“A few years ago, we lost the pear tree in our backyard. A storm came in and split the tree down the middle, landing one large limb on the roof of our back porch and exposing the rotten wood inside the trunk. Despite my best efforts to save it, the tree had been eaten from the inside by disease and had to be removed, cut down to the stump.
“I loved this tree; in fact, I sometimes would joke it was one of the reasons we bought the house. Its branches spanned a large portion of my backyard, and in the spring, it was were covered with delicate white flowers. The tree really didn’t bear much fruit, but it was lovely to look at: a large, tall, and graceful thing.
“When the tree came down, I was devastated. (I actually started looking for other houses online that afternoon.) Our backyard looked so barren and void, naked really. But my husband, ever-wise, cautioned patience. Wait and see what grows, he said. And so I did.
“This past summer, I watched the plants that had always stood underneath the pear tree’s shade grow and thrive. A hydrangea bush doubled in size and gave us large fluffy blooms. A forsythia bush stretched up and over the fence. And a clematis spilled bright purple flowers over a nearby post. There is still the stump from the tree on the ground, but the myrtle has begun to cover it over, and now, this spring, it’s become hard to even see where the tree once was.
“The loss of this tree seems like an apt metaphor for this past year. It’s been year marked by loss, filled with things I will never recover. But we all understand these losses, since all of us have had people or things we cared for deeply taken from us through this pandemic.
“But I will say that I have been able to witness also the strength and resiliency of our writers. Many of you showed up for online writing consultations, talking through your drafts of poems, resumes, or short essays. Others came to our writing workshops, turning on your screens to learn how to publish your writing, craft a scholarship essay, or begin to write a memoir. Despite having a year that no one would wish for, you and your writing grew because you cared enough to give your words and ideas attention and care. And this work matters, because your words matter – not just to yourself, but to all of us. For these reasons, I am grateful to our writers who are part of this community writing center.”
Chris and Helen write:
“And we are pleased to continue to share our work online, including our upcoming writing workshops on writing resumes and cover letters, mindfulness writing, and an intro to memoir and intro to poetry (the latter taught by two Michigan published authors). And don’t forget our upcoming “Poetry in the Garden” event, in partnership with the Saginaw Art Museum, featuring a night of Michigan authors reading their work – and an opportunity to share your own writing as well! And, of course, we continue to offer the opportunity to receive feedback on your own writing through an individual consultation, which you can set up on our website, communitywritingcenter.com.
“This month, we’d like to recommend a few books for your reading pleasure: first, All American Boys by Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, which also happens to be a community read book for Bay County (sign up for a book discussion this month here). This book tells the story of a violent incident at a high school and its aftermath, told from the perspective of a black and a white boy. This is a good example of the power of alternative narrative voice, and it engages all of us in an important conversation about race in America. We’d also recommend Sparrows and Dust by Zilka Joseph as our poetry collection, a light and lovely collection of poems about birds and the nature of our world, with the title poem first printed by SVSU in the 2018 Roethke calendar. We’ve realized that we’ve been ignoring drama, so we also recommend Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Appropriate, which, with its focus on family and race, makes for an interesting companion to All American Boys. Finally, our book on writing is Bret Lott’s Before We Get Started, an honest and humorous look at the writerly life.”
That’s all for now. Stay safe, and keep writing!
Helen and Chris
The Community Writing Center is excited to be partnering with the Saginaw Art Museum to host Poetry in the Garden, a free event open to all ages! This event will include featured poets, as well as an open poetry session! Learn more HERE and register in advance using the button below!
Thanks to your help, the book chosen for the 2021 Bay County Justice Read is All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brandon Kiely! Copies of this book are available at any Bay County public library location, and you're invited to engage with fellow community members by participating in one of the discussion groups below to join the conversation!
Check out the Bay County Justice Read website to learn more!
When the pandemic started, Chris and I were lucky enough to collaborate with some great folks at the Saginaw Art Museum to start “The Quarantine Chronicles.” We asked people to send us their artwork: their poems, essays, photos, artwork, music, or journal entries that captured their experience during the first few months of the pandemic. Now, one year later, all of us who submitted work were invited to write a follow-up to our original piece.
Almost a year ago, I had written about going for a walk with my son in early April. I said, “My son is 24-year-old adult, with a college education, his own car and place to live, and until about three weeks ago, his own job. But as I watch him walk ahead of me, I feel an overwhelming urge to run to catch up to him. I want to fix his collar, flipped up by the wind, and smooth the cowlick that curls below his right ear. I want to touch his arm, hold his face in my hands. I want to hug him, tightly, for a long time. But I can’t.”
Now, over one year later, I still can’t touch my son, or anyone else other than my spouse, for that matter. I’ve discovered this is what I miss the most. Physical contact. It’s funny, really. As an introvert by nature, these small gestures—a spontaneous hug, a hand on the arm, a pat on the shoulder—have always seemed a bit excessive to me.
But now, things have changed. My student tutors are graduating; I want to go to a ceremony and embrace them in a warm, congratulatory hug. My neighbor lost her dog; I want to hold her hand, her palm warm in mine, as she fights back her tears. Chris gets his second chapbook accepted for publication; I want to reach out and grab both his arms in excitement. And whenever I see a friend or colleague, I find myself stepping forward, eager for contact, before catching myself, then stepping the requisite six feet back.
So much of our interpersonal communication is based on body language; more than this, it is about contact. During the pandemic, we are often limited to our screens, where we cannot touch one another, stand next to one another, or even completely see one another. This means language is all we have left.
This is why the work of the Community Writing Center matters. To think write is to intentionally think about language and about communicating our ideas, thoughts, and feelings with other people. And if we are writing during the pandemic, we are doing this work in a time where we all deeply need to connect. Writing allows us to listen to our own words. And when we share that writing, we allow those words to be heard by others. That’s the kind of communication, the kind of connection, that matters most.
Chris and Helen write:
This month, we are pleased to share a few more opportunities to connect. We have our spring/summer schedule ready, with a series of great writing workshops on writing poetry, writing memoir, crafting resumes, and a new workshop on “mindfulness writing.” This month, we’ve got a workshop on “Introduction to Science Fiction Writing,” our prose and poetry writing groups, and, of course, our individual writing consultations. All our workshops and consultations will continue to be online through August, with the goal of returning to our library locations in the fall.
We also want to remind you that we’ve collaborated on a Justice Read in Bay County, where you can read “All American Boys” and participate in a community discussion about the novel (more info HERE), and “Still Life,” our literary arts journal, is currently accepting poems for its contest (more info HERE). And April is poetry month, so don’t forget to write a poem!
As always, we have a few books to recommend: “The Refugees,” by Viet Thanh Nguyen, is a collection of short stories about the immigrant experience in the U.S., with some memorable characters and striking use of images; it’s a great example of how short stories can have an emotional impact. For poetry, we're rereading Sharon Olds' “The Father.” It's an old collection but a good model for writing in sequence and exploring the same subject from different perspectives. And for some good ole-fashioned advice on poems, there's always Ted Kooser's “The Poetry Home Repair Manual.”
We’d also like to profile “Carbon Footprint,” a great collection of poetry by local writer Donnie Winter (who will be teaching our “Writing Poetry” workshop June 15!). This collection weaves together the impact of our lives on the natural environment and the LGBQ+ experiences in some remarkable ways. To learn more, visit HERE.
Thanks for reading. Keep safe and keep writing, everyone!
Helen and Chris
Every weekend this winter, I have gone cross-country skiing. My black lab, Atticus, comes too. We have a place up north that borders 30 kilometers of groomed trails, but we typically head down the same path: the one that crisscrosses the nearby golf course, skirting in and out of hardwoods and tall pines, turning left at a stand of white birch, down the ridge bordered by sumac and wild lilacs, over the bridge across a creek, and then circling round a large open field.
While the path stays the same, the weather does not. It is, after all, Michigan. Some days, it is overcast; the trees creak and groan overhead as I fight my way against the wind. Some days, the snow falls so quickly that I can barely see the trail at all, the world swirling in blur of white. And some days, the sunlight breaks through the clouds and dapples the path ahead, the tree trunks casting long shadows over the dusting of fresh snow.
My skiing changes too. There are days where the trail has been freshly groomed, and I am able to move in a steady rhythm, gliding across the snow. Those are good days. But there are other days where the trail has melted and refrozen, becoming a sheet of slick ice. My skis slip. I fall. I struggle to get up again. (There is usually cursing involved). And then there are days I am simply tired, and the whole endeavor of putting on the boots, the skis, the coat, the gloves, and going out into the cold just seems like too much. I usually go anyway, hoping that once I begin, I will feel better. This works, sometimes.
Writing is like this, isn’t it? The familiar sensation of sitting at a laptop or with a pen in hand, putting words to a page. For those of us who write regularly, it is familiar feeling. And yet, the writing process changes each time we do it: on good days, the exact turn of phrase, the sudden idea, the connection between two paragraphs that suddenly becomes clear. Writing is fun. But there are other days when all you can see is the clunky series of sentences, the half-formed concept, the awkward transitions, and try as you might, nothing comes right. (Again, for me, there is usually cursing involved). And of course, there are days when you are tired and really wonder if you want to spend your time and energy writing, or even doing anything at all. On those days, I hope you write anyway. Because that’s how we learn anything; in fact, you could argue that’s how we learn everything we need to know—by doing something again and again, with some effort and good will. Over time, whatever we are working on gets better, and we become a bit better too: more observant, more thoughtful, more gracious. And hopefully less cursing.
Helen and Chris write:
Of course, we love the opportunity to share our writing, which is why the Community Writing Center is so important. We have a great workshop on “Publishing Your Writing,” led by Casey and Denise Hill from New Pages on March 16, and another workshop, “Introduction to Science Fiction Writing” on April 20. Our “Poets’ Group” is meeting in March 23 and April 27, and we’re pleased to announce that we have another writing group beginning April 6, meeting the first Tuesday of every month (to learn more about this new group, which will be focusing on prose, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or sign up on our website). As you can see, there’s lots of opportunities to write and talk with other writers, so visit us at https://www.communitywritingcenter.com/
We have a few books to recommend this month as well. George Saunders’ newest book, “A Swim in a Pond in the Rain” is an amazing book on writing (and life), using seven short stories by Russian authors as a lesson in how to craft effective fiction. If you write, you must read this book: it’s clever, provocative, and funny. A great fiction read, with a marvelous narrator, is “Sorrow and Bliss” by Meg Mason, and our poetry recommendation is Mary Oliver’s collection of selected works, “Devotions” (we are eager for spring to awaken the world—Helen’s love of skiing notwithstanding).
That’s it for this month. Take care everyone, stay safe, and keep writing—and congrats to our Poets’ Group member Bruce Gunther who recently had work published in “Last Leaves” and “Modern Haiku.”
Helen and Chris
Directors of the Community Writing Center
We'd like to congratulate the three winners of our "Save Our Souls" Creative Writing Contest, held in partnership with the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum at SVSU! This contest asked participants to write creative writing pieces in response to Mark Beltchenko's S.O.S exhibit housed at the museum.
Check out the videos below to see our three winners read their pieces aloud at the Marshall M. Fredericks Sculpture Museum!
Thank you to the 30+ community members who joined us for our virtual celebration for the release of the 2020 publication of Still Life! This literary journal features the work of local poets and artists, and has won a first place award from the American Scholastic Press Association for the 3rd consecutive year!
It's also not too early to start submitting pieces for the 2021 edition of Still Life! More information about submission guidelines, and how to submit, can be found HERE.
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!