Don Rogers: Poetry’s only the start |

Don Rogers: Poetry’s only the start

I did need some helpful guidance on the program to find the clown. Not what normally would come to mind first about the Sierra Poetry Festival on Saturday at the Miners Foundry in Nevada City.

Well sure, can’t forget the poets. Lots of poets. Some of the local bright lights — this community is blessed — and some from without, coming here to read, to teach, to celebrate. Best to check the website,, for the lineup.

Nevada City seems to be a magnet for Pulitzer earners, and so, yep, there’s Forrest Gander (2019), along with former California Poet Laureate Dana Goia and current Nevada County laureate Kirsten Casey. Others hail from China, Australia, the Philippines, Russia, Ukraine, including the clown.

Another participant, Sands Hall, mentioned the clown in an email this week, I expect knowing what would catch my eye about a poetry festival, even one as sublime as this. I grew up on batting averages and the smooth cadences and subtle tones of Vin Scully calling baseball games. That was about as close as I ever got to the poetic till moving here.

So, of course, a clown. Court jester, circus, rodeo. Hobo Kelly, Bozo (for 40 years!), The Simpsons. Pennywise? Also mimes, Cirque du Soleil. Quite a range, then.

“Scroll down that link to find the bio of Ukrainian master clown Mikhail Usov, a clown in the vein of Charlie Chaplin,” Hall wrote. “He’ll not only perform, but speak with the Russian artist Natalia Gamolskyy Radinskya about matters to do with why clowning is appropriate at a poetry festival, and what will happen to art now in Ukraine.”

Forget baseball. An entire world is focused on Ukraine right now, and the interplay with Russia. I suddenly understood the clown and art not as diversion but a means of understanding, or at least trying to ken something beyond all reason.

So I did as suggested and scrolled down to Usov’s bio, then read through the accolades to this ah-ha: “Acknowledging the clown as a poetic symbol of the imprisonment of the human spirit in this world, with both comedy and tragedy at its core. …”


What do I love about living here? A dark barroom at The National, a memory flickering with candle flame, cocktail shakers at work, buying the poet Gene Berson a glass of Sauvignon Blanc at the bar in the joy of seeing him for the first time since the pandemic broke out, and listening to friend Ingrid Keriotis’ verse last week at a pop-up poetry event. We were writing group mates pre-pandemic.

The evening was alive with friends and for me, a newcomer still, many of those secondary social connections you don’t realize how much you’ve missed until seeing them again. Molly Fisk at distance, at the microphone, while I remembered what I admire so much about her and her work. Maggie McKaig (who is presenting a songwriting workshop in the festival) up close and so fun to talk with and watch as she and friends she’s known forever enjoyed each others’ company.

I paid some dues for being maybe a little too clever with a recent column about mine jobs, though I argued with my gentle critics that I had layered in a theme about leaping to assumptions, after all.

Maybe I got away with that, maybe not. Poets make up one of the brighter crowds. Still, misdirection is a fine brush picked up by both bard and clown. They could at least understand the attempt.


I am guilty as can be packing a soft-cover book of poems and essays back and forth between home and office, a reminder to reach out to the author and thank him for the book and the handwritten note at the end of an announcement Dec. 4, 2020, of the book’s publication.

God I hope he sent another copy to our features editor. All I have is a phone number and a name. I’m going to call, maybe today, I’ve told myself for a full year and a half now. If I can just click through the daily tasks, the planning, find that little space-time between larger projects. On and on. These promises to myself.

Racing down the website to reach the clown, I caught on the name: Doc Dachtler. Why was that sticking? Gary Snyder plainly loves this guy and his work, I saw in his bio. And he’s No. 2 on the program.

But I remember ballplayers, not poets. Vida Blue, Willie Mays, all the Dodgers. Doc is a player’s name, like in “Field of Dreams.” Why did I keep returning to this Doc?

Oh, wait. I sorted through the pile I pack in the knapsack and found the book, which I’d taken to reading in snippets, German grandmas and what a nut with nuclear armament and an NRA mindset might do, the world’s largest yo-yo breaking from a crane and demonstrating new promise as the world’s largest fishing bob.

“A Little Steam & Star Twinkle,” by Doc Dachtler. There it was among manuscript excerpts I’d agreed to critique, articles printed out, memos, plans, to-do lists, magazines, newspaper tearsheets. Well, hell.

Meeting Doc and taking care of this unfinished business only cements an imperative to attend, as well as a chance to lift a little nagging weight from the daily commute. Besides, I really do want to see what the clown is all about.

Don Rogers is the publisher of the Sierra Sun and The Union, based in Grass Valley. He can be reached at or 530-477-4299


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