Sunday, April 22, 2007

An Event for the Ages


Yesterday I was part of a amazing event--a celebration of 150 years of poetry at San Jose State University. It was a reading put on by the Poets and Writers Coalition featuring more than twenty SJSU faculty and alumni, including Lorna Dee Cervantes, Nils Peterson, Kathleen Lynch, Sandra McPherson, Robert Hass (by video), and Ishamel Reed (by video). Also, Gloria Collins read a poem by the late Virginia de Araujo, an amazing poet and SJSU teacher in whose class Annie and I met in 1993. In addition, work by former visiting professors Ursula K. Le Guin and William Stafford was read. An event for the ages.

I especially enjoyed hearing Kathleen Lynch read "How to Build an Owl," a poem I have always loved. Afterward, as Kathleen and I were talking, I learned that we both studied poetry with Dennis Schmitz at CSU Sacramento--her in the 1970's, me in the 1980's. For years I've tried to contact the now-retired Schmitz to let him know what a big impact he made on me. He once said to me, speaking for the whole class after a discussion of one of my poems: "We admire you." He was the first one to introduce me to public poetry readings. He has virtually no presence on the internet, so he's been difficult to contact.

Kathleen told me he's a Luddite who uses plastic bags attached with rubber bands rather than buying real waders for fishing! Amazingly, she has his address and will email it to me. I can't wait to write him a letter and send him my book, Like All We Love.

It was also a thrill to hear Lorna Dee Cervantes, whom I heard read about 10 years ago in Pat Nichols' Muliticultural Literature course. I remember being in awe of this woman speak with so much passion about poetry and social activism.

I also, as always, loved hearing Mark Heinlein do his thing. He's a rare combination of fantastic poet and remarkable reader of it. Kind of performance like, while not being a typical "performance poet." Mark saved my ass last week when Ellen Bass had to cancel a visit to my students due to illness. With less than 24 hours notice, Mark agreed to fill in. He blew the students away, reading not only his own work but that of Burt Meyers, a poet I'm glad I now know.

Final note: My mom came to the event. It was moving for me to look out in the audience and see her there, watching me read. I'm grateful for the grace emerging from difficult times.
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