Wednesday, July 21, 2010

For the Duration

Marianne Ware, poet, novelist, & the grand dame of belles lettres—the epistolary packin' mama mentor of countless Sonoma County writers—passed away on her 74th summer solstice. Too soon. We expected her to be here much longer to greet the return of the sun. Now something of the sun is gone from us. Eclipsed.

I first met Marianne through Lee Perron—they were coordinating the Russian River Writers' Guild.  I was newly arrived to poetry, and before I knew it, I was roped into the Writers' Guild, which became both my teething ring and my training ground.

Little did I know, I was also fresh fodder—grist for the mill—to help run it. And later, I was left holding the bag. But I learned to stick it out for the duration. At the time, I was living out of my car after a bad breakup. She even found me a place to live—at her daughter Laurie's cabins.

Because Marianne was adamant that prose also be represented at the RRWG reading series, and because of her, I learned to dabble in prose. Dyslexic that I am, I discovered what writing—like people—came in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Not just poems and stories, but letters, notes, lists. They all served to inform.

Marianne brought the light of writing into the lives of so many of us. She encouraged us to find our own true authentic voice. To spread our wings and to fly close—but not too close—to the sun. She always encouraged the next generation of fledgling writers: Doug Powell, Glenn Ingersoll, Trane deVore. The Guild offered a platform for new and established writers to read together.

We booked poets & writers—even musicians from near and far to share their love of the word. Utah Phillips, Rosalee Sorrells, Bobbie Louise Hawkins, Ed Balchowski. Some of the writers she encouraged made it to the big stage: Andrei Codrescu, Michael Oandatje, D.A. Powell, Jane Hirshfield come to mind. But  the history of the Guild is a whole other story. We are here to honor Marianne today.

It takes a lot of energy to run a poetry & prose reading series. Little by little, Marianne was  letting go, transferring the reins of power over to us—as she had set her sights in another direction. She wanted to finish her epistolary novel about growing up red diaper baby.

Marianne was a consummate political activist like her father before her, and her arena was fighting discrimination against women and she was an outspoken spokesperson for people with disabilities. And though she had major health issues, she persevered. She taught me to fight the system and take a stance to redress societal wrongs. She taught me that poetry matters.

Marianne turned that determination to earn a MFA at Goddard. I admired her steadfastness. She became the phoenix, and shed her old self. Resurrected, she was. And it led her to the next significant part of her life's work as an English/ Creative Writing instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College. And despite physical hardship and mounting health issues, she persevered. She empowered another generation of would-be writers to follow their own voice.

I met Marianne during her second life transition—from mother and wife, to that of writer. I  also witnessed the next transition from writer to teacher and from teacher to sage. But her reign as sage was cut short too soon. She taught me to live in the moment. We are all here "For the duration" as Marianne would say.

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