Posted by: wordrunner | July 1, 2021

July 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

Remembering Amy Trussell

Amy TrussellA bright light in the Sonoma County literary community has gone out. Like many of you, I knew Amy from her presence at so many readings and events in the community, especially at the Sitting Room. I didn’t really know her poetry, though, until I read a stunning selection submitted to accompany her nomination for Sonoma County Poet Laureate (which I believe was 2015). Amy’s poetry was a gift, as was her indelible presence—gentle, strong, spiritual, funny. Amy’s friend Nancy Dougherty composed this remembrance of Amy. And if you scroll down to the end of this month’s post, you’ll find two poems of Amy’s, selected for the Literary Update by Nancy and Abby Bogolmony.


Amy Ruth Trussell
June 15, 1959 – June 3, 2021

It is with great sadness that I share the news of Amy Trussell’s passing this June 3, 2021. Revered by the Sonoma County poetry community, Amy took part in many readings and local contests. Her poems were widely published and she was author of five books including Meteorite Dealers, Ungulations, Physical Address, Poems in Ursa Minor, The Painted Tongue Flowers. Recently, she was a finalist for the William Faulkner Award.

Amy’s poetic voice—with its unique weaving of images and myth—reached for sky and earth, for an archaeology of meaning. We enjoyed writing together, at different cafes, and it never stopped amazing me how her poems unfolded. Unexpected, dreamlike, there was often a spiritual message, or a close look at the underpinning of the forces of life. They had a bit of her Topeka, Kansas upbringing and roots in the South, a touch of Anne Bradstreet; and the doula, dancer, and devoted mother and wife; all these identities. Humor and wit, too!

She embodied for me the essence of poetry, the life lived around and for poetry, and deeply held in friendships. Her words and heart touched many. She was beloved by her Monday Poetry group. I will miss her.

−Nancy Cavers Dougherty

To read more about Amy’s life and poetry, and to get news about her celebration of life (tentatively scheduled for Saturday, August 28), use this link:

The family of Amy Trussell welcomes donations in Amy’s memory to help with medical expenses and help with her celebration of life. Here’s the donation page link:


The Poetry Project at Sebastopol Center for the Arts

This ongoing series is presented every second Thursday through the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, and hosted by Fran Claggett-Holland, Les Bernstein, and Linda Loveland Reid

The Poetry Project is not just for people who write or read poems, but it is designed to allow people to think about what poetry could mean to them, an opportunity to discover new and familiar poets. The hosts and their guest poets explore how poems are created, edited and critiqued. Poetry can throw sideways light on the miraculous ordinary, or as Ted Kooser says, “a chance to see the life play in everything.”

The next Poetry Project program will be on July 8, 2021, 7-8:30 PM. The topic is Ekphrastic Poetry: Writing a poem to a work of art.

The SebArts 2018 art exhibit titled Reverberations featured works by famous artists curated from personal collections in Sonoma County. Poets were asked to write a poem about an assigned piece of art in the exhibit. Seven poets from Reverberations will be sharing those poems with us. The three hosts−Fran, Les, and Linda−will be joined by guest poets JoAnn Smith, Alicia Hugg, Freeman Ng and Michael Franco.

Note: A second exhibit, Reverberations II, is currently in the works and scheduled for early 2022. For this, poets’ works have been paired with visual artists who are asked to create an original piece in response—a kind of reverse ekphrasis.

Emilie Lygren and Naomi Shihab Nye Read for Blue Light at the Gallery

Friday, July 9, 2021
– 6:00 pm Pacific Time / 8:00 pm Central Time

Emilie LygrenEmilie Lygren is a poet and outdoor educator who loves talking to strangers, taking long walks, cooking for friends, and reading Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetry. Emilie has developed dozens of publications and curricula focused on outdoor science education and social-emotional learning through her work at the award-winning BEETLES Project at the Lawrence Hall of Science. Her first book of poems, What We Were Born For, was published in April by Blue Light Press. Visit Emilie’s website for more of her work and words:

Naomi Shihab Nye is a longtime fan of Emilie Lygren and her work. They met at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center years ago and have spent many happy weeks writing together there. Naomi lives in San Antonio, Texas, is on faculty at Texas State University,. and is the Young People’s Poet Laureate through the Poetry Foundation (Chicago). She is author of author of Cast Away (Greenwillow/HarperCollins), The Tiny Journalist (BOA Editions), and many more books we all love.

Please join on Zoom. RSVP to to get the link.
(No RSVP required if you’re already on our “all readings” list.)

Fog and Light: San Francisco through the Eyes of the Poets Who Live Here

Fog and LightThe poems in Fog and Light were selected by Diane Frank. A love letter to San Francisco… in this collection of poems, we show you the city that most tourists miss…

This anthology includes poems by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Jack Hirschman, Alejandro Murguía, Thomas Centolella, Kathy Evans, Alice Rogoff, Alison Luterman, Daniel J. Langton, Robert Scotellaro, Jane Underwood, and many other celebrated poets.

Among those “other celebrated poets” are Sonoma County’s Jodi Hottel, Gail Newman, Barbara Quick, and former poets laureate Katherine Hastings and Gwynn O’Gara.You can catch a recording of the June 24 reading, hosted by Poetry Flash on and the Poetry Flash channel onYouTube.

This anthology is available at 

Napa Valley Writers' Conference

Napa Valley Writers’ Conference August 1-6

Although not a July literary event, the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference comes us the first week in August, so I wanted to give you all a chance to mark your calendars.

For those of you who will be making the trip to the conference, note that in 2021, the Conference will be held on the main campus of Napa Valley College, in the heart of Napa, CA. This represents a return to the conference roots – for the first several years, the Conference was held in Napa. This move also provides ample outdoor spaces on the main campus for all daytime events, including workshops, craft talks, and meals, making it a safer choice for social distancing. Evening readings will also be outdoors on the main campus, with a return to area wineries as soon as safe practice allows.

As always, Napa Valley Writers’ Conference offers an opportunity for local book-lovers and writers in the Napa Valley and North San Francisco Bay Area to hear daily readings and lectures by world-class authors of poetry and fiction. To find out the schedule for this year’s conference week, check this link:

The 40th Annual NCBA Ceremony on July 11

Joan FranckCongratulations to Sonoma County authors who have been nominated for a Northern California Book Award this year! This year’s nominees include and Joan Frank in Creative Nonfiction, Kathleen Winter in Poetry, and John Johnson, Nancy Morales, and Terry Ehret in California Translation in Poetry.

The awards will celebrate books published by Northern California authors and California literary translators in 2020. Terry Ehret, Nancy Morales, and John JohnsonEach year, outstanding works are selected by Northern California reviewers and editors, members of Northern California Book Reviewers. All of the nominated books are acknowledged and celebrated at the ceremony. The Fred Cody Award for Lifetime Achievement and Service will also be presented to a distinguished member of the Northern Californian literary community; the award carries a $1,000 honorarium.

The online event will be on Sunday, July 11, 2021 • 2:00 pm PDT, and will simultaneously broadcast on the San Francisco Public Library YouTube channel and Zoom.

Zoom Registration
NCBA website with nominee list
Facebook Event Page
SF Public Library

The event is free and open to the public. However, you will need to register in advance. After you register, you will receive an email with a link and information on how to join the reading. Or you can watch it as a YouTube Live Stream event at the link provided on the San Francisco Public Library website.

Here’s the full list of nominees in each category.

Indigo, Ellen Bass, Copper Canyon Press
Piñata Theory, Alan Chazaro, Black Lawrence Press
Spring and a Thousand Years (Unabridged), Judy Halebsky, University of Arkansas Press
Bonfire Opera, Danusha Laméris, University of Pittsburgh Press
Storage Unit for the Spirit House, Maw Shein Win, Omnidawn
Transformer, Kathleen Winter, Word Works

Tell Me, Signora, Ann Harleman, Elixir Press
The Prince of Mournful Thoughts and Other Stories, Caroline Kim, University of Pittsburgh Press
A Registry of My Passage upon the Earth, Daniel Mason, Little, Brown and Company
Only the River, Anne Raeff, Counterpoint
The Son of Good Fortune, Lysley Tenorio, Ecco/HarperCollins

Try to Get Lost: Essays on Travel and Place, Joan Frank, University of New Mexico Press
Mobile Home: A Memoir in Essays, Megan Harlan, The University of Georgia Press
Synthesizing Gravity: Selected Prose, Kay Ryan, Grove Press
Recollections of My Nonexistence: A Memoir, Rebecca Solnit, Viking
Scratched: A Memoir of Perfectionism, Elizabeth Tallent, Harper

Everything She Touched: The Life of Ruth Asawa, Marilyn Chase, Chronicle Books
Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy, Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano, W.W. Norton
The Forests of California: A California Field Atlas, Obi Kaufmann, Heyday
American Harvest: God, Country, and Farming in the Heartland, Marie Mutsuki Mockett, Graywolf Press
Empire of Resentment: Populism’s Toxic Embrace of Nationalism, Lawrence Rosenthal, The New Press

California Translation in Poetry

Plagios/Plagiarisms, Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon, translated by Terry Ehret, John Johnson, and Nancy Morales, from the Spanish, Sixteen Rivers Press
Etudes: A Rilke Recital, Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Art Beck, from the German, Shanti Arts Publishing
My Village: Selected Poems 1972-2014, Wu Sheng, translated by John Balcom, from the Chinese, Zephyr Press
California Translation in Prose

Heaven and Earth, Paolo Giordano, translated by Anne Milano Appel, from the Italian, Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
Surrender, Ray Loriga, translated by Carolina De Robertis, from the Spanish, Mariner Books
Bezoar and Other Unsettling Stories, Guadalupe Nettel, translated by Suzanne Jill Levine, from the Spanish, Seven Stories Press
Savage Kiss, Roberto Saviano, translated by Antony Shugaar, from the Italian, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Nine Moons, Gabriela Wiener, translated by Jessica Powell, from the Spanish, Restless Books

Children’s Literature: Younger Readers

The Good Song, Alexandria Giardino, illustrated by Penelope Dullaghan, Cameron Kids
You Matter, Christian Robinson, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
A Book for Escargot, Dashka Slater, illustrated by Sydney Hanson, Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers
Children’s Literature: Middle Grade
Orphan Eleven, Gennifer Choldenko, Wendy Lamb Books
The Lonely Heart of Maybelle Lane, Kate O’Shaughnessy, Knopf Books for Young Readers
Land of the Cranes, Aida Salazar, Scholastic Press
Children’s Literature: Young Adult

We Are Not Free, Traci Chee, HMH Books for Young Readers
Dark and Deepest Red, Anna-Marie McLemore, Feiwel & Friends
The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea, Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Candlewick


Two Poem by Amy Trussell for July

Amy TrussellA Cauldron of Crows

Why the steady rain
pelted like salt in a wound,
I don’t know.
Except at night, when we were safe
under blankets; then it felt like
olives raining down wanting to
be cured to nourish us,
by gentler means than lye.
Leslie Oliver lamented how it stirred
A “slow river of grief” that runs through her.
The bells of the Bodega Church tower
below Joy Road tolled for no one
except an overflowing cauldron of crows
descending through a film of fog.
Once, just before a wedding there,
I lit a sputtering indulgence in the foyer
because my father had died
and I was still harboring a deluge.
The wedding packed a punch
but after a while the marriage was on the rocks.
Eventually Northern Lights, across the street,
was listed “non-essential” and shuttered.
That was the surf shop where the Guinness
Book of World Records going for most days
in a row surfing used to buy his surf wax.
We sold our thin wetsuits back to them,
not having enough fat to hack
the Artic current
that ran through spring into summer.
“Never turn your back on the ocean!”
the Point Reyes radio station begged us.
Sleeper waves, riptides, and Sirens
can grab you by the ankles
and drag you in.
I keep turning over the hanged man card
in these candlelit spreads.
To baffle meant to hang by one foot
hoping to induce visions.
Hermit, hold out your lantern.
We may be walking closer to the edge
of a sea cliff than we know.

Head Afire, Waters Breaking

Feeling empty as a gourd after days of smoke
and ungulates running across the roads
nearly getting hit by rescue trucks.
Roughing out a new plan on old paper,
sticking a hand into the reserve tank of letters
while turning my head in the other direction
into the jade of what’s still here–
like the bamboo garden and the rose geranium
Melody brought us in better times before
“civilization” took a rapid decline.
Straining for the sounds in the ethers
clairaudients hear that issue from
certain lauded places like the Mayácamas
mountains, in a kind of woven geometry.
Fire and hurricane lashed over opposing coasts
simultaneously leaving us crestfallen.
Also the battle of the elements in the head–
defensible spaces and charred offerings of each history.
So many questions in the remains.
How can a fire jump over a major artery out of here?
We implore those lightning bolts that started one fire
to fold back into the clouds forever.
And that the idea of fireworks at a gender reveal
is dropped like a wet blanket.
A gravid woman could break her waters
over that kind of excitement.
We’re on the lookout for high winds in the west
and on the Doppler radar in the deep south.
And attach to the thrill seeking fools
trying to drive a ram beneath the storm eye.
We wish all survivors auspicious materials to rebuild
and calm waters in which to wash their feet.
To see the breeching whales or leaping fish.
Calves soothed by crenellating seaweed
in the primordial soup.

Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | June 1, 2021

June 2021

June 1, 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

This Memorial Day, I’m at my cabin in the Sierras, a retreat from Internet, cell phone, and e-mail. So I will be keeping my post relatively short. 

Sunday Surprises
Like many of you, I have been enjoying J.J. Wilson’s weekly e-mail essays called “Sunday Surprise,” featuring different authors and topics from the rich Archives at the Sitting Room. If you’re not on the Sitting Room’s e-mail list, or if you’d like to catch one of the “Sunday Surprises” you may have missed, visit the Sitting Room’s website: Alternative to Amazon
If you’re looking for a way to shop for books online, but don’t necessarily want to add to the coffers of Jeff Bezos, I encourage you to check out This is a relatively new online bookselling venue, so you won’t find all the whistles and bells, nor as complete an inventory as you might find on Amazon.’s mission is to financially support local, independent bookstores. If you want to find a specific local bookstore to support, you can locate the store on Bookshop’s map, and that bookstore will receive the full profit off your order. Otherwise, your order will contribute to an earnings pool that will be evenly distributed among independent bookstores (even those that don’t use Bookshop). Bookshop also invites those of you who self-publish to promote and sell your books with them. Bookshop wants to help strengthen the fragile ecosystem and margins around bookselling and keep local bookstores an integral part of our culture and communities. Check them out at

Dominican University’s Free Creative Writing Events
If you check the literary calendar for June, you’ll see three events sponsored by Dominican University’s MFA Program in Creative Writing. These events look wonderful, and are all free, but do check the calendar page for details about how to pre-register through Eventbrite.

Saturday June 5, 4:00-6:00 p.m. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson Noopiming, author of The Cure For White Ladies (published by University of Minnesota Press as part of their Indigenous Americas series). 

Tuesday, June 8, 4:00-5:00 p.m. Craft Talk with essayist Molly McCully Brown, author of the essay collection Places I’ve Taken My Body (Persea Books, 2020). 

Friday, June 11, 3:00-5:00 p.m. Panel discussion on Radical Presses. Get an inside look at how editors shape literary production as editors from Aunt Lute Books, Black Freighter Press, and Sixteen Rivers Press discuss their visions for change. 

Rivertown Poets Celebrate Its 8th Anniversary 
Congratulations to Sande Anfang on the 8th anniversary of our beloved Rivertown Poets series. You can help make this anniversary special by joining Sande on Monday, June 7, 6:15-8:15 p.m. when Connie Post and Kevin Gunn will be featured readers, followed by open mic. Sande will be enjoying virtual cake. BYOC (bring your own cake) and/or beverage. See the calendar page for Zoom link and to sign up for the open mic.

Other June Virtual Events of Note
Copperfields Books presents In The Heights Book Launch with Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes and and Jeremy McCarter: conversation on creativity, community, and finding home. This virtual launch is on Tuesday, June 15, 5:00-7:00 p.m. For details and tickets:

Writers’ Forum presents Susan Bono and M.A. Dooley reading excerpts from The Write Spot: Musings and Ravings From a Pandemic Year. The reading will be followed by a writing session, using prompts from the anthology. This free event is on Thursday, June 24, 6:30 p.m. See the calendar page for the zoom link.

For our north-county writers, the LOBA Open Mic Poetry Series at the Ukiah Library is a jewel! Melissa, who curates the series, invites you to share poems in any form or style, or just listen to great poems! Check the calendar page for the Zoom link. The readings are the last Thursday of each month, and the June reading will be Thursday, June 24, 7:00 p.m.

And finally, on Sunday, June 27, Sixteen Rivers Press presents Ann Marie Macari and Julia Levine in an online reading at 3 PM. Here’s the link to join the reading:

Northern California Summer Writers’ Conferences
The Mendocino Coast Writers Conference (August 5-7) will be virtual again this year, via Zoom (at reduced rates), while Napa Valley Writers Conference (August 1-6) is aiming for in-person workshops, mostly outdoors on the Napa Valley College campus. For details, check out our Conferences page.

Poem for Juneteenth
We have just passed the first anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, which triggered a long-overdue reckoning with our history of systemic racism. The month of June gives us an opportunity to appreciate the profound significance of the announcement proclaiming emancipation of slaves on June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas. This is known as Juneteenth, but also Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, and Emancipation Day. Activists are campaigning for the US Congress to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday. In honor of Juneteenth, the poem for June is “Emancipation,” by Priscilla Jane Thompson, who was born in 1871 in Rossmoyne, Ohio. A poet and lecturer, she taught at Sunday school at Zion Baptist Church and self-published two books of poetry, Ethiope Lays (1900) and Gleanings of Quiet Hours (1907). Her work inspired the Harlem Renaissance. She died on May 4, 1942.

Priscilla Jane Thompsonby Priscilla Jane Thompson

‘Tis a time for much rejoicing;
      Let each heart be lured away;
Let each tongue, its thanks be voicing
      For Emancipation Day.
Day of victory, day of glory,
For thee, many a field was gory!
Many a time in days now ended,
      Hath our fathers’ courage failed,
Patiently their tears they blended;
      Ne’er they to their, Maker, railed,
Well we know their groans, He numbered,
When dominions fell, asundered.
As of old the Red Sea parted,
      And oppressed passed safely through,
Back from the North, the bold South, started,
      And a fissure wide she drew;
Drew a cleft of Liberty,
Through it, marched our people free.
And, in memory, ever grateful,
      Of the day they reached the shore,
Meet we now, with hearts e’er faithful,
      Joyous that the storm is o’er.
Storm of Torture! May grim Past,
Hurl thee down his torrents fast.
Bring your harpers, bring your sages,
      Bid each one the story tell;
Waft it on to future ages,
      Bid descendants learn it well.
Kept it bright in minds now tender,
Teach the young their thanks to render.
Come with hearts all firm united,
      In the union of a race;
With your loyalty well plighted,
      Look your brother in the face,
Stand by him, forsake him never,
God is with us now, forever.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on June 19, 2020 by the Academy of American Poets.

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | May 1, 2021

May 2021

Dear Literary Folk,­

We’ve lost two dear writers and friends recently, Jerry Haslam and Al Young.

Gerald HaslamTwo of the most talented, brilliant, generous, and gracious writers I’ve ever known have passed away this past month. Gerald Haslam, Sonoma State University professor emeritus and Penngrove resident, passed away at 84 on April 13. And Mississippi poet, jazz musician, music historian, novelist, screenwriter, and professor Al Young died on April 17, after suffering a devastating stroke over a year ago. So many of us were touched in personal ways by the generosity and inspiration of Jerry and Al. I will try to capture a little of this in today’s post.

Gerald Haslam grew up in Bakersfield, CA, a Catholic boy from a blue-collar, working class family, and later a classmate of the singer Merle Haggard. He authored 21 books and edited eight others, all set in California or the larger West, but most in the San Joaquin Valley.

When I met Jerry, I had just published my first collection of poems, and had added teaching poetry at Sonoma State to my freeway-flyer teaching life. In all my classes, wherever I taught, I used Jerry’s wonderful article in Poets & Writers, called “Give That Unsolicited Manuscript a Chance.” This was the early 1990’s, and it was still rare for writers to share with their students the nuts and bolts of how to get published. The article changed my life, and I never passed up an opportunity to pass it along to others. One afternoon, I was standing in the faculty mailroom as SSU, and as I reached for the stack of photocopies of the Poets & Writers article in my box, I heard a voice beside me say, “Oh, so you’re Terry Ehret! Happy to meet you!” As he reached for his own mail, in the box right below mine, I realized this was the very Gerald Haslam who’d written the article. “And you’re Gerald Haslam!” I said. “Jerry, please,” he quickly interjected, and that began a delightful friendship. Later that year, we both received California Book Awards from the Commonwealth Club, and were invited to a very elegant awards ceremony in San Francisco. Among the qualities I liked most about Jerry was his down-to-earth wonder and humility, and the pleasure he seemed to get from life itself. His writing has much in common with the stories of William Saroyan, another Central Valley writer, and the poetry of Philip Levine, a Detroit transplant to Fresno.

Check out this article of Haslam’s life and work, which includes a list of his publications, awards, and accomplishments. If you’re new to his work, you might start with Coming of Age in California and the big, beautiful Great Central Valley: California’s Heartland.

Haslam’s life will be celebrated by a Mass of Christian Burial at St. James Church in Petaluma this summer.


Al YoungAnd even before I moved to Sonoma County and met Haslam, I had the great good fortune to meet Al Young (along with Tobias Wolf, Carolyn Kizer, and Ursula LeGuin) at a writing workshop in San Jose for writers interested in crossing genres. He had the unique ability to make you laugh, which was just what a scared young writer like me needed. And from then on, whenever our paths crossed, he welcomed me like a long-lost friend—an intimacy he fostered with hundreds of writers. I have so many Al Young stories, but the one I’ll share is when Al was selected as California’s Poet Laureate in 2005. I waited every morning for a month to see an article about his appointment in the San Francisco Chronicle. Finally, I wrote a letter to the editor about this oversight, and when my letter was published, I received a very sweet note of thanks from Al. Apparently Al and the editorial staff at the Chronicle had some kind of falling out—a petty reason to overlook his being awarded the state’s highest literary honor.

Geri DiGiorno and Al YoungOther local poets Al befriended and championed include our dear Geri Digiorno, pictured here, and CalPoet teacher Jackie Huss Hallerberg. Her story of first meeting Al at Squaw Valley and of writing the poem “the moon” appears below.

One of Al’s poems, “Who I Am in Twilight,” is included in the Addison Street Poetry Walk in Berkeley, a sidewalk with 128 poems embedded in it. It ends: “like Yosemite National Park, like beans &/cornbread, like rest & recreation, like love/& like, I know we last. I know our bleeding stops.” You can read the complete poem at the end of the post.

Discover more about Al’s life and work at this link:

Al Young died at 81 on April 17. Friends of Young’s launched a GoFundMe campaign to help with his medical expenses. The family still needs help with funeral expenses


the moon
for Al Young

god put his money
on the sun

figured the moon
was a stepdaughter

the moon rose up
tossed her loose coins
to the universe

a silver dollar, a quarter,
a thin sliver – then nothing

who is this god


Brief story of this poem’s beginnings:

In the late 1990s, I had the great fortune to be accepted into the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and signed up for a fifteen-minute critique session with Al Young, one of the staff poets that year. I didn’t really know Al’s work but liked his presence and what I’d heard of his poetry during the weeklong workshop. As I sat before him, intimidated being in the presence of such a famous poet, I slid my poem “the moon”across the table to him. He smiled a most generous smile and in his deeply sonorous and musical voice said, “You must have read my moon poems.” I was taken aback and admitted shyly that I didn’t know that was one of his favorite subject matters. He looked down at my paper and picked up his pen and wrote, “This poem works lovingly, beautifully, almost as is.” I was so grateful to have picked him to read my poem. He remained a good friend to me for several decades.

Poem “the moon” and short feature above are by Jackie Huss Hallerberg.


Applications Now Open for Napa Valley Writers Conference

Poetry, Fiction, & Translation Workshops
Aug 1-6, 2021
Admissions Deadline: Monday, May 3, 2021

It’s our 40th Anniversary! For four decades, we’ve hosted intensive, intimate workshops, in-depth lectures on craft, and evening readings by some of the finest teachers of poetry and fiction writing working today. Join us in 2021 as we celebrate this milestone with another great week of writing and literary fellowship.

2021 Faculty
Victoria Chang – Brenda Hillman – Brian Teare Matthew Zapruder – Charles Baxter – Lan Samantha Chang ZZ Packer – Joan Silber – Robert Hass

Napa Conference Faculty

At present, we’re moving forward with preparing for an in-person event, but several things have shifted, including the date and the location. The 2021 conference will take place on the Napa Campus of Napa Valley College, a move from our long-time home on the Saint Helena Campus. Due to Covid-19, we are also suspending our Community Housing program for 2021. See website information for details on the move. Click to apply.

Bay Area Book Festival

There are oodles of terrific 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 (Virtual). It starts today, May 1, and runs through Mother’s Day, May 9. Dozens of renowned speakers, including Orville Schell, Joyce Carol Oates, Kazuo Ishiguro, Vendala Vida, many more. The Book Fair is one of my favorite literary festivals, with both ticketed and free events, youth programs and “after parties.” Details and registration:

Poetry Power

On Friday, May 7, 11 am-12:30 pm., Fran Claggett-Holland and Linda Loveland Reid (via Zoom) will present at Poetry Power in May at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Details and registration:

Phyllis Meshulam’s Community Poetry Project

You can always check in with our Sonoma County Poet Laureate and her online poetry prompts here on the Poet Laureate’s News page. But you are invited to attend on Thursday, May 13, 7:00-9:00 p.m. Sebastopol Center for the Arts presents a virtual Workshop with Phyllis Meshulam. Phyllis will clarify themes for the county-wide poetry anthology. Free or by donation. Details and registration:

Shakespeare Everywhere!

Don’t miss Shakespeare Everywhere! Sunday, May 16, 4:00 p.m. Occidental Center for the Arts presents Sonoma County author Jean Hegland (whose most recent book, Still Time, has been called “a novel Shakespeare would be proud of”) in conversation with a panel of four fabulous artists (a rapper, a cartoonist, a zine editor, and a Young Adult novelist ) who are incorporating Shakespeare into their own work in fresh, exciting, and powerful ways. This virtual event is free. OCA members can register for the Zoom option; non-members can enjoy via YouTube. For more info, go to and click on upcoming events.


Poem for May

Who I Am In Twilight
by Al Young

Like John Lee Hooker, like Lightnin Hopkins,
like the blues himself, the trickster sonnet,
hoedown, the tango, the cante jondo,
like blessed spirituals and ragas custom-made,
like sagas, like stories, like slick, slow, sly soliloquies sliding into dramas,
like Crime & Punishment, like death & birth,
Canal Street, New Orleans, like the easy,
erasable, troubled voices a whirling
ceiling fan makes in deep summer nights in
hot, unheavenly hotels — Oklahoma, Arkansas,
Tennessee — like the Mississippi River
so deep and wide you couldn’t get a letter
to the other side, like Grand Canyon,
like Yosemite National Park, like beans &
cornbread, like rest & recreation, like love
& like, I know we last. I know our bleeding stops.


Terry Ehret,
Sonoma County Literary Update co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | April 1, 2021

April 2021

April 1, 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

field of lupineAs I write this, I’m heading to the big south, Big Sur, to catch sight of condors and walk the steep hillsides of lupine and poppies. Seven years ago, I led a Sitting Room year-long workshop on the poetry and lyrical drama of Robinson Jeffers, who built his iconic Tor House along the shoreline of what is now 17 Mile Drive, and who lived deeply in the landscape of Big Sur. For a field trip, we spent a weekend in the Monterey area, took a private tour of Tor House, wrote together in Jeffers’s library, visited Point Lobos and the Big Sur Coast. The images of his poems followed us everywhere, though perhaps it’s more accurate to say we followed his images where they led us. In one particularly memorable poem, “Vulture,” the speaker addresses a vulture/condor circling over him, and imagines after his death that these winged scavengers will free his spirit from flesh and bones, and that he will fly with the condors.

by Robinson Jeffers
vultureI had walked since dawn and lay down to rest on a bare hillside
Above the ocean. I saw through half-shut eyelids a vulture wheeling high up in heaven,
And presently it passed again, but lower and nearer, its orbit narrowing, I understood then
That I was under inspection. I lay death-still and heard the flight-feathers
Whistle above me and make their circle and come nearer. I could see the naked red head between the great wings
Beak downward staring. I said, “My dear bird, we are wasting time here.
These old bones will still work; they are not for you.” But how beautiful he looked,
   gliding down
On those great sails; how beautiful he looked, veering away in the sea-light over the precipice. I tell you solemnly
That I was sorry to have disappointed him. To be eaten by that beak and become part of
   him, to share those wings and those eyes—
What a sublime end of one’s body, what an enskyment; what a life after death.
Jeffers’s poetry often has a brutal realism, which he celebrates alongside the beauty of the natural world. His poetry expresses a philosophy that displaces the human from the center of creation and shifts our relationship to the natural world away from the Biblical dominion over all other creatures. He called his philosophy “Inhumanism,” and much of his work was designed to alert readers to the mental and spiritual danger of human self-centeredness, to awaken them to an order of beauty and truth beyond the human realm.

Ascension Point, Ventana, Big Sur Spirit Portal
Ascension PointWhere I’m headed is a place called Ascension Point, high on the ridge above Ventana and Nepenthe. The word ventana means window in Spanish. Local Spanish speakers in Big Sur gave this area its name because the Chumash Indians used it as a place for sky-burials, and saw it as a gateway or portal for souls entering and departing and arriving the planet-sphere. The veil between spirit world and our world is supposed to be very thin at a portal, allowing a space for souls to depart and spirits to pierce through.Besides being a sacred portal, Ascension Point is also one of the places where the California Condors are released to make their way back to the wild.

A Year of Pandemic Shelter-in-Place
Over the years of monthly posts with Sonoma County Literary Update, I’ve taken a look at various spring rituals. Recently, as I was preparing a reading of spring poems, I was reminded of the etymology of March, the martial month and the opening of the season of warfare. Perhaps this connection between spring and the ritual of war has something to do with how brutal this season can sometimes feel. And after a year of mask-wearing, social distancing, hand-washing, sanitizing, isolation, distance learning, Zooming, and grieving those we have lost, the emergence from our long Covid winter feels like a painful rebirth. But one with hope.

One of the consequences of this isolation is how suggestible we’ve become, especially in response to social media. Perhaps you’ll find yourselves engaged in (or the merry victim of) an April Fool’s prank today. One of my favorite such pranks dates to 1976, and is known as the Jovian-Plutonian gravitational effect. As reported on Wikipedia, British astronomer Sir Patrick Moore told listeners of BBC Radio 2 that unique alignment of two planets would result in an upward gravitational pull making people lighter at precisely 9:47 am that day. He invited his audience to jump in the air and experience “a strange floating sensation.” Dozens of listeners phoned in to say the experiment had worked, among them a woman who reported that she and her 11 friends were “wafted from their chairs and orbited gently around the room.”

April Readings with Rivertown Poets on April 5 and April 19
I want to take this opportunity to invite you all to tune in to Rivertown Poets this month. On April 5 at 6:15 pm. I’ll be reading with Phyllis Klein, and on April 19, Eliot Schain and Patrick Cahill will present from their 2020 publications from Sixteen Rivers Press.

Join the meeting at: or just show up at Click on “Weekly Poetry Reading.” No password needed.

For those of you who attended the reading I gave last Sunday with the Village Poets of Southern California, thank you for coming! The reading I’m putting together for Rivertown Poets on April 5 will feature a different set of poems, so if you’re inclined, you can tune in again and, of course, you’ll also be able to hear the amazing Phyllis Klein. If you wish, you can share your own poems during open mic.

While I’m at it, let me put in a plug for Sixteen Rivers Press and a shout-out to Sande Anfang. Like all nonprofits and small, independent publishers, Sixteen Rivers has struggled through this pandemic year. It was hard to launch new books like Eliot’s and Patrick’s without our usual debut at AWP, the fanfare of launches, readings, and celebratory events. I’m so grateful to Sande Anfang, who made the shift from live monthly readings at Aqus Café to online Zoom readings, and who has generously offered reading spots to writers with 2020 books that might have otherwise been lost in the pandemic lock-down.

Sixteen Rivers is running an online Fundly fund-raiser this month, along with our launch of two new poetry publications. The books are Dust Bowl Venus, by Stella Beratlis, and The World Is God’s Language, by Dane Cervine. If you’d like to check out sample poems from these new collections or even order the books, you will find all you need at

And if you’d like to contribute to the Sixteen Rivers Fundraiser, here’s the link:

April Spotlights
Here are some of the spectacular events coming up in April. Many more are listed on the Calendar page.

Most of us have been following Poet Laureate Emerita Iris Dunkle’s launch this year of her amazing biography of Charmian London, and her new collection of poems, West : Fire : Archive. You can hear Iris talk about how her archival work has been a way to research and find inspiration for her writing on Thursday, April 8, 6:30 p.m. at Writers Forum. Details:

Patti Trimble is leading an outdoor writing workshop at Point Reyes Seashore on Saturday, April 10, 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Details and registration:

Two events this month will focus on the youth poets of Sonoma County. The first of these is on Saturday, April 17, 5:00–6:00 p.m. Poetry In Action: A Youth Poetry Reading and Conversation on Equity and Compassion. Live open mic viaZoom. Hosted by: Zoya Ahmed, 2020 – 2021 Sonoma County Youth Poet Laureate. Email by April 2 to sign up. The second is Sunday, April 25, 7:00 p.m. Occidental Center for the Arts Literary Series: Celebrating the Earth through Poetry with Sonoma County Poet Laureate Phyllis Meshulam and Youth Poet Laureate, Zoya Ahmed. For more information, go to or call (707) 874-9392.

Also on Sunday, April 25, 11:00 a.m., you can catch the film première of “Meeting Light,” a poem from Raphael Block’s latest book, At This Table, with filmmaker Adam Wilder. This half-hour zoom will open with the instrumental guitar music of David Field, and a few poems by Raphael. To join this zoom, please email

I am always happy to see Ukiah’s annual celebration of haiku (Ukiah backwards). This year’s is scheduled for Sunday, April 25, 3:00-4:00 p.m., but will be a virtual event. In the tradition of past festivals, the event will be open to all ages (we encourage children & young adults to participate). Email Roberta Werdinger for the Zoom link:

Yes, three great events all on April 25. But you could actually attend all three, as the times don’t overlap, and all are online.

Remembering Adam Zagajewski
In 1984, at one of the first Napa Valley Poetry Conferences, Bob Hass recited the first lines of a poem by Polish writer Adam Zagajewski. I had never heard of him before (but then I was pretty green as a poet back then), but Hass wanted us to listen to the way the words carried the poet’s thoughts and conjured the poet’s images, while his rhythms, repetitions, and variations drove the poem on a physical and unconscious level. I shamelessly imitated Zagajewski’s syntax and repetition to create a weird little prose poem called “In the Bones of My Face,” responding to Hass’s assignment to create a self-portrait in rhythm.

Thus began my acquaintance with Zagajewski’s inspirtational poetry. His poem “Franz Schubert: A Press Conference” became a teaching tool to encourage the writers I taught to create characters through their voices, to experiment monologue, and to commune with their dead. And his wonderfully evocative “To Go to Lvov” became a portal to many imaginary journeys.

Then in September 2001, his response to the tragedies of 9/11, “Try To Praise the Mutilated World” became for many of us an anthem for the work of our lives. The poem was written on September 17 and first published in the New Yorker on September 24, 2001.

Try To Praise The Mutilated World

by Adam Zagajewski

Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of wine, the dew.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees heading nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the grey feather a thrush lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
and returns.

Adam Zagajewski was born 21 June 1945 in Lwów, Soviet Union (now Lviv, Ukraine). He lived in Paris from 1982 to 2002 when he moved to Kraków. Zagajewski’s books of poetry in English include Tremor (1985), Canvas (1991), Mysticism for Beginners (1997); and Without End: New and Selected Poems (2002).He is also the author of a memoir, Another Beauty (2000) and the prose collections, Two Cities (1995) and Solitude and Solidarity (1990).

The reviewer Joachim T. Baer noted in World Literature Today that Zagajewski’s themes “are the night, dreams, history and time, infinity and eternity, silence and death.” About his own poetry, Zagajewski said this:

“I will never be someone who writes only about bird song, although I admire birdsong highly – but not enough to withdraw from the historical world, for the historical world is fascinating. What really interests me is the interweaving of the historical and cosmic world. The cosmic world is unmoving – or rather, it moves to a completely different rhythm. I shall never know how these worlds coexist. They are in conflict yet they complement each other – and that merits our reflection.” (Adam Zagajewski)

Zagajewski died at age 75 on March 21, 2021.

If you’re not yet familiar with Zagajewski’s poety, The Poetry Foundation’s website provides a portfolio of his poems:
Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | March 1, 2021

March 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

What a legion of writers we’ve lost in the past year, among them Q.R. Hand, Diane DiPrima, Michael McClure, and most recently, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. On Monday last, driving down the coast, I passed Pacifica’s Rockaway Beach, and found myself quoting from Ferlinghetti’s “A Far Rockaway of the Heart”:

           he followed her into                                 the playland of that evening
                     where the headlong meeting
                                                    of their ephemeral flesh on wheels
                               hurtled them forever together

           And I now in the back seat
                                                     of their eternity
                                                                reaching out to embrace them

The original Rockaway Beach is, of course, in Queens—a  vast, sandy beach and 5.5-mile boardwalk that draws families in summer for swimming, sunbathing. But associative logic leaps over geographic distances in a wink. The next day I learned that Ferlinghetti had died on that very Monday. By  Tuesday, FaceBook was brimming with tributes from those who had known him, loved him, been influenced by him, or simply found a second home in City Lights Bookstore. Among those FaceBook posts was one by Petaluma poet Carol Hoorn. I asked her to expand her post into a short feature, and I’m delighted to be able to share this with you here.

When I asked Carol to suggest a poem by Ferlinghetti to be included as the poem for March, she recommended “Challenges to Young Poets.” Scroll down and you’ll find it there, along with an invitation to young Sonoma County poets to share their original work on the theme of Equity and Compassion.

by Carol Hoorn

Lawrence Ferlinghetti at City Lights BookstoreI dropped out of San Jose State and found a job at Fireman’s Fund in 1955. Black stilleto heels, pencil skirts and white blouses were week day choices. Week-ends meant black turtlenecks, leggings, and Capezios , red lipstick, and very black mascara. It was easy to be a weekend beat (spelled lower case then).

I first met Lawrence Ferlinghetti that year. I called him Mr. Ferlinghetti till 1959. By then I had purchased all the banned books featured in City Light’s front window. Ginsburg, Anais Nin, Henry Miller, James Joyce, and others. I met the first two authors and soon many more. I am glancing now at my 1954 edition of Ulysses, published in London, so proudly displayed by the man that I was by then calling Lawrence. Never Larry, as I felt that was meant for close friends.

I attended many readings in the basement of that building. Sometimes music accompanied a poet. I did not always understand what I listened to, but found I would often laugh, cry, tremble in passionate response whether I “got it” or not. I always seem to grasp the meaning of Lawrence’s poems, his deep sonorous voice wrapping round me, sending love, humor, tenderness, righteous anger, sometimes all in the same poem.

When the readings ended, the crowd most often walked across the alley to Vesuvio’s,  where on any given night, a physical fight might occur over a chess game, a shouted argument over existential positions, or who was a true beat or a fake. I fell into this second category, but was always accepted. Even sat in Ken Casey’s bus once, going nowhere in front of City Lights.

Some years ago, I shared with Lawrence my written version of how I desired to spend the last three weeks of my life. He, perhaps half serious, promised to go to Paris with me, as long as I promised not to die on his watch.We would attend the Opera—La Bohème, of course. Dine on seven course dinners, just café in the mornings. Champagne bucket at our bedside where we would spend the afternoons till eventide reading Collette and Maupassant, under silk sheets with lovers and others, depending on our desires.On my final day, we would walk to Père-Lachaise, where I would stay near Oscar Wilde or Edith Piaf (to be decided later).

Carol HoornIn 2017, I had someone copy onto a CD an old reel to reel tape made in 1960 by my late husband of Lawrence reading his poem “Pondering the Insoluble Problem.” Visiting City Lights from my by then home in Petaluma, I found Lawrence putting some new books in the window. I blurted out the first lines of that poem, attempting to imitate him. He burst into laughter, saying he had almost forgotten that one. We tried in vain to find it in his vast collection on the second floor, but could not. I sent the CD as a gift. His thank-you note mentioned that he thought he sounded wonderful, and perhaps would include it in a documentary being made of his life.

I read his poems to my granddaughters and when poets and writers gathered physically. I will repeat them again, when it is safe.

Now that I feel closer to you, in my grief, I will say, “I love you, always and forever, Larry.”

Carol Hoorn


Connie MaddenCarol wasn’t the only Petaluman writing about Ferlinghetti’s passing. Connie Madden also contributed a blog to Petaluma 360, titled “Lawrence Ferlinghetti, alive and well and living in my head. . . .” In the article, she reminisces,  “As a 20 something, I hitchhiked across the Bay maybe 10 times from Berkeley to City Lights Bookstore in North Beach, San Francisco, a comb and library card with some money in my little suede wrist bag, a stenopad for poetry, half full, in my hand.  Feeling I might never come back, I’d head out alone to meet my fate, freedom was the word.  A lot like I imagined the life of the beat poets in San Francisco and Paris.  If Berkeley was the philosphical center of the world (it was to me!), surely City Lights was its literary watering hole.”

Here’s the link to read Connie’s piece in its entirety:


By Liz Larew

On Saturday, April 17, Sonoma County United in Kindness will present a poetry reading by Sonoma County teens, age 13-19. The online event will be hosted by Zoya Ahmed, 2020 – 2021 Sonoma County Youth Poet Laureate

United in Kindness hopes to provide a supportive forum and public platform, designed and hosted by and for Sonoma County youth, ages 13–19, to write, present, and have conversation about the topics of equity and compassion, through the art of poetry, with a focus on the practice, experience, meaning of, reflection upon, and/or power of equity and compassion  — on a human scale, in the US, and in their day-to-day lives.  To include the topics of inclusion, tolerance, unity, social justice, kindness, and equality.  To engage youth in a conversation of equity and compassion…through the power of poetry.  In celebration of April — National Poetry month.

This event will include a live open mic, providing an opportunity to read an original poem, or one written by any poet of choice.   Limited to one poem or up to two minutes.  “Family friendly” language poems please.   Closed video will be an option; signed parent/guardian authorization required for ages 13–17.

Topic/Suggested prompts:  What do you want to say about equity and compassion?  What do equity and compassion mean to you?  How have you experienced them in your life?  How do you practice them in your life?  What power do they have in our world?  How do they relate to tolerance, diversity, unity, social justice, kindness, and equality?  Say it through the power of poetry!! 

Please sign up in advance for open mic  deadline Friday, March 26 

Email to sign up.  A practice session will be scheduled prior to the event – date to be announced.
Our March literary events calendar has much to offer. I’ve selected just a few for the spotlight here.Phyllis Meshulam (our Poet Laureate), Donna Emerson, and Jodi Hottel: a triple header of Sonoma County Poets at Rivertown Poets: Join the meeting Monday, March 1, 6:15-8:15 pm at or just show up at Click on “Weekly Poetry Reading.” No password needed.

Fran Claggett-Holland and Linda Loveland Reid will present poetry readings and discussions on Friday, March 5, April 2 and May 7, 11:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Their program is called Power of Poetry, and is an online class available through Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Free or small donation appreciated: 

“Pandemic Perspectives” is a compilation of short plays/films by local talent about life during the pandemic. This will be presented online  by Cloverdale Performing Arts Center on Saturday, March 6-Sunday, March 14. Cloverdale Performing Arts Center presents Online with $15 tickets available at:

Elizabeth Herron reads from recently published Insistent Grace. Sunday, March 21, 4:00 p.m. Occidental Center for the Arts Virtual Book Launch Series: Admission free, but registration required at OCA website ( to receive Zoom link.

Challenges to Young Poets

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Invent a new language anyone can understand.

Climb the Statue of Liberty.

Reach for the unattainable.

Kiss the mirror and write what you see and hear.

Dance with wolves and count the stars,
including the unseen.
Be naive, innocent, non-cynical, as if you had
just landed on earth (as indeed you have, as
indeed we all have), astonished by what you
have fallen upon.

Write living newspapers. Be a reporter
from outer space, filing dispatches to some
supreme managing editor who believes in full
disclosure and has a low tolerance level for hot air.

Write an endless poem about your life on
earth or elsewhere.

Read between the lines of human discourse.

Avoid the provincial, go for the universal.

Think subjectively, write objectively.

Think long thoughts in short sentences.

Don’t attend poetry workshops, but if you do,
don’t go to learn ‘how to” but to learn
“what” (What’s important to write about).

Don’t bow down to critics who have not
themselves written great masterpieces.

Resist much, obey less.

Secretly liberate any being you see in a cage.

Write short poems in the voice of birds.
Make your lyrics truly lyrical. Birdsong is not
made by machines. Give your poems wings
to fly to the treetops.

The much-quoted dictum from William Carlos
Williams, “No ideas but in things,” is OK for
prose, but it lays a dead hand on lyricism,
since “things” are dead.

Don’t contemplate your navel in poetry and
think the rest of the world is going to think
it’s important.

Remember everything, forget nothing.
Work on a frontier, if you can find one.

Go to sea, or work near water, and paddle
your own boat.

Associate with thinking poets. They’re hard
to find.

Cultivate dissidence and critical thinking.
“First thought, best thought” may not make
for the greatest poetry. First thought may be
worst thought.

What’s on your mind? What do you have
in mind? Open your mouth and stop mumbling.

Don’t be so open-minded that your brains fall

Question everything and everyone. Be subversive,
constantly questioning reality and
the status quo.

Be a poet, not a huckster. Don’t cater, don’t
pander, especially not to possible audiences,
readers, editors, or publishers.

Come out of your closet. It’s dark in there.

Raise the blinds, throw open your shuttered
windows, raise the roof, unscrew the locks
from the doors, but don’t throw away the

Be committed to something outside yourself.
Be militant about it. Or ecstatic.

To be a poet at sixteen is to be sixteen, to be
a poet at 40 is to be a poet. Be both.

Wake up and pee, the world’s on fire.

Have a nice day.

          – Lawrence Ferlinghetti, “Challenges to Young Poets”

Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | February 2, 2021

February 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

“The Hill We Climb”
Amanda GormanAmanda Gorman’s stellar recital of “The Hill We Climb” brought poetry front and center to the inauguration ceremonies in Washington and to the political drama on the national scene. The nation’s first Youth Poet Laureate will also be making an appearance at the Super Bowl on February 7.

Like many listening, I was thrilled to hear this poet, whose use of voice, rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, and metaphor illuminated what these times call us to do. But most of all, it was moving to see a young black woman holding the nation to attention with the power of her words.

The Press Democrat featured poets laureate Phyllis Meshulam’s and Maya Khosla’s responses to Gorman’s poem, which you can find at this link:

The inclusion of poetry at the Presidential inauguration is relatively recent. Only four presidents—John F. Kennedy in 1961, Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997, Barack Obama in 2009 and 2013, and Joe Biden in 2021—have had poets read at their inaugurations. You might want to check out this article on, which includes the history of inaugural poems and a video sampler:

Amanda Gorman was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Harvard University in 2020. She is the author of the poetry collection The Hill We Climb (Viking, September 2021) and The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough (Penmanship Books, 2015). In 2017 Gorman was named the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate of the United States. She previously served as the youth poet laureate of Los Angeles, and she is the founder and executive director of One Pen One Page, an organization providing free creative writing programs for underserved youth. Gorman was selected by President Biden to read an original poem for his Inauguration on January 20, 2021, making her the youngest poet to have served in this role.  


Remembering Gina Berriault
Gina Berriault on some short stories being akin to poetryOn January 17, the Sitting Room posted a short article about Gina Berriault in a new online feature called “Sunday Surprise.” Many of you may be on the Sitting Room’s mailing list, and so have already seen this. But reading this reminded me that Barriault’s great talent was not known as widely as she deserved, and so I thought this article merited reproducing here in the Sonoma County Literary Update.

Women in Their Beds by Gina BerriaultI was introduced to Gina Berriault’s work when I was teaching at SF State through my colleague Molly Giles. I was also teaching at SRJC and serving on the Arts and Lectures Committee, and had the honor and pleasure of hosting Berriault as a guest writer at the JC following the publication of her collection Women in their Beds: New and Selected Stories (1996), which won the PEN/Faulkner Aeard, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award.

Berriault wrote across a wide range of genres: short stories, novels, and screenplays. Her short story ”The Stone Boy,” which she adapted for the screen, was made into the 1984 film starring Robert Duvall and Glenn Close. At the time of her death, she had recently completed a fable, ”The Great Petrowski.” It’s my hope that some of you will be inspired to order one or more of Berriault’s books.

GINA BERRIAULT (1926-1999), lived in the Bay Area, and never got the attention her brilliant short stories deserved. Oh, she got awards but was usually relegated to that unvisited corner of being “a writer’s writer”.  The Sitting Room is glad to have two of her collections of stories but the SURPRISE here is a uncategorizable little book titled “The Great Petrowski”.
The Great Petrowski by Gina BerriaultHere is how the so unlikely book came about and here is how it came to  the Sitting Room. Again it is a local story. Guy Biederman, publisher of “Bust Out”, who was teaching  workshops at The Sitting Room, noticed our Berriault books.

“Oh, I must bring The Sitting Room a gift of a book of hers for which I was the first publisher at Thumbprint Press. Gina and I were neighbors and she entrusted me with bringing this unique book into the world. It happened that she was in the hospital when the galley proofs were ready for review and so I took them to her there.  Of course, she saw several changes that were needed and made them there from what turned out to be her death bed,”

Illustrated by Gina also, it is an eco-fable which manages to make plausible a parrot learning to sing opera and somehow saving the world.  If you don’t want to wait until The Sitting Room opens again, it can be ordered on line or better at local bookstores.  Get a few extras, as you will want to give it to friends.

What a gift it was for The Sitting Room long long ago — Thanks, Guy, and thanks also to Gina Berriault!

Political Writers Featured this Month
In an era when our experience of reality is so easily manipulated, and the perception of history so easily distorted, as the country transitions to a new administration and prepares for the second impeachment trial of Trump, these online events are particularly intriguing.

The first is on Tuesday, February 2 at 2 PM: Book Passage presents an eclectic lineup of contributors, Steve Kettmann, Mary C. Curtis, and Anthony Scaramucci, from the collection Now What? Now What?: The Voters Have Spoken—Essays on Life After Trump. For more details and to register for this free virtual event:

The second is on Tuesday, February 9 at 7 PM: Copperfields Books presents Edward Snowden in conversation with Cory Doctorow. Featured book: Permanent Record: How One Man Exposed the Truth about Government Spying and Digital Security. Details and registration:

Though not specifically political, Catherine Grace Katz will present a 90 minute online writing workshop called “Five Things I’ve Learned about Writing the History We Think We Know.” Katz will present what she has learned about uncovering the forgotten voices and experiences that make us reconsider the people and events that we assume we know inside and out. This is on Sunday, February 28, 4:00 p.m., presented by Book Passages Details and ticket ($40):

Ricardo Pau-Llosa and José Luis Gutiérrez
On Sunday, February 28, at 3 PM, Sixteen Rivers presents Ricardo Pau-Llosa and José Luis Gutiérrez in an online reading.

Ricardo Pau-LlosaPau-Llosa was born into a working-class family in Havana. In 1960 he fled Cuba with his parents, older sister, and maternal grandmother — all of whom emerge in his autobiographical poems of exile and remembrance. Pau-Llosa has published the last six of his eight collections of poetry with Carnegie Mellon University Pressw. His three latest books are The Turning (2018), Man (2014) and Parable Hunter (2009).

José Luis GutiérrezJosé Luis Gutiérrez was born in Miami and grew up in Panama. His first poetry collection, A World Less Away, was published in 2016. His second collection, The Motel Entropy & Other Sorrows, came out in 2019. He’s also a screen writer and film maker.

You can use this link to join us for this free online event:


Poem for February


Assétou XangoBy Assétou Xango

some hear the song
& ask me of my children:
what’s it like to be the mother of sirens?
            they curl their lips
            & snarl around the syllables
they mean to say,
what is it like to raise sluts
who draw men off their sacred path?
what’s like to be the minor character
in every story?
it is not my job to protect weak-willed men
who long to be seduced
but curse the ones who’ve master the art
Sirens are the call of emergency
Call to darkness.
the warning in any myth.
Sirens may save your life
or end it
you will not know which
until the morning comes
they want to know what It’s like
to have birthed such dangerous creatures
did it ever occur to you
that my children
flee their home
convene in isolation,
shield themselves with bladed rocks
because you are the dangerous ones?
Assétou Xango is a poet and community activist. She was the poet laureate of Aurora, Colorado, from 2017-2019.

Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update

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

Posted by: wordrunner | December 1, 2020

December 2020

December 1, 2020
Dear Literary Folk,
We’re in the last month of 2020, a strange year in so many ways. Despite the necessary social distancing with masks, I am grateful in this pandemic year for the chance via Zoom and other technologies to continue teaching, to be in more regular contact with family, to rethink my priorities and my often unconscious assumptions, and to enjoy a low-key holiday season. Staying away from stores means less exposure both to the virus and to the holiday hype. I also have had the pleasure of extending my COVID-pod to include my daughter, son-in-law, and grandson, who have temporarily moved here from Denver.
2020 in Six Words
The NYT recently asked readers to send in what they were grateful for in 2020 in just six words. Here are a few examples:

The crinkling eye above the mask.
Sunny mornings, a window facing east.

5329 games of solitaire, won 5286.
Postcards crossing the country — real mail.
Never been social; now I’m good.
Healthcare workers. Healthcare workers. Healthcare workers.

If any of you are game for this, send to me or Jo-Anne your 2020 thoughts in six words. We’ll include some of these in the January Literary Update. Please include “2020 in Six Words” in your subject line.

Terry Ehret:
Jo-Anne Rosen:
My wish for you all: Stay home if you can. Stay safe and healthy. We can do this!

Maya Khosla’s All the Fires of Wind and Light selected for 2020 PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award
All the Fires, poems, Maya KhoslaMaya KhoslaPEN Oakland, called “The Blue Collar PEN” by The New York Times, is honoring Maya Khosla’s All the Fires of Wind and Light with the Josephine Miles Literary Award.

PEN Oakland’s annual awards ceremony is scheduled to take place online via the Oakland Public Library Rockridge Branch on December 5, 2020, from 2PM-5PM PST.

The award ceremony will be a public event; info on broadcast at Oakland Public Library.

Jo-Anne Rosen’s Story Nominated for Pushcart Prize
It is Pushcart season—that time of year when independent presses and journals nominate the best of their year’s publications for recognition. The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America. Those nominees whose work is chosen for a Pushcart Prize are published in Pushcart Press’s annual anthology. Many Sonoma County authors have been nominated this year, including Literary Update editor Jo-Anne Rosen for her story “At the Casino with Two Jacks,” published this past summer by Big City Lit. You can read more about the Pushcart Prize at this link:

Congratulations to Jo-Anne and to all who have been nominated!
You can read Jo-Anne’s story at this link:

Support Sonoma County Authors with New Publications
Every month, I spotlight one or two new publications by Sonoma County authors. But the Sonoma County in Print page provides quite an impressive list of new books by our local writers. Please consider giving the gift of a book to your friends and relatives, and at the same time supporting writers who’ve had the challenge of bringing out new books in a pandemic year, without the usual in-person book launches, salons, and celebrations.

Here are two new publications I recommend:An Affront to Gravity

Steve Trennan—An Affront to Gravity: Poems and Salutations
“In this remarkable collection, Trenam is able to transform empty and blank spaces into places of worship that entice the reader to leave “the dark corners of our rooms” to experience not only the world that he creates through these poems, but also the ways in which art, music, dance, and poetry are rooted ‘at the heart of things.’” —Megan Merchant

Joan Frank—The Outlook for Earthlings
The Outlook for Earthlings. Joan FrankThe Outlook for Earthlings considers the limits of friendship—and of witnessing. It asks how we may finally measure a life—and who should do the measuring.

The novel has been warmly praised by significant voices: Peter Orner, Julie Buntin, Joan London, and Elizabeth Rosner among them. ForeWord Reviews summarizes: “With technicolor period details, intense reflections, and devastating acuity about women’s compromises in love, The Outlook for Earthlings is an elegant elegy.

If you are a Sonoma County writer with a book or chapbook newly published, let’s help you celebrate! Just send your announcement to editor@socolitupdate.comBook announcements are posted in the order received.

Looking for Local Alternatives to Amazon?
During the pandemic, I’ve grown more inclined to shop online, and often the course of least resistance is shopping Amazon. It’s undeniably convenient, but also undeniably unsustainable. I’ve been looking into alternatives, and found this website, which is a good start:

If you ‘re looking for a way to decrease your dependence on Amazon as a source of books, supporting local independent bookstores, such as Copperfield’s, Readers’ Books, Treehorn Books, and Many Rivers Books and Tea. Some are open limited hours during this pandemic, but all offer curbside pick-up. Consider supporting these local businesses for your own reading pleasure, as well for holiday gifts.

Copperfield’s Books:
Treehorn Books:
Readers’ Books:
Many Rivers Books and Tea:

During this pandemic, the libraries have retooled their services to the Sonoma County community, including curbside pick-up, digital checkouts of eBooks and eAudiobooks, and online classes. They are also expanding their Spanish-language digital resources. And if streaming movies at home has kept you hooked on Amazon, the library has an alternative for streaming movies. You can learn more about the library’s services on the County News page. Sonoma County Libraries:

December Readings and Author Events
Check out this month’s calendar page for listings of these and other December events.

Sixteen Rivers Presents

Sixteen Rivers presentsOn Sunday, December 6, at 3 p.m., Sixteen Rivers Press presents the second reading in their ongoing series. December’s featured poets are Faylita Hicks and James Cagney.

Faylita Hicks is a poet, essayist, and interdisciplinary artist born in Gardena, CA, and raised in Central Texas.  Their work has been featured in Adroit, American Poetry Review, The Cincinnati Review, F(r)iction, HuffPost, Kenyon Review, Longreads, Palette Poetry, Poetry Magazine, The Rumpus, Slate, Texas Observer, Texas Monthly, VIDA Review, and others.

Oakland native James Cagney is the author of Black Steel Magnolias in the Hour of Chaos Theory, winner of the PEN Oakland 2019 Josephine Miles award. His poems have appeared in Poetry Daily, The Maynard, and Civil Liberties United, among other journals. To buy his book, visit, and to read more of his writing, go to

Tune in if you can!  The Zoom link is

Rivertown Poets
Founder and Director of Rivertown Poets, Sandra Anfang will be reading on Monday, December 7, 6:15 p.m. with Casey FitzSimons and Johanna Ely. The program includes an Open Mic Reading (3 minutes per reader). Join the meeting at: or just show up at Click on “Weekly Poetry Reading.” No password needed. 

SLAM 2020:
Teen Poetry Slam Saturday, December 12, 3:00-5:00 p.m. See County News for details.

Book Passage Presents Three Conversations with Authors:

  • Zeyn Joukhadar in conversation with Catherine Hernandez, Sunday, December 6, 4:00 p.m.
  • Jane Smiley in conversation with David Francis, Saturday, December 12, 4:00 p.m.
  • David Harris in conversation with Peter Coyote, Sunday, December 13, 4:00 p.m.

Phyllis MeshulamCheck out Phyllis Meshulam’s Poet Laureate Page
Consider contributing to Phyllis’s ongoing Poet Laureate Project. Phyllis is collecting poems for a county-wide anthology. You can see the current and past writing prompts/themes at this link: And if you have some poems you would like to share with her, please send as attached files, using this email:

Poem for December
One of my favorite local authors with an international audience is Kay Ryan, who served as US Poet Laureate 2010-2012. In one of her early collections, Elephant Rocks, she included a poem that I’ve thought of often. It speaks to the Nativity tradition, but also to the impulse to steal and claim for one’s own the labors or accomplishments of others. In this post-election limbo, the poem has even more meaning for me.
Kay Ryanby Kay Ryan
From the Greek for 
woven or plaited,
which quickly translated
to basket. Whence the verb
crib, which meant “to filch”
under cover of wicker
anything–some liquor,
a cutlet.
For we want to make off
with things that are not
our own. There is a pleasure
theft brings, a vitality
to the home.
Cribbed objects or answers
keep their guilty shimmer
forever, have you noticed?
Yet religions downplay this. 
Note, for instance, in our
annual rehearsals of innocence,
the substitution of manger for crib
as if we ever deserved that baby,
or thought we did.

@Kay Ryan,
Elephant Rocks, Grove Press, 1996


Terry Ehret,
Sonoma County Literary Update co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | November 1, 2020

November 2020

Voting is preciousDear Literary Folk,

It’s been a long election season, and I suspect that many of you have already voted. Thank you! If you haven’t yet, please set aside time to make your voice heard. So much depends on the leadership we’ll have moving forward, though in reality, each of us leads through the work we do, the hope that motivates us, the vision we carry, and the lives we touch, whether we know it or not.

Remembering Diane Di Prima (1934-2020)
Diane di PrimaOn October 25, our literary community lost a great poet, Diane Di Prima.  Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, Di Prima became part of Greenwich Village’s beat scene in the 1950s and 60s, publishing poetry, editing a newsletter The Floating Bear, co-founding the New York Poets Theatre, and later The Poet’s Press. She moved to California in 1968, lived for a time in Marshall, and settled in San Francisco where she taught at New College of California, California College of Arts and Crafts, San Francisco Art Institute, California Institute of Integral Studies, and Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics in Boulder, Colorado,

Allen Ginsberg described di Prima as “a learned humorous bohemian, classically educated and twentieth-century radical, her writing, informed by Buddhist equanimity, is exemplary in imagist, political and mystical modes. … She broke barriers of race-class identity, delivered a major body of verse brilliant in its particularity” (

Di Prima authored more than thirty books of poetry, plays, short stories, novels, and nonfiction, including her eight-part feminist epic, Loba. She was named San Francisco’s Poet Laureate in 2009.
At the end of this post, I have included Di Prima’s poem “City Lights 1961.” Scroll down to the Poem for November to read.
Poetry of Remembrance/Poesía del Recuerdo
For more than 20 years, the Petaluma community has held an evening of poetry for Sonoma County and beyond to remember those we have lost. Since 2004, the Día de los Muertos Committee has included this event in its month-long celebration of the Day of the Dead. Many of you have been part of this annual event over the years, as featured readers and as part of the community reading.

Because of the current COVID pandemic and necessary restrictions on in-person gatherings, this event has had to take a virtual form. Part of this new form includes a website, created by John Johnson, with a history of the event, photos from past years, and current audio and video recordings of readings by current Sonoma County Poet Laureate Phyllis Meshulam, Jabez Churchill, Sande Anfang, and more.

On behalf of the Día de los Muertos Petaluma committee, John Johnson invites all of you to send a poem or other remembrance of a loved one, in text or audio or video, with or without photos, to the website Poetry of Remembrance/Poesía del Recuerdo.

Nancy Morales , John Johnson and Terry EhretPlagios / PlagarismsOn Monday, November 16, 6:15 p.m. Rivertown Poets will feature the poetry from Plagios/Plagiarisms, by Mexican author Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon. Translators Terry Ehret, John Johnson, and Nancy Morales will read a selection of poems from Volume One, as well as work they are currently translating for volume two. Their reading will be followed by an open Mic Reading (3 minutes per reader).
Join the meeting at: or just show up at Click on “Weekly Poetry Reading.” No password needed. 
More November Events
Check out our calendar page for a more complete list of literary events for November. Here are just a few I want to spotlight:

On Wednesday, November 11, 6:00-8:00 p.m., Dominican University is offering a workshop called “The Nuts and Bolts of Applying to MFA programs”: A hands-on workshop about putting together an MFA application with guidance and writing prompts to help participants craft their Letter of Intent or Artist Statement.

Juan Felipe Herrera and Kim Shuck will be featured readers for Copperfield’s Books on Thursday, November 12, 7:00 p.m., reading from their books Every Day We Get More Illegal by Herrera; and Deer Trails by Shuck.
“Writing Now on Earth: with Patti Trimble is an online workshop for writing and reflection: generating new work from our places on the planet. Saturday, November 14, 10:00 a.m.-2:30 p.m.

Occidental Center for the Arts’ Literary Series presents a Zoom book launch of Joan Frank’s new novel Outlook for Earthlings on Sunday, November 15, 4:00-5:00 p.m.

Poem for November

City Lights 1961

Going there for the first time
it was so much smaller then
that crowded downstairs full of poetry
racks of tattered little mags against the wall
those rickety white tables where folks sat reading/writing
Vesuvio’s was like an adjunct office

Arriving again a year later, two kids in tow
Lawrence gave me a huge stack of his publications
“I’ve got books” he said “like other people have mice”

And North Beach never stopped being mysterious
when I moved out here in 1968
that publishing office on Filbert & Grant was a mecca
a place to meet up with my kids if we got separated
during one of those innumerable demonstrations
(tho Lawrence worried, told me I shd keep them
out of harm’s way, at home) I thought they shd learn
whatever it was we were learning—
Office right around the corner from the bead store
where I found myself daily, picking up supplies

How many late nights did we haunt the Store
buying scads of new poems from all corners of the earth
then head to the all-night Tower Records full of drag queens
& revolutionaries, to get a few songs

And dig it, City Lights still here, like some old lighthouse
though all the rest is gone,
the poetry’s moved upstairs, the publishing office
right there now too       & crowds of people
one third my age or less still haunt the stacks
seeking out voices from all quarters
of the globe

From The Poetry Deal (City Lights Books, 2014) by Diane di Prima. Copyright © 2014 Diane di Prima.
Terry Ehret
Co-editor, Sonoma County Literary Update

Posted by: wordrunner | October 1, 2020

October 2020

Dear Literary Folk,

Literary Update for October 1, 2020
In preparing this month’s post of the Literary Update, I looked at September’s post, which begins, “The past few weeks have been intensely difficult here in Sonoma County. Some of you have lost your homes and many have spent long, anxious days under evacuation orders or warnings.” And here we are still in the dreadful throes of fire season in Northern California, the COVID pandemic, protests against racial injustice, and the anxious weeks leading up to our national elections.

While the sky overhead grew dark and heavy with smoke from the Glass Fire and Shady Fire, I also looked at the October post from 2019, saddened to remember the fall literary events we’ve had to postpone, especially the Petaluma Poetry Walk and the Poesía del Recuerdo/Poetry of Remembrance Community Reading.

Readings and Events Online
But I’m happy to say that many of our online literary events continue to thrive, as you can see by checking our Calendar page. Adding to those listed in our calendar and in previous posts, Poetry Flash’s reading series is now up and running online. There are usually three to four readings each month, introduced by Poetry Flash Associate Editor Richard Silberg, with Editor Joyce Jenkins. For the readings scheduled this fall, go to

WatershedI’m also pleased that the 25th annual Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival will zoom through the air over three days this November. The festival will feature poetry on climate change, environmental justice, and our place in nature. Familiar features of the much-loved gathering will be experienced virtually.  Dates and programs will be posted on Poetry Flash in October.
LitQuake has also moved to an online format, running from October 8-24, 2020. LitQuake’s programs include poetry, fiction, memoir, film, children’s events, and spoken word. Among the featured readers and presenters are Joy Harjo, Jericho Brown, Juan Felipe Herrera, and Tommy Orange. Check out all the events at the website:

A Little More Red SunCongratulations to Gillian Conoley for the NCBA in Poetry!
The 2020 Northern California Book Awards Ceremony was held on September 23, recognizing the achievements of writers whose books were published in 2019. In the poetry category, Sonoma State University professor, poet, and editor Gillian Conoley won for her book A Little More Red Sun on the Human: New & Selected Poems, published by Nightboat Books.

The “Unnatural Disaster” of Our Fire Season
Jean HeglandMany of you already know that Sonoma County’s beloved novelist and memoirist Jean Hegland and her husband Douglas Fisher lost their home in the LCU Complex/Wallbridge fires last month. The Healdsburg Tribune invited Jean to write a feature about her experience, which was published on September 23: “Unnatural Disasters.” In the article, Jean reflects on her home and the surrounding woods, writing, “Soon after we moved there (in 1989), that forest had been the inspiration for my first novel, and it had been an inspiration, a solace and a delight ever since.” In response to a friend’s comment about the fire being a natural disaster, Jean reflects, “There was nothing natural about the Walbridge Fire. Instead, it had been caused by the unfortunate conjunction of record-breaking high temperatures, a freak electrical storm that had bombarded Northern California with over 12,000 lightning strikes, and many decades of fire suppression in a forest that had evolved to burn. It was not a natural disaster but an unnatural one, not an “act of God,” but the result of human ignorance and greed, that same lethal combination of opportunism and denial that is currently causing record flooding in China and a record-breaking hurricane season in the Atlantic.”
Here’s the link, if you’d like to read the Jean’s full article:

New Release: Iris Jamahl  Dunkle’s Biography of Charmian Kittredge London
Charmain LondonIris DunkleIris’s just released biography is a triumph of biographical and literary research. She’ll be giving several readings/interviews in October. Here are the dates and hosts. For details, check the calendar page.

October 3, 2:30 at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen; October 7 at 7 PM at Reader’s Books in Sonoma; October 8, 7 PM with Forrest Gander at Copperfield’s Books; and October 22 at 6 PM at Bookmine in Napa.

Charmian Kittredge London captivates us as she did Jack London. In this compelling biography, Iris Jamahl Dunkle captures Charmian’s illusive qualities that made her a force to be reckoned with and an integral part of London’s career.”—Jay Williams, author of Author Under Sail: The Imagination of Jack London, 1893–1902
Paying Tribute to RBG
To add to the onslaught of 2020 disasters, on September 18, we lost a champion and hero, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She served on the Supreme Court from 1993 until her death, making history through majority opinions, and making waves though her eloquent and brilliant dissenting opinions. Before her Supreme Court nomination, she served as legal counsel to the ACLU, and it was during the years 1973-1980 that she prepared and argued cases that would alter the lives of American women, bringing us closer to the goal of “equal protection under the law.”

I know I owe RBG a debt of gratitude for the changes she helped to bring, ones I personally have benefitted from, including work-place protections for pregnant women, which the “pro-life” Catholic school I worked for didn’t recognize until 1990. The work she did was largely unknown and invisible to me, and though my undergraduate years at Stanford overlapped with her time as a Fellow at the Stanford Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences, I regret I never had the chance to meet her In August, Ginsburg was selected as this year’s recipient of the National Constitution Center’s Liberty Medal “for her efforts to advance liberty and equality for all.”

Her dying wish, expressed to her granddaughter, was that her seat on the Supreme Court not be filled until after the election of a new US President. But that was not to be. Nonetheless, we can strive to be forces of change and justice in our own communities, and we can exercise our power to vote, one way to pay tribute to RBG’s legacy.
“May her memory be for a blessing.”

The Sitting Room Community Library Is Renovating
Taking advantage of the COVID hiatus, the Sitting Room Community Library is undergoing renovations to make it even more welcoming to reading and writing groups, literary researchers, workshops, readers and writers once it’s able to open again. Among the changes are new flooring in the living room/workshop space (do you recognize it her in the photo?), new shelving, new electrical system, a less cluttered kitchen area, the addition of a microwave (yeah!). JJ Wilson writes that “We are working on the several suggestions for better storage for the art collection and plan to have exhibit areas built in for revolving art pieces and a foam core board posted up near the television cabinet for exhibits.”

Three ways to Celebrate Sixteen Rivers Press’s 21st Anniversary!
Every fall, the nonprofit poetry publishing collective I help run, Sixteen Rivers Press, hosts a benefit reading to celebrate its founding in October 1999. Of course, we won’t be holding a gala event this year, but there are several ways you can help us celebrate.

  1. If you missed the launch of our video  America, We Call Your Name, A Poetry Reading for a Nation in Crisis, you can catch it on our website at

It’s a 50 minutes presentation of poems from the anthology, professionally recorded and edited, and featuring Rick Barot, Joshua Bennett, Mai Der Vang, Camille Dungy, Dante Di Stefano, Judy Halebsky, Forrest Hamer, Brenda Hillman, and Evie Shockley.

  1. Prageeta SharmaJoin us online for our fall fundraiser with Prageeta Sharma and Matthew Zapruder, Sunday, October 11, 2020 at 3 PM Pacific time.

You can register for this online event at This event is free, but donations of any size to help us fund new books for 2021 are welcome. Donate here.

  1. Mark your calendar for Sunday, October 25 at 3 p.m. PDT when we present Jay Deshpande (Love the Stranger and The Rest of the Body)  and Hadara Bar-Nadav (The New Nudity and The Frame Called Ruin).

Our new reading series Sixteen Rivers Presents, is hosted by Eliot Schain, whose collection The Distant Shore was published by Sixteen Rivers Press in April 2020. You can use this link to join the Zoom reading: You can also find the link on the Sixteen Rivers website.
Poem for September 

Matthew ZapruderSun Bear
by Matthew Zapruder

yesterday at the Oakland zoo
I was walking alone for a moment
past the enclosure holding the sun bear
also known as beruang madu
it looked at me without interest
it has powerful jaws and truly loves honey
it sleeps in a high hammock
its claws look made out of wood
and if it dreams at all it is of Malaysia
home of its enemy the clouded leopard
a gorgeous arboreal
hunting and eating machine
whose coat resembles a python
now it is night and the zoo is closed
some animals are sleeping
the nocturnals moving in their cages
getting ready to hunt nothing
I don’t know why but I feel sure
something has woken the sun bear
it is awake in the dark
maybe it is my spirit animal
I am reading about the early snow
that has fallen on the Northeast
all the power shutting down
the weather going insane
the animals cannot help us
they go on moving without love
though we look into their eyes and feel
sure we see it there and maybe
we are right nothing
can replace animal love
not even complicated human love
we sometimes choose to allow
ourselves to be chosen by
despite what everyone knows
the problem is
in order to love anything
but an animal you cannot allow
yourself to believe in those things
that are if we don’t stop them
going to destroy us
(from America, We Call Your Name:
Poems of Resistance and Resilience,
Sixteen Rivers Press, 2018)

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-Editor

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