Poetry as Altar: Creating Space for the Sacred

Poetry as Altar: Creating Space for the Sacred


“In certain ways writing is a form of prayer.”—Denise Levertov

Día de los Muertos, retablos, and ofrendas will serve as models for our poems in this workshop. Altars create a sacred space in the home and are used as a place of prayer and worship, reflection and meditation or song. They can function as sites where family history is actively preserved, where loved ones are celebrated and remembered with pictures and artifacts.

The Mexican home altar tradition is centuries old, but it is not the only culture to embrace the art of the home altar—Buddhism, Hinduism, Wicca, and Santeria are a few examples of other faiths that have a home altar tradition.

We will explore the altar tradition and build our own poetry altars, following the traditions of many contemporary poets of the sacred such as Kaveh Akbar, Marilyn Nelson, José Araguz, Rigoberto González, Jane Hirshfield, Mary Szybist, Leila Chatti, Ross Gay, and Rosebud Ben-Oni. Join me in laying marigolds and sweet bread and whatever items or images are sacred to you upon the altars of our poems.

June 3-30

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Teaching Artist


Jennifer Givhan


Jennifer Givhan, a National Endowment for the Arts and PEN/Rosenthal Emerging Voices fellow, is a Mexican American writer and activist from the Southwestern desert. She is the author of four full-length poetry collections: Landscape with Headless Mama (2015 Pleiades Editors’ Prize), Protection Spell (2016 Miller Williams Poetry Prize Series edited by Billy Collins), Girl with Death Mask (2017 Blue Light Books Prize chosen by Ross Gay), and Rosa’s Einstein (Camino Del Sol Poetry Series, 2019). Her honors include the Frost Place Latinx Scholarship, a National Latinx Writers’ Conference Scholarship, the Lascaux Review Poetry Prize, Phoebe Journal’s Greg Grummer Poetry Prize chosen by Monica Youn, the Pinch Poetry Prize chosen by Ada Limón, and ten Pushcart nominations. Her work has appeared in Best of the Net, Best New Poets, Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, Ploughshares, Poetry, TriQuarterly, Boston Review, AGNI, Crazyhorse, Witness, Southern Humanities Review, Missouri Review, and the Kenyon Review. Givhan holds a master’s degree in English from California State University Fullerton and an MFA from Warren Wilson College, and she can be found discussing feminist motherhood at JenniferGivhan.com as well as on Facebook and Twitter @JennGivhan.