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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.

Poetry, A Vital Part of Life by Annis Cassells

 

 

Poetry, A Vital Part of Life

By Annis Cassells

Today is ‘Poem in Your Pocket’ Day,” I announced to the woman I’d just met at my assigned table at the Women’s Business Conference. “May I read you a poem?” I asked, whipping a piece of paper from my pocket.

Sure.”

And I began reading aloud Lucille Clifton’s “Blessing of the Boats.”

When finished, I handed her the poem to keep. She smiled. Not a big I’m-glad-to-see-you smile, but a warm, contented smile and said, “Thank you. That was just what I needed to hear today.”

Folks sometimes admit they just don’t “get it” after reading a poem, or they say they don’t like poetry. A huge reason is how poetry was taught in schools. Many who delighted in rhythm and rhyme from Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss got turned off in high school literature classes.

As an adult, I learned reading poetry produces several benefits beyond enjoyment. One is improving vocabulary since poetry often introduces unusual words, phrases, or allusions. Another benefit is long-term brain health can be improved by reading poetry. Studies have shown that people who memorize and recite poems are less susceptible to Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ll bet many of you still recall poems you learned in grade school or high school.

Poetry improves critical thinking. Since its meaning is not obvious or one-dimensional, poetry requires readers to actively analyze and decipher language and meaning instead of engaging in passive reading. And, triggering emotions and memories, poetry helps develop empathy as it unites people across time and cultures.

Set aside the time to read a new poem several times. Read it aloud so your ear can hear the language. Then read it again. Sometimes I do several readings, trying out different stresses and phrasing.

Why would anyone WANT to read (and re-read) poetry? To interact with the poet’s ideas, to learn something, feel something, and see how the poet’s experience relates to yours. Reading several times helps find meaning. There is no ONE meaning of a poem. Each of us brings our experience and life to a poem and may glean different meanings. That’s what turned us off in high school, searching for “the meaning,” usually what the teacher said it was.

April is National Poetry Month. Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world. Discover and participate in the many Kern County events to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Seek out some poetry, favorite poets, or new-to-you poets. Try writing some of your own poetry or pull out those poems you wrote long ago. “Poem in Your Pocket” Day is a large part of NPM. This year, it’s April 27. Choose or write a poem to share with others that day.

Add poetry to your life for the benefits and pleasure it can bring.

Copyright © 2017. Annis Cassells. All rights reserved. A life coach and speaker, Annis can be reached at HeyAnnis@aol.com. Follow her blog at www.thedaymaker.blogspot.com

.

The following is the poem, by Lucille Clifton, that Cassells referenced in her essay

Blessing of the Boats

by Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that
Lucille Clifton, “blessing the boats” from Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. Copyright © 2000 by Lucille Clifton.

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Open Mic- Shanna O’Brien Featured

Shanna O’Brien was the featured performer at the Open Mic on March 3.  The Open Mic is held at Dagny Coffee, downtown Bakersfield, every First Friday at 6:00 pm.

O’Brien has performed since 1980.  A few of the places were the Mandarin Hotel in Singapore and MGM Grand in Reno.

One of the song O’Brien sang, “Secret Tears” was about her mother. “She was a gifted singer and sang around the house and in church and I felt she longed for the same thing I did.  Watching my Mother cry from time to time gave me courage to forge ahead on my own, develop my talents and helped me make up my mind that I wouldn’t leave my dreams behind,” said O”Brien.

Another song that was performed was, “Thank Goodness You’re Here.”  It was about one of her many jobs.  “I was working for a great company in Beverly Hills in a small office of three, the boss, the bookkeeper and me.  One day the bookkeeper, who dressed like Mae West and was mean and abusive to me when the boss wasn’t around, got in a fight with the boss, quit and stormed out.  I was given the job of interviewing candidates to fill her position.  One day a really sweet, funny, intelligent young woman came for the interview and we immediately clicked.  We became great friends and she inspired this song,” said O’Brien.

Both O’Brien’s songs are provided at the end of the story.    

O’Brien has produced CD.  Two of the recent CD are “Timeless” and “Focus on the Light.”  She spoke about the process of making a CD.  “All CD is a challenge.  They take years.  Lot of preparation, writing and editing.  Creating a CD is a lot of work,” said O’Brien.       

After O’Brien, there were musicians and poets who performed.

This evening’s Open Mic differed from previous ones.  Usually there are no musicians performing; sometimes one or two.  This night there were four musicians.  Three of the musicians sang and played the guitar:  Christina Ramirez, Angel Monreal and Jose Lopez.  The fourth musician, Sequoia June, sang and played on a smaller string instrument.

One of the musicians, Jose Miguel Lopez, wrote a song to be performed at the Open Mic.  At the event,  “I walked through the fear of performing the songs I wrote, a part of me,” said Lopez.  After performing, he “felt so good, I pushed through and grew as a person.”

Lopez first started playing the guitar then later wrote songs.  When he wrote poetry, “it was fun, expressing myself.  If I can connect to another person in poetry, that feels good to me,” said Lopez.  He mentioned many factors that contributed to his being a performer.  He had sung in the choir and took theater.

Lopez is currently working on an album.  A test song for it is “Go and rejoice, you’ve got a choice.  Go and use the voice you’ve been given.”

There were several poets who had performed on multiple occasions at the Open Mics.  They were Chris Craddock, Mateo Lara and Diana Ramirez.

One of the poets, Diana Ramirez, had created and organized an event, “Words Come to Life.”  She sent poems to artists, who then painted inspired by the words.  At the event, the artworks were displayed at a gallery.  The poets recited their work.

Ramirez first started writing poetry in high school.   She stopped after graduating, then restarted writing in Bakersfield College.  For a class she took photographs during the summertime.  She said that there were opposites during the season, those of aliveness and dying.  “It was a refreshing and also a sad feeling.  I love the opposites,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez has performed regularly at the Open Mic.  “Every Open Mic is different.  I like the variety of writing.  Everyone writes differently and recites differently.  Its inspiring.  It sometimes triggers something in me to write,” said Ramirez.

The other poets who performed their poems were: Chess Trustworthy, Francis B. (could not read his last name) and Edward Waters.

There was a poem that was written by an anonymous poet.  It was not performed but written on a card.  The host of the Open Mic had requested poems to be submitted for posting on the Kern Poetry website.

(poem was untitled)

Thoth ibis–headed god of

Writing, alchemy Magic.

Messenger between dreaming and earth.

Between the land of living & dead. . .

 

 

 

These are two of the songs that O’Brien performed, “Secret Tears” and “Thank Goodness You’re Here”

 

 

SECRET TEARS

©2007 Shanna O’Brien

 

Watched you staring out the kitchen window when you were feeling blue

Longed for you to notice me and help me make my dreams come true

But you were a southern girl raised with small town fears                          

You said, “We’re born to bake red velvet cake and cry secret tears.”

 

My brothers and sisters ran ‘round the house we took up all your time

Made me wonder if the tears you cried were for the dreams you left behind

I knew you loved me through all those years

But I didn’t want to bake red velvet cake and cry secret tears

 

So I took my little dreams into the corner of my room

Where I listened to my radio and sang every single tune      

As the music moved me I began to realize        

Your secret tears taught me not to cry

                             

Secret tears will never fall from my eyes                            

Secret tears taught my dreams how to fly                           

 ‘Cause I didn’t want to cry

 

You left to sing with your angels when life was too much to bare                  

No tears in heaven now ‘cause I can feel you smiling there

As you watch the wings of my dreams in the sky

You know you secret tears taught my dreams to fly

 

Secret tears will never fall from my eyes                           

Secret tears taught my dreams how to fly                           

 ‘Cause I didn’t want to cry

Secret tears

 

 

 

Thank Goodness You’re Here            

© 2007 Shanna O’Brien

                

Like a summer breeze she blew into this cold corporate world                                                                                                                                 

To replace the mean ole’ battle-axe who had stormed out in a whirl

I reached out to shake her friendly hand and her pearly whites appeared                                                                                                                                         

I smiled back and thought to myself, “Thank goodness you’re here!

 

At first the boss was mesmerized; his new girl was a blond

But I knew she’d soon see the light and our friendship would bond

Sure enough when he cracked that whip that brought her to tears

With her eyes wide open she said to me, “Thank goodness you’re here!”

 

Girlfriends in the office make this job OK

Girlfriends in the office gettin’ through another day

Just workin’ in the office doin’ what we do

Girlfriends in the office stick together like glue

 

Years have gone and we’re still here workin’ for the man

Doin’ the letters, doin’ the ledgers and doin’ the best we can

Through it all our friendship has become mighty dear

High fivin’ in the hallways, “Thank goodness you’re here”

 

Now we twirl the boss around our fingers like a baton

Watch the clock and count the minutes until he is gone

Then we flop on the couch talk on the phone

Surf the net or write a song, read a book or do yoga on the floor

Watch TV with an eye on the door while the coast is clear

And laugh about how lucky we are, “Thank goodness you’re here!

 

(Oh shit – here he comes!)

 

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Night of Poetry at Levan Center, Bakersfield College

Night of Poetry at Levan Center, Bakersfield College

The “movers and shakers” of poetry were together to read poems of nationally acclaimed poets at the Levan Center on February 16, 2017.

Each of the presenting local poets read a poem by another nationally known poet who was either born in the Central Valley or was a California native who grew up in the Central Valley.

Two of these nationally acclaimed poets were born in Bakersfield: Frank Bidart and Sherley Ann Williams. A third poet, Robert Duncan, began writing poetry as a teenager while living in Bakersfield.

The event was organized by Don Thompson, the current (and first-ever) Poet Laureate of Kern County. Thompson introduced the eight poets that presented.

Jack Hernandez, a poet and the Director of the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities, welcomed the audience.

A previous story, “Valley Poets February 16 at Levan Center,” was posted on this website Feb 12, 2017. There is additional information on the nationally acclaimed poets in this previous story.

The format of this story begins with a description of the local poet. Each poet was asked to comment on the poem that they had selected to read at the event. This story then presents the poem that was read, followed by a poem authored by the local poet.

 

Catherine Abbey Hodges presents William Everson.

Catherine Abbey Hodges, a California native, was the first presenter. Her poems have appeared widely including in the Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac. Her book Instead of Sadness was winner of the 2015 Barry Spacks Poetry Prize. In addition to her work as a poet, she teaches composition and literature at Porterville College.

Hodges chose to read “These Are the Ravens” by William Everson. Everson was also known as Father Antoninus. Hodges says that the poem “demonstrated two Everson quintessentials: his preoccupations with the natural world and with spirituality.” Hodges’ feels that preparing for the event was “a welcome excuse to indulge myself in learning about the life and work of a poet I’d only known by reputation, which is why I chose Everson. Reading poems, interviews, and prose of his alongside a nuanced biography expanded my knowledge and experience of our literary landscape.”

 

THESE ARE THE RAVENS
By William Everson

These are the ravens of my soul,
Sloping above the lonely fields
And cawing, cawing.
I have released them now,
And sent them wavering down the sky,
Learning the slow witchery of the wind,
And crying on the farthest fences of the world.

William Everson, “These are the Ravens” from The Residual Years.

 

HOW TO BEGIN
By Catherine Abbey Hodges:

Wipe the crumbs off the counter.
Find the foxtail in the ear of the old cat.
Work it free. Step into your ribcage.

Feel the draft of your heart’s doors
as they open and close. Hidden latches
cool in your hand.

Hear your marrow keep silence,
your blood sing. Finch-talk
in the bush outside the window.

You’re a small feather, winged seed, wisp
of cotton. Thread yourself
through a hole in the button on the sill.

You’re a strand of dark thread
stitching a word to a river. Then another.

Catherine Abbey Hodges, “How to Begin” from Instead of Sadness.

 

Matt Woodman presents Robert Duncan

Matt Woodman is an English professor at California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB). He hosts an annual Poetry Month reading every April at Stiern Library. Thompson says of Woodman, “he is an Orphic poet, deep in the mysteries of the craft.”

Woodman said that Duncan grew up in Bakersfield. He attended high school which became Bakersfield High. Woodman chose to read the poem “Poetry a Natural Thing” by Duncan. Woodman chose the poem because it was about poetry, “the writing process, finding inspiration, finding meaning.” There was “allusion to Stubbs, who painted a moose.” It was “nice to see connection between poetry and art.” In preparing for the presentation, Woodman read a lot of Duncan’s “interviews, to his speaking voice.” It was like getting to “know the poet, to meet a person.”

 

POETRY, A NATURAL THING
By Robert Duncan

Neither our voices nor our virtues
further the poem. “They came up
and died
just like they do every year
on the rocks.”

The poem
feeds upon thought, feeling, impulse,
To breed itself,
a spiritual urgency at the dark ladders leaping

This beauty is an inner persistence
Toward the source
striving against (within) down-rushet of the river,
a call we heard and answer
in the lateness of the world
primordial bellowings
from which the youngest world might spring,

salmon not in the well where the
hazelnut falls
but at the falls battling, inarticulate,
blindly making it.

This is one picture apt for the mind,

A second: a moose painted by Stubbs
Where last year’s extravagant antlers
lie on the ground.
The forlorn moosey-face poem wears
New antler-buds,
The same,
“a little heavy, a little contrived”,

His only beauty to be
all moose.

By stress and syllable
By change-rhyme and contour
We let the long line pace even awkward to its period.

The short line
we refine
and keep for candor.

This we remember:
Ember of the fire
catches the word if we but hear
(“We must understand what is happening”)
And springs to desire,
a bird-right light
sound.

This is the Yule-log that warms December.
This is new grass that springs from the ground.

Robert Duncan, “Poetry, a Natural Thing” from The Opening of the Field.

 

OPTICAL ALLUSION
by Matt Woodman

In 1924 on the southside
of Nineteenth Street between Chester and Eye
the Pastime Theatre unveiled a sign
promoting the latest wise-guy
feature, but fourteen million years ago,
this was all a shallow saltwater sea
starring sea lion and shark, a dumbshow
one can excavate from Ant Hill to reel
in whale song, salt on the tongue, vertebrae
the temperature of sedimentary
Miocene siltstone, a fossil bouquet
the color of your slow trajectory
through anniversary sales and visits,
for glaucoma, to the optometrist.
Matt Woodman, “Optical Allusion” in https://matthewwoodman.com/2015/09/18/ekphrasis-pastime-theater/

 

 

LisaAnn LoBasso presents Frank Bidart

LisaAnn LoBasso is known for public readings throughout the nation. Thompson says of her poems that they are “powerful, often gritty poems.” LoBasso can be watched on YouTube. She is the author of poetry books, In the Swollen and Oleander Milkshake.

LoBasso discovered Bidart’s poetry while an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley. She was drawn to Bidart’s style and voice before she even knew he was from Bakersfield. LoBasso met Bidart in April 2010 at a poetry event in Bakersfield. She chose to present Bidart’s poem, “Mourning What We Thought We Were,” because it was just published in the New Yorker. It was also the “perfect poem that represents Bakersfield and speaks to the current social climate of our world today, and also speaks to the heart.”

 

MOURNING WHAT WE THOUGHT WE WERE
By Frank Bidart

We were born into an amazing experiment.
At least we thought we were. We knew there was no escaping human nature: my grandmother
taught me that: my own pitiless nature taught me that: but we exist inside an order, I
thought, of which history is the mere shadow—
*
Every serious work of art about America has the same theme: America
is a great Idea: the reality leaves something to be desired.
Bakersfield. Marian Anderson, the first great black classical contralto, whom the Daughters of the American Revolution
would not allow to sing in an unsegregated
Constitution Hall, who then was asked by Eleanor Roosevelt to sing at the Lincoln Memorial before thousands
was refused a room at the Padre Hotel, Bakersfield.
My mother’s disgust as she told me this. It confirmed her judgment about
what she never could escape, where she lived out her life.
My grandmother’s fury when, at the age of seven or eight, I had eaten at the home of a black friend.
The forced camps at the end of The Grapes of Wrath were outside
Bakersfield. When I was a kid, Okie
was still a common term of casual derision and contempt.
*
So it was up to us, born in Bakersfield, to carve a new history
of which history is the mere shadow—
*
To further the history of the spirit is our work:
therefore thank you, Lord Whose Bounty Proceeds by Paradox,
for showing us we have failed to change.
*
Dark night, December 1st 2016.
White supremacists, once again in America, are acceptable, respectable. America!
Bakersfield was first swamp, then desert. We are sons of the desert who cultivate the top half-inch of soil.

Frank Bidart, “Mourning What We Were” in The New Yorker, Jan 23, 2017.

 

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 don’t 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, drying 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 the 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 click
A few moments stick

Like Sirius XM calls
traditions disturbed by music
salesmen dropping 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!

–completed 2:21 am May 15. 2015
© LisaAnn LoBasso, “Third Marriage”

 

 

Annis Cassells presents Sherley Ann Williams

Annis Cassells is a poet, life coach and speaker, and an officer of the Writers of Kern. She is the “go-to writer” for poetry matters for this organization.

Cassells chose Sherley Ann Williams’ poem, “If he let us go now,” from the Peacock Poems. Cassells chose this poem because of the “Black language.” The poem was also from Williams’ as she was a single mother. When Cassells was preparing read a poem of Williams, she at first felt that it was “a little daunting”. Williams had written so much. Cassells said that Williams “wrote children’s books, a play, historical fiction novel. She was getting ready to write a sequel to the historical novel” when Williams died at age of 55.

 

If he let us go now
By Sherley Anne Williams

let me strap
the baby in the seat, just don’t say
nothin all that while . . .
I move round to
the driver side of the car. The air
warm and dry here. Lawd know what it be
in L.A. He open the door for me
and I slide behind the wheel. Baby
facin me lookin without even
blinkin his eye. I wonder if he
know I’m his mamma that I love him
that that his daddy by the door (and
he won’t let us go; he still got time
to say wait. Baby blink once but
he only five week old and whatever
he know don’t show.
His daddy call
my name and I turn to him and wait.
It be cold in the Grapevine at night
this time of year. Wind come whistling down
through them mountains almost blow this old
VW off the road. I’ll be in
touch he say. Say, take care; say, write if
you need somethin.
I will him to touch
us now, to take care us, to know what
we need is him and his name. He slap
the car door, say, drive careful and turn
to go. If he let us go now . . . how
we gon ever take him back? I ease
out on the clutch, mash in on the gas.
The only answer I get is his back.

~ Sherley Anne Williams. The Peacock Poems, p. 15, 1975

 

Talk
By Annis Cassells

What kinda talk is that
My mother’s moon-wide hazel eyes shine
harsh light on my unacceptable grammar

We don’t say ain’t in this house
It’s That’s not right
And I don’t have any

I yearned to please
Learned the code
Knew when not to say Ain’t got no

And when to talk proper
Learned double negatives negate
Tacked on the i-n-g’s

Precise, equalizing speech
a life-long saleable commodity
Cash language

She talk white
Like a col-lidge gurrl
She think she bettah den us

©Annis Cassells. 2015. All rights reserved. “Talk” first published in Yellow Chair Review 2015 Anthology.

 

 

Marit MacArthur presents Kay Ryan

Marit MacArthur is a professor of English at California State University at Bakersfiels. She hosts poetry readings on the campus. Her poems and translations from the Polish have appeared in Southwest Review, Leveler, Front Porch.

MacArthur chose to read a poem by Kay Ryan, “A Certain Meanness of Culture.” It was the first poem that MacArthur read of a poem by Ryan. MacArthur wrote by email that “in the Central Valley and many rural areas, there is a perceived lack of culture, or a sense of cultural inferiority. And Ryan has a keen awareness of that, and plays with it” in the poem.

 

A CERTAIN MEANNESS OF CULTURE
By Kay Ryan

What else can we do,
born on deserts
occupied haphazard
by borax traders
aspiring to a
stucco elegance
if they’re real lucky?
Someone has to get here
before the mythology,
to be happy in the
first tailings of industry,
and of course lonely
and susceptible to
the opinions of donkeys
since donkeys are the
main company out here
among the claims.
Snakes and wild things
skitter off too fast
for conversation.
You can get an appreciation
You can get an appreciation
for why a donkey is
fussy about books
since she has to carry them.
You start to value culture
like you would water. . . .

. . . And when
you dream, it’s not romance.
Things are too thin
out here already to chance
sad endings. You get
pretty stringy and impatient
with the fat smoke off
old cities. You get cranky
and admire just what stands up
to the stars’ cold and the
sun’s fire. You like winches
and pulley’s, picks and khakis,
and the rare sweet grass you can
find for your donkey.

Kay Ryan, “A Certain Meanness of Culture”

 

Standing Female Dignitary (Hillary Clinton) in the Form of a Pre-Columbian Whistle
By Marit MacArthur

From the outposts
of Lovemaking and Motherhood
she advanced, a vessel
worked into the desired form.
No slenderness to the waist,
her feet are gone beneath
the long heavy dress of terracotta
sun-baked, kiln-fired,
stitched with nails.
Slack chin, hawk nose, high
cheekbones, eyes half-closed
in an easy smile, all
beneath a uniform
powder mask.
A giant brooch clasps the cape
to draw the eye away from
spent breasts. She’ll ring if lightly
struck, her iron-rich reds
oxidizing blue, hands held up
in supplication or defense.
Visible from the crowd, giant spiral
earrings match the coiled headdress,
itself the mouth-piece of the whistle,
her hollow body the resonant chamber.
Puffs of air split by the fipple
pierce the composure of the other
dignitaries, who all outrank her so far.
After the strictly ceremonial
peace talks, she follows them
back to the palace.

Marit MacArthur, “Standing Female Dignitary (Hillary Clinton) in the Form of a Pre-Columbian Whistle” from Southern Pacific Review

 

Don Thompson presents Larry Levis

Don Thompson is the current Poet Laureate of Kern County. Thompson was born in Bakersfield. On his website, Thompson states that he has lived most of his ife in southern San Joaquin Valley, “the setting for most of his poems.” He lives on a farm that has been in his wife’s family for generations.

Thompson says that Larry Levis “is a poets’ poet. . . because of that fire-in-the- belly evidence of authenticity.” Thompson says of Levis, “elegiac is the word most often associated with his mature work, often also nostalgic in an unsentimental way for our Valley and life on his father’s farm.” Levis was born on a family farm near Selma, CA.

In preparing for the event, Thompson says that “reading Levis is like sitting with him in a backyard on a Valley summer evening with a few beers, listening as he lets his imagination run free.”

 

THE OLDEST LIVING THING IN L.A.
By Larry Levis

At Wilshire & Santa Monica I saw an opossum
Trying to cross the street. It was late, the street
Was brightly lit, the opossum would take
A few steps forward, then back away from the breath
Of moving traffic. People coming out of the bars
Would approach, as if to help it somehow.
It would lift its black lips & show them
The reddened gums, the long rows of incisors,
Teeth that went all the way back beyond
The flames of Troy & Carthage, beyond sheep
Grazing rock-strewn hills, fragments of ruins
In the grass at San Vitale. It would back away
Delicately & smoothly, stepping carefully
As it always had. It could mangle someone’s hand
In twenty seconds. Mangle it for good. It could
Sever it completely from the wrist in forty.
There was nothing to be done for it. Someone
Or other probably called the LAPD, who then
Called Animal Control, who woke a driver, who
Then dressed in mailed gloves, the kind of thing
Small knights once wore into battle, who gathered
Together his pole with a noose on the end,
A light steel net to snare it with, someone who hoped
The thing would have vanished by the time he got there.

Larry Levis, “The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.” from Elegy. Copyright © 1997 by Larry Levis.

 

WHERE WE LIVE
By Don Thompson

Nocturnal creatures must teach their young
to be heard and not seen.
Coyotes yip to the east of us
and to the west, frogs beat their drums.

Somewhere to the south, a bird calls—
two thin, falling syllables
in a language we’ll never know,
except for rough translations into loneliness.

Where we live, you have to listen hard
through cricket static to hear yourself think.
I like that. For once,
everything human has to shut up and sit still.

You can’t even hear the traffic on I5,
only a few miles to the northeast,
where big rigs drift by like ghosts with lanterns
trapped in a long, dark hallway.

Don Thompson, “Where We Live”, from Where We Live and www.don-e-thompson.com

 

 

Diana Ramirez presents Juan Felipe Herrera

Diana Ramirez’s primary work is as a Community Outreach Coordinator at Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) of Kern County. She recently organized “Words Come to Life.” This event included art inspired by poetry, the performance of poetry and live music.
Ramirez recited a poem of Juan Felipe Herrera, the national Poet Laureate.
She chose the poem “Half-Mexican.” Ramirez said the “title drew me.” As she kept reading the poem, she found that the poem was very different, “there was so many references to the past.” She said that as she recited the poem at home, she became “more connected with the poem.”
Ramirez said that she felt “excited and nervous” preparing to present at the event. She “had not recited another poet’s poem . . . to recite the poem and be respectful. The more I read the poem, I felt okay reciting it.”

HALF-MEXICAN
By Juan Felipe Herrera
Odd to be a half-Mexican, let me put it this way
I am Mexican + Mexican, then there’s the question of the half
To say Mexican without the half, well it means another thing
One could say only Mexican
Then think of pyramids – obsidian flaw, flame etchings, goddesses with
Flayed visages claw feet & skulls as belts – these are not Mexican
They are existences, that is to say
Slavery, sinew, hearts shredded sacrifices for the continuum
Quarks & galaxies, the cosmic milk that flows into trees
Then darkness
What is the other – yes
It is Mexican too, yet it is formless, it is speckled with particles
European pieces? To say colony or power is incorrect
Better to think of Kant in his tiny room
Shuffling in his black socks seeking out the notion of time
Or Einstein re-working the erroneous equation
Concerning the way light bends – all this has to do with
The half, the half-thing when you are a half-being
Time
Light
How they stalk you & how you beseech them
All this becomes your life-long project, that is
You are Mexican. One half Mexican the other half
Mexican, then the half against itself.

Juan Felipe Herrera, “Half-Mexican”

 

DREAM
By Diana Ramirez

When’s the last time you went to sleep,
Hoping never to wake up,
To remain corrupt,
Forever
in this nightmare,
A nightmare called life.
In my dreams I am magic,
Floating,
Coloring clouds in the sky,
The rain still exists,
It paints passion on my lips,
Faded in red I fly,
Descending into a world
Where love never mends,
Scattered in the ocean floor,
Deep,
Forgotten,
Dive into the blue,
Seek what you never thought to be true,
Committed to forever,
Forever lost in foreign lands,
And when I seemed confused,
Misplaced,
It was in the starved desert I would stand,
On a search for beauty
That would blossom
From the sands,
Moonlight at my feet,
Sounds of the night is all I see,
Imagine,
share in my dream,
Revel in it,
Shine in the dark,
Days and nights know nothing of time,
And pain and sorrow are strangers in my heart,
Bliss lives in the air,
And I’m not scared
To never be discovered,
As I discover my own journey
Where my poems will unfold,
And my life will be told,
Unlike my nightmares,
And more like my dreams.

Diana Ramirez, “Dream”

 

Portia Choi presents David St. John

Portia Choi is described as “Impresario of Poetry in Bakersfield” by Don Thompson. Choi maintains the Kern Poetry website and hosts the monthly First Friday Open Mic, at Dagny’s Coffee House at 6:00 pm. She says that she “promotes poets and poetry.”

Choi read a poem by David St. John. He was born in Fresno. He is currently the Chair of English at the University of Southern California, where he teaches the PhD Program in Creative Writing and Literature.

Choi recited a poem “Hush” by David St. John. She was deeply moved by the depth of emotion of St. John for the child that he had lost. She immediately connected with the
“Chippewa woman” in the poem. Choi felt a connection to the poem as she had written a poem about her own doll, Oaksun.

 

Hush
By David St. John
for my son

The way a tired Chippewa woman
Who’s lost a child gathers up black feathers,
Black quills & leaves
That she wraps & swaddles in a little bale, a shag
Cocoon she carries with her & speaks to always
As if it were the child,
Until she knows the soul has grown fat & clever,
That the child can find its own way at last;
Well, I go everywhere
Picking the dust out of the dust, scraping the breezes
Up off the floor, & gather them into a doll
Of you, to touch at the nape of the neck, to slip
Under my shirt like a rag—the way
Another man’s wallet rides above his heart. As you
Cry out, as if calling to a father you conjure
In the paling light, the voice rises, instead, in me.
Nothing stops it, the crying. Not the clove of moon,
Not the woman raking my back with her words. Our letters
Close. Sometimes, you ask
About the world; sometimes, I answer back. Nights
Return you to me for a while, as sleep returns sleep
To a landscape ravaged
& familiar. The dark watermark of your absence, a hush.

David St. John, “Hush” in Hush

 

Oaksun, My Doll
by Portia Choi

Oaksun, you are my love,
you make me smile
Oaksun, my dear Oaksun,
dressed in silk stripes of grass green, tomato red,
butterfly yellow, and sky blue.
Your slip sewn together of tattered, thrown-away clothes.

I find a torn piece of red balloon among pebbles and dirt near the chain fence.
I suck a circle into my mouth, out pops a rounded, shiny ball.
My teeth rub back and forth, squeaking the rubber.
For you, Oaksun, your balloon.

I am your mother, Oaksun.
I will protect and hide you from the soldiers.
I will look for you, so you cannot see the shattered arms.
I will cuddle you to sleep, so you cannot hear the cries.

I protect you.
You know Oaksun, I am frightened of the night.
I think that dying man may grab for you in the dark.
I will hide you.
Oaksun, no one will take you from me.

I feed you a kernel or two of rice. I find one stuck on your cheek.
Just a kernel dried from yesterday’s dinner.
You are very lucky, Oaksun, having rice two days in a row.
You are very smart too, saving one for tomorrow.
Yes, Oaksun, who knows when we will eat again?

The sun is out. There is clover among the grass, Oaksun.
See, I made a bracelet for you and a ring for me,
the white crescent flowers and the three leaves playing together.
I toss you up in the sky. You fall face down in my palms.
I toss you again, you fall with your back down.
Fly higher and higher, Oaksun.

You are with me and I am with you.
I am your mother. Oaksun, my love, my doll.

Portia Choi, “Oaksun, My Doll” in Sungsook.

 

 

Don Thompson presents Gary Soto

Don Thompson presented Gary Soto on behalf of another presenter who was unable to attend the event.
Thompson said that he “once read with Soto at the old Cody’s Book Store just off the UC Berkeley campus. It was 1978.”

Thompson said that Soto was born and raised in the Fresno Barrio. Soto’s father died when he was five. Soto and his siblings worked in the fields to support the family. Soto eventually became a professor at Berkeley.
Thompson chose to read “The Drought” by Soto. It was an early work that “has been most important to me” said Thompson.

 

THE DROUGHT
By Gary Soto

The clouds shouldered a path up the mountains
East of Ocampo, and then descended,
Scraping their bellies gray on the cracked shingles of slate.

They entered the valley, and passed the roads that went
Trackless, the houses blown open, their cellars creaking
And lined with the bottles that held their breath for years.

They passed the fields where the trees dried thin as hat racks
And the plow’s tooth bit the earth for what endured.
But what continued were the wind that plucked the birds spinless

And the young who left with a few seeds in each pocket,
Their belts tightened on the fifth notch of hunger—
Under the sky that deafened from listening for rain.

Gary Soto, “The Drought” in The Tale of Sunlight

 

TUMBLEWEEDS
By Don Thompson

A lost tribe of tumbleweeds
crosses the road
a half mile or so ahead of me,
bounding along
while little ones hustle to keep up.

They’re uprooted, or course,
subject to the wind’s whims,
and could end anywhere—
maybe against a fence
to be gathered and burned by farm hands.

I know that …
But they seem so cheerful,
confidant and in control,
as if pulling the wind behind them
caught on thousands of tiny hooks.

Don Thompson, “Tumbleweeds” in Everything Barren Will Be Blessed

February Open Mic Features Tony O’Brien

Tony O’Brien was the featured poet at First Friday Open Mic on February 3, 2017.  O’Brien is also a photographer and a jazz musician.  He melded his talents of being a poet and a photographer for his performance.  At the open mic, he had participants hold up posters of his photographs with his poems imprinted on them.

When O’Brien was asked when he started writing poetry. He said that in 1980 he was “messing around at work, placing some thoughts on paper . . about my kids.”   He was writing about life in general and about his two boys.  He became more serious in 1992 and he really started in 2006 when he developed his style, “word poetry.”  He explained that “word poetry” was “rooted in Hebrew poetry.  (It is a) biblical way of writing, based on parallelism, step and climactic. . .and end up on paper visually.”  His poems were published in the book, “Inspirational Poetry by Design.”  The book is available at the Beale Library.

O’Brien said he went on to brand his style of poetry, “Work Poetry,” by registering the name with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.    One of the poems that O’Brien performed was “Before I Die” which is an example of a climactic poem.

Before I Die

Within the sixty-six books

That were inspired by your spirit

And written for the sons of mankind.

I have but one question that I must ask from my heart

That has caused my soul to be in fear. . .

I am like a ship without a rudder.

I beg that you guide my heart

So that my soul will not be in fear, and that you

Anchor my heart upon your word

So that I can find my rest.

And as I like in my resting place,

I beg that you cause my soul to stand

Because my greatest fear is that I give you a reason to

Refuse me before I die.

Following the performance by Tony O’Brien was open mic portion of the evening.  Here are poems from poets who performed during the open mic.  These poets provided their words to be shared on this website.  The poems are placed according to the order of performance by the poets.

 

Honey, Scruff, Whiskey Moan by Mateo Lara

“It’s always ever a disaster,

paying attention to details,

I’d run the moon out of the

sky, waiting for everything to

fit together.”

 

 

“I was high” Yaritza Castro

(an excerpt)

“I love you,” he said.

Three words planted like seeds

in my mouth.

Seeds I would cultivate

into beautiful flowers, only to

hide them from anyone who wouldn’t

replant my garden after I tor

those flowers from their roots.”

 

Poems by Clark Long

“Some day the Sun will blow

and toss the planets into deep space

and all the sunscreen will freeeze!”

“My name was X,

now Pluto

soon to orbit NOTHING!”

 

A poem by Diana Ramirez

“. . .Frown upon me you might,

But i have been created to create,

and you were born to see the light,

In me,

In her,

Strong,

Stronger,

And our story

is the longest

ever told and I refuse to be a mold,

molded in the image that man has sold.”

 

Altars by Normal G. Camorlinga

So I sit by the altar Latinos leave

for their dead

Placing silly ideas into boxes

& 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

 

 

 

 

 

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First Friday Open Mic January 6, 2017

story by Portia Choi

On the First Friday of January 2017, the featured poets at Dagny’s Coffee were Joseph Mosconi, Barry Michael and Maryah Paige Chester. They read from their poetry books which were in themselves a work of art. Each book was unusual and unique in its approach to presenting poetry.

Joseph Mosconi’s book had the look and feel of a magazine. The work was titled,
“FRIGHT CATALOG.” It consisted of ninety-one stanzas, one stanza of the poem to a page. On the first page of the book, it stated that “Each stanza of Fright Catalog was fed through the search engine of an online Color Theme generator. A different color theme was determined for each stanza, resulting in the color combinations you see on each page of this book. Every color theme addresses your feelings and is employed for certain moral ends.” One of the longest stanzas had sixteen words:
“AN ACCIDENTAL SHOT HEARD ROUND REFLECTIVE PROPERTY CARRIED BY CRAWLS OF TITAN BATS & SUPREME NARCOTIC AUDNANCE.”
One of the shorter ones was:
“DREAMS OF HORROR IN A RETARDED RAIN FOREST.”

Barry Michael’s book had a QR code corresponding to each of his poems. An excerpt from one of the poems that he read was:
“Take my love, take my land take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care, I’m still free You can’t take the sky from me . . .
There’s no place I can be since I’ve found
Serenity, and you can’t take the sky from me.”

Maryah Paige Chester’s book had her poems as well as poems by other prominent poets. The book also had artwork from artists: Georgia O’Keeffe, Alexandra Levasseur and others. There was a painting by Dimitra Milan in the book, and interesting the image of the woman in the painting looked very much like the poet, Maryah. Excerpt from one of her poems that she read was:
“I keep dreaming, thinking that there’s
Something else out there for me. . .
Murky waters is a false prophet, worthy of
An honorable deception. You see the light. . . “

Poetry books from The Bakersfield Fan Forum by Mosconi, Michael and Chester can be found on http://thebakersfieldfanforum.tumblr.com.

(There are more stories and photos about The Bakersfield Fan Forum are on previous posts on this website: kernpoetry.com)

 
During the Open Mic portion of First Friday, one of the poets, Mateo Lara, performed. He was willing to share his poem for the website,

It Took Me (an excerpt):
“Fires: embed themselves in our withered shroud,
Tangled up in my doubts, so I thought of a flood,
Ravaged by a simple need, quench, that what we feel,
Even torn apart, by little wants and desires, . . .
Caked with words left unsaid, I guess they’ll dissolve in my mouth,
Right here, it took me too much time, to tell you all I had in mind,
When you’d disappear, reappear, and never once figured out what it meant.”

 

Another performer was Shanna O’Brien who sang her original lyrics and played the guitar:

Invisible Wings (an excerpt):

“When I was a young girl before I’d fall asleep
I prayed that I would wake up with invisible wings
Promised not to show off or do outrageous things
I just wanted to fly with my invisible wings. . . . .

Young girl dreams never go away
Still in my heart even today
Strumming my guitar a melody to sing
Suddenly I feel invisible wings

And I can fly over mountains high
Over the rivers and valleys in my life
Fly feeling my heart sing. . . . .
I’m soaring over oceans of life with
Invisible wings”

Featured Poet: Chris Fendt

Story by: Martin Chang

Photos by: Greg D. Cook and Martin Chang

top box photo provided by Chris Fendt

 

Chris Fendt is inspired by different aspects of life. For Fendt, a chance meeting with a stranger, his favorite music, or quiet moments in Bakersfield, can inspire him to write.

Growing up in Orange, California, Fendt describes his home life as supportive.  “My parents were great, very nurturing,” he said.  In kindergarten Fendt was picked on and his parents found a solution.  “My parents could sense that I wasn’t very happy,” Fendt said.  “So, they gave me an option, they said “would you like to go to a different school? I jump at the chance. Saying “yes please get me out of here.”

So Fendt spent first through eighth grade at a private Catholic school called Holy Family.  Some writers find the rules and conformity of private school unenjoyable, Fendt enjoyed the experience.  “private school you have to wear uniforms; everyone looks the same, dresses the same. It was a very harmonious experience.”

It was also at Holy Family that got the first taste of attention and recognition for his writing talents.  “For a brief time I was an altar boy, and I remember in seventh grade that I got some recognition from one of my instructors. I got a creative writing pin,” Fendt fondly remembers.

Although he does not consider himself particularly religious, Fendt’s time spent being exposed to religious belief as a child led him to believe that artistic talent comes from a place outside of the person.  Fendt has had experiences with what he calls the “unknown” and “mysteries that I can’t wrap my head around.”  He said, “that ability to write, that talent, you wonder where that comes from.  It makes me wonder if there is a God.”

“Cozy,” one of Fendt’s recent poems, captures a moment of clarity that he experienced here in Bakersfield.  “I was sitting on the bluffs overlooking the oil fields.  I didn’t have much sleep that night and the sounds of the city, the traffic, barking dogs, captured that way I felt within,” recalls Fendt.  “It always feels like I’m looking for something,  but I can’t have the answers.  I think that might be the human condition that you’re always searching, that you will always be learning something till the day you die.  So I guess that why I wrote this poem. “

Fendt titled the poem “Cozy” because he wants to create the feeling of that moment he experienced. He describes that feeling, “finally I feel that I have a warm blanket around me and everything will be okay.”   “Cozy” is below:

Cozy

People pass right through me

Like mourners in a line,

Not a word

Nor laughter.

Passing away in time.

 

Shadows seem to threaten,

And I can’t get warm.

This climate can be oppressive

As chaos seems the norm.

 

Damn these hellish cities,

Where is my sacred bliss

As I lean upon the fence

Of limbo’s woebegone abyss?

 

And then in that moment

Of self perpetuating despair…

An impartial blood moon to greet me

Releasing me of care.

 

Fendt finds inspiration in everyday meetings. One of his poems was inspired by a chance meeting with a stranger. “There was one guy who came up to me, he had on a motorcycle helmet straight out of Easy Rider.  He had a pink Frisbee around his neck. I don’t know how he got it over his neck.  He just looked so weird.”  The poem inspired by this meeting is “Homeless Man” and reads as follows:

Pink frisbee like a halo

Around his neck-

Light er’ up

What the heck.

The world can end at any time.

All he wants is a thin dime.

 

Fendt has been a lifelong fan of music and is a musician himself.  He is a fan of music with a darker edge and is a particular fan of Depeche Mode and their song “Everyone Counts.” The lyrics of rock music was his first exposure to poetry.

In his poem “Hope” He responds to a song with a whaling child in the background. “In the song you hear a baby’s cry, then as the song progresses it turns in an adult’s voice.  The song is trying to say that the suffering will continue,” Fendt said. ““Hope” is kind of putting that into words. Then I add my own answer to that dark environment that the song creates.” In “Hope,” Fendt attempts to put some light into the dark themes of the song, he wants to create the feeling of believing in “greater things then yourself.”  “Hope” is as follows:

Cries of infancy

Carry over into adulthood-

The wailing

And suffering

Of want.

 

The drone of existance

In the backdrop-

Dull routine

That we resist

Only leaving us

Incumbents of incapacitation.

 

Who will resusitate

Our will

But by faith alone

In greater things

Than ourselves

 

Fendt’s poetry can be found at emptyglassgeometry.com

Ara Shirinyan performs at The Bakersfield Fan Forum

photos by Greg D. Cook

story by Portia Choi

 

Ara Shirinyan was the last guest poet of the Bakersfield Fan Forum at California State University Bakersfield (CSUB) Todd Madigan Gallery.  He performed at the gallery on November 30, 2016.

 

Shirinyan is a poet, publisher and musician.  He was born in 1977 in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. His works include Syria Is in the World, Your Country Is Great Afganistan-Guyana, and Handsome Fish Offices. He is currently getting the next sequence of Your Country Is Great to press. He co-founded the Smell, an all-ages music venue in Los Angeles and was until recently one of the co-directors of the Poetic Research Bureau (PRB).  The other directors of PRB were Andrew Maxwell and Joseph Mosconi.

Beyond the larger perspective of countries and cultures was his understanding of the microcosm of another form of culture, that of fishes and offices in his book, Handsome Fish Offices.  As he explained and performed the poems, there was delight in his voice and expressive movement of his arms and hands as he spoke about the fish cichlids in the Lake Malawi.   The book was fascinating and fun with the juxtaposition of his poems with clippings from other published writings.  (The writer of this story sensed in the poet a longing to be away from the neutral, impersonal nature of offices and to be with the fun-free movements of lively fishes in a lake in Africa.)

 

Excerpt from Handsome Fish Offices:

 

Lake Malawi has islands,

Lake Malawi has muddy

Oceanic coral islands,

 

Muddy water runs through huge rocks

Under twin, folding side shelves

Business-day deliveries of nutrient salts. . .

 

The many cichlids found there

Assembly service

Available (not included). . .

 

Glance through collegiate appointment books

Many Malawian cichlids dig into malfunctioning writing

Instrument feature needs available combination. . .

 

 

During the performance, Shirinyan shared a poem that he found on the internet “written” by another poet.  To be frank, the poem was technically not written, since there were no words, no use of letters of the alphabet, rather it had series of dashes of various length.

 

With his performance and his poetry books, Shirinyan shared his internal thoughts and impressions of his world.  He communicated and portrayed a way of seeing and understanding our world in a new way.

 

____________________________________________________________________________________

The following are reviews from www.futurepoem.com about Your Country Is Great by Ara Shirinyan

 

“Reading travel literature—not to mention postcards or emails from your friends—will never be the same after reading Ara Shirinyan’s hilarious and sardonic Your Country Is Great; Afghanistan-Guyana. Proceeding alphabetically and hence giving equal time to nations as diverse as Belarus and Belgium, Cameroon and Canada, and splicing found text to produce capsule descriptions of one “great” place to visit after another, Shirinyan exposes the fault lines of contemporary geopolitics with much wit and aplomb. In the end, maybe staying home—and reading Shirinyan—is what’s really GREAT.”
—Marjorie Perloff

 

“Ara Shirinyan gives us an early glimpse at the deadening effects of globalization on language. Collapsing the space between the ‘real world’ and the World Wide Web, this book calls into question: What is local? What is national? What is multicultural? Instead of accepting current notions of language as a medium of differentiation, Shirinyan persuasively demonstrates its leveling quality, demolishing meaning into a puddle of platitudes. In a time when everything is great, yet nothing is great, you can almost hear Andy Warhol—the king of blandness and neutrality—saying, ‘Gee, this book is great.’”
—Kenneth Goldsmith

 

Open Mic: December 2016

The Open Mic for December 2016 featured Yaritza I. Castro. Castro has been an active member of the poetry community and has performed at the Open Mic several times. She read from her first poetry book “Unfinished Poems for a Lover.” To read more on Castro you can read our profile here.  

Dana Gioia, California Poet Laureate performs at Walter Stiern Library.

By Portia Choi, with contributions by Martin Chang

Photos by Martin Chang

 

On December 1, 2016 the California Poet Laureate, Dana Gioia, was the presenter at the December Room of the Walter Stiern Library at California State University, Bakersfield.  He was friendly and easy mannered, just as he looked in the internet photographs of him.  He performed his poems by memory.  His feelings for the words and subject matter was expressed in his voice and enhanced by his hands and arms. Gioia’s presentation at CSUB was part of his promise to himself as the Poet Laureate of California.  He had promised to visit each of the counties of California during his tenure as the Poet Laureate of the state.

 

The information about his life are taken from the program at the event at CSUB and from his official website, danagioia.com.   The program stated that “Gioia was born in Hawthorne, California, the son of a Sicilian father and a Mexican mother.  He became the first person in his family to attend college.”  His website stated that “he received a B.A. and a M.B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University.”  In the program, it stated that Gioia “was the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts from 2003 to 2009 and launched several nationwide programs to expand public support for the arts and for arts education with a focus on fostering youth creativity and expression. . . .The California native has received wide critical acclaim including his 1991 volume Can Poetry Matter? which was a finalist for the National Critics Circle award and triggered national discussion on the role of poetry in American public culture.  Gioia is also a winner of the American Book Award and was honored with the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008 for his public service in support of the arts.”

 

Gioia spoke of how he started to write poetry.   It was when he was 19 or 20 years old that he started writing in a notebook.  Before then, he thought that he would be a musician.  In his home as a boy, he remembered that his mother would recite poetry that she had memorized.  While growing up, he thought that poetry was part of all homes.  One of the poems which his mother recited was shared by Gioia with the audience during the evening.  The poem was “Annabel Lee”  by Edgar Allan Poe.

Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, attended the reading.  Recent events inspired Huerta to go to the reading. Because of these events it was something she needed as a person. She said, “I loved it. It was exactly what my soul needed tonight.  With all the turmoil and everything, it was something I needed desperately.”

 

Gioia performed a number of poems during the presentation.  He gave background and commented on each of the poems that he performed.  The first and the last poems of the presentation were the following:

 

The first poem was written forty years after an experience in his youth.  Gioia remembers that as a child and young man, he had only lived in the greater Los Angeles metropolis.  When he later traveled to northern California, he had an intense experience during a trip to the Sonoma countryside, at an apple orchard.  Gioia describes this experience, “I always had a kind of hunger in Hawthorne, I realized many years later that there was no nature. I visited the ocean but that was a little different. There was this moment where I got what the world was doing. It was a revelation.”

When Gioia visited the apple orchard that inspired the poem, the visit had an air of romance.  “I had this crush on a girl, the two of us when across the Golden Gate Bridge and we found ourselves in an apple orchard in Sonoma County.”

The Apple Orchard

You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.

We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers—
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.

Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me . . . but I stopped.

What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.

 

 

 

One of the last poems that Gioia performed was “The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet.”  He shared that he rewrote this poem almost a hundred time to get the words, the beat and the tone just right.

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

The tales we tell are either false or true,
But neither purpose is the point. We weave
The fabric of our own existence out of words,
And the right story tells us who we are.
Perhaps it is the words that summon us.
The tale is often wiser than the teller.
There is no naked truth but what we wear.

So let me bring this story to our bed.
The world, I say, depends upon a spell
Spoken each night by lovers unaware
Of their own sorcery. In innocence
Or agony the same words must be said,
Or the raging moon will darken in the sky.
The night grow still. The winds of dawn expire.

And if I’m wrong, it cannot be by much.
We know our own existence came from touch,
The new soul summoned into life by lust.
And love’s shy tongue awakens in such fire—
Flesh against flesh and midnight whispering—
As if the only purpose of desire
Were to express its infinite unfolding.

And so, my love, we are two lunatics,
Secretaries to the wordless moon,
Lying awake, together or apart,
Transcribing every touch or aching absence
Into our endless, intimate palaver,
Body to body, naked to the night,
Appareled only in our utterance.

When asked what is the best way to participate in poetry as a literary pursuit, Gioia said that the best thing to do is to perform.  “We make poetry more interesting by going back to what it originally was, which is a spoken performative art.  Poetry is language shaped into music,” he said.  “That is what people respond to. The entry way into poetry is in the music of poetry.”

Gioia believes that public spaces like the Open Mic at Dagny’s is a great place to celebrate this musical side of poetry. He said, “You may get some bad poems, but you also get good poems.  Everyone who listens to it, participates in heightened language.”

Gioia also believes that events like the open mic can become a great place for people of different backgrounds to connect. “If you could use poetry and use art as a way for everybody who lives in a community to come into contact with each other, that has cultural importance.”