Month: November 2016

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.