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meet the wilde readers of November: Jim Karantonis and Patrica VanAmburg

Join Wilde Readings on Election Night for November Wilde Readings — live and in person at the Columbia Art Center. Featured authors are Jim Karantonis and Patricia VanAmburg. Laura Shovan is your host. Please spread the word – bring your friends, family, and students. All are welcome. We encourage you to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center, or when you arrive. The number is 410-730-0075. Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

We asked Jim and Patricia our favorite six questions, and this is what they had to say.

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Jim: Me. I do. My older Brother Zack gave me permission to use his name rather than Jim in my novel. Zack sounds far more Greek than Jim. I’ve always needed and thrived (maybe escaped) with an audience, even as a child. Some things never change.

Patricia: In recent years, I think it has been my dad–though I also find myself writing about my granddaughters and other young women/children from the news.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Jim: On the deck during warm weather, especially afternoons. In the winter at the main library in Columbia and the library at Howard Community College. And then came Barnes and Noble at the mall.

Patricia: Just jotting ideas, I would probably sit in my favorite livingroom chair overlooking Wilde Lake. For serious composing, I would need the computer on my bedroom desk–between two windows. But I have to admit that I also write at stop lights when driving.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Jim: A cup of coffee. Some music, classical violins is my first choice, next soft jazz. Set up my pens and red markers, and open my notebook with notes, notes, and more notes. Peruse the notes on events and individuals in my life that had an impact, and even those I just remember for their quirkiness. Take more notes about  my past, and stories I’ve told on stage or to friends but haven’t put to paper. Anything to not get started with the difficult part . . . writing.

Patricia: No. I just know when a poem needs to get out. Probably the most formal preps I have ever experienced were the February poetry workshops.

Who always gets a first read?

Jim: My muse, Mary Lou Hobbs. She is my wife so she better be first.

Patricia: Usually, my critique partner, but, increasingly, I rely on my husband to give the non poet viewpoint.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Jim: Just finished for second time, A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter Miller. Published in 1959, and although I was just a teenager that was about the time I read it. (A post-apocalyptic novel that in those days we called science fiction.) I do save certain passages from novels of fiction that may capture my own feelings about self and society. I constantly check back with sections of history texts, biographies, and auto-biographies. Especially those related to civil rights and Martin Luther King, Jr., and those about soldiers and war.

Patricia: Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. I sometimes reread Tom Robbins and Louise Erdrich for the beauty of their imagery.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Jim: For poetry it was Billy Collins. The most honest presentation about his own writing, and his take on attempts by others. For a novel, I can’t recall any but probably because I’ve not attended many. The best interview where I was fortunate to be in the audience was one at the main Baltimore City Library. The excellent author, George Saunders, had the stage. He kept the audience engaged, serious and not so serious, and remarkably at the right times. 

Patricia: Probably a Leonard Cohen concert because he was one of my favorite poets. I also enjoyed workshops with Galway Kinnel and Sharon Olds at Omega. For a traditional reading, I would have to mention the mythology issue of Little Patuxent Review which I had the pleasure of guest editing.


About the authors:

James (Jim) Karantonis is a storyteller, a writer, and a retired civil rights worker. Jim was a medic and psychiatric specialist during the Vietnam War. He has shared his military experience on stage for Baltimore’s popular Stoop Storytelling series, and on public radio’s WYPR. Jim’s first short story “A Crazy 8’s Christmas” won the Spotlight Award from New York’s Slice Magazine. Numerous stories and poems appeared in The Muse, a literary publication of Howard Community College in Columbia, MD. The novel of Crazy 8’s: Soldiers Still was published in 2021. Jim’s working on a memoir of how this White, Greek “Hillbilly” from southern West Virginia was privileged to work closely with Coretta Scott King and the 1st National King Holiday.

Patricia VanAmburg retired Emerita from Howard Community College where she taught literature and creative writing. She also served several years on the editorial committee of Little Patuxent Review literary magazine. Her poetry chapbooks include Watching for Birds (2014) and Refugee Heart (2022).

Meet Wilde Readers: Desirée Magney and Neha Misra

The hosts of Wilde Readings – Laura Shovan, Linda Joy Burke, Faye McCray, and Ann Bracken – are happy to host the first reading of the 2022-2023 season with two authors, Desirée Magney and Neha Misra! The event is at 7 pm on Tuesday, September 13th on Zoom. Register for the Zoom event here: https://us02web.zoom.us/…/reg…/WN_dptdMYcaTKqZ16Kt4aIsqw

Click here for more information about the event and how you can participate! Now, meet Desirée and Neha with our favorite six questions for writers:

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Desirée: My mother is the person who shows up most often in my writings. I’m currently working on a book about her and my struggles to understand how her childhood trauma shaped the adult and parent she was. As I say in the book, “Her life was like a combination of the fairy tales in my childhood bedroom bookcase – part “Cinderella” with the evil stepmother, part “The Seven Princes” with the lost brothers, part “Little Red Riding Hood” with the wolf disguised. I wouldn’t have believed her childhood stories if I hadn’t heard them corroborated over-and-over again during visits in our living room with her three brothers.”

Neha: Grandmothers across time and space

Where is your favorite place to write?

Desirée: My favorite place to write is in the quietest room in my house. I like to work at my kitchen desk but because I have a dog and a retired husband at home, that is rarely the quietest room. Luckily, I have another room – sometimes referred to as a tree house, sometimes a Rapunzel tower. It was originally planned as a small rooftop deck but we enclosed it and it has beautiful views of the treetops in Rock Creek Park. The only reason I don’t use that room as my exclusive office is that it isn’t sufficiently heated and cooled.

Neha: Amidst tree elders

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Desirée: I need coffee and a clean desk.

Neha: It is a mix of music, nature meditation, and incense

Who always gets a first read?

Desirée: My first reader depends on whom I’ve written about. In stories I’ve written and published about my daughter, she’s always been my first reader. I want to know if she remembers things differently or remembers more details and I don’t want to invade her privacy. Plus, she’s an excellent writer and editor. In a story I wrote about my son – a fun piece about going to museums to see Van Gogh’s paintings – I gave him first dibs. But for stories about my mother, I usually have my husband or daughter read them first.

Neha: One of my personal council members – beautiful humans I love and trust the most!

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Desirée: I rarely reread a book. But over the years, I’ve read To Kill a Mockingbird a number of times. I’ve also reread one of my favorite memoirs, The Four Words for Home by Angie Chuang. LPR published one of her pieces in 2012 and that is how I got to know her as a writer. Lastly, I love rereading Anne Lamott’s, Some Instruction on Writing and Life. Her book is full of good advice and powerful sentences, some of which I’ve added to my list of favorite quotes.

Neha: Gitanjali (Song Offerings) by Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941)

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Desirée: I suppose my bias as the former publisher of Little Patuxent Review (LPR) comes through in this answer. I’ve loved every LPR reading. Prior to the pandemic, they were held twice a year on the second floor of Oliver’s Carriage House in Columbia, Maryland. The rustic wood beams and fireplace, gave the readings a comfy feel that blocked out everything but the stories shared within those four walls for those two hours. Since the pandemic, they’ve been held virtually and haven’t suffered from the online venue because the most impressive part of the readings have always been the writers and other artists who grace the podium and share their art with us.

Neha: The Sanctuaries D.C. closing ceremony reading to honor the journey of an incredible local arts collective

Desirée Magney, a memorist, poet, and attorney has published in bioStories, Bethesda Magazine, Delmarva Review, The Washington Post Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine, the Writer’s Center-Art Begins with a Story, Jellyfish Whispers, and the Best of Storm Cycle Anthology. She was a member of the board and publisher of Little Patuxent Review, has contributed to its blog, and served as a nonfiction submission reader. She has taught memoir writing at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

Neha Misra is a first generation immigrant poet, contemporary eco-folk visual artist, and an award winning climate justice advocate. Neha’s multi-disciplinary Earth stewardship centered creative studio uses the power of art to build bridges between our private, collective, and planetary healing. She is a 2022 Public Voices Fellow on the Climate Crisis – an initiative of the OpEd Project and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication to change who writes history. Learn more at: http://www.nehamisrastudio.com

HoCoPoLitSo Hosts a Book Release Party for E. Ethelbert Miller at Busboys & Poets

HoCoPoLitSo opens its literary season September 25th  at 7 p.m. with a special program to celebrate the release of a How I found Love Behind the Catcher’s Mask (City Point Press) by   E. Ethelbert Miller. The 2022 Lucille Clifton Reading Series will be held in the Clifton Room at Busboys and Poets, 6521 Mango Tree Road, Columbia, MD 21044. 

Columbia audiences have enthusiastically enjoyed local D.C. writer E. Ethelbert Miller’s work for years. Miller served as writer in residence to the Howard County schools in 1996-1997; hosted Joseph Ross for the Clifton Reading Series in 2020; and has been both the featured author and host on several of HoCoPoLitSo’s The Writing Life.

E. Ethelbert Miller is a writer and literary activist. He is the author of two memoirs and several books of poetry including The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller, a comprehensive collection that represents over 40 years of his work. Miller’s poetry has been translated into nearly a dozen languages. For 17 years he served as the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest poetry magazine published in the United States. Miller is a two-time Fulbright Senior Specialist Program Fellow to Israel. He holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Emory and Henry College and has taught at several universities. Miller is on the board of the Institute for Politics, Policy and History at UDC. Miller also hosts WPFW (89.3 FM) radio’s On the Margin, a weekly podcast. 

For events, the Lucille Clifton Room at Busboys and Poets has a capacity for 120 people, with table seating available for 70 on a first come, first seated basis. Additional seating is available at the bar, and there is plenty of standing room. Admission is free, though an RSVP is requested at https://eethelbertmiller.eventbrite.com/. Books, food and beverages will be available for purchase onsite. Table service features drinks, snacks, and access to the full restaurant menu. More information about Busboys and Poets and a menu is available at https://www.busboysandpoets.com/location/columbia/

Click here to RSVP.

HoCoPoLitSo, a private, nonprofit literary organization, receives funding from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency funded by the state of Maryland; Howard County Arts Council through a grant from Howard County government; Community Foundation of Howard County; Columbia Film Society and individual contributors. For more information, visit http://www.HoCoPoLitSo.org or https://www.facebook.com/HoCoPoLitSo.

meet Tracy Dimond and Melanie Henderson – June Wilde Readings guests

The hosts of Wilde Readings – Laura Shovan, Linda Joy Burke, Faye McCray, and Ann Bracken – are happy to host the final reading of the 2021-2022 season with two dynamite authors, Tracy Dimond and Melanie Henderson! The event is at 7 pm on Tuesday, June 14th at the Columbia Art Center and on Zoom. Register here for the Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/…/reg…/WN_vBEdi7IkSiKoSYzVb1XbTg

All are welcome to the Wilde Readings to hear Melanie and Tracy and to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center (410-730-0075), or when you arrive. Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

Now, meet Melanie and Tracy with our favorite six questions for writers!

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Melanie: My great great grandfather

Tracy: There isn’t one person, all my poems are haunted by things I’ve overheard.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Melanie: In bed on my laptop

Tracy: For the past few years, I’ve gone to Cacapon State Park. I love going to the cabins in the winter, outside of the busy season, and writing without Wi-Fi. I’ve also started running to Cacapon Mountain Overlook when I’m there—it’s a magical view of West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania that you experience after ascending almost 2,000 feet in 5 miles.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Melanie: No

Tracy: I am notoriously sporadic in my writing practice. If I’m running and going to the gym, that’s usually a sign my brain is spinning ideas. I need movement and I need observation. As long as I have an idea and my headphones, I can draft something.

Who always gets a first read?

Melanie: My longtime writing family, Truth Thomas

Tracy: I have good friends in my writing group, and I’ll often send them the pieces where my first question is “is this a diary entry or writing?” I feel safe giving them writing that still feels very raw. Honestly, I also thrive on an audience as first readers—I want to see how different lines land with an audience.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Melanie: American Journal by Robert Hayden

Tracy: I’ll stick to poetry—I have read Dorothea Lasky’s Black Life over and over. She will shift from hilarious to devastating within one poem. That book has been instrumental in my own writing for almost a decade.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Melanie: That’s a pretty tough question. However, I’d have to say I was most moved by a reading given by the illustrious poet, Reuben Jackson, at the American Poetry Museum when it was located on Good Hope Road in SE, DC about 15 years ago.

Tracy: This is such a difficult question—I’ve had the privilege and joy of attending so many incredible readings as an events organizer and community member! This question will probably always change for me, depending on my mood. Today, I’ll say the spirit of the Artichoke Haircut series really grabbed me when I first moved to Baltimore. Local and national writers would be paired, then the hosts would transition to an open mic. It was held at Dionysus in the Mt. Vernon neighborhood of Baltimore, and is one of the reasons I applied to the University of Baltimore (the series hosts went there).

Tracy Dimond is a 2016 Baker Artist Award finalist. She is the author of four chapbooks, most recently: TO TRACY LIKE / TO LIKE / LIKE from akinoga press. She holds her MFA in Creative Writing & Publishing Arts from the University of Baltimore. Find her online at poetsthatsweat.com.

Melanie Henderson was born, raised and lives in Washington, DC. Prior to earning an MFA in Creative Writing from Lesley University, she studied poetry at Howard University and the Voices Summer Writing Workshops (VONA). Her debut collection of poems, Elegies for New York Avenue, won the 2011 Main Street Rag Poetry Book Award. She is the Managing Editor of Tidal Basin Review and Poetry Editor for Cherry Castle Publishing.

See through Poems Reading Celebrates Old Ellicott City

Reading on June 12th at Museum of Howard County History, 3 p.m.

Celebrate Ellicott City’s 250th anniversary with a poetry stroll along Main Street from April 1 through June. Created by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo), the project features twenty-five poems displayed in the windows of Ellicott City stores. QR codes at the bottom of the posters, accessed through your camera phone, explain how the poetry connects to Ellicott City’s commerce, history, and landscape. (Click here to read more about the See through Poems project.)

Join us Sunday, June 12, starting at 3 p.m., at the Museum of Howard County History for a reading of the poems. Local poets, community members, and special guests will read selections from the collection, with a reception afterwards.

Register and let us know you will be there:

On Reading the Poems of Molly McCully Brown: I Hope You’re Uncomfortable

Sama Bellomo

by Sama Bellomo

For me, good poetry hurts. A successful poem reignites my anger because candlelight vigils don’t. 

For her poetry collection Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, Molly McCully Brown read, with tremendous empathy, through piles of misguided clinical notes and was compelled to relay to the current generation what horrific prescriptions and outcomes were thought of as successful containments or even rehabilitations. She turned those dehumanized clinical notes back into people, people who were forced, aggrieved, and lost to history. 

Usually, when being made aware of dark histories, it may seem that the right thing to do is to condemn past tortures that took place as a reality of our past and say a kind word about hard-won basic human rights that are fought for by unknown collectives of grassroots activists inspired by the late Dorothea Dix. But in the perfect medium of poetry, Brown says this is not a museum: her poetry says, this is present. Her poems have us looking back as if looking down the barrel of a gun, looking until we too empathize, until we understand that this could have been any of us, and that there is much left to be done.

With Susannah Nevison, Brown wrote In The Field Between Us, poems that read like a series of letters between two people living with disability in the contemporary world. They illuminate and explore dissociative trauma; difficulties in relating to the world, in connecting with others beyond the safe exchange they’ve created for one another. They include ruminations on being anywhere else than here; attitudes of self, and so many more deep, powerful feelings that enrich and sustain the human psyche, especially anyone enduring life with a disability. 

The book begins with aftermath and carries through to pre-op, beginning sort of in medias res, where details become apparent only in hindsight. The abstractions rise as the dialogue carries on, exchanging communications of experiences in an increasingly romantic tone as everything seems to fall apart.

People with disabilities, the providers who treat them, and the general public are the same in how upset we become when faced with human fragility. We see fragility first, then we become frantic and look for stability. People with disabilities are often accustomed to advocating in the opposite direction, beginning with the strengths that will keep a listener grounded. Brown and Nevinson commit to that order by running the chronology in reverse.

The poems employ plenty of concrete and metaphorical imagery to bring the reader closer, whether they can picture the situation or not. In the aftermath of a catastrophic medical event, numbness is described as “a quiet fire.” In an early poem, we hear of a “pain, as familiar as a fist I know,” reminding me of the certain interruptions to order when pain arises and must be reckoned while the rest of life waits, in purgatory. The next letter replies: “when we sleep, of course / we become unraveled: it’s only fair”. Of course we do. Parts of ourselves get lost, suspended, denied.

Brown’s work gives resounding voice to people whose voices and stories were otherwise lost, often in the guise of merciful and humane treatment. I hope you’re as uncomfortable as I am because it’s appropriate to be uncomfortable, to be moved towards just action and a better world for every body. 


Sama Bellomo has worked with agencies and individuals with disabilities as a patient navigator and advocate with Patient Providers (www.ptprov.com).  

Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded by Molly McCully Brown

In The Field Between Us by Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison

Six Questions with Faye McCray and Laura Shovan – April Wilde Readings

Happy National Poetry Month! The Wilde Readings team is excited to invite you to an in person event at the Columbia Arts Center on Tuesday, April 12, 2022 at 7 pm. For the first time, Wilde Readings will feature its wonderfully dedicated hosts Ann BrackenLinda Joy BurkeFaye McCray, and Laura Shovan. All are welcome! We encourage you to participate in the open mic. Please prepare no more than five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up in advance by calling the Columbia Arts Center (410-730-0075), or when you arrive. Light refreshments will be served. Books by both featured authors and open mic readers will be available for sale.

Read what Faye and Laura had to say about our Six Questions!

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Faye: A combination of people I grew up with in New York. I grew up in the southeast section of Queens and spent so much of my formative years on buses and subways and playing in the neighborhood. The voices, the dialect, the sights and smells are still so vivid to me. Whether I’m remembering the owners of the corner store, or my elderly neighbors foam rollers – someone always shows up in my fiction.

Laura: In my writing for adults, the person who shows up most often is my husband. We met when we were teenagers. I didn’t write about him, or us, for many years, but after we’d been married for about 25 years, the poems started to come — exploring what it means to be in a long marriage.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Faye: A quiet café, tucked away in the corner while sipping on something hot and nibbling on something sweet.

Laura: A sunny spot with two napping beagles. This winter, I tried poet Juan Felipe Herrera’s “Jabberwalking” method, taking a notebook with me on neighborhood walks, filling it with doodles and scraps of observations.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Faye: I usually need some time for reflection. A long walk, a slow meal – something that allows me to dream a bit before I write.

Laura: I have a large stack of index cards with quotes about writing and the creative life. When I’m working on a novel, I pull a bunch of the cards that feel like good advice for that particular story. Then I incorporate a “Quote of the Day,” into my draft. As I’m writing this, today’s quote is from the artist Modigliani: “It is your duty in life to save your dream.”

Who always gets a first read?

Faye: My spouse – he always gives me just the right combination of encouragement and critique.

Laura: It depends on the genre I’m writing. I don’t have a consistent reader for poetry, but I’m part of a critique group for children’s fiction.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Faye: The Color Purple

Laura: When it comes to rereads, I turn to fantasy. Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, I’ve read and listened to more times than I can count.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Faye: I saw Toni Morrison in Baltimore. I honestly can’t even remember what she read – I was just in awe of her presence. She filled the whole room.

Laura: I attended the first Dodge Poetry Festival when I was in high school. I had never been to an in-person poetry reading before. Galway Kinnell read first thing in the morning in a light-filled little church. Sonia Sanchez is the other poet I remember. She had so much style — her poetry, her performance, and her cape. I got myself a black cape and wore it all through senior year of high school.

About the authors:

Faye McCray is an author, playwright, and essayist whose work has been featured in the HuffPost, Parade Magazine, Little Patuxent Review, AARP Magazine, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, and other popular publications. She is the author of I am Loved!, Dani’s Belts, and Boyfriend. Faye is also a proud board member of the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. Find Faye at www.fayemccray.com, on Twitter and Facebook @fayewrites, and on IG @heyfayemccray.

Laura Shovan is an author, educator, and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. Her chapbook, Mountain, Log, Salt and Stone, won the Harriss Poetry Prize. Her work appears in journals and anthologies for children and adults. Laura’s award-winning children’s novels include The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, Takedown, and the Sydney Taylor Notable A Place at the Table, written with Saadia Faruqi. She teaches for Vermont College of Fine Arts’ Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program.

Poetry for Every Body with Molly McCully Brown

Molly McCully Brown Headlines HoCoPoLitSo’s Fourteenth Annual Blackbird Poetry Festival

Molly McCully Brown
Photo: Marco Giugliarelli 

Molly McCully Brown headlines the Blackbird Poetry Festival to be held in person on April 28, 2022, at Howard Community College (HCC). The festival is a day devoted to verse, with a student workshop, readings, and HCC Poetry Ambassadors. The afternoon Sunbird Reading features Brown, Hayes Davis, local authors, and Howard Community College faculty and students. This free daytime event starts at 2:30 p.m. in the Rouse Community Foundation Building room 400 (RCF 400). The Nightbird program, in the Horowitz Center’s Monteabaro Hall, begins at 7:30 p.m. Presented live, the evening features an introduction by Hayes Davis, a reading by Molly McCully Brown, and a reception and book signing.

Nightbird tickets, $15 (HCC students free), are available on-line at https://bit.ly/nightbird2022. If you need help with your order, the Horowitz Center Box Office (443.518.1500) has limited phone hours to answer your questions. Additional information can be found at https://hocopolitso.org/blackbird-poetry-festival/. At this time, masks are required for all guests on campus. Up-to-date requirements for campus visitors are available at: https://www.howardcc.edu/coronavirus

Brown’s newest book, Places I’ve Taken My Body (Persea Books, 2020), is an essay collection that Kirkus Reviews (April 1, 2020) described as “Heartfelt and wrenching, a significant addition to the literature of disability, explores living within and beyond the limits of your body.” Brown writes that she “came into the world blue and tiny and sparring for my place in it. Two pounds, with my fists up.” The only surviving premature identical twin, Brown was born with cerebral palsy. Brown is a poet and essayist who teaches at Old Dominion University, where she is an assistant professor of English and creative nonfiction, and a member of the MFA Core Faculty. In The Field Between Us (Persea Books, 2020), poems written in the form of letters between coauthors Molly McCully Brown and Susannah Nevison, consider disability and the possibility of belonging in the aftermath of lifelong medical intervention. Poet Ilya Kaminsky wrote “This is a beautiful, urgent book.” Brown is also the author of the poetry collection, The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded (Persea Books, 2017), which won the 2016 Lexi Rudnitsky First Book Prize and was named a New York Times Critics’ Top Book of 2017. Critic Dwight Garner called the book, “part history lesson, part séance, part ode to dread. It arrives as if clutching a spray of dead flowers.”

Hayes Davis
Photo: Brandon D. Johnson

Hayes Davis is the author of Let Our Eyes Linger (2012), poetry examining his life as son, grandson, father, husband, artist, and schoolteacher while exploring racial identity and the plight of black men. Poet Toi Derricote wrote that “Davis’ poems invite comparisons with Robert Hayden and Gwendolyn Brooks’ poems of 20th century family life.” He teaches at the English and serves as the assistant director of Institutional Equity, Access, and Belonging at Sandy Spring Friends School .

six questions with writer Meg Eden

Meg Eden

Writer Meg Eden joined the Wilde Readings open mic event via Zoom on March 8, 2022.

Meg is a writer and creative writing instructor. She received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Maryland College Park, and has taught at a range of places, including Anne Arundel Community College, Southern New Hampshire University online, University of Maryland College Park, Eckleburg Workshops, and The Writer’s Center in Bethesda since 2013. Meg is the author of five poetry chapbooks, the novel Post-High School Reality Quest (2017), the poetry collection Drowning in the Floating World (2020), and the forthcoming middle grade novel in verse Selah’s Guide to Normal (2023) with Scholastic.

HoCoPoLitSo: Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

ME: Oof, I’m not sure! Pieces of my parents and childhood friends definitely show up in my writing, but the most common I guess–for any writer really–is the self: my vulnerabilities, painful moments, things I wish I could do differently, etc.

HoCoPoLitSo: Where is your favorite place to write?

ME: This changes depending on the season. In winter I’ve really liked writing at home under my heated blanket, but in warmer months I love going to the trail or gym then writing in a Panera or Chick Fil A with a giant glass of tea.

HoCoPoLitSo: Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

ME: Some timed element of browsing or reading. I prefer writing when I have a reaction to something, a strong emotion I have to get out. But if I don’t have time for that, I always have soundtracks for my writing, so the first song conditions me to get into the world of the story.

HoCoPoLitSo: Who always gets a first read?

ME: This really depends. My critique group is usually the first emailed to see if anyone wants to read. But sometimes my husband gets an early read, other times friends that aren’t writers but have been with me a long time. It really depends on the project, how I feel about the project, and what I need. Sometimes I need positivity passes at first to gain confidence, while other times I feel confident and just need the feedback.

HoCoPoLitSo: What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

ME: I don’t tend to read books more than once, to be honest. I’m not sure I’ve ever read any more than twice besides the Bible–which I know is such a cop-out, Sunday school sounding answer but it’s true. It’s the most versatile book and always has something new to teach me. That said, I predict I’ll read Corey Ann Haydu’s One Jar of Magic (as well as her most recent Lawless Spaces) and Sarah Crossan’s Toffee more than twice in my life time. Now shows/movies are a different story. I have to annually watch Avatar the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra, as well as BBC’s Bleak House. I find that I learn a lot narratively from other storytelling devices than books sometimes.

HoCoPoLitSo: What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

ME: Probably an Inner Loop reading. I love Inner Loop (a local DC series) because you really feel the fellowship and community. I always meet new people and connect with old friends.

Join Wilde Readings Open Mic in April (National Poetry Month!) and meet other writers! You can keep up with Wilde Readings events here.

six questions with Mary Brandenburg and Hananah Zaheer

Mary Brandenburg (left) and Hananah Zaheer (right) for February Wilde Readings

Mary Brandenburg and Hananah Zaheer are the feature writers at February Wilde Readings, a monthly community open mic supported by HoCoPoLitSo. Join Mary and Hananah as well as other open mic readers for a free reading on Zoom (and Facebook Live) on Tuesday, February 8 at 7 p.m. Click HERE to register for the free event. Click here for more details about the event.

We asked Mary and Hananah our favorite six questions about their reading and writing, and here’s what they had to say.

Who is the person in your life (past or present) that shows up most often in your writing?

Mary: Honestly, I don’t have an answer for this question! I don’t tend to write about people, rather I focus on nature, my relationship to the numinous, the divine.

Hananah: A compilation mother, not mine exactly, but mother figures based on so many.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Mary: I don’t have a ‘favorite’ place to write, that is, a place where I settle down. I have a space in my home, my study, where most of my current poems are written. However, I have had the opportunity to spend several vacations on the coast of Maine, and that is always a place where I can write, once I have arrived, my mind has settled, and I have shaken of the echoes of ‘home’. That can take a few days!

Hananah: In bed, or wherever I can find complete isolation.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Mary: No, I really don’t! I find I have to sit quietly and empty myself so my muse(s) can find me. Yet sometimes lines will come to me while walking or driving, especially if I am alone and driving a long way and my mind is empty.

Hananah: Usually a combination of worry, coffee, social media, coffee, pep talk.

Who always gets a first read?

Mary: Sometimes it’s my husband, who sees the world very differently than I do! And often a close friend will listen to something I want to share.

Hananah: Mostly my friend writer K.K. Fox, but I have a couple of other writer friends who are my first readers, too. These days my younger son, Yezen, is honing his editing skills and likes to give me feedback on beginnings.

What is a book you’ve read more than twice (and would read again)?

Mary: I love Mark Nepo’s The Way Under the Way, Rilke’s Book of Hours, Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, as well as David Whyte’s House of Belonging.

Hananah: To name a few–Revenge-Yoko Ogawa; We, the animals–Justin Torres; Department of Speculation–Jenny Offil; I hold a wolf by the ears–Laura van den Berg; This is how you lose her–Juno Diaz; A house on Mango Street–Sandra Cisneros; A lesson Before Dying–Ernest Gaines

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Mary: I’ve not attended very many poetry readings. However, in early 2019 I visited a poet friend, whom I had never met face to face, who lives in Tallahassee, Florida. She took me to a local poetry reading and there I discovered how many, many forms a poem can take! Each reader was entirely different! Each poem was so unique! That gave me a sense of freedom and license – permission to just be me and have my own voice. And it’s ok!

Hananah: Grace Paley at the F. Scott Fitzgerald conference in 2005. I was new to teaching, a fresh MFA and she was all grace and magic.

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Mary Brandenburg began keeping a journal at age 13. She discovered that writing, whether in journal form or in poems, holds the power to heal. She has self-published two books of poetry: The Intelligence of Leaves and Limitless Belonging. In the early 1980’s Mary became a practitioner of acupuncture, for her the discovery of the intersection of spirituality and wellness. Her poems are a reflection of her time in the treatment room, as well as time spent roaming around the natural world, hanging out with animals, trees, moonlight…and each other. She lives with her husband, John, and their amazing miniature Australian Shepherd ‘Tooey’.

Hananah Zaheer is the author of Lovebirds (Bull City Press, 2021). Other work has appeared in Kenyon Review, Best Small Fictions 2021, Waxwing, AGNI, Smokelong, Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Alaska Quarterly Review (with a Notable Story mention in Best American Short Stories 2019) and Michigan Quarterly Review, where she won the Lawrence Foundation Prize for Fiction. She is a fiction editor for Los Angeles Review.

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