Poetry Forge

About Holly


Holly Wren Spaulding

Founder of Poetry Forge / Teaching Artist

Holly at Fulfillament by Jane Boursaw

diversity of experience

I have been teaching in different forms and settings since 1995, when I ran my first poetry workshop at the alternative high school in Ann Arbor, MI. Soon after that, I headed up the writing concentration in an arts mentoring program at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American Art in Detroit, and later served as director of the Leelanau Young Writers Workshop at the Leelanau School in Glen Arbor, MI.

For six happy years I taught poetry and composition at Northwestern Michigan College, before joining the faculty of Interlochen College of Creative Arts, where I continue to teach weekend intensives and 3-5 day workshops for adults who wish to explore the practice of poetry in an inspiring setting.

Since 2010, I’ve facilitated adult writing workshops in Traverse City, MI (Poetry Boot Camp), Easthampton, MA, and online as Poetry Forge. I also offer occasional letterpress and poetry workshops at Big Wheel Press and travel to conferences, retreats, museums, arts centers, and other venues, where I enjoy teaching and speaking on the imagination, creative process, poetry in public spaces, and other topics.

boulder poem.jpg

a multidisciplinary perspective

In addition to majoring in creative writing at Interlochen Arts Academy, University of Michigan, and Trinity College, Ireland, where I received my Master of Philosophy in Creative Writing and Book Publishing in 2000, my approach and teaching is influenced by research and studies in the areas of art history, literature, foreign language, and Zen. Other important influences include: ballet and modern dance training; rock climbing, mountaineering, and backpacking; violin, voice, and piano instruction; farm work and manual labor; extensive international travel; documentary film projects; the Zapatista movement; yoga and meditation; direct action and anarchist philosophy; independent media work; editorial experiences at numerous literary publications and presses; Feminist Business School; and years of organizing and public speaking on behalf of Sweetwater Alliance, a grassroots organization I co-founded with other activists in response to the corporate control of the water commons in the Great Lakes Basin.

I see my programming as an experiment in reclaiming zones of human experience that matter both personally and politically, and without which we are bound to be less whole, more depressed, and further alienated from the most vivid aspects of our very own lives.

I am always trying to create a temporary autonomous zone wherein together we can hone our voices and learn use them more powerfully, for the good; where we can cultivate the benevolent imagination; where we can preserve our inner spaces and secret lives; where we practice being more free in our thoughts and actions; where we make our work and share it with others.


lifelong love

I grew up in home where I was surrounded by books, music, woodworking projects, gardens, and the constant encouragement to be creative, rather than seek stimulation or enjoyment as a passive consumer. I was taken to world class music, dance, and theater performances from an early age, and knew then that I wanted a life in art. I was also introduced to political organizing and community building initiatives while still very young, instilling an urge to initiate social and creative spaces and situations that wouldn’t otherwise exist, simply on the grounds that I need them and I believe others do, too. Poetry Forge arose from such a sense, and continues to be both a means of making a living, and vehicle for shifting culture, however subtly and slowly.

I explored the fine and performing arts throughout my childhood and when I met a Writer in the Schools in early high school, I sensed that I had found my place, although I have continued to cultivate my interest in the other arts, and enjoy bringing those influences to my students and projects. Hence, I continue to collaborate with visual artists, composers, musicians, dancers, activists, and other educators, to explore connections between words and music, words and movement, and words and images.

I am deeply interested in how to bring the values of attention, slowness, contemplation and beauty to wider audiences and lately, I’ve been asking such questions as: What if we reclaimed some of our public space, our visual commons, by introducing poetic texts in spaces where we are used to seeing advertising instead? Can the values of experimentation and creative risk taking help us resist the supremacy of perfection in our culture? In what ways is poetry an integrative medicine? Who gets to decide when the work is good enough? As artists what is our relation to status, the market, gatekeeper, institutions, and external validation?

publishing & awards

My poems, articles and reviews have appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry Northwest, Witness, The Ecologist, and in the books Elemental: Creative Nonfiction from Michigan (Wayne State University Press, 2018) and We Are Everywhere: The Irresistible Rise of Global Anti-Capitalism (Verso, 2003), among other venues. Alice Greene & Co. has published two poetry collections: If August (2017) and Pilgrim (2014). Fleda Brown selected The Grass Impossibly for the 2008 Michigan Cooperative Press Chapbook Prize. My current project will be complete in 2019.

My poems have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net award, and my poems and essays received five Avery Hopwood Awards at the University of Michigan, as well as the CuChulainn to Kavanaugh Award for Poetry in Northern Ireland . I’ve been granted residencies at The Mesa Refuge, Blue Mountain Center, The Millay Colony for the Arts, The Hill House, The Jean Noble Parsons Center for the Study of Art & Science, Arrowmont School of Arts & Crafts, and the Leelanau Cultural Center, where I was the 2017 Ann Hall Artist in Residence. I serve on the advisory board of Crosshatch Center for Art & Ecology. .

You can learn more about my background and personal projects on my author site.

Amber Edmondson

Teaching Assistant / Poet / Bookbinder


a poet & bookbinder

Amber Edmondson is a poet, book artist, and Poetry Forge’s Teaching Assistant. She lives on a decommissioned Air Force base in Michigan's Upper Peninsula near where she owns and operates Wild Pages, a book bindery and stationery shop. She is the author of three poetry chapbooks: Darling Girl (dancing girl press, 2016), Lost Birds of the Iron Range (Porkbelly Press, 2017), and Lady Leda's Dancing Girls (About Editions, forthcoming 2019). In 2018 Edmondson was selected to participate in the Long Memory Project, an artist residency and performance supported by the National Endowment for the Arts and Michigan Cultural Council, which paired younger musicians and writers with elders who have stories of resistance to tell. A body of work related to that experience is in progress.

Edmondson hosts workshops and readings near her home and maintains a devoted reading, writing, and bookbinding practice. She has worked with Holly in one capacity or another, since taking her Apprentice Poetry Workshop over a decade ago, in college. In those days, she was also employed by the college’s Writing Center, where she aided hundreds of writers with their work in progress. Since 2017 she has assisted with the 21 Day Poetry Challenge, providing editorial feedback on participant’s work in progress.

digging for understanding

In college, one of my literature instructors shared a quote to the effect of, "By writing, we learn what we think." It's not craft advice and it's not concrete, but it speaks to writing as a practice rather than a burst of inspiration where we sit down to our work knowing exactly what we want to say. It's revisiting the same ideas or themes or images again and again for years, digging through the dirt for understanding.

informing the imagination

Reading—and especially reading outside of our own experiences—is a way to inform the imagination. We can't search for any kind of truth as writers if the only version of the world we know is the version that we ourselves are living. But as a queer-identified woman from a multiethnic background, I didn't get to see myself in any kind of media while growing up or even through much of college. So when I did start reading Sandra Cisneros and Eduardo Galeano and Isabel Allende, it was a kind of permission.

reaching outside of our own experiences

Everyone has a right to their own story, so diverse reading lists help us to broaden our perspective of the world while also validating our right to put our pen to the page. We grow any time we can reach outside of our own experiences to consider the lives of others. I think it also helps to combat cynicism, in the same way that Rebecca Solnit describes hope: "Hope locates itself in the premise that we don’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act." Imagination allows us to embrace uncertainty and move forward with hope, which I think is a kind of empathy for the world at large.”

a place of exploration

When I’m reading other writer’s work in progress, I’m looking for honesty and vulnerability, which often also means some ugliness. I think there’s a temptation in first drafts to explain what we know and how we're right. But when a poem can chip away at its own certainty and arrive at a place of exploration, I am hooked. The piece doesn’t need polish or intricate metaphors. It just needs genuine curiosity.