The wagon wheels are turning: University of Oklahoma Press is mid-stream in publishing John Benton Hart–The Memoirs of a Civil War Cavalryman and Frontiersman. “I have refereed quite a few manuscripts submitted for possible publication,” wrote noted historian John Monnett, “but I have just finished reading the best one it has ever been my privilege to evaluate.” In August I traveled to Wyoming and Montana to tie up research loose ends and take part in the 150th anniversary observance of events on the Bozeman Trail.
My first solo East Bay reading for Storm Camp is coming up Thursday, May 18, 5:30 to 7:00, at University Press Books, the great little store at 2430 Bancroft, opposite Zellerbach Hall. Note the early time.I’ll read some climbing poems, of course; some environmental poems; and a couple of the ones that have earned me the somewhat-puzzling-to-me reputation as a religious poet. For friends who stopped by at Berkeley Ironworks the other week for books and beer, but no reading, this could be the other half of the program. Next up will be an appearance on June 7 with three other Sugartown Publishing authors at The Octopus Literary Salon, 2101 Webster, Oakland.
My poetry reading and discussion group, Reading the Poets, starts up again at Book Passage in Corte Madera on March 7, seven till nine, running for eight Monday evenings thereafter. We wander through the world of English-language poetry, with some translations, never taking the same route twice. Participants help to set the course with their suggestions and questions. People who may regard themselves as beginners are as welcome as the widely read. I provide texts in advance on all evenings but the first. Information/registration link here.
I’m introducing my new poetry collection, Storm Camp, at Book Passage in Corte Madera, January 23, 7:00 PM. It’s at 51 Tamal Vista Boulevard next to the DMV. Next up is a March 11 appearance at the Frank Bette Center for the Arts in Alameda with fellow Sugartown poet Dale Jensen. And on March 15 at 7:30 I’ll be signing (though not reading) at Ironworks, the Berkeley climbing gym.
My second poetry volume, Storm Camp, is on its way from Sugartown Publishing. Like its predecessor, The Climbers (Pitt Poetry Series, 1978), this collection draws a lot on my experiences as a rock climber and mountaineer–a scenery in which some readers find religious overtones. Library Journal said back then: “The tough-mindedness and technical excellence of these poems demand and deserve discriminating readers,” adding: “Religious poetry of the first intensity can still be written: Allen Tate, Geoffrey Hill, and now John Hart have done it.” Readings so far scheduled: January 23 at Book Passage, Corte Madera, California, 7 PM; March 11 at the Frank Bette Center in Alameda; March 15 at Berkeley Ironworks; more to come. (Photo: Ed Webster; Design, Margaret Copeland/Terragrafix.)
After 150 years, a new witness to some celebrated Civil War and frontier events steps forward. In the 1920s, my great-grandfather John Benton Hart dictated memories of fighting Confederates in Missouri in 1864 and Indians in Wyoming in 1865, followed by adventures along the ill-starred Bozeman Trail to Montana. “Johnny’s” lively accounts amplify a sparse record, sometimes challenging received knowledge. (Who carried the mail between embattled Forts C. F. Smith and Phil Kearny? Who really killed High-Backed Wolf?) Also striking are his pages on the life of the Crow Indians, allied with the government in the bitter Bozeman conflict. I’m deep into editing the memoir; University of Oklahoma Press will publish.
Here’s a clip from my July 19 appearance with Jordan Fisher-Smith at the Commonwealth Club of California. As part of the Club’s ClimateOne series, we kicked around what it can mean to “preserve nature” in our warming, human-dominated world. Yellowstone National Park (see Jordan’s new book Engineering Eden) is a case in point; Point Reyes National Seashore (as in my recent An Island in Time) is another. Moderator Greg Dalton and a lively audience kept us on our toes. And here’s the whole thing.
Last winter Estuary News offered “a gnarly assignment”: to write a sort of guidebook to the labyrinth of plans and agencies devoted to the health of San Francisco Bay and its inseparable twin, the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. Two Hearts Beating Not Quite as One appears in the June issue. Fifty years after the first Save the Bay campaign, how are we doing? Pretty well in some places, with regard to some problems. Not so well elsewhere. The sheer number of players and diverse authorities makes action harder. A newly recognized problem, sea level rise, adds to the pressure on us all.
There’s a nice feature on the Activist poets (working in the tradition of my father Lawrence Hart) in the Summer/Fall issue of Seventh Quarry, an international poetry journal based in Swansea, Wales. That’s Dylan Thomas country, as editor Peter Thabit Jones proudly points out. The set includes poems by Jon Miller, Pat Nelson, Fred Ostrander, Bonnie Thomas, Judith Yamamoto, and myself; I also contribute an introduction giving some history and exploring the idea we share: that poetry, to be poetry, must be clearly different from prose, not just in occasional “peak” lines, but throughout.
On July 10, 2015, President Obama proclaimed a National Monument along a hundred miles of rugged Coast Range ridges west of Sacramento, California.Two weeks later, much of the new monument was engulfed in the flames of the Wragg and Rocky Fires. I wrote about this captivating landscape before the designation and the fires (High Country News, May 25, 2015), and will survey the new realities, physical and political, for the April-June issue of Bay Nature.