Poet Laureate’s News

October 2020

Phyllis MeshulamOh, dear, Sonomans,
Here we go again. Wishing you all safety and shelter as fire season continues. Do vote with climate in mind this November.
This past month I’ve begun work on a second video lesson. It’s based on Claudia Rankine’s Citizen, An American Lyric. (I mentioned this book to you before in my July post.) Professor Kim Hester Williams was kind enough to lend a hand in presenting the model poems so that they would be in the voice of a person of color.

Hester WilliamsProfessor Hester Williams is the chair of American Multicultural Studies, and Professor of English, AMCS, Women’s and Gender Studies, and Film Studies at CSU-Sonoma State University. She is also the co-editor of and a contributor to a collection of interdisciplinary essays on race and environment titled, Racial Ecologies, published by the University of Washington Press in 2018. Professor Kim likes to engage in projects that concern Afro-Eco-Poetics and new worldmaking (a la Octavia Butler). She also enjoys reading and writing poetry which is grounded in the long tradition of African American vernacular poetics. Yet, she still found time to come to Sebastopol so my husband could film her reading the poems!
While we were at it, we filmed a slightly excerpted version of another poem I plan to use in a different lesson aimed more at elementary school students. It alludes to this picture of Elizabeth Eckford making her way to help integrate Little Rock High School in September 1957.
Here’s the picture:
Elizabeth Eckford

Here’s the poem:
Excerpt from Soul Make A Path Through Shouting
            for Elizabeth Eckford
Little Rock, Arkansas, 1957

By Cyrus Cassells

Thick at the schoolgate are the ones
Rage has twisted
Into minotaurs, harpies
Relentlessly swift;
So you must walk past the pincers,
The swaying horns,
Sister, sister,
Straight through the gusts
Of fear and fury,
Straight through:
Where are you going?

I’m just going to school.

Here we go to meet
The hydra-headed day,
Here we go to meet
The maelstrom-

Can my voice be an angel-on-the-spot,
An amen corner?
Can my voice take you there,
Gallant girl with a notebook,
Up, up from the shadows of gallows trees
To the other shore:
A globe bathed in light,
A chalkboard blooming with equations-

I have never seen the likes of you,
Pioneer in dark glasses:
You won’t show the mob your eyes,
But I know your gaze,
Steady-on-the-North-Star, burning….

Where are you going?
I’m just going to school.

October also means Día de los Muertos and while, unfortunately, we can’t meet in person to celebrate this year, there’s an effort to do so virtually via El Día de los Muertos Petaluma Facebook page. If you have a few words of remembrance for a loved one or a poem to share about them, record this and upload it to YouTube. Then send a link of this recording to me at phyllie@sonic.net. I will pass it along and hopefully we’ll have a nice collection of memorials! There’s an effort to do this by October 16 but it’s not a hard deadline. They plan to have things like video instructions for making sugar skulls and paper flowers, as well.

Day of the Dead

I have to admit that my primary focus between now and the election will be trying to get new leadership in Washington. Every smoky breath I’ve tried to take this past month was a reminder of climate change which scientists say we have less than 10 years to reverse course on. Not to mention social justice, women’s rights, democratic institutions, the Supreme Court.
Thank you and stay safe from the fire monsters…

Phyllis Meshulem
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2020-2022


Archives of previous Poet Laureate columns may be found here for 2012,  2013, 2014,  20152016-2017, 2018-2020 and 2020-2022.

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