Red Hen Press Poetry Lecture and Conversation Series

With the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Red Hen Press is proud to bring a unique lecture and conversation series to the public.

This spring, our series will focus on the history of formalism, told through a series of five events, one event a month from February until June 2021, to be presented and streamed live on, and on our Facebook page and YouTube pages simultaneously.

The unifying thread of this conversation series is exploring formalist poetry and the role it plays in our culture as poetry continues to evolve. Why do we as readers and listeners of poetry continue to love the sound and rhythm of formal poetry? Why does it create a kind of heartbeat for us?

Our series is organized with a movement from the traditional to the contemporary, bringing in diverse experiences and voices. Speakers will discuss poetry’s formal foundation and how teaching these building blocks allows for growth. In order for young people to do experimental poetry, they have to know what rules to break; to play with form, they have to know what form is. In poetry, traditional forms are the way we learn technique. If poetry were dance, form is ballet.

Before one learns to choreograph, they learn the basic steps and techniques. Before composing a song, they learn the notes and the scales. This series of workshops will be conversations about how formal poetry carries weight in the current literary landscape.

Introduction and the History of Formalism

West Coast Formalism
February 24, 2021, 4:00 P.M. PT
Shirley Lim and Dana Gioia
Moderated by Kate Gale

Shirley Geok-lin Lim’s first poetry collection, Crossing the Peninsula, received the British Commonwealth Poetry Prize, a first for a woman and an Asian. She’s published ten poetry collections, most recently The Irreversible Sun, Ars Poetica for the Day, and Do You Live In? Her poetry has been widely anthologized, published in journals like the Hudson Review, Feminist Studies and The Virginia Quarterly. It has been featured on television by Bill Moyers, in Tracey K. Smith’s podcast “The Slowdown,” and set to music as libretto for various scores performed, for example, at Oxford University. Her poem, “Learning to Love America” is regularly performed as part of the NEH Poetry Out loud program. The recipient of two American Book awards, the second for her memoir, Among the White Moon Faces, the Multiethnic Literatures of the United States Lifetime Achievement Award, and University of California Santa Barbara Faculty Research Lecture Award, she has also published three short story collections; two novels (Joss and Gold and Sister Swing); a children’s novel, Princess Shawl; and The Shirley Lim Collection. Her books and poems have been translated into Chinese, Spanish, French, Bahasa and other languages. Currently a Professor Emerita and Research Professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, she served as Chair of Women’s Studies there, and also as Chair Professor of English at University of Hong Kong.

Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed poet and writer. Former California Poet laureate and  Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia was born in Los Angeles of Italian and Mexican descent. The first person in his family to attend college, he received a B.A. and M.B.A. from Stanford and an M.A. from Harvard in Comparative Literature. For fifteen years he worked as a businessman before quitting at forty-one to become a full-time writer.

His surname is pronounced Joy-a.

Narrative Forms and the Ballad in Poetry
April 7, 2021, 4:00 P.M. PT
Brynn Saito and David Mason
Moderated by Jason Schneiderman

Brynn Saito is the author of two books of poetry from Red Hen Press, Power Made Us Swoon (2016) and The Palace of Contemplating Departure (2013), winner of the Benjamin Saltman Award and a finalist for the Northern California Book Award. She’s written two chapbooks, Dear—, published with an artists grant from Densho, and Bright Power, Dark Peace, co-written with Traci Brimhall (Diode Editions). Her poems have appeared in the New York Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, and American Poetry Review. Along with Nikiko Masumoto, Brynn co-founded Yonsei Memory Project, which was featured in the 2019 Vogue article, “Memory Keepers: Japanese American Internment Survivors and Descendants Speak Out.” Brynn is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing in the English Department at California State University, Fresno.

David Mason grew up in Bellingham, Washington, and has lived in many parts of the world, including Greece and Colorado, where he served as poet laureate for four years. He and his trusty Subaru visited 60 out of 64 counties in the state, bringing poetry to audiences in and out of jails, schools, and other kinds of confinement.

His books of poems began with The Buried Houses, The Country I Remember and Arrivals. His verse novel, Ludlow, was named best poetry book of the year by the Contemporary Poetry Review and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. It was also featured on the PBS News Hour. He has written a memoir and three collections of essays. His poetry, prose and translations have appeared in such periodicals as The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry, and The Hudson Review. Anthologies include Best American Poetry and others. He has also written libretti for operas that have been performed around the country. In 2015 David published two poetry collections: Sea Salt: Poems of a Decade and Davey McGravy: Tales to Be Read Aloud to Children and Adult Children. The Sound: New and Selected Poems, and Voices, Places: Essays, appeared in 2018.

He lives with His partner Chrissy (poet Cally Conan-Davies) on land they cleared together in Tasmania, where they look out on water in three directions and are kept sane by the behavior of birds and animals and the occasional human.

Different Distinctions in Formalism

Bending the Rules of Formalism
April 28, 2021, 4:00 P.M. PT
Victoria Chang and Afaa Weaver
Moderated by Kate Gale

Victoria Chang’s poetry books include OBIT,Barbie ChangThe BossSalvinia Molesta, and CircleOBIT was named a NYT Notable Book and a TIME and NPR best book of the year, as well as longlisted for a National Book Award and a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist. Her children’s picture book, Is Mommy?, was illustrated by Marla Frazee and published by Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster. It was named a New York Times Notable Book. Her middle grade novel, Love, Love was published by Sterling Publishing. She has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Sustainable Arts Foundation Fellowship, the Poetry Society of America’s Alice Fay Di Castagnola Award, a Pushcart Prize, a Lannan Residency Fellowship, and a Katherine Min MacDowell Colony Fellowship. She lives in Los Angeles and is the Program Chair of Antioch’s Low-Residency MFA Program.  

Afaa M. Weaver, formerly known as Michael S. Weaver, was born in Baltimore in 1951. He is the author of fifteen collections of poetry, most recently Spirit Boxing (UPitt). From 1970-1985 he was a factory worker in his native Baltimore for fifteen years. A graduate of the writing program at Brown U, he has also worked in theater as a playwright and published short fiction, in addition to being a free lance journalist, editor, and translator. His awards include the Kingsley Tufts, the St. Botolph’s 2019 Distinguished Artist Award, the Gold Friendship Medal from the Beijing Writers Association, the 96th Medal in Writing and Art from Taiwan’s Artists and Writers Association, and a Guggenheim. In 2017, he retired from Simmons University, where he held the Alumnae Chair for twenty years. He now teaches at Sarah Lawrence. Afaa’s papers are held in the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University.

The Future of Formalism

Queer Voice in Poetry: Subverting the Form, Subverting the Language
May 26, 2021, 4:00 P.M. PT
Jason Schneiderman and Ellen Bass
Moderated by Douglas Manuel

Jason Schneiderman is the author of four books of poems: Hold Me Tight (2020), Primary Source (Red Hen Press 2016); Striking Surface (Ashland Poetry Press 2010); and Sublimation Point (Four Way Books 2004). He edited the anthology Queer: A Reader for Writers (Oxford University Press 2016). His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies, including American Poetry Review, The Best American Poetry, Poetry London, Grand Street, and The Penguin Book of the Sonnet. He has received fellowships and awards from the Fulbright Foundation, The Fine Arts Works Center, and The Poetry Society of America. An Associate Professor of English at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY, he lives in Brooklyn with his husband Michael Broder.

Ellen Bass’s most recent book, Indigo, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2020. Among her previous books are Like a Beggar, The Human Line, and Mules of Love. With Florence Howe, she co-edited the first major anthology of women’s poetry, No More Masks!, published in 1973. Among her honors are three Pushcart Prizes, The Lambda Literary Award, and Fellowships from the NEA and the California Arts Council. Bass is also coauthor of The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse and Free Your Mind: The Book for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual Youth and Their Allies. Bass founded poetry workshops at Salinas Valley State Prison and at the Santa Cruz County jails, and she teaches in the low-residency MFA program in writing at Pacific University. She is currently serving as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Teaching Formalism
June 30, 2021, 4:00 P.M. PT
Douglas Manuel and Ron Koertge
Moderated by Jason Schneiderman

Douglas Manuel was born in Anderson, Indiana. He received a BA in Creative Writing from Arizona State University and an MFA from Butler University. He is currently a Middleton and Dornsife Fellow at the University of Southern California where he is pursuing a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing. His poems are featured on Poetry Foundation’s website and have appeared or are forthcoming in Zyzzyva, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, The Los Angeles Review, Superstition Review, Rhino, North American Review, The Chattahoochee Review, New Orleans Review, Crab Creek Review, and elsewhere. His first full length collection of poems, Testify (Red Hen Press, 2017), won an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for poetry. In 2018, he traveled to Egypt and Eritrea with The University of Iowa’s International Writing Program to teach poetry. In 2020, he received the Dana Gioia Poetry Award and a fellowship from the Borchard Foundation Center on Literary Arts to travel to San Cristóbal de Las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico to write.

Ron Koertge teaches at Hamline University in their low-residency MFA program for Children’s Writing. His most recent book, Vampire Planet, is a collection of new and selected poems. His other works include Sex World (Red Hen Press, 2014), Fever (Red Hen Press, 2007),Indigo (Red Hen Press, 2009), Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses(Candlewick Press, 2012), and The Ogre’s Wife (Red Hen Press, 2013). Koertge also writes fiction for teenagers, including many novels and novels-in-verse: The Brimstone Journals, Stoner & Spaz, Strays, Shakespeare Bats Cleanup, Shakespeare Makes the Playoffs, and Coaltown Jesus. All were honored by the American Library Association, and two received PEN awards. He is the recipient of grants from the NEA and the California Arts Council and has poems in two volumes of Best American Poetry. He lives in South Pasadena, California.