Archive June 2018

Becoming Cascadian: The Intersection of Bioregionalism and Poetics

Paul E. Nelson serves as founding director of Seattle Poetics LAB (SPLAB) and the Cascadia Poetry Festival. He is the author of American Sentences (Apprentice House, 2015), A Time Before Slaughter (Apprentice House, 2010), and Organic in Cascadia: A Sequence of Energies (Lumme Editions, 2013), and coeditor of the anthologies Make It True: Poetry From Cascadia (Leaf Press, 2015) and 56 Days of August: Poetry Postcards (Five Oaks Press, 2017). Nelson has been engaged in a twenty-year bioregional cultural investigation of Cascadia.

Becoming Cascadian was a retreat in Seattle’s diverse Rainier Beach neighborhood—an outgrowth of Seattle Poetics LAB’s Cascadia Poetry Festival. While the festivals are exciting, it takes a great deal of resources to present such an event. The SPLAB Board decided that while we look for funding to continue the festival, it would be good to work on a more intimate level. Becoming Cascadian allowed participants to go deeper into their own writing practices and experiences of place.

There were free public events: a Zen Meditation session at the Seattle University Ecosangha; “The Practice of Outside,” a presentation with P&W–supported writer Andrew Schelling; a tour of Kubota Garden with Seattle University philosophy professor Jason Wirth; and a closing reading at Seattle’s all-poetry bookstore Open Books. In between the public events were breakout sessions offered by participants.

One session was on cultural appropriation. It’s a hot topic in Canada now, as Cascadia includes all of British Columbia west of the Continental Divide. The treatment of First Nations people, as they are called in Canada, is reprehensible, and there’s a lot of anger regarding writers monetizing indigenous culture. Adelia MacWilliam from Cumberland, B.C. led this session.

The Kubota Garden tour, led by Wirth, explored the historic spiritual nature of the garden, the life of Fujitaro Kubota, and the Japanese American history in the neighborhood, including the internment of Japanese American citizens during World War II, an event with eerie similarities to current American xenophobia.

Mark Gonnerman’s session was “Living in Place With Peter Berg and Gary Snyder in Mind.” Snyder has written that, “real people stay put,” which in North America is “a new thing!” Snyder recommends making five hundred year plans and not the ethos of the old bumper sticker that said: “Earth First: Then We Log the Other Planets.” Gonnerman put things into perspective saying we humans are the first species in history “that can prevent their own extinction.”

Schelling’s keynote talk was for “poets and bioregional visionaries,” suggesting we go outdoors and learn something of our bioregion. He contrasted his Southern Rocky Mountain bioregion and Cascadia, noting the difference between the wet, logged, maritime Puget Sound region, and his dry high country. He discussed respective medicine powers the bioregions share, and noted how the Douglas Firs in the high country are puny compared to those in Cascadia. He ended with a story. What may not be well-known about Schelling is that, perhaps through his multi-decade study of Jaime de Angulo, he’s become a master storyteller. After the festival he said:

“To redefine our lives and the places we live by bioregion, rather than by political boundaries, is not the work of a single morning. It will require small cadres of committed people who become nature literate, write instructive poems and essays, and gradually make sense to their neighbors. This program, Becoming Cascadia, was one node in a larger effort that has been developing…. Concluding with poetry gave ceremonial fragrance.”

Support for Readings & Workshops in Seattle is provided by an endowment established with generous contributions from the Poets & Writers Board of Directors and others. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Paul E. Nelson (Credit: Bhakti Watts). (middle) Andrew Schelling with Jared Lesing (Credit: Paul Nelson). (bottom) At the Kubota Garden with participants (Credit: Paul Nelson).

At Home in Our Own Language: A Q&A With Claudia Prado

Claudia Prado is an Argentinean poet and documentary filmmaker. She is the author of three poetry collections: El interior de la ballena (Nusud, 2000), which won the third Fondo Nacional de las Artes Poetry Prize in 1999, Aprendemos de los padres (Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, 2002), and Viajar de Noche (Limón, 2007). She has codirected the documentaries Oro Nestas Piedras, about the poet Jorge Leonidas Escudero, and El Jardin Secreto, about Diana Bellessi. Prado is the recipient of grants from the Fondo Nacional de las Artes in Buenos Aires, Argentina and the Queens Council on the Arts in New York, as well as a participant at the NYFA 2018 Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program for Social Practice. She facilitates creative writing workshops in Spanish in New York and New Jersey, some with the support of Poets & Writers.

How did your work with the National Domestic Workers Alliance begin? What drew you there?
I’ve been running writing workshops for fifteen years. When I lived in Argentina, as part of an organization called Yo no fui, I ran a writing workshop in a women’s prison where I learned that, in very difficult situations, writing can be an especially valuable and meaningful practice. After arriving in this country, I kept organizing workshops independently, always in Spanish. I wanted to offer workshops that would be accessible to the entire Spanish-speaking community, most of all to those who felt an urgency to express themselves and to share their experience but who couldn’t afford to pay for a workshop. I believe that the opportunity to write in our own language and revisit the possibilities and beauty of it makes us feel at home.

I began organizing free workshops at Word Up Community Bookshop, a beautiful bookshop run by a collective of volunteers. It was through Word Up that I learned about Poets & Writers’ Reading & Workshops program supporting workshops like the one I was running. At the same time, an artist friend of mine, Sol Aramendi, contacted me about the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA). I worked with them for the first time in 2016. It was a very good experience, which we decided to repeat in the years that followed. This year, we’d like to print a bilingual anthology of the writing produced throughout the last three years of the workshop.

Are there any techniques or exercises you use to encourage shy or reluctant writers to open up?
I choose the readings for my workshops very carefully. I try to bring texts that I myself enjoy very much, and that can speak to a wide range of people, including those who aren’t in the habit of reading literature. During the workshop session itself, I dedicate whatever time is needed to the reading and discussion of the texts. For example, if we read a poem, we tend to do so several times. This way of reading tends to bring us to a shared place, separate somehow from everyday life. I also spend time thinking about prompts that invite writing about what is closest to us: what one did that morning, one’s own childhood, one’s language. Often, in the first few sessions, I think of exercises separated into parts: first, simply note your perceptions, memories, possible interlocutors, etc., and second, create a text from those notes.

We talk about how the ability to create with words isn’t something alien to us—something that belongs only to those who had the privilege of studying and spending time reading—but rather something that we all do when we speak to each other in everyday life. We also talk about how writing is generated starting with a draft and then through multiple rewritings, not in one shot and then set in stone. These conversations also help us get writing.

In addition to working with NDWA, you’ve recently begun working with the Hour Children/Hour Working Women Reentry Program. How did that collaboration begin? Have there been differences between programs?
Ever since I moved to New York, I’ve thought about the possibility of continuing to work with women who are in prison or have recently been released. This year I was able to do this work thanks to the collaboration with HC/HWWRP and the support of Poets & Writers. The women I worked with were dedicated readers and had writing experience. One particularity of this group was that, even though Spanish was the language they spoke as children and with their families, currently they live their lives primarily in English. As a result, they experienced the workshop as a return to something familiar and very personal, which they had set aside. On the other hand, the moment when a woman is released from prison and is trying to rebuild her life is extremely difficult. These circumstances also made for a different working dynamic and meant that the texts created and shared in this group would be unique to their experiences.

What has been your most rewarding experience as a teacher and as an artist?
One of the happiest moments I have experienced is seeing how a person discovers that she enjoys reading and writing, how she begins to see it as something of her own and to dedicate time to it. Seeing how her expressive possibilities grow and how the texts become a way for her to think about herself and to relate to others—it’s very moving. When the workshop becomes a space that allows for such writing that can only come from a particular reality and a particular experience, we can all feel and see how it is so valuable.

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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Claudia Prado (Credit: Eduardo Piovano). (middle) NDWA reading (Credit: Neshi Galindo). (bottom) NDWA workshop members (Credit: Adriana Mora).

Sankofa Sisterhood Writers: A Journey Into the Woods

Alicia Anabel Santos is author of the memoir, Finding Your Force: A Journey to Love, which was listed in the Advocate’s “21 LGBT Biographies and Memoirs You Should Read Right Now.” Most recently she is the recipient of the 2018 Bronx Recognizes Its Own (BRIO) Award in fiction for her novel in progress. Santos is the founder and curator of the NYC Latina Writers Group, which has met monthly since 2006 offering writing workshops, events, and readings across genres. Her work has appeared in several anthologies, magazines, and online publications. When not organizing and facilitating writing workshops, she is a writing coach, aka The Writing Midwife, a filmmaker, playwright, teaching artist, and priestess. She has spent the last ten years working on the documentary Afrolatinos: The Untaught Story, which screened at the United Nations in 2017.

For almost twelve years, the NYC Latina Writers Group (NYCLWG) has been meeting monthly for writing workshops and literary events. Our writers have gone on to have successful writing careers, developing one-woman shows, and writing plays. They have published and self-published memoirs and chapbooks and have started their own blogs. While many of us are publishing, some of our writers have lost hope. This was when our director of programs Wendy Angulo and I decided to look at the needs of the writers within our collective. What we discovered was that most of us needed more time to write and more workshops that would help us hone our craft.

During a conversation one evening with my partner, educator and poet Yoseli Castillo Fuertes, we talked about the lack of representation of Latinx writers in literature, as well as the absence of writing opportunities for Latinx/WWOC writers. That evening the Sankofa Sisterhood Writers Retreat was born. Now in our fourth year we realized that in order to have some of our favorite authors and writers facilitate workshops we needed funding. This is where the generous support of Poets & Writers comes in. We are so grateful that this year, the NYC Latina Writers Group and the Sankofa Sisterhood have received funding for our writing workshops.

This past Memorial Day weekend, sixteen writers of color met at a cabin in the woods for a weekend of writing workshops and an open mic, where each writer got to share their work. As many writers know, writing can be isolating and lonely. Oftentimes, we crave an audience to help bounce ideas off of, or inspire new ones. One of the challenges many writers are faced with is carving out time for writing, and this is particularly challenging for women of color writers. Working with writers over the years, I have witnessed and heard countless stories about how hard it is to come to the page. This is why creating a safe space for writers of color is important to me. We lift one another. We remind each other that we are capable. We encourage one another to submit despite the fear of rejection.

This year’s theme at Sankofa was “Strengthening the Writer’s Core.” Our workshops were centered on writing the story from the inside out. Each facilitator took the writers through prompts and activities to help get inside the stories we are writing and to feel everything that must be felt in order to find and show the truth in the story, poem, or essay.

With the sponsorship of Poets & Writers, we were able to receive grants for two of our workshop facilitators, Vanessa Mártir and Mariposa Fernandez, for which we are so grateful. In the “Writing and the Body” workshop, Vanessa took us through a series of writing activities and prompts designed to help us explore the story behind the story, dig for the truth, and not fear what wants to rise. She showed us how we can access these stories in our bodies. Mariposa facilitated the workshops “Feeling & Healing” and “Sense & Sound,” as well as a performance workshop. In Mariposa’ s “Feeling & Healing” workshop, she used reiki to help us connect to the writing, which allowed for an opening of our creativity.

There is often guilt around taking time to write, for fear of being seen as selfish. And this is precisely what the Sankofa Sisterhood is all about: It is a weekend designed for writers to be selfish and get the writing done. We understand that in order for the writing to happen, we need to create the space to make it happen.

During our closing Sankofa ceremony, every writer sat in a circle and each one shared what they would take from the weekend and all that they gained from the four workshops and keynote speech. One of the writers shared that for the past three years Sankofa has been her new year, where she is able to reboot, recharge, and set intentions for what she wants to create during the year. This is why the Sankofa Sisterhood was created and what is the very heartbeat of the NYC Latina Writers Group. We have become a place of refuge, a place where writers of color can find their voice and know that in “this place” our stories matter, we matter.

NYCLWG workshops are open to all Latinx women and women of color, women identified and nonbinary. We have workshops coming in June at the Bronx Academy of Art and Dance (BAAD), the NYCLWG Writers Conference, and we will be celebrating our twelth anniversary of the NYCLWG this October. For more information, find us on Facebook or e-mail us.

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.

Photos: (top) Alicia Anabel Santos ( Credit: Alicia Anabel Santos). (bottom) (front, left to right) Yoseli Castillo Fuertes, Liza Morales, Alicia Anabel Santos, Mariposa Fernandez (back, left to right) Azúcar Simone, Nichole Perry, Rebeca Lois, Danielle Stelluto, Maribelle, Vanessa Mártir, Ysanet Batista, Fanny Castillo, Nia Ita Sanchez (Credit: Sarahi Almonte).

Poets & Writers’ Ninth Annual Connecting Cultures Reading in New York City

McCrindle Foundation Readings & Workshops fellow Sreshtha Sen writes about Poets & Writers’ ninth annual Connecting Cultures Reading held at the Center for Book Arts in New York City.

Now in its ninth year, the Connecting Cultures Reading, sponsored and organized by Poets & Writers, celebrates the diversity of our literary community by bringing together several groups who’ve been funded by the Readings & Workshops program. This year’s reading took place at the Center for Book Arts, and featured writers representing National Domestic Workers Alliance, the Newtown Literary Alliance, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art, Voices From War, and the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective.

Each group was represented by two readers who were introduced by the organizer or workshop facilitator they’d worked with. During their introductions, the organizers and facilitators all spoke about the motives behind their reading or workshop series and the shared themes that begin to emerge when writers find the community they’re craving. Claudia Prado, the facilitator for a workshop series with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, spoke about the powerful lessons that emerged out of their workshop theme: Things I have learned. “To have a workshop in Spanish,” she added, “is a great opportunity for us immigrants living in New York City to have a space to write, and hear about the process of writing and others’ voices in the languages of our native country.” Timothy DuWhite, the workshop facilitator from the What Would an HIV Doula Do? collective elaborated on the solidarity, success, and safety that new and returning workshop participants felt as their program was supported and able to continue running.

As a nonprofit dedicated to both the contemporary and traditional practices of book making, the Center for Book Arts seemed a perfect fit for a cross-cultural reading that tackled struggles and victories from the past and the present. In a room surrounded by historically significant chapbooks, presses, and modern exhibits, the ten readers covered a range of themes from loss, violence, and power or the absence of it, to happiness as resistance, shared histories and love—familial or otherwise. Jack York, a writer representing the Queer Resistance Workshop at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, observed this when noting the range of each group and that having two readers from each group ensured that one story is not representative of everyone from a community or group, a struggle felt by almost everyone in the room.

The reading and the reception that followed allowed all the writers involved to connect and create new communities of their own. Nina Semczuk, the workshop facilitator for Voices From War, commented on how the opportunity to speak with other writers added to their workshop experience: “One of our readers left the evening newly inspired by how different readers expressed themselves. He had never encountered a reading like that and told me that he couldn’t wait to get to work on his writing and go deeper than he had allowed himself before.”

These five groups and their diverse, generous stories showcased the richness of artistic endeavors present throughout this city and served as a strong reminder of the reasons I applied to be a fellow for the Readings & Workshops program; it gave me a chance to see how programs like ours foster conversations amongst writers occupying different spaces, amplify voices we haven’t had a chance to hear yet, and work on making literature and art accessible to anyone who chooses to look for it. I’m grateful to all the featured readers and organizations, and the Center for Book Arts, especially Alex, Paul, and Emilie, for generously donating their space and time.

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 Frances Abbey Endowment, the Cowles Charitable Trust, and the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photos: (top) Silvina Reyes (Credit: Margarita Corporan). (bottom) Participants of the ninth annual Connecting Cultures reading (Credit: Margarita Corporan).