Month: September 2016

Kate Durbin: The Poetry of Places, Objects, and Reality TV

By Martin Chang

Like many others in America, Kate Durbin found herself fascinated by the world of Reality television.  As a poet, Durbin began to watch with a closer eye.  From the way that the camera moves from Kardashian to Kardashian, to the carefully manicured rooms of Playboy Bunnies, to the cluttered lives of the victims of addiction on “Hoarders,” she discovered that the humanity revealed on these shows were worthy of the same artistic deep dive as high art.

“I think we still have a stigma around popular culture used as art,” she said. “I’m interested in taking things that are considered low art and turning them into art works that are taken more seriously. I find the shows very fascinating because they speak to our moment in time in a very specific way.”

Durbin also takes a closer look at Reality television since she believes that the media aware nature of the lives of Reality show stars resembles the media driven lives of us all. “I see it as the medium that we live and exist in now,” she said. “We all live very mediated lives. We all have our Facebook pages, our Instagram pages. We represent ourselves both virtually and IRL (in real life) all the time.”

Durbin found the way that people would talk about Reality show stars such as Kim Kardashian “disturbing.” This also inspired her to take an artistic look at the shows. “Even very smart people that might call themselves feminism felt comfortable trashing Kim Kardashian, calling her stupid, those sorts of these things,” she said.  Durbin vehemently disagrees with this characterization. “She couldn’t get where she is being stupid,” Durbin said.

Durbin wants to explore how the shows themselves are designed to create these strong feelings in otherwise smart and rationale people. She found that there were real reasons why people had such strong reactions. “The framework of the shows, the camera angles, the way the scenes are set up, work to objectify women and portray them as stupid,” Durbin concluded.

“Close watching” is the way that Durbin describes her process of writing her poetic works. “I watch a little bit of the show. Then I pause the show and write down everything that I had seen,” Durbin explained. This process takes Durbin years. She analyzed one episode of “The Hills” for a year.

Through this close watching, Durbin was inspired by the way that the people on the reality shows related to places and objects that make up the world of these shows.  She found the world of the Playboy mansion and the way it was portrayed on “The Girls Next Door” particularly fascinating.  For most of the shows run, “The Girls Next Door” portrayed the life of Hugh Hefner and his, at the time, three girlfriends: Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson.   This fascination caused her to create poetic works where Durbin attempted to let “the mansion speaks for itself.”

As a part of the Bakersfield Fan Forum series at the Todd Madigan Gallery at Cal State Bakersfield, Durbin performed a poem about Bridget Marquardt’s room. She performed the poem with a scientific accuracy. Yet her description of the room was not dry, in her voice you could hear both Durbin’s fascinations with Bridget’s life combined with a bit of contempt that she has for a life specifically designed to exploit women.  Below are the first few lines of the poem.

This large bedroom is hot pink and organized. The Queen bed’s bright pink comforter is offset with sprays of black and white bunnies with bowties, pillows. There is also a large Hello Kitty pillow. The pink mouse and the pink computer monitor accent the pink desk.

Durbin’s fascination with the objects and places of Reality television eventually led her to the show “Hoarders.” Something Durbin felt was an inevitability. After writing pieces about the rich, as covered in shows like “The Girls Next Door,” she began to wonder how the rest of the people related to places and objects. Durbin explained her line of thinking, “I started to think about ‘well this is the one percent’s relationship to things and stuff, what about the rest of the Country?’” That led her to the thought, “Oh my God, I don’t want to do it, but I have to write about “Hoarders.”

The emotions that Durbin experienced while watching “Hoarders” were very strong. “It was very painful to watch. It was very hard to get through,” she said.  “I always cry when I watch it.” Durbin has this strong reaction because the theme of addiction hits closes to home. “It triggers some things with my family,” she said.  ” There’s a lot of addiction in my family and stuff.”

Other mixed feelings came up in Durbin while she wrote about and watched “Hoarders,” “I have a lot of ethical problems with the show.” “I feel like the people on the show are not in the right mental state to consent to being on a show like that, but it is also fascinating in that it reveals what is going on behind closed doors all over the country.”

Durbin hopes to tap into the healing nature of poetry when writing about “Hoarders,” “I do believe that the process of writing and bringing attention to something difficult does have healing qualities to it. I think that art can do thing that are positive with material that is difficult.”

Below are the first few lines of the poem “Hoarders: Tara.”

Orlando, Florida

My name is Tara and I’m 55 years old Precious Moments angel statue
I would not classify myself as a hoarder, more of a rescuer of Target receipts
When I first moved in it was just mostly boxes because I was moving in then I tried to unpack but everything just got put wherever Martha Stewart magazines

Though Durbin has been writing and creating art pieces about Reality television and popular culture for years and also has many misgiving about much of the shows she covers artistically, she can still enjoy Reality television at the basic entertainment level like anyone else. She said, “I really enjoy watching it. My boyfriend saw me watching the Kardashians one day and said ‘ow are you writing.’ Then I said ‘no I’m just watching.’” Despite her careful examination into what makes the shows tick, Durbin still considers Reality television “fun.”



The Bakersfield Fan Forum is facilitated by Joseph Mosconi and The Poetic Research Bureau.  The Fan Forum is meant to “investigate the various ways enthusiasms and fandoms are articulated in contemporary poetry and visual art.” Learn about the next Fan Forum event here.


Durbin has published many of her works online and in print.

Durbin has published two books of poetry, The Ravenous Audience and E! Entertainment . “E! Entertainment” contains the poetic work about the Kardashians, “The Hills”, and “Girls Next Door”  discussed in the article. Also in “E! Entertainment” are poetic works about The Real Housewives, Anna Nichole Smith  and Amanda Knox. The poems about “Hoarders” are a work in progress and are not yet published in print. “Hoarders: Tara” is available in full here.

Durbin opened her presentation at CSUB with pictures from a project she worked on with Rollin Leonard called Postcards from Disneyland. It is why in the pictures she is wearing a Snow White shirt. In this project she explored her fandom of Disneyland by actually going to the park with a projector and projecting images onto landmarks at the park. Then Leonard took  photos of those landmarks.

Durbin has been a part of several Internet art projects. Below are some examples of her work.

Gaga Stigmata

from the about page:

“Established in March 2010 as the first mover in Gaga studies,Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga is a technological journal that critically-creatively participates in the cultural project of shock pop phenomenon Lady Gaga.”

Women As Objects

A tumblr blog where Durbin achieved young women’s tumblrs. The blog explores how young women define themselves and their sexuality.

Cloud Nine

With “Cloud Nine” Durbin is asking female-identifying artist “What have you done for Money?”

Words Come to life

By Martin Chang

At the Metro Galleries, the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Kern County will hold a Words Comes to Life event on October 6 from 5:30-9:30pm. CASA of Kern County calls the event “A powerful and colorful evening that will bring awareness to foster children through words and art.”

Diana Ramirez, the coordinator of the event, describes the event as “bringing words to life through art.” Ramirez said, “Each artist was given a poem and through inspiration from that poem have created a unique art piece. Included amongst the sixteen are two poems by local foster youth. It will be a truly unique experience.”

The theme picked for the art and poetry was picked because of how it illustrates the struggles of the children that CASA of Kern County helps as part of its mission. “Because this event is a benefit to CASA, all poems were created under the theme deserted,” said Ramirez.  “Many, if not all, foster youth feel deserted or abandoned at some point in their lives.”

Ramirez has two goals for the event, for the words of the poetry to “come to life,” and for the public to “come out and support our musicians, local writers, local artist, and our local foster youth.”

Kern County Poet: Jessica Nelson


By Martin Chang

For most of her twenty-three years, Jessica Nelson has used poetry to help her escape from the pain of a damaged life.  After reading poetry for eight years, she began performing her own poetry and discovered poetry’s second of many gifts: Finality. Poetry offers her “a light at the end of the tunnel. If I write, I can be done with it and I can move on.”

“It” for Nelson are the many ups and downs of her hard life.  She didn’t grow up knowing her birth mother. She never even met her until she was 18. Talking about her dad, Nelson said, “He had a problem with attracting alcoholics. My dad has been married seven times.  I’ve had four different step moms.” Nelson describes living in this type of a family situation as “always a negative environment.” She said, “There were a lot of things that you wouldn’t notice unless you lived in the house. Money was never the issue, it was attention.”

This fractured home life caused Nelson to seek asylum elsewhere. “I’ve lived in Jamison Center. I’ve lived with my seventh grade teacher.” The Kern County Department of Human Services describes the Jamison Center as “the only emergency center in Kern County for neglected children.”  Eventually, this led Nelson to move from Bakersfield to live at Horizon Academy, an alternative school based in Bradenton, Florida.

She lived at the academy for two years. Nelson does not feel as though she was given the opportunity to mature at Horizon. “When you’re in the program, you get sent away and you’re fifteen and you come home and you’re still fifteen,” she said. Upon leaving the school, Nelson moved back to Bakersfield alone. So when she had to figure out life without the safety net of a family, she was lost.

Nelson described her rough adjustment to living life alone, “I never knew how to drive. I didn’t know how to balance a check book. I didn’t know how to live on my own.”  Nelson also felt alone upon returning to Bakersfield. She missed the friendships she had at Horizon, “I lived for 26 months surrounded by 27 girls. So it was lonely when I came back home. Life goes on when you are sent away but when you come back you’re still where you were (as a person) when you come back.” Nelson takes her life experience in stride. “It was different, but here I am,” she said.

Nelson first discovered poetry at eleven. Between the drama of rotating step mothers and the Jamison Center, Nelson used reading poetry as an escape, “It was an outlet for how my family life was.”

Now Nelson is a young single mother of two kids, Kylie, age 2 and a half and Parker, who is around three months old.  She began writing and performing at nineteen. Now that Nelson creates poetry it gives her, what she calls, “my own personal sense of closure” that she did not get simply reading poetry.

An important part of that closure process for Nelson is the sharing, “I never feel like anything is finished unless someone else reads it and gets something from it.” The Open Mic at Dagny’s is a place where Nelson enjoys taking this final sharing and performing step. “I love it. I love the energy. I love all the people that come.  I love the experience. I love nervousness that I get. I love the feeling before I do it. (perform) I love the feeling after I do it.”

At September’s Open Mic Nelson performed “Growth”.  The poem was inspired by one line.


What happens when you walk into a room and it smells like me.


The poem is Nelson’s attempt to bring closure to a toxic relationship. She performed the poem in an intense style, some words of her poem were recited in quiet, understated lines, while other words, like the words that inspired the poem, were performed with a loud booming voice that filled the small room at Dagny’s.

Nelson performed “Growth” this way because she wants the audience to feel the feelings that Nelson felt when she wrote the poem. When Nelson writes poetry her body is filled with nervous energy, “I just sit there and I talk to myself. I pace.” Capturing the emotion of those nervous moments is Nelson’s main goal when writing poetry, “I want to stay true to how it was written.  This is how I see it in my head.”

Lenora McClellan reads “An Issue of Faith.”

Lenora McClellan has been given the gift of writing from an early age. She describes herself as “an author poet, playwright, and a women of God.” She reads from her book “By God’s Grace” published in 2013.  She said about the poetry in “By God’s Grace,” “I hope one day to share this book with others, because it signifies how God has developed and changed me to glorify Him and to inspire other to do the same.” Lenora has written 10 books and four plays.

Below are excerpts from the poem.


Imagine me, money spent, separated all alone, left to deal with this

issue on my own,   . . . . . .


This issue that has isolated me,

Thrown down, cast out from society

To live my life in this misery, will

I ever be free, will I ever be free


And the many who had just called on

His name who from that very instant

Were never the same Jesus/ Jesus/Jesus. . . . . .


And He called out to me, for He knew He had healed my infirmity

On his Way to Jarius’ daughter, who was almost dead, He turned,

And stopped, to help me instead

For in the middle of the crowd, Jesus stopped and said,


“Who touched me?” and I,

Being seen by all, I came to Jesus

And I did fall, down at His feet.. . . .

Clearly see I was the woman

With the twelve-year infirmity,

Who in my desperation a touch I

Stole, believing that Jesus could

Make me whole, and Jesus

Then said to me, “Your faith

Has made you whole.

My daughter, go in peace.”

And from that very hour, He caused

The blood to cease, and restored

My mind, my body, and soul

And declared me whole, whole, whole

Thank you, Jesus

Thank you, Jesus

Thank you, Jesus.  For making me whole

Open Mic for September 2016


On September 2, Fidel A. Martinez was the featured poet.  He read from his books of poetry:  Factory Lights (2013), An American Mythology (2011), Ghost Stories from the Tower of Souls (2006), and recent poems. Later on that evening, Ian Perry and Paul Clery performed music that contained lyrics written by Fidel.