Writing Program Alumnae Host Pen Parentis' First Annual Winter Poetry Salon

BY Angeline Dimambro, January 22, 2021

Pen Parentis held its Annual Winter Poetry Salon last week, bringing together extraordinary poets with a virtual audience for a reading and roundtable discussion. Pen Parentis is a non-profit literary organization founded by alumna M. M. De Voe ’01. The organization provides resources to authors who are also parents to help them stay on track creatively after starting a family. Pen Parentis’ Literary Salon series currently meets monthly to celebrate the diverse creative work of writers with children. The salons are moderated by De Voe and fellow alumna Christina Chiu ’00.


De Voe is a Pushcart-nominated author of short fiction, whose work has appeared in Twisted Book of Shadows, a Shirley Jackson Award-winning anthology, as well as numerous literary journals in Israel, Great Britain, Canada, and the US. Her latest book, Book & Baby: The Complete Guide to Managing Chaos & Becoming a Wildly Successful Writer-Parent, was recently published by Brooklyn Writers Press in January 2021. 


Chiu is the grand-prize winner of the James Alan McPherson Award for her novel, Beauty. She is also author of Troublemaker and Other Saints, published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. Her stories have won awards and honorable mentions in literary contests such as Playboy, Glimmer Train, New Millennium, New York Stories, World Wide Writers, Explorations, and El Dorado Writers’ Guild. She is also one of the originators of the Asian American Writers Workshop.


The event featured readings from Artress Bethany White, Mary Harpin, and Anselm Berrigan. White is a poet, essayist, and literary critic. Her poetry collections include My Afmerica, winner of the 2018 Trio Award, and Fast Fat Girls in Pink Hot Pants. Her work has appeared in such journals as Harvard Review, Pleiades, Tahoma Review, Green Mountains Review, and The Hopkins Review


Harpin is the author of Shadowrise (poetry, Dos Madres Press, 2019) and a contributor to De Voe’s Book & Baby. She is also a creative writing instructor with the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and the Denver Botanic Gardens. 


Berrigan’s recent books of poetry include Something for Everybody and Come In Alone, both published by Wave Books, and the forthcoming Pregrets (forthcoming from Black Square Editions). He is also the poetry editor for The Brooklyn Rail, a former Artistic Director of The Poetry Project at St. Mark's Church, and a local NYC teacher of various writing classes.  


Harpin kicked off the readings, sharing poems from her 2019 collection, Shadowrise. Among them was a poem entitled, “Walk with Sobbing Toddler on the Longest Day of the Year,” a poem that contains the wonders of children’s play as well as the daily struggles one encounters as a parent, a feeling Harpin hoped parent-listeners would relate to. De Voe asked the authors how each of them tackles the difficulty of making space for themselves and their work as writers with families. While Harpin talked about how she works often in short bits of time she can steal for herself, she also addressed the need for flexibility and self-kindness. “You have to come to this level of self-forgiveness for when there are dry spells.” White, who has four children, works similarly, grabbing whatever time she can to write, edit, revise—whatever she can do to stay active and connected to the work.


While finding the time to write can be hard with a family, White also discussed the gifts it bears as well. “When the collection My Afmerica was published last year, [my daughter] was very emotional about the poem [“Everything Resides in a Name”], because that was based on her experience. She hugged me so tightly and said ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you’...it was a wonderful bonding experience.” The poem, which touches upon her daughter’s experience with being called Black on the playground, precedes “Coils” in the collection, which pulls from White’s own experience with racist bullying during high school. “These poems are right next to each other in the collection—I sequenced them that way—and there are decades between those experiences. The fact that they still resonate today is really disheartening, but that’s what writing from those lived experiences brings you.”


Berrigan’s background in poetry begins with his parents: “I never thought about writing poetry, but they were poets, so I knew it was a thing you could actually be...At SUNY Buffalo, I was really interested in being a journalist, but then I just started being more interested in how the words went together than what I was writing about, subject-wise. I broke a line in a notebook one day instead of going across [the page] and making a sentence, and I thought, ‘Oh.’ It was like I got struck.” The line break, all those years ago, became the source of a kind of poetic energy that propelled Berrigan to keep writing.


This Pen Parentis Literary Salon is made possible in part with public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and administered by LMCC. Watch the complete reading and roundtable discussion here and check Pen Parentis’ website for future upcoming events. You can also purchase the authors’ books using this link, and your purchase will support Pen Parentis as well as an independent bookstore near you, wherever you are.