Text by Diane Slocum


April is National Poetry Month. This celebration of poetry all over the world started in 1996 to remember great poets and celebrate the importance of poetry.

The San Joaquin Valley can rightfully celebrate its prominence in the poetic world by pointing out that three of the eight most recent U.S. poet laureates have hailed from here. Kay Ryan, from Oildale and other valley communities, served from 2008 to 2010. Her short poems of intellect, imagination and emotion are sometimes compared to Emily Dickinson.

Philip Levine was one of the prime movers to turn Fresno State into a hothouse of blossoming poets in the 1960s and whose term as poet laureate was long overdue when he served from 2011 to 2012.

Juan Felipe Herrera morphed from a child of migrant workers who was demeaned for not knowing English to a wordsmith worthy of the role of laureate from 2015 to 2017.

Ryan’s latest collections are “The Best of It: New and Selected Poems” and “Erratic Facts.” Levine’s are “News of the World” and “The Last Shift,” the latter published posthumously. Herrera’s are “Notes on the Assemblage” and “Every Day We Get More Illegal.”

Closer to home, Marisol Baca is Fresno’s poet laureate. She is the first woman to hold that post. She hopes to help expand the influence of women, women of color and marginalized people in the arts. Her debut collection, “Tremor,” was published by Three Mile Harbor in 2018. Baca poems travel through her Mexican-American heritage to show inner and outer views of the world and its inhabitants. Baca teaches English at Fresno City College and is writing poems for her second book.



Haiku originated in Japan, didn’t it? Well, yes, but did you ever hear that it was Emily Dickinson’s third cousin, Emmett Lee Dickinson, who invented it in a bowling alley in Japan? Of course, you haven’t — unless you have stumbled upon thedickinson.net, which weaves quite a yarn about all things Dickinson.

To move from the fanciful to the factual, the haiku form actually began in Japan in the 13th century as the opening to much longer ranga poetry. It gained stand-alone status about 300 years later. Even with changes throughout the centuries, it mostly maintains the purpose of describing a moment in time with colorful images that promote enlightenment.

Which may or may not be something that can be said about the Emily Dickinson poems that have been turned into haiku at the above-mentioned parody.



Each year, a city is chosen to be the World Book Capital. Last year, it was Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. This year, it is Tbilisi, capital of the country of Georgia. The selection is based on the city’s involvement in reading, publishing, book selling and libraries. The director general of UNESCO awards the honor based on the recommendation of the International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) and other organizations.

IFLA works with libraries and authorities in the chosen city to show how they can promote the importance of libraries and reading. The organization maintains that libraries are an essential part of social, educational and cultural infrastructure of cities and that high levels of literacy increase well-being in multiple areas of development.

This year’s theme is “So your next book is.…”



MasterClass is offering lessons from former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, who served from 2001 to 2003. In his first online class, Collins explains such things as a poem often has two subjects — a starting one and a discovery one. Topics include Discovering the Subject, Working With Form, Reading Poetry, Rhyme and Meter, Creating a Persona, Humor and Sound Pleasures. Look for masterclass.com/classes/billy-collins-teaches-reading-and-writing-poetry.



SouthWest Writers 2021 Annual Writing Contest will accept entries in 12 categories of fiction and nonfiction prose and eight categories of poetry. Awards will only be given when there are enough entries in that category. First, second and third prizes are $50, $25 and $10, plus publi-

cation in the annual contest anthology. Entries must not have been published anywhere. Deadline is May 31. Entry fee is $10. Details at: southwestwriters.com/annual-writing-contest.



“Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance.” — Carl Sandburg (1878-1967)