Story by Giovanni Lopez with contribution by Portia Choi
(Photos of Jack Hernandez by Giovanni Lopez and Juan Felipe Herrera by Blue Flower Arts)
Juan Felipe Herrera, the current (and first Latino) United States Poet Laureate, will be speaking on “Surveillance, Violence, Creativity and Compassion.” The event is on Wednesday, March 29th at 7:00 p.m. at the Indoor Theater, The Simonsen Performing Arts Center at Bakersfield College. The Annual Levan Lecture will host the event.
Herrera will speak on poetry and the impact it has on people. Herrera’s poems contain themes on social issues. He draws inspiration from his experiences growing up as the son of migrant workers in the San Joaquin and Salinas valleys. Herrera writes in both English and Spanish.
Jack Hernandez, a fellow poet and director of the Levan Center, helped organize the event. “[Herrera]is a major poet, who in his poetry is expressing human themes, human experience, but through the lens of his own experiences,” he said.
Although he is known primarily for his poetry, Herrera is also a performance artist. He has participated in theater and authored children’s books.
An activist for migrant and indigenous communities, Herrera‘s work has influenced minorities in both rural and urban areas.
Jack Hernandez said, “Given today’s environment and atmosphere, people are afraid of being plucked dropping their child off at school.”
Hernandez is also descended from immigrants. His father was born in Mexico and mother is from Indiana of Scottish decent. He grew up in Detroit, Michigan when his father migrated there to work in the factories.
Hernandez had a different experience, compared to the primarily Latino experience in California. Many of the immigrants in his neighborhood were Polish, as well as Italian in addition to Latinos.
The appearance in Bakersfield of the U.S. Poet Laureate is both timely and important given the current immigration controversy.
The following are poems which Hernandez selected for the Kern Poetry website. The poem by Laureate Herrera is “Half-Mexican.” The poem by Hernandez is “Jastro Park.”
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
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
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.
A Poem by Jack Hernandez
To focus on a tennis ball
requires the brain
to stop frame the world
halt the spin
tilt and whirl,
the mind’s tight grip
on silence the instant
before the explosive
After three sets
happy in our bodies
and a good forehand or two,
we drink beer
from a cooler
in Jastro Park
ringed by joggers.
At first our talk
is tennis, fellowships,
and summer plans, then
as the cooling down
of our muscles, we
mention Muriel’s recent death
and the world stops again,
the joggers, the late afternoon
yellow valley sun, all
are frozen on a photograph
of us centered in light
and park shadows, a group
that has played together
for years, suddenly aware
of life’s rush to the edge
and our need to hold
moments motionless like
a tennis ball stopped in flight.
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:
“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:
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
By Nancy Edwards
In the webbed flesh of your
In these layers of tender skin
I am born once more
When you hold me,
. . .
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
En la tela de tu codo
En esas capas de tierna piel
He nacido otra vez
Cuando me acaricias otra vez
. . .
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
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
By Nancy Edwards
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
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.
By Martin Chang
At the Metro Galleries, the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Kern County will hold a Words Comes to Life event on October 6 from 5:30-9:30pm. CASA of Kern County calls the event “A powerful and colorful evening that will bring awareness to foster children through words and art.”
Diana Ramirez, the coordinator of the event, describes the event as “bringing words to life through art.” Ramirez said, “Each artist was given a poem and through inspiration from that poem have created a unique art piece. Included amongst the sixteen are two poems by local foster youth. It will be a truly unique experience.”
The theme picked for the art and poetry was picked because of how it illustrates the struggles of the children that CASA of Kern County helps as part of its mission. “Because this event is a benefit to CASA, all poems were created under the theme deserted,” said Ramirez. “Many, if not all, foster youth feel deserted or abandoned at some point in their lives.”
Ramirez has two goals for the event, for the words of the poetry to “come to life,” and for the public to “come out and support our musicians, local writers, local artist, and our local foster youth.”
Martinez will be the featured poet at the Open Mic at Dagny’s.
Dagny’s is located at 1600 20th Street (corner of 20th and Eye St.) on First Friday September 2nd.
Open mic Starts at 6:00pm; sign-up for open mic is 5:50pm.
Fidel A. Martinez is the author of Factory Lights (2013), An American Mythology (2011), and Ghost Stories from the Tower of Souls (2006). His work has appeared in The Bakersfield Californian, Southwest Voice, and The Levan Humanities Review. A Garces High School and California State University Bakersfield graduate, he received his Juris Doctorate in Law from Santa Clara University Law School in 1987.
Many of Fidel’s poems draw upon his heritage as a Mexican-American born and raised in Kern County. Biblical episodes, saints and angels, the strictures of the church—the common figures of Catholicism—populate his poems, often recast in a modern light. He tackles topics ranging from the pocho to the flawed, self-congratulating sense of generosity that motivates an official to keep a barrio school open.
A poem by Fidel Martinez:
I have my expectations
Morning’s still trying to define itself
Out my window the fog is patient
Low and full it waits
I walk out
It clings to me like a frightened child
Cobwebs of moisture
I have trepidations
This stuff is suffocating
Like a world of ghost stories filled to bursting
Each materializing at once
Becoming accustomed so quickly
I get into my car and drive
Slowly diving in
Swearing I’m still asleep
The fog swallows me whole
I repent wishing to be regurgitated
Somewhere far from this thick forgetting
To burn away
That define me
Martinez will be the featured poet at the Open Mic at Dagny’s. Dagny’s is located at 1600 20th Street (corner of 20th and Eye St.) on First Friday September 2nd.
Open mic Starts at 6:00pm; sign-up for open mic is 5:50pm.
On September 5, 2015 Juan Felipe Herrera will begin his year-long term as the 21st U.S. poet laureate when he participates in the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington D.C.
The selection of Juan Felipe Herrera as the 21st U.S. poet laureate was announced in June 2015, Herrera is the first Mexican-American U.S. poet laureate. From 2012 to 2014, he was the California poet laureate. He was born on December 27, 1948 in Fowler, California. He was the only child of migrant farm workers, María de la Luz Quintana and Felipe Emilio Herrera. He lived from crop to crop and from tractor to trailer to tents on the roads of the San Joaquín Valley and the Salinas Valley. He graduated from San Diego High School in 1967. He received the Educational Opportunity Program scholarship to attend the University of California, Los Angeles where he received his B.A. in Social Anthropology. Later, he received his Masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford University, and his Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. Herrera’s writing is diverse and prolific. His publications included collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children with twenty-one books in total in the last decade. He was awarded the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for Half the World in Light. He has written books that were in both English and Spanish.
When interviewed by NPR, Herrera called being named Poet Laureate a “mega-honor.” On his website, in reference to the successes in his career, Herrera gives “abundant gratitude to my parents, families, teachers and students on many roads. [I give gratitude to] trees, animals, rivers and clouds.” He said about poetry, “Poetry can tell us about what’s going on in our lives, not only our personal but our social and political lives.”
His poem “Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings” can be read at http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/183577. There are more poems, which can be found by online search for Poetry Foundation-Herrera. A few of the titles are “Blood on the Wheel”, “Enter the Void”, “Exiles”, “I am Merely Posing for a Photograph”, “Grafik”, and “Punk Half Panther.”
The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress is appointed by the Librarian of Congress. In making the appointment, the Librarian consults with former appointees, the current laureate and other distinguished personalities in the field. The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is commonly referred to as United States Poet Laureate.