Talking with Tina Cane about “The Poet as Witness to History”

The Poet as Witness to History is a six week workshop starting February 16, and is open to all writing levels and backgrounds. We’ve interviewed instructor and Rhode Island Poet Laureate Tina Cane about what to expect in class and what it means to be a witness to history.

To view complete course information, and to register, click here.

“History is within us, is a mechanism of how we operate, is inescapable and belongs to everyone.” — Tina Cane

Who might be interested in joining The Poet as Witness to History writing class?

Anyone interested in writing. One doesn’t need to have a particular interest or
background in history to take part. I am not an historian, but I am fascinated by the intersection of literature and history.

tina-caneWhat most excites you about the class?

I am always excited to lead a workshop. It galvanizes me to have to collect my thoughts and think about how to share them. I have spent many years teaching as a visiting poet in middle and high school history classes. I enjoy encouraging students to see the connections between history and the literature produced during a particular era.

What does it mean to be a witness to history as a writer? Is one’s history in the past or is it happening now?

We are all witnesses to history—whether or not we write. A writer’s work can be considered an historical document by virtue of the fact that it is produced during a particular moment in time. Even if a piece of writing does not explicitly refer to events, or uses another period as its setting, there are often allusions, approaches or markers that characterize the era in which it was created.

It’s interesting to explore what a writer is revealing about his/her time through writing that is distinct from facts. One’s history is always unfolding, even as each hour passes.

The way we see the past is also always in flux— much in the way that when one returns to a book years later, there is something new to be found. The reader has changed, not the book. Add time to anything and it becomes history. The past is always being revised— sometimes even factually, but certainly always in how we view it. Context and perspective are everything. We can look to personal history for the clearest, most compelling examples of that. Ask several members of the same family about an experience they shared—each personal, account of that history will be different. History, like memory, can be quite subjective and unreliable. Since history is usually written by the victors, it is worth reading what the poets were up to.

In the course description, you begin with a quote by poet Charles Olson: “History is the function of any one of us.” Can you explain how this quote is a peek into what this course might be like and the themes that students will read and write about?

History is within us, is a mechanism of how we operate, is inescapable and belongs to everyone. We will read and write about personal and world histories as expressed in poetry. We will think about the factors that come to bear on our how we understand and approach the past.

What led you to choose the particular poets that this course will explore? 

I am most interested in exploring how poets of an era may choose or choose not to address history in their work and how, regardless, historical insights may be inherently present in their writings.

As recently appointed Rhode Island’s poet laureate, how has being a witness to history influenced your own writing and poetics?

Long before I was appointed Poet Laureate, I began writing a series of “minor history” poems which are largely autobiographical but also wish to capture particular places and times. These poems grew out my work as a visiting poet to history classes at Central Falls High School. I was working with recent immigrant students, encouraging them to write short personal histories and to connect those stories with events they were studying. I wanted to help them understand how past events in this new and foreign country could still be relevant to them by virtue of shared humanity.

You’ve helped to establish a full scholarship for veterans of the military, to cover the full cost of any 2017 Winter/Spring Frequency Writers course. What prompted you to do so, and why might The Poet as Witness to History be a writing class well suited for veterans?

I established this scholarship—which I will fund continuously during my five-year term—because I think there are people in the veteran community who want to write but who may not have the opportunity or impetus to take a writing workshop otherwise. I also think that the larger community of writers and readers benefits from the widest possible spectrum of voices.

This workshop would be a wonderful place for veterans, in particular, to explore poetry and history. Veterans have perspectives on past and unfolding world events that most civilians do not—and each veteran’s experience is as unique as the individual. Their writings—whatever the content—is an important contribution to literature.

As Poet Laureate, I am a public servant. Veterans serve our country and this scholarship is a chance to serve them. I am working on bringing more workshops for veterans to the state through federal funds. That will take some time though. Stay tuned.

Writing Communities Matter: an End of the Year Letter

“Writing matters, and writing communities matter. I believe that when creativity is empowered, and when we actively empower the creativity of others, we engage with a 14525221_1221111361265978_8038657737801716848_o-smallradical human instinct—to give shape to the internal, to visualize and make physical that which does not yet exist, to witness and make tangible our own voice, and, in a community, to support others in this process.”

Frequency Writer co-director, S. Tourjee, has written a letter and year-end review of what
we accomplished together in 2016. Our writing courses and scholarships are made possible by your support and generosity.

Please consider making a year-end donation to Frequency. We look forward to a collaborative and creative new year!




You are welcome here.

As our mission states, Frequency Writers is a moving creation of the people in it. We believe art-making to be a vital part of healthy communities. We know that education and writing is always enriched when our identities can be shared and celebrated in safety and respect.

We are committed to making our classes accessible, welcoming, and safe for anyone who wishes to take one. To us, this means that we value the ever-expanding identities of our writers, including those who are women, POC, LGBTQ, immigrants, veterans, disabled, neurodivergent, gender-nonconforming, and writers of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds. We believe in educating ourselves, challenging ourselves, questioning our assumptions, listening, and working to cultivate learning spaces that do the same.

Particularly now, the need and impact of intentionally safe spaces extends beyond the work being done within a specific organization. It is our hope that those attending a Frequency class or event will take the support that they have felt, and helped to create, into other aspects of their lives when they leave. This is work that each person contributes to, benefits from, and takes with them, and therefore impacts the community at large.

We invite a dialogue about what we can do to make our offerings welcoming for everyone. At the end of each course, we will ask students to assess their experience and comment on whether we have succeeded in putting our policy into action. In addition, anyone is welcome to contact us via our website with any concerns or suggestions; we will respond promptly.

The Poet Laureate Veterans Scholarship

 The Poet Laureate Veterans Scholarship

We are thrilled to announce that Rhode Island Poet Laureate Tina Cane has established a full scholarship for a veteran of the military. The scholarship will cover the full cost of one Frequency class that takes place during the Winter/Spring of 2017. All veterans of the military are eligible for this scholarship. To apply please submit:

  1. Name one of the current classes that you want to take
  2. A 2-3 page writing sample in any genre
  3. A short statement (a paragraph) about how a Frequency class would benefit your writing life at this time

Please send the above to by January 7, with the subject “Veterans Scholarship Application.”

Winter/Spring Frequency Writers courses

…are up and registration is now open with classes will be taught by Tina Cane, Rosalynde Vas Dias, Chris Kondrich, and S. Tourjee.


You are also invited to our Open House on Sunday, February 5, 2017, at 186 Carpenter St. from 4:30-6:30 pm. Meet Frequency instructors and mingle with other writers in the Frequency community!


Readings with a Local Writer, Musical Accompaniment

Providence, Rhode Island offers endless opportunities for creative inspiration and to connect with other writers. 

Past Frequency instructor and renowned writer, Mary Cappello has announced dates for collaborative reading events to share some words from her new book,  Life Breaks In: A Mood Almanack.

Local events will take place on Nov 1st, 6th and 12th; the event on Nov 1st involves music! Events specifics are available here:


“Mary Cappello is basically the apex for me of what genre-less (or genre-full) writing can be.” — Darcie Dennigan

Dennigan suggests all interested poets, writers, and readers attend—especially if you have enjoyed a Frequency Writers class on Meditative Art Making or The Essay as Form.

 “Each of my books is a different type of thought experiment, underscored by wonder and hopeful to contribute a parcel of strange beauty to the world.” —Mary Cappello

Cappello is a leading scholar with an impressive list of achievements, publications, and awards. She is the author of five books of literary nonfiction, including Night Bloom, Called Back: My Reply to Cancer, My Return to LifeAwkward: A Detour, and Swallow: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them.

A “Reading for Writing” Course

Victor Wildman will teach a READING for WRITING course (READING LATE JAMES: THE WINGS OF THE DOVE) from October 20th through December 1st (note: there will be no class on Thursday November 24th, for obvious reasons) and it will meet from 6:30pm to 9:00pm at the Community Church of Providence at 372 Wayland Avenue Providence RI 02906.  

Note from Victor: This will provide a chance to take a break from one’s own projects and to get lost in the lushly peculiar textual world of this late James novel; in the end, I think, this course will present one with a different way of thinking about one’s own approach to writing (everyone who signs up will be required to keep a reading notebook and to creatively respond to the readings throughout the course).

Cost: $250 payable with a check made out to Victor Wildman on the first day of class.

**Please note this course is not being run through Frequency. Contact for more info.