Story by Portia Choi
Photographs by Martin Chang and Portia Choi
A new charter school in Bakersfield, Foundation For Second Chances, had poetry as part of their developing leadership component. The school focuses on at-risk young adults to obtain a high school diploma and to learn a skill in construction.
The Office Manager of the school, Alison Williams, wanted a poetry workshop. “We want our students to see what is out there; help the students to expand and learn how to express themselves,” said Williams.
The poetry workshops were on June 2 and June 9.
On the first day, Don Thompson, the poet laureate of Kern County, recited from his poems. Thompson encouraged the students to keep trying. A line from one of his poems was “Now anything is possible.” (From “Sightings” in the book, Turning Sixty.)
The workshops were facilitated by Portia Choi, of Kern Poetry, who focused on experiencing various senses to enhance creativity. Choi had mint and gardenias to enhance sense of touch and smell. She struck a gong to help students focus on hearing. She provided blueberries and granola bars for tasting.
One of the students, Aaron Cardenas, used seeing, feeling and smelling gardenias to write the following poem:
by Aaron Cardenas
The gardenias are soft, gentle and light, as if they were made of silk.
The smooth and soothing smell. Plays a relaxing, relieving sound in my head.
Gentle and soft, as my grandma as she is sitting in the church, showing me a good,
Another student was Bayley Brooks who has been writing since 13. He said, “When I was younger, I was angry. I wrote rhyming poetry and short stories. I got feedback, thought I had talent. I like putting smile on their faces. It keeps me happy, inspired. They tell me their story.” Brooks is involved with poetry. He has a social media site, riddlemepoetry.tumblr.com.
After Brooks scratched and smelled a lemon, at the workshop, he wrote:
If life gives you lemon,
Squeeze it back into the eyes of life.
At the ribbon cutting for the Foundation For Second Chances school, Karen Goh, the mayor of Bakersfield met the students and attendees.
At the event, Bayley Brooks read an essay he wrote for the English class.
Brooks wrote “It’s crazy how I almost quit the Program, when I came back it was like a slam to the face. Now things are easier that I’m keeping my own pace. I’m doing this for me, nobody else and thank you Foundation for Second Chances for all your help. . . I had a lot of things on my mind. It’s hard to live when you’re in a bind trying to find yourself and find a purpose and share my love ad knowledge, yeah, in surplus.”
Cindy Rivas was a student who liked roses. She said, “I like roses because of their fruity scent, looks beautiful, nice.” She remembered, “When grandma passed away, I picked a rose, made a stick figure and prayed. Soft, nice texture, when touched it gives it a smell.”
The students wrote a poem together, “Exquisite Corpse,” by taking turns writing a line seeing only the immediately preceding line. The students who wrote were Bayley Brooks, Cindy Rivas, Chris Gredler and Jazell Vela. The poem is:
by Foundation For Second Chances students
The bloody person jumped fast
I’m a wonderful mom
Who lives happily in a tree
My self playground dog
Yay Life is,
The most wonderful thing
I think about it as I sing
I’m High off Life!
Kelsy Watson, a case manager with the school, wrote a poem at the workshop as she was looking at marigolds. Watson started writing poetry when 10. Writing poems came naturally to her. “Poetry comes from the soul, it’s soul deep,” she said.
by Kelsy Watson
Early summer afternoon, 1992: my sister, brother and myself all gather in the front yard in a circle, holding hands, spinning around (giggling amongsts) singing, “Ring around the rosies, pockets full of posies. ashes, Ashes. . . . . .”
Daddy came outside with a subtle tone “Okay kids come on in a’ wash y’all hands and get ready for dinner.”
Our faces lit up with glee. Oh, how we loved daddy.
The smell of daddy’s Love. His gentle touch (so caring, so protective.)
I place these flowers on your grave site. They have blossomed. Just like you Always told me and sissy we would bloom into women. (Queens.) The stems are strong (holding up the flowers) just the way you always taught brother to be a strong man and to Always look out for his sisters.
Oh how I love my daddy. . .