Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.
Only mediocrity can be trusted to be always at its best.
Genius must always have lapses proportionate to its triumphs.
In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.
It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.
We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.
Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness
of a child at play.
Albert Flynn DeSilver
By Rebecca Foust, outgoing Events Chair
Rebecca Foust's books include All That Gorgeous Pitiless Song (shortlisted for the 2012 Paterson Prize and 2012 Poets' Prize), God, Seed (2011 Foreword Book of the Year Award) and two chapbooks. A new manuscript, California Dreaming, is a finalist for the Kathryn A. Morton Prize. Recent poems are in Gargoyle, Hudson Review, Notre Dame Review, Sewanee Review, and Woman's Review of Books, and her essays and book reviews are in American Book Review, Chautauqua, Prairie Schooner, Tikkun Daily, and elsewhere.
What brought you to poetry?
Donna Emerson is a Santa Rosa Jr. College instructor, a licensed clinical social worker, photographer, and writer of poetry and prose. Recent poetry publications include The Place That Inhabits Us, Poems of the Bay Area Watershed, Phoebe, Eclipse, The Paterson Literary Review, Chopin With Cherries, A Tribute, and So To Speak, among others. Recent prose and photography publications include Passager, Stone Canoe, and Tiny Lights (first prize in the 2010 Flash competition). Donna's first chapbook, This Water, was published in 2007. Her second chapbook, Body Rhymes, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2009 and a third, Wild Mercy, was released by FLP in October 2011. Donna lives with her husband and daughter in Sonoma County, California, near her two adult sons and the water.
Grandmother Florence, Grandma Mildred, my mother on a good day. Church litanies and Mother Goose, the King James Version of the Bible, especially Song of Solomon and the Psalms. Mother on a bad day. Nature on the east coast, where the rhythm of seasons blessed me. My father's love. My mother and her mother wrote poetry and passed it around the family in letters and on holidays.
What are your aspirations for the coming two years as Events Organizer for MPC?
I am dedicated to bringing lively events to the Marin Poetry Center... I admire the generous and careful scheduling of Third Thursdays that has brought new inspiration to us.
First and foremost, I am interested in what the membership of the Marin Poetry Center would like to hear and see. During this summer, I would enjoy hearing from members and readers alike, as to what would most meaningful. Anyone who would like to assist in setting up at Falkirk or with spreading the good word about MPC events, please contact me! My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of my interests is bringing viewpoints from worlds we need to better understand, such as Native American voices and those of the Middle East. In the past ten years I've had the good fortune to have students in my Santa Rosa Jr. College classes from many California tribes, as well as men and women from around the world. These students and some of their families are currently interested in attending MPC events with us too. Many live in Marin.
Why poetry, as opposed to another form like fiction, essay, or drama?
I love the intensity of the shorter forms. Poetry lets me immerse myself in nature, love, and any heightened experience that inspires me. I love the associative leaping.
However, I am very comfortable with stories, narrative poetry, and flash. My awards have typically been in narrative poetry, flash or the prose poem. Some say I am a cross-genre writer. Essays and prose poems are forms I enjoy as much as lyric poetry. I'm reading again Francis Ponge's prose poem book on butter!
I also like to play with sonnets, villanelles, and ghazals. I've come to believe like Robert Frost that the structure gives you something to lean upon—from which you can fly.
On May 8th Marin Poetry Center brought to a rousing close the twenty-third year of the high school poetry contest. Introduced by finalist judge and outgoing Marin County Poet Laureate CB Follett, thirty young poets read their winning poems to a full house at the Awards Ceremony at the Mill Valley Golf Clubhouse.
Forty poems were selected from more than 600 submissions to the annual Marin County High School Poetry Contest 2012 for the anthology. In all 37 students from eleven high schools were represented in the anthology. This year's title, "All I Want To Do is Write Poetry," was taken from the poem "Blue Soul Blues" by Redwood High School student Marnie Ginnis.
The first place Clyde Childress Award went to Sarah Earnshaw of San Rafael High School for her poem, "Death Speaks." The second place winner from The Marin School in Sausalito was Ricardo Romero for his poem "Old Sax and I." Sarah Christensen, a senior at The Branson School, won third place for "Fireflies (A Sestina)".
A reading workshop was presented by Joel Eis of Rebound Bookstore before the ceremony. Decorations, food and set-up were provided by Gabrielle Rilleau, Barbara Martin, Angelika Quirk, Carolyn Losee, Barbara Brooks, Paula Weinberger, Laurel Feigenbaum, Roy Mash, Jean Sublett, Mike Quirk, Rob von Ahn, Allegra Gibson and Ben Martin.
The cover art for the anthology was contributed by Kate Peper.
On a personal note, I would like to express my gratitude to all of the members of Marin Poetry Center for their contributions and support of the high school program. It has been an honor and pleasure to serve in the capacity of chair for the past three years. The reward of seeing our young poets celebrate their creative work is inexpressible.
Next year Carolyn Losee will take over the program and serve on the board.
The winning poems can be viewed on the Marin Poetry Center website at
The East Bay poetry scene has much to offer. I have been to all the venues listed below, and have read at many. Each has its own special atmosphere, its own special flavor. There is something for everyone's taste and style. Below are a few of the venues I am familiar with. Most include an open mic.
Poetry Flash Reading Series -- Poetry and Books
, two to three Thursdays each month except December, 7:30 pm, free, 2476 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, just south of UC Campus. (510) 653-9965 (Moe's); (510) 525-5476 (Flash). Hosted by Joyce Jenkins & Richard Silberg.
Diesel, A Bookstore
, one Sunday each month except December, 3 pm, free, 5433 College Avenue, Oakland, near Rockridge BART
(510) 653-9965. Hosted by Joyce Jenkins & Richard Silberg. No food (There are many restaurants and coffee houses on College Avenue!), but lots of books to buy.
For more information, email email@example.com
Thursday June 7, 7:30pm, Moe's:
Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down: An Anthology of Women's Poetry with contributors
Gail Rudd Entrekin, Lucille Lang Day, Judy Bebelaar, Janell Moon, Christina Hutchins.
Thursday June 14, 7:30pm, Moe's:
Jessica Fisher and Margaret Ronda
Sunday June 17, 3:00pm, Diesel:
Michelle Bitting, Brendan Constantine, and Joseph Lease
Thursday June 21, 7:30pm, Moe's:
Michelle Bitting, Brendan Constantine, and Joseph Lease
Sunday July 15, 7:30pm, Diesel:
Alicia Suskin Ostriker and Philip Memmer
Thursday July 19, 7:30pm, Moe's:
Marin Poetry Center Traveling Show co-hosted by Rose Black,
featuring poetry readings by David Alpaugh, Patricia Edith, Adam David Miller, Connie Post, and Zara Raab
Thursday July 26, 7:30pm, Moe's:
Anita Barrows, Dawn McGuire, and David Shaddock
Expressions Gallery, Berkeley -- Poetry and Art
Ashby near Adeline, just across from Ashby BART. Writing Teachers Write, a reading series featuring Bay Area Writing Project teacher-writers and others; takes place on 4th Wednesdays (except November and December), 5:30 to 7pm. There is usually an open reading after the featured readers. June 27 celebrates the publication of "Turning a Train of Thought Upside Down," featuring Andrena Zawinski, Lucy Day, Grace Marie Grafton, Marianne Betterly and Judy Bebelaar. July 25 will feature readers from BAWP's online magazine, "DigitalPaper." More information at
Valona Deli Second Sunday Poetry, Crockett -- Poetry, Food and Jazz
2nd Sundays, 4-6 pm, free; 1323 Pomona St., just off Hwy. 80 before the Carquinez Bridge, Crockett. (510) 787-2022. Hosted by Connie Post.
This energetic series has been going on for almost 13 years. Every Second Sunday, in the charming town of Crockett, poets from all over gather to hear such featured poets as: Les Murray, Kim Addonizio, Tony Barnstone, John Amen, Sharon Doubiago, Dan Bellm, Lynne Knight, Dean Rader, Aaron Belz , Troy Jollimore, Gary Young, Melissa Stein and many more. The open mic is known as one of the best in the bay area, fun-filled and brimming with great poetry. Lots of good food available here: sandwiches and beverages, including coffee drinks, wine and beer. At 6 p.m. you can also hear the Terry Henry Jazz Trio! Connie Post is the Host. For information please contact:
UPCOMING PROGRAMS AT CROCKETT
JUNE 10 - Robin Ekiss and Bruce Snider
JULY 8 - Taylor Graham and Gordon Preston
AUGUST 12 - TBA
SEPTEMBER 9 - Gerald Flemming and Ruth Schwartz
Frank Bette Center for the Arts, Alameda -- Poetry and Art
2nd and 4th Saturdays, 7-9 pm, 1601 Paru Street at Lincoln, Alameda; (510) 523-6957. Hosted by Jeanne Lupton. The hat is passed, but no one is turned away for lack of funds. Features are followed by a lively open mic. Light refreshments are served.
Frank Bette Center for the Arts, just named best art gallery in Alameda by the Alameda Journal, will be the site again this year of a 100,000 Poets for Change reading. This is a worldwide phenomenon begun by Michael Rothenberg in 2011 to bring together poets around the world on the same day to read on behalf of positive change in the world. Sharon Coleman will coordinate the reading. Event runs 7-9 pm on Saturday, September 29, 2012. This is features only, not an open mic. Contact host Jeanne Lupton at
with any questions.
Ina Coolbrith Circle, Contra Costa County -- Poetry, History, Literature, and Refreshments
The Ina Coolbrith Circle was founded in 1919 in honor of California's first poet Laureate. The goals of this Association are the promotion of the art of poetry, the study of history and literature of the Golden State, as well as the discussion of the works of its writers.
Programs are held on third Sundays, monthly from September through May consistent with the goals of the Association. These usually involve guest speakers and the opportunity for members and guests to read their own, original poems.
The ICC venue is currently at the Layfaette-Orinda Presbyterian Church, 49 Knox Drive, Lafayette, CA.
The website for the Ina Coolbrith Circle is
Albany Library Second Tuesdays Poetry Reading and Open Mic -- Poetry and Books
Albany Library's Second Tuesdays Poetry Nights, 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., feature readings by poets from the Bay Area and beyond. The readings are followed by an open mic, with many wonderful poets sharing their latest work. The Albany Library (1247 Marin Avenue, Albany) welcomes newcomers to our Poetry Nights. They take a break during July and August and resume in September, featured readers to be announced.
For details about future readings, please check the Library's online events calendar at
Albany Library Events
Catherine Taylor is coordinator of Poetry at the Albany Library.
(2010 Best of the Bay, Best Place to Hear and Read Poetry)
See Albany Library blog
East Bay Express Poetry Award
Ravenswood, Livermore -- Poetry at Historic Site, Refreshments
Poetry at Ravenswood (2647 Arroyo Road, Livermore) is held five or six times a year, always on Sundays, 2-4 p.m., at Ravenswood Historic Site, 2647 Arroyo Road, Livermore 94550. Admission is $5. Students with ID admitted free.
This series is hosted by Livermore's Poet Laureate Cher Wollard. It begins with 1 or 2 featured poets, then a break with refreshments, followed by Open Mic.
The next event is July 15 and will feature Kate Gale and Toby Bielawski.
Check out www.livermorelit.com
for upcoming events.
For additional information email Cher at firstname.lastname@example.org
or call her at 925 784-4679.
Poetry Express at Priya Indian Cuisine, Berkeley -- Poetry and Indian Cuisine
Monday evenings at 7-9 pm, free, 2072 San Pablo Ave., just south of University Ave., Berkeley. Featured reader and open mic. Food: Indian cuisine, beverages. Come for Poetry Express and you will get a 10% discount on your meal. Poets and audience gather between 6:45 and 7:15 to talk and eat before the reading. Celebrated its 10th anniversary of weekly poetry readings on April 2nd of this year.
Hosts are Jim Barnard (510-524-2120), (email email@example.com
), Odilia Galvan Rodriguez, Nance Wogan, and Jan Dederick. Email Jim if you would like to receive our weekly newsletter. Coming featured poets include Donna Lane on 6/4
, Linda King on 6/11
, "Tres Santos" (poetry ensemble including Mark G, Muteado, and Chokwadi) on 6/18
. On our monthly theme night, 6/25
, we will ask open mic readers to share poems on our June theme, "The Moon".
Nefeli Caffé, Berkeley -- Poetry and Greek Food
The Last Word Reading Series presents a featured reading plus open mic on the second Friday of every month at Nefeli Caffe, 1854 Euclid Avenue (a few doors north of the cross street, Hearst) just north of campus in Berkeley. 7 to 9 pm. Coordinators are John Rowe, Grace Grafton, Ralph Dranow, and Dale Jensen. Nefeli Caffe is a restaurant specializing in Greek tapas and full meals, as well as beer and wine, coffee and coffee drinks. (510) 841-6374.
- June 8th -- Laura Walker and Carol Dorf
- July 13th -- Cyrus Armanaji and Gary turchin
- August 10 -- To be announced
- September 14th -- Judith Offer and Paul Drabkin
- October 12th -- Chuck Burack and Mary Ann Konarzewski
- November 9th -- Richard Silberg and Terry Ehret
- December 14th -- Lucille Lange Day and Kathry Tahara
Bread Workshop -- Poetry and Organic Food
Bread Workshop Reading Series, first Tuesday of every month, at 1398 University at Acton in Berkeley. Event runs 7-9 pm. Feature followed by open mic. Jeanne Lupton hosts. Bill Brisco, Bread Workshop owner/cook. Delicious food and drink for sale. June 5: Sharon Coleman and MK Chavez feature. July 3: Lynn Alexander features with Tom Odegaard minifeature. August 7: Gary Turchin, September 4: Colleen McKee and Gregg Pond, October 2: Terry McCarty, November 6: Susan Cohen, December 4: Fresh Ink.
Yvonne Postelle wrote her new book of poems, After Beauty
, as tribute to her late husband, Jack Peary, who died in 2009 at the end of a long illness. Their story is one of great joy as well as sorrow. They met late in life. Neither was searching for someone to marry, both being at that time content as singles. However, the heart has a life of its own and their inadvertent meeting at a Cal Alumni event led to a close and loving relationship. On January 1, 2000, ten years after becoming a couple, Yvonne and Jack married in celebration of the new century.
Jack's decline became an issue in 2006. As his condition worsened, Yvonne became his full-time care giver. Though she wrote little poetry during the subsequent three years, she kept a journal (as she had done most of her life) and a notebook for jotting down poem ideas.
After Jack's death, wanting to commemorate him, Yvonne turned to the journals and notebooks. From the mine of her almost-daily records, she was able to recapture in an immediate and visceral way the arc of Jack's illness from its inception to his final descent. Writing about it kept her close to Jack, both in reliving the anguish and as a vehicle for processing her grief. As she reread the notebooks, she wrote of things that resonated with her. A life-long writer and reader of poetry, she had evolved a style derived in part from her love of sonnets. A number of poems in After Beauty either take the sonnet form or else they began as fourteen lines of iambic pentameter; later she broke them into longer pieces with shorter lines while still maintaining the underlying iambic beat. Pieces in the section "Prelude," love poems written prior to the illness, were included to provide the reader with a context for the poems of loss.
Yvonne writes her first drafts by hand. If she thinks the work has merit she inputs it into the computer, where the poem undergoes revision after revision after revision. She says her poems are never finished. Even after publication she keeps making small changes. She wrote more than 110 poems during the two years after her husband's death, then turned an eye toward making a book and looking for a publisher. Marin County poet Stephanie Mendel ("Bare Branches," "March, Before Spring") introduced her to Red Berry Editions and Yvonne subsequently chose Red Berry as the book's publisher.
The first reader of Yvonne's initial 110 poems was Joe Zaccardi, editor of the Marin Poetry Center Anthology and a noted poet in his own right. "I asked Joe for help," Yvonne said, "because I knew he had a good ear and loved poetry enough to be honest. Joe provided the invaluable service of paring down — stripping out any poems not directly focused on the couple at hand." Then came another bout of revisions, after which East Bay poet-teacher Jannie Dresser helped organize the 50-plus poems that would end up in the final collection. Fellow Marin poet and MPC board member Becky Foust read the manuscript and suggested the title from a poem by the same name in the collection.
Because music was Jack's overriding passion, Yvonne gave musical titles to the five sections in the book. Kathy Cathcart, a friend of many years who had worked most of her life in opera as a conductor and voice coach/teacher, provided a list of musical terms from which Yvonne picked section titles.
Since publication, Yvonne has received numerous letters and e-mails particularly from widows and parents who have experienced loss and have found the poems moving and comforting. Many expressed their gratitude to Yvonne for giving voice to experiences they themselves have been unable to articulate.
is available at Book Passage, Rebound Books, Booksmith in San Anselmo or from the author
Artists are dreamers. This has been established. But engineers are dreamers too. Of course! These two facts help us to understand why things will happen when you put hard hats on a group of very poet-y poets and let them loose around a work-in-progress architectural masterpiece of a self-suspension bridge. As they wander and question and interact with exceedingly knowledgeable engineers and exceedingly skilled (and macho) iron workers, or to twist their poet heads this way and that to see the underside or the side angle or overview of this towering endeavor. All that swirling and commingling of dreams and dreamers practically guarantees that a lot will happen.
In this case the "a lot" is a beautiful book of poems, accompanied by Thomas Alleman's sublime photographic images, to reflect upon the vision and the reality of a new single-tower East Span of the Bay Bridge. Everything Indicates
will be released by Heyday Press in early July. It is the brainchild of three people who have good memories. Tamsin Smith, Ben Davis and Elissa Perry remembered that we have it in our collective American capacity to find that place where our basic needs, our values and our art come together. They remembered that in the U.S. we have a legacy of commissioning both great public works and great public art — sometimes one and the same — and celebrating them together.
Several Marin Poetry Center members' work appears in Everything Indicates
. Katherine Hastings, Albert Flyn de Silver, Susan Terris, Christina Hutchins and I all have poetry in this collection.
In Poem to the Bay Bridge
Albert Flyn DeSilver writes:
self anchored suspension
he said, words
anchored to their origins
in the sun
linked box girder decks, their flattened
across ages, ages, races, ideas —
yes, and time's self-feathered flight —
The final stanza in Christina Hutchins' A bridge to all that Is best In humanity
Like the sculptor becomes the center of the shape she feels
perceiving it all around, we came to love the bridge.
Not just what it is, but how it will bestow us again our lives
when the deep-studded earth quakes as the dreamer
shifts positions when in sleep or in the moment of waking.
The Everything Indicates
release party and reading will be held Sunday, September 23, 2012, 5:00 pm, City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco, Poetry Room. For a preview of the book, please visit
By Rebecca Foust
[First published in Bay Area Seasonal Poetry Review]
Poetry chapbooks are enjoying resurgence in popularity, thanks to a number of small presses' offering publication and sometimes cash awards in annual competitions, the subject of a feature article in the May/June 2010 issue of Poets & Writers
magazine. Chapbooks are said to have originated with the inexpensively produced "cheap-books" sold by traveling peddlers and circulated in nineteenth century England, and some shoddily-produced chapbooks do indeed seem to play the disheveled younger siblings to full-length poetry books. But many poets get their start in book publication with this form, and even T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland
began as a chapbook published in 1923 by Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press. At their best, chapbooks feature high-quality poetry in modest but thoughtfully produced editions of fewer than 40 pages, usually with a saddle-stitched or staple-bound spine.
The Bay Area is rich with poets writing excellent chapbooks, but three that recently caught my attention were
Gold Leaf on Granite
, by William Keener; When the House is Quiet
, by Kirsten Jones Neff;
and Stepping Through Moons
by Toni L. Wilkes. All three collect poetry that is strong, lean, and powerful in books produced with a fine eye for attention to details. Those are notes that strike just the right balance of simplicity and modesty on the one hand, and a high degree of care for quality (in terms of copyediting, book design, production materials and, most of all, the poetry) on the other.
Gold Leaf on Granite
(The Anabiosis Press 2009), by William Keener, 32 pages, 19 poems. Saddle-stapled. Winner of the 2008 Anabiosis Press Chapbook Contest. Cover Art by Richard Kent Thompson, Design by Nina Lisowski. $10.00. Orders,
Winner of the 2008 Anabiosis Chapbook Contest, Keener's book is an example of the art of the chapbook at its unpretentious best. The book is slim and staple bound with high quality paper cover bearing a handsome drawing of Yosemite's El Capitan. An unusual design detail is the use of a vibrant saffron color for the blank, textured opening and closing leaves. Because these pages are translucent, the book's black-printed title is just barely visible below the first one, a literal re-creation of the gold-leafing referenced in the book's title.
Inside lie 19 poems rooted in the natural landscape of the poet's home turf in northern California, poems that are also meditations on the nature of language and written expression. The opening and titular "Gold Leaf on Granite" takes place at the top of Yosemite Park's Glacier Point where "The sun reaches out/with its last glinting hammer/to beat gold leaf on granite." Given the goldenrod page just turned to get to this poem, the reader is put immediately in mind of other kinds of leaves, such as the kind that make up the pages of the book in hand. More leaves figure in "Late October, High Sierra," where the speaker "knows he has walked too deep/in the aspen grove/when he discovers gold/surrounding him with light." He is put in mind of his father who, in wonderful paradox," loved this shade of light." But "now it is the (poet) son / who cannot go on without/ clutching color to his heart, / lifting leaf after leaf," and we are led back again to language.
"Take This Page," the last poem in Gold Leaf on Granite, engages directly with the issue of language and poetry.
the distraction of words
our endless procession
the speaker admonishes, look into the materials that make up the book itself: "the textures/of felted fibers, / cotton and flax" and then deeper, past the paper's "watermarks" into the materials from which a book's paper is made, "the cellulose in its slurry,/the wood chips, sawdust," all the way back to the tree, and then finally its constituent elements,
the billion leaves
they gird on every year,
their green machinery,
the sugars in the sap,
oxygen, carbon, lignin,
every molecule made
with heat, the photons . . . .
Keener's poems are rendered in spare and elegant free verse, evocative of Asian art , evocative in fact of the verse of Shikibu, the speaker's name for the "Japanese Maple" growing in his yard. The lines here speak their own delicacy and poignancy:
Trees can feel the coming frost.
It's time to send their sap to roots.
She chose her words with ink and brush,
listened to the struck bell of her heart
until every sound was written down.
I first read Gold Leaf on Granite
at the top of Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park on a day in apex spring, with torrents of water in the falls, and tangles of columbine, California poppies, lupine and wild sweet pea in every rocky crevice. Warmed by the same gray granite kindled to a sunrise blaze in the Keener's book, I read it from cover to cover. "Ok," I thought afterward, "what book wouldn't seem like magic in that setting?" So I hiked back down the mountain and then allowed the book to age on the shelf for a few months before reading it again, this time in the more mundane confines of my office. The magic was still there.
when the house is quiet
(Finishing Line Press 2010), by Kirsten Jones Neff, 40 pages, 29 poems. Saddle-stapled. Winner of the 2009 Starting Gate Award. Cover Art by Kathy Dennison, Design by Raymond Galang. $14.00. Order,
Finishing Line Press does a great job with the production of its chapbooks. This one's cover is stylish and hip, with the title and an interesting, abstract flower design picked out in beige against an unusual rust-colored background and finished with a narrow brown ribbon tied around the spine. In this slender, tastefully produced volume, Novato poet Kirsten Jones Neff probes the inner and outer landscape of a young wife and mother living in contemporary suburban northern California. The husband is beloved, the children are beloved, Bay Area nature in all its glorious beauty is beloved. The speaker is exquisitely attuned to and grateful for her many blessings, and yet. . . .
"And yet" is the space in which these poems dwell, as the speaker moves beyond celebration and gratitude to acknowledge the darker themes that shadow any examined life: mortality, parents' inability to protect their children from harm, and the worm of transience that infects the core of life's sweetest moments. In "Pine and Dust," for example, the speaker wakes in her grandmother's "summer bed," an image that works on several levels. Presumably a from a summer house used by the grandmother when the speaker was a child, the bed is also the repository of her grandmother's "summer," a time when she was vibrantly alive to the grandchild who in this poem switches places with her and waits for her own progeny "to climb in beside me." Although it begins in the sensory memories of the speaker's childhood—"screams of jays" and "two pieces of bacon, toast and a fried egg," Neff refuses to allow the poem to dwell in nostalgia, nudging it toward melancholy and even irony in preparation for the gut-punch of the last line: "I have never felt so certain I will die" (29).
In "Regret," a dear friend is dying, and the speaker's agonized awareness of this fact permeates her—and the reader's—entire experience of the Vashon Island wedding they are attending together:
That whole weekend —
as you sat next to me in the church,
as we walked uphill under a row of liquid ambers,
as we turned out chairs to watch the first dance —
you let me know that you would die.
The speaker is sorry about what is happening to her friend, but she regrets at least as much her inability to comfort or help her. "Let's do this again next year" is all she can muster, "unable to have that conversation" (22). In "Equinox," perhaps the epitome "and yet" poem, Neff balances a moment of pure, Zen joy on the knife-point of her speaker's realization that no perfect moment can last. The poem opens in medias res, in the rough-and-tumble rush to get three kids out the door and onto the school bus. In the moment of sudden silence following the bus's departure, summer stands barefoot among the first curling leaves of fall. Neff acknowledges the moment and allows the reader to bask in its benison while at the same time shading it with her ever-present awareness of mortality: "I step inside, / carrying the dry scent / of the equinox, not knowing how long this light,/this blessed light,/will last" (10).
Neff's style is plainsong, using unmetered, unrhymed free verse in most cases organized into regular stanzas (quatrains, tercets, couplets), but sometimes without stanzas and in one case ("Nebraska") adopting a full-page prose poem format. The poems are quiet and reflective, almost austere in their restraint. Some would call them "accessible," and indeed, they can be enjoyed as the musings of a young suburban mom experiencing a few moments peace after getting her kids off to school. But, as noted above, Neff's writing operate also on a deeper level, expressing the despair trolling beneath the sun-drenched surface of the life of any happy Marin family: intimations of mortality and a clear-eyed awareness of life's inexplicable tragedies and cruel ironies.
Stepping Through Moons
(Finishing Line Press 2010), by Toni L. Wilkes, 40 pages, 22 poems. Saddle-stapled. Cover Photo, Kathan Brown. $14.00. Order,
Another elegant Finishing Line Press production is Stepping Through Moons, Santa Rosa resident Toni Wilkes's debut chapbook released in late 2009. Here, the book is made with heavy, acid-free paper that feels good to the hand, the cover in highly textured ecru reminiscent of slub silk. The cover image is a drawing in what appears to be ink and watercolor, a modernist image that includes an indigo shadow, a set of stairs and a pale lemon-yellow full moon. I wondered if the author was the artist and wished there had been attribution for it in the book. Arresting and beautiful, the image somehow manages to be representational and abstract at the same time.
It is a good metaphor for the poems found inside the book—22 of them in 40 pages, most of them shorter than a half-page in length and none longer than two-thirds of a page. The poems are tiny, fiercely precise, and rendered with a painterly eye that evokes a world of associations, in the end constructing its own mysterious myth. Like the book's cover, the poems strike a balance of opposing elements, being composed of minute details that combine with other elements swollen in ambiguity and portent. Composed in unmetered, unrhymed free verse organized in most cases into symmetric stanzas of lines of equal length often ending in couplets, the poems also mediate between form and formlessness and between stereotypical notions of "traditional" and "modern" poetry.
We are aware, throughout this book, of the poet's careful, deliberate choices. Stepping Through Moons is organized into four sections, three of which take their titles from a poem or a line in a poem included in that section. The exception is section two, entitled "Diptych," which in naming exactly what the section enacts—two ekphrastic poems linked in theme, subject, and tone—turns out not to be an exception at all.
Art is an important theme and leitmotiv in this book. In "The Birthday Party —1952" for example, we can almost see the photograph in which "Remains of white-frosted cake / and pink icing drop from Depression / glass plates" (7). Some characters in the poems are artists: the mother who hides sketchbooks and makes creepy flower arrangements in "Rift," her son with his own sketchbooks and journals in "At the Orchard's Edge" and "Walking Through Myths," and her daughter (the boy's sister) who daubs paint on apple crates in "Lakeside —1948."
The poems are subtle, spare and strongly imagistic. Because expression is so restrained, other elements like character, plot, and point of view are foregrounded. This is particularly true of the poems in section one where Wilkes' use of cinematic techniques reminds us of her experience as a screenwriter and film story editor. Rendered entirely in the third person, the poems in this section take as their subject a man whose boyhood family has been monstrously shattered by some event that is never fully revealed.
The penultimate and most intimate poem in this section, "From Here to There," starts outright in the first person singular: "I can still image the white threaded shadow / draw its way across your belly's white navel line" (21).
Robert Frost's observation that in a book of twenty-four poems the book itself is the twenty-fifth poem, has special resonance in the case of chapbooks, in which the elements that give any book coherence and power must be present, but in significantly fewer pages than a full-length effort. The best chapbooks do the work that these three do, combining compression and thematic unity in a form with its own value and integrity. You can enjoy all three in an afternoon, and then you can enjoy them, as I have, again and again.
Marin Poetry Center Monthly Reading Series
Third Thursdays @ 7:30 pm (unless otherwise noted)
Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission St. at E, San Rafael
Martha Rhodes Susan Browne
Daniel Polikoff: Rilke: A Poetic History
Rebound Players: A Child's Christmas in Wales
Annual Holiday Potluck / Readaround
Middle Eastern Poetry
Native American Poets
May 16 TBA
For more information, visit
or email Donna Emerson at
Open Mic/Poetry Critique
Meets at Falkirk Cultural Center, on the fourth Thursday of
each month (except Dec.), starting at 7pm. Bring ten copies of your poem, no more than
one page in length. This event is free, and is open to everyone.
1408 Mission Street, San Rafael.
Marin Poetry Center Bookgroup
Meets at 7pm the second Wednesday of each month, rotating
among living rooms of participants.
For more information contact Roy Mash:
Real Men Write Poetry
Wed June 13, 7 pm
Poetry reading featuring Calvin Ahlgren, Dick Brown, Shawn Pittard, Sandy Scull, Sim Warkov and Joe Zaccardi.
Location: Larkspur Council Chambers, 400 Magnolia Av, Larkspur
Handicap access, no charge.
MARIN POETRY CENTER
|Board of Directors |
|Paula Weinberger - Chair/Summer Traveling Show |
|Rose Black - Anthology |
|Barbara Brooks - Recording Secretary |
|Donna Emerson - Events |
|Laurel Feigenbaum - Membership/Recording Secretary |
|Rebecca Foust - Events |
|Carolyn Losee - High School Poetry |
|Barbara Martin - High School Poetry |
|Colm Martin - Treasurer |
|Roy Mash - Webmaster, Book Group |
|Joe Zaccardi - Anthology ||
|Contributing Members |
|Calvin Ahlgren - Newsletter, Open Mic Workshop |
|Maggie Morley - Newsletter |
|Kirsten Jones Neff - Newsletter |
|Gabrielle Rilleau - High School Poetry, Aegis Program |
|Bruce Sams - Public Relations |
|Margaret Stawowy - Hospitality |
|Gail Stickland - Public Relations |