Contributor Update, Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo: ‘When We Were Seeds’

Join us in congratulating SR poetry interview contributor Xochitl-Julisa Bermejo. Xochitl was invited as a guest instructor to teach a class on poetry for current times at Writing Workshops Los Angeles. The course takes place from July 22 to September 16 and allows students to read, analyze and discuss contemporary poetry from women, people of color, and queer poets “cultivating their own poems of resistance, persistence, and celebration.”

To read more about Xochitl and her upcoming workshop, click here. You can find her interview from Issue 19 here.

Congratulations, Xochitl!

Guest Post, Neema Avashia: Finding the Right Angle

I wrote about my cousin’s death in at least six different essays before I came to write “Finding the Holy in an Unholy Coconut.” I started writing very shortly after his death, in the days I spent with my aunt and uncle trying to help them sort through all of the logistical complexities that accompany unexpected death. It’s not enough to grieve, in America. We also need you to contact Social Security, close out credit cards, and notify banks as quickly as possible. 

My first writing was accounting—asking questions about who knew what and when. It was very much the “bleeding into the typewriter” that T Kira Madden critiques in “Against Catharsis: Writing is Not Therapy” and that Penny Zang referenced in her post on the SR Blog last month. 

From extremely raw accounting, I moved to narrating, and trying to patch together a complete story even though so many of the details were missing. And, once again, it took very little time to realize that this stage of writing was strictly for me. 

The only person who read these early essays was my mentor, Jane McCafferty, whose gentle response, effectively, was to say, “I love you. And no one else should read this.” Jane’s point at the time was that there is a difference between writing as a way of grieving and writing about grief for an audience. I would find my way to the second eventually, but it was going to take time. Still, she urged me to keep writing the story as many times as I needed to.

It took three years to move from accounting, to narrating, to actually crafting. In Geeta Kothari’s creative non-fiction workshop at the Kenyon Review last summer, she asked us to use description of a concrete object to enter into an essay. I had brought a tiny silver bell with me that usually sits on the altar in my pantry, and this bell somehow allowed me to write about my cousin’s death, and my grieving, through the lens of faith and ritual. The next day, she asked us to visit the art gallery on campus at Kenyon, to choose a piece of art that resonated for us, and to use that piece of art to enter the story a second way. And again, I found the themes in my story shifting.

By entering the story from these different angles, I found myself able to move further and further from the specific details surrounding my cousin’s death, and closer to a story about how faith and ritual can both be essential to mourning—and also fall completely short. 

After Kenyon, I went to Los Angeles as part of a West Coast road trip. I attempted to submerge my unholy coconut. And last fall in a writing class at Grub Street, a writing organization here in Boston, I found my way into the essay published at Superstition Review this spring, a full four years after my cousin died. The coconut allowed me to enter our story from a different angle, one that enabled me to write an essay that was no longer just for me.

Ultimately, the coconut at the center of this story serves three functions in the piece: It serves as the concrete vessel for the character Neema’s grief. For the writer, Neema, it serves as a symbol that makes the abstractions of grief less abstract—something that can be described, can be held, and can eventually be cast away. And, for the readers, the coconut is the central image that they can carry with them through the entire piece. It gets introduced in the first paragraph, appears even when the story shifts in place and time, and is still sitting on the shoreline at the very end of the story. 

It took four years, six vastly different versions of the story in structure, content, and style, and four different entry points to arrive at this published essay. I try to remind myself of these facts when I am stuck in the middle of a draft and can’t seem to find a way forward. If the story is worth telling, I say to myself, then my task is to find the right angle from which to tell it. 

Most importantly, I tell myself to be patient. I may have not yet lived, or seen, the angle from which the story is best told. 

#ArtLitPhx: Writing Workshop with Stella Pope Duarte

Workshop Title: Three Easy Steps to Writing a Dynamic Short Story

The American Book Award-winning author of If I Die in Juárez hosts a two-part writing workshop for writers of all levels. 

From the host: “Once upon a time, deep in a great dark forest, lived three bears. The beginning of one of the most beloved fairy tales on earth is about three bears and a little girl named Goldilocks. Stories that become part of our universal experience reveal the human heart. This workshop will zero in on what it means to write a dynamic short story.”

WORKSHOP DETAILS

  • Cost: $40, for two sessions: July 16 and 23.
  • Register below or directly on Eventbrite.
  • Refunds will not be issued within one day of the event.

PARKING / LIGHT RAIL

  • Don’t want to drive? Take the Light Rail! It lets off at the Central Avenue/Camelback Park-and-Ride, which has hundreds of free parking spaces across the street from Changing Hands.

ABOUT THE HOST
Stella Pope Duarte is described by Jacquelyn Mitchard as a “magical weaver with a sure hand and a pure heart,” and praised by Ursula K. Leguin as an author who “will enlarge humanity.” Her works explore the human heart, revealing both dark and light. Duarte has won honors and awards nationwide, including a 2009 American Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize nomination, the Southwest Book of the Year Award, and a nomination to Oprah’s Book Sense list. She is a descendant of Irish and Mexican American parents, and was born and raised in the Sonorita Barrio in South Phoenix. Inspired to write by a prophetic dream of her father, she believes that writing, like love, begins within, or it doesn’t start at all.

EVENT INFORMATION

Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix 

Date: Tuesdays, July 16 and 23

Time: 6–8:30 p.m.

Cost: $40

For more information about the event, click here.

#ArtLitPhx: Writing the Contemporary Mystery or Thriller

Attend a workshop from current Writer in Residence mystery author Betty Webb to learn new skills in the craft of writing and publishing at the Tempe Public Library.

Library Writer-in-Residence

The Writers-in-Residence program promotes writing in communities by connecting local, professional authors to serve as Writers-in-Residence at local libraries. Writers-in-Residence spend time at the library during their residency composing new works and providing education for community members. 

Get expert advice on your writing by registering for a one-on-one consultation, or attend a writing workshop to learn new skills in the craft of writing and publishing. All experience levels are welcome.

2019 Writer-in-Residence: Betty Webb, May – July 2019

Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (Desert Vengeance, Desert Rage, Desert Wives, Desert Noir, Desert Wind, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (The Otter of Death, The Llama of Death, The Puffin of Death, etc.). Before beginning to write full time, Betty worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. She has taught creative writing classes and workshops at Arizona State University and Phoenix College, has been a nationally-syndicated literary critic for 30 years, and is currently reviewing for Mystery Scene Magazine. In addition to other organizations, Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

Event Information

Location: Tempe Public Library, 3500 S. Rural Rd.

Date: June 29

Time: 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

For more information, click here.

#ArtLitPhx: Katrina Shawver Writing Workshop

Author Katrina Shawver (Henry: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America) leads a workshop that covers tools and techniques that apply to all genres to help make your writing easier, polished, and tight.

Take home lists of key resources every writer should have and know. Practice new ideas for faster writing and using active versus passive tense and specificity to “show not tell.” Come prepared to write!

Bring pen/pencil and a notebook for Shawver’s “Expand Your Writer’s Toolbox” presentation.

WORKSHOP DETAILS

  • Cost: $25 per person.
  • Register below.

ABOUT THE HOST
KATRINA SHAWVER is an experienced writer, blogger, speaker, and author of the award-winning biography HENRY: A Polish Swimmer’s True Story of Friendship from Auschwitz to America. She holds a BA from the University of Arizona in English/Political Science and began her writing career by penning columns for the Arizona Republic for more than eleven years. She spent fifteen years researching WWII, Poland, Auschwitz, and the Holocaust to write the story of Henry Zguda, someone she met strictly by chance while writing for the newspaper. HENRY has earned high praise and won awards in the US, UK, and Italy, including the 2018 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award – Silver for Biography.

EVENT INFORMATION

Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Rd., Phoenix 

Date: Monday, June 24

Time: 6:30–8:30 p.m.

For more information about the event, click here.

#ArtLitPhx: Scene-Setting with Writer Betty Webb

Attend a workshop from current Library Writer-in-Residence mystery author Betty Webb to learn new skills in the craft of writing and publishing. All experience levels are welcome.

The Writers-in-Residence program promotes writing in communities by connecting local, professional authors to serve as Writers-in-Residence at local libraries. Writers-in-Residence spend time at the library during their residency composing new works and providing education for community members. 

2019 Writer-in-Residence: Betty Webb, May–July 2019

Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (Desert Vengeance, Desert Rage, Desert Wives, Desert Noir, Desert Wind, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (The Otter of Death, The Llama of Death, The Puffin of Death, etc.). Before beginning to write full time, Betty worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. She has taught creative writing classes and workshops at Arizona State University and Phoenix College, has been a nationally-syndicated literary critic for 30 years, and is currently reviewing for Mystery Scene Magazine. In addition to other organizations, Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

EVENT INFORMATION

Location: Tempe Public Library’s BRiC Training Room, 3500 S. Rural Rd.

Date: June 15

Time: 2:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Ages: 18+

To read more about this event, click here.

#ArtLitPhx: Writing Workshop with Sandra Marinella

Writing Workshop with Sandra Marinella

The Story You Need To Tell: Embracing Your Creative Voice

book cover

Author Sandra Marinella (The Story You Need to Tell) leads a workshop on writing and exploring the power of your personal stories to heal, grow, and transform your life.

Your story matters. Ignite your passion for finding and writing down your stories in ways that will reveal your unique voice and unleash your personal creativity. This four-session workshop will share prompts to guide you to the stories you want to tell, explore writing that will show you how to develop your voice, and experiment with creative strategies to enhance your writing. This workshop will engage writers of all levels and provide opportunities to share your writing in a positive environment. Enrollment will be limited.

WORKSHOP DETAILS

  • Cost: $80 for four sessions, 10am-12pm Mondays, June 3, 10, 17, and 24
  • Register below or on the Eventbrite page.
  • No refunds within one day of the event.

ABOUT THE HOST 
A local, award-winning writing teacher and author SANDRA MARINELLA, MA, MEd, has taught thousands of students and fellow educators and presented hundreds of workshops to veterans, teachers, writers, and cancer patients about the power of our personal stories to heal, grow, and transform our lives. Sandra founded the Story You Need to Tell Project which provides workshops on the power of transformational story telling and personal writing. Profits from her book support cancer research and provide educational scholarships as well as writing workshops for those in need. She lives in Chandler, Arizona. Discover more at www.storyyoutell.com.

EVENT INFORMATION

Location: Changing Hands Bookstore, 300 W. Camelback Rd.,
Phoenix 

Dates: June 3, 10, 17, and 24

Time: 10 a.m. to noon

For more information about the event, click here.

#ArtLitPhx: Spoken Word Poetry Workshop and Slam

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Spoken Word Poetry Workshop and Slam takes place on Saturday, November 5 from 5:30-8:30 p.m. at the Aravaipa Auditorium, ASU Polytechnic Campus.7211 Innovation Way, Mesa. The workshop features Tomas Stanton.

Stanton is a poet, educator, teaching artist, hip hop thespian and community organizer. He is co-founder of Phoenix-based Phonetic Spit, which uses the literary arts, youth development, and social justice programs “to empower young and emerging adults to find, develop, and publicly present their voices as agents of societal change.”

The event is organized by Wendy R. Williams, assistant professor of English education in ASU’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts.  The event is free and open to the public. Make sure to RVSP here.

Guest Post, Grant Clauser: The Curse of the Workshop

The Curse of the Workshop: Fighting the Inner Critic

 

If I count my first undergraduate creative writing workshops and go all the way to the present, where I run a monthly workshop group with friends, I’ve been poking and prodding at peers’ poetry for nearly 30 years.  Some of that has been as an equal participant, and others as a teacher guiding newer poets in this or that direction. All that time sitting around a table trying to offer constructive observations has to do something to a person.

In fact, I know exactly what it’s done. It’s made it increasingly hard to read poetry, any poetry, without trying to fix it. I’m not sure, but I believe often that’s a problem, and it’s probably negatively affected my appreciation of poetry.  I call it the curse of the workshop. I’ve heard another writer refer to this problem as something like the curse of knowing too much, and I have experience with this in my other line of work.

For the past 18 years my day job has been to write about electronics, and much of that writing is in the form of product reviews. Reviewing televisions had been a specialty of mine for several years, and I’d nitpick over details of the TV’s performance. I spent hours analyzing video test patterns, tweaking settings, looking for errant pixels. Once a fellow TV reviewer confided that he was no longer able to watch TV without watching what the TV was doing. This TV crushes whites. This TV’s processor adds too much edge enhancement. This TV blurs lateral motion.

Old Car RadioAudiophiles, and I know many of those eccentrics, who train themselves to appreciate the fine details produced by high-end speakers and $10,000 turntables, can’t enjoy a song on a car radio because they can’t separate the act of passively enjoying something from actively analyzing it.

I fear the same problem can creep into poetry readers who have spent years practicing their workshop strategies. In a workshop, the goal, generally, is to help other people turn their poems into the best poems they can—sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. There’s a built-in attitude that once a fresh poem has been passed around the table, it’s the participant’s job to try to fix it. We immediately launch into judgement mode, picking out distracting lines, unclear images, limp stanza breaks.

Of course, that’s what we’re supposed to do—it’s what all the people sitting around the table are there for, but it can also be counter-productive to enjoying the poem. In a workshop with friends recently, we were discussing a poem, and everyone, including myself, zero’d in on a couple of passages that stood out from the rest—the diction seemed a little incongruous to the subject, and so we did what seasoned workshoppers do, we started changing it. What we didn’t do was stop to appreciate what the writer was doing. After a few readings I allowed myself to release my grip on the workshop model, and instead read the poem for the poem.

And there’s the problem with workshop mode, with audiophile mode, with the curse of the expert mode—we read the poem through our current lens, bordered by our own definitions and rules,  rather than read the poem on its own merits for the pleasure it produces.

A few weeks ago I was watching the Westminster Dog Show (or something similar—I really don’t remember) as each dog was pranced around the course. Judges, poked, stretched and measured the animals, comparing them to their memorized list of perfect attributes for that breed. These were beautiful dogs, well-groomed, well-trained, pampered, worth thousands of dollars, and yet never did anyone just reach out and hug the dogs. I wanted someone to love the droopy ears, the frantic wag, the smell of having just rolled in the yard. But the judges, the owners, the audience had drilled that appreciation out of themselves by knowing too much.

As a reader of poetry, I try to let myself become the dog lover, not the contest judge. I want to be the person driving around with the sunroof open and the radio blasting, not the audio critic taking notes. It’s this way that we get past the work and back into the poetry and remember what brought us to this wonder in the first place.