Archive November 2016

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.