Writing is often a solitary process and, as such, can be an isolating practice. Many writers seek fellowship with other writers, finding that connection and support from writer to writer as vital to the craft. Artistic connection can also serve as a form of collaboration as well as a means of creative momentum. Poets and friends JP Howard and Sheila Slaughter hope to capture these qualities with their poetry salon, Women Writers In Bloom.
Women Writers In Bloom Poetry Salon is a forum offering women writers a venue to come together in a positive and critically supportive space to create, express and give voice to poetic and other inspired works. Based in Manhattan and founded in April of this year by Howard and Slaughter, it has been an idea that has been percolating for much longer. “We wanted a safe yet creative and nurturing space that would embrace and welcome poets/writers of all levels—experienced, emerging, brand new or even folks who hadn’t written in years, but thought they had an interest. Our goal was to try and bring these women together to collaborate in a safe, warm and receptive space and to share the skills and expose other women to the opportunities that had been presented to us,” says Howard. Slaughter adds, “Juliet and I have been friends for more than 15 years now, and we have always talked about doing something collaborative for women. Although we didn’t necessarily have a solid construct for this collaboration, we would continue to talk about it over the years. Then poetry entered both our lives at different points, and the idea of a poetry salon just kind of organically came to mind.” Howard added, “Since we are both African American women artists, I think we were greatly influenced by history, specifically the Harlem Renaissance and the literary Salons which evolved during that period bringing artists, writers and poets together in a collaborative and intellectual space. We are both committed to continuing that literary tradition.”
The objective of the Salon is to bring together women writers from across the Tri-state area to share creative work and provide support to both emerging and established writers, poets and creative female spirits. The blog provides a space for women outside the local geography to share work, and draws poets from all over. The organization helps give voice to a blend of women and breaks down the barriers to challenging and sometimes controversial issues. “We have noticed an amazing diversity: our salons have brought together women of all ages, ethnicities and writing levels,” noted Slaughter. “We believe this has an important and necessary impact on the community… each woman has something to contribute based on her own unique experience.” Howard added, “We have women of all age ranges, ethnicities, and sexual orientations meeting and collaborating in a common and welcoming space.” In this environment of support, women are safe to go to the “stripped-down” place in themselves from where authentic work arises.
The Salon has made an impact on their own creative work as well. “The Salon has made me realize how much I truly enjoy collaboration,” said Howard. “I know when Sheila and I get together to prepare for a Salon, I feel that we get so much more accomplished when we are together in the same room and sharing ideas and thoughts and goals. It has made me truly appreciate collaboration in my own work. Our monthly Salons feel the same. When we all meet and discuss various topics, each person has something unique and important to offer and share.”
Slaughter added, “The work and feedback of salon participants serves to inspire and encourage my writing process; it mirrors for me commonalities and shared experiences.”
I asked them to each share a little about themselves and their creative work and process:
Howard replied, “I have always loved poetry, but until 2005 or 2006 did not pursue it with the passion that I now do! After having practiced law for nearly 13 years, I decided to return to graduate school at that time and pursue an MFA in Creative Writing at the City College of New York. I found myself in a wonderfully creative and supportive environment around students, professors and colleagues who nurtured my ‘emerging poet’. While at City College, I applied for and was awarded a fellowship from Cave Canem, an organization that is committed to cultivating the artistic and professional growth of African American poets. I attended The Cave Canem retreat which was a seminal point for me as a poet/artist, because I realized the beauty and importance of collaborating with other poets and how helpful that was to my own creativity. I loved having the opportunity to be around amazing, creative writers and learn, create and struggle with them.
Since I still work full time as an attorney and also co-parent my two sons with my partner, I’ve had to learn how to balance my family life, my ‘day job’ and my poetry passion. This has been my greatest challenge, but because I feel so passionate and fulfilled by my poetry life, somehow it all works out. I currently have a completed poetry manuscript which I hope to get published in the very near future and am currently working on a few poetry chapbooks. My own poetry runs the gamut from confessional, to humorous, to political and I do have a soft spot for love poems. I currently enjoy playing with poetic form and am part of a weekly poetry exchange group called the Hot Poets Collective, which allows me the opportunity to produce a few new poems weekly and receive support and feedback from the collective members.”
Slaughter shared her process as well: “My creative process is varied, to be sure, primarily I am a visual artist, who sometimes ruminates on a project for a long time before I begin sketching, and then other times, the inspiration just immediately flows out of me. I find this to be true of my poetry writing process as well. A formal introduction to poetry came in 2008, through a course of study about the subordination of women’s intellectual history at The New School. These classes exposed me to women poets such as Sappho, Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth I, and others. Before this exposure, poetry was mostly an abstract art form that seemed very structured to my free-thinking sensibilities. However, the more I study poetry, the more I discover that it is neither one thing or another, it’s a creative medium one cultivates and claims as their own, very much like visual art! And so with this realization, I was hooked! Presently, I am exploring calligrams, which I see as a happy marriage between my artwork and poetry. I would say my poetry is mostly confessional, covering a broad range of topics; gender issues, erotica, religion, and social issues, just to name a few.”
I wanted to know what they had witnessed in terms of collaboration in the Salon between its participants.
Howard replied, “I’ve been amazed to see the collaboration we have witnessed. We had a Salon participant who hadn’t written a new poem in almost two years, though I had known her from my MFA program as a talented poet. I encouraged her to come to our Salon and give it a try. One night before a Salon was scheduled, she wrote her very first poem after a two-year hiatus and called to let me know how excited she was. I told her she had to share it with the Salon folks and though hesitant, she came and shared her beautiful new poem that she had birthed. It was wonderful to see her excitement, feel the support from the women in attendance and watch my friend continue to work on new poems in subsequent salons. Sometimes we just need to know that other women friends/colleagues/writers are there to support us and not judge our work. That helps to propel us forward!”
Slaughter replied, “For me, whenever women come together, in such an intimate forum, it becomes a sacred/spiritual learning experience, whether or not we are immediately conscious of it, we are working collectively, supporting and motivating one another. Our experiences, thoughts and ideas only serve to help us further explore our respective creative processes—there’s a certain synchronistic dynamic.”
I wondered about their thoughts on the Salon’s impact on the community.
Howard: “The Salon helps to bridge any gap that may exist in the outside world between these various women. Writing, poetry, the love of art and craft is what connects and binds us. I find there is something cathartic in being able to share our thoughts, feelings and innermost ideas via poetry. It’s a wonderful outlet and then when you add to that, a room full of supportive women, the community morphs into an extended family.”
Slaughter: “Considering the diversity of the women participating in our salons, this suggests a broad communal interest in such a creative forum that eclipses age, ethnicity and class dynamics. On a daily basis, women confront and contend with engrained social disadvantages. As a woman of color, growing up in a society that inherently silences the female voice, this experience greatly influenced my developing self-awareness, and my desire to design a special forum for women’s voices. Appreciating these nuanced social challenges, I am driven to do something in my own small way to celebrate women. I like the idea that our Salon continues in a long historical tradition of women gathering to write, create visual art, music, etc.”
I inquired about their vision for the Salon going forward.
Howard: “Our vision is quite expansive. I love that our Salon has this virtual space, where we bring poets together, publish poems by established and emerging women poets on our blog; but I feel we have a great balance by offering monthly Salons where we actually gather in a physical space. Going forward, I’m hopeful that we can reach out and include and/or interact with organizations that support issues that are important to us, including: organizations that support cancer survivors, reaching out to seniors and letting them get to collaborate and express themselves via poetry, working with local LGBT centers to share the mission of our Salon and reaching out to the greater poetry community throughout New York and the country. I think we really aim to be inclusive of more diverse communities.
I feel like the Salon is a beautiful child that Sheila and I are co-parenting and I really love and enjoy nurturing the Salon, watching her grow and blossom in front of our very eyes and like any proud parent, we find great joy in sharing the Salon’s success and potential with a greater writing community. Like us as women writers/artists, the Salon is constantly evolving and expanding.”
Slaughter: “We launched our salon this past April, so we are still in our formative stages: this is an exciting time, as we sprinkle our seeds and grow and spread our roots, we are comfortable letting our salon vision cultivate organically, that is to say, we are closely monitoring participant feedback, which we will use to guide our next steps.
Juliet and I are constantly developing our blog, working to provide useful and relevant artistic and writing tools to help women hone their craft, be it poetry or visual art. The blog offers several literary resources, and writing tools via our bookshelf, and favorite links sections. We are working on creating a new space, where visual artists can share their work as well.”
If you are interested in submitting poetry to Women Writers In Bloom Poetry Salon, email submissions, maximum of two pages in length, to firstname.lastname@example.org, 100 word max bio and author photo.JP Howard, aka Juliet P. Howard, is a poet, lawyer, Cave Canem fellow and native New Yorker. She was selected as a Lambda Literary Foundation 2011 Emerging LGBT Voices Fellow, as well as a 2011 Cave Canem Fellow-in-Residence at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). JP was a finalist in the Astraea Lesbian Writer’s Fund 2009-2010 poetry category and recipient of a Soul Mountain Retreat writing residency in 2010. Her poems are published or forthcoming in Talking Writing, Muzzle Magazine, Connotation Press, TORCH, Queer Convention: A Chapbook of Fierce, Cave Canem Anthology XII: Poems 2008-2009, Cave Canem XI 2007 Anthology, The Portable Lower East Side (Queer City), Promethean Literary Journal and Poetry in Performance. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The City College of New York, as well as a BA from Barnard College and a JD from Brooklyn Law School.
Sheila Slaughter completed her BA, Liberal Arts with a concentration in Democracy & Cultural Pluralism, at The New School, NYC, NY, January, 2008. Sheila has also taken an extensive list of studio art classes through The New School. With a long held interest in the creative arts, Sheila has been meditating for many years on a venue for women that would afford them a space to feel, think, and explore their freedom of expression.
Juliet and Sheila co-founded Women Writers in Bloom Poetry Salon and Blog, a forum offering women writers at all levels a venue to come together in a positive and critically supportive space.