Thursday, April 23, 2015

Leesburg First Friday: Writing Across Cultures

By Linda Budzinski

 Photo: Peggy Hanson

When writing fiction, making stuff up sometimes is the easy part. It’s getting the facts right—the history, the geography, the climate, and the ambiance of the setting—that can be the real challenge. This is particularly true when writing across cultures.

At its April First Friday event, the Writer’s Center–Leesburg Committee hosted well-traveled mystery writer Peggy Hanson, who shared her experiences writing Deadline Istanbul, Deadline Yemen, and the forthcoming Deadline Indonesia.

Having lived abroad for years, Hanson brought to bear extensive personal experiences and knowledge of the cultures of those countries in her work. Still, she said, she relied on additional research to make sure she had her facts right.

Among her advice for writing across cultures: First, fall in love with the place you are writing about. Second, maps are your friends. Buy maps of the countries, study them, and refer to them often. And third, always keep in mind how the political activities and the historical background of the setting will affect your characters and your plot.

Coming Up in May

At the May First Friday event two young adult authors will share practical advice for “Orienting Your Reader.”

Valerie O. Patterson, author of The Other Side of Blue and Operation Oleander, will discuss how to bring setting to life for the reader, and Linda Budzinski, author of  The Funeral Singer and the forthcoming Em and Em, will explore how raising questions in the mind of the reader can serve as a guide through the story.

The Writer’s Center–Leesburg Committee offers events the first Friday of every month except for December, January, July, and August. Events are held at the Leesburg Town Hall, 25 W. Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

An Interview with D.M. Aderibigbe

By Emily Tuttle
As part of National Poetry Month, Poet Lore’s editorial assistant Emily Tuttle conducted an interview with poet D.M. Aderibigbe, whose poem “City Boy” (below) appears in the Spring/Summer issue of Poet Lore.

Aderibigbe is an emerging poet—born in Lagos, Nigeria in 1989—whose poems have been published in such journals as African American Review, Alaska Quarterly Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Notre Dame Review, and Stand. He is co-editor of the anthology More Than a Number: Poems and Prose for Baga, forthcoming from Unbound Content, and his manuscript received a special mention in the 2015 Sillerman First Book Prize for African Poets. Poet Lore is honored to present “City Boy”—and these words on his poetry and process.
ET: The personal tone of “City Boy” creates a tragic and entrancing world, and the poem’s narrative voice seems so grounded, so able to convey story that it might go on following this boy and his father for years. Is the narrative voice of “City Boy” a reoccurring one in your work?

DMA: “City Boy” is actually one of the very few poems I've written for my father. True, my family features prominently in my writing, and there are a lot of poems in my first manuscript that have my father in them, but he's always the villain given that my poems are deeply autobiographical, and I try to make them as accurate as my memory permits. As such, those poems aren't for him, but for my mother and sisters. So “City Boy” is a departure from the recurring themes of my poetry as it is a chronicle of how my father left his rustic hometown of Ile-Ogbo in Osun state to Lagos in search of a greener pasture, and how he struggled to survive with two kids—my sister and I—as a 20-something. The poem is a tribute to him. To go back to your question of the voice of “City Boy” being a recurrent one, it's a NO (at least for now). I don't know about the future, the voice might become a very pig-headed one that refuses to stop ringing in my head.

ET: “City Boy” compels overwhelming emotion with a spare word surface. Yet in other poems of yours, more verbose language drives the piece. How do you negotiate form and tone? Is the tone of a poem co-occurring with the original idea for it, or can a poem undergo several tonal shifts as you edit?

DMA: In my poems, you will observe that I seldom experiment with form as I feel the themes I currently explore are too serious for such. This is because I see the form of a poem as the foundation and pillars of the poem. For example, if the foundation and pillars of a house are well-built, such a house would withstand any amount of wind, but if they aren't well-built, the reverse would be the case. Such is the case in poetry. No matter how good the content of a poem is, you need an accompanying form to strike an impeccable balance. Take "City Boy" for example, I decided to break it into stanzas so as to ease the high tempo which the content of the poem has generated. I knew if I made it a strophe, the reader could get lost in their emotion and the poem would have finished before it reaches the end, but the chasms between stanzas would provide the transient respite required to get the poem to its end.

As for tonal shifts, I doubt if any of those occur in my creative process, and even if any shift occurs, that will be unconsciously, because unlike form, I don't write poems with any tonal motive; the tones are their own gods—creating themselves. Perhaps this is because I want my poetry to be more factual than fictional. I should state, however, that the tone of a poem determines the form for me, hence, instead of the tone to change, the form changes.

ET: Where do you typically find your inspiration? Who are your first readers—family, friends, other poets?

DMA: You know it always sounds strange to me when I hear writers say they have a particular spot for writing. As for me, I write anywhere—be it in the toilet, be it in the classroom, or even in the restaurant. I actually do think a more important question about inspiration should be the source of my inspiration. Which, as a spiritual being, I have found to be God, and as a physical being, I have found to be my desire to keep the dead in my life alive. The desire to keep in touch with my past and to reflect the lives of the quotidian people often neglected in poetry, such as the hairdressers, the taxi drivers, fish mongers and so on, because it was from these people my story began.

About my first readers, until recently I was an isolated tree in a large forest. So I used to write alone, edit alone, without anyone to show anything to. Well, it hasn't changed much, though, as I still keep about 80 to 90 percent of my poems to myself while the remaining 20 to 10 percent I send to some friends over the internet. So, technically, I'm pretty alone in this journey, and I'm not whining about my marriage to my loneliness.

ET: We were grateful to have your poems reach us—how did you find out about Poet Lore?

DMA: This question is funny to me. I feel everybody in the poetry world knows Poet Lore. It is the oldest [continuously published] poetry journal in the English-speaking world if I'm not wrong and one of the biggest journals out there. So naturally, I stumbled upon Poet Lore around 2012, a few months [after] I began writing seriously, after seeing it (Poet Lore) in Natasha Trethewey's bio. But I couldn't send poems for one reason: I felt my little poems were not up to Poet Lore's standard and any other big journal's, so I didn't bother until recently when I decided to give it a trial. Honestly, being in Poet Lore feels really, really great. Thanks for having my poetry.

ET: You’ve published widely and in journals around the world. How does publication change your relationship to a poem or how does it help place you in conversation with other poets?

DMA: Really, I try as much as possible not to make the success I’ve had in publishing affect my relationship with my poetry. In anything I do, I stay in constant with my mother's favorite maxim "when you walk even if you have the safest pair of shoes, walk like you have no shoes on and that way, you will never fall." So whenever I take my seat to write, I prepare my mind for a private conversation with the poem, devoid of external interference such as the thought of publishing or achievements.

On another note, if I were to be honest with you, I've become a better poet because of the publications I've had. For one, it increased my friendship base, bringing me in contact with many amazing poets and people. We became friends and I started learning the technicalities of poetry through these poets who introduced me to the works of great poets I never would have known at that particular time. We also share ideas which help to sharpen my writing further. Similarly, I became friends with a number of editors of  journals I published with, from these editors I received (I still do) moral support and encouragement, which an emerging poet like me really needs. I’ll use this medium to say a big thank you to all of you. God bless you all.

By D.M. Aderibigbe
My father tagged onto the back
Of a bus from his village
Into prosperity—a pregnant sack
Hanging to his back like a camel's hump.
The laces of his only footwear
Never loosened, my father searched
Through job vacancy signboards in Lagos.
The boy outgrew his past—my mother
Would tell his story, days our plates
Were untouched: if the belly
Goes empty, should the brain follow?
On nights we filled our stomachs,
We waited for my father, his shirts
Soaked with the day's stress. Sitting
In his armchair, my sister on his left
Leg, I on his right—aware, those legs
Would continue walking
When the sun rose again.
 To subscribe or submit to Poet Lore, visit

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Painted Word: Foundry Gallery Artists Collaborate With Metropolitan Washington Poets

April 1-26, 2015
Reception: Friday, April 10,  6-8 p.m.

Several poets associated with The Writer's Center are participating in an exciting new project.The Painted Word is an exhibit of Foundry Gallery artists paired with local poets in whose work they heard an echo—or felt a sting—to produce images and texts that vibrate with each other. 

The painting and poem each act as a lens through which the other is intensified and gains depth of meaning to illuminate the structure of metaphor itself.

Recalling the tradition of the New York School, in which painters and poets like Joan Mitchell and James Schuyler, or Norman Bluhm and Frank O'Hara, collaborated to express a resonant sensibility, these new works will be shown together at the Foundry during April, National Poetry Month.

Poets participating in the exhibition include Anne Becker, Sally Bensusen, Ann Bracken, Nancy Naomi Carlson, Lisa Couturier, JoAnne Crowley, Anne Dykers, Nan Fry, Mary Beth Haten, Mackenzie Jacks, Merrill Leffler, Joel E. Minton, Yvette Neisser Moreno, Jean Nordhaus, Jennifer Pesek, Ann Slayton, Mary Tercheck, and Emily Willard.

Artists include Fran Abrams, Amy Barker-Wilson, Jill Bateman, Jorge Luis Bernal, Katherine Blakeslee, Patsy Fleming, Gordana Gerskovic, Allen Hirsh, Heather Jacks, Donna K. McGee, Sarna Marcus, Kenneth W. Minton, Michele D. Morgan, Charlene Nield, Gregory O'Hanlon, Natacha Thys, Alex Tolstoy, and Kathryn Wiley.

The gallery will host a poetry reading on Saturday, April 25, 2-4 p.m.

Below are examples of what is on view.


Alex Tolstoy - Breaking Over the Fields - 17x22 - watercolor

Parents of the Corn

A Midwest sky of uncertain reward scores a sharp line
   between two moods: One, the black eye of 
bruised clouds from the night before,
tired, finally, of ranting
The other, a giddy brightness beneath, a naive promise of hopeful weather.

I can't choose which I favor less
from two parents with doubtful intent.  One gives what's needed, but
with a backhand of wind.
The other just stands by to watch, passive drought of withholding.

We always keep a sharp eye
on the door of day around here,
never knowing who will come through the opening and closing
   of twilight, always hoping this time
it will be better,
watching the crops grow.

                                               —Sally Bensusen

Patsy Fleming - Letter Home - 36x36 - acrylic on canvas

Painter's Complaint and Resolution

I was working alongside a train
trestle in the roughest part of town.
First there were the pigeons dropping down
from the scaffold, then the seagulls and rain.

But the kids, the kids were wild.  Some were mean.
They would tear around and wrestle for show,
then over the paints would go!
From the platform over my head they would lean

out and drop 
Pepsi cans down on me, or Coke.
It was awful, no joke.
One day a great wind gusted up

and blew my painting into the dirt.  You can laugh!
Then, just like a cartoon, a dog
trotted by and peed on it.  God!
After that, I started working from photographs.

                                                         —Ann Slayton 

The Foundry Gallery is located at 1314 18th Street, NW 1st Floor, Washington, D.C., near Dupont Circle. For more information, visit

Monday, March 30, 2015

Going Back to Where it All Began

By Kristin Battista-Frazee

It’s always good to reflect back to the beginning. It gives you a chance to see how far you have come and gives clarity for future plans. On Sunday, March 22 I presented at The Writer’s Center and it was wonderful to recall the start of my writing career.

I first came to The Writer’s Center in 2006, and I didn’t have grand plans to be become a famous writer (although it would be nice) I just wanted to become a better writer for work. I enrolled in a business writing course where I met Rick Walter, teacher extraordinaire and perpetual optimist. Rick was the catalyst for me embarking on this crazy endeavor to get published. He took a genuine interest in my efforts to improve my writing and even after the workshop ended, we would meet to review my work. Most importantly Rick believed in my writing potential. 

In one of those meetings I was brave enough to share the first 17 pages of what would be become my memoir The Pornographer’s Daughter.  I knew I had an usual story; my father was prosecuted by the federal government for distributing the adult film Deep Throat in the 1970s. The impact on my family was profound and shaped who I am today.  To tell the honest truth, those pages I provided to Rick were not very good, maybe even awful. But Rick recognized an opportunity and said the almost magically words, “I think this is sellable.” This changed everything. 

After my meeting with Rick, I had the unshakeable desire to get published. It seemed a daunting task, but if Rick thought my story was worthy to print, maybe someone else would too. I had to try. So for the next eight years I juggled a full-time job and family life; I made my plans and wrote as much as possible to improve my skills. A had two-fold strategy. First, I had to become a good writer and secondly, and of growing importance today, I had to develop a platform to grab the attention of an agent and ultimately a publisher.  Here some things I learned along the way. 

  • Learn the difference between constructive criticism and bad advice.  You’re the one most dedicated to your story, having spent an exorbitant amount of time with your characters and researching your topic. Don’t ignore that nagging voice in the back of your mind if suggested changes or criticism just doesn’t feel right. Also don’t make changes just to force a fit with an agent or publishing house. In the end it will produce a bad result.
  • Have an unfailing optimism that you will be published despite the difficulty.  If you don’t believe you will be published, no one else will either. Shut out the negative noise about hard and unlikely the success of seeing your book in print, it’s worthless to dwell on it.
  • Surround yourself with people who believe in your story and in you as a writer.  Without my writing group, my family and good friends, my book might not have been accomplished.
  • Practice writing as much as you can.  Freelance articles, blog, journal, long Facebook posts, etc.  This work helps hone your platform and thoughts about your book.
  • Find other writers to collaborate with and review your work.  I found other like-minded writers at The Writer’s Center, and their support was key to getting published.
  • Create your marketing platform and write a great book at the same time. You’ll need both for a chance to sell your book and have a publisher take you seriously.
No doubt it was a rocky road to seeing my book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble. I lost an agent, gained a new agent, and suffered more rejections from publishers then I care to remember. But there were bright spots, too, like writing for The Daily Beast and having my story optioned to sell as television series, and finally a book deal with Skyhorse Publishing. My memoir was published in September 2014. What can I say, it has been a wild ride. It was great to come full circle and back to The Writer’s Center where it all began. 

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