Dear Poets and Friends,
In case you haven’t heard already:
DANA GIOIA is our new California State Poet Laureate! The author of five books of poems (the latest of which is coming to WordTemple in March), essays, opera libretti and more, Gioia is also a former Chairperson of the NEA. In that role, his initiatives included Poetry Out Loud, the national student poetry recitation contest that some of us have had the pleasure of preparing students for or participating in as judges.
“My life changed for the better by falling in love with poetry. It made me a better student, made me a more alert human being. And I’d like to try to bring the gifts of poetry to the broadest audience possible.” – Dana Gioia
The last time you heard Dana recite his poetry in Sonoma County was at WordTemple when he co-featured with the Swedish poet Kjell Espmark. On March 26, we’ll have a special event at WordTemple to celebrate his new role as poet laureate. Mark your calendars now!
IRIS JAMAHL DUNKLE has been selected as the next poet laureate of Sonoma County. A Sebastopol resident, Iris is the author of two full-length collections of poetry. Her latest book, There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air, focuses on the history of Sonoma County. Her poet laureate projects will include teaching local history via a writing workshop for Sonoma County teachers; holding writing workshops at historic sites throughout the county; creating and editing an anthology of poetry about the history of Sonoma County and writing a monthly column at the Press Democrat called “Poet’s Corner.”
Dunkle will read from There’s a Ghost in this Machine of Air at the WordTemple Poetry Series on Saturday, January 9. A special event to celebrate the passing of the laurel wreath to her will be scheduled soon. Stay tuned!
Congratulations to Dana and Iris, and to all of Sonoma County and California for these fine selections.
On a more troubling note, many of you know the wonderful Francisco X. Alarcòn who has read at WordTemple on a number of occasions. It is with a heavy heart that I announce Francisco has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. I hope you will sit in meditation, send a prayer, light a candle or do whatever it is you believe will send this lovely man healing energy. It is hard to imagine anyone more filled with love and light than Francisco.
Finally, I want to thank you, this wonderful community of Sonoma County poets, for your support of and participation in my term as poet laureate. The past two years have been an incredible experience. From sending out those initial “mini-essay” blasts, to the uplifting readings from Digging Our Poetic Roots – Poems from Sonoma County, every day was filled to the brim with poetry, most often yours. I look forward to seeing you again in 2016.
Which brings me to WordTemple! For a full schedule of readings (updated on a regular basis) go to www.wordtemple.com.
Greetings Poets and Friends,
I’m thrilled to tell you that the kick-off reading for my poet laureate project anthology, Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County, was an enormous success! It took place on Saturday, August 29 at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts and, most likely, you were there. Well over 100 hundred people arrived to celebrate the publication of this book. We started with cake (chocolate ganache with vanilla buttercream frosting inscribed in chocolate “Sonoma County Poetry!”), wine, sparkling water and more, and continued on with a full hour of poetry. More poets read for this kick-off event than will read for the September and October events so they were held to one poem apiece, but what poetry! Everyone who read — from the opening poem by Terry Ehret, Sonoma County poet laureate emerita, to the ending ballad sung by J.R. Brady — gave an amazing performance. It was magical to sit there and hear everyone read the poems I’ve been enjoying in silence and solitude for over a year now. Congratulations to everyone, and thank you for this rich and immensely satisfying experience.
If you don’t have a copy of the anthology yet and would like to hear some of the poems from it, here are two more scheduled readings:
Wednesday, September 16, 7:00 p.m., Cloverdale Performing Arts Center
Thursday, October 15, 7:00 p.m., Healdsburg Center for the Arts
If you cannot attend a reading but would like a copy of Digging Our Poetic Roots, just pop me a line and I’ll make sure it happens.
Outside of the anthology, there is more poetry coming to Sonoma County in September. The WordTemple Poetry Series returns on Saturday, September 12 with Stephen Kessler reading his latest translation, Forbidden Pleasures — New Selected Poems by Luis Cernuda; Devereaux Baker will be here to read from her powerful new collection out of the bones of the earth; and our own Michelle Wing will open with new poems as well as poems from her book Body on the Wall. This is a night you definitely don’t want to miss!
Also: The annual Petaluma Poetry Walk takes place on September 20 from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Many delicious hours of poetry!
Finally, the time to nominate candidates to be your next poet laureate (2016 — 2017) is here! Deadline for nominations is October 31; they should be sent to email@example.com. You can also contact Linda Galleta at that address with questions.
When it comes to poetry, Sonoma County rocks! Thanks again, everyone. I hope to see you at another event soon!
Happy summer, everyone!
It’s hard to believe that there are just 5 months left in the year, and in my two-year term as Sonoma County Poet Laureate, as well. The time has just flown by in one happy blur.
As most of you know by now, the culmination of my project, Digging Our Poetic Roots, is an anthology of poems submitted by those poets who participated in the project. There are a number of readings scheduled throughout Sonoma County. Here are a few, including the “kick off” reading announced earlier:
Saturday, August 29, 7:00 p.m., Sebastopol Center for the Arts
Wednesday, September 16, 7:00 p.m., Cloverdale Performing Arts Center
Sunday, October 4, 4:30 p.m., Occidental Center for the Arts
Thursday, October 15, TBA, Healdsburg Center for the Arts
If you’re in the anthology, please remember to let Jodi Hottel know whether or not you can read on any or all of these dates.
Hope to see all of you on August 29!
Dear Poets and Friends,
I will. I promise I will, but this morning I find it more than a little difficult to write about the upcoming Digging poetry anthology with so much going on in the world. The horrific natural disaster in Nepal, the disaster of yet another young black man in America wiped out needlessly, criminally, by a small number of cops who give all cops a bad name, the resulting Baltimore riot and the sometimes, not always, ignorant responses to that riot. On social media, I received a note from a white “friend” of another white “friend.” It had a picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., and over his face was printed a message about how he “changed the world without throwing one brick.” This is a very partial truth. First, for certain populations, the world has not changed so much. Secondly, though King believed in making a stand through non-violent demonstrations, he also addressed the issue of riots. Riots, he said, are what happens when people aren’t heard over a long period of time. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t applaud the riot in Baltimore, but he wouldn’t be so quick to judge it either. Although I have a love-hate relationship with technology, I’m grateful for the cell phones and video cameras that have been capturing these incidents for everyone to see — what is happening now, what has been happening in this country since the first black foot touched American soil. Perhaps these images that cannot be ignored will truly help bring about change.
Here are the final two stanzas of Margaret Walker’s long poem, “For My People,” from The Poetry of Black America — Anthology of the 20th Century, forward by Gwendolyn Brooks, edited by Arnold Adoff:
For my people standing staring trying to fashion a better way from confusion, from
hypocrisy and misunderstanding, trying to fashion a world that will hold all the
people, all the faces, all the adams and eves and their countless generations;
Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace be written in the
sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth; let a people loving free-
dom come to growth. Let a beauty full of healing and a strength of final
clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be
written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control.
— Margaret Walker, 1915 — 1998
Digging Our Poetic Roots — Poems from Sonoma County. At the WordTemple Poetry Series this past Saturday night, I said that the anthology is “being printed as I speak.” Well, not quite, but close. It turns out that I have one more hard proof coming my way this week. If all is well, I’ll give the okay and the printing process will begin.
If you were at WordTemple, you witnessed a small miracle: Money raised for the sake of poetry! Linda Galletta, the wonderful Executive Director of the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, presented me with a check in the amount of $1,458.65 to defray expenses for the production of this book. Please join me in thanking the Sebastopol Center for the Arts and everyone who sent donations to them for our poet laureate project by sending a note to Linda Galletta (firstname.lastname@example.org, or Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High Street, Sebastopol, CA, 95472). I’m overwhelmed with gratitude. Now everyone who contributed to the anthology will get a free copy and, as I stated at WordTemple, I won’t be forced to stand on a street corner with my two chihuahuas and a tin cup! Thank you, SCA!
The kick-off reading has been moved to Saturday, October 10. This will be a very special WordTemple event, so mark your calendars now! 7 p.m., SCA.
One of the three contributing editors for the anthology, New York poet Lee Slonimsky, will be in town next month. Lee, Iris Dunkle and I will give a reading at Reader’s Books in Sonoma on Wednesday, May 6 at 7 p.m. Lee will also read at Many Rivers Books in Sebastopol on Thursday, May 7. I hope you can find your way to one of these events.
On Saturday, May 16, the WordTemple Poetry Series returns with the wonderful Malachi Black and Robert Thomas. Be sure to check it out at www.wordtemple.com.
Happy May, everyone!
Dear Poets and Writers,
There was no post for March 2015.
Dear Poets and Writers,
Many of you were at the January WordTemple event with Ellery Akers, Phyllis Meshulam and a number of writers included in Changing Harm to Harmony, the powerful anthology edited by Marin County Poet Laureate Joseph Zaccardi. What a night! Thanks to everyone for your participation. February promises to be equally moving, and includes live music as well! Be sure to check out the schedule at http://www.wordtemple.com.
Speaking of the WordTemple Poetry Series, I want to give a shout out to the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. You may be familiar with the gallery because you attend WordTemple, but there is so much more going on at 282 S. High Street than the art gallery (as if that wasn’t enough!). Music, talks, films and more. Check it all out at www.sebarts.org.
The responses to the Digging Our Poetic Roots project have slowed down a bit since poems have been selected for the culminating anthology, but I heard back from enough people to pound out the next min-essay. I’ll include it in this posting in case you’d like a writing prompt. It’s called “Digging YOUR Roots,” and follows here.
Happy February, everyone!
Digging Your Roots
What is your culture? Who are your ancestors? How can you bring them, along with their histories and stories, into your poetry? This is such a huge subject, but let’s tap into it just a little and see what happens.
My own background is Scottish, Irish, English, French and Native American but, thanks to my mother Kate and her sisters, Bettie and Eunice, it was the Irish blood that sang loudest in my family. So when it came time to tell one of the family stories through poetry, I turned to Irish sources to help bring that story from strict prose to a more complex poetry. More on that later. Before this time, I had noticed how other poets brought their cultures, their ancestry into their work.
For instance, in his poem “Cordilleras” (Mountains), Pablo Neruda uses intense imagery to tell us something about Chilean culture, and more. He’s in a plane flying over Chile:
Suddenly I witnessed the last light —
daytime’s banner shipwrecked and spreading out;
sky and light battling moon and twilight
crimson roosters in a fleshy quarrel.
And I beheld, close to me, near my face,
how Mt. Aconcagua created a kingdom of order
with the solitude of its stature —
and over all the snowy nakedness:
a bloody sombrero was girded by the night.
“Shipwrecked.” “Battling.” Not a very peaceful scene, this. To see that sunset as “crimson roosters in a fleshy quarrel” is one way of sharing that the Chilean culture may include cockfights, yes? And what about that “bloody sombrero”! What is happening in Chile that a sunset brings such images? There is violence, we finally learn, including to the earth through endless mining.
But this is more than an outward looking. At the beginning of the poem he says:
I was voyaging from the north, the Chilean wilderness,
copper and stone, silence, tools, motors,
and I didn’t look outside during hours with the sky,
I looked inside of myself — my own
It’s a long poem. I don’t want to “undress” it here. If you’d like to see the whole poem, pick up Neruda’s book Ceremonial Songs.
The brilliant Black, gay writer James Baldwin spoke more directly to what had happened and was happening and would continue to happen to his culture. I’ve very recently re-read two of his books — The Fire Next Time and No Name On the Street. They are extremely relevant today, unfortunately, so if you want some excellent non-fiction to read, get them! But I digress.
Last year (2014), Beacon Press in Boston published Jimmy’s Blues and Other Poems. (The introduction by Nikky Finney is invaluable in giving context to where his poems come from, why and how he uses the N word, and more.) Here are examples of the directness I mention (he has to be direct; metaphors would only deflate the power of what he has to say) — two separate sections from his incredible poem “Staggerlee Wonders:
my stricken kinsmen,
the party is over:
there have never been any white people,
anywhere: the trick was accomplished with mirrors —
look: where is your image now?
where your inheritance,
on what rock stands this pride?
I counsel you,
leave History alone
She is exhausted,
sitting, staring into her dressing-room mirror,
and wondering what rabbit, now,
to pull out of what hat,
and seriously considering retirement,
even though she knows her public
dare not let her go.
During this long travail
our ancestors spoke to us, and we listened,
and we tried to make you hear life in our song
but now it matters not at all to me
whether you know what I am talking about — or not:
I know why we are not blinded
by your brightness, are able to see you,
who cannot see us. I know
why we are still here.
Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, who grew up in the Tibetan exile communities of Nepal and India (and who will be reading at WordTemple on February 21!), tells us in quiet phrases, and sometimes more directly, about a culture. Here are two snippets.
From “First Lesson”:
silence in women
said aunt Pema.
Use fingers to count
the years of the sun.
An abattoir is not on the city tour because tourists
do not wish to see death. They surmise that being poor,
natives are naturally without longing. The poor are happy,
they observe from a distance…
I could go on and on with so many examples! But I’ll loop back now to the beginning when I mentioned my Irish heritage and how I brought one family story into a poem called “Sidhe” (pronounced “she”). In a nutshell, thanks to the encouragement of Jack Foley to collage a bit, I braided little scraps of Irish spells, Irish blessings, Irish songs, Irish prayers, Irish everything into the poem to hold up the story within it. It’s a long poem. Here are two small segments from the middle of it to give you an idea:
What the Mortal Son
of Un-nourishing Substance calls it.
Lithium Valium Seconal cradled
palm of hand
Head back re-fills
spits “I hate the sight of you!”
O’Sidhe is five, still wondering
who is he, the cockalorum
O Little O’Sidhe, how is your heart now?
How to Go Invisible: Get a raven’s heart, split
it open with a black hafted knife, make three
cuts, place a black bean in each cut. Plant it.
When the beans sprout put one in your mouth,
say “By virtue of Satan’s heart, by strength of
my great art, I desire to be invisible.” So it will
be as long as the bean is kept in the mouth.
And the Flower Like Milk in a Dark Pantry At Night
Narrow hallway Pantry The Mortal Man
of Un-Nourishing Substance
reaches for O’Sidhe
I see the color on your head but
What color is your hair
O’Sidhe perches high in the corner
back pushed against the ceiling.
Fi! Fie! Fo! Fum!
She didn’t know
until he came — the Mortal Son.
O’Mind! O’Powerful Mind!
No man can reach the shape-shifter.
I could scale the blue air
I could plough the high hills
I could kneel at night in prayer
To heal your many ills
I planned on writing one or two pages. I’m up to five! So I’ll stop here. If you end up writing poems that reflect your ancestry, your culture, I’d love to see them. Be brave. Be brutal if you must. Experiment. Write!
Happy New Year, everyone!
2014 was a busy year. Some of you participated in my poet laureate project, Digging Our Poetic Roots, and can look forward to the resulting anthology by the end of 2015. Once I have a firm production date, I’ll schedule celebratory readings around the county.
2014 witnessed the loss of several poets. Just to name a few: Carolyn Kizer, Mark Strand and, most recently on December 27, Tomaz Salamun. Here is a poem by Salamun translated by Anselm Holla and the author:
To Have a Friend
I see the devil’s head, people,
I see his whole body
I never thought he could come so close
he longs for innocence, as we do,
I have the sensation
he was crammed into the wall for a long time
I have the feeling that his hands ache,
that he is tender and absorbed in thoughts,
he licks everything before killing it,
he bursts into tears, scraping meat, he is blessed
he has no friends, he is walking alone in the world
I have the feeling he is saying something to me
that he is watching me with regret
he knows I could never sleep with him
we are both humiliated
he reminds me of the English teacher
when he was pensioned off,
and young secret police recruits,
it seems his beatitude is failing
the souls squeal when he tortures them
he doesn’t drink them, as I imagined
it seems he derives no benefit from them
I think he would like to have a friend
to share goods and pleasure
he steps in the river and wets his head in it
he doesn’t know how to speak with it
he splashes on the surface
I will leave him as he is, I will not talk to him
If you’re not familiar with Salamun, you can read about his life and works here:
2014 was typical in its rich tradition of live poetry events in Sonoma County. Whether you were in Cloverdale where the new series Books on Stage kicked off, Petaluma for the annual Petaluma Poetry Walk, Healdsburg where the literary guild hosts regular readings, Sebastopol for the WordTemple Poetry Series or readings at Coffee Katz, or Copperfield’s in Santa Rosa, poetry was in the air. And, thankfully, there is more to come. I know you’ll keep your eye on this wonderful literary update to stay current. If you are a poet, attend as many readings as you can. You never know what sounds and rhythms and images may kick-start your own work. If you’re not a poet, treat yourself to poems read by the very people who wrote them.
On January 24, 2015 at 7 p.m., WordTemple returns to the Sebastopol Center for the Arts hosting Marin County Poet Laureate Joe Zaccardi, editor of Changing Harm to Harmony — Bullies & Bystanders Project. The anthology is A Book of Poems, Letters & Other Writings that serves as a “present day response for changing harm to harmony…best defined by the process of restorative justice” (Richard Cruwys Brown). A number of contributors, including several Sonoma County poets, will read from the anthology that night. Andre Le Mont Wilson, Gerald Fleming, CB Follett, Katherine Hastings, Jodi Hottel, David Beckman, Ed Coletti, Stephanie Mandel, Rebecca Foust, Susan Terris, Mark Meiderding, Julia Vose, Eva M. Schlensger, Barbara Welch Brooks, Alan Cohen, Linda Enders and Calvin Ahlgren. Come experience this heartfelt and beautifully produced anthology. Joe Zaccardi will give an introduction.
Also reading that night is Ellery Akers, celebrating her latest collection, Practicing the Truth, winner of the 2014 Autumn House Poetry Prize, judged by Alicia Ostriker. The winner of eleven national writing awards, Akers is also the author of a children’s novel, Sarah’s Waterfall. Among her honors are fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, Ucross Foundation, and Headlands Center for the Arts.
And last, but definitely not least, is Sonoma County poet Phyllis Meshulam who will read from her new chapbook from Finishing Line Press, Doll, Moon. “With each poem in Doll, Moon, Phyllis Meshulam spins a delicate, strong strand of webbing that connects the reader to ancestors, human and animal, and to events in history and the cosmos.
— Maxine Hong Kingston, author of China Men, winner of the National Book Award.
And that’s just WordTemple. Be sure to check out other events posted for the month in this literary guide.
I’m off now to write the next installment of the Digging Our Poetic Roots project. Since we’re at the beginning of a new year, the topic will be about the beginning of a poem — the title. If you’re not signed up to receive these mini-essays but would like to, drop me a line at khastings (at sign) wordtemple (dot) com.
Finally, here’s an Irish blessing for you written by the wonderful “Anonymous”:
May you have warm words on a cold evening,
a full moon on a dark night and
a smooth road all the way to your door.
Hope to see you soon!