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, April 30, 2008

TOWE AUTO MUSEUM Reading Sunday May 18, 2008

The Towe Auto Museum and the Sacramento Art Deco Society presents a lecture on art deco books and authors. Also included, a special poetry reading by winners of the Museum’s 2007 Automotive Poetry Contest. The lecture will take place on Sunday, May 18, 2008. Doors open at 2:00pm and the presentation begins at 2:30pm. $5 for SADS & CVF members and $7 for non-members – includes light refreshments and Museum admission.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Arturo Mantecon reads at La Raza Galeria Posada

http://www.larazagaleriaposada.org/ Arturo Mantecon read last night - with a wonderful poem about his father reading him to sleep at night with a surreal story. It's a must-read and even better heard by the Spanish speaking storyteller-poet. James DenBoer also read heart-wrenching poems written about the time of his wife's death, a little more than a year ago. If you haven't been to a reading at the Galeria Posada, you're missing out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


After a prolonged open mic, the main readers took to the mic. Nickole Brown, who drove all the way up from San Francisco for the evening, during her West Coast swing read from her book entitled Sister.

Nickole Brown

Nickole read "Footling," "How She Conceived," "1979" [3:46], "A cup of Anything," "Jessica Myers in the Corn," "The Smell of Snake," Speak and Spell," "How to Forgive"[1:33] and "Invitation."

Gene Bloom

Gene Bloom did not fail to satisfy the regulars who attended his reading; however, his range did not fully present itself. Gene read a mix of his Bukowskian-tinged erotica and other assorted scatolological musings. He read one poem that was earnestly dedicated to a woman, and he also read a poem about seeing a man at the track who had "Bukowski" on his license plate entitled "A Day at the Races".The other poems featured Bloom's take on the erotic and his unique brand of scatological cant.

A special highlight of the evening during the open mic was Indigo Moor's reading of "Another Man's Bed" [2:17] about the great Bluesman Robert Johnson's penchant for sleeping in another man's bed.

Sacramento Lietrary Calendar April/May

TUESDAY, APRIL 15 - 7 p.m. - "Life Sentence" - a weekly poetry reading and open mic. The Coffee Garden, 2904 Franklin Blvd., Sactown. http://www.myspace.com/lifesentenceshow

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16 - 9 p.m. - Poetry night with John Boe. "Hearty Laughs. Thoughtful Poems. Ribald Stories. Enjoy an Evening with an Award-Winning Storyteller and Poet. A PG-13 Event. Not for Children." Plus open mic after the feature. Bistro 33, 226 F Street in Davis. Every first and third Wednesday. Email aojones@ucdavis.edu to get on the mailing list or join the "Poetry in Davis" at Facebook.com.

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 16 - 6-7 p.m. - Upstairs Poetry reading at The Upstairs Art Gallery, 420 Main St (2nd floor), Placerville. It's an open-mike read-around, so bring your own poems or those of a favorite poet to share, or just come to listen. No charge. For more info, contact piper@innercite.com

THURSDAY, APRIL 17 - 7:30 p.m. - The Nevada County Poetry Series presents "A Bite Out of the Sun" with poets frank andrick and R. D. Armstrong at the offCenter Stage at the CENTER FOR THE ARTS , 314 W. Main St, Grass Valley, $5 general, seniors & students, $1 under 18. Refreshments plus open mic. http://www.thecenterforthearts.org/events/08/08-04-17-poetry.htm

THURSDAY, APRIL 17 - ALL DAY - POEM IN YOUR POCKET DAY - The Academy of American Poets launches the first annual national "Poem in your Pocket Day" The idea is simple: select a poem and carry it with you (poem in your pocket) and unfold it with family friends and co-workers throughout the day. More details are available at their website: poets.org/pocket. THE BOOK COLLECTOR, 1008 24th Street, Sacramento, CA, Between J & K Streets, 916.442.9295, richard@poems-for-all.com, http://www.sacfreepress.com/poems/

THURSDAY, APRIL 17 - 8 p.m. - TBA reads plus open mic. Poetry Unplugged at Luna's, 1414 16th Street. Free. http://www.lunascafe.com, 916-441-3931.

FRIDAY, APRIL 18 - 7-8 p.m. - Tom Miner and Jeff Knorr read at the POETRY IN THE HILLS READING at Wild Mountain Books, 352 Main Street, Placerville. 530-622-4540. Free, Open Mic, contact piper@innercite.com for location

FRIDAY, APRIL 18 - 7:30 p.m. - Arturo Mantoucán & James DenBoer read at La Raza Galeria Posada 1022 - 22nd Street, Midtown Sacramento; Suggested Cost: $5 or as you can afford. Sponsored by Writers of the New Sun/Los Escritores del Nuevo Sol. For more information about Los Escritores call: Graciela Ramirez (916) 456-5323; http://escritoresdelnuevosol.com/

FRIDAY, APRIL 18 - 7:30 p.m. - CHARLES CURTIS BLACKWELL & VINCENT KOBELT (Invited). Poems-For-All is pleased to welcome Charles Curtis Blackwell back to Sacramento. Presently a poet and performer in the Bay Area, Charles once graced the Sacramento scene with his exceptional readings. He comes with a new book of poems, or rather, two vignettes of poetry in one book: "Is, The Color of Mississippi Mud and Lou Next Door." The book's publisher/editor Vincent Kobelt has also been invited to read. THE BOOK COLLECTOR, 1008 24th Street, Sacramento, CA, Between J & K Streets, 916.442.9295, richard@poems-for-all.com, http://www.sacfreepress.com/poems/

SATURDAY, APRIL 19 - 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. - Cache Creek Nature Preserve's Day for the Arts. Mark your calendars for this annual day retreat for artists and all creative practitioners in honor of Earth Day. This is a great chance to reconnect to the earth and find your way into some new work. Bring your yoga mat, your guitar, your paints, your notebook, or just yourself. See The CCNP website at www.cachecreekconservancy.org for maps and directions.

SATURDAY, APRIL 19 - 8 p.m. - Nila Northsun and D. R. Wagner read. Hosted by B. L. Kennedy at Luna's, 1414 16th Street. Free. http://www.lunascafe.com, 916-441-3931.

SATURDAY, APRIL 19 - 7-9 p.m. - Brigit Truex, Lori Jean Robinson, Sidney Singleton and Sean King read at Underground Books Poetry Series at 2814 35th Street next to the Guild Theater. $3. Features plus open mic. Your host: Terry Moore. Call 737-3333 for more info. Every third Saturday.

SATURDAY, APRIL 19 - 7:30 p.m. - Special Sat Session - John Amen and Brad Henderson read at the SPC, 25th and R. Free. 916-979-9706. http://www.sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

SUNDAY, APRIL 20 - 3:30 p.m. exactly - "In celebration of National Poetry Month, we would like to bring local poetry to as many people as humanly possible. In order to do this, we have constructed The Poetry Bomb. The Poetry Bomb, Sunday April 20th, asks every poet who receives word to head out into their community. Stand in an area with a lot of traffic, and begin reading poetry at exactly 3:30pm for about 10 minutes. This is an opportunity to blanket the Chicagoland [or Sacramentoland] area in poetry. This is an opportunity for poetry to leave the bars and coffee shops behind, and move into the minds and ears of everyone around us. Will you be a part of this? Please make sure that the location you choose is both safe and legal. The last thing we want is for anyone to get hurt. Groups of poets also welcomed. If you are interested in being part of the BOMB or would like more information, contact Esteban Colon at esteban_colon@yahoo.com"

SUNDAY, APRIL 20 - 2-4 p.m. - The Pomo Literati is a two hour poetry/spoken word & sound experiment program. Part of the KUSF Spotlight series. This Pomo Lit celebrates National Poetry Month and the start of the programs 9th year on air broadcast via KUSF. Live Readings, Archival & Classic and Contemporary recordings. We have a plan & we are spontaneous. WHO: Poets, Publishers, Journalists, Biographers, Prose Writers, Educators, A nor-cal spanning poetic quartet of solo performances by Neeli Cherkovski, William S. Gainer, Chris Olander, and Josh Fernandez. Sound and word audio experiments from Fari & also collaborative works by Jim ‘The Germ’ Smith. WHERE: KUSF 90.3 fm. www.kusf.edu (please follow prompts). Streaming @ www.kusf.org. Supplemental Information: KUSF Spotlight Series Producer: Nathalie Neal, Engineer/pre & post production: Jim Smith

MONDAY, APRIL 21 - 7:30 p.m. - Sacramento City Ethnic Theater! reads at the SPC, 25th and R. Free. 916-979-9706. http://www.sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

TUESDAY, APRIL 22 - 6-8 p.m. - Poets Corner presents Camille Norton and David Humphreys at the Morris Chapel, University of the Pacific, near corner of Pacific Avenue and Presidents Drive, in Stockton. 209-951-7014. http://www.poetscornerpress.com/events.htm

TUESDAY, APRIL 22 - 7 p.m. - "Life Sentence" - a weekly poetry reading and open mic. The Coffee Garden, 2904 Franklin Blvd., Sactown. http://www.myspace.com/lifesentenceshow

THURSDAY, APRIL 24 - 12:15-1:15 p.m. - Traci Gourdine and Michael Spurgeon read at Raef Hall 160 at American River College, 4700 College Oak Drive, Sacramento - (916) 484-8101 http://inside.arc.losrios.edu/calendar/

THURSDAY, APRIL 24 - 8 p.m. - TBA reads plus open mic. Poetry Unplugged at Luna's, 1414 16th Street. Free. http://www.lunascafe.com, 916-441-3931.

SATURDAY, APRIL 26 - 6 p.m. - ARTHUR WINFIELD KNIGHT- Poet, writer and editor of UNSPEAKABLE VISIONS, a literary journal of Beat Generation writing, Arthur celebrates the release of his latest Novel MISFITS COUNTRY. THE BOOK COLLECTOR, 1008 24th Street, Sacramento, CA, Between J & K Streets, 916.442.9295, richard@poems-for-all.com, http://www.sacfreepress.com/poems/

SATURDAY, APRIL 26 - 7-9 p.m. Brigit Truex reads at The Show at the Wo'se Community Center, 2863 35th Street (off 35th and Broadway across from the parking lot). For vendor or event information please call T. Mo at (916) 208-POET. "The Show" is every last Saturday of the month. $5. This is a family event. "The BEST SHOW IN TOWN with an Open Mic, Top Notch Features and Live Band LSB." Sponsored by the FREEDOM EQUITY GROUP. http://mybmsf.com/bmsf/bmsf_peeps/peeps_poetry/wordouts_moore2.asp

MONDAY, APRIL 28 - 7:30 p.m. - William O'Daly reads at the SPC, 25th and R. Free. 916-979-9706. http://www.sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

TUESDAY, APRIL 29 - 7 p.m. - "Life Sentence" - a weekly poetry reading and open mic. The Coffee Garden, 2904 Franklin Blvd., Sactown. http://www.myspace.com/lifesentenceshow


FRIDAY, MAY 2 - The Other Voice, a poetry reading series sponsored by Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis presents readers from THE YOLO CROW, a quarterly literary journal celebrating the writings of the people of Yolo County. The journal began with two writers having coffee while thumbing through The Writers Market. When one expressed a wish for some place local to send out work the other said, "So, start something". Three years and ten issues later, here they are, a gift to Yolo County and the world. The featured poets for this last reading until September are Chris Campbell, Peter Goblen, Susan Wolbarst, Ronald Lane, and Sherman Stein.The reading begins at 7:30 in the library of the church located at 27074 Patwin Road. Refreshments and Open Mike follow so bring along a poem or two to share. allegras@dcn.org. This is the last reading until September.

FRIDAY, MAY 2 - 7:30 p.m. - WILLIAM WANTLING IS DEAD featuring KEVIN JONES, GENE BLOOM, RICHARD LOPEZ, RICHARD HANSEN and others at The Book Collector. 1008 24th Street, between J & K Streets. 916.442.9295. May 2nd marks the anniversary of the death of mimeo era poet William Wantling. Poet and Wantling Scholar Kevin Jones and others will read their favorite Wantling poems and discuss his importance and impact as a poet. http://www.sacfreepress.com/poems/

SATURDAY, MAY 3 - 7:00 p.m. - The Sacramento City College literary magazine (Susurrus) reading will be held on the Sacramento City College campus in room A6 of the auditorium building.

MONDAY, MAY 12 - 7:30 p.m. - Rebecca Foust & Elizabeth Krause read at the SPC, 25th and R. Free. 916-979-9706. http://www.sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

SUNDAY, MAY 18 - 2:00 - 4:00 p.m. - A poetry reading by winners of the Museum's 2007 Automotive Poetry Contest. Doors open at 2pm and the presentation begins at 2:30pm. $5 for SADS & CVF members, $7 for non-members. Art Deco Authors and Books Also included. Education Center, Towe Auto Museum, 2200 Front Street, Sacramento, CA 95818 (916) 442-6802 Open 7 days 10 am - 6 pm. http://www.toweautomuseum.org

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14 - 7:30 p.m. - Rattlesnake Press presents a littlesnake broadside by STEPHANI SCHAEFER, a new chapbook from QUINTON DUVAL (Among Summer Pines), and Volume Three of CONVERSATIONS, B.L. Kennedy’s Rattlesnake Interview Series. The Book Collector, 1008 24th Street, between J & K Streets, 916-442-9295, richard@poems-for-all.com, http://www.sacfreepress.com/poems/

WEDNESDAY, MAY 14 - 7 p.m. - Sacramento Poets Against the War reading and Sacramento Area Peace Action open house at 909 12th Street, Sacramento, 916-448-7157 or sacpeace@dcn.org. http://www.sacpeace.org/ Free.

THURSDAY, MAY 15 - 8-10 p.m. - UC Davis Graduate Student Reading Series, 126 Voorhies Hall, University of California, Davis, Campus. http://english.ucdavis.edu.

THURSDAY, MAY 15 - 8 p.m. - Writer Beth Lisick and Poet Kayden Kross read plus open mic. Poetry Unplugged at Luna's, 1414 16th Street. Free. http://www.lunascafe.com, 916-441-3931. Hosted by frank andrick.

MONDAY, MAY 19 - 7:30 p.m. - Q. R. Hand and Bill Vartnaw from Taurean Horn Press read at the SPC, 25th and R. Free. 916-979-9706. http://www.sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

MONDAY, MAY 26 - 7:30 p.m. - Chad Sweeney & Josh McKinney read at the SPC, 25th and R. Free. 916-979-9706. http://www.sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

TUESDAY, MAY 27 - Poet Frank Bidart reads at the University of California, Davis, Campus. Time and location TBA. http://english.ucdavis.edu.

MONDAY, JUNE 9 - 7:30 p.m. - F. D. Reeve & Al Garcia read at the SPC, 25th and R. Free. 916-979-9706. http://www.sacramentopoetrycenter.org.

Friends of SPC

High School Poetry Contest, Monday night

Saturday workshops at SPC (an annual event!)

SPC Workshop participants and poets

Saturday workshops included time to socialize with other poets, a lovely outdoor lunch and a lecture and special reading from State Poet Laureate Al Young (with drum instrumentals) and, of course, guidance in creating new works of poetry.

Saturday, April 5 SPC Workshops

SPC Board Member Elizabeth Krause and her father set up the breakfast feast for the 2008 SPC Workshops.

April 4 Jane Hirshfield Reading at SPC and April 5 Workshops on Saturday Morning

Indigo Moor, Jane Hirshfield, Bob Stanley

last friday night at spc

Jane Hirshfield, Indigo Moor, Joshua McKinney and Camille Norton

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Sacramento Poetry Center Conference 2008

Sacramento Poetry Center Conference 2008

Al Young delivering his talk about poetry and song and reflections on French cultural influences on the US in the 60's

Bob and Tino

Stan Zumbiel and Andy Jones

Frank Graham with Al Young

Later on Al Young read a series of poems during the reading he did on Saturday afternoon [April 5] with Quinton Duval and Ellen Bass. [Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, the portions of the reading for Quinton Duval and Ellen Bass are not available as .mp3s.] Al Young read

"What You See Isn't All You Get" (w/ intro) [6:17]
"In the Unlikely Event of a Water Landing" [4:42]
"You Do All This for Love" [1:35]
"Brownie Eyes" [3:38]
"Lost Passport Blues" [2:52]

All photos courtesy of Rebecca Morrison

Frank Dixon Graham interviews Susan Kelly-Dewitt

Voracious reader, prolific author, mother, teacher and community activist, SKD has a new book of poems titled, The Fortunate Islands. I spoke with her about the craft of poetry…

FG: Your titles have always been intriguing to me -- The Fortunate Islands, Feather's Hand, To a Small Moth, Cassiopeia Above The Banyan Tree and an upcoming collection, Ghostfire. What does it take to find a good title for a collection or a poem? Do you find a title before a poem is developed? After it? What should the title do for a poem or collection?

SKD: I’ve never considered myself an especially good title writer, but I believe a good title should be a seed that somehow contains within it the pattern of the whole—the way a tupelo or a flowering plum tree is contained inside its seed.

That said, titles arrive differently to me—some before, some after, some in between. In the case of The Fortunate Islands, the title and the shape of the book appeared suddenly in my mind—the sections, etcetera—and though poems shifted around during the editorial process, the basic shape remained the same.

Feather’s Hand was an attempt to honor Feather Dundee, who created the original collage I used as the cover art; it was also an attempt to frame the main theme of the chapbook. For Cassiopeia Above the Banyan Tree—the title (and the poem called “Night in Manoa Valley”) for me captures some of the mystery of my childhood in Hawaii. One thing that was very present on an island in the middle of the Pacific in those days: the amazing web-work of the stars at night. The title also alludes to myth and myth-making, which I hope is alive and well in that collection.

Often I’ll say to students, cut the first stanza – in a draft, use part of it as a title. As a lesson in writing titles, I recite this poem to my students:

“She skimmed the yellow water like a moth,Trailing her feet across the shallow stream;She saw the berries, paused and sampled themWhere a slight spider cleaned his narrow tooth.”

(Dewitt recites the complete poem)

What do you think the title of that is?

Don’t put me on the spot. I ask the questions!

That’s what my students say. The title is “My Grandmother’s Ghost”. – then we go through it again and the students see what work the title does for the poem. The poem is by James Wright, by the way.

You’ve written so much about nature, not necessarily nature poems, but it is all woven in – even the stars and constellations…

I do think that being a little girl in Hawaii, maybe that’s where it started—Plants had more presence than people!. I’ve been a Master Gardener, I’m an amateur naturalist. I love looking at things under microscopes and magnifying lenses and I think the life of the bug represents the cosmic questions. Why are we here? What does it all mean—brevity, struggle, beauty, in condensed form.

What are you trying to teach when you teach poetry?

I think I’m operating out of the assumption: words matter. I believe in the art – but how do you do the craft of it. I’ve read thousands and thousands and thousands of pages on craft, as well as letters and biographies of poets.

I like to think of once when I took a painting class from Ann Gregory in the mid eighties – watercolors – she gave us secrets, short cuts – mixing colors; if you want this color you do this. She saved us so much time. Those of us who had the passion to keep painting, kept painting. If we’d tried to come up with these things ourselves, it would have taken forever. She was willing to give away trade secrets, and that’s how I feel about poetry.

If you have the passion, you’ll stick with it, but what I can do as a teacher is show you the secrets to make it better.

Are those the same short cuts we use for poetry?

Gregory told us: You’ve lived. You have ideas and feelings. Your painting will reflect that. Keep working on the craft—developing your skill.

So I say, if you’ve lived, you can write, and only you can write what you write. You as an individual are the prototype – you’re making this for the first time. That’s scary because you’re out there, forging your way. But I can help people form concrete images, how to surprise -- I can teach poets how to surprise themselves, how poetic devices work, give them good things to read that will inspire them. That’s what I see my job as.

What do you recommend reading for the aspiring poet?

So many…

A short list?

Oh brother. Oh boy.

Where would you begin?

The history of the art. Certainly, American poets, English and Irish poets. Then twentieth century poets. The Chinese poets. Just like any other art, you need to know what the context is -- for your moment in history. Obviously -- Whitman, Dickenson, Yeats, Stevens, Bishop. Akhmatova, Rilke, Neruda, More contemporary poets like Wright (both Wrights), Oliver, Levertov (who I subsequently studied with at Stanford) Kenyon, Kinnell, Clifton, Li-Young Lee, Hillman, McPherson, Hass.

How do you stimulate the power of the word, I mean, we’re the prototype…but where do you go from there? Writing assignments?

I do give a lot of writing assignments, and I do believe in the power of the word.

That sounds spiritual.

Well, I mean, I hope passion for the word communicates itself when I teach. I believe that words change things because they change people, sometimes in small ways, invisibly, and sometimes in ways that we can see and point to.

In this country we’re lucky, but in a lot of countries they kill poets – and they don’t kill them because they’re not powerful.

I’ve noticed references to ghosts and hummingbirds in your poems –

I didn’t realize they were so prevalent until I read those reviews (laughter). I wasn’t thinking about it. I don’t know.

Do you remember any discussions of ghosts or apparitions?

Well, growing up in Hawaii, there was a lot of mysticism …my mother was raised Catholic – at one point I went to Catholic school and Unitarian Sunday School at the same time—I was five, so that must have created some spiritual angst! And spirituality, the spirit world is so very much a part of Catholicism. I was an ardent young mystic. My confirmation name is Joan (of Arc). So I was very caught up in all of that growing up. I read a lot of theology, a lot spiritual tracts as a young person—Underhill’s books, Meister Eckhart, Swedenborg, Blavatsky, (I pretty thoroughly investigated theosophy)—Suzuki, Kapleau—people like that. Thomas Merton has been very important to me, as both a spiritual thinker and as a poet. That’s off the top of my head--

The poem, “Whiskey Nights”—I really did see that and whether it was a trick of my mind, or something else, I don’t pretend to know what it really means. I think a ghost may be a way of ….something. Who knows what our minds are capable of—we use such a small part of our brains. Today, I see myself attached to the natural world and the things around me.

Have you ever used the technique of denying yourself the use of one or more of your senses to develop a poem? Are there any tricks like this that you’ve used?

Over the years, many things like that – but I don’t really resort to them often now – I would like to live three more lifetimes. If I don’t have an idea on a day I write, well…this morning I was reading a book and I wrote two different poems. So reading brought to mind several ideas. I put it through a few drafts, I continued reading the book and I came up with another idea and went and wrote it down.

Later I was reading something about Mississippi and it triggered ideas about my memories of Hawaii—

I want to get back to ghosts and hummingbirds, we covered the ghosts, but what about the hummingbirds?

Well, it’s such a beautiful creature. They’re fierce and interesting. Their flight pattern…

Do you think analyzing makes you less productive?

I think it’s dangerous to analyze your own poetry. Just do it. Try to get better at it. I think you can get caught up in the analysis and not write the poem.

I don’t see my job as analyzing my own poems. It is to get down as much as I can of the world before I die.

There’s a good bit of dread and fear in this book of poems [The Fortunate Islands], very beautiful, very colorful – but is looking at your own death part of your source?

I think most poets are out to beat time. We don’t like to buy chrysanthemums, put them in a vase and watch them die. We hate the idea that whatever lives will vanish, perhaps through suffering.

I know that I’ve outlived most of the populations in history, so I know how lucky I am. I hope that when I do die, I’m ready for it, but I dread the deaths of those I love.

And there’s something in these poems that goes beyond our life here on earth…

I love reading Chinese poets because they’re so alive, so present in their words. Poetry is such a connection across time. I like to think that something I’ve written is something someone walking down a street years from now can—will—call to mind.

Your relationship with your father is at the center of much of your work. Is writing about difficult experiences a different process? More stressful or liberating?

I won’t talk much about my father here, but I will say that certain poems have been very difficult to write. In general, some things are so close to the bone that it takes many years to gain enough distance. This has at least been true for me. However, when a poem that addresses one of these concerns or experiences does seem right, it is very liberating indeed.

“Bypass,” which is about my husband David’s bypass surgery a month after we were married in 1974, when he was twenty-nine, took me about twenty years to write. I made various attempts but they all failed. The final poem evolved from a much longer and more angst-ridden, poor-me/poor-us umpteenth version. I stuck with it though, and I have been glad to learn that the poem is useful to others.

You've won a prestigious prize or two, and have had some lovely publications produced. What advice can you give to poets struggling to get their words noticed, either in print, academia, or otherwise?

My advice to poets is: don’t depend on prizes! If you win one, rejoice—dance around! Hurray! — Then get back to work. The next judge probably won’t like what you’ve written anyway. Dennis Schmitz once said to me of prizes and publication, “Put your nickel in the slot machine!”

You do need to keep putting the nickels in though—rejections today, an acceptance next month, another rejection. That’s just how it works for most of us most of the time. Hang in there. Find ways to keep yourself alive as a writer. Try not to lose heart.

I am very grateful to the presses and the people—to Carol and Laverne Frith especially, who took a chance and published my first chapbook, A Camellia for Judy—to Sandy McPherson, David Humphreys, Kathy Keith, to my daughter Jennifer who designed, printed and bound The Book of Insects by hand; by publishing these small collections they literally kept me alive. I had a gag in my mouth and they took it out and allowed me to breathe, to speak, to sing. If that sounds dramatic, good!—it was. And they all did it selflessly, for the art, and to encourage the poet and the poetry.

I feel that a prize, if it is honestly awarded for the work, is a little vote of confidence in the work—that others have found it speaks to or for them, and is thus somehow worth reading and maybe even rereading. It’s also a vote of confidence in the work to come—in the potential of the poet and the poetry.

If there’s money attached, that means a little more guilt—or worry-free time to concentrate—also pretty nice.

You're so prolific, I wonder if you're writing while doing errands – is that the case?

Elizabeth Bishop said that poets should be writing poems in their heads all the time, even if these poems never make it onto paper.

I think most poets are always “cooking” things subliminally, though what eventually arrives on paper might end up in the paper-mountain “draft” pile.

If I am out and about (or if I wake in the night) and start to get an image or a line in my head, I begin working it there, until it feels taut—until it has some muscle, some shape, some music—and then I push that as far… for as many lines as it will go, reworking and repeating it to myself until I have it memorized. I memorize as much as I’ve composed, and when I can, I write it down. I revise from there.

Also, I do read a lot of poetry. I find it very hard to read without wanting to write—responding with some lines of my own, a kind of conversation. That’s why I always tell students to just read, read, read if they want to write.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Poets Laureate Conference 2008

2008 Poets Laureate Conference

Al Young with accompanist, Dan Robbins, at the opening festivities

Julia Connor

Jack Hirschman

Sandra Wade

Carolyn Wing Greenlee

Diane Lando

Mary Rudge

Sam Pierstorff

Connie Post

Martha Meltzer

Garland Thompson

Rod Clark

Geri DiGiorno

Al Young delivering his address "Line Breaks and Tax Breaks" on Thursday Morning

Thanks to all participating poets laureate: Al Young [California], Sandra Wade [Lake County], Mary McMillan [Lake County], Dorothy Lee Hansen [Napa County], Meredith Laskow [Placentia Library District], Geri DiGiorno [Sonoma County], Mary Rudge [Alameda], Joel Fallon [Benicia], Diane Lando [Brentwood], Ruth Blakeney [Crockett], Chip Wendt [Healdsburg], Connie Post [Livermore], Sam Pierstorff [Modesto], Rod Clark [Pacifica], Garland Thompson [Pacific Grove], Martha Meltzner [Pleasonton], Fionna Perkins [Point Arena], Julia Connor [Sacramento], Dian Sousa [San Luis Obispo], Jack Hirschman [San Francisco], Patricia Perry [San Ramon], Perie Longo [Santa Barbara], Ursula Gibson [Sunland-Tujunga], David Smith-Ferri [Ukiah].

All photos courtesy of Rebecca Morrison

Monday, April 07, 2008

Poet Laureate Al Young, Sacramento Poet Laureate Julia Connor and SPC President Bob Stanley relax for a brief moment.

Poets Extraordinaire (State Conference, 2008)

Thursday, the conference continued with panel discussions and guests at the Old State Library near the circle fountain area in front of the Capitol.

Theresa McCourt, Tim Kahl, Rebecca Morrison, the Poetry-Out-Loud Rep and
Sacramento Poet Laureate Julia Connor.

Wednesday evening, perfumed by Wisteria in the fragrance garden of the New State Library.

Frank Dixon Graham and Sandra Senne lend a hand at the gathering.

Improvisational Jazz and the Poetry of Al Young.

The New State Library lead staff (below) volunteered their lovely space for the gathering of poets.

Wednesday night, special visit from SF Poet Laureate Jack Hirschman

Former SPC President, political strategist and poet Luke Breit, San Francisco Poet Laureate Jack Hirshman and SPC President Bob Stanley enjoy a chat before California Poet Laureate Al Young's performance.