Laureate Archive 2013

There was no Poet Laureate column in January 2013


February 2013

Poetry Out Loud

Bill VartnawI want to thank Phyllis Meshulam, whom I know as a wonderful poet & the Area Coordinator for California Poets in the Schools, for inviting me to participate in Poetry Out Loud on February 10th at the Glaser Center, 547 Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa, starting at 6:30 pm. I didn’t know she was also one of the Sonoma County leaders of this national recitation competition. Thank you, Phyllis, for doing this too! I have heard about Poetry Out Loud for a few years now, I’m pleased to be in attendance this year.

Poetry Out Loud began in this country in the spring of 2006. “The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation have partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.” It is sponsored locally by the California Arts Council and the Arts Council of Sonoma County.

This year there are twelve schools in Sonoma County participating. The school winners will compete in the countywide contest on the 10th. The schools involved are: Analy, Cloverdale, Creekside, El Molino, Elsie Allen, Maria Carrillo, Montgomery, Piner, Rancho Cotate, Roseland University Prep, Santa Rosa, and Sonoma Academy. There is no cost to the school or to the students to participate. The public is invited to attend the county competition and give encouragement to the students. I, for one, am excited! (& a little bit nervous, as I have to follow the students to make sure they speak the poem without mistakes.)

The Big Read

Another new thing for me is The Big Read, which is happening in March. This year The Big Read is celebrating the Poems of Emily Dickinson. I will participate with some of the Sonoma County Libraries’ discussion groups. Gwynn O’Gara, my laureate predecessor, will be even more involved! I am presently re-reading many of Emily’s poems & probably reading a lot for the first time. I will also read her Selected Letters & a book or two about her poems & her letters. It’s been about 25 years since I spent some time with her work. She is intimidating—in a good way!

Two of the people I would like to thank for organizing this year’s celebration are Cheryl Scholar, Community Engagement Director/Volunteer Manager, KRCB North Bay Public Media & David Dodd, Collections Manager, Sonoma County Library. I asked Cheryl for some of the highlights for the month-long event & she gave me this list:

The Belle of Amherst
March 2nd at 8 p.m.
6th Street Playhouse, 52 West 6th Street, Santa Rosa
$10 adults; $5 students at

Movie: The Belle of Amherst
March 7th at 6:30 p.m.
The Monte Rio Community Center, 20488 Hwy 116

The Bilingual Belle:
An Emily Dickinson Book Discussion in English and Spanish
Healdsburg Library
March 13th at 7 p.m.
139 Piper Street, Healdsburg

An Emily Dickinson Book Discussion in English and Spanish
Petaluma Library
March 27th at 7:00 p.m.
100 Fairgrounds Drive, Petaluma

The Emily Dickinson Master Class
A Panel of Scholars, Poets Discuss the Life and Poetry of Emily Dickinson
March 21st at 6:30 p.m.
Monte Rio Community Center, 20488 Hwy 116

Meet Emily Dickinson!
(aka Barbara Dana, star of The Belle of Amherst)
March 4th at 7 p.m. at Copperfields Books in Montgomery Village
March 5th at 7 p.m. at Copperfields Books in Petaluma

The Poems of Emily Dickinson
Friends of the Windsor Library Spring Art Show
March 13th – 23rd
Windsor Library, 9291 Old Redwood Hwy., Windsor

Tea with the Poetry of Emily Dickinson:
An Afternoon of Reading and Writing with Iris Dunkle
March 23rd 2 – 4 p.m.
The Sitting Room, 2025 Curtis Drive, Penngrove
Reservations Required:

Poem in My Pocket
Every day, any time, everywhere
Find us on Facebook: Big Read, Sonoma County

Find a listing of all events with full description at:

David Dodd said this about the Big Read: “We here at the Sonoma County Library are planning to synchornize all of our branch book discussion groups that month (or the lion’s share of them, at least) so that everyone will be reading and discussing Emily Dickinson’s poems.”

Gwynn O’Gara will help out with the discussion sessions at the branches, bringing her own poet’s sensibility to the gatherings of readers. (There will be a librarian present as well at each of these.) There are a lot of dates—8 all told for her—spread throughout the month. I’m listing them below:

Petaluma: March 12 at noon.
Windsor: March 12 at 2:30 pm.
Rincon Valley: March 13, 6:30 pm.
Guerneville: March 14 at 12:30 pm.
Rohnert Park / Cotati: March 19 at 11:30 am.
Northwest (Coddingtown): March 20 at 2:30 pm.
Central Library, downtown Santa Rosa: March 26, 12 pm and 1:30 pm.

I have agreed to be co-facilitator at a few library branches also. My Taurean Horn Press recently published With Every Step I Take by Avotcja, the Oakland poet, musician & radio personality. I began working on the book before I became poet laureate. I am very proud of the book & want to support it as best I can, so I have been a bit hesitant to overbook myself, which I learned from my experiences last year.

I will be at the Rincon Valley branch on March 13 at 1:30 pm. I will also be joining Gwynn in Petaluma and at both discussions at the Central Library in Santa Rosa on March 26th.

If anyone has more information about The Big Read they want to announce with next month’s blog, please contact me at

The Redwood Cafe

If you are looking for something to do while the 49ers make their sixth Superbowl appearance this Sunday, might I suggest The Redwood Cafe in Cotati. Geri Digiorno, who was this county’s fourth poet laureate & founded the Petaluma Poetry Walk, is having a family reading. Geri will be reading along with her sister Nancy Keane and her two daughters, Yvonne & Michelle Baynes from 5-7 pm. Sarah Baker will be playing her keyboards & singing the blues. Next month, Avotcja will be reading from her new book with Shirley Kazuyo Muramoto on koto.

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


March 2013

Tis March & spring is on the horizon—!

This is the month of the Big Read & the poems of Emily Dickinson. You can read more about it or find event listings at the sponsors websites :

Sonoma County Library:
& on facebook:

I am no authority on Emily Dickinson. I have now read a couple of books to pick up a bit of the background behind the poems. They were some help. I have been reading her for quite a while. I have had the Thomas H. Johnson edition of her poems since the seventies, not that I have read her all the time. I pick it up every now & then. I do enjoy many of the poems. I don’t think I have yet read all seventeen hundred of them. I’ve read a lot of them. Some I remember, I’ve read this before; some I don’t. I found in my reading that the Johnson edition came out not too long before I purchased it. It was the first edition of her poems that came out, as best Johnson could tell, as she wrote them, with her punctuation. Her poems were all handwritten & not always easily read. I believe that a book of her poems in her handwriting has come out or will come out this year. Before that, for almost a hundred years, her poems came out with an editor’s “improvements.” So, Emily is gaining momentum…

I do have a very brief history with (a line from) Emily. A line of hers appears in my first book, In Concern: for Angels. It was actually the first Angel poem I wrote, though it appears as the last poem in the book. I was more than likely reading her at the time. I remember writing the poem & feeling that she had to be included. The first word of the poem is an italicized “Inclusion.” I took her book, opened it randomly to page 247, closed my eyes & plopped my index finger on the line “Crowned—Crowing—on my Father’s breast—” It’s not the last line of her poem, “I’m ceded—I’ve stopped being Theirs—” (508), written during the Civil War, but it is the last line of mine & to my ear, it works. The line especially reverberated for me when the book came out. The day I received “In Concern” from the printer is the same day my father died.

One more thing I found of interest comes from the book, Reading Emily Dickinson’s Letters, edited by Jane Donahue Eberwein and Cindy MacKenzie. In the essay, “Dickinson’s Correspondence and the Politics of Gift-Based Circulation,” by Paul Crumbley, we find that Dickinson thought of her poems & letters as gifts to their recipients. She never sought traditional publication. These gifts were her way to distribute her poems & create her audience. They were also her way to let go of her creations. The poems she gave to her friends & family were theirs to do with as they wanted, as any gifts are. I’m sure she hoped that the receiver thought enough about the poem or letter to hold on to it for a while & to re-read it. One friend, who was a published poet herself, tried to convince Emily to publish her poems. Emily had no interest & tried to teach her friend about the art (& rules) of gift-giving. Dickinson was published a few times, I believe always anonymously, during her lifetime. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, credited with bringing Emily Dickinson to the world after her death, advised her not to seek publication while she was alive—for his own reasons.

* * *

On the current side, at the Redwood Cafe in Cotati this Sunday, March 3rd from 5 to 7 pm, Avotcja will be here to read from her new book, With Every Step I Take, accompanied by percussionist Val Serrant from her award-winning band, Avotcja & Modúpue. The book came out in January from my Taurean Horn Press, so I am biased. Come see for yourself. It’s free, but for what you decide to eat or drink. (Food’s good.) The hat is passed, but that’s absolutely voluntary. She is such a wonderful reader. She is a teacher & an inspiration! She is a septuagenarian with MS, hence the book’s title. What she gives her audience is her history & rhythmic joy. I have attended a half dozen of her readings so far this year & I’m still spellbound. Val Serrant accompanied Avotcja recently at Rebound Books in San Rafael. Yes! They are wonderful together. I especially loved his accompaniment on steel drum! Jodi Hottel is the other featured poet for the evening. Her work also can explore historical themes. Check out her HeartMountain! It will be available at the reading too! Geri Digiorno curates & hosts the evening.

* * *

Don’t forget Emily’s play, The Belle of Amherst, at the Sixth Street Playhouse Saturday night! There’s a weekend for you! Check the calendar for the rest of the month…

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


April 2013

Emily Dickinson & April is Poetry Month

I’m still getting over March’s Big Read & Emily Dickinson. Wow! Does one get over Emily Dickinson? The Big Read taught me a lot about Emily. I want to thank all those who participated in the library discussions, especially the librarians who put me at ease with their groups. Many in these groups read the poems differently than I did & I heard some of these poems differently & was rewarded by it. Also, I was reminded the act of talking about poems & possible interpretations brought out thoughts that I hadn’t entertained at all until then. I want to thank Gwynn O’Gara for co-facilitating with me in Central Santa Rosa library discussion groups & letting me join her (in Rohnert Park). It was good to be in awe with someone else who was supposed to “know” Dickinson.

Some lines that have stuck:
There is a pain — so utter —
It swallows substance up —
Then covers the Abyss with Trance —

‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail —
Assent —and you are sane —
Demur — you’re straightway dangerous —
And handled with a Chain —

This is the Hour of Lead —
Remembered, if outlived,
As freezing persons, recollect the Snow —
First — Chill — then Stupor —then the letting go —

These three poems were written in the same year, 1862, according to The Pocket Emily Dickinson, edited by Brenda Hillman, Shambhala Pocket Classics, the book Sonoma County Library handed out to its discussion groups. The numbers in parenthesis are from Thomas H. Johnson who edited The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, that was the first edition to leave her “quirky” punctuation in. She did not use titles, so he numbered her poems for reference. In my edition there are 1775 poems. I understand more have been found. In 1862, she wrote 227 poems, according to Maid as Muse by Aífe Murray. The previous year she wrote 88. The next year was her most productive. The Civil War years were her most prolific years. It isn’t close. In the 5 years from 1860 to 1865, she wrote 991 poems. Yes, these were among the first years after the Dickinsons were able to afford a full-time maid. Emily, the eldest daughter, had been doing most of the family housework, especially the cooking, after her mother became ill when Emily was 16. As Hillman says in her preface, there is also speculation that she had a personal love relationship that ended just before or around this time. I think the above poems are civilian Civil War poems. If someone can prove they aren’t, my awe is not diminished.

* * *

Now, for National Poetry Month on a local level, we’ve got a slew of readings to celebrate. I can vouch for putting together two of them. It’s a lot of work & I want to thank all co-ordinators who do this every month.

Our Gwynn O’Gara is one of the ensemble of reciters—all from memory—at the 6th Annual World Poetry Night in the Oral Tradition, Thursday April 4th, 7 pm, “an evening of verse by poets from around the world through the ages.” Mechanics Institute, 57 Post St., San Francisco. For reservations call, 415-393-0100. $15.

100 Thousand Poets for Change is again occupying Arlene Francis Center, 99 Sixth Street, in Santa Rosa for their Spring Forward Festival on April 5th, 6th & 7th, starting at 5 pm Friday night & 10 am Saturday & Sunday mornings. This is a free festival of poets, musicians, dancers, DJ’s & urban artists. Michael Rothenberg & Terri Carrion put this festival together while planning the world-wide event in September. Just something to keep their fingers nimble? For more information:

Also, on April 7th, Geri Digiorno hosts poets Barbara Swift Brauer and Gerald Fleming with Steve Shain on bass at the Redwood Cafe First Sundays Series. The reading starts at 5 pm. Redwood Cafe, 8240 Old Redwood Highway, in Cotati.

On April 9th, I direct your attention to Aqus Cafe Celebrates Poetry Month, 189 H St., at the corner of 2nd & H Sts., in Petaluma. I will be joining poets Patti Trimble, J. R. Brady & Pat Nolan for a two-hour reading, starting at 7 pm. This reading is my idea & I definitely think it will be a good one.

On April 13th at 7 pm, at WordTemple Poetry Series, Katherine Hastings is hosting former NEA chair & award-winning poet Dana Gioia, much-awarded Kjell Espmark from Sweden & Sonoma County Poetry Out Loud winner, Kennedy Petersen. This reading will be at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High Street in Sebastopol.

April 17th, at the Petaluma Regional Library, Forum Room, 100 Fairgrounds Drive, Sonoma County Poet Laureates emeritus, Terry Ehret & Geri Digiorno, will read with me. It will be the first time the three laureates from Petaluma have read from their work together. We will be starting at 6 pm because the library closes at 8:00. We want some time to talk afterward.

April 18, Larry Robinson hosts the annual Favorite Poems evening at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High Street, in Sebastopol. The event begins at 7pm. This is a wonderful community/poetry happening.

April 21, Vilma Ginzberg hosts 2012–2013 Healdsburg Literary Laureate, John Koetzner with some of the kids from his poetry classes at the Third Sunday Salon at Bean Affair Coffee Shop, 1270 Healdsburg Avenue in Healdsburg from 1:30 to 3:30 pm.

There is a Poetry SoCo Reading at Coffee Catz in Sebastopol on April 12th, hosted by Andrew Mayer that starts at 7 pm. I don’t know who is reading. These are all the readings I know about. Please check the calendar section for more information about the readings & slams around the county. Good writing, good listening!

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


May Day, 2013

I hope you had a great Poetry Month, now back to the poetry grind! I hope that isn’t your reality. I know a lot of us live or have lived double lives because poetry doesn’t exactly pay the bills. (Not this Bill, at least. Ed Coletti has a blog, “No Money in Poetry,”, so I might be on to something.) When I started writing forty odd years ago, it was for sanity &/or joy. Money really wasn’t part of the equation. When I was chosen poet laureate, the first question I got in my first interview was: how come you don’t receive any money? What seemed to be attached to this question was, why aren’t you angry? In the seventies, there was some money in poetry, not much. There were small government grants for some poets. We passed the hat more often at open readings for featured readers, though it’s still done in some places. After Reagan’s trickle-down in the eighties, most of the arts funding was gone. That was deliberate. A lot of the audience left for a while as well. (Let me say thank you to Poets & Writers Magazine for sponsoring readings to bring the audience back.) Then the arts were taken out of the schools, except for “outside” agencies like CPITS. Of course, CPITS fools them; poetry is always an inside job!

I have nothing against money & I am not angry (at least about poetry & money.) I made peace with that years ago. I have witnessed the political climate since I first was able to vote against Nixon. I have learned something about American history as I have lived through it & my world has grown. I think Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather metaphor, “It’s business, it’s not personal,” is apt. That is why I liked the energy at Michael Rothenberg’s & Terri Carrion’s 100 Thousand Poets for Change/Spring Forward Festival. Local poets performed along with poets from Santa Cruz & Los Angeles, who came up on the spur of the moment. All the arts were on display. The vibe was “it’s personal, this is not business-as-usual. Check it out.” This was change in its own write.

I do like that we’ve created special events for Poetry Month. I enjoyed all the readings of which I was a part, either as reader or audience. I recommend Larry Robinson’s “Favorite Poem” reading at Sebastopol Center for the Arts to any who has never experienced it. It is a community event. The auditorium is a bigger venue than most readings in the county, except for WordTemple which also uses the space. It was fun to read in. A lot of poets & non-poets (or poets I had never seen before) read their favorite poems by others & read them well. Some recited from memory. It was exciting!

* * *

This month, Healdsburg Literary Guild, besides their Third Sunday Salon on the 19th, 1:30 to 3:30 pm at the Bean Affair, which features Marvin R. Hiemstra, will also hold their 14th annual Graveside Readings on Sunday, May 26th, from 2-4 pm at Healdsburg’s Oak Mound Cemetery, First & Piper Streets. I have never attended one of these graveside readings. I’m looking forward to the experience. I’ve read my work in a lot of different places, but I’ve never read at a cemetery. This reading is an open mic, you should plan to read 3-5 minutes depending on the number of readers.

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


There was no post for June 2013.

July 2013

It’s hot! Hope every one had a great Solstice!

Sorry, my blog didn’t appear last month. I had a few things to say too, (I’ll say them below) but I was dealing with mortality, mine & others, & wasn’t going online, didn’t get Jo-Anne’s message & lost track of what day it was. I got bit by a tick. The medical lab says it was not a Lyme tick, but I had to wait two weeks, ingesting anti-biotics twice a day, before I found out. I am relieved now, am thinking about writing a poem about it, possibly in the tradition of John Donne’s “The Flea,” a bit darker, though I haven’t done it yet. I’m still learning the lesson.

Last month, Petaluma started a new poetry open mic at Aqus Cafe, co-ordinated by Sandra Anfang, on the first Monday of the month. That would be tonight, if you are reading this on Monday, July 1st. The featured readers are Carol Dorf and Dawn McGuire. Carol Dorf is fascinated with the boundaries between disciplines — mathematics and poetry—- prose poetry and lineated poetry. She is poetry editor of Talking Writing where she writes about issues in contemporary poetry; and she teaches mathematics. Dawn McGuire is a neurologist and author of two poetry collections, Sleeping in Africa and Hands On. McGuire has won several poetry awards, including the Troubadour Prize (UK), the National League of American Pen Women, and the 2011 Sarah Lawrence/Campbell Corner Academy of Language Exchange Poetry Prize for “poems that treat larger themes with lyric intensity.”

Last month, Sandra featured herself with Gail Newman, a San Francisco poet I had hadn’t heard in many years. I enjoyed their work. It was a short reading, due to a new art exhibit being hung at the cafe that night & probably a memo not being seen by the right persons, but showed plenty of promise, as they say. I’ll definitely be there tonight.

* * *

A Sonoma poet who refuses to be identified, & quotes Kierkegaard a lot, tells me that there is a new open mic in Sonoma at Readers’ Books, starting on July 13th from 5 to 7 pm. Those of you who are not familiar with Sonoma, Readers’ Books is a half block east of the plaza, at 130 East Napa Street. They are asking for a $5.00 donation to help pay for their new reading patio where the new open mic will be held. That’s worth a look. Kiitos.

* * *

While I’m on July readings, & this is not an open mic, on Sunday, July 7th at the Redwood Cafe in Cotati, from 5 to 7 pm, there will be a Judy Stedman Writing Tribute with Lynn Camhi, Godelieve Uyttenhove, Gail Calvello, Caroline Brumley, Donna Emerson and Geri Digiorno reading poems by & about the late SRJC poet & teacher. These are women who were in a writing group with Judy. Sarah Baker will provide the music for the evening.

* * *

One of my biggest gaffes, don’t let me count the ways, was not responding to an email to help save the Sonoma County Book Festival until after the due date had been reached. According to their Kickstarter url, they reached their goal on the last day. Thank you everyone! I would have felt awful if that would have happened on my watch. I used to love to go the San Francisco Book Festival when I lived in the city, it was a huge event & one day it ceased to exist. I understand that it’s happening again, but it was gone for over a decade. I don’t want that to happen here. I found an address on the Sonoma County Book Festival Facebook site: P.O. Box 159, Santa Rosa, CA 95402. I will send a small donation, as well as ask for a table for Taurean Horn Press, & invite you to do something similar if you didn’t know & are so inclined. This is what I’ve found out from their online sources:

  •  The 2013 Book Festival on Saturday, September 21, is moving to the outdoor courtyard at the Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa so all of the Festival offerings are in one spot (and it’s a beautiful spot!).
  •  We are partnering with our local independent bookseller, Copperfield’s Books, to bring an amazing line-up of nationally acclaimed authors while still showcasing our wonderful local authors.
  •  We’ll continue to provide presentations, workshops, and a slew of children’s activities in an all-day event that you won’t want to miss and that will remain absolutely FREE.

* * *

Since I’ve mention one September event, I may as well as mention another near & dear to my heart, the Petaluma Poetry Walk is on Sunday, September 15th this year. It looks to be a very good one, here’s the line up as of today:

  • Au Cocolat
    Barbara Swift Brauer/Gerald Fleming/Jodi Hottel
  • Riverfront Gallery
    Jamie Asaye FitzGerald/Glenn Ingersoll/Kathleen Winter
  • Apple Box 1
    Michelle Baynes/Yvonne Baynes/Geri Digiorno/Nancy Keane/surprise poet
  • Apple Box 2
    Raphael Block/Diane Frank/Steward Florsheim
  • Copperfields
    Avotcja/Judy Grahn
  • Phoenix Theater
    Kim Shuck/Bill Vartnaw/Nancy Wakeman
  • Petaluma Museum
    Jennifer Barone/Martin Hickel/Lynn Watson
  • Aqus Cafe
    Neeli Cherkovski/David Meltzer/Julie Rogers

I hope you will find/make time to come. I haven’t mentioned 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Check it out too.

Stay cool.

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


August 1, 2013

I’ve been enjoying the cooler weather & working on both the Petaluma Poetry Walk & the Sonoma County Book Festival this month. September is going to be another busy poetry month in Sonoma County this year; but first, there’s the dog days of August as Sirius, the dog star, drops below the horizon into the underworld to renew itself. August starts out busy for me thanks to Margo Van Veen & Vilma Ginzberg, who are hosting the monthly 100 Thousand Poets for Change reading, subbing for the vacationing Susan Lamont, at Gaia’s Garden, International Vegetarian Restaurant, 1899 Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa. The Friday, August 2nd event readers include Mark Eckert, Karl Frederick, Marvin Hiemstra, coming up from the East Bay, David Madgalene, Clare Morris, Gwynn O’Gara, Lilith Rogers, Maryann Schacht, Patrice Warrender & me. (Now I see why they put first names in alpha-order.) Attila Nagy will provide the music at 7:30 p.m. & the reading will follow.

Then, I must thank Geri Digiorno, who is hosting California Poet Laureate Emeritus Al Young, her sister Nancy Keane, who runs the monthly 3300 Club Poetry series in San Francisco’s Mission District, & me. This reading is at the Redwood Cafe in downtown Cotati (8240 Old Redwood Highway) on Sunday, August 4, from 5 to 7 p.m. If you have never seen Al Young, you owe it to yourself. He’s just a wonderful poet in so many ways. Because he’s also a novelist, a (musical) memoirist from a multi-cultural tradition, his poetry can go anywhere easily in any American era. Anywhere. I want to say he is smooth, but you might think smooth jazz, I don’t see him as that; he’s swing & bop, but with a generous dollop of do-wop & a slew of blues, a complete book & cd of blues. Just the sound of his voice will take you there. Speaking of blues, Sarah Baker on vocals & keyboards, Jan Martinelli on bass will also be there to do a set.

* * *

Speaking again of Geri Digiorno, who just had a birthday, the Petaluma Poetry Walk is having a volunteer meeting on August 10th. This is the first time Geri is asking the public for volunteers. If you might be interested in helping out with this event on September 15th, please contact me at & I will tell you the time & place. If I knew the time & place now, I would you tell you here.

* * *

Also on August 10th, there’s The 13th Annual Multi-Cultural Poetry Reading and Pot Luck Lunch, at the Redwood Empire Chinese Association Cultural Center, 3455 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa from noon to 4 PM. Check out the calendar for more info. The eyes of the Sonoma poet who refuses to be identified, who introduced me to the Random Acts open mic at Readers’ Books in Sonoma last month, also spotted this one. Speaking of Random Acts, I checked the Readers’ Books’ calendar, & yes, that reading is on August 10th, 5 to 7 PM also. Catherine Sevenau will host, I guess. She did last month. I enjoyed myself listening to all the readers there in the patio.

* * *

Finally, I received this email from Julie Rogers:

Poet Diane di Prima had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Please consider donating to support Diane in her struggle against this debilitating disease.

Here are 2 ways…

  1. The full price you pay for Diane di Prima’s most recent book, Poems Are Angels, will be donated to Diane to support her fight against Parkinson’s. To purchase, go to
  2. Go to and donate to the fund set up for Diane.

Thanks for your support for one of the world’s poetic maestras!

Folks have been wondering how Diane has been doing — this says it. It would be wonderful to offer support to her at this time.

Please don’t respond to this email — I have no other news regarding this, I am only the messenger. Thank you.

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


September, the marathon month

The Petaluma Poetry Walk, the Sonoma County Book Festival & 100 Thousand Poets for Change Global Event are all this month. These are just the festivals, we have many other readings as well. Starting from September 1st, Daniel Michael McKenzie, Geoffrey Todd Lake and Steve Shain, bass, are at the Redwood Cafe in downtown Cotati from 5 to 7 PM today! On Monday, September 2nd, Sandra Anfang hosts Mel C. Thompson, who is coming up from Lafayette, & me, an open mic follows at Aqus Cafe, 189 H St. in Petaluma. The reading begins at 6:45.

Mel C. Thompson is a poet, composer and conceptual artist. He is usually associated with the early 90s school of underground poetry often called “The Babarians.” He founded Cyborg Productions, Blue Beetle Press and Citi-Voice Magazine, and now runs the MCTP label. You can find out more about Mel’s work and publishing career at

The Petaluma Poetry Walk is on Sunday, September 15th this year. Neeli Cherkovski, Gerald Fleming, Judy Grahn, Avotcja, David Meltzer & Kim Shuck are just a few of the visiting poets reading from 11 AM to 8 PM all over Petaluma. Since I put up the schedule last month, I’ll give you the Walk website to click for times:

On September 21st, the Sonoma County Book Festival unveils its new location, SRJC, Santa Rosa campus, ( The Poetry Stage will be in the Bertolini Student Center Lobby with this line-up:

10:30 am – Sandy Eastoak
10:45 am – Jonah Raskin
11:00 am – Mary Mackey
11:20 am – Geri Digiorno
11:40 am – Arisa White
12:00 pm – Mike Tuggle
12:15 pm – Terry Ehret
1:00 pm – Q.R. Hand Jr.
1:15 pm – Iris Jahmal Dunkle
1:30 pm – Kevin Simmonds
2:00 pm – Avotcja
2:20 pm – Dawn McGuire
2:40 pm – Gwynn O’Gara
3:00 pm – David Madgalene

I will be the emcee for the event & I’m grateful to all the above poets who had to respond quickly to the Book Festival’s & my inquiries. We had only a short time to put this festival together. Also, I want to thank Katherine Hastings, who was my predecessor & responsible for a few of the above poets saying yes. She decided she needed more time to plan her wedding (& her usual poetry events). Congratulations, Katherine & CJ! If you want to see Katherine this month, she is reading on September 16th at Jack London State Park with Jane Hirshfield, Ada Limón & Iris Jahmal Dunkle. The reading starts at 7:30 PM.

Also, this month, on September 22nd, 2-4 PM, Gwynn O’Gara & Q. R. Hand Jr. & I are reading at Bird & Beckett, 653 Chenery (near Glen Park Bart station) in San Francisco. I bring this out of the county event up as also on the bill is the Wordwind Chorus, a poetry/jazz quartet with Brian Auerbach, Lewis Jordan, Q. R. Hand Jr. & Julian Carrol. They are getting together for a somewhat rare appearance. Although one of their original members, Reginald Lockett, died a few years ago, they are still the stuff of legends. They’re most likely reading last, as no one wants to follow them.

The final local event of the month I want to talk about is 100 Thousand Poets for Change Global (Santa Rosa chapter) Event at the Arlene Francis Center for Spirit, Art & Politics at 99 6th St. in Santa Rosa for the final weekend of the month. Michael Rothenberg & Terri Carrion are at it again! I don’t know how many events or countries are participating worldwide this year. They haven’t put that on their website yet. Last year, they had over 650 events in 110 countries! The local event is a three-day affair, September 27th, 28th & 29th with musicians, dancers, artists & of course, poets. It’s big! I know there is a marathon reading Sunday afternoon with poets from all over the Bay Area, if not further. Please check the calendar or for details.

Finally, a poet/friend passed on this last month, H. D. Moe, who called himself “a Baby Beat.” Jack Micheline, the late Beat poet, wrote the introduction to his first book, Plug in the Electric Dictionary: “David poor bastard is a genius/He is Alive/His work jumps for me,/like a dark magician he HAS magic/He knows his INNISFREE.” Taurean Horn Press will be publishing one of David’s last books, Ambrosia of the Netherworld, in the future. To honor his memory, here is an excerpt from that book:

Ironical boomerang doorbell invoking a stranger
I’m asking for my unknown name, not here, of course
echoing inner laughter yuletides breakout their hymen moments
rhymes on winged turtles prowl legerdemains too quick to frame
shelly jellos buffering against the absolutely informed
making of our image graduates of penitentiaries
not sentenced via judgments, an oddball in this lineup
refusing black holes‘ singularity, imaginary diagonals
crisscross every lift until vortexes are dizzy waterfalls
mystic hysterias rising thumbs collaring oceans’ smile
breathing up to voids in-between the ins & outs of death & birth
weightlifting jaws drooling rorschach ectoplasm swallowtails
winking night into anita o’day, parasailing with the mousegateers of note
bellhopping like a dingo sunrise leaning over yawn
hand-squeezing paper-dolls, robert frosted, climbing yeti
impearled by the universe now open, tracking its dark identity
living experiments added & sub-ducting waves just about returned
flowing within the one that manys, beckoning high understanding
drawn-back upon the ancient novelling immediate self, wrinkling radars
mclueian doodlebug spitting crystal ball alchemy of numinous enlightenment
riffing the whole mine, earth nursing on my golf keats, conventions misspelled unique
blushing ears kindling litanies, nocturnals’ ding-a-ling

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


October 1

September is a humbling month. With three different festivals—Petaluma Poetry Walk, Sonoma County Book Festival & 100 Thousand Poets for Change—on three successive weekends, we in Sonoma County get to see a lot of poets, & better yet, a lot of talented poets! If you go to each of these September events, it’s exhausting & wonderful! Of course, all the regularly scheduled readings keep going too! Poetry is alive & well here. I don’t know how other geographical areas stack up. Of course, San Francisco has its reputation, I spent 25 years living there & know the scene there a bit. What I have learned from being laureate is Sonoma County poets hold their own. I haven’t even seen perhaps Sonoma County’s most noted resident poet, Clark Coolidge, this year. I’ve heard he has been touring behind two recently published books, 88 Sonnets & A Book Beginning What & Ending Away. I know only that he wasn’t available for the Poetry Walk. I highly recommend his readings. One of my best memories is a reading with Coolidge & David Meltzer doing “fours” at Bird & Beckett Books in SF a few years ago. (David did “fours” with his wife, Julie Rogers, at the Aqus Cafe this year at the Petaluma Poetry Walk to the delight of all.)

I did not go to the first 100 Thousand Poets for Change parade Saturday in Santa Rosa. I got my wires crossed there; I thought the parade was on Friday. The Press Democrat gave the parade a good write-up. I hope to be there next year. I went instead to read at David Madgalene’s 100 Thousand Poets for Change reading at the Beat Museum in San Francisco. I enjoyed the reading immensely. David’s own presentation was among the highlights of the afternoon, a poem about a slam poet & a beat icon. Lilith Rogers & Margo Van Veen’s readings were quite memorable too. I thought they were both at the top of their form.

Michael Rothenberg & Terri Carrion’s 100 Thousand Poets for Change Global Headquarters celebration ended with a marathon reading on Sunday at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa that featured nearly 100 poets from all over the Bay Area, with Sonoma County with the most representatives, in two settings, in the cafe (emceed by Ryan, I didn’t get his last name) & in the theater (emceed by Susan Lamont). It was great fun, though having stayed for the entire 4+ hour reading the day before, I was only able to last a little over 5 hours for this one. I don’t know when it ended. I also needed to drive for a couple of hours afterward too, so there were other considerations besides exhaustion.

* * *

Bronze Poem Update

My laureate project was to install some bronze poems around Sonoma County. I haven’t done so well, so far. I did find some bronze poems that weren’t installed at the Rohnert Park Library. I found they had a poem, “If Wants to Be the Same,” by the late, great Sonoma County Poet Laureate, David Bromige, from his award-winning book, Desire:

The mounting excitement
as we move
step by step
of difference
off the same

if wants to the same

the same as is

When I was able to look at the poems this summer, I found, beside’s David’s poem, a nameplate for Healdsburg poet laureate emeritus, Armando Garcia-Dávila. I was not able to determine which poem they had as the lines of all the poems were tied together in a pile, some still wrapped in paper. I also found nameplates for twentieth century masters like H. D., Ezra Pound, Edwin Markham, & Robinson Jeffers. This could be interesting. After a short correspondence with Darrin Jenkins, Rohnert Park City Manager, he has decided that before we decide on how to act on all the poems, I need to show that I can install Bromige’s poem. This then is the next step. Since my term is almost up, I plan to continue on with this project after my term is over. I hope I will continue to have some support for this. I believe I’ll have this blog for the next two months, so I will continue to report any progress. At the same time, I will be among those preparing to bring in a new laureate.

* * *

A few events I look forward to this month:

Saturday, October 5th, 2 PM, at the Petaluma Library, “Healing the Earth,” A Presentation with Poetry & Word, with poets, Raphael Block & Phyllis Meshulam.

Sunday, October 6th, 5-7 PM, at the Redwood Cafe in Cotati, Smooth Toad with GP Skratz, Bob Ernst & Hal Hughes.

Saturday, October 26, 7:00 PM, WordTemple Arts & Lectures Presents
In Conversation: Susan Griffin and Judy Grahn,
Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 282 S. High Street, Sebastopol, CA

Have a good month!

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


November 1, 2013

The next Poet Laureate of Sonoma County has been nominated. I write this at 11:00 PM on October 31st, the last day nominations were accepted. I do not know the process yet. I am part of the committee & we are meeting the first week of November to start the process. That’s all I know. I do want to take this moment to again thank all those on the committee that elected me! It’s been a wonderful & exhausting twenty-two months, with two months to go. I think I have another blog to go; but if I don’t, I want to thank all those who invited me to read, all those I read with & all those who attended my readings. In fact, I want to thank all those who attended any readings in Sonoma County the last two years. You make our county special. I’ve talked to several poets from other areas who love to read here because “our audiences listen well.”

* * *

Last month I was tired, I was late in writing this blog. (If you know me this probably sounds familiar; so?) I forgot to mention the El Dia de los Muertos reading at the Petaluma Art Center that occurred on Friday, October 25. It was standing room only & didn’t need my “bump.” This has become one of my favorite annual readings in the year, a reading where we confront the ancestors, new & old, & our own mortality in a multi-cultural atmosphere. The art museum is all decked out in altars in the Latino tradition. There are calaveras on the wall, paintings or drawings depicting skeletons & mortals cohabiting a familiar world. This year the event was hosted by Terri Carrion & Michael Rothenberg of 100,000 Poets for Change. Within the context of this night of remembrance, they addressed our county’s (our country’s) latest tragedy, the accidental death of Andy Lopez, a 13-year old who was shot by a sheriff’s deputy for carrying a toy gun. We need to talk about it. The boy didn’t get a chance to say anything. He was perceived as a threat & the perception apparently didn’t go beyond that. The Bohemian said there were 10 seconds between “calling in to report a suspect and calling again to report the boy had been shot.” I am sad. I am frightened. May Andy Lopez rest in peace. The war has, again, come home. We need to grieve. We need to talk…

What El Dia de los Muertos teaches us is that all deaths, because death happens to each of us, are relevant. There were some wonderful poems by invited poets; Beatriz Logos‘ piece on Federico Garcia Lorca comes immediately to mind. Terry Ehret ran the open mic portion of the evening, where anyone in the community could come up to say something, not necessarily poetry, about someone who has died. I find that these emotions expressed through words are riveting &, I think, healing for me. At least, their words reaffirm the immensity of “a life.” Terry & Jabez (Bill) Churchill ended the evening with a traditional poem, read in both English & Spanish.

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


December, 2013

I feel a bit sad. This is my last blog as the current Poet Laureate of Sonoma County.  I didn’t expect to feel sad. I really enjoyed the journey. In my two year term, I wanted to do a lot of readings & meet a lot of the poets around the county. I did that (& I can continue to do that.) I had the opportunity to hear many poets read. I felt humbled by the creativity that is alive & well in this county. I didn’t want to feel humbled but I did anyway. I thank you poets for that. In not too many days, I will be a member of the laureate committee who will convene for the third & final time to choose my successor. Who will it be? I wish the next laureate a joyful, meaningful time as Sonoma County Poet Laureate.

I want to thank Terry Ehret for creating the Sonoma County Literary Update & Jo-Anne Rosen for keeping it going so well. They have allowed me to write my blogs —as part of all the other literary information they provide on this website. I hope you (Terry, Jo-Anne, you the reader) have enjoyed in any way something I have written. I hope these blogs have made you (the reader) feel you are a part of the poetry community we have here, whether poet or poetry lover, in Sonoma County.

Since I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance again to publicly do this, I would also like to thank my wife, Bridget Reymond, who supported me through this whole laureate term. It wasn’t always easy. I was away a lot & could not help out at home as much as I would have liked. She could not go to as many of the readings & events as she wanted, due to health issues, especially in the first year. Because of her love & understanding, we worked it out. I also asked Bridget to read over these blogs & give me her feedback which was always helpful. Honey, I’m home!

* * *

Today, Sunday, December 1st, there will be the 2nd Annual Eugene Ruggles Memorial Reading at the Redwood Cafe in Cotati from 5-7 pm,. For more info: Eugene Ruggles was the author of two books, The Lifeguard in the Snow & Roads of Bread. His birthday was December 4th. Having grown up in Michigan, he moved to San Francisco in the 60’s. He lived in Petaluma for the last 15 or so years of his life. Some of Ruggles’ poet friends will be reading from & about his “deep image” oeuvre. Carl Macki, who roomed with Gene for a while, will host the event for Geri Digiorno’s First Sundays series.

* * *

May you enjoy the changing of the light!

Bill Vartnaw
soon to be emeritus
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013

Archives of previous Poet Laureate columns may be found here for 2012.

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