13 cool things about the Petaluma Poetry Walk
Let’s face it.
Whether or not you have ever personally attended Petaluma’s legendary Poet Walk event, which has taken place annually for nearly a quarter of a century, you have to admit, it is a pretty remarkable thing. Dozens of poets from student to professionals, some pretty famous, all reading their poems out loud in eight different locations (cafés, bookstores, theaters, museums and banks) for a total audience of up to 1000 poetry-loving pedestrians over the course of eight glorious hours on a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Petaluma.
Folks come from all over to experience this entertainingly literary movable feast, some just dropping in for a reading or two, other’s following along to catch every single syllable. This year’s event will begin at Hotel Petaluma, and conclude with a two-hour poetry party at Aqus Café.
And of course, it being a poetry WALK, there will be brief moments of ambulatory conversation and curbside camaraderie as the group moves from one location to another. It’s basically a great big blast, and though no one’s giving out scores or anything, the folks who actually know something about some of the featured poets, and the history of the walk itself, do find that knowing a few extra tidbits can prove useful, especially when first-timers have joined the fun.
Here then, to give you some assistance, are 13 cool things to know (so you can share them, when appropriate) about the 24th Annual Petaluma Poetry Walk and some of the poets who will be participating.
1. The Poetry Walk was founded by Petaluma poet and artist Geri DiGiorno in 1996. Sonoma County’s fourth official Poet Laureate, DiGiorno has been a tireless supporter of poetry throughout the Bay area. She once conducted an experiment in Petaluma’s Putnam Plaza, where for one hour she approached passersby to offer them their choice between a crisp dollar bill and a book of poetry. After one hour, she’d given away twice as many books as she’d handed out bucks.
2. This year’s opening acts of poetry, kicking off at the Hotel Petaluma at 11 a.m., will feature readings by Barbara Swift Brauer (“Rain, Like a Thief”), Camille Norton (“A Folio for the Dark”) and Maya Khosla (“All the Fires of Wind and Light”). Khosla is the current Sonoma County Poet Laureate, serving though 2020.
3. The first Sonoma County Poet Laureate was named in the year 2000. Many of the past Sonoma County Poet Laureates have participated in the Poetry Walk. Just in case you have the opportunity to weigh in, the County’s past PLs are as follows - Don Emblen (2000-2001), David Bromige (2002-2003), Terry Ehret (2004-2006), Geri Digiorno (2006-2007), Mike Tuggle (2008-2009), Gwynn O’Gara (2010-2011), Bill Vartnaw (2012-2013), Katherine Hastings (2014-2015), Iris Jamahl Dunkle (2016-2017).
4. Martin Hickel, who will be reading at noon at the day’s second venue, The Bank (corner of Washington and Petaluma BLvd.) - along with Terri Glass “The Song of Yes”) and Erin Rodoni (“Body, In Good Light”) - assists Poetry Walk founder Geri DiGiorno with the organization of the event. He has served as organizer of the Marin Poetry Festival and Sunset By the Bay Reading Series. He is a member of the Revolutionary Poets Brigade in San Francisco.
5. One of the earliest Poetry Walks, in 1999, featured a performance by actor-poet Roberts Blossom, best known for playing Old Man Marley, the spooky, snow-shovel-wielding next-door neighbor of Macauley Culkin in “Home Alone.” The late Blossom (he died in 2011), then a resident of Berkeley, read his poems from the second-floor balcony in the former Reade Moore Books.
6. Among the readers at the 1 p.m. event, at the River Front Café, is poet Diane Frank (“Letters From a Sacred Mountain Place”), who is also professional cellist, performing with the Golden Gate Symphony in San Francisco. Also reading at the River Front are William Greenwood and Jeane Powell.
7. Arnoldo Garcia, one of two poets performing at North Bay Café at 2 p.m., is the founder of Poets Against War & Racism, using poetry and performance to counter the normalization of war and racism. Performing alongside Garcia will be 84-year-old Nina Serano, of KPCA and OZCAT.
8. The Poetry Walk is free to attend, but is not free to produce. Currently, there is a GoFundMe campaign in operation, hoping to raise $2,000 to cover the bare bones of expenses. Additional money raised will go to supporting next year’s 25th annual Poetry Walk. You can contribute at GoFundMe.com/f/petaluma-poetry-walk-2019.
9. The 3 p.m. session, at Copperfield’s Books, will feature two major award-winning writers. Maxine Chernoff is a 2013 National Endowment of the Arts Fellow and a professor of creative writing at San Francisco State University, and the author of more than 20 books of poetry and fiction. Forrest Gander, of Petaluma, in the 2019 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Poetry, for his book “Be With.” The reading will be hosted by Gwen O’Gara.
10. At the Phoenix Theater, the 4 p.m. reading will include five poets – Lucille Lang Day, Ruth Nolan, Susan Cohen, Jack Foley and Barbara Quick - whose work appears in the collection “Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California.” This even will be hosted by Iris Dunkle.
11. Student poets from the Cal Poets and Poetry Out Loud programs will be presenting their works, along with poet Phyllis Meshulam. The bilingual programs encourage personal expression and appreciation of the arts. Poetry Out Loud, a program of competitive poetry recitation, was created in 2006 by the National Endowment for the Arts, under Sonoma County’s own Dan Gioia.
12. Albert Flynn DeSilver, one of the five poets reading at the day-ending party at Aqus Café, was Marin County’s very first Poet Laureate, serving from 2008-2010. The other poets will be Raphael Block, Maureen Hurley, Gail Mitchell and Michael Koch.
13. Each of the eight events at this year’s Poetry Walks will include a “host.” Three of them – Terry Ehret at 11 a.m., Gwenn O’Gara at 3 p.m., and Iris Dunkle at 4 p.m., are former Poets Laureate of Sonoma County.