Posted by: wordrunner | January 2, 2021

January 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

Happy New Year! May 2021 be a brighter, more hopeful year for us all!

Since January 2000, my husband and I have hosted an annual New Year’s Poetry Brunch, which many of you have attended over the years. I miss launching the new year with this gathering, but we’re still in the dark thickets of this pandemic, and it’s important for us all to stay safe in the weeks and months ahead.

I just submitted my grades for Fall Semester, bringing my teaching time at SRJC to a close after 29 years. In various incarnations, I’ve been teaching since 1977, and I will continue to teach private workshops, once I can figure out what such a workshop will look like. Something on Zoom, perhaps, or a hybrid, once the Sitting Room Library opens again?

In some ways, being able to tap into readings remotely has extended what I could attend, and I’ve been introduced to writers who, too, have Zoomed in from other parts of the country or the world. When we get to the other side of this pandemic, what will our vibrant community readings and literary events be like? If we’re able to gather in groups again, what size group will feel comfortable to us?

We will need to reinvent many aspects of our lives, and that can be both daunting and exciting. Let’s put our hive-mind to work on this, and please let Jo-Anne and me know if there’s some way the Literary Update can best reflect these changes.

2020 in Six Words
In December’s post, I invited you to send to me or Jo-Anne your 2020 thoughts in six words and promised to include these in the January Literary Update. Some of you responded, and what a pleasure to see the pain, frustration, hope, and humor of this year summed up so concisely! Here they are.

This old world changes in days.
—Kevin Pryne

Earth hits bottom, looking up now.
A year of haiku, new friends.
The cats and I celebrate cronehood.
—Sande Anfang

Around the house;
Little chores finished.
—Dave Murphy

Love, laughter, stronger now, than ever.
—Carol Ann Hoorn

Imaginary friends more important than ever.
—Camille Kantor

Waking to the sound of rain.
—Patrice Warrender

My appendix taken out in time.
—Nancy Long

Still this side of the dirt!
—Shawna Swetech

Hummingbirds at our feeder delight me
—Melanie Maier

Losing friends—2020’s hardest blow.
—Terry Ehret

Allies avowing, asserting Black Lives Matter.
—Kim Hester Williams

How naked my arms without hugs.
—Elizabeth Bennett

Gratefully alive—I trust Divine Wisdom.
—Deborah Taylor-French

Big, blue California sky; loving you.
Gloria DeBlasio

Honor and humbling. Despair and hope.
—Phyllis Meshulam


Remembering Barry Lopez (1945-2020)

“To put your hands in a river is to feel the chords
that bind the earth together.”

Barry LopezA writer of deep lyricism, and a lover of the power of nature and silence, Barry Lopez passed away on Christmas Day. Robert D. McFadden of the New York Times wrote, “Mr. Lopez embraced landscapes and literature with humanitarian, environmental and spiritual sensibilities that some critics likened to those of Thoreau and John Muir.”

When asked about his motive for writing, Lopez said, “I can tell you in two words. To help. I am a traditional storyteller. This activity is not about yourself. It’s about culture, and your job is to help.”

Lopez won the National Book Award (nonfiction) for Arctic Dreams (1986), a treatise on his five years with Inuit people and solitude in a land of bitter cold and endless expanses. His other publications include About this Life, The Rediscovery of North America (1990) Resistence (2004), and most recently Horizon (2019).

To read more about Barry Lopez, his life, and his work, visit his website:


Remembering Poet Jean Valentine

By Iris Jamahl Dunkle

Jean ValentineJean Valentine once told me a sonnet is a little church you build to investigate a moment. I was lucky enough to get to study with her at New York University in the late 1990s and her quiet, yet firm editing voice is a gift that has stayed with me all of these years. Poems to her were living beings (here, this is where the soul is, she once said to my friend in the workshop, pointing to the page, you should start from here). Valentine’s work is haunting: clear, refined lyrics that take you to a world that is both dream and reality. She authored over a dozen books, including a late collection called, Shirt in Heaven (2015). In 2016, I wrote about one of the poems from this striking collection called, “1943: The Vision” in my column Poet’s Corner at The Press Democrat. (Poet’s Corner: ‘1943: The Vision’ by Jean Valentine) I mourn her loss but am so grateful that we will still have her valuable work for years to come. 

Iris’s book Charmian Kittredge London Trailblazer, Author, Adventurer is now available for order.


Check out the Poet Laureate News Page
At the end of 2020, Phyllis Meshulam invited us to write from the prompt “Seeing with New Eyes.” You can find this, poems by Joy Harjo and Gabriela Mistral, and a gorgeous photo by Jerry Meshulam at this link:


Donations to the Sonoma County Literary Update always Welcome!
Most of you know that the SCLU began during my tenure as Sonoma County Poet Laureate, 2004-2006. It has continued largely through the behind-the-scenes efforts of Jo-Anne Rosen. We volunteer our time, happily so, but there are some expenses to keep the website going, most recently an update that keeps the Update free of advertisements.

For those who regularly announce their workshops, readings, or services here, a donation of $10 to $20/year is requested to keep the update and its website going. Donations from regular readers are welcome, too. For details contact the editor Jo-Anne Rosen at


Poems for the New Year

La Chalupa, the Boat
by Jean Valentine

I am twenty,
drifting in la chalupa,
the blue boat painted with roses,
white lilies—

No, not drifting, I am poling
my way into my life.   It seems
like another life:

There were the walls of the mind.
There were the cliffs of the mind,
There were the seven deaths,
and the seven bread-offerings—

Still, there was still
the little boat, the chalupa
you built once, slowly, in the yard, after school—

From Little Boat by Jean Valentine. Copyright © 2008 by Jean Valentine.


blessing the boats
by Lucille Clifton

            (at St. Mary’s)

May the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back  may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in innocence
sail through this to that

From Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. Copyright © 2000 by Lucille Clifton.

Terry Ehret,
Sonoma County Literary Update co-editor


%d bloggers like this: