“What Kind of Poem Would You Make Out of That?”

“What Kind of Poem Would You Make Out of That?”:
Transformation at the Source: From Document to Poem

Hosted by ArtWrite Collective, facilitated by Lauren Russell.

Johannesburg Mines

In the Johannesburg mines
There are 240,000
Native Africans working.
What kind of poem
Would you
Make out of that?
240,000 natives
Working in the
Johannesburg mines.

–Langston Hughes

Documentary poetry “arises from the idea that poetry is not a museum-object to be observed from afar, but a dynamic medium that informs and is informed by the history of the moment,” Philip Metres writes in an essay on the Poetry Foundation’s website.[1] As such, the documentary mode invites socially conscious approaches to poem making. For purposes of our workshop, we are thinking in terms of poems that use documents, not just poems that document. While it can be a site for political intervention, poets’ work with documents need not be confined to recitations of facts and evidence. Through the found language of documents, poets may arrive at the lyric, the narrative, the investigatory, the confessional, the dissident, or even the language poem.

Intended for both experienced poets and people who do not think of themselves as writers at all, this six-part workshop will open participants up to new possibilities for poem making while raising discussion about authorship, influence and quotation versus appropriation, the construction of “fact,” and how we can make new statements with/through/into/around old language. Participants will be invited to arrive with a particular event, question, topic, or concern they wish to write from. (For example, in the poem above, Hughes is working from a statistic about the Johannesburg mines that speaks to larger issues about colonialism and exploitation; in M. NourbeSe Philip’s ZONG!, the point of entry is the legal decision in the Zong massacre; in Muriel Rukeyser’s The Book of the Dead, it is a West Virginia mining disaster; in Tyehimba Jess’s Leadbelly, it is of course the mythologized figure of the great bluesman Lead Belly).

Is there a particular life or death, innovation, disaster, struggle, condition, triumph, or crime you wish to write into or out of? Participants will use that as a point of entry to work with found texts of their choice. Found texts might include histories, genealogies, studies, news items, articles, ads, obituaries, lists, diaries, statistics, court transcripts—or whatever else sparks a writer’s curiosity and imagination. Through weekly in-class and outside activities, we will engage with those texts in a variety of ways. We will also read and discuss a range of models, which may include excerpts from Philip’s Zong, Jess’s Leadbelly, Rukeyeser’s Book of the Dead, Mark Nowak’s Shut Up Shut Down, Harryette Mullen’s Sleeping with the Dictionary, Amaud Jamaul Johnson’s Red Summer, Daphne Gottlieb’s Kissing Dead Girls, and others. Participants will have the opportunity to read and discuss one another’s work each week and to contribute to a zine and public reading after the conclusion of the workshop.

The workshop will be a series of six three-hour sessions, meeting every Sunday 2p-5p from January 31st through March 6th, with a zine release and reading later in March. Workshops will be hosted at the Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL) at 2021 Winnebago St, Madison, WI.

$150-$250 sliding scale. Scholarship funding may be available upon request. Applications due January 15th, 2016. Attendance cap: 10. 


Lauren Russell has taught writing courses at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and at the University of Pittsburgh, where she received a Distinguished Teaching Award. She currently coordinates the Diversity Internship in Public History at the Wisconsin Historical Society. Russell’s first full-length book, What’s Hanging on the Hush, will be out from Ahsahta Press in 2017. She is the author of the chapbook Dream-Clung, Gone (Brooklyn Arts Press), and her poems have appeared in Better, boundary 2, jubilat, Ping•Pong, and Tarpaulin Sky, among others. Her reviews may be found in Aster(ix), The Volta, Jacket2, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from Cave Canem and the Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing, and she has been named the 2016 VIDA Fellow to the Home School Miami. Russell is currently in the middle of a book-length poetic hybrid work, tentatively entitled “Descent.” The project began when the poet acquired a copy of the diary of her great-great grandfather, a Confederate veteran who fathered twenty children by three of his former slaves, black women who have been silenced by history. “Descent” is at once an investigation, a reclamation, and an insistence on making history as a creative act.

[1] Philip Metres. “From Reznikoff to Public Enemy,” 5 Nov. 2007, Poetry Foundation, 14 Dec. 2015. <http://www.poetryfoundation.org/article/180213&gt;


Daughters in Dissent: A Visual Celebration of Herstories, Kinship, and Sistahood

ArtWrite Collective and West Label Art are collaborating to premier the stunning works of West Label Artists Ashley Robertson and Micaela Berry in Daughters in Dissent: A Visual Celebration of Herstories, Kinship, and Sistahood.

In their first joint show, Ashley and Micaela employ their own unique styles to engage in multi-media storytelling with works that explore relationships, cross-generational beauty standards, black women voices in protest, and the artists’ lived experiences as Black women and Madison newcomers. This series demonstrates the deep variation in perspectives on these shared experiences and underscores the complexity of identity.

Reception is December 11, 2015 6p-8p at Cafe Zoma in Madison, WI


Announcing: Exhibition + Demonstration Opportunity at Cafe Zoma


The ArtWrite Collective will begin curating art exhibits at Cafe Zoma for shows beginning November 2015! With a particular interest in public aesthetic diversification, ArtWrite is requesting show proposals from emerging artists and established creatives alike. Especially encouraged to apply are artists working to effect social change or producing work consistent with a social justice platform. Whether you’re using art as a tool for disseminating information, catalyzing conversation, telling your story, or exploring new futures – we want to hear from you.

Solo shows, side-by-side solo shows, and group shows are all potential options for participating in this space as a visual artist. Coffee shop exhibits will rotate once a month and each show will include a public event. This event can be a classic art reception, a poetry night, a workshop, a performance, or some other demonstration. We are open to proposals from creatives who may be able to contribute to one of these events or produce experiences that do not simply reside on the wall.

To learn more, check out the simple online application or reach out to theartwritecollective@gmail.com

*photo cred to Rachel Dolnick

Dreamzine: Liminal Messages Release and Reading at Pheasant Branch Conservancy


Please join ArtWrite Collective at Pheasant Branch Conservancy for a starlit outdoor release and reading of Dreamzine: Liminal Messages, featuring visionary art and writing for social change. All content will be the culmination of a three-part workshop series led by Marcelle Richards, during which participants work closely with nature and the spirit world during their creative processes.*

An usher will meet guests promptly at 4:30pm at the gravel county parking lot on the west end of Pheasant Branch Conservancy. See map here — point A.

From there, guests will be taken to the performance site at the top of Fredericks Hill. Please arrive on time; we will depart up the hill as a group. Dress for the weather and plan to walk about 15 minutes up a gentle, winding incline. Please bring your own lawn chair and/or blankets; the setting will be intentionally rustic. A few flashlights will be on hand but you may also choose to bring your own for the walk back down the hill at the end of the night — it will be dark. Parking is limited, so we encourage carpooling.

RSVPs via Facebook are greatly appreciated so we can report an estimated attendance count to the county park staff.

Please contact Marcelle Richards with questions about navigation, logistics, etc. (608) 287-4740.

*(We are accepting applicants for the three-part workshop series through Sept. 15. To apply, fill out this form.)

Blink: Mirror Portraits Project

Through the ArtWrite Collective, lead artist Alaura Seidl coordinated the Mirror Portraits Project, a temporary public art exhibition where teen and mid-career artists drew their self portraits and displayed narrative writing on public mirrors. This piece was installed as a BLINK project of the Madison Arts Commission on August 12th and 13th, 2015.

Self portraits were drawn in dry erase marker on Madison Public Library mirrors and were intended to offer a glimpse into the lives of our neighbors. For LGBTQIA+ folks, people of color, immigrants, and women, displacement is a persistent experience. Because our community has averted its collective gaze long enough, particular experiences and people are either made invisible or are subject to over exposure on a regular basis. In the mirrors project, participating artists had control of their image, their narrative, and the stories they chose to share with strangers. While more than a few artist-participants shared their experiences with housing insecurity or homelessness, this crew of artists came to the project with vastly different life stories and motivations for participating. How might seeing your own reflection in their work have implicated you in their stories?

Participating artists:

Tawania Alston


Sisa Poemape

Marcelle Richards

Alaura Megan Seidl

Karena Ware

Sofia Ware

One artist’s written contribution:

“When I stand next to you at the grocery store can you tell that I’m struggling?

Struggling with housing, struggling with depression, struggling with life.

When I sit next to you in class do you know that everyday I feel like a prisoner?

A prisoner to my everyday feelings, a prisoner to my society, a prisoner to my skin color, a prisoner to my past.

When I walk past you, can you see through me?

The tears building up behind my eyes, the stress on my heart, the restlessness inside?

When you look into my eyes, can you see my life?

The frustration, anger, and pain?

Can you see any of it?”

-Tawania Alston












Drink It In!

drink it in bannerArtWrite’s Drink It In [open mic – art reception – zine release] at Cafe Zoma on July 10 was an inspiring night of queer poetry, readings, music, and creative expression. The Collective was happy to host a night were LGBTQIA+ artists and our allies could shape and control our narratives and share them with community. Sincere thank you to all who participated and all who came out to drink it in.

Artists shor salkas, Rolando Cruz, Nicole Bresnick, Alaura Seidl, and Jay Ludden were visual artists represented in the show on Cafe Zoma’s walls. Keep an eye out for more Queer Summer Art treats to pop up at Shamrock Bar & Grille on August 7th!

drink it in queerzine

drink it in queerzine

Purchase your copy of the queerzine here and support local art and local programming for LGBTQIA+ youth!

Marcelle at the open mic

Marcelle at the open mic

Sisa at the Open Mic

Sisa at the Open Mic

Bridget at the Open Mic

Bridget at the Open Mic