kernpoetry.com

Author: Portiachoi

Thomas Brill featured at May 2018 Open Mic

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Chris Nelson

 

Thomas Brill was the featured poet at the May 2018 Open Mic at Dagny’s Coffee.  He has written about 1000 poems over the years.

Brill said “I first wrote poems in high school. Bad poems.  Song, lyrical poetry.  I was interested in creative writing, and some poems were published.

“It was during college years when I was really interested in poetry.  Another student, a poet and musician, wrote a lot.  We wrote together.

“Then there was a professor who was really encouraging.  He said my poems were ‘brilliant.’  My poems during college were bold, interesting, ‘dadaistic,’ silly and fun.  (In college,) I expressed my nutty, expressive self.  Writing was a refuge.  My eccentricities became more pronounced, like dancing out on tree limbs.  It was liberating and freeing.

“In later years, I wrote about my anxiety, strong emotions, especially negative emotions.”

Brill said “I grew up with seven siblings, so I was never alone.  So I do not like being alone.  But when I write poetry, I am comfortable being alone.

“I am a unconventional guy with the trappings of conventionality.  (Brill is an attorney in a large law firm.)  When you really write poetry and are baring your soul, that is not a conventional thing to do. Now (writing) is a necessity, to express myself.  It’s like food.  It’s like stretching.  Every morning.  Usually five days a week.”

Of the 1,000 poems that Brill has written, he considers 200 to 300 of them to be decent.

At the Open Mic, Brill recited his “decent” poems from the various phases, over the years, of his writing.  For the story for Kern Poetry website, Brill provided examples of poems from the various phases of his writing.

 

The first phase was as a college student.  Brill provided, by memory, the following two poems from those years:

“C”

By Thomas Brill

the letter c

is the only letter

I could love

because it is smooth

and so

delicious

 

 

the CIA                                                (a Haiku)

by Thomas Brill

Fidel Castro has

Charisma.  The CIA

Wants to wear his beard . . .

 

Brill’s second phase of poetry writing was during law school and the first few years practicing law.  He felt frantic living alone.  And he wrote a lot while drinking.

The poem, rebecca, is from the second phase and it was performed at the Open Mic.

 

rebecca

by Thomas Brill

 

this bitch called Rebecca called

snotty nosed female of the genre

and said oh boy was she pissed

and she doesn’t know how many

people dumped shit on me but i

didn’t have to do it to other people

and yelled like that at me and got

real mad and told me she had a

husband and three kids and a dog

and she didn’t know she was gonna

hafta stay til eight to get the research

done

 

I said oh yeah well it’s just part of

the job you persnickety bitch and she

stopped me and said what’s persnickety

and I said you know kind a like uppity

only when white people do it and she

said that’s stupid how can you even say

something so racist you fecund hound

and I said I don’t think you used fecund

right and she said I did too and I said

bitch

 

then there was this older lady like seventy

eight or something who blew her brains out

the same day but I don’t think it was cause

she heard us fighting on the telephone

 

 

The third phase of Brill’s writing was when he was in Napa, California.  There was a group of writers which he was a part of.  There were 200 people who got together and about 20 would read.  Brill said “This was when my writing became mature.  The nature of my writing changed, it was more creative.”

One of the poems from the third phase is Man Living Quiet Life in the 21st Century.

 

Man Living Quiet Life in the 21st Century

By Thomas Brill

 

It’s not that I go around crying with big

gooey tear drops in my eyes, oh no,

like a refreshing rain storm that would bring too much relief,

instead I’m parched dry like Bush-Gore debate,

feeding on e-mails that contain no e-motion,

reeling in fish hooks to which bits and bytes

have attached themselves leaving no room for the fish,

guesstimating my age and weight like the carnie

who’s always right—how does he know?

–I can’t even get my remote to work.

 

Another poem from the third phase was inspired by the death of Brill’s brother-in-law from a car accident.  Brill said, “the poem is about the juxtaposition of the very profound moment, like death, and the triviality of the way most lives are lived.  The way we live the biggest part of our lives.”  The poem is fill the hearse.

 

fill the hearse

by Thomas Brill

 

fill the hearse

with super unleaded,

not regular,

at least 89 octane

turn on the headlights,

day or night,

and drive slowly

down the grease stained highway,

while all the other cars

sputter and drool

carbon deposits

on the wheezing asphalt,

following slowly headlamps lit

dimly searching

for signs of life in

oncoming cars—

nothing there

 

then single file into

the park,

strewn with crumpled bags

and paper McDonald’s cartons

(no more Styrofoam,

because it doesn’t biodegrade,

he thought,

as they lowered her body

into the hole)

and Thunderbird bottles,

cigarette butts right there

where they’ve put her

 

a squirrel suspiciously fat

runs off,

crows perched on branches of

trees blooming

like a lover’s lips in Spring,

they lay her down

under one,

where in the Fall the

pink blossoms would

slowly wrinkle up

 

and drop onto the young

grass there

 

The fourth and current phase of poetry writing is since being back in Bakersfield in 2007.  Brill said, “my poetry is more reflective and deeper.  I see things more holistic.  The different parts making sence, seeing how everything fits together.”  The poem, Mere illusion, is from this period.

 

Mere illusion

By Thomas Brill

 

There is music

and there are lists.

The rest is mere illusion.

Oh, and there is the bed frame I

painted blue yesterday,

Not Picasso blue,

just the most basic blue

you can paint,

the blue not of sky and not

of Picasso, but of Home Depot,

which for me was challenge

enough,

patiently pretending I was done

already,

slow strokes covering every

crevice,

The first thing I ever painted.

There is no poetry

in painting a bed

Home Depot blue.

Oh, but there is poetry too.

 

Music, lists, the

blue bed frame

and poetry.

The rest is mere illusion.

 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

 

The May Open Mic was another evening of sharing of original poetic words.  The variety of subject and honesty and fun was ever present at the event.

 

Reading, Rhyming and Writing at Kids’ Open Mic

Story by Walter Stormont

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

 

In the Children’s Section of the Beale Memorial Library there is a colorful little amphitheater that people might overlook as they head toward other destinations.  Not so an excited group of youngsters, parents and other adults who gathered April 21 for a Kids’ Open Mic as part of National Poetry Month.

“It’s something new for us,” said Library Associate Ariel Dyer.  “Next year, definitely, let’s do it again.”  She organized the experience along with Portia Choi.

The Open Mic kicked off with an appearance of children’s author Shirley Castro who has written a series of books about the Pelican Family, illustrated by her son Chris.  Shirley brought a huge pelican puppet to the library.

But the kids were the stars today, and Shirley invited Makenna Moon and Ally Price to take turns reading from one of her books.  And a wonderful job they did, bringing applause from the captivated audience.

Up stepped Coco Chapman, complete with not one, but two original poems.  The first was an acrostic using the first letter of each line to spell out the title…

 

BALLET

By Coco Chapman

Bun spun,

Arms graceful and elegant,

Laces tied, neatly tucked,

Leaping then landing,

Every ballerina on her

Toes seeks applause.

 

The next poem in Coco’s repertoire was titled “Swinging,” a concrete poem, shaped like the topic.  Coco had made copies available to the audience.  “See the swing?” she asked.  Sure enough, the words of the delightful poem were arranged to resemble a swing: the first and last lines being the ropes or chains, and the middle five lines as the “seat.”  So, imagine that as you read:

 

SWINGING

By Coco Chapman

Like a bird in the sky I fly high,

like a kite in the wind I glide by, as I sing to and fro,

back and forth, high and low… Like a branch in the breeze

I sway low, like a leaf in the fall I drift slow, as I spring

down and up, upside-down, right-side up… I see the trees,

I bend my knees, I kick the air, I flip my hair. I dip and tip, I

soar and rise, all the way up to paradise!

 

It’s probably no surprise that Coco, the daughter of Richard and Lora Chapman, is also an accomplished piano composer.

Portia then came to the mic and asked for help reciting a poem by the great Maya Angelou titled “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.”  This holds true for Ally who returned to trade lines with Portia. While propping the book open, Portia quipped, “I’ve had 65 years of learning to read upside down!”

When Ally capped off the poem with, “Life doesn’t frighten me at all,” Portia threw out the question, “Anybody want to share what you’re frightened of?” For example, she said, she was afraid of the dark when she was a little girl in Korea.

A hand shot up… “I’m afraid of snakes!”

“Black widow spiders!” offered another youngster, to which Portia said, “You can run away or stomp them with your feet.”  Coco countered, “Not if you’re barefoot!”  A wonderful creative moment.

Near the library’s sign proclaiming, “Reading Books is Awesome,” Makenna stepped back up and recited a poem called “Lonely Flies the Wind.”

As all this was going on, Ava Fernandez was looking for something to recite from a stack of poetry books.  She settled on a selection from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.  In her clear, expressive voice, Ava did a fabulous job with “The Dentist and the Crocodile.”

During an interview, Ava was asked if she writes any poetry.  “I read poetry,” she answered, adding that she does plan to write in the future.  She showed that she’s truly a modern poet when she commented, “Rhyme doesn’t matter.”

With recitals done, Ariel from the library announced the second phase of the day’s festivities: “You guys want to make poems?”  Arranged on a table were sheets of paper, glue sticks, and hundreds of single words trimmed out of magazines.

Coco, Iris and Jaden stayed for at least another hour, focused intently on looking for the right words amid all the possibilities.  They were literally mining for rhymes.  But, as previously noted, rhyme doesn’t matter, as evidenced by Jaden, who pieced together a rhythmic tale of Dinosaurs, Giants and Amazing Bots.

Iris, who completed several works, filled in with crayon where a few words were needed:

 

I

Went

Camping

And

Saw

A

Beautiful

Unicorn

In

Evergreen

 

The young artists had great fun reciting, chatting, concentrating and creating in celebration of National Poetry Month.  In the end, Coco was the last one sitting, having found the final piece to her poetic puzzle:

 

“A WILD TALE”

I LOVE TO COOK

LET’S READ A BOOK

BUT WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?

I BIT OFF MORE THAN I CAN CHEW

Flora and Fauna are Natural Topics for Poetry

By Walter Stormont

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola 

Flora: the Yucca Plant, the Golden Poppy, the Giant Sequoia and the Kern County Larkspur.

Fauna:  the Roadrunner, the Kit Fox, the Golden Trout and the Honeybee.

All the above are examples of plants and wildlife native to California.  Each was immortalized in poetry shared by local authors whose works are collected in Writing Flora, Writing Fauna: A Collection of Poems from the Southern San Joaquin Valley.  It’s the third in the “Writing” series conceived and edited by English professor Matthew Woodman of California State University, Bakersfield.  The books are published in collaboration with the Walter Stiern Library.  They can be purchased through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

On April 10 in the library’s stately Dezember Room, the tome’s contributors gathered to recite their works before a gathering of about 100 aficionados, many of whom received a copy of the beautiful anthology.  It was one of a series of events organized to mark National Poetry Month.

Annis Cassels of Writers of Kern put in a good word for her group and noted, “I’m thrilled to see seven of our members represented in this book.”

CSUB Outreach Librarian Terezita Overduin kicked off the evening by welcoming the poets and audience and introducing the evening’s emcee, professor Woodman.  He in turn called each contributing poet to the microphone after sharing their biographies from the book.

One by one, the poets presented their thoughts on flora and fauna in verse.  They spoke from the heart, some even using visual effects and a bit of performance skills.  At one point, Mother Nature, who was being celebrated, actually got in on the act as Tim Vivian recited “The Startling Wild Grasses of Amsterdam.”  Blustery winds outside caused a dramatic whistling sound through a couple of side doors, which added to Tim’s moment.

When David Kettler came up to recite his selections, “The Snake” and “Cold Grass,” he quipped, “This is the first time I’ve read a poem and it wasn’t at a wedding or a funeral.”  His skillful rhyming, sometimes with a touch of humor, proves why he is often called upon to do public presentations.

Professor Woodman has already announced the topics for next year’s anthology: Bakersfield and Sound, so surely the tumblers of many poetic minds are now spinning.

*  *  *  *

Several of the Flora and Fauna authors agreed to answer a few questions about themselves and one of their featured poems.

Among them is Don Thompson, Poet Laureate of Kern County, who told the gathering, “The poetry scene in Bakersfield is amazing. There are things going on in the big city that don’t match this.”  His website, don-e-thompson.com, is where you can find out about his books and chapbooks, including the latest collection, From Here On: Four Sunday Drives.

*  *  *  *

Sequence In Which The Roots Could Be Praying For Us

By Don Thompson

  1. Burned Chaparral

 

The deep roots could be praying

Inaudibly, taking time

From their own slow recovery

To make intercession for ours.

 

  1. Uprooted

 

The wreckage of this almond grove,

Dead leaves the color of dried blood,

Shouldn’t trouble anyone—unless

Every loss reminds you of all losses.

 

  1. Mesquite

 

The sparse shade beneath it tattered

Like rotten cloth, it has nothing to offer.

Dry branches twist in on themselves,

Choosing half-death as a way of life.

 

  1. Underground

 

Among things that feed on light,

Communion: faith in rain,

Fear of drought, of fire and pale nodes

For which there is no known cure.

 

  1. Semiotic

 

In the rain, burnt umber nut trees

Finally come to the dark end

Of the brown scale.  That means

We’ll see leaf buds in less than a month.

 

  1. Faith

 

From here to the barren hills,

Nothing but sand grass and thistles—

Except for one spindly mesquite

With roots six inches deeper than doubt.

 

*  *  *  *

QUESTIONS FOR DON THOMPSON:  

From first thought until completion, how long would you say it took to write this poem?

It depends on how you look at it: an hour or so in one sense and fifty years in another.

This is an interesting form, the “sequence” format.  Is it your own invention?

A whole book of stand-alone quatrains would be tedious, I think, so I wanted to find some way to gather them into groups around a subject of some sort.  Ultimately, these groups will accrue since I tend to write about the same things over and over: trees, rocks, and critters.  The idea of calling them “sequences” occurred to me, then the wicked impulse to add something quirky or goofy.

Tell us about your routine as a poet.  Are you always thinking about it?  Do you carry a notebook around?

No notebook.  But I’ve always written daily for the most part, early in the morning since there’s no way I would have had any energy left after working all day.  Retired, I keep up the routine, being a notoriously inflexible creature of habit.

What is the first poem you remember writing (and some background on it)?

As I recall, I was reading Marianne Moore and came upon a phrase that set off something in me.  I jotted down a ditty beginning with those words: “I saw a bat by daylight.”  Surprisingly, it was published in a poetry mag in 1964.  Of course, this story may not be true – only a true memory.

How often, if at all, do you use rhyme in your poetry?

I spent a year (about ten years ago) writing only rhyme and meter.  Never could publish those things as a book, but you can find them as a free e-book online if you’re interested.  It’s called Nowhere. There should be a link to it on the website: San Joaquin Ink (don-e-thompson.com).

What would you say to encourage the budding or aspiring poets out there?

Read.  Write, even if it’s only practice.  If a poem drifts by, you’ll miss it if you’re not sitting there waiting.  Also, I have a Latin motto on my desk: “Opus fac. Nihil aliud valet.”  (Do the work.  Nothing else matters.)

 

*  *  *  *

A third-year English major at CSUB, Andrea Franco selected an example of flora that many of us can relate to:

*  *  *  *

Rose

By Andrea Franco

 She sits there, peacefully.

Occasionally swaying back and forth

As the forceful winds

Of winter nights approach.

 

She sits there, puzzled.

Not knowing her purpose,

Nor understanding the means

Of her existence.

 

She sits there, impatiently

Waiting upon his arrival.

Hoping he’ll finally act

On his temptation.

 

Dressed in red,

So radiant.

So exquisite.

Blemishes nonexistent.

 

Bursting of exotic beauty,

She screams, settling the voices

Of those around her.

She is the outspoken one

Sitting quietly among the ones

Less talked about.

 

Although grown, she blooms

At the sight of him.

Observation is no longer enough.

He must have her. Cherish her.

Not just momentarily, rather,

For all of eternity.

 

He reaches for her- nature’s gift,

Finally ceasing to resist the urge.

Carrying her away,

She sits peacefully in palm.

No longer impatient.

No longer puzzled.

 

*  *  *  *

QUESTIONS FOR ANDREA FRANCO:

What prompted you to write this poem? 

“Rose” was inspired by my fondness of roses, specifically red ones.  I find that a rose’s beauty lies in its intricacy, and its rich, intense red pigment is incredibly luring to the naked eye.  It’s hard to pass by one without taking a second glance.  Not only did I want to express the beauty of a flower such as this one, I wanted to express the beauty of unconditional love.

Is the poem written in any particular form or style?

This poem was written in free form.  I did want each stanza to convey a certain idea, however, rather than focus too much on the structure of it, I was preoccupied with making sure the poem clearly captured all my thoughts and ideas.  I find it is most satisfying to have my ideas expressed in full, on the page, rather than making sure I write a sonnet or develop a poem that uses a specific poetic meter.  The use of imagery and personification helped capture the ideas I had for the creation of “Rose.”

How long did it take to craft your poem “Rose”?

It took about a week to craft “Rose.”  Each day I worked on it I spent hours on end trying to mold it to perfection.  I tend to be a little picky, so I wanted to make sure I felt nothing but fulfillment when reading the poem entirely.  I wanted to make sure it expressed romanticism, and that it rolled off the tongue as a sort of love story while reading it.  I can honestly say I am quite happy with the result.

When did you start exercising your poetic gift, and what caused you to want to be a poet?

Since youth, I’ve always thought there was a sort of sophistication that came with being able to develop your own piece of literature.  I’ve always been fond of novelists and poets and appreciated their intelligence.  Although I felt this way at a young age, I never really had the urge to write works of my own until recently.  I did, however, craft one poem when I was about ten years old.  It was inspired by the hardships my mother was going through at the time.  I wanted to express what she may have been feeling so she could read it and relate to it.  Now, I’ve been writing poems and short stories for a creative writing class I am taking, which has given me the want to continue expressing myself through writing when the class is over.

Do you have a favorite poet?

I can appreciate the works of all poets, however, I would not necessarily say I have a favorite. There are a few poems that spark my interest belonging to different authors.  These include: “Tell the truth but tell it slant” by Emily Dickinson, “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet, and “Sadie and Maud” by Gwendolyn Brooks.  These are the few poems I have come across that stuck with me.  I enjoy the way Bradstreet expresses passionate love in her poem, as well as the underlying message and suggested meaning in Dickenson’s and Brooks’ poems.

As a poet, what is your routine like, or is there one?  Do you write every day?

I do not have a set routine when it comes to writing poetry.  I do, occasionally, write down how I’m feeling.  Finding the words to express myself verbally is a struggle for me, so I sometimes like to sit down and give myself time to think about how I would like to describe the way I’m feeling and write it down.  I would like to start writing in a diary, daily, and use it as a reference to write more poetry.

What is your normal poetic style?  Do you use rhyme often?

I am very much fond of poems that rhyme.  I also like reading poems I can easily comprehend, rather than ones I would start pulling my hair out to try and decipher.  That being said, I enjoy writing poems that rhyme and can easily be understood.  Making sure a poem rhymes, however, is not always a main concern.  With “Rose,” my main concern was making sure it captured a sort of romantic flare.  It is most important that all my poems capture the concept I initially had for each of them.

Please tell us a about yourself… where you grew up, your family, anything you would like to share.

I am originally from Santa Maria, California.  I am 21 years old and have no siblings.  I’ve always been socially awkward, at least, that’s what I think.  It has always been incredibly difficult for me to interact with people partly because I struggle communicating verbally, and because I don’t know how to be myself.  As cliché as this may sound, I don’t really know who I am entirely.  One of my biggest difficulties is forcing myself to stray away from conformity.  I don’t want to act a certain way or do certain things because people tell me to.  I want my actions to be the result of my true feelings, and I want those feelings to be accepted by others.  I may be rambling here, but I mention these things not only because it’s incredibly therapeutic, but also because I want those who can relate to feel better knowing they’re not alone.  You’re not alone.  On a new note, I have two amazing parents who express their love for me in their own unique way.  How hard they work to take care of me and provide a sense of stability is beyond incredible.  They have endured so much, and still they fight for achievement.  Still they remain sane, even if one argues otherwise.  Still they are the kindest known to man, and still they conquer the world.

As a poet, do you have any goals?

My goal is to create works of literature people can relate to.  I want to express myself through poetry in hopes my finished works will touch the souls of others.  I also want to continue expressing my love of love.

*  *  *  *

Mateo Lara has published two books of poetry, Kita-Miha and Other Poems and La Futura Tuga, plus a chapbook, X, Marks the Spot.  These are all available on Amazon.  He has also had works published in Orpheus and The New Engagement.  A note to keep in mind as you read the Q&A: Mateo attests he enjoys cheap wine and bad horror movies.

 

*  *  *  *

Crotalus scutulatus

 

By Mateo Lara

 

Pardon its lethal dose, side-winding its way through California dystopia.

Forgive vicious flicking, glare sharp, piercing through thin skin,

Satisfying quick tantrums.

The real: do not tread on me.

It must resist, look for heart, sweltering, hissing,

Bit into every fiber of your identity.

Rattling against a temple, conveying power,

This pattern bursting on hazardous journey through golden state terra.

 

And I’m hissing now, I’m cold-blooded,

Minding my own, witness the dry storm of us.

Scales connecting brown skin

Between ivory fang, poisonous to the veins,

Let me strike you.  I will love you like you are non-threatening.

 

And the click-clack, is just my warning.

My tribal noise is just reminding you.

Leave me where I need to be, and walk the other way,

You’ve done enough, your first error, was coming here.

 

Yellow eyes, fixed on radiating warmth, scent through my tongue,

I cannot let go, I remember what you taste of.

 

*  *  *  *

QUESTIONS FOR MATEO LARA:

What prompted you to choose this topic for your poem?

Well, we were instructed to write a poem based on California fauna.  I didn’t want to do something traditional.  I am sure someone might have done the kit foxes, or the birds, or California bear, you know, just something like that.  So, I decided to go the reptile route and see what was native to California.  I picked the rattlesnake because it gets a bad reputation for being venomous but oftentimes, it is because people go into its territory and get bit.  Reptiles mind their business, so with my poem I wanted to make it about the rattlesnake, but also how people just want to be loved, but sometimes it is hard to do that because they have a bad reputation as a toxic person.

Can you say how much time you spent on it?  Did it come quickly or was it a gradual process?

I was sitting on a line for a poem for a long time.  I didn’t know how to incorporate it or make it more. When this prompt came up, it fit perfectly with the idea I was going for.  The line was: “I will love you like you are non-threatening”, and the rest of the poem gradually came.  I think I wrote it in like three days.  After getting the prompt.

What reaction have you gotten to the poem?

Some people think it’s one of my better poems.  They like the comparisons of the rattlesnake to human beings.

What is the worst horror movie ever made?  Does that make it the best?  

I think the worst horror ever made was probably any of the movies from the Leprechaun franchise.  No, it does not make it the best.  My favorite horror movie is Nightmare on Elm Street.

Okay, back to poetry… When and how did you become interested in poetry?

I was interested in poetry in high school, but I didn’t take it seriously until my freshman year of college.  I had always been writing, but I never had a specific outlet to put my thoughts and observations, but I found poetry and it helped put everything together.

Do you have a preferred form, or do you mostly “do your own thing?”

I usually write in free verse.  Sometimes I add rhyme schemes, just depends on where the poem wants to go, but I usually stick to free verse.  I like it because of the freedom and different styles that have emerged from it.

What is it about poetry that keeps you writing it?

I think there is something important to say.  Finally, I’ve found that is okay to empower myself through words.  Whether bringing power to the LGBTQ+ community or the Latinx community, poetry helps me say what I need to say.  If something is bothering me or someone is hurting me or the world is doing something, I have this outlet to bring it out there and discuss it.  Poetry has many forms and reasons and it is inherently political, identity politics and world politics, whatever comes to the front and burns in my heart.  Well, I can talk about it.  We each have a unique perspective and poetry helps lend our voices to the fight for change and understanding.

Are you interested in writing a novel, or being a playwright or other writing pursuits?

Yes!  I hope to write one novel in my life.  I do want to keep writing plays and maybe screenplays.  I have been working on plays and short film scripts, so maybe I’ll keep pursuing these other writing outlets while Poetry stays my focus.

Tell us a bit about yourself.  

I grew up in Delano, California. I moved to Bakersfield in 2005.  My life was definitely different back then than it is now.  I did a complete 180 as an individual.  I am learning more about myself and learning to love myself more after years of hating who I was.  My mom basically raised me and my brothers by herself, with help from my grandma and grandpa, but mostly it was a rough time, but we were always taken care of.  I like horror movies, cheap wine, and I know that life is a growing process and I will always grow and get better if I am open to it.

*  *  *  *

Sidney Russell and her sister Bailey Russell are not only identical twins who dress exactly alike, they have identical goals in life: to become pediatricians and authors.  They are pursuing PhDs in English before attending med school, and they both work at CSUB’s Writing Resource Center.  They and their mother, Caroline Russell, are all published in Writing Flora, Writing Fauna.  For now, we’ll let Sidney represent the family.

*  *  *  *

One Stalk for All the State

By Sidney Russell

 

Standing Proud and strong

In the field beneath the sun

On the mountainside

In the day and in the night

Swaying gently with the breeze

A vibrant orange

Like the fire, like the dawn,

Deep green too as the verdant grass

Reaching for the sky, never trembling

Signaling the power and the grace

Of the entire state and all its glory

And the majesty of a mother so enduring

Even in the driest years,

Yes, even in the drought

Still quietly standing, never stirring

Though lessened mass not at all diminished

In the eye of the beholder

A symbol of so much

Yet so little of frame, of stature

This is the California Poppy.

*  *  *  *

QUESTIONS FOR SIDNEY RUSSELL:

How did you go about preparing to write your poem?  Did you study up on the California Poppy?

I actually didn’t study the California Poppy for this particular poem, but I have always been fascinated by them.  When we were little, Bailey and I got to go on field trips (or the equivalent of them for home-schooled students) with our grandparents which were in the wilderness looking at wildflowers (Grandma had studied botany and knew a lot about them making it more than just seeing a flower or two – we even learned some of the edible ones like Miner’s Lettuce, Brodiaea, and Lemon Grass).  When the flora/fauna topic came up, I had a hard time picking what plant to write about because there are just so many wonderful ones, but eventually I decided to write about one that stuck in my mind – the California Poppy. I remember driving by a hill covered with the orange flowers when we were little – orange is my favorite color by the way, so it really stood out to me – and then I got to thinking about how the Poppy is also our state flower and how it represents so much, and I wanted to write a poem that reflected that.  The rest just sort of flowed without much more preparation than Googling a picture so that I could check the color of a poppy stem.

Was there any other example of the state’s flora that you considered?

Yes, I considered many other plants in the state.  One was the Redwood, but, ultimately, I thought the image of a small, delicate flower that was somehow representative of us all just might make a mightier poem than the more obvious ancient and towering Redwoods.  Still, it was a close call.

In your busy life, how often do you find time to sit down and exercise your poetic gift?

Rather than finding time to sit down and exercise my poetic gift, poems just sort of knock me over the head and I scramble to find somewhere to write them down.  I’m always on the go, whether in classes or working at the Writing Resource Center, or at an academic conference (three of the four weekends in April), so my poems tend to be written in weird places like in the back of a notebook (I have actually taken to writing notes only on the front side of the page so that the back is free for poems, story ideas, and sketches), on a napkin (I have pens that I carry for just that purpose), in an obscure Word document on my laptop that I may have to hunt down later, or on some scrap of paper – I’ve even emailed a short snippet of a poem to myself.  I try to make time at least once a week to formally sit down and write, but I find keeping schedules like that is rather difficult and I would rather write when the mood strikes me – I just have to be prepared to multitask!

What poets, if any, would you consider your inspirations?

Oh, there are so many poets I consider inspirations that it is hard to list them all.  Among them are my Mom who taught me to write (she was my teacher until I started high school), J.R.R. Tolkien whose snippets of poetry and verse throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings stick with me always, and Shakespeare (as well as anyone else who has the patience to write in Iambic Pentameter!  I do occasionally and find it fun, time consuming, and sometimes difficult.)

Have you and your twin sister ever collaborated on a poem, maybe trading off stanzas?

Bailey (my twin sister) and I often collaborate when we write – not just poems, but stories as well.  That said, there is no rhyme or reason to how we co-write.  Sometimes it’s by line or stanza; other times, we just start talking and see where it goes.  We are also each other’s critics – so a poem that you see of mine has usually been read at least once by Bailey for feedback and vice versa. 

Did you ever consider writing a novel?  If so, what would it be about?

Consider!  I have already started writing a novel – a few to be exact – and on all different topics.  One is based in a country after a war has just ended, following the 17-year-old female leader of the victorious army who feels responsible for all the deaths in the war.  Another is set in a more fantasy-like world (Tolkien-esque, if you will).  As for any other details… those are a secret until they’re written!

LisaAnn LoBasso featured at April Open Mic

Story by Portia Choi

Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

 

LisaAnn LoBasso was the featured poet in April 2018.  LoBasso has performed in California and nationally.  She has performed as a featured poet with past California Poet Laureate Al Young and also in well-known venues such as the Bowery Poetry Club, the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe, Cornelia Street Cafe, and A Gathering of Tribes in New York City.

LoBasso said that she “started performing when I was about 18 years old. I began performing while in college at Berkeley and then performed at the art gallery at Bakersfield College (BC) while back in Bakersfield for the summer.  During my time in town back then, I also curated and organized exhibits at BC.”  Although she’s been on a long hiatus from performing, she has performed a few years ago at the Claremont Reading Series, in Los Angeles County, after being asked by a retired professor who has been her lifelong mentor, as well as at Bakersfield College in an event that honored poets of this valley.

When asked what it was like to recite her poetry to a local audience at the Open Mic, LoBasso said that “I can perform almost on automatic.  But, I always want to do something new.  I don’t write poetry right now, so I did not want to repeat the same poems again to the same people.”

At the April Open Mic, LoBasso commented that the photographer Ezekiel Espanola was a close friend.  She said, “He thanked me, how I had influenced him to pursue the arts, that said that without my influence he may not have conceived art as a career option.  I met Ezekiel when I had the nX (Non-Profit Arts Venue).  He felt we had created a true artists’ community and was doing his own work to try to influence the arts in our county and he wanted to be involved and try to combine some of our efforts.”

When asked about her writing habit, LoBasso said that when and if she writes, she “sets aside time, usually late at night or early in the morning when it is quiet.  In the past , I might have taken my computer into a corner in a dark bar where I’d be left alone to my soda water and thoughts, but now I don’t do that.  When I was very young, I hand wrote everything. And then typed it out on a typewriter. It was a cumbersome process. Sometimes when I was out, I’d write on anything, a napkin or a receipt, but eventually, as technology advanced, I wrote directly into the computer.”

About the book that she is working on she said, “I wrote 7,000 words in one day.  I’m a high intensive writer when I write, but I’m more restricted physically than I used to be. I cannot just sit at a computer and write. Instead, I may dictate to another person or voice record and then have it transcribed. If I write, I write whatever thoughts I have and avoid all self-editing on that first initial draft.”

When speaking about the poetry community in Bakersfield, LoBasso said “There is an interest in the community more than I have ever seen, but it doesn’t always feel like more people are involved in the organization of poetry events. It would be great to see more and more people who are interested step up and initiate more events.”

LoBasso is currently concentrating on a writing project which is not poetry but relevant to our current societal changes.

She has published two books of poetry:  In the Swollen and Oleander Milkshake.

Two of the poems that LoBasso recited at the Open Mic are “Sugarloaf” and “Third Marriage.”  LoBasso said, “’Sugarloaf’ was written in the first few months of Jasmin’s life in 1992 and ‘Third marriage’ was written in May 2015 when Jasmin married.”

 

Sugarloaf

by LisaAnn LoBasso

 

In Sugarloaf, in the center of 102

acres, her twenty-three inch body

watched trees grow, saw streams

flow below the earth, heard wet

sugar dripping from branches where

whispering birds shot from waterfall

to pine.

 

A poem always has rape in it.

Incest.

Molestation crawling from the walls.

Anger scrawled in a dark place, in a poem.

 

When she turned, I didn’t answer her gurgle.

Her white skin, pasting her body together,

Tightened as she smiled.

And I smiled.  What is this?

Everyone needs peace.

 

Yes, from the fear in a hollow space, in a poem.

Her syrupy body glimmers in the daylight.

Her eyes glaze over as the fog creeps around

her cheeks whining red.

She licks my nose, nodding her football head

when I laugh.

Her small hands clasp my hair, ripping it.

 

I stare at her lightbulb body.

How could anyone not love her body?

How could any man love her body?

She is my baby, my daughter dripping

sweet from her mouth like sap from leaves.

Her eyes are blue-grey like the pewter sky.

 

I don’t doubt for a minute that she loves her life.

Her grandfather blasts Gatorade cans off fallen

logs where I spot deer tracks.

Her grandmother wipes her diamond chin

As white slop flows like a river.

Why can’t life be like the forest, she crinkles

her question, her forehead growing old

like her mother.

I flatten my face in the icy creek

that dries up in seconds.  The tress fall.

Birds boomerang into oak trunks and crash

to the sad earth.

 

I am still mesmerized by her body,

its picturesque innocence dripping

sweet square sugarloaf, I almost cannot

hear the roar of the monster

eating the mountain

filled with rape, incest

molestation in the dark silent squirrel holes.

 

 

 

Third Marriage

by LisaAnn LoBasso

 

It’s 11:14pm, the night before you will wed

The rehearsal dinner just ending, we slipped out

hours early, for the needs

of our abandoned bear

scratches on her head

 

The girls henna and polish, scrub and thread

The black and white flashdrive missing

No, no, not in the hole

of my coral cross-body bag

 

It’s the final hour

The sweet short poem I was to read is tossing back

a nightcap with the flashdrive

I scour the world wide web for something to

capture a moment, a poet’s perfected ppppp

 

(But) there is no alliteration for marriage

I know I should be writing your wedding poem

But I dont write poetry anymore

I read Sharon Olds

 

We stood

            holding each other by the hand, yet I also

            stood as if alone, for a moment,

            just before the vow…

 

            …I felt

            the silent, dry, crying ghost of my

            parents’ marriage there…

            …one of the plummeting flies…

 

I’m zombie-ing through, you

insert yourself to claim a promise

set into motion more than two decades ago

Two weeks, only my back to you

as wedding moments whisk

 

I remember my apartment in Rockridge, 18, before you

As your Grandma and Grandpa set me out on my own

I remember my mother’s back

My father scolding

“Look what you’ve done now”

 

Stuck in the transition, I think liar,

my mother doesn’t cry

But, I edge around her

and I see

 

Today is your third marriage

I should be practiced for this rehearsal, but

Leanardo never took you from the sinking ship

Or my arms, when you confessed your love,

kissing the television

 

It was a marriage of sweet spirit

the storyline already laid out

 

Number 2 was simple too

your sister’s secret elopement with you

never made he newspapers

Or the scandal rags

 

It was a marriage of fantasy

sisters as close as hands and feet

 

Today, this marriage,

your third marriage

is all about reality

That you would rather share a coke

With him, than anyone

 

Mothers do not walk brides down aisles

lift veils, or shake hands

Letting go is in the grace

It’s a love like sugarloaf pines

 

High on the moantian

you stand to the left, my baby, pewter eyes,

tradition signaling marriage by capture,

your groom saving his fighting hand

to pick up the reigns, protect you

 

Weddings are the same everywhere,

families, complaints, promises,

reverie we can forget without the camera clicks

A few moments stick

 

Like Sirius XM calls

traditions disturbed by music

salesmen dripping uninvited

into this intimate moment

 

Your groom is quite sure

“No, no, I do not want to renew my service.”

Inconvenient rings magnifying.  Freezing.

This is one of those stone moments

But hold them, don’t throw them

 

My father once said I will wed many times

I say, let the third be your last, my doll

 

My mother says:  What,

no chocolate cake?

Fluffy promises of a covert cake operation.

My eyelashes fall off. I say

 

Let them not eat cake!

 

 

 

Don Thompson, Poet Laureate of Kern County Honored by City Council and Board of Supervisors

Story by Portia Choi

Photograph (at council meeting) by Ezekiel Espanola

 

Don Thompson is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Kern County.  It is a well-deserved recognition of a poet who has written about the south San Joaquin region for four decades.

Thompson is a native of Bakersfield, California.  He attended Bakersfield High School.  He currently lives with his wife, Chris, on her family’s farm.

During National Poetry Month in April 2018, as Poet Laureate of Kern County, Thompson recited his poems at the Kern County Supervisors meeting on April 10 and at the Bakersfield City Council meeting on April 11.  On April 10, Thompson recited his poem “Aqueduct” and on April 11 his poem “Yokuts.”  Both of these poems can be found at the end of this story.

Accompanying Thompson at these meetings were David Gordon, the Executive Director of Arts Council of Kern and Portia Choi of Kern Poetry.  The Arts Council of Kern was the organization that made the Poet Laureate for Kern County possible.

 

The following interview of David Gordon (DG) was done by email.

Could you comment on the Art Council of Kern’s role with the Poet Laureate for Kern County? 

(DG):  The ACK’s role with the Poet laureate is to further the role poetry plays in the arts and the arts in Kern County. By appointing the first Kern Poet Laureate, the ACK has demonstrated the importance of a person who represents poetry in our County. The Council’s mission is to provide, support, and promote arts access, advocacy, and education for all Kern County residence and visitors and that includes poetry. The ACK uses the Poet Laureate to validate and elevate this art form.

 

What was it like to be at the meetings with Don Thompson at the presentations? 

(DG):  Mr. Thompson is a serious artist. His command of his craft is professional, inspiring and emotional.  I felt pride in our City and County for supporting the art of poetry by giving Mr. Thompson the opportunity to read his work at these public meetings.

 

The following interview of Don Thompson (DT) was done by email.

 

How and when did you become interested in poetry? 

(DT):  Hard to say.  I was fascinated by Mother Goose rhymes as a child.  In high school, I came across a copy of Shropshire Lad in a box of old books in the garage and was blown away. Still have that book.  I started writing after high school and published the first poem I wrote.  But the real beginning, the vocational call, came with discovering William Stafford’s Traveling Through the Dark  while browsing in a library when I was a student in forestry school about 1965.

 

When did you write your first poem? 

(DT):  I was about twenty, newly married and with a baby on the way.  Reading Thoreau’s journal, I came across a phrase that grabbed me for some reason, sat down and wrote the poem beginning with his words:  “I saw a bat by daylight.”  I still have the magazine it appeared in. Stylistically a bit under the influence of Marianne Moore, whom I still read every few years–starting her again right now, in fact.

 

Do you have a discipline or practice of writing, such as certain time of day, so many hours? 

(DT):  Basically a daily writer–well, Monday through Friday.  Up at five, do push ups and stretching, pray and read the Bible, feed the animals, take my morning two-mile walk, and then write for about an hour.

 

Which poet(s) or writing influenced you the most?

(DT):  First major influence, as mentioned, William Stafford, whom I visited in Lake Oswego, Oregon, in 1972, on my way to grad school in Vancouver. Wonderful, gracious man. My influences and tastes have varied over a wide spectrum: Spanish and Latin American, Classic Chinese.  Early John Haines. All writers with a close connection to the land.  In later years Mary Oliver, though I can’t quite see what attracted me so much anymore, and especially Ted Kooser.

 

What inspires you to continue writing?

(DT):  Writing inspires me to write.  I have only about a dozen poems that I write over and over again like a jazz musician improvising on the same tunes every night.  The Valley landscape is part of me–as a person; but the writing itself comes from the language, from the actual word-work, which I love more than anything else.

 

What is it like being the first Poet Laureate of Kern County?

(DT):  Well, I have nothing to compare it with.  But being the PL (Poet Laureate) is gratifying, of course.  A validation–recognition of a lifetime of poems about the Valley, which is very welcome indeed, although I would have kept writing without any recognition.  Writing is more who I am than what I do.

“““““““““““““““““““““““““`

More about Don Thompson and more of his poems can be found at www.don-e-thompson.com.

Following are the two poem by Thompson which he recited at the Kern County Board of Supervisors and Bakersfield City Council meetings.

 

AQUEDUCT

By Don Thompson

 

Some rivers become so sluggish,

So depressed

They can barely feel their way around a rock;

Others are manic in spate & rip trees from the banks.

 

What about the California Aqueduct,

That bureaucrat

In a concrete suit, relentless, obsessed

With draining the North dry?

 

If you fall in, it’ll file you away forever

In its deep archives.

Drown in a ditch & we’ll close the weir

To search for you….

 

It’s personal.

But the Aqueduct flows on & on

& won’t stop for anyone:

Los Angeles is always thirsty.

 

 

YOKUTS

By Don Thompson

 

They say the dust rises by itself

Sometimes, even if there’s no wind at all,

But absolute stillness under the flat sky….

I don’t believe it.

 

They haven’t considered, for instance,

How the coyotes in their afternoon slumber

Where no one can find them

Breathe out their dream whimpering;

 

Or how the birds dozing on their perches,

Holding on so tight,

Puff & deflate like bellows—

Thousands of breaths that begin to add up.

 

Nor do they take into account the rodents

Down in their burrows

Busily opening passageways

Through which the earth itself can exhale;

 

Not to mention the Yokut ghosts

With nowhere else to go

Who wander aimlessly across the valley,

Their bare feet kicking up clouds of dust.

Tim Vivian Featured at March Open Mic

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

The featured poet for the Open Mic in March 2018 was Tim Vivian.  Vivian is a professor of Philosophy & Religious studies.  He recently retired from being the Priest-in-Charge of an Episcopal Church in Bakersfield.

At Open Mic, Vivian recited a number of poems including “Light, and its Children:  A Midrash at Dusk on John I” and “Shimon Speaks from His Cross:  A Midrash on John 19:18.”  These poems are reprinted at the end of following interview with Vivian.

What is a Midrash?

A midrash (plural: midrashim) is a Jewish term for a reflection on a passage of scripture.

What interested you to write this type of poetry? 

My midrashim offer a Christian perspective on passages of scripture, mostly from the New Testament but some from the Hebrew Bible. Scripture is often story; a midrash is a retelling of a story, after reflection, offering a different perspective.

In the poem, “Light, and its Children,” the words in the 6th & 7th stanza beginning with “Holy silence . . . we dare listen to darkness” impressed me.  Could you expand on these words?

Light is a key part of every religion that I know. Both light and darkness and their meanings go back to primeval times: the deep darkness of night with its fears and yet its rest, and the wonderful new light of the sun in spring, the light each day. John’s Gospel says that Christ is the light who has entered the world and the darkness has overcome it. It takes courage to confront the dark; the parents of the children in the poem refuse to do so.

 

From “Shimon Speaks from His Cross,” could you tell us more about Maccabeus and possibly why Jesus would have it tattooed?

The tattoo belongs to Shimon. Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish freedom fighter some 200 years before Jesus (and the imagined Shimon). I have no idea if Jews of that time sported tattoos, but I gave Shimon one because he stands in solidarity with the Maccabees against Roman imperialism and occupation. The two others on crosses are lestai, not thieves but bandits; banditry was a form of social protest—and traitorous to the Roman and priestly oppressors. Who are our oppressors now?

How did you become interested writing poetry?

I began writing as a teen, imitating the lyrics of some big rock groups at the time like the Byrds.

What was it like to share your poems in front of an audience?

First time! Since I’m a college professor,  I was mostly used to being in front of people. But poems are much more personal than the classroom, so I was a bit nervous.

Do you have a practice in writing?  such as designate a specific time of day, write as a discipline, or write spontaneously?

I’m very disciplined. I’m now semi-retired at CSUB, teaching two classes in the morning, and I’ve retired as a parish priest, so I devote my afternoons to silence, reading, gardening, and writing. After I finish my school prep and other reading (I daily read fiction, mostly novels), I turn to poetry, reading essays about poems, biographies of poets and, of course, poems themselves. This is also my writing time. Almost all my poems come spontaneously, usually the first line, and I take it from there.

Is there anything else you wish to share with the poetry community?

I think it’s great that we have interest in poetry (and song) in Bakersfield. Poetry, like fiction, opens up vistas, and deep valleys within, for us to explore. Thank you for your efforts.

 

Light, and its Children:

A Midrash at Dusk on John 1

by Tim Vivian

 

“ The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not

overcome it.”

—John 1:5

 

The memory of light is

light. Even the light

in trees no longer here.

 

In their absence darkness

grows, like new growth

on a dying branch. In

 

solitude, birds are silent.

Decaying light from

dying branches of palm

 

trees offer annunciation,

even resurrection. Their

silence brings us renewal.

 

What measurements do

we here have to offer?

Yet superannuated

 

light—dare we name

it miracle?—is light.

Holy silence pervades

 

the opportunities we

have if we dare listen

to darkness, the children

 

she bears when we are

in defeat. Light once

overcame its darkness.

 

When

children heard the good

news, they clapped and

sang, danced, and told

 

the empty air to boldly

ring the church’s bells.

When their parents hear

 

these acclimations,

they lock their doors

and close each shutter.

 

 

 

Shimon Speaks from His Cross:

     A Midrash on John 19:18

by Tim Vivian

 

There they crucified him,

and with him two others,

one on either side, and

Jesus between them.

 

He probably didn’t see me

die, twisted as he was, north,

as if trying to see Jerusalem.

 

I wondered what he could see.

He was being executed like

any ordinary bandit, like me.

 

I had wondered why they had

left the middle post free, with

me and Judas on each side.

 

Maccabeus: I saw it tattooed

on his wrist, not in Aramaic

but in Hebrew, the language

 

God spoke when he brought

everything into being, even

these crosses we lived on.

 

When they brought him, like

us, carrying that crossbeam

across his shoulders, he had

 

a crowd. I had no one. His

followers were all women.

I didn’t understand that—

 

at least at first. When I did,

I was so far gone that it

looked to me like the sour

 

wine someone had given him

had mixed with his blood and

was running into the women’s

mouths.

 

*     *     *

“Shimon” is “Simon”; “Judas”

was a very common name in

Jesus’ day. The Judas of the

poem is named after Judas

Maccabeus, leader of the

Maccabees, Jewish freedom

fighters 200 years earlier.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

One of the musicians, Brandon Todd, was interviewed about the creative process in writing a song.

What was the name of the song?

The name of the song that I wrote, played, and sang was called “Love Song.” It was originally about a girl I was starting to “fall in love” with in my early high school days (long term). The only difference is (especially from other typical love songs) is that I am questioning on it because I’m very cautious and don’t want to hurt her or me. Because to me, it had to be “Love,” and not REAL LOVE because of the age I was. There was no way to me that I found REAL LOVE that quickly in my years of living. Hence, the name “Love Song,” with quotes on it. Later on in my senior year, I noticed that it could also pretty much mean anything other than girl/boy love. It could be a dream, family, etc.

 

What influenced you to write songs?

I started mostly in my sophmore year of high school. It was after that first part of the year when I got an electric guitar for my birthday. Then I started playing and practicing, soon joining a guitar club. Then I met a friend who seemed interested in writing and playing songs (later on he moved, I also didn’t think I’d be doing much with my writing, in my young mind thinking of it as just for fun). During all of that, I found out I was capable of singing during a guitar club session. My writing, playing, and singing only grew from there. My main influence was Green Day (my FAVORITE), but all this mainly played out in my life.

 

What was it like to play at Dagny’s Coffee?

It was interesting for me. It wasn’t much different from performing that song in a classroom my senior year.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Another thoughtful and entertaining evening at Dagny’s Coffee Open Mic.

 

 

Helen Shanley honored at Open Mic in February Open Mic

 

 

 

Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

Dagny’s was packed again this month at our February Kern Poetry open mic. More and more poets and musicians are showing up to share their artistic selves.  Newcomers as well as seasoned poets open their hearts and pour out words and melodies.  It’s a joy to behold.

This month our featured poet was selected by our hostess, Portia Choi, who started the evening off by making a tribute for Helen Shanley.  February was the month in which Shanley was born.  Choi said, “Helen was my mentor in poetry.  Helen held poetry groups in her home each month. She was a genius with an IQ of 188.  She remembered lines of poems during the poetry groups which revealed her remarkable memory.  She was also a gifted poet.”  Choi read four of Shanley’s poems.  Two of them were “My Mother’s Hands” and “Note to an Embalmer.”  More about Helen Shanley and her poems can be found at https://kernpoetry.com/tributes-to-helen/

My Mother’s Hands

by Helen Shanley

Your blue-veined hands
swept all things into light;
a box of apricots, a peeled grape,
a sick dog that had to be chloroformed,
a child to be led down hallways of ideas
up staircases of words
–anything to be fixed,
mended, made out of nothing.
How could you whirl about
when you loved the little things
–lillies of the valley, forget-me-nots?
And, when you lost your memory,
your hands themselves remembered how
to Southern-fry a chicken.

After a world of loss.
your funeral was lovely.
People and roses overwhelmed us both.
I put on a big brown hat,
hid under its dowager roundness,
but could not make something from nothing,
nor put Humpty Dumpty back.

So this is a poem for you, Mother,
whose blue-veined hands
remembered how to do
past your last thought,
whose light still sweeps the world,
whose memory has come to mine, and I

forget you not

 

Note to an Embalmer

by Helen Shanley

Do not remove the heart.

Extract the brain through open nostrils,
but leave the paradise within
my heart of hearts.

It is a point
so hot it would burn your fingers.
This pulse-point is the drum of Shiva
calling Shakti
–and when she dances
my heart rises to the doorway
to that small ether which conceals
a Spirit so vast the universe
cannot contain it.

There is a pulse-point
in my heart no perfumes reach.
From here the shadows of God have descended
to form/reform my body.

Draw out the guts.
Fill the great cave with sweeter things.
Do not remove the heart.

 

We thank you Portia Choi for sharing the works of Helen Shanley with us.  Helen Shanley is truly an inspirational poet.

 

~~~~~~~~

The night was filled with many enthusiastic poets and one who caught my eye was Jay Squires.  Jay agreed to participate in my interview questions.  Please read his insightful answers as well as his amazing poem, “I am the Skimmer of Stones,” at the end of the interview. When I approached Jay about my interview he said:

I’m thrilled with your response to my poem, “I am the Skimmer of Stones,” Shanna. I must admit it’s one of my favorites. When, after successive readings of it, I still come away feeling there is a depth to it I’ve yet to plumb, I know I’d tapped into something approaching a universal vein of truth. Saying that, I’d have to add that I’m all too aware of the personal limitations of the mind I wake with in the morning and take to bed with me at night… And that poem never had full residence in it.

Any good thing I’ve written that comes to me too easily; I’ve always felt there’s been a fairy nearby, tinkering with it. If it had the scent or flavor of true inspiration, then that fairy had to be holding hands with an angel.

When did you realize you were a writer?

My first novel was “Sawdust and Glory,” about a high school high-jumper. I was home sick from school and my Uncle Jimmie Duncan promised if I wrote it, he would sell it in front of Woolworth Five and Dime. It was scrawled in pencil and bound at the “spine” by Mama’s needle and thread. I know I wasn’t more than six. It was raining and Uncle Jimmie tried to bow out, but I wouldn’t let him. A deal’s a deal. The book fetched a nickel, and I learned the valuable lesson of farming out book marketing to others.

Tell us about your process.  Do you write on the computer, use notebooks, pen and paper – how do you write?

Other than my brief foray into writing, above, I’ve never created by pen or pencil. Before computers, I did my writing on the typewriter, a pink Olympia I brought back from Tripoli, North Africa. I always favored the poetic image of having words flow out from the tip of a pen or pencil. It’s nonsense, though. I prefer my words to dance out onto the screen as on taps. When you look for the single event that most revolutionized the human mind, right up there elbowing Gutenberg and his rusty, oily printing press out of position, was the nerd who envisioned the “insert key” on the computer. Before his brilliant intervention, imagine the writer giving his manuscript a final once-over before slipping it in the manila envelope when he discovers he left out a word on page two. Moreover, it was a loooong word on a page that was crammed from margin to margin. Got the picture? He could return to the typewriter and retype that page, adding in the word, but when he finished there would be one or two words left over at the end. These were realities I personally lived through, and I’m sure a few of you are bobbing your heads and wishing you could shake that nerd’s hand for what he freed us from.

What scares you the most?

No humor in this answer. It’s losing my mental faculties. It’s hard to fathom, but it’s too much around us to deny it could slide into our lives so quietly, and progress so gradually that by the time we realize it there’s little that can be done. I just noticed how I democratized the process by sharing it with the reader who became “we” and “our” and “us.” Yes, it’s too scary for one person alone to endure even the thought of.

How many poems do you throw away – if any?

Hearkening back to the image of my pre-computer days when I would wad up a typed poem and toss it in the trash, I must say I’ve saved and filed away not just a few poetic abortions I thought I might play God with and resuscitate later–but didn’t.

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?  

I was thinking about this subject just today and considering whether I should include it in a blog post. I’ve observed the physical effects of aging over the years, as many of us have (and the rest of you get to look forward to). I’m not as fast as I once was, nor as strong. My eyes tire when I read or write too much. More than once I’ve fallen asleep at the computer because my body tells me I didn’t sleep enough the night before. (When I was younger, my body wouldn’t win the battle against fatigue.)

But there’s one thing that steps out in front of my aging, striding on the legs of a teenager … and that is hope; hope which is fired by enthusiasm. I am self-publishing my novel on Amazon at month’s end, and I’m as excited about the process and possibilities as I was forty years ago when I had my first publishing success. Hopes and dreams and the excitement they produce are a part of us that doesn’t age. It is something that age will never defeat.

           I Am the Skimmer of Stones

           by Jay W. Squires

I Am the Skimmer of Stones

and I fancy myself as well

the smooth stones skimmed

(imagination lets me, you see);

I, too, am the surface of Jacob’s Pond

they skim across

or not entirely across

or not across at all.

But if the stone falls short

I do not become the pond’s depth;

oh, most assuredly not the pond’s depth

(even imagination won’t take me there)

 

though years and years ago it would and did.

 

To be a skimmer of stones

I first must find the perfect stone;

for I am not a pitcher of balls

to be given the full game’s span

to peak the perfection of my throw

  1. I allow myself but one—

one toss to test my form and faith

my existential curriculum.

 

It must be smooth and flat, of course

but not too flat and light that at first skip

my leading edge will lift me up to glide too high

then fall before my enthusiasm’s spent.

The perfect stone will fit the half-mooned slot

between crook’d forefinger and thumb

as snug there and seamless as a duck’s webbed foot.

The wrist knows when the stone is right;

from the body’s deeper knowing, I listen

and watch my wrist test the heft.

 

And, when the time is right

I measure the span from lapping water’s edge

to the far concave that curves its arms toward me

while it holds within its caress

the surface of its length and breadth

I’ll soon lay the spinning stone upon.

 

The stone and I have learned to admire

the stateliness of skimming the surface of things,

whirring past the center’s downward pull,

the perpendicularity of the mystery below.

 

They say at the center the pond’s immeasurably deep

that the depth of the pond’s mysteriously deep;

they say, and I say I must agree

that sometimes a mystery’s best left to mystify.

 

But once I thought my courage deeper

than Jacob’s Pond could ever be.

So I became one with the stone I skimmed

that hummed and skimmed and skimmed again

but not entirely across.

 

And where it sank, there too I plunged

down from the surface of Jacob’s Pond

down with immortal youth and a lungful of air

down into the heavy-black-deepness of Jacob’s Pond.

 

That Jacob’s Pond went deeper forever

was not mine to know that day

for fear soon squeezed life from courage

and a blur of my spider’s legs and arms

sent me scrabbling up the bubbled web

to light and air and breath and the safety of surfaces.

For, it’s a blessing now

to be once—and only once—young

And once to test the depths

once to dare to fail

and Once to Succeed in Failing

and in failing, yet survive

with a greater knowing

that there’s a near infinity of learning

oh, a precious, near infinity of learning

from lightly skimming

from blithely skimming

the safer, monocular surface of things.

~    ~    ~

Author Information

Jay Squires

Email: gwsquiresjr@gmail.com.

Join the Readers’ Group at: http://jaywsquiresstickywords.com and receive TWO FREE e-book novelettes*

* BENT: Wake or Cross, by Jay Squires

* Lying on the Alter of Self-Sacrifice, by Jay Squires

 

Thank you Jay Squires for your brilliant poem, “I Am the Skimmer of Stones, and for your participation in the interview.  Please keep writing and sharing your incredible imagination and words with us!

 

~~~~~~~~

After such a seasoned poet as Jay Squires spoke, I found it stimulating to hear a new-comer to our poetry open mic, Bridgette Love, share her written word for the first time.  Even though it was Bridgette’s first time to stand in front of our open mic, she spoke with confidence and clarity.  Here are her answers to my interview questions and at the end is her poem, “Mantra.”

When I asked Bridgette to give us a little insight into her poem, “Mantra” she said:

The first poem I shared during the open Mic at Dagny’s, which was untitled at the time but I now have decided to call “Mantra,” was inspired by a couple of feelings that play a significant role in my life. Anxiety and sorrow tend to coincide inside me on a regular basis and I work on reducing how heavy they feel. I meditate to try and clean out my being so I can function in a more positive and clear place and this poem is a peek into the journey my mental state goes on in an attempt to cleanse away those messy feelings. There are deeper layers in this poem but that is what this poem boils down to.

When did you realize you were a writer?

I realized that writing gave me solace in junior high. I’ve always been someone who feels with their entire being. Writing has gotten me through a lot of tough times.

Tell us about your process.  Do you write on the computer, use notebooks, pen and paper – how do you write?

I typically prefer to write on paper with a pencil but if I don’t have those available, I will use the notes app on my phone. It starts with a rush of feelings, an interesting thought, and a sense of urgency to write down those things.

What scares you the most?

What scares me is stunting my own growth in life, and also I fear not giving enough kindness to people.

How many poems do you throw away – If any?

I generally won’t throw away my writing at this stage in my life, I’ll just scribble things out, and sometimes if a couple poems are on the same wavelength I’ll combine the lines I like.

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?

What inspires me and keeps me going is the power of human connection, love, and kindness.

 

“Mantra”

by Bridgette Love

 

Yellowed teeth

Manic heart

Rip my guts out and shove them into my pockets

Frantic and overwhelmed by the stench and my oozing fingertips, caking inside the crevices that make up my fingerprints

Disheveled, hot, and squirming with uncertainty

The very hair on my head agitating the volcano erupting at the base of my being, the hair brushing up against my cheek seemingly burdening

My truths and irrationality tickle my ribs, crawl up my throat and tickle my lips

Inhale the good, exhale…anxiety, worry, uncertainty, inferiority, sorrow, doubt…

Better, but I feel the left over gunk residing in the walls of my belly and the edges of my breast bone…

Inhale the good, exhale…suppressed anger, unresolved arguments, hurt feelings, unworthiness, anxiety, sorrow, doubt, uncertainty, inferiority…

Mantra…mantra

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage…

 

WOW!  There is such honesty and authenticity in this expression of your feelings, Bridgette Love.  We can all identify.  Please keep writing and sharing your true self with us!

 

~~~~~~~~

 

So many wonderful poets followed and Carla Martin made me smile with her poem titled, “Coffee Cafe Customers:  The Barista.”  I was delighted when Carla agreed to participate in my interview.  When asked to share her inspiration for her poem, “Coffee Cafe Customers:  The Barista,” Carla said:

I am a frequent customer at local coffee cafes in the late afternoons, and have been inspired to write several poems about the interesting people I have observed there. You see a real slice of America. I love checking folks out and imagining what they are thinking, or what their lives are like. Sometimes I get to talking with them, as I did with “Coffee Cafe Customers: The Barista” and their stories become even richer.

I am a poet, a teacher, and a mother, not necessarily in that order. I have lived in Bakersfield for thirty years now. I recently joined Writers of Kern, a wonderful organization of published and soon-to-be-published authors who hone their craft together. On a whim, I signed up for a Poetry Critique Group, and that really got me writing again. It is made up of some remarkable folks who read each other’s’ work and make insightful comments. We have become fast friends—you really show your soft underbelly to people when you share your writing—and there is a sense of trust and respect that grows. I have started sending my poems out for publication—wish me luck! 

When did you realize you were a writer?

I remember writing my first poem when I was in third grade, laying on a boulder in the middle of a stream up in the San Bernadino mountains. It had a line in it that read something like, “And the great pines rise above me/ like the loftiest of cathedrals.” I can still recall the beauty of that scene and the closeness I felt to God at that moment. Writing a poem about that feeling was just something that poured out. And that’s what poetry is, isn’t it? It captures the essence of experiences.

Tell us about your process.  Do you write on the computer, use notebooks, pen and paper – how do you write?.

I write most often on my trusty laptop. Sometimes poems come to me when I am napping on my family room couch. Then I scribble lines on post-it notes to transcribe later.

What scares you the most?

Standing in front of a room of elementary students each morning as the substitute teacher.

How many poems do you throw away – If any?

I don’t throw away any poems—there are just some that are still works in progress, percolating away in my mind.

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?

I am inspired to continue to write poetry because it makes me feel healed! I have written out all kinds of emotions and experiences in my poems. As a friend wisely pointed out to me, giving these things a name and creating a work of art out of something that was hurtful, or wonderful, is extremely cathartic. I also love to fashion language— find imagery or metaphor—to convey an idea. I often ruminate about poems while driving and get the perfect word I’ve been searching for while turning left onto Truxtun

Extension.

Additional Information:

I just created a blog and have promised to write two new posts every week until May. I would be delighted for all to read it and see my latest poems and prose. Its address is www.carlajoypoetry.com

 

“Coffee Cafe Customers:  The Barista”

By  Carla Martin

 

Her high cheekbones

Are smoothed with pancake make-up

And thick, false eyelashes

Flutter on her heavy lids

She smiles

And gracefully takes my order

 

She repeats the liturgical litany

“What would you like today?

Are you a member of the Bookstore Cafe

And receive a 10% discount?

Would you like cream and sweetener with that?”

 

Do these phrases repeat in her mind

Through her dreams at night?

An endless stream

Of garbled gibberish?

 

Does she wake up

Longing for Dostoevsky

And complex plot turns

And deeply introspective characters

Wrestling with conflicting desires

Galloping through sweeping vistas

On glorious steeds?

 

Stuck behind the formica counter

Surrounded by a fortress of blenders

Cappuccino makers

And  bottles of syrup

She is trapped by these sentinels

Of modern addiction

Her life is bound in chains

Of service to pleasure seekers

Craving their afternoon fix

 

She is the cover

Of last month’s Cosmo magazine

Filled with snippets

Of bedroom wisdom

Gained by wise vixens

In deep decolletage

That whisper the secrets

Of how to arouse him

While waving lavish, lacquered nails

 

In brief, two-minute conversations

I try to pierce the perfect facade

And gain a glimpse

Of the cracked vessel within

 

She lets slip

That she has a daughter

That she had when she was eighteen

Who is finally doing better in second grade

after spending many afternoons in the principal’s office

Because she can’t get along with her peers

She is used to being around adults

The only youngster in the family

She can’t fathom the confusion

Of all her squirming classmates

But a child can learn

And now she is doing much better,

Thanks for asking

 

Everyone has a story

That’s as complex as a classic novel

Don’t let the glossy cover fool you

The dog-eared pages are tear-stained within

Such a wonderful poem and observation of people, Carla Martin!  Your poem expresses the art of carefully listening, which is a true art in itself.  Keep writing Carla.  You are a joy to read!

 

~~~~~~~~

 

Well that’s it for another fabulous night of sharing poems and words at Kern Poetry Open Mic night that happens every First Friday of the month.  Please come join us and share yourself!  You are one-of-a-kind and we want to hear your words and get to know you.  Until next time – KEEP WRITING!

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

 

 

 

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.”

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

“What are you grateful for?”

“Connection.”

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, CreativeLifeMidwife.com) 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.

 

INTERVIEW OF ANKE HODENPIJL

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.”

 

Work  

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

retelling

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,

rising,

not hesitatingly like a distant fog-covered sunrise,

but rather like an eruption,

unwilling to be punched down,

here

now

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

disremembering

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?

 

And

 

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

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

INTERVIEW OF MANDY ANDERSON

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

Blood
we die if we lose too much

Periods
A sign of an ending

I feel my childhood dying.

A death so painfully inescapable

 

                         Today, I have become a woman

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

INTERVIEW OF DIANE LOBRE

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.

 

 

EGGSHELLS

BY DIANE LOBRE

 

Eyes down

Listening carefully

For signs

 

A raised voice

Tension exuded

Tangible

 

Quiet

Whispering steps

Toward

 

Landmines

Of past

Transgressions

 

Breath held

Automated

Movement

 

Careful

Every word

Spoken

 

Can

Be a trigger

Pointed

 

At the target

Of the heart

And mind

 

Body can

Be broken

Mended

 

Broken

Mended

Twisted

 

Pain

Raining down

Molding

 

Shaping

Thoughts and

Actions

 

Reactions become

Routine

Controlled

 

Emotion

Stuffed down

Held in check

 

By the Other

Masking

Self

 

Invisible

Unknown

Shrunken

 

All potential

Drowned

In tears

 

Useless

Numbed

Buried

 

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
instruments.”

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.  

Silence

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.

 

Therefore,

   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.

      Therefore,

         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!

 

Yes,

   it is the Self that I am:

      Changeless,

         Timeless,

            Limitless!

 

I, the Self, is

   Existence,

      Consciousness,

         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.

 

Silence,

   Silence,

      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:

EARTH

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

 

(Chorus)

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?

 

(Chorus)

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?

(Bridge)

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.

Small

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.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~