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Helen Shanley honored at Open Mic in February Open Mic

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!

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