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Helen Shanley honored at Open Mic in February Open Mic

 

 

 

Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

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

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

My Mother’s Hands

by Helen Shanley

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

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

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

forget you not

 

Note to an Embalmer

by Helen Shanley

Do not remove the heart.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

When did you realize you were a writer?

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

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

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

What scares you the most?

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

How many poems do you throw away – if any?

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

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?  

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

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

           I Am the Skimmer of Stones

           by Jay W. Squires

I Am the Skimmer of Stones

and I fancy myself as well

the smooth stones skimmed

(imagination lets me, you see);

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

they skim across

or not entirely across

or not across at all.

But if the stone falls short

I do not become the pond’s depth;

oh, most assuredly not the pond’s depth

(even imagination won’t take me there)

 

though years and years ago it would and did.

 

To be a skimmer of stones

I first must find the perfect stone;

for I am not a pitcher of balls

to be given the full game’s span

to peak the perfection of my throw

  1. I allow myself but one—

one toss to test my form and faith

my existential curriculum.

 

It must be smooth and flat, of course

but not too flat and light that at first skip

my leading edge will lift me up to glide too high

then fall before my enthusiasm’s spent.

The perfect stone will fit the half-mooned slot

between crook’d forefinger and thumb

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

The wrist knows when the stone is right;

from the body’s deeper knowing, I listen

and watch my wrist test the heft.

 

And, when the time is right

I measure the span from lapping water’s edge

to the far concave that curves its arms toward me

while it holds within its caress

the surface of its length and breadth

I’ll soon lay the spinning stone upon.

 

The stone and I have learned to admire

the stateliness of skimming the surface of things,

whirring past the center’s downward pull,

the perpendicularity of the mystery below.

 

They say at the center the pond’s immeasurably deep

that the depth of the pond’s mysteriously deep;

they say, and I say I must agree

that sometimes a mystery’s best left to mystify.

 

But once I thought my courage deeper

than Jacob’s Pond could ever be.

So I became one with the stone I skimmed

that hummed and skimmed and skimmed again

but not entirely across.

 

And where it sank, there too I plunged

down from the surface of Jacob’s Pond

down with immortal youth and a lungful of air

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

 

That Jacob’s Pond went deeper forever

was not mine to know that day

for fear soon squeezed life from courage

and a blur of my spider’s legs and arms

sent me scrabbling up the bubbled web

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

For, it’s a blessing now

to be once—and only once—young

And once to test the depths

once to dare to fail

and Once to Succeed in Failing

and in failing, yet survive

with a greater knowing

that there’s a near infinity of learning

oh, a precious, near infinity of learning

from lightly skimming

from blithely skimming

the safer, monocular surface of things.

~    ~    ~

Author Information

Jay Squires

Email: gwsquiresjr@gmail.com.

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

* BENT: Wake or Cross, by Jay Squires

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

When did you realize you were a writer?

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

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

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

What scares you the most?

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

How many poems do you throw away – If any?

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

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?

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

 

“Mantra”

by Bridgette Love

 

Yellowed teeth

Manic heart

Rip my guts out and shove them into my pockets

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

Disheveled, hot, and squirming with uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

Mantra…mantra

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage…

 

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

 

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

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

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

When did you realize you were a writer?

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

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

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

What scares you the most?

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

How many poems do you throw away – If any?

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

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?

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

Extension.

Additional Information:

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

 

“Coffee Cafe Customers:  The Barista”

By  Carla Martin

 

Her high cheekbones

Are smoothed with pancake make-up

And thick, false eyelashes

Flutter on her heavy lids

She smiles

And gracefully takes my order

 

She repeats the liturgical litany

“What would you like today?

Are you a member of the Bookstore Cafe

And receive a 10% discount?

Would you like cream and sweetener with that?”

 

Do these phrases repeat in her mind

Through her dreams at night?

An endless stream

Of garbled gibberish?

 

Does she wake up

Longing for Dostoevsky

And complex plot turns

And deeply introspective characters

Wrestling with conflicting desires

Galloping through sweeping vistas

On glorious steeds?

 

Stuck behind the formica counter

Surrounded by a fortress of blenders

Cappuccino makers

And  bottles of syrup

She is trapped by these sentinels

Of modern addiction

Her life is bound in chains

Of service to pleasure seekers

Craving their afternoon fix

 

She is the cover

Of last month’s Cosmo magazine

Filled with snippets

Of bedroom wisdom

Gained by wise vixens

In deep decolletage

That whisper the secrets

Of how to arouse him

While waving lavish, lacquered nails

 

In brief, two-minute conversations

I try to pierce the perfect facade

And gain a glimpse

Of the cracked vessel within

 

She lets slip

That she has a daughter

That she had when she was eighteen

Who is finally doing better in second grade

after spending many afternoons in the principal’s office

Because she can’t get along with her peers

She is used to being around adults

The only youngster in the family

She can’t fathom the confusion

Of all her squirming classmates

But a child can learn

And now she is doing much better,

Thanks for asking

 

Everyone has a story

That’s as complex as a classic novel

Don’t let the glossy cover fool you

The dog-eared pages are tear-stained within

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Story by Walter Stormont

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Give me a word!”

“Grateful.”

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

“What are you grateful for?”

“Connection.”

And so it continues as the people bond.

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * * * *

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

Please share about your background and life.

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

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

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

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

When did you first become interested in poetry?

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

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

Who are some of your creative influences?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please share one of your poems.

Now Begin

By Julie Jordan Scott

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

 

Seeking to please whomever.

Drowning out the pure longings of your heart

Struggling, freezing, suffocating –

Until finally, you choose to start.

 

Whispers from the spirit.

Soul’s song from deep within.

After dancing, stranger among strangers –

Claim it.  Your life.  Now Begin –

 

* * * * *

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

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

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

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

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

How did the song-writing process go?

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

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

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

What are some of your other musical accomplishments?

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

How often do you write?

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

* * * * *

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

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.

 

INTERVIEW OF ANKE HODENPIJL

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.”

 

Work  

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

retelling

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,

rising,

not hesitatingly like a distant fog-covered sunrise,

but rather like an eruption,

unwilling to be punched down,

here

now

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

disremembering

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?

 

And

 

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

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

INTERVIEW OF MANDY ANDERSON

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

Blood
we die if we lose too much

Periods
A sign of an ending

I feel my childhood dying.

A death so painfully inescapable

 

                         Today, I have become a woman

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

INTERVIEW OF DIANE LOBRE

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.

 

 

EGGSHELLS

BY DIANE LOBRE

 

Eyes down

Listening carefully

For signs

 

A raised voice

Tension exuded

Tangible

 

Quiet

Whispering steps

Toward

 

Landmines

Of past

Transgressions

 

Breath held

Automated

Movement

 

Careful

Every word

Spoken

 

Can

Be a trigger

Pointed

 

At the target

Of the heart

And mind

 

Body can

Be broken

Mended

 

Broken

Mended

Twisted

 

Pain

Raining down

Molding

 

Shaping

Thoughts and

Actions

 

Reactions become

Routine

Controlled

 

Emotion

Stuffed down

Held in check

 

By the Other

Masking

Self

 

Invisible

Unknown

Shrunken

 

All potential

Drowned

In tears

 

Useless

Numbed

Buried

 

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.

 

Poem:

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.

 

 

Poem:

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:

https://www.aiisf.org/immigrant-voices/stories-by-author/planting-a-sturdy-tree-with-many-strong-branches-the-story-of-paul-zane-wong/

 

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

gnarl

 

on youtube,

the tableful of lungs outside their jar

expand into their reflections in our

eyes.

 

Three sets of

hammered out filets

pump repeatedly; as they go “Flit-

flump”

 

—become gnarled thin pads

plugged by plastic hoses

to some medichanical apparatus.

Un-

 

bound to the grunting

press of rubbed dull bone

from which they must’ve lingered to

burst

 

forth again like a vaulted question

“Could the torso previous respire

of its last setting

so?”

 

(any cool spring afternoon when

thin petrichor  made transient

promises to disperse

or

 

another rectangular

sterile room, tiny as the video

on my smart phone’s stupid plastic

screen).

 

Or “Did her breath become

what endures here through terrible

unusually over-prolonged bubble-gummy

sheens?

 

(Yet some oxygen nonetheless

remains inside her presence the shape

of being unable to let go). And

again?

 

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

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

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

 

***

 

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

Please give us a short bio of your poetic journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

***

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

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

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

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

 

“One Shot Honey”

By Cheyenne Goossen

 

I ride on horses

While you ride on cycles

In our dreams

Every damn day

 

You like the movies

But I choose the music

And it’s tearing us apart

Now we’ve got 5 count them 5

Broken hearts

 

I described a donkey

But you saw an elephant

Dividing our love by a continent

 

Chorus

Oooooh Oooooh

Oh oh oh

Repeat

 

You took the high road

While I took the low road

God it felt like I stabbed myself behind my own back

 

And then you brought me flowers

After I made you cry all them hours

And I thought to myself this is our last shot

 

This is our last shot honey

We’ve got to give it all that we got

Cause in the end all we have is each other

 

Repeat chorus

 

***

 

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

 

KEEP WRITING!

 

 

 

 

 

October Open Mic Night 2017 features Catherine Abbey Hodges

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

Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • What are you trying to communicate with your poetry?

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

  • Do you have any creative patterns, routines?

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

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

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

  • Please share one of your poems with us.

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

 

ONE VIOLET IN FEBRUARY

—for Peter Everwine

by Catherine Abbey Hodges

Home from Fresno, I wrote this poem,

then took out everything but the violet.

Later, a little rain fell back in.

There’s no story here,

 

only the song of tires on the wet street

and me making my way toward

the unsayable, dowsing

my way with syllables,

 

silence, the goodness of friends.

I’m not there yet, not even sure

I’ll know when I get there.

I couldn’t be happier.

 

Catherine Abbey Hodges

From Raft of Days, Gunpowder Press, 2017

 

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

 

***

 

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

 

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

 

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

Jimmy, we wish you continued success with your songwriting!

 

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

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

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

Please check out his website:   www.PackThySecretsDeep.com

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

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

 

“Pack Thy Secrets Deep”

by David T8tz

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Please share your poem, “Valley Fever.”

Valley Fever

by Thomas Brill

Miguel Echavarria died illegally,

a fungus carried quietly on dust spores

filled his lungs, alone in a hospital bed,

736 miles from a hand to hold

 

He had gone to Madera where his primo

got him a job in the tomatoes,

the mayordomo was from Ixtapa too,

unlicensed uninsured undocumented

and unregulated, Miguel kept

driving the tomato truck even after

they deported his primo, leaving him

alone with the dusty dreams of a

campesino and truckloads of

semi-ripe tomatoes ready for the warehouse

where they would be gassed red and bug free,

Miguel and the other “aliens” loading

crates freshly picked onto the dusted flat bed,

dry dirt thick like smoke in the heat of

$25 a ton,

only the dust spores are free of charge.

 

Breath deep, young man, be strong,

your family’s burden placed on your

sturdy shoulders, you still have your

youth, your health, your work,

shares an apartment with four other men,

his girlfriend in Mexico didn’t have the heart

to invite him to her wedding with her

newfound sweetheart, though she did name her son

Miguel.

 

Miguel caught the fever and they sent him

to the clinic where the nameless go,

where the doctors ask few questions

and hand out generic solutions,

sent him home with a bottle of hopes

that he could return to work

and he did, working the rest of the week

a little overtime to send off a postal order,

$200.

 

Sinews strain and the eyes go blank,

the head is heavy, the dust hangs everywhere,

it seems, even in his dreams. dust borne

fingers running through his hair, his blood,

misdiagnosed, indifferent to antibiotics

that were not designed for valley fever,

a fungus slowly eating away

at his future, his family’s too.

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

no longer cooled his feverish mind, he was

alone in a cold bed on a hot Autumn afternoon,

the money orders suddenly stopped,

he rolled back and forth and his eyes

rolled up in his head and he died.

 

Just there, just like that,

the indentation still in his pillow

when the ambulance took him away,

John Doe 13, coccidiodes immitis,

the death certificate said, but no one read it

anyway.

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

***

Well — that’s a recap of another enlightening, inspiring and creative evening.  Please come back to our website again and get to know more of our wonderful poets and musicians who participate in the Kern Poetry First Friday event at Dagny’s.  Everyone is different yet we’re all the same, wanting to express what’s in our hearts.

 

KEEP WRITING

 

 

Open Mic July 7, 2017 at Dagny’s

First Friday Open Mic

Story by Alex Victoria

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

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

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

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

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

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

 

I’ll Tuck n Roll

by Liz Greynolds

 

I’ll tuck n roll

me to my death baby

ooo I like it raw no skin

skraight scraped bones

in the holes where my teeth go

from gnawing on ropes and chains

and headphone strings and that sorta thing

 

I’m going to drive a car

I’ll make my mark and wake

not to find a place or a bottomless pit

but a sweet sweet vomitorium with a scent

nothing short of intoxicating

 

but if you’re ever feeling

something maybe more milder

I’ll take you where I loiter be my experiment

incomplete my garden overflows with lillies in the

sometimes

 

Writing Poems of Awe and Wonder

The taste of a grape and the fragrance of a crushed mint leaf, help writers to compose poems.

On April 10, Portia Choi facilitated a workshop on “Writing Poems of Awe and Wonder” at the Art and Spirituality Center of Dignity Health, 2215 Truxtun Avenue.

Choi had the participants connect with their creativity through touch, taste, smell, sight and sound.

Choi started the workshop having the writers breathe slowly, feeling the air entering the nose, then gently exiting through the lips.

Then she recited poems by Don Thompson and Helen Shanley.

Then, Choi asked the participants to taste a grape or a chocolate candy bar.  She had the writers roll the grape in the mouth, then bite on the fruit to release its juice.

Another exercise was to crush a mint leaf and inhale its fragrance.

The writers were also asked to look at one spot in the room.  It could be part of a painting or the stained glass, or any other object in the room.

The participants commented on the workshop.

Annis Cassells said that it “was very worthwhile.  It stimulated creativity by use of the senses.  It reminded me to take time.  I was able to write . . . reconnecting with sensory images by slowing down.”

Another participant, Diane Lobre said the workshop “encouraged creativity. . . with ways to challenge the senses into poems.”

Ron McGowan thought the workshop was informative.  It “got my creative juices flowing,” said McGowan.

Barbara Burress said the workshop was “enlightening, fun and challenging.”  Burress said that she “found out that she can still write poetry, and will continue to do so outside of the workshop.”

One of the participants, Stephanie Gibson completed two poems during the workshop.  Gibson said, “It was special to voluntarily come together to write.  Usually writing poetry is a solitary endeavor.  It was refreshing and enjoyable being able to be in a place for writing in a group.”

The two poems that Gibson wrote at the workshop are “Fragility of a Poet” and “Primal Greetings.”

 

 

The Fragility of the Poet

By Stephanie Gibson

 

Cracker.  Chipped.  Dented & Scraped is Poet

Nursing old wounds

Caring for them daily, gently is Poet

Poet sees what others do not

Eye sight is really heart sight

There is silent weeping

The paper absorbs what pen pours out

Sensitive is Poet

Fragile is Poet

Ever transforming pain into meaning,

Mundane into significant,

Beauty into wonder

Already cracked, Chipped.  Dented & Scraped is Poet

So new injury is substance

To be consumed, digested, and re-crrated

As an offering of grace

Ever listening

Ever sensing

Fragile is Poet

Delicate and beautiful is she

Cracked.  Chipped.  Dented & Scraped.

 

Primal Greetings

By Stephanie Gibson

 

Dogs approach each other and sniff

They’re checking each others’ scent

Trying to know who they’re dealing with

 

What gift to humanity is your scent?

What’s your vibe?

Your attitude?

Your spirit?

Your bent?

Just give us a hint.

 

Is your energy that you exude

Love, acceptance, and a good mood?

When others are in your presence and they’re trying to get a whiff

Of who they’re dealing with

Is Kindness your special scent?

Is your attitude heaven-scent?

Is it communicating what you really meant?

 

 

“Snow on Elk Hills” by Don Thompson and “Lilacs” by Helen Shanley were featured at the workshop because they elicit awe and wonder.  

 

SNOW ON ELK HILLS

By Don Thompson

 

Once in a decade maybe, the snow

falls here too, even here

on scrub ugly slopes where oil birds feed.

 

Not much.  Just a dusting,

but sufficient to cool slightly

the overheated mind

 

of anyone who stops to look

long enough to see

that everything barren will be blessed.

 

From Everything Barren Will Be Blessed by Don Thompson.  Pinyon Publishing

 

 

LILACS

By Helen Shanley

 

I remember that lilacs enfolded the night

in a soft, June kiss,

a never-never land

of love in a candy store.

They floated like clouds of stingless bees

in mesmeric rivers of honey

around your tender face.

There was a sound like water falling

or clusters of little bells

or birds about to sing.

 

Sometimes I touch that lilac night

when your grave opens,

when dreams take us deep, deep

to love without time, without loss.

 

 

 

 

Open Mic- Shanna O’Brien Featured

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(poem was untitled)

Thoth ibis–headed god of

Writing, alchemy Magic.

Messenger between dreaming and earth.

Between the land of living & dead. . .

 

 

 

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

 

 

SECRET TEARS

©2007 Shanna O’Brien

 

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

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

But you were a southern girl raised with small town fears                          

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

 

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

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

I knew you loved me through all those years

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

 

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

Where I listened to my radio and sang every single tune      

As the music moved me I began to realize        

Your secret tears taught me not to cry

                             

Secret tears will never fall from my eyes                            

Secret tears taught my dreams how to fly                           

 ‘Cause I didn’t want to cry

 

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

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

As you watch the wings of my dreams in the sky

You know you secret tears taught my dreams to fly

 

Secret tears will never fall from my eyes                           

Secret tears taught my dreams how to fly                           

 ‘Cause I didn’t want to cry

Secret tears

 

 

 

Thank Goodness You’re Here            

© 2007 Shanna O’Brien

                

Like a summer breeze she blew into this cold corporate world                                                                                                                                 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Girlfriends in the office make this job OK

Girlfriends in the office gettin’ through another day

Just workin’ in the office doin’ what we do

Girlfriends in the office stick together like glue

 

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

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

Through it all our friendship has become mighty dear

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

 

Now we twirl the boss around our fingers like a baton

Watch the clock and count the minutes until he is gone

Then we flop on the couch talk on the phone

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

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

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

 

(Oh shit – here he comes!)

 

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Night of Poetry at Levan Center, Bakersfield College

Night of Poetry at Levan Center, Bakersfield College

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Catherine Abbey Hodges presents William Everson.

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

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

 

THESE ARE THE RAVENS
By William Everson

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

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

 

HOW TO BEGIN
By Catherine Abbey Hodges:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Matt Woodman presents Robert Duncan

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

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

 

POETRY, A NATURAL THING
By Robert Duncan

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

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

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

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

This is one picture apt for the mind,

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

His only beauty to be
all moose.

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

The short line
we refine
and keep for candor.

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

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

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

 

OPTICAL ALLUSION
by Matt Woodman

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

 

 

LisaAnn LoBasso presents Frank Bidart

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

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

 

MOURNING WHAT WE THOUGHT WE WERE
By Frank Bidart

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

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

 

Third Marriage
By LisaAnn LoBasso

It’s 11:14pm, the night before you will wed
The rehearsal dinner just ending, we slipped out
hours early, for the needs
of our abandoned bear
scratches on her head

The girls henna and polish, scrub and thread
The black and white flashdrive missing
No, no, not in the hole
of my coral cross-body bag

It’s the final hour
The sweet short poem I was to read is tossing back
a nightcap with the flashdrive
I scour the world wide web for something to
capture a moment, a poet’s perfected ppppp

(But) there is no alliteration for marriage
I know I should be writing your wedding poem
But I don’t write poetry anymore
I read Sharon Olds

                We stood
                holding each other by the hand, yet I also
                stood as if alone, for a moment,
                just before the vow…

                …I felt the silent, dry, drying ghost of my
                parents’ marriage there…
                one of the plummeting flies…

I’m zombie-ing through, you
insert yourself to claim a promise
set into motion more than two decades ago
Two weeks, only my back to you
as wedding moments whisk

I remember my apartment in Rockridge, 18, before you
As your Grandma and Grandpa set me out on my own
I remember my mother’s back
My father scolding
“Look what you’ve done now”

Stuck in the transition, I think liar,
my mother doesn’t cry
But, I edge around her
and I see

Today is your third marriage
I should be practiced for this rehearsal, but
Leanardo never took you from the sinking ship
or my arms, when you confessed your love,
kissing the television

It was a marriage of sweet spirit
the storyline already laid out

Number 2 was simple too
your sister’s secret elopement with you
never made the newspapers
Or the scandal rags

It was a marriage of fantasy
sisters as close as hands and feet

Today, this marriage,
your third marriage
is all about reality
That you would rather share a coke
With him, than anyone

Mothers do not walk brides down aisles
lift veils, or shake hands
Letting go is in the grace
It’s a love like sugarloaf pines

High on the moantian
you stand to the left, my baby, pewter eyes
tradition signaling marriage by capture,
your groom saving his fighting hand
to pick up the reigns, protect you

Weddings are the same everywhere,
families, complaints, promises,
reverie we can forget without the camera click
A few moments stick

Like Sirius XM calls
traditions disturbed by music
salesmen dropping uninvited
into this intimate moment

Your groom is quite sure
“No, no, I do not want to renew my service.”
Inconvenient rings magnifying. Freezing.
This is one of those stone moments
But hold them, don’t throw them

My father once said I will wed many times
I say, let the third be your last, my doll

My mother says: What,
no chocolate cake?
Fluffy promises of a covert cake operation.
My eyelashes fall off. I say

Let them not eat cake!

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

 

 

Annis Cassells presents Sherley Ann Williams

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

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

 

If he let us go now
By Sherley Anne Williams

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

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

 

Talk
By Annis Cassells

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Marit MacArthur presents Kay Ryan

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

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

 

A CERTAIN MEANNESS OF CULTURE
By Kay Ryan

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

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

Kay Ryan, “A Certain Meanness of Culture”

 

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

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

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

 

Don Thompson presents Larry Levis

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

WHERE WE LIVE
By Don Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Diana Ramirez presents Juan Felipe Herrera

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

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

Juan Felipe Herrera, “Half-Mexican”

 

DREAM
By Diana Ramirez

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

Diana Ramirez, “Dream”

 

Portia Choi presents David St. John

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

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

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

 

Hush
By David St. John
for my son

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

David St. John, “Hush” in Hush

 

Oaksun, My Doll
by Portia Choi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Don Thompson presents Gary Soto

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

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

 

THE DROUGHT
By Gary Soto

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

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

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

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

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

 

TUMBLEWEEDS
By Don Thompson

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

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

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

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