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First Friday Open Mic – November 3, 2017 features Jeremy Casabella

Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

It’s such a pleasure to see so many creative folks come out to support Kern Poetry First Friday open mic night at Dagny’s.  As usual the room was full of artists and electric with energy as regulars and new-comers mentally prepared to open their hearts and share their thoughts in either poetry or song.  Each artist was shown respect and appreciation for their work.

Our featured Bakersfield artist for the night was Jeremy Casabella who read several of his short and poignant poems which captured the poet’s spirit and love for words.  Following is Jeremy’s answers to my interview questions, allowing us to better know him and his interesting work.

Please give us a short profile about your poetry background, what got you started, your influences, inspiration….

I memorized a poem by Emily Dickinson, “I Am Nobody Who are you?” for a poetry parade in the third grade. I started writing short poems the next week, though I really did not appreciate then exactly what it meant to write a poem.

I was a terrible high school student and spent much of my time doodling rhymed verses that told bizarre narratives rather than paying attention. I recall wanting to be dark or edgy like Sylvia Plath but with a bit of an obscure or maybe Suessian angle.  One poem I can remember was about explaining cigarette’s to aliens, written in the voice of the “cigarette smoking man” from the X-Files. Another, in the voice of an old lamp, lamented lost light bulbs.

I dropped out of Commercial Design studies at the San Francisco Academy of Arts College my first semester after testing out of high school. I loathed the experience. At that point I wrote poems only when inspired until, in my twenties, I started college again. I took many different courses at the community college in Glendale, CA where I met the poet Bart Edelman. He gave me some insight on my work and a little space in the Journal he edited: Eclipse.

In school I focused on English, preferring courses that emphasized poetry or were taught by poets. Later I graduated from UCLA, where I had participated in workshops with Calvin Bedient and Stephen Yenser. I then studied Writing at Sarah Lawrence College where I achieved my MFA through the good graces of teachers like Jeffrey McDaniel, D. Nurkse and Marie Howe. Even while studying Literary Criticism at Sonoma State I worked in a course of guided writing with the poet Gillian Conoley. Throughout my life poetry has been my therapy.

If I had to give a list of influences whom I have not met beyond the page, it would include those whose writings I return to most often: Larry Levis, Robert Hass, Wyslawa Szymborska, Charles Simic, James Gavin and Dorothea Grossman.

What are you trying to communicate with your poetry?

The poem needs to communicate whatever is necessary to the poem; this changes. I am obsessed with trying to write words that will evoke specific mental or physical reactions or understandings of experience by the reader. I’m excited most by the connotative and mimetic aspects of language. In that respect I suppose any poem in my computer-files or journals ultimately imparts moments of time and place and image wrapped in allegory. Mostly I just like to create.

Do you have any creative patterns, routines?

I write at a computer. I am so used to typing in MS Word that I frequently find myself translating my experiences into words on a page in my mind. If I seem distracted and inattentive it’s probably because I’m bothered by a word choice in our circumstances.

As a student my most consistent note in critiques, whether in praise or derision, was always that I wrote eclectically; that is to say I defied any overall unifying style or even impetus in my work.

Now, independently, I continue to work in as many modes as possible. I write tanka regularly. I’ve created what I call “observation poems” which are very tanka-like ideally, but have no set length and the added requisite of including five observations, one from each sense. I’ve also started a series of “abecedarigraph” poems, which are 26 word texts where each word must begin with a successive alphabetic letter. I love struggling with the xyz. I’m writing a chapbook of free verse poems posed as descriptions of different parts and pages in a graphic novel. I often cannibalize different components from these and other endeavors to create unique works. Those latter creations tend to be my favorites. Sometimes I just get lucky and write a relatively complete poem in one attempt. I still of course revise the crap out of it.

I borrow ideology from OuLiPo, and L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets, sensibilities from the imagists and the Black Mountain School. I think about form and tradition all the time leaning toward imagism. To be overly figurative for a moment, I assume the mysterious task of tracing the footprints of duende that walk through the pages of all of the styles I admire with poem colored paint on their toes. It’s an exhausting hobby.

Please mention any publications you’ve created.

While I publish in journals regularly, I have yet to put out any collections or chapbooks, but do work daily on about a dozen different large groupings of poems with various controlling features like those mentioned earlier.

My words have appeared so far this year in Vinyl, The American Journal of Poetry, GNU, Right Hand Pointing, The Invisible Bear, and Rabid Oak. Though I still have two sets of work under consideration, I have placed myself on a submissions sabbatical since May.

Please share one of your poems you would like to feature.

I’m happy to share a copy of one of the more difficult poems I’m currently writing. It is tearing me apart right now:

Anecdote for Autonomy

By Jeremy Casabella

 

In giant wing-like bulbous

flaps that deflate back

into cut mats from

gnarl

 

on youtube,

the tableful of lungs outside their jar

expand into their reflections in our

eyes.

 

Three sets of

hammered out filets

pump repeatedly; as they go “Flit-

flump”

 

—become gnarled thin pads

plugged by plastic hoses

to some medichanical apparatus.

Un-

 

bound to the grunting

press of rubbed dull bone

from which they must’ve lingered to

burst

 

forth again like a vaulted question

“Could the torso previous respire

of its last setting

so?”

 

(any cool spring afternoon when

thin petrichor  made transient

promises to disperse

or

 

another rectangular

sterile room, tiny as the video

on my smart phone’s stupid plastic

screen).

 

Or “Did her breath become

what endures here through terrible

unusually over-prolonged bubble-gummy

sheens?

 

(Yet some oxygen nonetheless

remains inside her presence the shape

of being unable to let go). And

again?

 

If there is anything else you’d like to say or contribute, please do so.

I would like to thank all involved for their contributions to the furtherance of poetry in Bakersfield and Kern.

Well, Jeremy Casabella, we would like to thank you for your contribution to the Kern Poetry website.  Please continue to come back to our First Friday Open Mic night and share your interesting poetic mind with us.

 

***

 

At the end of our featured artist segment, the open mic portion of the night began and at this time we had the honor of listening to Professor Kai Chu read some of his beautiful poetry.  Professor Chu will be the featured artist at our upcoming First Friday on December 1, 2017.  Following is a couple questions I asked Professor Chu.

Please give us a short bio of your poetic journey.

My Chinese mother inspired me to write poetry, practice calligraphy as well as appreciate music.  She was an artist herself. She gave me the poetic name or sobriquet “Wood-gatherer of Purple Mountain” in reference to my hometown and evoking humility and simplicity. My love for words has stayed with me, crossing oceans, continents, cultures, and genres.

Do you have something special to share with us at the Dec. 1, 2017 First Friday night?

I will recite a poem of mine, entitled, “Silence.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your upcoming performance?

‘Xiu Shi’ Eileen Moy will perform original and traditional pieces on Chinese musical instruments: 琵琶 (Pipa) and 古琴 (Guqin). The latter is a rare ancient instrument with a long tradition that has permeated Chinese culture, especially the poetic song, for thousands of years. The guqin was chosen as one of three intangible world heritage traditions by UNESCO to represent China.

Thank you Professor Chu.  We are so excited to hear your new poem, “Silence” and also hear the beautiful music that will be presented by Eileen Moy!  This will be a memorable evening for sure!

 

***

Several more poets and musicians shared their talents and we enjoyed everyone.  Cheyenne Goossen caught my eye while she sang an original song accompanying herself on guitar. She has graciously given us insight into her creative life by answering the following question and sharing the lyrics to her song, “One Shot Honey.”

Please give us a short bio about your poetic/songwriting journey.

I have been inspired by all types of music for as long as I can remember but my first impactful music memory is of a 5 year old me gazing into Cat Stevens’ album record cover while being serenaded by ‘Moonshadow’. At 14, I taught myself guitar and began writing and singing my own music and eventually formed a band with my older sister and another friend, whom I still love playing with today.  After graduating CSUB with a bachelor’s of science in biology, my husband and I were elated with the birth of our first son, followed by two more precious boys who are now 9, 7, and 4.  Music has taken more of a backseat while raising my family but writing, playing, singing and listening to music has remained a daily constant in my life.

It had been a year since I had performed in front of others the night I sang my most recent original song, ‘One Shot Honey’, at Dagny’s.  I was very nervous and the only reason I chose to preform was because my son’s oral language partner was experiencing extreme stage fright and I promised I would take her and my son so they could come watch for inspiration. Although I was secretly embarrassed that I only made it halfway through my song, at her next oral language performance she overcame her fears and gave it her all.  That’s what ‘One Shot Honey’ is about.  Never losing sight of your deepest passions and giving them your all, all the while staying free from the entanglement of boredom, doubt, and ego.

 

“One Shot Honey”

By Cheyenne Goossen

 

I ride on horses

While you ride on cycles

In our dreams

Every damn day

 

You like the movies

But I choose the music

And it’s tearing us apart

Now we’ve got 5 count them 5

Broken hearts

 

I described a donkey

But you saw an elephant

Dividing our love by a continent

 

Chorus

Oooooh Oooooh

Oh oh oh

Repeat

 

You took the high road

While I took the low road

God it felt like I stabbed myself behind my own back

 

And then you brought me flowers

After I made you cry all them hours

And I thought to myself this is our last shot

 

This is our last shot honey

We’ve got to give it all that we got

Cause in the end all we have is each other

 

Repeat chorus

 

***

 

Thank you all for visiting the Kern Poetry website and please come back again and get to know more of our wonderful poets and musicians who participate in the Kern Poetry First Friday event at Dagny’s.  Everyone is different yet we’re all the same, wanting to express what’s in our hearts.

 

KEEP WRITING!

 

 

 

 

 

Open Mic August 4, 2017

First Friday Open Mic – August 4, 2017

 Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by: Christina Noel

 

It was so much fun covering the hostess position for Portia at the August 4, 2017 Kern Poetry open mic night held at Dagny’s Coffee Shop.  The room was full to capacity with enthusiastic smiling folks ready to share their hearts and souls.  As each poet or musician expressed their art, the audience quietly listened and responded with appreciative applause. Everyone encouraged the “newbies” to continue writing and continue coming back to share.  Several people said they could feel the love and support in the room and that’s what it’s all about.  It takes courage to stand in front of people we don’t know and expose thoughts and feelings in poetry and song. At the end of the night we gave one last round of applause for everyone in the room, thanking each other for showing up and participating.

One of the poets who attended was Emily Andrews, who graciously agreed to an interview and below are her answers to my questions:

How did you come to express yourself through poetry? 

“I was looking for a way to express my heart’s language.  I wanted to speak the truth and just get everything out on paper.  Once I wrote my first poem I was hooked.   It was so thrilling —  the feeling you get when you finish your very own masterpiece.”

Do you have any influences?

“My first influence was my Mom. She sparked my interest in English and writing at a very young age.  She taught English.  She is a very captivating and educated woman.  I am also influenced by Reyna Biddy.  She speaks from the heart and is all about spoken word.  I also admire the R. H. Sin’s “Whiskey, Words, and a Shovel” series.  It gets me writing every time I put the book down.”

What inspires you to write?  “What mainly inspires me is an emotion bubbling up inside and when I spill the ink on paper it represents how I’m feeling in that moment in time.  And when I write, I try to come up with a message of truth and go from there.”

Can you describe the time when you first realized that writing was something you absolutely had to do?

“I felt very empty inside and writing filled my soul and I realized, when other people could relate to my words, it was something that I had to do.”

Do you have a favorite poem you’ve written?

“My favorite is a simple poem called “Life’s a Beach” – it was a simple time in my life that sparked that emotion but it was the first poem I was ever proud of.”

 

Below is one of the two poems Emily shared with us on Friday, Aug. 4.

“Revolving”

by Emily Andrews

Boom! I’m Back

Thrown against the ground tossed under the depths of ocean blue emotion I feel for you

I might drown

I’m like a boomerang you see

I always come back around

I come up for air before I hit the ground

Why do I feel things so deeply you ask? My answer is simple, love doesn’t hurt me, the love I have for you doesn’t hurt me, what you choose to do with that love hurts me. I’m a boomerang but I’m not coming back around this time

Lies I tell myself as I prepare to deny your late night messages of lust

Throwing me away but expecting me to come back

As if you didn’t confine me enough

I’m a boomerang and I keep coming back

I always come back

It is the way I am wired

To love without getting tired

To give without anything in return required

One thing must change

I’m a boomerang

You just need to want me when I come back around.

 

 

Also attending was actor/writer/landscape architect/artist, Edward Charles Waters, who shared his spoken word describing what his father meant to him. Edward’s emotional presentation came from deep in his heart and his tears moved everyone in the room.  Edward agreed to answer a few questions for our readers.

What moved you to present spoken words about your Father?

The piece I presented titled “Dad” is one of two dominant works of mine.  Both are about my father and me during the period of time when I was between the ages of three and eight.  I wanted to support my friend Shanna O’Brien who was hosting the Open Mic at Dagny’s on August 4.  I wanted to perform this most personal piece for her and for a live audience.  As an actor / performer, it is important that I take advantage of opportunities to flay the skin off my vulnerabilities.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?

Who I am and what I came from I suppose.  I like “slice of life” works.  Ones that take me somewhere vividly and introduce me to people and thoughts I otherwise would not have known – works that inform me and teach me.  I am informed and taught in the writing of the work and am informed and taught in the reading or observation of what others produce.  This kind of work brings us closer together.

What does being creative mean to you?

It means everything.  I am so fortunate to be gifted with Creativity.  To be able to express what I see and feel artistically!  Art, which is the expression of Creativity, is the language of God.  By utilizing my gift, I align myself with God and all the Power and Knowledge of the Universe!

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

I always get still.  I listen.  After a while, I see.  After another while, I understand.  The answer comes.  The answer comes as to what to say, how to play the part, how to solve the design problem.  I have learned that in all forms of Art, I cannot force the process.  I merely have to get out of my own way.

What’s the favorite thing you’ve ever created?

My life and I create and recreate it daily!

 

Below is Edward Charles Waters spoken word titled “Dad.”

“DAD”

by Edwards Charles Waters

In the early fifties, I was just a little guy and Dad was a single parent who had custody of me on weekends.  He was a striking figure of a man with matinee idol good looks.  But instead of opting for a social life with adult friends on weekends, he chose to spend that time with me.

He was a guide and a teacher and the world of Chicago was our classroom.  His style was somewhere between Socrates’ and Mickey Spillane’s.

He introduced me to so many people, places and things that I had a head start on other kids my age and never lost ground.

He took me to every nook and cranny in the City of Chicago.  To Lincoln Park and the Zoo.  To see Bushman, the gorilla.  To the Lion House at feeding time.  He sat me on his shoulders so I had a good view.

We walked and talked on dark streets late at night.  A “Mutt and Jeff” pair.  He took me to past crime scene locations, to all-night diners and to corner taverns.  He took me to all the museums and to the planetarium.  To Lake Michigan and the “Rocks”.  To Notre Dame and to mass.

He introduced me to Shakespeare, Homer, Cicero and Caesar.  To navy bean soup, cotton candy and street vendor hot dogs.  To “Dick the Bruiser”, the “Cisco Kid” and his sidekick “Pancho”, and to Jack Brickhouse.

He let me sit on his lap and drive his car and ride the roller-coaster at Riverview Park.

He taught me how to swim and how to dive, how to tread water and how to float on my back.

He taught me to “try it”, to fear nothing and no one, to be proud to be a Waters, and to walk right up and “stick your hand out.”

He taught me to help a blind person cross a street, that where there is right there is might, and that everyone deserves their “shot.”

He bragged some, but usually about others…like Uncle Charles, or me.

He loved his country.  He loved the Navy…they had good “chow.”

He loved to lie in the sun.  He loved the water…any water.

He liked a beer every now and then, and to “stop in” on friends.

He loved me and I loved Him.

Bye Dad. I’ll see you soon.

Eddie

 

In closing I would like to say, “What a wonderful evening!”  Everyone is different yet we’re all the same, wanting to express what’s in our hearts.  So let’s

KEEP WRITING!

Open Mic July 7, 2017 at Dagny’s

First Friday Open Mic

Story by Alex Victoria

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

Like too many other Bakersfield summer days, the heat had not abated going into the afternoon, but perhaps thankfully our tiny room within Dagny’s Coffee Shop offered a chilled refuge for attendees of the July 2017 First Friday event.

However, a different kind of heat pervaded the open mic night as soon as the performances began.

On top of the usual poetry performances, there were a number of standout musical performances, beginning with the impressive strums of Kyle’s powerful performance about daily life and contemplation of the plight of others.

Notable as well was the memorized (and mesmerizing) spoken word performance by Sunny, a new arrival to our local community by way of Michigan. He painted a scene in the life of a damaged but determined woman with his first piece, and delivered an enthusiastic and at times biting social and political commentary with his second piece.

Notable among the more traditional poetry performances were the grim (by his own admission) but poignant pieces of Terry, the impromptu, crowd involving craft of Julie Jordan Scott, and a performance by the always wonderful Liz Greynolds. You can find the piece she delivered presented in full below.

 

I’ll Tuck n Roll

by Liz Greynolds

 

I’ll tuck n roll

me to my death baby

ooo I like it raw no skin

skraight scraped bones

in the holes where my teeth go

from gnawing on ropes and chains

and headphone strings and that sorta thing

 

I’m going to drive a car

I’ll make my mark and wake

not to find a place or a bottomless pit

but a sweet sweet vomitorium with a scent

nothing short of intoxicating

 

but if you’re ever feeling

something maybe more milder

I’ll take you where I loiter be my experiment

incomplete my garden overflows with lillies in the

sometimes

 

Foundation for Second Chances

Story by Portia Choi

Photographs by Martin Chang and Portia Choi

A new charter school in Bakersfield, Foundation For Second Chances, had poetry as part of their developing leadership component.  The school focuses on at-risk young adults to obtain a high school diploma and to learn a skill in construction.

The Office Manager of the school, Alison Williams, wanted a poetry workshop.  “We want our students to see what is out there; help the students to expand and learn how to express themselves,” said Williams.

The poetry workshops were on June 2 and June 9.

On the first day, Don Thompson, the poet laureate of Kern County, recited from his poems.   Thompson encouraged the students to keep trying.  A line from one of his poems was “Now anything is possible.” (From “Sightings” in the book, Turning Sixty.)

The workshops were facilitated by Portia Choi, of Kern Poetry, who focused on experiencing various senses to enhance creativity.  Choi had mint and gardenias to enhance sense of touch and smell.  She struck a gong to help students focus on hearing.  She provided blueberries and granola bars for tasting.

One of the students, Aaron Cardenas, used seeing, feeling and smelling gardenias to write the following poem:

Gardenias

by Aaron Cardenas

The gardenias are soft, gentle and light, as if they were made of silk.

The smooth and soothing smell.  Plays a relaxing, relieving sound in my head.

Gentle and soft, as my grandma as she is sitting in the church, showing me a good,

spiritual example.

 

Another student was Bayley Brooks who has been writing since 13.  He said, “When I was younger, I was angry.  I wrote rhyming poetry and short stories.  I got feedback, thought I had talent.  I like putting smile on their faces.  It keeps me happy, inspired.  They tell me their story.”  Brooks is involved with poetry.  He has a social media site, riddlemepoetry.tumblr.com.  

After Brooks scratched and smelled a lemon, at the workshop, he wrote:

If life gives you lemon,

Squeeze it back into the eyes of life.

 

At the ribbon cutting for the Foundation For Second Chances school, Karen Goh, the mayor of Bakersfield met the students and attendees.

At the event, Bayley Brooks read an essay he wrote for the English class.

Brooks wrote “It’s crazy how I almost quit the Program, when I came back it was like a slam to the face.  Now things are easier that I’m keeping my own pace.  I’m doing this for me, nobody else and thank you Foundation for Second Chances for all your help. . . I had a lot of things on my mind.  It’s hard to live when you’re in a bind trying to find yourself and find a purpose and share my love ad knowledge, yeah, in surplus.”  

Cindy Rivas was a student who liked roses.  She said, “I like roses because of their fruity scent, looks beautiful, nice.”  She remembered, “When grandma passed away, I picked a rose, made a stick figure and prayed.  Soft, nice texture, when touched it gives it a smell.”

The students wrote a poem together, “Exquisite Corpse,” by taking turns writing a line seeing only the immediately preceding line.  The students who wrote were Bayley Brooks, Cindy Rivas, Chris Gredler and Jazell Vela.  The poem is:

 

Exquisite Corpse  

by Foundation For Second Chances students

The bloody person jumped fast

I’m a wonderful mom

Who lives happily in a tree

My self playground dog

Yay Life is,

Terrible

The most wonderful thing

I think about it as I sing

I’m High off Life!

 

Kelsy Watson, a case manager with the school, wrote a poem at the workshop as she was looking at marigolds.  Watson started writing poetry when 10.  Writing poems came naturally to her.  “Poetry comes from the soul, it’s soul deep,” she said.

Watson wrote:

Marigold

by Kelsy Watson

Early summer afternoon, 1992:  my sister, brother and myself all gather in the front yard in a circle, holding hands, spinning around (giggling amongsts) singing, “Ring around the rosies, pockets full of posies.  ashes, Ashes. . . . . .”

Daddy came outside with a subtle tone “Okay kids come on in a’ wash y’all hands and get ready for dinner.”

Our faces lit up with glee.  Oh, how we loved daddy.

The smell of daddy’s Love.  His gentle touch (so caring, so protective.)

I place these flowers on your grave site.  They have blossomed.  Just like you Always told me and sissy we would bloom into women.  (Queens.)  The stems are strong (holding up the flowers) just the way you always taught brother to be a strong man and to Always look out for his sisters.  

Oh how I love my daddy. . .

Nancy McCallion and Danny Krieger at Sheridan House

By Martin Chang

Photos provided by Nancy McCallion

Nancy McCallion and Danny Krieger will be performing at Sheridan House on July 14. Call 661-371-6118 for information. Suggested donation is 10 to 20 dollars.  They perform a mix of traditional folk music and McCallion’s originals.  Both musicians have toured nationally and internationally. Danny Krieger plays slide guitar and sings harmonies with McCallion.  Krieger has played with musicians like Andy Gibb and Eric Burden.

McCallion was first exposed to traditional music through her upbringing. She said, “I grew up with Irish folk music, my father was from Scotland and his parents were Irish.  When I was young, he was in the air force and we were stationed in England.  So, I got to visit my Irish family members.  That was a big reason I got into Irish Folk music.” She first learned music on the piano. At first, she wrote poetry.  Then she began playing professionally at 19.  She didn’t start touring as a musician until her late 20’s.

Nancy McCallion

When McCallion was asked why she liked traditional folk music, she said that she enjoyed the honesty of the emotions in first person ballad songs. She said, “There’s an old Irish folk song called ‘Blackwater Side.’ It’s a very real, human kind of story.  It’s not romanticized. It tells the story without telling you how to feel about the story, which is one of the things I like about the narrative songs.”

One of McCallion’s favorite original songs is “I’m Not as Willing.”  It is a waltz. McCallion feels there is an emotional punch added by the rhythm of the style. “There is something mournful about the waltz time signature.”

McCallion enjoys performing “I’m Not as Willing” because of the moment the song captured. “I wrote the song when I was feeling down.  I was on the road and homesick. I had a long-term relationship that wasn’t going well. It was very real as far as what I was feeling at the time,” she said.

Below are the first few lines of the song.

I’m Not as Willing

Nancy McCallion

I saw you dancing with your sister in law

A black-eyed cajun in a Texas dance hall

Sure of your feet and sure of your smile

Good for a dance, and a kiss and a while

Oh but I’m not pretending you weren’t looking at me

But I’m not as willing as I used to be

 

McCallion was asked for a piece of poetry she would like to share. She chose this Sonnet to share with us.

The Kaibab Squirrel

By Nancy McCallion

The Kaibab squirrel, lacking in all shame

poses for pictures, grasps for commissions,

French fries, sugar cones, other concessions.

A squirrel, yes, perhaps, only in name

He would peel your pocket to find spare change.

No blinks at click or flash, his impression

posture perfect, in high definition

foregrounded in a rectangle, and framed.

What brings you here, for surely you are lost?

Sciurus, scurrying salesman confined

to posing for self-same selfies. It pays,

He says, now conversational. The cost

is minimal, the memories divine

da Vinci didn’t work for free. No way

Open Mic June 2, 2017

 

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Martin Chang

At the June 2 open mic, Norma Camorlinga performed her poems before moving to the East Coast.

She has been performing regularly at the First Friday poetry event since October 3, 2014.  She first attended open mic to be supportive of another poet, Mateo Lara.  Later, she started to recite her own poems.

Norma had her beginnings in performance in the theater.  For her, performing poetry was different from the theater.  “At open mic, it was different because in theater you perform someone else’s work.  In poetry, you perform your own,” said Norma, “it is more intimidating.  But it felt good, to get out and there is energy to share.”

Norma especially felt good to write a poem, “Altars,” about her Dad with allusion to “Day of the Dead.”  The poem starts with:

Like time

I think distance is relative.

The three dance a number

Take turns twirling in and out of fragile realities.

 

The entire poem, “Altars” and the poem that Norma read on June 2, “Chaotic Particles,” is provided at the end of this story.

Of her beginnings in writing poetry, “I started writing in the 7th grade; my teacher had me enter a contest,” said Norma.  “It was a poem about my family, how everyone felt about my grandmother.  She was the root of the family.”

Another poet who performed at the open mic was Matthew Mendoza.  He memorized his poems in the spoken word style.  An excerpt from the poem that he recited at the open mic is:

“. . .with the borrowed voices of the leaves/ your laughter fills my chest.”

A poet who recited at the open mic, wanted to share this poem anonymously: “I’m a person.  I am a human being.  I am disabled.  I will be a success story.”

Another poet, Walter Stormont, performed with a red cap to enhance his recitation of his poem “On, What is Love?”

 

 Oh, What is Love?

(A Redneck Rime)

By Walter Stormont   © 2017 Walter Stormont

 

Oh, what is love?  Oh, what is life?

An empty ice box full of strife.

A flying fist you have to duck,

A rusty, worn out pickup truck.

 

The distant dreams and bouncing checks,

The prices at the multiplex.

 

A barking dog, an aching back,

Another pert-near heart attack.

 

A leaky roof, a storm above,

Oh, what is next?  Oh, what is love?

 

A long-time friend, a caring spouse,

A kid who draws me Mickey Mouse.

 

A blooming, fruitful family tree.

A universe of unity.

 

I best slow down, like pop the clutch.

I never thought I’d think so much.

 

 

 

The two poems by Norma Camorlinga mentioned in the story are:

 

Altars

By Norma Camorlinga

 

Like time

I think distance is relative.

The three dance a number

Take turns twirling in and out of fragile realities.

The hours here nor there are real,

All a figment of the imagination.

You may think I am mad for stating such a ludicrous idea,

But when I sit next to you

Your heart is no longer where mine lives.

The fire that tethered it here has extinguished,

The dreams we pieced together have shattered,

And this happiness is long gone.

Time has swept away such precious moments,

They no longer have meaning to you.

I sit on your bed,

Bring you flowers

Patiently wait for you to speak,

Move,

Return to me,

Yet you remain still… Breathless,

Always six feet under.

I want this circle to break

For you to tear at the earth,

At the prison that surrounds you.

I want to erupt from this mundane pattern of birthing, losing, mourning, and complacency,

This colonized notion that it could be worse.

Even if I have to offer myself up to higher beings to have you back

I’d do it time and time again.

But… this is reality.

You left your mark on me,

On this world and

Now all we have to remember you is a monument that arrived too late.

Your is face slowly fading from my mind

Echoes of your voice faintly sing a tune

Your smile is slowly decaying

Your bones rattling a steady beat

Regenerating heat into this cold world.

You aren’t a zombie coming back to life,

So I sit by the altar Latinos leave for their dead

Placing silly ideas into boxes and rearranging them in my mind.

Sitting breathless,

Hopeful,

With a marigold flower in one hand

And my heart in the other to greet you when you return

 

“Chaotic Particles”

By Norma Camorlinga

They say that matter isn’t created nor destroyed

That the molecules we see today are remnants of a burning universe
Reorganized matter fused together, torn apart with time
Chaotic and unpredictable 

Serendipitous and timely.
Perhaps, this is why your eyes burn a familiar fire,

A familiar fire, within my chest

Parts of an ancient past, a self once, once floating beside those dark brown pools on your face, 

Like a pair of stars burning their way into my soul
And now, like those cosmos, you lay naked before me on sheets as white as cosmic ivory,

This dust is dreams,
So, You sleep
Filled with desire.
I connect the spots on your back
Constellations of black and blue fading red into soft skin

My mouth: their creator
Their celestial architect
Building an empire, stardust,
Let these cold hearts melt with lust.

Let the particles around our bodies become one
If only for a night or two,
Let us carve out unity,

Just this moment, be a lingering flame,
For Tomorrow we’ll rearrange this greatness,

We may become static,
But who is to say that the effects will not impact what we have created.
Like the Big Bang,
Catapult me into unforeseen futures,

Unforeseen sorrows

Inspire and caress my mind,

Be blind, but burst
Brighten my memories with clouds of stardust resting in your eyes
Idly waiting to fuse once again,
From the particles they once belonged.

We cannot create nor destroy,

but I’m suffering in this formation,

My eye sight begins to deteriorate with all the sadness in this world

Withering away into nothing

So let me build in the darkness of our space,

Where light cannot invade fast enough,

Let me cover your body in fading stars like braille

Small yet profound stars showing me the way

I’ll memorize them like some holy scripture

And learn to walk through the darkness

We can swallow these particles, though we won’t call it love,

We’ll only agree like the planets aligning with gravity,

To settle in this chaos.

 

Brendan Constantine Teaches Everyday Poetry

By Martin Chang and Portia Choi

Photos by Portia Choi and Martin Chang

When Brendan Constantine shopped at big box stores, he saw the same word over and over.  “I was shopping at a place like Smart and Final and they would have industrial versions of different products, and they were all about how to get the most out of them,” he said.

This inspired Constantine to think about teaching poetry differently.  “If I address poetry in that way, as a thing that is practical, something that is not just a hobby, or because something that you do because it’s pretty, but a day to day means to clarity. That could be the way to teach poetry.”

This is how Constantine came up with the workshop titled Industrial Poetry. He taught the workshop at on June 1, 2017 at Walter W. Stiern Library of California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB.)  The workshop was so popular that it had to be moved to a larger room in the library.

Constantine performed for the students at the 5-hour workshop like a comedian giving high energy examples of techniques and methods of inspiration.  These methods include writing exercises and prompts with titles like A Change of Season, Poverty, Divorce, I was so Drunk, and After the Wedding.  Or to write about “We were never to talk about . . .” and “What are the stars waiting for?”

He spoke of the “openness of possibilities.”  That there are two directions of most poetry.  One is the lyrical that moves by association and the other being the narrative that moves with time.

From vocabulary to job hunting, Constantine believes that the teaching of poetry can help people communicate. He believes that this communication can bring people together. “It’s not enough to tell you I’m sad. I haven’t told you very much. If I can get you to feel it with me, maybe I get you closer to what I am talking about. People with skills with things like simile and metaphor and image will just write a better letter, even a letter for a job,” he said.

This can extend to the current climate of division. “People are being separated by beliefs.  These divisions are becoming greater through semantics, people not being to articulate how they feel.  I feel that right now, with a country that everybody is saying is divided, that anything that we can do to stimulate communication is great.”

On a deeper level, teaching poetic expression can help people become more complete.  This is what Constantine believes he can give to students. “When it comes to poetry, metaphor is a gateway to compassion.  If I can fill a room full of people, who on a daily basis, is tasked to empathize with everything from nature to a chair, that is someone is also concerned with how others feel, that to me is a healthier world.”

Runda Osman took the workshop with her daughter Rawiah Mohamed Osman.   Runda enjoyed experiencing the workshop with her daughter. She said, “In my culture, we do not communicate by talking but by spending time doing something together. So taking this workshop was doing something with my daughter.  I am Middle Eastern, Sudanese.  It is the first time for me to be in a writing workshop.” Rawiah wrote when she was younger and is planning on writing poetry again.

Jorge Lopez took the workshop to “improve writing poetry. I write short stories and plays at CSUB.”  Lopez said, “The workshop was fun, liked it a lot.  Creative way to write poetry.”

Priti Devaprakash of East Indian heritage, also took the workshop. She found Constantine “animated, enthusiastic and creative.” She enjoyed one writing activity called Why and Because. In this activity, one side of the class wrote five sentences starting with “Why.”  The other side wrote five sentences of “Because.”  In random order, a participant said a “why” and then a person on the other side responded with one of their “because.”

Devaprakash enjoyed the freedom of the activity. She said, “In school classes there are rules on what you can’t do.  The workshop showed how randomness goes into creativity.”

During the workshop, Constantine did not read any of his poems even though he has several published books of poetry. His first collection, Letters to Guns, was released in February 2009.   The book is used extensively in schools.  His website is Brendanconstatine.com.

Here are poems from two of the participants of the workshop.

 

Jorge Lopez wrote the following poem during the workshop, in the activity he was asked to write a his choice.

My dream will be found

by someone who talks to loud.

They will lose their voice

and utter no sound.

Being forced to listen

to the noise of the crowd.

They have talked over so much.

 

 

Rawiah Mohamed Osman provided the following poem that she had written previously for the Kern Poetry website.

American Superheroes

by Rawiah Mohamed Osman in 2015

There are heroes who are fighting for our freedom and voice

They are courageous, brave, mentally and physically tough

Will always be waiting for the day they return so we can rejoice

God, please bring them home safely and keep them strong which is enough

 

While we worry about what we will wear today, they worry if they will see their families once again

Those are our troops who without we wouldn’t be who we are today

Unlike the immortal heroes we grew up with like Superman and Wonder Women, they are real women and men

They are mortal, they fight and die, while others get captured and never able to get away.

 

Even though you might not know them and they don’t know you

They are the reason you are here to stay and will protect you

While you’re complaining your life is hell, they are going through it for you

But they won’t quit or accept defeat because they always push through center of gravity

 

Because what’s starts with an S and protects as all

 

Soldiers, thank you to all the women and men who serve

Surprise Guest Poet at Open Mic May 2017

Story by Portia Choi

Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

The councilman, Andrae Gonzalez, came to the open mic on May 5, 2017.  He represents the Bakersfield downtown area that includes Dagny’s Coffee where the open mics are held.  Gonzalez recited his poem, “Echo,” about his father.

At the open mic, the featured performers were Katie Collins and Frances Eghre-Bello, the top contestants in the Poetry Out Loud contest in Bakersfield.  Their English teacher, Andrew Chilton, at Stockdale High School made the contest possible.  It was the first time that the contest was held in Bakersfield.

The contest is a national contest.  “Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation,” states the Poetry Out Loud website.

Collins said she memorized poems through “Repetition and reading out loud to her friend, pronunciation of some of the words.”  Eghre-Bello said she memorized by “reading the poem a lot; and writing it out.”

For the students, the experience at the open mic to a live audience was different than at a contest.  Eghre-Bello said, “it was a lot of fun.  I was more relaxed.  I liked the environment here, people passionate about poetry.”  Collins said, “it was the most comfortable performance, not being judged.  I enjoyed it.”

One of the poets at the open mic was Christopher Robert Craddock. He has been writing poetry since he was four.  His first poem was:

“The tree looked at me

Up jumped the tree

Up jumped me!”

He read “Yertle the Turtle” by Dr. Seuss as a child.  Craddock said, “I searched for inspiration.  I was inspired by W.B. Yeats, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Delmore Schwartz, Gerard Manley Hopkins and, of course, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.”

At the open mic, Craddock recited a poem, “Hummingbird.”  He said, “My sister has a garden with aloe vera,” where he saw the hummingbirds.  In the poem he contrasts the hummingbird and the poet in the last stanza of the poem

“. . .Hummingbirds

Never know the words

Because they’re in too big a hurry

To ever learn the lyrics–

Discuss philosophy with clerics

In the middle of a circus.

No, they’ll leave that to the poets.

Words are all they have to work with.”

 

The complete poem by Craddock is presented.

 

Hummingbirds Never Know the Words

By Christopher Robert Craddock

Hummingbirds

Never know the words

Because they’re in too big a hurry

To ever stop and worry.

They move on to the next flower and

If the nectar isn’t sour

Then they will take a sip . . . .

 

“Hmmmmmmm,” hummed the hummingbird. “Tra la la,

hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?

 

One flower down, only nine-hundred and ninety-nine to go–

Not that I’m counting, but scientists, ornithologists,

I am told–with their slide-rules and microscopes,

And their probes, have clocked us at a rate of a

Thousand flowers per diem, which is the fancy-pants

Scientists’ way of saying per day. In Latin, no less,

Only used now in surgical, or situations liturgical,

Or when naming the flora and fauna, by genus and species,

Like calling me Calliphlox Amethystina ‘stead of plain old

Amethyst Woodstar, or Metallura Phoebe for Black Metaltail.

Heliothryx Aurita for Black-eared Fairy;

Lesbia Victoriae for Black-tailed Trainbearer;

Trochilus Scitulus for Black-billed Streamertail!

 

One thousand per day! ‘Hmmmmm,’ the scientists say.

‘That’s a lot of nectar.’

 

A heck of a lot of nectar. Hmmmmmmmmmmm, and tra la la la.

But it takes a heck of a lot of nectar to fuel this plane.

I never stop to count the flowers. Hmmmmmm?

I guess you could say, ‘I wing it.’

 

While wending my way through the warp and woof of time,

Weaving my way through the warp and the weft,

Why worry about words and whether they rhyme?

Why wonder what word best describes my emotion?

When what really matters is: my wings are in motion.

 

The tortoise, porcupine, or possibly opossum,

Move at a pace where such notions may blossom.

Maybe a mirror in a palace of perfection

Could afford the luxury to support such idle reflection?

 

I have not the time, as I hover in space.

Look how fast I have to flap my wings

To remain in the air,

Suspended in one place?”

 

Hummingbirds

Never know the words

Because they’re in too big a hurry

To ever learn the lyrics–

Discuss philosophy with clerics

In the middle of a circus.

No, they’ll leave that to the poets.

Words are all they have to work with.

 

© Christopher Robert Craddock 2017

Diana Ramirez and Thomas Lucero Featured at Open Mic

First Friday April 7 features Diana Ramirez and Thomas Lucero

Story by Portia Choi                                      Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

Event hosted by Kevin Shah

The two featured poets, Diana Ramirez and Thomas Lucero, performed poetry in the “spoken word” style.  They memorized the words and used dramatic intonation and rhythm.

Diana Ramirez has participated at First Friday Open Mic regularly.  Ramirez memorizes a poem by recording herself and listening many times.  “I listen in the car, before I go to sleep,” said Ramirez.   She memorizes a small portion of a poem, at a time.

Ramirez started writing in high school.  “Music inspired me to write.  I fell in love with lyrics and felt the urge to share my emotions through words.  That’s the only way I can express myself in a trughful way without hesitation of what others may think,” she said.

Thomas Lucero memorizes his poems by saying and hearing the cadences and the rhythm of the words.  He remembers a poem which he learned as a child, “There are rocks in my socks said the ox to the fox.”  He was only five.

He started writing poetry by listening to “rap,” when he was 15.

Lucero is also an artist.  He painted the mural that is on the inside wall of Dagny’s Coffee Company.  The painting is of a clock and an octopus.  Both symbols are of time.  “The octopus is a universal symbol for ogdoad, an eight,” said Lucero.  The eight turned sideway is the symbol for infinity.

Following Ramirez and Lucero, enthusiastic poets and musician performed their original works.

Here are poems of Ramirez and Lucero:

 

 

My Anima

By Thomas Lucero

 

Farther than mine eye can see,

and Further than my mind can conjecture.

I strive ever upwards

And climbed the Giants Scepter

to the right hand of the father

in Search of my Center. . .

I found the water,

Drank upon her

Sacred tonic.

A tincture of timeless wine

derived of the finer divining process,

my Secret obsession

objective of my infernal affection,

eternal reflection

internal, abnegation.

Lust and hatred, consummated

in the bridal chamber.

When Cupid met Psyche,

When two fools wandered away from the light nightly.

to sight see

to fight, +#c*, And fly free.

Conspiring to swipe the Keys to life,

And knowledge occulted.

Kept out of sight

of the unsightly”

 

 

Map

By Diana Ramirez

 

You don’t have to like me,

You don’t have to care,

You think I’ll share

The battle being fought in my head,

Well, I won’t.

You think I’ll hide,

Afraid of what, exactly?

And don’t fucking assume I’m alright

If you see me smile,

If you see me laugh,

Be careful,

It’s a map,

To all the detoured journeys,

Out on the road, where I’m trapped,

Caught between the wrong turn,

And the right stop,

But I keep driving,

This peculiar tune on repeat,

Skip, repeat, skip, repeat

But wait,

Can you hear it?

Delusional,

Driving through a mirage,

Mirrored through myself,

Blurred out of sight,

Through a tunnel,

Into the light,

Yet you never found me,

I got lost along the way,

Because I was rotting,

Transforming, perhaps,

In a cave

Made,

of all the walls I ever put up,

You think you know,

But, honestly,

These massive stones

Came crashing down,

Access denied,

As I try to find,

A way out,

With no amount

Of miles to bring me to my escape,

So, are you still trying,

To get through,

There’s no way,

You know nothing,

You assume everything,

And will never know my pain.

Juan Felipe Herrera, US Poet Laureate, in Bakersfield

Story by Portia Choi                                                  Photograph by Ezekiel Espanola

 

There is excitement in the auditorium.  The first Latino to be named Poet Laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera will be presenting soon.  He is from the Central Valley, born in Fowler, Fresno County.   He is the son of migrant farm workers.

The presentation was at the Simonsen Performing Arts Center at Bakersfield College on March 29, 2017.

Herrera directed his comments to the students in the audience.  “I am so happy you are here.  Congratulations on being here.  You are the leaders, the pioneers,” said Herrera.

Herrera entertained the crowd with combination of seriousness and humor.

Herrera spoke of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers.  He spoke of the threat of children being abandoned due to parents being deported.

He spoke of his recent experience in a school in Idaho.  There were 95 languages spoken in the school.  Some of the students were refugees.  He remembered one student saying “I believe in peace; I wanna see peace.”

He entertained with names of Mexican pastries, “pan dulce” or “sweet bread.”  There was conchas or shells, empanadas or turnovers and besos or kisses.

He spoke of new ideas.  Herrera gave the example of E=mc2 by Einstein which changed the world perspective.  There can be new ideas.  He had the audience repeat “Never seen this before.”  The implication that it may never been seen before, but it can be seen.

He said “maybe we can share . . . we can give our hearts to others, and maybe share the beauty. . . within us.”

There were several persons from the audience interviewed at the presentation.

A Bakersfield poet, Julie Jordan Scott said, “He has a true Central Valley Voice.  He’s been here, he knows the people.  He’s an insider.  It’s like a little boy seeing a rock star.  There’s a connection.  He’s a celebrity.”

Jason Sperber is interested in poetry.  It “gives people a voice in a way that other genres or media don’t,” said Sperber.  One can “say things in poetry in a true and impactful way, way than in other voices.”

Agustin Bojorquez’s interview was done through a sign-language interpreter, Tom Moran.  Bojorquez was inspired by where we live.  “It was good to see myself as who I am, equal to other people.  Feel free to interact with hearing people,” said Bojorquez.  He also said that it doesn’t matter whether one is “deaf, hard of hearing, hearing or blind, it doesn’t matter as long as we are happy.”

A faculty of Bakersfield College, Terry Meier, had recently used Herrera’s poems in her class.  The book was 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border by Juan Felipe Herrera.  Meier had her students attend Herrera’s presentation because she wanted the students “to open their eyes and ears to poetry.”

 

Following are excerpts from Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera.

 

Borderbus

By Juan Felipe Herrera

(excerpt)

No somos nada y venimos de la nada

pero esa nada lo es todo si la nutres de amor

por eso venceremos

We are nothing and we come from nothing

but that nothing is everything, if you feed it with love

that is why we will triumph

 

We are everything hermana

Because we come from everything

 

 

 Poem by Poem

 By Juan Felipe Herrera

— in memory of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson Shot and killed while at church. Charleston, SC (6-18-2015), RIP

poem by poem we can end the violence
every day after
every other day
9 killed in Charleston, South Carolina
they are not 9 they
are each one
alive
we do not know

you have a poem to offer
it is made of action — you must
search for it run

outside and give your life to it
when you find it walk it
back — blow upon it

carry it taller than the city where you live
when the blood come down
do not ask if
it is your blood it is made of
9 drops
honor them
wash them stop them
from falling

 

From Notes on the Assemblage, copyright 2015 by Juan Felipe Herrera.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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