Monday, November 30, 2009

Poetics of Labor: Smithsonian & Letras Latinas

This weekend you'll have an opportunity to hear a couple great poets--including TWC workshop leader Naomi Ayala--at the National Museum of American History. Read on.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History & Letras Latinas, the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, presents

“Poetics of Labor: A Reading Series for Bittersweet Harvest

Come hear a visiting poet from California and a local Washington, DC poet read selections from their work rooted in stories of migration, labor and community.

You will have FOUR opportunities to hear them:

Saturday, DECEMBER 5, 2009:
11:00 AM  &  2:15 PM

Sunday, DECEMBER 6, 2009: 
12 noon  &  3:00 PM

The readings will take place in the gallery space of the exhibit at the museum, located on the National Mall, 14th Street and Constitution Avenue, N.W., in Washington, D.C.:

“Bittersweet Harvest: The Bracero Program, 1942 – 1964”
American History Museum, 2nd Floor West

Naomi Ayala is the author of the poetry collections, This Side of Early (Curbstone Press, 2009) and Wild Animals on the Moon (Curbstone Press, 1997). A native of Puerto Rico, Ayala resides in Washington, D.C., where she serves as the Executive Director of the Capitol Letters Writing Center. Until recently, she was Senior Writer and Editor for a communications company that specializes in public health education. Ayala also teaches at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, MD and is the recipient of numerous awards for her work. A third book of poems is slated for publication with Bilingual Press.

John Olivares Espinoza is the author of The Date Fruit Elegies (Bilingual Press, 2008), the inaugural collection in the new poetry series, Canto Cosas. In 2009, the book was a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. Espinoza was born and raised in Indio, CA to Mexican parents. He holds degrees in creative writing from UC Riverside and Arizona State University (MFA), where he spent time writing about his experience working as a gardener with his father and brother. John and his wife live in San Jose, CA, where he teaches at the National Hispanic University.

Letras Latinas is the literary program of the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame

For more information, contact:

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Review Monday: Diane Ackerman's Dawn Light

Diane Ackerman,
Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day
W.W. Norton & Company; 2009
240pp; $24.95

Reviewed by Nina Amato

It’s hard to imagine poetry intermingling with science. The two are not common bed fellows. Yet Diane Ackerman’s Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day is a poetic celebration of nature and science. The book is so beautifully written, we may not even realize that we’re learning something. Did you know that bees sleep in on autumn mornings? Or that birds tailor their songs to their landscape? Were you aware that city lights increase breast cancer rates by 50 percent? Or that children in Norway develop slower, intellectually and physically, during the long winter due to reduced sunlight and subsequent vitamin D deficiency? Ackerman presents these and other facts about our world with delightfully engineered prose.

Dawn Light is a book about the world. The world at dawn. Ackerman wants us to appreciate everything about dawn; the beauty and the science.

The chapter, Water, Water Everywhere, is about, not surprisingly, water. Water in the oceans. Water in the clouds. Water at dawn. We are entranced by the topic with the chapter’s first stunning sentence, “In the sapphire hours before sunrise, ice floes on the lake crack the mirror reflection of trees.” Ackerman goes beyond this exquisite imagery, bringing our attention past water’s evident beauty to its imperative role in our existence. “Eccentric right down to our atoms, we’d be impossible without water’s weird bag of tricks. The litany of we’re only here because begins with this chilling one: We’re only here because ice floats.” This is science reported by a poet.

Ackerman’s gorgeous observations of the world at dawn are described with such splendor that reading the book is almost as uplifting as actually viewing a sunrise. “As the sun drives gold nails through the shadows, a dull red dawn, the color of deer and rust, soars up the sky.” Few could construct such a beautiful picture of dawn using only words. The whole book is lovely verbal photograph, full of history, science, and poetry.
Harried by deadlines, overcome with stress, it is easy to forget the world that surrounds us. Other creatures are busy too. Cranes are coupling up to raise their young together, just as people do. Early birds are catching their worms, possibly because drowsy half-asleep worms are easier to catch. Bees, farmers by occupation, are tending their crops in the summer based on the waking schedule of each flower.
Dawn Light is a beautiful reminder to pause and admire the world around us. The world is a marvelous place; especially at dawn.

Reviewer Nina Amato wishes she had a job to list in this bio. Sympathetic employers can view her work at

Thursday, November 26, 2009

SS&PP Day 3

Happy Black Friday, shoppers! I hope no one got mown down at 4am outside local department store. 

We've finally come to our top three finalists in the Sudden Stories & Prose Poetry contest.  A special thank you and congratulations to Janet Harrison and Arlene Stanton, our tied-for-silver medalists, and Patrick J. Walczy, who won the grand prize - a free workshop.  It was a pleasure to meet Patrick at the Open House!  Here are our winners, and have a fantastic holiday weekend, all.


It Happened On The Red Line

Temperatures had dipped below freezing yet he entered the Metro car in sandals worn over two pairs of thick socks, torn jeans, and a soiled trench coat belted with a piece of clothesline. He hadn’t shaved in several days and his mud brown, collar length hair was wildly uneven, as if he had hacked it off himself with a pair of dull sewing scissors.

At the next stop a young mother got on with her two children. The girl sat next to her mother and began to read a book. Her more obstreperous brother asserted his independence by sitting across the aisle, next to the trench-coated man.

“Do you want to see something?” asked the man, opening his coat.

His mother and I both tensed, but I was closer. I had no clear idea what I would do if the man exposed himself, except insert myself between the two, shielding the boy with my body.

The man reached under his coat, and pulled out a cockatiel . “She goes everywhere with me, but  now she has to hide because they don’t want her on Metro.” He gently slid her back.

“What’s her name?” asked the little boy.

The man brought her out again and considered. “You know,” he said, “She’s a special bird and she has lots of names. What do you think her name should be today?”

Transfixed, the boy stared at the bird. “Clorox,” he finally decided, “Because she’s so white.”

                                                -J. M. R. Harrison (Janet)



I didn’t know she knew how to operate a wrecking ball so I’m surprised when the fourth wall of our condo’s living room explodes inward. The pictures of us smiling in exotic locales come flying past and daylight cracks in. I hear her laugh, her cackle, as the patched ball retreats and begins a slow swing backward. It pauses after it divorces from momentum and then begins its valiant charge back at me, back at the memories of us. I destroyed the life we made by saying things that were false. Now she destroys the same with rented heavy-duty machinery. The ball reenters, this time breaking through everything we saw fit to hang and display, things that we thought would make people smile, but not us. It’s loud like two sticks of dynamite having sex. The ball swings past my head, shedding dust, plaster, the presents we bought, but never wrapped. The fourth wall is completely gone, everything is exposed to the afternoon sunlight. So tell me, you, where do we go from here? Google maps doesn’t have these kinds of directions. Where do we go? Don’t think, just distract her while I power that thing down. Then her and I can talk, just like we used to. 
                                                          -Patrick J. Walczy

We hope you've enjoyed reading.  Thanks again to our submitters!

Try your own sudden stories and prose poems this weekend.  Write about family, gratitude, the sensation of being full - whatever you choose, try to capture it succinctly and powerfully, reminding yourself once more of the brilliance of words, and the weight they carry when used in just the right way.  You get no more than 250, so use them well. Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

SS&PP Day 2

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!  As you sneak away from the table full of food and family, snag an extra slice of pie and enjoy our next four semi-finalists in the Short Story & Prose Poetry Contest, run this fall by The Writer's Center.  Then, before you lapse into a delightful turkey (or tofurkey) coma, reflect once more on why we do what we do - to vent, to move, to inspire, to create, to learn.  Whatever your reason for writing, it's often a thankless craft, which is why it's so important to celebrate it whenever we can.  We at The Writer's Center remain grateful to all of you, for allowing us a place in your writing world, and for supporting us as we endeavor to provide a place for all of us to do what we love most: Write.

Here are our next three pieces (EDIT: I was able to get permission from our fourth semi-finalist, Richard Ladson, whose piece has now been added!), from John Cushing, Luke Moderacki, and Stefanie Wallach:

Batman and Superman

In January of 2006 I returned to Washington from my assignment in Cotonou, Benin, for three weeks for surgery.  One afternoon I took a #80 bus from Fort Totten to Foggy Bottom.  I was the only white person on the bus.  Somewhere in Northeast DC a woman got on with two boys, aged about five and six, each holding a toy action figure.  The older boy sat next to me and said, “This is Batman.  I don’t have a Daddy, but Batman has a Daddy.”

“Well, actually, Batman’s parents were both killed during an armed robbery,” I replied.

The boy sat quietly for a moment, then walked across the aisle of the bus, handed his younger brother the Batman action figure, and came back with Superman.

“This is Superman.  I don’t have a Daddy, but Superman has a Daddy,” he said.

 “Superman’s parents were both killed when their planet exploded,” I said.

He got quiet for awhile, and then asked me, “Where do you live?”


The bus got very quiet.

                                                                      -John Cushing


Of Couch and Man

The man is not obese

The man is not handicap

The man is not old

But somehow, the man has become one with the couch

His skin has absorbed into the couch

If the couch needed to go somewhere, the man would have to oblige

But, fortunately for the man, couches don’t move

And, fortunately for the couch, the man doesn’t move either

Over time the man sinks deeper and deeper into the couch

The man’s skin takes on the green pigment of the couch

The man’s backside, including the back of his head, looks as if it is sewn into the couch

Eventually, there is no longer a seam where the man meets the couch

If you touch the man’s skin, you feel the softness of cotton,

It is no longer human skin

He then becomes nothing more than a lump in the fabric

He is no longer discernable

All that is left is a lumpy couch

You ask, “How does such a thing happen?”

The lump answers, “No sense of purpose.”

                                                                     -Luke Moderacki


Night Mine 

The girl’s compass spun as she walked in the cool night to find where she last breathed underwater. Such aimlessness! It was impossible, so she closed her eyes and felt for a pillow of frogs.
          "Little girl," he said. His breath a prickle of static on her downy cheek.
            The prince had first appeared to her as a tree. She had been wandering at dawn and wondering at the stillness of an oak. With staccato shift of branch and leaf, he formed pretty sky patterns. She plucked a blue
jewel from the boughs to keep in her pocket.
            One time she heard him in a Johnny Cash song. While fever danced along her spine, she noticed his laughter beneath the gravelly lyrics. She reached under her pillow to find an egg-shaped, velvet laugh.
            His no. 2 pencil had been the most charming gift. Wading in the brook, she stroked the mossy stones under the rapids and smiled when she pulled her hand from the brown boil. Instead of smooth gray, her waterwrinkled fingers held slender yellow.

             In the celestial field she heard again, “Little girl.”
             Her eyes opened upon a plastic laundry basket. She climbed in as the basket began to rise. It flew her over words, wishes, gardens, games, machines, mountains.
             The girl awoke in the spare room at her grandmother's house, just down the road from her own, in a warm square of sun. She held a slightly melted chocolate chip cookie. It tasted like love 
                                                               - Stefanie Wallach



While at the mall I visited Neiman Marcus and tried to purchase the newest (your name) package in their persona department.  They informed me that they only carried first tier personas.  They suggested that I try Kmart.

At Kmart I found a knock-off version of the (your name) persona in the returned merchandise department.  It had some dents and scratches and the batteries were dead, but otherwise appeared to be in working condition.

So I bought it for $1.99 and took it home.  I took the shopping cart home too.

When I got home and replaced the batteries I found that the OFF switch that controlled the mouth was inoperative.  It kept repeating, (Gimme chocolate, Gimme chocolate ...)

I put it on the shelf next to my Ken and Barbie personas.  The next morning I found Barbie torn to shreds, and Ken staring into space with a smile on his face.  (your name)  just sat there smoking a cigarette. 
                                       -Richard Ladson

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Sudden Stories and Prose Poem Contest Winners!

As writers, it's important to take on challenges.  It's easy to fall into patterns of writing the same kind of story, with the same plot line, the same kind of character, the same patterns, even the same page count.  As such, we decided to throw down the gauntlet for our members. 

This fall, we at The Writer's Center invited our members to submit their best sudden stories and prose poems for a contest.  The only requirement was that submissions were not to exceed 250 words, and we would accept multiple entries.  We were thrilled to see our membership step up, sending dozens and dozens of entries our way.  With the help of our dedicated staff (and some heroic instructors), we whittled the pool down to the top 10 pieces.  We posted them on the walls at our fall Open House and encouraged everyone who attended to vote for their top three.  

As a special thanks to our top ten finalists (this week is all about gratitude after all), we will be posting their stories and poems on our blog for the next three days, the final day showcasing our top three finalists.  Check back each day to remind yourselves of the power of the written word, and how very much can be said with so few words.  To start us off, here are three of our finalists: Claire McGoff, Paul Rice, and Meredith Stivers.

Cry Uncle 
Even now, she pushes away the hand that touched her, helped feed her. Over and again, she steps toward then back from the sweet-smelling cologne, and minted breath. She’s kept the dresses. From the of depths of her closet, the ghosts of price tags gossip, murmur the costs. She holds the cross, no longer against her neck, but in an open shaky palm. As the chain begins to slip between her fingers, she clutches the jewel tight until the mark it makes begins to hurt. 
                                                                             -Claire McGoff 

Without A Word
An immature white boy – racist in training,
           forgetting the company in which he rode
           demonstrated his bona fides to redneck teammates.
Leaning out the window of a safely moving car
            he yelled “WHITE TRASH” to Blacks being passed.
A startled young Black man seated beside him,
           amongst other White athletes,
           stoically stared straight ahead,
           as if he didn’t hear
                      what he wished he hadn’t
                      but all knew he had.
In the awkward, deafening silence that ensued,
           the white boy, with his back to the offended,
           slowly remembered what everyone else knew.
Mortified, he attempted to save face by concealing it,
           hiding in front of his back,
           engaging in inane small talk to no one . . . everyone,
           pretending that what had been heard
                       had not been spoken.
In the ensuing void,
           nothing said, nothing to be said,
A naive and cowardly white boy realized
           he had been yelling at himself,
           and a small life was changed
           without a word.
                                                                -Paul R. Rice 


F Street Entrance, Chinatown

There’s always some street performer by the metro entrance you can hear from a block away. Tuesday morning it’s the guitarist with the graying dreadlocks and the patient dog.
I want to ask him, “Am I sad because you’re playing sad songs, or are the songs sad because I’m sad?”
But I never do. I just ride down the escalator and head to work, blinking back tears.
                                                                -Meredith Stivers

Drawing Winners!

Here is the list of the randomly selected drawing prizewinners from our discounted workshop blowout last weekend:

Patricial Mosely: One free 6-8 session winter workshop
Katherine Rekkas: One free 4 session winter workshop
Maryhelen Snyder: One free 2 session workshop
Patricia Gill: One free 1-session workshop
Lelia Crosby: two free seats at The Writer's Center's 33rd birthday celebration featuring Pagan Kennedy and Carolyn Forche.
Cara Powers: One free membership

The new issue of The Carousel has hit the printers and the post office, so you should be getting it soon (if you get it delivered free to your house). Otherwise you can pick it up at TWC. If you're reading this far away from Bethesda and would like a copy, send me an e-mail and I'll send you one.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Review Monday: This Side of Jordan

This Side of Jordan
Monte Schulz
Fantagraphics Books
Released Oct 20, 2009

Reviewed by Jason Rodriguez

Back in the summer of 2008 I set out on a cross-country road trip. Washington DC to San Diego, CA over nine days, by myself, with no real reason for taking to the road except for the fact that I just needed to get away for a while. It was a tough year on several fronts and the romanticized idea of open roads, hitch hikers, and misadventures I missed out on in my twenties were too attractive to turn down. I had fun on the trip, met up with old friends and made some new friends, stayed in hostels, run-down motels, and the occasional guest bedroom. By the time the trip was over I was tired, cranky, lonely, and a bit stressed out – and I still had all of the problems I left in DC to deal with. They never really left me, I guess – they rode along with me, constantly reminding me of commitments that I needed to eventually address.

This feeling of futility, of an unwanted passenger, of being unable to run from your commitments, has been captured in Monte Schulz’s This Side of Jordan. Alvin Pentegrast, our teenage protagonist, decides to take a job with a complete stranger provided it pulls him off his farm, where his current tuberculosis relapse is beginning to signal a trip back to the sanitarium. His new employer is Chester Burke, a good-looking swindler and loner gangster who quickly proves to be a violent sociopath. Fortunately for Alvin, the pair picks-up a third traveling companion along the way, the dwarf Rascal, who currently spends most of his time under his Auntie’s house and constantly tells stories of adventure seeking and Roosevelt dinner parties from a past life, back when his uncle was alive and would take him out into the world. Alvin and Rascal embark on this journey of escape, trying to leave their past lives behind, only to find themselves trapped in a Packard with a man who has no regard for human life and who would likely kill both of them if they prove to no longer be useful.

Schulz’s book is filled with magnificent characterization, rich environments, and a sharp humor (when a bank teller doesn’t take Alvin’s bomb threats serious, Alvin tells him, “I’m not feeling too good and I might be contagious, so give me the money, dumbbell”) that takes you off guard and makes the horrific moments a more effective punch to the gut. The book takes place in 1929, before the Great Crash and during the height of prohibition, and finds our characters driving across the Midwest, leaving a trail of carnage in their wake. Speakeasies, hip-flasks, churches, banks, dance derbies, loose men and women, and circuses provide a backdrop of a country living in excess with few legal options to unwind to. It’s a perfect setting for a man like Chester Burke to make his fortune, and a perfect opportunity for men like Alvin and Rascal to find their escapes.

Alvin is an odd sort of a protagonist. I found myself having nothing but disdain for him at times, his sense of entitlement and his tendency to take his disappointments and let-downs out on Rascal make him a hard character to love, such as when he interrupts Rascal while he’s talking with a preacher’s daughter, throws the girl’s bible on the floor, and tells her, “only dumbbells ever believed there was such a thing, and I don’t need no ugly little girl telling me nothing to the contrary!” But his naïveté, his impending death, and his occasional bit of humor make his relatable if not loveable, at times. Rascal quickly becomes the star of this book – he’s mysterious at first, a character you cheer for without ever knowing why. But as his story unfolds he becomes an increasingly sympathetic character, and you look forward to his stories and fear for his eventual fate. Chester is the perfect villain – only used when necessary and used for full effect every time. Alvin and Rascal are the ones who keep the safe-house safe, the car running, run a diversion while Chester carries out another plan designed to line their coffers. Chester always tends to show up at the end of these scenes like a force of nature, improvising on a botched plan, getting the money he’s after and leaving torn limbs and dead bodies in his wake. He never once comments on his actions, after every score he comments on the weather or his hunger as if murder is routine and necessary and fun. Whenever he enters the scene you know something cringe-worthy is about to happen, and you know that Alvin and Rascal are falling further down the rabbit hole and getting to a point where true escape is becoming impossible. Even if they physically escape this hell, their soles will never be complete again.

The book challenges the reader to think about faith and redemption, commitment and escape. It puts us in the passenger seat of Chester’s Packard and makes us ask what makes a person good, and whether or not we can truly escape our lives.

And, of course, I cannot write a review of this book without mentioning that its author, Monte Schulz, is the son of the late, great Charles Schulz – the creator of Peanuts. I didn’t want to lead with that fact, however, because the book stands on its own and shouldn’t be judged by the fact that the writer had a famous father. Monte has a voice of his own, and This Side of Jordan would still be a fantastic and moving novel even if Peanuts has never existed.

Jason Rodriguez is an Eisner and Harvey-nominated graphic novel editor that lives in Arlington, VA with his wife, two dogs, three cats, and hated bird. He recently reviewed Red Monkey Double Happiness Book on First Person Plural.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Discovery Friday: Potomac Review

Here's my interview with Will Grofic, the managing editor of Potomac Review. This journal is locally produced, and it's part of The Writer's Center's Literary Journal Discount Program.

What is Potomac Review?

To be concise, Potomac Review (PR) is a literary journal that publishes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. It is also shorthand for Potomac Review: A Journal of Arts & Humanities. Who doesn’t love the ampersand? We publish biannually in spring and fall and are housed at Paul Peck Humanities Institute at Montgomery College in Rockville, MD.

The staff consists of Editor-in-Chief Julie Wakeman-Linn, who recovered PR from the ashes 5 years ago, Katherine Smith and Robert Giron, who are the Poetry Editors, our cherished interns, and a slew of sharp associate editors. I wouldn’t be here, typing to this virtual audience, without the guidance and greatness of the first Managing Editor: Leila Emery

What would you like our readers to know about you?

I’ve been telling anyone that looks at me that Potomac Review just received a Notable Story in Best American Nonrequired Reading 2009 edited by Dave Eggers for Rebekah Yeager’s “The Couch” and a Notable Essay in Best American Essays 2009 edited by Mary Oliver for Andrea Nolan’s “Edges.” Both were in Issue 44 (a few issues are still available to purchase at The Writer’s Center!). This is wonderful news; even typing it I feel all giddy, like Kyle Semmel listening to a new Bob Dylan single.

Rebekah’s story brings up an interesting aspect of PR because she won the F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story Contest. PR helps run the F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Conference every fall and publishes the contest winner. Every year we also publish our contest winner (shameless plug) and now will publish the Split this Rock Poetry Contest winner.

What makes it unique?

I’m sure other literary journals will sell you on how closely they look at every submission, but I’m certain they are lying. Well not certain, I’m sure a few of their readers don’t read every word of every line. Maybe not a few, maybe there is one bad egg with errands to do and no time for your nonlinear chapter construction. Or maybe the one egg isn’t even wholly bad, maybe he/she is near-rotten, just had twins and slowly going insane. The fact is, we don’t have any near-rotten eggs in our basket; I don’t think any of our readers just had twins this past year. We read everything, and 95% of our content comes from the slushpile (other 5% are the aforementioned contest winners and our featured poet).

What really makes us unique is the great blend of local and national writers; we’ll have Writer’s Center instructor Ramola D next to up-and-coming fiction writers Myfanwy Collins and Irene Keliher next to T.J. Forrester, whose novel and short story collection is coming out from Simon & Schuster (that ampersand again). We’ve always published a few people from DC/MD/VA, not out of necessity, but because for so many years Potomac Review stressed publishing Mid-Atlantic writers. Even though are focus now is more on publishing great literary work than where the author is from, that reputation still exists among Mid-Atlantic writers who submit, and this works to our advantage as we try and keep our feet grounded in the DC Metro-area literary community while also publishing people nationally and internationally.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you like to publish?

That’s hard to say. We like work of literary merit? We like what would render the Godmother of American Poetry Emily Dickinson’s “whole body so cold no fire could ever warm” her. I know she’s talking about poetry, but we like fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that feels like “the top of my head were taken off.” Or, more succinct, we like good stuff. There’s not one set tone or point of view we hunt for in our content.

What advice do you have for anyone submitting a manuscript?

Everyone says you should know the review you are submitting to, then they say buy our issues, which makes sense, and if you have the money you should do just that. Buy as many Potomac Reviews as your monthly budget allows. In these economic times though, I understand if that’s not the case (I’m actually impressed you’re still reading down here, what with these economical times and all). So I’ll make it easy for you. We do have some online content from our latest issue, free! content from our Pushcart nominees and Fiction Contest winner. We also blog regularly, which means you’d be able to see what our sensibilities are (and Julie Wakeman-Linn has this awesome feature called the “Maybe Dialogue Blog” where she chats with a submitter who was on the cusp of being accepted but still has some kinks in the story to work out).

Also keep your cover letters to a small-to-medium sized paragraph, unless your cover letter is your submission. Memoir as cover letter, I’ve never seen someone consciously do that before.

C.M. Mayo Claims Spot on Library Journal's Best Books 2009 AND Special Workshop Discount Extension

Workshop leader C.M. Mayo (who will contribute to this blog very soon) and her new book, The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire, was recently named on Library Journal's Best Books of 2009 list. Congratulations, C.M.! Her next workshop at The Writer's Center will be in March, and it's Dialogue Intensive Techniques.

And in related news, sort of: The Writer's Center has extended its winter workshop discount until Sunday at 5 p.m. With a special added BONUS. Keep reading for deets.

Due to popular demand, we've decided to extend the winter workshop discount until 5 p.m. Sunday. As an added bonus, anyone who registers for a workshop today through Sunday will be placed in a drawing for a chance to win one of these great prizes:
1 free 6-8 session winter workshop of your choice

1 free 4 session workshop winter workshop of your choice

1 free 2-session workshop winter workshop of your choice

1 free 1-session workshop winter workshop of your choice

1 free membership

2 free tickets to the annual birthday reading with Carolyn Forche and Pagan Kennedy
The drawing will be held Monday and we'll accounce the winners on Facebook, on First Person Plural, and in next week's member e-mail.
Restrictions: This promotion cannot be combined with other offers. Previous registrations are ineligible for the prize drawing.

The Carousel, the flagship publication of The Writer's Center, is now complete. It has been sent to the printers and will soon be mailed to members. In this issue you'll find the complete guide to winter workshops; articles about our featured birthday guests, Carolyn Forche and Pagan Kennedy; descriptions of our emerging writer fellows and Story/Stereo; and Special Holiday Gift ideas from The Writer's Center (which you can read about today at

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Writer's Center 2.0

Hello, everyone

Starting today, I'm going to be writing a series of intermittent status reports on our future Web site.

As many of you know, as we've announced previously, The Writer's Center is working toward establishing a new (& vastly improved) web presence. Right now we're looking at, we hope, an April launch date. So mark your calendars! But do note that's a hoped for date, which could still slide, depending on certain factors out of our control. We're busily preparing the site now, and we're truly, truly excited to see its arrival.

I'm eager to get started in bringing more and better content to your Writer's Center web experience. Among the new features you will find First Person Plural (it will be embedded in); a "threaded" discussion forum allowing you to respond to to workshop participants posts (for those in workshops); and easy access with log-in and log-out features. Signing up for workshops and events will be easier too, much easier, and you can choose to get a hard copy of The Carousel or simply view the pdf online (incidentally, the new Carousel will soon be mailed). I could run down a longer list, but I'm going to stop there. (But you can view the full list here.) Instead, I'll talk briefly about the site and some of the more dynamic functions we hope to provide.
We'll certainly have a new look, and that look will be all Writer's Center. Just WHAT that look will be, you'll just have to wait and see. Needless to say, it's exciting going through this process. Since we have so many events and workshops at The Writer's Center, we will take advantage of new web technology to finally integrate new tools: video, audio, iconography, color. All that, and the site will be user friendly too. Already, we've created a site map that we believe represents a stronger approach: In creating it we considered not what we thought the site should do for us, but rather what the site should do for you, our members and community.
Because that's just it. We ARE a community, and we want to offer an improved version of that community to you, one that merges the physical (here at the Center) and the virtual. In short, you'll be able to do far, far more cool stuff on the new site, including take more online workshops. Everything seems possible right now.
I'll be back periodically with more specifics as we develop the site.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Laura Shamas: Transformation in a Flash: The Ten-minute Play

By Laura Shamas

“Has it ever happened before that a generation of artists have embraced a new creative form with such wild energy and enthusiasm, completing whole dramatic creations in the time it takes to languorously eat a slice of pepperoni pizza? I never saw it coming. Did you?” – Gary Garrison, A MORE PERFECT 10: Writing and Producing the Ten- Minute Play [2009]

Ten-minute play festivals are becoming more and more popular in the American theater: eight, nine or ten quick shows presented in one afternoon or evening of theater. As an entertainment event, a ten-minute play festival enables a theater to expose audiences to many different playwrights in one bill.  It also gives the audience a quick-changing variety of style, theme and content.

But looking at the form more closely, a ten-minute play is the perfect vehicle for a writer in any genre (poetry, prose, playwriting or screenwriting) to explore and  hone some specific writing skills which are widely applicable.

The characteristics and limitations of a ten-minute play are clear enough from the outset: you only have 10 minutes to tell a complete story. Your props, characters, set, and technical requirements are limited, due to practical concerns; your play will most likely be produced on a bill with other ten-minute plays, so the simpler the accoutrements
the better, from a producer’s standpoint. Therefore, the show must be as technically simple (one set? two?) as possible. Cast size is usually constrained as well; some contests ask for no more than four characters in any ten-minute play.

But as writers know, limitations are often the springboard to invention. These “restrictions” challenge us to start our dramas with a bang in the middle of action; a ten-minute play should begin with a scene already in progress, in medias res
as Horace defines it in Ars Poetica.  What’s going on at the top of the show must be striking and riveting, be it image or action. It should grab our attention and hold it.

The characters and dialogue must be dynamic as well. There’s no time to “ease” into a character. The ten-minute form tests us, as writers, to present “our greatest hits,” cutting away the fat. Dialogue: there’s only time for what’s absolutely necessary, character-defining, and unique. Plot: the essence of the story. Theme: what your show is about.

What differentiates a skit from a ten-minute play? One word: transformation. At the end of a skit, characters aren’t necessarily changed. But at the end of a good ten-minute play, something has transformed, something is different.  Hopefully, a character has changed or the audience’s perspective has shifted.  In a flash, there’s been transformation.

Workshop leader Laura Shamas has written 30 plays, and is produced in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia. In the past year, she’s had four plays published: Moliere in Love, Lincoln Vacation, Pistachio Stories, and Re-Sourcing. Recently, her play Chasing Honey was workshopped and performed at The Public Theater in New York as part of the Native Theater Festival 2008. Her playwriting awards include the 2008 Five Civilized Tribes Garrard Best Play Award and a Drama-Logue. Her show Picnic at Hanging Rock will be produced at Catholic University here in D.C. from February 18-21.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Thursday Night Live: The Earth in the Attic

On Thursday, November 19 at 7 p.m. The Writer's Center and Split This Rock will present a discussion of The Earth in the Attic  (Yale University Press) by Palestinian-American poet Fady Joudah.  This, the first in a series of events discussing work by authors who will attend the Split This Rock festival in 2010, will be held at The Writer's Center, 4508 Walsh Street, in downtown Bethesda, Maryland.  Future programs in the series will be held at other venues around town.  Poet and translator Yvette Neisser Moreno will lead the discussion.  Copies of The Earth in the Attic and The Butterfly's Burden, Mr. Joudah's recently published translations of the work of Mahmoud Darwish (Copper Canyon Press) are available for sale at The Writer's Center. Farrar Straus and Giroux also recently published another collection of his translations of Darwish's poems, If I Were Another.

Katherine Howell recently interviewed Mr. Joudah for First Person Plural in connection with the upcoming event.

KH:  You were born in Texas, and grew up in Libya and Saudi Arabia. After college, med school, and medical training in Georgia and Texas, you now work in Houston, when you’re not doing field work for Doctors Without Borders. How did the places you lived affect your sense of identity? Did this affect the way you view your Palestinian heritage? Do you feel, as Louise Glück described you in the forward to The Earth in the Attic, that you hold the position of “outsider,” that you are “not at home, not among [your] people”? How does this sense of contemporary exile, by circumstance and by choice, affect your view of the world and of poetry’s place in it?

FJ: I’d like to begin by saying that “when I am not doing work for Doctors Without Borders” requires pause. I have not done field work for them in 4 years and do not expect to do so again for some time now that I am married with young children. To have joined Doctors Without Borders on the field is not an act of nobility or heroism; it is for those who have done it either an act of common decency or an expression, a representation, of self-survival. Louise Gluck described me as an “outsider” because I am. How can I be an insider when I have not for one hour of my life been a displaced person or a refugee in the political definition of the term? True, I am not “among my people” and that adds a particular dimension to all this: so many of my family are still displaced and refugees, and my parents were refuges; it is no doubt a degree of association (or separation), an identification that makes me, as outsider, a particular kind of insider; but it risks righteousness from the pulpit of suffering, and as a Palestinian I know too well the unfortunate race to the crown of suffering, and in so many ways I do not want to partake in it, not even at the level of becoming a subject for the validation of the victimizer or the deification of the victim. “Exile” first and foremost is the condition of the poet, whether in internal or external form. Often it is in both forms, which I hope would guard a little from an aloofness of asceticism, or from the ostrich syndrome.

KH: Do you still work as an ER physician at a VA hospital? How does seeing war from that remove, particularly after seeing its bodily effects up close through your work with displaced persons, shape your thoughts? I feel like the poem “Night Travels” speaks to the experiences at the VA. How is the experience of writing these poems different poems different from the ones concerning DPs in the immediate place of war? Do you connect the displaced persons you serve with Doctors Without Borders to the veterans served at the VA? If so, how does that connection come out in your poems?

FJ: After eight years, I no longer work at the VA. The DP’s as you call them (and in so calling them they are further displaced) are “foreign” to us in America, truly “other.” They suffer a different type of oblivion than the Veterans do; a different kind of dehumanization, even when made “holy” like the people in Darfur are, for example; they are subjected to a utilitarian absence, exploited for purposes of power and moral display (and arguably, as in The Earth in the Attic, for aesthetic display). I write a lot less about Veterans because one is bombarded by media discourse on such matters that it leaves less room to maneuver outside the dominant “narrative” per se. There is something to be said about our focus on Veterans in a manner that further absents the ubiquitous victims of war, the civilians and peoples, of Iraq or Afghanistan, for example; the Oliver Stone phenomenon. However, when a window opens up for the fabular, as in “Night Travel”, I feel more able to write about it. Of course “Night Travel” is also a play on the Prophet Mohammad’s overnight journey from Mecca to Jerusalem before his ascension to meet God; an “Ascension” in the so-titled prose poem that follows “Night Travel” in the book. This is not to enforce specific readings of the two poems, but to explain how restrained I feel regarding the comparison you make.

KH:  Your work as a doctor shows up in the content of your work. Other than providing material, how do medicine, or science in general, and poetry intersect for you? What comes of those intersections?

FJ: The language of medicine, with its Greek and Latin obsessions, is fascinating. It was also quite metaphorical in its nascent days, in the 18th century for example; even if it likes to denounce that flowery lexicon and pretend a kind of certain specificity, it was originally bound to metaphor and translation in order to achieve a sense or illusion of inevitability, of objectivity, of truth. In that manner it resembles many aspects of poetry. Of course medicine is far more utilitarian than poetry is. Still medicine is a window into the dialogue between power and knowledge, and the politics of knowledge, from which poetry is not exempt. I think Foucault’s The Birth of the Clinic or Sontag’s Illness as Metaphor are each a case-in-point.

KH:  In March, you wrote a reflection for the Beloit Poetry Journal on “Translating Gassan Zaqtan.” In it, you say that “[f]or [you], the tantalizing tale is elsewhere: at the simple level of word order in a sentence: subject, verb, object in English vs. verb, subject, object in Arabic, for example…” and that “[n]either fidelity nor infidelity is the question per se; rather it is the “new” poem: the thing itself.” Was the process of translating Darwish’s work (I’m speaking particularly of If I Were Another) similar? What kinds of issues does translating long poems, like Darwish’s Mural, have? I have several students who are translating poems for their final projects in my class, including one who is translating poems from the Bosnian war. I’d love to know if you have any advice for the young or inexperienced translator.

FJ: The impossibility of rendering Darwish’s Arabic into English demands another question: in which ways is it possible? The answer lies, in part, in one’s own harmony within what Rilke calls “primal sound.” If I am able to sing Darwish’s poem as if it were another in English, then I have succeeded. That faith, even if illusory, is necessary for the poem, in translation or otherwise. The long poems demand a more liberated approach in that the primary concerns with orality and tonality, cadence and music, are distributed over a longer period of mind and breath, if mind and breath are a kind of time. A translated poem has to be owned by the translator, as if it were a form of functional hallucination, where one believes the voices one hears are his, are real. It’s a relationship of hospitality (and not simply tolerance) between guest and host; or a hope for oneness between (organ) donor and host.

KH: In your piece for the Poets Against War Winter 2006 newsletter, you write that “[t]he marginality of humanitarian aid, as relief or as neo-nobility, parallels that of poetry. Humanitarian aid measures its interventional impulse on the number of the dead. An afterthought of variable insightful slowness. Impartiality is its charter. And sometimes, when death is not the worst thing that can happen to you, it is the number of the living dead that determines intercession. It is part science (part statistic), part aesthetic.

And like humanitarian relief (and science), poetry often revels in its myth of independence from the communal theatre of the political, and ends up parroting the illusory separation between self and state. How does poetry heed forty million displaced persons in this world while struggling with Roman choices at home in the ‘I.’”

In an interview with the Poetry Foundation you state that you “think the discussion over the function of poetry is… half-absurd. Poetry (like Medicine) is often linked to elite and power structures; it is these structures that often “write” us in poetry, and often participate in determining the poet’s “longevity” even if we’d like to think otherwise sometimes.”

All this long quoting of you to you is to frame another question: It seems that both the good we can do with poetry and the good action we can undertake in the world are governed by a power relationship that names those goods as necessarily limited in some way. What are the limits of poetry? What can poetry do inside those limits, and how can we, as poets and readers of poetry, both seek those limits and push beyond them?

FJ: If I knew the limits of poetry, I wouldn’t write poetry. If I think poetry knows no bounds, I have already failed. “The personal is not personal. / The universal not universal” as Darwish says in Mural.

KH: In the intro to The Earth in the Attic, Glück writes that “[u]nder other conditions, one could imagine this elegant austerity, this precision, this dreamy inwardness absorbed entirely in the natural world. But the earth and sky here are… haunted landscapes of a lost homeland.” Throughout the book, trees, birds, and water (in the form of rain, wadis, and the sea) are repeated images. What power do those images hold for you? How does nature inform, or act as foil to, the harsh political and human realities at play in the poems?

FJ: Nature is a wonder. It seduces the gaze, whether “harsh political realities” are present or absent. Reading those lyric epics in Darwish’s If I Were Another with eyes and ears for his trees, birds, and flowers, away from their subjugation to the political and the dispossessed land, is necessary. (Aren’t all “nature poets” also after the “dispossessed” in one form or another?) Darwish’s Take Care of the Stags, Father is far more than an elegy. It is also praise of the earth and of chrysanthemum in particular. His ‘“The Red Indian’s’ Penultimate Speech” is also a celebration of the earth and of nature. Nature is an inevitable juxtaposition or adjacency to what we call or seek as “progress.” Another dimension is the private lexicon of a poet: I choose my recurrences to embrace ants, spiders, hoopoes, for example; and I hope to add live oaks and magnolias to them in the future.

Biographic Profiles:

Fady Joudah's The Earth in the Attic won the Yale Series for Younger Poets in 2007. Contest judge Louise Glück describes the poet in her foreword as, “that strange animal, the lyric poet in whom circumstance and profession ... have compelled obsession with large social contexts and grave national dilemmas.” He is the winner of the 2008 Saif Ghobash – Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation for his translation of poetry by Mahmoud Darwish collected in The Butterfly’s Burden, published in a bilingual edition by Bloodaxe Books in the UK and by Copper Canyon Press in the US. The US edition was short-listed for PEN America’s poetry in translation award in 2009. His most recent translation is of If I Were Another: Poems by Mahmoud Darwish, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009). He was a field member of Doctors Without Borders in 2002 and 2005.

Katherine Howell is a poet, the Communication and Development Assistant for Split This Rock, and a Lecturer in Writing at the George Washington University. She lives, writes, and teaches in Washington, D.C. You can read her reviews of Split This Rock featured poets here.

Yvette Neisser Moreno will lead the discussion on Thursday, November 19. She is a poet and translator whose work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The International Poetry Review, The Potomac Review, Tar River Poetry, and Virginia Quarterly Review. Her translation (from Spanish) of Argentinian poet Luis Alberto Ambroggio's Difficult Beauty: Selected Poems was published by Cross-Cultural Communications earlier this year. In addition to working as a professional writer/editor, Moreno teaches poetry and translation at The Writer’s Center and has taught poetry in public schools in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.

Positively Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan's Songs
W.W. Norton, Inc.
Publication date: November 16, 2009
ISBN: 9780393076172

Reviewed by Kyle Semmel

A fascinating new book hits bookstore shelves today: Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan's Songs. It presents on the page what musicians, including Dylan, have long since done on the stage: reinvent the songs. In the book—which is, according to a press release, "fully authorized by Bob Dylan and SONY Records"— thirteen graphic novelists interpret Dylan's classic tunes by creating panels of original artwork based on the lyrics.

And it's cool, both as a tribute to Dylan and as a collection of graphic "stories" that can be enjoyed with or without knowledge of the man who wrote the songs. (As the press release succinctly puts it, "Fans will relish this chance to appreciate Dylan's work in a new context, while a new generation will be introduced to his lyrical genius with mesmerizing original art.")

Thierry Murat's vision of "Blowin' in the Wind" is a social-realistic interpretation quite in the spirit of Dylan; Murat even alters the lyrics to craft a new refrain (something I imagine Dylan himself might admire): "all that I know, the wind whispered to me." The panels make ample use of shading in dark charcoal; when they are coupled with snatches of Dylan's sharp lyrics—"how many deaths," "how many tears," "how many wars,"—the drawings become bold and stirring, even downright haunting.

There's an echo of this haunting spirit in Lorenzo Mattotti's mindtrip of "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall," perhaps the most powerful interpretation in this collection. It's a colorful rendition: Edvard Munch meets Blue Man in a dark nightmare of our times. Unlike Murat, Mattotti sticks to Dylan's lyrics completely—and does so to great effect. This is a song where words come alive: "I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken" is accompanied by the image of a blindfolded man whose tongue is sheared in half by a bodyless hand (Here, it's impossible not to recall the line in Dylan's "Political World" from Oh, Mercy: "We're livin' in a time/ a man commits a crime/ the crime don't have a face.") In another panel, the horrendous "heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin'" depicts a faceless individual begging for food while two suited men enjoy a hearty laugh, unseeing the suffering. There's absolutely no safe place in this song—even the one bright space of "I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow" is weighted down by what's wrapped so bleakly around it—and Mattotti uses the hard, brutal lyrics as a springboard to the rawest images. In doing so he creates a visual sense of menace. The colors reflect the mood.

Overall, the mood this book offers is a grim one. Fans of Dylan's music know that when he's at his best, his lyrics and his songs offer more darkness than light (light's in there, but you've got to look hard for it, it don't shine bright). And this collection spares no darkness. Nicolas Nemiri's "I Want You" is noirish; there's a lone shadow man—a classic Dylan image. François Avril's "Girl from the North Country" gives us another stoic man, this time one who leaves his girl to ride off into a snow-blanketed landscape on a horse. (And no, that's not part of the original song.)

The shortest interpretation is Jean Claude-Gőtting's "Lay Lady Lay," a starkly-imagined charcoal set of panels that, removed from the lyrics, would seem to be paintings of Depression-era America. It's a simple translation of the song: a hard-working man returns home to his loving wife. In Claude-Gőtting's hand it is a deeply moving portrait of a relationship, with zero trace of the Hallmark silliness—probably thanks to the duskiness of the panels—that could be associated with this kind of interpretation. The interpretation may be short, but it perfectly gets at what makes this book—and Dylan—so special: a deep and lasting, real and recognizable sense of humanity. Dylan's view of humanity may be dark—it may have, to quote a phrase, "gone down the drain"—but he knows what real people go through every day, and this knowledge of people is embedded into the core of all that he produces artistically.

And in this book the interpreters of his songs, no matter where they take them, understand this—from the surrealistic visions of "Desolation Row" and "Tombstone Blues" to the in-your-face realness of "Hurricane" and "Blind Willie McTell." You cannot listen to Dylan's music, or read this book, without seeing that above all these songs touch on what it means to be human. There's an urgent, though subtle call for empathy in Dylan's lyrics; and the visual images in Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan's Songs make you feel exactly what that wonderful scratchy sung voice of Dylan's makes you feel: The world may be dark, but you are not alone.

Bob Dylan is one of the most significant American artists of our time. And his iconic songs will remain long after everyone reading this post today—Monday, November 16, 2009—is gone. Bob Dylan Revisited: 13 Graphic Interpretations of Bob Dylan's Songs is a brilliant picture book for grown-ups with grown-up concerns, hopes, and fears. The images pull you in, the lyrics knock you out. You can read the book in one sitting, maybe on one Metro ride to work, and the effort will be rewarded. You can open up to any song at any time of day. You can skip around at your leisure. You can read it however you want. But one thing you can't do, I assure you, is forget this book.

Kyle Semmel is the publications and communications manager of The Writer's Center. Follow his tweets at

To whet your appetite, here's the list of interpreted songs:
"Blowin' in the Wind" interpreted by Thierry Murat
"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" interpreted by Lorenzo Mattotti
"I want You" interpreted by Nicolas Nemiri
"Girl From the North Country" interpreted by François Avril
"Lay Lady Lay" interpreted by Jean-Claude Gőtting
"Positively 4th Street" interpreted by Christopher
"Tombstone Blues" interpreted by Bézian
"Desolation Row" interpreted by Dave McKean
"Like a Rolling Stone" interpreted by Alfred
"Hurricane" interpreted by Gradimir Smudja
"Blind Willie McTell" interpreted by Benjamin Flao
"Knockin' on Heaven's Door" interpreted by Jean-Philippe Bramanti
"Not Dark Yet" interpreted by Zep

Friday, November 13, 2009

The Degrees and Day Jobs of Poets
from M.F.A. to M.D.

By Sonja Patterson

Most, if not all, poets have day-jobs out of the necessity. Some of the day jobs of famous poets include editor at a publishing house (T.S. Eliot), insurance executive (Wallace Stevens), and medical doctor (William Carlos Williams). It is estimated that Williams delivered 2,000 babies in New Jersey, where he had a private practice and later was head pediatrician of Passiac General Hospital between 1910 and 1952.

Poet Michael Salcman, who is a medical physician specializing in neurology, will be reading from his collection The Clock Made of Confetti (Orchises Press) with poet and fiction writer Gerry LaFemina this Sunday as part of the Open Door Reading Series at The Writer’s Center.

Gerry LaFemina, director and teacher at the Lyric Center for Creative Writing at Frostburg State University, will read from his latest collection of stories, Wish List. As this exert from Silenced Press shows, LaFemina sounds like a wonderful teacher:

“Imaginative writing requires an image,” he says, “the relationship between abstractions and image is crucial to poetry.” LaFemina continues, “I look for images and usually image comes connected to some aspect of language that makes it compelling to me. For instance, about a year ago I was walking through Frostburg and saw that the chestnut tree in front of the Catholic Church had been shedding its nuts. And the husks had cracked, squirrels had come, etc.
So I ended up with the line: Open husks of chestnuts on the streets by St. Michael’s. I liked the rhythm, the “uh” sound of husks and chestnuts.

But then I have to ask: Where is this taking me? So I have to pursue, running with the idea of hollow spaces. In early drafts, then, I followed it in this way:
the empty space like a mouth agapelike her spot in the bed now that she’s gone,like the tomb of Jesus on the third day.

Now I had no idea I would get to this! Of course, the Catholic Church setting helped, as did the word “agape” which is also agape–the term for Christian love. But one has to have these images gathered in order to shuffle them up. One has to trust the leaps one makes.” Read more here.

Poets, doctors, teachers, each examine and pick at our brain with metaphorical scalpels. As Dr. Williams said, “When they ask me, as of late they frequently do, how I have for so many years continued an equal interest in medicine and the poem, I reply that they amount for me to nearly the same thing.”

Join us this Sunday, November 15th, 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. for the Open Door Reading Series with poets Garry LaFemina and Michael Salcman at The Writer's Center. FREE and open to the public. More info here.

Sonja Patterson is on staff at The Writer's Center.

Poet Lore: Celebrating 120 Years

A friendly reminder that The Writer’s Center invites you to join us in celebrating "120 Years of Poet Lore,” featuring readings by Gary Fincke, John Balaban, and Myra Sklarew (bios below) on Saturday, November 14th at 7:30 pm at The Historical Society of Washington. Champagne reception to follow. FREE. RSVP and read more here.

Gary Fincke has twenty-one books in print and is the Charles Degenstein professor of creative writing at Susquehanna University. His collection of stories, Sorry I Worried You, won the Flannery O’Connor Prize and was published by the University of Georgia Press. He won the 2003 Ohio State University Press /The Journal Poetry Prize, and his third collection of stories, The Stone Child, won the George Garrett Fiction Prize that year. Fincke has also received two Pushcart Prizes. His latest poetry collection is The Fire Landscape (Arkansas, 2008). A memoir, The Canals of Mars, will be published by Michigan State in 2010.

John Balaban is the author of twelve books of poetry and prose, including four volumes which together have won The Academy of American Poets’ Lamont prize, a National Poetry Series Selection, and two nominations for the National Book Award. His Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and Selected Poems won the 1998 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. His latest book of poetry is Path, Crooked Path (Copper Canyon, 2006). Balaban teaches at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.

Myra Sklarew writes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, and is the author of three chapbooks and six collections of poetry. From 1987 to 1991 she served as president of the Yaddo artist community, and she is currently emerita professor of literature in the writing program at American University. She is completing a study of Holocaust and traumatic memory (SUNY Press), and her new collection of poetry, Harmless, is due out in May. She has also co-edited (with Bruce Sklarew) The Journey of Child Development: Selected Papers of Dr. Joseph Noshpitz, due out in 2010 from Routledge.

- Sonja Patterson

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rick Cannon and Barbara Goldberg on Poet Lore

So we come to the end of Poet Lore week on First Person Plural. Tomorrow, remember, is Poet Lore's 120th Anniversary birthday party. If you can make it, we'd love to see you there! If not, enjoy this final trip down memory lane with Rick Cannon:

I learned so much in my half dozen years as an editor of Poet Lore!

I learned that there are hundreds and hundreds of folks like me ably engaged in this beautiful art. It was humbling. I learned that not consistently producing quality myself didn't mean I couldn't recognize it much of the time and that bringing others to the fore has a joy of its own. I learned more precisely what makes a poem good yet that good poetry defies all but the broadest descriptors. And finally I learned that editing is hard work and that I can't do it, teach, and write at the same time.

I felt both the honor of editing such a fine publication and the pleasure that comes from giving a gift. Too, editing, unlike writing, was a social thing. The meetings were so nice.

Those spirits of us, at least, which loved poetry loved each other.

All of these things made my experience at Poet Lore rich and memorable.

And Barbara Goldberg:

I edited Poet Lore with the indefatigable Phil Jason for about three years. We were on the lookout for unusual, quirky poems by unsung poets. I think I can speak for all the editors about what came our way – millions and millions and millions of poems and millions and millions and millions of poets! So many poets with impressive publication histories, so much unremarkable work. Still, I opened each envelop with high hopes. Occupational hazard? System overload – the fear that the adequate will drown out the excellent. It called for reading with fresh eyes and a clear mind. I certainly have more sympathy now for editors! But I do remember the thrill in finding a gem, the real thing. Later, Phil, Roland Flint, and I edited an anthology of the best of Poet Lore: The Open Door, an arduous endeavor. Lots of pizza. Lots of laughs. Shall always treasure my time with PL.

About Rick Cannon:
Rick Cannon has taught English for 36 years, the last 34 at Gonzaga College High School. He's a graduate of Georgetown University and the Writers' Workshop at The University of Iowa. He's published two chapbooks with one forthcoming, his more salient publications being marriage--a forty year serial--and five children (contributing to three--and counting--grand-ones).

About Barbara Goldberg: Barbara Goldberg won the 2008 Felix Pollak Poetry Prize for The Royal Baker’s Daughter, published by the University of Wisconsin Press. Other prize-winning books include Berta Broadfoot and Pepin the Short, Cautionary Tales, and Marvelous Pursuits. She also co-edited and translated poems in After the First Rain: Israeli Poems on War and Peace (Syracuse University Press) and The Fire Stays in Red: Poems by Ronny Someck (University of Wisconsin Press). Poems have appeared in Poetry, The Paris Review, and The Gettysburg Review. Goldberg has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as national awards in fiction, feature writing and speechwriting. Goldberg, senior speechwriter at AARP, has taught speechwriting, poetry and translation at Georgetown University and at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Poet Lore at 120

This year, E. Ethelbert Miller, an Executive Editor of Poet Lore, was interviewed on Metro Connection. It's about 11 minutes long. Click on this link to hear him discuss the journal.

Poet Lore at 120

Posted using ShareThis

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grace Cavalieri: The Poet's Cookbook

Continuing with our Poet Lore theme this week, today we feature a special post by poet Grace Cavalieri, a post that orginally appeared on the Best American Poetry blog right here. Grace has long been a friend of Poet Lore's. She founded and produces "The Poet and the Poem," now recorded at the Library of Congress for public radio. Her series celebrates its 32nd consecutive year on-air. Grace and co-author Sabine Pascarelli have just published The Poet's Cookbook, with photographs by Dan Murano (A Solitary Moment). The Poet's Cookbook includes full menus with more than 75 recipes for Antipasti, Minestre, Primi Piatti , Secondi Piatti, Verdure, Insalate, and Dolci.

The premiere reading for The Poet’s Cookbook is on Nov 22, right here at The Writer’s Center. Fifteen poets will be present and Sabine will read the Italian translations of their poems. She is coming from Italy to celebrate our friendship that started by emailing each other what we were cooking for dinner each night, and sharing a poem. We now do this for you.

Here's what Grace has to say about her recipe:

Pomodori Ripieni is something my mother used to make. She even made this for my lunch when I came home from school. In the first part of the 20th century, there were no lunch rooms and cafeterias, no "Subway" or sandwich shops. Children walked home from school and back in one short hour. Nettie made Pomodori for me on toast. I guess that was our version of an open-face sandwich.  Nettie's family came from Sicily and my father, Angelo, who was truly a great chef, came from near Venice. If there were a class war between regions of Italy, it was never in the kitchen. This is the place that always smelled wonderful.

Dan Murano arranged these tomatoes beautifully in the pan. Mine are not always as symmetrical.

Stewed Tomatoes – Pomodori Ripieni
• 8 Fresh tomatoes
• 2 Cloves Garlic
• ½ cup of mixed herbs (parsley, basil and garlic ground together)
• c lb butter
• Salt and pepper
• 1 T olive oil
Cut tomatoes across in half. Scoop out seeds. Lay first layer in large pan. In place of seeds add the herb mixture and a dot of butter in each pocket. Place another layer of tomatoes on top. Drizzle with olive oil. Put ¼ cup water in bottom of pan, cover and cook on low for 45 minutes. Serves 4-6.

All photos by Dan Murano
''The Poet's Cookbook," also features poems by Katherine Williams, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Michael Glaser , Calder Lowe, Linda Pastan, Ernie Wormwood, Carly Sachs, Cicely Angleton, Moira Egan, Christine Sostarich, David Budbill , Karren Alenier, Jean Emerson, Rod Jellema, Christina Daub, Carole Wagner Greenwood , Barbara Goldberg , Anne Caston, Judy Neri, Patricia Gray , Alexis Rotella, Emily Ferrara, Rod Jellema.Andrea Hollander Budy, Rose Solari, Vivian Shipley, Jenny D’Angelo, Diane Lockwood. Here's one to whet your appetite for more:
Tomatoes in September
Every surface in the house covered
with tomatoes, a vat
of boiling water on the stove,
drop them in and wait to see
cracks in their skin, into cold water, out,
cut away the bad spots,
cut out stem end and blossom end,
peel away the skin,
chop them up, drain them in a colander,
dump them into the other
pot in which a mountain of garlic
has been simmering in olive oil:
Brandywine, Juliet, Cosmonaut,
Rosa de Bern, all go in,
salt and pepper, then
let them bubble
while you
go smell the house.
-- David Budbill
Pomodori a Settembre
Ogni superficie della casa coperta
di pomodori, un pentolone
d’acqua bollente sul fuoco,
immergili e aspetta di vedere
la buccia screpolata, giù in acqua fredda, fuori,
togli le parti guaste,
taglia i finali di gambo e fiore,
togli la buccia,
sminuzzali, falli scolare nel colapasta,
gettali nell’altra
pentola, dove una montagna di aglio
sfrigola in olio d’oliva
Brandywine, Juliet, Cosmonaut,
Rosa de Bern, tutti dentro,
sale, pepe, e poi
lascia bollire tutto
mentre tu
vai ad annusare la casa.

-- trans: Sabine Pascarelli
(Grace Cavalieri)