nobody showed up! Discouraged, I put my poems away and proceeded to walk out. But then I stopped.

"Hey, can I read my poetry to you?" I asked the cook.

"Well, we’re going to pack up our stuff and go," the cook replied.

"Don’t be like that," her assistant said. "Let the boy read his poems."

Just then, I laid a grin not even Muzack could wipe off. I read poem after poem. I read for twenty minutes straight, shouting my poetry so the shoppers would know there was a poet in the house! They stopped too, some in confusion as they contemplated their coupons, but others smiled and nodded as they acknowledged my art.

Sure, the reluctant cook fell asleep during the reading, and the store manager asked me to keep the noise of my poetry down. I doubt my poems got in the way of their profits; and I bet at least one of those kids shopping with their parents would end up one day falling in love with poetry and thinking about the first poem they heard from a bumbling, amateur poet in the men’s department at Sears.

Photo: Michael Medrano.

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

The ping of a spatula. The rattle of dirty plates. A dropped spoon. Place the main character of your story or novel in a diner. Write a paragraph detailing the many sounds this character hears. Then have this same character receive devastating news via an anonymous letter delivered by the waitress. Write another paragraph about the sounds the character now hears. The two paragraphs should be very different. Tragedy changes us instantly in so many ways. 

Poetry harnesses the power of metaphors and similes to reach a part of humanity that is inaccessible to all other forms of communication. Think about someone you love. Spend 15 minutes making a list of their notable attributes—both flattering and incriminating. Describe those attributes using simple metaphors and similes to explain the complex feelings this person evokes within you.

The New York City–based Center for Fiction has announced the long list for its 2013 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, given for a debut novel published in the current year. The winner, who will be announced in December, will receive $10,000.

In the prize's second year of partnership with the American Booksellers Association (ABA), the nonprofit trade association for independent booksellers, member booksellers around the country served as first-round readers. Ben Fountain—who received the prize last year for his novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (Ecco)—will serve as one of the final judges for this year’s prize, along with Victor LaValle, Roxana Robinson, Christine Schutt, and Luis Alberto Urrea. The short list will be announced in late August.

The long-listed finalists are:
 
Any Resemblance to Actual Persons by Kevin Allardice (Counterpoint)
The Blood of Heaven by Kent Wascom (Grove Press)
The Carriage House by Louisa Hall (Scribner)
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Hogarth)
Elders by Ryan McIlvain (Hogarth)
Eleven Days by Lea Carpenter (Alfred A. Knopf)
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi (The Penguin Press)
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell (Soho Press)
The Morels by Christopher Hacker (Soho Press)
Motherlunge by Kirstin Scott (New Issues Poetry & Prose)
The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones (Touchstone)
The Residue Years by Mitchell Jackson (Bloomsbury)
The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski (Harper Paperbacks)
Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng (Ecco)
Tampa by Alissa Nutting (Ecco)
A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea by Dina Nayeri (Riverhead Books)
The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma (Viking)
Wash by Margaret Wrinkle (Atlantic Monthly Press)

Wise Men by Stuart Nadler (Reagan Arthur Books)

Y by Marjorie Celona (Free Press)

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani (Riverhead Books)

You Are One of Them by Elliott Holt (The Penguin Press)

Short-listed authors, who will be announced in late August, will each receive a prize of $1,000. The winner will be announced at the Center for Fiction's annual awards dinner on December 11 in New York City. Submissions for the prize (which may be sent by publishers only) are considered annually in March.

Tanyia Johnson and Stephen Gros are literary event producers with the Houston-based organization Make.Play.Speak. They team up to create unique events, such as Kerouacfest: Go!Go!Go! and the upcoming Word Around Town Tour, both supported by P&W. Together, Johnson and Gros answered our questions about the work they do.

Tanyia Johnson and Stephen GrosWhat makes your programs unique?
Johnson: We try to create events we would want to attend. My experience with performance is from theater, and Stephen is an active poet and performer, so our programming takes an all-inclusive approach. We want to create events that can be experienced on different levels—visual, auditory, and kinesthetic—and try to incorporate these models throughout our programming.

What recent project have you been especially proud of?
Gros and Johnson: Our recent project was KerouacFest: Go!Go!Go! March 9, 2013, an all-day event dedicated to legendary Beat writer Jack Kerouac. The event was held at the Orange Show Monument. The Orange Show was built by Houston mail carrier Jeff McKissack between 1959 and 1979. It was McKissack’s opus to the orange, his favorite fruit. This space is an amazing folk art environment filled with mosaics, found objects, and has an unusual layout design, so it was perfect for our event.

With a venue that has multiple performance areas and so much character, we had to develop programming that would feel right for the space. We included a mini biographical exhibit, a panel discussion, a crowd-sourced aggregate poem using Twitter, a DJ playing records from the Beat era, a variety of food trucks, poetry buskers banging out spontaneous poems, plus two incredible jazz bands, and live screen printing. All of that before we even add in the youth slam performance by Meta-Four, well-known Houston writers reading from Kerouac’s On The Road, or the incredibly talented P&W-supported poets—Marie Brown, Salvador Macias, BGK, Chris Wise, and Seth Walker—performing their own work. 

We chose poets who weren’t necessarily writing in the style of Kerouac, but would evoke performances that reflected the jazz culture Kerouac desired to embody in his work. Overall, the event was very successful and rumors are already circulating of a follow-up festival next year.

How do you find and invite readers?
Gros: For the Word Around Town Tour we’ve recently instituted a Poet Draft. The Word Around Town Tour is an annual weeklong poetry marathon held at a different venue every night for seven days each summer since 2006, and it’s grown every year since it started. The current lineup consists of 21 poets plus seven veteran features. At that size, it can be tough to keep it fresh and find new talent. The Draft solves this problem. It’s essentially a big open mic where poets get ranked by the organizers and the winners get a spot in the lineup for the tour.

How do you cultivate an audience?
Johnson: At events, we encourage attendees to sign-up on MailChimp or find us on Facebook. Stephen has hosted and produced shows for many years, so he’s built up a network of followers. Houston has a pretty active poetry community. We also make a big effort to access people who usually aren’t attending these events. We try to get exposure through different media—radio, print, and online—to highlight the events we organize.

Can you speak to the value and challenges of collaboration?
Gros: For me, collaborating is a way to stay fresh. Having a different perspective brought to your vision can make the event become something remarkable. Specifically, Tanyia brings a knowledge and experience of event management and stage production, along with an endless stream of inspiring ideas, which makes her an asset on any team. Couple that with her unflappable dependability and professionalism, and it’s clear that she is the perfect collaborator.

Johnson: Collaboration is definitely a necessity for me because I am not a writer or a performance poet. I seek to collaborate with folks to create an artistic experience with a literary focus. My personal artwork has always been mixed-media, so I view this as an extension of mixed-media. The biggest challenge for me is scheduling. When you have more than two people collaborating, it’s tough to get everyone together at the same time.

How has literary presenting informed your own writing and/or life?
Gros and Johnson: Literary presenting has informed and influenced every aspect of our lives. We take vacations around the many annual events we produce. We’re more likely to buy new microphone equipment than new clothes. The list goes on. We live and breathe interdisciplinary art and literature events.

What do you consider to be the value of literary programs for your community?
Gros: Without literature, a community has no soul. Literary programs and live events inform and educate in an active, intellectually challenging way that other activities simply can’t compete against. Literary events provide knowledge of our shared literary heritage, while at the same time increasing awareness of cultural values, history, sociology, psychology, and almost every other branch of study. Reading, writing, and sharing with others are some of the most important things a community can do together.

Photo: Tanyia Johnson and Stephen Gros. Credit: Eric Kayne.

Support for Readings/Workshops events in Houston 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.

In writing, food never lies. Aunt Mary passes the peas, revealing a missing wedding ring. A brother's pained gaze at a nearby glass of wine exposes his alcoholism. At the head of the table, a feeble grandfather's gravy-splattered scowl condemns his spoiled family's inability to comprehend war. Write an essay about a family meal. Begin with the seating arrangements. Without using any dialogue, use details about the meal to bring to life each family member and the family as a collective whole.

The New York City–based PEN American Center recently announced the finalists for its annual literary awards, which this year will give nearly $150,000 in prize money to established and emerging writers and translators.

The awards are given in ten categories for works of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, translation, and children's books. “We are proud that PEN’s Literary Awards are the most comprehensive in the country,” said PEN Executive Director, Suzanne Nossel. “This year we saw a record number of submissions from both traditional and independent publishers, including an impressive showing of emerging authors.”

The final winners and runners-up will be announced later this summer and will be honored at the 2013 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on Monday, October 21, 2013, at CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium in New York City.

Below is the full list of finalists in each category:

PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize ($25,000): Given to an author whose debut work—a first novel or collection of short stories published in 2012—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.

A Land More Kind Than Home (William Morrow), Wiley Cash

A Naked Singularity (University of Chicago Press), Sergio de la Pava

My Only Wife (Dzanc Books), Jac Jemc

Happiness Is a Chemical in the Brain (W.W. Norton & Co.), Lucia Perillo

Battleborn (Riverhead Books), Claire Vaye Watkins

PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction ($10,000): To an author of a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective and illuminating important contemporary issues which has been published in the United States during 2011 or 2012.

Iron Curtain (Doubleday), Anne Applebaum

Behind the Beautiful Forevers (Random House), Katherine Boo

Moby-Duck (Penguin Books), Donovan Hohn

God’s Hotel (Riverhead Books), Victoria Sweet

PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): For a book of essays published in 2012 that exemplifies the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature.

What Light Can Do (Ecco), Robert Hass

The Story of America (Princeton University Press), Jill Lepore

Waiting for the Barbarians (New York Review Books), Daniel Mendelsohn

PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award ($10,000): For a book of literary nonfiction on the subject of the physical or biological sciences published in 2012.

The Forest Unseen (Viking), David George Haskell

The Violinist’s Thumb (Little, Brown and Company), Sam Kean

Subliminal (Vintage Books), Leonard Mlodinow

Spillover (W.W. Norton & Co.), David Quammen

Rabid (Viking), Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy

PEN Open Book Award ($5,000): For an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in 2012.

Gun Dealers’ Daughter (W.W. Norton & Co.), Gina Apostol

When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press), Natalie Diaz

Allegiance (Wayne State University Press), Francine J. Harris

Our Andromeda (Copper Canyon Press), Brenda Shaughnessy 

The Grey Album (Graywolf Press), Kevin Young

PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000): For a distinguished biography published in 2012.

James Joyce (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Gordon Bowker

All We Know (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Lisa Cohen

A Difficult Woman (Bloomsbury), Alice Kessler-Harris

The Lives of Margaret Fuller (W.W. Norton & Co.), John Matteson

The Black Count (Broadway Books), Tom Reiss

PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing ($5,000): To honor a nonfiction book on the subject of sports published in 2012.

Over Time (Grove Press), Frank Deford

Road to Valor (Broadway Books), Aili and Andres McConnon

Like Any Normal Day (St. Martin’s Press), Mark Kram, Jr.

Floyd Patterson (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), W.K. Stratton

PEN/Steven Kroll Award for Picture Book Writing ($5,000): To a writer for an exceptional story illustrated in a picture book published in 2012.

Snakes (Scholastic), Nic Bishop

Oh, No! (Schwartz & Wade Books), Candace Fleming and illustrator Andrea Castellani

I Lay My Stitches Down (Eerdmans), Cynthia Grady and illustrator Michele Wood

Those Rebels, John & Tom (Scholastic), Barbara Kerley and illustrator Edwin Fotheringham

The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau (Eerdmans), Michelle Markel and illustrator Amanda Hall

PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000): For a book-length translation of poetry into English published in 2012.

Spit Temple by Cecilia Vicuña (Ugly Duckling Presse), Rosa Alcalá

Diadem by Marosa di Giorgio (BOA Editions), Adam Giannelli

Tales of a Severed Head by Rachida Madani (Yale University Press), Marilyn Hacker

The Smoke of Distant Fires by Eduardo Chirinos (Open Letter Books), G. J. Racz

Almost 1 Book/Almost 1 Life by Elfriede Czurda (Burning Deck), Rosmarie Waldrop

The Shock of the Lenders and Other Poems by Jorge Santiago Perednik (Action Books), Molly Weigel

PEN Translation Prize ($3,000): For a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2012.

A Long Day’s Evening by Bilge Karasu (City Lights Books), Aron Aji and Fred Stark

Near to the Wild Heart by Clarice Lispector (New Directions), Alison Entrekin

Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), Rosalind Harvey

The Cardboard House by Martín Adán (New Directions), Katherine Silver

The Island of Second Sight by Albert Vigoleis Thelen (Galileo Publishers), Donald O. White

P&W–supported poet Michael Medrano will blog about the literary climate in California's underserved Central Valley throughout the month of July. Medrano is the author of Born in the Cavity of Sunsets (Bilingual Press 2009). His poems have appeared in Askew; Bombay Gin; The Cortland Review; The Packinghouse Review; Rattle; and The Yellow Medicine Review among other publications. He is the host of Pakatelas, a literary radio show, streaming worldwide at www.kfcf.org, and hosts the Random Writers Workshop in Fresno, California.

Michael Medrano and the Random Writers Workshop

When Bakersfield author Nick Belardes approached me on starting a Fresno version of the Random Writers Workshop, In N’ Out Burger came to mind. Actually, I was quite honored when Nick approached me. Ironically, he asked me over burgers in some truckers diner off the 99 where I did a reading the night before. When I left home to come to Fresno I thought long and hard about the idea of being my own boss; the entrepreneurial spirit is not usually associated with poets who are rarely paid their worth, but the idea of contributing to my writer’s community by providing a service greatly appealed to me.

Back home I drafted a mini-business plan and sent it to Nick. A few tweaks through email and a side-order of sweet literary banter, (something about me running to catch a nearly departing train Nick found terribly funny), and I was ready to launch the Random Writers Workshop de Fresno!

Part of the plan was to keep the format accessible in order to attract more participants. So, I kept the cost of attending relatively low and opened the format to all levels of writing ability. I must admit, being open to beginners and veterans of craft, published even, scared me a bit. What if rookie poets felt intimidated by the master poets? What if master poets felt bored writing with the newbies? What if I sucked as a teacher and my writing exercises were about as popular as a veggie burger at Mickey D’s? What if, right? But here’s the deal: if all I had were what ifs, I wouldn’t have all those poems I wrote during the workshop (because I do participate in the writing exercises) under my arsenal. Yes, teaching workshop has not taken me away from my writing; in fact, it has even taken my current manuscript into directions I could not imagine!

But the Random Writers Workshop would not be possible without the students. Remember my anxiety about pairing rookies with veterans? Well, I have seen these new poets step up, in their own resilience, to become better writers. And my master poets, a couple who are recent and current MFA creative writing students, have grown to become models for the workshop.

Sure, some of the faces and their stanzas blur like rush hour during the travel season, but the students who have chosen to bear through the critique of their poems have shown a resiliency that begs for notice. During the past year, these Random Writers have written countless drafts, an occasional gem, even poems that are just not good. But this group here, they keep coming back. They’re developing their chops! Sure, their literary experience is about as diverse as a California menu, but they, without realizing it, are creating valuable writing habits that will stay with them for as long as they’ve got poems to write. Someday, who knows, maybe there will be workshop locations spread across the country: Welcome to Random Writers Workshop, may I take your order?

Photo: Michael Medrano.

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

Sit down at your writing desk and look around you. Many of the objects nearby have a utilitarian purpose: Your coffee mug holds coffee, for instance. Other objects, however, possess emotional significance: your grandmother’s portrait over the couch, the painted conch shell you use as a paperweight. Perhaps that same coffee mug says, in faded and defeated letters, “World’s Greatest Parent.” In writing, objects in a character’s personal sphere should reflect something about the character’s emotional DNA. Start the exercise by making a list of meaningful objects within your character’s reach—wherever they may be. Then build their world into the scene. A coffee mug should never just be a coffee mug.

Poetry, like life, is about making decisions. Write a poem to the person you may have become had you made an important life decision differently. Remember, this version of you is also vulnerable to the whims of an indifferent universe, so you’re merely making an educated guess as to your doppelgänger’s outcome. Craft your poem with respect. You’re writing to you.

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