Literary artsí survival spurs Poets Laureate
Katherine Hastings, Terry Ehret make appearance at Penngroveís Sitting Room
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By Mira Brody  April 18, 2014 12:00 am

Katherine Hastings and Terry Ehret are on a mission to keep the literary arts alive and well in Sonoma County. The two Poets Laureate were recent guests of The Sitting Room in Penngrove and have many more working projects in the county they call home.

They were promoting Hasting’s book “What Redwoods Know – Poems from California State Parks” to raise money for California’s State Parks.

“My spouse and I are out and about a lot on the weekends and, when we notice all the tourists, we often turn to each other with smiles and say ‘We live here,’” says Hastings, who was raised in San Francisco and now resides in Santa Rosa. “In Sonoma County, it's as easy to find solitude as it is to find top-rate musical entertainment, lectures, readings, etc.”

A Poet Laureate is an honored member of the community who is charged with the undertaking of promoting literary arts within the county. Each poet chosen usually has a project they work on; Katherine’s is called “Digging Our Poetic Roots” where she sends short essays concerning an aspect of poetic craft to those who are interested. After her two-year term as Poet Laureate, she plans to publish an anthology by local poets.

Sonoma County has had eight laureates since the program began in 2000. The “laureate” part of the title comes from the Greek tradition of crowning the winners of their athletic and poetic competitions with laurel wreaths.

“Here in Sonoma County, the poet laureate is someone who stands out for his or her body of work and presence in the literary community,” explains Terry Ehret, who was the county’s fourth Laureate. “Our poets laureate create special projects they carry out during their two-year service, and they also act as literary ambassadors.” 

Ehret moved to Petaluma with her family in 1990. Her poetry, essays, stories and reviews have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, and she has many literary awards, including the National Poetry Series, California Book Award and the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize. She is currently working with a couple other local poets to translate works by Mexican poet Ulalume Gonzalez de Leon to English, which has not yet been done. She teaches composition at Santa Rosa Junior College and holds poetry workshops regularly at The sitting Room.

“Not every county has a poet laureate program,” says Hastings. “Recognizing the value of poetry by establishing this position says a lot about the county.  Separate from that, there are many programs in this county that give writers and artists a platform for their work; the Sebastopol Center for the Arts comes to mind immediately, but of course there are others.”

She mentions that during Ehret’s time as laureate, she had established a website called the Sonoma County Literary Update, which is still in use. It is a compiled list of literary events taking place locally. Although in a perfect world where there would be much more funding for the arts, there are still numerous venues for those wishing to thrive in literature.

“I grew up in a difficult situation and found the rhythms and rhymes of “nursery rhymes” very comforting, so I began writing my own,” says Hastings, noting a children’s book she wrote when she was younger called “Monique the Mouse.”

She founded the WordTemple Poetry Series (www.wordtemple.com) nine years ago, a program that hosts well-known poets as well as gets budding writers on their feet. Local poet Todd Melicker will be celebrating his first full-length collection at WordTemple on April 26. Currently a non-profit, Hastings also hosts a monthly program on the air with KRCB FM and has had guests such as Leslie Scalapino and F.D. Reeve, the father of late actor Christopher Reeve.

“The living web of art and life is so rich here,” comments Ehret. “We support each other’s projects, cheer for the successes. We celebrate each other’s breakthroughs – even the minor ones. But right here, right now, I feel incredibly lucky to be part of this generous literary community.” 

Ehret recalls her first rejection letter in high school: “I was devastated, but a friend told me such things didn’t matter. Only the writing matters.”

Both try and find the time to write in solitude, moments away from the regular hustle and bustle of everyday life.

When asked if there is an ideal time and place for writing: “Here,” answers Hastings. “Now.”

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