Sunday, May 31, 2015



THURSDAYS, JUNE 18 to August 20
10:00 am to 12:00 pm 
Thayer Memorial Library

Interested in meeting other local writers? Want to get those creative juices flowing? Join us for some prompt-based writing and positve feedback on Thursday mornings, June through August, from 10:00 am to 12:00 pm.  No sign-ups required. Simply come the dates you can.  

            Note:  Sessions will begin promptly at 10:00, so please arrive on time!

The Writer's Mission Statement

Frequently, writers who join my writing group ask, “How do I make my writing a priority?”  These are mothers with young children, or men with 40-hour work weeks, or individuals faced with any number of urgent demands. Whenever I hear other writers respond to this question, the advice is usually to create a personal writing space, to pre-plan daily time for writing, and, most of all, to stick to the plan.

The response, however, begs the question:  What exactly is it that enables us to make our writing a priority? How do we create that writing space, schedule writing onto our daily calendars, and then actually write? The simple fact is that writing requires motivation, which differs for every writer. Some writers want to be published. Others want to share a particular story, one that only they can write. Many enjoy the creative process. But making writing a priority means knowing your reasons for writing. And for that, a personal mission statement can help.

Mission statements are used by businesses to express a company’s values and goals.  Individual mission statements reflect personal aspirations and principles, and a writer’s statement spells out specific writing ambitions and ethics. The process involves thinking about one’s writing – what one hopes to achieve, about past and future work, about our motivations as writers, and about the kinds of writing and writers we admire– and then writing down anything and everything that comes to mind.

What is brainstormed on paper becomes the basis for your mission statement.  Is there a thread tying together all your work?  Is one particular writing ambition tugging at your heart and mind?  What patterns do you see in your interests and approaches?  Take what stands out and use it to write a statement about your goals and ambitions.  Maybe you have a specific deadline.  Maybe you’re striving for consistency, or to improve your craft.

Whatever you discover, will help you clarify your motivations and your mission as a writer. ‘How do you make writing a priority?” The answer is, “You will make the how happen when you know why.”

Paula Castner is a mother of three and a co-founder of Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative as well as a freelance writer, writing and baking workshop facilitator, and drama director. She receives emails at



Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Stay Seated

"Sticking to it" is not one of the easiest tasks for writers. We are definitely a breed of procrastinators, errand-doers and volunteers, aren't we? Anything to avoid sitting down and
writing. Most of the writers I know—even the very successful ones—struggle to allocate writing time. Writers on tour, when not reading at a bookstore, are ensconced in hotel rooms, writing under pressure from publishers (I want their problems).

I did my best writing when I was passionately attached to a project, and when I had scheduled time to work on it. Midnight to 2 or 3 a.m., and no, I'm not kidding. I would prefer to work mornings—undisturbed. Unfortunately, the world does not respect working time for writers and we allow that to happen. So first comes self-respect, in the sense of protecting our writing time from the world's advances. Saying no isn't easy, but it has to become part of our vocabulary. No, I can't babysit. No, I can't stay home all afternoon waiting for the repairman. No, I can't bake for your sale. No, I can't walk your dog three times today. No, his diapers can wait. (Just kidding!) No, just no. Pick your battles—some things are just impossible to turn down (like the diapers)—but do pick them. Some hours have to be your own. Mystery writer Kate Flora started out as a stay-at-home mom, stealing time during their naps. The kids are grown now, but she's still writing.

I'm retired, and frankly, I found more writing time while I was working; I would come home late at night from a copy desk shift and start writing to unwind, while others slept. Before I knew it, it was 3:30 and I was getting tired. Unfortunately, the parade starts early the next day. The house comes alive with telemarketing calls, lawn mowers, barking dogs, renovators, septic tank drillers, screaming kids, new Facebook posts.

Quite often, these are the ways I find to keep at it:

1. Leave the house. Just pack up what you need and head for a coffee house, library nook or a friend's empty house (if offered) to remove yourself from both interruption and temptation. If you have kids, arrange for play dates, sitters, long naps (you can hope, at least), more don't-disturb-mommy time. 

2. Feeling brain dead? Thumb through any of the better books on writing; this often stimulates creative energy and new ideas.Some of my favorites: N.M. Kelby's "The Constant Art of Being a Writer;" Brown & King's "Self-Editing for Fiction Writers;" Noah Lukeman's "The Plot Thickens;" Josip Novakovich, "Writing Fiction Step by Step;" Jeff Gerke's "The First 50 Pages" and "Plot versus Character;" Sara Maitland's "The Writer's Way;" Elizabeth George on "Write Away." There are dozens of wonderful books by writers, books by editors, books to inspire or teach technique. The main value of all these is to stir the creative area of your brain. I find an almost immediate urge to write.

3. Read short stories. Collect a few volumes of short stories—best to look for authors who interest you—and study them. Really study them. Look at their story set-up, character intros and dialogue, resolution. Learn how it's done, then give it a whirl. Yes, you can try this at home. Short recommendation list: Jhumpa Lahiri, George Saunders, Hemingway and Faulkner, Annie Proulx, T.C. Boyle, Ray Bradbury, Ray Carver, Edwidge Danticat, Flannery O'Connor. There are far too many to do a serious list. Browse the library or bookstore shelves, or use Google to find titles. Find out how "they" do it. I recently advised a writer to copy some paragraphs from a favorite writer. She looked at me as if I'd just advised her to lift her shirt up. Yes, it's OK. Doing this helps instruct the brain in new ways of writing. You're not stealing for publication; you're doing exercises.

4. Take a notebook and go to a quiet, beautiful place. Or a busy street corner. Note down what comes to mind—it doesn't have to be related to what you're working on. The idea here is to boost powers of observation and give birth to ideas. Even venting has its role in quieting a writer's restless mind and returning it to some better place.

5. Take breaks when energy flags. Just don't let them take control. I find that relocating to a different room (if there are not other interruptions around) helps me to engage in what I'm writing about.

I'm in my office now, surrounded by writing books and supplies, photographs and their inherent memories, a fan—which keeps me from fleeing to air-conditioned stores. I have all that I need (including free food in the kitchen), but any number of interruptions is possible: just now, my husband kicked my chair as he passed behind me—to grab the water bottle he forgot when he came in to open the window I hadn't asked to have opened, after he came in to find the checkbook I'd been trying, impossibly, to balance that morning, and after he asked twice for some tidbit of information ... you get it.

Then there's the other stuff on today's list. The gym. Packing for vacation. Gift to buy. They're on your list too. Just try to corral them into an appropriate time, rather than letting them dig into your writing space. It can be done with conscious effort.
Good luck! And stay seated.

Ann Connery Frantz began writing fiction after a career in journalism. She is a cofounder of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative, a free-lance writer/editor, and writes about books, authors, book clubs and restaurants for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Please Join Us For...

Reading Like A Writer
A Living The Writer's Life
Saturday, May 16th, 10:30 am - 12:30 pm

I know many readers who don’t like to write, but I know of no writers who don’t love to read. 

We read for pleasure first, for story, for the power books have to transport and transform us. But as writers, books are also our first, and perhaps best, teachers. And it is only by reading a lot of them, and reading carefully, that we learn the ways in which language is manipulated in support of character, setting, plot, and theme.

Francine Prose calls this close reading, a way of reading that gives attention to the micro-elements of story, to words and sentence structure, to repetition and rhythm. Books, after all, are arrangements of words, and it’s this deliberation arrangement that creates meaning and emotion, both on the page, and in the hearts and minds of readers.

In this workshop we will look at the purpose and practice of “close reading,” using examples from E. B. White, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee and others, talk about the writers that influence us, and ways to apply the practice of reading to the practice of writing.  

This is a hands-on workshop. Please bring a writing sample from your favorite writer and be prepared to share.   

Suggested Reading:

Reading Like a Writer: A Guide For People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want To Write Them, by Francine Prose. 

Hollis Shore is a co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writer's Collaborative, and graduate of the Vermont College MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults program. She was the 2012-13 Boston Public Library Children's Writer in Residence, and a winner of the PEN New England Discovery Award for her novel, The Curve of The World, out for submission shortly. Contact her at

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Eleven OTHER Months

Poetry month is over, now—but we have eleven other months to work with.  At the Thayer Memorial Library through The Seven Bridge Writers’ Collaborative, we have read and written some memorable work, and many, many students committed poems to memory (yes, their library fines were forgiven for reciting those ten lines of good writing, but still . . . . )

This commitment to memorizing poetry might be the most important part of the month’s project.   Why?  Because this is one, and perhaps the best, way to pull beautiful language and the experiences of those who wrote it into our heads. And memorizing poetry not only gets good stuff into our heads, it also gives us a good way for us to get out of them.  Poet Laureate Billy Collins recited  Yeats’ “Lake Isle of Innisfree” while he was trapped in an MRI tunnel.  When the radiology technician asked him “Music or no music?” he opted for none, afraid, he said, that he “might get caught with Neil Diamond classics, or something.” For half an hour, relieved from the possibility of looping Diamond, Collins pulled Yeats out of his head.  He knew the poem well, or course, so could not only recite it to himself, he could also think about it—its words silently filling the “high-tech coffin” he couldn’t move from. 

As he pulled himself into the poem, the poem pulled him out of himself and his predicament.  Yeats’ yearning for the Lake Isle was Collins’s; his rhythmic lines pulled themselves along; its imagery created a world somewhere else any of us would rather be.  It’s a relatively short poem that nonetheless gave the tunnel-trapped poet something to think about and get lost in—not entirely unlike a mechanic reviewing schematics while he’s sitting at the dentist’s office, or a cook’s reviewing the process of making a perfect sauce while he’s standing in line at the green-grocer’s.  The point, here, is that we don’t need a critical event to prompt us to silently recite beautiful language.  We don’t need distress to make us want to be somewhere else.  Memorizing poetry (any wonderful language, really) can transport us from where we are—the dentist’s chair or the grocery line—to a new or unusual place.  Memorized poetry can take us “from Kansas to Oz,” Collins says.  But, he says, it’s the trip, not the destination that changes us—think of Dorothy.  Our imaginations that are working when we repeat from memory are the transportation, not the stopping places.  Memorize enough poetry, and you will see this is true.

Memorizing poetry also brings us into conversation with others—that “hubbub of voices distilled by books of quotations and epigrams,” essayist Jim Holt refers to when he tells us that literary culture is that string of quotes and allusions that binds our collective reading experiences. The exercise transports us out of the MRI, dental chair, or check-out line and puts us in conversation with people far away and long ago who are still speaking to us now—it’s what professional educators refer to as “cultural literacy,”

Is memorizing difficult?  No: for most of us, it’s that “little-by-little” process.  It’s also a process that involves our entire bodies—the sounds, the words on the page, the feeling we get if, like Wordsworth, we can walk while we commit, especially, of course, when we commit ourselves to those highly rhythmic pieces.  But this works for all poetry and for much good prose—I discovered that I had memorized the first ten lines of Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues” without even knowing it—they popped out of my mouth during a classroom lecture.  Repetition during the normal schemes of life. 

It’s that easy.  Holt discredits prevalent myths about “learning” poetry:  It’s not painful—do this a few lines at a time: your brain has plenty of room—it doesn’t max out like a hard drive; and think of your brain like an iPod—fill it with the stuff you want to be part of you.  After all, as writer Geoffrey O’Brian says, “We are what we quote.”  I am happy to say that after reading 117 poems written by the first through twelfth graders here in Lancaster, I have a few of those lines tucked away (not wanting to privilege some poems over others, now that the contest os over, I won’t share them here). I wish those lines could push out “Pop, pop, fizz, fizz, O! What a relief it is!”—I’m working on that.  But there’s room for all of it . . . .  

Winona Winkler Wendth is a co-founder of the Seven Bridge Writers' Collaborative.  She has been a resident of Lancaster since 1992 and teaches writing, literature, and other humanities courses at Quinsigamond Community College. Wendth holds an MFA in literature and writing from the Bennington Writing Seminars. You can read her work in a variety of literary and general interest publications.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Bridging Writers - An Interview With Victor Infante

Victor D. Infante is the author of the poetry collection City of Insomnia from Write Bloody Publishing. He is an editor at the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, an occasional contributor to OC Weekly in California, the editor-in-chief of the online literary journal Radius: Poetry From the Center to the Edge and a co-editor of the Best Indie Lit New England anthology series. His poems and short stories have appeared in numerous publications, including The Chiron Review,The Collagist, Pearl, Barrelhouse, Spillway, PoeticDiversity, The Nervous Breakdown and Word Riot, as well as in anthologies such as Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry, Spoken Word Revolution Redux, The Last American Valentine: Poems to Seduce and Destroy, MultiVerse: An Anthology of Superhero Poetry, Aim For the Head: An Anthology of Zombie Poetry and The Incredible Sestina Anthology. He is an Aquarius, and all which that entails. 

When did you first encounter poetry? What poems and poets inspired you, first as a reader, and later as a poet? 

I think anyone who asks this question is looking for one thunderstruck moment, but the reality is that it was really more of a snowball. I was a voracious reader as a child, reading anything I could get my hands on. I suppose the first poetry that really “took” was when I bought a copy of Tyrannus Nix, by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, which lead me to reading pretty much the entire poetry section of my public library. (Which wasn't as challenging as you might think. The section wasn't that large.) Later, I encountered Marcia Cohee, at the venerable Laguna Poets poetry series in California, then studied with Ted Walker in England, saw Ted Hughes read in London and finally came back to the United States and saw Patricia Smith perform at Living Planet in long Beach, California.

Mallarme said, Poems are not made out of ideas. They are made of words. Yet poetry, like fiction, is a vehicle for ideas and emotions, and people often turn to poetry in times of personal or social upheaval. Why is poetry particularly effective in reflecting or exploring the human experience?

Poetry's the reflection of that experience, not a recounting of it. It's what that emotion looks and feels like, carved into a form in which that usually completely interior experience can be conveyed.

Your poems take a wide range of forms. How much do you consider form when you are writing? Do the forms arrive first? Or do your poems find their structure as you write and revise?

Honestly, I don't think about form at all until I have the idea down. Once I have an idea of what I'm trying to say, then I figure out the best way to say it. Form is a tool toward expression. Sometimes, a sonnet or a sestina, through the nature of their rhythms or repetitions, is the perfect vehicle for communicating your thoughts most clearly. If your forcing a poem into a form simply to do so, it's more often than not simply an exercise, and that usually shows. Now, there are some poets for whom those forms are the method through which they express themselves, and that has everything to do with their particular voices and not the forms themselves. I'm not that guy. I just write and figure it out as I go.   

In your poem, 15 Ways To Leave Your Labyrinth, you write, “Write with enough conviction and it will become the truth.”  How much of your poetry is about finding and conveying a personal truth? Do you consider your poetry “confessional” in some sense?

Oh, all of it is about finding and conveying personal truths, but I don't consider myself a confessional writer, by any stretch. There are times I've told more-or-less literally true stories or facets of stories in poems, particularly in City of Insomnia, where I discuss my father's death, but the literal truth has never been a goal for me in that arena. I'm more interested in capturing the texture of a particular emotional moment.

Poetry Slams have revived the art of reciting poetry. Is poetry primarily an oral traditional? What do we gain by poetry out loud?

You get a stronger sense of the music of the words, and of its sound and structure. But more importantly, there's a visceral connection that's made when you hear a writer recite his or her own work. Slam was important because it built a sense of excitement in an art form that had become stodgy and reclusive, and empowered groups outside of academia to create and share their own poetry in public forums, but the oral tradition aspect was almost an accidental rediscovery in the process. Back at the beginning, all slam ever asked of anyone was to not read their poems like they hated them. The power that came from people reading their poems like they cared about them surprised almost everyone, pointing to an aspect of the art form that was there all along, but which had been neglected for a couple decades.

Can you describe your writing process? How do you get from inspiration to completed poem? Where and when do you write best?  Do you keep a journal?  How disciplined are you about your creative work?

I don't really know that there's much to tell, honestly. I usually have a number of ideas at any given time, and they become a sort of buzzing in my brain. Writing is the only thing that quiets that buzzing. I do try to get up early and write every morning, which is really the only time I have to myself for my own work, but I'll be the first to admit that some days that works better than others. Between poems, stories and the newspaper, though, I have a steady stream of writing being published, so I must be doing something right.

Valery said, A poem is never finished, only abandoned. How do you approach revision, and how do you know when a poem has found its final form?

Sometimes when I read it and I'm happy with it, sometimes when I read it and I'm sick to death of it. I do like to take poems for a test run at open mics when I can, just to get a sense of how easily they escape my mouth and how people react to them.

You are also a fiction writer, a journalist, and the Editor-in-Chief of Radius, an on- line literary journal. How do these other writerly occupations inform your work as a poet?

It's not a separate process for me. It's all part of a whole. It's just that sometimes I'm using a hammer to work on the deck, and other times I'm using a hammer to break up kindling wood. Either way, I'm using a hammer. Differing amounts of force and control, but still the same tool. calls slam poetry a “democratizing force.” Does poetry need democratizing? And what about this kind of performance poetry might appeal to a wider, more diverse audience?

If you'll excuse me, the question is filled with a lot of false premises. Poetry was always “a democratizing force.” It's the co-option by elites and academics, by commercial presses and universities that's the aberration. When beat poetry was marginalized in the '70s and it appeared, from the perspective of white cultural bias that poetry had become the sole province of academia, it was actually alive and well within the African-American community. Later, the mantle was picked up by punk and hip-hop. Slam was simply the next and arguably most successful in that post-beat line, whereas all Academia did was preserve where the art form had been. 

I don't want to come off as anti-academic. I'm not, and the situation is far better these days than it was in the '80s, but whenever I hear some of this line of questioning, the cultural biases become clear. It's all rooted in the idea that somehow slam took poetry to the streets, as though that were new. I love slam, and I love its central philosophy that an audience has a right to an opinion about art. But when American poetry had appeared to be virtually dead and had been crystallized like a fly in amber, it was actually alive and well in the African-American community through artists such as Gwendolyn Brooks, Nikki Giovanni, Sekou Sundiata, Wanda Coleman and, yeah, Maya Angelou. There's your democratizing force!  I often wonder why we talk about the onset of slam and bringing “poetry to the people” or however we're referring to it these days, when we talk about the rescue of poetry from being an almost dead art form, why we don't talk more about who we were saving it from, and who carried the art form through the darkness. That strikes me as far more interesting a story.

Also, an aside: “performance poetry” is a bit of a misnomer, albeit a widely used one. There is poetry, and it is sometimes performed aloud for an audience, but I find attempts to separate it from the bulk of other poetics to be .. unhelpful.

Poetry has been compared to music in its ability to evoke meaning and emotion through sound. As you compose, how conscious are you of the sound on the page?

It's not so much a comparison as it is that they're directly related art forms. There's a reason we call the words singers sing “lyrics,” as in lyric poetry, after all. But the goal is essentially the same: To evoke an emotional response through tone and structure. For the poem, of course, that's only one level of the scaffolding, with the literal and figurative meanings of the text being two more. Music has some advantages on this trick, with a wider range of melodies and harmonies available to deepen the sound, but at the end of the day, the goal's the same.

Radius is dedicated, in part, to exploring “how poetry exists in the world.”  What do you see as the role of poets and poetry today? Is that role constantly evolving?  How does our increased connectivity affect poets and poetry?

Well the simple answer is that the role of the poet is the same as its always been: To celebrate life, mourn the dead and to warn. I think a lot of my younger compatriots may conflate the poetry of change with change itself, or with actual action, but at the end of the day, a poem isn't there to change the world. It's there to touch a soul. If the poem can make one person's experience touch another person's, to create some bond of empathy between disparate persons, then it's done its job. Whether this happens in a slam or in a book or on YouTube is irrelevant.

But I'm afraid a lot of poets these days are trying to quench their thirst by drinking the ocean, and the result is both frustration that their messages seem to take strong hold in a given moment, and then vanish from their audience's ear. A big part of it is the transitory nature of the medium and the attention spans of modern audiences, and a lot of it is the rhetorical nature of a great deal of American political poetry, where in the message supersedes the metaphor, if you will. 

But I also think these poets might not give themselves enough credit. They may not be changing the world – the world is a stubborn cuss, after all – but many of them have saved lives and souls on an individual level, and the importance of that can;t be overstated.

Mostly, I just wish American political poets would pay closer attention to their counterparts in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, where the stakes the poet plays for are literally matters of life and death. Bravery in the face of authority in the United States is laudable. Bravery in the face of authority in Iran is heroic.

But the Internet is an amazing gift, and the youngest generation of American poets today has had an immense advantage in being able to seek out pretty much any poem or poet they've heard of. The learning curve is far accelerated than it was when I was young, an that's making for many young poets creating some startling work.

Poetry, like fiction, is to co-creative: it expands beyond the page in the hearts and minds of the reader (or hearer). Who is your audience? Do you write with the reader in mind?

I suppose there's a hypothetical reader on the other side when I write,  but damned if I know the first thing about her.  I just try to make the words pretty and the thought process clear, and hopefully she likes it. If not? Well, then I guess there's always the next poem.

What poets are you currently reading? What poetry have you read that you struggled to get through?

I'm currently reading Dark Sparkler, by Amber Tamblyn, Pelican by Emily O'Neill and Fat Girl Finishing School, by Rachel Wiley.  Looking forward to reading Five Poems by Michael Fisher and Heavy Honey by Rushelle Frazier. I don't think I've had a problem getting through anything in particular, but a lot of the most prominent literary journals today have had some bad publishing habits lately, publishing poems they'd disregard entirely if the poet wasn't famous, so I'm taking a hiatus from reading those journals for a while.

What encouragement or direction would you give aspiring poets?

I think the important thing is to go out and find a place for yourself in the poetry community. It's a hard trek – there's not a single centralized poetry calendar for New England online anymore that I know of. But for the Worcester area, places such as the 7 Hills Poetry Slam monthly at the Sahara, the Dirty Gerund Poetry Series Mondays at Ralph's Rock Diner and other readings are worth checking out. Keep checking out different places until you find rooms that “click” for you, where you feel comfortable. And then listen. Write, sure, but listen and read absorb. When you hear something you like, ask yourself why you like it. Artists learn from examining the work of other artists. Pay attention.   

Bridging Writers is an occasional series interviewing local writers, editors, publishers, and other professionals working in the field of literary arts.