Posted by: wordrunner | April 1, 2019

April 1, 2019

Literary Update Post for April 1, 2019

AWP 2019

I just got home Sunday afternoon from a 4-day gathering of the writing tribes, known as AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs).  This year’s event was in Portland. It was a kick to see so many Sonoma County folk there, as we passed each other going and coming from readings, workshops, panels, receptions, wandering the seemingly endless booths at the Book Fair, or waiting in line for a breakfast scone and latte at Citizen Baker.

As the conference wound to a close Saturday night, attendees began asking each other, “What was your favorite AWP moment?” The question bounced around among the writers on the light rail to the airport and on the morning flights out of Portland back to the Bay Area.

For some it was hearing Ilya Kaminski and Tess Gallagher, Jericho Brown, or Joy Harjo singing, chanting, drumming, and fluting her way through Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light; for others it was the wit and humor of the keynote speaker Carlson Whitehead, the tenderness of love poems in a time of despair; or a quiet moment away from the crowds, swapping life stories with a complete stranger. My favorite moment (among many) was watching Peter Elbow listening to writer after writer thank him for his Free-Writing technique, which taught so many of us to turn down the volume of the inner critic and fill our pages with words. When Elbow published Writing Without Teachers back in 1973, he gave many writing teachers like me a way to bridge creative and critical methods, and especially to help breathe life back into the expository academic essay. He’s not a literary superstar, but he’s the reason so many writers discovered their voice and word-joy.

Next year’s AWP will be in San Antonio, Texas. I’ll be there, with a book of translations to debut.

April is National Poetry Month!

National Poetry MonthThe Academy of American Poets inaugurated National Poetry Month in 1996 and since then, it has grown to be the largest literary celebration in the world. This year’s poster features artwork by a high school student: tenth grader Julia Wang from San Jose, California, who has won the inaugural National Poetry Month Poster Contest. It incorporates lines from the poem “An Old Story” by current U. S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith.

Here are a few things you might do to celebrate National Poetry Month:

Favorite Poem Community Reading, Saturday, May 11, 2 PM

The Sebastopol Center for the Arts will once again host a Favorite Poem Community Reading. Modeled on the readings initiated by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, this event will bring together a wide range of people and poems into one memorable event.

You are invited to submit a copy of your single favorite poem, famous or otherwise, one that is not written by you, a friend or relative, but one that you have read, perhaps many times, and to which you feel a personal attachment, along with a brief statement about the poem’s significance in your life. The poem and introductory statement should take no more than 3 minutes for you to read or recite.

Please send an email to Jodi Hottel at Include the subject “Favorite Poem Reading” in the subject heading. Send your name, phone # and email address, and submit your selection in either Word or a web link. Be sure to include the name of the author of the poem. There is no entry fee, but entries should be received no later than April 14.

This is our 16th annual event. The event is free, and refreshments will be served. Whether you submit a poem to share or not, we invite you to come to what is sure to be a wonderful celebration of the community’s love of language. SCA is at 282 S High St, Sebastopol.

The Role of the Arts in Regeneration after the Fires

The Press Democrat ran a front-page article in Sunday’s paper on the healing power of the arts in times of natural disaster. Our current Sonoma County Poet Laureate, Maya Khosla, is pictured there, along with visual artists and musicians. I know many artists and writers tragically lost their creative work to the flames, and the article spotlights some of these. But it also examines how art itself allows an expression of loss and grief that can be paralyzing until communicated. As Sonoma County poet Dana Gioia puts it, “The fires terrified everyone, and people are slightly ashamed of their deepest fears. What art does is pre-empt normal conversation and go right into our deepest psyches. It doesn’t have to ask permission. Songs, art, and stories all communicate things under the surface to this cross-section of society in ways that nothing else can.” If you missed the article, here’s the link:

 Dance Performance and Poetry Event,  April 6

Virginia Matthews, dancer and choreographer, presents dance works enriched by language in the forms of memoir, poetic prose and poetry.  She has collaborated with Sonoma County poets, Raphael Block and Kyle Matthews creating two group pieces responding to their poems, “Spring” and “Walkabout.”  The poets will be reading their works and are joined by Marin County poet, Carol Griffin and musician, David Field.  In addition to Ms. Matthews, guest artist Nancy Lyons will be performing a work as well. The dancers include Chinshu Huang, Amelie Huang-Chen Grahm, Chelley BonDurant, Liz McDonough and Kellye McKee.

The event is Saturday, April 6, 4-6 PM at Dance Palace Cultural and Community Center, 503 B Street, Point Reyes Station. $15.00 general, $10 students/seniors.

The Art of Crossing Genres: A Presentation by Iris Dunkle

Thursday, April 18, 6:30 p.m. Writers Forum presenter Iris Jamahl Dunkle will talk about research and the art of crossing genres. While researching Charmian Kittredge London, Dunkle discovered that encounters with these personal documents made her want to write poetry and so alongside her biography of Charmian, a manuscript of poems was produced. Dunkle will talk about how research can inspire both long biographical work and short lyric poems. Iris Jamahl Dunkle is the recent past Poet Laureate of Sonoma County. Free. Copperfield’s, 140 Kentucky St. Petaluma. Details:

Sonoma Valley Authors Festival May 3-5

Gather your family, select a seat or bring a picnic blanket to the historic Sonoma Plaza. Saturday, May 4, 5:00-7:30 p.m., Authors on the Plaza, will feature Billy Collins, former U.S. Poet Laureate, and Jon Meacham, noted Presidential Biographer and Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling author.

Location: Sonoma Plaza, West Spain & 1st Street West, Sonoma

For information about all the Festival events and authors, use this link:

Remembering W.S. Merwin

WS MerwinLast month, the poet, translator, and twice U.S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin died at the age of 91. Merwin has been an influence on several generations of writers. The Poetry Foundation Website offers a great sampler of Merwin’s poems, which he altered in form and style with each book. He wrote tender lyrics, myths and dream-tales in the fabulist style, experimented with the potency of white space/silence, and what rises to hold the poem’s meaning in the absence of punctuation. According to the PF biography of Merwin,  “For the entirety of his writing career, he explored a sense of wonder and celebrated the power of language, while serving as a staunch anti-war activist and advocate for the environment. A practicing Buddhist as well as a proponent of deep ecology, Merwin lived since the late 1970s on an old pineapple plantation in Hawaii which he has painstakingly restored to its original rainforest state.” Annika Neklason’s article “The Poet of Premature endings” is another great way to explore Merwin’s work, if you’re not familiar with it.

Poem for April
Merwin first published “Foghorn” in 1955, the year I was born. I discovered it in 1992 in a composition text I was using, and it has long been one of my favorites .


Surely that moan is not the thing
That men thought they were making, when they
Put it there, for their own necessities.
That throat does not call to anything human
But to something men had forgotten,
That stirs under fog. Who wounded that beast
Incurably, or from whose pasture
Was it lost, full grown, and time closed round it
With no way back? Who tethered its tongue
So that its voice could never come
To speak out in the light of clear day,
But only when the shifting blindness
Descends and is acknowledged among us,
As though from under a floor it is heard,
Or as though from behind a wall, always
Nearer than we had remembered? If it
Was we who gave tongue to this cry
What does it bespeak in us, repeating
And repeating, insisting on something
That we never meant? We only put it there
To give warning of something we dare not
Ignore, lest we should come upon it
Too suddenly, recognize it too late,
As our cries were swallowed up and all hands lost.

— W.S. Merwin, from The Drunk in the Furnace (Macmillan, 1960), also found in the National Book Award-winning Migration: New and Selected Poems (Copper Canyon Press, 2004).


Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update


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