Poetry & Journaling at Big Trees State Park – A great event!

Poetry & Journaling Day at Calaveras Big Trees State Park

Calaveras Big Trees State Park in Calaveras County
was a perfect place for a day of poetry and journaling Saturday, July 15 with poets Dana Gioia, Lee Herrick, and Susan Kelly-Dewitt, Calaveras Poet Laureate Linda Toren, poet Conrad Levasseur, and poet Monika Rose, Director of Manzanita Writers Press, and regional poets.

The day included two workshops in the morning, writing on the spot and lunch with your new poetry friends, a group Walk with the Poets and docents in the North Grove, journaling all day during activities, and sharing your work in the amphitheater in a participant reading from 3-6 pm. The day included readings by the featured poets and a Poetry Out Loud performance by a few regional young poets who joined us.

Dana Gioia:

Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed poet and writer. Former California Poet laureate and Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Gioia was born in Los Angeles of Italian and Mexican descent. The first person in his family to attend college, he received a B.A. and M.B.A. from Stanford and an M.A. from Harvard in Comparative Literature. For fifteen years, he worked as a businessman before quitting at forty-one to become a full-time writer. His surname is pronounced Joy-a.


Gioia has published five full-length collections of verse, most recently 99 Poems: New & Selected (2016), which won the Poets’ Prize as the best new book of the year. His third collection, Interrogations at Noon (2001), was awarded the American Book Award.

Gioia is best known as a central figure in the revival of rhyme, meter, and narrative in contemporary poetry. Critic William Oxley has called Gioia, “probably the most exquisite poet writing in English today.”


An influential critic, Gioia has published four books of essays. His controversial volume, Can Poetry Matter? (1992), was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award. The book is credited with helping to revive the role of poetry in American public culture.

Gioia has also edited or co-edited two dozen best-selling literary anthologies, including An Introduction to Poetry (with X. J. Kennedy) and Best American Poetry 2018. His essays and memoirs have appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic, Washington PostNew York Times, Hudson Review, and BBC Radio.

Music & Opera

Gioia has written four opera libretti and collaborated with musicians in genres from classical to jazz. His work has been set to music by Morten Lauridsen, Lori Laitman, Dave Brubeck, Ned Rorem, Paul Salerni, and numerous other composers. He collaborated with jazz pianist Helen Sung on her vocal album, Sung With Words (2018). His dance opera (with Paul Salerni), Haunted, premiered in 2019.

Arts Leadership

Gioia has been an important advocate for the arts and arts education. From 2003 to 2009 Gioia served as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts where he helped create and launch the largest programs in the agency’s history, including Poetry Out Loud, The Big Read, Shakespeare in American Communities, and Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.

In Washington, Gioia created a bipartisan majority in Congress to raise the NEA budget each year of his Chairmanship. He was twice confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate. Business Week magazine called him “The Man Who Saved the NEA.

California Poet Laureate

Gioia also served as the California State Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2019. During his tenure he became the first laureate to visit all 58 counties of California. His statewide tour became the subject of a BBC Radio documentary.

Lee Herrick:

Lee Herrick is the current California Poet Laureate. He is the author of three books of poems: Scar and Flower, finalist for the Northern California Book Award; Gardening Secrets of the Dead; and This Many Miles from Desire. He is co-editor of The World I Leave You: Asian American Poets on Faith and Spirit. His writing appears widely in literary magazines, textbooks, and anthologies such as HERE: Poems for the Planet, with an introduction by the Dalai Lama; Indivisible: Poems of Social Justice, with an introduction by Common; and Dear America: Letters of Hope, Habitat, Defiance, and Democracy, among others. He served as Fresno Poet Laureate from 2015-2017. Born in Daejeon, Korea and adopted to the United States at ten months, he teaches at Fresno City College and the MFA program at the University of Nevada, Reno at Lake Tahoe. 

Susan Kelly-Dewitt:

Poet and visual artist Susan Kelly-DeWitt is the author of the full-length poetry collections Gatherer’s Alphabet (CA Poets Prize, Gunpowder Press, 2022), Gravitational Tug (Main Street Rag, 2020), Spider Season (Cold River Press, 2016), and The Fortunate Islands (Marick Press, 2008), as well as numerous chapbooks. Her honors include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship from Stanford University and the Chicago Literary Award from Another Chicago Magazine. Her work has been included in many anthologies, including The Autumn House Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (2011), In Whatever Houses We May Visit: An Anthology of Poems That Have Inspired Physicians (2008), Highway 99: A Literary Journey through California’s Great Central Valley (1996) and Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women’s Poetry (2001).

Linda Toren:

Current Calaveras County Poet Laureate, Linda Toren lives in the foothills of Calaveras County with her husband Theo, dogs, a cat, two pigs and many chickens. Linda is a retired teacher and currently director of Voices of Wisdom through Manzanita Writer’s Press (MWP). She has presented poetry workshops for children and adults—publishing schoolwide collections of poetry and art at local elementary schools for more than 15 years. Her poetry appears in the following collections Manzanita: Poetry and Prose of the Mother Lode & Sierra (MWP 1995 – 2008), Wild Edges (MWP 2013) Wine, Cheese & Chocolate (MWP 2014), Voices of Wisdom (MWP 2018, 2019), Out of the Fire (MWP 2017), Teaching with Fire (Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach) by Sam M. Intrator & Megan Scribner, editors (2003), CollisionV: an Intersection of Poetry and Photography (2018).

Linda produces a community radio program at KQBM Blue Mountain radio which streams live at KQBM.org. Archived shows can be found at archive.org. Search for “Way with Words” Linda Toren. It’s a program dedicated to poetry, prose, nonfiction literary news, lyrics and the celebration of thoughts and language.

Monika Rose:

Monika Rose, at home in the foothills of Calaveras County since the early 1980s, living the rural good life with her husband on a small cattle ranch, founded Manzanita Writers Press, a nonprofit literary publisher in San Andreas. She has been published in many anthologies and literary magazines. Busy editing and publishing California authors’ books, leading workshops, directing programs, and promoting the literary arts in the region, with nine new books coming out by the press in 2023, she has also focused on her writing projects. Her book of poems, River by the Glass, by GlenHill Publications, and her children’s book for early readers, Bed Bumps, will have company soon with a novel, a collection of short fiction, a poetry collection, and three more children’s books. The Call – A Moth Journey, a children’s book for grades 4-7, will be released in August of 2023. As an Adjunct Associate Professor of English at San Joaquin Delta College for over two decades and retired from full-time high school teaching, she continues to encourage her students to write their stories.

Her novel to be released in 2024 is WatcHer, in an 8-part series of mysteries with quirky characters set in the rural foothill Mother Lode region. The book unravels a family mystery involving their home site and a lonely woman caught in limbo when her husband disappears in a river accident. She believes he is still alive, and with her unusual method of searching for him in all the wrong places and finding comfort in a life-sized stunt replica of his likeness, that strange behavior convinces her family that she has spiraled into a form of psychosis.

Another dramatic novel that will be released next year is a WWII story of a German nurse in Breslau, the last military city considered a fortress in Germany before The Fall of a once proud and advanced country before Hitler, with the city under siege by advancing Russian forces. The young nurse is determined to rescue her stranded parents from the brutality of imprisonment or worse by entertaining a Russian commander with a penchant for rats who promises to help her, if only she would . . . you can guess the rest of that sentence. It’s a darkly humorous drama of German wartime sensibilities set in the throes of a losing battle and growing perceptions the protagonist realizes about barbarism at its core.

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