California Arts Council

State of California

Meet California's Community Poets Laureate
Officially recognized literary figures from throughout California gather on April 2-3 in Sacramento


Published: 03-28-2008

There are over 25 literary figures throughout California who have been given official titles by cities and other local entities -- California's own community Poets Laureate. These accomplished literary figures will join California Poet Laureate Al Young on April 2 and 3 in Sacramento and celebrate National Poetry Month in April 2008 for readings and discussions. Regardless whether you can make it to the Sacramento events for National Poetry Month, take a look at some of the diverse personalities who give a literary voice to their prospective homes in California.

Mary Rudge (City of Alameda)
Mary Rudge became the City of Alameda, California's First Poet Laureate in 2002 and the city has retained her in this position until now and for 2008. Newspapers have called Mary Rudge "a global catalyst," and critics describe her as one of the San Francisco Bay Area's most charismatic poets.
Mary's first book of poetry was Water Planet, with preface by Leopold Sedar Senghor, first President of Senegal, Africa; the book was well-reviewed by Publisher's Weekly. Since then Mary has produced Poems for Ireland; Oakland is a Holy City; Hungary, Austria, and Other Passions; Maps for Poets (published in India), and others. For ten years she edited and published Poets and Peace International, read in ten countries and included poems in several languages. Anthologies she has co-edited include State of Peace; The Women Speak (Gull Press New York).

For twelve years she produced multi-cultural TV Shows on an Alameda cable channel, focusing on arts under-represented in the media. Poetry-related projects include the documentation of the oral history of farm workers from various ethnic groups in California (she received a California Arts Council artists' grant for her work); feature writing for RAZEM (a Polish and English language socio-political literary magazine), and writing for Street Spirit and other publications.

Mary speaks internationally at universities, schools, cultural centers, libraries, poetry groups, and peace events on five continents on teaching word skills for creating peace and Poetry as a Healing Art, among other topics. She was awarded Honorary Doctorates in the Republic of China, New York, and Canada; named "Princess of Poetry" in Italy; and crowned with a gold laureate crown as an International Woman of Letters by United Poets Laureate International in ceremony at the City Hall Rotunda, San Francisco. Mary holds a BFA from California College of the Arts, Oakland, with post graduate work in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Joel Fallon (City of Benicia)
Joel Fallon is a retired Army officer who enjoys sailing, chess, T'ai Chi and poetry. He is a board member of the Ina Coolbrith Poetry Circle and hosts a poetry group First Tuesday each month at Benicia Public Library and another on the Second Tuesday each month at Cafe Voltaire, Benicia.
Joel reads at numerous venues in the San Francisco Bay Area, and his poems can be found in Sacred Grounds Anthologies, Carquinez Poetry Review, Bay Area Poets Seasonal Review, Mijusiin (The New Poetic Waves published by the Korean Poets Society of the Americas), North Coast Literary Review, Street Spirit Newspaper, and POETALK. Chapbooks include: A Gathering of Angels, Clean Sheets Dirty Woman, Shanghai Wilson, Infinite Shades of Blue, The Good Old Days, Apple Wind, and Death in a Red Shirt.

Joel graduated from Saint Ignatius High School in San Francisco, University of the Philippines, (Luzon) and Air Command and Staff College. A trained Russian and Chinese linguist, Joel served in Korea, Japan, the Philippines and Germany, and retired after serving in the Pentagon with the Organization of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. For more information, go to www.poetrymatters.150m.com.

Diane P. Lando (City of Brentwood)
Diane P. Lando was born in Oakland, CA a little over fifty years ago. As soon as she could talk she was telling stories. Some of them lies. When she first picked up a crayon she drew the stories. Finally she learned to write, and then she flew. Her life has been lived like an adventure; each episode lived to tell the tale. She became impatient with prose and invented her own poetry. Then felt confined by meter, and escaped back into prose. Along the way there have been many published books, poems, and short stories. The Bentwood Creek Chronicles, The Great American Novel is her first book and the first of a series. It is new, innovative, and complete fiction. Lies all grown up.

Diane still lives in her grandmother's house with her cat, teaches piano, guitar, and horseback riding. She watches the seasons carefully. She is working on Critters Once Removed, the second Chronicle. (Taken from the author's bio for The Bentwood Creek Chronicles.)

Ruth Blakeney (City of Crockett)
Ruth Blakeney's poetry has been published in various journals and she is now poetry editor of The Carquinez Review.

Vilma O. Ginzberg (City of Healdsburg)
Vilma Ginzberg was born the year Lindbergh soloed the Atlantic, was married once, widowed early, a mother once, grandmother once, is a Mozartophile, peace activist, and is career psychotherapist now retired to Northern California. She indulges in gardening, enjoys music, the arts, and writing. Vilma has published two volumes of poetry-- Colors of Glass (2004) and Murmurs & Outcries (2007), was co-editor with Doug Stout of the anthology Present at the Creation (2006) and is currently working on a memoir, When the Iris Blooms. She is currently the fifth Literary Laureate, 2008-2009, of Healdsburg, California.

Sandra Wade (Lake County)
Sandra Wade has been involved in the literary community of Lake County since 1978. She served as the county's fourth Poet Laureate from 2006-2008, recently handing over to Mary McMillan. After teaching and translating in the 1960s and '70s, she has earned her living as massage therapist, yoga instructor and holistic health guide since 1982.

In 2007 Sandra attended the 20th United Poets Laureate International convention, held in Montgomery, Alabama, as well as the first gatherings in Alameda and others throughout northern California. She also helped recruit students for the 2008 Poetry Out Loud program, a high-school competition that encourages the study and presentation of well-established poem in the English cannon. On her new CD From There to Here, Sandra reads a selection of her work over the past twenty years.

Connie Post (City of Livermore)
Connie Post is the first and current Poet Laureate of Livermore, California. During her term, she created two new popular readings series in her area: "Ravenswood" and "Wine and Words." She also created a youth poetry critique group that meets monthly.

Connie has been a published poet for twenty five years. Her work has appeared in many publications. Some of these include: Kalliope, White Pelican Review, Monterey Poetry Review, California Quarterly, Carquinez Poetry Review, Mid West Poetry Review, Hardpan, Mobius. Her poetry is forthcoming in the Comstock Review, Main Street Rag and Iodine Poetry Journal. In 2007 one of her poems was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She was also a finalist the 2007 Muriel Craft Bailey awards (Comstock Review). 

Connie has earned over seventy poetry awards, including first and grand prizes, in various poetry contests around the San Francisco Bay Area and State of California. Author of six poetry collections, in 2005 she presented her poetry on then nationally syndicated radio program "West Coast Live. The Bay Area Poets Seasonal Review describes her book Waking State as revealing "a deep understanding of the perilous balance we all seek to maintain in the landscape of our lives." In 2007 the City of Livermore published the many of the poems she has written for city events in a book called City of Words. It is available at many local stores and organizations. More detailed information can be found on her web site www.poetrypost.com.

Sam Pierstorff (City of Modesto)
Sam Pierstorff is currently the Poet Laureate of the City of Modesto. He was appointed in 2004, at just 28 years old, and was unanimously reappointed through 2008. He teaches English composition and creative writing full-time at Modesto Junior College and is the founding editor of the literary journal, Quercus Review (www.quercusreview.com) and Quercus Review Press, which publishes one book of poetry per year by a single author through a contest-submission process.

Sam received his MFA from California State University at Long Beach, and his slim collection, The Albatross Lives, was nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and received accolades from acclaimed poet X.J. Kenndey. In addition to presenting at conferences and conducting workshops, Sam has published more than 125 poems in numerous journals throughout the U.S., including Rattle, Pearl, Slipstream, Nerve Cowboy, Chiron Review (cover feature), Louisiana Review, Sidewalks, Spillway, and many others.

Sam hosts a wildly popular monthly poetry slam (100+ attendees) in Modesto, CA, Slam on Rye (www.slamonrye.com), as well as an annual Poetry Slam Invitational known as The ILL LiST, which brings the nation's top ten slam poets together to compete in a sold-out 600-seat theatre in downtown Modesto. He is one of the founding members and operatives for the Guerilla Poetics Project, a unique initiative to put poetry back into the hands of people (www.guerillapoetics.org). His debut novel, Overlooked (about a poet, of course), is currently being represented by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency. When he's not writing, Sam transforms himself into a jungle gym for his 2-year-old girl and 5-year-old boy to play on. Some days he even cooks for his wife and bench presses competitively.

Dorothy Lee Hanson (Napa County)
Dorothy lee Hansen retired in 1986 after teaching at Vintage High, Redwood Middle and Browns Valley Elementary schools in Napa County. Since then, she has traveled extensively on five continents as a poet and teacher of the Baha'i faith, a religion founded in nineteenth century Persia that emphasizes the spiritual unity of all humankind. Dorothy has published the books Africa to Me and Cedar Berries. (Bio summarized from information provided in a 2003 article in the Napa County Register.)

Garland Lee Thompson Jr. (City of Pacific Grove)
A native of Los Angeles, Garland has been seriously focusing on poetry since he wandered into an open poetry reading in Hollywood by chance in 1990. He was working in the film industry at the time, but having written poetry off and on since childhood, Garland felt like he'd found a cultural home and began to write it in earnest.

Since that fateful day he's been published online (Zero City, Polarity), in poetry collections (Anthology of Monterey Bay Poets from Chatoyant and Revival: Spoken Word from Lollapalooza 94 from Manic D Press). His own critically acclaimed chapbook, Hey Garland! I dig your Tweed Suit! (Dancing Poet Press) was published in 1993. He has produced the annual West Coast Championship Poetry Slam for ten years in Big Sur, and has performed at poetry events nationally and in Europe. Since the 1990s Garland has taught poetry through California Poets in the Schools, The Lyceum of Monterey County, and the Arts Council for Monterey.

Rod Clark (City of Pacifica)
The Pacifica City Council appointed Rod Clark as Pacifica's Poet Laureate--originally for a three year term that has been extended indefinitely. Originally from Massachusetts, Rod has a PhD in human behavior from the University of Texas and taught at San Francisco State University for 27 years. He and his wife (an actress and artist) raised two sons on Pacifica and have been extremely active in the cultural growth of the community.

Rod's duties as Pacifica's Poet Laureate included reading poems at several civic functions, poetic presentations at several ceremonies honoring local Pacificans, and editing a periodic "Poetry Page" for the Pacifica Tribune that enabled more than 100 local authors to make contributions. Rod has also served as a judge for various poetry contests, continues to host the monthly Pacifica Poetry Forum, and helps organize, read at and bring in outside talent to the local annual poetry festival.

As a member of the Pacifica Art Guild, The Pacifica Spindrift Players, Pacifica Performances, and the Cultural Arts Commission, Rod constantly reminds others of poetry's important role in self expression. He feels that his tenure as Pacifica's Poet Laureate has honored the cause of poetry and is grateful for the opportunity to express this through an official title in the community.

Geri Digiorno (City of Petaluma)
Geri Digiorno is the founder and coordinator of the Petaluma Poetry Walk, a highly successful annual event that features multiple reading venues in and around historic Petaluma, California. As Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, her goal has been "to bring poetry to the streets."

Geri hung Haiku poems in the trees at the Art and Garden Festival in Petaluma, and has helped children write poems in chalk on the sidewalks. One of her poems was selected to be etched into the steps of an art gallery in Oakland, and she has worked to have poetry installed at a new development in Petaluma. Geri read at the dedication of the Peace Column in Sebastopol Town Square, and has taught poetry and collage at schools, community centers, art centers and homeless shelters. She has also helped organize International Women's Day poetry readings.

Geri has published a number of collections, including I'm Tap Dancing (Norton Coker Press, 1992), White Lipstick (Red Hen Press, 2005), and Rosetta Mary (dPress, 2007).

Meredith Karen Laskow (Placentia Library District)
Meredith Karen Laskow is the Poet Laureate of Placentia Library District, where she has served consecutive one-year terms since 2003. Both a poet and essayist, Meredith has been published in numerous print and online publications, including the anthologies An Eye For an Eye Makes the Whole World Blind--Poets on 9/11 and Cosmic Brownies. She is currently working on her poetry-and-prose breast cancer memoir, Dancing on the Rim. More information on Meredith can be found at www.meredithlaskow.com, and through the Placentia Library website at www.placentialibrary.net/library/OurTown/PoetLaureate.

Martha Meltzer (City of Pleasanton)
Martha Meltzer is a native California who has had more that 15 years experience working with children to encourage their poetic and literary development, mostly in her capacity as a school librarian. Martha began writing poetry in elementary school and had her first poem published while she was in the 3rd grade. As an adult she has been published in a variety of California anthologies including the San Francisco Street Sheet, California Quarterly and Ina Coolbrith Circle's The Gathering.

Fionna Perkins (City of Point Arena)
A poet, journalist, writer, wife, feminist, environmental activist, animal lover, one-time bookstore owner, and library founder, Fionna was honored as Point Arena's Poet Laureate at the turn of the 21th century. She moved to the north coast in 1962 with Richard, her husband, an architect, after opening Mendocino Village's first bookstore, Fionna's Bay Window Gallery. Her own book of poetry, The Horse Orchard, was published in 2000 by Floreant Press (Copyright 2000 by Fionna Perkins). Her love of nature is reflected in written word, with a particularly warm spot for horses. She takes pen to paper in recognition of recent events, including Point Arena's Independence Day Celebrations, Kite Day, and the fall harvest and has honored us with inspirational words in the aftermath of the events of September 11, 2001. (Taken from the bio on the City of Point Arena's website.)

Julia Connor (City and County of Sacramento)
Julia Connor began study at the Poetics Program of New College of California in San Francisco at the age of forty. There, from 1981 to 1987, she studied with poets Robert Duncan, Diane di Prima, and David Meltzer. It was a formative experience.

Since 1988, she has taught poetry in a wide variety of situations from Graduate MFA Programs such as Naropa University's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics (where she was on the faculty) to California state prisons. She teaches poetry workshops for all levels of experience, which she has presented at places as diverse as Nathan Mayhew Seminars, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and Emerson College, Sussex, England. In addition, since 1992, she teaches private on-going workshops in Sacramento.

Julia holds a certificate in ceramics from Chouinard Institute, Los Angeles (1968), where she studied under master potter Ralph Baccera. She began painting in 1985 and continues to work in both media. A life-long protege of renowned potter, poet, and educator, M.C. Richards, author of Centering in Poetry, Pottery and Person, Julia now serves as Ms Richards's literary executor. Julia has received numerous literary and artistic honors and fellowships from organizations like the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, the California Arts Council, Centrum Arts (Washington State), Helene Wurlitzer Foundation (New Mexico), and the Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences (Georgia).

Jack Hirschman (City/County of San Francisco)
Jack Hirschman was born in New York City in 1933 and has lived since 1973 in San Francisco. He has published more than 25 translations of poetry from eight languages. Since leaving a university teaching career in the '60s, Hirschman has taken the free exchange of poetry and politics into the streets and has been called by Luke Breit, "America's most important living poet."

Jack currently assists in the editing of Left Curve and is a correspondent for The People's Tribune. Among his many volumes of poetry are A Correspondence of Americans (Indiana U. Press, 1960), Black Alephs (Trigram Press, 1969), Lyripol (City Lights, 1976), The Bottom Line (Curbstone, 1988), and Endless Threshold (Curbstone, 1992). His poetry has been published in Italy as well. (biography from the author's description page from Curbstone Press).

Dian Sousa (City of San Luis Obispo)
Dian Sousa is an activist with SLO CodePink and a Holy Road Union Tours artist. Her books of poetry include Sunday Blood and Jamaica Rum: Poems of Spiritual Schizophrenia (Tabula Rasa Press), and most recently Lullabies for the Spooked and Cool (Millie Grazie Press).

Patricia Perry (City of San Ramon)
Patricia Perry was appointed as Poet Laureate of San Ramon in 2006 and has worked in the city's Finance Department for 19 years. San Ramon Mayor H. Abram Wilson nominated Patricia for state Poet Laureate and supported the enactment of a city Poet Laureate for San Ramon. (Information provided by an article in the Oakland Tribune in 2006 and the minutes from meetings of the San Ramon City Council.)

Perie Longo (City of Santa Barbara)
Perie Longo, Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara 2007-2009, has published three books of poetry: Milking The Earth, The Privacy Of Wind, and With Nothing Behind But Sky: a journey through grief (Artamo Press, 2006). Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in over fifty journals and anthologies including the Atlanta Review, California State Poetry Quarterly, Connecticut Review, Eclipse, Nimrod, Paterson Literary Review, Prairie Schooner, Quercus Review, Rattle, Solo, Solo Cafe, and the South Carolina Review.

Perie is on the staff of the annual Santa Barbara Writers Conference and leads a three day summer poetry workshop. She has taught with the California-Poets-in-the-Schools program for 25 years, is a marriage and family therapist, and facilitates poetry for healing groups with hospice and other agencies. Her dedication poem is engraved in stone on the Douglas Family Preserve in Santa Barbara. Perie writes the current "Poetry Matters" column for the Santa Barbara Independent newspaper.

Ursula T. Gibson (City of Sunland-Tujunga)
Ursula T. Gibson, Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga, CA, 2006-2008, is the fourth Poet Laureate for the city. She has written poetry for special occasions and meetings, participated in local events requiring good words, and maintained the poetic milieu of our pleasant region. The Blossoms of the Night-Blooming Cereus, a collection of 68 of her poems, was published in 2005, and prior to that, she published three chapbooks of poetry. She and her husband, a professional astronomer, have been married for 39 years and live in Tujunga with their two cats, Edna and Jeffers (named for poets, of course).

David Smith-Ferri (City of Ukiah)
David Smith-Ferri is an activist poet, whose newly released book, Battlefield without Borders (www.battlefieldwithoutborders.org), portrays his encounters with Iraqi people and the events that have shaped their lives over the last eight years. Many of the poems were written in Iraq and Jordan during three visits to the Middle East. All proceeds from the sale of his book (all but $2.00 of the sale price) go to Iraqi victims of this war through a small, grassroots program of urgent medical care called the Direct Aid Initiative.

The first edition of the book sold out in four months, and a second edition of the book with a new foreword by three-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee Kathy Kelly and twelve new poems by David was published in November, 2007. These new poems focus on encounters with Iraqi people who have fled the violence in Iraq and are seeking a place and a way to rebuild their lives. For much of the past year, David has been on a national book tour, reading his poetry as part of a part of a multi-media presentation about the impact of war on ordinary Iraqis. He has found that poetry is an effective art form for portraying not only the horrors of war but also the resilience, courage, and decency of the Iraqi people he has met.

"In these poems, David Smith-Ferri's creative intelligence focuses on insidious forces of war, forces that often cause people to shrink in fear," says Kelly in the foreword to David's book. "He appeals to our best instincts, urges us to overcome fear, and dares to offer trust and friendship as the basis for creating better social structures. In this sense his poetry is utterly useful and necessary, akin to a brilliant blueprint, beckoning builders."

As the current Poet Laureate of Ukiah and a winner of the Janice Farrell Poetry Prize, David has read his poetry at events and on radio stations across the country, including recently on Democracy Now! His poetry and essays have been published in Z Magazine, Yes! Magazine, The Other Side Magazine, and the print edition of CounterPunch, as well as numerous online publications.

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Events on April 2-3 include evening readings, a meeting at the California State Library, and daytime readings at the state Capitol. Goals of the convening include the collection of information on how other cities and some counties recognize and employ the poets; promotion of the poetic art form on the state level; promotion of the literary arts for children and adults, as well as programs like Poetry Out Loud and California Story Slam; and to educate legislators and the public about the growth of local Poets Laureate as a cultural phenomenon in the state. Members of the general public are welcome to attend public events, including:

-- Evening Reception for Poets Laureate on Wednesday, April 2, at the Fragrance Garden next to the California State Library at 10th and N Streets in downtown Sacramento ($15 covers the cost of dinner. Seating is limited, please RSVP to Sacramento Poetry Center director Bob Stanley at bobstanley@sbcglobalnet or 916-240-1897)

-- California Community Poets Laureate Conference (morning program) on Thursday, April 3, starting at 9:00 am at the Library and Courts Building at 901 Capitol Mall in downtown Sacramento;

-- California Community Poets Laureate Public Reading (midday) from 1:00-3:00 pm on Thursday, April 3, at the Capitol Foundation at 10th Street and Capitol Mall in downtown Sacramento.

The Community Poets Laureate will be available after the public reading at the Capitol Fountain to greet members of the public. For more information about these events, contact California Arts Council Arts Specialist Ray Tatar at 916-322-6395.




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