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


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