22 Years of “Reading and Writing” Workshops with Hoa Nguyen, Part 1: look backs as love letters

Hoa Nguyen

22 Years of “Reading and Writing” Workshops with Hoa Nguyen:

Part 1 of 2 look backs as love letters

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The sign I taped to the glass of our storm door every Sunday. It is written on the back of a watercolor that one of our sons did when they were a child.

Twenty-two is a nice and even number, one that feels lucky. I think that’s the number of years I ran generative poetry workshops. A kind of one room school house for poetry (wherever I made my home). They were always known as “Reading and Writing [name of poet] with Hoa Nguyen”.

Toronto Workshop

2016, Toronto, ON. A workshop waiting for poets to arrive; the Yeti microphone recorded the proceedings for the poets working from a distance. In all, a group of 50 poets read and wrote their way through Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems with me.

I formed the first ones in Austin, TX with a handful of poet participants; this soon grew into a small group interested in taking my generative workshops on repeat. I began to arrange the workshops around single authors; I don’t remember who the first poet was now but I know it was around the year 2001. Here’s a maybe incomplete list of the poets I have taught:

Alice Notley, Selected Poems (twice—also Alma, Descent of Alette)
Amiri Baraka, S. O. S: Selected Poems
Anne Carson, Float
Bernadette Mayer, Another Smashed Pinecone—also Sonnets (twice)
Bob Kaufman, Collected
Charles Olson, The Maximus Poems (four times)
Emily Dickinson, Selected Poems (three times)
Frank O’Hara, Collected Poems (twice)
Fred Wah, Scree: Early Collected Poems, Music at the Heart of Thinking
Gertrude Stein, Tender Buttons (twice) H. D., Collected Poems
Harryette Mullen, Recyclopedia (twice)
Jack Spicer, Collected Poems (twice)
James Schuyler, Collected Poems (twice)
Joanne Kyger, As Ever (three times), Collected Poems (twice), On Time (once)
John Wieners, Supplication: Selected Poems
Lorine Niedecker, Collected Poems (three times)

Philip Whalen, Collected Poems (twice) Robert Creeley, Collected, Vol. 1
Sappho, If Not Winter
Ted Berrigan, Collected Poems (twice)—also The Sonnets (three times)
Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, Dictee (twice)

As I write in “Living Room”, an essay on the workshop for the Bagley Wright lectures series:

“Places, poetry, and friendships: I want to invite a place for this as a way in—outside of institutions—so that poetry may continue”

The second time I taught with Lorine Niedecker’s Collected poems, I accessed digitized archives for her “cooking book” held at the University of Wisconsin-Madison collection (listed as “Maroon autograph book inscribed ‘Merry Christmas to Maude from Lorine and Al.’ Contains commentary on recipes, dialogue with Al plus two fold out sheets on "How to Prepare Pike from the Compleat Angler by Izaak Walton, first printing, year 1653”). Inspired, I made a whiskey cake from it to eat with the workshop on the occasion of her 110th birthday, a birthday that happened to coincide with the spring 2013 workshop where we were reading and writing though her Collected.

Whiskey Cake

I decorated the top of the whiskey cake with dandelions from my backyard.

Seven years later, under very different circumstances, in early days of 2020 pandemic lockdown, I read through the Collected with more than 100 people reading along. Editor and Niedecker scholar Jenny Penberthy visited the workshop from BC as a special guest. We read the entire volume and wrote from our spaces of isolation. Before one of the Niedecker workshops, a lotus vision came to me. I wrote about this for Post45 in their contemporary cluster on Lorine Niedecker where I give special attention to her Taoist reading and how this entered her writing.

And yes, the world is change. I am no longer leading these workshops. Twenty-two years is a long time and now my time is organized differently. I realized in writing this that the workshop is as old as my oldest son, who was born at the same time that I launched my own school. I named both my sons informed by poetry but I never gave the workshop a name other than “Reading and Writing with [name of poet] with Hoa Nguyen”. The workshop has germinated and informed hundreds of poems, books of poems, enduring friendships, other poetry workshops and poets who now teach them, and people who now call themselves poets.

Continuing Poetry

“Poetry is about continuing poetry”—Joanne Kyger

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