Write on, Sac

Do we buy so many books because we have so many writers, or is it the other way around?

Even SN&R gets the Poems-for-All treatment.

Even SN&R gets the Poems-for-All treatment.

Photo By Kel munger

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Sacramento is a poetry town. But that’s really only the tip of the literary iceberg in these parts. Here are a few of the most notable lit people, places and events in the last 20 years:

William T. Vollmann comes to mind first in terms of Sac’s literary impact. Love him or hate him (and he’s hard to read: dense, twisted, bodily-fluid-drenched prose comprising sentences that go on for freaking ever), the critics and academics will still be talking about him 20 years from now. And, of all the nationally renowned literary writers with Sacramento ties (think Joan Didion, Cornel West and Richard Rodriguez, for starters), Vollman still lives and works here.

But the local literary scene’s most vibrant sector is poetry, and the founders of that trend are the people who gave us the Sacramento Poetry Center. The past couple of years have included a burst of activity, as a poetry festival, chapbook contest, small publishing venture and rejuvenated reading series have been added to SPC’s already busy schedule of workshops and publications (Poetry Now and the Tule Review).

If SPC seems like a hotbed of activity, it is not alone. Kathy Kieth’s Rattlesnake Press, home of artisanal poetry chapbooks that stand the test of time—and feature the work of a wide variety of local poets—also has an array of broadsides to complement a suite of magazines, from the flagship Rattlesnake Review to zines for teens and children.

The official “home” of Rattlesnake Press and site of their monthly readings is The Book Collector, Richard and Rachel Hansen’s local poetry-centric used-book store. Not to be outdone by the other shining examples of independent publishing, Hansen continues to turn out his beautiful—and tiny—Poems-For-All chapbooks, bite-sized collections of a poem or two made by hand.

But readings are the big events in these parts, from the raucous open-mic party at Luna’s Café & Juice Bar Thursday evenings to the salonlike atmosphere at Time Tested Books’ Sunday series. Over in Davis, the Poetry Night series at Bistro 33 has featured big-name poets from academia, while the Mahogany Urban Poetry Series at Queen Sheba has a more spoken-word feel to it. Once the SPC’s longstanding Monday night series and the occasional performances by Escritores del Nuevo Sol at La Raza Galería Posada are added to the mix, there’s no one but yourself to blame for missing out on live poetry.

And yet another set of laurels, reward for all this poetry, must surely be laid at the feet of Sacramento’s poets laureate. Beginning with Dennis Schmitz and Viola Weinberg in 2000, the poets laureate have brought poetry to the people. Schmitz and Weinberg hosted a poetry series at the Sacramento Public Library and edited a popular anthology of Sacramento poets. José Montoya hosted the Festival de Flor y Canto, which brought poets of many languages to Sacramento. Current poet laureate Julia Conner sponsored a program for residents to put poems on postcards, created a set of cards featuring local poets and is working with the Sacramento Arts Commission on an art installation called “Poet Laureate Park” at the South Natomas Community Center.

By the time the genre literature is added in (romantic thrillers by Allison Brennan, science fiction that’s heavy on the science by Kim Stanley Robinson, mysteries by John Lescroart … and the list goes on), it’s no wonder that the Sacramento metro area ranks in the top 5 percent of book-buying locations in the nation.

So get back to that book. Or go write one—and give SN&R something to write about, too.