Posted by: wordrunner | June 1, 2022

June 2022

Dear Literary Folk,

I’m writing this from Burbank, California, where I am visiting my daughter this Memorial Day holiday. And like most of you, the past two weeks have been devastating as we watch our national addiction to firearms repeatedly collapse our sense of a civil society, leaving us questioning our future and our children’s future.

Friday June 3rd Is National Gun Violence Day. This seems a good opportunity to reflect on how we can be the change we need in these violent times. Perhaps you can take an hour of that day to write down your thoughts, share a poem with a friend, ask a young person how they are feeling, and what their hopes, dreams, and fears are.

One Poet-teacher’s Memorial Day Response
Dante Di Stephano is a poet and high school teacher in Endicott, NY. A few years ago, when Sixteen Rivers Press was putting together an anthology of poems called America, We Call Your Name, Dante was a contributor. When the anthology was published, he participated in a reading at St. Marks in New York, and has been a consultant to the press in organizing the anthology-in-the-schools project. This was a way to get teachers to introduce their students to the poems and poets in the anthology, and to respond with their own poetic visions and voices. Every participating teacher received a class set of the anthology, and students were encouraged to submit their poems to a national youth poetry contest that Sixteen Rivers sponsored.

Sixteen Rivers will bring out a chapbook of these youth poets in the fall. We recently asked Dante to compose an afterword to the book, and this he composed this very Memorial Day weekend, following the massacre of nineteen children and two teachers at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Dante lives in upstate New York, just ten miles from the hometown of the Buffalo shooter who, driven by racist conspiracy theories, murdered ten people at a grocery store. On the day of the shootings in Texas, the high school where he teaches was under threat of an attack that had gone viral on social media. Dante sat with his students, those who had risked attending school that day, while an armed security guard stood outside his classroom door. Together they read poems from America, We Call Your Name, as well as poems by the youth poetry finalists. The next day he wrote about this, reflecting on his fourteen years of teaching, and how traumatized his current students are by two years of the pandemic and these horrific mass-shootings. “They appear, as a group, more anxiety-filled and lonelier than they should be,” Dante writes. “Thinking of those nineteen dead children in Texas almost paralyzes me, but then I listen to my students reading poems from today, and from hundreds, or thousands of years ago, and I’m gratefully jolted into hope.”

Our finalists in this competition participated in an online reading of their poems in February. You can read the poems of the finalists at this link:

One of Dante Di Stefano’s own poems, “Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry),” was selected by Presidential Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco for the 2019 On Teaching Poem Prize, which is given to honor the best unpublished poem written about K–12 teaching and/or teachers. I have included this at the end of this post. Scroll down to read.

Music and Poetry:
A Healing and Uplifting Community Event in Response to Buffalo and Uvalde

Community Market in Sebastopol is hosting a community reading and benefit on Sunday afternoon on June 12th, 3 pm to 4:30 pm. Poets and musicians will come together to express their support for the people of Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, and all who have suffered from gun violence in their communities. Raphael Block has organized this special event, and readers will include our Sonoma County poet laureate Phyllis Meshulam, Doug Von Koss, Kay Crista, as well as musicians Hoytus Rolen, I-Ray, Zoe Sameth, David Field, and Bonnie Brooks.

The event will take place outside the Community Market in Sebastopol, located at 6762 Sebastopol Avenue.

If you would like to share poetry that is linked in some way to these two recent terrible tragedies, please contact

The community reading will be followed by the Community Market’s weekly open mic that starts at 5 pm.

The event will benefit the Sandy Hook Promise: Protecting Children from Gun Violence. The Sandy Hook Promise envisions a future where children are free from shootings and acts of violence in their schools, homes, and communities.

Congratulations to Elizabeth Herron, Sonoma County’s New Poet Laureate!

Elizabeth was one many nominees and four distinguished finalists the selection committee considered. The other outstanding finalists were Sande Anfang, Ed Coletti, and Dave Seter. Each finalist presented a plan for a literary project, a selection of poems, and a summary of their publishing history and their activities in our literary community. How lucky we are to have so many amazing poets ready to serve!

Next month’s post will feature our current poet laureate, Phyllis Meshulam, and our newest poet laureate, highlighting the projects of both, and including more details about the events the Sebastopol Center for the Arts will be hosting to celebrate these two fine poets.

Here’s a little background on Elizabeth: After attending the University of Hawaii, Elizabeth earned a Masters in Counseling at San Francisco State University. She studied the origin of aesthetic behavior, and received a PhD in Psychology from the University for Integrative Learning, a fleeting distance-learning program founded by graduates of the Harvard School of Education. She joined the Counseling Center at Sonoma State University and subsequently moved to a faculty position, teaching Creative Writing, Creativity and Contemplative Practice, and Ecological Identity. “Whether facilitating dream groups, studying, teaching, or gathering hawthorn berries and windfall apples, writing has always been my life.”

Born in Illinois and raised in Hawaii, Elizabeth settled in the Atascadero Watershed, west of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, and south of the Russian River, in 1991, the year of the Dunsmuir Spill. After traveling north to bear witness to the aftermath of the spill, she committed a decade of her work to the study of wild trout and salmon and threats to their survival. That work led her to the climate crisis, and her recent writing includes a manuscript of poems centered on climate as well as a chapbook of “poems from the post-post world.”

For more information about Elizabeth, her publications, and her ecopoetics, check her website:

Two June Events Back-to-back
(They’re both zoom events, so you can actually manage both!)
A Creative Writing Lecture and Reading on Ecopoetics with Lynn Keller and Forrest Gander
Dominican University of California presents “Writing in the Self-Conscious Anthropocene,” a Creative Writing Lecture and Reading with Lynn Keller and Forrest Gander, Monday, June 6, 4:30-6:00 p.m. This event brings together scholarly and creative perspectives on urgent environmental concerns. Free, but pre-register using the link on the calendar page

Rivertown Poets Celebrates its Ninth Anniversary!
Rivertown Poets features a ninth anniversary reading on Monday, June 6, 6:15-8:15 p.m. with Terry Ehret and Nancy Morales, translators (with John Johnson) of Ulalume González de León’s Plagios/Plagiarisms, Volume Two, along with Abby Bogomolnyreading her own poems. Open mic follows the feature. Details in the calendar.


Poem for June

Prompts (for High School Teachers Who Write Poetry)
by Dante Di Stefano

Write about walking into the building
as a new teacher. Write yourself hopeful.
Write a row of empty desks. Write the face
of a student you’ve almost forgotten;
he’s worn a Derek Jeter jersey all year.
Do not conjecture about the adults
he goes home to, or the place he calls home.
Write about how he came to you for help
each October morning his sophomore year.
Write about teaching Othello to him;
write Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
Write about reading his obituary
five years after he graduated. Write
a poem containing the words “common”
“core,” “differentiate,” and “overdose.”
Write the names of the ones you will never
forget: “Jenna,” “Tiberious,” “Heaven,”
“Megan,” “Tanya,” “Kingsley” “Ashley,” “David.”
Write Mari with “Nobody’s Baby” tattooed
in cursive on her neck, spitting sixteen bars
in the backrow, as little white Mike beatboxed
“Candy Shop” and the whole class exploded.
Write about Zuly and Nely, sisters
from Guatemala, upon whom a thousand
strange new English words rained down on like hail
each period, and who wrote the story
of their long journey on la bestia
through Mexico, for you, in handwriting
made heavy by the aquís and ayers
ached in their knuckles, hidden by their smiles.
Write an ode to loose-leaf. Write elegies
on the nub nose of a pink eraser.
Carve your devotion from a no. 2
pencil. Write the uncounted hours you spent
fretting about the ones who cursed you out
for keeping order, who slammed classroom doors,
who screamed “you are not my father,” whose pain
unraveled and broke you, whose pain you knew.
Write how all this added up to a life.

About This Poem
“I’ve taught tenth and twelfth grade English for the past eleven years at Union-Endicott High School in upstate New York. This poem attempts to catch some of the heartbreak and some of the vibrancy from the first-third of my teaching life. The architecture of the poem was suggested by Adam Gellings’s poem ‘Prompt,’ and by Elaina Ellis’s poem ‘Write About an Empty Birdcage.’”


Terry Ehret, Literary Update Co-Editor


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