Posted by: literaryfolk | March 31, 2012

April 1, 2012 Update

Sonoma County Literary Update

Post for April 1, 2012

Dear Literary Folk,

April is National Poetry Month. Also the cruelest month, according to Mr. Eliot, who may not have realized how true this would turn out to be for poets laureate! Well, not exactly a cruel fate, but somedays an exhausting one. Here’s what our own Sonoma County has to offer.

Every Day Poems

One of the first projects of Sonoma County’s new poet laureate, Bill Vartnaw, is a collaboration with KRCB called “Every Day Poems.” Starting this month, KRCB will broadcast a poem a day, selected by the  current and past poets laureate: Terry Ehret, Geri DiGiorno, Mike Tuggle, Gwynne O’Gara, and Bill. For more about this project, check Bill’s Poet Laureate News Page.

There are many inspirational programs on the Sonoma County literary landscape. Here are some I especially recommend for National Poetry Month. You can find out more about these and many others on the Calendar Page.

Poetry at the Redwood Café , April 1, from 5-7 PM

Geri Digiorno has launched a new series of poetry and music at the Redwood Café in Cotati. Today, April 1, from 5-7 PM, treat yourself to former California Poet Laureate, Al Young, Q. R. Hand Jr. & Sarah Baker. The Redwood Café is at 8240 Old Redwood Highway, Cotati. For details, see:

Favorite Poems Reading, Thursday, April 5, 7:00 p.m.

In celebration of National Poetry Month, you are cordially invited to spend a delightful evening of poetry amidst the artistic beauty in the gallery of the Sebastopol Center For The Arts. This is always a rich and delightful event for poetry lovers. You will hear poems from e.e.cummings, William Stafford, Rumi, Rilke, and many others. Presenters will include Sonoma County Poet Laureate Bill Vartnaw. Free program. Refreshments will be served. The Sebastopol Center For The Arts is located at 6870 Depot Street, Sebastopol.

Saturday, April 21, 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Fundraiser for California Poets in the Schools. French Garden Restaurant presents poetry through the eyes and from the voices of youth. Light refreshments provided. 8050 Bodega Ave., Sebastopol. Free to the students, $5 for their parents, and for others, a recommended donation of $10 – $50.  100% of all proceeds from the event will go to match a California Arts Council grant

Friday, April 27, 6:15 to 9:30 p.m. Poetry Night is the kick-off event for the Redwood Writers conference. At the Flamingo Hotel, 2777 Fourth St, Santa Rosa. Keynote speaker will be Al Young, California Poet Laureate emeritus. Bill Vartnaw, Sonoma County Poet Laureate, 2012-2013, will be featured reading his poetry. For more information and to register, go to

In Memoriam, Adrienne Rich

Finally, as many of you know, poet and political activist Adrienne Rich passed away at age 82 last Tuesday. Some of you may have seen the NPR tribute to Rich broadcast on Thursday, and the poem by Rich and an answering poem by Vilma Ginzberg which Larry Robinson sent out to his e-mail subscribers.

When I had just moved to Sonoma County, teaching hither and yon and raising three daughters, Carolyn Kizer sent me a poem called “(Dedications),” by her friend, Adrienne Rich, just before it was scheduled for publication. A single mother of three, Kizer knew what it was like to keep the creative embers lit without betraying our commitments to family and community, and to ourselves, and she sent me the poem “in poetry, motherhood, sisterhood—all of it.” I kept posted close to my writing space for many years. Rich’s words offered hope, support, and acknowledgment of the greater community a writer’s work creates around it, and the importance of those readers who breathe a writer’s work to life.

In memory of Adrienne Rich, here is “(Dedications),” the last section in a 13-part poem called “An Atlas of the Difficult World,” which appeared in her 1991 collection by the same title. This is followed by an excerpt from an interview with Bill Moyers in which she discusses the poem in the broader context of her life’s work.


I know you are reading this poem
late, before leaving your office
of the one intense yellow lamp-spot and the darkening window
in the lassitude of a building faded to quiet
long after rush-hour. I know you are reading this poem
standing up in a bookstore far from the ocean
on a grey day of early spring, faint flakes driven
across the plains’ enormous spaces around you.
I know you are reading this poem
in a room where too much has happened for you to bear
where the bedclothes lie in stagnant coils on the bed
and the open valise speaks of flight
but you cannot leave yet. I know you are reading this poem
as the underground train loses momentum and before running up the stairs
toward a new kind of love
your life has never allowed.
I know you are reading this poem by the light
of the television screen where soundless images jerk and slide
while you wait for the newscast from the intifada.
I know you are reading this poem in a waiting-room
of eyes met and unmeeting, of identity with strangers.
I know you are reading this poem by fluorescent light
in the boredom and fatigue of the young who are counted out,
count themselves out, at too early an age. I know
you are reading this poem through your failing sight, the thick
lens enlarging these letters beyond all meaning yet you read on
because even the alphabet is precious.
I know you are reading this poem as you pace beside the stove
warming milk, a crying child on your shoulder, a book in your hand
because life is short and you too are thirsty.
I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language
guessing at some words while others keep you reading
and I want to know which words they are.
I know you are reading this poem listening for something, torn
between bitterness and hope
turning back once again to the task you cannot refuse.
I know you are reading this poem because there is nothing else left to read
there where you have landed, stripped as you are.

Adrienne Rich
(from an interview with Bill Moyers)

RICH: Well, that line—”there where you have landed, stripped as you are”—is multi-layered. Even as I was writing “Dedications,” I wanted the poem to speak to people as individuals, but also as individuals multiplied over and over and over and over: the mother or father, as the case may be, warming milk by the stove with the infant over the shoulder; someone reading a book because she or he, too, is thirsty late at night; the office worker still in the office after rush hour. As pan of a collectivity.

And then, in this last line, I thought first of all of someone dying of AIDS. I thought of any person in an isolate situation for whom there was perhaps nothing but a book of poems to put her or him into a sense of relation with the world of other human beings, or perhaps someone in prison. But finally I was thinking of our society, stripped of so much of what was hoped for and promised and given nothing in exchange but material commodities, or the hope of obtaining material commodities. And for me, that is being truly stripped.

MOYERS: Then you go on to say, “I know you are reading this poem which is not in your language/guessing at some words while others keep you reading. ..” Something like this happens to me when I read a poem: One minute I’m puzzling over some word or image, but the next line carries me forward beyond my misunderstanding into another realm of discovery.

RICH: Yes, and I had in mind an even more literal case as well–someone reading a poem in American English the way I would read a poem in Spanish or French or some other language that I know slightly, or used to know better, but of which I have forgotten a lot of the vocabulary, guessing at some words, yet struggling, and carried on by something in that poem. But what is that? And why do I want to know what it is? I want to know because whatever it is in my poem that keeps you reading is some kind of bond or filament between us, something that I’ve been able to put there that speaks even to this other person, whose language this is not.

MOYERS: How important is your audience when you are actually writing the poem? Do you picture the audience?

RICH: I write for whoever might read. I recently saw a very interesting distinction made by the African Canadian writer Marlene Nourbese Philip. She speaks of the difference between community, audience, and market. I believe that I write for a community. Obviously, I write for a community of other poets, people whom I know, people with whom I have already connected in some way, but I also write for whoever will constitute a new and expanded community audience.

MOYERS: What inspired “Dedications”? For whom were you writing it?

RICH: “Dedications” is the final section of a long poem, “An Atlas of the Difficult World,” which reflects on the condition of my country, which I wrote very consciously as a citizen poet, looking at the geography, the history, the peoples of my country. I started writing “An Atlas of the Difficult World” just before the Gulf War, so I was writing it during and after the Gulf War, and “Dedications” came to me as a way of creating a personal dialogue with many different kinds of readers who might have read this whole poem and connected with it here or there. But I wanted “Dedications” to be there at the end, waiting for the reader.

MOYERS: So you did have the audience in mind, even though you couldn’t picture the particular reader or listener.

RICH: I made up some readers and listeners, but I also remembered and recognized actual people, as a fiction writer might, in that section and throughout the poem. The poem is full of voices: they’re not all my voice, they’re not all women’s voices, some of them are men’s voices, but, yes, I certainly had an audience in mind. The distinction between community, audience, and market is a really important distinction for an artist of any kind. There is a community of those whose work and whose lives you respect and love and cherish, a community that gives you the strength to create, to push boundaries, to take risks, a community that perhaps challenges you to do all that.

There is an audience of those unknown to you but whom your words are going to reach. You can’t know them in advance, but you can hope for them, desire them. Market, on the other hand, is all about packaging and buying and selling, and the corresponding group would be the consumer. I don’t want my poetry to be consumed in that sense. I do want it to be used.

I was very moved by Robert Bly’s just now reading Neruda’s “Ode to My Socks,” which ends with the poet’s saying that something beautiful is twice beautiful, something good is doubly good, when it is a pair of socks–warm socks in winter. It’s an ode to a very beautiful pair of socks that someone had made for Neruda. I think that what is beautiful is doubly beautiful and what is good is doubly good when it can be truly used, not consumed, but used in lives, and probably used in ways that, as an artist, you could never fully know or anticipate.

from The Language of Life: A Festival of Poets. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Copyright © 1995 by Public Affairs Television, Inc., and David Grubin productions, Inc.


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