A Poem Created Just for You at “A Poem for You” to Celebrate National Poetry Month

Terry Wolverton holds magnetic poetry in her hands. Photo by Angela Brinskele.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, Skylight Books teams up with Writers At Work to bring you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Five widely published and highly regarded poets — Brendan Constantine, Yvonne M. Estrada, Peter J. Harris, Lynne Thompson and Terry Wolverton — will create “A Poem for You,” an original poem written spontaneously and just for you or a designated recipient.

Just think — an original poem to give your loved ones; congratulate friends or colleagues on a new job, a marriage, a baby; commemorate a special moment. You can even request a curse poem for someone who did you wrong.

Here’s how it works: Come to Skylight Books on Sunday, April 6, 2014, between 2-4 p.m. You’ll be matched with one of the poets and have the opportunity to tell them the content you’re looking for. The poet will go to work while you browse the store, and within 20-30 minutes, you’ll receive a signed copy of your poem.

Poem-seekers will be assigned to poets on a first-come, first-served basis. Poem-seekers will give input, but poets will maintain their poetic license to interpret as the muse guides them. Poets will retain the copyright to their work (they can publish it; you cannot).

Skylight Books is located at 1818 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, Calif.

Participating Poets

Brendan Constantine is the author of Letters to Guns, Birthday Girl With Possum and Calamity Joe. He is poet-in-residence at Windward School and has brought poetry workshops to libraries, hospitals, foster-care centers, correctional facilities and shelters for the homeless. He is also proud of his work with the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project. He currently curates a reading series in partnership with the Craft and Folk Art Museum. www.brendanconstantine.com

Yvonne M. Estrada is a poet and photographer. Her recent chapbook, My Name on Top of Yours, features both poems and original photographs. Her poetry has been published in Emerging Urban Poets Workshop Anthology (vols. 1-3), … and in fact there was no ceiling fan, (en)closures, San Gabriel Valley Quarterly, Catena, Mischief, Caprice & Other Poetic Strategies, Pulse Magazine, GuerrillaReads, Verse Wisconsin and the Poem of the Month 2011 Calendar.

Peter J. Harris is founding director of The Black Man of Happiness Project, a creative, intellectual and artistic exploration of Black men and joy. He has published poetry, essays and fiction in national publications; worked as a publisher, journalist, editor and broadcaster; and been an educator and workshop leader for adults and adolescents. Bless the Ashes, a book of poetry, will be published in fall 2014 by Tia Chucha Press. He’s author of the joyful book The Vampire Who Drinks Gospel Music: The Stories of Sacred Flow & Sacred Song. www.blackmanofhappiness.com

Lynne Thompson won Perugia Press’s First Book Award for Beg No Pardon, which was also awarded Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including Sou’wester, Ploughshares, Crab Orchard Review and the anthology New Poets of the American West. Her latest collection, Start With a Small Guitar, was published by What Books Press in October 2013. She is the reviews and essays editor for the literary journal Spillway.

Terry Wolverton is the author of ten books of poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction, most recently, Wounded World: lyric essays about our spiritual disquiet. She is the founder of Writers At Work, a creative writing studio in Los Angeles, and Affiliate Faculty in the MFA Writing Program at Antioch University, Los Angeles. She is currently collaborating with composer David Ornette Cherry to adapt her book Embers as an opera. www.terrywolverton.com

For more information, contact Terry Wolverton, 323-661-5954, wtrsatwork@aol.com.


Writing Tip by Brendan Constantine!

A good way to get started on a new piece is to put down your initial ideas in the form of a letter.   Address the letter to someone in your life who absolutely does not understand your work (your parents, workmates, landlord).   As you refine the letter, you may get a clearer picture of what you want.   You might also become so frustrated in the effort to make your work accessible that you strike out in new territory just do defy expectations.   All outcomes are good!

Biography of Brendan Constantine:   Brendan Constantine is a poet based in Hollywood.  His work has appeared in numerous journals, notably Directions, The L.A. Review, Ninth Letter and RUNES.  H is book, Letters To Guns, is just out from Red Hen Press.   New work is forthcoming in PloughsharesChaparral, Askew, Luvina, and the anthology Bright Wings.

Writing Prompt by Eloise Klein Healy

Eloise Klein Healy

Eloise Klein Healy with Nikita

The Red List

Very quickly and without thinking, write a list of ten red things you have owned or come in contact with in some way in your lifetime.  When you read down the list, one or two items will “vibrate” a bit more than the others.  Choose one and start a free write about the object. For example, you might have had a red sweater in the fourth grade.  It’s OK if you find yourself taken away to another topic–just keep on going. The exercise works on associative powers of language and experience.  If you can time yourself, write for five to seven minutes.  Now you have some raw material and you can see if you can create something with it.  Any color can be chosen–a blue list, a green list, whatever.
Biography of Eloise Klein Healy: Eloise Klein Healy is the author of six books of poetry: Building Some Changes (Beyond Baroque Foundation); A Packet Beating Like a Heart (Books Of A Feather Press); Ordinary Wisdom (Paradise Press/re-released by Red Hen Press); Artemis In Echo Park (Firebrand Books), nominated for the Lambda Book Award and released as a spoken word recording by New Alliance Records; and her collections from Red Hen Press, Passing, and most recently, The Islands Project: Poems for Sappho. The Inevitable Press published her chapbook Women’s Studies Chronicles in the Laguna Poets Series.

Writing Tip by Noel Alumit

Noel Alumit

I think it’s useful to mix up my routine.  Don’t always write in the morning, try at night or the afternoon.  Don’t always write at your desk, switch to the kitchen table, the bedroom.  Even better, try a park.  My mind is constantly shifting depending on time and place.  Doing this allows me to find various shades in characters or scenes.

I’m a different person at night from when I wake.  I may be a little more tired and that mood colors how I write.  I think it layers my work, makes it more complex.  I think it prevents my work from getting stale.

Biography of Noel Alumit: Noel Alumit wrote the novels, Letters to Montgomery Clift, and Talking to the Moon.  He blogs at:  www.thelastnoel.blogspot.com.

Writing Tip by Suzanne Lummis

Suzanne Lummis

Here, the object is to enrich the language of your poetry and perhaps also trick yourself into writing a poem you wouldn’t have otherwise.   Sometimes it’s a poem your subconscious has been holding in its storage unit – you just needed the right key.   Open a dictionary at random, here and there, chose sensory, evocative words that you’ve never used in your poems, a selection of nouns, verbs and adjectives—words like puma, swagger and frothy, or gingerbread, captivate and fluorescent.   Add a mineral or precious stone, a celestial body, and a commercial brand name.   Now steal three words from a poet whose work you love (but make sure they’re not the poet’s signature words.   If it’s Plath don’t take “bald,” “hooks,” “moon”).   Put them on scraps of paper and choose a few blind.   Now, instead of starting with a topic or event then searching for the right words, you’ll let the words lead you to the poem’s subject.  Don’t be literal; don’t put everything in its logical context.  Go for the image, use the words in unpredictable ways, and mix them into areas where one wouldn’t expect to see such words.   Good luck.  Viva Poetry.

Biography of Suzanne Lummis: Suzanne Lummis, in a program funded by the NEA, is one of fifty writers selected to represent Los Angeles at the 2009 Guadalajara International Book Fair. Her poems appear in California Poetry from the Gold Rush to the Present (Heyday Books), Poems of the American West (Knopf), Place as Purpose: Poetry of the Western States (Autry/Sun & Moon), and in major literary publications in the U.S. and U.K. Work is forthcoming in The New Ohio Review.  She teaches several levels of poetry through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program and has developed classes on the Poem Noir (“Poetry Goes to the Movies”), the persona poem and the socio-political poem.  “In Danger,” a collection of poetry, was published by Heyday Books as part of The California Poetry Series.

Writing Prompt by Lynne Thompson


One favorite prompt of mine frequently arrives unbidden when I am in a new or unfamiliar location.  The sights and smells of some place that is not “home” never fails to compel me to pick up a pen to write the words that will allow me to savor the extraordinary experience over and over again.  I wrote  Blur so that I could happily relive the week I spent in Italy’s Tuscany region; the first stanza of that poem is re-printed below:


—or so the sunflowers seemed
as we trekked mile after mile
in a Chevy tassí, from Sienna to
Montepulciano where everything
is humility and Mary, Mary and
genuflection; where air tastes olive
in our nostrils; mud’s improbably
silk on our hands and history is
the color of a cheap, true chianti—

I recommend that poets look—truly look—at their surroundings, be they familiar or new, in order to bring a fresh re-vision to their work.

Biography of Lynne Thompson: Lynne Thompson’s Beg No Pardon won the 2007 Perugia Press First Book Award (www.perugiapress.com) and the 2008 Great Lakes Colleges New Writers Award.  Her work has appeared in the Indiana Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Margie . In 2009, her poem, Voice, was commissioned by Emory University.

Writing Tip by Gerald Locklin


Photo by Vanessa Locklin

The most important advice I have for writers is that a poem can be on any subject in any type of language (but the best for its purposes of that type).   In other words, there are no subjects that are “unpoetic” or unfit for poetry and there are no levels of discourse (slang, standard written English, Spanglish, wise-cracks, sexual,  critical, familiar, scholarly, religious, philosophical, sarcastic, etc.) which cannot serve as the vehicle for a poem.  A poem can be a letter, an anecdote, an elegy, an essay, a story, a meditation, an ekphrastic work (taking as its starting point a work from another art, e.g.  painting, sculpture, symphony, opera, athletic contest, play, novel, film, other person’s poem, rock or  rap or jazz concert, ballet, musical comedy, what-have-you), an insult, a tribute, a parody, a piece of nonsense, surrealism, an exquisite corpse (look that one up), a rant, a dramatic monologue, a love poem, a nature poem, a work intended to be spoken out loud, a work intended to be read on the printed page, a work to be apprehended conceptually (poesia concreta), a work to be illustrated and scored for the Internet, a work in which the signifiers (words) are liberated from their signifiers (meanings)—it can be anything . . . as long as it is at its core and start to finish an example of the music of language—and there are as many forms of “language music”  (poetry) as there are of “music music.”  You can find examples of the above in Horace, Catullus, Sappho, Frank O’Hara, Edward Field, Allan Ginsberg, Gertrude Stein, Lewis Carroll, Alexander Pope, Wordsworth, E. E. Cummings (he did not spell his name with lower-case letters), Keats, Marianne Moore, Charles Bukowski, Whitman, Rilke . . . well, you can find examples somewhere or other in the history of poetry.  So read them, all of them, read everything.  The only way we learn to do anything is by imitation and trial-and-error.  Get started now or you never will.  Originality, by the way, comes at the end of the process, not the beginning.

Biography of Gerald Locklin: My most recent full-length collection is Gerald Locklin:  New and Selected Poems, World Parade Books, 2008.  A collection of recent fiction and non-fiction prose is forthcoming from World Parade Books in spring of 2010.  www.worldparadebooks.com www.geraldlocklin.com www.kaminipress.com www.nyquarterly.com

Writing Tip by Richard Beban



Read it aloud.

Comments:   No matter what the piece of writing, read it aloud before you consider a draft finished.

We were an aural/oral culture long before we were a written culture, and the ear is still the best way to fine-tune a piece of writing, and to hear its intrinsic music.   And if it doesn’t sing, why the hell are you wasting your time and ours on it?

No exceptions.   Poetry, prose, screenplay, grocery list.   A piece is not finished until it SOUNDS right, too.

Biography of Richard Beban: Richard Beban, author of the poetry books, What the Heart Weighs (Red Hen Press, Los Angeles, 2004) and Young Girl Eating a Bird (Red Hen Press, Los Angeles, 2006), turned to poetry in 1993 after spending more than 30 years as a journalist, and then a television and screen writer.

Beban’s poetry has appeared in more than 50 periodicals and literary Websites, and in 17 national anthologies in the US and Britain, and he has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  He has been a featured reader at more than 150 venues, including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Berkeley’s late, lamented Cody’s Books, and Shakespeare & Company in Paris, France.  His Website is <http://www.beban.org>.

Writing Tip from Pam Ward


Write five minutes a day! That’s how I finished my first novel, WANT SOME GET SOME.   I just chipped at that evil heiffer every single day.   Don’t think page count, think effort & heart.   The kiss of death to most unfinished work is neglect.   It’s easy to ignore the work and never return.   Fear sets in or other negative thought patterns and the next thing you know, it’s in a shoebox under a mattress, collecting dust while you contemplate your toes.   Five minutes a day saved my manuscript from extinction.   It kept my ideas alive.   It made my characters grow and was as easy as watering a tree.   Just thinking about the thing gave me five minutes of invested time and the payoff was more fruit than I had yesterday and the day before.   And the real beauty to this tip, you end up writing more than the allotted five.   But if the clock’s really not your friend and you have no time to spare, you can always get in five minutes of writing, no matter what your day is like.   Everybody’s got a nickel’s worth of time.

Biography of Pam Ward: Pam Ward is a graphic artist and author of WANT SOME GET SOME and BAD GIRLS BURN SLOW.   As a native, Pam delivers a Los Angeles that is dangerous or wicked with all its flaws and fatal attractions.   Currently, Pam is working on her third novel.  Visit Pam at www.pamwardwriter.com

Writing Tip by Cheryl Klein


Recipe for a Short Story

I’ve always found it strange that some writers and writing workshops perceive themselves to be too “advanced” for writing exercises.  Specific constraints sharpen your skills and get you out of your comfort zone.  If I just sat down with the vague idea that I was going to write a story, the protagonist would probably end up a lot like me, and the story would circle back to the themes that always interest me. Sometimes that’s fine, but other times…blech.  That’s why I’m fond of this exercise (though it does take multiple people—a good excuse to schedule a writing date):

1)  Write the following on a scrap of paper:

–a name

–a mode of transportation

–an emotion

–a small object

2)  Trade your list with your writing partner, or if you have a larger group, have everyone pass his or her list to the left.

3) Write a short story or scene that involves all of the elements on the list you just received.

This way, even if you always default to “Michelle/spaceship/anger/paper clip,” someone else is now ignited by your comfort zone, and you get to get inspired by “Fluffy/unicycle/bemusement/golf ball.”

Biography of Cheryl Klein: Klein is a Writers at Work alumna and the author of Lilac Mines (Manic D Press) and The Commuters (City Works Press).  She directs the California office of Poets & Writers, Inc. and blogs about art, life and carbohydrates at  http://breadandbread.blogspot.com.  You can read more about Cheryl’s work at http://cheryl-klein.com.