Holiday Reading: California Poets Recommended by Poet, Dan Essman

I asked my ever-wise poet friend, Dan Essman, who resides in Willits, California to suggest some California poetry for our Holiday Reading Marathon.  Here’s his list in his words::

Jeffers speaks to my love of epic emotion, to my sexual hungers and love as loss...and of sex as a form of fatal instinct...and beyond the passions...four generations of my family have lived on the western edge of America...this is Jeffers territory...his recognition that the surf racked stones and cliffs of Big Sur transcend human limits...are a pure and lonely and monumental aesthetic force...this recognition speaks to every memory and bone-felt truth in my poet's heart...I feel this California in the same way Jeffers I said, he knows me...

Sharon's heart of love is ripped from her chest and splayed-out on the page in blood and tears...a book-length poem that speaks from the body...what a perfect cry...

Formal and powerful blank verse sonnets in iambic pentameter...

Beckett is a well respected lyricist as well...and often recorded.

Poet laureate of San Francisco...there are still poets in the City...but it's hard for them. Hirschman is a great poet...a Beat..a lefty. A friend to us all.

Out of print, but worth finding:

Reading her narrative prose poems brings me to tears...I don't know why...a special and ineffable being hugged hopefully by a lost child. (Note: the talented Robin Rule is also Mrs. Essman.)

A Natural History of Mill Towns by Theresa Whitehill
Memorializes towns and places in Mendocino that have disappeared in time...what a strange sad soft voice speaks here...

While he’s not a California poet, Alan’s Ginsberg’s “A Supermarket in California” tops my list of California poems.  Dan agrees:  The Jersey boy Ginsberg was a California poet...that's where his genius blossomed.  
You can read it here:

Holiday Reading: Travel Adventures by Women, Recommended by Author, Dorothy Shamah

Next on our holiday reading list:  true travel adventures written by women.  Our guest today is Dorothy Shamah who is headed to Guatamala for a Spanish immersion program next spring.  Shamah is a former English teacher whose short stories and novels focus on travel. I'll let Dorothy take it from here:

Women tend to focus on the people they encounter and the epiphanies they experience when writing about travel experiences.  One of these six exceptional memoirs written by traveling women might be an appreciated holiday gift or great holiday reading.

Told in letters: Lady Mary’s adventures as she travels from England to the Ottoman Empire in 1717.  She provides insights into the courts of Europe as well as the perils of traveling by coach across warring nations. Her humorous descriptions of Muslim women in Constantinople offer a glance into a world no men can offer. 

A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains by Isabella Bird.

Bird’s letters home to Edinburgh about her six month stay in Colorado’s high country, as she travels from San Francisco by rail to Colorado in 1873, then switches to horseback for the duration of her winter trip.  Her desperado takes her to the top of 14,000 foot peaks.  The beauty of the winter scenery with sub-zero temperatures are her traveling companions.

Kingsley’s witty memoir of her travels in 1893 through Sierra Leone, Angola and Gabon.  She reaches the top of Mt. Cameroon along with villages of head-hunters. Vivid descriptions of a necklace of leeches, an attack on a leopard, and friendships with native peoples are peppered with humor and self-deprecating heroism.

Murphy’s account of her crossing into South Africa in 1993 to cycle six thousand miles through Afrikaans and black townships to  Cape Town.

Davidson’s 1992 travels through Rajasthan (on the western border of India) with the Rabari nomads on their yearly migration. Her return to Jodhpur on foot with her own camels ends in devastating alienation. The land overwhelms. The story is mesmerizing.

In the late 1990s, Kalak (against all advice) trekked from Port Moresby on the south of Papua New Guinea through the high lands (south of the equator) to the island's north shore. She found stone-age cultures, government officials, missionaries and barely evaded Indonesian soldiers at the border.  Follow her footsteps and be amazed.

Enjoy.  Perhaps one of these stories will encourage a woman in your life (or you!) to engage in the tradition of travel.

Dorothy Shamah can be found on her author page on Amazon.
Follow her blog at

Holiday Reading: Books about Food!

The holiday reading marathon progresses, from art-making  I love reading cookbooks of all kinds-- especially the old-fashioned ones that fill me in on how it used to be when rabbits had to be skinned.  They're a relaxing read.

But beyond cookbooks is the world of food writing -- and I must say, the eating and cooking and food bring out the best in writers, from Dickens to, of course, Proust.
I'm listing a few of my favorite books about food.  My list could be much longer, since any one of these writers (especially the great M.F.K Fisher) offers other, worthwhile and entertaining books-- so these should be taken as starting points for a food-reading marathon.


 I love Laurie Colwin's novels.  And I love her short fiction.  But I adore her food books.  They're funny, warm and they celebrate family in a non-sappy, heart-felt way.  Plus, Colwin has great cooking tips and recipes.  What's not to love?   Plus, after you finish HOME COOKING, you can happily move on to MORE HOME COOKING.


I noticed that these two have been released in a single edition for Kindle.  Great!  These are memoirs, and they're not always about food.  But food and cooking are central to Reichl's themes of self-knowledge and independence.  Her mother was a bad cook, going so far as to poison the family -- and sure enough, her daughter becomes a great cook and a great food writer.  Reichl doesn't even hit false notes-- she's someone who knows why we cook.


There's not much left to say about the great writer M.F.K Fisher.  And you can pick any of her books at random and be happy.  But this memoir about the newlywed learning the ropes of French cooking during wartime has a peculiar sweetness.  We get a sense of the young, intensely curious Mary Francis finding her way in a world that's now vanished-- I've read this one many times.


From lyrical Fisher, we come to the ever-funny, ever-welcome and peppy pose of Calvin Trillin.  Mr. Trillin is, fortunately, not a cook -- he is that rare happy eater, who eats a hot dog and wants another.  Not for him, the fancy eateries of Chez Whatever.  Trillin zooms from fried chicken to barbecue, all accompanied by his patient (and much adored) wife.  Read it and laugh!

CLEMENTINE IN THE KITCHEN by Samuel Chamberlain.

This is the first volume in Modern Library's new "Food" series -- and a great place to start.  The Clementine of the title is a Burgundian cook who worked for the Chamberlain family first in France and then in Massachusetts.  There are wonderful French recipes in the book, combined with a small glimpse of cultural history.  (The book was first published in 1943, before America's gourmet revolution, and this new edition offers an introduction by Ruth Reichl.)



Thanksgiving Day Poem: Before Dark by Barbara Alfaro

A treat for the Thanksgiving holidays: this lovely poem by friend and poet, Barbara Alfaro, who has contributed to this blog.  It's no secret that I am an admirer of Alfaro's gentle poems; and she's graciously agreed to reprint one of my favorites. It is a truly happy poem.


“Home before dark,” our mother’s voice
trails after my brother and me like a kite tail
as we scamper to stickball. Sundown
happens too soon so we run to the blue
house as if our lives depend on time.
After supper, in the hallway, I hear
“She’s got to stop following me around”
and imagine his pals poking fun at
a skinny kid sister tagging along.

Today, I can’t help it; I’m happy.
God knows why.
I’m holding on to heaven.
If I let go, what’s there? Nothing
but memory and pain.
I confess I’ve been unfaithful
to my dreams and my stories,
leaving them alone and unwritten
in the distant shimmering house,
the house they burst forward from,
rushing and true. I have to keep writing.
That’s how it is, before dark…


Find Barbara's poetry books here:

Free coupon for Spooky & Kooky Tales – a book by Carla Sarett

Holiday reading continues.  In another week, we'll have a new list of great books to read over the holidays.  What to do in the meantime?

Not to worry.  Here is another e-book of weird fiction that some slipstream, some old-fashioned spooky and yes, some downright kooky.  It's called SPOOKY & KOOKY TALES.  Some of the stories were previously published but a few are new -- including a brand new (and I might add, funny) cat story!  In case you are wondering, there are 3 cat stories in this one, including "Chopin for Igor."

This e-book will be released in December on Smashwords, where you can download in a variety of formats,  Blog readers (yes, that is you) can use the coupon VT89P to order the book for free in advance.  (Book reviewers can contact me directly for a review copy.)

Order the book here:  Smashwords – Spooky and Kooky Tales – a book by Carla Sarett

Art-making Reads for the Holiday: Recommended by Robin Broitman

The holiday reading marathon continues -- and the question is what to read?  Lots of my friends (both writers and readers) have "crafty" habits; chalk painting furniture (that's mine), knitting, and scrap-booking.  My talented colleague, Robin Broitman (who's worked in TV and consults on online content strategy) has become engaged with mixed media art-- and as usual, has devoured tons of resources.
I will let her take it from here:

A few years ago, I took an art class at my local community center on stamp making and stenciling.   But the teacher didn’t include the basics of supplies and techniques.  So, I turned to the web, where I found a robust online world of mixed media art and art journaling – videos, online courses, Facebook groups, art supplies sites and books – on every technique and art medium one could imagine.
In the spirit of holiday reading:  here are fine books if you’re looking to learn about mixed media art and art journaling.  Have fun!

The first online class I took was a  Stenciling workshop offered by mixed media artist Julie Fei-Fan Balzer.  (Find it in Julie’s online classroom.)  In this well-illustrated book, Julie focuses on making and using rubber stamps.

The basics as well as a range of step-by-step techniques for making art with acrylic paint.  Includes clear instructions and great visual examples.

In addition to covering basic tools/supplies, Tesia provides techniques and exercises that help you build skills and explore your creativity using acrylics.  Watch a fun recording of an online event where she demonstrates acrylic techniques.

Instructions for a range of mixed media art techniques using household items like aluminum foil, craft glue, petroleum jelly, etc.  You’ll enjoy high quality photos and examples of completed artwork.

A collection of the best articles and projects from the mixed media art magazine Cloth Paper Scissors.  The Cloth Papers Scissors website is a god-send for beginners with a fabulous resource of free eBooks.  Publishing company Interweave’s Mixed Media shop offers an abundance of learning materials, books DVDs and my favorite downloadable videos/e-books on mixed media art learning topics. 

What’s art without a doodle?  While researching courses, I came across the website of Joanne Sharpe, who offers a range of online courses on doodling/lettering.  In this colorful book, Joanne shows her audience how to take their own personal handwriting into unique fonts and lettering styles for media media art.   

I always believed that drawing was an innate talent.  This book taught me that anyone can learn to draw. This book provides 30 days worth of simple instructions for drawing spheres, buildings, and even the human face.  All you need is a sketchbook, a pencil and practice!

The “textbook” for the author's online class that goes by the same name.  Filled with innovative techniques for incorporating mark-making into your art.  (My favorite is creating stencils with a hot glue gun.) The book is presented in 3 sections.  The first explores creating tools, the second covers techniques to use these tools to build layers in your art and the third has inspirational projects.

Here are two on my holiday wish list:

I found this one through a video on Facebook.  (You know those.)  The video shows the author demonstrating a thread painting technique.  It's intriguing because I find that I like my mistakes better than my intentional art.  I hope that this offers techniques for building on this!

In the past, artists made their own plates with gelatin, which lasted a short amount of time.  Joan Bess invented the concept of the Gelliplate, a durable, reusable printing plate.  I’m looking forward to learning techniques from Joan’s book.  
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