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Book Festival and Poetry Walk offer an embarassment of writerly riches

By Jordan E. Rosenfeld

Up until very recently, Bay Area scribe Kim Addonizio fit into one fairly easy to define category, that of poet. With the publication of her brand-new novel, Little Beauties (Simon & Schuster; $23), however, it may become troublesome to place Addonizio in any single category much longer.

Little Beauties is the story of Diana McBride, a 34-year-old former pageant contender with obsessive compulsive disorder in not-quite-midlife crisis who meets unwilling pregnant teen Jamie Ramirez and her unborn baby, Stella, while working at a baby-clothing store. Their lives and fates become entwined and spin a tale of choices about motherhood, womanhood and destiny.

Reviews reveal that what critics like about the novel is the very same thing they admire about Addonizio as a poet: her great ear for language.

This comes as no surprise to Addonizio, whose inspiration for the book, an overheard conversation of a woman discussing her obsessive compulsive disorder, could have just as easily been the genesis of a poem.

"Poetry is actually great training for fiction writing," she writes in an e-mail interview from a writer's colony. "There's a lot that carries over, in terms of learning how to write a good sentence, how to pay attention to bodily experience and to think your way through to the end of something. Poetry taught me to pay attention to language. Unfortunately, it didn't teach me anything about plot, character development and a few other things I had to figure out."

The co-author of The Poet's Companion with Dorianne Laux, Addonizio has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, won a Pushcart prize for poetry and founded the San Francisco literary journal Five Fingers Review. But she is perhaps best known as the poet responsible for penning "What Do Women Want," a poem that sings praises to a red dress and women's sexuality. Her work, with its powerful, often feminine imagery of the body, bad girls and all the longings therein, reads like a cross between Anne Sexton and Edna St. Vincent Millay. She appears on Sept. 18 at the Petaluma Poetry Walk.

If encountering a poet turned novelist is a conundrum for the literary world, it is not so to Addonizio. "I've been writing fiction almost as long as poetry. Actually, come to think of it, I wrote a really terrible novel when my daughter was just a baby. So Little Beauties, my so-called debut novel, was a long time coming."

Addonizio has published books of poetry since 1994 and has enjoyed that rare success most poets never attain. She has also published many short stories over the years. Still, seeing her first novel published has given her a fresh perspective on herself as a writer.

"I'm extremely happy to have [my novel] in the world. When I'm on airplanes, it means that strangers next to me can understand what I do. If I say, 'I'm a poet,' they usually look uncomfortable and baffled. Now I can tell them I've published a novel, and they nod their heads and look impressed.

"It's my sense that poetry is seen, wrongly, as being simply a naïve expression of one's feelings. Most people don't regard poems--those written by living people, anyway--as literature. They've likely written what they consider poetry at some time in their lives, and they think anyone can do it--you know, 'I love you, you're my world' or 'I'm so sad, I cry rivers of tears.' I think poetry should be difficult to write and pleasurable to read, just like fiction."

Addonizio has other novel ideas in the works, as well as material for a short story collection and a fifth book of poems. Her breadth of writing experience also keeps her in demand for the explosion of literary events that take place in the Bay Area, from the San Francisco–based Litquake festival to the upcoming Petaluma Poetry Walk.

"I'm happy to see so many writers and so much literary activity. [Sonoma County] seems like a thriving and vibrant community, a place where art and literature matter. Wouldn't it be great if that attitude spread to our elected officials, and they actually devoted real money to art and to education, instead of pursuing needless wars? Imagine!"

The Petaluma Poetry Walk takes over downtown Petaluma on Sunday, Sept. 18. For details, go to http://petaluma.poetrywalk.org.

Wealth of Talent

Sonoma County Book Festival better than ever

Now in its sixth year, the Sonoma County Book Festival has always been more festive than merely fair, with the latter's suggestion of handmade commerce and the odd dried flower wreath. Finding that book lovers were confusing their event with the county library's annual fundraiser, the formerly named Sonoma County Book Fair has gone festive this year.

But a somber mood still touches volunteers as they mourn the loss of the festival's lead organizer, the late Lote Thistlethwaite, who died in a car accident earlier this summer. "He had the whole timeline in his head," says PR coordinator Arlene Mandel. "We were all waking up in the middle of the night with sudden questions." More determined than ever to mount a festival of excellence in Lote's honor, organizers plunged ahead, guided in part by retired SSU English professor J. J. Wilson and funded by the efforts of philanthropists Jane and Jack Stuppin and NEA executive director Dana Gioia.

Taking place in venues around downtown Santa Rosa's Courthouse Square, including a children's tent, poetry tent, literary arts guild tent, panel discussions at the Cultural Arts Council and readings at the Central Library, the festival boasts a luminous list of authors. Reading at the library are Sue Miller, Lynn Freed and Dorothy Allison, among other greats; in the poetry tent, expect to hear California State Poet Laureate Al Young, New Yorker favorite Kay Ryan and the announcement of Sonoma County's newest poet laureate; young adult author Chris Crutcher (King of the Mild Frontier) and children's fave Megan McDonald hold forth for younger audiences. And these are just the highlights easiest for we media slackers to list.

The festival has a lively marketplace for readers and writers alike, and those who get the palm-sweats at the idea of spending a full day in the presence of nimble minds should set Saturday, Sept. 10, aside for soaking it all in. Events begin at 10am. Novelists listed above read from 2pm to 3:30pm at the library; a tribute to Lote Thistlethwaite is at noon in the Poetry Tent at Courthouse Square; Al Young, Kay Ryan and the new laureate are announced at 1pm in the Poetry Tent, followed by Brenda Hillman. Panel discussions at the CCAC include lit blogs with Colin Berry and colleagues; women's lives with Susan Schwartz and others; and begin with American Indian Stories. All events are free. For exhaustive details, go to www.socobookfest.org.

--Gretchen Giles

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From the September 7-13, 2005 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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