The California Independent Booksellers Alliance has announced a series of poetry collections, each one focused on a region of the vast and varied state, edited by former San Francisco poet laureate Kim Shuck. CALIBA’s debut collection, This Wandering State: Poems from Alta, celebrates San Francisco and includes well-known writers MK Chavez, Jack Hirschman, devorah major, and Dean Rader, as well as up-and-comers.
“The intent of the project is to provide a platform that reflects the diversity of poets throughout California, offer our bookstores profitable titles targeted to their region, and create an income stream that supports CALIBA's programs and services that help our bookstores,” said CALIBA co-executive director Ann Seaton. This Wandering State is available as a print-on-demand title from Ingram Lightning Source.
On the eve of the March 2020 pandemic closures, then-Northern California Independent Booksellers Association executive director Calvin Crosby met Shuck for dinner. At the time, NCIBA and SCIBA were merging to form the statewide CALIBA. “I had done a poem-of-the-day for San Francisco Public Library,” Shuck said, “so my pitch was a poem-of-the-day around the state.” Crosby had a grander scheme, envisioning a series of poetry collections ranging across the entire state, with Shuck as editor.
In 2021, Crosby left the Golden State to take ownership of The King’s English in his hometown of Salt Lake City, while Shuck continued the project with incoming CALIBA co-executive directors Seaton and Kristin Rasmussen. “I had been on the board of directors for California Poets in Schools, so I have contacts around the state, and I know a lot of the laureates, former and present,” Shuck said.
Now, she’s traveling to cities and small towns to attend readings, meet writers, and gain a deeper understanding of the voices and traditions across the state for new editions. “There are definite poetic accents from the different regions,” she said. Depending on where they live, “poets are writing about water concerns, labor concerns, and the beauty” of the coasts, farmland, mountains, and desert. “The history of colonization is different in all these areas too,” Shuck added, noting that she listens from her perspective as a member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.
Shuck plans to organize some of the volumes around several counties each. “I do want to finish before I die, and there are 58 counties, so I’m grouping some of them together,” she said, not altogether kidding. “I’m trying to make sure each grouping has at least one laureate in it, because the mandate for every laureate is to amplify the voice of poetry in their area” and they supply information about regional voices.
She also aims to be inclusive rather than comprehensive: “No collection can be ‘complete’—that is a myth. I’m trying to pick work that stands on its own.” In This Wandering State, for instance, nationally and internationally known poets like Adrian Arias, Christine No, and Michael Warr appear side-by-side with local activists and organizers Mason J., Phillip Standing Bear, and Preeti Vangani. “Where I’m using superstar poets, they’re also poets who do a lot of organizing,” Shuck said. She plumbs the poetry lineages in each community, asking herself, “Who tends the poem blossoms? Who tends the garden and who are the recently planted?”
The next titles will combine Fresno, Mariposa, and Merced; San Mateo and Santa Cruz; and Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Each book in the CALIBA Poetry Project will feature approximately 40 poets and their place-based sensibilities.