Posted by: wordrunner | March 1, 2012

March 2012 Update

Sonoma County Literary Update (logo)The Spoken Art of Poetry

This semester in the Monday-Friday prosody workshops at the Sitting Room, we have been reading Amy Lowell, e.e. cummings, Phil Levine, and Jorie Graham. I scoured the Internet for downloadable recordings of poems in the voice of each poet. Ironically, the only poet among these four who was never recorded was Amy Lowell—ironic because she was a jubilant proponent of the oral performance of poems and the musical/emotional breath in words off the page. In her essay “Poetry as a Spoken Art,” Lowell wrote, “Poetry is as much an art to be heard as is music, if we could only get people to understand the fact. To read it off the printed pages without pronouncing it is to get only a portion of its beauty. . . . Poetry will come into its Paradise when carefully trained speakers make a business of interpreting it to the word.”

Poetry Out Loud

Group of 14 performers reciting poems from memoryHow fortunate for us in Sonoma County that we have so many readers and writers who believe in the spoken art of poetry. On Sunday, February 12, at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa, we were treated to fourteen young performers presenting twenty-seven poems from memory as part of Sonoma County’s Poetry Out Loud annual high school competition. For those of you who weren’t there, I can assure you, the oral life of poetry is alive and well.

Brynna ThigpenThis year’s winner was Brynna Thigpen of Maria Carrillo High School performing “The Room” by Conrad Aiken and “Childhood’s Retreat,” by Robert Duncan. First runner up was Kennedy Petersen of Montgomery High School, performing “Ovation” by Carol Muske Dukes and “Banneker,” by Rita Dove. These two will be traveling to Sacramento for the statewide competition on Sunday March 25 and Monday March 26. We wish Brynna the best of luck. How proud we are to have her representing our county!

Hats off also to Phyllis Meshulam, of California Poets in the Schools, and Karin Demerest, of the Sonoma Art Council, for coordinating the POL program for the past seven years, and to all the parents, teachers, and mentors who coached and supported these young people to such lively and moving performances. If you want to find out more about Poetry Out Loud, you can check this website:

Poetry Slams

Besides the POL program, the literary community has supported the oral life of poetry through the North Bay Poetry Slam, hosted by Brianna Sage, which celebrated its first anniversary last December. You can catch the North Bay Slams the first SUNDAY of every month at 7 PM at the Hopmonk Tavern in Sebastopol. Check the ongoing and open-mic readings page for details. In addition, for nine years the Sonoma County Library sponsored monthly slam competitions, hosted by Armando Garcia Davila, and when budget cuts put the slam program on hiatus, Tom Mariani and Gloria DeBois, of Unitarian Universalist Congregation Santa Rosa (UUCSR) Writers, stepped in to take over (see for details). You can check out videos of slam performances on Youtube:

“Feeding the Soul”

Yet another member of our literary community who has for years nurtured poetry as a spoken art is Sebastopol’s Larry Robinson. Here’s what Larry has to say:

The first time I really “got” poetry was hearing a friend recite Rilke’s Archaic Torso Of Apollo. It changed my life! In high school and college, I had read the requisite great poems and learned how to analyze and scan them for rhythm and rhyme and symbol and style. And, of course, they stayed in my head, as did I.

But then I heard a poem that had been taken into the body, made part of it and brought back out into speech. It was immediately apprehensible and awakened in me something that had been asleep for longer than I could remember.

I began to listen in a new way and to read poetry to myself out loud rather than just silently off the page. This inspired me to begin memorizing a few good poems. I discovered that the poems that I took into my own body went to work on me in a profound way, like medicine or a zen koan.

I am now inhabited by about 200 poems which continue to enrich my inner life. Several times a year, I host poetry salons whose only rule is “no reading.” People are encouraged to bring poems, stories, and songs learned by heart. It is not a performance or a competition or a slam. Rather, what emerges over the course of the evening is a kind of poetic conversation that feeds the soul.

This practice has fed my own writing of poetry. I have no interest in academic rules of poetry or in literary criticism. They certainly have their places, just not in my life. What matters to me in the poetry I write and the poetry I imbibe is how it feels on the tongue and in the body and whether it connects me with something greater than myself.

Rumi advises us to “start a large, foolish project — like Noah.” My large, foolish project is to restore the soul of the world through restoring the oral tradition of poetry.

Thanks to all who honor poetry by inhabiting its language and learning it by heart. I exhort you all to take this month to commit one poem to memory, and then when March opens the door to April and National Poetry Month, find an occasion to recite this poem. As Larry Robinson so well expressed it, memorizing poems enriches your inner life. Poetry’s music and rhythms have healing power—it’s powerful medicine.

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-Editor

You may download a pdf of most of the pages on this site, updated March 1 2012 here.


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