Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Little Patuxent Review Celebrates 10 Years

By Mairin Rivett

This summer, Little Patuxent Review (LPR) marks 10 years of publishing art, poetry, and prose with its 20th issue. Meet the creative force behind the journal and hear readings from contributors to the current issue on Sunday, August 21, 2 p.m. at The Writer’s Center (read more).

Mike Clark, Ann Bracken, Ann Barney, and Brendan Donegan founded the biannual literary journal in 2006. As local writers, they wanted to create a forum in which writers and artists around the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area could submit their work for publication.  

Steven Leyva is in his third year as editor, and, by his own admission, has no plans of leaving the magazine anytime soon. “This is my sixth issue,” he said in a phone interview. “And, you know, [I] don’t have any plans to go anywhere, so we’ll see how many more years I can tack on.”

Over the course of the last decade, the editorial team at LPR, like most literary journals, has had to evaluate and modify its approach to remain both competitive and relevant. The biggest change recently was a reconsideration of themed issues. Levya explained that themes can limit time needed to create a new piece. In order to further encourage writers to submit to LPR, the editors decided to have one themed and one un-themed issue each year, making the summer issue un-themed

The success of this new strategy was immediately noticeable. “The first issue that we made un-themed, our amount of submissions doubled,” Leyva said. “We went from about 300 to 600 to 700 submissions. And we have a volunteer staff so we were like, woah, woah, woah, woah. Everyone’s workload just doubled!” A very good problem to have, Leyva was quick to note.

There’s a good reason for this large interest from writers; LPR has quite the track record when it comes to publishing work by authors and artists who go on to have great success. Some of these names include Michael Glaser (former Poet Laureate of Maryland), Donald Hall (former United States Poet Laureate), Joy Harjo (recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers’ Circle of the Americas), Michael Chabon (awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2001), Manil Suri (international best-selling author), and many, many others. Despite having published these large names, LPR remains committed not only to featuring work from nationally known writers and authors, but also to publishing new or unknown writers. They accept submissions from any writer living in the United States (although mainly focus on the Mid-Atlantic region) and try to strike a balance between established writers and new voices that offer unique perspectives.

“Every issue we tend to have an interview with someone who is already sort of established,” Leyva explained. The lead singer from Talking Heads, David Byrne, was the first example he gave. There have been prize winners such as Tara Heart whose poem “Patronize” went on to win awards and locally known writers such as Derrick Westin Brown. The wide range of authors who get published in each issue isn’t an accident: “It’s always fun,” Leyva said, “to put those [established] voices in conversation with people who are just coming up.”

In order to put these voices in conversation, LPR has in place a different policy than most literary magazines—a policy against blind submissions. While many editors believe that blind submissions are the only way to evaluate submissions without bias, Leyva claims it actually does the exact opposite. Blind submissions, he said, give people the opportunity to re-inscribe their own biases by always going with pieces that connect with them personally or pieces that they see as “normative.” “I think if you want to be a fully diverse journal and represent the communities [of] which you are being supported by, I think you have to be in conversation with the writers, and so that means knowing who [those writers] are.”

Community and place are important when talking about LPR, which grew out of the Maryland/Virginia/DC writing community, and they haven’t lost their regional identity or connection. Most of the magazine is funded by grants from places such as Howard County’s Arts Council and Maryland’s State Art council. They use a Colombia, Maryland-based printing house, Indigo Inc., to print all of their magazines. Even the name, Little Patuxent Review, pays homage to the area in which it is created—referring to the Little Patuxent River, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. While Leyva admitted that most metaphorical connections to the name fall apart, he stated that where the name holds the most significance is in its ability to ground the magazine to one particular place. “When LPR first started it was much more thought of as a regional, and maybe even more so like a Howard County journal, if that makes sense,” he said. “And it has grown to include much more than that, but it comes from that sort of grounding and wanting to be grounded in a place; that identity.”

With all of the growth that LPR has experienced over the last 10 years, their ability to remain true to the original vision of the magazine and strong—particularly in the determination to remain a print journal. “In some ways, the majority of our budget is put towards [printing the magazine], but I think we don’t talk enough about what is gained by remaining in print,” Leyva said. LPR has a visual artist featured in every issue and publishing a print magazine presents the art as much closer to its true color than it would on a screen. But there is another reason LPR has decided to stick with print: the idea of the literary journals as a piece of fine art. “If you think of the experience of reading on a screen,” Leyva said, “it will more likely resemble a sort of infinite scroll, and because of that way of reading, the experience with a particular work can also become similar—I read a little bit and then I’m off to something else. By virtue of being contained, the art object of the journal sometimes can encourage the dialogue between pieces that you’d miss online.”

Leyva hopes 10 years from now LPR is still connected to its community in this way, still committed to publishing good writing, and still striving to be as diverse and as welcoming to writers and authors from all genres and backgrounds as they possibly can be.

To submit or subscribe to the journal, please visit https://littlepatuxentreview.org

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Spotlight on Literary Events: August 2016

Sunday, August 7th, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815

Come for a poetry reading by several writers who have participated in the Mariposa Poetry Retreat. Readers include founder Maritza Rivera, Yvette Neisser Moreno, Cliff Lynn, Sue Scheid, Sid Gold, Cyd Fulton, and Michael Davis. Admission is free and the reading will be followed by a reception.

Sunday, August 7th, 8:00 – 10:00 pm
Busboys and Poets, 14th & V
2021 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

Hosted by Regie Cabico and Danielle Evennou, *Sparkle* Queer Open Mic is a reading series focused on the work of LGBT poets. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door and cost $5.00 apiece.

Friday, August 12th, 11:00 pm – 1:00 am
Busboys and Poets, 14th & V
2021 14th St. NW
Washington, DC 20009

Join Busboys and Poets for the 11th Hour Poetry Slam, which offers an opportunity for poetry lovers to enjoy the competitive art of late night performance poetry with the audience choosing the winner. Tickets cost $5.00 and can be bought online or at the door.

Sunday, August 14th, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815

Share your work at the Poetry and Prose Open Mic night before enjoying the chance to mingle with other writers and literary enthusiasts at the post-reading reception. Sign-up for readers begins at 1:30 pm. This event is free.

Monday, August 15th, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815

The Word Works, in collaboration with The Writer’s Center and the DC-Area Literary Translators Network (DC-ALT), will feature poet/translator Nancy Naomi Carlson and Jesse Lee Kercheval, who will be introduced by poet/translator Katherine E. Young. Café Muse opens at 7 pm with refreshments and classical guitar by Michael Davis; readings begin at 7:30 pm. Attending poets are invited to participate in an open reading that concludes the Café Muse Program. The sign-up sheet will be available starting at 7:00 pm and admission is free.

Friday, August 19th, 9:00 – 11:00 pm
Busboys and Poets, Brookland
625 Monroe St. NE
Washington, DC 20017

From freshmen to graduate students, College Open Mic is a chance for mic rookies, musicians, comedians, and other talents to share their voices in an enthusiastic and diverse environment. A great alternative to the college nightlife, Open Mic Night is held every third Friday of the month. This event is open to all.

Saturday, August 20th, 5:00 – 7:00 pm
Busboys and Poets, 5th & K
1025 5th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

A chance for middle and high school students to share their art in a supportive environment, Youth Open Mic is a monthly series that is youth-focused and youth-led. Tickets are $5.00 a piece and can be bought online or at the door.

Saturday, August 20th, 8:00 pm
Politics and Prose
5015 Connecticut Ave. NW
Washington, DC 20008

Are you a wealth of seemingly useless information that you’re dying to share? Then join Politics and Prose for trivia night. Beer and wine will be available but all ages are welcome. Signup starts at 7:00 pm in the Den; trivia begins at 8:00 pm upstairs. This event is free.

Sunday, August 21st, 2:00 – 4:00 pm
The Writer’s Center
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815

Join us as The Writer’s Center presents a reading by writers published in Little Patuxent Review. Readers include Steven Leyva, Emily Rich, Lisa Lynn Biggar, Jen Grow, Jospeh Ross, and Desiree Magney. This event is free and will be followed by a reception.

Friday, August 26th, 11:00 pm – 1:00 am
Busboys and Poets, 5th & K
1025 5th St. NW
Washington, DC 20001

Enjoy a night of poetry, songs, short skits, and jokes presented through American Sign Language. Eat, drink, socialize and practice sign language all in one go. Tickets can be bought at the door or online and cost $5.

Saturday, August 27th, 4:00 – 7:00 pm
The Twisted Horn, and
Upshur Books

Join The Writer’s Center as we team up with Barrelhouse to present the DC Literary Pub Crawl! Created as a way to bring contemporary and engaging literary voices into the community, this event will feature nine talented literary voices and help to foster a sense of artistic excellence and community. Tickets are $10.00 in advance and $15.00 day-of. Books from all readers will be available for purchase at Upshur Street Books after the reading.

Sunday, August 28th, 1:00 – 4:00 pm
Northeast Library
330 7th St. NE
Washington, DC 20002

Join the Northeast Library for an afternoon dedicated to celebrating summer reading achievements. With games, snacks, prizes, music, and more this is block party you don’t want to miss. Open to all ages, this event is free.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Uncovering Whitman with Dara Barnat

In anticipation of the Fall/Winter issue of Poet Lore, editorial assistant Jessica Mason emailed with poet Dara Barnat about the poems that will appear on Poet Lore’s pages ("The Age I Am to Myself" is excerpted below) and her engagement--past and present--with the work of Walt Whitman.

JM: What initially drew you to Walt Whitman?

DB: While searching for a topic for my doctoral research, I discovered that Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was not one book, but several books, each distinct, which he revised and worked on for much of his life. The first 1855 edition, and the last, known as the 1891-92 Deathbed edition, are the most widely available, but they can all be found at The Whitman Archive (whitmanarchive.org). I printed out the editions and sat in the library at Tel Aviv University for weeks, reading every single one from beginning to end. During that time I was making my first attempts at research and writing. As I read through the volumes it felt like everything I would ever need to know about poetry was in Whitman. “Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origins of all poems.” There was the line, the self, the body, the breath, the divine. There was a deep engagement with life and a reconciliation with death. There was heartbreak, intimacy, and absolution. I didn’t – and don’t – love everything about Whitman. Whitman as a person had his share of flaws and prejudices. But this connection to Whitman’s poetry, a sort of “merge,” to use his term, inspired both my research on his reception by Jewish American poets, as well as my own poetry.

JM: How would you say Whitman’s work influences yours? How did it influence the form and language of the poems that will appear in the Fall/Winter issue?

DB: From Whitman I learned that poetry could be physical, intellectual, spiritual, and a place of empathy. I kept these qualities in mind, although my poems tended to be short and economical in terms of language. It wasn’t until I started writing a poem called “What Luck to Live On,” in my forthcoming book In the Absence, that I locked into Whitman’s longer lines and cataloging. After In the Absence, which was about grieving my father, I needed a framework in which to write new poems. For many of us life can so easily interfere with the writing process. But I need to write to stay grounded. I started a project writing poems about happiness, but that one didn’t sustain itself. Instead, I decided to write a poem a week responding to the fifty-two sections of “Song of Myself.” A year of “Song of Myself.” The poems draw from Whitman to explore how to survive and even thrive amidst the fear, uncertainty, and loss that I have experienced, and that many of us experience in individual ways. I couldn’t start the poems on an empty page, so I leaned on Whitman to unlock them. Every week I read a section from “Song of Myself” and selected lines as an epigraph. Some of my poems respond to the lines directly, and some go in a different direction. I began the first section in June 2015 and finished a draft of the manuscript about a month ago. Though I’m still learning what the Whitman collection is “about,” the working title is Be Unafraid to Walk in the Light of Nothing. I’m honored that the first two poems from this new manuscript will appear in Poet Lore.

JM: You and editor Jody Bolz corresponded about clarifying the context of the line from “Song of Myself” quoted in the epigraph of “The Age I am to Myself.” How does engagement with an editor affect your relationship to a poem? How does it feel to see a poem of yours separated from the series into which it was written?

DB: Yes, corresponding with Jody was, as always, a pleasure! I believe editing is, or can be, an act of true generosity. When I submitted my poems to Poet Lore, the poem “The Age I Am to Myself” (originally titled “The Age She Is to Herself”) went through a couple of crucial changes following our exchange. My poem, the first in the “Song of Myself” series, began with an epigraph from section one: “I, now thirty-seven years in perfect health begin, / Hoping to cease not till death.” This epigraph, which I knew didn’t appear in the earlier versions of “Song of Myself,” was poignant to me. Whitman was older and quite sick by the time he added that line about his age. I was moved by the idea that in poetry we can be our most vital selves, and stay young and healthy in perpetuity. The “I” in “The Age I Am to Myself” will always be thirty-six. Jody and Ethelbert identified that many readers wouldn’t know that Whitman added this line later in life or understand its significance based on the opening lines of the poem. Jody helped me revise the lines, clarify this discrepancy, and provide context for the reader. This exchange, for me, solidified a core aspect of the poem. I’m very grateful for Jody’s attention to my work over the past several years. I’m also happy that the two poems “The Age I Am to Myself” and “What Spanish Moss Knows” are appearing independently from others in the manuscript. I’m hoping that all of the “Song of Myself” poems will be in dialogue with each other, as well as stand on their own. I’m aware that many have read “Song of Myself,” but I also hope that the poems will be understood without prior knowledge of Whitman’s poem. I’m taking “Song of Myself” as a point of departure for my own poems, rather than trying to make a statement about Whitman. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing the poems in Poet Lore, where they are sure to find amazing company.

JM: You’ve said in “Teaching Walt Whitman in Tel Aviv” that studying Whitman “while under the threat of psychological and physical violence is in fact crucial” and that his poetry has become increasingly relevant in these times. However there are many who regard Whitman as antiquated required reading. For those who have previously put Whitman off to the side, what would you suggest in order for them to reconsider and connect with his work?

DB: I wrote “Teaching Walt Whitman in Tel Aviv” in 2012 during an especially horrific period of fighting in that region. The essay was inspired by the ostensible disconnect between this war and studying Whitman. What I came to believe is that the predominant messages in Whitman – though he is by no means perfect – are inclusiveness, equality, and tolerance. After all, a powerful motivation for Whitman was his conviction that poetry could save his beloved, fractured nation. I believe that the values his poetry promotes can help the world transcend the hatred and division that seem to be worsening all the time, all over the world. The poem often taught to young students is “O Captain! My Captain!” That poem, with its fixed syllables and rhyme, doesn’t display the sense of openness and empathy one finds, for example, in “By Blue Ontario’s Shore”: “[The poet] judges not as the judge judges but as the sun falling round a helpless thing.” There is so much for readers of all ages to discover in Whitman. In Whitman you find acceptance of the self, whatever your identity or orientation. There is music when you listen for it. There is hope for us all.

Dara Barnat’s poetry, translations, and essays appear in Poet LoreThe Cortland ReviewdiodeLilithCrab Orchard ReviewHa’aretzThe Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. Her book of poetry In the Absence is forthcoming later this year. Dara holds a PhD from Tel Aviv University, where she is Writing Director in the Department of English and American Studies. darabarnat.com

Here's an excerpt from Dara Barnat’s poem “The Age I am to Myself,” referenced above: 

When Walt Whitman wrote the line
that he was thirty-seven, in perfect health,

in fact he was decades older.

I guess the body
is the body, but you can imagine

that day when you swam in a lake, lay

on a silver rock, legs bent, arms behind your head, sun
on your face.

You can feel the heat of the rock on your skin,

track the divots of beetles
as loons dive after them.

I, now, am thirty-six. I guess
this poem is a fine place to be thirty-six.

It’s a fine place to say that the age I am to myself is twenty-six.

For the complete poem and more new work by Dara Barnat, subscribe to Poet Lore and receive the Fall/Winter 2016 issue this October.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Novel Year Program 2016

This is the Year You Finish, Revise, and Pitch Your Novel

By Pamela Alston

Susan Coll will host an information session about the Novel Year program on Saturday, July 30, from 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. at The Writer's Center. RSVP here

Last fall, The Writer’s Center introduced a new workshop to the roster, Novel Year, a program of 10 dedicated novelists selected by the instructor to finish their novels and learn about the publishing process. “I have taken several classes at The Writer's Center before, but I hadn't really become part of a writer's community,” Catherine Baker, a 2015 participant said. “I needed to learn more about living as a writer and engaging with the publishing world, and building a network with other writers. This class provided all of that. Plus, it was really fun—the highlight of each week!” Beginning in September, Susan Coll takes the helm of Novel Year. “I hope to create a warm and supportive environment in the classroom,” she said. “But at the same time, I want to maintain a serious and professional atmosphere because we have real work to accomplish.”
Coll is the author of five novels, most recently The Stager (Sarah Crichton Books, 2014), a New York Times and Chicago Tribune Editor’s Choice. Her other books include Acceptance (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), which was made into a television movie starring Joan Cusack, Rockville Pike (Simon & Schuster, 2012), Beach Week (Sarah Crichton Books, 2010) and karlmarx.com: A Love Story (Simon & Schuster, 2001).

Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, NPR.org, 
atlantic.com, and The Millions. She has run many fiction workshops at the Center and recently left a position at Politics & Prose bookstore, where she oversaw events and programs for five years.

Coll is eager to reconnect with students, to engage with writers, and help them shape their work. “I'm especially excited about the small size and the long duration of this workshop,” Coll said enthusiastically, “that will allow time for each participant to get proper attention.” 

Participants will experience the rigor and structure of an M.F.A. program, but with less of an expense and time commitment. Each class will be divided into two parts. In the first half, the group will discuss an aspect of craft and have in-class exercises that will be geared toward each student's own novel. The second half of class will be devoted to workshopping manuscripts. At least three sessions will bring in panels of published writers as well as publishing industry professionals.

Lauren Kosa described last year’s program to be "one of the best classes" that she has taken for advanced writing. Kosa worked on a literary fiction novel she described as "ok" when she began the class. When she completed the program, she described her 300-page work as "much more alive and closer to its final form."

Coll plans to address this idea directly. “Participants will learn more than the basics of crafting technically proficient novels; in some ways that's the easy part,” she said. “I want them to learn how to make their work pop, to write novels that are compelling and that will capture the attention of agents, editors, and readers.”
Instructor Amin Ahmad with the 2015–16 Novel Year participants

Thursdays 7–9:30 p.m.
Fall: September 15–December 8
Winter/Spring: January 12–April 13
Summer: June-August, Individual monthly check-ins with instructor
                                                                Master Class: $5,000

Other benefits include:
  •  Consistent writing deadlines, studying aspects of craft, and being part of a supportive community
  •  Panels and Q&As with experts in the industry, including literary agents and visiting writers
  •  Free access to the Studio at The Writer’s Center during the full year (valued at $1,000)
  •  Free admission to ticketed literary events at the Center
  •  Be a featured reader (reading works-in-progress) at the 2017 Bethesda Literary Festival

Qualifications: Participants must have completed at least 150 pages of a novel before enrolling.To be admitted into the program, potential candidates will need to submit:
  •  A one-page cover letter detailing their interest in the program
  • A 25-page writing sample from their novel in progress
  • Submissions should be sent to laura.spencer@writer.org