Year: 2015

Photos: Open Mic at Dagny’s, Fall 2015

This fall KernPoetry and Dagny’s Coffee held a Open Mic every First Friday. At the event poets and musicians are welcome to share their original work with the public. This fall a variety of talents shared their work. Every month poets and musicians are featured. The above photographs are a sample of the eclectic artists that perform.



“Taft College Literary Magazine Club – Night for Poets & Poetry”

There was excitement mixed with hesitation among the poets at Dagny’s, the hesitation in sharing one’s innermost feeling and thoughts in poetry with others, some who were friends and some who were stranger.  Excitement also in that it was a contest with four poets being recognized with awards.

On Saturday November 21, 2015 poets and friends came together at Dagny’s Coffee for an open mic hosted by the Taft College Literary Magazine Club.  Alex Victoria, the editor of the club’s magazine,  A Sharp Piece of Awesome, was the emcee for the event.  Victoria said that it was a way to promote their magazine and also to accomplish one of the club’s mission to spread and encourage culture and literacy in Kern County.

The event was judged by a panel of published, local poets who selected the first, second and third place.  The criteria were originality in use of words, the poetic expression and ability to connect with the audience.  There was also an award for people’s choice, based on the response of the other poets and friends of poetry.

Geoffrey Dyer, professor of English at Taft College, was the faculty sponsor of the Taft College Literary Magazine Club.

The first place winner was Liz Greynolds who read from her poem “6:00”.  

A few of the lines are:

“That’s where I saw it first.

I sat and watched it – the light

Until the sun got snagged on it and dragged it behind a mountain

And I was left in the unlight of a desert where dark was tangible and colors

Existed in memory”

Greynolds was inspired by a simple moment in her life. “The poem was originally a diary entry that I jotted down really quickly while lying in my bedroom and being awestruck by the way the sunlight was coming in,” she said. “It reminded me of a dream I had where I watched the sunset in a desert. I knew my phone wouldn’t be able to do it justice in a picture, so I tried to use my words instead. It was turned into a poem months later, and it’s one of my favorites to read aloud.”  

Greynolds has been “writing poetry since middle school” and began to “identify my writing as poetry until about a year ago when someone else referred to it as poetry. . . I’m inspired by the things that are all around us, like light and nature.”  She likes “writing that creates a setting and places you in it using delicious language, and poetry is my favorite medium to do so.”

The People’s Choice was won by Mariah Bathe who read a poem after an encounter with an employee of a food establishment after her divorce.

  “I am not and will never be the girl looking for someone to affirm her outward appearance for edification

    No thank you

    Because I’d rather spend a thousand years weeping in front of my ex-husband who has more respect for me in his right pinkie finger      than you did those two minutes.”

Mariah has “always had an interest in poetry and had the desire to write since a young age but it wasn’t until recent that I felt the freedom to actually act on it.”  For Mariah, poetry becomes “a form of release for me in times of heartache or trial. It helps keep my head and heart unburdened.”

The other two awards went to Zack Alqaisi for the second place and Shawn McQuilliams for the third place.

Juan Felipe Herrera, the first Mexican American U.S. poet laureate.


Photo courtesy of

On September 5, 2015 Juan Felipe Herrera will begin his year-long term as the 21st U.S. poet laureate when he participates in the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington D.C.
The selection of Juan Felipe Herrera as the 21st U.S. poet laureate was announced in June 2015, Herrera is the first Mexican-American U.S. poet laureate. From 2012 to 2014, he was the California poet laureate. He was born on December 27, 1948 in Fowler, California. He was the only child of migrant farm workers, María de la Luz Quintana and Felipe Emilio Herrera. He lived from crop to crop and from tractor to trailer to tents on the roads of the San Joaquín Valley and the Salinas Valley. He graduated from San Diego High School in 1967. He received the Educational Opportunity Program scholarship to attend the University of California, Los Angeles where he received his B.A. in Social Anthropology. Later, he received his Masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford University, and his Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa. Herrera’s writing is diverse and prolific. His publications included collections of poetry, prose, short stories, young adult novels and picture books for children with twenty-one books in total in the last decade. He was awarded the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry for Half the World in Light. He has written books that were in both English and Spanish.
When interviewed by NPR, Herrera called being named Poet Laureate a “mega-honor.” On his website, in reference to the successes in his career, Herrera gives “abundant gratitude to my parents, families, teachers and students on many roads. [I give gratitude to] trees, animals, rivers and clouds.” He said about poetry, “Poetry can tell us about what’s going on in our lives, not only our personal but our social and political lives.”
His poem “Let Me Tell You What a Poem Brings” can be read at There are more poems, which can be found by online search for Poetry Foundation-Herrera. A few of the titles are “Blood on the Wheel”, “Enter the Void”, “Exiles”, “I am Merely Posing for a Photograph”, “Grafik”, and “Punk Half Panther.”
The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress is appointed by the Librarian of Congress. In making the appointment, the Librarian consults with former appointees, the current laureate and other distinguished personalities in the field. The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is commonly referred to as United States Poet Laureate.

Photos: Open Mic at Dagneys August 2015


Photos and story by Martin Chang

On August 7th, many poets performed to a full room at the open mic at Dagneys.  Above, a sampling of poets are pictured, below a little bit about each of them is explained.

Ebone King read her poetry about relationships. A mother of one, she calls her poetry “my art, my life, my feelings.” At first she didn’t know she was writing poetry. “It started out as me just writing down the things that I had been through, the things that I have seen.  Then someone picked up a letter and said, “this is a poem” and I said no it’s just me writing my thoughts,” she said.

She discovered these writing didn’t take a lot to become poetry.

She said, “I threw in a word here and there and suddenly it was a story.”

King calls her writing a “coping skill.” “Sometimes there’s an inability to express yourself, but nobody listens better than pen and paper.”

Another poet who read that night, Carley Tolomei, gets a similar catharsis from her writing. “Nobody understands me like I understand myself, I’m my own therapist. I didn’t know how to portray the emotions that I was feeling to other people. I really wanted that, I was wringing my hair out. When I started doing poetry, it helped me to do that.” Tolomei’s poetry also started out as just writing in her journal.

Kai Chu read a poem by Lao-tzu, an ancient Chinese sage.  He has a passion for Chinese language and culture. He read the poem in order to share with the young people “a different kind of poetry.”

Benjamin Dunham graduated in  political science at Colorado Mesa University. He calls his poetry a “maelstrom in the mind that I cannot escape.”

A discussion of Local Color with author Don Thompson


Don Thompson being interview by Portia Choi about Local Color on July 28th 2015.

Don Thompson being interview by Portia Choi about Local Color on July 28th 2015.

In this text interview we discussed with Don Thompson his favorite moments as a writer and his advice to other writers. Then we discuss his Historical Narrative poem Local Color.

Portia Choi:  Don, what were your most interesting moments as a poet?
Don Thompson:  The moment of discovery when something comes from wherever it comes from. Winning the Sunken Garden Poetry Prize for Back Roads was memorable, reading with C.K. Williams to a thousand or so people. That led to a lot of good things.

PC:  What would you like to share with other poets?
DP:  Do the work; nothing else matters.

PC:  What inspired you to write Local Color, a book length poem?
DT:  It’s been something that’s been with me for many, many years.  I originally wrote an unpublished novel in the 1970’s about a night watchman in the Kern County Museum interacting with people from the past.  He was a young man back then. Now, of course, the watchman in Local Color is an old man.  Some readers have suggested that I got the idea from the movie, “Night at the Museum”.  But it actually goes back a long time.  Anyway, I always wanted to write it.  I also had an image of the first white settler here, Christian Bohna, standing on his porch watching the flooding Kern River flow by and realizing he was not going to make it.  That was another beginning.
I like to write things other than a collection of free-standing poems.  I like to write things that have shape to them, an over-arching unity perhaps.  So this became a narrative, with some aspects of a novella. Then I realized that I would have to write notes to explain things to people who were not familiar with local history.  I thought that would be boring and academic, but then it came to me to have a second character.  So we have the night watchman and his old friend, the editor, who provides the background, but also disagrees with the night watchman—who may not always be reliable.

PC:  Why did it take so long to write it?
DT:  I finally got old enough. It’s a book about time—with a capital T—which isn’t a young person’s concern.

PC:  What inspired you to write it in such a short time?  I was amazed it took you only a year to write it.
DT: It was just one of those things. When you’re working on something urgent, you work on it every day.  And it just accumulates.  There was a certain voice that took over and spoke for itself. I did do a lot of research as I worked—quick and sloppy research because I wasn’t writing a history—and put it all together. Maybe it’s like jazz: the facts are a theme on which the night watchman improvises.

PC:  I found the notes to be very helpful to see the historical perspective;  to get to know the personalities.
DT:  The idea is to have two characters interacting with each other. The night watchman is rather impulsive while the editor is more concerned with getting the facts straight. Even so, though many of the people are historical, others are imaginary, the Indian-hating preacher, for instance, although the massacre is based on a real event. Also, there are conflicting versions of some stories in the literature, so that makes the ultimate “reality” uncertain. And there are a couple of places where the editor just shakes his head and admits that the night watchman has made it all up.

PC: The poetry section was quite amazing. I especially liked the catalog of wildflowers, the numbers and varieties of them.
DT:  I’m not a botanist. I was much more interested in the names and the sound of them and what they looked like.
PC:  I recall twenty, thirty.
DT:  They were all local, Kern County flowers.

PC:  In reading Local Color, I noticed you wrote about well-known persons such as General Beale; but also about cultures like Yokuts, Chinese, and the African-Americans.  What interested you to write about those that are sometimes overlooked?
DT:  Oh, just because you are writing about this place and the history of it. All those ethnicities have always been here. Today, we have sixty some languages spoken locally.  Incredible.  The Native Americans were here originally, and they were squeezed out, the Yokut people.  Baker hired them. African Americans arrived on the train, recruited as cotton pickers, and went on to do all kinds of things, even building successful businesses.   The Asians, however, were not allowed to own property inside town, but amassed large parcels outside of town, and some became quite successful.  So Bakersfield has always been varied, not just all sorts of whites and Hispanic people.The big shots are part of it, too. Miller and Lux, Tevis and Haggin and many others whom the night watchman couldn’t get into his story. He certainly doesn’t think those famous robber barons should be forgotten either. The Big Four were both remarkable achievers and shifty operators.

PC:  The book includes famous mountain men and explorers as well as business men. There was Kit Carson…
DT:  Yes. As a young man I was obsessed with those guys. I remember going out east of town and seeing the state historical moment commemorating Jedediah Smith’s passage through this area. Kit Carson was here and Fremont. Audubon’s son; the amazing Garces and Pedro Fages. On and on—all a part of our boring old Kern County.

don  reads about the rumored underground tunnels in Bakersfield. He reads from his book Local Color.

Don reads about the rumored underground tunnels in Bakersfield. He reads from his book Local Color.

PC:  Would you read something from Local Color?
DT:  This is about the Chinese and a local legend–the legend of the underground tunnels of Chinatown. Respectable historians deny it, but there was—is?—something down there.  (Don reading from Local Color, listen to the audio of the excerpt below):

Old buildings razed and replaced,
most of their basements
filled in or paved over cutting off access,
you’d have to happen onto an entrance
poking around where no one belongs—
maybe in a derelict storefront
where you discover a door
with no hinges or knob, nailed shut
and painted like the wall;
crowbar it open and find
wooden stairs stepping down
into the dark
and silence—
except for the creak as you descend
(or is that a blind albino cricket?)
with your Mag Lite beam
sweeping away the cobwebs of panic.

Does this museum have hidden stairs?
Lost in remodels and earthquake retrofits
or sealed on purpose—one of those
urban legend satanic cult cellars
we scoff at in public
but wonder about whenever someone prominent
comes off a bit too creepy.

But those Chinatown non-tunnels exist
—they must—
if only as connecting passages
between vanished buildings,
still there like phantom pains
in an amputated limb—
once shortcuts to the next door neighbor
since in summer heat
the cool basements were like front porches;
or escape routes
for pimps and highbinders in the know,
clever as rats in a maze
when the cops kicked in the door upstairs.

So you could, conceivably,
find a way down into another world
to breathe air out of the past,
almost tomb air, trapped below us
for a hundred fifty years.
Imagine no petro-effluvia in it,
but the dust of horse manure;
no burnt rubber odor, but lamp oil
still clinging to uncertain walls
that could fall in on you at any second.

To stumble over rubble,
broken chairs and empty picture frames,
scrambled scrap lumber,
a gambling den’s safe, cracked,
and a ledger book
thicker than a family Bible,
not mildewed but bone dry,
its crumbling pages
crowded with minute ideograms.

You’d think a storm had blown
through those corridors,
but the only ill wind down there
is a breeze so hesitant
no instrument could measure it
and yet so relentless
that nothing has ever held back
its infinitely slow crawl. . .

DT:  That breeze is time, of course. The whole book is about time.

PC:  Why is water such an important image in Local Color?
DT: Water is what the valley is about. Trying to get it, control it, disperse it—has been the story of the valley.  Colonel Baker digging the original ditches with Yokut labor. The water wars that went to the Supreme Court. The front part of the house we live in was originally the Miller-Lux land office when they were draining the wetlands. The Aqueduct flows by a couple of miles from us. Water is the issue where we live—in the San Joaquin. I wrote an epigram once that says: “Cut a farmer, he bleeds water/and binds the wound with borrowed money.”

PC:  What did you learn about yourself and Kern County through the process of writing Local Color?
DT: I learned a lot of history, of course, which the night watchman shares in his slapdash way, despite the editor’s efforts to state the facts. But more importantly, I was reminded of just how rich and fascinating our past is, here in a region so often despised. And I was reminded of how much I love this place.

PC:  Thank you very much for the interview



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.

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.

My Mother’s Hands by Helen Shanely

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