15 Jun 19
The Ukiah Daily Journal
The leading headline
in Thursday’s local paper reads,
“Hay Truck Overturns.”
The article- which appears above the fold—
includes a photo of stacked bales
as if they’d been set down next to the highway
by some ancient agricultural deity.
The 50-point bold type is a reminder
that in a small town,
that which bleeds does not always lead.
–excerpt from “Headline” by Armand Brint
It is not unusual for newcomers and visitors to Mendocino County to marvel at the number of literary events that take place in the region.
The annual Ukiah Haiku Festival, monthly Writers Read series and numerous poetry and writing events in Willits and up and down the Mendocino Coast have established Mendocino County as a place where written and spoken words are venerated and appreciated.
Armand Brint, former Ukiah Poet Laureate will be reading from his latest book on June 27th at the Grace Hudson Museum.
Three Ukiah Poets Laureate, with the help of colleagues and friends are largely responsible for the longevity and success of Writers Read- a monthly presentation of a featured writer, poet or author- sometimes local, sometimes a luminary from out of the area- who share their work with the public, followed by an open mic event.
This month’s Writers Read, which takes place Thursday, June 27thfeatures the poetry of Armand Brint, who will be presenting the first major reading from his latest book, “Aliens of the Midway.”
Brint and fellow Poets Laureate Dan Barth and Michael Riedell have been involved with the development and the preservation of this monthly series, launched in 2001 by Susan Sparrow and Hal Bennett, at about the time the Ukiah Poet Laureate committee was formed.
“Susan was interested in Writers Read as a way to create congeniality and connection between local writers,” Brint explains. An event format was created by Bill Churchill and Theresa Whitehead. “We’re still using Theresa’s templates to continue the event,” notes Barth, who now coordinates the events with Riedell.
Over the past decade-and-a-half, the event location has moved several times, but has now found a welcoming home in the Grace Hudson Museum’s public room. The readings take place on the last Thursday of the month. Dan Barth notes that the interest and support of the museum has helped to expand their audience. “David Burton has been very helpful. The museum puts up information about Writers Read on their social media feeds. We all have email lists that we send information to each month. The turnout has been great. Dozens of people have been attending.”
“Dan read a few months ago. The turnout was huge,” notes Brint.
“We try to balance gender, focus and local readers versus out-of-town readers,” Barth continues.
“It’s amazing our community has such a great spoken word tradition, which developed over the past 18 years. It’s remarkably consistent and the quality has been high,” says Brint.
“People don’t think of Ukiah as an arts community, but there’s a very strong spoken word, visual arts and musical community here,” Barth continues.
The group received praise for the caliber of local writing from California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia when he presented his work at a Writers Read event. “We had a poetry community audience when Dana came here. At the end of the event, Dana’s wife said, ‘Sometimes we go to places and all the poets sound the same. You guys were really diverse and really good.’”
“We influence each other, but not overly so,” Barth smiles.
The poetry community is geographically isolated, but the trio try to participate in as many county events as they can, and credit the hard work and vision of Gordon Black, Dan Roberts, Mary Norbert-Korte, Ruth Weiss, Blake Moore and Robin Rule for their support of Mendocino County poets and authors. “Dan is the archivist of county poets. If someone passes away, Dan will air that person’s poems on KZYX the following week,” says Reidel.
As an English instructor at Ukiah High, Reidel has a unique perspective on how the next generation views and uses the spoken word.
“I guess as an English teacher, I’m partially culpable for people’s distaste of poetry,” he smiles. “In the past, teachers chose poems for their students that were difficult and required teaching to understand- poems students couldn’t get by themselves.”
This group, like so many others in the area is observing the aging of their core enthusiasts, with fewer young people coming to the forefront. Reidel notes that an annual countywide Poetry Slam group with a 15-year track record recently got cancelled due to lack of interest. “Last year our Ukiah group was ready to go. Maybe the departure of some of the magnet students had an impact- that charismatic center wasn’t there.”
But Riedel has also had successes getting younger people interested in poetry- some even dipping their toes into reading at the Writers Read events.
“Sometimes kids come out. Teens are hard to corral, and poets and teens together is like herding cats- lot of cats,” he smiles.
“Out-loud reading is very different from the classroom. I took a 17-year-old-student to the annual poetry reading at the Hill House in Mendocino. I realized that this was the most important person in the room, especially when one of the presenters mentioned that ‘it was so nice to see people under the age of 100 here.’”
“Listening to kids when they read- they’re more raw, more emotionally honest. Adults can be more clever. They couch their emotions and truths in other ways. But way before they’re clever, kids are honest,” says Barth.
Riedel notes that young people regularly post poetry on Instagram and other social media sites, but all three note that reading one’s work in a live setting is a true test of one’s mettle and an excellent way to road-test unfinished work.
“Being part of monthly Writers Read creates a place where there’s pressure- humans face-to-face with one another,” says Reidel. He turns to Brint and Barth. “For a long time, I wrote in my notebooks. You guys were in the room when I read for the first time.”
“I’ll often read something that I’m working on. You don’t receive direct feedback, but you’re completing the process,” says Barth.
“When you’re the reader and you hear the poem, it’s a great way to modify. You can hear the rhythm and the language. Reading out loud is the best way to edit and get feedback,” says Brint.
“And from there, you realize that your poetry doesn’t need to be published in a book. It needs to be presented to other people. You get this feeling: now it’s finally done- done because I’ve shared it.”
“Maybe the online space is good for people, because poets tend to be introverted,” Brint smiles.
“Kids may have that feeling online, but I’m not sure they know the difference between that and the real thing. Writing is a solitary undertaking. Reading is flesh and blood- human beings in that room,” says Reidel.
“Poets have the most in common with standup comedians- sometimes,” smiles Brint.
Brint’s latest book, which he will be reading from at the upcoming event is a reflection on going to the Redwood Empire Fair. “In a small town that is somewhat conventional, you can observe so many interesting people and juxtapositions at the fair,” he explains.
Barth’s latest book is entitled, “At the Corner of Vigor and Wisdom- New and Used Poems.” All three poets, and other local poets are featured in “Deep Valley, Poets Laureate of Ukiah, 2001-2018,” which was edited my Michael Reidel.
Writers Read events are held on the last Thursday of the month in the public room at the Grace Hudson Museum. The event begins at 7:00. To be added to the Writers Read email lists, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com, or visit the museum’s Facebook page for the latest information.