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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

Nancy Edwards Honored

Story by Portia Choi

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Sharing by Rosa Garza

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 Sharing by Kevin Shah

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

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

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

 

Sharing by Annis Cassells: 

“In Memoriam”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sharing by Katie Romley

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

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

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

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

 

Sharing by Portia Choi

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

On a personal note, Nancy was encouraging and supportive.

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

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

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

 

 

The following are a few of Nancy Edwards’ poems:

 

Bait 

For Pablo Neruda

By Nancy Edwards

The past is a red-eye sockeye salmon

Somebody dropped on my living room floor,

And no one noticed until it smelled so

Damned bad people reeled in nausea;

Take it out, oh God, take it out!

Dispose of it and air the place –

So I did and washed the rug clean,

But still the odor lingers in my mind

As though the sockeye salmon

Still leers at me in decaying pleasure,

Its thin bones inn skeletal elegance

Outlining the feast of your past.

 

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

 

 

Beloved Mother

By Nancy Edwards

(excerpt)

In the webbed flesh of your

Inside elbow

In these layers of tender skin

I am born once more

When you hold me,

Beloved Mother

. . .

You are always

The place inside

You hold me forever

In the stream of my birth

When I am in your arms

You are my beloved Mother.

 

Querida Madre (Beloved Mother)

Translated by Rosa Garza

(excerpt)

En la tela de tu codo

En esas capas de tierna piel

He nacido otra vez

Cuando me acaricias otra vez

Querida Madre

. . .

Siempre eres

El lugar adentro

Donde me abrazas para siempre

En la corriente de mi nacer

Cuando estoy en tus brazos

Tu eres mi querida madre

Source:  Beloved Mothers Queridas Madres, BAKERSFIELD COLLEGE, 1992

 

 

Donna Weather 

 By Nancy Edwards

In late September, it is Donna weather in Bakersfield,

When the air begins to lose its’ blistering heat,

And we can sit outside at the downtown Greek Festival,

The cool air against or necks and legs,

. . .

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

Expecting her to call any day,

. . .

We were positive she would return,

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

We share the phantom pain of loss

Of a limb, our friend gone from view,

Yet so much remains,

So much she wanted us to have,

So much in the air we breathe

In Donna weather.

Source:  Writers of Kern Anthology III, 2008

 

 

Elevation

By Nancy Edwards

(excerpt)

All week, I dreaded the drive to Yosemite,

I obsessed about the sheer cliffs on one side,

Looking down into the straight drop,

Lovely Ponderosa pine, cedar, black oak trees,

The car only inches from the side,

a twisty road, my childhood fears drilled

deep into my consciousness.

My father’s voice ridiculing my fear of heights.

. . . . .

And in your final years

when I could do something for you,

I came through mountains and storms

to see you again.

 

We read our poetry to each other as always.

You never spoke of the sheer drop

On your side: we both knew.

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

 

 

Missing and Welcoming Back

By Nancy Edwards

(excerpt)

I have missed the pure white egrets,

sleek and graceful,

gliding across Lake Truxtun,

landing like aristocracy,

the royal family on display.

. . .

When spring arrives this year,

so comes hope.

Bright thick green leaves appear

between the blackened branches.

An egret circles the lake,

dips down and lands.

I have seen two red squirrels racing around

a tree chasing each other like passionate lovers.

A lone fisherman casts his line

and stands patiently;

the earth returns and begins again.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First Friday Open Mic January 6, 2017

story by Portia Choi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Invisible Wings (an excerpt):

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

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

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

Featured Poet: Chris Fendt

Story by: Martin Chang

Photos by: Greg D. Cook and Martin Chang

top box photo provided by Chris Fendt

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cozy

People pass right through me

Like mourners in a line,

Not a word

Nor laughter.

Passing away in time.

 

Shadows seem to threaten,

And I can’t get warm.

This climate can be oppressive

As chaos seems the norm.

 

Damn these hellish cities,

Where is my sacred bliss

As I lean upon the fence

Of limbo’s woebegone abyss?

 

And then in that moment

Of self perpetuating despair…

An impartial blood moon to greet me

Releasing me of care.

 

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

Pink frisbee like a halo

Around his neck-

Light er’ up

What the heck.

The world can end at any time.

All he wants is a thin dime.

 

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

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

Cries of infancy

Carry over into adulthood-

The wailing

And suffering

Of want.

 

The drone of existance

In the backdrop-

Dull routine

That we resist

Only leaving us

Incumbents of incapacitation.

 

Who will resusitate

Our will

But by faith alone

In greater things

Than ourselves

 

Fendt’s poetry can be found at emptyglassgeometry.com

Ugly Art by Helen Shanley

When I was ten my art teacher
said the pink and blue ribbons I loved
were not beautiful,
then showed us Mexican olla and said,
“Now that’s beautiful!”
and posters were beautiful.
and vermillion with spring green.

For years I bought ugly art
and wore ugly prints that looked hand made,
and my husband made ugly jewelry
out of copper and bones and dog chains.
I read ugly books
and listened to dissonant music
and used ugly words
and became a real bohemian,

While the beauty I loved
kept wondering where I was
under it all.

“Should I Let the Little Pachucos Swim in my Ocean?” by Helen Shanley

(the woman asked the famed psychiatrist)

The cat at night in Malibu
Makes a soft sound
As he moves along the ground,
Echoes the rumble, the growl and pound
Of the Cat to Cathay—

When the Moon ruffles his fur
In a silver streak down the dark,
She is stirring, subduing,
Stroking her Cat.
How he loves to spring forward, roll back!
How he scratches the rocks near the shore!
How he shakes small lives
With a glitter like knives!

The Moon has tamed and led him;
He glistens at her touch,
But if he followed you, lady,
You wouldn’t like it much.
It would hardly amuse or please you
When you told him to run away,
And, instead of tumbling in the sun
In a pussyfooting way,
He tore the rest of your beach out
And began to toss up your house—

And the Sea-Cat inside you listened
And stopped playing cat-and-mouse—
And it’s you lady,
And all the others
A-drowning in the sea—
Wouldn’t you call that
A great catastrophe?

But the Cat, lady,
The one out there that snarls and hisses,
Turns and turns in your veins,
Boils in your kettle,
Drips from your tap.
You think your conscience bothers you
With “Should I let them swim?”

Lady, the question is grim,
Facing us all.

Lady, better pet the kitty
When it comes near,
Keep the Cat purring,
And don’t admit your fear
Now or next year.

Prayer for a New Poet by Helen Shanley

Make me a poem
A great white poem
words full of rushing
staccato measures
patterns for flying
and movement of grasses—
or round, like the path of the tuning-fork’s sound,
round and liquid and gold.

Give me the voices of wandering people,
let them incense me with vagaried turnings.
Shout me October or moan me November.
Pour me the silence of two other worlds
into a little blue jar.