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Upcoming HoCoPoLitSo Events

  • See through Poems April 1, 2022 – June 30, 2022 Main Street, Main St, Ellicott City, MD, USA 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…
  • HoCoPoLitSo Staff Meeting June 3, 2022 at 11:00 am – 12:00 pm Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia, MD 21044, USA
  • HoCoPoLitSo Monthly Board Meeting June 11, 2022 at 10:00 am – 12:00 pm Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia, MD 21044, USA

On Reading: What’s In A Name?

There’s quite a stack of things that I have set aside ‘to read next’, whenever that comes along. More and more gets added to the stack and each book slowly waits its turn, probably too patiently. Every once in a while something comes along that moves right up to Next and becomes Now already. Never did I imagine a document on the naming of public spaces commissioned by our County Executive Dr. Calvin Ball to slip into the queue, much less become next and now as soon as I heard about it. It is an absolute must read, and a riveting page turner at that. I can’t look away, and I shouldn’t.

The document is the 262 page Public Spaces Commission Report, released on November 5, 2021. It lists out all public owned buildings in Howard County, Maryland, where I live, their names, and the relation of the person behind that name to any history of slave ownership and/or oppression. It documents participation in slavery, involvement in systemic racism, support for oppression, involvement in a supremacist agenda, violation of Howard County human rights laws, and even if the namesake includes racist and offensive terminology. It is pretty weighty; here is an example:

Wow. Page after page of analysis and detail like this, building after building. For a number of buildings, no direct relation to slavery was discovered, for many, though, there is a past to reconcile.

These buildings have an everyday presence in our lives: government administration buildings, schools, parks, libraries and such (the report put off addressing the 3,000+ street names in the county for another day). Building name elements are familiar and roll off our tongues like nothing matters: Warfield Building, Miller Branch, Atholton Park, River Hill, and so on. For many of us today, any association with history, benign or otherwise, is not really part of our everyday interaction. Places become more associated with what we do there, like attend a meeting, pay a ticket, check out a book, swing on a swing set. Knowing only so much, those that stop and think about it may take a moment and realize, “Oh, so that’s who the George Howard Building was named after, the first governor of the state from our county… interesting.” Up till now, that might have been the depth of curiosity, recognizing a bit of historic trivia.

Less trivial, and what this document lays out page after suffocating page, is a deeper understanding of our county’s past and its people of power or note now memorialized through building names: that they enslaved and profited so off of others. For locals who know these buildings and so casually say their names, it is jaw dropping. We Howard Countians must deepen our understanding of the past in our present, and begin a discussion about how to reconcile with it. This is a start.

This report really is vital knowledge. You can find and read or browse the Public Spaces Commission Report here. Seriously, take a look… you won’t be able to look away. Sincere thanks to this administration for commissioning it and bringing forward this part of Howard County history, and special thanks to the researchers behind the project (all are listed within the report). What a document you have made, what an important resource. As one would expect, the work does not stop here.

My Own Name. I have another reading project in the works, one that is going to come sooner after reading this report. I want to understand my own name, and its relationship to slavery. The Singletons originally came into this country in the 1700s and established a cotton plantation up river from Charleston, South Carolina. I hear they were also later successful in North Carolina. That they were successful means they relied on the work of slaves, the lives of slaves. I want to know more about that, to understand and document what is in the name I wear, the one that has been carried superficially into the present, a little too willfully unaware. As you know me, the project will start with reading, with books like Edward Ball’s Slaves in the Family, a model for the research, and Theodore Rosengarten’s Tombee, A Portrait of a Cotton Planter already in the queue, move through google search results of my own name, and eventually a trip south to visit places in person. It is a monumental task, but it will be a task that builds a more real monument to those that came before us and how they lived prior to our becoming. We owe it to them.

I usually end these with ‘Happy Reading’, but this is a different kind of reading.

Sincerely,

Tim Singleton
Board Co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo


Further reading for Howard County history buffs: History of Blacks in Howard County Maryland, Oral History, Schooling, and Contemporary Issues, by Alice Cornelison, Silas E. Craft, Sr., and Lille Price, published under the auspices of the Howard County Branch of the NAACP in 1986.

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.

REGISTER FOR WILDE READINGS HERE to hear more from Mary and Hananah!

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.

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. 

On Reading: Reading Through a Pandemic

You would think one might plow through books during a pandemic, making the most out of quarantine and isolation. Truth be told, that’s not what this reader found to be the case. I stalled. I plodded. Mostly, I couldn’t.

While I didn’t stop reading all together, I find I have read far less books than I might have in more normal years. Hardly a day goes by where I don’t consider that, wondering what it will take to get back up to a speed to take on all the beloved unreads on my bookshelves. There’s lots of learning to do and make useful.

The way I described it early on was that I had ‘lost my metaphysics’. I couldn’t, out of habit and reflex, rely on things the way I had before. I was in a mindfog. Others described ‘languishing‘. The reliable patterns of how life was lived and days were made was gone, and something of identity and well-being along with it. Forced into the very present moment, words seem to lose their heritage, meaning and purpose. They ceased to connect. The dependable way things were failed as normal gave way to the behavior change the lethal spread of Covid demanded (and, alas, still warrants).

The very moment of quarantine shutdown, I was writing an article about an artist whose work is often commissioned for public spaces, the cover story on Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann for an issue of Little Patuxent Review. I had just finished interviewing the artist, and had the piece settled in my head. It only wanting typing out. It should have been an easy thing to do as lockdown started and I would have some time, but I started to realize that I had to write a completely different piece than what was in my mind — how does one visit and view public art when one can’t, what does that say about art and experience, what of public art and place in particular? I began to realize that the underlying foundation to what I wanted to say no longer held sway. The piece became an altogether different consideration. I was stifled and it took me a while to ‘come to terms’ and write it.

Words have definitions that come from long development and understanding (agreed upon, or not). In a sense, they are The Past, and our reliance on the past in the way we now live. They connect us in this way. Along comes the pandemic and the every day way things used to be is no longer the way things are. For me that was particularly unsettling. Pushed into the present moment, the present room, disconnected from a reliable, collective understanding/participation, I lost a structure to the way things were. I lost my metaphysics, the way I understood the world.

I balked at reading. If you know me, you know that reading has a large part to do with who I am, how I become, how I give back. That sort of stopped at the pandemic’s beginning.

Wonder-fully, it was a book on gardening that started me up again. That first summer of the pandemic, when the numbers had settled, we took a road trip to an AirBnB on the side of a Fingerlake in New York, a way to get out of our own house and the dull rigor quarantine had imposed. We picked a place we were familiar with, knew enough about to know we could keep our pandemic-safe practices, and headed out. I packed a stack of books, of course, though I probably wondered why at the time. I wasn’t reading. One of those books was Katherine White’s Onward and Upward in the Garden.

Clifftop overlooking Seneca Lake, the rustic house we stayed in had a garden, and in that a metal table surrounded by chairs. It was there I cracked open this book. I fell into its pages, its way of seeing and saying. It is a marvel. A New Yorker editor writes reviews of seed catalogues in their heyday. How could that be interesting, and why is it three hundred some pages? Every season as the catalogues came to her, Ms. White would read and review the writing, which had a literary pedigree back then. Gardeners of the world delighted; readers of the New Yorker were charmed. It is charming, bewitching, settling, especially if you look up from its pages into a garden surrounding you as you read, realizing you are in the midst of a season and its beauty and being: things are doing what they are supposed to do. Count on them. The repeating cycles of Nature. Reassuring.

Reading through the book, the years of seed catalogues, the pattern of one season after another, I shifted into a kind of Taoist appreciation of what was going on in my moment. Life from one year to the next no matter what is going on, the cliched ‘going with the flow’. Life energy moving through time, maybe not unconcerned with its particular season, but carrying on and through it, doing what life does: being and becoming. Rising to the occasion. This really was reassuring. The dread at being in the beginning of a pandemic, illness and death sweeping through, a steeped uncertainty with everything on hold, abated, and I looked to the larger patterns of Nature, the persistent force that moves through time.

It was the right book at the right time, and it helped me settle back into words, into reading, and rely on patterns of understanding that we carry along even through strife. I look to books in a know-that-you-know-nothing kind of way, hoping to learn something about being, place, and existence. This book helped me regain a sense of possible again. Odd, but there you go.

While I won’t say I am reading again at pace, I am reading more each month. I am a few books into the year already. At the moment, I am in the midst of the appropriately named Begin Again (Eddie S. Glaude Jr., 2020), what James Baldwin has to tell us about our particular time (what a book it is! but that is a different post — hoping to find the words soon to write it, but it is sending me off to read more and all of the Baldwin, and it may be a awhile).

We are still in the midst of the pandemic’s waves — they do drag on, and enough already — but we do seem to be adapting to the situation, carrying on like gardens do and remind us to do, relying on that kind of structural knowing and persistence. What a privilege reading is. While it is a frustration not to be in a mind to read for me, it is also a bit selfish and a whine to go on about it — apologies for that. Know that I am grateful for your attention. Dear reader, what books have helped you settle through these unsettling years and why?

Happy reading,
Tim Singleton
Board Co-chair, HoCoPoLitSo


I’ll point out that Onward and Upward in the Garden deserves another kind of look, one less sentimental, the privilege of property and place offering a different, more critical regard. A post for another day. I talk of words and language as connective above, but Begin Again looks at how they do quite the opposite, as well. It is one of the reasons I put these two together here — there is so much more to reading than just the book you are in, than the perspective you bring to it, all things considered.

HoCoPoLitSo Celebrates its 44th Annual Irish Evening with Former & Future Guests

Here is the program for this evening’s Irish Evening.

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Featuring ‘visits’ from: Theo Dorgan, Vona Groarke, Mary Madec, Colum McCann, Mike McCormack, Alice McDermott, Paula Meehan and Colm Tóibín

HoCoPoLitSo’s 44th annual Irish Evening of Music and Poetry on Friday, February 11, 2022 at 7:30 p.m. features an amazing roster of Irish writers sharing their memories of past visits. Colm Tóibín, Alice McDermott, Colum McCann, Mike McCormack, Vona Groarke, Theo Dorgan and Paula Meehan will virtually grace our stage, along with music by O’Malley’s March and step dancers from the Teelin Irish Dance Company. General admission is $20 and available at the Howard Community Box Office, https://ci.ovationtix.com/32275/production/1095249 or by calling 443.518.1500.

The evening program, co-chaired by Anne Reis and Ed Young and hosted on Zoom this year, begins with a pre-show at 7:20 p.m. and will pay tribute to Irish evenings of the past and introduce poet Mary Madec. The evening includes an introduction by Daniel Mulhall, Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.S, music by O’Malley’s March fronted by former MD. Governor Martin O’Malley, and award-winning dancers from the Teelin Irish Dance Company.

Six writers to have previously visited HoCoPoLitSo will share tributes to departing Irish chairperson, Catherine McLoughlin Hayes, and the founder of Irish eve, Padraic Kennedy, and read from their award-winning works. Vona Groarke, who visited in 2019, is the author of ten books of poetry and winner of numerous awards. Colum McCann, who visited both 1999 and 2013, received both the National Book Award and the Dublin Literary Award. His most recent book, Apeirogon, was longlisted for the Booker Prize. Poet and playwright Paula Meehan also visited twice, in 2000 and 2014. Theo Dorgan, who visited in 2014, is a poet, writer, lecturer, translator, and documentary screenwriter. Alice McDermott, who visited in 2020, was nominated three times for the Pulitzer Prize and was a recipient of the National Book Award. Colm Tóibín visited in 1999 and again in 2011. A winner of the Dublin Literary Prize, Tóibín received the 2021 David Cohen Prize for Literature, a lifetime achievement award. Mike McCormack visited us in 2018 and his newest novel, Solar Bones, won the Dublin Literary Award. Newcomer Mary Madec’s third poetry collection is The Egret Lands with News From Other Parts (2019).

Click here to watch a brief video on how to purchase Irish Evening tickets online.

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six questions with Emily Rich and Leona Sevick

Emily Rich and Leona Sevick are the feature writers at January Wilde Readings, a monthly community open mic supported by HoCoPoLitSo. Join Emily and Leona as well as other open mic readers for a free reading on Zoom (and Facebook Live) on Tuesday, January 11 at 7 p.m. Click here to register for the free event. Click here for more details about the event.

We asked Emily and Leona 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?

Emily: My parents.

Leona: While I have written about all of my family members, I suppose my mother shows up most often in my work. She was a South Korean immigrant and a complex person, and I write about her challenges with language and with the small town American culture she raised my brother and me in. I’ve also written about her struggle with illness, though I seldom name her in those poems. My mother died suddenly in late summer, and I have had some difficulty writing since then. I am working through my grief, and I’m confident the writing will come again.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Emily: I think I’m sort of antsy when I write. I have a desk that I’ll sit at for awhile, then move to a comfy chair and use a lap desk. The most important thing is to have quiet. I’m not someone who can write in a coffee shop, for instance.

Leona: My busy kitchen—at a rustic wooden island on a backless stool that keeps me alert.

Who always gets the first read?

Emily: Ideally other writers whose opinions I trust. I was most productive when I met with a regular writing group, but that’s not been possible recently. Sharing critiques with writers on line (the Writers Center in Bethesda has several on-line groups) is a pretty good substitute.

Leona: I have a close friend who is a novelist, and he is an excellent first reader. He is highly attentive to language and helps me make my words more surprising, more active. He is also painfully honest in his observations.

Do you have any consistent re-writing rituals?

Emily: The best thing I can do to get in the mindset to write is to read. I write nonfiction, so I have several essay collections, as well as lit mag subscriptions that I turn to.

Leona: Before I write I like to read a poem or two that I admire. I generally identify them days before and then revisit them for inspiration.

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

Emily: William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury; Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

Leona: As a teacher, I’m always rereading works in preparation for classes. One book that I choose to teach again and again and enjoy rereading is Jhumpa Lahiri’s collection of stories, Unaccustomed Earth. Her ability to sensitively describe the lives of first generation immigrants and the struggles of their children is deeply moving to me.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Emily: Several years ago I attended the Tin House Writers Workshop where I got to listen to fabulous readings by the likes of Maggie Nelson, Cheryl Strayed, and Anthony Doerr. What struck me was the honest way each of these very accomplished authors talked about self doubt and about how difficult the writing process can be sometimes. Beyond that, I hosted a reading for the Bay to Ocean Journal, the lit mag I manage, just a month ago. I was thrilled to have a community of writers come together, share their words, and get to know each other. We’d all come out of a long period of quarantine (which it looks like we’ll be reentering, unfortunately), and the event was joyful and full of hope.

Leona: When I was at Bread Loaf years ago, I had the honor of hearing Philip Levine read. As someone who writes also about the working class, I found his words and reading style—filled with humility and good sense—inspiring.

About Our Guests:

Emily Rich is managing editor of the Bay to Ocean Journal, published by the Eastern Shore Writers Association. She has taught memoir writing at the Bethesda Writer’s Center and through the Lighthouse Guild at Salisbury University. Her work has been published in The Pinch, Cutbank, Hippocampus, Delmarva Review, and Little Patuxent Review, among others. She’s twice been listed as a notable in Best American Essays. She lives in Trappe, MD with her husband and three hyper Labradors.

Leona Sevick is the 2017 Press 53 Poetry Award Winner for her first full-length book of poems, Lion Brothers. Her recent work appears in Orion, Birmingham Poetry Review, Water~Stone Review, The Pinch, and Blackbird. Sevick was named a 2019 Walter E. Dakin Fellow for the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and she serves as advisory board member of the Furious Flower Black Poetry Center. She is professor of English at Bridgewater College in Virginia, where she teaches Asian American literature.

six questions with Kenneth Carroll and Marlena Chertock

Kenneth Carroll and Marlena Chertock are the feature writers at the December Wilde Readings, a monthly community open mic supported by HoCoPoLitSo. Join Kenneth and Marlena as well as other open mic readers for a free reading on Zoom (and Facebook Live) on Tuesday, December 14 at 7 p.m. Click here to register for the free event. Click here for more details about the event.

We asked Kenneth and Marlena 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?

Kenneth: My mother.

Marlena: I often write autobiographical poetry, so I guess I show up most in those pieces. My short stories focus on science fiction about climate change. I’m drawn to writing about astronauts, especially unlikely ones — the astronauts I’ve written about are disabled, mentally ill, young, or stuck on Earth due to too much space trash.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Kenneth: Any place where I’m supposed to doing something else.

Marlena: I tend to write on my computer because I have terrible handwriting and am a fast typist. But if I’m spending time outside on a nice day, I sometimes remember to bring a journal. Writing under trees is especially inspiring and calming.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Kenneth: Review my notes.

Marlena: Not really. I tend to write when the inspiration strikes, which is always at random times. Often when I should be sleeping.

Who always gets a first read?

Kenneth: The ancestors.

Marlena: I share pretty much every single poem and shitty first draft with my friend Codi, who was in the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House with me at the University of Maryland. It’s nice to stay in the habit of sharing writing, which can be so isolated. But I’ve been grateful to have found such a welcoming writing community in the Washington, D.C. area.

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

Kenneth: August Wilson, Two Trains Running

Marlena: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Kenneth: Lucille Clifton at St. Mary’s College.

Marlena: I was so lucky that Patricia Smith visited my class at the Jiménez-Porter Writers’ House when I was a junior. She was such a gracious visitor, taking all our questions and reading some of our baby poems. When she took the stage for her reading that night, her whole presence shifted. Her voice, her cadence, her power — it was palpable!

Kenneth Carroll is a native Washingtonian whose poetry has appeared in Icarus, In Search of Color Everywhere, Potomac Review, Worcester Review, Obsidian, Words & Images Journal, Indiana Review, American Poetry: The Next Generation, Beyond the Frontier, Gargoyle, Spirit & Flame, and Penguin Academics Anthology of African American Poetry. His book of poetry is entitled So What: for the White Dude Who Said This Ain’t Poetry, published by Grace Cavalieri. He is former director of DC WritersCorps and the African American Writers Guild and a former Pushcart nominee. He is married and the proud father of a daughter and two sons.

Marlena Chertock has two books of poetry, Crumb-sized: Poems (Unnamed Press) and On that one-way trip to Mars (Bottlecap Press). She uses her skeletal dysplasia as a bridge to scientific poetry. She is queer, disabled, and a 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee. Marlena serves as Co-Chair of OutWrite, Washington, D.C.’s annual LGBTQ literary festival, and on the Board of Split This Rock, a nonprofit that cultivates poetry that bears witness to injustice and provokes social change. Her poetry and prose has appeared in AWP’s The Writer’s Notebook, Breath & Shadow, The Deaf Poets Society, Lambda Literary Review, Little Patuxent Review, Noble/Gas Quarterly, Paper Darts, Paranoid Tree, Plants & Poetry, Washington Independent Review of Books, WMN Zine, Wordgathering, and more. Find her at marlenachertock.com and @mchertock.

Climate change is scary, and cli-fi short stories are here to help

Imagine 2200
https://grist.org/fix/series/imagine-2200-climate-fiction/

“Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming whether you like it or not.” — Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, age 18

Change is coming, both in the climate, and with luck, in human behavior. Reading about climate change is frightening, and sometimes shuts people down. But as many climate activists have explained, there is hope.

Environmental and animal activist Jane Goodall said it well: “I do have reasons for hope: our clever brains, the resilience of nature, the indomitable human spirit, and above all, the commitment of young people when they’re empowered to take action.”

But reading alarmist nonfiction doesn’t always reach the heart. Story, however, seems to sneak through our defenses and climb straight into our souls. Climate fiction, a genre of literature sometimes shortened to “cli-fi,” pioneered with J. G. Ballard’s novels of climate change (especially the 1962 classic The Drowned World) and Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune.

Since March 2019, HoCoPoLitSo and climate educator Julie Dunlap have led a climate fiction book club through the Howard County Library. Attenders are interested in literature that explores the facts and mysteries of Earth’s changing climate, and have read and discussed eight incredible novels over two years.

We’re mixing things up in January, and have chosen to read the award winners of a climate fiction short story contest sponsored by Grist Magazine’s Fix Solutions Lab. Organizers of the contest, Imagine 2200: Climate Fiction for Future Ancestors, urged writers to envision the next 180 years of equitable climate progress.

Sponsored by the National Resources Defense Council, the contest is “an uprising of imagination,” as Fix describes it. The winning stories, a collection of a dozen short pieces of fiction by authors including Black, Indigenous, disabled, and queer authors, conjure hope, anger, frustration, joy, and contemplation about the future of our planet in the impending climate crisis.

“Whether built on abundance or adaptation, reform or a new understanding of survival, these stories provide flickers of hope, even joy, and serve as a springboard for exploring how fiction can help create a better reality,” writes Tory Stephens, who works at Fix and spearheaded the contest.

Join us in reading a dozen of these stories and discussing them on Jan. 6, 7 to 8 p.m., at the Miller Branch Library. Register here. The stories, and a terrific glossary of cli-fi terms, including afrofuturism (looking at you Octavia Butler), solar punk and ecotopia, are available here.

blog post by Susan Thornton Hobby, HoCoPoLitSo recording secretary and a leader of the Inconvenient Book Club

Six Questions with Kristin Kowalski Ferragut and Lucinda Marshall

Kristin Kowalski Ferragut and Lucinda Marshall are the feature writers at the November Wilde Readings, a monthly community open mic supported by HoCoPoLitSo. Join Kristin and Lucinda as well as other open mic readers for a free reading at the Columbia Art Center (and virtual) on Tuesday, November 9th at 7 pm. See details about the event below.

We asked Kristin and Lucinda 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?

Kristin: Notably my children, my dad, me or previous me(s) from different days, men I love(d), and friends who have died show up often in my writing. It’s not usually what it seems at face value. For instance, I may be writing “you” in a poem exploring love or estrangement, but the “you” might be pieces of me and a composite of others real and maybe more fictional characteristics that represent wishes, fears, or possibilities.

Lucinda: I have a number of first person poems, so I think I would have to say that I am that person. My work covers a broad range of topics, and even when the poem isn’t personal, my point of view is reflected in virtually everything I write.

Where is your favorite place to write?

Kristin: I could stare out on nature maybe forever, at least longer than I’ve ever tried. It puts me in a meditative, often melancholy state from where I’m better able to access images. I write mostly in my Nook in my room looking out on our trees, squirrels, birds. I love getting away to look out other windows on woods and sky. Sometimes I write outside. When it’s cold I have a little portable writer’s fort I like to go out in, especially in the snow. (Here’s the story on that: https://www.kristinskiferragut.com/post/writing-fort)

Lucinda: Where I am. I don’t have a specific writing place. I’ve written in the shower, on planes, in doctors’ offices, standing in the checkout at the grocery store, under the covers with a flashlight. And I’m not picky about what I write on. I have a lot of blank notebooks that are never in the right place at the right time. One of the poems in my book, “Serenity Prayer For Singular Existence” was written on my forearm when I couldn’t find any paper.

Do you have any consistent pre-writing rituals?

Kristin: I prefer writing in the morning and usually jump in pretty quickly. I tend to grab coffee, sometimes tea, and seltzer water, light a candle, and start the writing/window staring. I do have a writing mix on Spotify, the songs are instrumental or in other languages, sometimes I play it. When I’m outside, well, there’s not much better than musing to the tune of a moving river or calling birds.

Lucinda: I don’t. The best way for me to get writing is to be in the middle of something else that has an imminent deadline or otherwise deters me from having writing time. Those are usually the times I am suddenly struck with inspiration.

Who always gets a first read?

Kristin: There’s no one person that consistently reads my work first. It’s kind of a lovely dream to imagine one. I belong to three writer’s groups  —  DiVerse workshop, La Mads, who used to meet out of La Madeleine’s in Bethesda, and Gaithersburg Writers. I do as little Zoom as possible so my attendance to these groups has been spotty for the past year and a half, but I trust them with new and fragile work. I have a few friends who will also sometimes read early work and offer feedback, for which I’m grateful.

Lucinda: There is no one specific person.

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

Kristin: I got the poetry collection “And Her Soul Out of Nothing” by Olena Kalytiak Davis around ’97/’98. Since, I’ve shared it with many people and often reread before sharing, wondering, is it really as good as I remembered? And always come back to Yes, it is. Another one I give away a lot, and thus revisit a lot is Sam Shepard’s short stories, “Cruising Paradise.”

Lucinda: There are so many, among them Kristin Kowalski Ferragut’s “Escape Velocity”, truly a stunning collection and I’m thrilled to be reading at Wilde with her.

What is the most memorable reading you have attended?

Kristin: I believe it was May 2019, the last live Gaithersburg Book Festival. Lucinda organized the poetry that year and it was awesome! I sat under a tent all day while incredible poets spoke before me — Grace Cavalieri, Reuben Jackson, Ethelbert Miller, Katherine Young, Rose Solari, Alan King… And while I listened my son drifted about the festival collecting hugs. Beautiful day!

Lucinda: Oh Goodness–all of them. I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a reading where there was not something memorable. When I was mentoring the Gaithersburg Teen Writing Club we held a few readings for parents and hearing the kids get up and read the work that we had been workshopping was really a thrill.

About November Wilde Reading

Register for our event at: WildeReadingsHoCo@gmail.com
You can sign up for the open Mic either by sending an email to: WildeReadingsHoCo@gmail.com

Registration for the in person event will be limited. All attendees must follow Columbia Art Center Covid protocols.
We encourage attendees to participate in the open mic. Please prepare up to five minutes of performance time/two poems. Sign up when you arrive.

About Our Guests Kristin and Lucinda

Kristin Kowalski Ferragut teaches, plays guitar, hikes, and supports her children in becoming who they are meant to be. She is author of the full-length poetry collection Escape Velocity (Kelsay Books, 2021) and the children’s book Becoming the Enchantress (Loving Healing Press, 2021). Her poetry has appeared in Beltway Quarterly, Nightingale and Sparrow, Bourgeon, Mojave He[Art] Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Fledgling Rag, and Little Patuxent Review among others. For more information see her website: https://www.kristinskiferragut.com/

Lucinda Marshall is the author of Inheritance Of Aging Self (Finishing Line Press, 2021). She lives in Gaithersburg, MD where she is the Founder of DiVerse Gaithersburg Poetry Reading, and helped create the Local Poets collection at Quince Orchard Library. Lucinda is also an accomplished mixed media and fabric artist.

We’re Cooking Up a Feast of Words

It’s a poetry potluck with Sandra Beasley, Steven Leyva, Alan King, and Naomi Ayala in a virtual poetry reading from their own kitchens!

HoCoPoLitSo opens its 47th literary on Friday, November 5 at 7 p.m. with a virtual Poetry Potluck. Join Sandra Beasley, Alan King, Steven Leyva and Naomi Ayala, each live from their own kitchen, as they read and discuss a feast of food-inspired poetry, and maybe even share a favorite recipe.

As the 2021 Lucille Clifton Reading Series event, Poetry Potluck celebrates the beloved Lucille Clifton, HoCoPoLitSo’s longtime artistic director and first writer-in-residence in the Howard County School System. With technical and artistic support by Howard Community College’s Arts Collective, this year’s program features four writers who have also served as HoCoPoLitSo’s literary ambassadors in the school system.

The program honors 30 years of providing a writer-in-residence to the Howard County public high schools. The evening will also honor Howard County teachers with FREE admission* and a special message from poet Taylor Mali, author of “What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World.” (See video clip below for a little teaser.)

Poetry Potluck – Verse in Good Taste
Friday, November 5th at 7 p.m.

An Online Reading live-streamed from kitchens of poets and former writers-in-residence Sandra Beasley, Steven Leyva, Alan King, and this year’s poet Naomi Ayala.

10 general admission*
Reservations required via HCC Box Office

Click here to make your reservation: https://ci.ovationtix.com/32275/production/1080760

*Howard County teachers with a valid @hcpss.org email can request a complimentary ticket by emailing BoxOffice@howardcc.edu

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