Story by Shanna O’Brien
Photos by Ezekiel Espanola
It’s such a pleasure to see so many creative folks come out to support Kern Poetry First Friday open mic night at Dagny’s. As usual the room was full of artists and electric with energy as regulars and new-comers mentally prepared to open their hearts and share their thoughts in either poetry or song. Each artist was shown respect and appreciation for their work.
Our featured Bakersfield artist for the night was Jeremy Casabella who read several of his short and poignant poems which captured the poet’s spirit and love for words. Following is Jeremy’s answers to my interview questions, allowing us to better know him and his interesting work.
Please give us a short profile about your poetry background, what got you started, your influences, inspiration….
I memorized a poem by Emily Dickinson, “I Am Nobody Who are you?” for a poetry parade in the third grade. I started writing short poems the next week, though I really did not appreciate then exactly what it meant to write a poem.
I was a terrible high school student and spent much of my time doodling rhymed verses that told bizarre narratives rather than paying attention. I recall wanting to be dark or edgy like Sylvia Plath but with a bit of an obscure or maybe Suessian angle. One poem I can remember was about explaining cigarette’s to aliens, written in the voice of the “cigarette smoking man” from the X-Files. Another, in the voice of an old lamp, lamented lost light bulbs.
I dropped out of Commercial Design studies at the San Francisco Academy of Arts College my first semester after testing out of high school. I loathed the experience. At that point I wrote poems only when inspired until, in my twenties, I started college again. I took many different courses at the community college in Glendale, CA where I met the poet Bart Edelman. He gave me some insight on my work and a little space in the Journal he edited: Eclipse.
In school I focused on English, preferring courses that emphasized poetry or were taught by poets. Later I graduated from UCLA, where I had participated in workshops with Calvin Bedient and Stephen Yenser. I then studied Writing at Sarah Lawrence College where I achieved my MFA through the good graces of teachers like Jeffrey McDaniel, D. Nurkse and Marie Howe. Even while studying Literary Criticism at Sonoma State I worked in a course of guided writing with the poet Gillian Conoley. Throughout my life poetry has been my therapy.
If I had to give a list of influences whom I have not met beyond the page, it would include those whose writings I return to most often: Larry Levis, Robert Hass, Wyslawa Szymborska, Charles Simic, James Gavin and Dorothea Grossman.
What are you trying to communicate with your poetry?
The poem needs to communicate whatever is necessary to the poem; this changes. I am obsessed with trying to write words that will evoke specific mental or physical reactions or understandings of experience by the reader. I’m excited most by the connotative and mimetic aspects of language. In that respect I suppose any poem in my computer-files or journals ultimately imparts moments of time and place and image wrapped in allegory. Mostly I just like to create.
Do you have any creative patterns, routines?
I write at a computer. I am so used to typing in MS Word that I frequently find myself translating my experiences into words on a page in my mind. If I seem distracted and inattentive it’s probably because I’m bothered by a word choice in our circumstances.
As a student my most consistent note in critiques, whether in praise or derision, was always that I wrote eclectically; that is to say I defied any overall unifying style or even impetus in my work.
Now, independently, I continue to work in as many modes as possible. I write tanka regularly. I’ve created what I call “observation poems” which are very tanka-like ideally, but have no set length and the added requisite of including five observations, one from each sense. I’ve also started a series of “abecedarigraph” poems, which are 26 word texts where each word must begin with a successive alphabetic letter. I love struggling with the xyz. I’m writing a chapbook of free verse poems posed as descriptions of different parts and pages in a graphic novel. I often cannibalize different components from these and other endeavors to create unique works. Those latter creations tend to be my favorites. Sometimes I just get lucky and write a relatively complete poem in one attempt. I still of course revise the crap out of it.
I borrow ideology from OuLiPo, and L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets, sensibilities from the imagists and the Black Mountain School. I think about form and tradition all the time leaning toward imagism. To be overly figurative for a moment, I assume the mysterious task of tracing the footprints of duende that walk through the pages of all of the styles I admire with poem colored paint on their toes. It’s an exhausting hobby.
Please mention any publications you’ve created.
While I publish in journals regularly, I have yet to put out any collections or chapbooks, but do work daily on about a dozen different large groupings of poems with various controlling features like those mentioned earlier.
My words have appeared so far this year in Vinyl, The American Journal of Poetry, GNU, Right Hand Pointing, The Invisible Bear, and Rabid Oak. Though I still have two sets of work under consideration, I have placed myself on a submissions sabbatical since May.
Please share one of your poems you would like to feature.
I’m happy to share a copy of one of the more difficult poems I’m currently writing. It is tearing me apart right now:
Anecdote for Autonomy
By Jeremy Casabella
In giant wing-like bulbous
flaps that deflate back
into cut mats from
the tableful of lungs outside their jar
expand into their reflections in our
Three sets of
hammered out filets
pump repeatedly; as they go “Flit-
—become gnarled thin pads
plugged by plastic hoses
to some medichanical apparatus.
bound to the grunting
press of rubbed dull bone
from which they must’ve lingered to
forth again like a vaulted question
“Could the torso previous respire
of its last setting
(any cool spring afternoon when
thin petrichor made transient
promises to disperse
sterile room, tiny as the video
on my smart phone’s stupid plastic
Or “Did her breath become
what endures here through terrible
unusually over-prolonged bubble-gummy
(Yet some oxygen nonetheless
remains inside her presence the shape
of being unable to let go). And
If there is anything else you’d like to say or contribute, please do so.
I would like to thank all involved for their contributions to the furtherance of poetry in Bakersfield and Kern.
Well, Jeremy Casabella, we would like to thank you for your contribution to the Kern Poetry website. Please continue to come back to our First Friday Open Mic night and share your interesting poetic mind with us.
At the end of our featured artist segment, the open mic portion of the night began and at this time we had the honor of listening to Professor Kai Chu read some of his beautiful poetry. Professor Chu will be the featured artist at our upcoming First Friday on December 1, 2017. Following is a couple questions I asked Professor Chu.
Please give us a short bio of your poetic journey.
My Chinese mother inspired me to write poetry, practice calligraphy as well as appreciate music. She was an artist herself. She gave me the poetic name or sobriquet “Wood-gatherer of Purple Mountain” in reference to my hometown and evoking humility and simplicity. My love for words has stayed with me, crossing oceans, continents, cultures, and genres.
Do you have something special to share with us at the Dec. 1, 2017 First Friday night?
I will recite a poem of mine, entitled, “Silence.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your upcoming performance?
‘Xiu Shi’ Eileen Moy will perform original and traditional pieces on Chinese musical instruments: 琵琶 (Pipa) and 古琴 (Guqin). The latter is a rare ancient instrument with a long tradition that has permeated Chinese culture, especially the poetic song, for thousands of years. The guqin was chosen as one of three intangible world heritage traditions by UNESCO to represent China.
Thank you Professor Chu. We are so excited to hear your new poem, “Silence” and also hear the beautiful music that will be presented by Eileen Moy! This will be a memorable evening for sure!
Several more poets and musicians shared their talents and we enjoyed everyone. Cheyenne Goossen caught my eye while she sang an original song accompanying herself on guitar. She has graciously given us insight into her creative life by answering the following question and sharing the lyrics to her song, “One Shot Honey.”
Please give us a short bio about your poetic/songwriting journey.
I have been inspired by all types of music for as long as I can remember but my first impactful music memory is of a 5 year old me gazing into Cat Stevens’ album record cover while being serenaded by ‘Moonshadow’. At 14, I taught myself guitar and began writing and singing my own music and eventually formed a band with my older sister and another friend, whom I still love playing with today. After graduating CSUB with a bachelor’s of science in biology, my husband and I were elated with the birth of our first son, followed by two more precious boys who are now 9, 7, and 4. Music has taken more of a backseat while raising my family but writing, playing, singing and listening to music has remained a daily constant in my life.
It had been a year since I had performed in front of others the night I sang my most recent original song, ‘One Shot Honey’, at Dagny’s. I was very nervous and the only reason I chose to preform was because my son’s oral language partner was experiencing extreme stage fright and I promised I would take her and my son so they could come watch for inspiration. Although I was secretly embarrassed that I only made it halfway through my song, at her next oral language performance she overcame her fears and gave it her all. That’s what ‘One Shot Honey’ is about. Never losing sight of your deepest passions and giving them your all, all the while staying free from the entanglement of boredom, doubt, and ego.
“One Shot Honey”
By Cheyenne Goossen
I ride on horses
While you ride on cycles
In our dreams
Every damn day
You like the movies
But I choose the music
And it’s tearing us apart
Now we’ve got 5 count them 5
I described a donkey
But you saw an elephant
Dividing our love by a continent
Oh oh oh
You took the high road
While I took the low road
God it felt like I stabbed myself behind my own back
And then you brought me flowers
After I made you cry all them hours
And I thought to myself this is our last shot
This is our last shot honey
We’ve got to give it all that we got
Cause in the end all we have is each other
Thank you all for visiting the Kern Poetry website and please come back again and get to know more of our wonderful poets and musicians who participate in the Kern Poetry First Friday event at Dagny’s. Everyone is different yet we’re all the same, wanting to express what’s in our hearts.