Thursday, September 24, 2009

Three Chico-area poets


Lyon Books in Chico is hosting a poetry reading and book signing tonight at 7:00 p.m. featuring Chico artist Bob Garner, Magalia poet Lara Gularte, and Chicoan Sanford Dorbin.

"Paper Dolls" (from features a dozen Bob Garner poems, several of which first appeared in Watershed and the California Quarterly. The poet takes the reader to places of the mind, "deep / into the country of night" ("The Dream"), to the "kaleidoscope / of broken bottles / just below the pier" ("Memory Loss"), "when death bangs on the door / with both hands and feet, / reasonably tired and irritable / from another day of pointless conversation. . . ." ("Learning"). No pointless words here.

Lara Gularte's "Days Between Dancing" ($10 from The Poet's Corner Press) is about hard things, tragedies, people "grateful for the night, / the black hole / that swallows up the glare of the day. . . ." ("Night"). In "The Haunting," the poet writes of her mother: "Her ghost still hovers, / reminding me that I slept / and drank from her body. / I fear she will come back, / hook me with her nails, / try to pull me back inside her." There is "Aunt Louisa Amaral": "She was like skim milk, / pale and thin. . . ."

Sanford Dorbin is a "septuagenarian, mobile division" and a retired academic librarian. Dorbin's acerbic perspective is on full display in "Saying Goodbye to Babylon" ($5.00 from The Singlefooter). Here's "Nomenclature": "'You must be,' he said / mouth foaming with disgust, / 'one of those--relativists // and I reply with a smile / dazzling as ice, / 'Absolutely.'"

But there's celebration as well. The poet, hapless dad, helps deliver "Bozo Supreme," who, later, "so verbally dexterous at two-and-a half-- / this little linguist laughs, and running the changes / like the bebop king he is, laughs again and allows / 'Bozo Sucreme' to appear. And he's right, / he is the cream--the top. He'll turn sour / when it suits him. . . ."

In "Weekend Out of State" two lovers "dress and descend / to the lobby, and breakfast, fitting like silk / into the echo of other people's chatter." A fitting way to end a book, and this review.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rock novel from Paradise writer hits all the right chords


According to an author's note, Chad Peery played "bass guitarist for John Kay & Steppenwolf, and Fleetwood Mac's Bob Welch." His rock reminiscences appear on his Web site,, and it's clear that Peery has had an exceedingly full life. Now he can add "novelist."

With a rock sensibility and unbounded imagination, Peery takes his characters into uncharted territory, and back. In "Smoking Jimi" ($14.95 in paper from CreateSpace, available locally at Lyon Books and Made In Chico) former "Jammies" 70's guitarist Brad Wilson (now a photographer) is sucked back into playing by a most bizarre offer.

It's 1999. Ex-band-manager Mitch Damian shows up with a million dollar offer to get the band back together and play for an eccentric millionaire in South America. Wilson is skeptical, since thirty years ago Damian had absconded with the money from the band's record deal. Part of the fun in the first half of the novel is how ne'er-do-well Damian, with Brad's reluctant assistance, actually gets the group together--or what's left of it. One had committed suicide (no help there); another had become a monk and a third, whacked out on drugs, had joined a survivalist compound in Colorado.

Wilson picks up a guitar: "I pressed the whammy bar to dip the pitch of the strings, and it snapped back into perfect tune, unlike my old Stratocaster. . . . What a thrill to play again, and to have a reason for playing again." Later, when the band actually makes it to Pablo Lupa's estate, the music flows (Lupa has spiked the punch), and Wilson looks for words: "How I had forgotten the magic, when your body, mind and soul become the music, flowing in a beautiful ribbon. . . . Finally, I hit one last, sustained note, and then allowed it to descend slowly like a waterfall over a bridge of rainbows."

Pablo Lupa takes "smoking Jimi" literally and all seems over for the band when Lupa's real intentions are revealed, the compound is engulfed in military conflict, and Wilson mourns a lost lover. But the story is not yet over, and Peery has produced a hilarious, improbable stew of oddball personalities enmeshed in music, madness and mystery, and love that rocks the world.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Paradise photographer contributes to Dashiell Hammett book


"Samuel Dashiell Hammett arrived in San Francisco summer 1921 and left in the fall of 1929. He began writing in this city, finishing . . . what stands today as his single most famous work, The Maltese Falcon." So writes Don Herron, the author of an engaging new book, "The Dashiell Hammett Tour: Thirtieth Anniversary Guidebook" ($19.95 in hardcover from Vince Emery Productions).

Revised and expanded from the original edition, the book features maps by Paradise resident Mike Humbert as well as ten of his black-and-white photographs of present-day San Francisco, including the building at 891 Post Street where Hammett lived in apartment 401.

The book also includes a new preface from Hammett's daughter, Jo (who calls her father "Da-SHEEL" rather than "DASH-ull"); "On the Trail of Sam Spade" by detective novelist Charles Willeford, and an entertaining biography of Hammett by Herron himself. Most of the book is taken up with a leisurely look at more than thirty Hammett sites, including Burritt Street. Humbert provides a close-up of a bronze plaque at the same location that says "On Approximately This Spot, Miles Archer, Partner of Sam Spade, Was Done In By Brigid O'Shaughnessy."

Hammett, born in 1894, lived sixty-six years, long enough to consume vast quantities of alcohol, to be consumed by tuberculosis, to marry and beget two daughters, to carry on a three-decades affair with playwright Lillian Hellman, to write pulp stories about a detective known only as "Continental Op," to invent hard-boiled detective Sam Spade and the booze-guzzling team of Nick and Nora Charles, to be labeled a Communist, incarcerated and blacklisted, and to become one of the most famous writers of his time with novels such as The Thin Man and Red Harvest.

Herron writes that "the San Francisco of Spade and the Op is literally built of truths, rumors, and lies: places like John's Grill that are as real as a dime; . . . places such as the Alexandria Hotel or Eddis Street which have never appeared on any map of The City. Hammett's detectives move across this imagined grid of reality, rumor, and falsehood--a mysterious and dangerous San Francisco created in the pulp magazines of the 1920s that has not lost its fascination or its hold on our imagination."

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Chico couple views westward migration through the eyes of contemporary diarists


The Englishman William Woodhams, more recently from Michigan, crossed the Missouri River on April 28, 1854, arriving in Sacramento in August. On August 6 he wrote in his diary: "We of course (ragged in the extreme, unshaven and unshorn, knives and pistols at our belts) were rather wild looking even for California."

Those who journeyed west in the mid-nineteenth century were a motley crew, but many of them kept diaries. In fact, write Chicoans Andrew and Joanne Hammond, "it has been estimated that one out of every 200 emigrants kept a diary or journal of some sort."

The Hammonds have skillfully excerpted the diaries of "eleven women and twenty-six men who recorded their experiences while en route to Oregon, California and Utah" to form a roughly chronological account of the way west. The result is "The Look of the Elephant: The Westering Experience In the Words of Those Who Lived It 1841-1861" ($18.95 in paperback from the Oregon-California Trails Association,, or from the authors at

The authors write that "to have 'seen the elephant' meant that one had not only endured the rigors of the trail, but had survived as well. The expression still symbolizes the indomitable spirit of the emigrants and their ability to view extreme hardship with a sense of humor."

There were dangers along the way, not always external. "Less than a month after setting out, John Bidwell reported that 'a young man by the name of Shotwell while in the act of taking a gun out of the wagon, drew it, with the muzzle toward him in such a manner that it went off and shot him near the heart.'" The diarists include not only Bidwell but "querulous J. Goldsborough Bruff, considered by many to be the greatest diarist of all; the captious Joshua Variel; the upbeat but frequently ill Alonzo Delano; . . . the unfortunate Mary Rockwood Powers, whose physician husband appears to have been insane. . . ."

The Hammonds provide maps of each stage of the journey, black and white illustrations, and biographies of each diarist, along with insightful commentary. This is a treasure of a book, one that touches the heart of those long ago days before ever there were blogs.