Posted by: wordrunner | May 1, 2023

May 2023

Dear Literary Folk,

Here’s what’s new in my writing life and in our amazing literary community.

The Slow Down
SlowdownThe Slow Down is a literary podcast, offering a poem and a moment of reflection every weekday—“true break from the cacophony of life.” (Alice Florence Orr). I have heard from many of my literary update friends that this is worth tuning into, and for several years, this program, hosted by our US poet laureate Ada Limón, has been on my to-do list. Ironically, I felt my life was just too busy to add The Slow Down. Before I start my day, I read Poetry Daily, The Writers Almanac, Poem-A-Day from, Larry Robinson’s daily poetry e-mail, and all the poems that show up on my FaceBook feed, so I haven’t felt the need to stream more. But just today, I decided to give it a try, tuning in to the podcast’s new host, Major Jackson, whom many of you may know from his workshops, readings, and craft lectures at the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference.

I started with the episode from April 28, “Tea with Ann,” by Mary Brancaccio. It opens with Jackson reflecting on reconnecting with old friends on FaceBook, saying, “It is amazing to have the long view of each other’s journey on earth, to witness how time has physically changed us.” This struck home, as I’m currently collaborating with a small group of elementary school friends to arrange our 50th high school reunion this fall, though, alas, we just learned that one of our dearest friends, Ellen, passed away five years ago. How did we miss this? How could she just be gone? I had just found her on FaceBook, smiling her beautiful smile, and shared her photo with our little group. We each had an Ellen story to tell, and one of us Belmonsters (our hometown was Belmont, CA) reminisced about the day Ellen showed up barefoot and driving a Mustang convertible. Then Jackson read the poem, with its remembrance of a Catholic school acquaintance, and the poet’s remark “I can’t imagine growing old without you.” Needless to say, I’m hooked.

The podcasts run about 5 minutes each. If you want to try for yourself, here’s the link

Avotcja at Rivertown
AvotcjaOne of my favorite local artists is Avotcja Jiltonilro, an East Bay poet who frequents Sonoma County, especially the Petaluma Poetry Walk where you may have had the pleasure of hearing her read and perform her music. She is also a frequent open mic reader at Rivertown Poets.

Avotcja (pronounced Avacha) is New York born music fanatic/sound junkie and popular Bay Area radio DJ. Her parents were Puerto Rican entertainers who launched Avotcja on a lifelong mission to heal herself and the world as a musician/writer/educator/storyteller. “I talk to the Trees & listens to the Wind against the concrete,” she writes, “& when they answer it usually winds up in a Poem or Short Story.”

You can hear Avotcja as one of the three featured readers with Rivertown Poets tonight, May 1, 6:15 p.m. Host Sande Anfang will introduce Avotcja , Ashia Ajani, and Tureeda Mikell via Zoom. The reading starts promptly at 6:15. Open mic follows. Zoom in to listen at or via

Avotcja’s poem “Daughters of the Drum” is our poem for May. Scroll down to read. You can find more about Avotcja at her website:

Bay Area Book Festival
Bay Are Book Festival 2023There are plenty of terrific live and online literary events, workshops, readings listed in the May Calendar. But before it slips right past you, I want to give a shout out to the Bay Area Book Festival, live and in person again! This is a world-class literary extravaganza taking place over two days in downtown Berkeley. The festival runs May 6 and 7 with dozens of renowned speakers, including Joan Baez, Camille Dungy, Dave Eggers, Forrest Gander, and many more. A panel titled “Life in Books” features Sonoma County author Joan Frank along with Dorothy Lazard and Jane Smiley; and a “Flash Fiction America” panel that includes Molly Giles and others. There will be indoor literary programs at multiple locations in downtown Berkeley both days and on Sunday, an outdoor literary marketplace in MLK Jr. Civic Park with over 150 exhibitors. This is one of my favorite literary festivals, with FREE admission to all events. For festival schedule, author-speaker lineup and more:

Annual Haiku Festival in Ukiah
Celebrate Ukiah’s palindrome on Sunday, May 7, 2:00-4:00 p.m. at the 21st Annual UkiaHaiku Festival at Grace Hudson Museum Wild Gardens, Ukiah. There will be a live performance from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas’ Developing Virtue Boys School, and readings of past haiku contest winners from various local luminaries. Live music by the UkeTones and shakuhachi (traditional Japanese flute) player Karl Young, as well as haiku-inspired arts and crafts booths, and refreshments. Free and open to the public. More details:

Another Chance to Celebrate The Freedom of New Beginnings!
Onye and the MessengersLast month, we had a terrific reading with the rousing dance music of Onye and the Messengers and contributors to the anthology The Freedom of New Beginnings. The combination of music and poetry raises each art to a new level. On May 20 the reading will be at the Community Market in Sebastopol from 2:00-4:00 PM. The musicians will be singer Stella Heath and guitarist Ian Scherer. Readers will include Hillary Moore, Linda Loveland Reid, Lynn Axelrod, Steve Trenam, Kay Renz, Jodi Hottel, Abby Bogomolny, Judy Cheung, Ernesto Garay, Kat Kraus, introduced by the editors Phyllis Meshulam, Gail King, Gwynn O’Gara, and Terry Ehret. Community Market is located at 6762 Sebastopol Ave, Sebastopol, CA 95472.

If you’ve been following Phyllis’s Poet Laureate project from her 2020-2022 tenure, you know that the anthology revolves around three themes: “Gratitude,” “Honoring Our Pain for the World,” and “Seeing with New Eyes.” Its title, The Freedom of New Beginnings, was inspired by a poem by Katherine Hastings, which ends with these inspirational lines: “beyond the catastrophe of ash/ throbbing in the glass/of abandoned dreams/Light follows you, cuts a path//equal to the loss of the abandoned nest/equal to the freedom new beginnings bring.”




We were born to Drum
Somos Hijas ritmicas
We were conceived in Rhythm
Whether we knew it or not or wanted it or not
It was & has always been
About upholding La Clave en el alma
The beauty & sanctity of the Rhythm that created us
The Rhythm that is us
Somos el latído de la naturaleza
The Rhythm
Of our Mother’s labor pains announced our coming
And it’s always the Rhythm of our breathing
That lets the world know we’re alive
Bellas fuerzas místicas pero picosas
Feel it!
We walk & sing, pray, dance & cry in it
Every single word that flows out of our mouths
Is a rhythmic declaration of our presence
Somos la esencia de La Bomba
And even our sacred Mother Nature
Dances rhythmically through the Seasons
Every single year
Keeping the Rhythm of our lives in balance
Our universe is an inescapable symphony
Ritmos sagrados
Held together by vibration
By the sound of the sum of us
The always right on time
Magical, rhythmical timelessness of us
Somos la fiebre apasionada de la Rumba
The heart of Bebop & Cubop
Was born in us
Is Creation’s gift to us
Somos el corazón del Tambor
Born in the womb of creativity
An undeniable Rhythm personified
Wake up world!
We are your Children
And we were born to Drum!!!

Copyright © Avotcja


Terry Ehret, Co-Editor
Sonoma County Literary Update


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