Saturday, November 19, 2022

Denise Low reviews a first book by Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez

A Light To Do Shellwork By, by Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez. (Scarlet Tanager Press. $18.00. ISBN

9781734531350 2022). This California Indigenous author, of Islander and Coastal Chumash people and an enrolled O’odham member, publishes her first full-length collection of poetry. This elder’s book is an important link among generations. The poems celebrate and renew family spiritual practices, as in the poem “The Fox Paw and Coyote Blessing.” It describes the narrator’s conversation with her departed grandmother:

. . . The morning of my Giveaway

at the Sunrise Ceremony

sprinkling tobacco to the east

of the ceremonial ring

I prayed to my Papago Pima gramma

who died a few years back but is

alive somewhere . . . .   (p. 35).

The narrator knows the grandmother is “alive somewhere,” and the poem adds another dimension to that reality. Another intergenerational work is “The Red Shawl,” a dramatic poem that works well on the page. Valoyce-Sanchez has faith the readers will receive her words as living testaments. Her generosity of spirit pervades the poems.

I am honored to have been asked to write the foreword to this important book, which includes these comments about the title: “Especially moving in A Light to Do Shellwork By are the poems about the narrator’s father, in his nineties, as he finds his way through blindness and memories. Respect for this man’s life embodies the respect for all the cultural traditions. His [Chumash] people have survived over five-hundred years of contact with settlers from the west and the east. Prayers, songs, dances, and poems are among the techniques of survival, for a people and for the individuals. Gratitude to Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez for this magnificent gift” (ix-xi). A stanza from the title poem “A Light To Do Shellwork By,” tells about the day the poet’s father died, :

The ocean sang in my father’s hands

abalone pendants shimmered rainbows

from the ears of pretty girls

and shellwork dotted driftwood carvings

            cowrie shells, cone shells, volute shells

            red, black, white, blue, brown, green shells

the life they once held


old stories etched on

the lifeline of my father’s palm . . . .  (p. 61)

The verse includes culturally based topics as well as recent political issues, such as tribal terminations by the federal government. California Indigenous peoples suffered some of the worst persecutions and violence from settlers. A Light To Do Shellwork By is a healing work that looks forward without forgetting the past.

Biography: GEORGIANA VALOYCE-SANCHEZ, author of A Light To Do Shellwork By: Poems (Scarlet Tanager Books, 2022), is a descendant of Islander and Coastal Chumash Peoples from her father’s lineage, and O’odham (Akimel and Tohono) from her mother’s lineage. She is currently an enrolled member of The Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation and chair of the Chumash Women’s Elders Council for the Wishtoyo Foundation. She taught many different classes for the American Indian Studies Program at California State University, Long Beach, including two classes she designed: “World Genocides: An American Indian Perspective,” with graduate student Anna Nazarian-Peters, and “Conduits of California Indian Cultures: Art, Music, Dance and Storytelling.” She retired from CSULB in 2014, after twenty-seven years. She was a board member for many years at the California Indian Storytelling Association, and she continues to be an advocate for California Indian languages and sacred sites. Her poem “I Saw My Father Today” is on display at the Embarcadero Muni/BART station as one of twelve poems cast in bronze and placed prominently in San Francisco. 

Praise for A Light To Do Shellwork By

 "This long-awaited book of poetry by Georgiana Valoyce-Sanchez is a beautiful masterwork on how to take care of the light of knowledge given to her by family, by the lands and the waters. Each poem is as delicate and precise as a carved shell. Each shell-poem reminds us of the original purpose of poetry, to function as blessing songs, as memory holders, or observations for what is humbly important but might go unseen unless given a place to live in a poem. These poems will take you to the ocean’s edge and allow you to listen deeply to the blue deep. They will take you to the desert and sing into you the shimmer of rain feeding the generous expanse of sunlight. With this collection of poetry, you will make it home."

— Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek Nation), 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate


“An illustration of intimate family history that’s a testament to the continuity of Indigenous life and poetics in California.” Kirkus Review

Monday, November 14, 2022

Meadowlark Books Publishes Denise Low's Book of Essays Jigsaw Puzzling

JIGSAW PUZZLING: ESSAYS IN A TIME OF PESTILENCE by Denise Low, Meadowlark Press. Games/Essay/Memoir

The 15 essays in this book explore the pop culture of jigsaw puzzlers while reflecting on art, geography, history, and more. Denise Low considers mosaics, reassembled pottery shards, play as rehearsal for life, and more. She quotes other literary jigsaw authors like Susan Sontag, Gaston Bachelard, Margaret Drabble and poets James Merrill and Dick Allen. “I never underestimate the power of a single puzzle piece. It fits within a whole, like each moment of my unfolding life story.” —Denise Low

Online discount 20% off. Click on this link:  PAYPAL LINK Also available on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and the publisher’s page Meadowlark Books. Paperback, retail $20. 122 pages, ISBN 978-1956578263, 6.2 ounces, 5.98 x 0.28 x 9.02 inches.

PRAISE FOR Jigsaw Puzzling

What is a sane, reasonable response to an insane, unreasonable Pandemic? Unlike some of us who lurched into bread baking, home renovation, or exploring the life of the hermit, Denise Low instead challenged a world of logic and symmetry by setting out to master the domain of the jigsaw puzzle. This is a realm of surety: logic within defined boundaries. Solving a puzzle demands concentration and leads to a higher contemplation of morality and ethics, as well. Denise Low has brilliantly accomplished this unfolding of the simple into the multifarious with insight and charm. —Sandy McIntosh, author of Plan B: A Poet’s Survivors Manual

Obsessions never fail to get my attention, especially when they concern things I completely overlook. Jigsaw Puzzling is a dive down unsuspected rabbit holes of jigsaw culture and plague history, lessons in art, geography, and much more. If you know Denise Low’s books–I do, I’ve read them all–you know her as a sharp, droll observer of the natural world, including the world of human nature. Her quiet, poetic voice leads a reader into hidden rooms filled with surprises, striking notes that resonate deeply with the world we live in. A wonderful read with or without a pandemic! –Jim Gilkeson, author of Three Lost Worlds: A Memoir.

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Lucille Lang Day, Wampanoag-descent poet, writes bold beauty


The talented, generous writer Lucille Lang Day is author most recently of Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place (Blue Light Press: First World Publishing, 2020). She contributes to the literary community in so many ways. First, she is publisher of Scarlet Tanager Press, an independent press that publishes Indigenous and other writers. She edits anthologies, including Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California (co-edited with Kurt Schweigman, Scarlet Tanager) and Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California (co-edited with Ruth Nolan. She organizes readings, supports Scarlet Tanager authors at the Associated Writing Programs conference, and appears at events. In addition to her support for others, her own poetry is dynamite. The title poem of her latest book Birds of San Pancho begins:

A great kiskadee sits on the casa wall

belting its exuberant song above

the dusty, cobblestone street. The bird

is masked like a raccoon, its breast

yellow as the butterflies that flit

amid hibiscus and bougainvillea. . . .

The poet describes the scene with bold brushstrokes, unafraid of interpretive adjectives like “exuberant” and a vivid comparison of a bird’s head markings to a raccoon’s mask. She is in control of syntax as she effortlessly progresses through the poem. Her balance of description and reflection keeps the poem interesting as it builds to its ending point:

Later, at the lagoon, a great blue heron,

a little blue heron, a green heron,

a night heron, two great egrets, eight 

snowy egrets and twenty cattle egrets

gather while brown pelicans dive

for fish and the sun’s bright disk sinks 

into the sea. When it disappears,

the egrets rise in groups and pairs

to settle in two coconut palms

for the night. Oh, to sit up there too—

safe, having eaten my fill—with

folded wings, watching over creation.

Focus is on the birds and nature’s patterns, not the poet’s life and ego—until the very end when the poet enters into the moment to share, not to overwhelm the entire poem. Her “Vincent’s Bedroom at Arles” is a perfect double ekphrastic poem—about the painting and about the physical room itself—and then it turns out the Arles citizenry recreated this room because the original was destroyed during World War II.  This gives Day occasion to ponder intersections of fiction and reality on many levels, made (seemingly) effortless in her poet’s spell. “At Lake Tahoe” is another well calibrated poem about the poet’s Wampanoag ancestry set side-by-side with California Indigenous people of this place, the Washoes. It ends:

Yet in summer Washoes still do the Pine Nut Dance

and Wampanoags do the Grass Dance to keep the world

in balance and remind us that the Earth is living, every

rock is sacred, and every tree and salmon has a soul. (79)

Day is able to tie two coasts together in this ending—the Massachusetts Wampanoags and the California Washoes. This understanding of unities is one of the pleasures of the collection. Day has a science Ph.D., and also M.F.A. in creative writing. She puts these two perspectives to good use in her writing. It is precise, complete, and transformative.


Interview with SF Review of Books Zara's Blog (

Poem by Lucille Lang dYetay, Valpraiso, “Birds of San Pancho

Poem by Lucille Lang Day  Poetry Foundation, “Tooth Painter,” 

Video of Lucille Lang Day  Berkeley Public Library poetry reading,

Video of Lucille Lang Day “How to Publish a Memoir,”

Lucille Lang Day is the author of seven full-length poetry collections and four poetry chapbooks. Her latest collection is Birds of San Pancho and Other Poems of Place (Blue Light Press, 2020). She has also edited the anthology Poetry and Science: Writing Our Way to Discovery, and she coedited Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California and Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry from California. Other publications are two children’s books and a memoir, Married at Fourteen: A True Story. Her many honors include the Blue Light Poetry Prize, two PEN Oakland-Josephine Miles Literary Awards, the Joseph Henry Jackson Award, and eleven Pushcart Prize nominations. She holds an M.F.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University, an MA in zoology, and a Ph.D. in science/mathematics education from the University of California at Berkeley. She lives in Oakland, California. She is of Wampanoag, British, and Swiss/German descent.

Denise Low, Kansas Poet Laureate 2007-09, won the Editor’s Choice Red Mountain Press Poetry Award for Shadow Light. Other publications are memoirs The Turtle’s Beating Heart: One Family’s Story of Lenape Survival (U. of Nebraska Press,) and Jigsaw Puzzling: Essays in a Time of Pestilence (Meadowlark, Sept. 2022); Wing (Red Mountain, Hefner Heitz Award finalist); Casino Bestiary (Spartan); and Jackalope (fiction, Red Mountain). She is co-author of Northern Cheyenne Ledger Art by Fort Robinson Breakout Survivors (U. of Nebraska Press, Ks. Notable Book). Her PhD in literature and creative writing is from the University of Kansas, and her MFA is from Wichita State. At Haskell Indian Nations University, she founded the creative writing program. She teaches for Baker University’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies. Board memberships include Indigenous Native Poets (In-Na-Po) and Associated Writers and Writing Programs (past president and contributing editor). Her heritage includes British Isles, German, and Lenape/Munsee (Delaware). She lives in California’s Sonoma