Posted by: wordrunner | February 1, 2023

February 2023

Dear Literary Folk,

Remembering Charles Simic
Charles SimicCharles Simic, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and U.S. Poet Laureate 2007-2008, died on January 9 at age 84. He published dozens of books, and is considered one of the most original poets of his generation. Serbian by heritage, Simic didn’t write in English until he was 20. The bleakness of his childhood in wartime Belgrade, back when there was a Yugoslavia, shaped his world view, and led him to observe, “The world is old, it was always old.” It also gave him a kind of “genius at witnessing to horror with wit, humanity, and a cold eye” (Chard de Niord). He emigrated to the U.S. in 1954, was drafted into the army in 1961, became an American citizen in 1971, and began publishing poetry in the mid-1970s.  His poems were usually short and pointed, with surprising shifts in mood and imagery. Simic said “Words make love on the page like flies in the summer heat and the poet is merely the bemused spectator.”

Simic taught literature and creative writing and was also poetry editor of the Paris Review. In 2011, he received the Frost Medal, presented annually for “lifetime achievement in poetry.”

The World Doesn't EndI discovered the poetry of Charles Simic about 20 years ago when I was teaching the long-running prose poem workshop at the Sitting Room. His wonderful collection The World Doesn’t End had won the Pulitzer Prize a decade earlier, and it caught my attention because it was, I think, the first time a collection of prose poems has ever won this prize. The poems relate Simic’s childhood in Belgrade and adolescence in New York and Illinois, but in a surreal lyric narrative that is akin to the darkly whimsical prose poems of Russell Edson.  About the prose poem form, Simic said, “They look like prose and act like poems because, despite the odds, they make themselves into fly-traps for our imagination.” I’ve included a few of Simic’s prose poems from this 1990 collection at the end of this post.

You also might enjoy this interview in the Paris Review, conducted by Chard De Niord shortly before Simic’s death. It’s called “Sometimes a Little Bullshit is Fine: A Conversation with Charles Simic:

The Green Comet?
green cometComets visible to the average stargazer don’t come along too often, which alone makes it worth looking up this week to see the “green comet” C/2022 E3 (ZTF) glide by planet Earth. Hale-Bopp in 1997 was a marvelous sight. So, too, was Neowise, which came around the first summer of Covid. This evening after nightfall, I drove out Chileno Valley Road, hoping to see the green comet in the northern sky. According to astronomers, the last time this comet visited the neighborhood of Earth was 50,000 years ago, during the Paleolithic Era. The Farmers’ Almanac recommended looking in the constellation of the giraffe (I didn’t know there was a celestial giraffe!) between the pointer stars of the Big Dipper and Polaris. I’m pretty good at locating constellations, but comets can be frustrating because they don’t look like anything in particular—just a smudge of light, usually more visible in peripheral vision than straight-on. Unfortunately, I don’t have a telescope, just high-powered binoculars. But neither of these would be helpful for this kind of “side of your eye” observation.  And, alas, the waxing gibbous moon created a little too much light-interference.

So, dear literary folk, if any of you have spotted the green comet, please let me know, along with any comet-spotting tips you might have. You can e-mail me at


Our February calendar of events is brimming with readings, open mics, and workshops. Please have a look at all of these. I’ve selected just a few to highlight.

Patricia EngelsPatricia Engel at Book Passage
On Sunday, February 5, 1:00 p.m. Book Passage presents Patricia Engel, author of Infinite Country, which  was a New York Times bestseller. Her new book is The Faraway World, an exquisite collection of ten haunting, award-winning short stories set across the Americas and linked by themes of migration, sacrifice, and moral compromise. Location: Corte Madera Store, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd.

Writing Between the Vines in Healdsburg
Celebrate the 10th Anniversary of Writing Between the Vines at the Sonoma County Wine Library in Healdsburg  on Tuesday, February 7, 6:00-7:30 p.m.. The reception will feature Adam McHugh (2019 Moshin) reading from his new book Blood From a Stone: A Memoir of How Wine Brought Me Back from the Dead. We will also have select readings from two of our 2023 retreat recipients—Eva Recinos and Nedjelko Spaich. Healdsburg Wine Library, 139 Piper Street, Healdsburg. Details:

River Books & Letters
Books & Letters mugThis lovely bookstore in Guerneville is hosting several events this month. One is an open mic reading on Saturday, February 4 at 7 PM. The second is on Friday, February 17, 7:00 p.m. when Bart Schneider and Dan Coshnear will read from their new collections: The Daily Feast, with paintings by Chester Arnold, and Separation Anxiety.  And the third is on Thursday, February 23 at 7:00 p.m. when the featured readers will be Sonoma County Poet Laureate Elizabeth Herron, Jonah Raskin, Gail King, and Pat Nolan River Books & Letters is located at 14045 Armstrong Woods Road, Guerneville (next to the Coffee Bazaar).

Redwood Writers Host a Book Launch to Celebrate Publications by Members
On Saturday, February 18, 1:00-5:00 p.m. Redwood Writers Club hosts its 2023 Author Launch, celebrating club members who published books between January 1, 2022 and February 1, 2023. This event will be a FREE in person event, open to the public as well as members, and will be held at the Cypress Room, Finley Center, Santa Rosa.

Deadline Extended for the Women Artists Datebook!
For the past two months, I’ve been plugging the Syracuse Cultural Workers because it is rare to find a group so committed to the creative folk who move our collective vision forward, and so inclusive in their promotion of artists. Good news for the procrastinators among us! The deadline for submissions of poetry and art for their Women Artists Datebook 2024 has been extended to February 17. You can submit your art or poems at Guidelines are at:

Wordrunner eChapbooks’ Annual Themed Anthology
Sonoma County-based Wordrunner seeks submissions of fiction, nonfiction and poetry to its next anthology. The deadline is February 28. Online publication will be mid-April. 2023. The theme: Salvage or Salvaged (interpreted broadly, whatever can be rescued or saved from anything at all, be it relationships or ships at sea). More details and submittal link:


Poems for February
Here are several short poems from Simic’s collection The World Doesn’t End ©1989 Harcourt, Brace & Company. To read more of his poetry, check out the Poetry Foundations selection of his work at this link:

My mother was a braid of black smoke.
She bore me swaddled over the burning cities.
The sky was a vast and windy place for a child to play.
We met many others who were just like us. They were trying to put on their overcoats with arms made of smoke.
The high heavens were full of little shrunken deaf ears instead of stars.

*   *   *

            She’s pressing me gently with a hot steam iron, or she slips her hand inside me as if I were a sock that needed mending. The thread she uses is like the trickle of my blood, but the needle’s sharpness is all her own.

            “You will ruin your eyes, Henrietta, in such bad light,” her mother warns. And she’s right! Never since the beginning of the world has there been so little light. Our winter afternoons have been known at times to last a hundred years.

*   *   *

            It was the epoch of the masters of levitation. Some evenings we saw solitary men and women floating above the dark tree tops. Could they have been sleeping or thinking? They made no attempt to navigate. The wind nudged them ever so slightly. We were afraid to speak, to breathe. Even the night birds were quiet. Later, we’d mention the little book clasped in the hands of the young woman, and the way that old man lost his hat to the cypresses.

            In the morning there were not even clouds in the sky. We saw a few crows preen themselves at the edge of the road; the shirts raise their empty sleeves on the blind woman’s clothesline.

*   *   *

            Ghost stories written as algebraic equations. Little Emily at the blackboard is very frightened. The X’s look like a graveyard at night. The teacher wants her to poke  among them with a piece of chalk. All the children hold their breath. The white chalk squeaks once among the plus and minus signs, and then it’s quiet again.

*   *   *

            In the fourth year of the war, Hermes showed up. He was not much to look at. His mailman’s coat was in tatters; mice ran in and out of its pockets. The broad-brimmed hat he was wearing had bullet holes. He still carried the famous stick that closes the eyes of the dying, but it looked gnawed. Did he let the dying bite on it? Whatever the case, he had no letters for us. “God of thieves!” we shouted behind his back when he could no longer hear us.

*   *   *

            The stone is a mirror that works poorly. Nothing in it but dimness. Your dimness or its dimness, who’s to say? In the hush your heart sounds like a black cricket.


Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update


%d bloggers like this: