Posted in community outreach, education, news, workshops

Frogpond associate editor, Center for Poetry to start haiku study group

By Kelsey Block

Starting in February, the Center for Poetry is partnering with East Lansing haiku poet Michele Root-Bernstein to create a haiku study group.

The group will meet on the third Saturday of every month from 1 – 3 p.m. in Snyder hall, C302. The first session is on February 20.

The study group is open to anyone at any skill level. While each session will have a different topic, Root-Berstein said all the sessions will be structured similarly. Usually the group will start out reading haiku of their own or written by others, then consider—and play with—some aspect of haiku esthetics or composition, followed by time to write and to share their work (anonymously if they wish).The emphasis is on trying something new, stretching writerly skills and having fun.

“I’m there to learn as much as anyone else and keep getting inspired,” she said.

Root-Bernstein served as the associate editor of Frogpond, the journal of the Haiku Society of America for the last four years. The journal accepts a number of forms of poetry, including renku, senryu, haibun, and rengay, along with reviews and essays.

In selecting poems for publication, she and Frogpond’s lead editor, Francine Banwarth, looked for signs of LIFE; that is, they were looking for poems that incorporated four essential elements of haiku: language rich with meaning, images that are fresh, form that enhances, and elusive evocation of experience. Banwarth and Root-Bernstein also considered what they called “the Goldilocks effect” of a poem—did language, image, form and elusiveness add up to something that was “too much,” “not enough,” or “just right”? (Readers interested in more can check this out.)

Root-Bernstein is especially excited about the haiku study group because haiku poets are reinventing and redefining the form.

“The field is under such ferment that there are so many different directions you could take the art,” she said. Some forms are collaborative, others incorporate prose poetry and still others include drawings or pictures.

“I got so involved I couldn’t give it up,” she said. “The thing is, it never quits. It’s not like all of a sudden I knew; I still don’t know how to write a haiku. There’s always something more to learn, always something that now you understand that you didn’t understand two months ago.”

Root-Bernstein was first drawn to haiku when her children were in elementary school. She worked as an artist in residence at her children’s school, visiting classes and teaching poetry.

Very soon after Root-Bernstein started writing her own haiku, one of her poems was published.  

“But I couldn’t repeat it because I didn’t know what I had done; I didn’t understand why that was a good haiku,” she said. “I had to keep at it, slowly find my way into other haiku journals, and about ten years later, stumble on the opportunity to place a dozen or so of my poems in the 2009 volume of A New Resonance (Red Moon Press).”

Perhaps because of that experience, Root-Bernstein encourages aspiring poets to keep writing and submitting their work.

“It’s not rejected, just returned,” Root-Bernstein said, quoting some advice she received years ago. “It’s not the end of the world. You’re just trying to find the editors who appreciate your stuff. And it’s true; it’s all subjective in some ways.”

She also suggests that early writers read, read, read – read anthologies and especially read the journals you’re interested in submitting to. She suggests reading journals online, like Heron’s Nest or bones, and subscribing to Modern Haiku or Acorn as well as Frogpond to get a feel for contemporary and exploratory haiku.

Posted in Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition, education, Fall Writing Series, news

2015 Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition Winners

writing-poetryEach fall, the RCAH Center for Poetry holds the Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition, cosponsored by the Mid-Michigan chapter of the National Society of Arts and Letters.

Richard Ercole Benvenuto taught in the English Department at Michigan State University for 20 years. From his office in Morrill Hall he conducted grad student seminars and advised students on the best paths for their lives. He loved teaching and was a published scholar of Victorian Literature.  At the time of his death, Indiana University dedicated an issue of Victorian Studies in his honor. He published two biographies, one on Emily Bronte and the other on Amy Lowell. His next book would have been on Oscar Wilde. As a young grad student he was awarded a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, which he used to pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at Hollins College, Virginia. At Hollins College, he worked under William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies. Richard played music and wrote poetry throughout his life. He was married for 27 years to his wife, Joyce and has three children and four grandchildren.

This year’s call for entries in the Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition resulted in more than 200 entries, with up to three poems each, from high school students all around Michigan.

We can assure you that the selection was not a simple matter, and we’re thrilled that poetry remains alive and vibrant in our state’s classrooms. If you are one of the poets not chosen this time, please don’t be discouraged—keep writing, and keep submitting!

This year’s winners are invited to read their winning poems before Nathan and Marvin Bell‘s reading/performance at the RCAH Center for Poetry on Wednesday, November 11.

Congratulations to all of the 7th Annual Richard Benvenuto High School Poetry Competition Winners!


First Place Winner


Annie Klusendorf

St. Joseph High School



I prefer to make my home in the trees,

the bark rough against my skin.

Here, the chandeliers are the sun

and the moon.


I prefer dirt

under my nails;

the soles of my feet are as dark

as Fifth Avenue umbrellas.


I prefer bruises flowering my legs

instead of the perfect tan.

Give me blue and green, maybe yellow–

I’m not afraid to show I’ve lived.

I prefer to keep my eyes wide open,

searching for the nearest blank canvas,

than held down by a winged black line

that dictates who is pretty

and who isn’t.


I prefer a thin red raincoat–

its crinkles are the soundtrack to my breathing.

There is no perfume here, only

basil and the smell of pine needles,

charred after a late summer burning.


You can live among the diamonds,

but I will thrive amidst the dirt.



Second Place Winner


Jessica Schultz

Saginaw Arts and Sciences Academy



One day you’re going to forget me.

I can’t handle that

I can’t even handle the thought of that.

You’re going to call me Cindy,

And I’ll have to act as though I am.

Because you won’t remember that your baby girl is dead,

And I’m her daughter.

You’ll forget all of us

Your grandkids, great grandkids

You’ll forget us all.

But I will never forget you

I’ll always remember the man you used to be

Not too long ago you were one of the smartest guys of I knew.

Now you’re working your way backwards

One day you’ll wake up and wonder who the lady lying next to you is,

And what happened to your beautiful wife.

Your thoughts often distract you

You’ll think to yourself,

Catching yourself in the act.

You’ll put that cute half smile on your face

And walk away.

It’s those moments of confusion that help us realize,

Realize that you are still there.

We know you will never be back,

But we can still hope that you will stay with us.


Third Place Winner

Origin Story

Alexander McLaren

Detroit Catholic Central


Origin Story

Brown and dusty shop,

Wooden shelves and glass display,

Springtime on a cool and sunny day.

Medals pinned against the wall,

And my father behind me.

His hands placed on my shoulders.

I saw a camo cap

Sitting on display

Wandered over, to take a closer look.

Eagle, Globe, and Anchor,

Imprinted on the ironed cloth.

He said, “Son, that’s the cover of a US Marine.”

My heart started to race

As I picked it off the shelf

Thinking of my family

The Company and Crew.

At seven years old

I was ready to be a hero.

He broke down and bought it

After not much persuasion

And I wore it with pride from then on.

Now it’s my father

Who looks at me the way

I looked in the mirror

As a seven year old.



Honorable Mention


Brendan Burke



The door slamming shut as I sat at the dinner table alone.

Shouting and banging, I remember being terrified.

Staring into my plate,

As if the peas knew how to stop their fighting so we could all be happy again.

Sliding a note under the door, a child’s attempt to put a Band-Aid on a fracture.

Then I remember his suitcase being packed, I had nightmares that night.

That suitcase was there for ten more years.

The time the divorce almost happened,

Then the time it actually happened.

I remember my suitcase leaving home for the last time.

I didn’t sleep that first night.

I didn’t feel at home again.

Posted in education, news, visiting writers, workshops

Looking Foward: Poets Laureate and The Spring Poetry Series

U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey

by Laurie Hollinger

The RCAH Center for Poetry will be celebrating Poets Laureate in Spring 2014, with a visit by United States Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey on April 2, and Virginia Poet Laureate Sofia Starnes on April 16. A third visiting Poet Laureate has yet to be confirmed, but will be announced soon.

It is a rare honor to be named Poet Laureate of the United States. Since 1937, when the position of Consultant in Poetry was established, there have been thirty Consultants named, and since 1986, when the position title was changed to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, or Poet Laureate for short, nineteen poets have held the title.

Appointed by the Librarian of the Library of Congress, usually for a term running from October through May, the Poet Laureate works at the Library in Washington, D.C., and, according to the Library of Congress’s website, “serves as the nation’s lighting rod for the poetic impulse of Americans.” The Poet Laureate’s duties include giving an annual poetry reading, and doing introductions at the Library’s annual poetry series. Additionally, each poet brings their own interests to the post, and works on a project of their choice. For instance, Gwendolyn Brooks (1985-1986) worked with elementary school students to teach them how to write poetry. Robert Hass (1995-1997) organized the “Watershed” Poetry Festival, from which a national art and poetry contest for students ages 5-19, “River of Words,” sprung. Rita Dove (1993-1995) gathered writers to explore the African Diaspora through the eyes of its artists, and coordinated jazz and children’s poetry events.

Virginia Poet Laureate Sofia M. Starnes

The current U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey, who was appointed in June for a second term, is doing a series of special reports from around the country for the PBS Newshour Poetry Series, where she and correspondent Jeffrey Brown will address various social issues through poetry. They recently visited Detroit organization InsideOut, a literary-arts project that brings professional writers to schools to engage students through writing. Trethewey also serves as Poet Laureate for her home state of Mississippi, one of forty-four states (plus the District of Columbia) that offer the position. Of these, forty positions are filled. Michigan is one of six states that have never offered the post.

While the Center for Poetry may not serve as “a lightning rod,” our mission is “to encourage the reading, writing, and discussion of poetry and to create an awareness of the place and power of poetry in our everyday lives.” By arranging visits by nationally recognized writers, outreach programs for the MSU and surrounding communities, and sponsoring poetry contests and workshops, we stay busy all year tapping and sharing the power of poetry. During one recent outreach activity, intern Jenny Crakes conducted a workshop at Lansing’s STEM Academy, a K-8 magnet school, in which she worked with middle school students on entries for the River of Words poetry and art contest, the same contest that sprung from Robert Hass’s Watershed Festival in the 1990s.

As Lucille Clifton said, “One thing poetry teaches us, if anything, is that everything is connected.”

~ For more information and a listing of past United States Poets Laureate, click here.

Posted in community outreach, education, news, visiting writers, workshops

River of Words Poetry Workshop at Lansing STEM Academy

By Kelsey Block and Jenny Crakes

Photos by Kelsey Block

On November 8, the RCAH Center for Poetry was proud to sponsor a poetry workshop led by intern Jenny Crakes at Lansing’s STEM Academy.  Approximately ten students in grades 6-8 worked with Jenny, Kelsey, MSU Writing Center outreach coordinator Ashley Gulker, and mentor and volunteer Mrs. Karen Duquette, to create poems themed on environmental issues for the River of Words poetry and art competition.

Ashley and Jenny
Ashley Gulker (left) and Jenny Crakes

Since the students were writing personification poems, we started out with a short writing activity on getting into character as the voice they were speaking from. Some subjects the students had chosen included winter, water, deer, Michigan wolves, and even a PS3. We considered questions such as what their character wants or hopes for, what it fears, its favorite sight, sound, and taste, what its voice sounds like and to whom it is speaking.

Next, we discussed how to create a supportive workshop community that helps a writer make their piece even better. Several students who had completed drafts of their poems read them aloud to the group, and we commented on them together, discussing strengths we especially connected with, and things they could incorporate or expand on.

Finally, we broke into three small workshop groups, each led by an adult, so all students could share their writing in process and get one-on-one feedback, encouragement and suggestions. The authors were enthusiastic and came up with many new ideas, including wonderful images.

Ashley with Ayanna, Daniah, and Valerie

Overall, the students said they enjoyed the workshop.

Katia Dodd, an 8th grader at STEM, said she appreciated sharing her work with others.

“It made you think,” she said. “I could add more to my poem to make it better.”

Valerie Zamora, 6th grader, said that she thought her classmates’ poems were “pretty good.”

“They gave me a great idea for what I’m going to do with mine,” she said.

We also discussed ways for the students to become further involved at MSU. Ashley brought information about open mic nights at MSU where they could come and read their work. Also, following the workshop, Mrs. Duquette brought two students to visit the RCAH for a reading by North Carolina poet Barbara Presnell from her book Piece Work.

Posted in education, news, visiting writers, workshops

The Winners of Our 5th Annual High School Poetry Competition

Congratulations to Jessi Bowser (1st Place), Jenna Wang (2nd Place), and Katie Peterson (3rd Place) for winning our 2013 High School Poetry Competition! We had over 250 poems submitted from high schoolers across Michigan, and the winners will read their selections on November 13 at 7 pm in the RCAH Theater in conjunction with a poetry reading by visiting poet Barbara Presnell.

1st Place: Jessi Bowser
High School: West Bloomfield High School
Year in School: Junior
Sponsoring Teacher: Jennifer McQuillian


when i was 11 i wore basketball shorts and a wife beater every day.
to my friends it was funny, to adults it was cute
i was just confused on what little girls should wear

im 17 now and i no longer dress like a little boy
but i still do not dress like my friends.
i despise ruffles and i refuse dresses
and they do not laugh anymore, adults no longer think it is cute

there is a stigma in this society that women are fragile
we are taught this from a young age; girls are petite
and girls are thin and they are soft, and they are not made to withstand hard times

i wonder if society has realized that we are not what we eat
we are what we wear

we are the ruffled shirts that easily rip, we are frequently stained white skirts
and we are the heels that were never made to be run in

you wore your heels the night he chased what was designed to be caught
and you ripped with the shirt he tore off you, a shirt manufactured to be torn
and your soul is still stained by the bruises that he left the night he decided that you were his to take,
constricted in the compression top you wore instead of a wife beater
a minnow trapped in the fishnets that you wore for him

so i wear jeans and they are so tight that i have to cut them off at the end of each day
and i wear tshirts that go up to my neck, and i do not wear clothes that tear
and i do not wear shoes i cannot run in, and i do not let myself get caught in a net of expectations
and i do not consider myself delicate, or fragile, or feminine

i am the same girl who is afraid of dressing like one

Second Place: Jenna Wang
High School: International Academy Central
Year In School: Junior
Sponsoring Teacher: Kayla McCabe

Missing In Action

In sixth grade my grammar teacher told me
a comma indicates a temporary pause between two sentences.
I drew a small round dot in my notebook
and said nothing when she said my name

In fifth grade my art teacher said
shadows must be painted with overtones of purple
deepest plum, frostbitten lilac,
because that way you can see the darkness is multidimensional

I watched you bend over the sink
under the harsh tungsten light of the bathroom,
a hand cupped around your nose
while gleaming red rivulets ran between your raw knuckles.
You said nothing when I screamed your name

In fourth grade my history teacher told me
many brave men were killed in the Great War.
Some of them had even left home to fight
long before they walked out of the front door

The worn photograph of a soldier
still lays on your desk where you left it three years ago
I see you in it now, limping from snowbank to snowbank,
only temporarily late between two jobs
one foot a smear of purple on this world
and the other already in the next.

Third Place: Katie Peterson
School: Brighton High School
Year in School: Senior
Sponsoring Teacher: Kelly Armstrong


It is sometimes surprising,
The value of childhood keepsakes.
I carefully slide the drawstring bag open
And tip its contents onto my hand.
One jack, five jacks, ten!
It is worn and faded and smells the way warm sweaters smell.

Out tumble the jacks,
Bright pointed plastic things
Clacking against one another.
One jack, five jacks, ten!
I never knew how to play jacks,
I would just stare and finger the starry trinkets in my hand.

I sprawl across
The warmed pink carpeting,
Soaked by the afternoon sun.
One jack, five jacks, ten!
My brother laughs,
We delicately arrange the piked figures as they scatter across the floor.

Now the bag is crumpled,
The velvet worn, the threads frayed.
But sometimes I slide the drawstring open
One jack, five jacks, ten!
I peer into its depths
And smell warm sweaters and sun-splashed carpets and think of home.

Posted in community outreach, education, news, workshops

RCAH Center for Poetry Intern Jenny Crakes Visits Lansing STEM Academy

Center for Poetry intern Jenny Crakes visited the Lansing STEM Academy on Tuesday, Oct. 29, to conduct a poetry writing workshop for the students there. Here is her account.

The Center for Poetry had a wonderful opportunity this week to collaborate with the Lansing STEM Academy, where middle school students are writing poems to enter the national River of Words poetry and art competition. Mrs. Karen Duquette, a volunteer and substitute teacher, runs Youth Mentoring Poetry Programs (YMPP), a creative writing workshop with 40 current student members. She provides writers’ prompts, a weekly after-school workshop, and individual mentoring during school hours. It’s a great way for the students to find opportunities for creative expression, and the kids we met at our assembly were enthusiastic about writing and intrigued to participate in discussions and activities.

All middle schoolers at STEM are entering the River of Words contest through an assignment to write a poem about either Michigan and water, or Michigan and a critical environmental concern. They must write a personification poem from the first person point of view (for example, from the voice of one of the Great Lakes), incorporating simile or metaphor, alliteration, assonance, and at least one rhyme. As well, they’re encouraged to do additional research and gather information on the topic they choose to write about.

Mrs. Duquette asked our Center to help inspire and excite the students to write their own poems. With her help and three other MSU student volunteers, I was able to put on a special assembly this Tuesday morning for about fifty 6th-8th graders, including an English class and all members of YMPP. RCAH freshman Libby Hoffman, and MSU slam poets Josh Schriver and Justin Cook, also came to the assembly and were tremendously helpful. As MSU students, our main goal was to interact with the kids about poetry and help create enthusiasm for their project; I was also asked to teach about personification and the first person point of view, as well as current environmental and water issues in Michigan. The best parts of the assembly for me were the opportunities to get to know the kids and answer questions, to hear their insight into the poems we presented, and to do activities with audience volunteers.

The school librarian, Mr. Fisher, helped us set everything up including our microphone and PowerPoint. Before starting the assembly, we had about 20 minutes to mingle and get to know the YMPP members, who arrived early, talking with them and answering questions about all sorts of things, including their writing. Some of them had brought their poetry notebooks to share with us. One student talked with me about the novel she was writing, and several students who write music sang together for everyone. As we got to know each other, topics such as nose rings, tattoos, and the U.S. Poet Laureate came up as well.

We began our presentation by playing highschooler Sabrina Walker’s performance of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise,” then asking the audience how they felt about the poem and what they thought made it powerful. The kids responded well to it and had insightful comments on dealing with prejudice and being comfortable with oneself. To discuss poetic tools such as simile and metaphor, Libby read aloud Mary Oliver’s “Mindful” and we called volunteers for a “Detective Focus Group” to search for poetic devices used in the poem. Josh and Justin performed their slam poems as we talked about personification and first-person point of view; they’d written ingenious original work to reflect the students’ assignment, taking on different voices, including that of water: “God surfed me before he said let there be light…You humans are about as much me as the earth is.” I presented some environmental issues the kids could research further, specifically the Enbridge oil spill into the Kalamazoo River, and the potential Asian Carp invasion of the Great Lakes. Finally, more audience volunteers came up to write a collaborative poem, pulling together their creative ideas with everything we’d discussed. They decided to write about the issue of deforestation through the voice of a tree whose forest was being cut down. Together, we brainstormed what the tree could say, and they wrote lines of the poem on a large poster, which they read to the audience. They seemed to enjoy the assembly, which is what I’d hoped for most.

I’ll be going back to the STEM academy with others from the Poetry Center next Friday. We’ll run a small workshop with 10 students to work on editing and revising their poems. This has been a great experience so far and I’m really looking forward to seeing what the students write. The enthusiastic help of volunteers and of my fellow staff has really helped to make this positive for the students.

Posted in community outreach, education, news, workshops

Writing Workshop a Success

The RCAH Center for Poetry welcomed about 20 people to the “If Your Clothes Could Talk” writing workshop. Anita Skeen and Ruelaine Stokes facilitated the two-hour long discussion.

If you missed the fun, remember to come on out to the RCAH LookOut! Gallery on Tuesday, Nov. 12 at 6 p.m. for a reading and reception to welcome Barbara Presnell as our guest as a part of the Fall Writing Series: In Person.


To see more photos from the event, check out our Facebook page.