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The Raven & Wren Zoom Room was booming with a community of poets gathering to celebrate the launch of the book HOW TO BEGIN, Poems, prompts, tips and writing exercises from the Fresh Ink Poetry Collective to improve your poetry practice—or start a group of your own, edited by Robin Michel. It was exciting to see so many poets filling the screen with windows into their worldsall connected to one another through technology and our shared love of language. Everyone in attendance was able to complete three prompts from the book: Free Write (using “I remember…”), Making Lists (with Kimberly Satterfield reading her list poem “Leaving My Parents House” as an example, and an ekphrastic poem based on Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks.”

Bravo to the brave guest-poets who shared their responses with us, and an extra special thank you to the accomplished poets who reviewed the manuscript, Chun Yu, author of Little Green, a Memoir of Growing Up During the Chinese Cultural Revolution and Shara McCallum, author of five collections, including Madwoman and the forthcoming No Ruined Stone.

We ended the evening by asking everyone to do a choral reading of Berkeley poet and former Fresh Ink member Adam David Miller’s poem “Keep Sending Love Out”our way of saying goodbye to this marvelous poet and mentor who died earlier this month, and always a reminder of the work as poets we must do. Thank you again for coming.

…and let’s continue our word play. by sharing your response to the take home prompt: Penny Serenade. Take a penny and write a 10-penny poem (or 10-line poem) that has some relation to the date. If you can’t think of anything, make it up. Please feel free to leave your 10-penny poem in the “Leave a Reply” field if you would like to share with others.

Join Raven & Wren Press and Fresh Ink Poets Miriam D. Aroner, Rita Flores Bogaert, Chantal Guillemin, Madeline Lacques-Aranda, Ellen Levin, Wulf Losee, Jeanne Lupton, Robin Michel, Barbara Minton , Kimberly Satterfield, David White and Carolyn Yale to celebrate the launch of HOW TO BEGIN: Poems, Prompts, Tips and Writing Exercises by the Fresh Ink Poetry Collective to improve your poetry practice—or start a group of your own.

A book on craft, HOW TO BEGIN includes more than sixty writing exercises or prompts, illustrative poems, online poetry resources, recommended reading, and practical guidance on how to form and sustain a poetry group of one’s own. Hear Fresh Ink poets read their work, and sample a few of the book’s writing exercises and prompts and do some generative writing of your own in this mini-workshop book launch.

Still Life with Pen and Demitasse, oil on canvas panel, Madeline Lacques-Aranda

Praise for HOW TO BEGIN:

“HOW TO BEGIN is an incisive guide to poetry, blending instruction with inspiration. Drawing upon the Fresh Ink Poetry Collective’s decades of knowledge and experience, the book is a feast of prompts, explication of a wide array of traditional forms, glossary of poetic terms, practical tips on how to start a writing group, and poems as examples—including the anthology of terrific poems written by members of the collective across the years. HOW TO BEGIN is a testament to the belief in poetry as practice, nurtured by dailiness and sustained by being in a community of others engaged in the art.” —Shara McCallum, author of No Ruined Stone and Madwoman

Whether you write alone or in a group, whether you are young or old, whether you are new or seasoned as a poet, HOW TO BEGIN will help to bring out the poetry in you and to the world.” —Chun Yu, author of the poetry memoir, Little Green, a Memoir of Growing Up During the Chinese; and co-founder, “Two Languages/One Community”

Register here to receive a Zoom link to the event closer to the date.

Raven & Wren Press is proud to announce the release of HOW TO BEGIN: Poems, Prompts, Tips and Writing Exercises by the Fresh Ink Poetry Collective to improve your poetry practice—or start a group of your own, edited by Robin Michel.

HOW TO BEGIN contains poetry prompts and exercises that will stimulate and energize poets at all levels in the mastery of their craft. Prompts developed, adapted, and tested in the “poetry kitchens” of the Fresh Ink Poetry Collective, a writing group based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Established more than twenty-five years ago, the Fresh Ink Poetry Collective formed when the original group members met when taking classes from Jannie Dresser, the San Francisco Bay Area poet, editor and publisher. Only a few of the original members remain; many moved away and quickly established Fresh Ink groups in their new communities.

The Fresh Ink poets gather together in one another’s homes, online, or in coffee shops to share their love of poetry, find inspiration in sharing writing exercises provided by each other, and to give and receive valuable feedback and encouragement on their own work.

Michel, founder of Raven & Wren Press, joined Fresh Ink in 2010. She says that the idea for this book began two years ago, when members discussed the draft poems generated through their exercises. “Someone suggested we compile our prompts in a book. As someone with publishing experience, I offered to be the lead.”

Compiling the prompts and matching the prompts to the Fresh Ink poets work was labor intensive, but well worth it. “Fresh Ink welcomed me into its group at a difficult time in my life. The poets nurture and sustain, inspire and console one another. Each of us understands how vitally important poetry is by expressing that which cannot be said in any other way. We have found that poetry helps us engage in and pay witness to the world in which we live, the whole big sticky mess.”

Raven & Wren and the Fresh Ink Poetry Collective is planning a date for the book’s virtual launch, mid-November.

Florence Miller, James M. LeCuyer, and Robin Michel will be featured readers at Poetry at the Bette, at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts, 1601 Paru Street, in Alameda, on Saturday, January 11, 2020, 7-9 PM. Readings by the featured poets will be followed by an open mic.

James M. LeCuyer and Florence Miller

Florence Miller’s second poetry collection, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms (Raven & Wren Press) was released in 2019 when Florence was 96. Upriver (Shakespeare’s Sisters Press), her first book, was published in 2012. Her work appears in many publications, including Modern Haiku, the Paterson Literary Review, Blue Unicorn, LYNX, Brussels Sprout, Passager, Crazy Ladies and Milvia Street. Florence taught Creating Writing and English at McClymonds High School in Oakland, and the 1972 Emmy-winning film by Allen Willis, Can You Hear Me? Young Black Poets from the Ghetto, is based on her students and their work.

Florence Miller, who lives in Fremont, was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1922. Her family moved to West Orange soon after. Many of Florence’s poems capture the pain and confusion she experienced when her father lost his drugstore and the family their home during the Great Depression. Poet Sara Mithra wrote of Florence’s that “Autobiographical images gleaned from the Great Depression accrue a mythic thickness under Miller’s spare line…”

Poet and writer James M. LeCuyer’s most recently published book is a collection of short fiction, Duck Lessons (Darkhouse Books, 2018). He has also published two collections of poetry, Threnody for Sturgeon, and A Brick for Offissa Pup (Floating Island Press, 1979). One of his poems from the latter expresses his commitment to the poet as activist: “To be a poet / you must…/ place words in the world / through / what burns in you so often / like the flaming heart of Dresden…”

Raven & Wren Press publisher Robin Michel is also a writer and poet whose work can be seen in San Pedro River Review, Rappahannock Review, South 85 Journal, and elsewhere. She belongs to the poetry collectives, Fresh Ink (East Bay) and Wild Women Writing (SF). In 2019, she founded the Raven & Wren Press in order to help “feather a nest” for Florence’s exceptionally fine and moving poetry. “Working with Florence on After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms has been an incredible gift and learning experience, and I am profoundly grateful to her.”

Robin Michel at the Daniel Johnston mural in Austin, TX

Poetry at the Bette is hosted by Wulf Losee on the second Saturday of each month at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts. The event showcases local talent, mostly poets and writers but also singer-songwriters, dancers, storytellers, stand-up comedians, and other creatives. After the featured artists open each session, there is a short break, followed by an open mic. For more information, please visit the website: www.frankbettecenter.org

Poets Prado Gomez, Julian née Sara Mithra, and Salon founder Ali Cannon also reading at the event

New independent publishing house Raven & Wren Press, which released its first poetry title earlier this month, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms, by Florence Miller, is happy to announce that the author will kick off an evening of poetry at  Hope in the Face of Despair, a Literary Salon for Our Timeson Saturday April 27, 2019, from 7-9 PM, at Loka Yoga, 2701 MacArthur Boulevard, in Oakland. 

Raven & Wren poet Florence Miller reads from After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms
at the book launch held on April 7. Her son David Miller holds the microphone.

The Literary Salon is the brainchild of activist, community organizer and educator Ali Cannon, who said that the April 27threading is the first in an ongoing series featuring poets, writers, artists and others dedicated to inclusion and equity. “The times we are living in can overwhelm a person, but despair is not an option,” said Cannon. “The Literary Salon will provide us a place where we can gather to build community and raise our consciousness through discussion of literary responses to the world around us.” 

A recognized leader in the transgender community, Cannon is one of the four featured poets on the evening’s line-up. His poetry appears in  From the Inside Out: Radical Gender Transformation, FTM and Beyond, and his illumination of Jewish and transgender themes can be seen in the film, It’s A Boy: Journeys from Female to Male, and in the co-authored essay (with TJ Michels), Whose Side Are You On: Transgender at the Western Wall

Poet Miller will begin the evening by reading from her new collection, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms (Raven & Wren Press, 2019), published at the age of 96. 

Miller is a founding member of Shakespeare’s Sisters, co-author (with Alexis Rotella) of a widely respected renga trilogy, and co-edited the anthology State of Peace: The Women Speak.  She is a retired creative writing and English teacher from Oakland’s McClymonds High school. The 1972 Emmy-winning film by Allen Willis, Can You Hear Me? Young Black Poets from the Ghetto is based on her students and their work.

Joining Miller and Cannon are Prado Gomez, a Bay Area singer and writer born and raised in the San Francisco Mission District, whose writing reflects on family, race, gender, gentrification, and sexuality from his perspective as a Mestizo-American man of trans experience; and Oakland poet Julian née Sara Mithra,  whose first book, If the Color Is Fugitive(Nomadic Press, 2018) follows vagrants around the collapsing frontier during a queer elsewhen. Mithra’s book is a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and their work has appeared in Versal 12, Milvia Street, Storm Cellar, Sharkpack Annual, Anxy, Name and None, and inside bags of Nomadic Coffee.

Loka Yoga is a scent-free environment and everyone is requested to please remove shoes. Suggested donation for the event is $10.        

Raven & Wren Press is proud to announce the release of poet Florence Miller’s second full-length collection of poetry, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms.To celebrate, the press is hosting a book launch on Sunday, April 7, 2019, from 4 to 6 PM, at Mission Coffee Roasting Company, located at 151 Washington Blvd, in Fremont. 

Poet Florence Miller and artist Barbara Lyon, March 2016. Lyon’s  watercolor is the cover art for Miller’s new book, After Rain a Little Girl Straightening Worms.
Photo courtesy of Denny Stein.

Florence Miller, who lives in Fremont, was born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1922. Her family moved to West Orange soon after. She loved the natural beauty and freedom she experienced as a child, climbing every tree in every park. One summer, when Florence was in sixth grade, she and her friends learned that Eleanor Roosevelt would be visiting her godparents in the gated neighborhood Llewellyn Park. The girls decided to pay the First Lady a visit. A headline in the Newark Evening News read: Six West Orange Girls Crash the Gate.  This cherished experience is captured in one of Florence’s poems, as is the  pain and confusion she experienced when her father lost his drugstore and the family their home during the Great Depression. Florence’s family pulled up stakes and eventually settled into a two-and-a-half family home in Newark where the schools were a year behind in instruction. Of the book, poet Sara Mithra wrote:

“Autobiographical images gleaned from the Great Depression accrue a mythic thickness under Miller’s spare line…A naive girl knocking her head on a table grows up, dreaming a timeless raven. One cycles through unpredictable loss and recovery, as in a mist. A wedding ring tossed into the water later resurfaces as a bone ring. The attendant reemergence of mortality from the maw of nature is delineated as gracefully as a birch.” 

Florence remembers how her mother, Jeannette Shank, recited Milton to her and her siblings when they were small children. “My mother loved poetry,” she said, and attended the same high school as Allen Ginsburg’s father Louis. “He was our class poet,” my mother said, her voice filled with admiration for him. 

One of Florence’s earliest memories of poem-making happened when she was a three-year-old child twirling around the house, singing out, “Spinach and Fish! Spinach and Fish! Mixed in a dish!” 

That’s a poem,” her mother cried. “Let me get a pencil and write it down.” Poetry is in Florence’s DNA.

Florence, her husband Don Miller, a sociology professor, and their young son David moved to Berkeley “just in time for the sixties”—as Florence likes to say.  Don taught at Laney College and Florence taught English and creative writing at McClymonds High School, in Oakland, where she infused her students with the same love of language she possesses. Miller’s students are the subject of the Emmy Award winning 1972 film by Allen Willis, Can you Hear Me? Young Black Poets from the Ghetto. (In her book, Florence has a poem, “My Student, Beaten to Death on the Street,” for Robbie Bowie, whose death she learned about from his mother while paying a visit to his home to let her student know one of his poems would soon be published.)  

Florence also became a founding member of the writing collective, Shakespeare’s Sisters, co-authored with Alexis Rotella a renga trilogy during the 1970s, and published her work in numerous magazines and anthologies.

Widowed in 1985, Florence eventually married the east coast writer Edward Wahl. She and Wahl enjoyed six years of marriage, until his death in 2006. After his death, Florence moved to Fremont to be closer to her son David Miller, a (retired) teacher at American High School. 

Since returning to the west coast, Florence has co-authored (with bay area poets Elaine Starkman, Joseph Chailkin, Dave Holt, S. Solomon, and Mark Hofstadter) the poetry collection, My Dreaming Waking Life (Dog Ear Publishing, 2009) and her previous full length collection, Upriver (Shakespeare’s Sisters Press, 2012).  

Of her latest collection, Florence sums it up simply: “ This book is the culmination of a lifetime of work.”

Florence astounds the reader with how deftly she captures a quicksilver glimpse of beauty while simultaneously bearing witness to loss. 

“Florence’s poetry is magical,” says poet Joan Alexander. “The direct imagery hits me somewhere just below consciousness with a profound and simple beauty.”

Books will be available for purchase and signing at the event.