Posted by: wordrunner | July 31, 2020

August 2020

Dear Literary Folk,

Go Memorize a Poem

Equal Justice Under LawLast week, we lost a great leader of Civil Rights, John Lewis, who wisely said, “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have.”

He was a man of honor, civility, conviction, humor, and hope. “Get in good trouble,” he said, “necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America.”

What interesting conversations we might have if we asked our grandparents, parents, children, grandchildren, neighbors, colleagues to tell a story about a time when they or someone they knew got into some “good trouble.” Consider making that a topic at one of your social zoom meet-ups. Write your own story or poem about “good trouble,” and send it to Jo-Anne and me at We’ll post some of these over the next few months.

John Lewis was also a reader of poetry; among his favorite poems was W. E. Henley’s “Invictus” (Latin for “unconquered”). It was Nelson Mandela’s favorite poem, too.

Invictus (1875)

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.
Henley wrote the poem when he was 26. As a teenager, he was diagnosed with tubercular arthritis that necessitated the amputation of one of his legs just below the knee; as he healed in the infirmary, Henley began to write poems, and continued writing throughout his short life. “Invictus” is his most famous poem; it isn’t sophisticated, but because of the rhyme and rhythm, it lends itself to memorization. When you take the time to commit a poem or song to heart, it gets inside you, part of your breath and movement, and it can be healing and comforting.

Memorizing is easier if you have a recording to “hum along with.” Here’s a recording of Morgan Freedman reading “Invictus”:

In an article from the Atlantic, July 29, 2020, Eliot A. Cohen discusses the inspirational power of “Invictus,” and encourages us to memorize poetry to lift our hearts in this time of uncertainty and crisis. He offers examples of poems by Kipling, Dickinson, Whitman, and Edna St. Vincent Millay (

It’s a good article, but Cohen’s selections are decidedly white, so I suggest that you explore the work of Elizabeth AlexanderAgha Shahid AliMaya AngelouJames BaldwinMarilyn ChinAracelis GirmayLangston HughesJune JordanAudre LordeClaudia Rankine, Roger Reeves, to name just a few

Writing in the Time of Covid/BLM

Many of our favorite reading series or writing forums have made the shift to Zoom and live-streaming, and scrolling through the offerings for August, I saw several that I think will help us tune in to the times we’re living, helping us  to live a little deeper.

Phyllis MeshulamFirst and foremost, you join Phyllis Meshulam’s Poet Laureate Project: Phyllis is inviting all of us to help her create an anthology of poems for the times we are living. One section will be devoted to the theme of “Honoring Our Pain for the World.” Check out the inspiring and provocative quotes from Patricia Smith, Camille Dungy, and Joseph Zaccardi on Phyllis’s Poet Laureate page:

Ellen Sussman and Elizabeth Stark will be offering a free Zoom class on Wednesday, August 5: Writing in the Time of Covid through Sonoma County Writers Camp.

Anne LamottAnne Lamott will lead a Book Passage virtual workshop called ”On Writing 2020” Saturday, August 8, 12:00-3:00 p.m. Registration and details:


Writer’s Forum is offering several free Zoom presentations:

August 9, 2:00 p.m. Ted Moreno will read “I Write My Life Every Dayand guide us in a relaxation activity. Marlene Cullen will lead a writing exercise.
August 16, 2:00 p.m., Kathy Guthormsen will read “Phoenix.” Susan Bono will present “Solace of Cherries” along with a craft talk and writing exercise. 
August 23, 2:00 p.m., Constance Hale will read an excerpt from “Rereading Camus” and talk about personal essays. She will lead a writing exercise.
August 30, 2:00 p.m. Diane McKay reads “The Healing Power of Correspondence.” Marlene Cullen facilitates a writing exercise.

Rivertown Poets Every Monday
Sandy Anfang hosts open mic readings every Monday at 6:15 PM with Rivertown Poets. Twice a month, the program begins with featured readers. Monday, August 3, the features are Shawna Swetech and Michael Giotis. Monday, August 17 the feature is jazz/blues musician, poet, and activist Avotcja.

Global Open Mic
Dan Brady, host of Sacred Ground Open Mic Series, has put together a list of readings around the world you can attend without leaving your home. You can find the constantly evolving list of Virtual Venues at this link: And if you have an event to post on the Global Open Mic list, here’s how you can do this:

Did You Miss the Poet Laureate Reception?
If you missed last month’s Poet Laureate/Youth Poet Laureate Reception, or simply want to savor the celebration again, here’s a link to a recording. Terrific readings by Phyllis Meshulam and Zoya Ahmed (Youth Poet Laureate), and a tribute to David Bromige, by Bill Vartnaw; and to Geri DiGiorno, by her daughter, Michelle Baynes.

Poem for August

Danez Smithlittle prayer
by Danez Smith

let ruin end here

let him find honey
where there was once a slaughter

let him enter the lion’s cage
& find a field of lilacs

let this be the healing
& if not   let it be

From Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press, 2017). Copyright © 2017

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-Editor


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