Dear Literary Folk,
Hope Valley in Aspenglow
I know so many writer-friends who hail from the East Coast, and who profoundly miss the intense autumn colors of oak, maple, and sumac. Being a Californian , born and raised on the Pacific Coast, I had never seen this display until two weeks ago, when I headed to Hope Valley on the Carson Pass in the Sierras just south of Lake Tahoe. If you are longing for a real hit of color, consider making an October visit there. Best time to catch the aspens is mid-month, around Columbus Day. We caught them a week later, still in their glory.
Sonoma County’s Recently Published Authors
Congratulations to this month’s recently published authors in Sonoma County. See who’s in print at http://socolitupdate.com/sonoma-county-in-print. Thanks to Ed Coletti who keeps this page of the Literary Update current with your notices of work you’ve had accepted for publication in literary journals and magazines.
Our Dead Who Light the Way
November first is the traditional Feast of All Saints. Tomorrow is the Feast of All Souls. In Europe’s Celtic world, Samhain (Hallowe’en) marked the beginning of the new year. And in Mexico and other parts of Central and Latin America, the sacred day is called El Dia de los Muertos, fast becoming a part of the autumnal traditions around Sonoma County. Our dead are near during these days, and we can invite them to be with us to console, to guide, to gently turn us in the direction of the light as we begin our journey into the darkest season of the year.
Dylan Thomas’s Centennial
Had he lived past his 39 short years, Dylan Thomas would be 100 years old. His birthday, October 27, brought back to me and my fellow writer-travelers in Wales, vivid memories of our time in his homeland and especially three days in the village of Laugharne. There was a fine article in the Chronicle’s Travel section on Laugharne and the “Birthday Walk.” If you missed it, here’s the link: www.sfgate.com/travel/article/Finding-poetry-in-Dylan-Thomas-strangest-5843799.php
And if this inspires any of you literary folk to consider a writing retreat and literary tour of Wales, check out my website: http://wales2013.wordpress.com/. The first trip was in the summer of 2013. The 2014 trip didn’t have enough travelers to launch, but if enough travelers are interested, we could aim for summer of 2015 or 2016. Let me know if you’d like to be included!
Carolyn Kizer and Galway Kinnell
We have lost two great poets this past month: Carolyn Kizer and Galway Kinnell. Both were poets of exquisite craft and brimming imagination. Both were also influential teachers. Back in the 1980’s, when the Napa Writers’ Conference was first launched by Dave Evans, Kizer and Kinnell were both among the teaching staff, and that’s where I had the opportunity to meet them.
Kinnell once said, “poetry is somebody standing up, so to speak, and saying, with as little concealment as possible, what it is for him or her to be on earth at this moment.” There are many ways to bear witness, both the deeply personal and the historic.
To honor these two writers, Kizer and Kinnell, I’ve included poems of witness which you’ll find at the end of this post, right after this months contribution to the ongoing “Thoughts on the Drought.”
Mexico’s 43 Desaparecidos
At this year’s Poetry of Remembrance Community Reading, in its new location under the great oak behind the Petaluma Historical Museum, one of the team of organizers, Israel Escudero, lit 43 candles in memory of students at the Ayotzinapa Normal teacher-training school who have been missing since September 26th. Israel then told us that six students from the school were murdered by municipal police and other gunmen, and forty-three others were “disappeared” in the small city of Iguala, in the Pacific-coast state of Guerrero.
A march was held in Mexico City yesterday, coinciding with the Day of the Dead holidays, and a “mega march” is scheduled for November 5th, the day that Mexico’s universities and colleges are planning a national strike.
Let’s keep them in our thoughts. For more information, here is a link to a New Yorker article from October 30: newyorker.com/news/news-desk/crisis-mexico-forty-three-missing-students-spark-revolution.
Tonight’s El Dia de los Muertos Procession with Mariachis and Big Puppets
If you’d like a special way to remember your loved ones, consider joining the community of marchers participating in the Day of the Dead candlelight procession. The events kicks off at 6:00 PM in front of Water Street Bistro in Petaluma, right by the river at the end of Western.
Sonoma County Literary Update Turns 10 This Year
Last month, local writer Michelle Wing interviewed me and Jo-Anne Rosen about the evolution of the Literary Update. She then published a short feature on the Update with the Sonoma West Times and News. Thanks to Michelle for taking the time to highlight the various features and the collaborative nature of the website, and especially for acknowledging Jo-Anne’s steady, professional managing of all the information you submit to us.
If you didn’t see the article, here’s the link: http://www.sonomawest.com/discoveries/off-the-page/article_fdcb3aee-5559-11e4-8a7d-9fe54d6efd6f.html
Got a Literary Event or Program to Promote? Guest Contributors Welcome!
In keeping with the collaborative history and nature of the Sonoma County Literary Update, Jo-Anne and I warmly invite writers from around the county to contribute features for each month’s post. For November, we’re happy to feature Michelle Wing and the new reading series she’s involved in up in Cloverdale.
Books on Stage — New Reading Series in Cloverdale
Cloverdale is host to a lively arts scene, with a co-op art gallery, a jazz club, an active historical society, and a sweet theater venue, the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center (CPAC), offering a full season of top-notch dramatic performances. All that was missing was something for writers, especially since the closure of the town’s only bookstore a few years ago.
Thanks to an alliance with CPAC, lovers of the literary arts now have a venue as well, a new reading series called Books on Stage. It happens every other month on a Thursday night at the 99-seat CPAC theater. The concept is simple. The evening features both a poet and a prose writer. Each has thirty minutes to read from their work, followed by an audience Q&A period, with a brief intermission between readers. Afterwards, all are invited to the theater lobby for refreshments and wine, book sales and signings, and more personal conversations with the authors. Michelle Wing, creator of the series, serves as emcee and host. The evenings are free, a gift to the community from the CPAC board.
When selecting readers for Books on Stage, Michelle says there are two primary considerations she keeps in mind. Literary merit, of course. But equally important for this series, she seeks authors and poets who can powerfully bring their words to life from the page.
The series opened in July with Sonoma County Poet Laureate Katherine Hastings and novelist Gil Mansergh. September’s reading featured poet Michelle Wing and novelist Amanda McTigue. The November 6 reading will showcase two writers visiting from Hilo, Hawai’i — poet Ruth Thompson, author of Woman with Crows, and novelist Don Mitchell, author of A Red Woman Was Crying.
Upcoming on January 15 is a reading featuring Healdsburg poet Russ Messing, author of A Convergence of Unanticipated Consequences, and memoirist and short story writer Laura McHale Holland, author of Reversible Skirt and The Ice Cream Vendor’s Song. Future dates are March 12 and May 15, with readers still to be decided.
Shows start at 7 p.m. The theater is located at 209 North Cloverdale Boulevard, Cloverdale, CA 95425. www.cloverdaleperformingarts.com/ For more information about Books on Stage and upcoming authors, see http://michellewing.com/books-on-stage/
About Our Contributor
Michelle Wing is the author of Body on the Wall (www.amazon.com/author/michellewing/) and co-editor of Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence, a fundraiser for YWCA Somona County (www.ywcasc.org).
Thoughts on the Drought
Since January, I’ve been inviting the Literary Update readers to send me their poems, stories, essays, and anecdotes on the drought. This month, I’m featuring a poem by Amy Elizabeth Robinson. Please send me your thoughts on the drought or, if you prefer, on the recent rains that have been so welcome. Photos and artwork, too!
An Ordinary Day
A poem for Flood Wall Street and the People’s Climate March
September 21-22, 2014
by Amy Elizabeth Robinson
in my pajamas
because I can.
back in bed with
and checking Facebook,
not one time,
not two times,
but eighteen times
while my children are at school.
I might bake cookies.
I might go back to sleep.
I might type
into my Google bar and
see how things I care
stretch my mind,
and not my body.
I might sit
on the front step.
Listen to the chainsaws
complain about fire-prone firs,
watch the naked shapes of cardboard
cookies for hard-scrabble birds
in the morning wind…
and then the afternoon wind….
I might wonder when the rain’s coming,
and then begin
thinking of the vibrant
hum of humans
rising from New York,
two thousand nine hundred thirteen
walking with them
today. Because I can.
My mind is built for that—
stretching the plain,
until it hums
Amy Elizabeth Robinson’s blog, Still Life, Turning Planet, is about writing freely, sitting quietly, and living out loud on this Earth
by Carolyn Kizer
On September 11, 1973, backed by the U.S. CIA, a military coup in Chile ousted the democratically elected Salvador Allende, who was later found dead—possibly assassinated, though the official version is suicide. Within the month, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a friend and supporter of Allende, who’d spent years in exile for his political stance, was also found dead.
In the month of October, 1973, Carolyn Kizer wrote the following poem for her friend Nicanor Parra Sandoval, another great Chilean poet, celebrating his 100th birthday this year. In this poem, Kizer dreams of trying to reach her friend to learn of his fate.
Last night I dreamed I ran through the streets of New York
Looking for help for you, Nicanor.
But my few friends who are rich or influential
were temporarily absent from their penthouses or hotel suites.
They had gone to the opera, or flown for the weekend to Bermuda.
At last I found one or two of them at home,
preparing for social engagements,
absently smiling, as they tried on gown after gown
until heaps of rich, beautiful fabric were strewn
over the chairs and sofas. They posed before mirrors,
with their diamonds and trinkets and floor-length furs.
Smiling at me from the mirror, they vaguely promised help.
They became distracted—by constantly ringing phones,
by obsequious secretaries, bustling in with packages,
flowers, messages, all the paraphernalia,
all part of the uninterruptible rounds of the rich,
the nice rich, smiling soothingly, as they touched their hair
or picked up their phone extensions.
Absently patting my arm, they smiled, “It will be all right.”
Dusk fell on the city as I ran, naked, weeping, into the streets.
I ran to the home of Barbara, my friend,
Who, as a young girl, rescued four Loyalist soldiers
from a Spanish prison;
in her teenage sweater set and saddle shoes and knee socks,
she drove an old car sagging with Loyalist pamphlets
across the Pyrenees all the way to Paris without being caught.
And not long ago, she helped save a group of men
from Franco’s sentence of death.
In my dream, Barbara telephones Barcelona.
I realize this isn’t quite right,
but I just stand there paralyzed, as one does in dreams.
Then, dimly, from the other end of the line,
through the chatter of international operators,
we hear artillery fire, the faint tones of lost men,
cracked voices singing, “Los Quartros Generales” through the pulsations
of the great, twisted cable under the ocean.
Agonía, agonía, sueño, fermente & sueño.
Este es el mundo, amigo, agonía, agonía.
“No, Barbara!” I scream. “We are not back there.
That’s the old revolution. Call up the new one.”
Though I know that, every day,
your friends, Nicanor, telephone Santiago,
where the number rings and rings and rings
with never an answer. And now the rings
are turning into knells:
The church bells of Santiago
tolling the funeral of Neruda, his poems looted,
his autobiography stolen, his books desecrated
in his house on Isla Negra.
And among the smashed glass, the broken furniture,
his desk overturned, the ruined books strewn over the floor,
lie the great floral wreaths from the Swedish academy,
the wreaths from Paris, South Asia, the whole world over.
And the bells toll on…
Then I tell Barbara to hang up the phone.
She dials the number again, then turns to me, smiling,
smiling like an angel:
“He is there.” Trembling, I take the phone from her,
and hear your voice, Nicanor,
sad, humorous, infinitely disillusioned,
“Dear Carolyn…” It is Nicanor!
And the connection is broken, because I wake up,
in this white room, in this white silence,
in this backwater of silence
on this Isla Blanca:
are you, too, silent under the earth,
Carolyn Kizer, “October 1973″ from Cool, Calm & Collected: Poems 1960-2000. Copyright © 2001 by Carolyn Kizer. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, .P. O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368-0271, http://www.coppercanyonpress.org. Source: Cool, Calm & Collected: Poems 1960-2000 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)
by Galway Kinnell
The following poem by Galway Kinnell appeared in his twelfth collection of poems, Imperfect Thirst, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994. It honors the memory of Kinnell’s sister as she was dying.
Bending over her bed, I saw the smile
I must have seen when gaping up from the crib.
Knowing death will come, sensing its onset,
may be a fair price for consciousness.
But looking at my sister, I wished
she could have died by surprise,
without ever knowing about death.
Too late. Wendy said, “I am in three parts.
Here on the left is red. That is pain.
On the right is yellow. That is exhaustion.
The rest is white. I don’t know yet what white is.”
For most people, one day everything is all right.
The next, the limbic node catches fire. The day after,
the malleus in one ear starts missing the incus.
Then the arthritic opposable thumb no longer opposes
whoever last screwed the top of the jam jar.
Then the coraco-humeral ligament frizzles apart,
the liver speckles, the kidneys dent,
two toes lose their souls. Of course,
before things get worse, a person could run for it.
I could take off right now, climb the pure forms
that surmount time and death, follow a line
down Avenue D, make a 90° turn right on 8th Street,
90° left on C, right on 7th, left on B, then cross
to Sixth Avenue, catch the A train,
to Nassau, where the A pulls up beside the Z,
get off, hop on the Z, hurtle under the river
and rise on Euclid under the stars and taste,
with my sweetheart, in perfectly circular kisses,
the actual saliva of paradise.
Then, as if Wendy suddenly understood
this flaw in me, that I could die
still wanting what is not to be had here, drink
and drink and yet have most of my thirst
intact for the water table, she opened her eyes.
“I want you to know, I’m not afraid of dying,”
she said, “I just wish it didn’t take so long.”
Seeing her appear so young and yet begin to die
all on her won, I wanted to whisk her off.
Quickly she said, “Let’s go home.” From outside
in the driveway came the gargling noise
of a starter motor, and a low steady rumbling, as if
my car had turned itself on and was warming up the engine.
She closed her eyes. She was entirely white,
as if freshly powdered with twice-bleached flour.
Color flashed only when she opened her eyes.
Snow will come down next winter, in the woods;
the fallen trees will have that flesh on their bones.
When the eye of the woods opens, a bluejay shuttles.
Outside, suddenly, all was quiet,
I realized my car had shut off its engine.
Now a spot of rosiness showed in each cheek;
blushes, perhaps, at a joy she had kept from us,
from somewhere in her life, perhaps two mouths,
her and a beloved’s, near each other, like roses
sticking out of a bottle of invisible water.
She was losing the half-given, half-learned
art of speech, and it became for her a struggle
to find words, form them, position them,
quickly say them. After much effort she said,
“Now is when the point of the story changes.”
After that, one eye at a time, the left listened,
and drifted, the right focused, gleamed
meanings at me, drifted. Stalwart
the halves of the brain, especially the right.
Now, as they ratchet the box that holds
her body into the earth, a voice calls
back across the region she passes through,
a far landscape I seem to see from above,
in prolonged, even notes that swell and diminish.
Now it sounds from beneath the farthest horizon,
and now it grows faint, and now I cannot hear it.
To hear the poet Galway Kinnell read this poem, as well as “Oatmeal” and “Saint Francis and the Sow,” click here: http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/.
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update