Posted by: wordrunner | November 1, 2021

November 2021

Dear literary folk,

Since last month’s post, we’ve had rain, glorious rain! As I write this, the wind is whipping the rainy air, stripping the trees of their autumn leaves. I’m so grateful for this weather and for the new growth of grass on our hillsides—something I don’t remember seeing this early in the year.

Poetry of Remembrance/Poesia del Recuerdo Community Reading
Day of the DeadThanks to those of you who were able to join us on zoom for our virtual Poetry of Remembrance/Poesia del Requerdo Community Reading last Thursday. It was surprisingly moving and intimate, despite the zoom format and the tendency of the new version to mute everyone. We had 45 attending.

In addition to the twenty poets and hosts who read their remembrances of the dead, the program included a traditional call to the directions and virtual smudging by co-host Jabez Churchill; poems by children read by co-hosts Phyllis Meshulam and Sande Anfang; Jabez’s telling of the story of “La Llarona” and his performance of the song; and a musical performance by Revolt. Midway through the event, we had a slideshow of altars and celebrations of Day of the Dead, put together by co-host John Johnson and narrated by Margaret Tilden, who joined us from Mexico.

Though we celebrate Día de los Muertos during the month of October, traditionally, the celebrations are held on November 1 and 2. You can still participate in this by sending a poem, photograph, or video to our Poetry of Remembrance/Poesia del Requerdo website:

The Petaluma Arts Center is currently curating an exhibit on the theme Amor Nunca Muere/Love Never Dies, and they will be hosting a special closing celebration on Tuesday, November 2, 3-7 PM.

NaMoWriMo: November is National Novel Writing Month.
If you’ve been thinking about starting a novel or getting back to work on a novel you’ve shelved, consider connecting with NaNoWriMo. This is a nonprofit organization which believes in the transformational power of creativity, providing the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page. It’s a teaching tool and curriculum taught in 5,920 classrooms. This month not the right time for you? No problem! NaNoWriMo’s programs run year-round. More information at:

Ella WenCongratulations to Sonoma County’s New Youth Poet Laureate!
Ella Wen, a sophomore at Maria Carillo High School, was recently selected to be Sonoma County’s next Youth Poet Laureate. Check out Phyllis Meshulam’s Poet Laureate News for details about Ella:

Sixteen Rivers Reading, Fall Benefit, and Call for Manuscripts
Dane Cervine and Stella BeratlisTwo events are coming up this week featuring past and present member-authors of Sixteen Rivers Press. The first of these is on Monday, November 1, 6:15-8:15 p.m. Rivertown Poets features Dane Cervine and Stella Beratlis, followed by open mic (3 minutes per reader, 20 readers max). Sign up at Choose “Aqus Poetry Open Mic” and fill in the form. Join directly at:

The second event is on Sunday, November 7th, 3:00 PST, when Sixteen Rivers Press will host its Annual Benefit Reading on ZOOM. This year we will do another version of the very successful event two years ago, in which Sixteen Rivers poets each read a selection from their work published by the Press. This gives a rich sense of what Sixteen Rivers has accomplished over two decades, and more confirmation of the diversity of poetic voices here in Northern California. Among the many readers are several from Sonoma County: Lynn Trombetta, Maya Khosla, and Terry Ehret. Please join us if you can. Registration is through Eventbrite: or you can access it via our website:

November 1 is also the official opening of Sixteen Rivers’ manuscript submission period, which continues until February 1.We especially encourage poets of color, young poets, and LGBTQ writers to submit. If you have a book-length manuscript and are interested in a cooperatively run publishing company, check out our submission guidelines on our website:


Poem for November

Mark DotyThe Owner of the Night
by Mark Doty

interrogates whoever walks
this shadow-lane, this hour
not reserved for you: who

are you to enter it?
Orion’s head over heels
above the road, jewel-belt

flinting starlight
to fuel two eyes looking
down from the air:

beacons in reverse,
since light pours in
toward her appetite

until she wings her noiseless outline
between our rooftop and the stars,
over this door and all the doors

hidden in the grass:
dreaming voles,

firefly province,

wasps in the palace
they’ve hollowed under the hill.

Mole resting his face against his splayed hands.

Perch, blink. Pose
the evening’s question
to the sleepless

while the moon if there is one
scatters islands
on a field of ink. Who

maps this? The owner
of the night looks down
to mirror and admit the hours

before the upper vaults
begin to lighten and recede.
Did you hear what I said,

a face looks down from the night?
Did who hear me? Who
reads this page, who writes it?

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Doty. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on May 8, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

About This Poem
“I spend about half my time in the city, in a built landscape where one knows the name of just about everything; in this way it’s a city of language, a world mediated by words. The rest of the time I live in a place where sky and weather, plants and animals are as present as sidewalks and vehicles are in town. My inner process of narrating experience in words slows down there, even vanishes for moments at a time; then I’m just raking, or weeding, or looking at the sky not supplying words for what I see. Thus it’s startling, at twilight, or deep in the night, when the dark itself seems to say a word: who. It seems the right question, the one the owl asks; as Stevens said of the harbor lights in Key West, that sound arranges, deepens, and enchants the night.”
—Mark Doty


Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | October 1, 2021

October 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

I have just returned from a road trip to Colorado where the aspens are in their autumn glory. Here in Petaluma, the air has a crisp feel in the mornings and evenings, but we’re also still in the midst of fire season, as well as the unpredictable COVID-19 pandemic.

2021 marks the second autumn without some of the literary events that have brought us together for years, especially the beloved Petaluma Poetry Walk and the Poetry of Remembrance Community Reading.

On Sunday, September 19, Bill Vartnaw hosted a virtual Poetry Walk, bringing together poets and friends of Geri DiGiorno to celebrate her life, her visual art, and her poetry. It was lovely to remember Geri’s sassy, generous, and unconventional approach to living, writing, collaging, painting, and embracing the world. Thanks to Bill and Bridget Reymond for organizing this tribute to a great Sonoma County poet.

El Día de los Muertos Returns for 2021
The Petaluma Arts Center is curating an exhibit on the theme Amor Nunca Muere/Love Never Dies, which runs from October 9-30. An artists’ reception is scheduled for Saturday, October 9, 6-8 PM, and a special closing celebration on Tuesday, November 2, 3-7 PM.

Poesίa del Recuerdo/
Poetry of Remembrance Website

Those who wish to honor the memory of someone who has died are also welcome to send a poem, comment, favorite memory, photograph, video, audio, to our website called “Poetry of Remembrance/Poesía del recuerdo:
The website is hosted by John Johnson.

Join Us for a Virtual Poesίa del Recuerdo/Poetry of Remembrance Community Reading on Thursday, October 28, 7:00- 8:30 P.M.
Come enjoy an evening of friendship as members of the community gather virtually to read poems in honor and remembrance of special people in our lives. Hosts for the evening are John Johnson, Sande Anfang, Phyllis Meshulam, Jabez Churchill, and Terry Ehret. If you are interested in attending or sharing a poem, please contact Terry Ehret to sign up at You will receive the zoom link at that time.

dancing skeletons
“La poesía…es la resurrección de las presencias”
“Poetry…is the resurrection of presences”
– Octavio Paz

The Petaluma Día de los Muertos Committee has put together a calendar of events to keep this important tradition going through our second year of the pandemic. For more information, visit Facebook page at

Black and White in Black and White: Ekphrastic Poetry Reading October 1

The Petaluma Historical Library & Museum is hosting a virtual exhibit of photographs by John Johnson, an African American photographer from Lincoln, Nebraska, whose work portrays the dignity, hope, and diversity in America. The exhibit is available online through November 6.

On Friday, October 1, 7:00 p.m. The Petaluma Museum is hosting an ekphrastic poetry reading and slide show featuring the winners of the recent poetry contest for its new online exhibit, Black & White in Black and White. The reading will be on Zoom. The public is welcome to attend, though there will not be an open mic. Zoom Link:

Marlene Cullen Offers Free Jumpstart Writing Sessions
Marlene CullenIf you’re looking for an inspirational way to get back into your writing rhythms, discover new wellsprings of creativity, or break out of familiar habits, check out the Writers Forum series starting on Saturday, October 2, 1:00-3:00 p.m. Writers Forum hosts four afternoons of writing on the Zoom platform with Marlene Cullen, who will lead these free writing sessions, using prompts from The Write Spot to Jumpstart Your Writing: Discoveries. Registration is required. Details on the October Calendar page.

Lit Quake Returns In-Person and Online October 7-23.
Litquake 2021 offers 80+ Events, 300 authors, Online & In-Person. Many events are free, including KidQuake and Lit Crawl. Lit Quake is a ten-day literary spectacle for booklovers, complete with cutting-edge panel discussions, unique cross-media events, and hundreds of readings. See Fest Schedule:

Reawakening American Democracy
Never was it more urgent for us to consider the fragility of our democracy, as well as the efficacy of youth-led resistance movements from Black Lives Matter and Standing Rock to March for Our Lives, the Global Climate Strikes and #MeToo.

On Sunday, October 17,
4:00 p.m., Occidental Center for the Arts hosts a book launch for Michael Levin, author of Generation Occupy: Reawakening American Democracy. On the ten-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, Levin examines how this movement marked a new era of social and political transformation, altering the way Americans see themselves and their role in the economy through the language of the 99 versus the 1 percent.
Details at  

Connections: A Benefit for California Poets in the Schools October 21
Five local poets bring you a live evening of poetry: Sandra Anfang, Kirsten Avilla, Ernie Carpenter, Hilary Moore and Larry Robinson, with music by John Christian.The event will be held at Sebastopol Center for the Arts from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. Donations at the door. Net proceeds to benefit California Poets in the Schools. Attendees must be vaccinated; check website for mask requirements.

Rebecca Solnit at Point Reyes Books on October 30
Rebecca Solnit Acclaimed essayist and memorist Rebecca Solnit, winner of the Northern California Book Award in Nonfiction for Recollections of My Nonexistence, will discuss her new book, Orwell’s Roses, a reexamination of George Orwell’s life and writings through the lens of his passion for gardening, in conversation with artist and writer Jenny Odell. For details and to purchase tickets, click here:
Poem for October
In the many years since Marlene Cullen and the Poet Laureate Committee helped me launch the Sonoma County Literary Update, and in the years that Jo-Anne Rosen has kept this rangy animal going strong, I’ve concluded each post with a poem, sometimes by local writers, sometimes by contemporary poets, often reaching across borders or back to our literary roots.

By request, for October, I am offering this poem of my own, first composed two years ago.

Waking in Fire Season

Remember when you awaken to be still.
Whatever dream you have been wearing
in the dark body of sleep
still lies near, a deep fold
of pleasure, a sleeve of old trouble,
a name on a grave. Leave the dream-clothes
under your skin that now you wash
and lotion and paint. Dress slowly for the day
just dawning in the smoky east. Remember
from time to time to touch the prayer fringe
of dream-fragments as you walk
down the path under the falling sycamore leaves.
Remember the sound they make
rattling all night in the wind.

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update Co-Editor

Posted by: wordrunner | September 1, 2021

September 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

Remembering Jack Hirschman

Jack HirschmanBrilliant poet, scholar, translator, and advocate for the rights of the dispossessed, former San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman passed away on Sunday, August 22, at the age of 87.

Hirschman was born in New York City and grew up in the Bronx. He worked as a copyeditor with the Associated Press in New York as a young man, and earned degrees from City College of New York and Indiana University, where he studied comparative literature. He taught at UCLA in the 1970s, before he was fired for his antiwar activities and for encouraging his students to resist the draft. Hirschman remained in California, “making an artistic and political home in the North Beach district of San Francisco”

I did not know Jack personally, but his presence in the San Francisco Bay Area poetry scene was wide and deep and profound. Opal Palmer Adisa wrote this personal reflection and brief tribute to Jack:

Farewell My Friend, Jack Hirschman

(December 13, 1933 – August 22, 2021)
“Jack Hirschman was a friend, a poet and a social activist who lived inclusion and diversity in and throughout his work. I met him when I first moved to San Francisco, and he saw me at an open mic and invited me to one he was hosting in North Beach, where he featured me. Thereafter he featured me on numerous occasions, and always invited me to participate in any anthology in which he was engaged, even as recently as last year. Jack was funny in a not-so-obvious way; he was committed to change and transformation. He believed in poets as change-makers; he advocated for us; he created spaces for us to share our work, to have meaningful dialogue, to write and share our truths. Long Live Jack Hirschman…You will be missed, but your spirit will travel the globe, continuing to make space so the word is heard loudly…ASÉ”

This poem, reprinted from Front Line and featured on the Academy of American Poets website, will give you a taste of Hirschman’s poetry. You can read more at And if you scroll down to the end of the post, you’ll find one of Hirschman’s translations for the September poem.


The Happiness
by Jack Hirschman

There’s a happiness, a joy
in one soul, that’s been
buried alive in everyone
and forgotten.

It isn’t your barroom joke
or tender, intimate humor
or affections of friendliness
or big, bright pun.

They’re the surviving survivors
of what happened when happiness
was buried alive, when
it no longer looked out

of today’s eyes, and doesn’t
even manifest when one
of us dies, we just walk away
from everything, alone

with what’s left of us,
going on being human beings
without being human,
without that happiness.


Crime Mysteries Author at Copperfield’s

Ann CleevesThose of you who are fans of Vera and Shetland are in luck! You have a chance to hear the creator of both these popular British Crime Mysteries on Thursday, September 9, 11:00 a.m. Copperfield’s Books presents New York Times bestseller Ann Cleeves in conversation with Barbara Lane.

I admit when I first read this announcement, I envisioned Ann of Cleves, the fourth wife of Henry VIII (for about 6 months), reinvented as a contemporary British crime detective. And why not? Jane Austen and Elizabeth Bennet have come back to solve murders and fight zombies. Sherlock Holmes boggles his contemporary fans not far from the Millennial Bridge and the London Eye. But I jumped to entirely the wrong conclusion.

I have seen many episodes of Vera, and am now getting better at keeping up with the quick twists of plotline (using English subtitles helps), but I had never noticed the name of the author of the books behind the series. I did catch several zingers that made me laugh, so I should have known there was a keen writer behind a line like this:
“I don’t understand how anyone can write if they don’t use public transport. I earwig all the time.”

Anne Cleeves is the author’s name, and her new book is The Heron’s Cry: A Detective Matthew Venn Novel, the extraordinary follow-up to The Long Call, soon to be a major TV series, alongside her two hit TV shows . The event is online and free, but you do need to register ahead to get the link to tune in. Details and registration:

Where Literature Meets Science
Occidental Center for the Arts presents a conversation with novelist Susan M. Gaines and Sonoma County Poet Laureate emerita Maya Khosla. The conversation will take place on Sunday, September 12, 4:00-5:00 p,m, and will be moderated by Ray Holley.

Former Sonoma County Poet Laureate Maya Khosla is also a field-based biologist whose concerns for the natural world have led her through the wild, to the page, and
to the screen. She is currently working to assess the forests and rivers of California. Her book All the Fires of Wind and Light was the winner of the 2020 Pen Oakland Josephine Miles Award.

Maya Khosla and Susan Gaines

Trained in chemistry and oceanography, Susan M.Gaines is the author of the novels Accidentals and Carbon Dreams, and co-author with Geoffrey Eglinton and Jurgen Rullkötter of the science book Echoes of Life: What Fossil Molecules Reveal about Earth History. Her short stories have been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize. She is a former fellow of the Hanse Institute for Advanced Study in Germany. In 2018, she was awarded a Suffrage Science Award for women in science and science writers who have inspired others.

You can attend live at the OCA amphitheater and online via OCA’s
YouTube channel. No pre-registration required. Free, outdoor event (Follow COVID-19 safety measures according to county regulations). Refreshments, wine, beer, and signed, personalized books for sale. OCA donations welcome. For more info: 707-874-9392 or OCA is accessible to people with disabilities.

Celebrating Fran!
Poet and teacher extraordinaire Fran Claggett-Holland has for many years been a guiding presence and an inspiration. Fran will read, along with her friends and “family” on Monday, September 13, 2:00-4:00 p.m.

Fran Claggett-HollandFran taught high school English and humanities for many years. Former department chair and mentor teacher at Alameda High School, Fran was twice named Teacher of the Year in her district and county, where she initiated an achievement and portfolio writing assessment program. Her teaching experience includes college appointments in English, biology, and physical education; she has also been the James Lynch Lecturer in English at the University of California, Berkeley. She has given workshops for teachers across the country, evaluated schools in Guam, and taught in the Bay Area Writing Project Panama and the Virgin Islands summer workshops.

In October of 2020, Naomi Shihab Nye, writing for the New York Times Magazine, featured a poem by Fran called “On Taking the Measure of Your Book.” Shihab Nye writes:

“In this deeply appealing poem. . . from her new book The Consciousness of Stone (RiskPress Foundation), reading is experienced as a supple activity, an actual posture as one moves to engage with textual experience. It’s a physical revelation as well as a landscape — not just a passive stare. I could feel the fresh exhilaration of a beach, wind and air inside my own body after reading this, without having been to any beach for a long time. Sometimes when people ask how to read a poem, one might simply say, “Go inside it.”

You can read Fran’s poem at

Most important, you can join in celebrating one of Sonoma County’s finest poets. This event will be held on Zoom at this link:

Last Call for the Upcoming Sonoma County Poetry Anthology
I want to remind you all about the anthology Phyllis Meshulam is creating as one of her Poet Laureate projects. If you have already submitted poems for this, thank you! If not, please consider sending up to three poems touching on one or more of the themes noted below.

* Gratitude
* Honoring our Pain for the World
* Seeing with New Eyes/Talking Back to Foundational Texts

You can submit 1-3 poems, each poem no longer than 65 lines, including title, epigraph (if any), and any acknowledgement of prior publication.

Please send English language poems to Phyllis by midnight on September 1, 2021.
Spanish language poems and poems by teens will be accepted up to midnight on September 15, 2021.
Send poems to this e-mail:

For more information about this project, or to see sample poems and prompts on the themes mentioned above, be sure to check out the archives of the Poet Laureate News on the Sonoma County Literary Update webpage:

Poetry and Translation: A Conversation with William O’Daly and Terry Ehret
On Saturday, September 25, I have the great good fortune to spend an hour and a half sharing poetry and conversation with acclaimed translator William O’Daly. The program is called Poets in Conversation, and runs from 4-5:30 PM Pacific Time.

Phyllis Klein, poet, founder, and host of Poets in Conversation, describes it as a Zoom poetry reading with two authors at a time, featuring poems from the books as well as conversation and connection between the readers and the audience present in the Zoom Room. The conversations are then posted to
Youtube for later viewing.

William O'DalyWilliam O’Daly has translated eight books of poetry of Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, and most recently Neruda’s first volume, Book of Twilight, a finalist for the 2018 Northern California Book Award in Translation. O’Daly’s chapbooks of poems include The Whale in the Web, also published by Copper Canyon, as well as The Road to Isla Negra; Water Ways, a collaboration with JS Graustein; and Yarrow and Smoke. A National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, O’Daly was a finalist for the 2006 Quill Award in Poetry and has been chosen to receive the 2021 English Language Literary Award from the Korean-American journal Miju Poetry and Poetics.

I first discovered Bill O’Daly’s fine renderings of Neruda’s poetry back in the early 90’s. Our literary paths crossed again when, in appreciation for his work, I sent him a copy of Plagios/Plagiarisms, Volume One, a bilingual translation of poems by Ulalume González de Leόn. Bill wrote back and graciously agreed to write a blurb for Plagios/Plagiarisms,Volume Two, which is currently in book production and due out in April 2022.

Check out Poets in Conversation at this link: To let Phyllis know you’re interested in attending, contact her at

Poem for September
I chose this poem by Roque Dalton in gratitude for the many conversations I had with my student at Santa Rosa Junior College, Bryan Chavez Castro. He introduced me to the poetry of Roque Dalton, and the bravery of his life and work. Born in 1935 in El Salvador, Roque Dalton was the author of several influential poetry collections, including Taberna y otros lugares. He spent much of his life in exile in Mexico and Cuba and died in 1975.

Like You
Roque Daltonby Roque Dalton, 1935-1975
Translated by Jack Hirschman

Like you I
love love, life, the sweet smell
of things, the sky-blue
landscape of January days.
And my blood boils up
and I laugh through eyes
that have known the buds of tears.
I believe the world is beautiful
and that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.
And that my veins don’t end in me
but in the unanimous blood
of those who struggle for life,
little things,
landscape and bread,
the poetry of everyone.


Como Tú

Yo, como tú,
amo el amor, la vida, el dulce encanto
de las cosas, el paisaje
celeste de los días de enero.
También mi sangre bulle
y río por los ojos
que han conocido el brote de las lágrimas.
Creo que el mundo es bello,
que la poesía es como el pan, de todos.
Y que mis venas no terminan en mí
sino en la sangre unánime
de los que luchan por la vida,
el amor,
las cosas,
el paisaje y el pan,
la poesía de todos.

(Curbstone Press, 2000), edited by Martín Espada.

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Literary Update co-editor

Posted by: wordrunner | August 1, 2021

August 2021

Dear Literary Folk,

Black and White in Black and White: Photography Exhibit
Petaluma Historical Library and Museum
September 26-November 6

The Petaluma Historical Library & Museum will present, starting September 26, a virtual exhibit of photographs by John Johnson, an African American photographer from Lincoln, Nebraska, whose work portrays the dignity, hope, and diversity in America. 

In an article in the Smithsonian, “Lost and Found Again,” you can read the story of how Douglas Keister began his collection of Johnson’s historical photographs, and the remarkable portrait they give of what historians call “The New Negro Movement. The beginning of the 20th-century was a time of great promise and hope for race relations in America . . . a period which set the stage for the Harlem Renaissance. No one better captured the essence of this time of advancement than African American photographer John Johnson.”

Black and White in Black and White Ekphrastic Poetry Contest
You can be a part of this extraordinary and timely exhibit. Preceding the opening on September 26, the Museum is sponsoring an ekphrastic poetry contest open to all poets residing in Sonoma County. The contest is currently open, and interested poets may preview the exhibit images at: Use passcode: ee2021.

Send poems to prize coordinator, Sandra Anfang at by August 31, 2021. Snail mail submissions will not be accepted. Poems must be no longer than 500 words of original work – no translations. Prizes will be awarded to three poets residing in Sonoma County:  $50.00 first prize, $25.00, second prize, and $25.00 third prize. Additionally, each finalist will receive a copy of the chapbook created from the selected entries. There is no entry fee. Winners will be notified by early September.

For questions and more information contact Clint Gilbert, contest coordinator:

Click on this link to download the Submission Guidelines PDF

Bill Vartnaw and Taurean Horn Poets
Bill VartnawPetaluma poet, executive director of the Poetry Walk, Sonoma County Poet Laureate Emeritus, and founder of Taurean Horn Press, Bill Vartnaw will be reading with several poets he has published on Sunday, August 15, 2:00-3:30 p.m. San Francisco Public Library is hosting the event, which will be online. Bill Vartnaw (Suburbs of My Childhood) will be joined by poet and musician Avotcja, poets Gail Mitchell (Root Tracings, Bone Songs) and Jeanne Powell (February Voices), Tom Sharp (Spectacles: A Sampler of Poems and Prose), and San Francisco Poet Laureate emeritus Kim Shuck (Clouds Running In).

Register to attend:

Interested in Graphic Novels?
Brian Fies will discuss the art of graphic storytelling—how words plus images add up to more than the sum of their parts—and how Brian used comics to tell the story of our community’s trauma and renewal during recent fires in his latest book, A Fire Story. The event will be on Saturday, August 21, 1:00-2:30 p.m., and will be hybrid in format: In other words, you may attend in person at Finley Center, 2060 W. College Ave., Santa Rosa, or virtually via
Zoom. The event is hosted by Redwood Writers. Details and registration:

Remembering Janice Mirikitani
American Sansei poet, dancer, and community activist Janice Mirikitani was celebrated for her poetry and for her dedication to helping others. Mirikitani co-founded Glide Memorial in San Francisco with her husband, Cecil Williams. She passed away on July 29.

Mirikitani was born in 1941 in Stockton, California, and earned a BA from UCLA. As a child, she was interned, along with her parents, in an Arkansas camp during World War II. Through her poetry and activism, Mirikitani dedicated her life to addressing the horrors of war, combating institutional racism, and advocating for women and poor people. Her collections of poetry include Awake in the River (1978), Shedding Silence (1987), We, the Dangerous: New and Selected Poems (1995), and Love Works (2001). Mirikitani has edited several anthologies, including Third World Women (1972), Time to Greez! Incantations from the Third World (1975), and Ayumi: A Japanese American Anthology (1980). In 2000, she was named the second poet laureate of San Francisco.

Katherine Hastings, Sonoma County Poet Laureate emerita, wrote this about Janice:

“Janice Mirikitani was a goddess. She helped so many people with the deepest kindness, patience and love, including me in the mid-80s when I was healing from old unbearable trauma. She refused to be silenced about her own past suffering and encouraged others to speak up, to re-claim themselves. As they did, she was a fountain of support and hope not just for people who had experienced what she did in her childhood, but any kind of trauma.  I’ll never forget my time with her during my years at Glide, including a reading I participated in from an anthology she wrote an introduction for, and being introduced by her, in person, to the equally powerful Maya Angelou, who also provided warmth and support.  All of it was love. The real kind.  I’m saddened that she is no longer with us but relieved to know, from what I hear, that she didn’t suffer in her passing. Janice, you always were an angel. Thank you. Peace and Love and Gratitude forever.”

Katherine has selected a poem of Janice’s for August. Scroll down to read this. You can read more about Janice’s life and work on the Poetry Foundation website:

Many poets are gathering to honor Janice Mirikitani in a Zoom event on August 12th at 2PM.  Follow this link to register:

Celebration of Life for Amy Trussell
Last month, we shared the sad news of Amy Trussell’s passing. I wanted to update you on Amy’s Celebration of Life, scheduled for Saturday, August 28, starting at 2 PM. It will be held at the Sebastopol Youth Annex. Music will be provided by Midnight Sun Massive, 2-10. For more information, 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:

Plagios/Plagiarisms wins the Northern California Book Award in Poetry Translation
Five Sonoma County authors were nominated for a Northern California Book Award this year: Joan Frank, Kathleen Winter,  John Johnson, Nancy Morales, and Terry Ehret. At the awards ceremony on July 11, Plagios/Plagiarisms, Volume One was honored by the Northern California Book Reviewers with first place in Poetry Translation. This year, for the first time, the translation competition was statewide
If you’d like to order this collection of poems by Mexican poet Ulalume González de Leόn, you can do so directly from the publisher, Sixteen Rivers Press, at this link:

I had the additional honor of receiving the award on behalf of my translation partners, John Johnson and Nancy J. Morales. In my acceptance speech, I thanked the NCBA for including translation among its award categories, which is surprisingly rare, and quoted what Nancy and John had to say about the importance of literary translation:

“Ulalume’s poetry reminds us over and over that we live in a world of others, among the words of others, and that we are all participants in the act of meaning-making, which is above all a pleasure.” (John Johnson)

“Living in the United States, a country with a diverse and international population, but operating under a monolinguistic and monocultural paradigm, it is necessary and vital that we experience poetry from other countries.” (Nancy J. Morales)

Nancy and I will be participating in the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference First Book Panel on Friday, August 6 at 9 AM. To find out the schedule for this year’s conference week, check this link: See also the reminder below.

Napa Valley Writers’ Conference August 1-6
The Napa Valley Writer’s Conference begins today. If you are thinking about attending one of the readings or craft lectures open to the public, keep in mind that, the Conference will be held on the main campus of Napa Valley College, in the heart of Napa, CA. 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. You’ll need a facemask for any indoor events.

Poem for August

by Janice Mirikitani

I collected insects
for my biology class
Dropped them into a bottle
of cyanide fumes
and quickly stilled
those beating wings.

                        He locked me
                        in an airless vault of shame,
                        the darkness of closets, barns,
                        and muffled bedrooms.
                        Kept me in a jar
                        of silence
                        with the poisons of threat:
                        “If you speak of this,
                        you will kill your mother.”

I pinned dead insects
neatly on paraffin
with gleaming
silver straight needles.

                        I think I hear

                        He peeled back my skin,
                        pierced my flesh
                        with the dull blades
                        of his hands,
                        slowly pulled off my wings,
                        impaled me, writhing.
                        Without swift mercy
                        of insecticide,
                        I suffocated slowly,
                        swallowing bits of my tongue.

                        My body
in the mute row
of corpses
to paraffin.

Terry Ehret
Sonoma County Lit
erary Update co-editor

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

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