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MPC Quarterly Newsletter

edited by Kirsten Jones & Neff Calvin Ahlgren     v.4 December 2010   



Christina Hutchins - Interview

- Kirsten Jones Neff

The Making of a Poet

- Marilyn King

A Dispatch From the Field: The Marin Poet Laureate’s ROAR program

MPC Classifieds

-Kirsten Jones Neff

Christina Hutchins is the Poet Laureate of Albany, California. She is also a musician, scientist, philosopher and a professor at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. Her book, The Stranger Dissolves, will be released in February 2011 by Sixteen Rivers Press.

KJN: You are a practitioner of so many things! Are you able to integrate these separate realms?

CH: These different facets: music, sciences, philosophy/theology are becoming increasingly integrated in my life, due in part to my teaching and mainly in the way I craft poems. I use lots of multiple intelligences approaches in the classroom, including music, sciences, and poetry to teach philosophical concepts that are too dynamic to be understood through ordinary subject-object syntax and abstract nouns. By far the most integrating influence for me is the making of poems. Increasingly, I am bringing my varied bits of knowledge into relation within the poems themselves. Writing longer poems, and letting the metaphysical meditations and the movement of the musical psyche freely mingle by means of the diction, rhythm, and images, drawing on the immensities of language, is making something out of the oddly constituted spectacle that is Christina. Maybe that kind of uniqueness is what brings never-before poems into the world: the way each poet constellates a different set of mobile facets. The motion of a poet's life enters her or his work, and then, the motion of the coalescing poem further integrates and makes the poet. It is an extremely lucky and a sadly rare privilege in the contemporary U.S., I think, to get to do work that entwines the particular loves of a lifetime. To constantly reconstitute oneself in relation to one's world, such that doing so is not something to be feared but a means of engendering joy, that's what poets get to do, and must do, to remain alive to the coming of poems.

KJN: Have you always written poetry?

CH: Yes, I have written poetry basically as long as I've been able to write. There are boxes of poems in the closet, some of them penciled on that newsprint printed with two fat turquoise lines separated by a dotted line. Even then, some of the topics were the same: dew (I've always been a morning person) and blowing grasses and a felt tragedy at the loss of each moment. I remember a poem I wrote when I was seven , about monkeys on a cattle ranch, and another about a pregnant cow that ends "And even wurse [sic], that night he could give no milk." A little gender confusion… maybe that's why I was drawn to queer theory.

I was read to as a child, by both parents. My father read Winnie the Pooh and every character had a particular and much loved voice. He also read me Heidi, Hans Brinker, Andy Buckram's Tin Men , great stuff. Best of all, he used to stretch out on top of the covers, rub his head with both hands, and tell me a story he made up on the spot. What I remember is the warmth in his voice. I could rest in it. My mother's voice, reading to me, too, was more important than what was read. I thought her voice was like oatmeal. I've always loved to be fed that way by language, or warmed or bathed by it, perhaps. I spent two years living in Germany, attending Kindergarten there, so German is part of my home in language, too. When I hear German ( I'm still pretty fluent as an adult), it is like stepping into a warm bath. Language as tactile, human, liquid.

There wasn't a lot of poetry in our household, though there was a little, tucked among the many of books. Somewhere along the way, I memorized some Mother Goose and Shakespeare (from my mother's memory to mine, I think), but I didn't get a real poetry book until I graduated from Jr. High, and my mother bought me a gorgeous copy of Leaves of Grass that was interspersed with black and white photographs of intensely human moments: lovers on a meadow, soldiers in Vietnam, really amazing alongside Whitman. I read it over and over, and I know that his voice sweeps through my own. I also read Song of Songs many, many times, starting in 4th grade. Mostly I was secretive about both reading and writing poems. Now, when I realize that my mother really saw me, knew me enough to give me Whitman, I am moved and so grateful. My parents noticed much more of my diverse humanity than I realized at the time.

KJN: What is it about poetry that reached you? Is your response to poetry very different from your response to music?

CH: Yes, it is music and poetry together that enable feeling to be celebrated, intensified, explored, and relational connections to be fostered. Since intensity and width of feeling (including feelings like compassion) are often so anesthetized or narrowed by our technology-compelled consumer society, we need them desperately, in order to remain human and open to the motions of meaning through time. Music and poetry are temporal arts (so is dance), and they require time in order to unfold. I think that's why they are so able to traverse the emotional psyche, which also is a temporally assembled landscape. Music, particularly Beethoven, but really a whole, huge variety: Renaissance composers, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Contemporary, folks songs from the 1960s, rock and popular music from the 1970s, Puritan hymns, opera, are, for me, better for experiencing the raw movement of feeling that constitutes being alive. Poetry's movement is a bit different… the movement and connections are made by gathering all sorts of other bits of civilized humanity into the flow. Music and poetry when really attended to, both widen and deepen what Whitehead calls "the sea of feeling," that is, the vague possibilities for meaningful creation that lurk between our lives. I need them both, poetry and music, and I'm amazed that we live in a time where they are so available to us. That availability is an opportunity borne by the same technological craze that can so dull the felt luster of being alive.

KJN: Tell me about your most recent awards. (you'll have to brag a little here! )

CH: Oh dear. Yes, I am having a lucky year. I am the 2009 recipient of The Missouri Review Jeffrey E. Smith Editors' Prize (after being a runner-up for the past two years) for a group of poems that came out in the Spring 2010 issue, of the 2010 Finch Prize of The National Poetry Review for a poem called "Tintinnabulations Above the Bay" that's coming out this month, and not long ago I received a second Money For Women/Barbara Deming Award. I also won the 2010 Robin Becker Prize, and that chapbook, Radiantly We Inhabit the Air, which was chosen by Eloise Klein Healy, is coming out from Seven Kitchens Press in mid January. What will be my second full-length book, World Without, was named by Jane Hirshfield as runner-up for the 2010 Tupelo Press' Dorset Prize. It's been a finalist or runner-up (too) many times. I'm hopeful for it and will keep sending it out.

KJN: What has been helpful in your development as a poet?

CH: Mostly I've just written and read as much poetry as possible. I also love to read essays on craft by poets (as well as painters, dancers, mathematicians, composers…) I did, with great hope, take a Poetry Workshop my first term as a freshman at UC Davis. It was taught by a 1st year MA student (I later learned), and he seemed to strongly dislike my poetry. He also was no fan of Dylan Thomas, so I ought not to have paid too much attention, but I did. I got a B, which was my lowest grade ever in anything, and here it was in the art I thought had secretly claimed me.

KJN: Anything else you'd like to add?

CH: Poetry is more than alive in the Bay Area. I do think we've once again become another hub, yet another wheel under that odd buggy, American contemporary poetry. Every day I feel lucky to live here. And, joining Sixteen Rivers Press, just as the new anthology was in production, intensified my sense of a Northern California enclave of poets doing quality work. The Place that Inhabits Us gathers so many local poets, present and past, and reading them together is, for me, an amazing experience of community that extends powerfully into unknowable futures. Such a diversity of styles and aesthetics is respected by nearly every poet I know around here, and most of them mingle that diversity through their own poems. Maybe a new renaissance is upon us….. Poets, at our best, are permeable people, and in being with each other, sometimes I find a community that is, for me, sacred, free, joy-inducing, and deserving of our time and tending.

The Making of a Poet
Marin County 2010

- Marilyn King

Editors Note: Send us your story! We would like to know how you came to be a poet. Below is a "Poememoir" from Novato writer Marilyn King. ( Please submit to )

My life as a poet began back in the seventies when I fell in love with a Catholic priest. Since the feelings were mutual, but the usual avenues of expression weren't open to us, he began penning passionate love poems to me. To keep steam from exploding out my ears, I reciprocated with my first baby steps towards poethood. After that love gasped its last, I began exploring poetry at the Berkeley Poets' Coop, which published my first loneliness poem, "Hunger," in its tenth annual review. I learned what I wasn't in that group, as, not having been an English undergrad major, I was outclassed by the entirety of its membership. Later, a few women friends and I put together a little one-time booklet titled "Women Talking, Women Listening," that coddled burnt-out housewives and recovering divorcees by immortalizing our drivel in print. From there, I joined a diet group in Berkeley that encouraged weight loss using Gestalt exercises, eating our meals out of just one (rather small) bowl (I lost 37 pounds in 3 months!). Its founder, a Berkeley social worker, later wrote a self-help book on the subject including my "Ode to a Bologna Sandwich."

My children and I moved to Marin in the mid-seventies to live with my next love. After 18 months of cohabitation, he decided he was gay, an event that gave impetus to quite a writing surge, most of it unprintable. My undergrad study had been in sociology and social work. I didn't delve into literature and poetry until grad school in'83. Up to that point, I'd been a social worker with Head Start, and later as an advertising copywriter, I'd dedicated the bulk of my writing to the proposition that Breuner's needed to sell more furniture, and as director of advertising for Just Desserts in San Francisco, that the public needed more of the best chocolate cake I'd ever tasted. I gained 40 pounds in 3 years there. Also weighing heavily on me was a debt of $1,200 I owed friends. In thrashing about seeking a money miracle, I hit upon an idea: Go to grad school and use student loan money to pay back my friends! I gathered up my meager poetry sample and submitted it to SF State's Creative Writing Program, praying for acceptance. I was accepted, my friends got their $1,200, and there was even money left over for school! I did all my coursework, began the novel that would be my thesis (yes, I'd decided to become the GAN), studied up on Shakespeare's tragedies, Milan Kundera's novels, and Wallace Stevens' poetry for my graduate orals, and fell so deathly ill I had to leave my job and drop out of school. I'd been working as a full-time English tutor at a Community College and attending grad school at night, the resulting workload for which trashed both my health and scholastic goal. I had "chronic fatigue syndrome," a diagnosis later refined to "chronic cytomegalovirus (CMV) mononucleosis." I never got completely well. Recently, the NIH, FDA, and Harvard University collaborated on a study revealing that 2/3 of patients with a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome are suffering from a retrovirus in the herpes family: XMRV. As the test for it costs $650 and is not covered by Medicare, I still don't know if I have that virus, too. The upshot is that I've been permanently disabled on Social Security since 1987, and I never got my MA in creative writing. Twenty-three years later, walking one night with a friend, I passed the window of Dr. Insomnia's coffee house in Novato and saw a flier for a meeting of "Poetry Farm." Fortified by a defiant resolve, I took the poem I'd just finished about my anguish over the Iraq war and read it to the Poetry Farm folks. The applause was thunderous.

In the 2 ½ years since, I've learned a lot from those writers. And from there I joined Marin Poetry Center, where I study with the MPC monthly workshop to which the eight or ten of us bring ten copies of our latest iffy opus. The moderator and the others respond with perceptive critique and wise counsel. Under this group's tutelage, I'm starting to produce more worthy work and have been published in several anthologies. My goal is to read enough, study enough, write enough to produce a first chapbook that won't be an embarrassment. Being surrounded by terrific writers whose imaginations run amok on a regular basis is my best shot, I think, at becoming a worthwhile poet, and for that I'm grateful to have moved to Marin to live with a boyfriend who turned out to be gay. The experience gave me something to write about in a place famous for nurturing artistic expression in all its guises. For me, community is a requirement for productivity. No ivory tower, lonely loft writer, I can't go it alone; I need the encouragement and feedback of poets better than I to keep learning. So quite unwittingly, I'd moved to a place where my nest mates turned out to be the likes of Robert Haas, Kay Ryan, 'Lyn Follett, etc., etc., etc….

Gaby Rilleau and I read to a group of seniors at Atria Tamalpais Creek on a beautiful afternoon in September. There were about 20 folks in attendance and they seemed to enjoy the reading, especially the poems that spoke to their personal experience. Gaby read poems about her girlhood in Provincetown, MA, and among the poems I read was one of my dad's favorites, the WWI standard In Flanders Fields. There were several audience members who were able to recite the poem along with me from memory, probably some 60 years after they had first learned it. -Terry Phelan Scheidt

CB (‘Lyn) Follett, the current Poet Laureate of Marin County has several poetry irons in the fire, but the most extensive program just getting started is called ROAR (Reach Out And Read). Several senior facilities and day centers have expressed interest in joining with ROAR to bring poetry to the senior communities.

Working with Sandy Jimenez at Whistlestop, and with various program and activities directors, ROAR is setting up quarterly poetry readings on site around Marin. More than 50 poets and lovers of poetry have already signed up to be readers, facilitators, and program arrangers. At least a dozen programs are already happening and others will follow. A new notice will soon go out to facilities not yet included in the program.

The programs vary and include featured readers, or readers of old and new favorites, but in all cases when appropriate, ROAR will encourage the seniors in the audience to read aloud their own poems, or particular favorites. Poetry is a wonderful connection between people. Seniors, often restricted due to transportation or other difficulties can stay in place or come to day centers and the poetry will come to them. There is a great deal of enthusiasm about ROAR on both sides of the ‘podium’. Watch out for programs in your area, and if your residence facility would like ROAR to come to them, let ‘Lyn or the Marin Arts Council know.


Volunteer Oportunities

High School Poetry   Needs assistance. Possible duties include updating the teacher data base, contacting members, scheduling workshops in the schools, and assisting with the annual high school poetry anthology and contest. One person need not be responsible for all the above tasks. Please contact Barbara Martin  at .

Marin Poetry Center Reading Series 2010-2011

Third Thursdays @ 7:30 pm (unless otherwise noted)
Falkirk Cultural Center, 1408 Mission St. at E, San Rafael

December 16, 2010
Holiday Party and Read-Around 

January 17, 2011 (Monday, MLK Day)
Marvin Bell

February 17, 2011
Panel Discussion: "Is publication hurting poetry?"
Camille Dungy, Dan Bellm, Gabby Calvocoressi

March 17, 2011
Sixteen Rivers Anthology Reading

April 21, 2011
Jacqueline Berger and Alexandra Teague

May 19, 2011
New Voices: Askia Humphrey and Javier Zamora

For more information, visit or email Roy Mash or Becky Foust at

Poetry Reading Workshop
Led by Roy Mash, this workshop will focus on the "craft" of reading poetry aloud. Topics include: keeping the audience's attention from wandering; pacing, intonation, eye contact; reading with meaning; 'scoring' a poem; visualization.

Workshop attendance limited to 10 people.
Fee: $30.00, all proceeds to be donated to Marin Poetry Center's High School Poetry Program.
Tuesday Jan 25, 6:30 - 9 pm, Rebound Bookstore 1611 4th St, San Rafael.
To register: Send a request to

MPC Readers: Do you have a favorite poet? Maybe a secret favorite poet? We would like to hear about that poet you believe everybody must read! Please introduce us to a poet, or remind us why we must seek out or rediscover a certain poet. Please send your thoughts and inspirations to:

Open Mic/Poetry Critique at Falkirk Cultural Center, on the fourth Thursday of each month (except Dec.), starting at 7pm.  Bring ten copies of your poem, no more than one page in length.  This event is free, and is open to everyone.  1408 Mission Street, San Rafael.

Marin Poetry Center Bookgroup meets at 7pm the second Wednesday of each month, rotating among living rooms of participants. In January Sharon Olds' The Unswept Room will be discussed, and in February, Elizabeth Bishop's Complete Poems.
For more information contact Roy Mash:

Poetry Farm is a monthly reading series held at Dr. Insomnia's Cafe in Novato.  This is a well-attended and high-spirited reading series now in its fifth year.  We feature one published author each month.   If you would like to be considered for our "Featured Farmer" spot,  please send an email describing your work to Kirsten@Neff.Org.  Otherwise, come join the audience or sign up for open mic. 
Second Mondays, 7pm,   Dr. Insomnia's Cafe on the corner of Grant and Reichert in Novato.


Sunset Poetry by the Bay has moved to FIRST WEDNESDAYS of the month.
Wednesday, January 5 features Al Young, Indigo Moor and Donna Nieto.
Wednesday, Feburary 2 features Laura Oliver and Serard Sarnat.
Wednesday, March 2 Eileen Malone and Adam David Miller.


Located at: Studio 333, 333 Caledonia Street, Sausalito.

Marin Poetry Center Blog is now online.  Just click on the Blog! tab of the MPC website. MPC members can now upload their own blog posts, receive comments, and comment on the posts of others. An easy way to start is to send in a poem or two for the 'Admired Poems' section of the new MPC blog. These would be poems by someone else that you particularly admire or that have meant a lot to you or that you think of as overlooked. Send poems or blog postings to . Comments can be made on the blog itself.

MPC Mailing List: If you would like to be included in the Marin Poetry Center mailing-list events notification, please contact

Suggestions, questions, ideas? Reply to: MPC values your input! Comment, dream out loud, stimulate, unveil — this is YOUR newsletter, so use it! Please!

Paula Weinberger - Chair/Summer Traveling Show Calvin Ahlgren - Newsletter, Open Mic Workshop
Barbara Brooks - Recording Secretary Rose Black - Anthology Associate Editor
Rebecca Foust - Events Richard Brown - Marin Poet Laureate Liaison
Barbara Martin - High School Poetry Joan Gelfand - Public Relations
Colm Martin - Treasurer Kirsten Jones Neff - Newsletter
Roy Mash - Co-chair/Webmaster Gabrielle Rilleau - High School Poetry, Aegis Program
Cathy Shea - Events
Joe Zaccardi - Anthology

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