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Guerneville poet's online effort sparks poetry readings worldwide

  • Michael Rothenberg (PD FILE, 2011)

What happens when the ancient art of poetry ventures out on the Internet? Verse goes viral.

About six months ago, Michael Rothenberg, 60, a poet and website editor who lives in a cabin on a wooded hillside at the edge of Guerneville, had an idea.

He wanted to use the Web to instigate a loose aggregation of poetry readings all over the world, all devoted to fostering peace and protecting the planet.

At random, he set the date as Saturday, Sept. 24, and he called this global, virtual gathering “100 Thousand Poets for Change.”

“I created an event page on Facebook. I had 4,000 friends on Facebook,” Rothenberg said. “I started getting answers back right away.”

The numbers have grown dramatically, with 700 events now scheduled in 550 cities in 95 countries. Many are new events and some are readings added to existing festivals.

Rothenberg got the 100,000 number the same way he got the Sept. 24 date — he picked it out of the air.

“There probably are easily a 100,000 poets in the United States. Then we found Internet articles that somehow concluded that there are 6 million poets in the world. They're out there,” he said.

Rothenberg brings some serious credentials to this new endeavor.

“I've been writing poetry and publishing poetry for 35 or 40 years,” he said. “In ‘86, I started Big Bridge Press. In ‘94, I started Big Bridge as an online magazine, so I moved from print to digital. It's one of the older and well-known literary magazines online.”

The Big Bridge website gets as many as 40,000 hits a month, and like the Facebook event page Rothenberg started, it has become an information and communication center for Saturday's worldwide poetry celebration.

A Miami native, Rothenberg first moved to California in 1976, when he co-founded the Shelldance nursery in Pacifica, which he still co-owns. He moved to Guerneville with partner Terri Carrion, who helped him start "100 Thousand Poets for Change."

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