Posted by: wordrunner | November 1, 2015

November 1, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

What a beautiful rainy day, this Day of the Dead, following one of those wild Petaluma-style Hallowe’ens and an extra hour to sleep or dream … or crank out the monthly Literary Update. Terry is away in some blissfully non-cyber woodsy space celebrating her 60th birthday and, no doubt, the rain. It’s a fitting salvo for the winter season. All is relatively quiet on the Sonoma literary front in November, unless you are a novelist participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), in which case we can only hope it will be quiet for you. Here are some highlights of upcoming events.

Of note on the poetry scene: Tonight and tomorrow, poetry readings at Redwood Cafe and Aqus. First Sunday Poetry & Music, 5:00-7:00 p.m. at Redwood Cafe in Cotati, features Renée Owen, accompanied by musician Brian Foster on shakuhachi, mandolin & harmonica. Iris Jamahl Dunkle and Rebecca Foust will also be reading. The Rivertown Poets: A Muse-ing Mondays (Monday, November 2, 6:30 p.m. at Aqus in Petaluma) reading features Bay Area poets Joel Fallon and Clara Hsu, followed by an open mic.

On Friday, November 6, 7:00 p.m., there are readings in Sebastapol and Santa Rosa:  Pat Nolan will read from his new book Poetry For Sale, a selection of linked poetry written over thirty years with a variety of poets including Keith Abbott, Gloria Frym, and Maureen Owen. Many Rivers Book & Tea, 130 S. Main Street, Sebastopol. And in Santa Rosa, 7:00-8:00 p.m., a reading features writers from Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence. At Stepping Stones Books & Gifts, 2075 Occidental Road, Santa Rosa.

Thursday, November 12, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Cloverdale Performing Arts Center presents Books on Stage with poet Rebecca Foust, author of Paradise Drive, and essayist writer Dani Burlison, author of Dendrophila and Other Social Taboos: True Stories. Free. At the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, 209 North Cloverdale Boulevard, Cloverdale.

There are two readings to choose from on Sunday, November 15: 1:30-3:30 p.m. Healdsburg Literary Guild Third Sunday Salon, featuring novelists JC Miller & Marsh Rose. The Bean Affair, 1270 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg. An open mic follows. And at 2:00 p.m.  an Occidental Center for the Arts book launch for A Poetry Crossing: Celebrating California Poets in the Schools with Editor, Phyllis Meshulam. Students and adults read their poems.

Saturday, November 28, 5:00 p.m. Opening Reception for Healdsburg Center for the Arts’ holiday show/gift gallery, which, in addition to art and crafts, will include books by more than a dozen Sonoma County authors.  To name but a few: Sandy Baker, Susan Bono, Anne Chadwick, Jeanne Jusaitis, Phyllis Meshulam, Camille Picott, Jo-Anne Rosen, Patrick Taylor. Authors will be at the opening reception to meet and greet and sign books. Location: 130 Plaza St, Healdsburg. The show is open until December 31.

For a list of all the calendar events across the county and beyond, visit the calendar page, which is updated every few days:

Last but not least: Authors, consider submitting your poems, stories or memoir to the Sonoma County online lit journal, Wordrunner eChapbooks. OK, I’m the publisher and am making a pitch! We publish collections by one author at a time and once a year, a themed anthology by multiple authors. Submissions open on November 15 for the next anthology, whose theme is “Devices.” Read about it below in the Calls for Submissions section or here: Do check out the current issue, Family Ties by Ellyn Bache and mid-November, look for the latest echapbook fiction collection, The Marriage Bed by Elaine Ford.

That’s it for November,

Jo-Anne Rosen
co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | October 1, 2015

October 1, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

Geri Digioro HonoredGeri Digiorno Honored at Petaluma Poetry Walk
Geri Digiorno Big thanks to Geri Digiorno, Bill and Bridget Vartnaw, Michelle Baynes, and a cast of dedicated volunteers for last month’s 20th Annual Petaluma Poetry Walk. Petaluma Mayor David Glass was on hand at the Apple Box to honor Geri for her contributions to the county’s literary arts with a city proclamation. Her ingenuity and leadership as creator, founder, and director of the Walk has given us all a great gift, and the Sonoma County literary community salutes you!

Special Feature: Off the Page
My co-editor, Jo-Anne Rosen, and I invite members of the Sonoma County Literary Community to help us create the monthly posts. If you’d like to take on a month’s full post or offer a “featurette” (150 words) about a writing group, reading venue, or upcoming event, please send your contribution along to me at

Last month we asked, and Hillary Moore answered with this month’s feature of Off the Page. Hilary Moore is one of the group’s founders. She directs, acts, and writes. Before joining Readers Theater she performed as a stage and Improv. actor.


Off the Page

Jeff Savage, Pat Hayes, Hilary Moore, Lynne Hollander, Spencer Sherman

Off the Page is a newish [since 2013] Readers Theater group in Sonoma County, dedicated to showcasing works of local writers performed by local actors.  All kinds of writing comprise our shows: poems, essays, narratives, plays, memoirs, sketches, songs.

The performances can be gleaned from any type of writing. There is usually no set. Some pieces are slightly scripted to allow for presentation by multiple actors.

The performance style is sometimes called “dramatic reading” [the Actors are sometimes called Readers] It’s acting from the waist up…though the actor stays mostly in one place, the acting is dynamic. We perform a wide range of material: comic, tragic, dark, light, and beautiful.

Our new 2016 show, “Turning Points,” will be on Fridays, Jan 22 & 29 at Mockingbird Books, Sebastopol, and Saturdays, Jan.23 & 30 at Church of the Oaks, Cotati. Tickets are $10 at the door.

Writers: Sandra Anfang, Sheila Bender, Susan Bono, Sher Christian, Robert Feuer, Craig Harris, James Howe, Lynn Millar, Susanna Solomon, Susan Starbird, Michelle Wing

Actors: Pat Hayes, Lynne Hollander, Hilary Moore, Jeff Savage, Spencer Sherman

Please visit our facebook page, Off the Page Readers Theater or contact director Hilary Moore:

Here’s a poem inspired by our theme:

Turning Points
by Hilary Susan Moore

Sometimes we see
them coming
but often
they are
only in retrospect
Sometimes they are
the results
of choices we make
but often
they are
choices that make us
However they come
they matter
They turn us in
new directions
They find us on
new paths
They shape the journey

Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County

If you missed the first two spectacular readings from Digging Our Poetic Roots, you have another chance on Thursday, October 15, 7:00 p.m. This is the anthology conceived and edited by our Poet Laureate Katherine Hastings, featuring writers from across the county. The event will be at Healdsburg Center for the Arts, 130 Plaza Street, Healdsburg.

Jean Heglund, Still TimeHealdsburg’s Jean Hegland Has a New Book and a New Film!
Into the Forest,
the story of two sisters struggling to survive after the collapse of technological society, has been adapted to the big screen. Directed by Patricia Rozema, the film stars Ellen Page (who also serves as co-producer) and Evan Rachel Wood. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last month. And on Sunday, October 18, 1:00 p.m. Jean Hegland will read from her new novel, Still Time, at Book Passage (51 Tamal Vista Blvd. Corte Madera).

Larry Robinson’s New Collection of Poems
LarryRobinson-with-coverFor years, many of us have been enjoying the daily e-mail poems sent to us by Sebastopol poet Larry Robinson. Larry is a proponent of the oral tradition as well, hosting oral poetry salons and participating in the Rumi’s Caravan events. Now Larry has a new book: Roll Away the Stone, featuring 40 poems written over the past 20 years. The book is available on Amazon.

Let Us Help You Celebrate Your Publications!
Do you have a new book or poem, story, essay or review recently published? Send us your publishing news, and we’ll feature it on our Sonoma County in Pring page:

Matthew Zapruder and Dean Young—Exclusive Bay Area Reading
Author Dean Young, Austin, TxZapruderSixteen Rivers Press invites you all to join us on Saturday, October 17, to celebrate the sixteenth anniversary of our founding with a reading by Dean Young and Matthew Zapruder. Tickets are priced at four levels, beginning at $25, and proceeds will go to the support of Sixteen Rivers Press and the publication of our books. The event goes from 3 to 6 p.m.

The benefit will help sponsor the publication of new books and launch a national first book contest, named for the poet Carolyn Kizer, one of our advisors, who passed away last October. Tickets are available from Brown Paper Tickets. Here’s the link to order your ticket:

For a list of all the calendar events across the county and beyond, visit the Calendar Page:

Nominations for Sonoma County Poet Laureate
The Sonoma County Poet Laureate Selection Committee is seeking nominations for our 2016-18 Poet Laureate. Candidates must be residents of Sonoma County, whose poetry manifests a high degree of excellence, who have produced a critically acclaimed body of work, and who have demonstrated a commitment to the literary arts in Sonoma County. If you know someone you’d like to nominate, or if you’d like to be considered for this prestigious post, we welcome your nominations. Nominations must be received via email by October 31, 2015. If you have questions, contact Linda Galletta at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts:

Previous Poets Laureate of Sonoma County:
Don Emblen, 2000-2001
David Bromige, 2002-2003
Terry Ehret, 2004–2005
Geri Digiorno, 2006-2007
Mike Tuggle, 2008-2009
Gwynn O’Gara, 2010–2011
Bill Vartnaw, 2012-2013

Poem for October
Special thanks to Larry Robinson for this poem-of-the-day, by Rainer Maria Rilke.


The leaves are falling, falling as if from far up,
as if orchards were dying high in space.
Each leaf falls as if it were motioning “no.”

And tonight the heavy earth is falling
away from all other stars in the loneliness.

We’re all falling. This hand here is falling.
And look at the other one. It’s in them all.

And yet there is Someone, whose hands
infinitely calm, are holding up all this falling.

– Rainer Maria Rilke
(Translated by Robert Bly)

Terry Ehret, co-editor
Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | September 1, 2015

September 1, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

Poetry Flash Needs Our Help
Many of you know that the inspiration for the Sonoma County Literary Update came from Poetry Flash, Joyce Jenkins’s journal of Northern California and West Coast literary happenings, which is nothing short of a miraculous labor of love. A recent $600 rent increase for the Flash’s home has come at a time between essential grants, and contributions are needed to keep the Flash flashing until the grant monies come through. If you’ve ever had occasion to consult the Flash, either in its original print form or its current web-based format, please consider making a donation. It’s easy to do: just send check for any amount that suits your budget to Poetry Flash at 1450 Fourth Street, #4, Berkeley, California 94710, or use this link to make a Paypal contribution:

Guest Writers Invited
My co-editor, Jo-Anne Rosen, and I would love to share our post space with members of the Sonoma County Literary Community. If you’d like to take on a month’s full post or offer a “featurette” (150 words) about a writing group, reading venue, or upcoming event, please send your contribution along to me at

Kudos to Katherine Hastings on the publication of Digging Our Poetic Roots!
Digging Our Poetic RootsSaturday evening, a standing-room-only crowd gathered at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts to celebrate the culmination of Katherine Hastings’s poet laureate project anthology, Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County. Katherine gives a full report on her Poet Laureate’s News Page ( And if you missed this lively gathering, you have two more chances: Wednesday, September 16, 7:00 p.m., at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, and Thursday, October 15, 7:00 p.m., at the Healdsburg Center for the Arts.

Time to Nominate Our Next Sonoma County Poet Laureate
The Sonoma County Poet Laureate Selection Committee is seeking nominations for our 2016-18 Poet Laureate. Candidates must be residents of Sonoma County, whose poetry manifests a high degree of excellence, who have produced a critically acclaimed body of work, and who have demonstrated a commitment to the literary arts in Sonoma County. If you know someone you’d like to nominate, or if you’d like to be considered for this prestigious post, we welcome your nominations. Nominations must be received via email by October 31, 2015. If you have questions, contact Linda Galletta at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts:

Previous Poets Laureate of Sonoma County
Don Emblen,  2000-2001
David Bromige,  2002-2003
Terry Ehret,  2004 – 2005
Geri Digiorno, 2006-2007
Mike Tuggle,  2008-2009
Gwynn O’Gara, 2010 – 2011
Bill Vartnaw, 2012-2013

Terry Ehret and Caitlin Ehret MoeThree Poets Laureate at the Redwood Café
I don’t know what the collective noun is for poets laureate—quiver? murmur? persuasion? clowder?—but whatever it is, you have a chance to hear three past laureates read at the Redwood Café on Sunday, September 6 from 5-7 PM. The evening event features Mike Tuggle and Gwynn O’Gara. I’ll be the third, performing a poetry/music duet with my daughter Caitlin. Hope to see you there! Location: 8240 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati.

PetPtryWlk2015Petaluma Poetry Walk on Its Way
Once again, downtown Petaluma will be host to a day of poetry readings on Sunday, September 20, starting at the Seed Bank at 11:00 a.m. and ending at Aqus Café from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. You can check out the full list of locations and featured readers at this link:

Watershed FestivalWatershed Poetry Festival
The 20th annual Watershed Poetry Festival takes place this year on Saturday, September 26, 2015 at Civic Center Park (MLK Jr. Way at Center Street, Berkeley). This FREE, day-long event features local and national poets, musicians, students, publishers and vendors. This year’s outstanding lineup of poets and writers includes former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Malcolm Margolin, Francisco X. Alarcón, and Novella Carpenter (Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer).

Sixteen Rivers Annual Benefit Reading and Anniversary Party
Sixteen Rivers Press invites you all to join us on Saturday, October 17, to celebrate the sixteenth anniversary of our founding with a reading by Dean Young and Mathew Zapruder. Tickets are priced at four levels, beginning at $25, and proceeds will go to the support of Sixteen Rivers Press and the publication of our books. The event goes from 3 to 6 PM.  Tickets will be available from Brown Paper Tickets on September 7.

For a list of all the calendar events across the county and beyond, visit the Calendar Page:

Congratulations to local authors who have had their work published recently in books or journals. You can discover more on our Sonoma County in Print page ( Special thanks to Ed Coletti, who keeps our announcements of local writers publishing in literary journals up to date.

Poem for September

by Bruce Weigl

I didn’t know I was grateful
for such late-autumn
bent-up cornfields

yellow in the after-harvest
sun before the
cold plow turns it all over

into never.
I didn’t know
I would enter this music

that translates the world
back into dirt fields
that have always called to me

as if I were a thing
come from the dirt,
like a tuber,

or like a needful boy. End
Lonely days, I believe. End the exiled
and unraveling strangeness.

From The Unraveling Strangeness by Bruce Weigl, published by Grove/Atlantic. Copyright © 2003 by Bruce Weigl

Terry Ehret, co-editor
Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | August 1, 2015

August 1, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

Many thanks to Jo-Anne Rosen for all she does to keep our Sonoma County Literary Update alive and well, and especially for filling in on short notice when I was away last month.

I want to extend congratulations to our local writers who’ve had their work published recently. Clara Rosemarda, Phyllis Meshulam, and Rebecca Patrascu all have new poetry chapbooks debuting this summer. Jonah Raskin has a new book out, A Terrible Beauty: The Wilderness of American Literature (scroll down for details about his upcoming reading). And kudos to Dan Coshnear, whose new novella, Homesick Redux, was selected by Fiction Fix guest editor Raleigh Rand to win its second novella award. You can discover more on our Sonoma County in Print page ( Special thanks to Ed Coletti, who keeps our announcements of local writers publishing in literary journals up to date.

I also want to put in a plug for our local creative writing teachers, who month after month offer great workshops, writing circles, critique groups, and individual writing consultations. I’ve highlighted just a few here, but I encourage you to explore our website page of Sonoma County Teachers/Consultants ( and our Workshops page (

Sonoma County Poet Iris Dunkle will be teaching a Poetry Writing Workshop at Napa Valley College: ENGL 203 – Poetry Workshop this Fall Wednesdays 6 – 8:50 PM beginning August 19.

Local writer and teacher Abby Bogomolny, will be offering a new class at SRJC, English 36: LGBT Arts and Literature. The course studies significant LGBT writers and artists and their works from antiquity to present, including poetry, short stories, novels, plays, cinema, music, biographies, coded texts, and political essays. You can check it out at this link:

SRJC’s English Department has also selected Ursula LeGuin’s The Left Hand of Darkness as the fall semester’s Work of Literary Merit. There will be lectures and panel discussions open to students, faculty, and the general public. For more information, you can check out the department’s website:

I have two spaces open in each of my Sitting Room Workshops. The Monday Workshop, which begins September 14, focuses on creative revision techniques for poets. The Friday Workshop, beginning September 18, is a reading and discussion of Dante’s Inferno, with creative writing prompts cued to Dante’s work, and an opportunity to present new work in supportive critique sessions. Both workshops run for ten weeks. For more information contact me at

Here are some other highlights of the literary events coming up this month in our calendar.

Monday, August 3, 6:30 p.m. Rivertown Poets: A Muse-ing Mondays August reading features poets Katharine Harer and Maya Khosla, followed by an open mic. Open mic signups begin at 6:00 p.m. 189 H Street in downtown Petaluma.

Saturday, August 15, 2:00 p.m. Author Jonah Raskin will read from his new book A Terrible Beauty: The Wilderness of American Literature, which explores the work of major American poets and novelists and environmental writers: Thoreau, Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Willa Cather and more. Sonoma Valley Regional Library, 755 West Napa Street, Sonoma.

Saturday, August 29, 7:00 p.m. Reading from Digging Our Poetic Roots (edited by Katherine Hastings), at Sebastopol Center for the Arts. See the Poet Laureate’s News Page for details about this culmination of Katherine’s Poet Laureate Project, and all the upcoming readings she’s scheduled:

Remembering Stanley Kunitz and James Agee

I have often used this monthly post to recognize great poets and writers who have recently left us. This month, I want to celebrate two writers: Stanley Kunitz, a writer who passed away in 2006 at the age of 100; and James Agee, who passed away in the year of my birth, 1955, at the age of 45.

Stanley KunitzThe first time I heard of Stanley Kunitz, it was because a statement of his about poetry caught my attention: “The poem has secrets the poet knows nothing of.” I had been teaching a poem called “The Secret” by Denise Levertov, and my students didn’t understand how a writer could be unconscious of a poem’s intent or meaning. Kunitz’s quote tied in with another profound description of poetry as the “Unsayable Said,” by Donald Hall. In 2000, Kunitz was appointed US Poet Laureate (he was 94!), and his work became more widely known and celebrated.

About his own work, Kunitz has said: “The poem comes in the form of a blessing—‘like rapture breaking on the mind,’ as I tried to phrase it in my youth. Through the years I have found this gift of poetry to be life-sustaining, life-enhancing, and absolutely unpredictable. Does one live, therefore, for the sake of poetry? No, the reverse is true: poetry is for the sake of the life.”

At the end of this post, I have included one of Kunitz’s poems and a link to the website where you can learn more about this shy, visionary, remarkable writer.

James AgeeThe second writer, James Agee, is someone whose work I have often read about—Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, his account of the Great Depression, and A Death in the Family, published posthumously in 1958, and the work which won him a posthumous Pulitzer. This summer, two coincidences brought his work to my attention. One is the film Night of the Hunter, which I put on my Netflix cue because I was looking for films that came out in the year I was born. The film is a visual poem that is haunting in its fairy-tale, dreamlike exploration of innocence and evil. What I didn’t know was that Agee wrote the screenplay. He was also the screen writer for The African Queen, which I’d also recently rewatched. Then, just this week, a friend read me Agee’s prose poem, “Knoxville: Summer  of 1915,” which was, according to the author, written in an hour and a half in 1938, but which wasn’t published until 1958 as the prologue to A Death in the Family. I have also included it here in its entirety—a moving, lyrical evocation of summers past. The composer Samuel Barber set a portion of this to music, in 1947, and I’ve included a link to a Youtube video so you can hear it yourself.

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-Editor


The Layers, by Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
“Live in the layers,
not on the litter.”
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

From The Collected Poems by Stanley Kunitz (W. W. Norton, 2000). Copyright © 1978 by Stanley Kunitz.

Knoxville: Summer of 1915
by James Agee

We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child. It was a little bit sort of block, fairly solidly lower middle class, with one or two juts apiece on either side of that. The houses corresponded: middle­sized gracefully fretted wood houses built in the late nineties and early nineteen hundreds, with small front and side and more spacious back yards, and trees in the yards, and porches. These were softwooded trees, poplars, tulip trees, cottonwoods. There were fences around one or two of the houses, but mainly the yards ran into each other with only now and then a low hedge that wasn’t doing very well. There were few good friends among the grown people, and they were not enough for the other sort of intimate acquaintance, but everyone nodded and spoke, and even might talk short times, trivially, and at the two extremes of general or the particular, and ordinarily next door neighbors talked quiet when they happened to run into each other, and never paid calls. The men mostly small businessmen, one or two very modestly executives, one or two worked with their hands, most of them clerical, and most of them between and forty-­five.

But it is of these evenings, I speak. Supper was at six and was over by half past. There was still daylight, shining softly and with a tarnish, like the lining of a shell; and the carbon lamps lifted the corners were on in the light, and the locusts were started, and the fire flies were out, and a few frogs were flopping in the dewy grass, by the time the fathers and the children came out. The children ran out first hell bent and yelling those names by which they were known; then the fathers sank out leisurely crossed suspenders, their collars removed and their necks looking tall and shy. The mothers stayed back in the kitchen washing and drying, putting things away, recrossing their traceless footsteps like the lifetime journeys of bees, measuring out the dry cocoa for breakfast. When they came out they had taken off their aprons and their skirts were dampened and they sat in rockers on porches quietly. It is not of the games children play in the evening that I want to speak now, it is of a contemporaneous atmosphere that has little to do with them: that of fathers of families, each in his space of lawn, his shirt fishlike pale in the unnatural light and his face nearly anonymous, hosing their lawns. The hoses were attached at spigots that stood out of the brick foundations of the houses. The nozzles were variously set but usually so there was a long sweet stream spray, the nozzle wet in the hand, the water trickling the right forearm and peeled-­back cuff, and the water whishing out a long loose and low­curved and so gentle a sound. First an insane noise of violence in the nozzle, then the irregular sound of adjustment, then the smoothing into steadiness and a pitch accurately tuned to the size and style of stream as any violin. So many qualities of sound out of one hose: so many choral differences out of those several hoses that were in earshot. Out of any one hose, the almost dead silence of the release, and the short still arch of the separate big drops, silent as a held breath, and only the noise of the flattering noise on leaves and the slapped grass at the fall of abig drop. That, and the intense hiss with the intense stream; that, and that intensity not growing less but growing more quiet and delicate with the turn the nozzle, up to the extreme tender whisper when the water was just a wide of film. Chiefly, though, the hoses were set much alike, in a compromise between distance and tenderness of spray (and quite surely a sense of art behind this compromise, and a quiet deep joy, too real to recognize itself), and the sounds therefore were pitched much alike; pointed by the snorting start of a new hose; decorated by some man playful with the nozzle; left empty, like God by the sparrow’s fall, when any single one of them desists: and all, though near alike,of various pitch; and in this unison.

These sweet pale streamings in the light out their pallors and their voices all together, mothers hushing their children, the hushing unnaturally prolonged, the men gentle and silent and each snail-like withdrawn into the quietude of what he singly is doing, the urination of huge children stood loosely military against an invisible wall, and gentle happy and peaceful, tasting the mean goodness of their living like the last of their suppers in their mouths; while the locusts carry on this noise of hoses on their much higher and sharper key. The noise of the locust is dry, and it seems not to be rasped or vibrated but urged from him as if through a small orifice by a breath that can never give out. Also there is never one locust but an illusion of at least a thousand. The noise of each locust is pitched in some classic locust range out of which none of them varies more than two full tones: and yet you seem to hear each locust discrete from all the rest, and there is a long, slow, pulse in their noise, like the scarcely defined arch of a long and high set bridge. They are all around in every tree, so that the noise seems to come from nowhere and everywhere at once, from the whole shell heaven, shivering in your flesh and teasing your eardrums, the boldest of all the sounds of night. And yet it is habitual to summer nights, and is of the great order of noises, like the noises of the sea and of the blood her precocious grandchild, which you realize you are hearing only when you catch yourself listening. Meantime from low in the dark, just outside the swaying horizons of the hoses, conveying always grass in the damp of dew and its strong green-black smear of smell, the regular yet spaced noises of the crickets, each a sweet cold silver noise three-noted, like the slipping each time of three matched links of a small chain. But the men by now, one by one, have silenced their hoses and drained and coiled them. Now only two, and now only one, is left, and you see only ghostlike shirt with the sleeve garters, and sober mystery of his mild face like the lifted face of large cattle enquiring of your presence in a pitch dark pool of meadow; and now he too is gone; and it has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds hung havens, hangars. People go by; things go by. A horse, drawing a buggy, breaking his hollow iron music on the asphalt; a loud auto; a quiet auto; people in pairs, not in a hurry, scuffling, switching their weight of aestival body, talking casually, the taste hovering over them of vanilla, strawberry, pasteboard and starched milk, the image upon them of lovers and horsemen, squared with clowns in hueless amber. A street car raising its iron moan; stopping, belling and starting; stertorous; rousing and raising again its iron increasing moan and swimming its gold windows and straw seats on past and past and past, the bleak spark crackling and cursing above it like a small malignant spirit set to dog its tracks; the iron whine rises on rising speed; still risen, faints ; halts, the faint stinging bell; rises again, still fainter, fainting, lifting, lifts, faints forgone: forgotten. Now is the night one blue dew. Now is the night one blue dew, my father has drained, he has coiled the hose.Low on the length of lawns, a frailing of fire who breathes. Content, silver, like peeps of light, each cricket makes his comment over and over in the drowned grassA cold toad thumpily flounders.Within the edges of damp shadows of side yards are hovering children nearly sick with joy of fear, who watch the unguarding of a telephone pole. Around white carbon corner lamps bugs of all sizes are lifted elliptic, solar systems. Big hardshells bruise themselves, assailant: he is fallen on his back, legs squiggling. Parents on porches: rock and rock: From damp strings morning glories : hang their ancient faces. The dry and exalted noise of the locusts from all the air at once enchants my eardrums. On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread quilts.

We all lie there, my mother, my father, my uncle, my aunt, and I too am lying there. First we were sitting up, then one of us lay down, and then we all lay down, on our stomachs, or on our sides, or on our backs, and they have kept on talking. They are not talking much, and the talk is quiet, of nothing in particular, of nothing at all in particular, of nothing at all. The stars are wide and alive, they seem each like a smile of great sweetness, and they seem very near. All my people are larger bodies than mine, quiet, with voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds. One is an artist, he is living at home. One is a musician, she is living at home. One is my mother who is good to me. One is my father who is good to me. By some chance, here they are, all on this earth; and who shall ever tell the sorrow of being on this earth, lying, on quilts, on the grass, in a summer evening, among the sounds of night. May god bless my people, my uncle, my aunt, my mother, my good father, oh, remember them kindly in their time of trouble; and in the hour of their taking away.After a little I am taken in and put to bed. Sleep, soft smiling, draws me unto her: and those receive me, who quietly treat me, as one familiar and well-beloved in that home: but will not, oh, will not, not now, not ever; but will not ever tell me who I am.

Posted by: wordrunner | July 2, 2015

July 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

The July post will be brief. Terry Ehret is off on a road trip; when last heard from she was traipsing around Arches National Park where temps are in the triple digits. Meanwhile the Sonoma lit scene sizzles on.

Some Sonoma County Highlights for July:
Sunday, July 5, 5:00-7:00 p.m. First Sunday Poetry & Music series at the Redwood Cafe, in Cotati features David Madgalene, Ed Coletti and Kirk Lumpkin with his group, Word-Music Continuum.

“Hot Summer Nights” at Copperfields bookstores.  Several Redwood Writers will be reading on each of four Tuesday evenings at the Montgomery Village Store this month: July 7 (children and young adult books), July 14, (historical fiction), July 21 (fiction) and July 28 (nonfiction/memoir).

Friday, July 10, 7:00 p.m. Book launch at Occidental Center for the Arts: Three Poets: Rebecca Patrascu, Else Rosager, Clara Rosemarda will read selected pieces from their new collections Before Noon, So Far and Naked Branches. Q & A and book signing.

Thursday, July 16, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Cloverdale Performing Arts Center presents Books on Stage with poet Jodi Hottel, author of  Heart Mountain, and short-story writer Stefanie Freele, author of Feeding Strays and Surrounded by Water. Free. Hosted by Michelle Wing.

Wednesday, July 22, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Get Lit, a monthly reading series hosted by Dani Burlison and Kara Vernor, will feature Jensen Beach (For out of the Heart Proceed, Dzanc Books and Swallowed by the Cold, Graywolf), Jon Sindell (The Roadkill Collection, Big Table Publishing) and Cassandra Dallett (Wet Reckless, Manic D Press). An open mic follows (five minute limit). Corkscrew Wine Bar, Petaluma.

The quarterly Aqus Speakeasy Literary Saloon on Wednesday, July 29, will feature book sellers reading their favorites plus an open mic. From 7:00-9:00 p.m. at Aqus Cafe in Petaluma.

And there are many more lit events. Do check the calendar page.

Kudos to Sonoma Authors:
Congratulations to Renee Owens whose  2014 poetry collection Alone on a Wild Coast won an Honorable Mention in the Haiku Foundation’s annual book awards, and to Dan Coshnear whose novella Homesick Redux won Fiction Fix’s 2015 Novella Award and publication (see Sonoma County in Print for details). Congratulations also to Sonoma County authors whose work was published in journals last month.

Poetry Flash
A reminder: If you’ve not yet sent Poetry Flash a donation, this 40-year-old Bay Area literary institution urgently needs your help to sustain operations. See

Stay cool…

Jo-Anne Rosen
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | June 3, 2015

June 2, 2015

Celebrating our Publications!

Wing-MichelleNightbirdCover-198x300Cloverdale poet and nonfiction writer Michelle Wing’s anthology of poems Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence has recently received some well-deserved attention, landing an award as a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Congratulations to Michelle and all the writers featured in this collection.

Thanks, as always, to Ed Coletti for creating our “Recently Published Writers” page. Here’s the link to see what’s new in the publishing arena:  If you are a Sonoma County writer with a book or chapbook newly published, let’s help you celebrate! Just send your announcement to

Remembering Steve Kowit

steve_kowitYet another great poet and teacher —Steve Kowit–passed away in his sleep early on April 2, 2015.

Along with so many Bay Area writers, I met him at the Napa Poetry Conference way way back in 1990-something. I remember his brilliant energy, warmth, and humor, and the way every writer’s contribution was met with equal respect and enthusiasm, even when we contradicted his own ideas—one of the most deeply empowering teachers I have ever known.

palm-handsNot long after I met Kowit, he published a collection of his writing lessons in a handbook called In the Palm of Your Hand. If you don’t already have it for your writing library, it’s a great addition. The lessons are inspirational whatever genre you’re writing in. And when Sixteen Rivers Press was launched 16 years ago, those of us whom Kowit had inspired at Napa invited him to be one of our literary advisors. Lucky for us, he graciously promoted us among his graduate students at San Diego State. In fact, our newest member, Erin Rodoni of Point Reyes Station, had the opportunity to study with him in her MFA program at SDSU.

Kowit was a proponent of accessible, comprehensible poetry in an era when inscrutability is much in vogue. Here’s a link to an article about Kowit’s life and work:

I’ve also included one of his poems, “I Attend a Poetry Reading,” as the monthly feature below. It’ll make you laugh, especially if you click on the video of his reading.

Writing Workshops at Jack London State Park

Saturday, June 13, 1:00-5:00 p.m.
home-museumWhat a treat! Sonoma County’s Iris Dunkle leads the first of three writing workshops at Jack London State Park in Glen Ellen. This first workshop will focus on the iconic Wolf House ruins and the haunting gravesite. August 15th the focus changes to the adventurous Beauty Ranch and the controversial lake. Finally on October 18th we will uncover the secrets inside historic Cottage and examine the turbulent history of the Winery Ruins. Writers of all levels and genres are encouraged. To sign up, or for more information visit:

AWP Minneapolis

In April, several Sonoma County writers attended the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference in Minneapolis. I included featurettes by SRJC colleagues Abby Bogomolny and Jean Heglund, along with my own highlights of the gathering.

Here is another reflection on the conference, offered by Iris Dunkle.

Highlights of AWP 2016 included listening to Claudia Rakine read from her new, important work, Citizen ( to a packed auditorium. Her almost steady voice was backlit by images from the book that were broadcast above her.  The panel “The Poem as a Bodily Thing” with Todd Davis, Aimee Nezhukumatathil, Ross Gay, and Jan Beatty, spoke about not being afraid to express all elements of the body in poetry.  Ross Gay read a poem about planting his father’s ashes beneath a tree and another stunning poem about Eric Garner which has recently been circulating the internet via the Split this Rock blog (

A Small Needful Fact
by Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

Jan Beatty spoke about discovering later in life that she was adopted and that her father had been a famous Canadian hockey player.  The room was practically on its feet (shouting out “amen”, “you tell it”) from the permission Jan Beatty seem to grant us in her exultation of the body (especially the female body).

The bookfair was all contained in a gigantic room.  Highlights included seeing all of the incredible editors at the Trio House Press booth, discovering new books from Ross Gay, Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Jan Beatty, The Switching/Yard, Richard Siken, War of the Foxes, and Dawn Lundy Martin, Life in a Box is a Pretty Life, and finding the CPITS Lesson Plan book, Poetry Crossing, at the WITS Alliance booth.

The final reading was from Carolyn Forche who orchestrated her poems with the delicate dance of her hand. She read a tribute poem to her friend who appeared in her famous poem, “The Colonel”  ( about another story from that time she hadn’t been able to tell until his death that brought the packed auditorium to its feet.

Special Events around the County

This month, we have a rich array of workshops, readings, performances, and book fairs coming up. Please take a stroll through the calendar page to read more about each of these, as well as all the other events around the county and beyond.

Friday Mornings, June 5, 19, and 26, 10:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m. “Writing as a Healing Practice” drop-in writing circle with author & writing guide Susan Hagen. Location: Sonoma County Healing Academy (SoCoHA), at Gravenstein Station, 6741 Sebastopol Ave., Suite 120, Sebastopol. Suggested donation $20-$40 per session.

TakeJackConcertSaturday, June 6, 7:00-9:00 p.m. “Covered in Birds” SOLD OUT!
Covered in Birds, a benefit for the Laguna Foundation. Take Jack in concert, with readings by nine Sonoma County poets: Elizabeth Herron, Terry Ehret, Katherine Hastings, Jodi Hottel, Maya Khosla, Greg Mahrer, Phyllis Meshulam, Larry Robinson, and Mike Tuggle. Heron Hall, Laguna Environmental Center, 900 Sanford Road, Santa Rosa. Although this is now sold out, I hope to see some of you there!

Sunday June 7, 2:00-5:00 p.m. Sitting Room’s Birthday Party and Reading
cakeThank you to the Sitting Room for supporting the literary community in Sonoma County since the 1970’s. There will be, of course, the by now canonized cheese and fruit-filled cake and punch provided by a grateful management (this is one of the few events at the Sitting Room that is NOT a potluck, though guests are welcome to bring any gifts that are on paper, ranging from checks and books to toilet paper!) Come meet old friends and make new ones and help us celebrate our “Hidden Treasures” 2015 publication that will probably decide your reading list for the coming years.  We’ll also make time for tours of the Sitting Rooms and you can get a last look at the Poetry Exhibit.  Location: 2025 Curtis Drive, Penngrove. Please come!

Other Highlights
Saturday and Sunday, June 6-7, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Bay Area Book Festival: Just north of UC Berkeley, several blocks will be blocked off to traffic for the Bay Area Book Festival, with authors, speakers, teen and children’s programs, and a vast book fair featuring Bay Area publishers. The festival is free, including the keynotes, interviews and panels on various downtown stages during the day. For more information, or to reserve free tickets to the indoor events, visit the website at Look for a special feature on the Book Festival, including a handy map, in the S.F. Chronicle‘s front page section on June 5.

Sunday June 7, 5:00-7:00 p.m. First Sunday Poetry and Music at Redwood Cafe, 8240 Old Redwood Highway in Cotati:  q. r. hand & the wordwind chorus (Brian Auerbach & Lewis Jordan) with special guest Carolyn Patricia Scott.
Saturday, June 20, 10:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m. Writing With Passionate Presence: A Creative Writing Workshop with Clara Rosemarda, MA, at Santa Rosa Junior College, 9452 Emeritus Hall, SRJC Campus. Fee $68.  To register call SRJC, 707-527-4372 or go to

Saturday, June 20, 2:00-5:00 p.m. Intro to Memoir Writing. Poet and essayist Patti  Trimble will talk about narrative forms in contemporary memoir—including the pocket-memoir form she teaches around the Bay Area—and also look at the close relationship between literature and the life stories we tell. FREE at The Sitting Room, 2025 Curtis Drive, Penngrove.

Saturday, June 27, 2:00-4:00 p.m. Solstice Readings at The Sitting Room. Cameo Archer, Nancy Cavers Dougherty, Alethea Eason, Jayne Mcpherson, and Amy Trussell have created a special event for this time of year.   FREE.

Poem for June
To see a video of Steve reading this poem, click here:


Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | May 1, 2015

May 1, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

Fanfares and Drumrolls!
The Literary Update’s Jo-Anne Rosen and Ed Coletti both have new books out this month.

What They Don't Know: Selected FictionJo-Anne’s first book, What They Don’t Know, is a selection of 18 stories. Dan Coshnear says, “The actors in these beautiful, often sad stories carry with them complex histories of desire and pain, often longing for what they can’t or shouldn’t have. You’ve met them, fathers and mothers, daughters, sisters, uncles, lovers, presented here with humor and dignity, with a keen and dispassionate eye, reminiscent of another great Canadian storyteller, Rosen’s cast will surprise you, instant by instant.”

Jo-Anne invites you all to a publication party on Sunday, May 3 at 4 PM at Iota Press, 925-D Gravenstein Hwy. South, Sebastopol, CA (behind BeeKind). You’ll be treated to refreshments and a short reading among the old typesetting equipment in the Iota shop.

Ed Coletti. The Problem with BreathingEd’s newest collection of poetry is The Problem with Breathing, published by Edwin E. Smith (Little Rock).  Copies may be purchased through Amazon, which describes the poetry book as “a collection of highly personal meditations on aging and reconciliations with life’s vicissitudes.” Ed has published many books of poetry and has had work in numerous literary journals. He may be better known to all of you as Internet publisher of Ed Coletti’s P3 and also No Money In Poetry. More recent poetry collections have included When Hearts Outlive Minds, released 2011, and Germs, Viruses, and Catechisms, December 2013.

Ed will read from his new book at SoCo Coffee, 1015 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa, on Saturday, May 23 at 5 PM. He’ll be reading with two other Sonoma County greats: Poet Laureate Katherine Hastings and poet and playwright David Beckman.

AWP Report
Last month, Jean Heglund, Abby Bogomolny, Iris Dunkle, Susan Raines, and I were among the writers from Sonoma County who traveled to Minneapolis for the Associated Writing Program’s annual conference. 13,000 writers descended on the eminently hospitable Twin Cities. Drought-parched Californians rushed to the windows of the conference center one afternoon when the rain shifted to snow. Minnesotans don’t take pictures of snow. They shovel it, curse it, trudge through it, but don’t find it particularly romantic. Still, it was a hoot to see how thrilled we west coast writers were by a few flakes.

The conference opened with a welcome from Minneapolis’s mayor, Betsy Hodges. She read “Half-Finished Heaven,” by Tomas Tranströmer to start, confessed to being a writer of YA fiction herself, and to starting her day with poetry. She was smart, witty, and ironic, and I thought, “I want a mayor like that!” The keynote speaker was the young Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia! We older folk grumbled a bit about her youth, but she gave a good talk about the importance of creative play.

After that, the conference was off and running. The highlight for me was “Keeping Our Small Boat Afloat: A Tribute to Robert Bly,” which drew a standing-room-only crowd. Bly, whose News of the Universe and his many translations, including Rilke, Transtromer, and Montale, helped shape the poetic imagination of a generation. Frail at 89, Bly sat in front while writers, singers and a magician reflected on Bly’s influence on poetry and American culture. At the end, Bly read a few of his poems  from a new collection Like the New Moon.

Abby Bogomolny sends this report:
AWP-conference-2015The AWP Conference April 8-11, 2015 in Minneapolis, MN was a delightful cornucopia of approaches to teaching, reading, writing, editing, publishing and enjoying the imaginative word. From panel discussions focusing on community college creative writing pathways, contemporary black poetry, making surprise suspenseful in fiction, creative writing as job training, and negotiating gender bias in publishing, the AWP Conference offered something for everyone. Many events, however, competed with each other, forcing participants to be quite selective. The Minneapolis Convention Center also required this usually sedate educator to summon her higher powers of navigation. One of my highlights included hearing “The Pink Tuxedos,” consisting of former US Poet Laureate Rita Dove, joined by Marilyn Nelson, Sophie Cabot Black and Carol Muske-Dukes, sing respectable verses to 50s-60s doo wop tunes. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard “William Butler Yeats’ “The Lake Isle of Innisfree sung to the tune of “La Bamba” by Richie Valens, “Daddy” by Sylvia Plath sung to the tune of “Dream Lover” by Bobby Darin, or “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth sung to “I Heard It through the Grapevine” by Whitfield and Strong. Significantly beautiful readings by poets Alicia Ostriker, Afaa Michael Weaver, Alexandra Teague, Linda Hogan and Carolyn Forché were worth the price of admission alone. The Midwest did not disappoint: Publishers such as Coffee House Press, Graywolf, and Persea Books sponsored several magnificent readings.

And here’s the AWP scoop from Jean Heglund:
I think the events I loved attending most were the poetry readings: Bernadine Evaristo, Alicia Ostriker, Kevin Young, Carolyn Forche, Afaa Michael Weaver, and Tomasz Rozycki were all jaw-dropping marvels. I also sat in on an inspiring panel in which Maxine Hong Kingston, Kim Stafford, and several other writer-teachers discussed how important it is, in “a world of toxic criticism,” to make sure the writing workshops we lead are places where we can support emerging writers and “nurture what hasn’t yet been written.” And Susan Gaines, Michael Byers, Peter Mountford, and I had fun discussing the challenges and pleasures of incorporating specific disciplines or bodies of knowledge into fiction on a panel about what we’ve been calling “Nerd Novels.” All in all, it was a hoot of a four days.

Poem for May
Wing-MichelleSome of you noticed that in my April post, I paid tribute to two poets who had passed away the previous week: Tomas Tranströmer and Adrienne Rich. Of course, Rich had actually left us two years ago. That error prompted this poem by Michelle Wing, which I’m delighted to share as this month’s featured poem.

Farewell Again, Adrienne
Michelle Wing

Adrienne Rich died again this month.
Not content to leave the world once
bereft, grieving, all those poets in black,
in April she somehow staged a second exit
so we could mourn again.

Yes, I now know it was merely
a misquoted entry floating through
cyberspace, one of those anniversary
notes somehow translated into
a repeat funeral.

Fitting, though, that this literary lion,
who dared us to dive into the wrecks
of ourselves, and pushed open doors
three times her size with
crippled hands

would challenge death
to one more round.

Posted by: literaryfolk | April 3, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

Within hours of posting the April 1 Update, I realized I had quite unintentionally misreported Adrienne Rich as passing away last week: a poet of such extraordinary powers, she could die twice! Once on March 27, 2012, and a second time on Facebook, where her obituary was enigmatically circulating, perhaps to note the anniversary.The correct date now appears in the post below.

I could claim it was an April Fool’s trick, but the only truth to that is I was your April Fool–the mind slipping ever-so-gently toward that southern hemisphere fishing village where, according to Billy Collins, the memories we used to harbor go to retire.

Looking ahead to the AWP Conference in Minneapolis, I’ve had a couple of requests to report back on this website, so I will attempt to do that, perhaps enlisting the help of those Sonoma County writers who’ll be making the trek. Stay tuned!

Terry Ehret, Sonoma County Literary Update Co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | April 1, 2015

April 1, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

Another National Poetry Month begins!

Sonoma County’s Recently Published Authors
Congratulations to this month’s recently published authors in Sonoma County. See who’s in print at 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.

Special NPM Events
For any of our readers in the East Bay, I recommend two readings this week. Tonight, April 1 at 7:00, Katherine Hastings, Sonoma County poet laureate, and I will be featured readers at Frank Bette Center for the Arts, 1601 Paru St., Alameda. Open reading will follow features. Then on Thursday, April 2 at 7:30, three Sixteen Rivers poets, Stella Beratlis, Lisa Robertson, and Helen Wickes, will read from their newest poetry collections at Mrs. Dalloway’s Bookstore, 2904 College Avenue, Berkeley. Closer to home, on Sunday, April 12, 2:00-4:00, The Sitting Room in Cotati hosts “In Translation: A Global Reading” exploring the rich poetic traditions of Europe, South America and the Middle East. And on Monday, April 13, 6:00 p.m. BARDS (Bay Area Readers Drama Society) reads Aristophanes’ Lysistrata at Aqus Cafe, 189 H Street, Petaluma.

Find out more about these and many more readings, writing workshops, and forums on the calendar page.

AWP in Minneapolis
This month, I’ll be traveling to Minneapolis for the Associated Writers and Writing Program’s annual conference. Hope to see some of my fellow Sonoma County Writers there. Keynote speaker is novelist Karen Russell, and featured presenters include Ted Kooser, Carolyn Forsche, Ron Carlson, Louise Erdrich, Tony Hoagland, and Francine Prose. If you’re coming to this gathering of the tribes, stop by the Sixteen Rivers table in the Book Fair and say hello!

Tributes to Tranströmer and Rich
Tomas-TranstromerWe launch our National Poetry Month with a tribute to two extraordinary poets, one who passed away in the past week: Tomas Tranströmer, Swedish Nobel Laureate, psychologist, pianist, entymologist, and curator of an extraordinary imagination. Following a stroke more than two decades ago, he lost his ability to speak and could play the piano with only one hand, but he continued to produce poems of remarkable sensitivity. He was 83 when he died on March 26.

Frances Mayes handed me a few of his poems in her prose poem workshop at San Francisco State back in 1982, saying she thought I’d find him a kindred spirit. Those poems changed my life. Not long after that, I had the chance to hear him read on one of his visits to San Francisco. I shamelessly imitated him, taught his poems whenever I could, and also used his poetry in the original Swedish as the source of many mistranslations over the years.

What was it about his poems that moved me so? Hard to say. They are quirky and disorienting, but always deeply human. He wrote both lyric and prose poems, and all are imbued with what Robert Bly referred to as “dragon smoke”: the ability of certain poets to move back and forth between the conscious and the unconscious like a lighthouse beacon. If you don’t know his work, lucky you! You’re about to discover a great artist. A good place to start is this website: I recommend the short nine-minute film on his life and work you’ll find there, as well as the ten English translations of his poems. My favorite collection of his work is The Half-Finished Heaven, translated by Robert Bly. I will include a poem from this collection at the end of the post.

Adrienne RichThe second poet who left us this three years ago this week is Adrienne Rich. The New York times obituary opens with these words: “Adrienne Rich, a poet of towering reputation and towering rage, whose work — distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity — brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century.”

I first encountered her poetry in 1981 at a writing conference at Stanford. I was reading an excerpt from Diving into the Wreck, which made me wonder what lay below the surface of my own life, and would I ever have the poetic skill to make that descent, as she had. Her poem, “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” caught my eye when I was buying broadsides in a bookshop in Hay–on-Wye (a book lover’s dream town!), and I bought it as a gift to the Sitting Room, where it hangs. It is included at the close of this post.

The Times article concludes, “For all her verbal prowess, for all her prolific output, Ms. Rich retained a dexterous command of the plain, pithy utterance. In a 1984 speech she summed up her reason for writing — and, by loud unspoken implication, her reason for being — in just seven words. What she and her sisters-in-arms were fighting to achieve, she said, was simply this: “the creation of a society without domination.”

Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers
by Adrienne Rich

Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen,
Bright topaz denizens of a world of green.
They do not fear the men beneath the tree;
They pace in sleek chivalric certainty.

Aunt Jennifer’s finger fluttering through her wool
Find even the ivory needle hard to pull.
The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band
Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand.

When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie
Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by.
The tigers in the panel that she made
Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.

by Tomas Tranströmer

After a black day, I play Haydn,
and feel a little warmth in my hands.
The keys are ready. Kind hammers fall.
The sound is spirited, green, and full of silence.
The sound says that freedom exists
and someone pays no tax to Caesar.
I shove my hands in my haydnpockets
and act like a man who is calm about it all.
I raise my haydnflag. The signal is:
“We do not surrender. But want peace.”
The music is a house of glass standing on a slope;
rocks are flying, rocks are rolling.
The rocks roll straight through the house
but every pane of glass is still whole.

Terry Ehret, co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | March 1, 2015

March 1, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

thunder stormI loved Saturday afternoon’s thunder, blue-black storm-clouds, and cold, drenching rain that poured down here and there with much drama. Somehow, west Petaluma seemed to miss the downpour, but the strange turn in the weather reminded me to ask you all to share your California drought/ climate change thoughts with us here at the Literary Update. Whether it’s a photo, a poem, a short essay, a rant, a prayer—let’s keep the drought-inspired work coming!

Remembering Phil Levine
Phil LevineMuch beloved American poet Phil Levine passed away on Valentine’s Day, February 14, at age 87. He was among the country’s most decorated poets, winning the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Ruth Lilly Poetry Award, among many others. He taught at Princeton, Columbia, and Cal. State Fresno, and in 2011, he was appointed United But perhaps his greatest legacy is the impact he has had on a generation of writers, and not just those enrolled in university creative writing programs. He took the time to write back to poets who sent him their work, to answer the phone and chat, and though it got him into trouble with his colleagues at time, to welcome the occasional student too broke to pay tuition as an auditor in his classes. There hasn’t been another American man of letters who had a greater gift for expressing “the hard work we do to make sense of our lives,” in the words of Librarian of Congress James Billington. Levine was a native of Detroit; his parents were Russian Jewish immigrants, and this working-class upbringing found its way into his work though his subjects, themes, and plain-spoken.

Everyone I know who ever met Levine has a story to tell of his kindness and decency. Ask around, and you’ll hear some of these. My own story dates from April 2001 at the AWP Conference in Palm Springs, where Levine was being honored. The morning after the formal gathering, I spotted Levine behind me in the breakfast line at the hotel. He looked a bit rumpled, with a baseball cap pulled down low over his face, more like the average furnace repairman than the poet of the accolades. No one else in line recognized him and clearly he wanted to enjoy his breakfast incognito. The hostess was taking names from the podium at the head of the line. When she called out to Levine, he looked a little sheepish and mumbled something under his breath. “What?” she shouted over the din. I realized the awkwardness of the moment, slipped quickly to the front of the line, and whispered his name in the hostess’s ear. She nodded, still clueless about who he was. As I turned to rejoin the line, Levine caught my eye and winked. In remembrance of Levine, I have included his iconic 1968 poem “They Feed They Lion” as our selection for the month of March. Its rhythms are strange and powerful; as Levine once said, ‘Rhythm is deep and it touches us in ways that we don’t understand. We know that language used rhythmically has some kind of power to delight, to upset, to exalt, and it was that kind of rhythmic language that first excited me.”

Sonoma County’s Recently Published Authors
Congratulations to this month’s recently published authors in Sonoma County. See who’s in print at 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. Two local writers were published recently in Petaluma-based, Wordrunner eChapbooks’ themed anthology, Strange Encounters.

A Few Upcoming Events
Our calendar for March and April is brimming with events. Please do take a look at what’s happening in our literary community this month. There are a few I’m including in this post, but this is just a taste to whet your appetite.

Today, March 1, from 5-7pm, the Geri DiGiorno and the Redwood Cafe in Cotati will host poets Michael Rothenberg, (100,000 Poets for Change) Terri Carrion, and Patti Trimble. Join them for words on Politics and Other Things, music by bassist Steve Shain, and local beer on tap. 8240 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati.

Next Saturday, March 7, at 2:30 PM, The Sitting Room in Cotati presents “Opening to Poetry,” featuring Iris Dunkle, Rebecca Foust and Terry Ehret whose reading will lauch the Spring 2015 exhibit dedicated to the Sitting Room Poetry Collection at 2025 Curtis Drive in Penngrove, just off Petaluma Hill Road.

Changing Harm to HarmonyOn Sunday, the Ides of March (March 15 for those of you not inclined to soothsaying predictions on Roman dates), the Petaluma Arts Center presents a reading from Changing Harm to Harmony: Bullies and Bystanders Project. This is one of the most important topics any poetry anthology has embraced—one you may want to bring your family to hear. Poet, editor, and Marin County Poet Laureate Joe Zaccardi has assembled a brilliant cast of writers whose work helps us all find a way toward “restorative justice.”Readers include David Beckman, Rose Black Ed Coletti, Lucy Lang Day,Francesca Dezza Parada, Juliet Emerson-Colvin, ‘Lyn Follett, Helen Heal, Jodi Hottel, Janet Jennings, Dave Seter and Patti Trimble. Petaluma poet Donna Emerson, PAC’s Val Richman, and Joe Zaccardi co-host this evening of poetry, stories, and letters from 6-8 PM at the Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville Street, Petaluma.

Poem for March
“I would say that the best poem I ever wrote came easily, came rather quickly: “They Feed They Lion.” It’s about a reaction to the riots and the sort of urban rebellion of the ’60s in Detroit. And it tries to reach into the depths of what causes things like this.”
—Philip Levine

Click on LISTEN to hear Phil Levine read the poem and talk about how he came to write it.

They Feed They Lion
By Philip Levine

Out of burlap sacks, out of bearing butter,
Out of black bean and wet slate bread,
Out of the acids of rage, the candor of tar,
Out of creosote, gasoline, drive shafts, wooden dollies,
They Lion grow.

Out of the gray hills
Of industrial barns, out of rain, out of bus ride,
West Virginia to Kiss My Ass, out of buried aunties,
Mothers hardening like pounded stumps, out of stumps,
Out of the bones’ need to sharpen and the muscles’ to stretch,
They Lion grow.

Earth is eating trees, fence posts,
Gutted cars, earth is calling in her little ones,
“Come home, Come home!” From pig balls,
From the ferocity of pig driven to holiness,
From the furred ear and the full jowl come
The repose of the hung belly, from the purpose
They Lion grow.

From the sweet glues of the trotters
Come the sweet kinks of the fist, from the full flower
Of the hams the thorax of caves,
From “Bow Down” come “Rise Up,”
Come they Lion from the reeds of shovels,
The grained arm that pulls the hands,
They Lion grow.

From New Selected Poems (Alfred A Knopf, 1991), © Philip Levine 1991, used by permission of Alfred A Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
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