MARK YOUR CALENDAR! We are happy to announce that on Thursday, February 25, we will be celebrating the release of the 2020 issue of our literary arts journal Still Life. This is our biggest issue to date (both in terms of page count and number of contributors), but, as always, this issue showcases the tremendous talent found in our community. And don't just take our word for it. We will also be celebrating that, for the third consecutive year (and each year of its existence), Still Life has received a first-place award from the American Scholastic Press Association,
Join us on Zoom at 7 pm. You can hear our contributing poets read their work and our artists talk about their pieces. Click the button below to register in advance and get the Zoom meeting link!
My husband has taken up bird watching during the pandemic. In the mornings, I can usually find him sitting in the rocking chair, looking out the window at the birds fluttering around our back deck, sipping his coffee. He has purchased a variety of different feeders and seeds over the last year and spent hours with “The Audubon Bird Guide” on his lap, calling out the names of the birds he sees. He is an engineer, after all: he likes to categorize things. “Look,” he will say. “A brown creeper on the maple tree.” Or “Oh, I thought that one over there was a house finch, but it’s just a hoary redpoll.” And “See that? The pileated woodpecker is back again.” I dutifully look out the window. To me, it just looks like a bunch of birds. But to my husband, these are the creatures he has invited into our backyard, fed and nurtured, and grown to recognize. Because he has taught himself about these various birds, he delights in their movements, their habits, their presence.
I suspect that for most of us, writing is a lot like this as well. While most of us can write (just like most of us can watch birds), to devote time and energy to learning something for the sheer enjoyment of it is what makes us uniquely human. Last night, I had the opportunity to listen to the Poets’ Group (a group of local poets who meet monthly to share their works-in-progress), and I was struck by their appreciation not just of the writing itself, but one another. This is one of the best parts of working in the Community Writing Center—to witness the joy that comes from spending a person spending their time learning to do something they care about deeply.
During the month of February, we continue to offer our Poets’ Group and our individual writing consultations (via Zoom or email) for any piece of writing you might be doing. We have two workshops on writing scholarship essays coming up as well; the information for these free workshops and consultations can be found on our website, www.communitywritingcenter.com. We also wanted to encourage you to participate in our Community Read of “Kindred” by Octavia Butler; we have Zoom conversations scheduled throughout the month to talk with other folks about this (very interesting) novel, and you can learn more about this initiative at www.Justicelibrary.org.
We wanted to share with you what we’ve been reading. Helen just finished “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel. This novel, focused on a Ponzi scheme, makes some interesting rhetorical moves with character and voice. Chris recommends, in honor of African American History Month, “Wade in the Water” by our former poet laureate Tracy K. Smith, who reminds us that we can find the inspiration for poetry everywhere, even in historical documents (and in erasure). And we both encourage you to check out “So You Want to Write” by poet Marge Piercy and novelist Ira Woods. This book is based on a number of workshops they’ve given over the years to aspiring writers, and it contains practical advice for learning more about the craft. One of the best lines? “Work. Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.”
And we offer congratulations to our community members Deda Kavanagh and Chris Lucka, both of whom recently had pieces published in Walloon Writers Review (www.walloonwriters.com). If you know of anyone whose work you’d like us to share, feel free to reach out to us at email@example.com.
Whether at our workshops, poets’ group, community read, we hope to see (“see”) you soon. Until then, keep writing, keep safe, and keep watching your email as we continue to plan new more offerings
Helen and Chris
Co-Directors, the SVSU Community Writing Center
In the beginning of the fall 2020 semester, the SVSU Writing Center partnered with the YWCA Great Lakes Bay Region to sponsor a “Dear Future President" postcard campaign. A total of 267 campaign postcards were submitted electronically and in hard copy, all which shared hopes and concerns from the community with the future leader of our country. On January 20th, Inauguration Day, the copies were mailed to the White House, along with a letter to President Joe Biden. This campaign has become a bit of a tradition at SVSU and serves as a reminder that every voice matters!
We are so excited to announce that Madeline Bruessow is the winner of our Bay County Poetry Postcard contest! Madeline's two poems will be featured on a number of posters depicting Bay City landscapes and locations. Congratulations to Madeline on her wonderful poems! Stay tuned to see these posters hung up around Bay City!
When I started college, one of the first classes I took was a Greek and Roman Literature course. We were assigned to read Homer’s Odyssey, but not just read it: during every class, the professor would walk around the room, pick up a student’s copy of the book, find a section he or she had annotated. Then this professor would ask the student to explain their written comments and recite at least three lines from memory from that section. Oh, and you could only use the line “rosy fingers of dawn” once in your recitation. It was nerve-wracking, to say the least: you never knew when Dr. Koper would pivot suddenly towards you, grab your book off your desk, stare at you over his bifocals, and say, “Page 75. You have written ‘third warning.’ Explain, and give me two lines from the text.”
His argument was that The Odyssey is the story of every man (or woman), so it is an archetypal myth: leaving home, encountering obstacles along the journey into the larger world, and, if lucky, coming back home again. But here’s the catch: when the hero returns, they find themselves, their loved ones, and even their home itself altogether different, changed. Dr. Koper claimed this story was worth not just reading, but truly understanding, and the only way we truly understand stories that are not our own is by making the words part of our memories, so that they intermingle with our own experiences.
I thought of this book again over the Thanksgiving break. I have to admit, I think Dr. Koper was right. After all, this entire year could be described like The Odyssey. This pandemic has unmoored us all, sent us to places and thrust us into situations that we never would have imagined ten short months ago. I suspect we have all tried to be brave and resilient, like Odysseus. And, like Odysseus, we have discovered that these characteristics are hard to maintain when you are tired, lonely, and overwhelmed. We have learned that when everything is strange, unpredictable, and sometimes even dangerous, all we want is to go back home: back to the place where things were as they once were.
According to my (very old) class notes, the word “nostalgia” is actually a combination of two words in Ancient Greek: “nostos,” or “a hero’s homecoming,” and “algos,” which means “pain.” In short, nostalgia means “homecoming pain.” Pain for the desire for home, or more specifically, our memories of home that are tied to love, safety, comfort, joy, happiness, contentment. Home as we remember it, in the past.
Chris and Helen write:
While we do believe that we will get back to normal when this pandemic ends, we are acutely aware that normal may look different than we remember. We, and those around us, will be changed by this journey. We will likely continue to feel some sense of nostalgia for our memories of the past for quite some time.
This is why writing matters. The Community Writing Center provides a space for our writers to explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences throughout their journey: through poetry, memoir, and fiction, and yes, even through grant applications, scholarship essays, and résumés. While the genres differ, all these types of writing afford us a way to shape and share our experience through words. This is a very powerful thing.
We want to remind you that in the month of December, we have a number of opportunities for you to write with us: An upcoming grant-writing workshop, our regional poet’s group, and (of course) free online writing feedback consultations. We also have a writing contest we’re co-sponsoring with the Marshall Frederick’s Museum, so don’t forget to check out all these opportunities on our website, www.communitywritingcenter.com.
Also, if you are looking for some good reads, we’d recommend a great memoir, The Dream House by Carmen Marie Machado: this is a cleverly put-together series of short vignettes that focus on the trauma of a past relationship, demonstrating how an extended metaphor can work throughout an entire book. If you’re looking for a good book on writing, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft gives some great writing advice paired with short stories about his own writing life. And as for poetry, we recommend Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between Us, a work that very much focuses on pasts both public and private.
Finally, we want to recognize one of our local authors, Jared Morningstar, an English teacher at Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy and facilitator of the CWC Poets’ Group. His new collection, American Fries, is an interesting mix of fiction and poetry that explores the contemporary American experience. To learn more, visit HERE.
As always, we look forward to seeing you online. In the meantime, be safe, be healthy, and keep writing!
Helen and Chris
The Community Writing Center has been ecstatic at the response to our Dear Future President Postcard Project, and has decided to extend the deadline to send in a postcard to December 15th!
This project invites participants to fill out a physical or virtual postcard sharing their thoughts, concerns, or values with the newly elected United States President. These postcards, physical and virtual, will be sent to the President on Inauguration Day. This is a great way to write about the issues you care about most, and express your passions to the incoming President.
To learn more about this project, as well as find out locations to pick up physical postcards, check out this news article!
October 28, 2020
One of our SVSU Writing Center tutors (a science major) told us recently that NASA conducted an experiment where astronauts wore watches on their wrist the entirety of their time in space; when they returned home, their watches were a few seconds behind all those on Earth. It wasn't a glitch in their watches; it was an illustration of Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Apparently, we can experience "time" in a different manner dependent on our location in space.
So time is relative, based on where we are physically in the moment. But we already know this, don’t we? After all, time drags on in the doctor’s waiting room, sitting in an uncomfortable chair during a seemingly endless meeting, or driving long hours in the car across the barren fields through a cold winter night. But time also may move more quickly when we are in other locations, particularly surrounded by people we love or doing things we deeply enjoy: getting lost in a delicious new book, wandering through the woods on a bright autumn afternoon, or (of course) writing. The idea that time can expand and contract based on our surroundings, which include space, people, and tasks, is important for us to remember right now. “It’s the time you have spent on your rose that makes your rose so important,” said Antoine de Saint-Exupery in “The Little Prince.” We should all spend our time, however fleeting, on the things that matter to us most.
With that in mind, we continue to be excited by the community writing center’s current offerings for the fall. In addition to individual consultations, we’ve got a great workshop coming up next month on “Writing Your Personal Memoir,” offering tips for crafting your own personal stories. And we’ve partnered with the Marshall Fredricks Sculpture Museum to offer a writing contest based on their current exhibit by Mark Beltchenko, “S.O.S.”, a provocative collection that prompts us to think more deeply about the current political, cultural, and environmental surroundings. These initiatives are important to all of us at the CWC, because if time is relative, then we want to spend it with you, our writers, listening to your own stories and experiences. To learn more about these events, visit our webpage at www.communitywritingcenter.com.
And in the spirit of writing and read, a great fiction book we want to recommend is “Anxious People” by Fredrick Backman. It’s a clever novel, filled with pithy insights and an interesting structure for its plot. A good book on the art of writing is Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft,” written by one of America’s most prolific authors. And a poetry collection we’d suggest is “Thomas and Beulah,” by former U.S. poet laureate Rita Dove. Its parallel sections not only remind us of the importance of perspective, but also effectively model writing poems in a series.
We’d also like to share one of our community author’s newest short story collection with you all: “Neighborhood Stories: Divisions” by Jeff Vande Zande, a professor of creative writing at Delta College. This is a fascinating collection of stories that center around one neighborhood in the Midwest, and a series of short, intriguing narratives about the people that live there. If you’re interested in a model of how to create short fiction, this is worth reading.
As always, if you send us your reading suggestions, we’ll share them with our writers. You can reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, take care, stay safe, and keep writing!
Helen and Chris
September 25, 2020
If you’re anything like us, you can’t believe that we’ve already reached the end of September. Although the sun is still shining, there is a slight chill in the morning air, and the oak leaves are just beginning to turn brown outside our windows. Today, we are acutely aware that, in the words of George R.R. Martin, “winter is coming.”
We have no doubt that this will be a fall to remember: the pandemic is still part of our personal and professional lives, the presidential election looms on the horizon, and many of us are still struggling to respond to the racial inequities that have been exposed in our communities. There is a lot going on in our corner of the world. And that’s probably why writing matters.
A friend of ours once said, “I know that my writing doesn’t change anything; it just changes me.” We think she is right. Every time we put our fingers to the keyboard or a pen to a piece of paper, we are attempting to reclaim a version of the world that is true to ourselves. A résumé, a poem, a paper about The Great Gatsby, or a memoir about our childhood—all of these are attempts to understand and interpret a part of our lives. And this is hard work. But at the Community Writing Center, we believe it doesn’t have to be done alone. Often people envision writing as a solitary activity, but it really is a collaborative one. Even when we write by ourselves, we write to an imagined audience, a reader who listens carefully to the words we put on the page. And when we’re able to share these words with another person—through a reading, a workshop, a writing consultation—we are able to share our version of our truth with another person. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
We are excited to be able to offer opportunities in the next few months for you to write with us. We’ve got a great “Write Your Future President” postcard campaign going on (you can fill out an electronic postcard to be shared with the next U.S. President on Inauguration Day here). We have our Poet’s Group, which continues to meet and share works-in-progress, and there is an upcoming workshop on writing political letters in October and one on writing memoir in November. And, as always, we have writing consultants that are happy to talk with you about any writing project via email or Zoom. You can sign up for any of these workshops or writing consultations on our website.
And because writing and reading are interconnected in a variety of ways, we wanted to share some of our favorite reads with you this month. A fiction book that reads like a memoir (and reads well!) is Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi, a new release. A great book on writing is Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir, which contains short chapters of various writing tips. And an old but favorite poetry collection is Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets. Please email us at email@example.com and let us know what you’ve been reading—we’d love to hear from you!
Finally, we want to use this space to feature writers in the community. Donny Winter teaches writing at Delta College, and he’s released his first poetry collection, Carbon Footprint. A summary of the collection from Amazon reads, “In his first full-length collection, Donny Winter takes readers on a journey through his experiences as a gay man living in rural Michigan. His confessional poems, framed in both experimental free verse and tanka styles, use multiple nature-themed metaphors to create commentaries about LGBTQ+ healing and mental health, while also weaving a pro-environmental narrative acknowledging our planet’s trauma. Together, our bodies hold history much as our planet does, and Carbon Footprint acts as a written fossilized record mapping a way toward healing through unearthing our own histories.” You can find more information and order a copy here.
Thanks for reading. We wish you the very best over the next few weeks, and we hope to see you soon in a workshop, Zoom meeting, or even out in the world. In the meantime, take care, stay safe, and keep writing.
Helen and Chris
A huge thank you to all the community members who came out to the Saginaw Art Museum on Thursday, September 17th, for our Poetry in the Garden event! This open mic poetry reading was attended by 45 community members, and a number of local poets from a variety of ages and backgrounds had the opportunity to share their poems.
In addition, the freshly painted Roethke bus (painted by muralist Pauly Everett) was open to the public to view, while poems written by the winners of our Saginaw I Believe Poetry Postcard Contest were displayed on panels inside the bus!
Check out the Saginaw Art Museum's Facebook page for more photos from the event!
We're excited to share pictures of the STARS Roethke bus mural, freshly painted this past Thursday! The SVSU Writing Center has partnered with STARS to fund Pauly Everett to create this mural. This project, funded by a grant from MCOG and The Michigan Humanities Council, celebrates Saginaw and the poetry of Theodore Roethke!
To read more about this project, check out this news article!