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The beach or a poem? At least 40 opt for poetry at Diesel

on May 18, 2009

Instead of going to the beach on Sunday afternoon,  about 40 people gathered in a room without air-conditioning at Diesel, a Book Store, to hear Barbara Tomash read from her new book of poetry, The Secret of White.

“Two legs, a hand, scumbled locus of sex. The dog circles and lies down dauberville, 1925, in Marthe’s bath…” Tomash read from the poem, Nude in the Bath inspired by the French, impressionist artist Pierre Bonnard.

Deisel hosts Barbara Tomash's poetry reading

Deisel hosts Barbara Tomash’s poetry reading

The audience loved it. “It is beautiful and provoking, but pleasing to read. I really like the sound,” said Ann Pelletrier Eatinger, a Lake Tahoe resident, who drove more than four hours to celebrate her friend’s book launch.

The strong turnout, however, was more a measure of Tomash’s community support than the overall market for publishing. In March, book sales fell by 17 percent to $338.4 million compared to the same time period last year, according to the American Association of American Publishers.

Poetry sales have always been difficult, but nowadays the art is finding even fewer readers. The National Endowment for the Arts reported that in 2008, just 8.3 percent of adults had read any poetry in the preceding 12 months. Sixteen years ago, nearly twice the number reported having read a poem in the same time period.

Some poets think they are the ones to blame.

“People blame it on the entertainment culture, but I would say, ‘what are we writing? Write something people care about,’” said Anna Baker, a Napa based poet.

But Tomash, who teaches at San Francisco State University said money was the last thing on her mind.

“Poetry has never been commercially oriented,” she said. “Poetry for me is like home-made cooking, I would be really depressed if I did not have that,” said Tomash. “So I just keep writing.”

Others agreed.“I am not thinking about making money out this, ” said Molly Albaracht, a poet and teacher. “Even this economy is more fuel for my inspiration.”

The Secret of White is Tomash’s second  book of poems. It includes  Middle School Number 1(Father)— a piece inspired by the Beslan school hostage crisis in 2004  in which armed terrorists demanding independence for Chechenya took 1181 people hostage and killed 334.

Tomash, 58, won the 2006 Winnow Press First Book Award for her first collection, Flying in Water. She started writing poetry in her 40s, when she went to San Francisco State University for the creative writing program. “It was like being hit by a thunder,” said Tomash, who had been a multimedia artist, painter and screenplay writer. After taking a poetry class with Francis Mayes, she decided her focus would be poetry.

“I remember breaking up the lines all night long. Each time, it had a different sound,” Tomash said and added that poetry gave her more freedom to explore meaning. “It is like a conversation,” she said.

Dave Albaracht, a poet from Sonoma County, said poetry is about self-knowledge and exploration. “I write poetry, before I can construct my thoughts. Writing poetry means knowing what I am thinking about,” said Albaracht, who just published a new poem, Gothic Gander in Volt.

Others said there is significant meaning in language’s contemporary uses.  “People care about words now more than ever. People think about wording when they text to each other, and people are thirsty for good language,” said Nona Caspers, the author of Little Book of Days, in which she portrays her daily life.

John Evans, one of the owners of Diesel, said poetry readings also provide people with a place and a reason to gather. This service, Evans said, has provided a niche for independent stores like Diesel. Evans said their business has been good for the last three years.

Some of those at the poetry reading also mentioned the benefits of having a reason to gather. “We do not have this kind of place in Napa,” said  Baker adding that at times it was difficult to find a place to meet like-minded word lovers.

For her part, Tomash will continue regardless of the business side. “If I think about what I can achieve with my poetry, I would to be too self conscious,” said Tomash. “Poetry for me is like home-made cooking, I would be really depressed if I do not have that. So I just keep writing.”


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