Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Future Perfect

The DWC is currently raising funds for the Next Decade Project, a capital campaign that will result in two new classrooms, new office spaces, and more for the Downtown Writer's Center. And we need your help!

Our total campaign goal is $105,000; to date, we have raised $81,750. In order to begin construction and have the space ready for Fall 2011, we need to complete the campaign by the spring.

Your tax deductible donation to the Next Decade Project will help us continue to grow over the next 10 years. To make a pledge, contact DWC director Phil Memmer at 474-6851 x328, or email pmemmer@syracuseymca.org

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Great Deals at ARTSWEEK

Join us for this weekend's ARTSWEEK festival in downtown Syracuse. We'll have a table right in front of the Downtown YMCA, with several great deals:

  • All DWC Broadsides will be only $10-$20 for the weekend.
  • Buy any DWC Broadside or book (not including the $1 bin) and get a coupon for $5 off a Fall 2010 DWC Workshop.
  • Sign up for a DWC membership (or renew) and get a free DWC messenger bag!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Comstock Review Annual Poetry Contest Deadline July 1st - $1350 in Prizes


The Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial Award

Final Judge: Charles Martin
(See information below)
Initial Screening by Editors

First Prize - $1 ,000
2nd Prize -$250; 3rd Prize - $100;
Honorable Mentions - Subscriptions

DEADLINE: Postmark by July 1, 2010

Here’s how it works- Our Editorial staff chooses approximately fifty-sixty Finalists. The highest scoring Finalists (25 or so) are considered Special Merit Poems. Special Merit Poems go to the Judge. The Judge determines the top three Prize Winners, The entire editorial staff then selects the honorable mentions from the remaining Special Merits.

The Rules:
1. Each poem on a separate 8.5 by 11 page, typed.

2. Poems must be original, unpublished in ANY Medium,print or electronic,
and not under consideration elsewhere.

3. No poem must exceed 40 lines, beginning with the first line of text
below the title. DO NOT count blank lines. Please also consider
our 65 character line width when submitting.

4. Name and ALL contact information on the REVERSE side
of EACH poem entered. If not included, we have to disqualify your entry.

5. Send SASE for results only. No Poems will be returned.

6. All Prize Winners, Honorable Mentions, and Special Merit Poems
are considered accepted work, and will be published in Issue 24.2
(Fall/Winter 2010). Finalists will be queried for permission to use their work.
A non-response is considered a yes. All accepted authors will receive
one contributor’s copy of the issue.

7. An entry fee of $5 per poem is required for each poem submitted. No limit
on the number of poems at $5 each.
Special offer for 2010: Order a one-year subscription with your entry
at the discounted price of $16 (normally priced $20). If outside the US,
add $5 per copy for postage. Make check out to "The Comstock Review."

Send contest submissions, after April 1, 2010 to:
CWG Poetry Contest 2009
4956 St. John Drive
Syracuse, NY 13215

Also click here for Contest Guidelines which offer many further explanations of the rules and editor preferences.

*Red section above highlighted since we often receive poems that fall outside the rules and they will be disqualified unless we can reach the poets and have them resubmitted following the rules. The Editors

Judge for 2010: Charles Martin

Charles Martin

Charles Martin was born in New York City in 1942 and grew up in the Bronx. He is a graduate of Fordham University in New York City and received his Doctorate from SUNY at Buffalo. His most recent book of poems, Starting From Sleep: New and Selected Poems (The Overlook Press, 2002), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and was chosen as a finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award of the Academy of American Poets.

Two of his earlier books of poems, What the Darkness Proposes (1996) and Steal the Bacon (1987), were both nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. His poems have appeared in Poetry, The New Yorker, The Hudson Review, Boulevard, and The Threepenny Review, among others.

About his work, the poet X. J. Kennedy has said: "A poet of masterly command, Charles Martin can think fiercely and feel intensely. He can captivate us with a sustained narrative, or dazzle us with a wicked epigram."

Martin is an acclaimed translator of Latin poetry. His verse translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses (W. W. Norton, 2003) received the 2004 Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. He has also published translations of the complete poems of Catullus (Johns Hopkins, 1990) and a critical introduction to Catullus's work which is part of Yale University Press's Hermes Series.

He is the recipient of the Literature award from The American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Bess Hokin Award from Poetry, a 2001 Pushcart Prize, and fellowships from the Ingram Merrill Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

A professor at Queensborough Community College (CUNY), he also teaches poetry at Syracuse University, and has taught workshops at the Sewanee Writers Conference, the West Chester Conference on Form and Narrative in Poetry, and the Unterberg Center of the 92nd Street YMHA. In 2006, he was appointed Cathedral Poet in Residence at The Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City. He lives in Manhattan and Syracuse with his wife, arts journalist Johanna Keller. (With thanks to: http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/324)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


In case you missed the very first DWC PRO Graduation ceremony on Saturday, June 19th . . . we're reproducing the commencement speech given by our own Georgia Popoff here. It was an inspiring time, and everyone at the DWC is very, very proud of our first class.

I am so honored to celebrate this first class of graduates from the DWC PRO certification program. Their accomplishments in the past 2 years are admirable and substantial. As I have stated on more than one occasion, each of these writers have given him or herself a number of gifts: those of identity, creative passion, commitment, and determination. Mostly, the gift of indulging in something that they have not been able to escape and for which they may have not been fully lauded or understood by others: the life of the active writer.

As an adult, I have always been outside the standard arenas of writers because I did not remain on the path of academia. I also did not last a long time in that other more “street” crew of spoken word artists and performance poets, although I tried. Throughout my life, I have always felt “outside of,” continuing to write because it is part of my DNA. As an adult, I held two identities: first, a poet with a day job. Then, I gave up the hope that poet would be first, resigned to the fact that I would be poet as hobbyist and would somehow find a way for that to be satisfaction enough. I was wrong and, as I left a 10-year quiet time during which I experienced poetic silence and a crisis of faith, once I was again seeing myself as a poet, introducing myself as a poet first among all the jobs and avocations in which I was immersed, I had to find a title to explain myself. I settled upon that of “community poet.” This became more than a line on a business card or self-designed letterhead, this became a role, a mission, my identity.

Each of our graduates today is somehow first of community and then a writer, perhaps because they are working 50+ hours a week, or managing both job and family, or any other number of activities that do not permit days on end to sit with pen in hand or fingers to keyboard, waiting for the Muses to drop pearls and bon mots.

These writers have to do the laundry, attend to family, deal with sick loved ones, parent youngsters, earn livings, etc. Each has a busy life full of obligations, and each has stepped beyond the occasional writing course to feed their passion for language to embrace a demanding course schedule and volume of required writing that has lasted 2 years. Now that we look back to 2008, when this program was in its final stages of being designed, how quickly it all passed.

In the late 1970s and early 80s, I was the masseuse for the Women’s Fitness Center. I was in the YMCA building at least three times a week and there are still people here who worked here then. Robert at the front desk and I discussed this just the other night, how we have known each other close to 35 years. I felt a part of the Y community and I loved my role, although I didn’t make much money. But people always said poets never make money and I was deeply invested in that lie.

In March of 2000, I returned to the YMCA after nearly 16 years of other career attempts. I was setting my sights on leaving the most recent role of secretary; I was finding a way to live my life as poet first and all the other labels afterwards. Through a network of colleagues, I was referred to the Y to work in an afterschool program of the newly established Y Arts branch. Y Arts was a shot in the dark on behalf of the Y but the Metropolitan School of the Arts had folded and there was a community need to be met that ran parallel with the national YMCA objectives to serve the whole being.

I was aware of the Writers Voice program that Jason Shinder brought into prominence and we set about the process of reaching out to Jason to bring our Y into the fold. In that simple suggestion, a seed was planted that germinated with one subsequent conference call upon which I sat in. The rest has become our history, first with Phil Memmer coming to Central NY and being hired to really formulate a comprehensive arts program and to build the Center, the Writer’s Center being something that we all know is dearest to his heart and interests as a writer. What a fine job he has done. Thanks, Phil.

And look at the remarkable fact that we are not only still open and ready to celebrate our first decade but that we have this graduation today. I have been misty-eyed all week. I have also admittedly been mystified that it has all worked. But this afternoon, this party, is the best of what all of those 10 years represent. Not just in the graduates but in the overall community. We have the best of America’s writers here to read for us and share their craft and angle on the mystery of being a writer.

We have award-winning, publishing faculty who share their talents with our students. We have current faculty and likely future faculty who have come through the doors first as students and workshop participants. We have faculty who have joined first as audience members. We are a community of our own, and we draw from and serve the greater community in the process.

The only regret is that more of our neighbors throughout Central NY do not even know that this resource is available but we can continue to grow our reputation and share the good news of the DWC. We can each be an ambassador for the remarkable entity that is the Downtown Writer’s Center.

To Phil, thanks for all you have done in building these programs and keeping the doors open to create a place for artists of all ages, and particularly for writers, much less envisioning this PRO course of study. How valuable it is and how far it reaches beyond the halls of academia or the workshop weeks of a low-residency program. PRO delivers a very personal experience for each who has embarked upon the journey or are so doing now.

To Jennifer Pashley, thank you for your careful and compassionate stewardship of each of these students, as well as for each of those taking any course we offer. We also thank you for your tireless support and advocacy on the behalf of the faculty. You are the hub of the wheel and we are so grateful.

To the faculty that has mentored these students, job well done. You have been generous of spirit and time and the success of these writers is a reflection of your work as teachers. You have been discerning, even tough when necessary, but you have been kind and have amplified the sense of her/his own capacity in each of these writers. How wonderful to be among you as colleagues.

To each of you graduating, thank you for your talents. The thesis readings were spectacular and equal to any of the “PROs” who have stood behind that fabulous bar to read for us. Plus you did not make the corny joke about wanting to serve drinks; you have heard it enough to refrain.

I hope that you will all continue with your efforts to publish. You are all worthy of the investment of print and the audience that is out there for you. This afternoon is a starting point, not an end. It is time to jump off the high board now that you have worked from the lower, diving into that cool water over and over, presenting new work, flawed work, astounding work, all of it. Each of you has developed differently but all of you are so accomplished today. Embrace it fully and then do not rest on your laurels…get going. Find homes for those words and create more. Bring more characters to life, breathe life into stanzas…do it all… because you love it and because language gifts you many times over.

Lastly, I want to commend you on the way you have supported each other. The bonds among you are touching and true. The way you each recognized the other to support the growth you witnessed, to help each other be the best writer you are all capable of is another generosity that is enviable. It is the heart and center of a community writer, a title I gladly share with each of you. Congratulations and best of luck.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More Kudos and Another Reading

The DWC congratulates one of its long-time students, Martin Willitts Jr. on the publication of his new chapbook, VAN GOGH'S SUNFLOWERS FOR CEZANNE” forthcoming from Finishing Line Press.

According to Martin, these poems are about the last ten years of Van Gogh’s life, letters, and art, including his loneliness, insanity, visionary experiences. Some of the poems have appeared in Bent Pin, Big City Lit, Blue Fifth Review, Hotmetalpress.net, Paper Boats, Pulse, World Audience.

Finishing Line is looking for 55 pre-orders to begin printing. If you are interested in purchasing this chapbook, you may contact Martin directly here: mwillitts01@yahoo.com.

Also . . . don't forget the last of our DWC PRO Graduate Readings this Friday at 6:30. This week features poet Daniel Reinhold, and fiction writers John Sheedy and Kim DeHaven. Please join us for a reception and another stellar reading.

Congratulations to Martin, and to all of our DWC PRO graduates!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Dot the I's, Cross the T's - A Checklist Before Submitting Work

We are all eager for the validation of seeing our work in print. Fortunately, there are a plethora of journals and reputable on-line literary sites to research in an attempt to identify homes for our words.

Notice that word RESEARCH. It is critical to be aware of the nature of a literary journal or web site. Who are the editors? When do they accept submissions? How are they supposed to be presented to meet the editors' expectations? All of these issues should be foremost in your decision as to whom you want to consider your work. You can get this info from many reliable sources, including the Writer's and/or Poet's Market, Poets & Writers Magazine (in print and on line), the web sites for each of the journals you are considering. Look to see what the editors already have published and how does that equal with your own artistic aesthetic.

Here are some frequent things people overlook in their haste to rush that envelope into the mail:

1) Did you include a professional cover letter with the proper name of the current managing editor? No more than 3-4 paragraphs, listing what you sent, a few publication credits, whether or not this work is being reviewed elsewhere (a whole other issue/debate), and a kind word about the fact that the editors on the other side are giving you a careful review.

2) Did you include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with proper and adequate postage to return your work?

3) Did you carefully proof your work for typos, grammatical errors, extra spaces between words, proper punctuation and capitalization when called for, etc. You would be surprised how many writers send truly sloppy submissions and then want to be considered for publication. Take pride in every word you commit to the page. It is your first impression and a sloppy submission is not a good one. Liken it to showing up on a blind date with your fly down, your hair greasy from not being shampooed, bad breath.

4) This is particularly for poets: do you know how to turn off the automatic capitalization function in your word processing program? Do you get frustrated and/or have you acquiesced to the capital letter at the beginning of each poetic line because you cannot override the function? It used to be the standard to print poems with the first word capitalized. We got away from that a long time ago. Some poets prefer to maintain the tradition but many do it simply because they do not know how to trick the computer into not doing it. Then the editor wonders which it is. Here is what is actually happening: in the autocorrect function (found in the Tools drop-down menu in WORD), the program is recognizing a new sentence every time you hit the hard return for the next line. Why? Because in prose, it will generally be a new paragraph when you hit return, and that is generally also an indication of a new sentence. To stop it, find the autocorrect entry for "Capitalize new sentence" and remove the check mark by clicking on the box so it is empty. It will no longer happen and you have artistic choices at your fingertips.

5) Do you set your margins so you can best use the page? Again, more an issue for poets. But many people do not know that WORD's margin default for left and right is 1.25 inches, 1 inch for top and bottom. Many poets submit a two page poem, second page for just three or four lines, simply because of this simple margin default. Add to it the fact that they may have left too many hard returns between their contact info and the title of the poem, forcing the second page. This simple overlook kills trees, disrupts the flow of the poem, and is easily fixed.

6) Do you have your contact info on every page? What if an editor is reading a pile of work with the window open? A breeze ruffles the pages and scatters them like leaves all over the floor. How will that editor be sure that the manuscripts are in proper order? Set up a template for yourself that you can use time and time again. Create a header with your name, address, phone, and email in the header at 0.5 inch margin. Then leave the margin at 1 inch or whatever for the actual work. This saves a lot of time, adds to consistency of your "look" when you submit, and helps those at the other end.

7) Prose/fiction writers: Did you activate the automatic page numbering in a footer or in your header so that pesky breeze does not get the best of your editor and render your story into a veritable thumb puzzle?

8) Poets: do you give editors an indication in your longer poems as to formatting? When you go to a second page (generally for poems more than approximately 32 lines, the standard that will fit on a single journal page), under your contact info, simply state: Poem title, page number, then indicate stanza break or no stanza break. Remember, you know how it is supposed to fall on the page but your editor may not have been formerly employed by Dionne Warwick's Psychic Hotline.

9) Do each of your pieces look similar and consistent? Are they in the same font, same margins, etc., from one piece to another? It is obvious when you simply recycle pages that have come back from different submissions. Remember, editors want to feel like your blind date; they want to believe you sent your work to them because you respect their work as editors and you have chosen their journal or site due to that respect, that you want the honor of their choice of you for their publication.

And remember that it takes a LOT of work to select new literature for publication. Remember that when you send your new poems or short story, there are hundreds of other passionate, eager writers doing exactly the same thing at the same time. An editor never has time to put feet up with a cup of joe and slowly read and reread your brilliant work to bask in your genius effort. Editors are up against stacks of submissions and insane deadlines. Think of their eyes, their very tired eyes that read your work because they respect writers. Be kind to them...

We hope that this little primer on submissions helps you plan your efforts well. Feel free to ask questions of the DWC faculty if you have them.

On a side note: Peter Orlovsky, Beat poet and long-time companion to Allen Ginsberg, passed away on May 31st in Vermont after a long, private battle with lung cancer. You can read more at the following link:


We hope to see you Friday as three more of the inaugural class of the DWC PRO students present their thesis readings!

Kudos . . . and a Reading

The DWC is thrilled to offer further congratulations to DWC PRO Grad Catherine Thomas, first on the publication of her story "A Mitzvah" in The Broome Review, but also on the recent news that another story, "And That Too Was Strange," will appear in an upcoming issue of Fourteen Hills.

Catherine participated in the first DWC PRO Graduate Reading Series along with fellow students Peter McShane and Kevin Cahill on Friday June 4th.

This Friday, June 11, please join us at the DWC for the second DWC PRO Graduate Reading, featuring poetry from Jessica Cuello, and fiction from both Tammy Danielewicz and Susannah Loiselle.

A wine and cheese reception kicks things off at 6:30, with the reading at 7:00.

As always, the reading is free and open to the public. Bring a friend!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Summer Workshops at the DWC

Summer officially kicks off this weekend (although, who are we kidding it has felt like summer all week). Hoping to get some writing in this summer? Let the DWC help.

Here's the list of summer workshops planned . . . including flash fiction, poetry, memoir, script writing and a brand new online class:

  • Summer of Poetry, with Elizabeth Twiddy, Tuesdays, 6:00 – 8:00. This short course will be fun during your busy summer: we’ll read poems, workshop poems and do exercises in class to generate new work on the spot. Open to a range of experience levels. Four weeks, beginning July 13th.

  • The Magic of the Moment, with Georgia Popoff, Wednesdays, 6:00 – 7:30. This workshop is intended to initiate the process of writing a memoir. With the suggestion of several techniques to access memories, specific prompts, and a chance to receive initial feedback, participants will start a series of personal memoir essays that could lead to the greater story. Appropriate for both new and seasoned writers of all levels of craft. Four weeks beginning the week of July 21.

  • StretchWrite, an online writing workshop with Rebecca Sernett. As summer beckons, so does the urge to flex those writer muscles in new and creative ways. This online class will provide weekly writing exercises for participants to explore the way they approach their craft as well as to strengthen and tone their skills. All genres welcomed. Six weeks, beginning July 14th.

  • Write That Script! Hear It Read! Introduction to Script Writing with David Feldman and The Armory Square Playhouse Writers and Performers. Wednesday, July 21, 6 - 9 p.m. Ever wanted to write a play (or screen or television) script? This one-evening intensive workshop will help you develop your skills with an exercise to create interesting characters and provocative dialogue. Everyone will write a brief script and then have it read and discussed by members of Armory Square Playhouse.

  • A Midsummer Night's Workshop with Chris DelGuercio, thursdays, 6:30 - 8:30 Students will share their flash and short fiction pieces (2,000 words or less) with a group of peers for their generous feedback and scrutiny designed to hasten the next draft in the revision process. Three weeks, beginning August 5th.
And don't forget about the (almost) August Occasion, taking place at Harding Farm July 23-July 25.

For summer workshop pricing, please contact Philip Memmer at 315.474.6851 ext 328

For all other questions regarding workshops or the August Occasion, please email Workshops Coordinator, Jennifer Pashley: jen.pashley@gmail.com.

Happy Summer!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

National Short Story Month

Do you ever wonder what happens to DWC faculty when they move on to other careers, in other cities?

Dan Wickett, executive director at Dzanc Books and blog guru at Emerging Writers Network* has declared May National Short Story Month.

Nope, it's not as recognized as national poetry month . . . but that won't stop us.

In light of this celebration, the DWC Blog brings you two stories by past DWC instructor, Christopher Boucher, up now at Conjunctions.


*Check back at EWN often to check out their fantastic efforts in recognizing National Short Story month, including crazy cool features, like watching Matt Bell write a story in real time.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Friday's Three Items: Reminder, Recommendation, & Writing Prompt

Happy Friday! To those who are mothers, we salute you. To those who are graduating, congratulations. To the rest of you, we hope you had a prolific week with words! We are closing the week with the following:

: Our last visiting writer of the season, Lynn Levin, will appear this evening, May 7th, at 7 p.m. at the DWC, 340 Montgomery Street, downtown Syracuse. Lynn will share her poetry and take questions about the work so please join us for this season closer. For more information about Lynn's work, Fair Creatures of an Hour (Loonfeather Press, 2009) was recently reviewed on the Comstock Review web site: http://www.comstockreview.org/review/l.html.

Recommendation: If you are an HBO subscriber with digital cable, treat yourself to a series called Master Class, available on HBO On Demand. The episode that particularly speaks to our DWC community is that of the Edward Albee mentorship of four young writers. Fascinating discussion on the elements of writing, craft, and the writer's identity! Make a cup of tea and take a half hour for yourself to sit with this literary master.

Writing Prompt: Two weeks ago, DéLana R.A. Dameron read at the DWC with Jane Springer. We asked DéLana to share a favorite writing exercise with our community and this was her response:

Choose a jazz song without lyrics. Spend as many times as you need listening to it. In the solo part you most resonate with, write the lyrics. If you need, use the title of the song as a guide. Here are some of my favorite jazz songs to get you started.

Robert Glasper: Maiden Voyage/Everything in its right place
Esperanza Spalding: Junjo
Miles Davis: New York Girl

Have fun!

One last thought: watch your email inboxes for announcements regarding the schedule for the DWC PRO Student Readings as our first class of PRO students prepare to graduate. These readings are celebrations of a 2-year course of study by these accomplished writers. We invite you to attend and support these remarkable achievements! If you are not on the DWC mailing/email list, please call Phil Memmer at 315.474.6851, extension 328.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

How Famous is Greg Ames?

Here's something:

A few weeks ago, the DWC hosted Greg Ames as a visiting author, along with Bertha Rogers. Recently, The Believer polled readers on the best works of fiction published in 2009.

Who's at the top of the list?

Greg Ames, that's who.

Scroll down to discover who he beat out: Colum McCann, Lorrie Moore, and Thomas Pynchon, just to name a few.

Now, if you missed Greg's reading, you can officially start kicking yourself.

Visiting Author Lynn Levin Reviewed at Gently Read Lit

Check out the February issue of Gently Read Lit, in which Michelle Moore offers a fabulous review of Lynn Levin's Fair Creatures of an Hour. If you don't already subscribe to Gently Read Lit, do yourself a favor, and stroll around the grounds a bit.

See you tomorrow night for Lynn's reading. 7pm!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Interview with Lynn Levin

Writer, poet and translator, Lynn Levin, whose third book of poems, Fair Creatures of an Hour was released from Loonfeather Press in 2009, reads at the DWC on Friday, May 7th at 7:00.

Read part one of The Examiner interview with Levin here.

In this part, Levin answers the Keats question, when she became a poet, and who else (besides Keats) has influenced her.

. . . and in part two, confesses her own obsession with poems.

See you downtown!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The (Almost) August Occasion

The third edition of our popular August Occasion writers’ weekend will feature two days of intense small-group writing workshops in fiction and poetry; readings by faculty, students, and a mystery guest; and plenty of food, drink and comradery. This year, it will all happen at our new location, Harding Farm in Clinton, NY (not quite an hour East of Syracuse).

Our faculty will be familiar to anyone who has taken classes at the DWC: Philip Memmer, Jennifer Pashley, Sarah Freligh, and recent DWC visiting author Jane Springer. What will be different is the overall experience… we’ll have time to be social, enjoy each other’s company, share some great meals together, and more. Plus, we’ll also be joined for a reading on the last day by a special Mystery Guest… because really, who doesn’t like surprises?

Summer can be a busy time, so we have a variety of program options available this year. You can join us for the full weekend, including sleeping quarters and meals, or you can join us for just the day-time activities. And if your schedule is really swamped, you can also take the Saturday-only program. Whichever you choose, we think you’ll have a fun, relaxing, and inspiring time.

Ready to apply? Download the complete brochure and registration form here. For more information email pmemmer@syracuseymca.org or leave us a message at (315) 474-6851 x380.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Martha Collins Reading :: Tonight!

Join us at 7:00 for a reading by Martha Collins at the Montgomery Street YMCA. In addition to poems, there will also be coffee & people. So these are three amazing reasons to attend. Need more? Read these reviews of Martha's book BLUE FRONT & then talk to me about it later - 7:00. Downtown Y.

Collins has a story to tell, but she makes the reader work for it. She is, at least with regard to syntax, a language poet — she suppresses punctuation and traffics in fragmentary non sequiturs; her shifts in perspective are abrupt. Therefore nothing about the narrative is straight. Her discursive, breathless, self-contradicting, breaking-off-and-circling-back technique makes the book feel like the testimony of a traumatized witness.

NY Times.

Collins forces the reader to enact the work of making meaning from that which is fragmentary, revised, and erased. And it stands in, too, for the brackish flood of connotations pooling up inside the language itself, inside words like track, lynch, cut, and burn, which take on—through Collins’s luminous interspersed riffs on their definitions and colloquial usages.

The Literary Review.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

ASSIGNMENT: Martha Collins

Up today, a writing assignment to keep you limber, courtesy of Martha Collins.

This assignment is an attempt to help you do what interviewer Beth Rogers just asked me about: to create “a fusion of the personal and the historical.” What you write down in response to #’s 1-5 is not intended to be a poem, or even the beginning of a poem: it’s just notes. So write quickly, without thinking too hard; when you’re finished, you can go back and think further about the questions and answers.

1. Write down the names of all the places where you’ve lived a significant part of your life, beginning with where you were born. Leave some white space between them.

2. Now write down, for each place, (a) something of historical significance that happened there, and (b) the name of one or more historical or living persons who have achieved a certain amount of fame or attention, even if only on a local level.

3. Now do the same for your mother, beginning with where she was born.

4. Now do the same for your father.

5. Now ponder your notes (1-4) until something begins to make you want to know more. Write down as much as you know that’s relevant to what you’re wondering about—and then go to the library and/or internet and see what else you can find.

Your notes should be getting longer. When something begins to echo not just as fact but as language, you may be ready to start writing a poem, even if your research is incomplete.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

An Interview with Martha Collins

Did I mention that Martha Collins is reading at the DWC this week (Friday @ 7)? Because she is. Here, Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers talks to Collins about BLUE FRONT, extinction, distinction & discrimination.


1. Describe your initial inspiration(s) for writing BLUE FRONT. Did you begin this project with a specific goal or intention, or realize, mid-process, what kind of book you were writing?

Several years ago I saw an exhibit of lynching postcards in New York. It was shocking, first because of the often horrendous images of lynching scenes and victims on the postcards, but also because they were postcards, which were sold for souvenirs, or for people to send to relatives and friends. What shocked me most, though, was coming upon a group of cards from Cairo, Illinois, and realizing that the hanging my father had once told me he saw there when he was a kid was not some kind of awful but legal public execution, but rather the lynching of a black man (and later, as a kind of afterthought, a white man) that was witnessed by 10,000 people. My father was no longer living, but I explored what I knew of his life and the town of Cairo at the same time that I was extensively researching the lynching itself. I began writing a year after I saw the exhibit, but long before I finished the research. My first goal was to find out what, most literally, happened; but I was more importantly wondering how such an event would have affected my five-year-old white father. Increasingly, I began to realize that I was even more deeply interested in what all of this had to do with me, a white woman living 100 years later. That last issue is central to the work I’m doing now.

2. In what ways was BLUE FRONT related to or in conversation with your previous work? How is this book different from your others?

My early work, like that of many poets, was often focused on my own perceptions, feelings, and, to a lesser extent, my life. I had always responded, occasionally, to social and political issues; but my third book took a deliberate turn in that direction, even as the work became somewhat more fragmented and experimental. Blue Front continues both of these trends, but in fact utilizes techniques that I’ve used throughout my writing career. I had written long sequences of poems before (my second book is comprised of three of them), but Blue Front of course extends that process.

3.You've described BLUE FRONT as a book-length poem rather than a collection of poems. What reasons do you have for making this distinction?

Partly because I was writing before my research was finished, many of the sections give only partial accounts of what I was thinking, or what I was thinking might have happened (the point of view throughout the book is one of wondering, speculating). Many of the sections were therefore necessarily incomplete from the outset: they made no sense out of context. The more I wrote, though, the more I realized that the whole work was a process, and that I really had no interest in creating poems that would make sense on their own; I was interested in something much more like a fragmented novel—and the process of writing actually reminded me of writing a novel, which is something I once did.

4. BLUE FRONT is a fusion of the historical and the personal. In your work, how do you think that these two modes complement, inform, or struggle with one another?

I like your description of that fusion: it’s really what the book was about, from the moment I held the catalog of lynching postcards in one metaphorical hand and a scrapbook of my father’s childhood in the other. Of course there’s a great deal of tension—struggle, in your word—between the two: the horror of the event on the one hand, the tenderness I felt toward my five-year-old father on the other. But the fusion of the two modes is the book’s reason for being: one would simply not be there without the other.

5.. BLUE FRONT raises difficult questions about discrimination and the silenced, radicalized "other" in US history. As a white woman, what fears (if any) did you have in writing and publishing this work? What have been the outcomes of publishing a book of poems that is so socially charged?

Initially, the voices in my mind that I call the “censors” told me that I simply couldn’t write poetry about a lynching—and that I certainly shouldn’t be doing so as a white person. But I’ve learned to treat those censors as muses in disguise: when they start talking to me, I think I must be on to something. Ever since the book’s publication, I know there have been actual readers (or refusers to read) who echo those voices, though they have only rarely spoken to me. Several white people have asked me what it felt like to be writing African-American history as a white person—and I know their question reflects the doubts and objections of some black people as well. My short answer has been something like this: Okay, if you were to film the lynching part of this book, how many black actors would you have to hire, and how many white actors and extras? The long answer has taken me into the book-length project of untitled poems I’ve just finished, called White Papers. It continues to affect both my work and my life.

Elizabeth Lindsey Rogers is a MFA student at Cornell University. Her poems have appeared in Chautauqua Literary Journal, StorySouth, The Comstock Review, The Asheville Review, on Poetry Daily, and others. She has been a finalist for several chapbook competitions and for Mid-American Review’s James Wright poetry prize.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Small Press Spotlight :: Graywolf Press

This Friday, April 30th at 7:00, the Downtown Writer's Center hosts a reading by Martha Collins. Her book BLUE FRONT was released by Graywolf Press in 2006 so it seemed appropriate to run this spotlight on her publisher!

Calling Graywolf "small" might seem sort of silly; however, you'll find in this Q&A orchestrated by the DWC's Tammy Danielewicz that it's that independent spirit that fuels them.


Graywolf Press is an independent, non-profit publisher located in Minneapolis, MN. Graywolf publishes between 20 and 30 books per year, including the recipient of the Emily Dickinson First Book Award, given to an American Poet over the age of 50 who has yet to publish a first book of poetry, and the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize winner. Graywolf writers have been among finalists and winners of a staggering number of prestigious literary awards. After thirty-five years, Graywolf continues to seek out the creative and adventurous authors of important and overlooked books.

The following questions were answered collaboratively by Katie Dublinski (Managing and Editorial Director), Marisa Atkinson (Marketing Assistant), and Steve Woodward (Editorial Assistant).

Tell me about the history of Graywolf Press. Who was it started by? Where and when did it start?

The following are a few key highlights in Graywolf’s history. A more complete history is available in full of the Graywolf website (www.graywolfpress.org).

Graywolf Press was founded by Scott Walker in Port Townsend, Washington in 1974. He started by working out of a space provided by Copper Canyon Press before moving to a shop of his own (a small outbuilding in Scott’s backyard) that Scott affectionately called the “print shack.” At this time, each book was hand-set and hand-printed on treadle-operated machines. The first full-length poetry book that Scott published in this way was Instructions to the Double by Tess Gallagher, who is still publishing with Graywolf. Tess’s most recent collection of short stories was published in 2009.

Graywolf was incorporated as a 501©3 nonprofit in 1984 and moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota in 1985, thanks to generous support from the National Endowment for the Arts and other local philanthropic organizations. In 1994, Scott Walker resigned and Graywolf was run by board president Page Cowles until October of 1994, when Fiona McCrae was named as the new director. In 2002, Graywolf moved its distribution to Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, a prestigious New York publisher. In September 2009 we moved our office to the Traffic Zone Building in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

What was the original objective of the press? How has that objective changed or evolved with the growth of the press?

Graywolf started out as a poetry-only press that produced short-run, limited edition work. Now that original intention—to get poetry that mattered out in the world—has expanded to include fiction and nonfiction, in addition to poetry. And the scale has changed dramatically, so that Graywolf books are available nationally, to many readers, rather than just a limited number of readers in the Pacific Northwest region where Graywolf was founded.

To what do you attribute the growth of the press? Was the growth planned or intentional, or did it happen more organically?

It’s really a combination of a number of things. As Graywolf and its books gained more and more attention, a similar initiative on the part of Scott Walker to continue getting important and overlooked books out into the world helped push Graywolf to grow. The move to St. Paul from Port Townsend was part of a well thought out plan that not only allowed Graywolf to take advantage of a change in federal law that allowed publishing companies to be classified as nonprofit organizations, but also helped Graywolf gain the support of the larger Twin Cities donor base. Since the beginning, the Minnesota funding community, particularly the foundations here, encouraged the move and welcomed the press as part of the nonprofit, literary community. In turn this support has helped Graywolf stay financially solvent and has enabled Graywolf to become the nationally recognized publisher of books that win major awards and capture critical attention.

What is Graywolf able to offer to authors as a mid-size press that other publishers (both smaller and larger) can not?

Graywolf is in a great position as a “mid-size” house. We have a national and international reputation for our outstanding literature, have won several major literary awards in the last few years, and are starting to gain a more mainstream visibility. That said, having a smaller list means that we provide a more personal, hands-on experience for our authors that a larger house with hundreds of books might not be able to provide. We might not be able to complete with some of the larger houses in terms of marketing budgets, for example, but we do have more time to spend pitching books to media, setting up events for our authors, etc.

Advice for someone interested in submitting to Graywolf?

For advice for your readers interested in submitting to our press, I would direct them to carefully read our complete submission guidelines, which are available on our website (http://www.graywolfpress.org). These guidelines should have all of the information they need and should answer all of their questions.

It might be interesting to note that Graywolf has a huge social media network online. No matter what your readers’ favorite social media outlet, Graywolf most likely has presence there:


And we’ve also just started a Graywolf Press Goodreads group at Goodreads.com, where we’ll host the first-ever Graywolf Press Book Club in April. To join the group, visit: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/31817.Graywolf_Press (Sorry, no easy custom URL for this one!)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Famous Five - Questions for DeLana Dameron - A Critical Lens, A Meal, and a Hot Tub

In the fall season 2009, Georgia Popoff taught a lit. class in contemporary and emerging African American poets. One of our guests coming to read for the DWC Spring series this Friday, DeLana Dameron, was one of the writers featured in the syllabus. As we have developed the habit of asking many of our visiting writers, here are DeLana's answers to five questions from the random inquiry generator:

Georgia Popoff: The spiritual aspect of How God Ends Us is so much the spine. Can you speak a bit about your missionary work as well as how the words may focus or open your spiritual self through the work?

DeLana Dameron: I was a freshman in college at the University of North Carolina when I went to Jamaica. That was the first and only missions trip I embarked on. I decided that I couldn’t continue in my own religious/spiritual journey in that way, being that the trip was so rife with racial tensions – the group I traveled with was white, the community in Jamaica we visited was, as you know, mostly black. I already had my ideas about the situation, about who I am as a Christian before I wrote the poems; it just sort of allowed me a space to put them into more concrete terms, a space to explore. I like to think of my poems that engage the Christian God as a space where I can have a conversation, an argument. Kind of like a public prayer. A place where I say: "Look, I believe in you, but here’s my issues."

GP: Place is obviously significant in your poems, as it is to so many poets. What do you feel is the relationship between geography/location and your inspiration?

DD: When people ask me where I write, I like to say: “I write in the world.” I live in a studio in Harlem (I lovingly call it “the Perch”), and even before this small space, I made this one rule for my writing: I will only use my living space for living. So, I’m generally out and engaging and watching the world/landscape I’m living in when I’m writing the poems, and they find their ways in.

GP: Many of us at the DWC are foodies; food is an important aspect in our lives individually as well as in events. For instance, we have a series of dinners as an annual fundraiser. What is your favorite cuisine and what would be your favorite meal?

DD: I’m a foodie as well. I love to cook. I suppose my favorite cuisine is Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. My favorite meal is any Ethiopian dish served over injera.

GP: Now that your first book is birthed, what is next?

DD: I want to increase my prose presence in the world. I’ve drafted a novel; I have some essays. I just need to push them out and let go of them. Also, a second collection, Cartographer, is circulating at some prizes. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

GP: If you could be in a hot tub for a long chat with five other people, living or dead, who would they be and why?

DD: Aye. A hot tub is such an intimate space. I’d want to invite some long lost family members, but that might be weird. I’d say some of my favorite writers (some living, some dead; though, I’d hope in the hot tub, they’d be alive!): Toni Morrison, Mahmoud Darwish, John Hope Franklin, Jacob Lawrence, Zora Neale Hurston.

Thanks DeLana and we hope that many of our members will mark their calendars for this Friday when DeLana Dameron and Jane Springer share their work. As always, the reading starts at 7:00 p.m. and is FREE! Everybody bring a buddy!

Georgia Popoff, a member of the DWC faculty and frequent contributor to our blog, likes thinking up interview topics and generally questioning the world.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two Reminders

Spring classes begin next week with offerings in poetry, fiction, drama and non-fiction -- and there's still room in every workshop. Please check out the schedule and sign up soon!

Wondering where to park when you come to the DWC? You're not alone. Parking is probably our second most asked question. Here's the run down of where and how:

Street parking. There are plenty of meters on Montgomery Street, starting at Washington Street (near City Hall and L'Adour) all the way to where Montgomery ends at Jefferson Street. There are also meters on Jefferson, Warren, and around Columbus Circle -- in front of the Cathedral and the Court House, and down East Onondaga Street. Meters are free after 6:00.

Open paid lots. There are two open lots near the Downtown YMCA. One at the corner of Montgomery and Fayette, across from St. Paul's Cathedral, and one on East Onondaga, across from the Syracuse Diocese Offices.

Parking garages. The parking garage directly behind the YMCA on Warren Street has a walk through entrance to the Y. Please note that this entrance will be closed the first week of classes, and if you choose to park in this garage, you will need to walk around the block to the front entrance of the Y on Montgomery St. After May 2nd, renovations to the back entrance will be complete, and you may use the walk through again. There is also a garage on the corner of Fayette and Montgomery (with an entrance on Fayette).

And one last reminder . . . Please join us Friday April 23rd at 7pm for poets DeLana Dameron and Jane Springer. Now that you know where to park, you can't use that excuse.

See you downtown!

Friday, April 16, 2010

TONIGHT! Novelist Greg Ames and Poet Bertha Rogers!

Please join us tonight at 7 pm in the GallerY on the 2nd floor of the Downtown YMCA for a reading by award-winning debut novelist Greg Ames and poet, artist and literary guru Bertha Rogers.

Not sure what to expect? Check out this review of Greg's Buffalo Lockjaw, from our own DWC PRO fiction student and CNY Literary reporter extraordinaire, Laura Ryan:

In his debut novel, Buffalo Lockjaw, Greg Ames shows us the unexpected: beauty amid the jags of upstate winter, and grace during a mother’s slide into the maw of dementia. And, astonishingly, humor.

On leave from his job at a greeting card company in New York City, slacker-addict James comes home to Buffalo, to celebrate Thanksgiving and to help his taciturn father pack up the family house. He also makes daily trips to Unit D, where nursing home attendants use a machine to hoist his 56-year-old mother from bed to wheelchair and back again. A former nurse, Ellen Fitzroy spoke out in favor of physician-assisted suicide before Alzheimer’s slowly stole her words. Convinced his mother wouldn’t want to live this way, James brings along a copy of “Suicide for Dummies” and secretly hopes to muster the courage to end her life.

While in town, James falls back into old habits with his loser high school buddies – hilarious in their beer-soaked inertia – and draws weary, here-we-go-again looks from his father and successful sister Kate. His checkered history makes it all too easy for the family to rebuff James’ repeated attempts to discuss euthanasia as a family.

Ames manages to mine both comedy and ache from the inevitable family tension, as when James longs to act like man with his father, “smoking cigars and eating bacon, whatever the hell grown men do together.” But most powerful are James’ bedside visits to Unit D, in which Ames bring the anguish of a diminishing disease to shuddering life.

Minutes slow as frozen syrup. Silent suffering. The crushing loss of dignity. She wrote all about this. She treated people in this condition. She stood by their beds, spoke kindly to them. And now she’s here.

Award-winning journalist Laura T. Ryan covered the Central New York literary community for The Post-Standard daily newspaper in Syracuse for more than 11 years. These days, she toggles between two worlds: freelance journalism and fiction writing.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Best of AWP

Drafted at nearly 37,000 feet, Georgia Popoff and Jennifer Pashley bring you the highlights our our three swift days at AWP.

Best poetry reading: Poetry Society of America featuring Gary Young, et al. Why: First to celebrate the organization, then the breadth of poetry represented: B.H. Fairchild, Cyrus Cassals, Joy Harjo, Jean Valentine, etc., so many distinct voices, ending with our friend Gary.

Best mixed-genre reading: Graywolf authors. Why: Proves again why Graywolf is at the top of the indie publishers. These authors are incredibly gifted, sharp, and articulate.

Event we regretted missing: afternoon reading and conversation with Rita Dove.

Two conversation / panels we most appreciated: Revisions of Truth with Marie Ponsot, Phillip Lopate, and Sapphire (another DWC guest from several years ago; discussion on identity and aesthetic by writers of color (with another DWC friend Lyre Van Clief-Stephanon, Sherwin Bitsui, Adrian Matejka, and Matthew Shenoda); Rose Metal guide to writing Flash Fiction.

Best Writers in the Schools Alliance panel: Friday’s discussion on working with students with disabilities. Why: There was so much compassion expressed by the panelists, so much heart; then the poignancy of the work created by students (both adult and youth).

Most packed panel (second year in a row): Flash Fiction. Why: I'm not sure, but this is twice I've been at a flash panel that has roughly 50 more people than there should be in the room. Either people really love flash, or they really want to learn how to do it. Or both.

Best intro: Matthew Shenoda “If I was a dance I'd be a samba because I get down like a mango with feet.”

Best Book Fair Swag: shot glasses, lip balm, nice paperboard cover notebooks. Also, pens got a big upgrade this year. Cookies, lots of chocolate (in fact, Blue Flower pushed corporate colored m&ms on us every time we passed). T-shirts: There were lots of t-shirts at the book fair this year, but the best were the very limited edition Mississippi Review t-shirts individually designed by Frederick Barthelme.

Favorite quotes:

Gary Snyder: “Go get em kids; we need more good writers.”

George Saunders: “It's like all the articulate people are in one place. We're going to start our own nation.”

Best discovery: Poetry: Sherwin Bitsui. His second book is a book-length poem. Catie Rosemurgy, whose poetry is weird, and fictiony and wonderful. Fiction: Owen Egerton, Allyson Hagy

Best Book Discovery: Fishouse Anthology with CD

Best calamari: Crown Plaza Hotel, because it was really crispy with a great pesto aioli.

Best Souvenir Experience: Where the Buffalo Roam Why: loads of off-beat stuff, including several Lebowski t-shirts.

Best Wacky Local Image: giant blue bear looking into convention center. Rivaled only by the red-eyed devil horse outside the airport.

Most Overheard by Non-Locals: “I'm out of breath!” or “Do you have any chapstick?”

Most Spotted AWP Fashion Statements: brightly colored high-heeled shoes, lace tights, nerdy glasses, baby bellies. Also, the return of the literary mustache.

Missed Sightseeing Opportunity Most Regretted: the Dale Chihuly chandelier at the Opera House.

Best Stuff We Learned:

From the flash fiction panel: “Sometimes the smallest things can be the heaviest things” – Lex Williford, on the heft and compression in a good flash piece.

From the identity/aesthetic by poets of color panel: Several things; first, a clear vision of the difference between first and second books (“First book introduces the poet to the the community of poets. The second book introduces the voice of the poet”). Second, the entire conversation brought up so many issues and suppositions to ponder. Thirdly, Matthew Shenoda’s comments on the US being “obsessed with identity.” Still thinking over all of the comments and rereading notes from the discussion.

Random observations: Our hair dries really quickly in Denver (humidity 12% on Friday). [Sidenote: Georgia's hair dries quickly in Denver. Jennifer's hair dries in about 4 minutes regardless of where she is, because she has hair like a baby.] There is a roller derby team in the Denver area. Colorado folks are quite kind and seem happy. Maybe it is the sun? Maybe the altitude? (Maybe they leave it all on the track.)

Our airport may be small but it certainly is manageable, especially during check-in. Special thanks: Benette Whitmore for being so bright and for asking her son Eli to drive the three of us to our hotels when he picked her up at the airport. And leaving, we really thought we left Phil behind in Denver. His making the plane to JFK might have been the miracle of the whole trip.