Wednesday, April 8, 2015

An Interview with Poet, Dionne Custer Edwards

by Mackenzie Boyer



Dionne Custer Edwards, photo credit - Tim Johnson
On Saturday, April 11, Dionne Custer Edwards will conduct a workshop on the Otterbein University campus in Westerville, Ohio, and hosted by Ohio Poetry Association (OPA). Here’s a description of the upcoming event from Dionne herself:

"We will work with words on and off the page by working through the writing process with our five senses—focusing very much on sound as it pertains to writing, reading, or performing a poem. My hope is that we all leave with something we write, revise through workshop, and share using strategies and techniques that evoke the five senses on and off the page. We will engage with the entire writing process. The goal is to focus on how to get those words out of our journals, off our laptops, and out into the public space (if we want them there)."

Continue reading to learn more about Dionne and her life as a writer and an educator. Then on Saturday, come to the workshop to support Ohio Poetry Association and hear Dionne speak about ‘Writing in Open Space: On (and Off) the Page.’

Question: Since you studied music composition alongside English, I was curious as to why you chose to continue studying this and how exactly it affected your writing in positive ways?

Dionne: Music composition was only one portion of my music studies. I actually studied music theory and piano from the age of four years old, flute from the age of eight, and had a brief stint with oboe and upright bass in middle school. I studied music throughout my life and quite seriously. I studied for over ten years at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and at a point in high school, I thought I might find myself applying to a conservatory of music in college. I toyed with a career in instrumental music, performance maybe, but ultimately writing was my path. 

Q: What inspired you to go into teaching writing? What exactly do you teach to the students at the Wexner Center? How do those students inspire you as a writer?

Dionne: I’ve always been interested in education, teaching. Due to my interest in writing, arts education [and] teaching writing felt like a natural progression in my career.

In my work I engage with students on opening up pathways to their writing through dynamic arts experiences in the galleries, on the screen (films and video), and on the stage. I work with students on how to find inspiration for writing in new and different ways, and on how to move through the writing process by engaging with the creative process. What can writers learn from other artists? I also work closely with teachers on how to integrate the arts in the teaching of the writing process. I find this work fulfilling, interesting, navigating our ideas and the writing process alongside sophisticated creative concepts and the creative experimentation, research, and process of contemporary art. I am learning alongside students and teachers I work with at the Wexner Center. We are all in this teaching and learning together.

Q: What advice would you give to people of all ages when it comes to stepping into the literary world? Is there a good stepping stone that you've found or ways someone can get involved in this world?

Dionne: I have no magical advice. I think as writers we continue to just put one foot in front of the other and engage opportunities as they come. I think writing every day, or at least consistently, is key. I think it helps to find a community of creatives or other writers, people who inspire you, hear you, support your process, and you can support their work. Ultimately once you’re writing, attending classes or workshops, revising, I say get out there and go to readings and other cool literary events to not only hear others’ work but to get your work out there as well.

Q: What is your favorite style of writing/what style do you lean to more?

Dionne: I suppose I like many different types and styles of writing, but I am particularly fond of poetry and creative nonfiction. I like writers that lean on life experiences and give an authentic and creative voice to the complexities of life. I'm trying to do that with my blog lifeandwrite.com. I want to make the everyday accessible. I tend to write poetry, lyrical prose, prose poetry. I like to experiment, blur genre a bit, but I dare not deny the poet in me.

Q: Where would you like to see the literary world go from here? Are there any dreams you have for our society as a whole in regards to writing and reading?

Dionne: That’s a huge question. I need to think about that for a while... I do hope that even as we evolve, develop, and experiment with all kinds of new technologies and interesting new ways to communicate, we remember to read (often), write (with intention), and wonder.

Q: You've done so much in your life, so what are your plans from here?

Dionne: You think? Maybe. Wow. Thank you. I feel like I’m just beginning, but no matter what is next in my life, I want to be sure I am fully present and engaged. I am so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had in my career. I really love this work, what I'm doing in the arts. I also enjoy my family, raising my three sons, they teach me so much: how to slow down, appreciate every breath, laugh, cry, reflect, and wonder. I write daily, in and around all the interestingness of life. Who knows what is next but I suppose I’m busy paying attention and in appreciation of now—oh and writing it all down of course.

The event will be held from 1-4 PM on Saturday, April 11 at Otterbein University Chapel, 88 Cochran Alley, Westerville, Ohio 43081. It is free and open to the public. 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Recap: OPA Ekphrastic Poetry Event at the Pendleton Art Center, Cincinnati

by Grace Curtis

  Terms like enchanting, engaging, and stimulating come to mind when thinking back on the final installment of the Ohio Poetry Association Ekphrastic 3-C poetry series that was held on Saturday, March 27 at the Pendleton Art Center (PAC) in Cincinnati and led by Cincinnati poet, Bucky Ignatius. The other two events took place at Columbus Museum of Art, January 18, 2014, led by Terry Hermsen and at Cleveland Museum of Art, October 11, 2014, led by Clarissa Jakobsons.

 Abandoned at Dungeness by Eileen McConkey

  The event at the Pendleton was unique in that rather than being held in a museum, it took place amid the studios of over 100 visual artists from the Cincinnati area who work and display their art there. In fact, the building itself, an abandoned shoe factory, issued forth its own creative energy with its original pine flooring, exposed ductwork, and cage elevators. Bucky gave attendees a brief history of the structure and the development that let to it being what it is today.

Four Figures by Ned Stern

  Many of the artists made a point to be on hand in their studios to talk with those who attended. Poets wandered throughout the six stories of studios finding works of art to which they were inspired to respond. It was like being a kid in a candy shop and having the candy makers on hand to tell you about the candy, or to simply tell you what it was like to be a candy maker. For over two hours twenty-five poets moved between studios, stopping to sit, contemplate, and write; or, to talk with artists.

 Artist Sue Cline working at her potter's wheel

  At 2:00 PM the poets convened on the third floor of the Pendleton to talk about their experiences and to share drafts of ekphrastic poems.

  "I write formal poetry, so it was a delight to visit Gail Morrison’s studio with traditional landscapes and still lifes that reminded me of those I viewed in museums in the Netherlands and prompted the beginnings of a sonnet," said poet Sharon Mooney. "I was drawn to her flowers and also her vineyards of Tuscany and am enjoying exploring her website."

Poet Robin Mullett shares the draft of a poem

Bucky Ignatius (left) and Chuck Salmons welcome the guests to the Pendleton Arts Center

Friday, March 27, 2015

Poetry Out Loud Statewide Finals



    This year’s statewide Poetry Out Loud poetry recitation competition produced another memorable set of performances that reaffirmed the value of this annual program.
    I was again fortunate to be asked to participate as one of five judges for this year’s competition. The day is a moving experience that offered the excitement of competition as well as a moving aesthetic experience.
    The annual Poetry Out Loud program, sponsored nationally by The Poetry Foundation and in Ohio with additional support from the Ohio Arts Council, is a showcase of both talent and poetry’s ability to explore human experience.
    Held in Columbus at the beautiful Lincoln Theater on March 7, the event brought together students and their high school coaches from throughout the state. Sarah Binau of Bexley High School edged out last year’s statewide winner, Lake Hilburn of Columbus Centennial, to take first place and advance to the national competition in Washington, DC, on April 28–29.
    Sarah placed fifth last year, and Lake went on to place second nationally in 2014.
    The judges work from a set of guidelines to assess each participant’s presentation, but evaluating any type of performance admittedly has subjective elements. Each judge may see a given performance slightly differently, including in such areas as presence and difficulty of the poem selected by the student from a list of classic and contemporary poems that is revised annually. That range of five viewpoints, along with additional evaluation of accuracy, assures a more balanced set of scores.
    Poetry Out Loud is not a performance competition. It is a recitation, and although limited dramatic gestures are allowed, overdoing the performance angle can be costly. This limitation forces participants to focus on the poem itself, to find a way to embody the voice of a poem’s speaker and the soul of its content, rather to rely on a more individualized or personal delivery.
    Listening to these impressive students, I heard and felt a number of familiar poems in ways I had not experienced them before. For that alone, aside from witnessing the culmination of what had been months of intense and careful work on the part of the competitors and their coaches, Poetry Out Loud offers a revelation and reminder that both readers and writers of poetry are channels—vessels, vehicles—for something more than ideas or feelings or opinions, that the attention that the writing and reading of (and yes, listening to) good poetry demands is in truth a path to some form of self-discovery, often surprising and never insignificant.
    I suggest that all OPA members consider attending the statewide competition next year, which is likely to be the first weekend in March. I guarantee a rewarding experience that will remind you how important it is for a reader/speaker to truly own a poem in the way that nothing but memorization can allow.
    For more information about Poetry Out Loud, visit www.poetryoutloud.org.

Steve Abbott
3/25/15

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Ohio Author Wins Prestigious Poetry Prize

ASHLAND, Ohio – Angie Estes, an Ashland University faculty member in the low residency Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program, has won the $100,000 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award for best book of poems published in the previous year.

“That is fantastic news for Angie and Ashland University,” said AU Interim Provost Dr. Douglas Fiore.  “This speaks not only to Angie Estes's work, but to the quality of our entire MFA program.”

Dr. Stephen Haven, director of AU’s MFA program, agreed. “This is a huge achievement for Angie – it is the biggest cash prize in the U.S. for a book of poems -- and a reflection of the type of writers we have hired for the MFA faculty here at Ashland University,” Haven said.

“Our faculty members in both poetry and nonfiction have won major national prizes, and we just hired equally talented and accomplished fiction writers for the faculty, one of whom Celeste Ng – just had her 2014 novel selected by Amazon editors as a Best Book of the Year, one of 20 books on that list,” Haven noted.

Estes, who won the award for her book Enchantée (Oberlin College Press), will receive her award at a ceremony to be held April 16 at Rose Hills Theatre in Smith Campus Center on the Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. 

“The unprecedented number of submissions this year represents a wide range of poetic voices and visions,” said Wendy Martin, director of the Tufts Poetry Awards and professor of American literature at CGU. “The competition was fierce, and the selection of the winning books was especially challenging. This gives us great confidence that contemporary American poetry is vital and thriving.”

The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, which is offered through the Claremont Graduate University, is among the world’s most generous and distinguished prizes for books of poetry. The award is given annually for a book by a poet who is past the very beginning but has not yet reached the pinnacle of his or her career. The Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, now in its 23rd year, was established at Claremont Graduate University by Kate Tufts to honor the memory of her husband, who held executive positions in the Los Angeles Shipyards and wrote poetry as his avocation.

Estes is the author of five books, most recently Enchantée (Oberlin College Press, 2013) and Tryst (Oberlin College Press, 2009), which was selected as one of two finalists for the 2010 Pulitizer Prize. Her previous book, Chez Nous, also from Oberlin, appeared in 2005. Her second book, Voice-Over (Oberlin College Press, 2002) won the 2001 FIELD Poetry Prize and also was awarded the 2001 Alice Fay di Castagnola Prize from the Poetry Society of America. Her first book, The Uses of Passion (1995), was the winner of the Peregrine Smith Poetry Prize.

The recipient of many awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize and the Cecil Hemley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, Estes has received fellowships, grants and residencies from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, the American Academy in Rome, the Lannan Foundation, the California Arts Council, the MacDowell Colony and the Ohio Arts Council.

[Taken from the
Ashland University press release]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Student Award Offers Online Submissions, Excellent Publishing Opportunity

Ohio college/university students and poets have an excellent opportunity to get a chapbook published through the National Federation of State Poetry Societies (NFSPS). Each year, as part of its slate of contests in the run up to the annual convention, the NFSPS includes a chapbook competition open to college poets. Two manuscripts are chosen as winners and receive publication, a cash prize, copies of the published work, a chance to read at the annual convention, and a stipend to attend the convention.

OPA encourages all Ohio poets who currently attend college as an undergraduate to submit their work. For more information and a bit of clarification, see the note from the NFSPS College/University Competition Chair, Shirley Blackwell, below. Or visit the competition web page at http://nfsps.com/college-university_competition.htm.


Dear State Presidents,

The 2015 annual NFSPS College/University Level Poetry Competition has a new twist, in that students will be able to submit their manuscripts either in electronic form through Submittable.com, the publishing industry's top submissions manager, or on paper, as they have in the past.

The contest opens on January 1, when the Submittable system will become available online and those sending hard copy manuscripts can mail their packages (postmarked no earlier than January 1). The electronic submission system will be in operation January 1 through February 14 only, and paper submissions must be postmarked during that same period.

Two award recipients will be announced by April 19, 2015. Winners receive $500 plus publication of their manuscript as a chapbook, which will be printed in time for the June 2015 NFSPS Convention. Each winner is also given 75 copies of the chapbook to sell at the Convention or elsewhere, or to give to friends and family. Recipients are invited to read from their work at the NFSPS Convention and offered a $300 stipend to offset travel expenses to that event.

Please help spread the word about this exceptional opportunity for undergraduate student poets. Encourage eligible friends or family to enter, and inform college or university teachers of creative writing about this program. We will rely heavily on word-of-mouth advertising until we can gauge the response to this new approach. We anticipate more entries with this new opportunity for electronic submission, so we are not advertising this year on the national stage. However, we want to make sure none of the states with NFSPS affiliates are left out, and you are our best ambassadors.

Anyone with questions about the competition is welcome to email me at sonneteer@earthlink.net.

Thank you all so much for promoting this worthy program and giving our up and coming poets the recognition and honor that will inspire their entire poetic careers.

Shirley Blackwell

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Sincerest Thanks to OPA Members and Volunteers

Last Sunday evening, I attended the Peripatetic Poets 3rd Annual “Giving in Gratitude” All Open-Mic event in Columbus. What a terrific evening filled with music and poetry. Held at the Global Gallery Café in Clintonville, the house was packed and hosts Susan Hendrickson and Paula Lambert led the celebration.

Music was performed by Paula’s family (husband Mike, son Christopher, and daughters Alexandra and Mikaela). Guests brought non-perishable food goods and personal hygiene items to be donated to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. The energy was so positive. (And I have to note that Global Gallery’s mulled spice hot apple cider is fantastic!)

Ultimately though, this evening was about giving—not just to the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, but to each other by sharing our poetry and music, our creativity, with one another. And in this season of giving, I think it’s most appropriate to begin by giving thanks.

In that vein, I want offer my sincerest thanks to those who have made OPA what it is today—a vibrant, growing organization that seeks to lift up and support Ohio poets. My appreciation extends to our officers, chairpersons, volunteers, and especially to our members: OPA continues to accomplish great things because of you. And finally to all Ohio poets and those who run the many coffee houses, open-mics, and reading series throughout the state: Thank you for sharing your time, energy, ideas, and your creativity.

As we head into the holiday season, my sincerest wishes to all of you for a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday with friends, family, and fellow poets.

Sincerely,
Chuck



Saturday, September 20, 2014

2014 Fall Retreat Recap

"Whether we like it or not, we all come from someplace. And at some point in our lives, we have to make peace with that place." This quote from Jeffrey Stepakoff (from The Orchard), one of several shared by workshop leader Diane Kendig last weekend, established the theme for the recent OPA Fall Writers Retreat at Malabar Farm.

And this year's fall retreat reinforced for me why these events are my favorite that OPA sponsors. There are few places in Ohio that will move you--and give you room to move--to write. And how fitting Diane chose to lead workshops focused on poems of place, inspire also by her latest book, The Places We Find Ourselves.

On day 1, the weekend challenged all in attendance to explore, through their poems, places they'd never written about--first by creating a list of those places and then approaching the poem with one of three focuses:
  1. Through meaningful description--making the place come alive.
  2. Exploring the significance of the place.
  3. Using the place as a setting for a poem.
After sharing the poems and discussion the night moved into social time with food, wine, a bonfire, and as always, good conversation.

A fourth approach to poems of place was discussed on day 2, where poets tackled a new place poem by combining or juxtaposing two places. The choice was ours whether to write about the same place from day 1 or to choose a new place.

But whether this place or that, every poem presented different challenges, forcing the poet often to reach deep into memory for those smallest of details that carry significance of place in our lives. 

For myself, two poems drafted warrant further exploration, fleshing out new details new description. But I think it's safe to say everyone found something to carry home--and to carry them home--wherever and whenever that home might be found.

--Chuck Salmons