Posts Tagged ‘2010: Poetry’


Day 1 of the 28th Key West Literary Seminar

01/07/2010  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

After the long trip to Key West, the audience for the 28th annual Key West Literary Seminar settles in to the San Carlos for the afternoon registration.


Long-time volunteer Eloise Pratt again helped out at the registration tables. Here, Eloise models a vintage 1989 KWLS sweatshirt.

Photos by Curt Richter

Richter to continue portraits @ KWLS 2010

01/05/2010  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

From top to bottom: William Kennedy,
Silas House, Annie Dillard, Billy Collins

Photographer Curt Richter arrives in Key West from Helsinki, Finland, this week to continue work on his new series of portraits of American writers.

Richter first visited Key West in 2008 as an Artist in Residence at The Studios of Key West. He set up a temporary portrait studio in the organization’s Mango Tree House, where he invited members of the community to sit before his camera. In partnership with the Key West Literary Seminar, Richter also photographed a number of the writers speaking at that year’s New Voices Seminar. A selection from hundreds of these portraits resulted in Still and All, a collaborative project combining 20 of Richter’s portraits with the literary talents of over a dozen writers, who penned fictional ‘biographies’ to accompany each portrait. Richter returned for last year’s Historical Fiction and the Search for Truth, arranging portrait sessions during the Seminar with writers including Gore Vidal, William Kennedy, and Barry Unsworth, as well as many members of the community.

Richter’s growing body of new portraits promises to join his Portrait of Southern Writers as one of our time’s compelling photographic records of American writers. We are delighted to welcome him back to Key West and the 28th annual Literary Seminar to continue this important project.

Time permitting, Richter will also be scheduling portraits with members of the community. Attendees of the Seminar may feel free to talk with Richter or Arlo Haskell to coordinate a session.

28th Seminar begins on January 7

12/24/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Dillard_cover_lg.jpgThe program book for 2010 features cover art by Annie Dillard and previously unpublished work by poets including Kay Ryan, Billy Cllins, James Tate, and Paul Muldoon.

An extraordinary assembly of American poets will gather for the 28th annual Key West Literary Seminar, January 7-10, 2010. “Clearing the Sill of the World: a celebration of 60 years of American poetry” will feature seven United States Poets Laureate- including Kay Ryan, Billy Collins, Rita Dove, Maxine Kumin, Mark Strand, and Robert Pinsky- along with more than a dozen other top-tier poets including New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon, and Pulitzer Prize winners Yusef Komunyakaa, Natasha Trethewey, and James Tate. Our guest of honor at the four-day Seminar will be Richard Wilbur, himself a former Laureate and the only living poet to have won the Pulitzer Prize twice.

While the majority of the event is sold out, there will be ample room for the public on Sunday January 10, when KWLS presents a free-and-open-to-the-public session. This program, from 2:00-4:00 p.m. at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval Street, will feature the laureates Collins, Dove, Strand, Kumin, and Wilbur, as well as Pulitzer Prize winners Komunyakaa and Trethewey. Admission is free of charge, with seating available on a first-come, first-served basis. The public is encouraged to arrive early; a line will begin forming around 1:00 p.m.

The Seminar begins with a keynote address by Robert Pinsky on Thursday January 7 at 7:45 p.m at the San Carlos Institute, 516 Duval Street. Registrants can sign in and pick up their welcome packets at the San Carlos from 1:00 – 5:00 p.m. that same day, and again from 7:00 – 7:30 p.m. A complete schedule of events is available for download here. The complete roster of speakers, including links to biographical information and resources from around the web, is available here. The Writers’ Workshop Program will take place January 11-14.

This year’s program book features artwork by Annie Dillard, Jack Smith, and Hank Feeley. For the first time, the book also includes new and previously unpublished work– by Kay Ryan, Billy Collins, James Tate, Maxine Kumin, Paul Muldoon, and others.

Littoral will feature live reporting and photography from the Seminar each day. Audio recordings will be available in the weeks following the Seminar.

For more information, call 1-888-293-9291. For media inquiries, including requests for press passes or interviews, write to

KWLS Announces Scholarship Winners

11/02/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

scholar-collage.giffrom left to right: Will Dowd, George Green, and Andrew Alexander

The 2009-2010 winners of the Key West Literary Seminar’s three named scholarships have been announced.

Will Dowd, a poet and MFA student at New York University with a master’s in science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been awarded the Scotti Merrill Memorial Scholarship. A 2006 finalist for The Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Fellowship, Dowd’s work has been published in Post Road Magazine, 32 Poems, and The Comstock Review.

George Green, an adjunct instructor at Lehman College whose work appears in The Swallow Anthology of New American Poets, is the winner of the Marianne Russo Scholarship. Green is a graduate of Hunter College and The New School, and lives in Manhattan’s East Village.

Andrew Alexander, a graduate of Vassar College and the Center for Writers in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, has won the Joyce Horton Johnson Fiction Award. A resident of Atlanta, Alexander’s work has appeared in The Sun, The Mississippi Review, and The Chicago Quarterly Review, among other publications.

Winners of the Key West Literary Seminar’s named scholarships receive full financial support to attend the Seminar and Writers’ Workshop Program, and the opportunity to present their work during the Seminar program. The awards also cover travel and lodging expenses, and provide a stipend while in Key West. This year’s poetry finalists were judged by special guest judge and New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon. Fiction entries were judged by KWLS 2010 Program Chair Liz Lear and Robert D. Richardson, author of biographies of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.

In addition to the named scholarships, KWLS provides limited financial support to teachers, librarians, and writers who would not otherwise be able to attend the Seminar and/or Writers’ Workshop Program. In all, more than 50 scholarships were given this year, at a value of nearly $35,000. The program is made possible by endowments established by Joyce Johnson, Peyton Evans and The Rodel Charitable Foundation-Florida, and The Dogwood Foundation; by the ongoing support of Judy Blume’s KIDS Fund; and by the KWLS board of directors and the many individuals who support the organization.

Congratulations to all our scholarship recipients!

The World is Fundamentally a Great Wonder
a conversation with Richard Wilbur

10/21/2009  by Arlo Haskell  4 Comments

Richard Wilbur in his study in Cummington, Massachusetts. Photo by Arlo Haskell.

Richard Wilbur’s auspicious 1947 debut, The Beautiful Changes, earned the admiration of two of the most enduring American poets of the era, Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens. By the late 1950s, Wilbur had completed a landmark translation of Molière’s The Misanthrope, and received the Pulitzer Prize for his third collection of poetry, Things of This World. Since then, Wilbur has received nearly every award and honor available to an American poet, including two Pulitzers, two Bollingen Prizes, a National Book Award, and the office of the U.S. Poet Laureate. His definitive translations of Molière, Jean Racine, and Pierre Corneille represent nearly the complete output of these major figures of 17th-century French drama, and he has translated poetry by an astounding range of poets including the Portuguese Vinícius de Moraes, the Russian Anna Akhmatova, and the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges.

For parts of five decades, Wilbur and his wife Charlee spent winters in Key West. Here they became part of a cadre that included John Ciardi, the noted translator of Dante’s Inferno, Pulitzer Prize-winning World War II correspondent John Hersey, two-time National Book Award-winning poet James Merrill, and poet, biographer, and social critic John Malcolm Brinnin.

Our interview began in February as a series of exchanges through the mail. On a sunny day in late August, I drove to visit Wilbur at his home in the Berkshires outside Northampton, Massachusetts. We had a lunch of turkey sandwiches with beets from Wilbur’s garden and walked from the house to his study, an open structure with large windows and wall-to-wall bookshelves. On the windowsill is a pair of binoculars, and in front of the window is Wilbur’s desk, topped with an early 20th-century L.C. Smith typewriter and the blue folder containing the manuscript that will become Wilbur’s next book of poems, due in the fall of 2010. Our conversation—about Frost, Stevens, Key West, Wilbur’s practice, and his place in the republic of letters—follows.


Littoral: You knew both Wallace Stevens and Robert Frost early in your career. How did you come to know them, and what was their influence on your work and career?

Richard Wilbur: When I went to Harvard Graduate School on the G.I. Bill after World War II, Frost was spending much of the winters in Cambridge, and my wife and I soon got to know him. He was kindly disposed toward Charlee because her great-aunt, Susan Hayes Ward, had encouraged him when he was obscure, and was always called by him “the first friend of my poetry.” He took to me also, because I had many of his poems by heart, and when my first book appeared in 1947 he spoke kindly of it. We saw Robert– as he soon let us call him– frequently thereafter in Cambridge or in Ripton, Vermont, or at our house in Portland, Connecticut, once I’d begun to teach at Wesleyan. His poems always seemed to me to be a wonder and an inimitable model: I had no wish to ape his work, but it made me seek for a speaking voice, for meter and rhyme which worked as if by accident and for plain situations having overtones.
In Stevens’s work I was delighted by the gaiety of his flow of thought. I saw him rather rarely, but he was good to me and backed me for a Guggenheim in 1952; and I once had the honor of introducing him to a capacity crowd in Harvard’s New Lecture Hall. His ability to combine “the imagination’s Latin with the lingua franca et jocundissima” (as Stevens writes in “Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction”) was something I sought after in my own way, and with gratitude for his infectious example.


L: Like Stevens and Frost, you ended up in Key West. What first attracted you to the place? Were you aware of their histories in the town?

RW: I well remember what drew me to Key West in the first place. It was the 1960s, and a colleague of mine at Wesleyan, the painter Samuel Green, said to me, “Why do you take winter vacations in remote places like Tobago, using up all your money on air fare? You ought to try Key West, our American subtropics.” He asked if I liked the movie Bonnie and Clyde. “Well, yes,” I said. “It’s morally questionable, but, aesthetically, very pleasing.” “Then you’ll love,” he said, “the combined beauty and tackiness of Key West.” Sam was right. Charlee and I stayed at first at the Sun ‘n’ Surf Motel near Duval Street, which was quite empty in those days, nothing at all like what it has become. I remember, after we settled in, we sat out on the balcony in the heat and realized we were going to require a drink, something with tonic. I went out and trudged all over town looking for tonic water, but couldn’t find any and had to settle for Tom Collins mix. “No tonic?” said Charlee. “Well, thank God. We’ve found a backwater.”


The Sun 'n' Surf Motel, Key West, circa 1960s, where the Wilburs first stayed.

Later we bought a one-room apartment on Elizabeth Street, and then with some writer friends– John and Barbara Hersey, the Ciardis– we bought into a compound on Windsor Lane, to which we returned for as much as three months of every year until 2005, when my wife fell ill. We enjoyed the company of many good friends, and I always loved simply being able to wear shorts, to ride my bicycle, and to play tennis on the city courts in the middle of winter. I found the variety of Key West life very conducive to my work. It has some of the virtues of a city– there’s always been a kind of art colony there in flux, and by now it has its own symphony orchestra, productions of plays– and then there are the boats, the fishing, that kind of thing. There’s more of a cocktail society than is good for us, of course, but all you have to do is not attend all the parties. You can live in Key West in all kinds of ways.
When we went down to Key West originally, I had no recollection that there was any connection with Frost. He wasn’t much of a hotel dweller, whereas Stevens was practically designed to be a patron of the Casa Marina, that great old hotel on the ocean where he stayed.

L: Were you among the Anagrams players in Key West?

RW: Yes, I’ve played a lot of Anagrams. I was introduced to it as a child, but I wasn’t an incessant player until I began playing in Key West with people like John Malcolm Brinnin and John Ciardi– a devoted and violent Anagrams player. There’s a long list of people who became devoted to the game: Jimmy Merrill played a little with us, Harry Mathews, Rust Hills, Irving Weinman, and each of the players took turns hosting the weekly game. John Hersey played– he knew all the names of all the fish in the sea, and he was very good at any word connected with boats and fishing– and after a certain amount of exposure to the game John wrote a story about it, published in Key West Tales. We tried to keep it a high-minded, good-tempered game. There were no wagers, but we did begin to have certain rules that were above and beyond the rules of the game itself. It was understood, for instance, that you would not have any Bass Ale, which came to be the official ale of these games, until the first of two rounds was over.

L: What was your reaction to being named U.S. Poet Laureate in 1987?

RW: I came to it not knowing what the assignment was. I appeared in the door of the Laureate’s office down there, and there were the two fine secretaries who handle the Laureate’s affairs, and I said, “Here I am, reporting for duty. What am I supposed to do?” And they said, “You’re supposed to think that up.” So I said, “Well, I suppose this is an honor. Should I just go home and write more poems for them to honor?” They said “No, that will not do.”

L: What are you reading these days?

RW: I’ve been reading Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell and other poets of that period– which is to say my period– because I’m in the funny position of being about to teach my contemporaries at Amherst this fall, with my old friend David Sofield. We’ll co-teach the course, beginning with W.H. Auden, and proceeding through Bishop, Lowell, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, Sylvia Plath. It’s going to be difficult for me to turn myself into a considering, evaluative teacher of the works of people I knew so well, so personally. And I shall have to try hard to avoid being an old anecdotalist, telling stories on my old friends and acquaintances.


L: Are you writing poetry now?

RW: Yes. I don’t manage to write something every day, but I never have. I wait to be asked, more or less, and when something wants to be written I make sure that I’ve cleared the decks and that I concentrate on that alone and give it as many hours as it will need. I’m a terribly slow worker, but I’m also terribly patient, and I’m glad that I still have the ideas and the patience to execute them. I’m going to have another book next year, in the fall, and three of its poems will be in The New Yorker next week. The book will have translations as well; I have 37 more riddles by Symphosius for the volume, and I’ve finally satisfied myself with a translation of Stéphane Mallarmés famous sonnet “For the Tomb of Edgar Poe.” (more…)

Jane Hirshfield to speak, teach Workshop

10/08/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

photo by Nick Rosza

Jane Hirshfield has been added to the roster of speakers for the sold-out Key West Literary Seminar this January. She will also offer an advanced writers’ workshop, bringing the total number of workshops offered to seven.

Hirshfield’s most recent book of poetry, After, was named a "best book of 2006" by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and England’s Financial Times. She has been a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets.

The workshop, January 11-14, 2010, will be limited to 12 students and will include writing experiments, close-reading responses to poems, and conversation on craft. The goal, according to Hirshfield, is "to bring an open, intimate, and tenacious looking to words, worlds, and the craft-informed relationship between them where poetry begins," and to become aware of "the nameable elements of craft that underlie poetry’s power to conjure, transform, delve, evoke, counter, move, unravel, expose, augment, and surprise."

KWLS 28 Sold Out; Schedule Announced

10/01/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

From top left: Richard Wilbur, Natasha
Trethewey, James Tate, Mary Jo Salter, Mark
Strand, Kay Ryan, Timothy Steele, Robert
Pinsky, Maxine Kumin, Brad Leithauser, Paul
Muldoon, Harvey Shapiro, Yusef Komunyakaa,
Matthea Harvey, Rachel Hadas, Dan Gerber,
Rhina P. Espaillat, Rita Dove, Erica Dawson,
Kirby Congdon, and Billy Collins.

A steady flow of registrations and a last-minute surge of extraordinarily talented applicants for the Scholarship Program has brought registration for the 2010 Key West Literary Seminar and Writers’ Workshop Program to an official close. Those interested in attending may still sign up for the waiting list by sending an email to, and locals are reminded of the open-to-the-public session held on the Seminar’s final Sunday.

The complete schedule for the 28th annual event– Clearing the Sill of the World, a celebration of 60 years of American poetry in honor of Richard Wilbur– is now available as a downloadable .pdf. Highlights of the January 7-10 program will include three-time U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky’s keynote address, "Modernism and Memory"; a panel discussion on translation including Wilbur, Mark Strand, and Rachel Hadas; a production of Wilbur’s translation of Jean Racine’s "The Suitors" by the Red Barn Theatre; and a conversation including Matthea Harvey and James Tate on "Giving shape and form and voice to the madness and strangeness and wonder of everyday life." The event will also feature readings and lectures by current Poet Laureate Kay Ryan, and Pulitzer Prize winners Yusef Komunyakaa and Natasha Trethewey.

Yusef Komunyakaa to lead Workshop

09/25/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Photo by Don Getsug Studios

Yusef Komunyakaa, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Warhorses, Copacetic, and I Apologize for the Eyes in my Head, will offer an advanced writers’ workshop in Key West following the Seminar this January. The four-day poetry workshop, January 11-14, will focus on the process of revision. Time will be spent discussing poems written by members of the workshop, each of whom will be expected to submit a new poem daily. Submissions will be read, annotated, and discussed by all members of the workshop. "The basic philosophy underlining this creative writing workshop," says Komunyakaa, "is that we learn best about writing by writing, by listening to others constructively critique our work, and then by revising. The workshop is a small community of shared ideas– each poem is an action."

Deadline near for KWLS Awards Program

09/11/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

The Key West Literary Seminar offers three annual awards for emerging writers. Winners of the Joyce Horton Johnson, Marianne Russo, and Scotti Merrill prizes will receive full tuition to the Seminar and Writers’ Workshop Program this January 7-14, as well as support for travel expenses to Key West and lodging and living expenses while here. Winners will also have an opportunity to appear on stage during the Seminar and present their work to an influential audience of writers, publishers, agents, and other literary professionals.

Awards are granted based on the excellence of a manuscript submission. Past winners include Kristen-Paige Madonia and Patricia Engel, who signed a two-book deal with Grove/Atlantic earlier this summer. Application details are online here. The deadline is September 30.

Todd Boss joins Writers’ Workshop Faculty

09/10/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Todd Boss
Todd Boss

Poet Todd Boss, award-winning author of Yellowrocket and founder of the book marketing think-team Squad 365, has been named to the faculty for the 2010 Key West Literary Seminar Writers’ Workshop Program. Boss’s workshop, limited to eight students, will feature a series of highly focused mentorship-style conferences and group discussions. "You’ll learn to listen to your poems with new ears, practice describing what it is you’re actually doing in your best poems, and get ready to capitalize on your own best practices toward the making of brave new work that pushes you in new directions," says Boss. "The emphasis is on your voice, your talents, your subjects, your goals … in short, you, and the particular ways in which you approach your poems."

Acceptance into the workshop, which is open to all skill and experience levels, is based upon a work sample and statement of goals. Click here for complete details, here for more writers’ workshops with Billy Collins, E.J. Miller Laino, Valerie Martin, and Dara Wier.

KWLS adds Paul Muldoon, Matthea Harvey

09/09/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Paul Muldoon photo by Peter Cook.

Matthea Harvey photo by Robert Casper.

With the addition of The New Yorker poetry editor and Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon and Kingsley Tufts Award winner Matthea Harvey, the Key West Literary Seminar continues to buttress an already-impressive lineup for its 28th annual event in January 2010.

Muldoon is one of Ireland’s leading contemporary poets. He is the author of more than 10 books of poems including Moy Sand and Gravel, which won the International Griffin Poetry Prize along with the Pulitzer, and his most recent work, Horse Latitudes, which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. From 1999-2004, Muldoon held the distinguished Professor of Poetry post at Oxford University, and he has also penned lyrics for rock bands including Warren Zevon, The Handsome Family, and Rackett, for whom Muldoon plays rhythm guitar. He succeeded Alice Quinn as poetry editor of the New Yorker in 2007.

In addition to the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, Harvey’s third book, Modern Life, was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A native of Germany, England, and Milwaukee, a graduate of Harvard and the University of Iowa, Harvey is also a contributing editor to jubilat, Meatpaper, and BOMB. The New York Times called her poems “The Future of Terror” and “Terror of the Future” "among the most arresting poems yet written about the current American political atmosphere."

In Key West January 7-10, Harvey and Muldoon will join several of the preeminent poets of our time, including Billy Collins, Yusef Komunyakaa, Kay Ryan, Robert Pinsky, Mark Strand, Rita Dove, and our guest of honor Richard Wilbur. Click here to learn more, and here to register.

Timothy Steele, Erica Dawson join KWLS 28

09/03/2009  by Arlo Haskell  Comment on this Post

Timothy Steele photo by Barian.
Erica Dawson by Joy Dawson.

Timothy Steele and Erica Dawson have joined the roster for the 28th Key West Literary Seminar, to be held at the San Carlos Institute this January 7-10. They join nearly 20 other poets, including U.S. Poets Laureate Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky, Mark Strand, Maxine Kumin, and our guest of honor Richard Wilbur, for "Clearing the Sill of the World."

Steele (top left) is the author of four collections of poetry, including most recently Toward the Winter Solstice (2006). His debut collection, Uncertainties and Rest (1979), was called “desperately and delightfully unfashionable,” in The Hudson Review, a nod to his work’s allegiance to meter and rhyme at a time when free verse was the ascendant style. Steele has also written on poetic form in two scholarly works, including Missing Measures: Modern Poetry and the Revolt against Meter, from which comes the excellent and thought-provoking essay Prosody for 21st-Century Poets.

Dawson (bottom left) is among a newer wave of poets working in traditional forms, and credits Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, and James Merrill as influences on her work. Her debut collection, Big-Eyed Afraid, won the 2006 Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize and was chosen by Contemporary Poetry Review as its Best Debut Volume for 2007. X.J. Kennedy has called her “the most exciting younger poet I’ve seen in years.”

The website has a complete list of speakers for KWLS 28, with individual pages containing biographical material and links to multimedia resources online. Registration is still open, but seats are going fast.

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