Laureate Archive 2012

Bill Vartnaw’s columns from March 2012 through December 2012

March 2012

A Brief Beginning

Bill VartnawI thought for my first offering I would introduce myself by means of biographical info. I tried this before when I was given a website with Red Room & I wasn’t all that happy with my results. This time I will aim at young, up & coming poets At least, that’s my aim & with the caution: don’t worry about doing it right! Create your own poet & poetry. 

First of all, I did not take any literature courses in my undergraduate years at UC Davis. I majored in philosophy, after entering with a math focus. Although I had considered an English major, I lost interest when I read a couple of interviews. Karl Shapiro became the resident poet at Davis my sophomore year & he was interviewed in two campus papers. In both he said something like “most students think Bob Dylan is a poet; he is not.” I felt strongly he had nothing to teach me. This was probably not true, but this is how I felt & how I acted.

My interest in poetry started when my parents dropped me off at my grandparents’ house when they went out. I was about eight or nine. (Also, about this time, maybe before, my second grade teacher at McNear School, Miss College, had the class spend an hour or two at rhyme. There was no CPITS then. I came up with

Daniel Boone
spent all afternoon
looking at a raccoon…

(It went on, I won’t.) Anyway, my grandparents watched TV programs I did not like. (Lawrence Welk, for one.) My grandmother liked to read. She had three books of poetry on her book shelf, mostly nineteenth century stuff. I picked one of them & brought it to bed & read. I’d have never done this at home; I had too many other distractions there. I began to love to read those books. I became a big Longfellow fan for a while. The rhythmic sound inside my head pleased me.

When I returned to Sonoma County in the fall after graduating from UC Davis, I had already established a poetry-writing routine. It started while I was working in Tahoe that summer. My friend & roommate was an artist & he worked daily on his art, at that time, colored pencil drawings & photography, so I was alone to write. (My last year at Davis, I had started to browse poetry when I went into bookstores to buy philosophy books. By the spring quarter, I was buying poetry books too.) Because I was writing poetry, I began to want to share it, to read it to someone else. I found David Bromige’s poetry class at Sonoma State by the start of the spring semester. David generously offered me a seat in his classroom, even though he didn’t know me & I wasn’t a student. After a couple of weeks, the class went off-campus & most formalities ended. David taught me that we were all students of poetry & he would read his work for anyone to criticize or question, just as the rest of the class did. It was heaven.

My education as a poet took a big turn about a year & a half later (1973) when I moved to SF & began to read my work at open readings on a regular basis. The first open reading I went to was at the Coffee Gallery on Grant St. near Green in North Beach. I invited a couple of friends from Sonoma County to come down to read too. (Yes, I needed support.) At an open reading or open mic, you usually have five minutes to say what you have to say that evening. You can do 2 or 3 poems, or more, if the poems are short & if you don’t talk a lot in between poems. Some open readings have “featured poets,” usually invited poets, who get around 20 minutes to let you into their world. The biggest change between Sonoma County & SF was subject matter. Because San Francisco has more people & a bigger mix of people, the poems also can have a greater mix. Carol Lee Sanchez ran the Coffee Gallery reading then. She wasn’t the first, but she was the first in my experience to call her work “multi-cultural.” Carol Lee was Native American (mostly, Laguna Pueblo from New Mexico) & Lebanese-American. Many of her poems were about her heritage. I was fortunate to publish three of her books for Taurean Horn Press.

Because that was the way I learned, I will support the open mic scene in Sonoma County whenever I can. I hope to just show up, sign the list & read. I read in the open at Studebaker’s Cheesecake, 7 pm on Monday nights in Sonoma, a week ago by invitation from Don Hagelberg, one of Sonoma County’s treasures. He was one of the regulars at the Coffee Gallery when I first went there. It is important to hear your contemporaries & to learn how to judge what you like & what you don’t like. Just as it is important to read a lot of poetry to find out how a poem looks good to you on the page and what you can do with a poem. I don’t think it is necessary to let people know your negative opinions, but it happens. To those who haven’t had that experience of someone being very critical of their work, beware. There’s a lot of different schools of poetry out there. There’s a lot to learn, even for an old guy like me.

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You can still hear David Bromige, Sonoma County’s second poet laureate, even though David is no longer with us! PennSound from the University of Pennsylvania has expanded their collection of his readings, interviews & talks online. The collection includes the tribute to David that Katherine Hastings produced for KCRB in 2009 and goes back to one of his readings in 1964. Here is the url, enjoy: 

David’s Collected Poems is due out next year from Reality Street in the UK,

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


April 2012

Happy National Poetry Month!

We have two new poetry programs in the county of which poets should be aware:

First, thanks to Robin Pressman, KRCB Radio Program Director, we are now going to have a poem of the day on the radio starting Monday, April 16th, in the morning. We are calling it “Every Day Poems” and yours truly and the other poets laureate of Sonoma County, Gwynn O’Gara, Mike Tuggle, Geri Digiorno and Terry Ehret, will be putting it together with the production team of Robin Pressman and Brian Martens. This will supplement the already available “poem of the day” that Larry Robinson does wonderfully at and, of course, Katherine Hastings’ Wednesday evening WordTemple program on KRCB. In the first week, the laureates will be introducing ourselves and reading one of our own poems. After that, we will be taking on everyone’s poems. The poems will mostly come from the Bay Area, with an emphasis on Sonoma County. We will be asking poets to read their own poems when we can. Don’t be too surprised if you hear a nineteenth century poem or a translation of a Neruda poem! Now, this is new for us and we are all doing other projects as well, so please give us a few months to get our rhythm(s).

The poems will be archived on with links to resources, when available, and Robin told me yesterday they are planning to make them available on iTunes as well!

Stay tuned to this blog for further info.

Second, the Sonoma County Library’s David Dodd, Sonoma County Library Collections Manager, and Mark Cooper, Project Coordinator, are creating the Sonoma County Community Project. It is a local authors project & they are hoping to include all writers in Sonoma County, past and present! This will be an online Library website, “a platform to search the library catalog; display profiles, images and links to personal or related websites, as well as to incorporate links to external services, such as Worldcat, Open Library and LibraryThing.”

This project will also assuage “the growing interest from local authors in having the library host their e-books and to make them broadly available to the library community.”

I don’t know if it’s time to contact them yet, so I won’t give out their addresses until I have their permission. I wanted you to know that things are happening here. I’m excited! You heard it through the grapevine: there may be more writers than grapevines in Sonoma County! Now that’s a staggering thought.

* * *

Blowing my own horn as a way to thank all those who invited me. I will be reading at the Annual Favorite Poem Reading to celebrate National Poetry Month at The Sebastopol Center For The Arts, 6870 Depot Street in Sebastopol, on April 5th at 7:00 pm. It’s free. I’m also reading at Coffee Catz (formerly the SoCo Poetry Series), 6761 Sebastopol Avenue, in Sebastopol with Tom Sharp, Amy Trussell and Gor Yaswen at 7:00 pm on Friday, April 13th. On April 19th, I’m reading, with poet Kim Shuck, the poems/prose of Carol Lee Sanchez, Paula Gunn Allen and Lee Francis, at Many Rivers Books & Tea, 130 South Main St, Suite 101, in Sebastopol, We will also be reading a few of our own poems. On April 20 (7 p.m.), I’ll again be in Sebastopol for the “Loving Where We Are, Poems of Sacred Geography” Reading with Terry Ehret, Gwynn O’Gara, Penelope LaMontagne, Larry Robinson, Katherine Hastings, Phyllis Meshulam, Iris Dunkle, Judith Stone and Bruce Fortin at Sebastopol United Methodist Church, 500 North Main St. (across from Safeway). Finally, I’ll be in Santa Rosa for the Redwood Writers’ Poetry Night on Friday, April 27th, 6:15 to 9:30 pm, at the Flamingo Hotel, Empire Room, 2777 Fourth St., to read a few poems with Juanita Martin, 1st Poet Laureate of Fairfield, and keynote poet, Al Young, former California Poet Laureate,

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


May 2012

100 Thousand Poets for Change

One of the most exciting literary happenings in the world is coming out of Sonoma County, 100 Thousand Poets for Change. It is the concept of Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion. These two poets are bringing the world poetry community together! Does this not inspire you? The next world event of 100 Thousand Poets for Change is September 29th, 2012. The last update I read was that there will be 525 events in 100 countries and it’s still April. This year the event will take place in conjunction with 100 Thousand Musicians for Change. Please take a look at their website:

These two poets are coordinating this event just like they did for its inaugural event last September when they had 700 events in 550 cities in 95 countries. This year they want to also stream it online, but they need financial help. Rather than passing the hat at the event which would pose quite a logistical problem in itself, they are going online, via Kickstarter, to receive donations.

Michael and Terri will host and manage, at a venue TBA, a 100 TPC Live Stream Space where the general public will gather to watch poetry readings and interact with other 100 TPC events as they happen all over the planet! They will also broadcast events from places like Australia, Malaysia and China where September 29th is actually September 28th in the US.

As of May 1st, they will have 36 more days to make their $2500 goal. It is a modest goal, considering what they are hoping to do. Kickstarter will take any donation from $1.00 up. (It helps to have an account with If this sounds like something you can get behind, please support their efforts.

A local 100 Thousand Poets for Change group is having its next event on May 4th at Gaia’s Garden Restaurant, 1899 Mendocino Avenue in Santa Rosa, at 7:30 p.m. The theme of this reading is Poems from Around the World in many languages. The event is sponsored by the Peace & Justice Center of Sonoma County. I had the opportunity to read at the Woman Scream Poetry Festival at the Peace & Justice Center last month. I had a great time.

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


June 2012

I’m writing this on May 31, Walt Whitman’s birthday, and I’m just feeling thankful for the man who wrote Leaves of Grass,

I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease . . . . observing a spear of grass.

I loafe too. I am writing this at the last moment. It’s been a busy month. I’m not complaining… One of Whitman’s Wild Children, from Neeli Cherkovski’s book of that name, is Lawrence Ferlinghetti, San Francisco’s first Poet Laureate & founder of City Lights Booksellers & Publishers. He is having an exhibition of his paintings, Cross Pollination, The Art of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, 551 Broadway, in Sonoma, from June 23rd to September 23rd. Please check for further details.

One detail I am happy to relate is that there will be three poetry readings at the museum to celebrate this exhibition on July 12th, July 26th and August 9th featuring Sonoma County poets. The readings will be from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Terry Ehret and I will be co-hosting the readings. As of this writing, I’m not sure if the poets at the other two readings are confirmed. I can tell you that I will be reading on July 12th with Gwynn O’Gara and Patti Trimble. I’ve communicated with them and they are confirmed. I will definitely let you know in this blog next month who will be reading at the other two readings.

Since I seem to be beating my own drum already, I will continue… I have two readings this month. The first is at Geri Digiorno’s First Sunday of the Month reading series at Redwood Cafe in Cotati ( That’s June 3rd, from 5 to 7 p.m. I will be reading with two other Sonoma County Laureates, Gwynn O’Gara and Mike Tuggle. Since Geri, yet another Laureate who will be reading next month at this venue, likes to combine poets & musicians for this series, I invited Albert Tenaya (check out his website at to accompany me on flute. I’ve never read with a flute before. His music is breathtaking! My second reading is in Forestville, at Quicksilver Mine Co.,, where I will be celebrating the Summer Solstice on June 21st at 7 p.m. with Guy Biederman, Fran Claggett, Ed Coletti, Armando Garcia-Davila and Elizabeth Herron. The event is called Poems & Stories: The Solstice Within. I want to thank Khysie Horn for allowing me to celebrate in her space.

* * *

I have had a few calls from poets around the county asking if I know how Diane di Prima, current San Francisco Poet Laureate and feminist icon, is doing and if they can help. First of all, a little history, besides being an internationally reknowned poet, there’s a local angle. Diane has given poetry workshops around Sonoma County for many years now. So she knows many people here. She read at the first Petaluma Poetry Walk and several other Walks. I found out about her workshops through Geri Digiorno. She hasn’t been able to teach any workshops here for a couple of years. Last month, Amber Tamblyn, after learning from Michael McClure that Diane was not well, physically or financially, sent out an SOS email to her friends. I don’t know what constitutes “went viral,” but they were able to collect a lot of money through It is wonderful, but unfortunately, it is still not enough. After she just finished having all her teeth pulled (her gums are not healed yet), Diane learned recently that her eye problems doubled. She knew she had glaucoma, but now she has photo sensitivity from lupus that was medically induced by the meds she was taking for rheumatoid arthritis. These treatments are not covered by Medicare. I will borrow Amber’s plea on

Diane is undergoing a series of painful and difficult surgeries, including having all her teeth removed. Without going into any more details, let’s talk about what we can do for a woman who did so much for the advancement of women. If you or someone you know has been inspired by Diane personally or by her large body of work over the last 50 years, please donate anything you can to help her get through this intensely difficult time and the many operations that she is about to go through. Your donation will go towards rehabilitation and medical costs.

Those who do not want to send money through, can send a check directly to:

Diane di Prima
5214F Diamond Heights Blvd. #330
San Francisco, CA 94131-2175

As a thank you, Diane is letting me print a couple of her Occupy poems that will be collected in her next Revolutionary Letters:

Occupy your breath
your Body & remember
we are one Body

Occupy with Love

Another #2

we all do what we can
trusting the others
will do the rest  at 78
my part is keep going
write what I know

& love

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


July 2012

Readings, Readings, Readings & Library Project…

Sonoma County Library Local Authors Project, David Dodd, Collections Manager at the Sonoma County Library has given me the green light to inform you that the Local Authors Project is on, “We are doing a soft launch, with no hoopla, but we do want to get the word out.” Do you want to be listed in this library project? Check it out:

Pretty neat, huh! Then give David or Mark Cooper, Project Manager, your information and/or books. (There is a small budget for books.) For further information, please contact, David Dodd at or Mark Cooper at

* * *

Okay, as I promised last month, I’ve got the schedule for SonomaValleyArt Museum poetry readings in honor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s art exhibit, Cross Pollination, this month. Sonoma County Poet Laureate Mike Tuggle was added to the first reading on July 12th at 6 pm, so that reading is now Sonoma County Poet Laureate Gwynn O’Gara, Patti Trimble, Mike Tuggle & me. Then, on July 26th at 6 pm, Sonoma County Poet Laureate Geri Digiorno, Ed Coletti, Lin Marie deVincent & Jewel Matheison. The final reading will be on August 9th at 6 pm, with Sonoma County Poet Laureate Terry Ehret, Katherine Hastings & Iris Dunkel. Terry Ehret and I will share hosting the readings. The museum address is 551 Broadway in Sonoma. For more info, call the museum, 707.939.7862 or check their website, Thanks to Margie Maynard for putting this together.

Related to this exhibit, on August 2nd, 5:30 to 7:30 pm, Terry will also be leading a workshop, Poetry and Painting: A Workshop on Ekphrasis.

Ekphrasis, a form of poetry that gives words and voice to painting, sculpture, and photographs, has a long tradition, going back in Western culture to the epics of Homer. Using the paintings of Lawrence Ferlinghetti on exhibit at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Petaluma poet Terry Ehret will lead a two-hour workshop with hands-on writing exercises to guide participants through the creation of their own original ekphrastic poems. New and experienced writers are welcome. The participants in the workshop are invited to read their poems alongside the paintings that inspired them on the evening of August 9. SVMA members: $20 General Public: $25. Email Terry,, for additional information.

The Ferlinghetti’s exhibit was very enjoyable. I highly recommend it. These are pieces of art (mostly paintings) where the painter & poet find expression on the same surface, that is, images & words collide & join. The words or lines are not always Ferlinghetti’s. He also used lines from Allen Ginsberg, T. S. Elliot, Kenneth Patchen? (Ugh, my memory fails me & I didn’t take notes.) I hope you get the gist. One of my favorites was a dark gray painting which combined a short quote from Ginsberg, on “Moloch,” from “Howl,” I believe, with a nod to Munch’s “Scream.” The synergy was alarming.

* * *

All in the Family Reading at the Redwood Cafe, Sunday, July 1 at 5 pm. Sonoma County Poet Laureate Geri Digiorno will be reading with her sister, Nancy Keane, & her daughters, Yvonne Baynes & Michelle Baynes with special guest Sarah Baker on keyboards. Website: or phone: 707.795.7868.

* * *

Also, this month, Katherine Hastings’ WordTemple Poetry Series welcomes Alicia Ostriker at Sebastopol Center for the Arts, 6780 Depot Street, in Sebastopol. Major American poet and critic Alicia Ostriker will come from the East Coast to join The WordTemple Poetry Series on Saturday, July 14, 2012 at 7 p.m. to share her new collection of poems, The Book of Life: Selected Jewish Poems 1979-2011. This collection explores Ostriker’s emotional and passionate journey as a Jewish woman in a shaken society and her will to find strength through words.

“A diaspora of passions gathers in these poems composed intermittently over thirty-odd years,” Ostriker comments. “I ponder the [Holocaust] as an illustration of how sick and sickening human beings can become but also as a window onto acts of extraordinary heroism and empathy. Brooding over the past and future meanings of being a Jewish woman, I quarrel with God as Judge and Warrior, and I seek God as the Beloved.”

Ostriker is the author of 14 poetry collections including The Book of Seventy; The Mother/Child Papers; No Heaven; The Volcano Sequence; The Little Space: Poems Selected and New 1969-1998; and The Crack in Everything as well as several criticisms. Known for her feminist and religious pieces, Ostriker’s poems have been translated into many different languages across the world. She has received the Paterson Poetry Prize, the William Carlos Williams Award, the San Francisco State Poetry Award the National Jewish Book Award, and has twice been a finalist for the National Book Award. She is currently professor emerita of English at Rutgers University and also teaches in the low-residency MFA program of Drew University. Her award winning collections of poetry investigate themes of individuality, family, and growth in life and faith.

Peace & Poetry!

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


August 2012

A Month of Leos

Happy Birthday to Geri Digiorno, Sonoma County Poet Laureate emeritus! Her birthday was actually last Friday, the 27th. She is a Leo & of a certain age that can only be exclaimed on her birthday, so I’m told! She had quite a weekend. She was roasted, in celebration, last Saturday afternoon at the 3300 Club in San Francisco, her sister Nancy’s bar. It was fun! Those who were there know she was also the final reader at Sonoma Valley Art Museum last Thursday to celebrate the Lawrence Ferlinghetti Cross Pollination exhibition. Quite a wonderful reading as Sonoma poets Lin Marie deVincent, Jewel Mathieson & Santa Rosa’s Ed Coletti filled out the bill & made an interesting mix. I’m sorry I didn’t get the kids’ names who read also. I’m still learning to write this blog. The next & last reading for that series will be Thursday, August 9th, with Iris Dunkel, Terry Ehret & Katherine Hastings as its readers. The reading begins at 6 pm. Terry Ehret, another emeritus, will be leading a workshop on ekphrasis on August 2nd from 5:30 to 7:30 pm at the museum. To sign up, click this:

Most of my time this past month has been spent working on a book by another Leo, Avotcja, (pronounced Avacha) who also had a birthday last weekend. Avotcja’s book, With Every Step I Take, will be out some time this year from Taurean Horn Press. Some may know Avotcja as a radio personality. She has her own latin/jazz show on two radio stations, KPFA, (91.4 FM, in Berkeley) & KPOO, (89.5 FM, in SF).  She is also a jazz percussionist with her own band, Avotcja & Modúpue, with a cd, Live at Yoshi’s, & two Bay Blues Society Hall of Fame Jazz Group of the Year Awards, in 2005 & 2010. I first heard Avotcja read her poetry sometime in the mid-seventies. At that time, I did not know she was also a musician, but it wouldn’t have taken a lot of imagination to have guessed it. When she reads her poetry, rhythm is key & sets her apart from other poets. Rhythm runs through her; her poetry is at home in her music: many of the original compositions of Modúpue come out of her poems. Her music is at home in her poetry: she writes many poems about music, “True Confessions of a Sound Junkie,” & musicians, “Oaktown Blue,” “Queen Nina (Our Light in the Tunnel)” to name a few. She uses the musical elements of repetition, (adjectival) accents, & a lot of inner rhyme & near-rhyme word play to spice her poetic language. She does not compartmentalize as she makes distinctions. She is very clear. As I become more familiar with her writing on the page, I am amazed at how love rises out of her anger. She is tough & she is compassionate. She writes courageously about her own struggle with MS & the system of American medicine in “This Sister Ain’t Quitting!!! or Life Dodgin’ The Margin of Acceptable Risk.” Mostly, she speaks what she sees & she sees a lot of the disenfranchised who can’t speak for themselves. Thankfully, she can & does, as in “Street Children of the Night,” a poem about young children roaming the streets when she is coming home late from one of her gigs. Avotcja will be reading at the Petaluma Poetry Walk on Sunday, September 16th at 3 pm at the Apple Box. She will be sharing the hour with q. r. hand jr., Poetry Walk Founder &, yes, fellow Leo, Geri Digiorno, will be reading at the same venue an the hour earlier, at 2 pm, with (Geri’s sister) Nancy KeaneSusan Browne & Godelieve Uyttenhove. The Poetry Walk schedule is available at:

Leo women are holding this blog together. San Francisco poet laureate emeritus, Diane di Prima (born August 6th) is getting married to her long-time love, Sheppard Powell on August 1st. Alejandro Murguía is the new San Francisco Poet Laureate.

Peace & Poetry
Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


September 2012


September is the festive month in the Sonoma County literary calendar. It’s as if literary fruit were part of the agricultural year. Perhaps it is! I would personally like it if we spread some of these festivals, or perhaps added more, throughout the rest of the year, but September is probably our best weather month. So, it’s crush time.

First of all, we have the Petaluma Poetry Walk on September 16th. The Walk has three new venues this year, two of the changes say a little bit about the financial times in which we are living. Thank you, Jungle Vibes & Pelican Gallery! They will be replaced by Riverfront Art Gallery & Graffiti. This year the Walk starts at Viva Cocolat, our third new venue, right on the boulevard in downtown Petaluma at 11 AM. If you like your poetry with a bit of chocolate, this is the venue for you. The poets at this venue will be Petaluma’s own Donna Emerson and Sixteen Rivers’ poets, Judy Halebsky and Jackie Kudler. It should be good! I will again point you to the Poetry Walk’s website, thank you Carl Macki, for a short bio about the poets & the rest of the day’s poets, venues & times:

Any volunteers?
Since I assist Petaluma Poetry Walk founder Geri Digiorno with the Walk & now have this blog, I would like to ask for volunteers for the Walk. We need people this year to help set up the venues, especially the new ones; to move the mics from one venue to the next; to sell books & t-shirts, and other quite vital things to make the Walk a successful event. If you are interested, please call Geri at 763-4271.

* * *

The Sonoma County Book Festival is next, on September 22nd, at Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa. I really enjoy this event. For many years, I set up a table for my press & listened to the poets from my venue or would sneak away if I couldn’t hear them from there. Since I haven’t published a new book in a while, I can’t afford to partake in that way. But I’ll have a table next year for Avotcja’s book, With Every Step I Take, which will come out later this year. There will again be a Poetry Stage, where readings start at 11 AM with poets: Toby Bielawski, Ed Coletti, Nguyen Do with Tim Kahl, Camille T. Dungy, Terry Ehret, Katherine Hastings, Jody L. Hottel, Bart Schneider, Mike Tuggle & Kathleen Winter. Please check Festival website for times:

There will also be a Teen Poetry Slam. I believe this is hosted by Michelle Wing. At any rate, she is running the reading & if you are a teen & are interested in performing, please contact Michelle at Of course, there will also be prose, young adult & children’s programs. Please click the website for your interest.

* * *

From September 28th thru September 30th, 100,000 Poets for Change has their Headquarters Event at Arlene Francis Center, 99 6th St., near Railroad Square in Santa Rosa. This is the event where Sonoma County connects with the rest of the world through the wondrous minds & hard work of 100,000 Poets for Change founders Michael Rothenberg & Terri Carrion. At the time of this writing, 650 events in a 110 countries are scheduled around the world. This is the second annual 100,000 Poets for Change event, but the first “Headquarters Event,” though there was a reading in Santa Rosa last year. On the 28th, the festivities start at 5 PM and go on until 11 PM. This year, 100,000 Musicians for Change will join 100,000 Poets for Change, so there will be music interspersed with poetry. Again, I will refer you to the website of the event:

I will tell you that the Saturday program, the day we share with the rest of the world, starts at 10 AM & goes until midnight. The Sunday program begins at 10 AM and finishes at 6 PM. Ed Coletti hosts a special poetry reading (with Sonoma County reggae band, Dubtown Dread) from noon to 3 PM.

Also, Geri Digiorno is hosting a 100,000 Poets for Change event on the 29th, at the Petaluma Regional Library in the Helen Putnam Community Room from 1 PM to 3:30 PM. This year, like last year at her home, the event will include poetry & collage. Musicians are welcome.

Quickly checking the website, I noticed that there are also 100,000 Poets for Change events in Healdsburg, Sebastopol & Sonoma. Check it out!

These events are free, though a donation would be gratefully received.

* * *

I should mention before I end that next year’s Big Read, which happens in March(!), is the poetry of Emily Dickinson. Do you have a favorite Emily Dickinson poem?

Peace & Poetry
Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


There was no poet laureate column in October 2012.


November 2012


I apologize for not writing a blog last month. I got too caught up in the readings & festivals. I didn’t plan ahead. When I received Jo-Anne’s email that the blog was due, I was (despite the deadline being the same date each month) surprised & too tired to put my thoughts together. I really enjoyed hearing all the poets I heard. It was too much & many poets still found a way to get through my overexposed receptors. I thank you. I almost needed the whole month of October to recover, but I loved it.

I want to also thank: founder & director Geri Digiorno for putting together another successful Petaluma Poetry Walk; Toni Wilkes for coordinating the Poetry Stage again at this year’s Sonoma County Book Festival; Michelle Wing for putting the Teen Poetry Slam together at the Sonoma County Book Festival; Michael Rothenberg & Terri Carrion for the worldwide 100 Thousand Poets for Change, as well as Susan Lamont for running the Friday night Headquarters reading and Ed Coletti for creating the Sunday afternoon Headquarters event. I want to thank whomever coordinated the Saturday Headquarters event. I should know, but I don’t; I was assisting the indefatigable Geri Digiorno with a 100 TPC Saturday afternoon event at the Petaluma Library.

While I’m at it, I want to thank all those who run readings around the county. Katherine Hastings runs the Word Temple readings, which moved to the Sebastopol Art Center last year. Now, the Sebastopol Art Center moves to the Veterans Memorial Building. (Katherine also hosts the WordTemple on KRCB 91.1 FM, which airs on the 3rd Wednesday of each month from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Check out her archives!) Also, in Sebastopol, Andrew Mayer host/organizes Poetry SoCo at Coffee Catz, which has also made the move from Santa Rosa. A trend? I know of two readings in Healdsburg: The Center Literary Cafe run by Cynthia Helen Beecher & the Healdsburg Literary Guild’s Third Sunday Salon reading run by Vilma Ginzberg. In Sonoma, Stephan Wells coordinates The Corner of the Sky Open Microphone at the Studebaker Cream Cheesecake Cafe. I know Lin Marie de Vincent has run several readings in Sonoma. I’m not sure what she’s doing now, but I’m sure she’s up to something. Poet Laureate Mike Tuggle runs an open mic in Guerneville. I want to thank Khysie Horn of Quicksilver Mine Co. in Forestville, an art gallery which has hosted several readings over the past years, including a Summer Solstice reading this year. I want to thank Larry Robinson, who also organizes occasional readings, usually with a theme, but who has also created a Poem of the Day email from that I greatly enjoy. Of course, I wouldn’t be blogging here without poet laureate Terry Ehret creating this site & Jo-Anne Rosen carrying it on. Thank you. Because of them, you can check the listings or schedule for more info for the above readings. I’m sure I haven’t found them all yet. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t know Slams at all, but I’ve got another year to check them out.

If you haven’t guessed it, November is a month of thanksgiving for me. I have just celebrated El Dia de los Muertos again & at the Petaluma celebration, I read (with Jabez Churchill) “Tribal Chant” by Carol Lee Sanchez & a poem to Druid Spechtold. They were two poets I met when I first moved to San Francisco who became good friends. I feel blessed & at the same time I see images from Hurricane Sandy’s devastation on the east coast. I think of the thick thread that connects us all & the thin thread that is this life. I think of another hurricane I heard about when I was a child at my grandfather’s kitchen table, it’s a bit rusty now. He told this story: at 16, he was a seaman in a hurricane in the Bay of Biscayne. The steering mechanism broke and the ship was floundering. The captain despaired, called the crew below deck for the last prayer. My grandfather did not go down. He stayed up on deck & found where the cable broke & was able to fix it. As he did so, something broke off one of the masts above & hit him on the head & knocked him unconscious, face down on the deck. One of the crew came up & found him & that he had fixed the cable. As the crew began new efforts to negotiate the storm, he was carried below; they thought him dead. He was wrapped in a sheet for a sea burial when he woke, screaming. Afterwards, the captain told the crew that my grandfather was a hero & that, for the rest of the voyage, they were to address him as “sir,” as if he were a captain, which he became later in life. I think of this story, how in this one instance there were several chances for my grandfather to leave this life. If he had, there would’ve definitely have been no “me.” I think that all of us have had this in our past before “our past.” We don’t know, but we are here now. We are a community.

I thank my wife Bridget Reymond for sharing this voyage with me.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013


December 2012


On Sunday December 2nd, between 5 to 7 p.m., at the Redwood Cafe in Cotati, there is a reading in memory of Eugene Ruggles. (Gene’s birthday was December 4th.) We will be reading from his books, The Lifeguard in the Snow & Roads of Bread. The Lifeguard in the Snow was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press, Pitt Poetry Series, in 1977 & was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize that year. It received The Great Lakes Colleges Association Award in Poetry for 1978. Roads of Bread, the Collected Poems of Eugene Ruggles, was published posthumously by Delia Moon‘s Petaluma River Press. Delia is the Literary Executor for the Estate of Eugene Ruggles. She will be reading along with Geri Digiorno, Geoffrey Todd Lake, Daniel Michael McKenzie, Carl Macki, David Madgalene & myself. David Madgalene will be accompanied by Steve Shain on bass.

I first met Gene Ruggles around 1972. David Bromige invited him to read at his Sonoma State University poetry reading series that year. Although I missed his particular reading, I heard about the impression he made from several of the student/poets in Bromige’s class who had attended. The word, “passionate,” was used often. Gene, who lived in San Francisco at the time, enjoyed the series & our area & attended several of the other readings Bromige hosted. I met him at one of these. Gene was very cordial to an unknown, younger poet, said if I was in North Beach to look him up. The following year I moved there & ran into him at the Coffee Gallery, which was at that time “the longest-running open reading series in San Francisco.” It was there on a Wednesday night open mic that I first heard Eugene Ruggles read, sometime in 1973-4, testing out a new poem. He did a feature there in 1974 that knocked my socks off. At this time, he was best known for hosting large poetry benefits in San Francisco for political causes he believed in. I always heard about them (& they were always quite successful for the crowd & the poetry) after they occurred. The next time I heard him read was at his book party for The Lifeguard in the Snow. My memory wants to put this at the Coffee Gallery too, but I also remember enjoying him read at the Intersection, a bigger venue in North Beach at that time, so I’ll bet my memory is off & the book party was at the Intersection. If you have interest, Martin Hickel, Marin Poetry Festival founder, has video-recorded one of Eugene’s readings (in several sections) at the Poetry & Pizza series in San Francisco & put it on Gene moved up to Petaluma in the late eighties & transitioned into an ancestor in 2004. He said in an interview in the local paper shortly before he died, “All I need is a river and a good bookstore, and I feel good.”

I love Eugene Ruggles’ “deep image” poetry. He gives a human, caring perspective to the world around him. His rivers & mountains have hair, teeth & bones, so you can identify them as part of the family you grew up in. He is a nature poet who wrote mostly about civil rights & poverty. Mike Tuggle wrote on the back cover of Roads of Bread, “It can truly be said of Eugene Ruggles that all of his poems are love poems.” True. Is this the same poet? Yes. A contradiction? Maybe. He connected a lot of dots. His organs paid the price. This will be the fourth time I have publicly read Eugene’s work since Roads of Bread came out in 2009. I always get something new when I read them. I always feel a little ecstasy stirring in my body. I hope Sonoma County will continue to gather to read Eugene Ruggles’ poetry for many, many years to come.

* * *

Poet Q. R. Hand will be receiving Pen Oakland’s Reginald Lockett Lifetime Achievement Award today, December 1st, at the Oakland Public Library, Rockridge Branch. 5366 College Avenue. This is the 22nd Annual Pen Oakland National Literary Awards, Josephine Miles Awards presentation. The program is scheduled from 2-5 pm. For further information, contact Kim McMillon at (510) 681-5652 or John Curl at (510) 526-9324.

Bill Vartnaw
Sonoma County Poet Laureate 2012-2013

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