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Kern County Poet

Helen Shanley honored at Open Mic in February Open Mic

 

 

 

Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

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

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

My Mother’s Hands

by Helen Shanley

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

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

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

forget you not

 

Note to an Embalmer

by Helen Shanley

Do not remove the heart.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

When did you realize you were a writer?

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

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

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

What scares you the most?

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

How many poems do you throw away – if any?

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

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?  

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

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

           I Am the Skimmer of Stones

           by Jay W. Squires

I Am the Skimmer of Stones

and I fancy myself as well

the smooth stones skimmed

(imagination lets me, you see);

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

they skim across

or not entirely across

or not across at all.

But if the stone falls short

I do not become the pond’s depth;

oh, most assuredly not the pond’s depth

(even imagination won’t take me there)

 

though years and years ago it would and did.

 

To be a skimmer of stones

I first must find the perfect stone;

for I am not a pitcher of balls

to be given the full game’s span

to peak the perfection of my throw

  1. I allow myself but one—

one toss to test my form and faith

my existential curriculum.

 

It must be smooth and flat, of course

but not too flat and light that at first skip

my leading edge will lift me up to glide too high

then fall before my enthusiasm’s spent.

The perfect stone will fit the half-mooned slot

between crook’d forefinger and thumb

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

The wrist knows when the stone is right;

from the body’s deeper knowing, I listen

and watch my wrist test the heft.

 

And, when the time is right

I measure the span from lapping water’s edge

to the far concave that curves its arms toward me

while it holds within its caress

the surface of its length and breadth

I’ll soon lay the spinning stone upon.

 

The stone and I have learned to admire

the stateliness of skimming the surface of things,

whirring past the center’s downward pull,

the perpendicularity of the mystery below.

 

They say at the center the pond’s immeasurably deep

that the depth of the pond’s mysteriously deep;

they say, and I say I must agree

that sometimes a mystery’s best left to mystify.

 

But once I thought my courage deeper

than Jacob’s Pond could ever be.

So I became one with the stone I skimmed

that hummed and skimmed and skimmed again

but not entirely across.

 

And where it sank, there too I plunged

down from the surface of Jacob’s Pond

down with immortal youth and a lungful of air

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

 

That Jacob’s Pond went deeper forever

was not mine to know that day

for fear soon squeezed life from courage

and a blur of my spider’s legs and arms

sent me scrabbling up the bubbled web

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

For, it’s a blessing now

to be once—and only once—young

And once to test the depths

once to dare to fail

and Once to Succeed in Failing

and in failing, yet survive

with a greater knowing

that there’s a near infinity of learning

oh, a precious, near infinity of learning

from lightly skimming

from blithely skimming

the safer, monocular surface of things.

~    ~    ~

Author Information

Jay Squires

Email: gwsquiresjr@gmail.com.

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

* BENT: Wake or Cross, by Jay Squires

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

When did you realize you were a writer?

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

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

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

What scares you the most?

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

How many poems do you throw away – If any?

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

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?

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

 

“Mantra”

by Bridgette Love

 

Yellowed teeth

Manic heart

Rip my guts out and shove them into my pockets

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

Disheveled, hot, and squirming with uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

Mantra…mantra

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage…

 

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

 

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

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

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

When did you realize you were a writer?

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

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

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

What scares you the most?

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

How many poems do you throw away – If any?

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

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?

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

Extension.

Additional Information:

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

 

“Coffee Cafe Customers:  The Barista”

By  Carla Martin

 

Her high cheekbones

Are smoothed with pancake make-up

And thick, false eyelashes

Flutter on her heavy lids

She smiles

And gracefully takes my order

 

She repeats the liturgical litany

“What would you like today?

Are you a member of the Bookstore Cafe

And receive a 10% discount?

Would you like cream and sweetener with that?”

 

Do these phrases repeat in her mind

Through her dreams at night?

An endless stream

Of garbled gibberish?

 

Does she wake up

Longing for Dostoevsky

And complex plot turns

And deeply introspective characters

Wrestling with conflicting desires

Galloping through sweeping vistas

On glorious steeds?

 

Stuck behind the formica counter

Surrounded by a fortress of blenders

Cappuccino makers

And  bottles of syrup

She is trapped by these sentinels

Of modern addiction

Her life is bound in chains

Of service to pleasure seekers

Craving their afternoon fix

 

She is the cover

Of last month’s Cosmo magazine

Filled with snippets

Of bedroom wisdom

Gained by wise vixens

In deep decolletage

That whisper the secrets

Of how to arouse him

While waving lavish, lacquered nails

 

In brief, two-minute conversations

I try to pierce the perfect facade

And gain a glimpse

Of the cracked vessel within

 

She lets slip

That she has a daughter

That she had when she was eighteen

Who is finally doing better in second grade

after spending many afternoons in the principal’s office

Because she can’t get along with her peers

She is used to being around adults

The only youngster in the family

She can’t fathom the confusion

Of all her squirming classmates

But a child can learn

And now she is doing much better,

Thanks for asking

 

Everyone has a story

That’s as complex as a classic novel

Don’t let the glossy cover fool you

The dog-eared pages are tear-stained within

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Story by Walter Stormont

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give me a word!”

“Grateful.”

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

“What are you grateful for?”

“Connection.”

And so it continues as the people bond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

Please share about your background and life.

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

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

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

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

When did you first become interested in poetry?

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

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

Who are some of your creative influences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please share one of your poems.

Now Begin

By Julie Jordan Scott

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

 

Seeking to please whomever.

Drowning out the pure longings of your heart

Struggling, freezing, suffocating –

Until finally, you choose to start.

 

Whispers from the spirit.

Soul’s song from deep within.

After dancing, stranger among strangers –

Claim it.  Your life.  Now Begin –

 

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

How did the song-writing process go?

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

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

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

What are some of your other musical accomplishments?

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

How often do you write?

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

* * * * *

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

October Open Mic Night 2017 features Catherine Abbey Hodges

First Friday Open Mic – October 6, 2017,  features Catherine Abbey Hodges

Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

Kern Poetry First Friday open mic at Dagny’s was flowing with enthusiasm and creativity as always.  There was standing room only as poets and musicians anxiously awaited their turn to present a piece of their art, hoping to touch the hearts of everyone who listened.  And it was obvious that hearts were definitely touched as the packed room exploded with applause at the end of each presentation.

 

Our featured Bakersfield artist was Catherine Abbey Hodges who read several beautiful poems from her books, Instead of Sadness and Raft of Days.   As she captivated the crowd with pictures and emotions in her poetry, her husband, Rob Hodges, accompanied her with warm gentle tones played on his cello.  What a treat that was!  Rob also played an interlude piece that was improvised on the spot.  Together they were breathtaking.

Catherine’s generous answers to my questions below allow us to look into her world.

  • Please tell us a little about yourself, your poetry background, what got you started, your influences and inspiration.

I was that shy kid who was always off reading a book or writing something in a secret notebook. We had a lot of books, music, and visual art in our home when I was a child. Later I spent almost a decade in Indonesia with my husband and our children, and I filled journals with the experience of learning a new language and culture and way of being in the world, an experience that changed me in ways I’m still coming to understand and made language and people all the more mysterious and wonderful to me. I was a writer from the get-go, and my degrees are in English, but I didn’t formally turn to poetry until I was almost 40.

At this point in my life, I find I’m influenced and inspired by almost everything. There’s more to write about than there is time in this one life. My poems respond to images from the natural world, memories that surface from last week or somewhere in the 1960s, a phrase a student uses in an essay I’m grading. My new book has a poem inspired by a headline that ran something like “Scientists Discover Water Has Memory.”  Really, who doesn’t want to write a poem about that?

My go-to poets, to name a few, are Peter Everwine, Jane Hirshfield, Li-Young Lee, Marie Howe, Stanley Kunitz. I’m inspired by Ross Gay and Tony Hoagland. Annie Dillard is an early and continuing influence. Rebecca Solnit’s incisive and wise prose keeps me alert.

  • What are you trying to communicate with your poetry?

I guess if there’s something I want to communicate, it’s an experience, or an invitation to an experience, rather than a message. Reading and writing poems is the best way I know of holding myself still for long enough to really listen, to taste what it’s like to be alive in an unspeakably harrowing and still-beautiful world, to wrestle with my responsibilities in light of the obvious, to plumb all this and wonder at it and grieve and rejoice—those things, in other words, that save us from the spiritual devastation of surface-living. I hope that my poems may help some readers do the same.

  • Do you have any creative patterns, routines?

I teach full-time at Porterville College, and my life is brimful of rewarding work in that setting. This does mean, though, that I have to be very deliberate about making time for poems. My current pattern seems to be something like this: write obsessively in a notebook in order to process my life (this looks NOTHING like a poem except in rare instances), and in the course of those scribbles make notes in the margins on images, phrases, and memories that might be poem-fodder; do this for a few weeks; watch for the agitation/irritation/restlessness that means poem ideas are at critical mass; and then find time—2 hours to 2 weeks, depending on what I can manage—to devote solely to generating new poems and to walking. All along, no matter how busy I am, I’m reading the poems of others and feeding myself that way.

  • Please tell us about the publications you’ve created.

Instead of Sadness, my first full-length collection, was selected by Dan Gerber for the inaugural Barry Spacks Poetry Prize and was published by Gunpowder Press in 2015. That book contains 16 years’ worth of poems, some of which had been published in a chapbook in 2006 and many of which had appeared in journals and magazines. I was delighted that Gunpowder Press wanted to publish my second collection, Raft of Days, which came out earlier this year. It’s been an honor to see poems of mine featured on The Writer’s Almanac and Verse Daily.

  • Please share one of your poems with us.

Since I mentioned Peter Everwine in my influences, here’s a poem dedicated to him. It’s the last poem in Raft of Days and something of an ars poetica

 

ONE VIOLET IN FEBRUARY

—for Peter Everwine

by Catherine Abbey Hodges

Home from Fresno, I wrote this poem,

then took out everything but the violet.

Later, a little rain fell back in.

There’s no story here,

 

only the song of tires on the wet street

and me making my way toward

the unsayable, dowsing

my way with syllables,

 

silence, the goodness of friends.

I’m not there yet, not even sure

I’ll know when I get there.

I couldn’t be happier.

 

Catherine Abbey Hodges

From Raft of Days, Gunpowder Press, 2017

 

Thank you so much Catherine for your generosity, your dedication to your art and for your beautiful poetry.  You are an inspiration to us all!

 

***

 

Before the open mic portion of the night began, we recognized and welcomed the presence of Poet Laureate Don Thompson who came to support Catherine Abbey Hodges!  What a thrill!   Don mentioned that he has a new book of poetry coming out on December 1, 2017, “From Here On: Four Sunday Drives” and his profile is coming out on October 28th in the Bakersfield Californian insert.   Please check out his website:  www.don-e-thompson.com

 

As the night progressed, I was touched by all the poets and especially by the poetic lyrics of two songwriters, Jimmy Borja and David T8tz.

 

Jimmy Borja is a songwriter born and raised in the Philippines but now a citizen of the U.S.  He has written numerous hits and hundreds of songs for artists of Sony-BMG, Universal, Warner and EMI.  His songs have also been recorded by a winner and finalists of Star Search, Britain’s Got Talent, Canadian Idol, The Voice-Philippines and ABC’s Duets.  He also conducts songwriting workshops and most recently he was a speaker at the West Coast Songwriters Annual Music Conference in San Francisco.  Jimmy preferred not to include lyrics to the song he performed but you can hear some of his music at:  www.jimmyborjamusic.com.

Jimmy, we wish you continued success with your songwriting!

 

David T8tz is a newcomer to Bakersfield and has been writing and performing his songs since the age of twelve.  He said the songwriter’s road has been long and quite bumpy but luckily he has survived and has completed an album, “Pack Thy Secrets Deep” which

can be found on iTunes, CD Baby, Spotify, Amazon, Bandcamp and Soundcloud. (The band camp portal is his favorite. That link is- https://davidt8tzandhislovelyfriends.bandcamp.com )

His older work can also be found on iTunes and Spotify under- Winston and the Telescreen

Please check out his website:   www.PackThySecretsDeep.com

David has a show coming up at The Bakersfield Gay and Lesbian Center with Moon Spirits on Saturday, November 11, 2017 from 7:00 pm to 9:00 pm.  Let’s go support him!

Below are lyrics to the title track of David’s album, “Pack Thy Secrets Deep,” performed for us at Dagny’s:

 

“Pack Thy Secrets Deep”

by David T8tz

He sells all his daylight, he rents out his mind
In a three walled asylum that owns all his time
He had such plans once, dreams of freedom
A pen and a notebook and stories to feed them
He’s made a nightlife inside of a bottle
He prowls his phone apps in search of a song
Companions come easy but they never feed him
He’s starving to death in the midst of them all
Are we going to, Are we going to
Are we going to die this way?

Are we going to, are we going to
Are we going to die…Mama this way?
Cause I’d rather die than see you in such pain
We’re trapped in the flames
Pack Thy Secrets Deep where no one can see them
Pack Thy Secrets Deep and hold them close
She’s back on his doorstep, she’s tear stained and windswept
She’s only come home cause there’s nowhere left to go
Her black eyes match the shade of her track marks
The ones hidden between her fingers and toes
She says “I swear that I’ll stay clean, our daughters they need me
I just need a place I can stay for a while.”
One week later she’s crouched in the corner
She’s screaming, crying, bleeding, and the needle’s on the floor
Are you going to, are you going to
Are you going to die this way?
Are you going to, are you going to
Are you going to die…Mama this way?
Cause I’d rather die than see you in such pain
We’re trapped in the flames
But I’ll pack my secrets deep where no one can see them
I’ll pack my secrets deep and hold them close
Pack Thy Secrets Deep where no one can see them
Pack Thy Secrets Deep and hold them close
So I’ll drink, I’ll get fucked, I’ll press everyone’s luck
Oh on nothing but hatred I’ll feed
There’s an ocean of rage and it’s stuck in my veins
And I can’t seem to fight my way free
I’ve held it together for the sake of our daughters
But my strength is now failing me
So won’t you please hand me a drink?
Won’t you please hand me a drink?
Won’t you please hand me my drink?

David, we thank you for sharing such an honest and deep lyric with us and we look forward to hearing more of your songs and poetry.  Welcome to Bakersfield!

 

A highlight of the evening was when poet Thomas Brill was invited to the stage by our lovely hostess, Portia Chang. Thomas moved the hearts of everyone (and moved me to tears) with his important and truth filled poem, “Valley Fever.”  He graciously accepted my request to share some of his poetic journey with us as well as the inspiration behind his meaningful poem.

  • Please share your poetic journey, when you started writing and who may have inspired you.

I have been writing poetry since high school.  I’m not sure what originally inspired my interest in writing, but I have always needed an outlet for creative expression.  I love language and I have a short attention span, so I suppose poetry was a natural.  In college I had a very dada-istic or absurdist style, but as the years went by my work went through many metamorphoses.   I typically prefer more literal and simple poetry.  Probably William Carlos Williams and Pablo Neruda are two of my biggest influences.

At any rate, I wrote “valley fever” soon after I moved to Bakersfield.  I had moved here about thirteen years ago from northern California, where I was involved in a poetry group in Sonoma, California that had a monthly reading called the “Center of the Universe,” and

sometimes it felt like it was.  My writing developed enormously in that community, and when I first moved to Bakersfield, I was writing quite a bit.

  •   Tell us why you wrote “Valley Fever” and what you are trying to communicate.

“Valley Fever” was inspired by a real life case that I worked on as a lawyer.  A widow approached me about her farmworker husband’s death of valley fever.  He had been misdiagnosed, and eventually succumbed to the disease and died.  I changed his name, of course, and the actual details are of my own invention.  I have worked as a lawyer on behalf of many migrant workers and so this is a subject that has always been near to my heart.  As the public debate about immigrants rages on, I do my best to help a few of those in need in situations that have nothing to do with their status in this country.  In that work, I have come to know the immigrant community in a much more intimate way, so I simply try to see the human side of it without regard to their legal status.

I think the message of the poem is pretty obvious.  Immigrants come here looking for a better life and often end up finding themselves cut off from their families, struggling to get by in a strange land, and in desperate circumstances.  There are so many perils related to being undocumented in the United States, including threats from “coyotes,” the unscrupulous traffickers who help people cross and often have ties to drug families, when they cannot pay the exorbitant fees to come here illegally, being abused in their workplace, and even being afraid to report crimes since they think they may be deported.  I am obviously sympathetic to their plight, and the poem is simply intended to show a different side of the picture than we often see in the media, one that I have dealt with on a personal basis.

  • Please share your poem, “Valley Fever.”

Valley Fever

by Thomas Brill

Miguel Echavarria died illegally,

a fungus carried quietly on dust spores

filled his lungs, alone in a hospital bed,

736 miles from a hand to hold

 

He had gone to Madera where his primo

got him a job in the tomatoes,

the mayordomo was from Ixtapa too,

unlicensed uninsured undocumented

and unregulated, Miguel kept

driving the tomato truck even after

they deported his primo, leaving him

alone with the dusty dreams of a

campesino and truckloads of

semi-ripe tomatoes ready for the warehouse

where they would be gassed red and bug free,

Miguel and the other “aliens” loading

crates freshly picked onto the dusted flat bed,

dry dirt thick like smoke in the heat of

$25 a ton,

only the dust spores are free of charge.

 

Breath deep, young man, be strong,

your family’s burden placed on your

sturdy shoulders, you still have your

youth, your health, your work,

shares an apartment with four other men,

his girlfriend in Mexico didn’t have the heart

to invite him to her wedding with her

newfound sweetheart, though she did name her son

Miguel.

 

Miguel caught the fever and they sent him

to the clinic where the nameless go,

where the doctors ask few questions

and hand out generic solutions,

sent him home with a bottle of hopes

that he could return to work

and he did, working the rest of the week

a little overtime to send off a postal order,

$200.

 

Sinews strain and the eyes go blank,

the head is heavy, the dust hangs everywhere,

it seems, even in his dreams. dust borne

fingers running through his hair, his blood,

misdiagnosed, indifferent to antibiotics

that were not designed for valley fever,

a fungus slowly eating away

at his future, his family’s too.

until one day he couldn’t get up, the wet rags

no longer cooled his feverish mind, he was

alone in a cold bed on a hot Autumn afternoon,

the money orders suddenly stopped,

he rolled back and forth and his eyes

rolled up in his head and he died.

 

Just there, just like that,

the indentation still in his pillow

when the ambulance took him away,

John Doe 13, coccidiodes immitis,

the death certificate said, but no one read it

anyway.

Thank you so much Thomas Brill for coming to Dagny’s and sharing your poem, “Valley Fever.”  Such poetry raises consciousness and awareness which is a gift to all of us.  Much respect to you.

***

Well — that’s a recap of another enlightening, inspiring and creative evening.  Please come back to our website 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!

Nancy Edwards Honored

Story by Portia Choi

Nancy Edwards passed away on January 5, 2017.  Nancy was a poet.  She was also a professor of English at Bakersfield College from 1968-2009.

When poets and friends of poets were informed of her passing, there was a profound sense of loss.

This story is written to fill the loss with memories of Nancy and words from her poetry.  It is with the belief that for as long as a person is remembered and their words are read or spoken, the presence of the person lives on within and among us.

Poets and writers who knew Nancy shared their thoughts and feelings with Kern Poetry.

In this story the first names for Nancy Edwards and contributors are used due to fondness for each of the persons.

 

 Sharing by Rosa Garza

Rosa said that Nancy was a great friend and she was “like family, like another sister.”  She met Nancy in a Creative Writing class that Nancy was teaching at Bakersfield College.  Rosa was a student in the class.  Rosa had returned to school after staying home for 20 years after she obtained her Bachelor’s degree.  When she went back to school, the Creative Writing class was one of the first classes that she took.

Rosa eventually obtained her Master’s Degree in history.  She applied for employment at Bakersfield College and was hired to teach history.  Nancy and Rosa continued to be friends and were now colleagues.  Their offices were down the hallway from each other.

They worked together on two books of poetry.  One was a chapbook that contained the poems from the students of a Creative Writing class as well as their poems.  In the book, Beloved Mothers Queridas Madres, some of the poems were translated into Spanish.

In the forward of the book, Beloved Mothers Queridas Madres, Nancy wrote “This book is for the women who raised us, the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, aunts, mothers-in-law, godmothers, and special friends who book us to the place leading into our adulthood.”

Another book that Nancy and Rosa wrote together was The Women Within.

(Rosa Garza is a professor of History at Bakersfield College.)

 

 Sharing by Kevin Shah

“I enjoyed our many meetings at . . .local places. And her (Nancy’s) closeness with James her husband was endearing to watch, as they accompanied each other to all her events. They both supported each other in so many tender ways.”

“I want to say that Nancy was a vital part of the creative community. She brought her insights from the academic world into her work with planning our poetry events in Kern County. She was a friend who loved to share her stories. She wrote poems from her heart and performed them in public, most memorably performing a dual poem with her husband James Mitchell. She was willing to step outside of her “professor” role, although she never stopped bringing her expertise as an English professor to her involvement with a recent online newspaper/blog entitled “Kit Fox Bakersfield.” She had a lot to say and a lot to share. She was energized by being an active writer and contributor. Nancy will be greatly missed.”

(Kevin Shah is a poet and an English teacher.  Kevin hosted poetry open mic at bookstores in Bakersfield.  He was on the planning committee for National Poetry Month.)

 

Sharing by Annis Cassells: 

“In Memoriam”

“Nancy Edwards, Bakersfield College professor emerita of English and long-time Writers of Kern member, passed away January 5, 2017 after a long bout with cancer.

Beloved by former students and the Kern County writing community, Nancy co-sponsored Bakersfield’s National Poetry Month celebrations, coordinated poetry events, and co-hosted readings and performances in many venues around town. She presented writing programs and workshops for Writers of Kern, 60-Plus Club of CSUB, gifted students at West High School, and at local and regional college-level conferences throughout her career and into retirement.

Nancy was a gifted and prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry, with numerous publications: books, anthologies, and literary journals. Most recently, she had two poems in the 2016 chapbook, Writing the Drought, A Collection of Poems by Kern County Authors.

I admired Nancy greatly for her talent and generous spirit. I first met her many years ago when she read one of her poems at a Writers of Kern meeting. That poem, “You are my Africa,” made my breath catch in my throat. When I mentioned it to her a few years later, she found a copy and gave it to me. I took Nancy’s flash fiction class through the Levan Institute. The lessons she taught influence my writing today. When we co-presented a program on writing memoir for the 60 Plus Club’s ElderCollege in 2015, I found her to be an excellent and gracious working partner.

Nancy Edwards loved writing, teaching, and encouraging and mentoring writers. We in Kern County and Writers of Kern were lucky and privileged to have her among us.”

            The article, “In Memoriam”, was written by Annis Cassells for the Writers of Kern Newsletter.

(Annis Cassells is a poet and considered the poetry representative for Writers of Kern.)

 

Sharing by Katie Romley

“I did not know Nancy for a long time. A year at most. But she leaves an indelible impression on me. Nancy had a way of being a champion for others, while also being part-confidant and part-teacher. I believe the teacher in her soul never left, but neither did the friend. I have fond memories of Nancy’s poetry. Even the way she dressed was poetry, with dangly earrings to match her outfits and her hairstyle, sort of wildly neat all at once. Her mother was Southern and she spoke about southern manners and etiquette. . .

We were going to create a literary journal, The Kit Fox. Nancy brought ideas for journals, chapbooks, they’re called. We put the writings online in the end, but Nancy never stopped giving me her praise, thoughtfully written. She bought me a folder one day, with a fox on it. I kept the folder and some of Nancy’s writings inside.

Her e-mails always began “Dear Katie” and ended “Nancy Edwards” and the date. In some ways, formal, she was gracious and kind. She was a leader but she was actually a developer. A champion for other leaders to emerge. Sometimes you read about women leaders, and how the best ones are always scouting other women to come up and join them. That was Nancy.  I never attended Bakersfield College but I had always heard about what an extraordinary teacher she was. It was pretty cool actually to know about her almost 20 years before I ever interacted with her.”

(Katie Romley is writer and publisher of Kit Fox Bakersfield at http://kitfoxbakersfield.wordpress.com/)

 

Sharing by Portia Choi

The poetry community of today is a direct result of involvement of Nancy Edwards.  In 2010, when the National Poetry Month was being planned, Nancy was an enthusiastic partner of a group of four poets.  Nancy brought her knowledge of poetry and her connection to the academic community.    She provided credibility to the group’s work.

On a personal note, Nancy was encouraging and supportive.

Nancy was always improving her craft as a writer.  She continued to take writer’s workshops even after she had retired.

One of the poet wrote about Nancy’s passing.  He wrote that “a wonderful, beautiful voice has been stilled.”

Although Nancy will not be performing her poems in person, her words can continue to be read, spoken, and shared.

 

 

The following are a few of Nancy Edwards’ poems:

 

Bait 

For Pablo Neruda

By Nancy Edwards

The past is a red-eye sockeye salmon

Somebody dropped on my living room floor,

And no one noticed until it smelled so

Damned bad people reeled in nausea;

Take it out, oh God, take it out!

Dispose of it and air the place –

So I did and washed the rug clean,

But still the odor lingers in my mind

As though the sockeye salmon

Still leers at me in decaying pleasure,

Its thin bones inn skeletal elegance

Outlining the feast of your past.

 

Source:  Valley Light Writers of the San Joaquin, gathered by Jane Watts, POETS & PRINTER PRESS, 1978

 

 

Beloved Mother

By Nancy Edwards

(excerpt)

In the webbed flesh of your

Inside elbow

In these layers of tender skin

I am born once more

When you hold me,

Beloved Mother

. . .

You are always

The place inside

You hold me forever

In the stream of my birth

When I am in your arms

You are my beloved Mother.

 

Querida Madre (Beloved Mother)

Translated by Rosa Garza

(excerpt)

En la tela de tu codo

En esas capas de tierna piel

He nacido otra vez

Cuando me acaricias otra vez

Querida Madre

. . .

Siempre eres

El lugar adentro

Donde me abrazas para siempre

En la corriente de mi nacer

Cuando estoy en tus brazos

Tu eres mi querida madre

Source:  Beloved Mothers Queridas Madres, BAKERSFIELD COLLEGE, 1992

 

 

Donna Weather 

 By Nancy Edwards

In late September, it is Donna weather in Bakersfield,

When the air begins to lose its’ blistering heat,

And we can sit outside at the downtown Greek Festival,

The cool air against or necks and legs,

. . .

“Time for Donna to be back,” someone says,

Expecting her to call any day,

. . .

We were positive she would return,

Now it is as if she had been stolen from us,
. . .

We share the phantom pain of loss

Of a limb, our friend gone from view,

Yet so much remains,

So much she wanted us to have,

So much in the air we breathe

In Donna weather.

Source:  Writers of Kern Anthology III, 2008

 

 

Elevation

By Nancy Edwards

(excerpt)

All week, I dreaded the drive to Yosemite,

I obsessed about the sheer cliffs on one side,

Looking down into the straight drop,

Lovely Ponderosa pine, cedar, black oak trees,

The car only inches from the side,

a twisty road, my childhood fears drilled

deep into my consciousness.

My father’s voice ridiculing my fear of heights.

. . . . .

And in your final years

when I could do something for you,

I came through mountains and storms

to see you again.

 

We read our poetry to each other as always.

You never spoke of the sheer drop

On your side: we both knew.

Source:  Levan Humanities Review, Volume 4, Issue 1, 2016. www2.bakersfieldcollege.edu/LHR.

 

 

Missing and Welcoming Back

By Nancy Edwards

(excerpt)

I have missed the pure white egrets,

sleek and graceful,

gliding across Lake Truxtun,

landing like aristocracy,

the royal family on display.

. . .

When spring arrives this year,

so comes hope.

Bright thick green leaves appear

between the blackened branches.

An egret circles the lake,

dips down and lands.

I have seen two red squirrels racing around

a tree chasing each other like passionate lovers.

A lone fisherman casts his line

and stands patiently;

the earth returns and begins again.

Source:  Writing the Drought, A collection of Poems by Kern County Authors, April 2016.