Immutable Laws of Writing #2: An object in motion stays in motion

An object in motion stays in motion (and an object at rest stays at rest).

Sir Isaac Newton said this first, and not about writing. Still, writing is a natural act, possibly a force of nature, and is just as subject to physics as everything else. Applied to your writing, the “object” in question is the work you are producing. (Be it understood that we’re not talking here about writing as the mere act of putting words on paper; rather, we’re talking about writing that is becoming a finished work.) Applied to a work in progress, then: your writing both requires and benefits from momentum. Let’s break out those two key bits.

Requires momentum. Any piece of writing of any substantive length—short story, novella, novel, screenplay, stage play, epic poem, etc.—cannot continue forward unless you work on it regularly. Long works have many threads and themes, schemes and schemas, and other moving parts that need to be fresh in mind while writing. This is not to say you can’t take a break from a work; breaks can be good for your writing. But just try to finish a novel that you write in fits and starts, or even one that you write regularly but overly-spaced, such as writing it only on the weekends. It’s hard enough without adding that complexity.

Benefits from momentum. When you are working on a project regularly and with momentum on your side, your writing is likely to be more efficient and perhaps also better. Consider: the longer it has been since you last worked on your project, the longer it will take to: a) bring all the components back into your head; b) have a good sense of what to write next; and c) maintain all the voices: yours, and those of your characters. When your work has momentum, you slip easily between characters, you have your story threads and themes in mind, you know what has and has not transpired, and you know—this is important—what to write next.

Robert Heinlein provided these and some other rules of writing. The emphases are his:

1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you start.

My Immutable Law of Writing #1 (“the words aren’t going to write themselves”) echoes RH’s first rule. My second supports his second: if you mean to finish, you must finish. And you do this by respecting (or, if you prefer, taking advantage of) the laws of physics.

Here are three pieces of practical advice for keeping momentum.

1. Write something you love. 

Don’t select a writing project because you think it’s trendy or easy to get published or will make you tons of cash. Write a story that you truly want to tell. That love will feed your momentum. You will write because you have to see how it comes out. (This will also sustain you later when you are in the eighth round of revisions and you hate the book more than you have ever hated anything.)

2. Make the forces (even the negative ones) work for you.

Fully expressed, Newton’s First Law is: “An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force” (italics mine).* There are throughout your non-writing world “unbalanced forces” that conspire against you and your writing, even if (usually) unintentionally, almost all of which come down to commitments that require your time: jobs, partners, children, sleep, lawns that insist on growing, and so on. How might you make these forces work in support of your writing?

Perhaps: Use lawn mowing time as thinking time, for working out plot points and other story details; car pool to work so that you can write while someone else drives; enlist your family members as co-conspirators, to help by doing research or editing; establish family creative time: while you write, others practice their instruments, or blog, or fold origami, or what have you; get up 30 minutes earlier (you won’t miss it) and write 500 words while there are no distractions; or quit something that you’ve been meaning to quit, something that takes up your time, transferring that time to your writing.

3. Allow your self occasional breaks from the project. 

Short ones. Take Sunday off, maybe, but then back to it on Monday. Can’t fight physics, might as well make it work on your behalf.


The Grounded and the Floating

Zadie Smith reads as part of the Lenoir Rhyne Visiting Writers Series in Hickory on Thursday, March 22 at 7 pm. Free, but tickets are recommended. Call the box office at 828-328-7206.

In Zadie Smith’s latest novel, Swing Time, two girls in a London neighborhood bond over what they have in common—their brown skin and a love of dance. Tracey has all the talent, and “her body could align itself with any time signature, no matter how intricate,” but her family life is more erratic, less motivated. In comparison, the unnamed narrator’s family is stable, and her mother in particular aspires to a better life. The narrator shares her love of old Hollywood musicals with Tracey, teaching them both something about not only the art of dance, but also about race and appropriation. Through this pastime we see the narrator, even as a child, holding back from full engagement, filtering the world through a more analytic detachment. Tracey, however, is all in—in her dance moves, emotional outbursts, or sexual forays in the schoolyard. Inevitably, as they enter adolescence, the two girls grow apart, but never completely sever their fraught relationship. Tracey dances in a chorus line before her life gets side-tracked, while the narrator becomes a personal assistant to a globetrotting do-gooder music celebrity.

Smith addresses the parallels between dance and writing explicitly in “Dance Lessons for Writers,” an essay in her collection Feel Free published earlier this year. From dance, Smith says, writers can learn lessons of position, attitude, rhythm and style. In both the novel and the essay, she compares Fred Astaire to Gene Kelly. Astaire is thin, elegant and aloof, never breaking into a sweat, appearing to float above the floor without effort. Kelly, on the other hand, shows his exertion and muscularity. For Smith, the two dancers exemplify the difference between “the grounded and the floating.” Gene Kelly provides a metaphor for “how the prosaic can turn poetic, if we work hard enough,” while Astaire’s movements are more literary, “poetry in motion.”

In writing workshops I’ve attended, instructors sometimes talk about “floaty-groundy” in terms of plot or characters, with a meaning that’s a little different from Smith’s. Groundy plots have a definite timeline, and their characters have clearly focused desires. A floaty character may lack identifiable goals, and a floaty plot may veer off course or meander. Think Hunger Games or The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo vs. Lincoln in the Bardo or even Seinfeld. For me, the floaty-groundy dichotomy has more to do with my orientation as a reader. Do I know exactly where I am in time and place? Are there sensory details that keep me tethered to world of the story? Do I know what the character is doing in the moment? If so, then I think the passage is grounded. But I also want fiction and nonfiction I read to engage with ideas, and I want characters to have rich interior lives – floatier elements. Contrast these first sentences for back-to-back chapters early in Swing Time:

“If Fred Astaire represented aristocracy, I represented the proletariat, said Gene Kelly, and by this logic Bill “Bojangles” Robinson should really have been my dancer, because Bojangles danced for the Harlem dandy, for the ghetto kid, for the sharecropper—for all the descendants of slaves.”

“A Sunday in late summer. I was on the balcony, watching a few girls from our floor skipping Double Dutch down by the bins. I heard my mother calling me.”

Floaty vs. groundy, right? For me, good writing balances the two. In revising my own writing, I often notice when something is too focused on ideas and not enough on the nitty-gritty of the world I’m building, or when I’ve written a perfectly serviceable description of a subway ride, but the character does not seem to have a thought in her head. I think of Tracey in Swing Time as the more grounded character, like Gene Kelly, more comfortable in the corporeal, in effort and emotion. The narrator, like Astaire, remains cerebral and detached, perhaps more of the mind than the body.

While Tracey the erstwhile dancer never rises above her hardscrabble life in council flats, Smith’s narrator never makes a lasting connections to anyone or anything. If our fiction is to succeed at a high level, we must allow our characters (and our work as a whole) to engage with ideas, while also firmly grounding them in the world of our imagining.

Kristin Donnalley Sherman lives in Charlotte, where she works as a writer, editor, and writing coach. She’s published both fiction and nonfiction, and is currently at work on two novels. Her work has appeared in Brevity, Barrelhouse, Silk Road, Main Street Rag and Flashquake, and she has won or been a finalist in numerous contests, including Elizabeth Simpson Smith Short Fiction, the Writers Workshop Memoirs, the Reynolds Price Fiction, River Styx Micro-fiction, and the Press 53 Open Awards for Short Short Fiction.

At Least I’m Not a Dancer — An apologia

“We seldom realize, I think, how very much we really are in the hands of
the dictionary. We think certain thoughts; we have certain experiences; and
then language, with its hard and fast boundaries, says, “You shall not say
that wonderful thing—you shall only say this—and we find on paper the pale
lifeless shadow of the thing that came to life in our soul.” — Emmet Fox


Writing is my weakness and it’s a nerve-wracking practice, but I can’t
help it—my blood is so doggone noisy, I have to write stuff down to make it
quiet. Plus my genes are always quarreling inside of me, not to mention all
those environmental and socioeconomic factors that contributed to my need to
scribble words onto the page. Carl Jung knew what he was talking about when
he said: “Nothing so promotes the growth of consciousness as the inner
confrontation of opposites.” Back in 1954, I plopped into the world, the
fourth child and baby girl of a profoundly sober Christian Virgo mother and
a sad, alcoholic dreamer of a father. And for the first fifteen years on Planet Earth
there was a whole lot of shaking going on.

A mother, they say, is the first book a child ever picks up and the last
one they put back on the shelf. Sounds right to me. I suppose then that a
father is the second book picked up and the next-to-the-last one put down.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been fascinated and appalled by how unalike
my parents were. I spent years worrying about their lives and ignoring my
own. But when I finally got down to peeling the sweet Vidalia onion of
myself to its pungent core, a writer emerged, shrugged her shoulders and
said, Well, at least I’m not a dancer—which is a good thing because I lack
the grace for that muscular art.

My love affair with words began early. In first grade, I met twenty-six
lifelong friends—letters that were sometimes big and sometimes small
according to where they found themselves in a word or a sentence.
Miss Graham, my teacher was an up-to-date old maid who smelled like pickles. A
phonetic genius, she dredged my imagination for interest in Dick, Jane and
Spot, who led quite boring lives because they were forbidden to do anything
that required more than six letters just so I could learn to read. And for
some reason, the words settled into my fat brain like orphans who’d found a
good home without even trying. The part I liked most about learning to write
was erasing. I loved the way it smelled when I rubbed the pink end of my big
fat pencil across the cheap lined paper, exterminating mistakes easily, and
brushing them onto the floor as if they never occurred.

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote this sentence in my journal: My life is
about three things: words, love, and human beings. The grandiosity of that
statement surprised me, but now I understand that it wasn’t grandiose at all—it was a simple
profession of faith. Writing has helped me become a more decent person than I would have
been otherwise. It has helped me separate who I really am from my ego.

Another reason I became a writer was to honor silence. I have always wanted to make sense
out of my precarious life. As a child, I was quiet. I observed. There seemed to be something
hidden in everything I saw. My senses told me there was something Else. I could smell it. I could
feel it. Sometimes, I could even taste it. But I could not name it. But when I learned to listen to
this voiceless force, I discovered I had a voice deep within me.

“May God forgive me this sin of speech,” Nietzsche once wrote, and even
though he lamented that he was only a poet, I believe language was his only
earthly salvation. Indeed, it has been mine.  One of the most important
things I have learned to do as a writer is to acknowledge that other, bigger Author, who
sometimes shows up for work when I sit down to write. Some writers call it inspiration.
Some call it God.  I call it the Holy Spirit

Maybe it’s just Silence full of Itself, inviting me to . . . dance.

Published by South Carolina Review, January 2007

Karon Luddy was born in Lancaster, SC, the fourth of six children of hardworking, salt of the earth parents, and moved to Charlotte in 1976. During a midlife renaissance, Karon resigned from Apple Computer to pursue her lifelong passion—literature. In 2005, she earned an MFA in Creative Writing in Fiction from Queens University, yet poetry has been a constant in her creative life. 2007 saw the publication of her first book of poetry, Wolf Heart (Clemson University Press) and her first novel, Spelldown (Simon & Schuster). Karon is currently working on a poetry collection, Circling God.

Workshops and Residencies, Spring and Summer 2018

Editor’s Note: We’ll update this post periodically as we become aware of additional options.

Do you want to take your writing to the next level? Or make some serious progress on a writing project? Or maybe just connect in a different way with a writing community?

If so, you may want to attend a conference, a workshop or a residency this year. First, you should decide what kind of experience you are looking for. Some conferences, such as the mammoth AWP that begins next week in Tampa, offer panels on craft, perhaps publishing advice, as well as readings, but don’t offer an opportunity to get feedback on your work. Other conferences are actually workshops, which means that you will work in small groups to give and get feedback on participant work. Such workshops usually offer craft lectures, panels, readings and open mics too. While conferences and workshops provide instruction and feedback, residencies and retreats offer the opportunity to work on your own projects, with different degrees of interaction with other artists/writers possible depending on the particular location.

Opportunities within a six-hour driving distance of Charlotte

Appalachian Writers’ Workshop at Hindman Settlement School, “which is Kentucky’s premier writers gathering, provides an opportunity for aspiring and accomplished writers to immerse themselves in a community of people who appreciate Appalachian literature and who hail from or write about the region. This creative community comes to the Settlement to learn and teach the craft of writing through structured workshops and exchange with other writers. Both published and unpublished writers are urged to attend.”

  • Location: Hindman, KY
  • Dates: July 23-28, 2018
  • Cost: $850 (tuition, housing, and meals)
  • Application: closes May 1
  • Competitiveness: ?
  • Web:

Doe Branch Ink offers three different week-long fiction or non-fiction workshops in May and June. Small groups and beautiful setting.

  • Location: 30 miles north of Asheville
  • Dates: vary by workshop. The ones listed now are in May and June
  • Cost: $1200-$1400
  • Application: can apply now, closed when full
  • Competitiveness: ?
  • Web:

The Hambidge Center offers residencies rather than workshops. Fellows stay in individual studios scattered across the property. Four nights a week, they gather for a chef-prepared dinner. Usually every week or two, the writers and artists in residence share their work through studio tours. The property has miles of hiking trails, but limited phone and internet access. This is a great place for getting work done while also connecting occasionally with artists in other fields, including visual arts, composing, and dance.

  • Location: Rabun Gap, GA
  • Dates: throughout the year, except December to February
  • Cost: $235 per week
  • Applications: January 15 for May through August, April 15 for September through November, and September 15 for mid-February through April
  • Competiveness: Selective. That said, once you’ve been a fellow, because you live nearby, you are added to a list of people who can fill in.
  • Web:

Hub City Writing in Place is geared toward starting new work. The weekend sessions offer instruction, writing exercises, and feedback on work started there. You can stay in the dorms for $35 a night, or opt for a hotel. Critiques are available. If want to generate some new stuff, or only have a weekend, this might be a good fit.

The Porches is a private B&B-style accommodation for writers who want a space to write. The owner Judy Hale mostly takes women. The rooms are large and light-filled and, there are porches. Residents/guests share a common kitchen.

  • Location: Norwood, VA (northeast of Roanoke)
  • Dates: whenever
  • Cost: $65/night
  • Applications: just email the owner with a description of your writing project
  • Web:

Sewanee Writers Conference is about a six-hour drive from Charlotte, and takes place at the University of the South, on a serene Gothic campus. Participants workshop five of the twelve days, and on days off can audit other workshops, write, or hike, swim or ride bikes in the area. There are craft lectures, faculty readings and publishing or agent panels on most days, so you can stay pretty busy if you want to. Twelve days can feel long to some people, and there’s not a lot happening in the town. However, if you want to be immersed in writing and literary community, this may be a good conference for you. The faculty tend to come back year after year, and they are generally older, often southern, not very diverse. It’s a good deal for the price which makes it competitive.

  • Location: Sewanee, TN
  • Dates: July 17-29
  • Cost: $1850
  • Applications: Close 3/20
  • Competiveness: It’s difficult to get into. In 2015, they accepted 15% of applicants.
  • Web:

Squire Summer Writing Workshops 2018 is a weekend workshop in fiction, nonfiction and poetry offered by The North Carolina Writers Network. Over the course of ten 1.5 hour sessions, participants will share their work and receive instruction in their genre from faculty. This year the workshop is in Raleigh, July 19-22. Applications open around May 1. Final details are not available yet.

  • Location: Raleigh, NC
  • Dates: July 19-22
  • Cost: The cost in 2017 was $575 for a shared room for NCWN members, $675 for nonmembers.
  • Applications: Open 5/1
  • Competitiveness: They took only 42 in 2017
  • Web:

The Sun Weekend Writing Retreat. The literary magazine hosts a writing retreat aimed at helping writers improve their craft and connect with a supportive community. Four full scholarships available. Emerging writers with unique perspectives are encouraged to apply.

Table Rock Writers Workshop offers an intensive, small-group learning experience designed to stretch participants’ creative capacities and knowledge in a supportive and non-competitive environment. Held on a mountaintop on the Blue Ridge Parkway, the Table Rock Workshop is known for generous teachers, first-rate instruction, and reasonable tuition. Classes in poetry (Philip Shabazz), novel-writing (Darnell Arnoult), memoir and essay writing (Judy Goldman), writing for young readers (John Claude Bemis), and free-writing (Abigail DeWitt) are offered. Table Rock grew out of the 30-year old Duke University Writers’ Workshop, when it was discontinued in 2010.
  • Location: Wildacres Retreat, Little Switzerland, NC
  • Dates: August 27-31
  • Cost: $860 single room, $745 double room
  • Registration: Open March 1, closes when full
  • Competitiveness: open registration
  • Web: 
Tinker Mountain Writers offers two kinds of experiences during the same week: a workshop or a retreat. Participants can choose a writer’s retreat, which will focus on generating new material through reading, prompts and discussion. Or writers can register for a workshop the focus of which might be plotting and storytelling, contemporary lyricism, an editor’s perspective, or working with an agent, among other options.

Weymouth Center Writer-in-Residence is a program for North Carolina writers only. You may stay a minimum of one week and a maximum of two. Accommodations are private bedrooms in a beautiful, historic house with shared bathrooms and kitchen. The house, located in Southern Pines, is surrounded by formal gardens, a horse farm, and abuts the Weymouth Woods Sandhill Nature Preserve with miles of walking trails.

Wildacres Writers Workshop takes place a beautiful location for a workshop, on a mountain near Little Switzerland, NC. Participants select from poetry, flash fiction, short story, novel and creative nonfiction. Daily workshops are 2.5 hours with readings/events in the evenings, leaving plenty of time to hike, write, audit other workshops, or socialize. The food is generally good, the rooms shared but with bathrooms, and the views lovely. There are plenty of shenanigans—boxed wine and dancing on the patio at night for those interested, a costume party, and a Gong Show on the last night with many skits on literary doings. There’s a greater emphasis on social events here than at some other conferences.

  • Location: Little Switzerland, NC
  • Dates: Writing workshop: July 7th – July 14th, Retreat: July 1st – July 7th
  • Cost: $850 workshop only, $1300 for workshop and retreat
  • Applications: Open 3/2, closed when full
  • Competitiveness: You have to be a serious writer, but it’s not difficult to get in if you apply early.
  • Web:

Wildacres Residency Program offers 70 one and two-week residencies from April through October each year. Residents stay in one of three cabins that are a short walk away from the conference center. If desired, residents can take their meals in the dining hall. There’s no cost. Applications close on 1/15 so it’s too late for this year, but something to put on your radar for next.

The Virginia Center for the Creative Arts also provides room, board and individual studios where Fellows work with distraction for residencies ranging from two weeks to two months. Your studio is separate from your living accommodations. You can meet other artists from a wide variety of disciplines at meals and through studio tours.

  • Location: Amherst, VA
  • Dates: Varies, throughout the year
  • Cost: up to $150 a day. Fellows are accepted regardless of ability to pay
  • Applications: Next deadline is May 15 for October-January residencies
  • Competitiveness: highly selective
  • Web:

Farther Flung but Worth Considering

Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference: A highly competitive 10-day workshop in Vermont. Applications for 2018 are closed, but think about it next year.

Creative Nonfiction Writers’ Conference: From Creative Nonfiction magazine, a three-day conference for memoirists, lyrical essayists, and longform journalists. May 24-26, Pittsburgh, PA.

Squaw Valley Writers Workshop: A competitive one-week workshop in July.

Tin House Summer Workshop: A competitive one-week workshop on Portland, OR  July 8-15. Faculty is stellar. $1800. Applications close 3/18.

Vermont College of Fine Arts Postgraduate Writers Conference: August 13-19, 2018. A competitive conference for writers who have an MFA or equivalent experience. Offers craft workshops and critique groups with an excellent faculty. $1410. Applications open now.

Writing by Writers: Various generative and critique workshops held throughout the year in gorgeous settings.

And for the Exotic Writing Adventure…

Poet Stuart Dischell

The Arts at Queens proudly presents The English Department Reading Series and poet Stuart Dischell, Thursday, March 15, 7 pm, Ketner Auditorium, Sykes Building, Queens University of Charlotte. More Info

The poet Stuart Dischell’s fifth collection, Children with Enemies, has recently been released by The University of Chicago Press. His first, Good Hope Road, was a National Poetry Series Selection. Those poems—that book—matter very much to me, as I had the great fortune of being in Stuart’s first class of creative writing graduate students at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

For me, Stuart has modeled what it means to be a poet: to love language well, to reach outward toward a writing community. He showed me how to navigate a writing future, assisting me whenever possible. Because of him, I internalized the importance of reading for myself in a necessary, self-guided way. He brought poets to his students’ attention as all great teachers do; Stuart also brought them to us in person, to teach us and socialize with us (even Seamus Heaney, the week before he won the Nobel Prize in Literature).Writers who are gone he made present (in particular for me, Randall Jarrell and Etheridge Knight).

Stuart’s literary gifts have carried forward in his subsequent collections, evolving in their vision and honing their strengths. He calibrates his diction, his rhetoric and structures, whether delivering the poem in third person or first. He gives voice to the herd in tall grass or the puppet with a complaint. Poems can be personas or personal lyrics, or are presented as if overheard by a silent listener. He is a master of the varied and unexpected list. He often takes us through the city, shows us the lives beyond its windows, takes us to wharves or down neighborhood streets. There are people and avenues, dogs, women in the rain, workers at a manhole cover, a mom in a ball cap, and evenings at a Paris bar. In this peopled world there is both comfort and despair.

I have learned much from his lines—so natural in how they proceed one to another, and yet each cohesive and resonant unto itself. What sets Stuart’s lines and their handling of story and music apart, though, are the ways he accomplishes all of this through image. Song and lineation, in Stuart’s poems, resound by way of his command and gift for metaphor. His images apprehend the world as captured exactly by a voice—the old horses at the fence, how “Their veined faces/ Scare me a little/ And the top lips they pull back/ Show large yellow teeth.”

His images often locate an enviable, compressed poignancy. “It’s the smile of the wire that breaks your neck,” concludes the poem “Beneath the Blast” in his new book. Many of the poems in Children with Enemies, with its notable bright green cover and red-eyed spider, summon a wild energy, achieved by tracking a ray of sunshine or invisible alphabets. Poems make wide assertions, made insistent through the particular. The stomach must be forgiven for its vomit. The lost father has become “a statue of air.” There is tension here between the harmless and harmful. Sometimes the tragedy is not getting what you want for your birthday, but this is, upon proper reflection, reason for a deep loneliness.

Stuart Dischell’s poems have appeared in The Atlantic, Agni, The New Republic, Slate, Kenyon Review, Ploughshares, and anthologies including Essential Poems, Hammer and Blaze, and  Pushcart Prize. A recipient of awards from the NEA, the North Carolina Arts Council, and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, he teaches in the MFA Program in Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.

Julie Funderburk is author of the poetry collection The Door That Always Opens (LSU Press). She is the recipient of fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council and the Sewanee Writers Conference. She is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Queens University in Charlotte, NC, where she directs The Arts at Queens.

It Is Okay to Weep in the Aisles

It is okay to weep in the aisles
wiping tears before handling grapes,
sampling wines.
Red or white?  Just choose.
Your heart won’t know the difference.
No matter that the woman with the chic
side braid—her child pushing the cart,
training to become  a customer—
stares at you as though you’re out of line,
then quickly turns and squeezes lemons.
We all have our seasons.
She can’t know what you know—not yet.
It is okay to weep in the aisles.



From Beneath the Bamboo Sky (Main Street Rag, 2017)

Irene Blair Honeycutt’s fourth poetry book, Beneath the Bamboo Sky (Main Street Rag, 2017), sub-titled Poems and Pieces on Loss and Consolation, “is my attempt to honor life by giving voice to sorrow and joy. Much of the book is about the loss of siblings—a grief not often recognized in our culture.” Irene founded CPCC’s annual literary festival, now called Sensoria. Upon her retirement, the college established a Distinguished Lectureship in her name. Her work has been published in Nimrod, Southern Poetry Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology: VII, and Virginia Quarterly Review, and others. She lives in Indian Trail, and continues to teach and mentor poets.

On Parachutes and Literary Citizenship

Lately, I’ve been thinking about parachutes. Not related to jumping out of airplanes and free-falling until you snap your parachute open. Rather, I remember over thirty years ago and filing into my school gymnasium along with the rest of my first-grade class. We sprinted around the perimeter of the room for a warm-up, our eyes glued to the red, green, blue, and yellow parachute spread out across the center of the gym floor.

Parachute day. A gym class spent grabbing the edge of the parachute, lifting our arms when commanded, attempting to get a yarn ball to fall through the hole in the middle. Toward the end of the class, we’d together grasp our portion and hold the parachute waist high. Then on the count of three, we raised our arms over our heads, crouched down, and pulled the parachute over us, a giant balloon forming above our class.

In a way, Literary Citizenship might be akin to parachute day. For those who have never heard of the concept of Literary Citizenship, this term often describes the acts we as writers do to uplift the whole writing community—this literary society in which we are citizens.

Literary Citizenship may include, but is not limited to, actions such as subscribing to literary journals or buying books from local bookstores, attending readings or planning events to highlight other writers, writing book reviews or interviewing another writer in your newsletter or on your blog, supporting your local library or sending another writer a note of appreciation. And the list can continue to items like promoting another author’s book, writing a book endorsement, providing feedback to another writer, or giving suggestions about submission opportunities. Honestly, the potential actions may be endless and, when viewed as merely a to-do list, might fall into the category of “overwhelming.”

Literary Citizenship, however, is less of a to-do list and more of a mindset, a way of seeing ourselves as part of this writing community and writing life. For me, to participate in acts of Literary Citizenship is to acknowledge that while I might write alone, I do not exist in this writing world alone. I am a citizen along with many, many others.

When it came to parachute day, there was no way one first grader could lift her arms high in the air, crouch down, and let a giant balloon form above. No way at all. Parachute day took our whole class, each adding their particular ability and part in the pursuit of a greater goal.

Of late, I find myself accessing the generosity of this literary world to which I claim membership. I’m in the midst of gathering endorsements for my forthcoming essay collection, and I’m reliant on the help other writers can provide. When I first began this process, my stomach turned with nervousness and fear of rejection.

While those feelings haven’t necessarily dissipated, I’m working to remind myself that to need other writers is the very hallmark of being part of a literary world. I’m not holding onto a huge parachute alone. Just like I value engaging as a literary citizen, other writers do as well. We each are able to contribute different acts—not a to-do list but instead what is appropriate to and possible for who we are as writers.

I hold the edge of a parachute not with a class of first graders, but instead with a community of writers, ready to lift our arms, our pens, our words, our reviews, our time in a variety of different ways. Together we elevate the writing world and help us all sit beneath the communal power of building a robust literary society.

We give, we ask, we participate, we offer, and we live this writing life embracing and walking in the reality that we are citizens. We are citizens. And we are not alone.

To read more about the concept of Literary Citizenship (and debates about the merits of Literary Citizenship), check out these links:

Cathy Day’s Principles on Literary Citizenship” at the Literary Citizenship blog

5 Ways to Be a Good Literary Citizen” at the Writer’s Digest blog

Are There Limits to Literary Citizenship?” at Jane Friedman’s blog

That’s Not How Any of This Works” at the Brevity blog

Patrice Gopo is a 2017-2018 North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellow. Her essay collection about race, immigration and belonging will release this summer. Please visit to read more of her work and sign up for updates about her book.

Reverse Physics

If millions lose their health care, will anyone hear
in the forest
of the innocents?

Gravity will run upward like a cyclone
sweeping all before it,

the apple will go skyborne from the grass
into the golden leaves,

thousands will stand
outside the orbit
of hospitals, clinics, doctors,

the chemistry of addiction will grow inward—
to arteries and minds
and communities of death

that whiten the wealthy
and whirl into space
all dignity and justice and love.

David Radavich’s poetry collections have often revolved around political themes: America Bound: An Epic for Our Time (2007), Middle-East Mezze (2011), and The Countries We Live In (2014).  His plays have been performed across the U.S., including six Off-Off-Broadway, and in Europe.  A cycle of plays called On the Verge focuses on various aspects of violence in our time. He has published numerous informal and scholarly essays and performed in a variety of countries, including Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, and Iceland. David has served as president of the Thomas Wolfe Society, Charlotte Writers’ Club, and North Carolina Poetry Society.

David teaches “Speaking Out: Poetry as Political Speech,” March 14, 2018, 10am-1pm at Charlotte Lit. More Info / Register

When You’re the Emcee

Hosting a literary reading? Here’s poet Richard Allen Taylor on the fine points of being the emcee.

Emcees worry about making the colossal gaffe. Just ask Steve Harvey, who famously announced the wrong winner in the Miss Universe pageant. A friend of mine, John B, made a less colossal mistake when he served as emcee for his organization. He started to say, “Let’s give Betty a warm round of applause,” but tried to switch over to “Let’s give her a hand.” The crossed wires of tongue and brain resulted in giving Betty “a warm round of hand,” which had the audience snickering and staring at their palms, trying to imagine how that bizarre suggestion might work out for Betty. As good emcees do, both Harvey and John B. recovered; they apologized and moved on.

So, you’ve been tapped as the Master of Ceremonies—the “emcee”—at your group’s open mic poetry reading. Maybe you’ve done it before, perhaps many times. Maybe it’s your first time. Whether serving as emcee is routine for you or new and intimidating, be assured, you will make mistakes, and your response should be, like Steve Harvey and John B., to apologize and move on. Usually, the audience will understand and sympathize.

Being an emcee boils down to two key objectives: (1) control the flow of the meeting; keep the program moving according to plan (or script), and (2) create a welcoming, enjoyable atmosphere. It’s really a matter of melding the “etiquette” of meeting leadership with common sense and the drive to get things done on time and in an orderly fashion.

One of the more important duties of the emcee is to introduce readers. Here’s an outline of the technique I prefer:

  1. From the mic (or the stage, podium or lectern), introduce the reader by name; use a brief bio if time permits. If the person is the “featured reader,” use a longer introduction. Avoid making any derogatory jokes or remarks about the person being introduced or any member of the audience.
  2. Lead the applause as the reader approaches the mic.
  3. Don’t leave the mic “empty.” Hold your position until the reader arrives. An empty stage may create unwelcome tension.
  4. Offer a brief greeting, and a handshake unless it would be awkward to do so.
  5. Adjust the mic position if needed for the reader’s height.
  6. Step aside and take a seat near the mic. This will allow you to quickly re-take control of the meeting when the reader is finished.
  7. Lead the applause as the reader returns to his or her seat.

Yes, you might be accustomed to a less “formal” approach.  I’ve seen open mic events where the emcee sat in the back of the room and announced each reader, or drew three names at a time, read them aloud, and counted on the readers to make their way to and from the mic without the fanfare of individual recognition or welcoming. These methods work, but to me seem less “personal” than the process described above. If you must use a shortcut method, you still can create that very important “welcoming atmosphere” by greeting participants as they arrive and by thanking them for sharing their poems at the end of the program.

Do well, and the audience will appreciate your efforts. You might even get a warm round of hand.

Richard Allen Taylor is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Armed and Luminous (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2016). Taylor’s poems, articles and reviews have appeared in Rattle, Comstock Review, The Pedestal, Iodine Poetry Journal, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Toastmaster Magazine and South Carolina Review, among others. Taylor currently serves as review editor for The Main Street Rag and formerly co-edited Kakalak. After retiring from his 44-year business career in 2013, Taylor earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte in 2015.

In the Evening We Shall Be Examined on Love

In the Evening We Shall Be Examined on Love
~ St. John of the Cross

My Imperfect Heart, Terry Thiron

That line was enough to propel Thomas Centolella into his moving poem of that title, and has been enough to stay with me as an iconic constant, a touchstone that I come back to like being aware of the intake of breath. I suppose I could do worse than question how I’ve scored in the school of love. Have I, in any given moment, remembered the open heart; the way love ties me to others; has it brought me beyond petty attitudes to be present with the woman I love meeting the challenges that emerge with every moment?

I’m getting ready for an evening performance of poetry and music on the theme, looking at more than three thousand years of world cultures and their insights into love and romance. I want to do this, not because I know the topic, but because I don’t know it well enough and want to know more. I need an advanced course and a deadline, to get out of grade school if I can, while I can.

I’ve been lost in love before, inhaled its heady fragrance, lucky enough to see love mellow and ripen and I’m o’ so grateful for it. But I’ve blown it as well, given up when it got tough, stayed too long and not long enough. Was it naiveté, will I do it again? Maybe there’s more I could have done, that I could still do.

I suspect as a culture we’ve forgotten what happens when reverence for love gets lost. Maybe that’s  partly due to the way we elevate the personal. I read that when Ibn Arabi felt the ecstatic pull to a Persian beauty, he knew behind it was a gift of divinity and it propelled him to embrace the Sufi inspiration: love is my religion and my faith. When the Greeks told the story of how Aphrodite condemned Psyche to a craggy rock for the way her beauty was worshiped by the community, was it out of jealousy or because we’d forgotten how beauty came to us. Can we hear Sappho call respectfully to Aphrodite: Lady of Cyprus, pour the nectar that honors you into our cups. And when it all gets too heady, can Ikkyu bring us back to ground: Ten days in the monastery made me restless…If one day you come looking for me, ask for me at the fishmonger’s, in the tavern, or in my woman’s embrace.

I wonder, is it really a test about success and failure? When, as Centolella says, we…climb the hill as the light empties and park our tired bodies on a bench above the city and try to fill in the blanks, maybe it’s not about our own view at all. Whatever looks down on us in our reflection, does it marvel as we do at the effort, the stories, the love?

Larry Sorkin is a part time business man, sometime poet, and occasional performer of poetry with musicians. He’s been working with the Bechtler Ensemble for over ten years. He teaches and presents workshops exploring poetry and the arts, dance, and music. You can find some of his published work in the collections …and love... and What Matters by Jacar Press.