Posted by: wordrunner | November 1, 2018

November 2018

Dear Literary Folk,

Tree of LifeLast night, we celebrated the Eve of All Hallows with Jack-o-lanterns and trick-or-treaters. Today, All Saints Day, gives way at sunset to the celebration of All Souls and El Día de los Muertos. Among the dead whose memory we hold precious are those gunned down in Pittsburgh. The irony of these deaths in a sanctuary called Tree of Life  makes the tragedy all that more poignant.

Think of them and all who have lost their lives as the shadows of hatred and violence continue to move across our nation. Our friend Penelope La Montagne, who passed away last March, once wrote, “Perhaps the only way to transfer a wee worm of hope to another human being is to go out of your way to do a kindness for another. A split second extension of heart to hand or voice.”

Poetry of Remembrance Community Reading
Communities throughout Sonoma County celebrate El Día de los Muertos, and one of my favorite gatherings is the annual Poetry of Remembrance Community Reading. Petaluma poet John Johnson organized this year’s reading, held at the Petaluma Campus of SRJC in the Multi-Cultural Center called Mi Casa/My House. Phyllis Meshulam of California Poets in the Schools brought two young poets to present their poems of remembrance, bringing the house to tears. We also heard readings from bilingual poet Beatriz Lagos, originally from Argentina; and bilingual poet and artist Katie Numi Usher, from Belize. Jodi Hottel spoke about Obon, the Buddhist tradition of honoring one’s ancestors, and demonstrated a simple folk dance from the Japanese tradition. And then it was the community’s turn to share their poems against the backdrop of candles, photos, and mementos on the altar. Thanks to all who helped create this intimate evening.

Katherine HastingsCelebrating Katherine Hastings and Word Temple
How lucky were we to have Katherine Hastings and the WordTemple Reading Series and Radio Show she created, directed, and nurtured for 15 years! On October 20, the literary community got the chance to thank Katherine when she returned briefly from her new home in Grand Island, New York. Jerry Fleming, Greg Randall, Jodi Hottel, Gwynn O’Gara, and a very appreciative audience of friends and fans gathered to pay tribute to Katherine’s many contributions, and then to hear her read. Thankfully, WordTemple will continue Katherine’s legacy under the guidance of Greg Randall.

Reverberations at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts
Reverberations-McChesneyNow, this is really cool! The Sebastopol Center for the Arts has just opened in its fabulous art gallery an exhibit called “Reverberations.A Visual Conversation.” This unique exhibit pairs over 40 works of art with original poems inspired by the art. Artists include Francis Bacon, Enrique Chagoya, Viola Frey, Robert McChesney, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso, and many of the poets are from Sonoma County, including Katherine Hastings, Maya Khosla, Gwynn O’Gara, Barbara Hirschfeld, Nancy Dougherty, and Fran Claggett. The range of styles, both of the artists and the poets, is astonishing. Hundreds of people came to the opening reception on October 25, but if you missed that, know that the exhibit runs through December 2. SCA is located at 282 S. High Street, Sebastopol. Entry is free. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and have been extended on Saturday and Sunday to 12:00 to 5:00 p,m.

Many events have been planned for November around the Reverberations Exhibit.

November 3 at 7:00 p.m. Reverberations: A Visual Conversation—The Poets Speak
November 8 at 7:00 p.m. “Living with Art”: A Panel Discussion
November 15 at 7:00 p.m. An Evening of Short Films
November 16 at 2:00 p.m. Linda Loveland Reid, “Reverberations: The Artists Revealed”
November 17 at 7:00 p.m. Reverberations: A Visual Conversation—The Poets Speak

A Cage Event
etchings by John CageMy own contribution to Reverberations is a series of poems written to accompany three etchings from a series called Smoke Weather, Stone Weather, by John Cage.

You can get an inside look at Cage’s work and the poems I composed in response to them, using a poetic technique called Mesostic, on Friday, November 9, 4:30-6:00 p.m. The event will include a film of Cage and the creation of this particular series of etchings at Crown Point Press in San Francisco. The event is at SCA, and it is free. But it’s a good idea to register to ensure you have a seat. You can register and learn more about this and all the events in the Reverberations series at

Poetry for a Changing Landscape: Join Maya Khosla for an Autumn Walk with Writing
On Sunday, November 11, 2:00-6:00 p.m. join Sonoma County’s Poet Laureate, Maya Khosla, for an afternoon exploring the land and responding to it on the page. We will hike, reflect and share short works in a supportive environment. A special focus will be given to the surrounding natural areas now in the early stages of regeneration, which began shortly after the October 2017 fires. At Fairfield Osborn Preserve. Details about registration on this month’s calendar page.

Fall Back
River's Bend cabinThis time of year, as we fall back and the nights grow long, it seems a good time to make room for the creative spark—to nurture it in a special way. I’m not talking about workshops, though these are often the inspirational life-blood of a writer. Consider, as we ramp up our energy into the holiday season, retreating into your own quiet space to heal and reconnect with what you love. Take a walk among the old grove redwoods in Armstrong Woods; take a drive to the coast and watch the waves rolling in; wander along one of our many rivers; visit the Sitting Room and sit awhile with the extraordinary collection of books, or hunker down in the quiet room for a little writing time.

If you’re looking for a place of your own to write and retreat, consider River’s Bend Retreat Center in Philo. You can rent a cozy cabin with a view of the Navarro River. You can find out more at,

I don’t need to tell you how much is at stake in Tuesday’s election. I encourage you to make your voice matter by voting on November 6. No excuses!

Poem for November
For this month, I’ve selected another poem from the anthology America, We Call Your Name, published by Sixteen Rivers Press. The poem is by Seamus Heaney, the great (and great-hearted) Irish poet (April 13, 1939 – August 30, 2013)


From the Republic of Conscience
by Seamus Heaney

When I landed in the republic of conscience
it was so noiseless when the engines stopped
I could hear a curlew high above the runway.
At immigration, the clerk was an old man
who produced a wallet from his homespun coat
and showed me a photograph of my grandfather.
The woman in customs asked me to declare
the words of our traditional cures and charms
to heal dumbness and avert the evil eye.
No porters. No interpreter. No taxi.
You carried your own burden and very soon
your symptoms of creeping privilege disappeared.

Fog is a dreaded omen there but lightning
spells universal good and parents
hang swaddled infants in trees during thunderstorms.
Salt is their precious mineral. And seashells
are held to the ear during births and funerals.
The base of all inks and pigments is seawater.
Their sacred symbol is a stylised boat.
The sail is an ear, the mast a sloping pen,
the hull a mouth-shape, the keel an open eye.
At their inauguration, public leaders
must swear to uphold unwritten law and weep
to atone for their presumption to hold office-
and to affirm their faith that all life sprang
from salt in tears which the sky god wept
after he dreamt his solitude was endless.

I came back from that frugal republic
with my two arms the one length, the customs woman
having insisted my allowance was myself.
The old man rose and gazed into my face
and said that was official recognition
that I was now a dual citizen.
He therefore desired me when I got home
to consider myself a representative
and to speak on their behalf in my own tongue.
Their embassies, he said, were everywhere
but operated independently
and no ambassador would ever be relieved.

“From the Republic of Conscience,” from Opened Ground: Selected Poems 1966-1996 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright © 1998 by Seamus Heaney.


Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update


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