Year: 2016

Upcoming Poetry Events in January 2017


First Friday Open Mic on January 6 will feature The Bakersfield Fan Forum, pictured above. BFF are, left to right, Barry Michael, Joseph Mosconi, Maryah Chester, Viridiana Pena, Marco Silva.


Story by Portia Choi


The First Friday Open Mic on January 6, 2017 will feature The Bakersfield Fan Forum.   The event will start at 6:00 pm at Dagny’s Coffee located at 1600 20th Street (Corner of 20th and Eye St) Bakersfield, CA 93301.   

The Bakersfield Fan Forum (BFF) was a class at California State University Bakersfield (CSUB).   One of the goals of the class was the production of a book by each of the students and the visiting artist.    Each book was displayed as a work of work at the Todd Madigan Gallery at CSUB.  The visiting artist was Joseph Mosconi of the Poetic Research Bureau in Los Angeles.  The students were Maryah Paige Chester, Barry Michael, Viridiana Pena Tapia and Marco Silva.   These books are available for purchase and can be viewed freely in a downloadadable version at  The BFF also had guest poets from Los Angeles and New York.

More information on the Bakersfield Fan Forum (BFF) and its participants are in a previous post on this website.


On Saturday, January 7, there will be poetry from the time that Dagny’s Coffee opens at 7:00 am until it closes at 6:00 pm.  The Dagny’s Coffee Shop & Eatery is in downtown Bakersfield, 1600 20th Street (Corner of 20th and Eye St).

If you have a poem to share, or just want to enjoy poetry, please show up anytime 7:00 am to 6:00 pm!  One of the activities is for you to participate in writing a poem about  NURTURING:  nurturing oneself, nurturing the poet within, nurturing each other, or nurturing our community.

Throughout the day, there will be reading aloud of poems that the participant has written, or works by their favorite poets, or well-known literature.

The event is sponsored by Dagny’s Coffee and Kern Poetry (  The event is free and open to the public.

Ara Shirinyan performs at The Bakersfield Fan Forum

photos by Greg D. Cook

story by Portia Choi


Ara Shirinyan was the last guest poet of the Bakersfield Fan Forum at California State University Bakersfield (CSUB) Todd Madigan Gallery.  He performed at the gallery on November 30, 2016.


Shirinyan is a poet, publisher and musician.  He was born in 1977 in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. His works include Syria Is in the World, Your Country Is Great Afganistan-Guyana, and Handsome Fish Offices. He is currently getting the next sequence of Your Country Is Great to press. He co-founded the Smell, an all-ages music venue in Los Angeles and was until recently one of the co-directors of the Poetic Research Bureau (PRB).  The other directors of PRB were Andrew Maxwell and Joseph Mosconi.

Beyond the larger perspective of countries and cultures was his understanding of the microcosm of another form of culture, that of fishes and offices in his book, Handsome Fish Offices.  As he explained and performed the poems, there was delight in his voice and expressive movement of his arms and hands as he spoke about the fish cichlids in the Lake Malawi.   The book was fascinating and fun with the juxtaposition of his poems with clippings from other published writings.  (The writer of this story sensed in the poet a longing to be away from the neutral, impersonal nature of offices and to be with the fun-free movements of lively fishes in a lake in Africa.)


Excerpt from Handsome Fish Offices:


Lake Malawi has islands,

Lake Malawi has muddy

Oceanic coral islands,


Muddy water runs through huge rocks

Under twin, folding side shelves

Business-day deliveries of nutrient salts. . .


The many cichlids found there

Assembly service

Available (not included). . .


Glance through collegiate appointment books

Many Malawian cichlids dig into malfunctioning writing

Instrument feature needs available combination. . .



During the performance, Shirinyan shared a poem that he found on the internet “written” by another poet.  To be frank, the poem was technically not written, since there were no words, no use of letters of the alphabet, rather it had series of dashes of various length.


With his performance and his poetry books, Shirinyan shared his internal thoughts and impressions of his world.  He communicated and portrayed a way of seeing and understanding our world in a new way.



The following are reviews from about Your Country Is Great by Ara Shirinyan


“Reading travel literature—not to mention postcards or emails from your friends—will never be the same after reading Ara Shirinyan’s hilarious and sardonic Your Country Is Great; Afghanistan-Guyana. Proceeding alphabetically and hence giving equal time to nations as diverse as Belarus and Belgium, Cameroon and Canada, and splicing found text to produce capsule descriptions of one “great” place to visit after another, Shirinyan exposes the fault lines of contemporary geopolitics with much wit and aplomb. In the end, maybe staying home—and reading Shirinyan—is what’s really GREAT.”
—Marjorie Perloff


“Ara Shirinyan gives us an early glimpse at the deadening effects of globalization on language. Collapsing the space between the ‘real world’ and the World Wide Web, this book calls into question: What is local? What is national? What is multicultural? Instead of accepting current notions of language as a medium of differentiation, Shirinyan persuasively demonstrates its leveling quality, demolishing meaning into a puddle of platitudes. In a time when everything is great, yet nothing is great, you can almost hear Andy Warhol—the king of blandness and neutrality—saying, ‘Gee, this book is great.’”
—Kenneth Goldsmith


Open Mic: December 2016

The Open Mic for December 2016 featured Yaritza I. Castro. Castro has been an active member of the poetry community and has performed at the Open Mic several times. She read from her first poetry book “Unfinished Poems for a Lover.” To read more on Castro you can read our profile here.  

Dana Gioia, California Poet Laureate performs at Walter Stiern Library.

By Portia Choi, with contributions by Martin Chang

Photos by Martin Chang


On December 1, 2016 the California Poet Laureate, Dana Gioia, was the presenter at the December Room of the Walter Stiern Library at California State University, Bakersfield.  He was friendly and easy mannered, just as he looked in the internet photographs of him.  He performed his poems by memory.  His feelings for the words and subject matter was expressed in his voice and enhanced by his hands and arms. Gioia’s presentation at CSUB was part of his promise to himself as the Poet Laureate of California.  He had promised to visit each of the counties of California during his tenure as the Poet Laureate of the state.


The information about his life are taken from the program at the event at CSUB and from his official website,   The program stated that “Gioia was born in Hawthorne, California, the son of a Sicilian father and a Mexican mother.  He became the first person in his family to attend college.”  His website stated that “he received a B.A. and a M.B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University.”  In the program, it stated that Gioia “was the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts from 2003 to 2009 and launched several nationwide programs to expand public support for the arts and for arts education with a focus on fostering youth creativity and expression. . . .The California native has received wide critical acclaim including his 1991 volume Can Poetry Matter? which was a finalist for the National Critics Circle award and triggered national discussion on the role of poetry in American public culture.  Gioia is also a winner of the American Book Award and was honored with the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008 for his public service in support of the arts.”


Gioia spoke of how he started to write poetry.   It was when he was 19 or 20 years old that he started writing in a notebook.  Before then, he thought that he would be a musician.  In his home as a boy, he remembered that his mother would recite poetry that she had memorized.  While growing up, he thought that poetry was part of all homes.  One of the poems which his mother recited was shared by Gioia with the audience during the evening.  The poem was “Annabel Lee”  by Edgar Allan Poe.

Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, attended the reading.  Recent events inspired Huerta to go to the reading. Because of these events it was something she needed as a person. She said, “I loved it. It was exactly what my soul needed tonight.  With all the turmoil and everything, it was something I needed desperately.”


Gioia performed a number of poems during the presentation.  He gave background and commented on each of the poems that he performed.  The first and the last poems of the presentation were the following:


The first poem was written forty years after an experience in his youth.  Gioia remembers that as a child and young man, he had only lived in the greater Los Angeles metropolis.  When he later traveled to northern California, he had an intense experience during a trip to the Sonoma countryside, at an apple orchard.  Gioia describes this experience, “I always had a kind of hunger in Hawthorne, I realized many years later that there was no nature. I visited the ocean but that was a little different. There was this moment where I got what the world was doing. It was a revelation.”

When Gioia visited the apple orchard that inspired the poem, the visit had an air of romance.  “I had this crush on a girl, the two of us when across the Golden Gate Bridge and we found ourselves in an apple orchard in Sonoma County.”

The Apple Orchard

You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.

We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers—
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.

Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me . . . but I stopped.

What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.




One of the last poems that Gioia performed was “The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet.”  He shared that he rewrote this poem almost a hundred time to get the words, the beat and the tone just right.

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

The tales we tell are either false or true,
But neither purpose is the point. We weave
The fabric of our own existence out of words,
And the right story tells us who we are.
Perhaps it is the words that summon us.
The tale is often wiser than the teller.
There is no naked truth but what we wear.

So let me bring this story to our bed.
The world, I say, depends upon a spell
Spoken each night by lovers unaware
Of their own sorcery. In innocence
Or agony the same words must be said,
Or the raging moon will darken in the sky.
The night grow still. The winds of dawn expire.

And if I’m wrong, it cannot be by much.
We know our own existence came from touch,
The new soul summoned into life by lust.
And love’s shy tongue awakens in such fire—
Flesh against flesh and midnight whispering—
As if the only purpose of desire
Were to express its infinite unfolding.

And so, my love, we are two lunatics,
Secretaries to the wordless moon,
Lying awake, together or apart,
Transcribing every touch or aching absence
Into our endless, intimate palaver,
Body to body, naked to the night,
Appareled only in our utterance.

When asked what is the best way to participate in poetry as a literary pursuit, Gioia said that the best thing to do is to perform.  “We make poetry more interesting by going back to what it originally was, which is a spoken performative art.  Poetry is language shaped into music,” he said.  “That is what people respond to. The entry way into poetry is in the music of poetry.”

Gioia believes that public spaces like the Open Mic at Dagny’s is a great place to celebrate this musical side of poetry. He said, “You may get some bad poems, but you also get good poems.  Everyone who listens to it, participates in heightened language.”

Gioia also believes that events like the open mic can become a great place for people of different backgrounds to connect. “If you could use poetry and use art as a way for everybody who lives in a community to come into contact with each other, that has cultural importance.”

Featured Poet: Yaritza I. Castro

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Martin Chang

Yaritza I. Castro is another poet who found a place to express her writing at First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s Coffee.  She started attending First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s Coffee in summer 2015.

Castro found out about the Open mic through another poet, Mateo Lara.  They had met at the university when Lara was directing a play and Castro was one of the actors.  Lara shared his poems with Castro.  He had a stack of poems that he read and gave her books to read.  Castro says of Lara, that he “inspired me to write a lot more, because I was so used to hiding my poetry.”  She found that he was “shameless himself in his writing.”

Castro describes her poetry as “honest and raw because they are poetry entries in my journal.”  She found that after she had written in her journal and by coming to poetry reading that she “realized that not all poetry had to rhyme.”  The journal entries were poetry.

Castro started writing poetry in the seventh grade when there was a poetry unit at school.  She “realized how easy it was for me to come with couplets and meter. . . so I got really excited and showed (it) to her mother.”  It was then that Castro’s mother told her that she wrote poetry too.  Her mother “took down a big finder of poetry that was old, like ten to twenty years old.”   (There is a poem by Castro’s mother in Spanish which Castro translated into English “Do not fall in love with me.”)  Her mother influenced Castro to write in personification as in her poem “Ice & Fire.” Castro came to know and understand her mother by reading her mother’s poetry.  She came to understand her mother “at a different level.”

Castro dedicated her first book of poetry, Unfinished Poems for a Lover, to her mother.  She wrote “For my mother. Thank you for passing down your love for art in the purest form.”  Castro said that the purest form of art was “words.”

Castro has other relatives who are poets.  One is published and known in his country.  Castro’s favorite poets are Spanish; Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado and Jorge Luis Borges.  She especially likes a poem by Borges with its message to her to “take initiative.”  And Yaritza I Castro took initiative and published a book of poetry.  Following are excerpts from her first book of poems, Unfinished Poems For a Lover 


1:55 AM  (Written initially as a journal entry)

“Love is not real,” he said.

“We as humans made it up to justify our selfish

Actions, our needs.  It’s made up,” he said. . . .

Love isn’t a selfish act.  Love isn’t made up.  It

Isn’t just lustful.  Love is real because it hurts.

My biology teacher said love isn’t real, but I’m

Awake at 1:55 am and I love you.


Ice & Fire  (First poem read at Open Mic)

Porcelain kisses burn like fever; . . .

Luke-warm touches, harlf0hearted embraces,

A light ignited by someone else,

There is such as thing as colder places

Once ice begins to melt.”

Kern County Poet Laureate Don Thompson speaks at Writers of Kern

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Greg D. Cook

Don Thompson, the Kern County’s first-ever Poet Laureate, spoke at the Writers of Kern (WOK) meeting on November 19, 2016.  Thompson has written about Kern County for over 50 years in his poems.  He was born in Bakersfield, went to Bakersfield High School.  He currently lives in Buttonwillow with his wife Chris on a cotton farm that Chris’ family has had for over four generations.  During the six decades, Thompson has published fourteen books and chapbooks of poetry, a number of e-books and in hundreds of journals, too many to recall, his website is

At the meeting, Joan Raymond, the president of WOK, was asked why Don Thompson was asked to speak to the group. “Because we have poets in WOK, I wanted to expose them to an accomplished and recognized poet like Thompson. He has written, been rejected, and been published.” Raymond thought Thompson would encourage writers knowing “if they have a dream of writing poetry, they can accomplish that dream.”

And Thompson accomplished what Raymond wanted.  During his talk, he encouraged the members of WOK to write poems and publish them as a chapbook.  Such collection of a poems can make a “sweet” gift for one’s family and friends.  He had that “this is the golden age of small presses.”  He said due to computers, there is Print on Demand (POD) and now writers are no longer “stuck on New York (publishers) anymore.”  He described a chapbook which is small and inexpensive with about twenty to forty poems.  Thompson described his experience with chapbook from the first one in “1959, maybe 1960” to the most recent ones published in 2016.  He displayed the cover of the one of the two chapbooks published in 2016, “A Journal of the Drought Year.”  He liked the colors in the cover and the design; it was created by his high school friend.

Then Thompson gave further encouragement to the writers.  He said the one word to remember is “perseverance, to never give up.”  He has been known rejection.  His chapbook, Where We Live, was rejected twenty-five times before it was accepted for publication.  He advised the poets in the group to submit all the time and to have “five out there all the time; within twenty-four hours of rejection, send it (the poem) out.”  He writes and wrote poems; he may keep 25 out of 125 poems he had written.

The announcement of Thompson as the first poet laureate of Kern County was made in March 2016 by the sponsoring organization, The Arts Council of Kern County.

There is a long history of a poet laureate. Information on the history of the poet laureate was found in the internet source, Wikipedia.  “In ancient Greece, the laurel was used to form a crown or wreath of honor for poets and heroes. . . As the concept of the poet laureate has spread, the term ‘laureate’ has come in English to signify recognition for preeminence or superlative achievement.  As a royal degree in rhetoric, poet laureate was awarded at European universities in the Middle Ages. The term might also refer to the holder of such a degree, which recognized skill in rhetoric, grammar and language.”  Upon further search on the internet, Wikipedia stated “The United States Library of Congress appointed a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1937 to 1984. An Act of Congress changed the name in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. . . Juan Felipe Herrera is the current laureate.”  (Juan Felipe Herrera is from the Central Valley, and was born in Fowler, California in 1948.)  Regarding the California Poet Laureate, Wikipedia stated that “in 2001, Governor Gray Davis created the official position. Each poet laureate for the State of California is appointed by the Governor of California for a term of two years and must be confirmed by the senate. Previous to Governor Davis’ action in creating the position, the title was unofficial and the position was held for life. The program is run by the California Arts Council.”  The current California Poet, Dana Gioia, “was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown on December 4, 2015.”

According to Annis Cassells, a board member of Writers of Kern, the poet laureate is a poet connected to an area or group who is chosen as a representative that keeps the fire of poetry alive as a literary art. The poet laureate teaches and encourages, writes and shares his own work, and promotes the appreciation of poetry throughout the region.  The Kern County poet laureate will be a recognized poet/spoken word artist with a proven history of substantial publication of individual poems or books and will demonstrate an appreciation for Kern County.

Toward the end of his talk, Thompson read very movingly from his many poetry chapbooks.  From the poems he read, following are examples from two of the poems:

“Where We Live” (from Where We Live)

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.



Time (an excerpt from Turning Sixty)

It takes hours to make ice cream, a few minutes to make love,

seconds to die, though sometimes months, a long hard night to

be born,

just a heartbeat to get your heart broken and a lifetime for it to mend. . . . .


Everything takes time.  Everything.  And the time it takes is

never enough,

not to appreciate its iridescence before the rainbow vanishes

with a flick of fins,

not to hold the newborn before she slips through your fingers

Into her own life;

never enough time to slice hot bread, butter it, and watch the

butter melt,

not to better your odds against the house or hacksaw your


without getting caught because you had to stop for a smoke.


How could there be enough?  Even if you had eons like a rock,

geological time, you’d still want more when it ran out—

more life, more love, more homemade ice cream.



After his talk, Don Thompson had his book and chapbooks for sale.  All the proceeds were donated by Thompson to the Gary Sinise Foundation, an actor.  The foundation’s mission is:

At the Gary Sinise Foundation, we serve our nation by
honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders,
their families, and those in need.

We do this by creating and supporting unique
programs designed to entertain, educate,
inspire, strengthen, and build communities.

The Bakersfield Fan Forum Gallery and Pop-Up Store

story by Portia Choi


November 7, 2016 was the opening of The Bakersfield Fan Forum at the Todd Madigan Gallery at California State University Bakersfield.  It is being presented by The Poetic Research Bureau through the visiting artist, Joseph Mosconi.  The Bakersfield Fan Forum (BFF) was made possible by Jedediah Caesar, the curator of the Todd Madigan Gallery (TMG) and Joseph Mosconi.

The BFF was a class with a goal of producing books by the students and the visiting artist.    The art being exhibited were books that had poetry which were artistically presented. There were five books produced were by Joseph Mosconi, and the four students:  Maryah Paige Chester, Barry Michael, Viridiana Pena Tapia and Marco Silva.   These books were available for purchase and could be viewed freely in a downloadable version at

The display of the books as art work was evidenced by a large book with the look and feel of a magazine that was on a pedestal that had a sculpture.  Another wall had white lights in kinetic motion.  There was another wall with display of front of poetry books produced by The Poetic Research Bureau. The books were presented differently. They were placed the bookshelf to show the front of the books rather than the spine.  It was the design and creativity of the front of the books which was the art to entice the viewer to look further inside the book.

The Bakersfield Fan Forum is based on the premise that “Everyone is a fan of Something.”

According to the artist statement of the forum, “poets, artists and scholars discussed the politics of fandom, appropriation and the concepts of the amateur and the enthusiast.”

THE POETIC RESEARCH BUREAU attempts to cultivate composition, publication and distribution strategies that enlarge the public domain. It favors appropriations, impersonations, ‘compost’ poetries, belated conversations, unprintable jokes and doodles, historical thefts and pastiche. The publication emphasis is on ephemeral works, short-run magazines and folios, short-lived reprints and excerpts in print-on-demand formats. The Bureau advocates for intellectual resource sharing, material re-use and the “creative commons.” It values artistic experiment and archival research equally, as well as translation and cultural encounter, pluralism and intellectual debate. The Bureau’s activities include, but are not limited to: readings and presentations, screenings and exhibitions, courses and lectures, as well as the production and distribution of art and literature.

The Poetic Research Bureau (PRB) is currently located in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles.  PRB began in the 1990’s with a journal in Santa Cruz, California.  The journal was called The Germ, and was started by Andrew Maxwell.  Mosconi explained that it reflected back to the 30’s that had surrealistic journals with research.   He explained that the title PRB “is a play on words. . .In the 19th century, there was a poetry and artistic movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.”   Then Mosconi got involved with PRB in 2006-2007 with poetry meetings and reading series.  Mosconi has roots in the Central Valley.  He grew up in Visalia when there was not much opportunity for poetic and artistic events.  His grandparents currently live in Bakersfield.

Joseph Mosconi’s book is BFF/PRB #1 which has drawings, photographs and words.  The book is filled with the serious and the fantastic fantasy.  The words are in various fonts giving another method to convey context and feeling.  There are words on different colored pages.  Mosconi expressed that “color is emotion.”  The pages evoke emotion from the images, the colors and the words.  One of the creations had words in black on orange paper.  This creation is innovative in the juxtaposition of unlikely topics.  The business-like, impartial questions on a job application are intermixed with fantasy words of the poet.  An excerpt from the creation is:  “Please furnish copies of all resumes and/biographical statements issued by you or any other/ entity at your discretion or with your consent within the past ten years./  I AM ASMODEUS CONSORT OF ERRA/ RAIDER OF CATTLE AND FATHER OF/RAPTORS, CHAMPION WITHOUT PEER./BE YE READY TO FLY ORTOSMITE.  TO/MEDO YE REVERENCE.”  Mosconi is the visiting artist for BFF.

Marco Silva’s book is BFF/PRB #2 with words in white on various colors or black words on white paper.  There is a playful feel overall.  It starts with a cutout photo of Silva on the cover of the book.  There is what seems to be a child’s attempt at printing with misspellings like “imagination/ Curating thoughts for the future…”  There is seriousness in his words of “Becoming a GREAT Artist” with “Be interesting” repeated with various spacing, which is also fun.  He had repeat of “Focus”, the one word on a page in various fonts.  There were insights such as “Transhumanism”, “Noise = No Bueno”, and “ALWAYS progress”.    In his work Sliva writes foods listed with “Nourishment/Feels good/The mind is somehow connected to our gut/Hence gut feeling/Intuition.”  Silva is majoring in Business Administration concentrating on Marketing with a minor in Studio Art.

Viridiana Pena Tapia’s book is BFF/PRB #3 with a photograph of a lotus flower partially in opened and partially closed.  The first page has one letter:  a large, capital “L”; then photographic images of a lotus.  The beginning words are “The Lotus, is a flower that grows in the mud.  The deeper and thicker the mud, the more beautiful the lotus blooms.”  There is an original poem by Tapia, “I call upon you, pleading you to restore my/ soul to see the light brighter than/ before./  To give me strength when I need it/ the most…..We are fragile creatures easily lost and confused.” Most of the words in the book are from other great persons, Aristotle, Buddha, Dalai Lama, Elizabeth Gilbert, Matthew (of the New Testament), Kurt Vonnegut, Albus Dumbledore, and Greg S. Reid.  There are photographs and mandalas.  The book has an overall meditative feel.  Tapia is a psychology major with a minor in graphic design.

Maryah Paige Chester’s book is BFF/PRB #4 with paintings of images primarily women, and those of Georgia O’Keefe.  The cover has pink to red images of oval shapes.  Chester’s original poetry are interspersed among the paintings and poems by Alfred Bryan, Emily Dickinson, rupi kaur, Ann Sexton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Frost, Lucille Swenson, Adrienne Rich, William Dunbar, Lucille Clifton, Marina Tsvetaeva, Lora Mathis, Yayoi Kusama, Luoise Gluck, Sylvia Plath and others.  Chester has a poem that she read at one of the First Friday Open Mic, (from Circles Encircles):  “Speak out of circles./In whole truths not white lies-/Plainly without regret and self-loathing.”  An excerpt from another poem of Chester is “There’s emptiness in the air-The spaces between you/ and me no longer meets with God-We are not the/children in light anymore.”  Chester’s major is English with a minor in studio arts.

Barry Michael’s book is BFF/PRB #5 which is about fandom looking “specifically at the TV shows (he) watched and been a fan of throughout (his) life.”  He said he “deliberately formatted (his) text into blocks which break up the flow of the lines and obscure the rhyme and rhythm of the poetry. Michael said, “To make my book stand out, and also make it an interactive experience, I created and placed a QR code on every facing page. The reader, using their smart phone, can access a link to a video that plays the opening credits of the matching “poem” so if they cannot identify the show they can still experience the full effect.”   Michael found it an “interesting opportunity to work with an established artist.” Michael’s book takes words from popular TV series and makes them his creation. He said,  “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. . . .This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call. . .the Twilight Zone.” Then there is the fun TV show, “Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You?  . . .You’re ready and you’re willing.”  Michael is finishing his Bachelor’s of Art degree in studio art.

The Bakersfield Fan Forum also had guest poets reading at the Todd Madigan Gallery.  The most recent poets performing were Ben Fama and Monica McClure on October 24, 2016.  Both of the poets are from New York.

Ben Fama was influenced by Monica de la Torre who is an artist and a poet.  Fama expressed that de la Torre’s “form was very exciting to me; (an) academic outline, like 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b.”  Fama read the poem “Fantasy” which emphasizes the “conflicted consumer.” The poem is about how he does not want to do it but he does it anyway.  For Fama,  “going to work [is fine], but [he would] rather be writing poetry. . . be authentic.”  He works as an administrator at a non-profit art organization.  “Fantasy” is on the Poetry Foundation website and the following is excerpts from the poem:  “Forever is the saddest word/The poem’s not worth it. . .I hate the George V hotel/But I would take you there/ Then walk to the open market/ Some thoughts are not that great/ The Internet is my home.”  Fama has three other poems on the Poetry Foundation website.   In one of these poems, “Los Angeles”, an excerpt states “Negation is part of the positive identity of an object.”   Fama is the author of several chapbooks and pamplets, MALL WITCH, Cool Memories, Odalisque, and FANTASY.

Monica McClure started reading poetry when she was 14 years, and also writing poetry.  McClure likes Edna St. Vincent Millay who wrote about loss.  This happened at a time when McClure lost a boyfriend.  Millay’s poem helped McClure to grieve.  She also likes ee cummings, and how he used words to create mood.  McClure recently published Concomitance, in which she writes of all that is involved in grooming and hygiene.  According to McClure Concomitance  “began as documentary and aimed to catalogue the infinitesimal yet burdensome acts of labor. behind routine grooming, to examine the daily self reform implied by cosmetic and clothing, Because self maintenance eats up time, the book chews through memory with digressive narratives and swallows the present with real time thought progression.”  In the poem, “House of Joyce Leslie”, which is on Poetry Foundation website, McClure writes “I’m living in this logocentrism. . . So much splendor is owed to dysmorphia . . . like those Gothic spires poking the heavens/that someone just thought up like/ can we tap this broomstick/ on ethereal marble floors or what/can we really do” There are two more of McClure’s poems on Poetry Foundation.  She is also the author of Tender Data, Mala, Mood Swings, and Boss Part 1.

Jedediah Caesar, the curator of CSUB Todd Madigan Gallery was asked what his vision was for the gallery.  He wanted “a place where students can see contemporary art in all its strange forms.”  These forms were poetry and art together; a research space.  He wanted to challenge what constituted art; that which was created across medium and in open space.  He wanted a place for the community to come to see innovative art.  With The Bakersfield Fan Forum, Caesar is fulfilling his vision for the Todd Madigan Gallery.

The exhibition will continue to December 3, 2016 at the TMG, which is next door to the Dore Theatre.  (The books by BFF will be available for purchase and they can also be viewed freely in a downloadadable version at  The gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday from 1-6 pm, and Saturday 12-5pm.  For more information contact Jedediah Caesar at

There is a reading by another invited poet, Ara Shirinyan from Los Angeles.  He will be performing his poetry on Wednesday November 30 at 4:00 pm at the Todd Madigan Gallery.

The BFF group will be performing their poetry at First Friday Open Mic on January 6, 2017 at Dagny’s Coffee located at 1600 20th Street (Corner of 20th and Eye St) Bakersfield, CA 93301.   

November Open Mic 2016


Story by Portia Choi

There was extraordinary excitement at the First Friday Open Mic on November 4.  There was a standing-room only crowd.  That wasn’t all.  There have been other evenings with persons where persons stood to listen to poets perform their word creations.

Maybe it was that Mateo Lara, one of the regular performers at the Open Mics, was the month’s featured poet.  Mateo’s poetry has expanded over the year and a half since he began sharing his words with the poetry community.   Mateo’s first book of poetry, “Keta-Miha and other Poems”, is filled with self-discovery.  An excerpt from a poem is:  “you shivered through terror and trance, and beside this fear, I don’t want you anywhere near my gold…”

Whatever it was, the evening reflected the right combination of elements for an evening  for sharing one’s poetry with the community.

There have been other poetry open mics in Bakersfield.  The First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s started on February 7, 2014.  It seems to have brought together the right mix for poets to express themselves.

The place was certainly right.  Dagny’s Coffee is the sublime local coffee house.  It is welcoming and relaxed:  so comfortable it feels like a second home.  There is an area with a sofa. It has a living room or a den homey feel.  There are areas for concentration for grading papers, or for writing one’s journals.  There is a place for group activity for musical jamming or for spiritual discussions.  The cashiers and servers are always friendly, smiling when bringing out the expresso, varied coffees or pastry.

The day and time was right.  First Friday in downtown Bakersfield is the happening for artistic expression, whether visual or musical.  There are street vendors with crafts and bands playing.  The art studios have their openings on First Friday.

Poetry as a language and performance art and found a home at Dagny’s.  The Open Mic has added to the festive atmosphere of the creative community.

First Friday Open Mic occurs each month at Dagny’s at 6:00 pm.  Sign-in to perform is at 5:50pm.  Each month, except for the summer months of June, July and August, there is a featured poet or a musical group performing their original creations.   Dagny’s is located at 1600 20th Street (corner of 20th and Eye St.)

For more information, contact Portia at or (661) 717-1346.

October Open Mic 2016

These were photos taken at Dagny’s on October 7th 2016. The featured poets were Heavy Vinyl who performed their new song “Rock and Roll Beauty Queen” and between songs describes their process behind the songs they have written.

Featured Poet: Mateo Lara

Mateo Lara performs his poems regularly at the First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s for over a year. He has recently published his first collection of poetry, “Keta-Miha and Other Poems.” Mateo will be the featured poet at the next Open Mic on November 4. He is a Cal State University of Bakersfield student. He is studying English Language and Literature. He has always been fascinated by the darker side of life. Including: Vampires, horror movies, phantoms, and ghouls. He has tried to incorporate all the madness and macabre into his art, he first got to writing poetry in high school where the first bouts of pain, love, and growth began. He began reading the likes of Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, and the like. He has been writing ever since. He tries to give voice to topics that some are too afraid to talk or even learn about.
Mateo likes to incorporate his experiences with that of cinematic value, neon-noir, and passion, whether it is sexual or emotional. He likes to remind that it all derives from the same core. He is interested in the human condition and what it means for the universe, the people, and for everything we cannot see. He hopes to keep writing poetry as well as plays and scripts for the movies., and keep giving the world some color and maddening truth.


When did you begin to write?

A: I consider my first time writing, like actually writing with a serious purpose, probably began when I was a freshman in high school. I used to write before that, but it was just nothing of value, really. Just ideas and weird songs and stories that didn’t have much thought or quality. Haha. I really started writing for my own self in high school when I dealt with my first bouts of love, pain, growing up, identity. I didn’t have an outlet to put all this stuff I was going through and learning about, so the only thing that really helped me was to write it out. So I did. I wrote songs, journal entries, thoughts, whatever helped me get all the yucky hurt and chaos out of me. I probably still have some of those journals if I looked around my room in my boxes. But yeah, I began to write, I consider, around 13 years old, when it started taking shape and actually meaning something to my heart. As cheesy as that sounds, I’ve always been a story-teller. I liked to tell stories during recess or whenever I could. I liked to just expand my imagination and I was lucky to be able to do that and express myself, not all the time, but most of the time. And as soon as I could write and use a pencil, I was always doing it.


When did you start to write poems?

A: Ahhh, I guess I wanted to be a songwriter at first, I used to take inspiration from bands I was listening to at the time. But then it started forming differently, I found myself wanting to just speak these things. These monologues. Then they started forming into a different form. I think songwriting and poetry go hand in hand, but my writing really started to form into poetry around junior year of high school. I found myself just forming a style, rhyme schemes, taking from Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson and of course, Shakespeare. The words became something more potent and then my poetry began forming, I used to write blog posts and notes and try to make my own quotes, back in the MySpace days, and then I used to write notes on Facebook and the writings just happened and kept happening. I always needed to express myself through words because it helped me feel better about whatever was happening. and now, here we are.


What influenced you to write in general and poetry specifically?

A: I honestly think what started me writing was just my interest in books and theatre. I wanted to create my own stories, my own worlds, my own people. I really was invested in creation. And so I wanted to do it. And so I did it. I guess I tended toward poetry because I used to be scared about telling people how I felt. I’ve heard that poetry is the coward’s way of telling the truth. So I guess to tell the truth I wrote it in a poem. I used to talk about boys in poems (still guilty of that) talk about people who caused me drama, and just my family life and everything in between. Poetry became a sort of hallowed ground of thought and truth. I am getting better about cutting to the chase, but poetry definitely helped me comment on my subjective reality and world. I guess what influenced me to write was music, and people in my life who I was surrounded with. I was always the odd one out in my friends. My friends were athletes, or musicians, or smarter than me, or more creative, or whatever, and I just took to writing because no one else was really doing it and I found that curious, because I enjoyed it and it encouraged me to do it more.



When was the first time you remember reading or hearing a poem?  What did you feel?

A: Let me see, the first time I actually remember becoming interested in poetry is probably everyone’s first flirtation with poetry, and that’s Shakespeare. I guess also Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein. I would read those books. And of course, Dr. Seuss. All these fantastical worlds of words and rhyme, I always found myself absorbing them. Music is also its own form of poetry, so that really was another first time of hearing poems alongside music. I remember always reading, and it made me feel good, powerful, in control, in a sense. In control, as in, I could imagine what I wanted, what the poems meant, what I could take from it. I was always constructing something in my mind when I read other’s works, forming my own ideas through theirs. I always mix my style; I still do it to this day. I feel such admiration and respect for words, the good ones and even the bad ones, but that’s subjective, haha. But nevertheless, I always feel a mix of emotions when I read and hear poetry, it is just a way of expression that has stood its test of time.



Why did you title your first collection of poems, KETA-MIHA AND OTHER POEMS?

A: Ahh, now we begin the mining, haha. For the past 3 years, my life has been a swirl of misfortune, happiness, sadness, change, shifts. If I look back now, it seems like I was in this trance, like on this super-high from some hallucinogenic. I dealt with so much heartache, growth, anger, sadness, chaos. I really couldn’t piece it all together without seeing images and fragments and not knowing what was real and what was fantasy. Everything feels like a dream sometimes, but I know it happened, but still, you never know. So with that in mind, I had written so much poetry between 2013 and now, that I didn’t know what to do with it, but I wanted to evolve and elevate myself as an artist. Earlier in 2016, I got a heaven-hell sent person into my life. His name is Mihael. He had his own past and his own demons he was fighting. He was this athletic, super straight, super interesting human being. We got to hanging out and learning about life and a shift occurred. He taught me so much, hurt me so much, showed me a different side of the universe and of life, and I could never thank him enough for that journey. He no longer lives in America, but he definitely made his impact in not only my life, but other’s lives as well. He is one of a kind. Anyway, he pushed me to write this poetry book. Plus, my spin on the title was a long time coming, I couldn’t settle on anything, but I wanted something mysterious but symbolic to my life. So Keta, is short for Ketamine, the drug, but Keta also means “a series of rapid images that come from the past…” so with that, it really summed up my life the past 3 years. In these sense that so many images rapidly attacking the mind at once and just bringing this numbness…this fantasy and reality. Miha, well that’s my friend’s nickname, and he was a major influence in writing the book, so I just combined them together. A play on words. Ketamine became Keta-Miha, and that’s the story. It really explains my life from the past few years. From love, change, learning, evolving, everything. I always find my poetry cinematic, a quality of haze and whimsical fashion, and I incorporate it a lot into my writing, Mihael really helped push me to always expand and see the world for what a lot of people don’t see it as. As much as he brought me pain, he also brought me insight.


In the dedication to the book, you mention “and those who tried to stifle my creativity.”  This is interesting that you dedicated to these persons.  Why?

A: I wanted to acknowledge everyone in my life in this first book. From the ones who never supported me, who thought me wanting to be a writer or pursuing this whole artist thing was stupid and I wasn’t good enough to do it, well this is the debut and here I am. So essentially, telling them, well, look, I made it, this is for you too. A lot of boys I used to talk to thought it was dumb for me to go down this path, and it was “Too gay” or whatever, or “too this” or “too that” some people still think that, but I think it’s a healthy outlet and process to show the world something different. And something from the soul. Subjective or not. I’ve had people tell me that I’m not a good writer, or this or that, and this just proves to them, I know I am okay and good and even if you wanted me to fail, well here I am. Thank you for fueling the fire.


Which poem in the book do you want to express more about?

A: I can honestly say I am proud of all of the poems in this book. I picked them with a reason and I wanted to express all I had done up until this moment. But I guess the turning point of my writing, where I knew this was something else, was the poem: New Blood Hymns. The first line is: “And at first it pummels you/and slips between your thin skin.” I think that image hit me one night so deeply I had to just expand on it. It really incorporated my style and what I like to express. Color, sex, life, change, universe. Just this whole moving entity and story. I wrote it about my friend, Mihael. There’s literally a whole part in the book called: The Vukić Poems, that are dedicated all to him. Some bad, some good, some angry, some happy. But nevertheless, true emotions. Anyway, back to the poem, I like to express these images, this cinematic picture of what I am feeling and how it connects to the world, however small I am in this big universe, I still hold weight with my soul and it matters. And this poem: New Blood Hymns, really encompasses this whole shift in my life about destruction and rebirth and how you will hurt, pain is inevitable and change, but there’s always something new to take away from a situation and life and you will keep going, in aftermath there is always growth.


What is the connection between the design/illustrations on the covers of the book and inside the book with the poems?

A: I have a very dear friend, Ryan Bailey, who is a graphic designer in his spare time. I had been talking to him about my poetry book, before it’s conception, and I needed an image, something harsh but meaningful. One day he sent me these pictures and they were beautiful. They were raw and enigmatic, but colorful and deep. I wanted something that represented the mind, the veins of the body, and nature. So he sent me the images of these flowers. They were very abstract but colorful and it was perfect. They connected my theme of the book. The threads of the soul that are of nature, but also of everything else. The images really relay that whole you see what you want to see, is it real or not real? Is it a flower or a face, or a heart? You don’t know, but it is up for your interpretation and that’s what we took out of it. SO, thank you Ryan! Haha.


You mention “tundra” in more than one poem—in “Keta” and in “A Confessional.”  What is tundra to you.  I was in Alaska and in an area with tundra one summer.  So I am curious about how it was that you chose tundra to be in your poems.

A: Yes, Tundra to me is a huge symbol for life, the perseverance of nature, people, the endurance of the spirit. My whole philosophy is thriving. You must thrive even in the harshest conditions. You have to let life do its thing and you have to survive it. Where tundra exists, animals, and nature still manage to make it home and thrive, basically find life in a place where things seem dead and cold and inactive. Tundra plays an important part, ice, nature, really, it is also the image of the flower in the front of the book. It is an interpretation of an Alaskan poppy. It manages to grow in harsh environments, cold, devastating weather and withstand life. And I feel like that is what people must do. Thrive in the parts of their life that are swallowed by Tundra.


Anything else you want to express to the Kern Poetry community?

A: I think I am extremely blessed to be creating art in a time where art is finally getting the recognition and respect it deserves. The whole art community in Kern County has really evolved and progressed so much in just a short time and it’s great to see it grow and I look forward to it growing even more in the coming years. Especially being able to invest in it, and find a platform, I am blessed to write and share my experiences and life and social commentary on our ever-changing world and tell my truth and show my colors. I thank everyone in my life who is still here, everyone who used to be here, and everyone else who will be here eventually. Things always change, but you’ve gotta have your mind open and your heart ready. And I am. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store and ready to begin the journey of my next book. Every day I am writing more and more, and I am thankful for art and everyone involved in it.

So thank you.