Posted by: wordrunner | May 1, 2020

May 2020

May 1, 2020

Dear Literary Folk,

terry-maskedThis is how I look when I head out into the world these days. My one-of-a-kind homemade mask was a gift from Michelle Baynes, who, like many of you across the county, has been making these masks as a way to give back to the community. Thank you, Michelle!

Sometimes the lock-down, grocery purging, gloves, and face-masks all make me feel I’m living in some dystopian fiction. But here we are. I’ve been figuring out how to teach my classes online and how to launch new books without the usual readings and events. But these challenges are small in the face of a global pandemic.

No doubt about it, this has been hard for those who continue to work on the front lines, who have lost work or wages, who have been coping with the illness, who juggle working at home with home-schooling children, or who struggle with the isolation, uncertainty, and fear.

Among the benefits of sheltering-in-place for over 6 weeks are the new ways we have found to keep in touch, to learn, teach, create, and recreate. Last month, I reported on some of the literary events that have moved to an online format, like the Rivertown Poets, formerly at Aqus Café in Petaluma, and now an every-Monday online reading, hosted by Sande Anfang. Book Passages and Copperfield’s have also moved to live-stream author events. You’ll find many of these listed on the Calendar page.

I’d like the Literary Update to include more fiction, memoir, drama, spoken word, performance pieces, and storytelling. If you are hosting a literary event in an online format, please send us the information, so we can post them on our monthly calendar of events. Or consider writing a short “featurette” to highlight your program or event. Send it to Jo-Anne at


Shelter in Poetry

Iris Dunkle, Maya Khosla, Phyllis Meshulam

Maya Khosla, Sonoma County’s Poet Laureate through our fire-recovery years (2018-2020), has put together an online series of videos on reading and writing poetry. Her series begins with Iris Dunkle, Sonoma County Poet Laureate from 2016-2018 and will next feature our new Poet Laureate, Phyllis Meshulam.

Maya has contributed the following “featurette” on this new series: Shelter in Poetry.


When shelter in place went into effect back in mid-March, I realized most poetry month events would have to be canceled.  After two weeks of giving up hope, I had an idea. Why not reach out to the community and students through film? 

Well, here is the first in a series! KRCB North Bay Public Media is featuring the first Shelter in Poetry film and text

About a month ago, between the rain events on March 29, Iris Jamahl Dunkle led the way on a hike along a small path through Jack London State Historic Park, drops still ticking through the redwood leaves. I followed, encumbered by camera, tripod and recorders. Clouds shifted and the light grew; a northern flicker called.

If we didn’t have special permission to be there, if we weren’t keeping approximately 6 feet apart, if we didn’t have masks in our backpacks, it would have seemed like a normal day. But stepping through the open-air hallway of trees, toward “Wolf House,” was super-charged with the task at hand. 

“So now what I’d like you to do, is to think of a place that’s special to you. I know a lot of us are in our homes right now, and maybe that’s not what you want to write about. Maybe you want to write about a place you wish you could be – a place you wish you could go to…”

                                 – Iris Jamahl Dunkle, from the first lesson in Shelter in Poetry.

I couldn’t have completed the first part of the Shelter in Poetry project without countless hours of work with co-director Imrana Khan, editor Seemanta Jyoti Baishya, additional camera work by Sanjay Barnela, translations by John Johnson, and sponsorship from The Sitting Room Community Library. And thank you all at KRCB North Bay Public Media!

OK, I’ll stop there. Do watch, and take the lesson as far as you can on your own journey, or send it onward on another journey to someone else. 

My best wishes for your health and creativity – please do send me any poem(s) inspired by the film:



Petaluma Argus Courier Salutes National Poetry Month

Poetry got some serious attention from local journalist David Templeton in last week’s Petaluma Argus Courier. One article is an interview I did with David on the importance of poetry in times of crisis. The other is a sampler of pandemic poems by some Sonoma County poets. 

“Presence of Owls,” by Crystal Ockenfuss
“Easter Broken Sonnet,” by Iris Jamahl Dunkle
“Skin-Hunger in Coronavirus Times,” by Vilma Ginzberg
“Corona,” by Katherine Hastings
“In the Time of the Virus,” by Elizabeth Herron
“Funeral During a Pandemic,” by Larry Robinson
“Corona–A Pantoum,” by Sande Anfang
“Songs from School,” by Phyllis Meshulam
“Navigation,” by Kristy Hellum
“An Angel’s Touch,” by Jo Ann Smith
“Our Chrysalis Moment,” by Anodea Judith
“Hospital Chaplain,” by Ruah Bull

If you missed this, here’s the link to the Interview:

And here’s the link to the Sampler of Pandemic Poems:


Remembering Eavan Boland (1944-2020)

Eavan BolandThe Irish poet Eavan Boland passed away at her home in Dublin on Monday. Since 1996, she had lived part-time in Dublin, and part-time in the Bay Area, where she taught for many years at Stanford University, and was the director of the creative writing program. Consequently, many of us in Sonoma County and Northern California had the opportunity to hear Boland read or to study with her in workshops. Over her long career, Boland became one of the most important contemporary voices in poetry. Her poetry is known for “subverting traditional constructions of womanhood,” and “offering fresh perspectives on Irish history and mythology.”

I first heard Boland read and talk about her poetry while I was teaching the Writing Center Workshop at San Francisco State University. This was not long after she began teaching at Stanford, and had been invited to read from her 1998 collection The Lost Land, as well as her 1995 collection of essays, Object Lessons:  The Life of the Woman and the Poet in Our Time.

Before her reading, she came to the workshop, so the students had a chance to speak with her more informally. At the time, I was juggling several teaching jobs, raising young daughters, writing, and helping to launch a fledgling publishing collective. Naturally what I was most drawn to in Boland’s poems was her challenge to the patriarchal traditions and their crushing, silencing effect on women, as well as the tenderness with which she captured the feelings of a mother. “I was a woman in a house in the suburbs,” Boland said, “married with two small children. It was a life lived by many women around me, but it was still not named in Irish poetry. . . . I used to work out of notebooks, and I learned when I had young children that you can always do something. If you can’t do a poem, you can do a line. And if you can’t do a line, you can do an image — and that pathway that leads you along, in fragments, becomes astonishingly valuable.” At that time in my life, this was precisely what I needed to hear.

There are many of Boland’s poems I’ve read and taught and admired. One of my favorites is the title poem from The Lost Land, which begins, “I have two daughters. / They are all I ever wanted from the earth. /Or almost all.” Another is her meditation on the myth of Persephone and Demeter, called “The Pomegranate”: “The only legend I have ever loved is/the story of a daughter lost in hell./And found and rescued there.”

If you aren’t familiar with Boland’s work, you can read more about her at this link:

For May, I’ve chosen Boland’s poem “Quarantine,” which is, surprisingly, a love poem.


by Eavan Boland

In the worst hour of the worst season
            of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking-they were both walking-north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
            He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
            Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
            There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
            Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and a woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

— from Against Love Poetry. © W.W. Norton & Co., 2003.


May you be safe and well in these uncertain times.

Terry Ehret
Jo-Anne Rosen
co-editors Sonoma County Literary Update


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