Hannah Stein gave a reading from her new collection of poetry, "Earthlight" (La Questa Press, 2000, $12), at The Avid Reader bookstore on January 28 at 7:30 p.m.
Copies of "Earthlight" are easy to spot due to the striking blue cover, a painting of a woman swimming to the surface ("Getting From Here to There" by Barbara K. Schwartz).
Stein is a longtime resident of Davis.
"We moved here in 1953 when the College of Letters and Science was just getting started," she said. "We" refers to Hannah and her husband, emeritus Professor Sherman Stein of the math department at UC Davis. They have three grown children, all of whom live on the East Coast.
It was in a New York gallery that Stein saw "Getting From Here to There" and knew it would be just right for her book of poetry.
The 43 poems in the collection are about, well, it's hard to say just exactly what they are about. Topics include Anne Frank, Bobby Sands, the Capay Valley in springtime, the beauty of Pi, and her husband the mathematician.
"I can't describe it," she said. "I write free verse and I write about whatever has to be written.
"Many of the poems are about the fact that there are two sides to everything," she said. "What's going on in the world, what we are experiencing, is often at odds with what we are thinking. Like what we think of when we listen to music."
Many people may remember Stein as a popular local piano teacher. Others may have taken her poetry workshop at the Davis Art Center. She describes herself as a late bloomer when it comes to her poetry career.
"I went to Barnard College where I was a creative writing major and then took poetry workshops at UC Davis," she said. ("Earthlight" blurbs were provided by Sandra Gilbert and Alan Williamson of UCD.)
"I began as a fiction writer and then switched to poetry in about 1980. I realized that poetry was what I should have been doing the whole time," she said.
She has published about 70 of her poems in national journals and literary reviews. Many of her previously published poems are included in "Earthlight." Stein says she tries to write every day and at the same time tend to the poetry business of reading journals and sending her work out to poetry magazines. She's well aware of the competition.
"There are so many poets, so many MFA programs at universities cranking out poets by the hundreds, I feel very fortunate to be published." Not only that, but the publication of "Earthlight" marks a change for her publisher, La Questa Press of Woodside, which has been a publisher of short fiction.
"This is the first volume of poetry for them," she said. "So I'm lucky to be published because, after all, that's why I write. I feel we are all basically isolated and to make a connection with someone else is a wonderful thing."
The first poem in the collection, "Twin," is about connections. "I never had a (biological) twin, but it's a fascination of mine," she said. No, the twinship she refers to in this poem refers to Anne Frank. "Anne Frank would be my age today," she said.
Stein said she feels a connection not only with Anne Frank, but with the many people who lived through the horrors of World War II.
"And being Jewish, I thought 'There but for the grace of God go I.' I have felt powerfully the sense of being a survivor when I could so easily have been a victim. I have a feeling of twinship with so many, also a feeling of guilt for my good luck."
Another poem, "Anniversary: The Capay Valley in February" celebrates the fact that she is a breast cancer survivor. And while "Hunger Strike" was dedicated to Bobby Sands of the IRA, it could be applied to many other political prisoners today.
Stein says she has zillions of poems and now intends to go through them with an eye toward preparing another book. "They need time to breathe," she says. And she will continue writing new poems.
"I always write the first draft in longhand," she said. "Then I type it in the computer for revisions. For me, 90 percent of writing is revision and that's best done on a computer. But my most creative work is done when I put my hand to paper."
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