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.
See more at:

Posted by: wordrunner | February 1, 2015

February 1, 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

Terry Ehret isn’t writing the SoCo Lit Update post this month; she’s having a well-deserved get-away over the weekend but will be back in Petaluma on Monday, February 2 to read with Nancy Long at Rivertown Poets’ A-muse-ing Monday. Readings begin 6:40 p.m. at Aqus Café, 189 H Street, Petaluma, followed by an open mic.

Literary Valentines
Nothing literary is scheduled for Valentine’s Day when presumably everyone will be otherwise occupied. But we have Linda Watanabe McFerrin on “Writing Sexy Stuff,” February 8 at the Redwood Writers Club meeting, Flamingo Hotel, Santa Rosa. The 2015 Healdsburg Literary Guild Poetry Valentine event takes place on February 10 at the Healdsburg Regional Library. Congratulations to the 21 poets who are published in this year’s chapbook. On February 15, Third Sunday Poetry Open Mic invites attendees to share a poem or short story about love of any kind by you or someone else. Details for all of these may be found on our calendar, as well as more open mics, readings, book clubs, workshop reminders and author readings.

Featured Authors
Copperfields Books brings us a diverse selection of author events every month, including local authors. Of note in February, Jonah Raskin will be discussing his new book A Terrible Beauty: The Wilderness of American Literature with Arthur Dawson on Wednesday February 18 at Montgomery Village Copperfields. You might also want to catch Joyce Carol Oates (Friday, February 20, Montgomery Village) or Daniel Handler (Tuesday, February 24, Petaluma). Some of the Copperfields readings are included in our calendar. Check out the Copperfields Books event calendar for a complete list of author readings:

Dining With Authors, a monthly event hosted by Jeane Sloane, features Susan Gunter, Auriela  McCarthy, David Matson Hooper, Sharon & David Beckman, and J. B. Grant on Tuesday, February 9 at Gaia’s restaurant in Santa Rosa.

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.

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

Posted by: literaryfolk | January 3, 2015

Post for January 2 , 2015

Dear Literary Folk,

Happy New Year to all our friends, our writers, and our readers! On behalf of co-editor Jo-Anne Rosen and myself, blessings to you and your beginnings.

Terry-2Friend Jerry Meshulam caught this photo of  this year’s ceremonial burning of the hopes/wishes for 2015 in a “magic” smokeless flame. At the annual New Year’s Poetry Brunch, we each put in our wish for something we’d like to bring into the world in the coming year, and these silent wishes are then carried out the door by all who witness. We, none of us, can bring our hopes to fruition without the help of others, nor without action. Whatever you wish to be, do, or make happen in 2015, begin today to imagine it.

Note: My husband and I have been hosting this pot-luck of food, conversation, company, and poems for 16 years: our way of saying thank you to this amazing community of writers we’re lucky to be part of. The event has grown over the years, and the guest list has always been subject to serendipity, the whims of the ether, the weather, and even the occasional New Year’s flood. Also because our house is limited in size, we can only accommodate about 35 guests. If you received an invitation in the past, but not this year, that may have been a result of my inadvertently deleting the list I’d cobbled together over the years. I created a new list from past RSVP’s, but it wasn’t as complete or current as I’d hoped. If you’re interested in being added to the invitation e-mail list for next year, send me a message with the subject heading “New Year’s Poetry Brunch,” and I’ll make sure your and your current e-mail information are included:

Remembering Mark Baldridge
Joyce-MarkA week ago, Mark Baldridge, Joyce Jenkins husband and partner, passed away too young and too soon. He was a gentle, guiding force behind Poetry Flash and Watershed Poetry Festival. The projects he championed will continue, but it you’d like to help Joyce and others keep these going, consider making a donation in Mark’s memory to Poetry Flash or to the Center for Environmental Literacy. ).

You can also send a donation directly to the Flash:
Poetry Flash /
1450 Fourth Street, #4
Berkeley, California 94710
WordTemple Readings

One of the jewels in our local literary firmament is the WordTemple Reading Series, hosted by our Sonoma County Poet Laureate Katherine Hastings. On Saturday, January 24, 7:00 p.m. WordTemple returns to the Sebastopol Center for the Arts hosting Marin County Poet Laureate Joe Zaccardi, editor of the anthology Changing Harm to Harmony — Bullies & Bystanders Project. A number of contributors, including several Sonoma County poets, will read from the anthology that night. Andre Le Mont Wilson, Gerald Fleming, CB Follett, Katherine Hastings, Jodi Hottel, David Beckman, Ed Coletti, Stephanie Mandel, Rebecca Foust, Susan Terris, Mark Meiderding, Julia Vose, Eva M. Schlensger, Barbara Welch Brooks, Alan Cohen, Linda Enders and Calvin Ahlgren. Also reading is Ellery Akers, celebrating her latest collection, Practicing the Truth, and Sonoma County poet Phyllis Meshulam who will read from her new chapbook from Finishing Line Press, Doll, Moon. Location:  282 S. High Street, Sebastapol.

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. We don’t have a guest feature for December, but please contact Jo-Anne and/or me if you’re interested in a feature for January:

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 Poems for the New Year

The Coming of Light

Even this late it happens:
the coming of love, the coming of light.
You wake and the candles are lit as if by themselves,
stars gather, dreams pour into your pillows,
sending up warm bouquets of air.
Even this late the bones of the body shine
and tomorrow’s dust flares into breath.

Excerpted from The Late Hour by Mark Strand.
Copyright © 2002 by Mark Strand.


On the second day of the year, I rest.
I fill the well,
pick up small, broken pieces of glass,
throw away lists,
light a fire with the stumps of last year’s candles,
indulge a few dreams of magic,
pluck out tiny shards of envy that have nestled
just under my skin,
fly solitary on the wind,
a little drunk with light.

Excerpted Night Sky Journey, by Terry Ehret.
Copyright © Kelly’s Cove Press, 2011

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | December 1, 2014

December 1, 2014

Dear Literary Folk,

The Lovely, Glorious, Slender Rain!
Among my Thanksgiving appreciations this year is a thank-you for the rain. Isn’t it wonderful to walk out into the drizzle and smell the sweet scent of wet leaves and earth? And the days ahead promise more of what we enjoyed this past weekend. If the rain (or absence of rain) has inspired a poem, story, short essay, photograph, or art-work, send it along to us. We’d love to include it in our next Literary Update.

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. We don’t have a guest feature for December, but please contact Jo-Anne and/or me if you’re interested in a feature for January:

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.

California Poets in the Schools Celebrates 50 Years Inspiring Young Writers
Poetry Crossing: 50 lessons from 50 yearsOn December 6th, in commemoration of its 50th birthday as an organization, California Poets in the Schools will be holding a county-wide poetry reading at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, where students from many different schools will get together to share their writing.  10am-12pm, Saturday, Dec. 6th Sebastopol Center for the Arts in the “Dining Room,” 282 S. High St, Sebastopol. For details, check the Calendar page:

Along with this county-wide reading, CPITS has also just brought out Poetry Crossing, a far-reaching offering of poet-teacher lesson plans, student poems, and sample poems by student poets, poet-teachers, and some great poets from around the world. More details on our Sonoma County in Print page: Poetry Crossing is available at

Petaluma Reader’s Theater Presents a Holiday Double-Feature
xmas-treechilds-xmas-walesIn years past, I’ve attended the PRT’s presentation of Truman Capote’s “A Christmas Memory.” This year, they are reprising this holiday classic, and adding a performance of Dylan Thomas’s “A Child’s Christmas in Wales.” This is a delightful way to bring the arts of short story and poetry to dramatic life. I hope to see you there this year!

Two performances: Saturday, December 13 and Friday, December 19—both at 7:30 PM. at the Petaluma Arts Center, 230 Lakeville, Petaluma. For information about ticket prices and ordering in advance, use this link:

Dine With Local Authors at Gaia’s Garden
On Monday, December 8, 6:00-8:00 p.m., come hear the authors share their books: Freedom Doesn’t Just Come Along With A Tree, children’s book, Joelle B. Burnette; Cry of The Nightbird, anthology, M. Wing, A. Hutchinson, K. Farrell; Buyer’s Remorse, poetry, Roy Mash; Growing More Beautiful, personal growth, Jennifer Robin. Call or email to request dining at a specific author’s table: 544-2491 or Local Author’s Distributor: $5.00 minimum food purchase. This special event will be at Gaia’s Garden, 1899 Mendocino Ave., Santa Rosa.

Every Day is Christmas Eve in London at the Dickens Fair
Dickens fairIn my family, it’s tradition to launch the holidays with a day at the Great Dickens Christmas Fair: A Victorian Holiday Party. It really is a hoot to wander the streets of Victorian London, hobnobbing with Fagin, Bill Sykes, Ebenezer Scrooge, the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future, and, of course, Charles Dickens himself, reading his story to intimate audiences in his parlor. If you’ve never been, treat yourself this year. It’s family-friendly and accommodating to those with disabilities or limited mobility. The fair runs on Saturday and Sunday, December 6/7, 13/14, and 20/21. For more information, check the website:

Mark Strand, 80, Dies; Pulitzer-Winning Poet Laureate
Mark StrandPoet Mark Strand passed away on Saturday, November 29, at the age of 80. In his honor, here is one of his most frequently anthologized poems: one well-worth yet another read. To read more about Strand’s life and poetry, check out the article by William Grimes in Saturday’s New York Times:

Keeping Things Whole
From Selected Poems by Mark Strand

In a field
I am the absence
of field.
This is
always the case.
Wherever I am
I am what is missing.

When I walk
I part the air
and always
the air moves in
to fill the spaces
where my body’s been.

We all have reasons
for moving.
I move
to keep things whole.

Copyright © 1979, 1980.

Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | November 1, 2014

November 1, 2014

Dear Literary Folk,

Hope Valley in Aspenglow

aspen-treeAutumn leafI 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 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:

And if this inspires any of you literary folk to consider a writing retreat and literary tour of Wales, check out my website: 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
Carolyn KizerWe 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.

Galway KinnellKinnell 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:

Tonight’s El Dia de los Muertos Procession with Mariachis and Big Puppets
El Dia de Los Muertos PetalumaIf 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:

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. For more information about Books on Stage and upcoming authors, see

About Our Contributor
Michelle Wing is the author of Body on the Wall ( and co-editor of Cry of the Nightbird: Writers Against Domestic Violence, a fundraiser for YWCA Somona County (

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

I’m staying
in my pajamas
because I can.

I’m curling
back in bed with
my computer
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
and “climate”
into my Google bar and
see how things I care
about connect.
You know—
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
on manzanita
in the morning wind…
and then the afternoon wind….

I might wonder when the rain’s coming,
and then begin
to dance
thinking of the vibrant
hum of humans
rising from New York,
two thousand nine hundred thirteen
miles away.

I think
I’ll imagine
walking with them
today. Because I can.
My mind is built for that—
crossing mountains,
stretching the plain,
until it hums
with possibility.


Amy Elizabeth Robinson’s blog,  Still Life, Turning Planet, is about writing freely, sitting quietly, and living out loud on this Earth


“October 1973”
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.

October 1973

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,
infinitely consoling:
“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:
Nicanor, Nicanor,
are you, too, silent under the earth,
Brother, Brother?
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, 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:

Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update



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