May 13

Listening to the Storm


Photo by Daniel R. Thompson via Flickr

As I sit here in my home in Philadelphia waiting for the next storm to come, after watching the devastating news of the tornadoes in Oklahoma, I came across the following lines in a poem by Carol Muske-Dukes: “I considered / how we twisted into ourselves to live. / When the storm stopped, I sat still, / listening.” (See more at: http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15252#sthash.pQbDJvNw.dpuf)

These lines resonate with me as I listen for poems that come through the storms of our climate. I’m still at the very beginning of this project of writing poems on climate change, but the more readings I have done in which I’ve presented these new poems the more conscious I become about the topic. Even as I look back at these drafts and start revising them I find that I’m inserting more and more layers of urgency into the poems, as I allow myself to inhabit this reality and see where it takes me.

In that vein, I’m particularly looking forward to reading poems at an event on climate justice on May 31st at my synagogue, Kol Tzedek, in West Philadelphia. The event is free and open to the public. I’ll be reading poems and participating in a discussion with environmental organizer Jesse Bacon of Environmental Action. This is the first time I’ve participated in an event that is directly related to climate change, and I hope to do more of these in the future.

On June 5th I’m thrilled to be participating in a reading by contributors to HER KIND, a blog associated with VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts at WORD Brooklyn. I’m really honored to read with Anne Hays, a good friend and founding editor of Storyscape Journal, where I’m now editor-in-chief. Anne is an incredible non-fiction and fiction writer, in addition to being an all-around brilliant human. I’ll also be reading with Rosebud Ben-Oni, editor at HER KIND, and fabulous, inspiring poet. And though I haven’t met her yet, I’ve heard great things about R. Erica Doyle. All of this is to say, you should come!

I’m also reading at a gallery in Malvern, PA, with a group of poets who participate in a workshop at Kelly Writers House called Suppose an Eyes (a line taken from Gertrude Stein). If you know anyone in that neck of the woods, send them over!

May 31, 2013: Shabbat Tikkun: A Conversation about the Climate Crisis & What We Can Do, reading and discussion with Environmental Action organizer Jesse Bacon, Kol Tzedek, Calvary Center, 815 S 48th St  Philadelphia, PA 19143, 7:15pm

RSVP here: https://www.facebook.com/events/464544870291840/

June 5, 2013: Contributors Rosebud Ben-Oni, R. Erica Doyle, Anne Hays, and Hila Ratzabi join forces for a reading and signing celebrating HER KIND, a literary community powered by VIDA: Women in Literary Arts at WORD Brooklyn, 126 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, NY 11222, 7pm


June 9, 2013: Suppose an Eyes group reading at Salon Des Amis Gallery, 2321 Yellow Springs Road, Malvern, PA 19355, 2–6pm

I hope to see you at one of these events!





May 13

Reveries on the New Jersey Turnpike

wildflower_areaImage Credit: http://www.arkansashighways.com/wildflower_program/wild_flower_area.aspx

I’m finally back in Philly after an invigorating trip to Salem for the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. I’m writing this while slumped in the Red Sofa, and after putting the finishing touches on the new issue of Storyscape, which will be published any day now (like us on FB or follow us on Twitter for the announcement!). I love the Massachusetts Poetry Festival because it’s still small enough to allow for meaningful interactions, which can happen at larger conferences like AWP, but on a scale that is much more manageable.

Last year I came to the festival to participate on a panel featuring Jewish women poets, and this year I came simply to take workshops and attend readings. I took four different workshops that all revolved around the theme of poetry and the environment (framed in various ways: global warming, post-pastoral poetry, nature poetry, etc.). If you have read or heard any of my new work, or if you’ve let me talk your ear off for a while, you’ll know that I’m currently working on a collection of poems that in different ways responds to climate change. Attending the aforementioned workshops was inspiring and validating, because I learned that there are many other poets who are equally concerned about and invested in engaging with this topic in poetry. I came home with many resources that will help me as I continue reading and thinking about how to creatively approach this important theme.

I was also inspired by the many poetry readings I heard, particularly the headline reading on Saturday night featuring Eduardo C. Corral, Terrance Hayes, and Sharon Olds. I was so captivated and mesmerized by the reading, and as I’ve said to my workshop participants, it’s often reading or hearing other people’s poems that makes me want to write. So during the six-hour drive back from Salem to Philly, I suddenly found myself composing a poem in my head (then repeating it out loud so I wouldn’t forget the words while I was driving!). I finally stopped at a gas station off the New Jersey Turnpike and wrote the draft down. It was pretty wild to experience that poetic reverie in the car and as it extended at the rest stop amidst the hordes of weary families scarfing down their fast food.

In our most recent Red Sofa Poetry Workshop I brought in visionary poems by Antony Hecht, Tomas Transtromer, James Wright, and Allen Ginsburg. The somewhat facetious assignment was to “go have vision and write about it.” Amazingly, I felt like the draft I wrote today actually turned out to be in that visionary vein… but, of course, we’ll see about that once I get over that initial burst of first-draft bliss.

In other poetry news… I’m thrilled that one of my new poems has been accepted for publication in the Alaska Quarterly Review! Also a few events this week:

I will be hosting the Storyscape Issue 10 Launch at the Cornelia Street Café in NYC this Tuesday, May 7, 6pm. Details here: https://www.facebook.com/events/150976635080068/

Please come out and support this incredible journal!

I will also be reading at 2nd Saturday Poets with the wonderful poet and underwater photographer Marie-Elizabeth Mali in Delaware this Saturday, May 11, 5pm at the Jackson Inn, 101 N. DuPont Road, Wilmington, DE. Do you know anyone in Delaware? I don’t! But if you do, please send them to our reading!

Thanks and lots of poetry love to you all!


Mar 13

Dinner Party & Photo Shoot a Success!

On March 17 I had the wonderful opportunity to offer a taste (literally!) of the Red Sofa Workshop to a few guests. I invited CJ Dawson Photography to photograph the dinner party, and couldn’t be happier with the results. Even more importantly, I got to chat with new students and I even got the group to do an impromptu reading of Rilke’s Duino Elegies. Food and poetry… What could be better? Check out the photos at our photo gallery!

Mar 13

Bringing Home the Inspiration


This Sunday morning I returned to Philadelphia from Boston after attending the annual AWP conference. After three days of intense learning, listening, and, yes, even some partying, I was glad to be coming home. My husband and I went out for breakfast burritos at Honest Tom’s Taco Shop, then took a long walk to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we spent some time strolling through the Asian art gallery, enjoying the silence and serenity of the Japanese tea house and the peacefulness of the Buddhist statuary.

Some years when I return from AWP I experience what’s known as “AWP withdrawal.” But this time somehow was different. Maybe it was something Augusten Burroughs said during his talk and reading on the last day of AWP. He said now that you’re going home, forget everything. Don’t look at your notes, just trust that you have everything you need to know. Let the hamster turn the wheel; let the subconscious do it’s work.

Along those lines, I felt that I was able to absorb the experience and take it home with me. This year, I attended very few panels compared to years past. There were some that I was sad to miss, but overall I think taking it slow was the right thing to do. Friday night I co-hosted an offsite reading sponsored by my literary journal, Storyscape, along with Union Station Magazine and Toadlily Press. I didn’t know the readers for the other publications well, and after hearing them read I was sincerely blown away. The experience was almost enough to make the whole trip worthwhile. That, and seeing so many friends and making new ones.

The feeling I took home with me was a sense of joy and groundedness in my writing practice and in my writing community. It reminded me of why I founded the Red Sofa Salon & Poetry Workshop right here in my West Philly home. I knew that feeling of being part of a supportive writing community, a community that challenges you to be the best poet you can be, was something that needed to be actively cultivated. I knew that this was a gift I had received in many forms over the years–through my MFA program at Sarah Lawrence, through attending many different workshops and conferences, and through the support of writer friends. Now I am ready and honored to share that gift.

That’s why I’m thrilled that we’re just a few weeks away from our very first Red Sofa Salon! The weather is getting somewhat warmer, and the spring bulbs I planted are just starting to peek out of the mulch of my makeshift front lawn. This is the time to re-commit to our poetry writing practice.

I have already heard from a number of interested poets who truly believe in this idea and have been craving this kind of supportive writing community, and I can already tell this is going to be a great group of people. If you have not yet signed up, please email me at redsofasalon@gmail.com. You can also secure your spot by registering through the website.

I look forward to meeting you all very soon and joining you on your writing journey!

To new beginnings!

Hila Ratzabi

Feb 13


Welcome to the Red Sofa Salon and Poetry Workshop, a brand new literary gathering in the heart of West Philadelphia. Taking place twice a month in a cozy home living room, we read and discuss poems, receive feedback on our own work in a trusted group setting, and enjoy delicious, homemade vegetarian food! The first workshop takes place Monday April 8, 2013. Peruse this site to learn more and to reserve your seat on the sofa!