Each year the month of April is set aside as National Poetry Month, a time to celebrate poets and their craft.  Established in 1996 by the Academy of American Poets, National Poetry Month has become the largest literary celebration in the world, as readers, students, teachers, librarians, booksellers, literary events curators, publishers, and poets in every country mark poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives.  In Asbury Park and surrounding towns, there are a variety of events taking place, hosted by Project Write Now, (PWN) a 501 c (3) non-profit organization transforming individuals, organizations, and communities through writing. 

Project Write Now started as an outreach effort of JC Writing Studio, founded by educator and writer Jennifer Chauhan. While teaching writing workshops in her Fair Haven studio, Jennifer began partnering with schools and mission-based organizations to offer free creative writing.  Jennifer then decided to start a writing studio where people could take writing classes. 

Jennifer Chauhan (L) with awardees at Two River Theater’s Crossing Borders Festival Credit: Project Write Now

“I was looking for community, for other writers and artists,” Jennifer said. “I began with one adult memoir class, and three people signed up. I contacted a local high school and started helping seniors with their college essays.”

Jennifer described how Project Write Now was born. “The idea of Project Write Now popped into my head, and sight unseen, I leased a cool studio space in Red Bank, NJ, a town known for its artistic vibe.”

She was fortunate to meet two other people, Greg Phelan, who was doing nonprofit consulting, and Allison Tevald, who had just received her MFA. They began building programs for Project Write Now, establishing it as their community’s first — and still only — 501(c)(3) literary nonprofit organization. She believes that engaging in creative and expressive writing can positively impact a person’s well-being. “Our programs allow people to be supported in community as they write and share their stories—their thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. Through this introspection, they can reflect on who they are and how they connect with others and the world around them, gaining a stronger sense of self.”

Project Write Now holds workshops throughout the year at schools across Monmouth County, including Asbury Park High School.  “For young people,” she said, “our programs help build writing stamina and confidence, as well as give young people outlets for creative self-expression – which is needed now more than ever given the current youth mental health crisis.”

Our programs allow people to be supported in community as they write and share their stories—their thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams.

Jennifer Chauhan

Project Write Now’s Plants & Poetry Workshop held on April 7 at Kula Urban Farms was led by Meredith Avakian, Director of Community Outreach & Engagement. The afternoon began with Meredith asking the fourteen adult participants gathered in the greenhouse to share their intentions for the day, and the Spring season. 

Writer and entrepreneur, Andrew Zerling, kicked off by sharing his personal plan, “to connect with people more, as every person has a story that is interesting.” 

(Left) Sanchez-Zambrano, Kean University student, prepares to present his Spring poem at the Urban Farm poetry workshop Credit: Brenda Hamlet
Garden in Kula Urban Farm Credit: Brenda Hamlet
Garden in Kula Urban Farm Credit: Brenda Hamlet
Garden in Kula Urban Farm Credit: Brenda Hamlet

Poet Robert Goodman commented on the inspirational setting, as the group was surrounded by kale, lettuce, sprouts, and other organic plants grown hydroponically at Kula, “There is so much mythology surrounding plants,” he said. “They are used often as metaphors in poems. There is so much beauty in the organic world.” Benny Machado said it is important “To be present and enjoy the gift of poetry.”

Meredith Avakian leads Spring Workshop at Kula Urban Farm Credit: Brenda Hamlet

As each participant shared their thoughts and intentions, the room began to warm up, and not just because of the sunlight streaming in through the glass ceiling and walls. 

It was more a gentleness that, in my experience, arises from creative activity.

Next Meredith read “Spring” by Christina Rossetti, a 19th century Victorian poet.   Participants were then given seven minutes to write their own Spring-themed poem, which were shared with the group.

Throughout the sharing part of the program, I was struck by the openness and trust of the participants who disclosed authentic and deeply personal feelings to people they had never met before.  I asked Meredith how and why she believes Project Write Now workshops are transformative.

“The workshops enable people to believe that they are writers,” she said, “Once a person is able to embrace that identity, it changes something inside and becomes part of their identity.” 

The workshops enable people to believe that they are writers. Once a person is able to embrace that identity, it changes something inside and becomes part of their identity

Meredith Avakian

Meredith acknowledged that seven minutes is a fairly short time in which to write a poem, although short, timed writing activities are said to enhance creativity as writers perform better under a bit of pressure.   

The workshop ended with the writers sharing works in-progress and newly finished projects.  Director Jennifer Chauhan read a collaborative community poem created from responses gathered from workshops completed in February on the theme of ‘Love is’.  The poem, too long to be reprinted here, can be found at https://projectwritenow.org/love-is-2024-community-poem/

The earthquake and solar eclipse were the writers’ themes at Project Write Now at the Asbury Book Co-op’s monthly get together that Tuesday, April 9th.  The workshop began with a partnered exchange on each of our experiences of either the earthquake, the solar eclipse, or both. For most of us, the earthquake came as a shock – no pun intended. Many attributed the vibrations to roadwork or construc-tion.  Robert Goodman said, “My whole apartment was shaking. I thought it was a jackhammer on the street, but when I ran to the window, the street was empty, and I knew it was an earthquake.”   Others, including myself, had no physical experience of the earth moving, and so were surprised to turn on the TV and radio to hear that New Jersey did indeed have a 4.8 magnitude earthquake. 

Brenda Hamlet views the solar eclipse through safety eclipse glasses Credit: Brenda Hamlet

The next seven minutes were spent writing about that experience, or something that was inspired by it.  There were many beautiful poems shared that evening. Some of the most uplifting pieces included: Living Life for Just One Day; Solar Eclipse of the Heart; The Earth Moved Under My Feet (apologies to Bonnie Tyler and Carol King); and Anticipation Versus Surprise.  

Later in the evening, some of the writers present offered readings from works in progress.  Dee Slattery offered a chapter from a story about her school days at a Catholic School.  Robert Goodman read from his soon-to-be published anthology of poems. Tom Celandine recited an original riff on “The Llama” by comic poet Ogden Nash. 

Closing the evening, many provided details of upcoming poetry events including Project Write Now’s fundraiser, CringeFest at The Vogel, Red Bank on April 26 and Telling Untold Stories at The Two River Theater, Red Bank on Saturday April 20th.  Also coming up at the Long Branch Cultural Arts Center on April 15 is an open mic poetry event, the North to Shore Quills & Chills poets on the supernatural taking place June 15th at Paranormal on Cookman in Asbury Park, and Open Mic Poetry evening at Green Plant Coffee on April 24th at 6pm. 

Brenda Hamlet is a journalist covering trends in the media and arts. Brenda lives in Asbury Park and teaches writing at Kean University. Her contributions will focus on the state of the Arts in Asbury Park.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *