Thursday, December 6, 1990



This place we call home is much larger than just where we live. I like to use local history and heritage as a place to begin gathering information for the poetic process. To develop a sense of place, and from there, to explore our global connections. Where we live and who we are profoundly affects our culture and art. We are all immigrants; we've come from distant shores to sink roots down into the soil called California.
California has always been a multi-cultural state, if not a state of mind. It began long before California was "discovered" by the Spanish. No one is sure what the Native American names for California were, but the Coastonoan Ohlones of the San Francisco Bay region have left us one small clue. All that remains of an entire culture's mythology and culture is this fragment, Dancing on the brink of the world.   

The multitudes of Native American languages and dialects in California  number into the thousands. According to anthropologists, this phenomenon could only have happened over a long period of time—say 10,000 years or more—by infiltration of new groups coming across from the Bering Sea, and by groups so stable, their common dialects became separate languages over vast tracks of time. But there are also cultural and linguistic connections between the Pomos of Sonoma, one of the oldest groups in California and the Mixtec of Oaxaca, Mexico.

When Hernando Cortés sailed to the Americas in 1535 from Spain, he was looking for a mythological land of gold. The naming of California began long before California was "discovered." When Cortés sighted the lower tip of Baja, he named the "island" California after an amazon queen Califia, from a novella, The Adventures of Esplandian. Perhaps it was the fabulous pearls in La Paz that made him think this was mythological California, or maybe in bitter irony, he named the bleak vast desert "California" as a joke. But he wasn't so wrong, because in 1849, gold was discovered. One student wrote: Califia summoned the mountains,/She summoned the trees, the winds, the streams/And the hills as well... (1)

More and more teachers tell me their students seem to lack in self-esteem. Could I include something on self-awareness? This becomes my focal point. I like to start out with an autobiography. "Auto" means "self," "bio" means "life," and "graphy" or "graphics" means "picture." Self-life-picture. 

I ask students to write me a letter about where they were born, where they've lived, who they were named after, their nationalities, what languages their families speak, do they have any famous ancestors, any family stories, traditions, etc. I brainstorm with them. Do they have a secret place? 

What do they want to be when they grow up, what do they think they'll be instead? What places would they like to travel to? Who are they, what do they dream of?

By the year 2000, the dominant population will be the so-called "minorities" with the largest group being Latin American, followed by Asian, and Black populations. This variety of cultures becomes a fertile ground for the writing of poetry. The students' own family history can be incorporated into their writing.

Notes: this is a list of ideas, rather than a lesson plan. (See Nuts & Bolts for more details). I usually meet with a given class one hour a week for ten sessions. I cover a wide range of poetic ideas and styles, some of which are included here.

To break the ice, metaphorically speaking, I start poetry writing classes with bi- or tri-lingual decks of word-cards or phrases. Pick approximately 600 words and parts of phrases from poems, or have students help design a deck. I often have them do the translations. My word-cards are in Spanish, Russian, Chinese as well as English—students are fascinated by different languages. 

Shuffle the deck, pass out five word-cards to each student. Choose five words from their collection to do a demonstration poem on the chalk board. Ask for synonyms, homonyms and antonyms for each word and write them down. Build a poem using words from the clusters—include tense changes too. Add as many other words as needed. 

Include a comparison, a feeling (without naming it), make sure it's a image (a painting with words). Student Matt Melodia wrote: A young deer/occasionally came/and ate the rich apples./They taste like a dream. (2)

Limit the poem to 3-5 words per line. Do revisions, give it a title. Have students make their own poems. When they've used their five words (or related words) give them five more, etc. They can add onto the first poem or start a new one. Lie under a tree/Sadness/Watch it flower.  (3)   

Poems can be as serious or as silly as they want. A variation, try word-card haiku inspired by Impressionist paintings. Each line becomes a brush-stroke. Dense morning/Pulling the sky down/Clouds fighting again.  (4 )

Word-cards help students break out of predictable writing patterns, forcing them to taste words they wouldn't normally use in a poem. It stretches their vocabulary and opens new doors of expression. Look up a word sometime in a good dictionary. 

English has collected a portmanteau of words from most languages of the world, not just from the Indo-European tree. The Oxford English or the American Heritage dictionaries include the meaning and origin of words. "Conspiracy," to breathe together, is related to inspiration which means to breathe life/creativity into; as from the godhead. And other words: perspire, respire, respite are related. We are a conspiracy of poets breathing together as we write.

Another lesson idea might include the tracking down of a family history, looking up the origin of your names and writing about them. This is a good place to introduce narrative poetry that tells a story. Who were you named after? What's in a name? An entire thumbnail sketch of history. 

I make copies of several baby name books and pass them out. Sometimes students can find their last names too. Harrison is Harry's or Harold, the army ruler's son. Aguilar is of the eagles. Don't forget nick-names and baby names. Memory, history and origin combined.

Use information from your birth sign, stones, flowers, etc. What element are you? Air, earth, fire or water? Write a poem from that perspective. Gary Snyder's "As For Poets" is a good model poem. Are you a mind or a space poet?  

How about giving yourself another name, a totem or clan name, a secret name: place, season, animal, direction, color, etc. The naming of people, places, animals, and things goes back to our ancestral beginnings. The cave paintings of Lascaux, France and Altamira (to "look up" in Spanish), Spain, whether the art work of Cro-Magnon or Neanderthal man, invoke the animals of the hunt. A naming.

One of the oldest European poems 2,000 to 3000 years old, an Irish fragment attributed to the bard Amergín (also the Welsh Taliesin) is a mnemonic naming of knowledge, coding of information. It is also an incantation. The metaphoric naming of things and ideas. I am the salmon of the seven leaps.  Who but I...  (Robert Graves, The White Goddess).


I am a wonder among flowers
running on a hill where poets walk.
The feel of fresh grass under my feet
where tears of the sun are falling,
where every head is guarded by a shield,
I am a young flower blooming,
but I am free to do anything; to go anywhere.
If I am free; am I the blaze on the hill?

     Roxanne Nelson (5)
You could bury an acrostic message spelled down the page—your name, your secret animal, place or thing name... Or bury a code word associated with your name as a skeleton by which to hang a poem from. Take the letters of your full name. How many other words can you compose from it? Make a list and use as many of them as you can in a poem.

Bring in mirrors and write about yourselves and family. The past, the present, the future, an aspect of time. Read selections from David Meltzer's Two Way Mirror. David said: Poetry is a two-way mirror. The outside looking in; the inside looking out. A reflection is a reverse image of yourself. No one knows what they really look like as others see them. The camera unveils us as the rest of the world sees us; face-forward. 

What does it mean to see yourself backwards and not as others view you? How about when you look into multiple mirrors and infinity stretches out like a green lake—what happens when you enter into that world? Follow up with improvisational mirror exercises, where students pair off and slowly mirror each other's movements. 

Have them write about the process. Have them do a contour drawing of their partner without looking at the paper, then write a poem about looking into their partner's eyes. What do they see? What else?

Writing comes from pictures. The Phoenician seafarers (modern-day Lebanon) invented modern "Roman" writing to keep track of goods. A was aleph, the ox. Aleph See its two ears and horns? B was beth, house or temple,   Beth   C was gimel, the ship of the desert (can you guess it by its shape?),  Gimeland D was daleth, or door. Daleth  The Greeks came along and borrowed the alphabet, renaming the letters, alpha, beta, etc. Hence the word Alphabet comes from ox and house. Another naming.

Write a fragment of a lost epic poem. "Translate" the inscriptions of Minoan Linear B, the story boards of Easter Island or an Aleutian skin story from Technicians of the Sacred, by Jerome Rothenberg. Decode the message while listening to the song of a humpback whale. Do fake translations, or transliterations from poems in Russian, Japanese, Chinese, etc. However the poem is deciphered is correct.

"The painter Gauguin, exploring his own French/Peruvian roots, and disturbed by the destruction of the Polynesian concept of paradise wrote on his most famous painting, Who are we and where are we going?   

You could explore environmental and ecological issues which reach across racial boundaries. Writing from pictures; a before and after. Many students are concerned for the future welfare of the earth. Look for patterns to emulate, moving from the smaller picture of self, to the larger issues of the world.

Cycles and systems—why it's important to preserve the place where we live. Building on prime farmland, waste management, air pollution, and recycling are issues that affect us all. Minnesota poet Thomas McGrath wrote in Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Write letters to the earth, the sky, the ground, the sea, a tree, the ozone layer, the rain forest, endangered species, etc. Show the interconnectedness of things.

The environmentalist John Muir who was responsible for founding and preserving our national parks, (Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc.), said everything is connected to everything else in the universe. A prime example of habitat destruction are the feral non-native Russian boars in Sonoma County. In 1811, the Russians who colonized Fort Ross had no idea the pigs would plow whole hillsides devouring everything in their path including rare wildflowers and small animals and ground nesting birds.

Build writing ideas on curriculum already developed. Science, social studies, geography, sociology, etc. Since fourth grade focuses on California history and the missions, one could write about a day in the life of a Pomo or Coast Miwok sighting the first ship...A white bird filled with pale ghosts rose from the belly of the sea,  or life at the mission, or Vallejo's adobe. 

Try to paint a vivid picture of how life was lived. Visual and tactile stimuli are often a good place to write from. If Califia were here now, what would she say?

Bring in role models from other cultures. Not just poems, but people who can share their heritage with students will invoke interesting writing, especially if you already have students writing poetry about themselves. Remember a poem is an image with rich comparisons and feelings. Think of the fragment, Dancing on the brink of the world as part of a letter to an unknown friend. The possibilities are endless.

*                  *                  *

Nuts & Bolts—We each our own methods of teaching poetry—we've all gotten ideas from each other and refined and modulated them to fit our styles. Every time I teach the improvisational process may change but the philosophy doesn't. I encourage teachers to write in the hopes that they will invent their own teaching form, and not take mine into the classroom Monday morning. But I've included a basic teaching format that works well for me.

I divide my one-hour block roughly into four 15 minute segments: The first 15 min. we read typed poems (about 1/3 of the class) from the week before, review last week's lesson, make in-class corrections, typos, delete words, etc. As a warm-up exercise, students may underline five words from the typed poems and use them during the five minute freewrite, or they may revise a typed poem. They must write non-stop for five minutes about anything. Often they have a poem they've been wanting to write, or classmate's typed poems generate new ideas.

The second 15 min. segment is a lecture. I introduce new poetry idea, sample adult poems, and do a group poem on the board if there's time. I write on the board what I want them to cover: image, metaphor/comparison, & feeling/emotion, etc. Most students finish up in 15-20 minutes, but this format gives students about 30 minutes to write. I circulate around the room and read work in progress, make suggestions, etc. If they finish one poem, they should add onto it or write another. About 10 to 15 minutes before class is over, we read aloud poems from the lesson or from freewrite.

Students use bound Classmate journals for the poetry workshop and  date each day's work. I read the journals and write comments after each workshop. I type up the best poems (about 1/3 the class) as role models which inspires new student work. At the end of the residency, they'll each have a large collection of writing to choose from for the anthology. I give them a computer print-out of all their typed poems (at least two or more per student). We meet individually and in small groups to edit and review possible poems and make final revisions for the book.

1. Matthew Keough, 4th grade, from Still Writing on Rocks, Matanzas School, Santa Rosa. 2. Matt Melodia, 6th grade, 3, 4 ,5.  Gabe Silva, 3rd grade, Brandi Gordonoff, 3rd grade, Roxanne Nelson, 5th grade, from The Power of the Reckless Sleeper, Mark West School, Santa Rosa. Edited by Maureen Hurley.
Probably originally written in the mid-1980s for a CPITS anthology, (I was working with John Oliver Simon at the Oakland Museum during that time). My oldest file is dated 1990. (It's a dead Unix executable fire box...I finally figured out that executable means to kill your file, not that it's functional.)I will post this in December of 1990 so I can easily find it.

Saturday, November 10, 1990

Andrei Vosnesensky, National Poetry Week

Andrei Vosnsensky reading my CPITS/CAC poetry book, Poem for a Russian Child.

I spent an afternoon with Andrei Vosnesensky, who was the headline poet for National Poetry Week, ar Fort Mason, San Francisco. I was attempting to give Andrei a tabloid anthology I had edited with Oleg Atbashian, Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost. Herman Berlandt published the tabloid, via National Poetry Association.

Andrei Vosnesensky commenting on our publication, Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost, National Poetry Week, SF, 1990. Oleg Atbashian was my co-translator from Cherkassy.
Little did Oleg know that within a year (1990), he'd be in San Francisco, frantically working with me round the clock in an old military complex-cum-art center, Fort Mason, pasting up a newspaper-style tamizdat journal, "Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost," (Mother Earth), in time for Herman Berlandt's annual National Poetry Week. From 1989 to 1991, we published many new Soviet poets including Yan Martsinkevitch, and Viktor Kulle. (See also.)

Poetry Unites the World by Dr. Andrei Bantaş 

Soviet Poetry Since Glasnost 

Letter from Oleg Atbashian
The New Zamizdat

Oleg Atbashian—my jacket, my guitar.
National Poetry Week, SF, 1990.

Maureen Hurley I think Celia Woloch took this photo

Alastair Ingram Is that Oleg Atabashian? The guy I recorded with when he was here?
Maureen Hurley Yep! He went back to the USSR, then it fell and he came back to NYC, he's a political commentator for the Russian Community. Google him.

Alastair Ingram Wow. That was quick! I will google him. I really like the recording we did together. Have you heard it?

Maureen Hurley Yeah, I'm having a bit of a nostalgia moment here. Pulled out my negatives to find a guy who was imprisoned at Manzanar—for a blog I'm writing and I got VERY distracted. Scanned my Galapagos prints too, Don't think I'll get them up tonight.

Oleg went back to the USSR, & to his wife, had another kid and she began stalking me in the internet...too creepy. Haven't talked with him since 9/11. He was next door in the AMEX building but he overslept and missed his train.
Now he's become the loose leaf darling of the ultra right teabaggers.

compiled from Facebook notes 4/24/2016

Thursday, November 1, 1990

Literary censorship still poses a threat

Literary censorship still poses a threat
by Tod Harris

Within a country that stands for freedom and equality, the actual “banning” of literary works seems unlikely. However, recently in Sonoma County there have been a growing number of cases of book banning and challenging. According to Sonoma County journalist and poet, Maureen Hurley, there are 174 cases of book-banning in the United States. Books are being banned and challenged for reasons of sexual explicitness, profanity, immorality, and religion. There have been some cases where the book is banned because “it does not meet the standards of the community,” or it is thought to be “garbage being passed off as literature,” 

In the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School district, Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”, is being challenged in Rancho Cotate High School due to the use of explicit language and sexuality. In alliance with school policy, a mother has written a letter protesting the reading material for a 12th grade English class and has outlined the material she objects. Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent of the Cotati-Rohnert Park school district, Karen Tobacco, says there is one formal written challenge and two parents and one local minister have come forward. Tobacco says that The Site Level Review Committee has met once and will meet again to decide on the book. Tobacco says,“During that lime the book is used in the classroom, however, those who object can request an alternative assignment.” Some of the outlined material being challenged within the book includes a scene between a patient and her doctor. It reads; ‘“How are we getting along?’ he says, some tic of speech from the other time. The sheet is lifted from my skin, a draft pimples me. A cold finger, rubberclad and jellied, slides into me, I am poked and prodded. The finger retreats, enters otherwise, withdraws. “Nothing wrong with you,” the doctor says, as if to himself. “Any pain, honey?” He calls me honey.'” 

A Site Level Review Committee consisting of the principal of Rancho Cotate, four members of the school, one member of the district, and a community member will now decide whether ‘The Handmaid’s Tale” is appropriate for a senior English class in Rancho Cotate. 

Unfortunately, Rancho Cotate is not the first Sonoma County school to be challenged with literary censorship. Approximately eight years ago “Dini”, by Judy Blume, was challenged whether or not it was appropriate material to be allowed on a book shelf at Rohnert Park Junior High. 

In another part of Sonoma County, Michael Woodke, Director of Secondary Education for Santa Rosa City Schools, says two years ago a Judy Blume book was challenged at the junior high level in the Santa Rosa school district. Woodke also says, two years ago Judith Guest’s “Ordinary People” was challenged at Montgomery High School. According to Santa Rosa School District policy, if a parent raises a concern about school material, a parent may present an argument before a committee made up of professionals who will decide whether it will be used or not. If the parent is dissatisfied, the parent may appeal. Woodke says material could be sensitive to some people and that “We have an obligation to give them an alternative assignment” Incidents like these are abundant. 

In 1984, Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” was challenged reading material for an Oakland high school honors class due to “sexual and social explicitness, its troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history and human sexuality.” In “The Color Purple”, Walker writes; ‘“Dear God, They have made three babies together but he squeamish bout giving her a bath. Maybe he figure he start thinking bout things he shouldn’t. But what bout me? First lime 1 got the full sight of Shug Avery long black body with it black plum nipples, look like her mouth, I thought I had turned into a man. What you staring at? she ast. Hateful. She weak as a kitten. But her mouth just pack with claws. You never seen a naked woman before? No ma’am, I said. I never did. Cept for Sofia, and she so plump and ruddy and crazy she feel like my sister.’” 

In California, an astonishing number of schools have also faced situations concerning censorship. In 1988, Ray Billington’s “Limericks: Historical and Hysterical”, was removed and later returned to the Tokay High School library in Lodi, California. Reportedly the book was “really inappropriate and there ought to be better books on limericks available.” 

In 1985, the Hayward, California school trustees rejected the purchase of Stephen King’s “Cujo” due to “rough language” and “explicit sex scenes.” This same year, the Hayward, California school trustees rejected the purchase of “The Color Purple” because of “explicit sex.” 

In 1982, The American Heritage Dictionary was removed from school libraries in Folsom, California due to “objectionable language.” These examples are part of what is happening across the state and across the nation. 

Mimi Albert, author of‘The Second Story Man”, and “The Small Singer”, Chair of Freedom to Write in the Bay Area, and instructor at SRJC, with the help of others, formed a banned book reading in Petaluma. The reading was in response to the recent challenge of “The Handmaid’s Tale”. Hurley also attended the reading. Hurley, a writer for “The West Sonoma County Paper” says half of the states in America have banned books and there are 35 cases of banned books in Oregon. Hurley says California, Michigan, and Oregon lead the nation in cases of banned books. 

In 1989, Stephen King’s “The Stand” was restricted to ninth grade students at the Whitford Intermediate School in Beaverton, Oregon because it was charged that the material does not enlighten, uplift or encourage character building traits. In 1988, “Cutting Edge” by Dennis Etchison was challenged at the Eugene, Oregon Public Library for its language, sexual nature and “perversity.” 

In 1988, Tabor Evans’ “Longarm in Virginia City” was removed from the Jordan Valley, Oregon Union High School, charged with being “too sexually graphic.” In 1988, “Devils and Demons” by Thoda Blumberg was challenged at the Newberg, Oregon Public Library. Apparently, the book was too graphic and the topic was negative and degrading. In 1989, Larry King’s “Tell It To the King” was challenged at the Public Libraries of Saginaw, Michigan. Supposedly it is “an insult to one’s intelligence” and contains foul language. 

Prior to the reading of banned books, Albert presented a situation concerning artists and the Helms amendment, a law that’s been in effect since October of 1989. According to the Helms amendment, artists must sign an obscenity oath to receive funding from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). With the Helms amendment, an artist’s work goes before judges who decide whether the work is obscene or not.“ The ramifications of this are very frightening,” says Albert. Even with the growing threat of censorship and the increasing challenges against the First Amendment, people are still in a position to speak out on their objections. Opinions may be voiced to legislatures as well as school district personnel.

With the Helms amendment, an artist’s work goes before judges who decide whether the work is obscene or not.

California, Michigan, and Oregon lead the nation in cases of banned books.

Submit poetry and short fiction works to: Feature Editor In care of the Oak Leaf or drop by materials in the Feature box at the Oak Leaf.

Photo by: Steph Mason Miml Albert, SRJC instructor and the Chair of anti-censorship organization, Freedom to Write.

Thursday, October 4, 1990

Putting Descartes Before the Horse —James Burke, The Paper, Oct, 1990


By Maureen Hurley (The PAPER, Oct. 1990)

Popular television commentator and author James Burke will make a rare northern California appearance at Sonoma State University, Friday, Oct. 5. Burke, who lives in London, is one of Great Britian’s formost commentators on science and technology. He is presently circumnavigating the globe shooting footage for an upcoming BBC television documentary series. But he will briefly touch down in Rohnert Park for a dinner/reception fundraiser for a PBS KRCB/Channel 22; this lecture promises to give us a lively glimpse of his newest creation entitled, Goodbye Descartes: Information and Change, which focuses on ecological issues including the rainforest and the ozone layer.

Affectionately dubbed as one of the most lively and ereudite “talking heads” in television history, the 54-year-old Burke is better known to PBS viewers as the host of the internationally acclaimed award-winning BBC documentary series (and companion books), The Day the Universe Changed, and Connections. “His shows are aired in over thirty countries, and continue to be some of the most popular programs on television world-wide,” says KRCB Special Events Coordinator and Auction Manager, Terry Hochmuth.

During Burke’s tenure as BBC’s chief reporter for the Apollo missions to the moon, he developed the some of the ideas that led to the popular television series, for which he received the Royal Television Society Gold Medal in 1974; the previous year he received the Silver Medal.

In his book, The Day the Universe Changed, Burke writes: “Thought, in the form of critical doubt, was the only tool that the scientist could trust.” In 1637, the philosopher Descartes stated the only thing certain was thought itself. His famous dictum: “I think, therefore I am” (cogito, ergo, sum) marked the beginnings of the scientific revolution and of modern thought. God and the church was no longer central to man’s existence. According to Burke, when Descartes applied his “Cartesian doubt” to the behavior of the universe, it became “a cold, empty, mechanical place.”

When Burke, the Oxford educated scholar visited SSU last year, the event sold-out; over 2,000 spellbound listeners crowded onto the sagging gym bleachers to listen to the witty author, educator, and master storyteller untangle and weave unlikely ideas and connections: how the popularity of underwear in the twelvth century led to the invention of the printing press, and how the mill waterwheel evolved into the computer (with an unlikely immigrant stop at Ellis Island, New York).

Burke launched into a delightful diatribe which included the role of Irish grandmothers for the development of divergent thinking skills; to how science and technology have changed the deep structure of our lives by “altering society’s perceptions.” Our brains forge associative pathways which explore new and complex relationships between data and ideas. “Take these words: oil, Arab, sand, castle, night, day, sun, daughter—this is why we write poetry,” said Burke. “It’s a trick of putting things together in new combinations that leads to new ideas.”

Burke stated the mechanism for change is not always smooth: models shift when unexpected change occurs. Burke asked: “Why does change happen at all? Today, we live according to the latest version of how the universe functions. Should we move to a more flexible model? Suppose we could recognize there is no pattern to the universe? How should we prepare for change?” Accidents of time, circumstance, and place gave birth to ideas, inventions, and coincidences that led to technological achievements (or disasters) of the modern world. Said Burke, the gathering of knowledge should include the study of structure itself.

“A generalist straddles disciplines,” said Burke. “The key task for the future is not more new things. The problem is second-guessing the social effects of change. In the ‘50s, who’d have thought deodorant would make holes in the ozone layer?” Burke envisions a more contextual model: we need to make sure tomorrow’s world is better than today’s. He said, “We ordinary human beings have the power. Science and technology should enrich our intellectual lives, not just our material lives.”

Tickets available at SSU Box Office (664-2382), Bass outlets, and at the door. KRCB/Channel 22 fundraiser will feature gourmet Italian cuisine; proceeds to support local public television. Call 585-8522 for reservations.

(This is one of the few articles where I have the electronic draft. Most went missing, or were grossly corrupted, the finished article is always different. I liked to keep two copies, the draft I turned in, and the finished piece, which I corrected, so that I learned what the copy editor, Leisel, wanted. She was absolutely brilliant—and would explain why she made the changes. I learned so much from her. Nick also brilliantly edited my pieces. When the Paper was sold, Jim Carroll became editor, I learned a lot about the bones of writing from these folks. I knew nothing about writing when I began this process. I am forever endebted to them. —MH 10/9/2016)

Food for Though, Joan Marler, KPFA, Marija Gimbutas, The Paper, Oct 4, 1990


Hunger is a primary motivator, whether it’s corporeal or intellectual, and if you listen hard enough, you can hear corn grow. Radio personality Joan Marler stumbled into the art of the interview because as a dancer and an artist, she felt isolated. “I was frustrated I couldn’t see what I had accomplished. As I worked on stained glass in my studio and listened to KPFA, I found I was mute.” Eight years ago, she asked herself what the most challenging position she could put herself into “to see if I could think straight.” Food for thought. The answer came in loud and clear on the airwaves. Marler volunteered at KPFA fm in Berkeley, and eventually became a producer of interviews, lectures and documentaries for public radio.

Joan Marler lives with her husband Dan Smith, and daughter Sorrel, in an octagonal handmade house, and several studios tucked under the oaks in the Sebastopol hills. A fifth generation Californian, she grew up in Fort Bragg, Mendocino. “As a child, I was literally starving, until the first artists moved to Mendocino in the ‘60s. I remember the beginning of my life, the invitation into my creative life. There was a storefront window with musical instruments. All I did was see the outside of the door and it was as if I was hit with a thunderbolt.” She was 13. “It’s important for me to work in a variety of fields simultaneously,” said Marler--and she does--in dance, the visual arts, interviewing, writing, and editing.

Her latest food-for-thought weekly edition, program which began in June, “Brainstorm,” a which airs Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m., covers a broad spectrum of the universe. Marler, who was KPFA’s former poetry editor, described it as a series of lectures, interviews and live pieces that focus on ideas, philosophy, mythology, women’s spirituality, humanities, the arts and sciences.”

Asking: “What are the sources of our hidden impulses,” she delves into repressed material, “uncovering the hidden assumptions that create the blueprint for our individual, and collective lives and attitudes, bringing them into consciousness.” 

She explained, “I drive down to Berkeley to broadcast a show, and my voice comes back to the community via the radio.” Programming on KPFA affects whole communities of listeners, it’s a circulation of ideas. She likens ideas to food. “As a child I was starving for information. I’ve gained tremendous experience through this work. I’m concentrating nutrients and transmitting them to others.” 

Marler has interviewed and produced lectures by many notable luminaries including the late Joseph Campbell, Phil Cousineau, Alan Watts, psychologist Carl Rogers, Riane Eisler, who wrote “The Chalice and the Blade,” and Marija Gimbutas, whose book, “The Language of the Goddess” has challenged the concept of patriarchal belief systems.

A motivating factor in Marler’s work is the exploration of women’s spirituality, and how it relates to the modern world. On Oct. 6th, she will host a special 12 hour women’s spirituality marathon, focusing on the inseparability of politics and spirituality, on KPFA fm. Marler wrote an essay entitled, “Women’s Spirituality” for the KPFA “Folio,” “This listening to the deepest interior voice, past all rigid systems and laws, is at the heart of women’s spirituality. Beyond this, there is no organized theology, no dogma, no centralized system of worship or practice, no governing spiritual body or leader. Instead, there is a multiplicity of traditional and evolving forms of ritual, celebration, and sacred inquiry, practiced alone and in community with others, found in every culture in the world.”

“As the Chinese saying goes, ‘If we do not change the direction in which we are going, we are bound to head up where we are headed.’ The necessity of examining the myths by which we are operating, which gives rise to our attitudes and actions, has never been greater. Women’s spirituality, therefore, is not a form of escapism, but is a practice of clarity and inner alignment by which individual integrity and responsibility for ourselves, our communities, and the planet are being fostered. In this view, the spiritual and the political are profoundly intertwined,” wrote Marler.

She dragged a large box across the floor of her studio, and showed me the results of two year’s worth of hard work, a 500 page book she’d edited: “The Civilization of the Goddess: Neolithic Europe before the Patriarchy.” This manuscript is a companion volume to the groundbreaking book, “The Language of the Goddess” by Lithuanian anthro-mythologist, Dr. Marija Gimbutas. The professor of European archaeology at UCLA is author of 20 books and over 200 articles concerning European prehistory, mythology and the origins of the Indo-Europeans.

In “Women of Power,” Marler wrote: “The significance of Marija’s work on the Goddess cultures of Europe... (and) pioneering scholarship has influenced an entire generation of artists, mythologists, archaeologists, and feminist writers.... Marija contends that old Europe, which was peaceful, art-loving, matrilineal, and egalitarian in social structure, was overrun by patriarchal horsemen from the Eurasian steppes who brought the technologies of war. This was a collision of two entirely different world-views, one which celebrated life in the form of the Goddess, and the other which worshipped power through domination.”

“Doing interviews for KPFA brought me to Maria’s work from that of Campbell’s,” said Marler, who has written for many national magazines including “Yoga Journal,” and “New Age Journal.” Her interview of Joseph Campbell was one of three indepth magazine articles on the great mythologist to be published in his lifetime.

Marler’s most consistent interest is that of mythology, and of “matristic” cultures. “Matristic” is a word coined by Marija Gimbutas. Marler explains that the word matriarchal implies the opposite of patriarchal, which is another division. Marler noted that Gimbutas’s work profoundly influenced mythologist Joseph Campbell’s later work. She said “Marija’s work updated his work and brought it into focus. 

In an interview, Marler asked Gimbutas; I know that Joseph Campbell drew a great deal from your work; in fact he spoke of you often in your public lectures. Gimbutas replied: I heard indirectly that he was mentioning my name, and this was such a pleasant surprise. When he received the manuscript of my last work, called the “Language of the Goddess,” he responded with such warmth and enthusiasm... He wrote a foreword to my book which I appreciate very much. Joseph Campbell made mythology alive.” 

Marler recounted the manuscript for Gimbutas’s latest book was carried to Lithuania, chapter by chapter, and translated into Lithuanian, though it’s not yet published in the states. Gimbutas’s family is considered to be the keeper of information on Lithuanian culture supressed under Soviet rule. Marler’s next project is to write a biography of Marija Gimbutas.

(And now for some missing text—damned ASCII code. I guess I should be grateful I've salvaged this much, but what a mess!!!)

...and editing.

The multi-talented Marler has been teaching folk and ethnic dance for 15 years through SRJC, using the aesthetics gleaned from Marija’s work. She described the ancient dances as formulas for the evocation of certain states of communal and individual experiences. I first met Marler as she led a spiral dance at the memorial ceremony for her father-in-law, and poet-activist, the late Ralph Smith. As the spiral wove in and out of the garden, we were transported beyond the framework of late afternoon, fall verging on winter, to something more ancient and primal. We dropped the isolated barriers of our 20th century trappings, and, for a few moments, we came together as a tribe.

“I love dancing with my students, making the ancient formulas together so a field of vitality is set up, we’re connected with the earth and communicating. Dance is primary, transcendent; it’s the physical embodiment. The ancient formulaes are exacting; dance cuts across time and space.” Marler commented that when her daughter Sorrel was learning to walk, she fell down and got up again. “It’s not one but two movements.” How we are living inside our bodies is important as well. She added, communal experience is so alien to our culture. “Through music and dance we have to learn how to move together to a rhythm beyond the cerebral. To get students to blend with each other, it’s important to learn to move in communal manner. In my dance classes it all converges: the study of myth, sociology and literature--all these things are combined in the process of teaching and performance.” Her dance teacher Don Frye focused on how to receive the impulse from the earth and transform it--spiritual food manifested physically. Marler also studied with a Balkan dance teacher, Dick Crum, and with Jana Nierenberger.

Marler received her degree in modern dance at Mills College in Oakland, and traveled to Japan. In New York, she read “Hero with a Thousand Faces,” gave everything away, bought a tent, and taught dance in Mendocino. A self-professed student of Campbells for 20 years, Marler explained, “I use Campbell’s text as a basis for my classes. What I’m about is finding the sacred ground. What is the path to the sacred, the ground of your own being?” She said students must find it within themselves. Again, Marler left Mendocino to study ballet, and ended up marrying her former sweetheart, Dan, in Sonoma County, and began teaching folk dance and modern dance instead.

She discussed the importance of the natural beauty of the physical world and the balance between intense work and environment. “I feel bonded to northern California. This is my garden of choice. The primary connections with nature are my first teachers. Our human expression is to give voice to our connection with nature, to celebrate being alive is a part of nature,” this, in contrast to the concept of exile in the West.

A self-proscribed member of the global community, Marler has traveled to most of the continents, and after a visit to China in January, she noted, “It’s a privilege the access we have to the media. We need to have continued access to knowledge. As a radio programmer, I’m in charge to do this. I don’t think I can take anything for granted, especially after waht happened in China,” said Marler, referring to the role of the media--especially the crucial role of the fax machine during the Tiannenmen Square massacre. Marler said she honors the privileges afforded by this culture, and of living on the western edge of the continent “where Oriental cultures and the pioneer spirit merge. There is always a new, internal frontier before us,” she explained. “The job of the artist is to continually rediscover the moment. We’re all part of the interconnected mystery. That’s what the dance, visual arts and intellectual arts are all about. You can only find balance by letting go of the paradox.”

We sat in the garden under a great oak tree, where the cat patiently waited on the path for someone to pet him. “Creativity is the essence of it all, and that means being courageous, discovering uncharted territories. Creative, not imitative,” she mused. “It means seeing through your own eyes, being as fully present in the moment as possible, and challenging old assumptions.” She pointed to her abundent garden by way of example: “This process of turning over the ground, what we know to be true; what is alive, worth keeping, is a vital composting. There’s noting we can hold onto anyway.” And with that, she handed me a yellow squash, as gleaming as the sun. The scent of apples perfumed the air with promise. I recalled some lines from one of her poems, “Women’s Spirituality”: “Breathing/ Taking the slow inward trek/ past the inevitable shattering/ where the listening can begin// Listening/ inside the incessant howl/ (so quiet and still)// What is Born and what is Dying/ circles in this place.”

Thursday, September 27, 1990

Jim Dodge, Stone Junction, The Paper, Sept 27, 1990

I couldn't find my finished story or tear sheet, so I made an alternative post, which has gone on to have a life of its own, including being shanghaied by other blogs, so I'll post this separately for now.

Jim Dodge: Stone Junction: An Alchemical Potboiler...

Saturday, September 22, 1990



At the Hotel La Fonda where rest pieces of the famous—
Rudolph Valentino's cape, Emilio Zapata's shoes—
we palmed worn dollars to the night clerk behind the counter.
His oxygen mask hose was long enough
to reach the inner sanctum of the owner, Saki Karavas,
where the banned paintings of D.H. Lawrence
are carefully locked away from the public eye.
He hissed, Take your time.

Inside the ornate gilded cage of the walk-in safe 
we confronted biting and sucking fleshy apparitions.
I said to Celia: D.H. could've used some anatomy classes.
but that's not what held us spellbound;
it was the photos: Pope Paul, Kennedy, Picasso, O'Keeffe.
And of those more obscene than Lawrence:
Roosevelt, Truman, Oppenheimer, Nixon before the camera.
And of the ones shaken of faith: April 2, 1943.

Stunned by what he now knows is possible,
Einstein writes to his host, Saki
thanking him for his translations of Greek poetry:
I am grateful and ashamed at the same time
by your extraordinary kindness…
I cannot imagine how I would feel…
it is enough to see what kind of human
ideal you have in your mind.

The walls hissed: July 16, August 6, August 9, 1945.
Shiva will dance on the corneas of Einstein and Oppenheimer.
Shiva will dance for the millions dead on both sides of the world.
Shiva will dance for the Age of Light spawned in this desert.

No one thought to censor the scientists of Los Alamos
nor the Anasazi petroglyphs at T'sanque:
Kokopelli, the humpback Watersprinkler
with a phallus longer than his bent flute.

Saki enters, his hooded eyes watch our guilty reaction.
We say we are poets. Smiling heavily, he says:
These two ladies don't pay, give back their money . 
We help Saki move musty stacks of books.
Feeding us sweets, he asks why I've never married.
I tell him: Because I have learned the names of bombs.
Saki wants to trade his D.H. Lawrence paintings
for the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece
but the British aren't interested in returning stolen property.
Against the wall, in proper patron tradition,
the husks of his shoes neatly lined up with nowhere to go.
The Watersprinkler plays his flute—
a slow dirge hissing to the pornographers and thieves of time.
Who will trade all that light loosened in the sky
for the darkness that inevitably follows.

Hotel La Fonda, Taos, New Mexico
Fall Equinox

Friday, September 21, 1990

Jim Dodge: Stone Junction: An Alchemical Potboiler, Book Review, The Paper, 9/21/90

Stone JunctionAn Alchemical Potboiler
Book Review The Paper, 9/21/90

Poet & novelist Jim Dodge reading at Copperfield's in Petaluma. © 1990 Maureen Hurley Photo

First time’s a charm, they always say. But for former West County poet-novelist Jim Dodge, it was more like the second and third time that brought the good luck to launch his newest novel, what he dubbed “my first, and my last.” 

Stone JunctionAn Alchemical Potboiler

Dodge said his latest novel, Stone JunctionAn Alchemical Potboiler came out of fifteen years of living in a commune on The (Cazadero) Ridge—which was also the spawning ground, or should one say, the nest, that hatched his two nationally acclaimed novels, catapulting Dodge into the literary limelight. 

Translated into eleven languages, Dodge’s first published novella, Fup (City Miner, 1983), a slim story (59 pages) about a 20-pound duck, with a penchance for paddling in post-hole ponds, a wild boar, and an old codger who believes he's immortal due to the home brew whiskey, Ol' Death Whisperer, he religiously imbibes—was hotter property than the Creighton Ridge fire. It landed him a spot on the Today Show. There was talk of movie rights, and according to Dodge, it’s still under option. 

Jim said Fup was translated into eleven languages. He showed me copies of Fup in Hebrew, Swedish and Japanese, and said that the bilingual Japanese edition was being used as an American English primer for teaching American idioms and colloquialisms. The thought of poor Japanese students carefully using some of Jim's rather colorful phrases had me in stitches.   

Dodge's second novel, Not Fade Away (1987), a smashing story about a white mint '59 Cadillac intended as a gift to the Big Bopper, took off equally well, burning rubber from Meyer’s Grade, across the country, and back again at break-neck speed. The protagonist "Floorboard" George, was supposed to wreck the car for an insurance scam but instead, George runs off with the caddie in an epic journey where On the Road meets Ken Keseyian states of mind liberally laced with rock and roll.

After the fairytale success of Fup, Dodge's agent asked him if he had something else in the works. Dodge replied, “Nothing other than a first novel that is bad, really bad.” She was interested. So Stone Junction was duly dusted off and trimmed down from a hefty 800-page manuscript to a more manageable 355 pages. Dodge found that rewriting the monster manuscript was harder than starting from scratch.

Signing copies of Stone Junction at Copperfield’s Bookstore in Petaluma last spring, Dodge joked with admirers, saying, “Real men write prose.” He unpretentiously shot the bull: from playing cards, to the state of the environment, and to the proper nurturing and development of middle-aged stomach muscle.

Dodge sold Japanese printing rights, the first translation offer to come in for Stone Junction, released February 1990. Dodge explained his latest novel nearly sold out at 12,000 copies but “if a book doesn’t make it to the best seller’s list a couple of months after publication, it’s dead.” According to Dodge, the book will probably go into paperback edition very soon. 

Compared to Jack Kerouac’s Beat classic, On the Road, Dodge's Stone Junction: An Alchemical Potboiler is a story of coming of age with a New Age twist. Stone Junction is a story about Daniel Pearse, “who never had a father, who sees his mother die before his eyes, and who learns a great deal about the impossible task of growing up marked by such a history.” 

The book—spanning ten years of Haight street’s pharmaocopias, to New York’s gridlock (with bouts of homing instincts nurtured in the Cazadero hills), is also a story of an alliance of magicians and outlaws (AMO). Daniel’s real teachers were safecrackers, drug connoisseur, card sharks and magicians. The idea for the AMO “comes out of the storytelling tradition” quipped Dodge, “or from playing too much ‘fort’ when I was a kid.” 

The writer’s slapstick humor and homespun philosophy abounds as the protagonist Daniel attempts to steal the six-pound Faith Diamond, the world’s 4th largest. No one knows exactly what the diamond represents, but Daniel is addicted. He cannot leave the ultimate crystal ball behind, just like he can’t shake his mother’s murder. The CIA wants the diamond to stay buried deep in an underground in a vault that rivals Fort Knox. Only Daniel finds out if diamonds really are forever...

I like the way the book is divided into four sections: air, earth, fire and water. Dodge’s writing style is distinctive; but I was afraid it would intrude, but it didn’t. The only place where I was ricocheted out of the story line was when Moss’s mule, Old Pissgums was introduced. 

Maybe it’s because I had a donkey as ornery as Old Pissgums, maybe it’s because the story was a refreshing vingette from the main story that I was temporarily launched out of the book—or because it reminded me of Dodge’s witty poems. 

But don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade the scene with Old Pissgums for anything in the world. I liked Old Pissgums. Dodge laughed and said that the hardest challenge a novelist faces is to keep the reader’s interest directed. 

Stone JunctionAn Alchemical Potboiler is a story about male bonding and paternal rejection, though Annabel, Daniel’s mother opens the novel, and his crazy girlfriend Jennifer, closes it. Dodge commented, though it’s difficult—and dangerous—for a male writer to write about women from a woman's perspective, Jennifer is one character he’s satisfied with. 

When I queried Jim about the character of the disc jockey who breaks up the flow of the narrative, he admitted that was the weakest part of the novel. The card game is almost as tediously long as real life itself. (If anyone wants to take up Lo-ball, this is the definitive book). Dodge relies upon his own extensive experience during his salad days as a professional gambler and card shark to give this scene verve and authenticity. 

We sipped tea in the afternoon sun and discussed writerly things such as the mutual quest for the perfect sentence, punctuation and endings. I commented: “I wondered how you were going to get out of Stone Junction. So many writers flounder around the end of a novel looking for an ending in all the wrong places.” 

But Dodge was able to gracefully slip out of the story in the last few pages of the novel without leaving the reader hanging with a formulaec ending. Which I'm not going to divulge. You'll have to read it yourself to find out what happens.

One writer Dodge greatly admires is Larry McMurtry, (Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment ). "Larry is pure storyteller. I’d be happy if I had a couple of novels like his.” Don't be fooled by Dodge's "aw shucks" modesty. 

Dodge is a spirited storyteller both on and off the page. I've listened to his stories for years. One of my favorites was the story of the chicken who escaped the Fulton chicken processing plant with Jim rooting for the chicken, "make a run for it!" Then there's the one about the, er, amorous bullfrog and the rock....

Dodge cranks out his novels old school but he recently upgraded to an old electric typewriter. A newfangled Smith Corona word processor made a six-hour trial debut into the writer’s life—until it made a serious faux-pause, telling him, “not a valid entry,” and it was goodbye computer, hello pen. 

Dodge gave the cheeky computer to his companion of many years, Victoria Stuckley, who in turn, transcribes his novels into disk format—thus completing the computer age circuit.

Balking like Old Pissgums himself before the camera, Dodge tried to, er, dodge the camera. Jim, who is 44, instructed: “Describe me with words; a middle-aged Gary Cooper...” Right. My editor's gonna love this one.
Jim Dodge © Maureen Hurley 1984                                 
Jim showed me a photo of his, saying, that as an undergraduate, he had to make a choice between writing and photography. Dodge said he once went through a box of 100 sheets of photo paper in one day to print one negative, “and it still didn’t come out right.” That was that.

Jim said he also spent a whole day trying to perfect a single sentence and it didn’t come out right either. He recounted, “I went to bed and next morning, I got it right. Try that with photography sometime," he said.

Dodge described the New York publishing business as a “jungle.” He said that negotiating contracts is akin to detecting lost land mines with a pogo stick. His agent, whom he’s never met, takes care of the business end of things. The basic rule of thumb he’s learned is to retain as many “rights” as possible, including reprint, foreign language and movie rights.

Dodge recently moved from Sonoma County—following the money. He shares a converted garage overlooking Humboldt Bay in Arcata with a blind kitten he perversely named Lassie. 

Dodge said as if by way of apology, “I’m not a cat man,” but our conversation was littered with kitty box potty commands and coochie-coos as we sat in a haphazard garden of a driveway warming our backs in the late afternoon sun. Lassie worked hard weaving figure eights or shackling infinity signs around our ankles.

The successful novelist also teaches creative writing at his alma mater, Humboldt State University, filling in for other teachers on leave, etc. In the process, Jim discovered that he liked teaching English courses more than creative writing. Less outside interference. Dodge said he likes teaching better when he’s working on something of his own. 

Dodge received his Master of Fine Arts in Creative writing and poetry from the University of Iowa Writers workshop in 1969.

Arcata, the alter-ego of straight-laced Eureka, is one of those lively towns where hippies, college students and rednecks collide like crude oil tankers and sea stacks during rush hour. 

There are many similarities between Humboldt County, which boasts of the highest per-capita of artists (and dope growers) in northern California, and Sonoma County, which runs a close second on all counts. (Mendocino is also a contender for the heady title). Dodge, born in 1945 in Santa Rosa, CA, has done time in both necks of the redwoods. 

Dodge, also a published poet with two out-of-print chapbooks under his belt, stated that more and more poets are turning to fiction. “Poetry is on its deathbed in America,” said Dodge, blaming its demise on writers like Pound and Eliot, who raised poetry to a “mandarin art form, so that only 25 readers in the world could understand it” without a dictionary or an encyclopedia.  

However, Dodge's next book will be a poetry chapbook, Bait & Ice  by Tangram Press. It will be an extremely limited edition (150 copies). Dodge mused, poetry should be printed on good quality paper, “the letters pressed into the paper, so tangible, you can feel them.” 

When asked why he left the Cazadero hills, and did he miss Sonoma County, Dodge said, “I don’t look back very much.” Dodge’s backwoods philosophy is honed by “17 years of being an air force brat” and tenure in “about as many schools,” including the toughest matriculator of all—life.

Dodge's parting colloquialisms to me ran the gamut from “Don’t look back; it might be gaining on you,” to “Life, if nothing else, is an adventure in consciousness.” With that, he gave me a hug goodbye. 

The shadows of redwoods were growing long. The road home was longer yet. I climbed into Lazarus, my old blue pickup and pointed its nose south and I never looked back. 

I crawled into the darkroom and spent the night trying to get the surreptitiously shot negatives of Jim to come out right. I gave up and dusted off some rather chiaroscuro photos I'd taken of him at Copperfield's last spring. Polished the sheen of my sentences with a fine cloth instead.