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Sonoma County’s newest poet laureate seeks words of courage

Swan Bone”

By Elizabeth Herron

the bones of birds

being hollow

for obvious reasons

it might be obvious also

why the first flutes

found thousands of years after

the pentatonic melodies they played

in the lives of Homo Sapien

Neanderthalensis

and Homo Sapien Sapiens

perhaps while dancing

perhaps while there was chanting

around them, perhaps

while the dancers

moved in circles

perhaps while someone else

shook a rattle and someone

struck a drum, and someone else

thought of the clouds of swans

traversing the autumn –

their hollow wing-bones

lifting and falling

above a swirl of yellow leaves

that smoked the sky

with gold

Eremocine (1)”

By Elizabeth Herron, for E. O. Wilson

The ice melt leaves the walrus

homeless and thousands climb out

of the sea onto Arctic beaches.

If each of us carried our own

dark stones, held them close,

called them by name and blamed

no one, if the heart

could stay open,

if we sang prayers

and praises for the sea ice

and the walrus,

for the caribou

calving, the sheltering trees,

and the red squirrels in the morning,

the earth's great ice

might gather again and the world

spin its seasons, wealthy

with its own ever-becoming.

For more information: elizabeth-herron.com

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, socopoetlaureate@gmail.com, 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 dan.taylor@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5243. 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.

Swan Bone”

By Elizabeth Herron

the bones of birds

being hollow

for obvious reasons

it might be obvious also

why the first flutes

found thousands of years after

the pentatonic melodies they played

in the lives of Homo Sapien

Neanderthalensis

and Homo Sapien Sapiens

perhaps while dancing

perhaps while there was chanting

around them, perhaps

while the dancers

moved in circles

perhaps while someone else

shook a rattle and someone

struck a drum, and someone else

thought of the clouds of swans

traversing the autumn –

their hollow wing-bones

lifting and falling

above a swirl of yellow leaves

that smoked the sky

with gold

Eremocine (1)”

By Elizabeth Herron, for E. O. Wilson

The ice melt leaves the walrus

homeless and thousands climb out

of the sea onto Arctic beaches.

If each of us carried our own

dark stones, held them close,

called them by name and blamed

no one, if the heart

could stay open,

if we sang prayers

and praises for the sea ice

and the walrus,

for the caribou

calving, the sheltering trees,

and the red squirrels in the morning,

the earth's great ice

might gather again and the world

spin its seasons, wealthy

with its own ever-becoming.

For more information: elizabeth-herron.com

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