Saturday, August 27, 2011

2011 Paterson Poetry Prize


is pleased to announce the winners of

Elizabeth Alexander Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010
   (Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN)

Elizabeth Alexander’s Crave Radiance: New and Selected Poems 1990-2010 brings us home again – to dark pasts and uncertain futures, anguish and exaltation. Each poem grounds us with an intensity that insists we belong. With trust and expectation she presents a world that is undeniably real.


Michael Cirelli, Vacations on The Black Star Line
   (Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, NY)
Stephen Dobyns, Winter’s Journey
   (Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, WA)
W. D. Ehrhart, The Bodies Beneath the Table  
  (Adastra Press, Easthampton, MA)
Erica Miriam Fabri, Dialect of a Skirt  
  (Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, NY)
Rebecca Foust, All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song 
  (Many Mountains Moving Press, Philadelphia, PA)
Tony Medina, My Old Man Was Always on the Lam 
  (NYQ Books, New York, NY)
Lois Roma-Deeley, High Notes 
  (Benu Press, Hopkins, MN)
Jackie Sheeler, Earthquake Came to Harlem 
  (NYQ Books, New York, NY)

Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement for Previous Winners of The Paterson Poetry Prize

Maxine Kumin, Where I Live: New & Selected Poems 1990-2010 
  (W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY)
Vivian Shipley, All of Your Messages Have Been Erased
   (Louisiana Literature Press, Hammond, LA)
Gerald Stern, Early Collected Poems: 1965-1992 
  (W. W. Norton & Company, New York, NY)

Paterson Award for Literary Excellence for Previous Finalists of The Paterson Poetry Prize

Eamon Grennan, Out of Sight: New & Selected Poems 
  (Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN)
Bob Hicok, Words for Empty and Words for Full 
  (University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, PA)
Tony Hoagland, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty 
  (Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, MN)
Lowell Jaeger, We 
  (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, Charlotte, NC)
Alex Lemon, Fancy Beasts
   (Milkweed Editions, Minneapolis, MN)
Erika Meitner, Ideal Cities
   (Harper Perennial, New York, NY)
Mervyn Taylor, No Back Door
   (Shearsman Books, Exeter, England)
April 14, 2012
Distinguished Poets Reading
2011 Paterson Poetry Prize Winner
Elizabeth Alexander

and finalists

Michael Cirelli
Stephen Dobyns
W.D. Ehrhart
Erica Miriam Fabri
Rebecca Foust
Tony Medina
Lois Roma-Deeley
Jackie Sheeler

1 p.m. -- Hamilton Club Building
32 Church Street, Paterson, NJ

The Paterson Poetry Prize of $1,000 is given annually by the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College to a book of poetry (48 pages or more) published in the previous year, with a minimum press run of 500 copies. For further information, contact Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Executive Director, Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College at (973) 684-6555 or visit

The Poetry Center was named a Distinguished Arts Project and awarded several
Citations of Excellence, and is funded, in part, by a grant from the New Jersey
State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National
Endowment for the Arts.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What Writers Need

Last week I attended a fund raising event for a woman who has brain cancer. The event was held by an athletic organization with all proceeds going to this member of their community.

It was touching to see these extreme athletes--many of whom follow the same types of exercise that, as their website claims "many police academies and tactical operations teams, military special operations units, champion martial artists, and hundreds of other elite and professional athletes worldwide"--compete with intensity and joy.

To say that I was out of my element is understating the case.

I saw on a number of tee-shirts a phrase that went something like this:

"What do you prefer?
The pain of discipline
The pain of regret"

And I couldn't help but wish I could buy a bunch of these shirts and give them out to my writers.

It seems these athletes know what many writers do not:

that one must try. And with trying, comes failures. And after enough considered failures, comes bits and pieces of improvement. And that this improvement is not final and requires testing. That the testing sometimes comes in the form of competition. That competition is really between the competitor and herself/himself not other readers/editors/publishers.  That competition leads to a certain kind of success. That there are many forms and levels of success. That success, ultimately, will arise from personal definition. That persistence, self-correcting focus and faith are elements, not only of success, but of a strong character. And this strong character is what will allow for the writing down of that which needs to get written  in the best possible way with, as one poet has said, with "the best possible words."

And this is success.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

In Praise of Silence

Summer is almost over.  In Phoenix, we read the signs of the waning season not by looking at the temperature but by the annual rites of approaching autumn: a dawn that seems to come a little later than sooner, school buses back on the streets, moisture hanging, heavy in the air.

For me, it's time to get back to my campus. I am fortunate in that I truly love my job, my colleagues and my students.

However, as I return to work, I will miss the long silences of my Phoenix summer. Those times when my mind turns inward towards itself. I will miss those silences which safe-guard my imagination and allow ideas to unfold in my mind. Miss bits of internal sounds which, with some attention, soon turn into words.  Miss those words which will demand some kind of arrangement on the page.

One of the many discussions I  always have with my creative writing students centers about their own creative process. Often, I will point out to them how, as our friend William Wordsworth writes, "the world is too much with us."

I point to how our American culture seems always "on." That we are always listening, watching, reading, talking, texting....we American exhaust ourselves in our interactions with each other.  Fill up your car at the station, and there is a video playing on top of the store's gas tank. Go get a cup of coffee, and there is not one but several TV's turned on. Just try and go food shopping and avoid the one-sided cell phone conversations which always seem louder to me than probably they really are. Walk down the street--any street--or on the beach--or into the forest--or whatever--and you can not help but see the tops of people's heads as they bend, prayer-like--over their cell phones.

 I'm not saying these interactions are anything other than what they are--the human community busy interacting with each other.

All I'm saying is that something gets lost in all this busy-ness when we misplace the pockets of silence that can speak to us. Then it becomes too easy to disconnect with and from our own unformed thoughts. Then it becomes even easier to disrespect these musings and mullings which are so very necessary to creation.

A standard beginning creative writing exercise I used in my college classes will begin with me dimming the lights, asking students to put down their pens--or, these days, to close their computers--and simply be.

I ask them to breathe slowly. I ask them to close their eyes. I ask them to listen to the silence.

Then--and only after what must seem like a very, very long time but is, in reality, not more than 3-5 minutes of semi-dark silence--I ask my students to write whatever comes into their minds. "Fill up the page," I say. "Don't stop writing until I tell you to stop," I say.  I give them about 10-12 minutes to accomplish that task.  Afterward, I ask for volunteers who will read what they have just written.

Almost always everyone in my class will read something.

And the writing which grew out of our humble shared moments together will always be different. Often, quite wonderful. Usually, the writing has a kind of power and depth found only when writers are being authentically human.

This is an exercise I have been using for more years then I care to report. I have used this exercise with graduate, undergraduate and non-credit students. I have used this exercise with older adults--some of whom have advance degrees-- and teenagers some of whom are still in High School. I used this exercise with students outside the discipline of creative writing. I have used these exercise with colleagues.

And always,  always I am amazed at what the miracle of silence can produce.