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 (

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 ( 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, where we’ll host the first-ever Graywolf Press Book Club in April. To join the group, visit: (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.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Bertha Rogers - Inside and Out

Bertha Rogers is a poetry institution and the pulse of the arts in Delaware County and throughout New York State. An editor, a publisher, internationally published poet of note, visual artist, master teaching artist, gallery curator, and former NYSCA Literature panelist, Bertha has more energy than the sun itself, it seems. We are visiting with Bertha a couple of times this week before we get the pleasure of her reading this coming Friday when she appears with Greg Ames at 7:00 p.m. at the DWC; free, as always.

We asked Bertha to provide a favorite writing prompt and she kindly responded with the following exercise:

Any poem by William Stafford gets everyone in the room, young to old, writing.
I've never seen anything like it! Here's a perfect example:

Ask Me

Some time when the river is ice ask me
mistakes I have made. Ask me whether
what I have done is my life. Others
have come in their slow way into
my thought, and some have tried to help
or to hurt: ask me what difference
their strongest love or hate has made.

I will listen to what you say.
You and I can turn and look
at the silent river and wait. We know
the current is there, hidden; and there
are comings and goings from miles away
that hold the stillness exactly before us.
What the river says, that is what I say.

— William Stafford

So there you have it! Bertha knows poetry! Sit with this poem and then let your hand go where it wills. Trust yourself and don't overthink it...just respond. Let us know what you come up with and we will also share any work with Bertha to show her the results of her prodding us.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Bertha Rogers - Art, Poetry, Life Itself the Center of Her Spark

Bertha Rogers probably accomplishes more in a week than most of us do in at least a month. Named the first Poet Laureate of Delaware County in 2005, Bertha is a dynamo of and for the arts. Just look at her book length publications, especially what she has published in this decade:

Even the Hemlock: Poems, Illuminations, Reliquaries
(Six Swans Artists Editions, NY, 2005); The Fourth Beast (Snark Press, IL, 2004); A House of Corners (Three Conditions Press); and Sleeper, You Wake (Mellen, 1991). Her translation of Beowulf was published in 2000 (Birch Brook Press, NY), and her translation of the riddle-poems from the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book, Uncommon Creatures, Singing Things, will be published in 2010 (Birch Brook Press, NY). Her newest collection, Heart Turned Back, will also appear in 2010 (Salmon Poetry Publishing, Ireland).

She has more than 250 publication credits for poems and is a noted translator. She has often shown her visual art, which now interlaces her poetic career, in galleries throughout the state. Bertha is a master teaching artist, working in K-12 education throughout the Southern Tier and she frequently also teaches in public schools in New York City through her affiliation with Teachers & Writers Collaborative.

Bertha is also a cultural entrepreneur with the Bright Hill Center in Treadwell, NY, nestled into the hills near Oneonta, where she is the founding director and editor in chief of Bright Hill Press and Word Thursdays, a nonprofit organization in New York's Catskill Mountain Region. As director, she serves as administrator of the NYSCA Literary Curators Web Site, and the New York State Literary Map,

She serves on a Catskills Region Arts in Education panel as well as the New York State Council on the Arts Writers in the Schools panel and serves as a panelist for the NYSCA Literature grants from 1999 - 2001.

Bertha runs publication contests and public school poetry competitions. She features artists and writers that she admires in her series and gallery. Bertha is nothing if not passionate about language and image, the word and the art. She is an ardent, outspoken proponent of the pure craft of poetry and teaches young and old alike with an enthusiasm that is hard to match, much less keep up with. As if all these activities were not enough, Bertha is a voracious reader of all literature, all eras, even languages. Bertha Rogers is a true Renaissance artist.

If you want more about Bertha, visit her web site:

Please make a point of being at the DWC on Friday 4/16/10 at 7:00 p.m. for a free reading by Bertha Rogers, who will also be joined by Greg Ames, a fabulous fiction writer as well.

In the words of the Olympics announcers, we asked Bertha a few questions in order to get "up close and personal." We are pleased to share her comments below:

Georgia Popoff: Bertha, you are highly committed to working in public schools and have been for many years. Can you please share a few words about why this work is so important to you?

Bertha Rogers: It's important because I want the children to understand the joy of working with words, not to get their feelings out particularly, but to see what fun it is to fool around with words, with forms, to see what they can build with not only complex, but simple language. And I love working with the students because they're fun, they're silly, they like jokes, they like to be challenged, they like to be asked to give their very best. And, when they give their very best, what can I do but give my very best to them?

GP: You are also a visual artist. How do the visual arts and writing
arts coexist for you? Is there harmony or do you have to "rob Peter to pay Paul" to create in both media?

BR: I used to have to "rob Peter to pay Paul," but then I learned to combine the two by studying the Asian masters and the great artists of the medieval manuscripts. They learned to appreciate how words can inspire, and how images can expand words' meaning and, in fact, how thinking in pictures inspires the writer to use figurative language. There was a long learning curve for me, but now I don't have a problem with it.

GP: When I was first re-entering the world of poetry after a 10-year
silence, Thom Ward of BOA Editions, Ltd., said to me, "You have to meet Bertha Rogers!" As I have come to recognize, Thom saw that your commitment to community is another driving force in your life. Can you speak of that a bit for our readers?

BR: A long time ago, Gov. Jerry Brown (CA) said that the artist didn't need grants or funding because he/she already had the gift of talent, and that should be enough. While I have often disagreed with Brown about the funding part, I do believe that if a person has a talent he or she should share that with the world.

It is very exciting to me to publish emerging authors, to work with artists, to offer opportunity to others; this kind of community work gives to the giver. I also believe that teaching is a constant learning experience; I learn, every day, from the writers and artists and students with whom I work.

GP: What changes have you witnessed in the literary community from
when you first started?

BR: The obvious change is that money is a terrible problem right now, and it's going to impact all of us in the arts, I believe, for up to a generation. Another change is the proliferation of MFA creative writing programs, and I don't think that's necessarily a good thing: we're getting more MFAs who graduate and then teach in MFA programs; an interesting and, maybe, endless circle. There are also many writing workshops that seem to focus on content/feelings more than technique/ language; I would like to see a return to an emphasis on "tools and their use" in writing. Aside from those things, I see many good writers at our reading series, writers who are always taking a next step, and that's always a good thing.

GP: Bertha! One of my favorite things about seeing you when we have
not been together in awhile is the answer to a question such as this: What color will your hair be when we see you Friday?! Please tell our readers about your reasons for your bold hair color statements.

BR: It's going to be Enchanted Forest green, compliments of Manic Panix colors, which I purchase at Maxwell's in Oneonta. When my hair started going gray, I touched it up with a brown that was close to my natural color, and this worked for a while but, as I got older, I thought it looked really artifical. Conversely, I had always admired the wonderful colors kids used and, one day, I noticed that my real color was white, a perfect non-shade for taking color. That's when I became my true, many-colored self. I expect that I'll grow bored with it eventually, but it works for me now.

That works for me too! Remember, the whirl of energy known as Bertha Rogers spins into town on Friday!

Georgia Popoff is a faculty member at the DWC and has been proud to be a colleague of Bertha Rogers in their work with the NYSCA Writers in the Schools planning committee and as presenters at several statewide conferences.

Steve Almond on AWP

While you're waiting for the DWC roundup on AWP in Denver last week, please check out visiting author Steve Almond's reflections on Things to Do in Denver When You're Braindead, via The Rumpus.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Bright Hill Press

The DWC invites you to check out Bright Hill Press and Literary Center's workshops, readings, books and special programs, including their awesome NYS Literary Website and Map:

Bright Hill Press is a not-for-profit literary organization and press in Treadwell dedicated to literary excellence through its programs—Word Thursdays, the Catskill reading series, now in its 13th year; Share the Words High-School Poetry Competition and Mentoring Program, 10 years; Radio by Writers, 11 years; the all-new Bright Hill Library and Internet Wing, featuring literary prose and poetry, art, and children's books.

Please join us next week for a reading by Bertha Rogers -- Bright Hill Press's founder and executive director!

In the meantime, stay tuned for DWC dispatches from this year's AWP conference in Denver, CO!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Fooling around with the Practice of Poetry

Please join the DWC along with The Zen Center of Syracuse and Syracuse University Graduate Student Organization and Student Buddhist Association for a reading by Chase Twichell tomorrow at 7:30 in the Hall of Languages. Here the DWC brings you one of Chase's favorite writing exercises, from her book The Practice of Poetry:

Twenty Little Poetry Projects
by Jim Simmerman

  1. Begin the poem with a metaphor.
  2. Say something specific but utterly preposterous.
  3. Use at least one image for each of the five sense, either in succession or scattered randomly throughout the poem.
  4. Use one example of synesthesia (mixing the senses).
  5. Use the proper name of a person and the proper name of a place.
  6. Contradict something you said earlier in the poem.
  7. Change direction or digress from the last thing you said.
  8. Use a word (slang?) you've never seen in a poem.
  9. Use an example of false cause-effect logic.
  10. Use a piece of "talk" you've actually heard (preferably in dialect and/or which you don't understand).
  11. Create a metaphor using the following construction: "The (adjective) (concrete noun) of (abstract noun) . . . "
  12. Use an image in such a way as to reverse its usual associative qualities.
  13. Make the persona or character in the poem do something he/she could not do in "real life."
  14. Refer to yourself by nickname and in the third person.
  15. Write in the future tense, such that part of the poem seems to be a prediction.
  16. Modify a noun with an unlikely adjective.
  17. Make a declarative assertion that sounds convincing but that finally makes no sense.
  18. Use a phrase from a language other than English.
  19. Make a nonhuman object say or do something human (personification).
  20. Close the poem with a vivid image that makes no statement, but that "echoes" an image from earlier in the poem.

Open the poem with the first project and close it with the last. Otherwise use the projects in whatever order you like, giving each project at least one line. Try to use all twenty projects. Feel free to repeat those you like. Fool around. Enjoy.

The Practice of Poetry, Robin Behn and Chase Twichell, eds. c. 1992. Used by permission of the author.