Dear Literary Folk,
I had the pleasure and the luxury of spending most of July away in the mountains at our little cabin on Serene Lakes, among the granite heights and lakes of Mammoth, at the fabulous art museums of LA, and messing around at Disneyland, Universal Studios, Griffith Observatory, and La Brea Tar Pits. I followed both conventions when I could, mostly stunned by the repeatedly offensive statements coming from Trump and those who try to sweep up the mess after him. You’d think the Democrats would find this election a cake-walk, and yet—well, we are living through strange times, indeed.
As I mentioned in last month’s post, this may be a good time for us to bring a vision of political consciousness and vigilant witness to what we write. To explore this, I plan to offer a workshop on Mondays this fall at the Sitting Room in Cotati, focusing on political poetry. By studying poems by Shelley, Yeats, Akhmatova, Levertov, Rich, and more, we’ll try to figure out how to speak our truth in a way that isn’t rhetorical and didactic—a difficult needle to thread. And on Fridays, we’ll continue our study of one of the world’s great political poems, La Divina Comedia of Dante, moving from Inferno to Purgatorio. There are still a few seats open in each workshop. You can find details on the workshop page, or you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to get on the e-mail list.
For a preview of what we will be reading in the Political Poetry workshop, scroll down to the poem for August: “I Think It Rains,” by Wole Soyinka.
Most of you know I’m a great fan of grammar and the beauty of its invisible architecture of the written and spoken word. I realize diagramming sentences is a long-lost art, and the distinction between lie and lay, who and whom may be hopelessly muddled. Fortunately, Arlene Miller will be offering a grammar workshop on Saturday, August 6, at 1:00 p.m. Miller is the best-selling author of The Best Little Grammar Book Ever! Her witty presentations make grammar and language fun and interesting as you learn to speak and write with confidence and avoid common mistakes. The workshop will be at 1:00 p.m. at Copperfield’s Books on 140 Kentucky Street, Petaluma. Details: www.copperfieldsbooks.com/event/grammar-workshop-arlene-miller
Tuggle and Patrascu at Aqus Café
On Tuesday, August 9, 6:15 p.m. Rivertown Poets features Mike Tuggle, Sonoma County Poet Laureate Emeritus, and Rebecca Patrascu, past winner of The Pinch Literary Award. Open mic will follow the features, with a limit of three minutes per reader. Try to come a little earlier–the open mic list fills early. Usually the Rivertown Poets present on the first Monday of the month, so please note this chance of schedule. The café is open for food and beverages at 189 H Street in downtown Petaluma. Contact: Sande Anfang, email@example.com. Details: www.facebook.com/RivertownPoetsAMuseingMondays
Two Autumns Haiku Reading
In haiku tradition, autumn is the season of farewells, which is the premise of a poem by Shiki:
yuku ware ni todomaru nare ni aki futatsu
for me going
for you staying—
At the close of the month, Sunday, August 28, the Haiku Poets of Northern California, will host their 27th Annual Two Autumns Reading, the longest running haiku reading series outside of Japan, featuring readings by four of the best haiku poets writing in English today: Robert Gilliland (Texas), June Hopper Hymas (San Jose), Michele Root-Bernstein (Michigan), and Michael Sheffield (Kentfield). A commemorative chapbook edited by Sebastopol poet Renée Owen, with cover art by Australian poet & sumi-e painter Ron Moss, will be available for purchase. Refreshments, networking & book sales available before and after the reading. The reading will be held from 1:00-4:00 p.m. at Fort Mason (room C-205) in San Francisco. For more information, check out the website: www.hpnc.org.
Featured Writer this Month—Susan Hagen
Every month, our calendar features writing workshops for women with Susan Hagen, whose focus is on writing as a healing art. One of these workshops caught my attention: “Help! I’ve Got a Book in Me and I Wanna Get it out!” Susan will offer this practical, hands-on workshop on Saturday, August 13, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. to help writers make progress on their stories or books, or simply to explore their lives through writing. Her goal is to help writers generate new material in a safe, supportive community of soulful, spiritual, like-hearted women. Beginning, experienced, and exploring writers of all genres are welcome. The cost is $57 in advance.
Susan Hagen is co-author of the award-winning post-9/11 book, Women at Ground Zero: Stories of Courage and Compassion. After publication in 2002, many of the women rescue workers featured in the book said that telling their stories was the beginning of their healing from the trauma of 9/11. Since then, Susan has made it her life’s work to help others give voice to the stories of their lives. As a writing mentor and coach, she tends the fire, spirit, and heart of the writer, incorporating meditation and earth-based practices into her workshops, retreats, and coaching services. As a published author, former newspaper reporter, and organizational journalist, Susan also offers editorial services for people, businesses, and organizations doing good work in the world.
Poem for August
In this season of drought—both literally and figuratively—I offer you a poem by Wole Soyinka, a contemporary Nigerian writer and the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature (1986). A selection of his work appears in the anthology Against Forgetting: Twentieth Century Poetry of Witness, edited by Carolyn Forché (Norton 1993).
Forché includes this information about Soyinka’s life:
Soyinka was arrested in 1967 for attempting to effect a compromise between the Hausa government of Nigeria and the rebelling Ibo leaders of the Biarfa secession movement, and was imprisoned for almost two years, one of which was spent in solitary confinement. As chair of literature at the University of Lagos, he was later accused of trying to seize the radio station and dismissed. He chose political exile from Nigeria, and spent time with the Royal Court Theatre in London and the Yale Repertory Theater in New Haven, Connecticut. He has periodically been visiting professor at the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, and Yale. A fierce defender of personal freedom, he has written poetry, novels, autobiography, and essays with major themes of exile and return.
I Think It Rains
I think it rains
That tongues may loosen from the parch
Uncleave the roof-tips of the mouth, hang
Heavy with knowledge
I saw it raise
The sudden cloud, from ashes. Settles
They joined in a ring of grey; within,
The circling spirit
Oh, it must rain
These closures on the mind, binding us
In strange despairs, teachingPurity of sadness
And how it beats
Skeined transparencies on wings
Of our desires, searing dark longings
In cruel baptisms
Rain-reeds, practiced in
The grace of yielding, yet unbending
From afar, this your conjugation with my earth
Bares crouching rocks.
co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update