Saturday, January 16, 1988

Napa Poetry Conference, 1981-1987

I've been scanning and organizing old files. Yesterday's gem. Once upon a time we were an extraordinary group of poets who met each summer in Napa. Organizing poets for this photo shoot was like herding cats. My photo traveled far and wide, so I made a parody drawing of it. Can you recognize any of the poets? It's 1985. Some of the poets no longer walk with us.

Napa Valley College English Chair, Dave Evans founded the Napa Poetry Conference in the summer of 1981. It began as a collective of Berkeley poets and students who came together to share their expertise and perfect writing skills.

I'm not sure how I got roped in, probably to do a potential story. But I attended most. if not all, the conferences through 1987; Dave kept the tuition low. In my case, he waived it entirely in exchange for photographic documentation. At first, I merely observed, but then, Dave brought me in as a participant and presenter. My writing life was irrevocably changed.

Word got out and poets from all over the US and beyond attended the workshops. Several came from the Bahamas, of all places. So during the spring of 1985, we all packed up and flew south—to Nassau, for an international conference. Extraordinary times.

One of the unique aspects of the Napa Poetry Conference was that we were all housed within the community, no motels. I stayed as some extraordinary homes, one place on top of Mt. Veder, another ranch in the Mayacamas, replete with lake and rowboat, our hosts were a medic and a combat helicopter pilot, each was carrying on a secret affair, so life was intense. Because we were all poet-roommates, we made deeper bonds.

After Dave died, John Leggett took over, and the direction of the Napa Poetry Conference drastically changed. It became the Napa Valley Writers' Conference. Some of the old guard were invited back; Frank Bidart, Robert Pinsky, but the flavor had changed, with Dave Evans gone, there was no community housing offered, and tuition was stiff. A tony new era was ushered in. I never went back.


Wednesday, January 6, 1988

Russian River Writers' Guild


With early west county beginnings in bakeries, bars, and bookstores, the poetry and prose series of the Russian River Writers' Guild (RRWG) is the oldest ongoing reading series in the greater Bay Area and north coast. 

The RRWG has kept the "literatii" entertained in most west county towns, from Monte Rio, its first home, to Occidental, Guerneville, Santa Rosa and Sebastopol. 

Since the early '70's, both famous and infamous poets across the nation have shared the podium with local poets. Literally, hundreds of poets—from nationally recognized names such as McArthur prize recipient Robert Hass; Robert Bly whose translations of Rilke were published by Calliopea Press; and 95-year-old Meridel LeSueur, a McCarthy era blacklisted writer rediscovered in the 70's by the women's movement—to the real unknowns who have just discovered the power of the written word. 

Since the San Francisco literary renaissance of the '50's, when Kenneth Rexroth introduced experimental jazz and "Beat" poets such as Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac to the literary world of New York, the Bay Area poetry scene has blossomed. 

Hundreds of small presses abound and Poetry Flash, the Bay Area's literary calendar of events lists scores of readings for each day of the week. (needs transition ...)

One former RRWG coordinator, Andrei Codrescu, Rumanian poet and editor of numerous books and anthologies including Up Late: American Poetry since 1970, is best known as the poetry correspondant for National Public Radio's weekly series, All Things Considered. His fellow coordinator, Pat Nolan has poems and translations published in Random House Book of 20th Century French Poetry, Paris Review, Rolling Stone, and Up Late. Codrescu lists Nolan as a leader of the "California School of Writing" according to Nolan's wife, Gail King, also a former Guild coordinator. 

Guild co-founder and "jewish mother", Marianne Ware, whose chapbook, Bodies Nearly Touching, published by Nolan and King (Doris Green Editions), was printed in the 1987 Editor's Choice II anthology highlighting small presses. The obligatory hug she gave each reader in greeting was dubbed by coordinator Jim Montrose the "obligatory hug" and became the name of the Guild's monthly newsletter which lists upcoming poetic events, prose, and poetry of featured readers. 

Former coordinators Lee Perron and Maureen Hurley said the heyday of the series ('79 to '82) was when novelist Margie Summerfield offered them a free space with a stage, lighting and sophistocated sound system at Garbo's Cabaret & Bar in Guernewood Park. Many customers who came in for a drink were startled at first, but soon took to poetry. 

Perron and Hurley booked many poetry and arts events that would appeal to larger audiences who traditionally didn't attend poetry readings. Poets and musicians, dancers and actors all performed their poetic works. Folksinger-poets U. Utah Phillips and Ed Balchowsky, Bobbie Louise Hawkins and Rosalie Sorrels; actor-director Fred Curchak, artist Greer Upton, dancer Jere Graham and songwriter Michael Beargrease Hansen were also part of the line up. 

Some poetry events drew crowds of more than 200 such as the poetry and musical extravaganza by Elizabeth Herron, Fran Carbonaro and Rick Duvall. It was raining like hell and the river was rising but Robert Bly who flew in for his book party at Sonoma State cosponsored by the Guild and Public Poetry Center, wandered in. They didn't charge him admission. 

For many, the Guild provides a platform to explore and develop new ideas and areers. Perron, published in American Poetry Review, and CoEvolution Quarterly developed Sun Moon Bear Productions, a small business which distributes prints and fine press poetry across the nation. 

Hurley, who wrote her first grant for RRWG, received artist-in-residency grants from national, state and private funders. From ad hoc RRWG documentor, she became a photojournalist and is published in San Francisco Chronicle Book Review, and Oakland Museum Magazine. 

Other coordinators from the RRWG's 17-year-history include Mark Clagett, Donna Champion, Bonnie Olsen, Claire Josefine, Ellen Appel, Gil Helmik and Hunce Voelker. 

Readers have included Sonoma poet Paul Mariah, publisher of 47 titles from Manroot Press; Pushcart Prize winners David Bromige and Sharon Doubiago; David Fisher, winner of the William Carlos Williams award; Beat poets Jack Michelene, and the late Bob Kaufman—who coined the word "Beatnik;" Jim Dodge of Fup fame; Gerald Haslam who wrote The Oakies; the late Boschka Layton and Helen Luster; and Canadian Poet Laureate Irving Layton, and Jorge Lujan from Mexico City 

The work of the Guild-- whether booking readings, editing and publishing, or soliticing memberships is all facilitated by dedicated volunteers. RRWG's strength and longevity is a statement of the commitment of local poets to the organization. 

In 1985, RRWG entered the book publishing business with Tracks in the Widest Orbit, selected poems of J. H. Montrose, Jim was a Guild coordinator who died of cancer. In 1986, in Conjunction with Aldebaran Press, Falling to Sea Level, a bilingual edition of poems by Maureen Hurley and John Oliver Simon, now in its third printing, was released. 

Upcoming projects include the first ever RRWG anthology of participating poets and Sonoma county writers. The deadline for submission of poems, artwork, fiction and non-fiction is February 1, 1988. (See address below). 

Poetry is ideal entertainment for the traditional "blue Monday" night of the week when restaurants and cabarets close. Warning. Poetry can be addicting. Many of the Guild's followers have exclaimed, "I didn't know I even liked poetry!" 

The 8th annual Neurotic/Erotic Valentine Open Reading to be MC'd by the Madame of Poetry, Marianne Ware, is guaranteed to draw a large audience of poets of all persuasions. 

Readings at the Burbank Activities Center, 167 North High Street, Sebastopol are on the first and third Mondays of each month, 7:30 p.m., with a half-hour open mike followed by two featured readers. Admission is $2 at the door. 

In addition to the regular series, the Guild sponsors other events from time to time. Currently, on alternate Mondays, there are also readings at the Guerneville Veterans Memorial Building. Membership, participation and attendance of events are open to everyone. Language, lace cuff, surreal, dada, street, serious, academic, frivolous, and poets of all persuasions and opinions are welcome. 

For more information about the readings, workshops, publications, membership, or to volunteer, please call or write to Mark Claggett, Coordinator, Russian River Writers' Guild, 5P.O. Box 1123, Sebastopol, CA 95473. (707) 829-0237.

Friday, January 1, 1988



My Irish grandmother said every house
needs a front duir and felling the oaks
brought bad luck because under golden boughs
was how ancient knowledge was passed on.
From beneath stones, the cycle
of small green claws grasp the sky,
taproot heartline—
sweet red sap, a coursing river
dying in a sea of shadows.
Felled patriarchs in a forced march
across fields in spring,
meteors in the burning night,
the final star gasp of diamond before carbon
returns to base minerals and ash—
how can they regenerate
when we've furrowed the earth
with houses, utility poles and roads?
I remember dreaming the lions
were coming, and the front door, too small
for the doorjam, swung free in the breeze.


1993 Mother Earth Journal
1990 Green Fuse

Ascii jumble. Must've revised it in 89got the line breaks right by guessing