A first-of-its-kind poetry event is set to take place this month among the world’s tallest trees at Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve. On July 21, a group of California’s most celebrated poets will gather at the Redwood Forest Theater in Guerneville for an afternoon of poetry readings, music, gourmet food and wine.
Armstrong Redwoods is the latest locale selected for the statewide Poetry in the Parks series, a spoken-word event series sponsored by California State Parks. Past events have been held at Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County, Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook in Culver City, Los Angeles and Candlestick Point in San Francisco.
California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia will headline the event, reading select poems from his five published collections, including the 2002 American Book Award winner “Interrogations at Noon.” Sonoma County’s poet laureate Maya Khosla and former Sonoma laureate Iris Jamahl Dunkle will also read from their collective work, followed by several local poets and student participants from the youth program Poetry Out Loud, a program founded by Gioia which fosters public speaking and interest in the arts through competitive poetry recitation.
“Poetry is really an opportunity to step back and take a look at our lives and our dreams and our hopes and really put them in perspective,” said Phyllis Meshulam, a Sonoma-based poet who will also read her work at the theater. “In this beautiful natural setting I know there will be a number of poems that address that.”
California State Parks employee Scott Green organized the first Poetry in the Parks event in 2015, after touring an old log cabin in Samuel P. Taylor State Park that the beat poet Kenneth Rexroth wrote in.
“We have this really cool history with writers in early California,” Green said. “How do we tell that story to people?”
Green has organized six poetry events since 2015, partnering with local conservationist organizations or nonprofits and area poets.
The event at Armstrong Redwoods reserve is co-sponsored by Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, a nonprofit organization that partners with California State Parks to offer volunteer services and funding for upkeep and stewardship efforts throughout the Russian River area.
Adult attendees can also purchase tickets to a concurrent Gourmet Walk in the Woods event hosted by the nonprofit. For $65 per person, guests can take a stroll through the woods while stopping at six tasting stations offering everything from Pacific Gravity Cider and appetizers to oven-baked pizza by Oak Avenue Catering paired with Wild Hog Sangiovese. Funds raised go directly to the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, according to board member Marcy Beck.
“We’re hoping for a wonderful turnout,” Beck said. “We’re delighted that Dana Gioia can join us.”
Admission to the poetry event is free and open to all ages. Tickets can be purchased for the Gourmet Walk in the Woods at stewardscr.org.