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




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

“What are you grateful for?”


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, my catch-phrases include “Inspiring Artistic Rebirth” and “The World is Waiting for Your Words.”  I believe each and every person on this planet has a valuable voice and a valid, important story to be interwoven with whomever we are blessed to find along the path.

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

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

Please share one of your poems.

Now Begin

By Julie Jordan Scott

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


Seeking to please whomever.

Drowning out the pure longings of your heart

Struggling, freezing, suffocating –

Until finally, you choose to start.


Whispers from the spirit.

Soul’s song from deep within.

After dancing, stranger among strangers –

Claim it.  Your life.  Now Begin –


* * * * *


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

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

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

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

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

How did the song-writing process go?

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

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

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

What are some of your other musical accomplishments?

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

How often do you write?

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

* * * * *

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

Poetry at Women’s March, Kern County

Story by Portia Choi

Video provided by Anke Hodenpijl

There was poetry at the Women’s March in January 2018, Bakersfield, California.

Anke Hodenpijl recited two poems in front of a crowd to enthusiastic response.  Her performance was on video.  Hodenpijl was interviewed for Kern Poetry.

Two other poets, Mandy Anderson and Diane Lobre, were at the march.  They were also interviewed for this story.



How did it feel reciting your poems in front of such a big crowd?

Looking out at the crowd made me feel small, yet somehow I know my words were important. As I started to read, the crowd grew quieter and then quieter again. I thought, “They are really listening!” This felt empowering. When it was all over and they yelled “Yes!” in support, I felt affirmed and among friends. I felt safe.

What influenced you to write poetry in general?

Poetry was how I learned to read English, since it was my second language. I like expressions to be insightful, descriptive and succinct. The power of poetry to move the spirit, my own and others, inspired me to become a poet for life.

What influenced you to write the two poems that you performed at the march?

Poetry gave me a voice to respond to the outcome of the last election. These poems in particular were aroused by feelings of disappointment and anger. I edited them for this years march, in response to the hope I felt through sharing my voice with other like-minded people.

The poems of Hodenpijl are “Work” and “being Her.”



by Anke Hodenpijl

that place in between

between imagination and satisfaction

between prayer and holiness

between spirit and love

between birth and re-birth


Gratitude is the dough I knead

with intentional hands

shaping and

caring for

that place in between

once again


this time with potent iterations

full-flavored, unconfused and knowing

Truth is the seed of swelling sophistication


Today, in my older years,

my Work is louder

because the ears of others

have forgotten

Or maybe they did not get

the text,

the instant message or

the tweet.


Let my work begin afresh,


not hesitatingly like a distant fog-covered sunrise,

but rather like an eruption,

unwilling to be punched down,



I say


My pussy is not yours to grab!

Your alternative facts, are not my reality.

My memory is clear.

Your words. Can. Not. reconstruct Herstory.


My Suffrage Brogue

creates an unmistakable landscape

as surely as the molten lava

claims the mountain side and the sea

from the center

to the heavens


this is who I am

this is where I’ve been


and, Yes, THIS is still my work.

© 2018 Anke Hodenpijl



being Her

          by Anke Hodenpijl

being Her


used to be her deficiency

became her necessity

became her hope

became her legacy

became her Opus

became our Birthright


we dance with Her descant


the cheerless and sticky rejection

the pluck of her pushback

the rumpus of Her March

as she labored for

equal rights

equal pay

equal humanity

in the 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and still

in this millennium


as we claim our apologue

from her swindle sheet

we exhume the after birth

and the caterwaul of resistance

the unjust reincarnation

of the Philistine Shadow

rising like stench from a too shallow grave


Are we to be ransomed again?

Time’s up?

Me too?




What is the price for the uncaging of a fearless life?

When will we be able to fly with the quiet confidence of a flock

murmurating in unison

agreeing through conscious heart

that we are full-toned, muscled and mighty?


Is it true what I’ve been told?


A Woman’s Work is never done?


being Her


sure feels that way.


©2017 Anke Hodenpijl





What influenced you to write the poem you recited at Open Mic. 

I wrote this poem, (“The Coming of age,”) the night before the Women’s March. I was up late excited for my first March so I decided the best way to use my time was to write.

I wrote this poem having young girls in mind. The transition from being a girl to becoming a woman can be so awkward.

Teenage boys don’t understand that’s why I added in “Steven laughs as I run to the bathroom”. She feels confused and nervous that the world has told her because her body is bleeding that she has become a women.

I also added “Why do we have to pay 75c” because I feel that it’s not right that our public restrooms ESPECIALLY those for young girls at school have to charge for something that is needed. That just brings more anxiety and embarssment for those not prepared for that moment. Instead of going discreetly to the bathroom they have to ask. I really felt connected with this piece and I had a lot of influence from the Women’s March.


What influenced you to write poetry in general?

I have been writing since I was 14. Some where along the way I stopped writing books and started writing just these little pieces. Each little quote or writing I would create always had a story to it.

Last year I fell into a really deep depression that sort of just built up from a lot of trauma. I was at home one day on Facebook when I came across a video on a Facebook page called Button poetry. The video was called “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” by Sabrina Benaim. I listened as this girl poured out her soul and mine along with it. It sparked something inside me.

I went back through all my writing and realized a lot of my work was stories of my struggles and my screams to be heard. I told myself that’s what I need to do. I needed to scream out my emotions through paper again. That’s when I sat down and poetry just started flowing out. It brought so much healing that I was not expecting.



The coming of age 

        by Mandy Anderson


        Today I have become a woman

                             Blood drips down my leg
My childhood becomes a distant memory

Becoming a woman is great they say
Sex ed says I can get pregnant


                           Steven laughs as I run to the bathroom
Why do I have to pay 75c

we die if we lose too much

A sign of an ending

I feel my childhood dying.

A death so painfully inescapable


                         Today, I have become a woman





What was it like to be at the Women’s March?

I had reservation about going. (But) it was such a peaceful gathering.  There were thousands of women there.  Amazing.  Lots of men were there.  There were young and there were old.  The women just wanted to stand with each other.

What was it like to hear Anke Hodenpijl recite her poems?

I did not hear all the words, (but) there was power, (incredible) response of the crowd.  Anke kept raising the energy, (it was) definitely an inspiring moment.

When did you begin writing poetry?

I began writing poetry when I was twelve or thirteen.  I wrote as part of self-expression.  I was attracted to words.

Tell us about your poem “Eggshells

I started to think about women who were not allowed to be themselves because they were married or had strong parents.  They did not reach their full potential because they got held back and held down.






Eyes down

Listening carefully

For signs


A raised voice

Tension exuded




Whispering steps




Of past



Breath held





Every word




Be a trigger



At the target

Of the heart

And mind


Body can

Be broken








Raining down




Thoughts and



Reactions become





Stuffed down

Held in check


By the Other








All potential


In tears






The girl

The hopes

The dreams




In the local newspaper, The Bakersfield Californian, there was an opinion about the Women’s March by Tracy Correa Lopez. It was in the “COMMUNITY VOICES” of FORUM section.

Lopez wrote, “The first official Women’s March Kern County—arguably one of the largest marches in the city’s history—was an overwhelming success. . . . We hoped for 1,000 attendees, but it turned out to be so much more. . . . Today, estimates are more than 5,000 took part. . . . We threw a party and they came.  And it was peaceful.  It was unifying.”


Poetry on Wooden Walls



Story by Portia Choi 

Photographs by Ellen Quon

Poetry is an important part of my life.  It was by writing poems that I was able to express my feelings and experiences of being in the Korean War.  The war started when I was two and ended when I was five.

I discovered that poetry was also an important part of lives of immigrants from China during a recent field trip to Angel Island in the San Francisco bay.

It was a sunny morning on the top deck of a ferryboat going from Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco to Angel Island, a state park.  I felt the harshness of the wind and the noise of the cackling sea gulls.  Beyond the rippling waves of the bay, I saw the panoramic view of the cities, San Francisco and Oakland, and its hills with rolling mist.

Most of the people on the ferry were tourists going to the island for fun and recreation.  However, there was a small group from Bakersfield making a pilgrimage to the Immigration Station on the island.  It was a place where their relatives had been confined before being allowed to enter the mainland.

Like other immigrants from China, their relatives had endured the voyage on the Pacific Ocean.  There was motion sickness, meager food and crowded quarters.

Once they arrived on Angel Island, they could not go to the mainland right away.  They had to prove that they were American citizens or related to an American citizen.  They were interrogated to determine if they were truly related.  The immigrants were fearful that if they did not answer correctly, they would be deported back to China.

On the island, some of the immigrants lived in wooden barracks for weeks and even months waiting to find out whether they would enter mainland America or be deported.

The immigrants lived in the barracks between 1910 and 1940.  Thereafter, the barracks were abandoned.  After more than two decades, the barracks were marked for destruction.  (Information from ISLAND, Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940 by Him Mark Lai, Jenny Lim and Judy Yung.)  In 1970, park ranger Alexander Weiss noticed Chinese characters in the wooden walls, characters that were painted over.  Some of the writing were recognized as poems.

Through the effort of the Asian American community, the buildings were preserved, the writings restored and translated.

More portrayal of the immigrants and poems were described by the photographer of the group, Ellen Quon.  She gave the interview in person and by email.

“My grandfather (mother’s father,) who passed away many years ago, came to America in 1917 when he was 12 years old.  He went through the immigration process at Angel Island before he was allowed to enter the U. S.

“When he was alive, he never talked about his stay at Angel Island because it was not a good experience for him.   He passed the physical exam and the interrogation and was permitted entry.  However, his cousin was rejected and sent back to China because he did not pass the interrogation.  His cousin never stepped on U.S. soil again after that.

“When I learned about that I was curious about this historical site.  I decided to visit Angel Island Immigration Station when the Bakersfield Chinese Women’s Club sponsored the field trip.

“Before the trip, I had no idea what to expect, so I took pictures of everything I saw. I wanted to see what it was like to be detained there during the early 1900s.  I did not know there were immigrants from 84 different countries passed through there.  I did not know Chinese immigrants were being detained longer and were treated differently than the other groups.

“I took pictures of the beautiful surrounding, the outside and inside of the detention center, the immigrants’ personal belongings and the poetry on the walls.  The way they renovated this place was great, not only they show how the immigrants lived at that time; they also show their frustrations, their emotions and their spirit.

“Because my grandfather was one of the detainees, this trip was a personal journey to explore my family history.

“Because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Chinese were interrogated more often and detained longer (weeks and months) than any other groups.  The longest stay recorded was 22 months.  During the interrogation process, they were never informed whether they were being accepted or rejected, so frustration and anguish grew each day.

“They also felt being mistreated by the government.  In their spare time, the Chinese detainees poured their heart and soul into writing poetry and they carved them onto the wooden walls.   These poems were beautifully written, so the writers were highly educated.  These poems were overlooked by later occupants and were covered with paints.  Eventually over 200 of them were discovered in 1963.   The immigration station was in operation from 1910-1940, I did not know why the poems were not discovered earlier until I saw this image. . . . I took this image because of the paint patterns, not realized there were Chinese characters/poems hidden underneath the paints.  I was pleasantly surprised.   These pictures affect me because I can feel the frustrations and unhappiness spilling onto the walls.”

(Ellen Quon’s husband, Mike Quon, also went on the Angel Island trip.   His grandfather (father’s father) came through Angel Island in the 1920’s.  Ellen took over 100 photographs from the trip. A selection of photos, mainly related to poetry, are posted on Kern Poetry website.)


Of the numerous poems found carved on the walls and translated, two of them are reprinted here. These poems communicate the feelings and situation of the immigrants.



In the quiet of night, I heard, faintly, the whistling of wind.

The forms and shadows saddened me; upon

Seeing the landscape, I composed a poem.

The floating clouds, the fog, darken the sky.

The moon shines faintly as the insects chirp.

Grief and bitterness entwined are heaven sent.

The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.




I used to admire the land of the Flowery

Flag as a country of abundance.

I immediately raised money and started my journey.

For over a month, I have experienced enough

winds and waves.

Now on an extended sojourn in jail, I am

subject to the ordeals of prison life.

I look up and see Oakland so close by.

I wish to go back to my motherland to carry

the farmer’s hoe.

Discontent fills my belly and it is difficult for

me to sleep.

I just write these few lines to express what is

on my mind.

(Flower Flag:  a Cantonese colloquial term for the United States)


Verna Lewis was also interviewed.  She had arranged the field trip to Angel Island for the Bakersfield Chinese Women’s Club.  Both of her parents were born in the United States (U.S.); but they went to China as children.  When they returned to the states, they went through Angel Island.

Verna said, “My father, Sui Han Low, was born in San Francisco and returned to China when he was five and then returned to U.S. in 1938 when he was 14.  He went through Angel Island, but was not detained on the island.

“My mother was born in U.S. in 1926.  In 1933, my mother was five or six when (she) and her whole family returned to China.   My mother returned to U.S. when she was 15.  She was detained on Angel Island.”  The mother’s passport picture was that of a young girl, and she was older than her passport picture when she arrived in Angel Island.  She was held back, but probably because she spoke English, she was detained overnight.  Verna said, her mother “kept up with her English while in China.”

All Chinese immigrants went through Angel Island.   The persons who were American citizens (persons born in the states) or who had family in the states were allowed to enter America’s mainland.

When Verna was asked what were your feelings visiting Angel Island, she thought that it would have been “traumatic” and “scary” for her mother.

An uncle of Verna, Paul Zane Wong, was on Angel Island.  He wrote about his life and his experience on the island.  The link to his writing is:


Additional information about the Chinese immigrants was found in a brochure about Angel Island State Park, by the California State Park, it states “The United States Immigration Station operated on Angel Island from 1910 to 1940.  Built to process thousands of immigrants from over 80 nations flooding into the country, the Immigration Station was the physical mechanism to enforce and control immigration following the passing of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.  On Ellis Island on the east, immigrants were processed through within hours or days; on Angel Island, in weeks or months. This facility was primarily a detention center.”

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

Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you trying to communicate with your poetry?

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

Do you have any creative patterns, routines?

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

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

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

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

Please mention any publications you’ve created.

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

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

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

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

Anecdote for Autonomy

By Jeremy Casabella


In giant wing-like bulbous

flaps that deflate back

into cut mats from



on youtube,

the tableful of lungs outside their jar

expand into their reflections in our



Three sets of

hammered out filets

pump repeatedly; as they go “Flit-



—become gnarled thin pads

plugged by plastic hoses

to some medichanical apparatus.



bound to the grunting

press of rubbed dull bone

from which they must’ve lingered to



forth again like a vaulted question

“Could the torso previous respire

of its last setting



(any cool spring afternoon when

thin petrichor  made transient

promises to disperse



another rectangular

sterile room, tiny as the video

on my smart phone’s stupid plastic



Or “Did her breath become

what endures here through terrible

unusually over-prolonged bubble-gummy



(Yet some oxygen nonetheless

remains inside her presence the shape

of being unable to let go). And



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

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

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




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

Please give us a short bio of your poetic journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


“One Shot Honey”

By Cheyenne Goossen


I ride on horses

While you ride on cycles

In our dreams

Every damn day


You like the movies

But I choose the music

And it’s tearing us apart

Now we’ve got 5 count them 5

Broken hearts


I described a donkey

But you saw an elephant

Dividing our love by a continent



Oooooh Oooooh

Oh oh oh



You took the high road

While I took the low road

God it felt like I stabbed myself behind my own back


And then you brought me flowers

After I made you cry all them hours

And I thought to myself this is our last shot


This is our last shot honey

We’ve got to give it all that we got

Cause in the end all we have is each other


Repeat chorus




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








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



—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:


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:

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- )

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

Please check out his website:

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 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,



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


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.





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.


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.”


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.



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


Open Mic July 7, 2017 at Dagny’s

First Friday Open Mic

Story by Alex Victoria

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

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

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

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

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

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


I’ll Tuck n Roll

by Liz Greynolds


I’ll tuck n roll

me to my death baby

ooo I like it raw no skin

skraight scraped bones

in the holes where my teeth go

from gnawing on ropes and chains

and headphone strings and that sorta thing


I’m going to drive a car

I’ll make my mark and wake

not to find a place or a bottomless pit

but a sweet sweet vomitorium with a scent

nothing short of intoxicating


but if you’re ever feeling

something maybe more milder

I’ll take you where I loiter be my experiment

incomplete my garden overflows with lillies in the



Foundation for Second Chances

Story by Portia Choi

Photographs by Martin Chang and Portia Choi

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

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

The poetry workshops were on June 2 and June 9.

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

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

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


by Aaron Cardenas

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

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

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

spiritual example.


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

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

If life gives you lemon,

Squeeze it back into the eyes of life.


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

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

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

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

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


Exquisite Corpse  

by Foundation For Second Chances students

The bloody person jumped fast

I’m a wonderful mom

Who lives happily in a tree

My self playground dog

Yay Life is,


The most wonderful thing

I think about it as I sing

I’m High off Life!


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

Watson wrote:


by Kelsy Watson

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

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

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

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

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

Oh how I love my daddy. . .

Open Mic June 2, 2017


Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Martin Chang

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

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

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

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

Like time

I think distance is relative.

The three dance a number

Take turns twirling in and out of fragile realities.


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

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

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

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

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

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


 Oh, What is Love?

(A Redneck Rime)

By Walter Stormont   © 2017 Walter Stormont


Oh, what is love?  Oh, what is life?

An empty ice box full of strife.

A flying fist you have to duck,

A rusty, worn out pickup truck.


The distant dreams and bouncing checks,

The prices at the multiplex.


A barking dog, an aching back,

Another pert-near heart attack.


A leaky roof, a storm above,

Oh, what is next?  Oh, what is love?


A long-time friend, a caring spouse,

A kid who draws me Mickey Mouse.


A blooming, fruitful family tree.

A universe of unity.


I best slow down, like pop the clutch.

I never thought I’d think so much.




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



By Norma Camorlinga


Like time

I think distance is relative.

The three dance a number

Take turns twirling in and out of fragile realities.

The hours here nor there are real,

All a figment of the imagination.

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

But when I sit next to you

Your heart is no longer where mine lives.

The fire that tethered it here has extinguished,

The dreams we pieced together have shattered,

And this happiness is long gone.

Time has swept away such precious moments,

They no longer have meaning to you.

I sit on your bed,

Bring you flowers

Patiently wait for you to speak,


Return to me,

Yet you remain still… Breathless,

Always six feet under.

I want this circle to break

For you to tear at the earth,

At the prison that surrounds you.

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

This colonized notion that it could be worse.

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

I’d do it time and time again.

But… this is reality.

You left your mark on me,

On this world and

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

Your is face slowly fading from my mind

Echoes of your voice faintly sing a tune

Your smile is slowly decaying

Your bones rattling a steady beat

Regenerating heat into this cold world.

You aren’t a zombie coming back to life,

So I sit by the altar Latinos leave for their dead

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

Sitting breathless,


With a marigold flower in one hand

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


“Chaotic Particles”

By Norma Camorlinga

They say that matter isn’t created nor destroyed

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

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

A familiar fire, within my chest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unforeseen sorrows

Inspire and caress my mind,

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

We cannot create nor destroy,

but I’m suffering in this formation,

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

Withering away into nothing

So let me build in the darkness of our space,

Where light cannot invade fast enough,

Let me cover your body in fading stars like braille

Small yet profound stars showing me the way

I’ll memorize them like some holy scripture

And learn to walk through the darkness

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

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

To settle in this chaos.


Brendan Constantine Teaches Everyday Poetry

By Martin Chang and Portia Choi

Photos by Portia Choi and Martin Chang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

My dream will be found

by someone who talks to loud.

They will lose their voice

and utter no sound.

Being forced to listen

to the noise of the crowd.

They have talked over so much.



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

American Superheroes

by Rawiah Mohamed Osman in 2015

There are heroes who are fighting for our freedom and voice

They are courageous, brave, mentally and physically tough

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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