Archive December 2018

Writing in Community

Jim Hornsby Moreno is a Vietnam veteran and an adopted member of the Smuwich Chumash tribe. He is the author of Dancing in Dissent: Poetry for Activism (Dolphin Calling Press, 2007), and two CDs of poetry and music: reversing the erased: exhuming the expunged (Dolphin Calling Press, 2016) and A Question From Love (Dolphin Calling Press, 2017). His poems have appeared in Tidepools, Magee Park Poets Anthology, the San Diego Poetry Annual, and others. Hornsby Moreno is a teaching artist with San Diego Writers, Ink, and on the advisory board of the Poetic Medicine Institute in Palo Alto, California.

On November 18 I facilitated a workshop at San Diego Writers, Ink called Gems of 10 Imagists: Masterpiece Poems of Imagism. The course description began with a quote from Wallace Stevens: In poetry, you must love the words, the ideas and the images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all. This quote captures the essence of how I teach: Write from your heart. Don’t let your editor write your poem. Let your poet write the poem. Then, as many have said, turn it over to your (internal) editor so the craft can begin.

My workshops are not critique classes. I go out of my way in my course descriptions to make that point. I also point out that if you are looking for an audience for your poems, my workshops are not for you. I teach poetry as discovery, as Joy Harjo often describes her writing process. Or as Julia Alvarez wrote: I write to find out what I am thinking. I write to find out who I am. I write to understand things.

After one of my classes in San Diego’s Juvenile Hall I sent Joy one of my student’s poems. I had read “She Had Some Horses” in class, Joy’s poem from her book of the same name. The young woman had written a poem from her heart, obviously influenced by the Muscogee poet. Joy sent me a box of books and CDs with a short note thanking me for the poem. She also encouraged me to continue teaching. A nice prompt from a master prompter.

My workshops involve a lot of research. In the five years I lived on the Pala Reservation, I saw the differences and the similarities of tribes that were just a few miles down the highway from each other in San Diego’s North County. From that experience, my workshops have two parts. The first part exposed students to the poetry of e .e. cummings, Amy Lawrence Lowell, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, and the founder of the Imagist movement T. E. Hulme, among others.

The second part of the workshop focused on poets from other genres, cultures, and generations that resonated with the poems of the Imagists: Sandra Cisneros, Joy Harjo, Octavio Paz, Lawrence Raab, Sonia Sanchez, and William E. Stafford. A three-hour workshop takes two to three weeks of research and is a labor of love finding the bridges that unite poets and people.

Writing in community is different than writing in solitude. When you find a safe space with an instructor that invites you to grow as a writer, your writing will take off because of the consciousness in the room and your innate talent as a storyteller, waiting for you to take on the blank page. Write from your heart and listen to your muse.

Support for Readings & Workshops in California is provided by the California Arts Council, a state agency, and the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.

Photo: Jim Hornsby Moreno (Credit: Jack Foster Mancilla)

2018 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Winner in Fiction: Timeline

Joshua Idaszak is the winner of Poets & Writers’ 2018 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award (WEX) for fiction. His stories have appeared in Ploughshares, the Kenyon Review, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. His fiction has won Boulevard magazine’s 2015 Short Fiction Contest for Emerging Writers, was a finalist for the 2015 Chicago Tribune Nelson Algren Award, and has been listed as distinguished by Best American Mystery Stories 2017. Idaszak received an MFA from the University of Arkansas, and has received support from the Fulbright Program and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He lives in Massachusetts and is at work on a story collection and a novel.

It was a misty, cool morning in May when I heard from Bonnie Rose Marcus that I had won the 2018 Maureen Egen Writers Exchange Award for fiction. I had just emerged from two days on the Lost Coast Trail and was standing in a small beachside parking lot in Shelter Cove, California, a town made famous (to me, at least) by the opening of Denis Johnson’s novel Already Dead. I had just completed my MFA from the University of Arkansas after four years in Fayetteville, teaching, studying, and writing fiction. I was in the midst of determining what came next—for my writing, for my life—when I listened to Bonnie’s voicemail.

Manhattan is not Shelter Cove. In place of redwoods were skyscrapers, and we were ascending them. Bonnie, director of Readings & Workshops (East) and the Writers Exchange, was our fearless leader. She shepherded Anushah Jiwani, the winner for poetry, and me around Manhattan for four days of meetings with agents and editors and poets and publishers.

At Penguin, we met Lee Boudreaux and asked about editing Ben Fountain’s fiction. At Ecco, Megan Lynch talked about Deborah Eisenberg’s short story collection Your Duck Is My Duck, and how a book and its cover come together. Jonathan Galassi of FSG recalled his time studying poetry under Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell. I had carried poet Charles Wright’s Negative Blue during my Lost Coast walk, and I was excited to hear that FSG would be publishing Oblivion Banjo, a compendium of his work, next spring. Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, this year’s poetry judge for WEX, helped us celebrate at a wonderful dinner with our families after our Sunday reading at McNally Jackson in Soho.

Writing is solitary work. The drafting and revision often happen in quiet rooms, often alone. It can feel, sometimes, like we’re plucking the strings of our very own oblivion banjo. It was a joy to step outside of that: to sit across from Brigid Hughes and hear about her work to create space and time for writers through the fellowships and residencies of A Public Space, to hear Emily Nemens speak about her plans for the Paris Review, or to discuss possibilities for invigorating public readings with Sarah Gambito.

The trip was a reminder (or rather a series of reminders) that there are so many of us engaged in this calling. That we love books, love reading, love watching people and thoughts rise in language. And ultimately, that our work is vital, and always ongoing.

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

Photo: Joshua Idaszak, Cheryl Boyce-Taylor, and Anushah Jiwani (Credit: Christian Rodriguez).