The People Who Write Questionnaire: Carla Drysdale

Carla Drysdale, award-winning poet and author of Inheritance - peoplewhowrite

Award-winning poet Carla Drysdale is the author of Inheritance

If your life (so far) were a book, what would the title be?
Now that’s a hard one. Let’s see: The Writing Cure, The Unimportance of Being Earnest, Stayin’ Alive

What is the greatest story ever told?
The one that saves you and helps you see things as they really are.

Who is the greatest literary character ever created?
The Little Mermaid

Which living or dead writer would you most like to share a meal with?
Very hard to narrow down, but definitely Alice Munro or Margaret Atwood.

What is your favorite word right now?

What word has always looked or sounded strange to you?

How many words have you written today?
Between my morning pages, journal, emails, poetry and the novel, probably a couple thousand. If I’m lucky, a phrase or two will make it into print.

Where have you had your most exhilarating writing experience?
Sitting at my desk with pen and notebook in the corn crib studio at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.

What is the thing about writing that you most deplore?

What is the thing about writing that you most love?
The possibility of transformation by putting the right words in the right order.

What stereotype about writers have you found to be true?
Self-absorbed and self-critical

What’s the biggest misconception about writers/writing?
That answering a question like this would be easy for writers. Writers, like all humans, are caught in a tangle of misconceptions about their fellow humans on a minute to minute basis, which makes great material for writers. A moment of clarity is worth everything.

What’s the one thing no one would ever guess about you from reading your writing?
That I love listening to deep house and electro music while cleaning the kitchen after my family’s evening meal.

Inheritance, poems by Carla Drysdale (Finishing Line Press) - peoplewhowriteCarla Drysdale’s first full-length collection of poems, Little Venus, was published in 2010 by Tightrope Books in Toronto. Her first chapbook of poems, Inheritance, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press in October 2015. Her poems have appeared in PRISM, The Same, LIT, the Literary Review of Canada, Canadian Literature, The Fiddlehead, Global City ReviewLiterary Mama and in the anthology, Entering the Real World: VCCA Poets on Mt. San Angelo. In May, 2014 she was awarded PRISM’s annual Earle Birney poetry prize for her poem, “Inheritance.” She received an MFA in Poetry from Sarah Lawrence College. Born in London, Ontario, she lives with her husband and two sons in Ornex, France.

Academy of American Poets Awards Over $150,000 in 2014 Prizes

Robert Hass has won the Academy of American Poets 2014 Wallace Stevens Award - peoplewhowrite

Robert Hass

The Academy of American Poets has honored former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Tracy K. Smith, and more with lucrative prizes and fellowships. Here’s the list:

The Wallace Stevens Award ($100,000)
Robert Hass, for outstanding and proven mastery in the art of poetry

The Academy of American Poets Fellowship ($25,000)
Tracy K. Smith, for “distinguished poetic achievement”

The Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize ($25,000)
Unpeopled Eden by Rigoberto González

The James Laughlin Award ($5,000)
A Several World by Brian Blanchfield

Harold Morton Landon Translation Award ($1,000)
Selected Translations by W. S. Merwin

The Raiziss/De Palchi Book Prize ($10,000)
The Bedroom by Luigi Bonaffini (a translation of Attilio Bertolucci’s La Camera Da Letto)

The Aliki Perroti and Seth Frank Most Promising Young Poet Award ($1,000)
“They Sail Across the Mirrored Sea” by Wendy Chen

The Walt Whitman Award ($5,000)
The Same-Different by Hannah Sanghee Park

Rest in Peace, Kofi Awoonor

Ghanaian Kofi Awoonor among the 69 murdered in Nairobi mall massacre - peoplewhowrite

Ghanaian poet and statesman Kofi Awoonor, 78, was in Nairobi for Kenya’s Storymoja Hay writers festival when he was murdered in a terrorist attack at Westgate Mall.


“If I turn here, the rain beats me

If I turn there the sun burns me

The firewood of this world

Is for only those who can take heart…”

— from “Songs of Sorrow” by Kofi Awoonor

You can read more about the moments before the massacre, as told by Ghanaian poet Nii Ayikwei Parkes & Ghana’s High Commissioner to Kenya Kingsley Karimu, in a piece I wrote for

Poem of the Day: "Resurrection" by Mary Ann Bernard

In honor of National Poetry Month, the PWW poem of the day, reposted from

by Mary Ann Bernard

Long, long, long ago;
Way before this winter’’s snow
First fell upon these weathered fields;
I used to sit and watch and feel
And dream of how the spring would be,
When through the winter’’s stormy sea
She’’d raise her green and growing head,
Her warmth would resurrect the dead.

Long before this winter’’s snow
I dreamt of this day’’s sunny glow
And thought somehow my pain would pass
With winter’’s pain, and peace like grass
Would simply grow. (But) The pain’’s not gone.
It’s still as cold and hard and long
As lonely pain has ever been,
It cuts so deep and fear within.

Long before this winter’’s snow
I ran from pain, looked high and low
For some fast way to get around
Its hurt and cold. I’’d have found,
If I had looked at what was there,
That things don’t follow fast or fair.
That life goes on, and times do change,
And grass does grow despite life’’s pains.

Long before this winter’’s snow
I thought that this day’’s sunny glow,
The smiling children and growing things
And flowers bright were brought by spring.
Now, I know the sun does shine,
That children smile, and from the dark, cold, grime
A flower comes. It groans, yet sings,
And through its pain, its peace begins.

Poem of the Day: "Continuing" by Deanna Nikaido

Deanna Nikaido - people who write

Deanna Nikaido

In honor of National Poetry Month, the PWW poem of the day, reposted from


by Deanna Nikaido

How far does the sound
of one birds open ended warble reach
if nothing is solid
and the air is filled with continuing?

If every cell is a tilted domino
leaning into the next
then I am the last word of your conversation
and the beginning of your next.

If memory were long enough to fill this presence
If the same invisible verb
that whispers bloom to the rose
And dawn to my eyes were a noun I could touch

If this ink in my pen
is the breath of a child
in his mother’s love
then language is feeling
and words are hollow cups
poured and pouring.

And this bottomless fear
the one that fits inside every separation
cannot cap this sky
still I count stars
like breadcrumbs across every darkness
feeling the pressure of grace
outgrowing limitation
my future already turning inside the heart
of one who holds me close
the one whose name secretly frames forever
the one who balances the clock I break
between sunrise and sunset.

Every thread of distinction
between you and I
is a safety net.

Undissolved sugar
at the bottom of a drink
we stir
and stir
continuing like breath through sleep
in a country the body has no geography for.

This glass moment
slipping from outline
this full fragrant prayer
exhaled in one nights glory
is a beheaded love
carried everywhere the wind blows . . .

How can we breathe this miracle
and remain ordinary
hold ourselves
in a state of unscented captivity
drown in the shallow end
of questions we can’t seem to touch
the bottom of.

Poem of the Day: "Heritage" by Countee Cullen

Countee Cullen - peoplewhowrite
In honor of National Poetry Month, the PWW poem of the day, reposted from
by Countee Cullen
What is Africa to me:
Copper sun or scarlet sea,
Jungle star or jungle track,
Strong bronzed men, or regal black
Women from whose loins I sprang
When the birds of Eden sang?
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?
So I lie, who all day long
Want no sound except the song
Sung by wild barbaric birds
Goading massive jungle herds,
Juggernauts of flesh that pass
Trampling tall defiant grass
Where young forest lovers lie,
Plighting troth beneath the sky.
So I lie, who always hear,
Though I cram against my ear
Both my thumbs, and keep them there,
Great drums throbbing through the air.
So I lie, whose fount of pride,
Dear distress, and joy allied,
Is my somber flesh and skin,
With the dark blood dammed within
Like great pulsing tides of wine
That, I fear, must burst the fine
Channels of the chafing net
Where they surge and foam and fret.
Africa? A book one thumbs
Listlessly, till slumber comes.
Unremembered are her bats
Circling through the night, her cats
Crouching in the river reeds,
Stalking gentle flesh that feeds
By the river brink; no more
Does the bugle-throated roar
Cry that monarch claws have leapt
From the scabbards where they slept.
Silver snakes that once a year
Doff the lovely coats you wear,
Seek no covert in your fear
Lest a mortal eye should see
What’s your nakedness to me?
Here no leprous flowers rear
Fierce corollas in the air;
Here no bodies sleek and wet,
Dripping mingled rain and sweat,
Tread the savage measures of
Jungle boys and girls in love.
What is last year’s snow to me,
Last year’s anything? The tree
Budding yearly must forget
How its past arose or set—
Bough and blossom, flower, fruit,
Even what shy bird with mute
Wonder at her travail there,
Meekly labored in its hair.
One three centuries removed
From the scenes his fathers loved,
Spicy grove, cinnamon tree,
What is Africa to me?
So I lie, who find no peace
Night or day, no slight release
From the unremittent beat
Made by cruel padded feet
Walking through my body’s street.
Up and down they go, and back,
Treading out a jungle track.
So I lie, who never quite
Safely sleep from rain at night—
I can never rest at all
When the rain begins to fall;
Like a soul gone mad with pain
I must match its weird refrain;
Ever must I twist and squirm,
Writhing like a baited worm,
While its primal measures drip
Through my body, crying, “Strip!
Doff this new exuberance.
Come and dance the Lover’s Dance!”
In an old remembered way
Rain works on me night and day.
Quaint, outlandish heathen gods
Black men fashion out of rods,
Clay, and brittle bits of stone,
In a likeness like their own,
My conversion came high-priced;
I belong to Jesus Christ,
Preacher of Humility;
Heathen gods are naught to me.
Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
So I make an idle boast;
Jesus of the twice-turned cheek,
Lamb of God, although I speak
With my mouth thus, in my heart
Do I play a double part.
Ever at Thy glowing altar
Must my heart grow sick and falter,
Wishing He I served were black,
Thinking then it would not lack
Precedent of pain to guide it,
Let who would or might deride it;
Surely then this flesh would know
Yours had borne a kindred woe.
Lord, I fashion dark gods, too,
Daring even to give You
Dark despairing features where,
Crowned with dark rebellious hair,
Patience wavers just so much as
Mortal grief compels, while touches
Quick and hot, of anger, rise
To smitten cheek and weary eyes.
Lord, forgive me if my need
Sometimes shapes a human creed.
All day long and all night through,
One thing only must I do:
Quench my pride and cool my blood,
Lest I perish in the flood,
Lest a hidden ember set
Timber that I thought was wet
Burning like the dryest flax,
Melting like the merest wax,
Lest the grave restore its dead.
Not yet has my heart or head
In the least way realized
They and I are civilized.

“So You Want to Be A Writer?”

Charles Bukowski - peoplewhowrite

Charles Bukowski

In his poem “So You Want to Be A Writer?”, esteemed poet Charles Bukowski had some strong words for anyone proposing to be a scribe. I don’t agree with all of them (perhaps because I sit “hunched over my [computer] searching for words” at this very moment), but I love it. Like Bukowski, I believe “if you have to wait for it to roar out of you / then wait patiently.” I’ve pasted the full poem below from

so you want to be a writer?
by Charles Bukowski

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

In Celebration of National Poetry Month: An Ode to the Library

National Poetry Month - peoplewhowriteApril is National Poetry Month. Founded by the American Academy of Poets in 1996, the monthlong celebration presents multiple suggestions and opportunities for experiencing poetry including attending a reading, sharing your favorite poem on “Poem in Your Pocket” Day, and reading your own poetry at an open mic. In celebration, I’ve written a poem in honor of the library, one of my favorite places to write. Please share your favorite poems and poets in the comments section.

A Library is
By Nana Ekua Brew-Hammond

A library is
A choir
Of voices hallowed and profane
Whispering cheers and subversions
Preserving stories like griots
Like songs
Making sure you remember
So we never forget
Put your ear to the shelves
Not a spineless one

A library is
A federal reserve
Bullion bars of research and data
The keeper of theories proven and debunked
Hoarding relics and memories
Of the way we thought and think
The way we were
On rolling carts in musty stacks
On oak tag cards and rubber stamps
Broadband connections churning centuries of words and ideas

A library is
A shelter
The fallout from earnest and wicked shrugs about what to do with our homeless and mentally ill
See the line that stretches in the morning
Before the doors open
Men and women ragged from roaming the streets of their minds
Waiting for a warm, quiet place to be crazy
Where others go to be sane
From the craziness at home
And for the wi-fi

A library is
A junction
Where race, class, and generations converge at the intersection of homework, research, and resume triage
A free after school program
A NICU for concepts and dreams that need more time to develop
A daycare for the over-qualified
A place to go and feel productive
While you wait for the call
Because you will get the call

A library is
A luxury
Of a nation so rich
Not only the rich are entitled to a library
A necessity
Of a society committed to a future that builds on the wisdom of the past
A safe house for learning
A beacon
On a neighborhood block

Richard Blanco's Inauguration Poem

“One Today”
by Richard Blanco

sun rose on us today
kindled over our shores
peaking over the smokies
greeting the faces of the great lakes
spreading a simple truth across the great plains
and charging across the rockies

one light
waking up rooftops
under each one
a story
told by our silent gestures
moving across windows

my face
your face
millions of faces in morning’s mirrors
each one
yawning to life
crescendoing into our day

the pencil-yellow school buses
the rhythm of traffic lights
fruit stands
apples, limes, and oranges
arrayed like rainbows
begging our praise

silver trucks
heavy with oil or paper
bricks or milk
teeming over highways
alongside us
on our way
to clean tables
read ledgers
or save lives
to teach geometry
or ring up groceries
as my mother did
for 20 years
so i could write this poem
for all of us

all of us
as vital as the one light we move through
the same light on blackboards
with lessons for the day
equations to solve
history to question
or atoms imagined
the ‘i have a dream’ we all keep dreaming
or the impossible vocabulary of
that won’t explain
the empty desks
of 20 children marked absent
and forever

many prayers
but one light
breathing color into stained glass windows
into the faces of bronze statues
onto the steps of our museums and park benches
as mothers watch children
slide into the day

one ground
our ground
rooting us to every stock of corn
every head of wheat
sown by sweat and hands
hands gleaning coal
or planting windmills
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm
digging trenches
routing pipes and cables
as worn as my father’s
cutting sugarcane
so my brother and i
could have books and shoes

the dust of farms and deserts
cities and plains
mingled by one wind
our breath

hear it through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs
buses launching down avenues
the symphony of footsteps,
guitars, and screeching subways
the unexpected songbird on your clothesline
squeaky playground swings
trains whistling
or whispers across cafe tables
the doors we open
each day for each other
buon giorno
or buenos dias
in the language my mother taught me
in every language
spoken into one wind
carrying our lives without prejudice
as these words break from my lips

one sky
since the appalachians and sierras claimed their majesty
and the mississippi and colorado worked their way to the sea
thank the work of our hands
weaving steel into bridges
finishing one more report for the boss
on time
stitching another wound
or uniform
the first brushstroke on a portrait
or the last floor on the freedom tower
jutting into the sky that yields to our resilience

one sky
toward which we sometimes lift our eyes
tired from work
some days guessing at the weather
of our lives
some days giving thanks for a love
that loves you back
some times
praising a mother who knew how to give
or forgiving a father who couldn’t give
what you wanted

we head
through the gloss of rain
or weight of snow
or the plum blush of dusk
but always
under one sky
our sky
and always
one moon
like a silent drum
tapping on every rooftop
and every window
of one country
all of us
facing the stars

a new constellation
waiting for us
to map it
waiting for us
to name it