Year: 2018

Julie Jordan Scott featured at Open Mic, January 5, 2018




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Story by Walter Stormont

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

It’s 5 p.m. at Dagny’s Coffee Company in the heart of Bakersfield.  It’s Friday… First Friday.  The downtown arts district is coming alive, with music, painting, jewelry, crafts, and the spoken word.

“About an hour from now, this room will be taken over by poets,” I tell a group of ladies meeting in the side room of Dagny’s.  They know the deal… by 5:45, they’ve relocated and the room’s furniture has been moved around to accommodate poets and observers.  Open Mic is getting underway.  Before long, 35 people are in the room, jockeying for position to take in the proceedings.

“Full house here,” announces guest emcee Shanna O’Brien, an accomplished singer-songwriter.  “We need everyone who wants to perform to sign up.  We can’t start late tonight.”  The signup sheet goes around as some performers eagerly get on the list and others try to summon the gumption.  Attendance would swell to more than 50 poets and aficionados.

Shanna offers a friendly admonition to the audience to be polite to the poets.  “They’re sharing their souls, opening up their hearts,” she explains.  No looking at your phones while poets are performing.  Don’t slide the chairs around… that’s pretty noisy.  And please keep the door closed to block out the loud chatter from the front part of Dagny’s.

On with the show.  Shanna introduces tonight’s Featured Poet, Julie Jordan Scott, who steps up to the mic.

“You people are my people,” Julie says.  “The poets of the world are my people!”

The people prove it by helping Julie with an interactive poetic exercise.

She starts out by clapping her hands to set a rhythm.

“Find your own voice and use it,” she chimes. “Use your own voice and find it.”

Again: “Find your own voice and use it.  Use your own voice and find it.”

Beforehand, Julie had passed around painted pages from old dictionaries that the audience could use to help them select words to toss at her.

“Give me a word!”


“Grateful!” Julie repeats. “Breathe in grateful, breathe out poetry.”

“What are you grateful for?”


And so it continues as the people bond.

Her session finished, Julie hands the mic back to Shanna, who introduces the night’s sign-ups in small groups.  She does her best to keep things moving, because there are so many who wish to share – and some of their poems are rather long.  I count 16 performers, including one dear lady who can’t go on at first because her emotions take over… but the night is young.

We hear offerings like “Different Sports” and “What is Love” and “The Lowly Substitute.”  Thomas Brill startles us when he starts out screaming, “I hate poems about poetry!”  Many topics presented might be shocking to some, as poets bear their souls like Shanna has pointed out.

One young man comes up and feigns stage fright, then announces, “I don’t write poetry… I kind of misunderstood this whole thing!”  He then tells a joke that doesn’t go so well.  But it’s an offering nevertheless.  Michelle Moreno reminds us all that “love wins.”  Some performers at Open Mic Night are singers like Elizabeth Privett who captivates us with her hauntingly beautiful ballad (all songs performed must be original compositions).

Bodhi, who tells us he’s “60-some years old,” offers a moving reminiscence of the tumultuous 1960s… Vietnam War, protests, peace marches.

Tonight, we have witnessed the best of what Tony O’Brien describes as “the greatest show on earth,” the human race.  Soon after he shares, the night’s final poet approaches the open mic… the same woman who earlier could not get the words out.  Now they flow wonderfully.  She has a lot to say, and she ends it with the meaningful phrase, “Show’s over.”

The poets then find their way into the night as First Friday continues.

* * * * *

Two of tonight’s artists graciously agreed to answer some questions about themselves and their work.  We start off with Featured Poet Julie Jordan Scott:

Please share about your background and life.

My most important creative project has been my three children who are now grown or nearly grown.

I am involved in a variety of arts here in Kern County: my photography and mixed media art has been shown and sold locally.  I do a weekly Art Livestream Broadcast on Periscope where I show my process and often read favorite (and newly found to me) poetry.

I have been involved in theater (on stage as well as a technician, Director and Producer) for the last 12 years.  I’ve won awards, both The Empty Space and Bakersfield Community Theater.  I’ve also done work at the Spotlight Theater (now Ovation Theatre) and Stars Theater.  Most recently I’ve appeared in films with Inclusion Films.

My first poetry performance was at Spotlight Theater in Les Femmes Artistes, which upped the ante from my hosting of the Open Mic at Barnes and Noble which I did in the early 2000s.

When did you first become interested in poetry?

I have loved poetry since elementary school.  I actually started writing before I was literate: I would dictate to my mother and then I would copy the letters with my crayons, having no idea how to translate what I wanted to write in letters and words.

I self-published a collection of poetry for my grandmother for Christmas when I was 13.  It was primarily confessional, dealing a lot with my family’s dysfunction.  My grandmother was impressed with my wordsmithing: it may have been a cry for help.

Who are some of your creative influences?

I have a profound love for the women writers who went before me.  The literary canon too often leaves them out.  I especially admire and learn from Ina Coolbrith, Mary Hunter Austin, Alice Walker, Mary Oliver, May Sarton.

I also wonder about the propensity for women poets to commit suicide and sometimes feel like my continuing with the craft somehow helps their work survive: Sara Teasdale, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton are examples.

What are some of the places you’ve been published or shared your work?

Some of the better known include Chicken Soup for the Soul of America,

American Greetings, several anthologies including a Co-authorship of Writing for Self-Discovery with Sheila Finkelstein.  I self-published my first ebook in 1999.  Quite a trendsetter!

As a poet, do you lean toward any particular style?

I attempt to be eclectic and enjoy experimenting.  I enjoy forms of micro-poetry like

haiku and tanka.  I enjoy playing with metrical verse.  I enjoy the flow of pantoum.

What is your writing life like?  How often… computer or longhand?  That kind of stuff.

I write on whatever is convenient.  Notebook, computer, phone is great for poems-in-the-moment.  (People think you’re texting!)

How did you develop your technique involving improvisation and audience participation?

It all started because I was producing something called a Poetry Concert the night before my 49th birthday.  Most people had no idea what a poetry concert was, but they wanted to support me, or liked poetry, and they were curious.  It was the culmination of an art show I had curated at The Empty Space theater called “Visible Poetics.”

I hated the thought of people arriving at the event and not having anything to do, so I decided I would offer everyone painted pages and ask them to add words to the page or circle words on the page and when the time came, they would speak their words and bring them (somehow) to the center.  Some people threw the pages onto the stage, some people marched onto the stage with their words and I had volunteers gathering up and speaking words for the more shy people.

It turned into a “happening” of sorts.  I have a video of it somewhere (I believe).  Portia was there (Kern Poetry Director, Portia Choi).  I sort of stood back and let it happen, unfold as it wanted to.

It was a great way to get people involved from the moment they entered the theater and sort of let them know this wasn’t a “sit back and watch” kind of experience, it was a “I am a collaborative partner in art” sort of experience.  As in all forms of improvisation, each member doesn’t really know where it is going, we sort of agree to agree AND add what will further the work along.

(This is so interesting as I have never put it into words before).  I believe every person is a creative person, just need to have the spark to bring that creativity to life.  In my work as a Creative Life Coach (I have a website, my catch-phrases include “Inspiring Artistic Rebirth” and “The World is Waiting for Your Words.”  I believe each and every person on this planet has a valuable voice and a valid, important story to be interwoven with whomever we are blessed to find along the path.

I have also used different forms of audience participation including personalized haiku I create on the spot, offering words for the audience to create a line of poetry with me (you may have seen that at Dagny’s.)

I also have a creative experience called a “Soul Poetry Session” where I ask questions and we spend about 20 to 30 minutes in deep connection, and then I write a poem.

Please share one of your poems.

Now Begin

By Julie Jordan Scott

Take away the degrees, titles and accomplishments –
What is discovered at your core?
What is your unique, special spark?
Buried deep, neglected, that you’ve chosen to ignore?


Seeking to please whomever.

Drowning out the pure longings of your heart

Struggling, freezing, suffocating –

Until finally, you choose to start.


Whispers from the spirit.

Soul’s song from deep within.

After dancing, stranger among strangers –

Claim it.  Your life.  Now Begin –


* * * * *


We also reached out to Elizabeth Privett, who performed her song tonight:

Please share with us a little about your background and what you do in your daily life.

My name is Elizabeth L. Privett.  I am 21 years old.  Born and raised in Bakersfield, CA.  I work full-time and take classes at Bakersfield College.  I wrote my first song for a book report at Fruitvale Jr. High and from there I have performed my songs for talent competitions, fundraisers, small venues, street fairs and other functions across the city. Now, I am not as passionate about large performances, but I still enjoy playing music with my friends and my mom at small gatherings or venues.  In my daily life you might find me catching a film at Maya Cinemas, eating waffles at J’s Place, or drinking with friends at Imbibe or Dionysus.

What is the name of the song you performed?  Can you share a few lyrics?

The name of the song is “Olivia,” and a few of the lyrics include, “Through time we’d speak ideas of girl who’s yet to be.  She fills our world with bits of wonder.  Fall into the storm; scream into her warmth until you’re cold.  How else could we know you’re still mourning?”

How did the song-writing process go?

I wrote a small portion of the song about a year ago and was never able to find the right words for the rest of it.  For a long time I didn’t even know what I wanted to say.  Then, the Friday at the Open Mic I began reflecting back on the moments that inspired this song and I was able to write about it again.  I wrote and edited and wrote and edited some more, and within two hours completed the song.  I was so excited about completing it that I decided to share it that night instead of another song I had prepared.  So, I got off of work at 5:00 PM, drove home, found some chords on the guitar that would work with my melody, and drove to Dagny’s by 6:00 PM.  Part of me wondered if I should wait until the next Open Mic to share it, but the energy was there, so I went for it.

While performing a song, do you feel “poetic” or “musical” or both?

I would like to say both.  I am not very confident in my speaking voice, so the words I use to express my vulnerabilities and experiences tend to form themselves in melodies.  Songwriting allows me to speak my mind while being able to hide a little behind my singing.  I am still worried about people not enjoying my words, so if I can sing them, at least they might like my singing voice!

What are some of your other musical accomplishments?

I have been performing since I was 6 years old.  I have been songwriting and playing guitar since I was 13 years old.  I have been in a few bands.  I have been a finalist in a few talent shows/karaoke competitions in town.  Mostly now I play at open mic nights because I haven’t felt serious about performing for some time.

How often do you write?

Honestly, not too often. This is the second song I have finished writing in the last year, and the other song I completed I started writing a few years prior.  I usually rely on bursts of inspiration to write my songs, but as I am realizing that I use my writing to process my emotions, I am also realizing that I cannot rely on inspiration alone.  Ernest Newman, a famous and respected music critic from the early 1900s, once said, “The greatest composer does not sit down to work because he is inspired, but becomes inspired because he is working.”  This quote has been pushing me to reconsider how I make music.  I am now starting to schedule making music into my week.  Additionally, my friend and I recently started hosting Art Nights for our many multi-talented friends to share their work and collaborate with one another.  That has also inspired me to work on my songwriting more, so that I have new work to share with the group when we meet.

* * * * *

Thanks to all our poets and attendees.  We hope to see you next month, and every First Friday, at Open Mic Night… because Poetry Lives!

Poetry at Women’s March, Kern County

Story by Portia Choi

Video provided by Anke Hodenpijl

There was poetry at the Women’s March in January 2018, Bakersfield, California.

Anke Hodenpijl recited two poems in front of a crowd to enthusiastic response.  Her performance was on video.  Hodenpijl was interviewed for Kern Poetry.

Two other poets, Mandy Anderson and Diane Lobre, were at the march.  They were also interviewed for this story.



How did it feel reciting your poems in front of such a big crowd?

Looking out at the crowd made me feel small, yet somehow I know my words were important. As I started to read, the crowd grew quieter and then quieter again. I thought, “They are really listening!” This felt empowering. When it was all over and they yelled “Yes!” in support, I felt affirmed and among friends. I felt safe.

What influenced you to write poetry in general?

Poetry was how I learned to read English, since it was my second language. I like expressions to be insightful, descriptive and succinct. The power of poetry to move the spirit, my own and others, inspired me to become a poet for life.

What influenced you to write the two poems that you performed at the march?

Poetry gave me a voice to respond to the outcome of the last election. These poems in particular were aroused by feelings of disappointment and anger. I edited them for this years march, in response to the hope I felt through sharing my voice with other like-minded people.

The poems of Hodenpijl are “Work” and “being Her.”



by Anke Hodenpijl

that place in between

between imagination and satisfaction

between prayer and holiness

between spirit and love

between birth and re-birth


Gratitude is the dough I knead

with intentional hands

shaping and

caring for

that place in between

once again


this time with potent iterations

full-flavored, unconfused and knowing

Truth is the seed of swelling sophistication


Today, in my older years,

my Work is louder

because the ears of others

have forgotten

Or maybe they did not get

the text,

the instant message or

the tweet.


Let my work begin afresh,


not hesitatingly like a distant fog-covered sunrise,

but rather like an eruption,

unwilling to be punched down,



I say


My pussy is not yours to grab!

Your alternative facts, are not my reality.

My memory is clear.

Your words. Can. Not. reconstruct Herstory.


My Suffrage Brogue

creates an unmistakable landscape

as surely as the molten lava

claims the mountain side and the sea

from the center

to the heavens


this is who I am

this is where I’ve been


and, Yes, THIS is still my work.

© 2018 Anke Hodenpijl



being Her

          by Anke Hodenpijl

being Her


used to be her deficiency

became her necessity

became her hope

became her legacy

became her Opus

became our Birthright


we dance with Her descant


the cheerless and sticky rejection

the pluck of her pushback

the rumpus of Her March

as she labored for

equal rights

equal pay

equal humanity

in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and still

in this millennium


as we claim our apologue

from her swindle sheet

we exhume the after birth

and the caterwaul of resistance

the unjust reincarnation

of the Philistine Shadow

rising like stench from a too shallow grave


Are we to be ransomed again?

Time’s up?

Me too?




What is the price for the uncaging of a fearless life?

When will we be able to fly with the quiet confidence of a flock

murmurating in unison

agreeing through conscious heart

that we are full-toned, muscled and mighty?


Is it true what I’ve been told?


A Woman’s Work is never done?


being Her


sure feels that way.


©2017 Anke Hodenpijl





What influenced you to write the poem you recited at Open Mic. 

I wrote this poem, (“The Coming of age,”) the night before the Women’s March. I was up late excited for my first March so I decided the best way to use my time was to write.

I wrote this poem having young girls in mind. The transition from being a girl to becoming a woman can be so awkward.

Teenage boys don’t understand that’s why I added in “Steven laughs as I run to the bathroom”. She feels confused and nervous that the world has told her because her body is bleeding that she has become a women.

I also added “Why do we have to pay 75c” because I feel that it’s not right that our public restrooms ESPECIALLY those for young girls at school have to charge for something that is needed. That just brings more anxiety and embarssment for those not prepared for that moment. Instead of going discreetly to the bathroom they have to ask. I really felt connected with this piece and I had a lot of influence from the Women’s March.


What influenced you to write poetry in general?

I have been writing since I was 14. Some where along the way I stopped writing books and started writing just these little pieces. Each little quote or writing I would create always had a story to it.

Last year I fell into a really deep depression that sort of just built up from a lot of trauma. I was at home one day on Facebook when I came across a video on a Facebook page called Button poetry. The video was called “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” by Sabrina Benaim. I listened as this girl poured out her soul and mine along with it. It sparked something inside me.

I went back through all my writing and realized a lot of my work was stories of my struggles and my screams to be heard. I told myself that’s what I need to do. I needed to scream out my emotions through paper again. That’s when I sat down and poetry just started flowing out. It brought so much healing that I was not expecting.



The coming of age 

        by Mandy Anderson


        Today I have become a woman

                             Blood drips down my leg
My childhood becomes a distant memory

Becoming a woman is great they say
Sex ed says I can get pregnant


                           Steven laughs as I run to the bathroom
Why do I have to pay 75c

we die if we lose too much

A sign of an ending

I feel my childhood dying.

A death so painfully inescapable


                         Today, I have become a woman





What was it like to be at the Women’s March?

I had reservation about going. (But) it was such a peaceful gathering.  There were thousands of women there.  Amazing.  Lots of men were there.  There were young and there were old.  The women just wanted to stand with each other.

What was it like to hear Anke Hodenpijl recite her poems?

I did not hear all the words, (but) there was power, (incredible) response of the crowd.  Anke kept raising the energy, (it was) definitely an inspiring moment.

When did you begin writing poetry?

I began writing poetry when I was twelve or thirteen.  I wrote as part of self-expression.  I was attracted to words.

Tell us about your poem “Eggshells

I started to think about women who were not allowed to be themselves because they were married or had strong parents.  They did not reach their full potential because they got held back and held down.






Eyes down

Listening carefully

For signs


A raised voice

Tension exuded




Whispering steps




Of past



Breath held





Every word




Be a trigger



At the target

Of the heart

And mind


Body can

Be broken








Raining down




Thoughts and



Reactions become





Stuffed down

Held in check


By the Other








All potential


In tears






The girl

The hopes

The dreams




In the local newspaper, The Bakersfield Californian, there was an opinion about the Women’s March by Tracy Correa Lopez. It was in the “COMMUNITY VOICES” of FORUM section.

Lopez wrote, “The first official Women’s March Kern County—arguably one of the largest marches in the city’s history—was an overwhelming success. . . . We hoped for 1,000 attendees, but it turned out to be so much more. . . . Today, estimates are more than 5,000 took part. . . . We threw a party and they came.  And it was peaceful.  It was unifying.”


Beautiful Rock and Purple-mountain Wood-gatherer featured

Story by Portia Choi

Photograph by Ezekiel Espanola


The Open Mic on December 1 featured “Purple-mountain Wood-gatherer” and “ Beautiful Rock.”  There was beautiful classical Chinese music and poetry; and of course an original poem. “Purple Mountain Wood-gatherer” wrote an original poem, “Silence.”

For this story “Purple-mountain Wood-gatherer” with “ Beautiful Rock;” Jeffrey Georges, and Liz Greynolds were interviewed.


Interview with “Purple-mountain Wood-gatherer:”

How did you obtain the name “Purple-mountain Wood-gatherer:”

“This was the pen-name given to me by my mother, who by her own right
was a poet and artist. ‘Purple Mountain’ is a mountain situated on
the north bank of the ‘Yangzi River (长江)’, across from Nanking (南京),
once the capital of the Chinese Nationalist Government. During the
afternoon and as the setting sun’s rays shining upon the river surface
and reflected on the mountain, the mountain is coated with a purple
hue; thus the name ‘Purple Mountain’. ‘Wood-gatherer’ implies a
humble person who lives a simple life, close to Nature.”

What are some of the Chinese poetry styles?

“There are many poetry styles, almost as many as there are Dynasties in
China, as the poets re-invent them due to their creative urges and
inspiration. For example, there is the
Tang Si (唐詩) , Song Ci (宋詞), and Yuan Fu (元賦), etc., which are
distinctive styles of poetry. Furthermore, there are even those
written for certain musical composition, and only for certain musical

Also featured at the Open Mic was “Beautiful Rock” who accompanied “Purple Mountain Wood-gatherer.”  She played the classic Chinese instruments, Guqin and the Pipa.  The accompaniment was improvisational, created during the evening’s performance.

The guqin is a seven-stringed zither without bridges, a Chinese instrument with over 3000 years of history. It has the best documented history and preserved repertoire among all the intruments from China. The guqin has been frequently referred to as the preferred instrument of the sages and literati. For instance, Confucius (551 – 479 BC) was a great master of this instrument. Another notable master was Ji Kong (223–262) who was one of the “Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove”.

UNESCO has declared the guqin as an “oral and intangible cultural heritage of humanity”, representing one of three traditions from China that are inseparable from history, literature and art.  (UNESCO is United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.)

The second musical instrument presented during the Open Mic was the pipa (pronounced “pee-paa”), a four-stringed lute with over 2000 years of history that originally came from ancient Persia.

When “Purple-mountain Wood-gatherer” was asked about what influenced him to write his original poems “Silence.”  He said, “I would like to share with the young poets about what I have learned
in life, from a holy man in India. The vision of Vedanta, as
expounded in the Upanishads, is ‘Oneness’, in that the whole Universe
arises from it, sustained by, and emerges into it, It is said by the
ancient seers that ‘Silence’ is our true nature; ‘when the mind is
quietened, only silence remains.’ ”

The poem is profound and philosophical.  


By Purple-mountain Wood-gatherer


Time & Space


Measure time not

   by Yesterday or Tomorrow;

      The past is but an epoch

         that never returns

            while the future

               is that not-yet-arrived.



   only the Present

      is the very moment

         that contains all time,

            in which are all that

              can be done, hoped for, and realized.


Measure Space not

   by Here or There;

      felling not where I walked

         is far from the destination,

            for wherever I am

               embraces all spaces;

                  covers all distances.



Life & Nature


Past, Present and Future

   — a flow of time

           in the stream of life.


But, what is life?

   A collection of

     Sorrowful or joyous

        Memories of the past?

           Or,  is it

              anxieties and expectations

                of yet non-existing events of the future?


A discussion of

   Past and Future

      without the Present

             would seem surreal,

                 and dis-jointed, at best.


It would be quite laughable, Indeed,

   if the Present is non-present.


Preciously, life is

   a succession of the Present.


         live in the Present,

            with the vision of Oneness.


When the ego

   is identified with the Divine,

      that vision of

         a universal person

            shines forth!



   it is the Self that I am:





I, the Self, is



         Absolute Bliss!


Salutation to that

   One-and-only Self, the Truth;

     because it exists,

        The World is projected,

           But without independent existence.


It is the Consciousness

   that lives in every being,

      that Self enlivens us all,

         By being gracious to all!


Knowing the greatness

   of the Self

      is the owning of my true nature.




      Si   len…ce…..


Om, Peace!   Peace!!   Peace!!!




Interview with Jeffrey Georges

Jeffrey Georges performed his original lyrics with him played played the guitar and accompanied on the drum by Fresca Royce.

Georges was asked what it was like to perform his song at Open Mic.

He said “Performing that song, in such a venue as Dagny’s, was exactly what the entire song was about…

“The mix of races, sexes, cultures, and traditions, all coming together as one, to enjoy each other’s company, and support each other while expressing ourselves through the arts is what life is all about..

“As everyone can tell, the world is in a terrible state right now. But we all have a voice, and a choice to except it and do nothing, or refuse to let it stay this way, and do something about it…

“It was a blessing to be able to perform, ‘Earth,‘ in such a beautiful place as Dagny’s.”

And here are the lyrics to Georges’ song:


by Jeffrey Georges

(Verse 1)

I’m sad and broken into many pieces

From watching this world I call my own, divided like raindrops in a storm

Is it worth it to be undefeated?

When you’re fighting for power, land, and gold

Trading a victory for your soul



If we still claim to be human, then why are we losing all that makes us so?

Please, God, what are you doing? Or, are we the ones choosing to turn our hearts cold?

Can we still call this place home?


(Verse 2)

So many races, and so many people

Acting like we have different skins, when only our pigments are changed within

Is religion so deceitful?

Or, have we just twisted something saint to fit in the image of what we think?



If every person is equal, then why do we treat those with fame like Kings and Queens?

Can we agree that it’s evil to treat a sex, or a people, like lesser human beings?

Is there still peace in anything?


We’re living in days where there’s nowhere safe to take your kids to play, on a bright spring Saturday

Where churches and schools are places for fools to bring their guns to shoot, while the innocents pass away..

Yeah.. the Earth has seen better days.

Yeah the Earth has seen better days, better days, better days (4x)



Interview with Liz Greynolds

Another poet at the Open Mic was, Liz Greynolds, who has shared her poetry for two years at Dagny’s First Friday events.  Currently, she is pursuing further education in the Bay Area.  She related that her her poem, “Small,” was inspired by a dream she had.  She said she felt “being humbled” by her dream and she wrote the poem as result of her dream.


By Liz Greynolds

I laid belly flat smack dab on the tile concrete waiting for what was right before my eyes to translate into bug human Spectrum action
fish lensed and elevated
two creatures in my eyes skanked and wobbled through rug rang carpet tiers
Predator and prey both in sheep’s coating
I lean in already so

close but clearer evermore as

my eyes or their bodies subdue and

scheme and combine into one monster but not

a monster in itself just a monster in the end for the end for the feast
And I see again in my through my eye that I’m so crammed up and big and large

And They are so small but possess such a mind-killer I must be made little again.




Poetry on Wooden Walls



Story by Portia Choi 

Photographs by Ellen Quon

Poetry is an important part of my life.  It was by writing poems that I was able to express my feelings and experiences of being in the Korean War.  The war started when I was two and ended when I was five.

I discovered that poetry was also an important part of lives of immigrants from China during a recent field trip to Angel Island in the San Francisco bay.

It was a sunny morning on the top deck of a ferryboat going from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco to Angel Island, a state park.  I felt the harshness of the wind and the noise of the cackling sea gulls.  Beyond the rippling waves of the bay, I saw the panoramic view of the cities, San Francisco and Oakland, and its hills with rolling mist.

Most of the people on the ferry were tourists going to the island for fun and recreation.  However, there was a small group from Bakersfield making a pilgrimage to the Immigration Station on the island.  It was a place where their relatives had been confined before being allowed to enter the mainland.

Like other immigrants from China, their relatives had endured the voyage on the Pacific Ocean.  There was motion sickness, meager food and crowded quarters.

Once they arrived on Angel Island, they could not go to the mainland right away.  They had to prove that they were American citizens or related to an American citizen.  They were interrogated to determine if they were truly related.  The immigrants were fearful that if they did not answer correctly, they would be deported back to China.

On the island, some of the immigrants lived in wooden barracks for weeks and even months waiting to find out whether they would enter mainland America or be deported.

The immigrants lived in the barracks between 1910 and 1940.  Thereafter, the barracks were abandoned.  After more than two decades, the barracks were marked for destruction.  (Information from ISLAND, Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940 by Him Mark Lai, Jenny Lim and Judy Yung.)  In 1970, park ranger Alexander Weiss noticed Chinese characters in the wooden walls, characters that were painted over.  Some of the writing were recognized as poems.

Through the effort of the Asian American community, the buildings were preserved, the writings restored and translated.

More portrayal of the immigrants and poems were described by the photographer of the group, Ellen Quon.  She gave the interview in person and by email.

“My grandfather (mother’s father,) who passed away many years ago, came to America in 1917 when he was 12 years old.  He went through the immigration process at Angel Island before he was allowed to enter the U. S.

“When he was alive, he never talked about his stay at Angel Island because it was not a good experience for him.   He passed the physical exam and the interrogation and was permitted entry.  However, his cousin was rejected and sent back to China because he did not pass the interrogation.  His cousin never stepped on U.S. soil again after that.

“When I learned about that I was curious about this historical site.  I decided to visit Angel Island Immigration Station when the Bakersfield Chinese Women’s Club sponsored the field trip.

“Before the trip, I had no idea what to expect, so I took pictures of everything I saw. I wanted to see what it was like to be detained there during the early 1900s.  I did not know there were immigrants from 84 different countries passed through there.  I did not know Chinese immigrants were being detained longer and were treated differently than the other groups.

“I took pictures of the beautiful surrounding, the outside and inside of the detention center, the immigrants’ personal belongings and the poetry on the walls.  The way they renovated this place was great, not only they show how the immigrants lived at that time; they also show their frustrations, their emotions and their spirit.

“Because my grandfather was one of the detainees, this trip was a personal journey to explore my family history.

“Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Chinese were interrogated more often and detained longer (weeks and months) than any other groups.  The longest stay recorded was 22 months.  During the interrogation process, they were never informed whether they were being accepted or rejected, so frustration and anguish grew each day.

“They also felt being mistreated by the government.  In their spare time, the Chinese detainees poured their heart and soul into writing poetry and they carved them onto the wooden walls.   These poems were beautifully written, so the writers were highly educated.  These poems were overlooked by later occupants and were covered with paints.  Eventually over 200 of them were discovered in 1963.   The immigration station was in operation from 1910-1940, I did not know why the poems were not discovered earlier until I saw this image. . . . I took this image because of the paint patterns, not realized there were Chinese characters/poems hidden underneath the paints.  I was pleasantly surprised.   These pictures affect me because I can feel the frustrations and unhappiness spilling onto the walls.”

(Ellen Quon’s husband, Mike Quon, also went on the Angel Island trip.   His grandfather (father’s father) came through Angel Island in the 1920’s.  Ellen took over 100 photographs from the trip. A selection of photos, mainly related to poetry, are posted on Kern Poetry website.)


Of the numerous poems found carved on the walls and translated, two of them are reprinted here. These poems communicate the feelings and situation of the immigrants.



In the quiet of night, I heard, faintly, the whistling of wind.

The forms and shadows saddened me; upon

Seeing the landscape, I composed a poem.

The floating clouds, the fog, darken the sky.

The moon shines faintly as the insects chirp.

Grief and bitterness entwined are heaven sent.

The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.




I used to admire the land of the Flowery

Flag as a country of abundance.

I immediately raised money and started my journey.

For over a month, I have experienced enough

winds and waves.

Now on an extended sojourn in jail, I am

subject to the ordeals of prison life.

I look up and see Oakland so close by.

I wish to go back to my motherland to carry

the farmer’s hoe.

Discontent fills my belly and it is difficult for

me to sleep.

I just write these few lines to express what is

on my mind.

(Flower Flag:  a Cantonese colloquial term for the United States)


Verna Lewis was also interviewed.  She had arranged the field trip to Angel Island for the Bakersfield Chinese Women’s Club.  Both of her parents were born in the United States (U.S.); but they went to China as children.  When they returned to the states, they went through Angel Island.

Verna said, “My father, Sui Han Low, was born in San Francisco and returned to China when he was five and then returned to U.S. in 1938 when he was 14.  He went through Angel Island, but was not detained on the island.

“My mother was born in U.S. in 1926.  In 1933, my mother was five or six when (she) and her whole family returned to China.   My mother returned to U.S. when she was 15.  She was detained on Angel Island.”  The mother’s passport picture was that of a young girl, and she was older than her passport picture when she arrived in Angel Island.  She was held back, but probably because she spoke English, she was detained overnight.  Verna said, her mother “kept up with her English while in China.”

All Chinese immigrants went through Angel Island.   The persons who were American citizens (persons born in the states) or who had family in the states were allowed to enter America’s mainland.

When Verna was asked what were your feelings visiting Angel Island, she thought that it would have been “traumatic” and “scary” for her mother.

An uncle of Verna, Paul Zane Wong, was on Angel Island.  He wrote about his life and his experience on the island.  The link to his writing is:


Additional information about the Chinese immigrants was found in a brochure about Angel Island State Park, by the California State Park, it states “The United States Immigration Station operated on Angel Island from 1910 to 1940.  Built to process thousands of immigrants from over 80 nations flooding into the country, the Immigration Station was the physical mechanism to enforce and control immigration following the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  On Ellis Island on the east, immigrants were processed through within hours or days; on Angel Island, in weeks or months. This facility was primarily a detention center.”