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Poet Billy Collins to speak at Authors on the Plaza

If You Go

What: Sonoma Valley Authors Festival

When: May 3-5

Where: Sonoma Plaza, Sonoma

Admission: Free

Information and full schedule:svauthorsfest.org

When Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, came to speak at last year’s Sonoma Valley Authors Festival, the brightest moment for him was a visit to local schools.

So when he returns for this year’s festival, running May 3-5, he’s especially looking to its opening-day event, Students Day, when 11 authors and speakers will visit two local high schools and two middle schools.

“The very best component of the festival is getting authors out into the community to talk to students,” Collins said.

Collins will speak at the festival’s new free “Authors on the Plaza” event from 5 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 4, at Sonoma Plaza. The outdoor presentation also will feature Roger McNamee, the author of “Zucked: Waking Up to Facebook Catastrophe.”

The school visitation part of the festival fits in very neatly with Collins’ ongoing quest to share his art with everyone, and rid poetry of its lingering image as elitist and academic.

“One of the reasons poetry has a bad reputation is that for most people, their last experience with poetry was in school, and poetry is often taught badly,” he said.

A common mistake is introducing students to the most difficult poets first, going back to Chaucer or Wordsworth as a starting point, instead of beginning with more accessible contemporary poets.

“I have committed those sins. I taught for years,” said Collins, who retired as a professor at Lehman College of the City University of New York in 2016.

In his own poetry collections, ranging from “Poker Face” in 1977 to “The Rain in Portugal” in 2016, Collins is known for inclusive, approachable work.

“My poems tend to be straightforward, at least at the beginning,” he said. “I’m very reader-conscious.”

Free copies of the authors’ books will reach more than 2,700 through the program, co-sponsored by 10,000 Degrees and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.

Just as Collins bears a message about the accessibility of poetry, McNamee - an investor and venture capitalist, and leader of the rock band Moonalice, as well as author - has something to say.

“We need to reform technology,” he said. Essentially, technology has created a data economy. We’re consumers, or even customers, we’re suppliers of data.”

Personal data collected by social media and other means has become a product in itself that is used for profit, McNamee explained.

And the issue grows more urgent as artificial intelligence comes into more common use.

“People need to appreciate this is not in their interest,” he said.

“I think there is misplace trust. We need to eliminate the part of date collection that is currently beyond the control of consumers.

“It’s definitely not too late. We need to challenge our politicians. This is not a partisan issue.”

You can reach staff writer Dan Taylor at 707-521-5243 or dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @danarts.

Dan Taylor

Arts & Entertainment, The Press Democrat

Do you take fun seriously? I know I do. Tell me what you want to know about arts and entertainment in the North Bay to make the best use of your leisure time and money. As a longtime local arts journalist, I have learned where to look and who to ask.

If You Go

What: Sonoma Valley Authors Festival

When: May 3-5

Where: Sonoma Plaza, Sonoma

Admission: Free

Information and full schedule:svauthorsfest.org

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