Poet Laureate’s News

Iris DunkleNovember 2017

The past month, we faced the catastrophe of wild fires.  As Poet Laureate, I feel it’s my job to document what we have experienced.  One of the many areas devastated by the Tubbs fire was a historic site, that housed a utopian community in the late 1800s called Alturia.  Charmian Kittredge London visited it many times and there is still a road named after the community near where the famous round barn used to stand.  After the first night of the fires, I wanted to find a story of how our community has come together before and overcome great loss and this brought me to the 1906 Earthquake.  Santa Rosa was a different town in those days.  There were only around 8,000 people who lived here.  But, the earthquake, whose epicenter was very near to Santa Rosa, devastated the city.  Jack and Charmian rode their horses through the town just hours after the quake struck on their way to San Francisco and Charmian recorded in her diary how she couldn’t believe the devastation.  But, then, as now, our county was resilient and was able to rise from the ashes becoming even stronger than they were before.  This poem is about the resilience of Sonoma County.

Sonoma Strong
By Iris Jamahl Dunkle

Days after the great 1906 Earthquake
Jack and Charmian London rode their horses
from Glen Ellen into Santa Rosa
to visit Burke’s Sanitarium
looking for the salve of utopia:
tent cabins set up on a hillside next to rock bedded
creeks, wind whispering through fragrant bay leaves.


What they found then, was what we see now:
on the surface, blackened hills, a city
that still smolders at its foundations.
Charred houses lean against the smoke-choked sky.  

Flames eat at what is left; fear seethes.


And though the lumber was scarce

and still sticky with sap, and though

there were too few strong arms to wield hammers,

everything that was lost a century ago was rebuilt. 

You see, in this city, again and again, kindness pushes
up from the parched soil like a good crop.  


A Project and a Reading: Documenting the Stories from the Fire
Until my tenure ends, I will be partnering with the Sonoma Historical Society, the Sebastopol Center for the Arts and other partners to collect stories about the fire and write poems based on the stories.  I will also be writing poems to document the historic buildings we lost in the fires.  If you have a story you would like to share, or, if you are interested in participating in this project, please email me: iris.dunkle@gmail.com.

On November 12, please join us for Rising from the Ashes –the Heart of Poetry Sunday, November 12, 2017, 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. Sebastopol Center for the Arts for a reading where we will honor the pain caused by the fires and celebrate the resilience of those who were affected.

Book Release
My third collection of poetry, Interrupted Geographies, was just released by Trio House Press.  You can pick up a copy at Copperfield’s in Sebastopol, Petaluma, or Santa Rosa, or at Reader’s Books in Sonoma.  I’ll be launching my book at the Copperfield’s in Sebastopol on November 10, at 7:00 pm.  I’d love to see you there.

Iris Jamahl Dunkle
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2016-2017


Iris Jamahl Dunkle’s  poetry collection, There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air, is available at: www.irisjamahldunkle.com. Also available in audio book:


Archives of previous Poet Laureate columns may be found here for 2012,  2013, 2014,  2015 and 2016-2017.

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