Posted by: wordrunner | January 2, 2020

January 2020

Dear Literary Folk,

Remembering Geri DiGiorno


Because we live in grim times, we need poetry. Poetry makes us feel and lets us see, helps us to understand. Poetry can save the world
—Geri DiGiorno

Last month, we lost one of our brightest literary stars, former Sonoma County Poet Laureate Geri Digiorno.

Most of you know Geri as the founder and director of the Petaluma Poetry Walk and an advocate of the extraordinary poetry of ordinary life. What you might not know is how Geri came to our community and what she gave to it, behind the scenes for three decades.

Geri was born in 1932 in Utah and moved to San Francisco with her family when she was three.

She grew up in Depression-era San Francisco, one of nine daughters of a Mormon family. The experiences of her youth and adolescence in her working class neighborhood would later become the subject of her poetry, but Geri didn’t discover writing until she was a young mother living in Daly City in the 1950s. Before that, she hadn’t given much thought to poetry. “I think poetry saved me,” Digiorno says. “I was probably very depressed. I didn’t drive, and I was kind of stuck in Daly City. I was so young. It was a very hard time for me.”

After Digiorno’s first marriage ended, she met Anthony Digiorno, who owned a bar in San Mateo. She and Tony were married in 1972. Toni encouraged her to be more social and to express herself in poems, so when Tony died in 1983 and the bar they owned burned down, Geri mustered her courage and moved to Sonoma County; here she recreated her life with art and poetry at the center.

2020-geri-al-young-200pxStarting in the 1990s, when her daughter Michelle began working at the COTS (Community on the Shelterless) in Petaluma, Geri led poetry and art workshops for the homeless. She worked with battered women and children, and then with individual homeless people. She was part of a poetry writing group with Dorianne Laux, and in 1992, published her first collection of poems, I’m Tap Dancing.  In 1995, she launched the Poetry Walk, and a decade later, she published her second book White Lipstick. In 2006 she became Sonoma County’s fourth poet laureate. About her work, former California State Poet Laureate Al Young said, “With these pages — sparsely worded, richly lived — Geri Digiorno reminds us how entangled the delicate roots and tendrils of family and ‘individual’ identity can become.”

Geri's artBesides being a poet, Geri was also a visual artist, and her particular genre was collage. If you don’t know Geri’s artwork, I recommend visiting this site.

And at the end of this post, you’ll find three of Geri’s poems, including one that references her collage workhop at COTS.

If you’d like to make a donation to the Petaluma Poetry Walk, check out this link: GoFundMe Page–

Geri passed away on December 13, 2019, at the age of 87. There will be a celebration of her life March 29, 2020, in Petaluma. Details in the February Literary Update.

Nominations for the next Sonoma County Poet Laureate Are Open until January 15

The Sebastopol Center for the Arts and the Poet Laureate Selection Committee invite you to send us nominations for the Sonoma County’s 11th Poet Laureate 2020-21.

The Poet Laureate is a Sonoma County resident who has demonstrated a commitment to the literary arts in the County. The Poet Laureate often participates in official ceremonies and readings and receives a $1,000 stipend.

If you know someone you’d like to nominate, or if you’d like to be considered for this prestigious post, you can find information about requirements and application instructions on the Sebastopol Center for the Arts website at

Poet Laureates Reading at Sonoma Valley Regional Library January 11

On Saturday, January 11 at 3:00 p.m. Sonoma Valley Regional Library will host a Poet Laureates’ Poetry Reading, honoring the work of Poet Laureate Emeritus Geri Digiorno. The reading will feature Dana Gioia, California Poet Laureate Emeritus, Iris Jamahl Dunkle and Terry Ehret, Sonoma Poets Laureate Emerita. Zoya Ahmed and Hannah Minton, two student winners of the previous Poets Out Loud (POL) competitions, will recite poems. Location: Sonoma Valley Regional Library,755 West Napa Street, Sonoma. Details at:

Writing about Family

Al Young’s comments above about the way Geri Digiorno’s poetry explores “how entangled the delicate roots and tendrils of family and ‘individual’ identity can become,” highlights the importance of family history in a writer’s life.

2020-DorothyRice-250pxWriting about family is a powerful source of inspiration for many authors, whether to enrich fiction, as a foundation for memoir or biography or to preserve fading personal histories for future generations.  On Sunday, January 12, 2:00–4:30 p.m. Redwood Writers Club presents a workshop with memoirist Dorothy Rice, who will share her experiences writing about family and friends, including techniques and tools for navigating issues of confidentiality and trust, differing views on past events and the ramifications of exposing sensitive topics and history. Dorothy Rice is the author of two published memoirs, Gray Is The New Black (Otis Books, June 2019) and The Reluctant Artist (Shanti Arts, 2015). Workshop Location: Flamingo Conference Resort & Spa, 2777 Fourth Street, Santa Rosa. Check the calendar page for details.

Reading of the Poetry of Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon from Plagios/Plagiarisms

2020-deLeon-120pxMany of you know that I’ve been working on translating the poetry of Mexican poet Ulalume González de León. The first volume is at the printers and will debut at the AWP (Association of Writers and Writing Programs) Conference in San Antonio, Texas in March.

To catch a sneak preview, my co-translators John Johnson and Nancy Morales and I invite you to a reading on Saturday, January 18, 2020 at 3 PM: Ukiah Library LOBA Series, 105 N. Main Street, Ukiah 95482.

Two Book Launches for Local Writers

Saturday, January 25, 2:00-3:30 p.m.
2020-Hotl-Jodi-200pxJodi Hottel reads from her new chapbook,Out of the Ashes,  in commemoration of the 2017 wildfires and the Kincade fire.  This will be a community reading of healing. Featured guest readers, Maya Khosla, current Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, Iris Jamahl Dunkle, Poet Laureate emerita, and Ed Coletti, author of Fire Storm, Larry Robinson, author of Roll Away the Stone, and Phyllis Meshulam, author of Land of My Father’s War, will share some of their poems relating to the wildfires. An open mic will follow, when anyone can read a poem of their own about the fires. This event is free and refreshments will be served. Windsor Branch, Sonoma County Public Library, Community Room, 9291 Old Redwood Hwy. #100, Windsor, CA 95492. For more information, email Jodi Hottel:

Sunday, January 26, 2:00-4:00 p.m.
2020-Susan-Swartz-head-shotLaughing in the Dark, Susan Swartz’ first novel, revolves around three old friends who together tackle infidelity, the latest in California dying styles and the inevitable absurdities of aging. As the book’s subtitle says: Girlfriends are the Best Medicine.

A resident of Sebastopol and long-time columnist for the Press Democrat and other newspapers, Susan’s non-fiction includes Juicy Tomatoes: Plain Truths, Dumb Lies and Sisterly Advice After 50 and The Juicy Tomatoes Guide to Ripe Living After 50. 

Susan will be in conversation with close friend and fellow writer, Miriam Silver to talk about her new novel. Book sales and signing, refreshments served, free admission.


Three Poems for January by Geri Digiorno

one year later

one year later
I will be living
in a home for
unwed mothers
in Oakland

right there in black and white
I am fifteen years old
standing between
dorothy hardy and
john luhring
jim cancella behind us
in a light suit and tie
a mouth full of teeth
like a cold breeze

joan is wearing a white
two-piece dress
with matching heels
her lips open
marilyn monroe style
albino curls oppose
her bony features
dorothy’s dress
sweeps away behind her
outlining heavy legs
thick brown locks
cut short
surround her dimples

I’m the only one
not smiling
dark blondness falls
across my cheeks
my eyes tumble
to the ground
diploma tightly held
in both hands


ray gunn

at the homeless center
ray is looking for a quarter
for the dryer
i tell him i’ll give him one
if he comes to the collage class
and he does
a week later i see him in line at the kitchen
he comes running over when he sees me
says he’s got to tell me something
ever since he did the collage class
every where he looks he sees collage
in the street
the newspaper
on tv
he’s collaging the walls in his room
he says


i believe

in my self
light rain
sudden storms
the moon
polenta and sausage
good sex
red sunsets
a perfect martini
the stars
true love
monet’s garden
cracked crab
long baths
soft jazz
a walk on the beach
and root beer floats

i believe
in quiet mornings
the ocean
slow dancing
the back of a man’s neck
fred astaire tapping across the screen
the magic of the sacramento delta
stone angels in italian cemeteries
growing your own tomatoes
paul newman’s eyes
that writing poetry is telling the truth
ironing is therapy
kissing is an art
and dusting is a waste of time

from White Lipstick (Red Hen Press, 2005)


Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-Editor


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