I started Poetea in June of 2016 as a tiny literary event and a conversation space for writers. The idea arose from decades of going to readings and lit events, and being involved in literary communities around the U.S., from interacting with writing comrades and colleagues but rarely being satisfied with the level and length of conversation in and around such events. Not that I haven’t enjoyed countless conversations, and sure, there were longer ones at workshops and salons and the occasional bar, and of course with closer writing friends, but I’ve always felt the need for more in-depth dialog with, well, more writers. This need struck home in 2016, when I found myself attending 15-20 readings and lit events per month, mostly in the San Francisco Bay Area and specifically the East Bay literary community, and those events at that level were nourishing me greatly, but also made me less satisfied with brief chats and the occasional discussion over drinks. Pondering this one day, I found myself wishing there were a literary event for just four people, at which they could just sit around and talk, talk, talk. And then I looked up and around at my comfy Oakland apartment.
So what is Poetea exactly, and what has it become? It’s a literary gathering in which I invite three writers to tea on the first Sunday of each month, as many times a year as I can. Basically it’s four people hanging out for a few hours, talking about all-things-writing (and life, etc., whatever comes up or seems important). I try to keep it gender-balanced, particularly enjoy inviting folks that I don’t know well (though closer friends are invited as well, at least to some) and folks from varied backgrounds, and I avoid inviting people who are partners or close friends. It’s best when my guests know each other just a bit or not at all, and leave with new friends and connections. We have tea and snacks and chat for as long as we like. At some point I raise a specific topic of discussion, and we finish with a read around of new work or work in progress. They’re basically quite lovely, intimate and energizing, which is not to say that we don’t engage in challenging topics and discussion, in fact we often do.
The conversations are absolutely private and not recorded to provide the safest space possible for expressing one’s views. It’s occurred to me to take one selfie-pic of the group at the end of each, but as of this writing (the end of 2017) I haven’t done even that. (Started right after, though!) Somehow the exclusive and transitory nature of the teas allow people to be more inclusive and present, and that’s their value right there. The only record is a brief write-up that I post on Facebook afterward, and for those who might be interested, I’ve included them below.
The only thing that I don’t like about the event is that I’m at every one. I think it’d be perfect if four different writers came together once a month to talk freely for three hours. So, writers, do it! Have your own Poetea! I promise it will nourish you.
November 4, 2018
Marvelous Poetea on Sunday, as always, it would seem, with visiting authors Jane Ormerod and David Lawton of NYC and great weather for MEDIA press, and local poet, publisher, musician, and mixed-media maven Hugh Behm-Steinberg (not pictured, because he scrammed before I remembered to snap a shot.) Jane and Dave were whupped from their West Coast reading tour, but still jumped right in with great energy. We chatted variously about college teaching and grading (Hugh was in an avalanche of papers), death and bed watches, jazz and the Boy Scouts (not necessarily in the same breath, but wouldn’t that be cool), sexual harassment in literature and literary milieus, and lots of politics – politics of poetry, politics of publishing, politics of reading series, politics of teaching, and occasionally, just plain politics. Hugh spoke fervently about his desire to see more intersectionality of age in the lit community, especially at readings, and Jane noted that older women were much less likely to be offered readings than younger, across the board. It always amazes me that we still have so much to work on as a species, and as writers in a community of writers, and it so heartens me to delineate occasionally things for us to work on, sort of a humanist to-do list. End sexism in literature. End ageism in reading series. Live with each other as humanly as we can. Not quite ready to check off any of those boxes, but I’m got my pen in hand.
Thanks you all so much, Jane David Hugh, for giving of your time and minds and hearts so generously. It’s a better world for us having spoken.
October 7, 2018
Remiss, remiss am I for not having written of the most gracious Poetea I had last week with Marvin R. Hiemstra and Deborah Fruchey. These folks were so relaxed that I might as well have hung hammocks. Seriously, our marvelous conversation included crazy family stuff (always fascinating), where we’d move to if we felt the need to disembark from the Bay Area, energy spots and vortices that we’ve encountered in the world, crazy (and sane) and interesting ways we’ve gotten by, and sociopathic landlords (especially mine). Marvin laid out some really enlightening history, personal and cultural, about gay San Francisco in the late 60’s and early 70’s, which was stunningly different than that of today, or even the 1980’s and yes we have come a great, great way, which lead us into discussion of experiences with gay hating, sexual and gender spectra, and generally growing up freaks (ahem, non-normative). I was very glad to hear that in fact Marvin is doing some writing about that era, feeling a dharma to reveal stories that should be told or are already being forgotten, and we were all glad to report each doing well in their lives and struggles. What a joy to sense a clear, or at least unencumbered, path ahead. Thank you both so much for sharing your persons and outlooks and histories so gladly. I think of that as true community.
August 5, 2018
Had so much work this week (yay) that I forgot to post (boo) about the splendid and interesting Poetea (yay) that I had last Sunday with Mary Mackey, C Anne Gardner, and Jeff Chon. For a while topics ranged from whimsical to intense – the weirdness and mundanity of meeting famous people, the various values of playing music, teaching versus bureacracy, the power of freedom of speech and the fuckedupedness of freedom of speech full of lies, and the Netflix documentary “Wild, Wild Country” and the phenomenon of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Mary actually knew some of his followers back in the day). Then a really interesting thing happened. At the same moment, Jeff and Mary started their own conversation, just as Casey and I did the same, and for about half an hour the two pairs of us spoke separately, intently, and intensely, totally in parallel mindlock. The room was electric. For our part, Casey and I discussed Julie Taymor’s version of “The Tempest”, particularly Helen Mirren’s Prospera – I hadn’t seen it but Casey was impressed with the representation of gender and power structure, among other things; the effect of information availability and overload on the internet, specifically on young people and her in particular, since she’s in her late 20’s and grew up with it; and teaching gender and race at the high school and college levels, at some length. Then suddenly both conversations stopped, and we all looked at each other bemused. Mary and Jeff couldn’t remember everything they discussed, but did note a lot of talk about writing characters of one’s opposite gender, or another gender, or another background, or, really, anyone whom you aren’t, somewhat (to my understanding) pitting the current sensitivity of representation, appropriation, and presumption against the traditional duty of, say, the novelist, who opts to construct many characters, all of whom they cannot be, as part of their craft. That would be a worthy topic for any long discussion, and might just get added to my selection of potential topics to raise. I had no need to this time, as we finished up the afternoon opening the topic of marginalization in queer and other communities and groups, something that’s on my mind for sure, and finished that more with questions and considerations than any firm conclusions.
All in all a fascinating Poetea, all of which was due to the generosity and openness of these three writers. Thank you, Mary! Thank you Casey! Thank you, Jeff! Thank you all so much. I hope that you got as much vim and gist out this this as I!
June 3, 2018
Jenee Darden and Rohan DaCosta joined me on Sunday for an energized and engaging Poetea. I love how these events each take on their own life and spirit, no prompting required. In fact I didn’t even have time to bring up a writing-specific topic with these two (though I def wish we’d had another hour!). Some of the topics on our minds on Sunday were corruption in the United States (who knows where that one came from), from what’s left of our government to the ravagement of our cities by gentrification; which cities might be still livable for artists and working folks; the pros and cons of Octavia Butler and Kanye West (not in the same conversation, really at least an hour apart, they were not compared though that might have been interesting); and the proliferation of mental illness, especially in this country, some of the potential causes, and to what extent the mentally ill should be responsible for their actions (which kind of brought us back to our first topic of social and political corruption, and the ways mental illness can be caused by Capitalism). It is so, so good to listen to others’ perspectives on matters as essential as these, especially with a breadth of time to kick ideas around. Thank you both very much for your generosity with your time and thoughts. That kind of sharing is invaluable at any time, and especially so in this fraught era.
May 6, 2018
It’s very human naturey of me that I have have specific ideas about Poetea, my monthly literary conversation, having no specific agenda or structure behind it. So I couldn’t be happier that this month’s attendees, Nina Casey and Steve Arntson, showed me the hidden rigidity behind my supposed lack of structure. Thank you, you two, for taking this Poetea exactly where you wanted it to go!
Typically Poetea consists of four writers (including myself) who sit around for a few hours teaing and gnoshing and talking about whatever we like. It’s never staid and always energized in one way or another. Sometimes, especially if there’s not a lot of talk about writing and such, I might ask if I should raise a topic in that regard. Then at the end I suggest we read a recent piece or two, so that after getting to know one another, we get to hear how words come out of us. So while it’s not really structure-less, it’s generally somewhat structure-lite.
Not so with these two kinetic conversationalists, who leapt from topic to topic and room to room with rigor and vigor and vim. Normally more of a sit-down affair, we got in a lot of walking round the apartment – maybe it was that we had three rather than four – or maybe just that Steve Arnston was there, great walker that he is – and I found us standing in the kitchen, the hallway, the office, and various odd spots talking at length. It was hard to keep track of everything, but various topics included the qualities and quirks of our ancestors, our families and how we feel about them, the lives of Chopin and Rachmaninoff, microdosing for creative focus and the therapeutic use of substances, pros and cons of substance use in general, bad movies (and good ones), and how to parse contemporary gender issues. And that was just part of it. Best of all, these two kept wanting to read their work to illustrate points, and like a dolt I kept saying, “We usually do that at the end,” when in fact this was the order of the day so they eventually barreled right in, and we had a longer than usual discussion of how we approach our work at this time.
Whew! What a session. Thank you both so much for bringing huge engaged creative energy into my living space, which is all the more living now for it.
March 4, 2018
Yesterday’s Poetea just took right off on it’s own steady and equitable course, despite the fact that it was three native Michiganders versus one lone Californian. Kimberly Kim, Mimi Gonzalez, and Joel Landmine all showed up charged for interaction, and that we did, starting with growing up Detroit and Cali and their various music scenes, and moving right on to showing scars and remembering Loma Prieta and other disasters before heading into reedier territory. We discussed at some length the Anthropocene epoch and its ramifications, systemic indifference to power and abuse and the madness it causes on all sides, decoding misogyny and its relation to a variety of human experiences, the nature of objectification, what we can write about and how far we can go challenging ideas/ideologies and pushing buttons, and addressing topics that could cause backlash. And that’s just a glimpse. But believe me, as heavy as some of that sounds, this was energized, engaging, and positive throughout. I didn’t even raise a specific topic, as I often do at some point – didn’t need to as the conversation rolled along like fire. Mimi did raise one herself, however, asking what differences we felt were in pieces written more for page versus stage, and how we each approached, merged, and separated them. All in all another joyful and open-hearted conversation that, I think, left us lifted and facing forward. Thank you all so much!
January 7, 2018
Supercharged Poetea on Sunday with Norma Smith, Ruth Crossman, and James Cagney. Started out with a brief discuss by Ruth and Norma about “Her Body and Other Parties” by Carmen Maria Machado, and launched into a series of topics including our places and histories, squatter and punk culture (now and then), music of all kinds, Gertrude Stein and Oakland, challenges, joys, and strategies for teaching writing and ESL, pedagogy in general, and what for the love of everything we need to do next with our work. That breathless list just several points of colloquy over three hours that left us all charged and ready to go on living. Thanks so much, writers three, for being so generous with your selves, your time, and your minds and hearts. Would that we could all share that generosity every day. It’s certainly worth a try.
This was the fifteenth Poetea, and first one at which I remembered to take a selfie at the end, with the permission of all, of course. Hurrah!
December 3, 2017
Oh my goodness, I almost forgot to write up what a wonderful Poetea I had a week ago with Jan Steckel, Gina Goldblatt, and Zephir O’Meara. This was the sixteenth in the series and it continues to be the light in my month. This conversation focused on our lives at first, on ancestry and background and on making and keeping community well in such a confused America. We discussed ways in which we enter and interact with community – not just the literary community but any and all – and how our backgrounds help and hinder us. We discussed how we interact with our communities and the world in general through our work, our words and performance, the ways in which we make our work public, and what next steps we’d each like to take with our writing. I’m afraid I’m forgetting a topic or two, having been swept away for a week by dumb old life, so Jan, Gina, Zephir, feel free to write stuff in below that you recall being of value discussing. Also: thanks so much! for engaging joyously in conversation. I do this partially because I believe that discourse is a primary glue and impetus for our lives, our cultures, our future. So as this year ends, thanks to everyone who’s come to Poetea since mid-2016, and to everyone who fearlessly seeks to discuss. Let’s talk!
November 5, 2017
Had another beautiful Poetea on Sunday with Kimi Sugioka, Julian Tirhma, and Paul Corman-Roberts just chatting away with tea and snacks for a few hours. This time the focus seemed to be on bringing poetry into the current world, especially to children as Julian and Kimi are elementary-level teachers. They spoke to the challenges and ways in which they’ve brought poetry to kids who are marginalized, at risk, and special needs. It was like listening to two superheros comparing tactics. We discussed the importance of more intergenerational readings and literary interactions (with thanks to Bay Area Generations). Paul brought up his desire for more intimate and interactive literary platforms and events (e.g. Poetea and Raina Leon‘s series Cleave, which features a relaxed and personal Q&A after the reading). And Kimi made the wonderful admission that she and a group of friends had been adding poems at the end of their emails – which led us to the idea, which I’ll suggest to you all, to do that on a more widespread basis. When you read a poem online (or on page that you love enough to type up), put it in a file so that you can paste it into emails – or just paste in one of your own. Hunt down and collect poems you love, to pass along in any appropriate email. Weaponize Viral Poetry! – or if that’s too triggery for some of you, try: Make Poetry Homeopathic! Give a small dose to as many people as possible as frequently as possible.
October 8, 2017
Had four and a half hours of what I can only describe as radical conversation today at Poetea with Vanessa Rochelle Lewis and Youssef Alaoui. And by radical, I mean, as always, radiating from the core. We all dove in with great enthusiasm as to what each other was really about, and ranged through several weather systems of intense topics, from relationships to kink to provocation, aggression, microaggressions, creating strong open cultures, and love, lost love, uncertain love, types of love, serious love, and how to respond to all these and care for each other as human beings in this wild and incredibly fucked up world that’s still full of beautiful human beings. And language and lifting and theater and crafting and the work we do, not writing per se but the everyday work of keeping it together, of caring for ourselves and those around us, of keeping things moving and honest while fending off the acts and ideologies and breath of hatred and intolerance. And pleasure, we talked about pleasure, and what a pivot that can be, about sensing and finding and giving and being, about living. And living on. And so much more that I’m leaving out, or haven’t even started processing yet. Four and a half hours and it was hard to stop. And yes, there was tea, and crackers and cheese and strawberries, and a great, great deal of kindness. Thank you both so much. I feel more myself tonight, more in my skin and grounded than I have in quite some time. I feel lit.
August 6, 2017
Poetea, the tiny literary conversation that I hold once a month for four writers, never ceases to amaze me. Yes, there are some topics that often come up (four writers sittin around talking for three hours, go figure), but each is also very different from the others, sometimes in unexpected ways. For instance, the Poetea last week had three folks who either don’t know each other or not well, they being Jan Dederick, Nadine Lockhart, and Ron Lampi (who drove up from Santa Cruz just for the event!) – thanks so much, writers, for coming by and engaging in discourse with such generosity! The conversation ran quickly and deeply into astrology, mysticism, and their place in writing and the world as we know it. Didn’t see that one coming, and though my own knowledge of astrology is limited, it was sooooo interesting. And of course I find mysticism and spirituality to be key to both personal and literary progress, at least in my life. The same conversation later on went to very worldly matters, including keeping one’s health (of all sorts) in the current toxic environment (of all sorts), and ways in which we keep ourselves going against odds and bad energy (of all sorts). Thank you thank you thank you for helping to make this world more livable.
July 2, 2017
Giavanna Ortiz de Candia
Had a really inspiring Poetea on Sunday with Brenda Usher-Carpino, Giavanna Ortiz de Candia, and John Rowe. We really got into the nitty-gritty of how we write, how we compel ourselves to write, how we approach different genres, how we keep ourselves honest, and how we as writers (and human beings) function in and respond to the challenging and egregious sociopolitical roil we find ourselves living through. Thank you so much, friends, for setting aside a few hours to relax and connect. After these conversations I always feel more connected to myself as well, and I hope that you’ve experienced something of the same.
June 4, 2017
Very pleasant Poetea today with Sharon Coleman and Apollo Papafrangou. Thank you both so much for coming and sharing your thoughts on life and writing. Great conversation about the challenges of finding time (and space) to write in this economically driven culture and region, the joys and work of teaching, pedagogy in the real world, where we find inspiration, current writing projects, why everyone should become a publisher, and so much more. (Sharon and Apollo are both working on new books, so keep an eye open for those!) Thank you thank you for setting aside a few hours for long and heartfelt conversation. This is the stuff that keeps my heart beating. Hoping you get a beat or two out of it yourselves.
May 7, 2017
High energy Poetea today with ToReadah Mikell, Nazelah Jamison, and Rohan DaCosta. Thank you all soooo much for bringing your open hearts and clarion intellects into my home. It was an honor to have you come by and be real and talk real and ask real and see real with each other. We are all trying to move forward through the murk and madness and struggle in the world and culture around us, not just those here today but everyone we know, and they know, and onward, and how valuable it is when we take a little time to share perspectives, and how much lighter that can make the steps we need to take. I am forever more grateful that I started these monthly gatherings, especially grateful today when this has fueled and lifted me after a tough couple of weeks, and I only hope that others in community, both those who have been to these and those who haven’t, and anyone else for that matter, are setting aside time, not just a few minutes but a few hours, here and there, to check in with those around them, friends, acquaintances, and beyond, to sit down and take some time with them, to see and hear them, and be where you’re at together, and freshen steps further and further.
April 2, 2017
Beautiful Poetea yesterday with Alexandra Naughton, G Macias Gusman, and Victor Smith. We had a long, intense chat about a million things, including the importance and difficulties of keeping up the energy at this time, the plethora of rhetorical landmines in our current culture, the presence and absence of socioeconomic commentary in local literature, facets of welcoming and unwelcoming within the community, the challenges and awesomenesses of relationships, and best next steps for Michael Cera. And, of course, lots of tea and snacks.
Thank you all so much for coming and being open conversationalists. I would be lying if I were to say I didn’t get a great deal out of all of these, they’re very special events for me, and I only hope that they do the same for those who come, meaning you.
March 5, 2017
Had another really engaging conversation yesterday with Tim Donnelly and Natasha Dennerstein over Poetea, the eighth of my monthly literary conversations. We found loads of topics to bat about, including various drag and cabaret performers we have known, a comparison of Bay Area readings and open mics, and the increased interest by non-writers in attending readings and speaking out themselves, and found a focus on the role(s) of older queer writers in the scene right now. Lots of energy, lots of tangents, a few conclusions and lot of loose ends, all of which sent us back into the world relaxed and refreshed and with a slightly new perspective on our lives in the world, and maybe just a few new approaches to incorporate. Which, I think, signifies a good Poetea.
Thank you so much, you two, for bringing your sweet open hearts to my home, and sharing thoughts and truths. Can’t wait to catch yas out and about.
February 5, 2017
Had another excellent and invigorating Poetea today, this one the seventh, with reparteers Jennifer Barone, Alexandra Kostoulas, and Nick Johnson. Every month I’m even more glad that I’ve been having these little gatherings for four writers to just sit a few hours and talk. And it’s amazing how useful the conversations turn out to be. Among other things, the spontaneous topics today included how essential it is right now for community to hold together; the importance of being as inclusive as possible, and to avoid building walls (we’ll leave that to the autocrats); the value of calling in and including inquiry and, whenever possible, dialogue, when someone behaves offensively, or even, to some extent, threateningly; the importance of keeping checks on ourselves as well, especially when we might be having kneejerk or triggered reactions; our experiences with formal Japanese and English teas (I’d had none, but all the others had); and what an amazing filmmaker is Jim Jarmusch. Anything I missed, y’all? This was a lively talk today, with a lot of perspectives, debates, and surprises, a lot of beauty and a lot of feeling, that went a full four hours, and what a worthwhile four hours it was, for me at least. Thank you all so much for coming, and for making our culture this much more alive.
December 4, 2016
Had another wonderful and constructive Poetea on Sunday with East Bay writers Ingrid Keir and Cassandra Dallett. What with how emotionally shredded we’re all feeling right now, it was a tremendous palliative to have two peops with such good energy in my space, taking a couple hours to sip tea and talk and process and feel out where we’re at. Among other things, we touched on the importance of community at this point (of course), and just as essential, the importance of folks within community to show tolerance and acceptance to one other, and to allow people around them to react, to grieve, to process, to contemplate, to sort their heads and hearts, to express what they’re feeling, however tentatively, or awkwardly, or inexactly as they might, and to generally get their shit together and hold it together as best they can. To be in community as best they can. To allow. This is soooooooo not a time to dwell on petty differences, which is something that progressives unfortunately excel at. — That last comment mine, but I think it much in line with our conversation (feel free to correct me, I & C, if I’m off about that), and something that I feel with all my heart.
November 6, 2016
Wonderful November Poetea on Sunday with Raina Leon and David Welper. We all spent a few hours snacking and chatting about life in general, and issues of import to us in writing and the community. A few topics of interest were mental health resources for writers and artists; continuing outreach to welcome underrepresented groups into literary circles (Raina spoke of non-slam youth, for instance); and expanding what a “reading” can encompass, with formats for instance with Q&A, panels, discussions of craft and intent, etc. And so much more. Thanks so much, Raina and David, for your engagement and energy. and for helping keep Poetea the fascinating interact that it is. So looking forward to continuing the tradition.
October 2, 2016
Seriously excellent relaxing writerly minddancing at October Poetea today with Yvonne Campbell, Cesar Love, Kayla Sussell, and Jennifer Blowdryer. What a group, and such good conversation. Talked about immersion and isolation, inclusivity and exclusivity, craft and blocks and sheer joy of words and about 1,000 other things over a few hours of tea. Broke my rule of four to include Jen, who happened to be in town from NY at the right time. Usually I have four folks total (three plus myself), and hope to again next month. I have folks lined up to ask for a month or two, but sometimes booking it is challenging, so it’s okay to let me know you’d be interested in being invited sometime, and I will do my best to accommodate. Not sure whether you’d like it? Just ask any of these folks, or anyone who’s been before. Yay!
August 7, 2016
Excellent time today at Poetea #3, discussing the veins and nerves of the Bay Area literary scene. Thanks so very much to Missy Church, Christine No, and Garrett Murphy for stopping by and slowing down a few hours for tea and talk.
It’s been inspiring having a monthly 4-person-only literary chat over the summer, and it’s definitely a happening I plan to keep going. If you know me and you’re a writer in the area, I’ll likely get around to asking you at some point, though it might take a while to circulate through everyone I know at only three per month (I’m the fourth). And it’s not a matter of how well I know you or whatever, in fact part of the point is for folks to give folks a chance to get to know each other better, myself included. Mostly for me it’s about getting together a room fulla interesting minds. And so far it’s been fulla, interesting, and mindly. If there’s anything I don’t like about it, it’s that I’m at every one; I think it’d be better with a totally different dynamic each time. So y’all, have some small group literary teas, and gen on up that nrg.
July 3, 2016
Maw Shein Win
Literary folks, and especially writers: make a point of going to readings where you don’t know any of the readers, and are out of your familiar zone.
Just one idea of many that came up during Poetea #2, which was an awesome lit tea party that I hosted today with Maw Shein Win, Isobel O’Hare, and Andrew J. Thomas. Really just a few hours of lively and impassioned conversation, with tea and snacks of course. Planning to have one on the first Sunday of each month for a while, with three writers only (four if you count me), because the first two have been so fab. That is all. No it’s not.
June 4, 2016
Had an idea a few months ago to invite three writers over for tea and conversation about words and lives. And it happened! Today was the first Poetea*, and an excellent talk and time joyly spent with Sandra Wassilie, James Cagney, and Mk Chavez.Thank you all so much for coming by and being such marvelous discussioners and exchangers of minds. Think I’ll do this every month for a while and see what happens next. That’s the ticket!
Yay for tea!
* This was the corniest name I could think of, so of course I had to use it.