The Spoken Word Club of Laguna Woods is a place for writers, poets, playwrights, monologuists, and storytellers to read their work and develop new material. In our monthly meetings, members have an opportunity to read and hear others. There is a featured reader every month. Guests are welcomed to listen or read ($2 charge for guests per meeting). Light refreshments at the Redwoods Room in the Community Center on El Toro on the 4th Tuesday of the month at 1pm-3pm.
Bobby González is a nationally known multicultural motivational speaker, storyteller, and poet. Born and raised in South Bronx, New York, he grew up in a bicultural environment. González draws on his Native American (Taino) and Latino (Puerto Rican) roots to offer a unique repertoire of discourses, readings, and performances that celebrates his indigenous heritage.
At the beginning of the first in a series of six “Spoken Word 101” workshops at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, I made it clear that I wasn’t going to teach anyone to be a better poet or spoken word artist. We were gathered to support each other as we explored the world of spoken and written word. For inspiration we read and discussed some of the verses of Aja Monet, Charles Bukowski, Nanao Sakaki, Sonia Sanchez, and other authors. Also, every session included the viewing of a YouTube video of these poets reciting their works.
This was the fifth year of the summer workshops at the Bronx Museum, and the participants quickly realized that we were creating in a safe zone. They wrote and shared poetry that disclosed family secrets, personal tragedies, racial angst, and heroic triumphs. The writing and the sharing was an integral part of their ongoing healing process. Tears were shed, voices were raised in anger, and a couple of emotional recitals were reciprocated with huge hugs.
Each session of “Spoken Word 101” resulted in the formation of a family that transcended reading, writing, and performing. Like all families, losses were experienced. Within the last few months, two members of our family passed away. Steve “Latin Gorilla” Lewis and Robert Waddell both died suddenly. We paid tribute to them in open mic readings and reminded ourselves that their thoughts and spirits will live forever in our hearts and in the poetry they left behind.
Through “Spoken Word 101” we all relearned language, dramatic articulation, and the wonder of allowing ourselves to bare our vulnerabilities with friends we barely met but already knew we could trust. That’s the power of poetry. The Poets & Writers’ Readings & Workshops program provides vital financial support for a literary series in an underserved community that is greatly appreciative of this empowering experience.
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.Photo: (left to right) Makeba Higgins, Dara Kalima, Damien Tillman, Bobby González, and Rosa Velez (Credit: Maria Aponte).
Ian Buruma named new editor of the New York Review of Books; Eimear McBride examines the dynamic between sex and literature; Kristen Tracy wins Emily Dickinson First Book Award; and other news.
Jamie Asaye FitzGerald, director of Poets & Writers’ California Office and Readings & Workshops (West) program, blogs about Poets & Writers’ seventh annual Workshop Leaders Retreat for writers who teach creative writing to underserved groups, held this past January at 826LA in Echo Park in Los Angeles.
At first we were scattered, sitting at separate tables. Then we joined together in a circle.
The first writers to take their places were Sarah Rafael Garcia and Marilynn Montaño of Barrio Writers, a nonprofit reading and writing program that empowers teens through creative writing. Garcia and Montaño rented a car and drove from Santa Ana to Los Angeles, about an hour drive. Both have been recipients of Readings & Workshops (R&W) grants for their work with Santa Ana’s youth.
Soon to join our circle, all the way from Riverside, was Angela Peñaredondo, who took part in the R&W program’s Intergenerational Workshop Exchange as a workshop facilitator for veterans and their family members at the Filipino American Service Group.
Fifteen other writers—who collectively teach creative writing to the incarcerated and formerly incarcerated, at-risk youth; veterans; elders; LGBTQ populations; the homeless and formerly homeless; and immigrants—soon took their places.
We gathered in the workshop space at 826LA in Echo Park for Poets & Writers’ Workshop Leaders Retreat, an annual half-day retreat where teaching artists share resources, best practices, and writing prompts, and write and break bread together. This past January marked our seventh retreat in Los Angeles. Last fall, we held our first retreat for teaching artists in the Bay Area.
In addition to expanding and solidifying the reach of the R&W program, these retreats enable us to further our support of teaching artists who work with underserved groups, to give them the opportunity to network with one another and strengthen their practices, and to honor them both as teachers and writers by spending time writing to each others’ prompts. “It can be isolating as a contractor and writer, so it is impactful to make such contact and connection with others doing similar work. It can inform my practice in a multitude of ways and offer personal support for this challenging work,” wrote one attendee.
This year’s retreat was enriched by a presentation from charismatic teaching artist Frank Escamilla, who works with at-risk youth and is outreach coordinator for Street Poets Inc. Escamilla linked his experiences growing up in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights with his current teaching practice. He recounted how having to share a room with five others taught him early about “being in community” and described how he could count the number of gangs he had to walk through to get to school. As a youth he felt called to start his own gang to gather people together, to protect each other. Later, he realized that his gifts could be used in better ways, which led him to become a poet, performer, and teaching artist—one who initiates young people into the healing practice of writing.
Escamilla shared with his fellow teaching artists some of the techniques he uses to reach this vulnerable population. He addressed questions like: How do you create a safe space within ten minutes? How do we search for the gift within these wounds? How do you deal with silence? How do you offer criticism? Attendees devoured Escamilla’s pearls of wisdom, asked questions, and shared their own methods. We talked about the Native American practice of Council in workshops, African traditions, and how words “can be like bullets or they can be like seeds.” We sat together and wrote from a prompt taken from Audre Lorde: “What do you need to say? [List as many things as necessary],” and shared our responses.
To close and release the circle, P&W program associate Brandi Spaethe read from an exquisite corpse written by the group during the retreat:
Our children will witness the power of our voice, and carry it on
Under their arms they will carry the future like origami, sharpening their tongues
Every breath a fire becoming movement
The Workshop Leaders Retreat is made possible by support from the California Arts Council, a state agency. We would like to thank 826LA for consistently giving this retreat a home and all the teaching artists past and present who have participated.
The reading styles of slam poets versus page poets; tips and strategies for surviving AWP; John Rechy on mystery in fiction; and other news.