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See through Poems: Ellicott City at 250

by Susan Thornton Hobby, Project consultant and editor

photo by David Hobby

Before Ellicott City was a hip tourist magnet, before the coffee shops and antique stores, even before the flour mills, the spot was just a funnel of granite and trees leading down to the river. For centuries, the Patapsco River, which the Algonquins named pota-psk-ut, was the source of all life – transport, food, and power. Two hundred and fifty years ago, three Quaker brothers bought 700 acres along the Patapsco River and founded a mill town.

To celebrate Ellicott City’s anniversary, HoCoPoLitSo has pulled together a collection of 25 poems that speak to the town’s history, commerce, and people. The poems will be on display in Main Street merchants’ windows from April through June in a project called See through Poems, and will be collected into a book. This project is a partnership between HoCoPoLitSo and EC250, the group founded to organize activities around the sesquicentennial (that’s the fancy name for a 250th anniversary).

Former Baltimore Sun reporter and longtime publisher of the Little Patuxent Review, Mike Clark, wrote the foreword to the collection of poems.

“Celebrating 250 years of Ellicott City history in poetry is a gift HoCoPoLitSo has bequeathed us,” Clark wrote. “Two dozen poets give voice to the history of Ellicott City in this unique literary venture by the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society. A walk down Main Street to the B&O trestle and station and beyond to the churning waters of the Patapsco River reveals poems posted on storefront windows that speak to life in the old mill town.”

The collection includes poems by or about Ellicott City residents, poems about trains and wheat, lines about history and ghosts.

Through the eyes of poets, history will be on display in merchants’ windows up and down Main Street from April 1 through June.

Then in June, we’ll host two events to celebrate the project. To open and close the celebration of the Patapsco Female Institute’s historical garden, HoCoPoLitSo will offer poems read by actors on Saturday, June 4, 11 a.m. And join us Sunday, June 12, starting at 3 p.m. at the Museum of Howard County in Ellicott City for a reading showcasing poems that speak to the town’s history, commerce, and people. County Council member Liz Walsh will open the reading with her poetic remarks about the town.

Local poets, community members, and special guests will read selections from the collection. A reception will follow the reading. 

For more information about the collection, visit these pages. Watch this space to register to attend the reading in June. And for more information about events in Ellicott City to celebrate the anniversary, visit www.ec250.com.

Poetry Slam Workshops with Lady Brion

black and white headshot of Lady B on a yellow background
Lady Brion

Starting in February, the Howard County Library System is producing a series of four Poetry Slam workshops with social justice poet Lady Brion. HoCoPoLitSo is a supporting partner of this event.

Brion uses her poetry—focused on the black struggle, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and religious themes—to merge the space between art and activism.

Each session will focus on social justice, celebration in the midst of oppression, history, and then on March 23, the library will host an open mic. Register for each session separately.

The Anthem – February 16. Participants will explore writing celebratory unapologetic anthems about themselves, especially in the midst of an oppressive society that rarely gives space for anyone to express their fullest and truest identity. REGISTER.

Picketed – March 9. Participants will discuss the history of social movements and the way that radical demonstrations and protests can lead to change. This context will be used to have students create their own picket signs and craft a poem from it.  REGISTER.

If these streets could talk – March 16. Participants will explore a social justice issue that is important to them by personifying a space, place, or object connected to their chosen social ill. REGISTER.

Open Mic – March 23. Participants will be encouraged to share poems created in one of the previous workshops or any other work that they have created. Host Lady Brion will feature sharing some of her social justice related works. REGISTER.

Lady Brion is an international spoken word artist, poetry coach, activist, organizer, and educator.  Brion uses her poetry—focused on the black struggle, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and religious themes—to merge the space between art and activism. She has performed across the world including London, Ghana, Zanzibar and many of the American states. Her educational career includes teaching creative writing at the middle and elementary school level, coaching poetry teams in more than 10 institutions for the Louder Than a Bomb poetry program and residencies in more than 15 K-12 institutions. Brion is a board member for Dew More Baltimore, an art-centered nonprofit using spoken word as a tool to foster community and civic engagement. 

Summer library program kicks off with transformation, poetry, and anime

Steven Leyva

HoCoPoLitSo and the Bauder Writer-in-Residence, poet Steven Leyva, will add a little lyricism to the Howard County Library System’s summer reading kickoff. 

On Wednesday, June 23, 1 to 2 p.m. Leyva, an award-winning poet and professor, will offer a writing workshop and pep talk, The Poetics of Anime and Transformation. 

Like the way Goku reinvents himself to save the day in Dragon Ball Z, or how Studio Ghibli turns out inventive, true-to-life but also bizarro anime? Learn how the techniques of anime – invention, creativity, and transformation—can ignite your writer’s imagination. 

Anime enthusiast (his children are named after Naruto characters, so he’s all-in) Leyva wants people to see poetry as an experience to be had, like watching anime, not a riddle to be solved. 

Besides his anime and manga fan status, Leyva is also an award-winning poet, an assistant professor at the University of Baltimore, and a former English teacher in Baltimore City public schools. His newest book, The Understudy’s Handbook, was chosen as the winner of the 2020 Jean Feldman Poetry Award by Washington Writers’ Publishing House.

Register in advance to receive the link to the virtual workshop. 

six questions with Patti Ross and Gwen Van Velsor

We asked our guest writers of the February Wilde Readings to tell us a little bit about their reading and writing favorites and habits. Get to know Patti Ross and Gwen Van Velsor here and join their reading on February 9th at 7:00 pm via Facebook!

Patti Ross

Patti Ross is a local spoken word artist and host of EC Poetry and Prose Open Mic in Ellicott City, MD. A graduate of The Duke Ellington School for the Arts and the American University. Patti began her writing career for Rural America Newspapers. A lifelong advocate for the poor and homeless often using the pseudonym “little pi” Patti writes poems about the racially marginalized and society’s traumatization of the human spirit. Her blog: https://littlepisuniverse.wordpress.com

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

PR: My ancestral mothers – both related and unrelated.

Where is your favorite place to write?

PR: In front of a window looking out at nature.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

PR: I always hand write in a journal my first thoughts and first drafts.

Who always gets a first read?

PR: My accountability partner and a couple of other best friends. I also share the second draft and sometimes the first with my poetry critique group.

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

PR: The Bible.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

PR: A young adult reading at the Strathmore titled Manual Cinema’s No Blue Memories: The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks for an exploration of DC’s grassroots poetry scene. Kim Roberts was the host and the poets were some of the best performance poets in the region. Marjan Naderi was/is fabulous. She is DC’s Youth Poet Laureate, holds five Grand Slam Champion titles: Library of Congress 2018 National Book Festival Poetry Slam Champion, two-time national Muslim Interscholastic Tournament Spoken Word Winner, 2018 NoVA Invitational Slam Champion, and the 2019 DC Youth Slam Finals Slam Champion. While being on the 2018 and 2019 DC Youth Slam Team, Marjan was featured in the Washington Post and NowThisHer. As the first Muslim American and Afghan woman to be announced as the Library of Congress’ National Book Festival Poetry Champion. I have heard her speak several times since then and her words still make me shiver. I love watching young adult poets perform. They share words with keen intention.

 

Gwen Van Velsor

Gwen Van Velsor writes creative nonfiction and holds a degree in Special Education from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She started Yellow Arrow Publishing in 2016, a project that supports writers who identify as women. Her major accomplishments include walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, raising a toddler, and being OK with life exactly as it is. She has published two memoirs, Follow That Arrow, in 2016 and Freedom Warrior, in 2020.

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

GVV: For better or worse, I have written the most about my ex-husband. We grew up together in a way, and there are infinite ways to write about and process those years.

Where is your favorite place to write?

GVV: I love to write in a cozy coffee shop that is buzzing with busy customers. It keeps me in a good balance between writing and daydreaming. I’m less likely to surf the internet aimlessly or bang my head on the table in editing distress when in public.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

GVV: I try not to engage in too many rituals since I end up getting distracted by them versus feeling supported. My most consistent ritual is to write everything by hand first, then type it up when I’m in the mood. I find the hand/head/heart connection keeps me honest on the page. Typing somehow takes me away from that.

Who always gets a first read?

GVV: My best friend Rachael! She is always enthusiastic about what I write, no matter what, which is what I need in a first read in order to keep going.

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

GVV: The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. It’s my go-to book when my writing is stagnant, it never gets old.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

GVV: I heard Rafael Alvarez give a reading in the basement of an art studio on a rainy night. It was a tiny crowd from Highlandtown (Alvarez’s “Holy Land”) and he was absolutely in his element. He was so passionate about his love for Baltimore, it was highly contagious.


Join Patti Ross and Gwen Van Velsor for an evening of reading and open mic on February 9th at 7 pm!

 

 

 

 

 

Suhani and Rebecca host Teen Open Mic on July 17th

HoCoPoLitSo is proud to support the Open Mic Teen Reading Series. The event’s organizers are Suhani Khosla and Rebecca Ledger, rising seniors at Atholton High School who share a passion for literature and poetry. They pursue this interest by organizing creative writing events at school.  With this open mic event, Suhani and Rebecca hope to bring together middle and high school students to share their literary talents with the community. A variety of pieces can be shared, ranging from short stories to poetry. The organizers hope that in light of current events, this event will provide a safe environment and an outlet for creative expression for young poets and writers.

The format is an Open Mic, and participants should RSVP by emailing khoslasuhani@gmail.com and rebecca14122002@yahoo.fr before July 17th. The first reading will take place on July 17th at 7pm.  Google Meet code: meet.google.com/btd-fokf-gqc.

Get to know our organizers, Suhani and Rebecca:

Why do you write? Or, what drives you or motivates you to write?
S: I write to express myself and explore a creative outlet.
R: I use writing as an escape from every day life. I find writing to be a sanctuary for me.
Who in your life gets to read the first of your writing?
S: People who usually first see my writing are my family members and friends, and also some people who are willing to look over and edit.
R: My cousin, who is also my best friend, reads the first of my writing.
Do you have any consistent writing rituals
S: When I prepare to write, I listen to music and start drafting at night. I look over what I wrote in the morning to finalize.
R: I usually write in my room late at night or when I have any down time. I usually listen to music or sometimes even audio recordings of poems to channel my creativity.
What is a book you’ve read more than twice?
S: I read 1984 by George Orwell three times. I really liked Orwell and Huxley’s work, or any dystopian novel.
R: I read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee twice. It’s one of my favorite books and to this day. I still sometimes flip back to my favorite passages.
What made you want to organize this event?
S: To bring  the community together during these rough times. Poetry can help with expressing concerns and opinions in a safe environment.
R: To give people the opportunity to express themselves through poetry, especially in these difficult times.

Wilde Readings Quick Six with Rissa Miller

Rissa Miller, author of Goodnight, Poet: Poems to Share at Bedtime

Occasionally, the writers who read at the Wilde Readings will answer our six burning questions about their craft and literary favorites. This month, Rissa Miller, who read at Wilde Readings on February 11th, answers our questions.  Ms. Miller is hosting a free poetry workshop at the Nest in Clarksville on February 12th at 7 pm.

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

I’d like to say something more honorable or romantic, but if poets seek truth, I must confess – it’s myself. All things I write, whether poetry, fiction, article, or essay have some part of me in them. Many people have influenced my writing. There are high school English teachers whose voices still echo in my mind as I write; a particularly tough professor will always be with me. She didn’t allow me to use the word “that.” Of course, my friends, family, husband, animal companions – each life that has held my heart, as well as enemies and those who hurt me, will always show up in my writing. They are the souls that formed my voice.r

Where is your favorite place to write?

Anywhere quiet. Home, work, libraries, coffee shops, laundromats. I’m not particular. I’ve written on napkins in cafes, walked out of meetings to write poems in the bathroom at jobs, and scrawled in ballpoint pen up my own arm at stoplights in the car.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Hot green tea. It’s more of a life ritual, I always have hot green tea, even when working out. But writing almost cannot happen without a mug besides me, gently filling the air with steam and subtle verdant aroma.

Who always gets a first read?

My husband, Nathaniel. Well, sometimes our dog, The Dude, hears me read aloud first. After them, my critique group, Ali, Melisa and Robin, see things in early stages.

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

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston; The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; in poetry, Residence on Earth by Pablo Neruda. Each one I’ve read several times; each I am confident I will read again.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Allen Ginsberg. Hearing the master himself read Kaddish, the epic poem about the life and death of his mother, literally gave me chills. At the time I was working as a journalist and had the incredible opportunity to interview him afterwards. Though I rarely get nervous and was never star struck around celebrities, Ginsberg made me break out in a cold sweat and stutter through me questions. Not just a famous personality, he was a true influence on the history poetry and writing, as well as a moment in American Society. It was such an honor.

Rissa Miller is hosting a free poetry workshop at the Nest in Clarksville, Maryland on February 12th at 7 pm. No experience required.

The next Wilde Readings is on March 10th at the Columbia Art Center and will feature authors Reuben Jackson & Edgar Silex.

Butter Beans and Poems: A Harvest Reading

There’s something primal about harvest, something deeper, more resonant than a pumpkin spice latte when the leaves start to fall.

Harvest is about food, of course, a storing away of all the energy and sunshine and hard work of summer for a slower, more contemplative time. Sure, there are pumpkins, but fall is also about the last tomatoes and corn, and the starchy parsnips and potatoes that last all winter long.

I think of poems and stories as a kind of harvest, storing up the ephemeral to be savored later.

The Between the Leaves Project is about linking writing with the food we grow and eat. HoCoPoLitSo and the Howard County Library have teamed up to put literature — about collard greens and zinnias and raspberries and butter beans — in the Enchanted Garden at the Miller Branch.

Signs, bearing excerpts from poems and novels that relate to the crops being grown, have been thrust into the garden plots, a lovely quarter-acre just outside the Ellicott City library branch. The vegetables and fruits grown in the garden by volunteers, from library teens to Master Gardeners, are harvested every week and donated to the Howard County Food Bank.

The signs offer a little taste of literature in the garden, but if you’d like a full serving, attend the harvest reading on Oct. 28. Authors, board members of HoCoPoLitSo, and staff and friends of the library will read poems that will leave us hungry. Hear works by Robert Frost, Lucille Clifton, Nikki Giovanni, Gary Snyder, Pablo Neruda, and other authors. Snacks will be served and books with the poems, as well as excerpts from novels and short stories, will be available for borrowing.

Join us at the drop-in reading 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 28, at the Miller Branch library in the garden under the twinkling lights, for an evening of poetry to savor.

Miller Branch Library Enchanted Garden

An Inconvenient Book Club – Start Reading!

Literature is practice for real life: E. B. White inducted me into the life and death of animals, Laura Ingalls Wilder taught me what to do if I was living through a long winter on the prairie, Jane Austen described the machinations leading to marriage, Margaret Atwood prepared me for being an adult woman in a harsh world. And when it comes to climate change, it’s going to take some practice to figure out our way in our swiftly evolving world.
Join the new discussion group sponsored by HoCoPoLitSo and Howard County Library, An Inconvenient Book Club. The first meeting is in April, so you’ve got a little time to read the first book. We’ll be reading speculative fiction, cli-fi (climate fiction), short stories and verse exploring themes of climate disruption, dystopia, recovery, and redemption. Discussions facilitated by Julie Dunlap, environmental author and educator, and Susan Thornton Hobby, writer and consultant for HoCoPoLitSo.
April 4, starting at 7 p.m., at the Miller Branch of the Howard County Library, we’ll talk about The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood. Registration is required.

Register online or by calling 410-313-1950.

————-

Susan Thornton Hobby
Recording secretary

 

Book Challenge: Jason Reynolds

Join forces with author, library and HoCoPoLitSo to offer a book of dreams for everyone

The inside cover of Jason Reynolds’s book For Every One says it all. We’re supposed to pass it on. The book’s dedication reads, “For You. For Me.”

His book is about dreams, and how hard one must work to achieve them. He wrote about trying to focus on his ambitions:

“So I went out and bought all the books on all the ways to make dreams come true, laying out the how-to, somehow spinning life into a fantastic formula for dummies and dream chasers, written by experts and dream catchers who swear that I can one plus one and right foot left foot my way into fulfillment, never taking into consideration all this mess I got strapped to my back and my head and my legs and my heart.”
  Reynolds wants everyone to hear about following dreams. So does HoCoPoLitSo. The Howard County Library and HoCoPoLitSo are joining forces to bring Reynolds to speak to the East Columbia Library Oct. 9. And we’d like to share this gift of a book. The library and HoCoPoLitSo are raising money to give out 100 copies of For Every One to students who attend his reading. Pupils from Lake Elkhorn, Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake, and Harper’s Choice middle schools will be bused to the reading, joining lots of Reynolds’ fans at the event. Register here for the event. Every dollar raised is matched one to one by funds from the Kathleen Glascock Challenge, a memorial fund named for an inspiring Clarksville Middle School media specialist who believed that books could change lives. She and Reynolds would have had a lot to talk about. It’s hard not to get goose bumps when Reynolds, who didn’t read a book cover to cover until he was nearly 18, talks about teenagers. “All I want kids to know is that I see them for who they are and not who everyone thinks they are,” he told the Washington Post last year. Reynolds, now a best-selling author with nine books, a Newbery Honor, and National Book Award finalist on his resume, says he wants to tell the stories that he wasn’t seeing on library and bookstore shelves – tales of black and brown teenagers handling tough issues. His goal is “putting that on the page with integrity and balance, to acknowledge the glory and the brokenness. That’s all I want to do. It’s a lot, but so are they.” Librarians around the county can’t keep his books on the shelves, and they’re thrilled that Reynolds is coming to read. Anne Reis, media specialist at Homewood Center, the alternative school in Howard County, was introducing Jason Reynolds to two classes of “very reluctant readers,” as she called them. They were disruptive, she remembers, until she started playing a “The Daily Show” clip of Trevor Noah’s talk with Reynolds, who emphasized the importance of hip-hop to his writing, and how young people are the antidote to hopelessness. “They heard the truth of his message and that he respects them and wants to write for them … . They were completely silent,” Reis said. “A pin could have dropped and you would have heard it. Jason Reynolds has an authenticity in his writing that speaks to the kids at my school. They are psyched to meet him in October!” Donate here: https://hclibrary.org/classes-events/glascock-challenge-seeks-to-inspire-reluctant-readers

Susan Thornton Hobby

Recording secretary, HoCoPoLitSo Board

Something Wonderful To Do on a Saturday Afternoon in Columbia, Maryland

Columbia, Maryland, is almost fifty. At forty years (young) itself, HoCoPoLitSo has watched what was once America’s New City grow up. Way back when, there seemed hardly a thing to do in a place that had only just magically appeared out of the vision of James Rouse and onto the landscape, a new type of community curiously growing out of the farmland of Howard County.

Today, Columbia boasts ever more things to do and the schedule can be oh so cluttered. Back in the day, that wasn’t so true, not true at all. That lack of things to do was the impetus behind a bunch of Columbia pioneers forming the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in order to bring their favorite writers to town to read to them and their friends. They wanted something to do. Something special to do. They made it happen and it has been happening every year since.

Dinaw Mengestu, Paris, 06/2007 © Mathieu ZazzoIt’s been a great forty years and the organization continues to “enlarge the audience for contemporary poetry and literature and celebrate culturally diverse literary heritages,” as its mission states.  The list of writers HoCoPoLitSo has brought to Columbia dazzles many from afar who — drop-jawed — wonder how a suburban town that didn’t exist all that long ago is a now a treasure on the literary landmark map and regarded around the world. At last count, the list of visitors includes 5 Nobel prize winners, 17 US Poets Laureate, 11 National Book Award winners, 22 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 7 Maryland Poets Laureate.

This weekend, another name will join the list: recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant, Ethiopian American novelist, and book club favorite Dinaw Mengestu.

On Saturday, Mr. Mengestu will read from his work as part of the Columbia Festival of the Arts’ “American Routes” program, a weekend festival of exploring the visual and performing arts. Mengestu’s route to America began when his family fled war-torn Ethiopia and immigrated to the United States when he was two years old. His novels and nonfiction pieces open a window into the little-explored world of the African diaspora in America. “This is not an immigrant story we already know quite well,” writes The Washington Post. He is expected to read from his latest novel, How To Read The Air, as well as a selection of his beloved The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears, set in Washington DC.

Please join us and become a part of the history of HoCoPoLitSo, the Columbia Festival of the Arts, and the wonderful, unique place that is Columbia, Maryland.

For tickets, event details, a video preview, and directions, visit this Columbia Festival of the Arts event webpage.

Presented in partnership with the Columbia Festival of the Arts, another of the wonderful reasons there are so many things to do in Columbia, Maryland, these days.
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