Celebrating over 30 years as an arts organization.

The Center hosts readings, workshops, lectures, and publishes a variety of poetry publications. SPC is located in the R25 Arts Complex located on the corner of R & 25th Streets in midtown Sacramento.

Sacramento Poetry Center memberships support a variety of local poetry programs, publications, readings, and events. Members receive a free subscription to Tule Review and Poetry Now. Please send your check for $30 or more to SPC, 1719 25th St., Sacramento, CA 95816. Fixed incomes are $15.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Kudos From Medusa!

Hey guys—here's what the gnarly, usually-cranky Medusa of Rattlesnake Press had to say this morning in Medusa's Kitchen: A big thank-you goes to Rhony Bhopla, Bob Stanley and the rest of the Sacramento Poetry Center Board for resurrecting Poetry Now, the monthly poetry journal which is the lifeblood of our local communication network. They have put together an abbreviated version (with a complete calendar) in time for June; you should be receiving it soon. In it, you will note that the Annual General Meeting of the SPC Board will be happening on Monday, June 12 at HQ (25th & R Sts., Sac.) from 5:45-7:45 pm; please plan to attend this important meeting in order to elect our new Board and to provide much-needed feedback about the year ahead. Ya know, flakes like Medusa come and go in our community, but SPC is a constant presence that can be as active (or senile!) as WE, the NorCal poetry community, make it. The Board is all-volunteer and they (or whoever the new Board members may be) need every bit of moral support and physical help we can give them. Be there!

In other news from Her Krankiness With the Wiggly Hair: Both of the Rattlesnake Press kid-journals (the brand-new edition of Snakelets, poetry from ages 0-12, and the two latest issues of VYPER, by 13-19-year-olds) are available for free at The Book Collector, 1008 24th St., Sac. The next (also free) issue of Rattlesnake Review, featuring gazoodles of local poets and articles, will be released July 14 at the release/reading of B.L. Kennedy's latest chapbook, The Setich Manor Poems, at The Book Collector, 7:30 pm. Also released that night will be littlesnake broadside #25, A Conversation With B.L. Kennedy by Gene Avery. And don't forget to wander into Medusa's Kitchen (medusaskitchen.blogspot.com) every so often for NorCal events and poetry and general tomfoolery—today's the last day of our Cat-A-Thon, for example. Free books!
Check it out!

If this letter hasn't sufficiently annoyed you yet, one more thing: if you would like to be on Snakebytes, the monthly e-newsletter of what's going on with The Snake,
e-mail me: kathykieth@hotmail.com.

Monday, May 29, 2006


The Sacramento Poetry Center is helping to launch Kathleen Lynch's new book Hinge on Monday June 5 at 7:30 PM. Please come early and often.

Hinge is the winner of the 2004 Black Zinnias Poetry Award, the journal published by the California Institute of Arts and Letters. It was selected by Richard Jones, editor of Poetry East.

Many of Kathleen's faithful followers will be on hand to celebrate her long overdue recognition. Doesn't it make sense to be counted among those who are disciples?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

SUSURRUS Reading on May 22

Sacramento City College celebrated the release of its periodical Susurrus at the Sacramento Poetry Center. Several past and current students who were contributors stood up to read their poems to the crowd of admirers who had decided to spend a beautiful Sacramento evening in a dimply lit room [Reminder: focus floodlight on podium] with those readers.

The first poem of the evening was read by Claudia Trnka. She read “1953,” a reflection on coming to terms with a woman’s body and a lament for the fact that no one had showed much concern for her sturdy legs as opposed to other body parts.

Paul Mann read a portion of his story “Millie’s House,” which Paul revealed at the reading was a story informed largely by the family of one of his clients. Paul is a defense investigator for inmates on California’s death row. The story is primarily about the experience of a middle class speaker going to meet Millie at her house in all its ramshackle glory and the attendant guilt that visits the speaker for being able to walk away from Millie’s misery.

Ted Yannello read Q.J. Hylton’s “Look Up,” a childhood suicide fantasy where the speaker looks up as he/she falls, unable to differentiate what will save or doom the speaker.

Katie McCleary informed the audience that she had an update to her contributor’s notes. Instead of planning to attend an undefined MFA program, she said she had been accepted into USF’s History and Consciousness program. Then she read “Toasted Heart,” a poem about the speaker’s tête-á-tête with a fiery female lover, complete with surgical detail.

The veteran Crawdad Nelson then read several pieces. One of them was for his brother and his “secret war against animals.” While Crawdad admitted he didn’t quite understand his brother’s passion for hunting, he acknowledged that any man’s passion is something to celebrate. He described his brother in the poem as hunting Bigfoot if he could.

Nelson then went on to read several poems from his series about the history of Mendocino County. “1867 Mendocino Reservation” told of how the fort [Fort Bragg presumably] had been built to preserve the timber interests of the new settlers even though the Indians who had lived there were told that it was built to protect them. The Indians on the reservation didn’t really understand the agrarian life they had been presented and Nelson depicted a poignant moment of one Indian prompted to “sell a hoe he didn’t need.”

“Todd’s Point” was an homage to the natural spirit and animus found at that location where the wind from the sea makes the ground shudder.

“1987 Piedmont Hotel” told the story of how s a diversion for arsonists to burn down the Piedmont Hotel while firefighters were busy battling the library blaze. The proprietor of the hotel was never formally charged, yet suspicions ran high. The man responsible, Nelson revealed, eventually died in prison, serving time for rape.

“1985 The Green Chain” was a reflection on the timber industry in Mendocino county, how it did not deserve the loyalty it was given by its workers as they were slowly displaced over the course of a couple of decades with finally the lumber mill shutting down for good in 2002.

By request, Nelson then read “The Sun Burns Us to the Ground” from Susurrus,, dialog with a city that keeps itself a little rough around the edges that drives its inhabitants to take up beautiful and instinctual acts of love.

Nelson finished his segment by reading from his new book ,My Ink, a piece entitled “What Do I Owe You?”

Donna Lee read “Dreaming in Chinese,” a piece inspired by the old bit of language-learning wisdom that one does not really know a language until one begins to dream in it. The speaker enters into a dialog with nature which reveals the tone of “Jia,” a character that means beautiful and connects to the concepts of family and home, which, presumably, the speaker has found in the US. The sea breeze acknowledges what the speaker has just mentioned.

Danny Romero read a student piece that was cut short to his battle with the lack of lighting and his resultant eye strain.

Jan Haag read student pieces by Marie Reynolds [“Faith”], a poem that settles on an abandoned barn, then the speaker follows a set of tracks that belongs to an unnamed other with the intimation in the last line where the tracks disappear “into the fractured earth” that the world is somehow a bit more ragged and treacherous than before.

Haag then read “Pear Williams Bosc” by Jerry Minamide, another short poem that compared a pear to a woman’s body that invites the speaker to take a love-bite (prelude to a kiss?) out of the voluptuous pear.

Finally, Tony Caselli finished the evening with a requested reading of his narrative non-fiction piece entitled “Missing Pieces” that gave a day-by-day description of his father’s and his own dealings with what Caselli prefaced as the scariest week of his life, the week his mother was diagnosed with cancer.

Friday, May 19, 2006

HQ | One-Year Anniversary Celebration!

J. Greenberg, director of HQ: Headquarters for the Arts, sends this along:

Hi folks,

A little more than a year ago, the Sacramento Poetry Center realized that they would need to leave their then-current digs at the Ballet Center sooner than expected. At the same time, six local artists were eager to find a venue to display their diverse works. Meanwhile, I was growing frustrated with the scant choices available to Sacramento cinephiles...

Along with Jim Anderson of the Short Center Repertory Theatre, we all went out on a limb and decided to try an unusual experiment: to create a multi-use, multi disciplinary, shared art space.

It's now May 2006, and HQ has been going strong for a little more than a year now, with growing audiences -- and growing attention from the local media (hopefully, you all saw the very generous article in [monday's] Scene section of the Bee, written by Rachel Leibrock, with photos by Kevin German!) And we're every bit as excited about offering movie screenings every Sunday, poetry readings every Monday, and gallery hours every Saturday and Sunday afternoon as we were when we opened our doors more than 12 months ago. The Short Center Rep is sadly no longer with us, but HQ continues to be a vibrant and unique space for art in Sacramento!

So I hope you'll join us this Saturday, May 20th, as we celebrate our first anniversary at 25th and R. In addition to the current exhibit of works by Asylum Gallery's artists, we've got a stellar line-up of local poets, musicians, and filmmakers for your entertainment:

- CRAWDAD NELSON, INDIGO MOOR, and ROBBIE GROSSKLAUS will astound you with their eloquent recitations...

- ADRIAN BOURGEOIS and BOB STANLEY & MARY ZEPPA will channel the Music of the Spheres for your listening enjoyment...

- plus the world premiere of a short film by BOB MORICZ, Sacramento's most outre auteur!

And who knows? There may be a few more surprises come Saturday. So please be our guests -- oh, did I mention the event is free? -- for this celebration of Sacramento talent and HQ's first year in existence! Food and libations will be served, and a splendid time is guaranteed for all...Take care -- and see you Saturday!


- - - - - - - - - - -
Saturday, May 20th ~ 8-10pm
A celebration of...
HQ: Headquarters for the Arts'
One-Year Anniversary!
1719 25th Street
(Corner of 25th & R)
Midtown Sacramento

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Lesley Gale at Sacramento Poetry Center

Lesley Gale appeared Monday May 15 at the Sacramento Poetry Center, reading a baker’s dozen poems and inspiring all of us who were slouching in our chairs with her perfect posture.

She started the evening off with a poem by Wendell Berry entitled “The Wheel” which introduced her audience to the notion of circles and “the wheel of life” that she would explore throughout the evening.

After this brief homage to the other poet in the form of Berry (who had, in turn, written the poem for Robert Penn Warren) Gale turned her attention toward her son. She read three poems that had originated from her experience with him. The first was “Connection (Discord)” which told of her trials with her son’s umbilical cord falling off as an infant. The process had taken much longer than she had been told it would take. The poem grew out of an exercise she had done in conjunction with Susan Kelly-DeWitt. The exercise was to model the shape of a poem placed side-by-side with the one she was writing. She had chosen a Brenda Hillman poem for her model. In the poem the umbilical cord finally falls off, a “mighty rope [that] will be able to pull forever”.

The second piece about her son was about his battle with autism, in particular his condition of echolalia which causes an individual to indiscriminately repeat words and phrases that he/she hears without necessarily understanding what they mean. Gale’s trial in this poem (as she is presumably nearly always the speaker within her poems) was to create a sense of routine for her son. the piece was entitled “Circuit” where Gale claimed “we both skate for life.”

The next piece chronicled Gale’s son as he grew a little bit older, out of the initial stages of his autism to inhabit a fairly familiar space for a young boy. However, he still experienced some problems with social skills. For this, Gale enrolled him in Relationship Development Intervention. As she was driving back from Lodi where the RDI took place, Gale began to sense a kind of emergence, a progress that led her to invoke the metaphor of “billions and billions of acres unmown.”

The following piece moved from the pastoral to the forest. The piece included an epigraph from Robert Frost—“never again would birds’ songs be the same.” The poem focused on the life of specfic birds.

From the forest wilderness, Gale turned to suburban nature, revealing that she had grown up in Napa, where the summers always had a degree of humility. Not so in Sacramento Gale found out when she moved into the area. She found the summers shocking. Even the spring was a bit dramatic for her taste, and she focused on this experinece in the poem “Sacramento Spring.”

Gale then mused about how her dog perceived nature. She saw her dog as something of a ballet dancer in the wild, its nose pirouetting in the plethora of smells. “Dog Morning” was an extended metaphor that described the back leg of the dog as if an arabesque. The dog relieves itself later in the poem, and Gale comments, “This is joy: to be in the world and mark your presence.

The following piece, "The Donkey Speak Out Against Her Master, Balaam" required a bit of a set up. It referred to the biblical story of Balaam, whom God had given prophetic powers. However, Balaam didn’t always use them as god wished. On one occasion as the King of Moab tries to curry favor with Balaam, Balaam is instructed by God not to visit this king who opposes the children of Israel. However, Balaam goes anyway, but along the way his donkey is given the ability to see the angel of death ready to strike down Balaam, its master. Each time the donkey sees the angel, the donkey takes evasive action, only to be rewarded with a whipping for saving Balaam’s life. Finally, when Balaam is at his wit’s end, God gives the donkey the ability to speak. Gale’s poem recounts this circumstance as told through the mouth of the now-conversant donkey.

Josh Groban’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” was the subject of the next poem entitled “Josh Groban Sings Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”. Gale, sheepishly admitting that she had fallen under the sway of Josh Groban’s hypnotic powers, his good looks and voice, tried to recapture the physical sensation she encountered while listening to the song as well as the spiritual impact it made. Gale used aspects of the score for the song and tied this to heavily descriptive passages in order for the listener to re-experience the “satiated perfection of spirit” found within the song.

Fascinated by working with established forms, Gale read two villanelles, that somewhat antique form that employs five tercets with ABA rhyme schemes followed by a quatrain (see here for specific instructions on the form). Gale’s first poem was an homage to Elizabeth entitled “Some Art,” which took as its subject the idea that one is a poser in a number of roles that one is desperately trying to perform, yet each role is performed with some failing. Gale started off by disclaiming, "Being a poser is a simple art," but then this outlook complicates as the poem moves forward.

“Hyperventilation” is a poem about staving off the garden variety panic attack. Gale’s basic recipe? Think positively.

The final poem of the evening “Leave Taking” before the single encore was a poem about Gale’s grandmother who grew up in Bemidji, Minnesota. After she left Bemidji, she came to California and lived in Vallejo for many years. She had led a good, rich and full life until 2003. At the end of the poem, Gale remembers her “backing away from the light”

The final poem was Gale’s Mary Kay poem, "Mary Make Me". Again she bravely admitted that she was on her fourth Mary Kay person. She admitted that she was drawn to the names of the products, sensual as they are like “triple action cream,” and “peach skin mask and peeler” The speaker in Gale’s poem wants Mary to remake her, to re-dazzle her with ice sage. The final image was where Gale transforms herself through the presence and products of Mary Kay, that old and ancient healer.

The evening had come full circle. What had started out with Gale talking about the wheel had circled back to her own transformation into another. She had started with the other as represented by Wendell Berry, and was ending transformed by Time Wise Age-Fighting Lip Primer

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Susurrus Reading at SPC on Mon. May 22 7:30 PM

Susurrus Sacramento City College's annual prize-winning literary journal for student works is set for distribution in 2006. On May 22 at 7:30 Sacramento Poetry Center will host a contributors reading for this new publication.

Readers will include Tony Caselli, Donna Lee, Ted Yannello, Mike Bezemek, Brian Northere and others with special appearances by Sacramento City College's own Jan Haag and Danny Romero. Perhaps even the ghost of Jeff Knorr and Moira Magneson will make appearances. Prepare to be beguiled.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Jose Montoya and Luis Rodriguez at Sutter Cancer Center

Chicano Poetry: Jose Montoya and Luis Rodriguez
Friday, May 19, 2006
7:00 PM - 8:30 PM
Sutter Cancer Center—Buhler Building
2800 L Street, Sacramento, CA 95816
Cost: Free

Jose Montoya, former Sacramento Poet Laureate and co-founder of the Royal Chicano Air Force, inspired Luis Rodriguez in the 1970s. Writing led Rodriguez out of the barrio and a life headed toward crime to become the best-selling author of books like Always Running. Montoya and Rodriguez, although generations apart, continue to set the standard for using poetry as a tool of Chicano history and education for young people. This is the first time these two authors have appeared together. Please join us for this historic event.Sutterwriters

Friday, May 12, 2006

Thanxxx from the Snake!

I don't know who wrote the cool review of our latest Snakery (see Thursday's blogpost below), but thanxxx on behalf of me and of our intrepid rattle-poets who gave their all last Wednesday night. It was a hot hot hot night of poetry, and I hope you were there. If not, there's always next month: June 14 (Flag Day) will feature the release of The Setich Manor Poems by B.L. Kennedy, Wildman Extraordinaire and Reviewer-in-Residence for the Snake. (Speaking of which—deadline to get your poems to me at kathykieth@hotmail.com is THIS COMING MONDAY!) Also to be released at the June 14 Rattle-read: A Conversation with B.L. Kennedy by Gene Avery (littlesnake broadside #25), in which B.L. continues his re-counting of "the good ol' days" of Sacramento poetry.

Small carp though: your review says VYPER!—our journal of poetry from kids 13-19—costs $5. T'ain't so—like all Snake periodicals, VYPER! (with a Y) is FREE. The only Snake publications that cost anything are the rattle/spiralchaps—and that's so's to make the poets rich. VYPER! should be in The Book Collector by tomorrow or Monday; pick up one of the TWO new issues (#3 and #4) which came out of hibernation last Wednesday night.

And don't forget to check Medusa's Kitchen (medusaskitchen.blogspot.com—see "Kathy Kieth" link to the right of this) for an on-going compendium of all the HOT poetry happenings in our NorCal region, plus muy poetry. Today's Medusa poetry is from James Lee Jobe and Rhony Bhopla, who are reading tonight in Davis for The Other Voice. Send poems to Medusa, too (same hotmail address). The snakes of Medusa need their constant feeding...


Thursday, May 11, 2006

I hear rattling!

Rattlesnake was in full force at The Book Collector last night, Wednesday. Kathy Kieth and her incredible ensemble did not disappoint the rowdy crowd that brimmed at the mid-town used book store. Traditionally known for hosting the POEMS-FOR-ALL Series on Second Saturday, Richard Hansen stood comfortably behind the counter, wondering what may-hem would strike as the audience members appeared so much louder than the featured readers, Song Kowbell, and Todd Cirillo.

The battle of sexes was apparent to all of the attendees, including those that dot-dotted out on the street. Cunt! say it! retorted Kowbell. Even Rhony Bhopla, the editor of an erotic journal kept her mouth sealed, as the rest bellowed the intriguing word. (The hesitation was probably because the word is such an enigma. Which part are we really referring to?) Bhopla was invited to read from her broadside Tulip Stem, of which she chose an apt piece called "himsa" undoubtedly revering M.K. Gandhi and addressing the current tumultuous state of war (in this case it was the battle between men and women.) Kieth's comment: It was an exotic oasis in the midst of all those rowdies!

Cirillo's rattlechap, Everybody Knows the Dice are Loaded, streams with anticipation of love and war between the sexes, and at times within oneself. His endearing breaths between each poem were also cut short with mockery from the rowdy croud. Women decidedly competed, stating which poem was about her. The love-hate continued. If love is hilarious, Cirillo captured the endearing emotion:

One Way Fare

after sleeping
with you--

I feel
at one
the people
who ride
the public bus.

The Priorities of Poets

We had planned
a real poets' night out;
our greatness.

The time
were set.

He called,
"I'm not going
to make it tonight."

"Why not?"

"She phoned."

What else could be a priority? I thought, a night with a beautiful woman, or letting go of another pebble in a sea of want? The answer came readily to all of us; I had no shame, as his voice tainted my decent perspective of poets and their idealistic altruism.

It was just right.
Available at the Book Collector, 1008 24th Street Sacramento, CA.
Published by Rattlesnake Press:

Lick Your Wounds and Want Again, Song Kowbell. $5
Everybody Knows the Dice are Loaded, Todd Cirillo. $5
Tulip Stem, broadside, Rhony Bhopla. Free!
Viper Editions, (poetry by youngsters). Free!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

"..effecting change only as they themselves are changed."

Tom Goff reviews Entrekin's work and her reading which highlighted her book Change (will do you good). Entrekin featured May 1, 2006 at the Sacramento Poetry Center/HQ for the Arts, 1719 25th St.

On Monday, May 1st, Rhony Bhopla was the Poetry Center’s gracious host for the Nevada City poet and Sierra College professor, Gail Rudd Entrekin, who read samplings of her newest work, as well as generous portions from her volume Change (will do you good), published in 2005 by Poetic Matrix Press. Following the Poetry Center link to Entrekin’s name will reveal that Entrekin writes knowledgeably, and with a rich vocabulary, about the natural world. But it was also good to attend the reading and hear the poet’s voice. She recites in a natural, conversational register, with a brisk yet always intelligible pacing. (In conversation afterwards, the poet mentioned how incongruous it is that Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle” should affect her at such an intimate level; and yet that Thomas should recite the poem, on record, with such a booming, actorish delivery.)

Altogether, Entrekin’s own delivery suggests the very ruse James Merrill detected in Elizabeth Bishop’s “lifelong impersonations of an ordinary woman.” Note, however: the important word is “impersonations.” Entrekin can write affectingly about family relationships and the complexities of feeling in which they enmesh us: she recited a poem of abashment at her own violent over-investment in her son’s school wrestling tournaments, complete with instant hatred towards the boy’s opponents. And, in keeping with her pose of ordinariness, Entrekin (with her own teenagers to provide material) can make like a soccer mom. But how many soccer moms can write—as in such items from Change as “The Mothers Speak: What We Want”—poems that conclude as this one does?

We want to pause in the clarity of this bright day
and find our place, how each of us
is our own brave mother’s child, each a link to the children
who hold our hope in their familiar hands,
to stand together on this mountainside
and know we have the power
by adding one or two or three good humans to the pot
to change the world.

If these lines seem a bit too plainspoken, words such as “stand together on this mountainside” a bit too cozily axiomatic, look again: at the effective use of the modifiers “bright” and “brave,” alliterating with each other, not one adjective too many; at the use of “hope” in the singular, not the plural, connoting that there is but one hope, and that a slender one, carried as it is by children. Reflect also on the difficult act of collecting “children” and asking them to stand on a mountainside (I’m reminded somehow of the innocent cattle teetering slantwise on the hills of the Coast Range between Vacaville and Vallejo). And finally there’s the notion, Biblically resonant, that even the bravest humans are food for the pot, effecting change only as they themselves are changed.

Not all her poems are quite this simple in vocabulary or syntax; Entrekin employs other voices and gambits, some of them quite arresting in sophistication. If you’ve read Rilke’s famous “Spanish Dancer” (which finds a flamenco dancer striking an intensely hot match by force of gesture), now consider Entrekin’s “Spanish Dancer with Diabetes” (to the music of ‘Barcelona Nights’). Entrekin did not actually read this poem at the Center; but the fact that she did read one in a series of poems about her own diabetic daughter adds poignancy to the force and flair of such lines as these:

Spanish music; your clapping castanets,
I smell the sweet hay of your hair.
You circle past me in the kitchen
and I grab you quick, feel your bony ribs,
flat white belly, the heat of you,
the joy, flash in my hands.

One is left, moreover, to infer a mother at work helping a daughter through an actual “dancing” spell of dizziness, and recording it in a fashion that allows both to make light of the incident. Such delicacy of feeling also embroiders a poem Entrekin read expressly for her husband Charles, who was on hand (as were such regulars as Quinton Duval and B. L. Kennedy).

Altogether, I enjoyed the reading immensely. An engaging open mike followed. After Rhony herself provided a brief poetic vignette of her London days, Nora Laila Staklis read with energy from her chapbook, The River Speaks. Humor and insight punctuated Andy Jones’ and Brad Henderson’s readings from their joint effort, Split Stock. And Susan Bonta provided a poem written by her grandmother upon that lady’s ninety-ninth birthday; what a gift for her to have kept her wits and wisdoms so completely whole as in that poem, which jogs deceptively along—until the instant she describes her exact present viewpoint from confinement in bed: “My website is the ceiling.”

Tom Goff

Roses, Boulevards & Dogs

Another stellar line-up for the Poetry Unplugged Series this Thursday (5/11).

Michelle Tea will read with Tara Jepsen, frank andrick and Cheryl Klein at 8 p.m. on Thursday, May 11. Free admission. Hosted by frank andrick & Geoffrey Neil. Luna's Cafe, 1414 16th Street, (916) 441-3931.

As impresario frank andrick notes, this is "the Sacramento debut of "ROSE OF NO MANS LAND" by Michelle Tea, the debut of " CALLA BOULEVARD" by Los Angeles poet and writer Cheryl Klein, you'll get to hear words from "LIKE A DOG" the soon to be published novel by a Luna favorite Tara Jepsen, and some recently published and about to be published works in story and poem from by frank andrick. And even more debuts from our loyal and vocal open mic poet/readers."

Those familiar with andrick productions know to expect special guests and surprises (of the best kind.)

Voulez-vous (ah-ha)

There is a particular pleasure in listening to a poem read in its original language. No fluency is required. The words and their meanings may seem foreign but there are other ways to enjoy a poem. When Korean poet Ko Un read at UC Davis a few years back he read his poems in Korean. (Gary Snyder then read the same poem in English.) Not fluent in Korean, I found myself instead listening to the cadence and flow of Un's voice as he read each poem. It was beautiful.

This Saturday (5/13), the Alliance francaise de Sacramento presents a similar opportunity with a reading of poetry in French titled Poesie en mai: from Villon to Prevert. A selection of 15 poems taken from the period between the 15th to 20th centuries will be introduced in English and read in French. "A perfect opportunity," the Alliance francaise reminds us, "to rediscover the beauty of the French language."

The evening begins at 5pm in the Alliance francaise office located next to the Sacramento Poetry Center in the HQ: Headquarters for the Arts compound located at 25th and R Streets (1721 25th Street for those craving a specific street address).

The cost is $6 ($4 if you are a member of Alliance francaise) and reservations are requested. Call 916/453-1723.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Donald Sidney-Fryer reads the poetry of George Sterling

Donald Sidney-Fryer returns to The Book Collector on Sunday, May 14th to read the Poetry of George Sterling from a recently released Sterling collection of writings titled The Thirst of Satan.

Donald Sidney-Fryer is the last in this great line of poets and writers that reaches from Ambrose Bierce to George Sterling and Nora May French, from Sterling to his protigi Clark Ashton Smith, and from Smith to his pupil Sidney-Fryer. Carrying on the tradition of "pure poetry" of Keats and Shelley long after it was abandoned by the mainstream poetry establishment, the California Romantics created two monuments in verse in Sterling's epic A Wine of Wizardry and Smith's even more astonishing The Hashish-Eater.

Specialist of mediaeval romance and epic poem, Donald Sidney-Fryer has interested himself in this poetic genre not only as people practised it in the 12th and 13th centuries but also as they have continued to practise it over the course of the centuries following, and as such modern poets as the California Romantics have understood how to renew it at the beginning of the 20th

Donald Sidney-Fryer has edited Clark Ashton Smith's Selected Poems as well as Smith's story collections Other Dimensions, The City of the Singing Flame, The Monster of the Prophecy and The Last Incantation. Sidney-Fryer also assembled the mordant horror and fantasy poetry of Ambrose Bierce under the title A Vision of Doom.

His own first collection of verse, Songs and Sonnets Atlantean, was the final book to appear from Arkham House (originally dedicated to publishing the works of Howard Phillips Lovecraft) under the personal supervision of that press's founder, August Derleth, one of the many people in the related arena of horror literature that Sidney-Fryer has known over the years.

George Sterling was the pupil of Ambrose Bierce and the mentor of Clark Ashton Smith, Sterling achieved early fame with such cosmic poems as The Testimony of the Suns and A Wine of Wizardry. But these two works are just the most celebrated of many poems of fantasy and terror written by Sterling over a career that spanned three decades. His latest collection, The Thirst of Satan, the first selection of Sterling's verse in more than thrity years, will demonstrate why Sterling was so revered by Bierce, Theodore Dreiser, H.L. Mencken, and especially Clark Ashton Smith.

Bad-Boys & Coyote Women from the Snake!

Lookee here—Medusa has stuck her nose into the SPC blog! Just wanted to remind you that Bad-Boy Todd Cirillo and Coyote Woman Song Kowbell will be reading at The Book Collector for yet another stirring Rattle-Read on Weds., May 10 at 7:30 pm, to release their new rattlechaps (Song's Lick Your Wounds and Want Again and Todd's Everybody Knows the Dice are Loaded). Also premiering that night will be Rhony Bhopla's littlesnake broadside, Tulip Stem, plus TWO new issues of VYPER!, the journal of poetry from youngsters 13-19. All this embarrassment of riches for free! Be there!

This is the last week to submit poems (deadline is 5/15) for this issue of Rattlesnake Press's flagship publication, Rattlesnake Review. We're working on Issue #10, which will be out in early June: send 3-5 poems to kathykieth@hotmail.com or to P.O. Box 1647, Orangevale, CA 95662; no bio or cover letter needed; but woe to those who send previously-published poems, or—worse—simultaneously submit! Pick up a copy of the last issue, #9, at The Book Collector (Home of the Snake), along with all the other free Snake publications—or check with me for back issues.

And for more poetic chicanery, both from the Snake and from the community at large, pull up a chair in Medusa's Kitchen (medusaskitchen.blogspot.com—or click on the "Kathy Kieth" link on the right side of this blog) for daily news of the NorCal poetry community, plus poetry, poetry, poetry, poetry, poetry...

Friday, May 05, 2006

Jane Hirshfield in Sacramento at Sutter Health Center

photo courtesy of Richard Hansen

photo courtesy of Indigo Moor

Jane Hirshfield arrived in Sacramento for an evening reading at the Sutter Cancer Center complete with the same haircut she has been sporting since the age of 14. One might imagine her with curls or a bob; then again, one might not. To meditate on this “other Jane” would be to open up far too great a hole in the day.

Sacramento poet laureate Julia Connor kicked off the reading by providing a heartfelt introduction to Jane Hirshfield where she recounted the meaningful ways Hirshfield’s poetry informs Hirshfield’s readers. In particular, stealing language she discovered from a business report, she noted, “Jane Hirshfield lights her poems.” Connor then went further to provide an insight into Hirshfield’s project in writing poems. Quoting from Hirshfield, she said, “The poem doesn’t just come out of attentiveness; it creates it.” Connor remarked to the other writers in the group, “When you feel powerless, say that to yourself.” Connor characterized Hirshfield’s new book After as a “book about believing” and invoked secret religions where other members would know each other by a wink or a smile. This, Connor suggested, is how readers come to know Hirshfield’s work.

Jane Hirshfield took the stage set off by two lamps, the one to the left set high, the one to the right set lower to the ground. The staggered lamps announced her presence as if she were arriving through a tunnel of light. She announced her imagined layout for the evening but invited any “anarchists” to disrupt these tidy plans by asking questions or bellowing, Robert Bly-style, “Read it again, Jane”

Hirshfield announced that the theme running through the evening would be “the navigation and acceptance of difficulty,” and with that she recited the first poem of the evening, a short, somewhat mystical poem by Izumi Shikibu, the 10th Century Japanese writer.

although the wind
blows terribly here
the moonlight also leaks
between the roof planks
of this ruined house

Hirshfield admitted that she didn’t quite know what the poem was driving at the first time she read it, but that it was illuminated for her. She pointed out that moonlight was associated with enlightenment and that a house was generally seen as a figure of the self. This knowledge added a richness to her reading, but she gathered that the closing down of one’s self to difficulty and more specifically grief would, in turn, also close one down from greater understanding represented in the poem by the moonlight leaking through.

"In the Room with 5 People, 6 Griefs" dovetailed nicely with Shikibu’s poem about the hidden rewards of grief. In this poem Hirshfield talked about the importance and necessity of breaking through the polite silence which sometimes can permeate a room.

"For What Binds Us," an older poem from 1982, the only older poem which she still is comfortable reading, was the next offering. Upon the utterance of the last line, "how the black cord makes of them a single fabric that nothing can tear or mend." a faint but audible chorus of sighs rose above the murmurs of the air conditioning.

”The Weighing" from October Palace followed and similarly produced a little shudder throughout the room, especially the last line about giving all of one’s strength and then a little more.

”The Envoy," which Robert Bly called one of the greatest poems written in the last 50 years, reminded that “There are openings in our lives of which we know nothing." The poem speaks to the notion of experiencing some ineffable life force pushing through a person, a force, which is ultimately uncontainable and which repeatedly leaves men and women at its mercy.

"Da Capo" provided a recipe in the middle of the poem, a recipe that if followed would render the result inedible. Hirshfield related how a friend of hers had tried to “follow” the recipe in the poem only to discover what a wretched concoction it had instructed her to create.

"Optimism" was Hirshfield’s paean to something she called “evolutionary pacifism,” where a blind but true intelligence links to a litany of living creatures and lives in the earth that cannot be taken back.

This was the end of the preliminary "greatest hits" part of the evening. At this point Hirshfield delved into her new book After

The first piece from After was "Theology." The poem was about flies that gather at the window, then inhabit another dimension. This was compared to the movement of a dog to a window. Then the speaker is back to talking about the flies again. The last part of the poem was about a sick dog crawling under the house to die and its owner crawling under the house and refusing to let the dog die. At the end of the poem, the reader learns that the dog has survived. The final image is a firefly blinking outside the window that everyone hurries to believe.

"Pyracantha and Plum" from the Atlantic was next up. In it Hirshfield related the experience of looking out hard at the world, in this case, her garden. In this respect she echoed Julia Connor’s comment at the outset about how the poem creates its own attentiveness. Hirshfield went further to claim, "Art makes attentiveness, it makes connectedness, it instructs in the capacities of being."

"Dog and Bear" was the next piece in a familiar pattern for Hirshfield. Fairly often she employs two items in the title and chronicles the interaction between them (see "Pyracantha and Plum" above) instead of settling on one-word titles that explore only one item in a fixed frame. In "Dog and Bear" a white dog and a bear meet, but the reader learns the bear is actually "not there." From there Hirshfield turns to meditating on "something lost, missing in any weather." At the end of the poem the missing bear is held at bay by the dog. The substantial holds off that which is longed for and missed.

Hirshfield prefaced "Possibility: An Assay" by explaining how she has lived in the same house since 1984 [one wonders if she still gets "opportunities" to refinance in the mail every day] but that she hadn’t noticed a particular phenomenon in the house until recently. Her window faces west. The neighbor’s window faces east. Early in the morning she noticed she could see the reflection of the dawn in the neighbor’s window. This is what inspired the setting for this poem that concluded with

this moment simply looking elsewhere,
like a woman who has wept for weeks who realizes
that she is also hungry

In "Vilnius" Hirshfield began to gesture towards the next subtheme for the evening, that of her friendship with renowned poet Czeslaw Milosz. This piece only hints at this relationship in that the title refers to the capital of Lithuania where Milosz was born. It was inspired by plans for a trip that she never took. The beginning of the poem has the speaker looking at tour books of St. Petersburg, Vilnius and Vienna, and the reflection on this trip that never materialized leads the speaker at the end of the poem to state, "If you lived higher up on the mountain, you’d see more of everything else, but not the mountain"

Hirshfield revealed that Paul Muldoon had chosen "Burlap Sack" for the recent Best American Poetry collection. The poem is yet another container for grief and a meditation for how the self is impinged on by grief. At one point, the speaker asserts, "To think that the grief is self is error." The speaker places the construction of subjectivity outside of task when it states, "The self is not the builder, the miner, the driver." The gist of the poem is that the self is a container for grief, perhaps a porous container. Later in the evening during the question and answer period she gave a wonderful metaphor for how this process could be reflected on. Grief is like a pebble thrown into a body of water. The surface of that water produces ripples, but the pebble is still there buried beneath the the water that has gone on to cover it up.

In ”The Heat of Autumn" reflects on a moment when a man with cancer has announced his intention to live with his lover and leave his wife. The speaker follows the wife’s dutiful act of sorting the man’s things for this next step and remarks, surprisingly, on the pleasure that will follow.

The next set of pieces culled from a section of the book Hirshfield entitled "Pebbles" acted almost like koans. Hirshfield described them as riddles or jokes that must be internalized by the reader in order to close the loop of the meaning contained within them that is constructed by the writer for the reader to finish on his/her own time. The first piece was "After Degas” where the speaker reflects on whether a woman’s act of shaving her legs would serve to please a man more. It was followed by "Ecstasy Czechoslovakia, 1933," "Maple," "Lemon," and "The Story" where the speaker began with a portion of dialog, "Do you ever . . . I lied, said I did" which leads to the final revelation that the speaker, I, "promised myself to a story’s hands."

Hirshfield admitted that "Tool Use in Animals" was inspired by the molecular biophysicist (and other scientific disciplines) crowd that she must negotiate with respect to her partner. In it, birds were calling "human, human," a reminder that communication with nature always goes both ways.

"Global Warming" was a short but interesting piece informed by history. The poem started off with Captain James Cook arriving on the shores of Australia. The poem reports how the natives fished and were unable to fear that which was too large to be comprehended. The parallel to global warming was immediately apparent. During the question and answer period Hirshfield revealed that she was always struck by the story of Cook’s first encounter with the aboriginal peoples of Australia. She felt there was an important story there, but she admitted it needed another point of connection to ramify the piece.

It was at this point where Chip Spann, the evening’s organizer, jokingly mimicked Robert Bly by intoning, "Read it again, Jane."

"The Bell Zygmunt" was written due to a request from Csezlaw Milosz to have Hirshfield write a poem for his wife upon her unexpected passing. The speaker reflects on the interests of Milosz’s wife and uses the Zygmunt Bell in Krakow as a touchstone from which the rest of the poem resonates. The bell’s many purposes parallel the many purposes of a person. At the end of the poem, the speaker (after negotiating a death bed scene) reflects that the bell can mean either "great joy" or that "the city is burning, come."

The final piece before the question and answer period was "It Was Like This, You Were Happy". It was an elegy for someone, presumably Milosz (who died at the age of 93 on Aug. 14, 2004), but not necessarily. The poem is a reminder that any life, presumably even one as complex and rich as Milosz’s can be boiled down to a few essential feelings and a few essential passions (Note: in a Hirshfield poem, these passions always seem to be delivered in terms of desires for food. Methinks she doth have an obsession with the morsel.)

The question and answer period followed. The first question was directed to Hirshfield about her experience and thoughts regarding the topic of anarchism. She provided a response that reflected a quieter, long-term anarchism. She invoked Chekhov, who, in speaking about his brother who was a slave in Russia, said that "we must eliminate the slave that is left within us." She went further to quote Cavafy, "But perhaps it doesn’t matter what I have to say, sometime after me, there will be someone who will speak freely." In explaining these quotes, Hirshfield warned that “one can’t be simple, that’s not the answer." By "simple" she was referring directly to the simplicity of violence. She invoked the title of an older poem of hers, "Those Who Cannot Act" and allied herself with those whose lives have been turned over to circumstance, whose option to act in a discerning way has been revoked. "These people," Hirshfield solemnly admitted, "have broken my heart all my life—so little choice." Segueing from this quote, she concluded her response to this first question by invoking Aeschylus, "Those who act will suffer, will suffer the truth.”"

Julia Connor then asked about Hirshfield’s writing habits and asked her to read the poem, "Letter to C.," the long poem dedicated to one of her spiritual mentors, Czeslaw Milosz. Hirshfield responded by talking about how the time of day she writes has changed over the years, and she lamented that recently had to give up late afternoons for mornings because of a neighbor whose rock band practices in the late afternoons. Even though she didn’t consider herself a morning person, she put forth that recently it was the morning where "an open space lay, [and] my muse moved into it." It is hardly surprising that Hirshfield does not tolerate distraction. Her poems evoke a laser-like intensity of concentration. They are intense meditations. She describes her process as "opening an interior invitation, a process similar to zen meditation, but not wordless." She said she also asks herself whether there is something in her that wants to speak but that one should not be discouraged if that immediate voice doesn't arrive routinely. She admitted that often she does not experience any urgency to say something when she sits down to write. At those times she waits and is patient. When it doesn’t arrive, she doesn’t write. She said she doesn't necessarily write every day. In order to clarify this notion of feeling compelled to write but not willing the compulsion, she invoked the metaphor of juggling where one doesn’t want to sense the balls, just tune in the rhythm and the motion. The balls are seemingly a prop for discovering that rhythm. The deep process of writing for Hirshfield is informed by discovery, discovering the feeling of the shapely, the surprise that couldn’t have been arrived at any other way besides poetry. She concluded her response by offering another aphorism, "When the horse wants to move, it will. Don’t whip it."

The next questioner asked her to repeat the seven words which, to Hirshfield, were the summary of Buddhist philosophy. These seven words were: "Everything changes. Everything’s connected, pay attention." She went on to say that one could perhaps distill the essence of this further by just looking at the last two words—pay attention.

The following question was about how Hirshfield arrives at her images. The questioner wanted to know whether they were received at the time of witnessing an event in her life or whether they arose from her desk time and emerged later. Though the answer to this question was not direct, it seemed Hirshfield wanted to acknowledge both when she said something to the effect of "life is a complication of an understanding of the metaphorical." In this she seemed to say that the experiences in life that are cherished, made deeper, more profound, are the ones that require reflection in order to make them more complex. In this, she seemed to state that one has to be there and pay attention, but one has let the image linger inside of oneself and ferment. With regard to the first part of the equation, Hirshfield claimed that one can train oneself to be alert. One way to do this would be to write 100 haikus. This, she affirmed, would change one’s relationship with image. Another possibility might be to arbitrarily point at things in the room, try to inhabit their space and then move to illumination (which is a kind of poem very reminiscent of Bly’s object poems).

The final questioner asked Hirshfield about her perception of the difference between her long poems and her short poems. Hirshfield pointed out that in the West there was a predilection for the long poem, the symphonic structure, the epic poem where the poem seeks a complicated passage from one thing to the next. She stated that little poems are underrated in the West. She compared them to light coming through a pinhole. Then she gave an example of another recent koan-like "pebble" that she is tentatively titling “Mouse and Mountain.”

Both move, only one more slowly

The evening was capped off with Hirshfields reading of "Letter to C.", her elegy and homage to Czeslaw Milosz whose life she referred to in the poem as a “fight to the last with those who narrow the mind.” The last two lines, the first in Sanskrit and then its English translation, closed out the evening, "Gone now, released one, the far past returning, suffer no more."

Thus ended an evening dedicated to the navigation and acceptance of difficulty as it is often mediated by the experience of grief.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

An Evening with Jane Hirshfield

Thursday, May 4, 2006
7:00-8:30 PM

Sutter Cancer Center-Buhler Building
2800 L Street, First Floor

Prize-winning poet, translator, and essayist Jane Hirshfield will appear at the Sutter Cancer Center, 2800 L St., Sacramento, as part of Sutter's Literature, Art, and Medicine Program (LAMP) author series Thursday, May 4, 2006, from 7-8:30 p.m. Hirshfield will read, answer questions and sign books on the first floor of the Cancer Center. The program is free and open to all.

Hirshfield's poetry speaks to the central issues of human existence-desire and loss and impermanence and beauty. Described by reviewers as "radiant and passionate," "ethically aware," "insightful and eloquent," and as conveying "a succinct wisdom," her work ranges from the metaphysical and passionate to the political and scientific to the subtle unfolding of daily life. An generous master of her art, Hirshfield has been a visiting professor at UC Berkeley and elsewhere, a member of the Bennington College MFA faculty, and has been received with wide acclaim in her many appearances at writers conferences, literary centers, and festivals both in this country and abroad.

Hirshfield is the author of six collections of poetry, including After (HarperCollins, 2006), Given Sugar, Given Salt (finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award), The Lives of the Heart, and The October Palace, as well as a book of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. She also edited and co-translated The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Komachi & Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan, Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, and Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems.

Hirshfield's other honors include The Poetry Center Book Award; fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets; Columbia University's Translation Center Award; and the Commonwealth Club of California's Poetry Medal.

Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, four of the past six volumes of The Best American Poetry, and many other publications, and has been featured numerous times on Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac program, as well as in two Bill Moyers PBS television specials.

In fall 2004, Jane Hirshfield was awarded the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by The Academy of American Poets, an honor formerly held by such poets as Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop.