Blog Hop: The Next Big Thing

Thanks so much to Shannon Elizabeth Hardwick for tagging me in the Next Big Thing. Most of the poets tagged in this blog hop have discussed new books or works in progress. While I do have a brand new set of poems that I’m excited to be working on, I don’t think it will be a manuscript for another year or two. So for now I would love to talk about my Next Big Thing, which is not a book but a workshop. The interview questions are tailored for my specific project.

1. What is the title of your project?

My project is a brand new literary gathering that I’ve launched. It’s called The Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop. It will take place twice a month at my home in West Philadelphia, replete with homemade vegetarian food and a supportive environment for discussing poems.

2. Where did the idea for this project come from?

The Red Sofa is an actual red sofa. It was the first (and only, so far!) sofa my husband and I bought when we moved in together back in Brooklyn, where we originally met. We got the sofa at a Macy’s furniture outlet on Long Island (for a great price!). The sofa quickly became a favorite of friends and guests, who would sometimes languish for hours at our apartment in cushiony bliss.

3. Who and/or what inspired you to create this project?

After I graduated from the MFA program at Sarah Lawrence in 2007, I started hosting informal poetry workshops in my apartment (and at friends’ homes) with fellow alumni. The workshops always involved homemade food, wine, cheese, and crackers. But more importantly the workshops were a chance to share new poems in a safe and supportive environment with a trusted group of readers and friends. Loosely based on a traditional MFA workshop format, we offered both praise and critique, highlighting what was working in a poem and what could be tweaked/revised.

When I moved to Philadelphia, I quickly set up shop as a freelance editor. Most of my days include revising, commenting on, and querying the carefully chosen words of scientists, anthropologists, philosophers, musicologists, and even poets and memoirists. But I often miss those workshops in New York, and the idea for establishing a salon and poetry workshop here in Philadelphia began to evolve in the back of my mind. Finally, in 2013, I decided to take the plunge and make this vision a reality.

4. What’s your workshop philosophy/style?

My philosophy is that we learn best how to write by reading. That’s why I structured the workshop to include an hour of discussing published poems. We will look closely at poems we admire and discuss how the poet achieved what they did, and what lessons we can glean from these poems to use for our own writing practice. I will offer optional writing exercises that emerge from the poems we read, for poets who need a little spark to get their writing going. We’ll spend the second hour workshopping poems in a fairly traditional workshop style. My perspective as an editor both of academic and literary work is always to pay close attention. To me, paying close attention as a poet means having both razor sharp vision and a finely attuned ear for the musicality of language. We can train ourselves to look at poems this way, and I believe as poets we must always do so in order to hone our craft.

5. Why did you choose to offer this workshop at your home?

The red sofa in my living room is the physical and metaphorical focal point of the workshop. Physically, it’s quite comfortable. Metaphorically, I wanted to create a space that is safe and supportive for our work as poets. Sharing poems, especially fledgling drafts, is sometimes a scary and vulnerable act; but our poems deserve the attention and feedback that can come from a great workshop. I think having the workshop at home makes it a more welcoming environment for this important work that we do.

6. Why food and poetry?

Why not? I remember back at Barnard College as an undergrad I used to attend poetry readings in Sulzberger Parlor. The room itself is really fancy looking, with oil paintings on the wall and old furniture. And they always served wine, cheese, cookies, and fruit at those poetry readings. Aside from enjoying the free food in college (sometimes wine and cheese was my dinner!), it also created this strangely elevated ambiance. It felt special to be at the poetry reading, to be fed delicious food. There was this feeling of sustenance as I tasted the flaky crackers and strawberries. It felt like poetry could be an equal kind of sustenance as well.

I have picked the following writer to respond to this blog next week:

The awesome Elana Bell, whose debut book of poetry I can already tell you is amazing!



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