Month: April 2017

Diana Ramirez and Thomas Lucero Featured at Open Mic

First Friday April 7 features Diana Ramirez and Thomas Lucero

Story by Portia Choi                                      Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

Event hosted by Kevin Shah

The two featured poets, Diana Ramirez and Thomas Lucero, performed poetry in the “spoken word” style.  They memorized the words and used dramatic intonation and rhythm.

Diana Ramirez has participated at First Friday Open Mic regularly.  Ramirez memorizes a poem by recording herself and listening many times.  “I listen in the car, before I go to sleep,” said Ramirez.   She memorizes a small portion of a poem, at a time.

Ramirez started writing in high school.  “Music inspired me to write.  I fell in love with lyrics and felt the urge to share my emotions through words.  That’s the only way I can express myself in a trughful way without hesitation of what others may think,” she said.

Thomas Lucero memorizes his poems by saying and hearing the cadences and the rhythm of the words.  He remembers a poem which he learned as a child, “There are rocks in my socks said the ox to the fox.”  He was only five.

He started writing poetry by listening to “rap,” when he was 15.

Lucero is also an artist.  He painted the mural that is on the inside wall of Dagny’s Coffee Company.  The painting is of a clock and an octopus.  Both symbols are of time.  “The octopus is a universal symbol for ogdoad, an eight,” said Lucero.  The eight turned sideway is the symbol for infinity.

Following Ramirez and Lucero, enthusiastic poets and musician performed their original works.

Here are poems of Ramirez and Lucero:



My Anima

By Thomas Lucero


Farther than mine eye can see,

and Further than my mind can conjecture.

I strive ever upwards

And climbed the Giants Scepter

to the right hand of the father

in Search of my Center. . .

I found the water,

Drank upon her

Sacred tonic.

A tincture of timeless wine

derived of the finer divining process,

my Secret obsession

objective of my infernal affection,

eternal reflection

internal, abnegation.

Lust and hatred, consummated

in the bridal chamber.

When Cupid met Psyche,

When two fools wandered away from the light nightly.

to sight see

to fight, +#c*, And fly free.

Conspiring to swipe the Keys to life,

And knowledge occulted.

Kept out of sight

of the unsightly”




By Diana Ramirez


You don’t have to like me,

You don’t have to care,

You think I’ll share

The battle being fought in my head,

Well, I won’t.

You think I’ll hide,

Afraid of what, exactly?

And don’t fucking assume I’m alright

If you see me smile,

If you see me laugh,

Be careful,

It’s a map,

To all the detoured journeys,

Out on the road, where I’m trapped,

Caught between the wrong turn,

And the right stop,

But I keep driving,

This peculiar tune on repeat,

Skip, repeat, skip, repeat

But wait,

Can you hear it?


Driving through a mirage,

Mirrored through myself,

Blurred out of sight,

Through a tunnel,

Into the light,

Yet you never found me,

I got lost along the way,

Because I was rotting,

Transforming, perhaps,

In a cave


of all the walls I ever put up,

You think you know,

But, honestly,

These massive stones

Came crashing down,

Access denied,

As I try to find,

A way out,

With no amount

Of miles to bring me to my escape,

So, are you still trying,

To get through,

There’s no way,

You know nothing,

You assume everything,

And will never know my pain.

Poetry, A Vital Part of Life by Annis Cassells



Poetry, A Vital Part of Life

By Annis Cassells

Today is ‘Poem in Your Pocket’ Day,” I announced to the woman I’d just met at my assigned table at the Women’s Business Conference. “May I read you a poem?” I asked, whipping a piece of paper from my pocket.


And I began reading aloud Lucille Clifton’s “Blessing of the Boats.”

When finished, I handed her the poem to keep. She smiled. Not a big I’m-glad-to-see-you smile, but a warm, contented smile and said, “Thank you. That was just what I needed to hear today.”

Folks sometimes admit they just don’t “get it” after reading a poem, or they say they don’t like poetry. A huge reason is how poetry was taught in schools. Many who delighted in rhythm and rhyme from Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss got turned off in high school literature classes.

As an adult, I learned reading poetry produces several benefits beyond enjoyment. One is improving vocabulary since poetry often introduces unusual words, phrases, or allusions. Another benefit is long-term brain health can be improved by reading poetry. Studies have shown that people who memorize and recite poems are less susceptible to Alzheimer’s Disease. I’ll bet many of you still recall poems you learned in grade school or high school.

Poetry improves critical thinking. Since its meaning is not obvious or one-dimensional, poetry requires readers to actively analyze and decipher language and meaning instead of engaging in passive reading. And, triggering emotions and memories, poetry helps develop empathy as it unites people across time and cultures.

Set aside the time to read a new poem several times. Read it aloud so your ear can hear the language. Then read it again. Sometimes I do several readings, trying out different stresses and phrasing.

Why would anyone WANT to read (and re-read) poetry? To interact with the poet’s ideas, to learn something, feel something, and see how the poet’s experience relates to yours. Reading several times helps find meaning. There is no ONE meaning of a poem. Each of us brings our experience and life to a poem and may glean different meanings. That’s what turned us off in high school, searching for “the meaning,” usually what the teacher said it was.

April is National Poetry Month. Inaugurated by the Academy of American Poets in 1996, it has become the largest literary celebration in the world. Discover and participate in the many Kern County events to celebrate National Poetry Month.

Seek out some poetry, favorite poets, or new-to-you poets. Try writing some of your own poetry or pull out those poems you wrote long ago. “Poem in Your Pocket” Day is a large part of NPM. This year, it’s April 27. Choose or write a poem to share with others that day.

Add poetry to your life for the benefits and pleasure it can bring.

Copyright © 2017. Annis Cassells. All rights reserved. A life coach and speaker, Annis can be reached at Follow her blog at


The following is the poem, by Lucille Clifton, that Cassells referenced in her essay

Blessing of the Boats

by Lucille Clifton

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back     may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that
Lucille Clifton, “blessing the boats” from Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000. Copyright © 2000 by Lucille Clifton.





EVERYTHING BARREN WILL BE BLESSED by Don Thompson, Kern County Poet Laureate

Story by Portia Choi

Poets and friends gathered to celebrate National Poetry Month at Dagny’s Coffee on April 1, 2017.  They celebrated by discussing poems in a book by Don Thompson, the first Poet Laureate of Kern County.  The book is Everything Barren Will be Blessed.

Annis Cassells, Tim Chang, Portia Choi and Mona Sidhu each selected a poem from the book.  Then the poems were read aloud to the whole group, once by each individual, for a total of four times per poem.

With each re-reading, there was new understanding, feeling or image perceived from the poem.  There seemed to be continuing communication between the poet and the reader with each reading.

One of the poems discussed was “Tumbleweed.”  There was greater understanding of the poem as each person read the poem.  There was appreciation of the unique way that Thompson perceived his surroundings.  The last two lines of the poem is, “as if pulling the wind behind them/ caught on thousands of tiny hooks.”  One usually thinks that it’s the wind that blows a tumbleweed around.  Yet the poem states that it’s the wind being pulled by the tumbleweed.   And that the wind does not blow through, but is “caught” among the “tiny hooks.”

Another poem, also shown below, was “Abandoned Labor Camp.”

Thompson once said that he gets his inspiration from the “sound of silence, the night sounds, the silence behind the birds.”  He would pull off the road, and he stopped to listen.  “The animals are listening too,” he said.

“Poetry is about language. . . the language of interacting with the world,” said Thompson.




By Don Thompson


A lost tribe of tumbleweeds

crosses the road

a half mile or so ahead of me,

bounding along

while little ones hustle to keep up.


They’re uprooted, of course,

subject to the wind’s whims,

and could end anywhere—

maybe against a fence

to be gathered and burned by farm hands.


I know that . . .

But they seem so cheerful,

confidant and in control,

as if pulling the wind behind them

caught on thousands of tiny hooks.




By Don Thompson


The rusted out and weathered sign

has nothing left to say—

like wooden grave markers

that used to have someone’s name on them.


You can tell that the two rows

of well-built bungalows

were tough for campesinos to get into.

There must have been a long waiting list.


But now, no glass intact,

and almost every door rkicked down,

ripped from the hinges that died hard,

the roofs slump, some already collaped.


And the few shade trees

that haven’t given up the ghost,

unpruned, unappreciated,

have gone crazy with loneliness.






Juan Felipe Herrera, US Poet Laureate, in Bakersfield

Story by Portia Choi                                                  Photograph by Ezekiel Espanola


There is excitement in the auditorium.  The first Latino to be named Poet Laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera will be presenting soon.  He is from the Central Valley, born in Fowler, Fresno County.   He is the son of migrant farm workers.

The presentation was at the Simonsen Performing Arts Center at Bakersfield College on March 29, 2017.

Herrera directed his comments to the students in the audience.  “I am so happy you are here.  Congratulations on being here.  You are the leaders, the pioneers,” said Herrera.

Herrera entertained the crowd with combination of seriousness and humor.

Herrera spoke of Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and the United Farm Workers.  He spoke of the threat of children being abandoned due to parents being deported.

He spoke of his recent experience in a school in Idaho.  There were 95 languages spoken in the school.  Some of the students were refugees.  He remembered one student saying “I believe in peace; I wanna see peace.”

He entertained with names of Mexican pastries, “pan dulce” or “sweet bread.”  There was conchas or shells, empanadas or turnovers and besos or kisses.

He spoke of new ideas.  Herrera gave the example of E=mc2 by Einstein which changed the world perspective.  There can be new ideas.  He had the audience repeat “Never seen this before.”  The implication that it may never been seen before, but it can be seen.

He said “maybe we can share . . . we can give our hearts to others, and maybe share the beauty. . . within us.”

There were several persons from the audience interviewed at the presentation.

A Bakersfield poet, Julie Jordan Scott said, “He has a true Central Valley Voice.  He’s been here, he knows the people.  He’s an insider.  It’s like a little boy seeing a rock star.  There’s a connection.  He’s a celebrity.”

Jason Sperber is interested in poetry.  It “gives people a voice in a way that other genres or media don’t,” said Sperber.  One can “say things in poetry in a true and impactful way, way than in other voices.”

Agustin Bojorquez’s interview was done through a sign-language interpreter, Tom Moran.  Bojorquez was inspired by where we live.  “It was good to see myself as who I am, equal to other people.  Feel free to interact with hearing people,” said Bojorquez.  He also said that it doesn’t matter whether one is “deaf, hard of hearing, hearing or blind, it doesn’t matter as long as we are happy.”

A faculty of Bakersfield College, Terry Meier, had recently used Herrera’s poems in her class.  The book was 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border by Juan Felipe Herrera.  Meier had her students attend Herrera’s presentation because she wanted the students “to open their eyes and ears to poetry.”


Following are excerpts from Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera.



By Juan Felipe Herrera


No somos nada y venimos de la nada

pero esa nada lo es todo si la nutres de amor

por eso venceremos

We are nothing and we come from nothing

but that nothing is everything, if you feed it with love

that is why we will triumph


We are everything hermana

Because we come from everything



 Poem by Poem

 By Juan Felipe Herrera

— in memory of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel Simmons Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson Shot and killed while at church. Charleston, SC (6-18-2015), RIP

poem by poem we can end the violence
every day after
every other day
9 killed in Charleston, South Carolina
they are not 9 they
are each one
we do not know

you have a poem to offer
it is made of action — you must
search for it run

outside and give your life to it
when you find it walk it
back — blow upon it

carry it taller than the city where you live
when the blood come down
do not ask if
it is your blood it is made of
9 drops
honor them
wash them stop them
from falling


From Notes on the Assemblage, copyright 2015 by Juan Felipe Herrera.















Katie Collins represents Kern County at “Poetry Out Loud”

(Katie Collins & Assemblyman Vince Fong)

For the first time, Katie Collins, represented Kern County at the Poetry Out Loud competition held in Sacramento.

The competition lasted two days and began on Sunday, March 12. Forty-four students competed from all over California.

Collins found out about Poetry Out Loud from her teacher, Andrew Chilton, in her Advanced Placement (AP) Literature class, at Stockdale High School. Chilton was the organizer of the local event in Kern County.

From participating in Poetry Out Loud, “I realized the place of art in a person’s life,” said Collins. She spoke of the “beauty” of poetry.

The local competition was on January 18, 2017 at the Arts Council of Kern in Bakersfield. Collins was the winner from among nine contestants.

The high school students compete by memorizing two poems from a list of poems provided by the Poetry Out Loud organization. The students then recite the poems adding their own interpretation and dramatization of the poems.

The statewide competition is composed of students who are the winners from their local county competition.

Poetry Out Loud (POL) is a national contest in a pyramid structure that starts at the classroom level. Winners advance to a school-wide competition, then to a regional and/or state competition, and ultimately to the National Finals according to the POL website In the contest, high school students memorize and recite great poems that are provided on the POL website. Poetry Out Loud competition has taken place since 2005. It has grown to reach more than 3 million students and 50,000 teachers from 10,000 school in every state, Washington, DC, the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The two partners of POL are the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the Poetry Foundation. The Poetry Foundation publishes Poetry Magazine and is “an independent literary organization committed to a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.”

One of the poems which Chilton recited during the competition in Bakersfield was “Beautiful Wreckage.”

Beautiful Wreckage

By W.D. Ehrhart

What if I didn’t shoot the old lady
running away from our patrol,
or the old man in the back of the head,
or the boy in the marketplace?

Or what if the boy—but he didn’t
have a grenade, and the woman in Hue
didn’t lie in the rain in a mortar pit
with seven Marines just for food,

Gaffney didn’t get hit in the knee,
Ames didn’t die in the river, Ski
didn’t die in a medevac chopper
between Con Thien and Da Nang.

In Vietnamese, Con Thien means
place of angels. What if it really was
instead of the place of rotting sandbags,
incoming heavy artillery, rats and mud.

What if the angels were Ames and Ski,
or the lady, the man, and the boy,
and they lifted Gaffney out of the mud
and healed his shattered knee?

What if none of it happened the way I said?
Would it all be a lie?
Would the wreckage be suddenly beautiful?
Would the dead rise up and walk?



Nancy Edwards Remembered

Story by Portia Choi

A memorial, “Celebration of Love,” was held for Nancy Edwards on March 4 at Bakersfield College (BC) campus.

Colleagues, friends and family revealed a person who was more than a gifted poet and an English professor.  She was a generous friend, a philanthropist and a photographer.  She was an organizer of poetry events.

The programmed part of the memorial was filled with Edwards’ poetry.

Three of Edwards’ poems were sung by John Gerhold, the Performing Arts Department chair at BC.  During the time Edwards was at BC, she and Howard Quilling, a professor of music, collaborated.  Edwards wrote the words and Quilling composed the music.

The leaders of the local poetry community read from a variety of Edwards’ poems.

The Poet Laureate of Kern County, Don Thompson, read an exquisite poem, “A Canto of His Vision.”

Then the director of the Norman Center for the Humanities at BC, Jack Hernandez, read a light-hearted poem of Edward’s experience as a sales girl.

An officer of Writers of Kern, Annis Cassells, read Edward’s poem about love and Mary Magdalene.

One of the promoters of poetry in Kern County, Portia Choi, read a poem that Edward’s wrote about her father’s funeral, “When Father Left.”

Edwards’ colleagues read her poem translated into Spanish.  Rosa Garza, a professor of Social Studies at BC read the Spanish version, “Queridas Madres.”  The English version, “Beloved Mother,” was read by Sheena Bhogal, a professor of English at BC.


After the formal program, during the individual recollections of Edwards, more of her personality came through.

A retired professor, Mita Dhaliwal remembered that “Nancy was a good photographer, it was her hobby.”

Another person who spoke was Ann Finlinson.  Edwards was “young and uncertain about some aspect of her teaching,” she said.  Finlinson then spoke about the BC faculty.  “It is a united academic community to help students. . .to enrich. . .to think and value the creativity that each (student) possessed,” Finlinson said.

A former student, Jorge Guillen, spoke of Edwards as being a “really good person.”  She was important in the development of his art and poetry.

Poets, who had planned National Poetry Month with Edwards, reminisced about her.  The month of April is a national celebration of poetry.

“She had a hunger to share what she wrote.  I liked her vulnerability despite her successes,” said Kevin Shaw.

“Nancy gave credibility to our effort,” said Choi.

“She was right about her writing,” said LisaAnn LoBasso.

One of the former student of Edwards, Nick Belardes, later became her teacher.  Belardes was just 17 when he was a student of Edwards in 1987.  He was surprised to see her in his memoir writing workshop a few years ago.  “She left a great body of work, but she ran out of time,” he said.

A writer, Maria Mercado, said that Edwards remembered the name “Mercado” from the time her husband was a student in 1971.  Maria Mercado learned writing from Edwards

at workshops in recent years.  “I didn’t consider myself as a writer.  I will continue to write, to make her (Edwards) proud,” said Mercado.

Another former student, Kim Vetsch, became friends with Edwards.  “Nancy was a dear friend.  Mischievous.  She had that eye, had humor.  We both had eccentric families,” said Vetsch.  She spoke about Edwards’ mother as an example.

Edwards’ husband, James Mitchell, also remembered Edwards’ mother.  “She was sweet.  Yes, she was a music teacher,” he said.  However, Mitchell said that Nancy Edwards did not sing and did not play a musical instrument.

One of the planners of the service was Tom Greenwood, Professor of Mathematics at BC.  He befriended Edwards through his wife, Ruth, who was a counselor at BC.

Greenwood knew Edwards for 17 years.  He said that Edwards enriched his life by opening his mind up to poetry.  “She was very generous of her time.  She was there for people,” he said.

He remembered the time when he had surgery for his appendix.  “Nancy was the first to visit me, to make sure I was okay.  It meant a lot to me,” he said.

He also recalled Edwards’ 10th wedding anniversary celebration at a local restaurant.  He said that Edwards introduced each of the 75 guests.

“I’m going to miss her.  She left too soon,” said Greenwood.

Editorial note:  She left her writing which can be read and shared.  She continues to inspired others to write.  Here are some poems that Edwards wrote.  There are two poems that were written by her poet friends, inspired by Edwards’ passing.


 Night Time Soliloquy

By Nancy Edwards

(Words to music of Howard Quilling)


Whose voice is this I hear,

Whose vision do I see,

Whose face do I adore,

What love do I feel?


No love lay untouched in the

Harmony of your soul,

In the beauty of your life

The face before me


The perfection of a dream,

The passion of the perfect rose,

What brush lines can be painted,

Which color prism created,


The answer lies within

I celebrate your life

I celebrate your soul

I separate the walking and the dream you are,


This vision is created in perfect time.

I will go to you and everything you are to me,

Everything you are to me.

You form circles of life for me,


No soul is unspoken in the harmony of your life

Each song calls out to speak you name

As if you could deliver us from sorrow

As if you could change the direction of the wind


I speak the words which mean the most,

It is to you I give my soul,

It is to you I pledge my love,

Everything I celebrate belongs to you,


Whose voice I hear even in my sleep,

Whose vision I see even in my dreams,

This face rises before me,

So familiar, yet so distant,


No surface lay untouched,

No sound unspoken in harmony of your life,

Everything that came before you,

It is always for you,

Always you.



Night Blossoms

By Nancy Edwards

(Words to music of Howard Quilling)


Late at night the moon plays shadow games,

Plum blossoms fall past my eyes,

Hear night sparrow sing,


Lavender and pearl sachet

I am in the world of love’s design

If you’re the one, the only one,


Come see blossoms falling past our eyes,

Hear night sparrows sing,

Full moon, full heart,


Curve around our hearts

To you this cup is full

I am your beloved


Love plays shadow games against the sky

Pale blossoms come into view

Late at night, at night


The moon plays shadow games,

Fill the air with mystery

I see your smile calling me,


Round blossom petals,

Round moon,

open night sky,

Sweet plum air,


You come to me in a thousand ways

You fill the air with mystery

Your face fills the sky,

Your eyes float by


The moon’s side

Late at night, at night,

The moon plays shadow games,


Sparrows sing an ancient tune,

Late at night, at night,

The moon plays shadow games.




A Canto of His Vision

By Nancy Edwards


He came from Porum, Oklahoma

To a vague California city,

Population four hundred and fifty,

Old freckle-faced fellow

Nearly blind, white wisp hair

Straw hat, red tipped cane.

He sits along the curb reminiscing

Remembering deputy sheriff days

And travelling west by pickup truck

He came from Porum Oklahoma filled with dreams.

Told his wife it was time to go

When the brown dust bore no fruit

And the government bore no claim

And the working man bore the cross

And Oklahoma turned to dust

And dust turned faces to ash

Before they hit the graves

And the children and the women wept

And the only water was from tears,

He brought the dust in his boots,

Kicking the accelerator till sparks caught

He came from Oklahoma to a California dream

I never was a wheat man, he says slowly

Just oats and cotton for my pickin’ and plowin’

And I never knew I’d see them grow after Oklahoma

He came from Porum, Oklahoma

Ready to work the land

And found the grapes luscious ripe

And the time right

And added five to the four hundred fifty.

Now he’s 85 and his truck’s

In rusted pieces

His children lost to the big city

But I remember in 19 and 34 like it was yesterday,

My only chance to make it big –

Never was the same again,

Now the folks are heading back he says.

Back to Texas, back to Oklahoma,

Where a man can farm his own.”

His eyes see only shapes now.

But he’s not sorry to see people go

Headed east looking for their land

Claims it’s inbred to want to go

Headed east looking for their land

Claims it’s inbred to want to go,

Country boy’s always a country boy

He says at 85, remembering his spirit

Feeling that same desire return.

Remembering what he say in a simple city

He came from Porum, Oklahoma in 1934

To a vague California city, population 450.


By Nancy Edwards, “A Canto of His Vision”, in VALLEY LIGHT Writers of the San Joaquin

Gathered by Jane Watts. Poet & Printer Press, 1978





TENDER VOICE                                                     

by Portia Choi

(Written for Nancy Edwards’ memorial celebration)


Sweetness of magnolias,

graciousness of the South,

her mother’s tender voice,


Polish worker ethics,

selling goods at Macy’s,

professor at BC—

inspiration to us all.


God’s smiling gift to us

gifted poet, teacher;

a compassionate friend.


Nancy’s season to be

more of her destiny,

a guiding star for us.


When her words are spoken,

Nancy is here with us

dependable, always.


Nancy, Nancy, Nancy

your gentleness and voice.

Forever here with us.





by Kevin Shah

(Poem was inspired by the memorial celebration)


One at a time

friends flap

like birds

and land on a single branch

which bends under the weight


waiting for

one bird who flew away


waiting for

one bird who flew away


One by one

we sing

hoping for her harmony

or echo song


waiting for

one bird who flew away


Building music billows

in each sad breast


the piercing music

of discord

becomes a cry



one bird

sings her melody


her melody –

and another

joins in harmony


singing for

one bird who flew away


together we sing

until we hear her voice

that unmistakable voice

buoyed on the wings of harmony


High above,

a branch bends like a string

and before we know it,


the spirit of

one bird who flew away


and landed among friends