Sunday, December 23, 2007

‘Dancing Poetry’ interpretive performance

Four people in yogic poses on a stage
Left to right: Sandra Wade, Cynthia M. Parkhill, Jonathan Donihue and JoAnn Saccato.

Ever since she was appointed Poet Laureate in April 2006, Sandra Wade has taken part in various activities that showcase the local poetic scene. By virtue of her attendance at various poetic readings, she serves as a steady reminder that Lake County has a Poet Laureate and a viable artistic community.

I can’t stress enough how important is this aspect of Sandra’s job. Lake County has had a lot of outside attention of late, and it presents a very skewed and unflattering picture of the community that we really know and love.

I always enjoy hearing about Sandra’s activities when I put together Arts and Entertainment sections for the Lake County Record-Bee and the Clear Lake Observer American. But on one occasion I got to participate in a performance of Sandra’s poetry.

Sandra also teaches yoga each week at the United Methodist Church in Clearlake. My husband Jonathan Donihue, our friend JoAnn Saccato and I have all taken yoga classes with Sandra at one time or another, and she invited us to perform with her in a “Dancing Poetry” routine.

The performance took place Saturday, Sept. 29, in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco.

Sandra combined a couple of her poems, which were dubbed as an audio track with music by Schawkie Roth. In a collaborative effort we worked out a routine, deciding upon yoga poses that we thought were suitable accompaniment to the narration of the poem. It took two or three weeks’ practice as we refined the routine, substituting one pose for another, working out “the kinks” and figuring out our timing. The poem and music were recorded on CD so that Sandra was able to do the poses with us.

Finally, we decided upon our final routine and with practice, practice, practice, were happy with our ability to perform on stage.

The “Dancing Poetry” event was hosted by Embassy Arts International. It featured recitations by various poets laureate as well as poetry contest winners, whose prize was to have their composition set to interpretive dance.

Performing Sandra’s contribution was a lot of fun and I think we pulled it off beautifully. There were a lot of very nice, creative approaches exhibited during the performance.

Published in ArtNotes, the Lake County Arts Council newsletter

Setting a goal: Asperger's syndrome awareness

Maybe I should talk about why I chose promoting AS awareness as a goal. Earlier this year, we lost a marvelous columnist, Molly Ivins. She has long been a heroine of mine.

For several years, she fought a valiant battle with breast cancer and, beginning from diagnosis onward, was a tireless advocate for publicizing awareness, particularly for early intervention. "Get the damn mammogram!" she would growl in print.

So when I learned that I have AS, given that I also worked in the media, how could I not also make use of the opportunity I'd been given -- to raise awareness of a condition that was only so recently understood.

Why, 30 years ago, when I was in elementary school, no one had heard of AS. Diagnostic criteria were not officially established until I'd already graduated from school. So I had absolutely no roadmap for navigating those years of bullying by classmates and dreadful dinner-table conflicts because I couldn't eat certain foods without gagging.

My first column came out in the summer and it basically said I'd learned that I have AS. It briefly explained what a difference this made for me, because it gave me an explanation for why I'm the way that I am.

My second column about AS was published in the paper this week. Specifically, the column is about "stimming," those repetitive behaviors that some of us exhibit.

The local school district circulated an e-mail that included methamphetamine abuse warning signs and one of the descriptions sounded identical to stimming: "Fiddling, twitching and other involuntary motions."

Apparently the list came from a book by Jerry Langton, "Iced, Crystal Meth: The Biography of North America's Deadliest New Plague."

I thought it was important to interject a note of caution by pointing out that this type of behavior, repetitive and involuntary, is also part of our condition as people who have AS, and to please look for more that just one sign before concluding that someone abuses meth.

My tendencies with stimming damaged a former teacher's books and I've had to constantly police myself. I consider myself somewhat improved, however, because instead of gouging holes in a page, I merely crease the edges. I can usually make myself become aware that I'm doing it, too, and then I can stop it. Giving myself a mug of tea to hold is a great way to tie up the hands so I can't inflict any damage.

But imagine how devastating it could be to someone's reputation if a person mistook their stimming tendencies for something like meth abuse? It could ruin their reputation, so I thought I should present an alternative point of view about what that behavior could signify. Hopefully it will help.

Originally posted to

Toastmasters may have something to offer

I think I'm going to join Toastmasters International. It was something I wanted to do before I learned I have AS and now that I know this about myself, I still think that Toastmasters may have something to offer.

I was on the organization's Web site today looking at articles from its monthly magazine. One of the articles concerned body language pitfalls in the gestures that speakers make or ways in which they misread the body language of their listeners. The main point of the article as far as using body language went, was that "less is more" and that people should just be themselves.

I had considered my inability to effectively read body language was part of my AS but apparently this is a problem that is shared by the public at large. There are several books out there that address how to read people's body language and how to use your own to communicate effectively.

Originally posted to

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Konocti school district deserves support for policies against bullying

The Konocti Unified School District deserves to be commended for including among policies for approval on Wednesday, Dec. 5, an outline of student conduct that specifically prohibits bullying.

School bullies are vicious predators who, rather than shy from conflict, are too often willing to inflict relentless cruelty upon their victims. Those of us who have been the victims of a bully’s persecution do not lightly dismiss its effect.

Bullying can leave lasting scars and, as one case tragically illustrated as reported by the Associated Press, can even lead to the victim’s suicide. This situation was especially egregious because a supposedly mature adult took part in persecution of the victim by masquerading as a fictional teenager who sent the victim online messages.

In a sign of being current with the times, the KUSD policy includes cyber-bullying among the prohibited behaviors but bullying still frequently involves face-to-face intimidation or put-downs.

KUSD still has progress ahead of it in ensuring that local schools are entirely free from cruelty. An article by the Record-Bee’s Tiffany Revelle that was published in early September mentioned that two children whose mother tried to transfer them into a new district school had been driven by bullying away from their previous site. But we think schools are on the right track with ongoing presentations and assemblies.

Let’s hope that district policies of conduct are enforced with immediate action and that any form of bullying, no matter the means of transmission, is met with zero tolerance.

Published Dec. 15, 2007 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Monday, November 12, 2007

‘Transforming Personal History’

My husband and I attended a really incredible workshop this weekend at the Nyingma Institute in Berkeley. It was called "Transforming Personal History" and was taught by Sylvia Gretchen.

What's done is done in the past but our remembrances of past history are already colored by our own inaccurate perceptions. This workshop was about using meditation to purposefully address what happened in the past and reduce its power to hurt.

Sylvia guided us through meditations that first had us envisioning a peaceful place, maybe a happy memory, before touching the negative emotions. Her argument to us was that our happier memories define who we are as much as the negative ones do, but we tend to dwell upon the negative.

When the time came to examine some of our negative memories, she suggested various techniques, such as imagining yourself telling your younger counterpart what he or she didn't know then, such as it will all turn out OK. Or maybe you imagine explaining yourself to a person with whom you had a conflict.

n my case, examining a memory of being bullied in school, I imagined myself as I looked on the first day of school, only I introduced my older self telling me that the other students could possibly pick up on subtle, nonverbal cues that I was oblivious to and that this had very possibly made me vulnerable to being teased. I took this approach because discovering a possible reason was very comforting to me when I learned that children with AS are frequently the victims of bullying.

The workshop also combined physical movement meditation exercises, which is called "Kum Nye." The Nyingma Institute devotes entire Sunday morning classes each week to Kum Nye but we didn't go this week. Saturday's day-long intensive was enough and was definitely beneficial.

Originally posted to

Friday, November 2, 2007

Miss Elizabeth models ripple afghan

Brown tabby-and-white cat sitting on folded ripple-patterned afghan, crocheted in light green, light brown and a light-green-and-brown varigated yarn.

This “Warm Autumn Wrap,” a pattern by Anne Halliday from the book Afghans for All Seasons, was crocheted from Red Heart Super Saver prints and solids in shades of sage green and light brown. Modeled here by Miss Elizabeth, it was a gift for my mother-in-law, Anita Donihue.

Originally posted to Facebook

Elizabeth the cat models crocheted socks

Black-tabby-on-white cat nestled among multi-colored, crocheted socks

One of Elizabeth's favorite "jobs" is to be the official model for various crocheted creations. Here she "models" multi-colored socks.

Originally posted to Facebook

Saturday, October 13, 2007

About the ‘Autism Awareness’ avatar

Yahoo! avatar, customized with autism ribbon in Adobe CS2The Yahoo! avatar Web site has all of these "branded" items. I'm not interested in wearing togs that show off their favorite soft drink or cellular phone company, but they also have items where you support causes or issues.

I did a search on "autism" and nothing came up so I picked the closest thing I could find to a plain white T-shirt (it turned out to be a shirt with the pink breast cancer ribbon).

I exported the avatar and then I used Adobe Illustrator to import and size my autism ribbon onto the avatar's shirt. Then in Adobe Photoshop, I did some last-stage clean-up, removing left-over evidence that two images had been overlapped.

Anyway, the original reason I did all this was because the site was having a contest where you create an avatar for a brainy superhero. It had to do with some TV show but since I don't have TV I neither know nor care much about the show. I thought given our reputations, an AS hero would filt the bill.

Then I read the rules and you were actually only permitted to work with the gear that the host had already posted to the site. You weren't allowed to actually do anything creative with the avatar. Oh well, so I get to have a unique avatar that nobody else has. Don't mind a bit. Glad you like it.

Originally posted to

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Advice for AS children given by AS adult

Parents of children with AS, this is a question for you. I was recently approached by a special ed teacher at one of the local middle schools; she suggested that after I've learned more about AS, which is the process I am in right now, that I come talk to the children, possibly about self-advocacy.

If an adult who has AS were going to speak to your AS child, what sort of advice would you want them to give, or what type of behavior would you want them to model? I don't have children of my own so this is outside my frame of reference.

In some ways your children will already be at an advantage by virtue of a diagnosis that was unknown when I was their age (doesn't saying that make me feel "old"!) So, many of the interventions (and hopefully the supporters and advocates) will already be in place. I would like to address needs that are not already being met, if it is in my power.

If you've suggestions I would like to hear them.

Originally posted in September 2007 to

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A day that I buy books is a good day!

There were two books I wanted, specifically addressing women's issues with A.S. -- "Women From Another Planet? Our Lives in the Universe of Autism" by Jean Kearns Miller and "Asperger's and Girls" by Tony Attwood.

Each of these books is actually an anthology featuring the writings and experiences of various women who actually have AS or autism. I'd been looking forward to reading these books for precisely that reason.

I browsed a few titles online before making my selection. One of the books I'd been considering was "Solutions for Adults with Asperger Syndrome -- Maximizing the Benefits, Minimizing the Drawbacks to Achieve Success" by Juanita P. Lovett, Ph.D. It sounded pretty promising at first but the author blew it for me in her introduction.
"Rather than to always use the awkward he or she, him or her, himself or herself, and so on, I've chosen to rely primarily on 'he' and 'him.' I made this decision because the majority of people I have worked with who have AS are male, and, currently, there are more males being diagnosed with AS than females, although I believe that is more an artifact of the diagnostic criteria than the truth. The diagnostic criteria will likely be revised as we know more about AS, but at present, the ratio of males to females being diagnosed with AS is 4:1."
So what this person is saying to me is 1) that she has next-to no experience working with AS women and 2) she feels justified in dismissing the existence of one-fourth of diagnosed cases because, as far as she's concerned, numbers matter and not people. Not exactly an argument for confidence in her ability to dispense advice.

I don't want to discount the experiences of men with AS because that would be falling into Dr. Lovett's trap of seeing numbers (or in this case, genders) and not people -- but I really do think, as a woman, it's important to raise the profile of women with AS since there appears to be such a disparity in rates of diagnosis and in dollars and resources that are allocated to research.

I am very grateful to authors like Temple Grandin and Liane Holliday Willey and the authors whose writings are collected in these two books because if anything will help raise the profile of women with AS, it will be the voices of women like these who address the challenges and rewards unique to women with AS.

As it says on the back cover of "Asperger's and Girls," "Let's initiate a 'No Girl Left Behind' movement in the world of autism!"

Originally posted to

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Horrific story about Rotenberg Center

I picked up "Mother Jones" on the newstand; its cover story this month is this place called "The Rotenberg Center." Schools and parents in New York and other states are sending "problem" children to this place for one-size-fits-all shock therapy.

The children lug around backpacks that have the chargers inside them and electrodes are fastened to their bodies.

There are no drugs and no psychology to find out what causes their behavior; just the use of what are referred to as "adversives."

The situation described in this article is truly horrifying. And no one is watching out for these children. If this was Abu Ghraib or the School of the Americas there'd be a groundswell of activism demanding that the place be shut down -- but for these kids, there is absolutely nothing. Anytime anybody tries, many of the children's own parents mobilize to undermine their efforts.

I have absolutely no idea what it's like to be the parent of a problem child and I try to put myself in their shoes but all I can think of is how vulnerable it is to be "different". What if it was me or someone I love who was sent to a place like that because someone was tired of dealing with us?

Originally posted to

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Outstanding Media Coverage of Public Education

To “Professional Awards,” I can add Outstanding Media Coverage of Public Education, presented by the Association of California School Administrators to the Clear Lake Observer American. The newspaper and I were nominated for the award by Dr. Louise Nan, superintendent of the Konocti Unified School District.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Asperger Syndrome is a form of autism

“This is the generation that missed the opportunity to be diagnosed and understood.” -- Tony Attwood, “The Complete Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome” (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2007)
One month ago, if you had asked me, I would not even have known what “Asperger
Syndrome” was. Now, I am learning everything I can about this fascinating condition that explains my lifelong tendencies.

AS is a form of autism that is characterized by social immaturity and a difficulty understanding others’ feelings or communicating one’s own. Other symptoms can include preoccupation with a special interest and sensitivity to the impressions of light, sound, touch, taste and smell. Symptoms range from mild to severe.

Diagnostic criteria were not established until the late 1980s, it is only that recently-understood -- and, for adults like me who were by then out of high school, the criteria were established too late. Yet, somehow, recognition found me through the astute observations of a close friend who is a health-care professional.

I can’t begin to express how relieved I felt that there was an explanation for the way I am. And even though there is no cure (although there are a range of therapies) I am exhilarated to understand myself better than I previously could.

Since being told about AS, I have been turning to books that have enlightened me on the subject and it has been like reading my own biography. I have also been blessed with a family’s loving support and I am fortunate that my occupation is a good fit with my personal abilities. Others on the autism spectrum have not fared nearly as well as me, and I try to keep things in perspective.

Nevertheless, I have concerns, which is why I am writing this piece. How many other adults out there, in their 30s, 40s and 50s, have grown up -- like me -- without early diagnosis and support?

I hope that through publicity they may recognize themselves and achieve a similar reassurance.

Some things about AS and autism are potentially political: children’s exposure to mercury, for example, in childhood vaccines, as a suspected cause of autism. Or the level at which insurance companies will cover diagnosis and treatment.

But I am only just starting to learn about the complex topic of AS and the options available to me. There’s a lot more I have to learn.

If you would like more information about autism and AS, there are several useful sites and I hope to share more resources as I become aware of them. Here are a few places to start:
  •, home page of author Tony Attwood;
  •, a San Francisco support group for adults with autism and AS; and
  •, the Gray Center for Social Learning and Understanding, a 501(c)(3) organization that works to improve understanding on both sides of the social equation.
An online search on Asperger is sure to yield many more results.

Published July 25, 2007 in the Clear Lake Observer American

Monday, July 16, 2007

Coming out with Asperger's

Book cover: All Cats have Asperger Syndrome

What a relief to find that there are others like me after a lifetime of feeling out-of-place! No formal diagnosis but I am reading Tony Attwood's "Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome" and it is like reading a biography of myself.

Yesterday I told my mother that I believe I have Asperger's Syndrome. I showed her Kathy Hoopmann's delightful "All cats have Asperger Syndrome" to help introduce the subject. The book was invaluable because it used such a familiar topic -- cats -- to introduce something so new and unfamiliar.

Originally posted to

Author's Note: In June 2007, a friend told my husband about a neurobiological disorder called "Asperger's syndrome" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. She suggested to my husband that I had it. The two books mentioned in this narrative were my introductions to Asperger's syndrome. A short while later, I created an account at DailyStrength to gain and share insights with peers.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Wearable sculptures: Hand-made socks

Cat tucked beneath a blanket with only her head visible, next to a pair of feet encased in hand-crocheted socks
A pair of hand-made socks with Miss Elizabeth,
the official model for all things crochet.
In my opinion, there are fewer mediums of art closer at hand in our daily lives than the objects we wear upon our bodies. An example is a pair of hand-crocheted socks, or “wearable sculptures,” as I think of them.

My odyssey with handmade socks began with Crocheted Socks! 16 Fun-to-Stitch Patterns by Janet Rehfeldt and Mary Jane Wood (Martingale & Company). I completed my first pair according to their instructions but afterward decided to modify the technique so that the socks would especially be fitted to the left or right feet.

Modification is easy once you’ve a basic sense of the pattern. With the top-down method you follow the pattern as written until it’s time to make your decreases for the toes.

I begin making my decreases when the sock’s length has reached my littlest toe. Then, instead of decreasing stitches equally on both left and right sides of the foot, I decrease along just the one side so that it naturally follows diagonally along with the shape of my toes from littlest to big.

Only when the sock has reached nearly to the top of my big toe, will I begin making decreases for the other side of the foot as well — in the final three or four rows. With one sock completed for its designated left or right foot, I then make the other sock and thus finish the pair.

I’ve yet to tackle a sock that is crocheted from the bottom up but when I do, it will be the same in reverse: increase stitches on both sides for the first three or four rows and thereafter increase stitches only on the one side of the foot. The advantage of this modification is a sleek and tailored line that follows the toes’ natural contours — a set of wearable sculptures.

Published in ArtNotes, quarterly newsletter of the Lake County Arts Council

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Relay for Life brings back memories of Molly Ivins

When the sun goes down on Saturday, May 19, glowing “luminaria” will line the Clear Lake High School track. This special candlelight tribute is part of the Relay for Life, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Each small flickering flame honors a life that has been lost to cancer.

At least one candle, if only to my mind, will honor Molly Ivins.

As a liberal columnist who has dedicated her career to championing progressive causes, Ivins is — quite simply — someone I admire. Her profile on the Inflammatory Breast Cancer survivors’ Web site states that Ivins made her way to liberalism on issues of civil rights (“Once you realize they’re lying to you about race, everything else follows”) and the Vietnam War.

I’ve read Ivins’ column for years in newspapers and magazines. When her columns were published in books, I faithfully bought each one.

On the occasions that I wrote columns for the Observer American and the Record-Bee, I liked to envision myself as following in my heroine’s shoes. I readily jumped on the bandwagon by refering to our president as “Dubya” but never took to using “Shrub.” I think either pejorative is more interesting than calling him “Bush 43.”

I even had the pleasure of attending a reading that featured Ivins and Annie Lamott. Ivins spoke forcefully and passionately about what she viewed as our obligation to participate as voters in the U.S. political system. During Q&A, she was a model of gracious hospitality — even when confronted by a speaker’s line of “questioning” that seemed more a recitation of his own credentials as an activist.

Sadly, Ivins’ tenure as a survivor came to its conclusion on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Ivins was 62 when she died in Austin, Texas. Obituaries reported that she was surrounded by family and friends.

Ivins was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999, at the age of 55. At the time of her Santa Rosa appearance she had already undergone at least one round of treatments; she discussed it openly and with candor. Indeed, her profile notes that Ivins, after enduring two masectomies, was a speaker on surviving breast cancer.

“Who Needs Breasts?” by Ivins neatly sums the “massive amounts of no fun” that can befall a cancer survivor; but she ably uses humor to deflate what could be cause for bitterness and despair. “First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you. I have been on blind dates better than

The Web site also brings readers up to date with a report circa Jan. 27 that Ivins’ cancer was “back with a vengeance.”

I hope the IBC survivors’ Web site will allow Ivins’ profile to stay up. View it at For more information about Lake County’s Relay for Life, visit or call Beth Berinti, 274-1482.

Published May 10, 2007 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Pomo basketweavers’ artistry showcased

A day-long seminar organized by the Friends of the Lake County Museum showcased the artistry of Pomo basket-weaving with accompanying ecological concerns.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Griffin library at Lower Lake High School

A red-carpet gala commemorated the new Lower Lake High School (LLHS) library, dedicated to Winkie Griffin. "This is an honor I will be carrying for the rest of my life," Griffin said.

The Winkie Griffin Library Media Center has been constructed at LLHS with proceeds from Measure G, a bond approved by district voters. Griffin recounted how, 40 years ago, when she began work as the school's librarian, she was promised a new library by its superintendent. An ongoing joke through the years was that by the time the new library materialized, it would be the "Griffin Memorial."

Griffin has worked for LLHS since June 1967 and, even though officially "retired," she continues to sub for the district, primarily in the high school library.

School board members and district officials joined Griffin for a cutting of the ribbon and guests were afterward invited to take a tour of the new facility, which is 4,480 feet in size.

Guest author Vicki Hessel Werkley presented copies of her book Girl-On-Fire, a historical novel set in pioneer America. Werkley said that without libraries, she could not have done the research that she needed in order to write her book. "Books are incredible because they are the source of information and insight," Werkley added.

Campus and community support contributed to completion of the library. LLHS Principal Jeff Dixon said that students helped to move the books. Maintenance Director Dana Moore also credited a PSI Seminars men's group who spent several days landscaping and wiring lights in the parking lot in time for the library's dedication.

Originally published in the Clear Lake Observer American

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

LLHS dedicating new library in Griffin's honor

A ribbon cutting that takes place on Thursday, March 1, will dedicate the Winkie Griffin Library Media Center on the Lower Lake High School campus.

Marjorie "Winkie" Griffin served for 26 years as the LLHS librarian. She worked for 18 months as a reading specialist at Burns Valley Elementary School before transferring in June 1967 to be the high school librarian.

Griffin brought a belief that the job of librarian is to be an "information broker" who connects students with information by teaching them to find it for themselves and to love doing research. "I think we have the most complete reference section of any school library in the county," she said with pride during a recent interview.

The LLHS library was also the first library in the county to use a computer. "We were probably ahead of everybody by about 15 years," Griffin said.

In the early 1980s, Apple gave a free computer to every public school; Griffin found the high school's computer in a box at the high school office and was told it was going in the library. A student with muscular dystrophy who died a few years later pushed Griffin to learn how to use the computer and to connect via the Internet.

Griffin said she retired "for the first time" in 1993 but was frequently called back into service to teach various classes. These days, Griffin said, she subs primarily in the library .

The new high school library occupies 4,480 square feet, representing a four-fold increase over its prior location, a 1,600-square-foot double classroom. "I'm thrilled to have this place named after me," Griffin said. "I said to my husband the other day, it's the cherry on the icing on the cake."

Library technician Lacey Frey cited Griffin's dedication when recommending the new library 's name. Her letter to the school board highlights various contributions including a scholarship established in Griffin's honor by members of her family. "She has been an inspiration and mentor to all the library technicians at Konocti," said Frey.

At its Wednesday, Feb. 21, meeting, the Konocti school board approved dedicating the Winkie Griffin Library Media Center. A ribbon-cutting ceremony takes place at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at 9430 Lake St. in Lower Lake. A small reception will follow.

Funding for the high school library comes through Measure G bond proceeds. Konocti recently issued its second set of bonds, for $4.8 million. "The district received the funds on Dec. 28," said Superintendent Dr. Louise Nan.

Measure G, approved by district voters, is financing various projects including five campus libraries. Dedications were held last year for East Lake and Burns Valley school libraries. The LLHS library is the third to be completed.

"Lower Lake Elementary will be next, possibly by April 1," said Maintenance Director Dana Moore. "And at Pomo Elementary, we're building an addition onto the existing library ."

Moore said the LLHS library came in "under budget." Out of $1.7 million allocated, it cost $1.45 million to complete.

Of this, $730,000 in joint use funding came from the State of California. The district's joint-use partner for the high school library is the County of Lake. Nan noted that an agreement between the two entities allows Lake County use of the library facility outside of school hours.

Nan cited an inscription at the Penn State library , "This is the Repository of Knowledge." She added, "I think libraries are a gift to the future."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Billy Collins reads in Santa Rosa

Poetry aficionados, the Lake County Poet Laureate among them, gave a warm welcome to Billy Collins, two-term poet laureate of the United States of America.

Collins was a featured guest in the Copperfield's Books Readers Series, Tuesday, Feb. 13, at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. His opening poem, "Monday," portrayed the relationship of the working poet with the tool of his trade. "By now, it should go without saying/ that what the oven is to the baker/ and the berry-stained blouse to the dry cleaner,/ so the window is to the poet." His reading included selections from several of his collected works including "Picnic, Lighting" and "The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems."

Collins's work is known for its wry humor and what I found particularly inventive was his ability to apply his chosen subjects in an unexpected direction. In "Litany," for example, Billy Collins took the first lines of a poem by Jacques Crickillon and essentially "re-wrote the poem for him."

"You are the bread and the knife,/ The crystal goblet and the wine./ ... / However, you are not the wind in the orchard,/ the plums on the counter,/ or the house of cards./ And you are certainly not the pine-scented air./ There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air."

Collins was appointed in 2001 and again in 2002 to the position of U.S. Poet Laureate. An ongoing effort by Collins, to encourage poetry for high school students, is the Poetry 180 project, Operated through the U.S. Library of Congress, Poetry 180 is designed to make it easy for students to hear and read poems that were selected by Collins -- with high school students in mind -- on each one of the school year's 180 days.

A question and answer session after Collins's reading revealed some of his thoughts on the creation of poetry. "There are two sides to poetry," he said in response to a question about public readings. "I couldn't be more alone when I write poetry. I picture one person alone in a room. The public presentation, or the commodification of poetry, is different from the composition."

Collins's advice to aspiring poets? Find a poet whose work "makes you jealous" because that will stimulate your creativity.

Among those attending Collins's reading was Lake County Poet Laureate Sandra Wade. Our discussion after the performance concerned a decision earlier that day by the Lake County Board of Supervisors to support non-profit community radio station KPFZ. Public radio has traditionally been a supportive place for the poetic arts as witness the role of NPR in publicizing Collins's poetry.

Pre-event publicity for Collins's reading credited his appearances on NPR with having tremendously enlarged his audience.

The next presenter to be featured in the Copperfield's Books Readers Series will be Terry Gross, host of NPR's "Fresh Air." Gross will play recorded excerpts from interviews that went especially well and especially badly to illustrate her discussion and will also talk about her life and career. Gross appears Friday, April 13, at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts. Call 546-3600 for tickets or visit

Published circa Feb. 22, 2007 in the Lake County Record-Bee

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Back in Record-Bee newsroom

This week I built my first edition of the Clear Lake Observer American out of the Lake County Record-Bee newsroom. Yesterday, of course, was spent building an Arts & Entertainment section for the Record-Bee.