RENO, Nev. — Virginia City poet Shaun Griffin said it when asked why poets write.
“I think all of us in our own ways see this as our contribution to a bigger voice of literature. It’s foolish to say it’s going to get recognized, heard or read, but still we have to try,” he said.
Northern Nevada has a substantial literary community and its poetry circle is a vigorous one.
So far this year three of the area’s most established poets have published work, along with at least one newcomer.
The books by Kirk Robertson, Gailmarie Pahmeier and Griffin represent their life’s work, Griffin said.
Pahmeier’s “The Rural Lives of Nice Girls,” contains more than 30 poems about home, family, tentative relationships and love shown in unexpected ways.
Griffin’s “Driving the Tender Desert Home” is a chapbook — a small book of poems — of friendship, family, life and death.
Robertson’s “How the Light Gets In,” brings readers his insightful voice of the West that turns the mundane into evocative episodes of human nature.
A newcomer to the Northern Nevada poetry scene, Glade Myler of Carson City, has written for years and been published in poetry magazines. “Through the Eye of the Needle” (Trafford Publishing, $9.66 paperback) includes poems in English and Spanish, many inspired by music and life experiences.
Elko’s Western Folklife Center also has published “National Cowboy Poetry Gathering: The Anthology,” a collection of work from the Western Folklife Center in Elko.
It’s not a poetry breakthrough or renaissance, local poets say, but it is an exciting time to write.
A mark on the plus side was the Lit Crawl, an inaugural event held in downtown and Midtown Reno during Artown in July. Local poets and authors read their works in participating businesses while people moved from reading to reading.
Pahmeier, educator and poet, who has just released “The Rural Lives of Nice Girls” (Black Rock Press, $14.95 paperback) was scheduled to participate, but was skeptical.
“I thought nobody was going to come,” she said.
But people showed up. Lots of people.
“I couldn’t believe the crowds and the success of the event. It was exciting,” she said. “I wished I had two bodies so I could participate in the crawl and also as a reader.”
At the end, people came up to her and complimented her work and her presentation.
A lot of credit for that success goes to organizers Mark Maynard and Karen Wikander “for organizing and pulling it off,” she said. “I was amazed.”
There are poetry readings and classes that draw more attention and attendance than they might have 10 years ago. People still don’t buy a lot of poetry books, poets will tell you, but they appreciate a good reading.
“I believe Nevada as a state was always supportive of the arts, I think because of the almost-mythic view of the isolated American West that was tolerant of oddity and personal expression,” Pahmeier said.
Griffin, whose chapbook, “Driving the Tender Desert Home” (Limberlost Press, $15, paperback) is grateful for the burgeoning arts community that is including writers.
“It must be a confluence of readers, writers and responsiveness to the work,” he said. “It must be a community that needs for that to continue. Also, in my perspective of teaching in prison for so long, it’s needed for survival.”
Griffin, executive director of Community Chest, a Virginia City-based nonprofit that assists needy children and families, has long mentored a writing class at the Nevada State Prison, helping inmates express themselves through writing.
In addition to writers and readers, he credits a growing list of local writers conferences and college and university fine-arts programs that encourage literature.
Within a radius of 50 or 60 miles of Reno, Griffin estimated about 100 people are seriously working at literature.
“I travel a lot and people are always telling me how envious they are of the community of writers here. It’s a thoughtful group. There are no egos,” Griffin said.
But Robertson, writer and program coordinator of the Oats Park Art Center in Fallon, collected more than 40 years’ worth of his poetry into “How the Light Gets In.” (Black Rock Press, $24.95, paperback.) He’s uncertain that the literary audience is increasing beyond proportional population growth.
A much smaller segment of the population reads poetry compared to fiction, Robertson said.
“I’m not sure what the extent of the literary arts audience is in Northern Nevada,” he said. “It is what it is. I think it’s proportional. I’m not sure the number of people actively involved in contributing is increasing.”
His book, like Pahmeier’s, fell under the protective arm of Bob Blesse, recently retired director of Black Rock Press at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“It just seemed like it was time to take a look back at what I had done,” he said.
Blesse and Robertson were two of the people Pahmeier met when she moved to Reno 30 years ago.
“I think there was always a strong literary community. As the population expanded we have a larger literary community,” she said. “I do not think the quality has changed; it’s always been one of excellence, energy, motivation.”
She’d like to see Nevada designate a poet laureate, as many other states do, to enhance the literary arts. She’d also like to see something like a public radio program devoted to local poets and authors.
“For myself, and I think I can speak for Gailmarie and Kirk, we write because we have to. We can’t not do it,” Griffin said. “It brings me peace. Also it’s a way to stop time and look at things reflectively.
“These books, this work. they represent our life work. Poems in my small chapbook, some are from 25 or 30 years ago… Gailmarie’s book is her best poems. Kirk’s — this is his life work.
“There is a lot of work online. People are trying to integrate the media, but you have to slow down for poetry,” he said. “it’s like sipping good wine. You don’t do it in an hour, you do it in an evening. You can’t come to poetry in a hurry.”
Information provided by the Reno Gazette-Journal.