Al Young title

Archive for June, 2012


Wednesday, June 20th, 2012
  Courtesy Kenny Washington

  Y’a des petites fleurs / Au bois de mon coeur
— Georges Brassens
In winter I’m a Buddhist;
In summer I’m a nudist.”
Little Joe Gould
  In Summer (Estate) 
Jon Hendricks’ lyric to Jobim’s summer-sad bossa nova classic


  Al Young

From a grand high-angle, the August blue moon shoots Berkeley with light | August 2012


  Al Young

Singapore Jackie’s well-loved plant child. Its foster parent Al would like to know the real name for this beauty. Beaucarnea gracilis? Botanists and plant lovers, help us, please!


Cover: Tim Lewis | Photo: Lee Reeves
  Courtesy Da Lian

Over a Chinese lunch, legendary editor Alan Rinzler helps hold up a first edition hardcover copy of Snakes, Al Young’s maiden novel (1970), edited by Rinzler at Holt, Rinehart & Winston.


Robert G. Youmo

Al in transit



Chevron refinery fire plume, Richmond, CA | August 6, 2012 | Read the story

© Lance Iversen, The Chronicle/SF

Smoke from a Chevron Oil refinery fire fills the sky above Richmond, CA, Monday August 6, 2012

  Staff Picks: Favorite Nonfiction
from the Imaginary Bookstore of Mr. Bib!
Courtesy Kindness of Strangers

[L-R] Al Young, Andrew Tonkovich, Luis Alvarez Tonkovich, and Lisa Alvarez breakfasting at Saul’s Deli, Berkeley | July 2012


  Dana Gioia

BBC Radio producer Julian May interviews Al Young for After the Gold Rush? The Poetry of California, an audio documentary on the current California poetry scene. Presented by poet-essayist Dana Gioia, the program first airs as a Sunday featured presentation 30 September 2012 at the BBC’s Radio 3.


  Julian May

Poet, former NEA director, and radio producer Dana Gioia and Al Young in the Writers Studio zen garden | California College of the Arts, San Francisco, July 2012

  Joanne Meschery

Al at Sand Pond in the lost Sierras | July 2012

  Al Young

Y’a des petites fleurs
Au bois de mon coeur

Georges Brassens

~ There are little flowers
In the woods of my heart ~

Al Young

Andrew Tonkovich and Sands Hall

  Al Young

              Tracy Hall, Barbara Hall, Edwina Leggett


  Al Young

[L-R] Writer-musicians Amy Tan, mandolin; Sands Hall, guitar; Jason Roberts, bass; Louis B. Jones, guitar; Gregory Spatz, fiddle, and Caridwen Spatz, fiddle and vocals, cast a mellow, melancholic spell as they perform the ever-wistful “La Vie en Rose” in a summer evening jam session at the Squaw Valley home of Mimi and Burnett Miller. | July 2012


Lou DeMattei

Al Young and Amy Tan | Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, July 2012


Brett Hall Jones

Lisa Alvarez and Al Young at Amy Tan’s annual Truckee River picnic | July 2012


Marina hiking path

  Photos: Al Young

Storyteller clouds, Berkeley, CA Marina | Summer Solstice 2012

  Al Young

Al’s bench | Berkeley Marina


    Al Young

Treetop time | Palo Alto, CA 2012


  Al Young

Greer Park BBQ cook-out | Juneteenth 2012


   Al Young

Summer window watch


   Doris Fariello

Solstice-ready | Lytton Gardens 2012


RODNEY GLEN KING | April 2, 1965 – June 17, 2012

Monday, June 18th, 2012


1991 Rodney King beating immortalized  on videotape

© Associated Press

Rodney King, whose savage beating by Los Angeles policemen in 1991 was captured on camcorder videotape and transmitted worldwide. America’s militarized police culture of cruelty and brutality and homicide that targets people of color in general — and African American males in particular — endures.

Amadou Diallo 1999 | Sean Bell 2006 | Oscar Grant 2010

Jennifer Medina: Rodney King 1965-2012 | Police Beating Victim Who Asked, ‘Can We All Get Along?’ (, June 17, 2012)

Sylvester Monroe: Rodney King’s Legacy: A Civil Right Symbol (The Root, June 18, 2012)


AL YOUNG’S POETRY CHAT with California Arts Council Director CRAIG WATSON

Monday, June 18th, 2012


Director Craig Watson outlines his vision for
the California Arts Council

  Theresa D’Onofrio
© 2012 California Arts Council

What did it mean to you to be the California Poet Laureate?

For me, it was an opportunity to continue doing what I’ve perceived myself having done my entire writing career. Wearing the title of poet laureate made it easier for people to imagine they understood I had a mission—something worth paying attention to. Up until my appointment, I had not understood the power of a title like poet laureate; it was almost like being knighted.

That gave you entrée to some places, people, and students that maybe hadn’t been as attentive as before?

Yes, what I’m emphasizing here is the quality of attention. People tend not to take artists too seriously, and certainly they don’t take poets seriously until they are recognized in some official capacity.

Right after being appointed, do you remember one of the earliest calls for engaging you?

Well, I think the very first call was from National Public Radio (since then legally renamed NPR), who wanted to interview me. That turned out to be quite a good thing.

That’s a pretty good platform, yes?


Any time poetry appears on a national stage, it’s a good day.

I agree. I think a society without poetry or a society that doesn’t reserve a special place for poetry and the arts is truly an impoverished society. When I served as California’s Poet Laureate, I saw how comforting and how accommodating I could be not only to all kinds of institutions, but to people in general. Wherever I found myself, people were hungry and eager to hear what I had to say. Poetry is important to people, even to people who don’t often think about it in a formal way. It’s a language used imaginatively at a deep level; it’s the same kind of thing that Dana Gioia spoke to so eloquently at the Poetry Out Loud State Competition in Sacramento.

Yes, Dana’s talk was great. It was fun to see the high school students get to their feet before us oldsters could.

Yes, that’s because they appreciate being spoken to with such eloquence. It’s about language. Language largely circulates in a degraded state in public discourse today. I listen to the way politicians and corporate representatives speak and it appalls me.

Sadly true.

It’s not just about usage or grammatical and rhetorical forms; it’s really about concern and respect for the listener, the people whom you’re speaking to. Very few take the time to prepare something beautiful.

To read the rest of this chat, go to the California Arts Council’s website


MAE OLA VARNER (December 7, 1920 – June 15, 2011) ~ In Loving Memory

Friday, June 15th, 2012

First Anniversary Memorial




I still reach for the phone to speak with you
about big news from Africa, or else
I’ve found the right tomato, squash, or fish —
well, Fukushima’s got me scared to eat.
I miss your warm, slow southern company,
your attitudes, your sly, good common sense,
your laughter and your outrage and your love.

Love always,


Al Young’s beloved Aunt Mae
December 7, 1920-June 15, 2011

Photos: Al Young

At Detroit’s Westlawn Cememtery, Rosie Woods, a neighbor and friend of Mae Varner, waves her slow goodbye.

Aunt Mae of the 1970s, the 1960s, and early 1950

Celebrating her 85th birthday | Detroit, December 2006

Photos courtesy Al Young Archives

My love said take
All my books,

You can take all my clothes,
My hats, my shoes, my gloves,

You can have my watchband,
Take my sifters

–Excerpted from “Romantic” by Dara Wier
(click here to read the whole poem)



December 7, 1920 – June 15, 2011

In loving memory


Ninety minutes into June 15, 2011, Mae Ola Varner drew her last breath at the Southfield Michigan home of Philip and Patricia Varner, her beloved nephew and niece by marriage.

Top L-R Harold Varner, Patricia Varner, Camari E. Frame | Bottom L-R Karon Jackson (Mae Varner’s god-daughter), children, friend, and husband Robert Jackson

At her request, no elaborate service was held. On the rainy morning of Tuesday, June 21st, her casket was lifted and eased inside the mausoleum wall housing the twin crypt, where her remains rest next to those of her late husband at Detroit’s Westlawn Cemetery.

Christened Maeola Campbell on December 7, 1920 in Pachuta, Mississippi, she was the fourth of six daughters and the seventh of nine children born to Jordan and Lillian Campbell, dedicated, well- respected farmers.

Forever versatile, focused and curious about the world beyond her tiny village in Clarke County Mississippi, she distinguished herself early as a high school basketball champion and as an outstanding, all- around student. Mae Campbell won 4-H Club prizes for horticulture, animal husbandry, needlepoint and quilting. Upon graduation, her office skills landed her a job away from the family farm.

Right up to her last days, she read continuously, kept up with film, pop culture and politics. Fats Waller and Billie Holiday, revered by others, never impressed her. But she thought Duke Ellington the greatest composer and musician who ever lived. Denzel Washington was her screen actor, and she was a passionate, feisty supporter of President Barack Obama.

In the 1940s, she emigrated to Michigan, settling in Detroit, where she worked for many years as a supervising seamstress for a drapery company. In later life she worked as a certified nutritionist who traveled to low-income communities throughout Wayne County to explain and demonstrate the health benefits of maintaining a balanced diet.

In Detroit she met and fell in love with James Prince (Pete) Varner, a service employee of the Michigan Central Railroad. For more than 40 years, their marriage flourished and prospered. Following his death in 1991, she never again considered marriage.

Long a member of Bethel A.M.E. Church, she continued to devote herself to charitable activities, much of it church- and community-related. Long concerned about Africa and its future, she donated generously to World Vision, among other organizations. She championed the poor and needy, fighting for working people and fighting against social injustice, world hunger, homelessness, and ignorance.

Mae Varner was a genuine patriot, the sister of two brothers who had served and fought in World War Two, then found themselves Jim Crowed at home. She responded ardently to the appeals of veterans groups like Paralyzed Veterans of America. To the very end, she devoted herself to the loving memory of her husband Pete.

Mae Varner is survived by her only son Jesse Earl Campbell, his wife Mary, three grandchildren: Tiya, Lance and Kobie; two step-children: James Varner, Jr., Margene Willis of Plano, Texas, and one goddaughter: Karon Jackson. She leaves behind a host of nieces and grand-nieces, nephews and grand-nephews, and generations of cousins. She also leaves behind the fellow Bethel A.M.E. parishioners she adored and their pastor the Rev. Alfred Johnson, her Lunch Bunch sisters, her condo co-op neighbors at Cherboneau Place, Detroit, and countless admirers and well-wishers.



POET WRANGLER: Droll Poems | Marvin R. Hiemstra | New from Two Harbors Press

Thursday, June 14th, 2012


  Philip Lewenthal

“My last muse ran off with a monosyllabic hottie from downtown Omaha. Yikes!”
— Marvin R. Hiemstra (from “How to Choose a Muse”)

  © Mark Hotchkiss

droll poems

Marvin R. Hiemstra

Paperback, 65 pages, $15.95 U.S.
ISBN-13: 978-1-937928-46-9
LCCN: 2012934429

Distributed by Itasca Books

Two Harbors Press
212 Third Avenue North, Suite 290
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55401


Marvin R. Hiemstra is Mr. Po-Jangles: “coupleting like crazy” and “poeming up a free verse storm.” Not only is his latest book, Poet Wrangler, a delicious poetic treat, it contains more seeds of wit and profundity than most poets sow in a lifetime. He is our 21st Century Whitman, blowing “tenderly in the ear of the Universe.” The song of his irresistible self sings to the poet in us all.  — David Alpaugh

 Can you think of another living poet capable of a line like “My fly is an inside out quick thinking twist”? He is referencing fishing, but, like Shakespeare, Hiemstra un-derstands that “play” is an aspect of la poesie, but don’t let the foolscap fool you: he is as serious as the Ancient Mariner and as light-hearted and lyrical as Shelley’s skylark. His subject is the everything at the heart of anything—which is to say, ecstatic mind. “My studio door opens / on a vast, shimmering pond”; “I wink at Ganesh, / Ganesh winks back.” — Jack Foley

 Hiemstra has a style unlike anyone, and that style shines. Jane Green

 I can’t think of anyone writing today who gets a bigger kick out of poking fun at literary pomposity and pretension than Marvin R. Hiemstra. “Tell Them You Are in Rehab” begins with “Ten easy steps to a poetry free life.” Another poem, “Best Compliment Ever,” concludes: “A blissful homeless person staggers up to me / from behind the Wall Street Journal rack / and whispers, ‘Hey, man! I like your shirt.”‘ The title, Poet Wrangler, suggests the flavors and spirit of this rollicking read.  — Al Young

 It’s the laughing and thinking at the same time that I love. — Kate McDonald

© Mark Hotchkiss