Sonoma County’s newest poet laureate seeks words of courage
Every two years, Sonoma County names a new poet laureate who then chooses and launches a special project.
The county’s 12th poet laureate, Elizabeth Herron of Graton, who will officially don the mantle July 30 during a ceremony at the Sebastopol Center for the Arts, knows just what she wants to do.
“I have already started, as best I can, what I call the Being Brave Poetry Project,” she said. “The idea is that in the world today, we need courage to overcome climate change and cope with the trauma of violence on the streets and war in Europe.”
To start, Herron will seek out venues and organizations that will host gatherings for discussions and, of course, prompt people to write poetry that expresses their concerns.
“I want to bring together different parts of the county,” Herron said. “I can help people create poems about how they see courage. The idea is to offer this any place that people gather: libraries, churches, community centers, parks. I hope these places will reach out to me.”
She has set up an email address specifically for the project, firstname.lastname@example.org, and hopes for plenty of responses.
“This is an inclusive topic, and we know now that poetry is the fastest-growing of all the arts,” she said. “There is a strong interest in poetry in this county, particularly in the west county, but we need to spread that out more. I hope I can ignite more interest in that.”
Herron’s confidence about inspiring participation in her project stems from her long teaching career. She retired from the faculty at Sonoma State University in 2010 but demurs when asked her age.
“I’m old enough to be old-fashioned,” she answered.
Born in Illinois, she grew up in Hawaii. After attending the University of Hawaii, Herron earned a master’s degree in counseling at San Francisco State University. She received a doctorate in psychology from the University for Integrative Learning, a program founded by graduates of the Harvard School of Education.
She initially joined the counseling center at Sonoma State University and subsequently moved to a faculty position, teaching creative writing and other courses.
Her third full-length collection of poems, “In the Cities of Sleep,” is ready for publication. She also has published four smaller volumes of poetry in a chapbook format and has two more awaiting publication.
“I like writing poems from the point of view of different characters,” Herron said. “I am writing persona poems in the voices of women from around the world.”
Herron draws inspiration for her poems from the details of everyday life.
“My most recent poem is ‘Swan Bone,’“ she said. ”One day, I was in my home office and outside there’s a birch tree. The leaves are beautiful. There’s a distinct way the leaves move when the wind comes through.”
In her imagination, she linked that image with an ancient wind instrument, the paleolithic bone flute, which she had researched online.
“I could feel myself inhabiting another identity, as a young person performing an ancient ceremonial rite. I moved into the quiet of listening,” she said.
The idea for a poem can come from almost anywhere, the poet said.
“When I am caught by a piece of news,” she said, “something will snag my mind, and I try to figure out my relationship to it.”
The poet laureate position was created in 1999. Those chosen receive a stipend of $2,000 over two years.
Members of the selection panel represent the five Sonoma County supervisor districts, Sonoma State University, Santa Rosa Junior College and the Sonoma County Library.
The Sebastopol Center for the Arts was instrumental in forming the Sonoma County Poet Laureate program and still hosts the selection committee.
Sonoma County’s previous poets laureate are Don Emblen, David Bromige, Terry Ehret, Geri Digiourno, Mike Tuggle, Gwynn O’Gara, Bill Vartnaw, Katherine Hastings, Iris Jamahl Dunkle, Maya Khosla and Phyllis Meshulam.
You can reach Staff Writer Dan Taylor at email@example.com or 707-521-5243. On Twitter @danarts.
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