By the time you read this, I will be at, or will have been to, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs annual conference in Minneapolis, MN. For all of you who are attending this year, if you'd like to meet me in person (and I'd love to connect with all MPC members who are there), I'll be splitting my time in the book fair between the Trio House Press table (#240) and the Southeast Missouri State University Press table (#929). If I'm not at one, I'll likely be at the other, since I am the Associate Editor of Trio House Press, as well as in charge of running the SEMO Press table, in the absence of Dr. Susan Swartwout, Publisher and Editor of the press. And, if I may be allowed to briefly promote these two presses which have meant so much to me and my writing life, I'd love to see everyone from MPC at our Trio House Press reading on Thursday evening, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at The Historic Wesley Center of Minneapolis, and at my personal book signing at table 929 on Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to noon.
Thinking of AWP, it is difficult for me not to think of the poets that we've lost this past year. Although those who have died are too numerous to mention, the ones who have played an instrumental role in shaping my own sensibilities, not only by my reading of their work, but by their personal involvement in my writing life, are Maxine Kumin and Philip Levine. We lost Maxine a little over a year ago, but I can still hear her voice when I write a poem that is close to the length of a sonnet: "Terry, why not hammer it into form?" She has been, and will forever be, missed.
But the loss of Philip Levine is still like an open wound. His generosity to me while I was an MFA student both didn't surprise me (knowing that the man behind the poems must be reflected in his work), and was, and still is, difficult to believe—sort of a negative capability about life itself.
I wrote my thesis on Larry Levis who, according to Levine, was the best poet of his generation, and the finest student he ever had. I remarked to his colleague, Peter Everwine, that I would love to drive to Fresno and take him and Philip out to dinner, so I could interview both of them regarding Levis. (I was on speaking terms with Peter, but had never met Philip, and didn't know how to go about contacting him.) "Why don't you just call him," Peter said. "His number is in the phonebook." "I could never do that, without some introduction," I said. "Nonsense," said Peter, "he won't mind."
So one day weeks later, after practicing what I would say ("Hi. You don't know me, but I'm writing a paper on Larry Levis and would like to schedule a fifteen minute interview sometime . . . if you have time . . . if you don't mind . . . etc."), I got up the courage to dial his number. Philip answered the phone! I stuttered and stammered my rehearsed plea. "What's wrong with right now?" Philip said. Forty-five minutes later Philip Levine was still talking, and I was still taking notes. It's an experience I will never forget!
For healing, I have been turning back to his poems that have spoken to me so many times before. One, in particular, seems to voice the arc of grief that I believe will end not in finding the answers to death, but in finding a way to believe that the grappling of the questions about it is one of the functions of poetry. Hear, then, the voice of Philip Levine:
The Miracle A man staring into the fire sees his dead brother sleeping, The falling flames go yellow and red but it is him, unmistakable. He goes to the phone and calls his mother. Howard is asleep, he tells her. Yes, she says, Howard is asleep. She does not cry. In her Los Angeles apartment with its small color tv humming now unobserved, she sees Howard rocking alone beneath the waves of an ocean she cannot name. Howard is asleep, she says to the drapes drawn on the night. That night she dreams a house alive with flames, their old house, and her son sleeping peacefully in the kingdom of agony. She wakens near morning, the dream more real than the clock luminous beside her or the gray light rising slowly above the huddled town, more real than the groan of the first car. She calls her son who has risen for work and tells him, Howard is warm and at peace. He sees the crusted snows of March draining the cold light of a day already old, he sees himself unlocking the front door of his shop, letting the office help in, letting Eugene and Andy, the grease men step before him out of the snow. When she hangs up he looks out on the back yard, the garbage cans collapsing like sacks of air, the fence holding a few gray sparrows, he looks out on the world he always sees and thinks, it's a miracle.
This issue of the MPC newsletter serves as a bridge in many ways—not only between death and the life that continues in those left, but between the winter and summer solstices, between the beginning of a new year with all of its looking backwards and forwards, evaluating the old, and stepping forward into the new, but also implementing those plans. It's about the space between the submission deadline for the MPC Anthology, and the deadline for the Summer Traveling Show (see deadlines and other important information in Paula's MPC Board Update). It's about celebrating the outgoing Marin Poet Laureate Joseph Zaccardi, and welcoming incoming Prartho Sereno, with an exclusive interview by Rebecca Foust. It's about looking at Ellery Akers's "beloved West Marin, alive with kangaroo rats, lettuce, tadpoles, and birds," in her newly published book, Practicing the Truth, by Ellery Akers (Autumn House, 2015), reviewed by Joan Baranow, Director of the English Department at Dominican University. It's about remembering Mark Baldridge, the man behind the Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival, in a memorial tribute by Sharon Coleman.
This issue of the Marin Poetry Center Newsletter is about looking back—yes—but it's also about growth, transformation, life—it's about "looking out on the world [we] always see / and think[ing], it's a miracle."
Marin Poetry Center continues to grow
As of March, we have 249 members—slightly ahead of the same time last year. The Summer Traveling Show has a way of sneaking up on people, so if you'd like to read but haven't sent in your renewal, now's the time.
MPC programs are in full swing
In January, Francesca Bell took over MPC Events with some interesting ideas up her sleeve including a MPC National Poetry Month Facebook Slam. Learn more by going to the MPC Facebook Page.
Also, you'll be pleased to know that beginning this January, Third Thursday readings are now available on the MPC YouTube Channel, thanks to the initiative of Roy Mash and videographer John Rhodes.
As you read this, you will have received the sign-up letter for this season's Summer Traveling Show. The cutoff date for reserving an opportunity to read is April 15, 2015. Michael Beebe has organized a wonderful array of venues, including some new locations such as the O'Hanlon Center and Copperfield's, so send in your requests as soon as possible.
Under the able supervision of Prartho Sereno, a team of readers is in the midst of sorting through over 700 entries for this year's High School Poetry Contest. Jackie Kudler has graciously agreed to make the final selections. We will again be publishing a perfect bound anthology of winning submissions. Students will share their poems at this year's gala Award Ceremony on Tuesday, May 5 at the Marin School, 150 N. San Pedro Road, San Rafael.
Readers, as well, are at work selecting poems for inclusion in the 2015 MPC Anthology under the able leadership of Alyse Rall Benjamin and the discerning eye of copy editor, Casey FitzSimons.
The MPC Brochure is getting a new look with the help of artist/poet Kate Peper. The new brochure will be available in April.
MPC is delighted to welcome Prartho Sereno as the new Marin Poet Laureate. Prior to the addition of her new duties, and the publication of a new book of poetry, Elephant Raga, Prartho has lent her invaluable support to both the HS Poetry Project and the MPC Anthology. Please join us on Thursday, May 21 at 6:00 pm (prior to the final Third Thursday reading at 7:30 pm), for a champagne tribute to outgoing poet laureate, Joe Zaccardi, and a warm greeting to incoming poet laureate, Prartho Sereno.
As the Board closes shop until the summer, we regretfully say a sad farewell to Barbara Brooks, who after six years will be leaving the Board as its able recording secretary. Susan Gunter, who will assume the role in September, will replace her.
On behalf of the MPC Board, I wish everyone a healthy and productive summer.
MPC: Please introduce yourself to us: tell us a little about your background, education, work.
Prartho: I grew up in Rochester, NY with 5 siblings and 3 imaginary friends, including a silent genderless being I called "Churchy." After a childhood of ice skating in the backyard and waterskiing at the lake, I headed "West" to Bowling Green, Ohio for both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Psychology. My Thesis research focused on the creative process, and my specialties as a psychologist were expressive therapies and "human potential groups." For over 15 years I worked in psych wards, juvenile detention and drug rehab facilities, and at a college counseling center.
From Ohio, I moved with my husband to a small 150-year-old farm in Maine, where I raised chickens, vegetables, and babies, teaching yoga on the side. Then in my early 30s, ferried by the deaths of 5 loved ones, I found myself in India. There, along with studying meditation, I wrote for an international weekly and painted in the art department. My time spent in India totals more than 4 years and underlies all my work ... it is what pulled me together ... or finished my breaking. I can't say which.
I've been in Marin County for 17 years, and have taught as long at the College of Marin, and almost as long as a Poet in the Schools (my dream jobs).
MPC: How and when did you first come to poetry? Can you tell us about your own work?
Prartho: At first I wrote novels . . . in fourth grade ... murder mysteries a la Nancy Drew, which I scribbled and illustrated on blue-lined paper. Then somewhere in the throes of adolescence, I fell into Elliot's "Four Quartets," and the proverbial top of my head blew off. What world was this? I asked myself. So lush and exotic, and yet, somehow, familiar.
I studied (minored) in Creative Writing (both fiction and poetry) at Bowling Green with Phillip O'Connor, who was starting up an MFA program there. He encouraged me to apply, but I told him I had some living to do first. Poems kept coming, of course ... in the kitchen with babes-in-arms, standing in line at the Post Office, etc. I took the Muse's dictation, but mostly kept the resulting ditties to myself until I "came out" at an international reading in India, where my poems were met with a generous silence that humbled me. When I got back to the States, I began publishing poems in journals, followed by my book of essays: Everyday Miracles: an A to Z Guide to the Simple Wonders of Life (Kensington, 1998).
Here in Marin, as a member of a supportive writing group with poets Mike Day and Bill Keener, I succeeded in publishing my first poetry collection, Call from Paris (The Word Works, 2007; 2nd edition, 2014), and my illustrated collection, Causing a Stir: the Secret Lives & Loves of Kitchen Utensils (Mansarovar Press, 2007), which won an Independent Publisher's Award (IPPY) in 2008.
Then, some forty years after telling Phillip O'Connor I needed to live a little, I realized I had! I entered the MFA program at Syracuse University and graduated in 2013. My latest collection of poems, Elephant Raga, which won last year's Blue Lynx Prize, is mainly comprised of poems I wrote in Syracuse.
MPC: What are your plans as Poet Laureate? Do you have a project in mind?
Prartho: I want to get as many people in the community involved in poetry as possible—particularly those who think that poetry isn't for them. My main plan for winning these folks over is to bring poetry to life by mixing up media: inviting all kinds of Marin artists to respond to poems—creating musical and danced responses, performance and painted responses.
The project's working title is CALL & RESPONSE: A MEETING OF THE MUSES. Stay tuned for details ... I hope to include as many of you as possible!MPC: Where can we find out about your readings in the Bay Area?
Prartho: I will keep MPC members informed through this Newsletter, the monthly member emails, and announcements at the Third Thursday series. You can also find events listed on my website, http://www.prarthosereno.com/.
MPC: What poet or poets have been important to your work? Do you have a favorite poem? A favorite book of poetry?
Prartho: I love the Spanish masters, whose work is so passionate and innocent at the same time—Neruda, Lorca, Machado. And the great wave of American female voices: Mary Oliver at the helm. Naomi Shihab Nye, Jane Hirshfield, Dorianne Laux, Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, Kay Ryan . . . (we are rich!) And just now, Joseph Stroud, in whose Of This World I haven't yet found a poem that doesn't take my breath away.
As for favorite poems, it's always changing. Jack Gilbert's "Alone," where he discovers that his deceased wife has returned as a neighborhood Dalmatian stands out right now. And Mary Oliver's "Singapore"—such a departure from her usual; instead of birds at Black Water Pond, it takes place in a women's restroom.
MPC: Tell us something that might surprise us.
Prartho: My best subject in school was math—I was accelerated in 7th grade. [See Prartho's essay in the January 2015 issue entitled "Tending the Roots in a STEM-Crazed World"—ed.] Around that same time I held the neighborhood hula hoop record (3 hours... yes, I kept it going in the loo!).
MPC: Can you share one of your poems with us?
Prartho: From my collection that is being released this month: Elephant Raga (Lynx House Press, 2015).
Vespers Swallow me Start me again from your dark-matter rhapsody Float me upriver my celestial tugboat my phantom barge sail me home where cough and ache and arthritic knee dissolve back to cloud-breath, spider-silk, dew You who gathered me up undo me: give back my hair to the cornfields, my toenails to the beetles, my skin to the pond Uncoil the aria caught in my throat Return it to the tongue-tied sparrow
Practicing the Truth, by Ellery Akers. Autumn House Press, 2015
Wow. That's what I kept murmuring to myself as I read Ellery Akers's new book of poetry, Practicing the Truth. Selected by Alicia Ostriker for the 2014 Autumn House Press Award, Akers's long-awaited book is as exhilarating as it is instructive, the poetry of a woman who's lived long enough, thought and felt long enough, to have gained a clear perspective on her past, and has something essential to offer us—poems as elemental as ore, "rubbled," as she says, "... with zircon and black glass."
Akers is a nature poet, but saying that needs immediate clarification. She turns to nature for imagery and consolation (possibly driven by the same reasons as Mary Oliver), but she brings a naturalist's knowledge to her poet's insight. These are informed and observant poems, steeped in the ways of birds, hills, and oceans. As such, they are full of information we don't usually see in poetry. In "What Rises in the Sea at Night Rises in Dreams," for instance, I was delighted to find words such as dinoflagellates, Pyrosoma, and benthic, each used in its proper and necessary place. All her nature poems employ an exact, invigorating vocabulary. In "The Oak Gall" she describes a wasp laying its eggs on a leaf:
The wasp holds her abdomen over the leaf, wings throbbing, swings her ovipositor around, and stings. Then it starts.
Whoever heard of "ovipositor"? How thrilling to read poems that know so much!
Akers honors nature by presenting us with its beautiful facts; she takes care to record what we are usually oblivious to. In turn, nature offers Akers a wealth of striking images that chart her journey from the violence of her past to the wild sanctuary of West Marin. The language of nature at times serves as an objective correlative to human experience, while at other times it provides a contrast. At the end of "The Shouting Match with My Mother: at Sixteen," Akers stares at the stars, thinking of them as "nail after nail, / each one hammered next to each other, / divided by distance, as they should be, like mother and daughter." Here nature offers a striking simile of alienation. Yet, as Akers well knows, nature in reality abides outside human drama, and thus can offer a healing balm. In the title poem, after alluding to a family history of violence, Akers contrasts human tragedy with a deceptively simple description of earth's constancy:
But rocks do not lift and throw themselves. The grass remains hooked to the earth. Showers of blackbirds fall and keep on falling and do not turn into scattershot or buckshot: the slope stays put, the pond stays put, and does not fly or shed its wings.
Everywhere Akers evokes nature as a way of understanding her life. Like sailors who once used the position of the stars to navigate, she names the constellations in order to know who she is and where she is going.
Not that she is the least sentimental about nature; as she says, "The shrike nails the vole to the cactus spine, / but this is the way of shrikes, the butcher birds: / they've been doing it since the beginning." Nature adheres to its laws; nature is trustworthy. As the philosopher John Berger says, "Nothing in the nature around us is evil...Cruelty is the result of talking oneself into the infliction of pain or into the conscious ignoring of pain already inflicted. The cuckoo doesn't talk itself into anything. Nor does the wolf" ("A Load of Shit"). Only humans are capable of self-deception. As Akers says of the abusive father in "My Father's Geology Lesson": "his kindness / a sheet of foil blazing in front of his body, / like gold, fool's gold, mica."
Any book of poems invites the danger of homogeneity—reading an entire book beginning to end can induce the numbing cumulative effect of the particular poet's style. Not so this book. In fact, don't even think about flipping idly through it. The variety of forms, moods, and tones will keep you turning pages long after your dog or bed-partner has fallen asleep. Her free verse forms range from the solid certainty of "Hook" to the cadenced catalogues of "What I Do," a poem rooted in her beloved West Marin, alive with kangaroo rats, lettuce, tadpoles, and birds, oh, so many birds, each so familiar to her that she can tell "from the sounds of their wings, without looking, whether a titmouse just passed—flutter—a raven—thwack, thwack—an eagle—shud, shud, shud—big wet sheets flapping on a laundry line."
The aptness of the visual metaphor coming on the heels of her onomatopoeia shows Akers's daring success at what Robert Bly calls "leaping poetry." Here are some of the many images that leapt out to me:
Though the day moon hangs in the plain old day—just some white plate on a shelf in the warehouse of morning— "The Night Bride" I wanted to be safe as an inch is safe while a mile lunges out, throwing itself down the road. "Abuse: Reconsidering the Strategy of Silence" I keep coming back to that room— the wallpaper with its shackled roses. "For the Child I Was" I recognize myself by my scars the way a heron knows the marsh by the sunk wrecks of boats left to rust. "Looking Around"
Vibrant images like these form the narrative of Akers's story. They speak to deeply personal pain without a shred of solipsism or self-pity. How does she do it? Like Sharon Olds, Akers knows that she is writing poetry; she wrestles with all the textures of language and creates the salve of art. Her poems carry us through years of starlight and loneliness to a world where "everything is worn or wrong" but which nonetheless delights us with "a dog racing around after being hosed and shampooed / and shaking drops right into your eyes." With a nod to W. C. Williams's red wheelbarrow, Akers celebrates scraps, bits, leavings, the stuff we see but don't see:
But what would we do if straw hats never frayed? What about rust? What about lint? What about hair in a sink drain, the small wasted efforts at a poem, ... What if you wanted to see rain glazing the recycling bottles?
Luckily for us, Akers is committed to the ways of this world. In "Breathing"—a paean to the air we all share, and final poem of the book—she tartly says, "You want sanitary? Go to some other planet."
Coming twenty-six years after her first book, Knocking on the Earth, Practicing the Truth is a marvel. You, too, will find yourselves arrested by the candor, beauty, and wisdom of this book.
Welcome to Francesca Bell, our full-time Events Coordinator for MPC! Francesca has taken over from Donna Emerson and has been assisting Roy Mash during the fall events. We are already witnessing the fine hand of Francesca at work, and she is lining up extraordinary visiting poets for next year, as well as supervising current events.
If you've missed Third Thursday poetry readings, you are now able to see and hear the poets via YouTube. (Go to YouTube and search for "marinpoetrycenter.org".) The readings are being videotaped, although informal questions and comments, meeting the poets in person and having their books signed—not to mention refreshments—can only be experienced by showing up.
Jody Hottel and Brian Komei Dempster were the featured poets in January. Both had as their subject the relocation and internment camps of Japanese-Americans during the Second World War, and both are Nisei descendants. Jody read from her book, Heart Mountain, which won the 2012 Blue Light Press Poetry Prize. She is a resident of Sonoma County and a MPC member. Brian read from his book, Topaz, which received awards from Four Way Books and won the 15 Bytes 2014 Book Award for Poetry. He read "Eightfold Chant" — " ... I am my uncle setting cubes of cheese into jaws / of traps, and my grandmother stirring peas into a pan of fried rice, //... and my grandfather padding the halls in slippers and gloves, / the cold globes of his breath a string of prayer beads / weaving me, a mixed-blood grandson, into them." Brian is on the faculty in Asian Pacific Studies at the University of San Francisco.
In February, Meryl Natchez and Brenda Hillman delivered presentations on translations. Meryl read from her most recent book—a bilingual volume of translations from Russian, Poems from the Stray Dog Café: Akhmatova, Mandelstam and Gumilev. It was an exquisite translation experience, especially since the poetry was also read in Russian by a professor from UC Berkeley. Meryl is co-translator of Tadeusz Borowski: Selected Poems, and her poems have appeared in Against Forgetting: Twentieth-Century Poetry of Witness. Brenda Hillman is well known for her activism with Code Pink, a grassroots social justice group and, of course, her poetry. She is currently translating from Portuguese a poet known well in Brazil (with assistance from her Brazilian mother), and she read from some of this new work. Brenda has published eight collections of poetry; her most recent book, Seasonal Work with Letters on Fire, received the Griffin International Poetry Prize last year, and was available at the reading. Brenda came prepared to be a panelist on "translations" and engaged a conversation on the importance of maintaining the spirit of the poem.
The March event featured poets Dan Bellm and Robert Sward, and was a fascinating evening of poetry. There were tears and laughter around the topic of Altzheimers (about which each poet has written). Both poets read from work in progress, so we had the opportunity to hear energetic new work. Dan Bellm is a writer, editor, and translator, and has published three books—most recently Practice, winner of a 2009 California Book award. He read a poem about his mother, "Twilight": "... the Vietnam / War. I think she knew / before it began how she'd / be left standing in // the middle with her / improvised white flag, mother, / peacemaker, when I // said I refused to / go; never mind how, I'd thought / her very presence, / her mysterious / calm, would neutralize any / opposing force ..." Dan also discussed his recent translation of a poem by French performance poet, Serge Pey, commemorating the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, as well as translations from Spanish poets. He noted that reading Neruda was how he began learning Spanish. There were several more poems about his mother (e.g. "A Wake" and "Hands")—"there was only the palest of smiles now, into which she disappeared." In the title section, "Deep Well", we heard "she gave me language—things began disappearing years ago, even her travel diary. I thought of her as a deep well".
Robert Sward has taught at Cornell University, the Iowa Writer's Workshop and UC Santa Cruz. He was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fulbright Scholar and received a Villa Montalvo Literary Arts Award. He has more than 20 books, including the recent New & Selected Poems, God is in the Cracks, and Four Incarnations. Robert read a new poem about his wife, Gloria, who has Altzheimers, based upon an older poem "For Gloria on her 60th Birthday, or Looking for Love in Merriam Webster"—"Beautiful, splendid, magnificent, delightful, charming, appealing.. says the dictionary. And that's how I start...but I hear her say, make it less glorious and more Gloria." (The entire poem can be heard on YouTube.) Robert has a lifetime of poetry in print, and a fascinating bio on his website.
By attending Third Thursdays, we learn more than we ever anticipate from our guest poets. The opportunity to purchase signed copies of books (frequently at discount prices), to ask questions, and to allow the language and brilliance of poetry to sink into our psyches is worth much more than the cost of admission ($3 for members). At a recent event, one of the attendees decided to join MPC after reading about us in the Marin I J. And she's a self-described listener, not a poet.
For decades, Berkeley has been enriched by a vibrant literary community with poetry at its heart, seen in downtown Berkeley's Addison Street Poetry Walk. At the heart of the poetry community since 1972 has been Poetry Flash, a hub for reviews, articles, event listings, and presentation of many singular literary events. And at the heart of Poetry Flash since 1995 was Mark Baldridge, in many capacities from board member to web master, but most notably as Director of the annual Watershed Environmental Poetry Festival.
When Robert Hass was named U. S. Poet Laureate in 1995, he called meetings with poets and ecologists to discuss "Nature and the American Imagination," and to think of ways to engage the public using poetry. Having left a corporate career and started his own small advertising agency, and hungry to do something real, Mark attended these meetings. From them came the idea for the first Watershed Festival on April 1996 at the Band shell of Golden Gate Park.
Over a thousand people attended to hear poets Joy Harjo, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Michael McClure, and others. With Joyce Jenkins, editor and publisher of Poetry Flash, Mark wrote a major grant to the Creative Work Fund for "Down to Earth: 50-foot Rubbing Panels" carved in bas-relief by New Zealand artist Shane Eagleton. The grant came through, and the panels were unveiled at the Festival along with Eagleton' s sculpture of a life-size humpback whale and baby whale carved from a single storm-salvaged redwood log. Joining the big poets on the stage were many children also sharing their poetry. Huge and magical, it became an annual event.
After a second year in Golden Gate Park, the organizers brought the event to Berkeley, where the 19th annual Watershed took place last September. It cannot be emphasized enough how much work Mark did to ensure the continuation and relevance of Watershed. He invited a diverse lineup of major American and international poets. He reached out to different ecological, cultural, and literary groups, artists, dancers, and musicians, making sure to include Native American poets, artists and activists. He handled most of the logistics, usually in Berkeley's Civic Center Park, beginning the set up at 6 a.m., what he called "dawn patrol."
Mark linked cultural organizing with direct activism when he joined with Ecocity Builders to advocate the daylighting and restoration of Berkeley's many creeks, including rerouting Strawberry Creek to create a green corridor through downtown. In 2002, Mark joined a crew that stayed up all night to paint blue lines where the creek could be. Mark brought Richard Register and Kristin Miller of Ecocity Builders to speak at Watershed several times. Register remembers the spirit Mark brought to the cause:
Mark supported our creek work by lending us his name and reputation as one of our directors; we were soul mates in the cause and he did all he could to increase the chances that Berkeley would adopt policies and projects to advance our objectives. He remained a close friend to the watershed restoration projects we were involved in. He was already in love with Berkeley creeks and wanted them glorified into existence as free, pungently fragrant and stuffed with life. He wanted to help that realization to the end of his life.
Mark was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1948, to Charlotte and Charles B. Baldridge, who worked for General Motors. He grew up in Ohio and Illinois with two brothers, Jim and Dick, and a sister, Marcia. His family moved to Santa Barbara, and he studied at San Marcos High School where he played football, but he grew very critical of the sport and the industry around it. He developed a deep appreciation for classical music and discovered a lifelong love for playing the flute—which he enjoyed doing for his wedding, during afternoon work breaks and even to accompany his wife's poetry readings. Mark also developed a passion for astronomy, a passion he conveyed to his children and others.
Mark first entered college with the idea that he'd become a minister. But he found Westmont College, a Christian seminary, too conservative, and so came to UC Berkeley to study communications, graduating in 1970. His senior project, a short film called Help Cried the Kelp, drew attention to the lasting environmental damage of the Santa Barbara oil spill. In 1971 he married Maureen Hanlon in San Francisco and began working in corporate communications. They had three children, the family growing as they moved for work to Santa Barbara, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. When offered a position in San Francisco in 1979, Mark settled in Berkeley. During the 35 years he lived here, "he loved Berkeley and was Berkeley through and through," said Joyce Jenkins.
Mark started his own advertising business (BridgeMarCom), and Peet's Coffee and Tea became a client. Before the company went public, Mark did advertising campaigns and image work including the ethnic designs still on Peets' cups. For one campaign, Mark presented poems (not ad jingles) featuring the image of "a steaming cup" of coffee or tea, and he contacted Poetry Flash to help select the poems. Already assisting with other Poetry Flash projects including Watershed, Mark realized that here he could join his lifelong interests in spirituality, ecology, communication, and serving others.
One of his early contributions was a button designed and produced for a group of literary professionals battling Newt Gingrich's attempt to dismantle the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995. The buttons read "Words Work" and "Save the NEA." He helped Joyce Jenkins of Poetry Flash rent an exhibit space at the American Bookseller's Association convention where she and others petitioned to save the NEA, handed out the buttons, and met Hilary Clinton. Jane Alexander, head of the NEA, wore the button while giving a speech that praised writers and literary professionals for fighting harder than any other arts discipline to save the NEA.
Mark integrated with Poetry Flash, creating their website, distributing the print edition of the journal and announcements, writing grants, designing and producing graphics, and so much more. He did the same for other events presented by Poetry Flash, such as the annual Northern California Book Awards. He became the captain and shepherd of Poetry Flash, and chair of the Board of Directors. After working together for a year, Mark and Joyce married December 22, 1995, on the solstice, because he wanted to be married on the longest night of the year.
Mark's impact on Poetry Flash, many other literary and arts organizations, his children, and many individuals cannot be overstated. While not himself a poet or artist, he brought together creative thinking with a keen sense of logistics and professionalism. In a climate of dwindling support for literary arts organizations, Mark found clever ways to continue to present world-class events and writing to the Bay Area by engaging the generosity of local businesses and individuals.
Mark Baldridge died Dec. 27, 2014 after a struggle with cancer, after celebrating Christmas and his anniversary with his family. Mark is survived by his wife, Joyce Jenkins of Berkeley, his daughters Alice Baldridge of Berkeley and Molly Baldridge of San Francisco, his son Ian Baldridge of El Cerrito, his step-daughter Claire Baker of Los Angeles, his mother Charlotte Baldridge of Santa Barbara, his sister Marcia Pepper of Santa Barbara, his brothers James Baldridge of Long Beach and Dick Baldridge of Portland, Oregon.
Donations may be made in Mark Baldridge's honor to Poetry Flash, 1450 #4 Fourth Street, Berkeley, 94710.
[This is an abridged version of an article written by Sharon Coleman, first published on 1/9/15 and reprinted with permission by Berkeleyside: Berkeley, CA's Independent News Site.]