California Poet Laureate set to visit county library on Thursday

DanaGioiaNEAchairmanThe Colusa County Free Library kicked off its summer poetry series by welcoming poet and author Susan G. Woolridge on June 21. Next up at the library is a visit from California’s Poet Laureate himself, Dana Gioia.

Gioia is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet, who previously served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. An alumnus of Stanford and Harvard and a current professor at the University of Southern California, Gioia is renown as both a poet and a critic. He was appointed Poet Laureate in Dec. 2015 by Gov. Jerry Brown — and he has taken that title seriously: he is making it a point to reach out to the entire state.

“When I was appointed Poet Laureate, there were very minimal duties. You just have to make a couple of appearances,” Gioia said. “I thought it would be interesting and meaningful to try and reach out to the whole state. I’m a native Californian, but as with many Californians, I have only seen a portion of the state.”

Whenever possible, he intends to come to the main branches of local libraries as a part of his statewide outreach. Gioia said he will talk about poetry reading, literacy, and offer a question and answer session for the audience.

“I think one of the most important things that happens when I visit a library is that I gather the literary education community together. Friendships and projects are created — I look on my presence as catalytic in that way. It’s as much about the audience as it is about me,” Gioia said.

Woolridge workshop a hit

IMG_8444June 21 was not the first time that the Colusa County Free Library has played host to Chico-based poet and author Susan Woolridge.

Woolridge has put on poetry successful workshops in Colusa County in the past, and once again, Woolridge’s workshop was a success.

“The event was so fun!” said Colusa County Librarian Stacey Costello. “It really reminded me how many amazing words and word combinations that there are available and unused!”

For more than 20 years, Woolridge has worked with thousands of teachers and aspiring poets, from all walks of life, in workshops across California. She is the author of three books, including two on the creative process of poem writing: “poemcrazy: freeing your life with words,” and “Foolsgold: Making Something from Nothing (and freeing your creative process).”

Woolridge speaks fondly of Colusa County, and said she even has plans to write about experiences at her workshops here in a future book.

“I have done many workshops in Williams and Colusa,” Woolridge said. “I love that part of the world.”

In her workshops, Woolridge offers up tools and techniques that make poetry both accessible and exciting – she helps strip away the notion that poetry, as an art form, is necessarily pedantic and exclusive to academia.   

“Some people think it’s the dumbing down of poetry. That’s part of the idea that (poetry) is exclusive,” she said.

For Woolridge, however, poetry is not exclusive. Poetry begins by arming people with the right words – or, more accurately, helping them to see the power of words they are already immersed in.

“I have been doing this for so long, and I see the magic that it brings,” Woolridge said. “I’ve learned that people are terrified of words – not knowing the right words – and are terrified of language being used against them.”

When an individual is awakened to the sea of words surrounding them, they can learn to create images, practice close observation, develop metaphor, and move into what Woolridge calls “dreamsense” – where an individual can explore who he or she is, where he or she comes from, and where he or she is going. The result?

“It’s brilliant writing. People need the words – it’s that simple,” Woolridge said. “It’s so simple what I do, and I’m not the only one (who does it). People don’t even have to spell, and they don’t even have to know English. It’s about literacy too.”

Her workshops invite attendees to play with language, and aim to foster a love for words in aspiring poets while providing a safe space for free expression. It is under those circumstances that Woolridge believes “most everyone can write poems that bring delight and discovery.”

Future Poetry Events planned

In addition to Dana Gioia’s forthcoming appearance at the Colusa County Free Library on Thursday, there are a number of  events slated for the Colusa County Free Library’s Summer Poetry Series. Those events include a Cowboy Poetry night, thanks to the help of Sherry Maltby and the Glenn-Colusa Cattlewomen’s Club. A date for that event has not yet been announced.

On July 26 between 2 PM and 8 PM, the library will host the Summer Poetry Series’ Blackout Poetry event. Blackout poetry is an interactive creative process, where one creates a poem out of book pages, using only a marker and their imagination — and organizers ay that no artistic ability is necessary.  If you would like more information on this or other Summer Poetry Series Events, visit the Colusa County Free Library’s Facebook page, or contact the Literacy Coordinator at 458-0373 or amorrow@countyofcolusa.org. ■

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net