Author: Portiachoi

Open Mic January 2019 features Chris Nielsen

Interviews by Carla Martin

Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

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Interview with Chris Nielsen

Chris Nielsen was the featured poet at Dagny’s Open Mic Night in January.  Here are four poems from the selection of thirteen he read:

The Trees

The trees, the trees, the trees.

Sun hot above the canopy

cool breeze, shade green below.

Flakes of sun filtering through

briefly flickering like fireflies —

lighting, darting, disappearing.

Insects buzzing, mingling in.

Birds add their songs

to the peaceful symphony.

Lying in the forest grass,

poetry in motion all around.

Breathe it in fully,

holding on, holding on.

Troubles slowly escape,

feeling each one blow away.

Does the wind ever get so full

it cannot carry any more?

No wonder it sometimes howls.

Water from the stream is calling,

moving effortlessly on its course

over sand, rocks and logs.

Making a path in its own way,

through over and around.

Falling, gathering, flowing,

giving life as it passes.

Carrying away as it departs to

river, lake, sea, skies, clouds, rain.

Drinking from the stream,

living is refreshed.

The green meadow flourishes,

graceful flowers grow.

Sunlight journeys to earth

giving vital energy to all.

Bees and birds carry on,

the spirit here is strong.

The trees, the trees, the trees!

Sometimes a quiet notion…

Your hand on my shoulder,

my arms around you,

gazing into each other’s eyes.

You whisper into my ear

just what I want to hear.

Suddenly awake.


How many times

must this dream play on?

Hope it never ends,

wishing it had never begun.

The Trip

Three went on a trip;

a man, his wife

and a friend

over the hills

to LAX

so the friend could fly.

Stopped for a drink

along the way

at Tipp’s.

In the parking lot

the man, his wife and friend

parked their vehicle.

Two “friendly” guys

were driving by in the parking lot.

They had a 1964 Ford Galaxie —

faded powder blue patina,

on their rear window,

a rebel flag decal.

They must have noticed

the wife was black,

the husband and friend

were white.

The two “friendly” guys

waved and laughed loudly,

said, “Have a really great night

Ha! Ha!”

The man, his wife and friend

had a drink and companionship,

got ready to resume their trip.

More laughs and waves from the two guys.

Eerie feeling, insincerity?

Back on the road,


to LAX.


right rear wheel comes off.

Vehicle fishtails and careens,

sparks fly,

finally comes to a rest.

Logic defied.

Sanity assaulted.

Humanity defiled.


From Darkness

Light the way
let creativity burn

find your spark
in art
sketch draw paint the way to peace light
on the edge
aware, away
from the abyss

nullify anger despair 

with music
your song

in your heart
poured out from the soul

of humanity
sing out
in hope

art created
exists inside
before the world can see

show what you have 

outward expression 

inner desire dreams
this way
the very act
makes a better place
for all

believe, create, thrive 


Q.  What poets have inspired you?  What have you learned from them?

A.  I have been inspired by many poets over the years.  One of the main ones and first ones was Robert Frost.  He is quite eloquent in his poetry, even in his short poems like “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” which essentially taught me how to write poetry by what to leave out and how to put in just the bare essence needed to make the poem.  Yet he has longer, more flowery poetry as well, which is also excellent, like “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening.”  A poet that I discovered at a younger age was Gary Snyder .  He really spoke to me on his topics of nature and Zen.  Also his writing style—he was more free form than a lot of poets from long ago.  I learned a lot from him and feel he is also a poetry mentor.

There have been more poets like Maya Angelou, Sylvia Plath, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda and many others.  E.E. Cummings is also quite amazing.  His brevity and the way he twists words and phrases around makes you laugh.   He delivers his message in a very entertaining and yet sparse way. Another poet I’ve read recently is Gerard Manley Hopkins.  The way he uses speech that is quite alliterative and descriptive is inspiring.  His theme of nature also resonates with me.  Other poets that have inspired me are Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau and Jack Kerouac.

Q.  Your poem “Sometimes a quiet notion…” describes a lover dreaming of his dear departed one, ending with the poignant lines:  “Hope it [the dream] never ends / Wishing it never begun.”  How has the emotion of grief affected your journey as a poet?

A.  Greatly, because after taking care of my wife for two years while she had terminal cancer, there was no time for anything except being her 24/7 caregiver.  After she passed, I was grateful she was not suffering any longer, as well as extremely grief-stricken—even suffering some depression–from her loss. After 31 years of marriage and knowing her even longer than that, not having her in my life was devastating.

            So, unbeknownst to me, I started writing poetry.  I would wake up in the middle of the night with thoughts and I started writing them down to capture them.  As I did that, I used various methods: writing on loose paper, notebooks, my phone, computer, and finally, one day I realized I was writing poetry!  I was going back and finding poems that were more complete or going back and editing poems.  I heard about a poetry manuscript prize and needed about 50 poems to have a complete manuscript to enter.  I realized I had more than 50 poems.  So I edited and compiled and entered my manuscript.  I knew I had no chance of winning the Walt Whitman prize, but I had won because I now had a complete manuscript of over 50 poems! So, I didn’t know I was writing poetry until the words came and took on a life of their own.  I’ve heard there is a book called “Poetry Saved My Life” and I feel like it certainly rescued my life, enhanced my life, and was an outlet for my grief. 

Q.  Your poem “The Trip” and “Imagine Being Rosa Parks” touch on the subjects of prejudice and social injustice toward African Americans.  Yet you are a white male.  What have you experienced that could add to our understanding of these sensitive issues?

A.   Well, since I was married to a black woman for over 30 years, I experienced first-hand what people of color can go through in the form of bigotry, prejudice and discrimination.  I feel like, even without being a person of color and just being a white person, I got to peek into the world of what it is like to wake up everyday being a person of color– where you know some people discriminate without knowing anything about you.  “The Trip” was a true story about how two men with a rebel sticker on the back of their car, sabotaged our car, unbeknownst to us, as we were driving down the freeway at 65 miles an hour and one of our wheels came off.  It could have killed us.  Only because my wife was black is why this happened, I’m sure. 

            At times over the years, I’ve thought about some of the pioneers about civil rights, like Rosa Parks, and wonder what it would be like to be in their shoes, knowing that they were putting themselves in a situation where they could get harmed or even lose their life.  That took a lot of courage.  To me, it is important that people do have empathy and put themselves in other peoples’ shoes.  That was what I was trying to convey in that poem—what would it be like to be Rosa Parks, sitting in that seat.  I think it is a good thing to think about.  Poetry can convey that message.

Q.  Your poem, “From Darkness,” is like a clarion call for people to create.  What advice would  you give to aspiring poets?

A.  Write!  Think, write, and especially when you have thoughts, don’t discount yourself and say, “Oh, that’s not good.”  Just write it down anyway.  It’s not harming anyone.  You want to save that thought and come back to it later and say “Oh, that WAS important!”  One lesson I learned the hard way was when I was waking up in the middle of the night, and still sometimes do, and think “Oh, I’ll write this whole thing down tomorrow, and you wake up in the morning and you go, “I can’t remember what that was!”  So I taught myself to always have a paper and pencil, or my phone—something to capture my thoughts when they happened.  When the inspiration happens, you have to get ahold of it then and receive that gift, and then once you have that gift in hand, you can develop it even more later.  But you have to be in tune to receive these gifts of inspiration, because that’s what they are—a gift.

            I think reading is extremely important.  Like the old expression goes, “Garbage in, garbage out.”  Well, good literature, good reading material in, and maybe that will inspire us and help us develop.  It helps to see how a gifted writer or poet has dealt with a subject—giving us thoughts that never occurred to us before.  To constantly read and take in ideas and be inspired by all kinds of writing is important.  Sometimes I feel like I can’t read enough and I always want to read more!

Q.  What would you say is the current climate for poetry in America?

A.  Well, there are more poetry events and poetry readings.  I think there is more of a climate for young people to be involved in poetry.  When you go to our local poetry readings, there is a great mix of younger and older people and in-between, male and female.  You get a wide range of diverse culture from each person who is participating in these readings.  In our world wide web, we are constantly being exposed to new poets from around the world.  It’s really a wonderful age we live in.  It seems that poetry is growing, not diminishing at all.  It’s becoming more important in all of our lives, especially to those who read and write poetry.


Interview with Lucy Fitzgerald

Here is the poem Lucy shared at Dagny’s Open Mic Poetry Night in January 2019:

“Factory House”

Where you are 

is some dilapidated

factory in Michigan

A smell of rusted steel

and excreta stains the 

stale dead air

Perpetual machine whining

drowns out their screams

Each cubicle the same: 

Shackled in their all-fours position,

milk drains out of their mammaries,

their skulls transfixed,

their naked flesh on sale

for cretins to explode semen into them 

and keep lactation flowing

Each cream pie in tandem 
with an estrogen shot

Their torpid skeletons

in a forever state 

of doggy-style

Sometimes a pump malfunctions
and crush an appendage or two

A young boy gets called

to mop up the mess

A nightmarish kind of summer job

Laborers drive bloodied cargo

to fill grocery stores,

school cafeterias,


Even with a taste of carrion

in each mouthful

Even with a

growing stack of cadavers

with shriveled milk ducts 

decaying in queue for the butchers…

Still, why waste good meat.

Q.  What inspired you to write this poem?  What is your back story?

A.  I got the inspiration for “Factory House” from a conversion amongst fellow hedonists. They were discussing the pleasurable aspects of human breast milk and how it’s a commodity. To which I imaged a dystopian future where the only source of milk is from humans and compared it to the capitalistic horror we see today. 

My ‘back story’ is a difficult question to answer. I imagine it’s typical for me to say that I come from a ‘dark’ background. When I’m not fighting the urge to use or self-harm, I’m in a row with my own head trying to overthrow its melancholic tyranny. 

Seldom do I have a chance to channel these energies into my writings and scribe in the darkness. 

Q.  Do you like to read poetry?  What poets do you enjoy and why do they inspire you?

A.  I’m very selective when it comes to poetry. Naturally, I surround myself with poetry that I know will give me inspiration or affect me in some way. 

I absolutely adore Baudelaire. There’s this amazing thing that happens when I read Fleurs du Mal; his poetry simply sends me aloft and cures my myopia.  

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks in Bakersfield who might like to write poetry?

A.  My advice would be to never give in to the voice that says, “Give up” and “You aren’t good enough” etc. It’s easier said then done, but if you keep with it, the pay off is stronger than any doubt you’ll have. Bakersfield has focused ears. Its artistic culture will truly hear your voice. 


Interview with David Tetz

Here are the lyrics to the song David shared at Dagny’s Open Mic Night in January 2019:

Through Sadness and Love

Lay down your head loves and worry about not a thing

For I will be here, I’ll be watching you 
You can dream if you’d like or you can just close your eyes and let sleepiness slowly fall into you 
But don’t be afraid of the night for darkness it helps us appreciate light and in the morning you’ll wake, feel that sun on your face 
Feel and sing, sing it out sing

Cause you make my heart sing, it sings for you sings 
Cause I’m filled with love, love, love

Sadness and love 
And you’re filled with light, light, light

Darkness and light 
So give me all your kisses, kisses, oh my little Misses I need all your kisses, I always will 
Walk with your head held high, let nobody put you down

You are lovely, you’re brave, and you shine so bright 
And though trouble will find you, love, just hold your ground 

You are stronger than what they can throw at you 
But don’t be afraid to feel sad for tears help us fight through the times that are bad

Yes even tears have their place, feel them run down your face 
Feel and sing, sing it out sing

Cause you make my heart sing, it sings for you sings 
Cause we’re filled with love, love, love 

Sadness and love 
And we’re filled with light, light, light

Darkness and light 
So have all my kisses and hugs, have my voice and all of my love 

You always will

Here is a link to the YouTube video for this song and the album link-

Q.  What inspired you to write this song?  What’s your backstory?

A.   This is a sad story but don’t be afraid of sad stories, they add depth to our happiness. 

I wrote this song for my daughters after tucking them in for the first time with their mother truly well and gone out of the house. She was a victim of the opioid epidemic and had initially tried rehab but it didn’t work out and when she checked out of it she checked out on all of us and never came home. That first night of tucking them in and realizing she wasn’t coming back I felt such a need to leave some kind of advice behind for them regarding how to navigate through the world with a gaping hole in their hearts where their mother used to be. I was in a really fragile state myself and I didn’t at all trust myself to make good decisions and so I wanted to be sure to leave them a survival guide in the best way I knew how, through a song. I designed the music to imitate the graduation ceremony song as we all were shifted that day and forced to grow up in ways none of us were really ready for. I needed them to understand that we were going to be very sad, and that’s okay, and we’re going to be very angry, and that’s okay, and that we really needed to focus on expressing these things outside of ourselves so that we didn’t poison ourselves with unexpressed emotions. I also wanted them to understand that they were loved unconditionally and that they had the strength within them to not only survive this but also be strong and capable women out there in the world. The trouble and the darkness will come for us sometimes, that’s the nature of being alive, and so you gather up the love and the light and you anchor yourself within it so that when the sadness comes you let it flow through you instead of drowning in it. Easier said than done, I can attest to that, but it was important for me to pass that on to them. This loss they experienced so young will revisit them again and again for the rest of their lives and I wanted my own love and support to also be there for them always in the form of this song.

Q.  Do you think songwriters are poets? What songwriters/poets do you enjoy and why do they inspire you?

A.  While I do think lyrics and poetry are related to me they are two very different things. It is almost like a novel versus a graphic novel in the sense that you are expanding your tool kit to add spacing, shading, light and shadow, lines, space and negative space. The lyrics are simply a single part of a much larger whole. Although lyrics are the strongest aspect of my songwriting I have access to all these additional tools to help convey various meanings. I can write a terribly dark and sad verse but sing it using a really light and pretty melody and that will add an additional layer of context that wouldn’t be there without the melody. I could also speed up the rhythm and add layers of anxiety or anger. I could use the exact same line and the first time whisper it nearly tearfully and the next time shout it in a rage and those exact same words will come across and hit you in the chest with almost opposite meanings! So I look at them very differently. I have tried poetry and I’ve found that I’m not able to express myself properly within that format. Personally I need to be able to perform the words and add cadence and tone and emotion. The poetry I enjoy the most hits you from the page without it needing to be expressed in front of you whereas to me the best lyrics are embedded into the rest of the song and are more powerful within it than outside of it.

The songwriters that I am feeling the most right now are Kendrick Lamar, Stephin Merritt, John Darnielle, Sufjan Stevens, J Cole, Ani DiFranco. There are hundreds more. We have a lot of great songwriters out there in various genres who we should be soaking in and appreciating.

Q.   What advice would you give to other folks in Bakersfield who might like to write songs and poetry?


A.  Realize that fear is worthless. Realize that laziness destroys your ability to accomplish your goals. Most of the people I’ve talked to really WANT to create but have bought into this form of paralysis that is largely imaginary. You don’t need talent and you don’t need time. You need commitment and work ethic. No matter how bad you are or how busy you are you can take 10 minutes a day every day to sit down and work on your craft. It doesn’t need to be an overwhelming time commitment, it just needs to be consistent. If you committed to 10 minutes every other day within a few months you’d realize that you are making movement and getting better. 

The other important thing to remember is to let your first draft be bad, just get it out of you first, You can work on it later!

Occasionally inspiration can hit you and you can get a lot out at once but that isn’t really where the craft of songwriting puts its work in, that’s all in the editing. The editing is where you really get to lock in and stretch your legs and see what you are capable of…but you can’t edit without a first draft to work on. 

Get it out! Spill out whatever it is onto the page and don’t try to perfect it as it flows out of you just get it all out! And once it is all out there, then you can really get to work.

Kid’s Open Mic, Open Minds, Open Arms to Creativity – Nov 3, 2018

Story by Walter Stormont
Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

     We begin with a poem by a talented young author who was looking for some tips to give her a kick-start in the world of verse.  She came away with the following to share with readers everywhere:

My Favorite Fruit is Berries

By Juliette Foret

Berries are sweet,

and I like them too

because they are bumpy.

I like the color and the fact

that they are sour. 

And I like them too

because they are chubby

and I like that.

     This was crafted during a recent Children’s Open Mic workshop at the Beale Memorial Library in Bakersfield, in conjunction with Kern and its coordinator Portia Choi.  During the afternoon, Portia poured her heart into getting to know the kids and drawing them into the world of words. 

     Before the event, Portia was arranging plants on the tables in the Children’s Section, when Juliette Foret walked in with her mom, Alejandra.

      “Are you here for the poetry?” Portia asked the young lady.


     “How old are you?” Portia asked Juliette.


     “She likes to write her own stories,” Alejandra said, adding that she and Juliette thought this workshop would be a good introduction to poetry.

     Meanwhile, some kids were having a splendid time playing grocery store with the toys available in the children’s section: a wee shopping cart, mini groceries and a functioning play cash register.  One child wore a store apron while she helped the little “customers.”  All these kids would soon be drawn into the day’s poetry events which got underway on the large rug next to their “store.”

     With all gathered in a circle, Portia introduced the second Kern County Library Children’s Open Mic.  She was armed with a selection of colorful, whimsical books.

     After everyone shared their names, Portia cracked open the book Silly Sally by Audrey Wood.

     “Silly Sally went to town/Walking backwards upside down.”  She handed the book to Juliette, who continued the story, and they traded off pages until the end.

     Portia asked Juliette, “Did you ever try sleeping upside down?”  Juliette answered. “No!” to which Portia replied, “It’s not easy!”  But today, thinking poetically and writing verse would become easy for these youngsters!

     Continuing the demonstration of how poetry can use rhyme, sound and other effects, Portia read from another popular book, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault.

     She pointed out something else as well, that all literature is saturated with one common element: the alphabet.  “Twenty-six letters,” Portia noted.  “Every word uses them.  Every book has them.”  This led to Phase Two of the workshop, where the kids sat down at tables and wrote out the letters of the alphabet, some with the help of their parents.

     “What’s the first letter of the alphabet?” a dad asked his youngster, who immediately got the answer by singing the familiar “A-B-C” song.  Soon all 26 letters were written out.

     Eight-year-old Melissa Thompson was also a quick study, having learned the alphabet at age four.

     The next step was for everyone to use these letters to form words, which would in turn form poems.  Melissa was asked what her favorite color is.  “Blue.”  Her happy challenge was to craft a poem that was introduced by something blue…

I like the sky.

I like the trees.

I like the birds.

I like the library.

I like to color.

     The children and their parents spent a good hour having fun discussing letters, words and the poems they could create with them… and doing it!

     Their work was quickly rewarded with the appearance of a special guest, children’s author Lenora McClellan.  She is a lady who can truly serve as a role model for the budding young poets, and she showed why as she shared the delightful tale of Fred the Fly in her book Don’t Lay Twitchin’ in Someone’s Kitchen.  It’s based on memories of her childhood in her Grandma’s spotless kitchen. 

     Even Fred made an appearance, a fuzzy puppet who popped out of Ms. McClellan’s bag.  She invited the audience to come up and pet Fred, and eventually a couple kids gamely wandered up and said hello.

     As Ms. McClellan read from her book, Fred’s story came alive in rhyme and humor.  The author kept her young audience spellbound, not only entertaining them but showing them what they could achieve if they keep imagining, keep observing, and keep writing.

     Children’s Librarian Ariel Dyer is pleased with the poetry day.  “There’s been a lot of interest on the Facebook page.”  She says they may host another workshop in April. 

     Go to

Open Mic Summer 2018

Story by Portia Choi

Photographs by Martin Chang and Joshua Burgos

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Poets and musicians shared their words and songs throughout the summer at Dagny’s Coffee for the First Friday Open Open Mic.

Kevin Shah hosted the Open Mic on July 6th (2018.)  He is a poet and had previously hosted poetry open mic at the local bookstores, Russo’s Books and Barnes & Noble.  He also, with other community poets, organized several annual poetry events.  In April every year, National Poetry Month is celebrated throughout the land (including, of course, the City of Bakersfield and all of Kern County!)

About hosting in July, Shah said, “Whenever I guest-host, I am impressed with the energy that artists of all types bring to Dagnys. I got a host again during the summer. I estimate that 20 or so musicians, storytellers, and poets performed.

“One of the poets who only speaks in rhyming couplets interpreted his serious health challenges in a way that was not just human but divine. A couple of friends and I were talked with him afterwards. His poems and his vulnerability were sobering reminders of my own mortality.

“Yes, at that nice, poetry is serious business, but it can also be fun and whimsical too. I love the fact that the performers have to compete with all of the noises of a busy coffee shop on the busiest night of Bakersfield’s Art Walk. As an artist, you are forced to refine your craft.

“When I host, I’m performing, too. After twelve years of this, It’s not unusual for people to tell me that I’m good at it. Yet, I’m always the weakest link. And that should tell you how eclectic and exciting each Open Mic is at Dagnys. If you want to know more about the artists or their poems, keep reading.”

Jay Squires, appeared at all the summer open mics.  He recited a poem “I Am the Skimmer of Stones,” which he considers his best poem.  Squires said about the poem, “It was kind of a travel up and down the abstraction ladder, beginning with the actually physical act of skimming stones. Then I looked at the skimming process from the standpoint of ‘depth’ and ‘surface’ with the obvious intention of skimming the stone all the way across the pond, but knowing that not all stones will follow that trajectory. Some will lose their momentum half-way across. I remember, at the time thinking … what would the stone be ‘thinking.’ Anthropomorphism took place in my mind to the point I felt quite uncomfortable with the thought of sinking to the bottom of the deepest part of Jacob’s pond. Finally, doing a little metaphor-jumping, I considered depth and superficiality in terms of knowledge and tied in the previous ‘fear of depths’ to knowledge as well, and ‘age’ with the decision to search the surface of things.”

Here are the excerpts from his poem:

I Am the Skimmer of Stones 

by Jay Squires

I Am the Skimmer of Stones

and I fancy myself as well

the smooth stones skimmed

(imagination lets me, you see);

I, too, am the surface of Jacob’s Pond

they skim across

or not entirely across

or not across at all.

But if the stone falls short

I do not become the pond’s depth;

oh, most assuredly not the pond’s depth

(even imagination won’t take me there)

though years and years ago it would and did.

.   .   .   .   .   .   .   .

They say at the center the pond’s immeasurably deep

that the depth of the pond’s mysteriously deep;

they say, and I say I must agree

that sometimes a mystery’s best left to mystify.

.  .  .  .  .

But once I thought my courage deeper

than Jacob’s Pond could ever be.

So I became one with the stone I skimmed

that hummed and skimmed and skimmed again

but not entirely across.

And where it sank, there too I plunged

down from the surface of Jacob’s Pond

down with immortal youth and a lungful of air

down into the heavy-black-deepness of Jacob’s Pond.

That Jacob’s Pond went deeper forever

was not mine to know that day

for fear soon squeezed life from courage

and a blur of my spider’s legs and arms

sent me scrabbling up the bubbled web

to light and air and breath

and the safety of surfaces.

.  .  .  .  .

For, it’s a blessing now

to be once—and only once—young

And once to test the depths

once to dare to fail

and once to Succeed in Failing

and in failing, yet survive

with a greater knowing

that there’s a near infinity of learning

oh, a precious, near infinity of learning

from lightly skimming

from blithely skimming

the safer, monocular surface of things.


Ben LeJeune also performed at each of the summer open mic.  He is a musician and accompanied his song on the guitar.    The lyrics to his song:

“Someday You’ll Win”

by Ben Lejeune

I know why you said you couldn’t stay

I know why you had to turn and walk away

Your heart’s a broken record playing the same song over

Playing the same song over and over again

You’ve been down that path and you had a couple of laughs

Some days just start so they can end

But someday you’ll win

I’ve no doubt in my mind

It all works out in a matter of time

The smoke will clear and you will be just fine

Someday you’ll fight the odds with a worthy grin

And find the time while the world spins

To stop and dream about the time when we need you again

Someday you’ll win

I know why you still regret it all

I know why you let go and you let yourself fall

Your mind is simply checkered; sprinkled salt and pepper

You lie eye-to-eye and you play pretend

You’ve tested out those waters, drowning in your bothers

You can’t keep the tide below your chin

But someday you’ll win

I’ve no doubt in my mind

It all works out in a matter of time

The smoke will clear and you will be just fine

Someday you’ll fight the odds with a worthy grin

And find the time while the world spins

To stop and dream about the time when we need you again

Someday you’ll win.

LeJeune said, about the song, “I wrote this song for a friend on April 9, 2011. It was the first song I had written for someone. She was in the hospital after an attempt to take her own life. The lyrics came to me rather quickly. I felt like I knew exactly what I had to say to her. She had made an attempt to reach out to me, but I felt I was too busy to be bothered. Had I known the gravity of the situation, I like to think I would have acted differently. I felt guilty about my carelessness and felt almost like I owed her this song. To this day, she is one of my dearest friends and she’s happy and healthy.”


Thomas Brill was another poet who performed at all the summer open mics.  When asked about how he felt about reciting at the events; he said, “When I read at open mic, I have to admit I’m a bit of a ham.  I love to perform, so reading my own work gives me a chance to both do a little performance and also to reveal little bits of myself, sometimes things I am not so proud of, oftentimes just random thoughts or ideas.  It’s nice to hear other people reading too, though, and the whole experience is interactive in a very community based way.”

A poem that Brill recited was “in between.” Brill said, “This poem was inspired by the idea that we are always looking for that bright flash of brilliance, by the seductive and glimmering surface of the waters that reflects the sunlight back and always catches our eye.  Or for something more solid like the bottom of the creek which has a foundation and feels like it is real and not just an elusive dream.”

“But real life is more ambiguous and mysterious, the way the waters in the middle of the river are, the things you can’t see and can’t capture are the ones that really count.  It’s a call to celebrate that ambiguity and uncertainty and change that surrounds and can drown us of we do not accept it.  Live there without regard for how your life might look to others.  Real living is something you can only do for yourself.”

in between

by Thomas Brill

on the surface

there is much to say,

the water reflects sunlight, moonlight,

looks pretty to the passerby

draws in and gives back

the beauty of whatever body it’s in,

a river, the ocean,

it is open, obvious, honest,

the first filter, interface between two worlds,

because it is so easily observed

it represents its country well,

there is much to say about the surface

and at the bottom

critical source of life

for all that enjoy its security

where everything lands and settles

it is dark, mysterious, even profound,

it is basic, elemental,

though not prone to violence,

it is the song that touches the soul

though few chords are played,

it can deceive and frighten the timid,

provide shelter for the mad and weary,

firm foundation for the solid soul


it is in the middle currents

where I run

do not think about me

you cannot see me

nor can you find me,

always rolling, moving stirring,

never keeping anything long,

no real mystery

no real beauty

nothing profound,

at least not to the average observer—

but step into my waters

and feel my cool current

swim round your naked flesh

I will not hurt you

do not fear me

I will surround you with

a thousand fingers, then be gone

yet still with you

I am the lingering doubt

you can’t loosen from your mind

the obscure hope that invisibly

drives your passion,

the tender touch

that gently guides you

to your destiny,

though you never knew it was there

I am the seething anger

exploding without permission

then tumbling into warm embrace

and fading again into something else new—

but here I am again!

no, you cannot quite grasp me—

do not even try,

just let me flow past,

I am the moment,

the movement

swirling, confused and


Reach not, then, for the stars

nor stay planted at the base—

the living is in between


Ruth Handy recited a poem, “Spring from the Backroads.”  It is a compilation of haiku which was combine into one poem.  She said, “My poetry has come in spurts. I first began writing poetry around 1975 when I was in a highly stressful hospital job. These poems were rather angry.

In the 1990’s, I became interested in Japanese culture and read the Haiku poems of Basho. I wrote a number of Haiku poems at that time, and my interest in Haiku and nature continues to the present.  This current poem came after I retired from social work in March, 2018.”


by Ruth Handy

In golden spikey hillside mounds,

Blooming flannel bushes in season.

Red wing blackbirds appear

On every other Corc’ran wheat field fence post.

Lime green Jeffrey Pine pollen

Smothers all surfaces in the mountains.

Red Indian Paintbrush sprigs

Stand erect right by the side of the road.

The quail family crosses in front of me,

Tiny ones fly over.


Tanya Dixon, performed a rhythmic poem “I choose me.”  She said that the poem “was birthed out of an experience where I had to make a decision. As I wrote, the rhythm came suddenly providing a nice experience for me. The rhythm aided me in moving forward to make a decision to be in a better place.”

I choose me

By Tanya Dixon

© 2018 Tanya Dixon

Awake at 3 am

Soul in derision

For I made a decision

To allow you in

And again

As usual you proved who you were

Not worthy of my space

But I gave you grace

And chance

I took a final glance today

I come to this conclusion

I choose me

I choose my sanity

Your plots and plans are crazy

Are you not in love with you

For if you were, what you say and do

Would be pure through your words

And so I heard your dismay at my success

I felt your toxins

contaminating my world with your mess

So I Detox

I detox my engaging conversation

Making a conversion in my

Thought process

Dropping all distress

That doesn’t belong to me

So happily I say, “I choose me”

I choose my beauty

I choose my style

I choose my being

I choose my destiny

I choose to listen to Sarah Vaughn

Belt out her sagacious melodies in the morning

I choose to step out on the horizons of my life,

For my new day is dawning

I choose me

So I say farewell

To the unnecessary

To the bothersome

To the old script

And I grip today anew

Catching the beautiful view of what is to be

I now exhale, I now breathe

I choose me


Carla Martin recites her poems, often, at the open mic.  During the summer, she performed her poem “Ode to Music and My Piano.”

In response to my question, “When did you start to play piano?” Martin said, “I can still remember when I first longed to play the piano. As a second grader, I heard a kid play Beethoven’s “Fur Elise” during a school assembly.  It knocked my socks off!  It was so beautiful, the way it rippled over the keys.  It was mournful, yet hopeful. . . . . I realized at that moment that music could express feelings that words couldn’t capture.  It could conjure up pictures in your mind, rouse you out of a funk, transport you to a blissful state.”

“And that is what music still does for me today.  And poetry.”

“When I read a poem, a really good poem, it does for me what music does.  It presents an emotion, a situation, a distilled essence of life, that I can take in and, in doing so, somehow gain a better sense of the world. Emily Dickinson gives me glimpses of God and Nature.  Walt Whitman gives me sweeping vistas of America.  Edgar Allen Poe presents murky mysteries of melancholy and madness.   Nikki Giovanni and Maya Angelo capture the cadences of proud, self-realized African American women.  Dylan Thomas liltingly expresses angst and passion.  Pablo Neruda melodically elevates ordinary objects of life. . . . .”

Ode to Music and My Piano

by Carla Martin

I slip my fingers onto

the ivory and ebony keys.

They are cool and smooth

to the touch.

When pressed,

a sonorous sound

lifts into the sultry summer night

as fireflies flicker

under twilight trees

My eyes follow black patterns

dancing across the page.

My brain interprets

these hieroglyphs

into lilting melodies

and strident chords.


Mysterious essence

that describes

the abandoned companion’s pain

the conquering hero’s joy

the new mother’s love.

You waft into our ears

spiral up to our minds

pulling out memories

of Christmas Eves,

ocean waves,

and first kisses.

Under your sway

the lonely night

is filled,

the hardened heart

is softened,


is made right.

In your spell

the universe spins

and stars twinkle.

My feet press the pedals

that release vibrating strings.

Sound reverberates

through the dusk.

Fingers ache,

neck strains,

yet my soul is soothed

after playing music

on my piano.


Chloe Joseph recited her poem, “Backless Dress.”  She said, “An older version of this poem was published in The Chrysalis Reader after winning the Bailey Prize for Poetry in 2011.”


by Chloe Joseph

I was seven when my mom told me,

as she cleaned collard greens in the kitchen sink,

that every time a woman sinned

a seed was planted in her ribs, right under her heart,

a mustard yellow thing, jutting angel-hair-thin vines

through blood and bone,

splintering tissue, right through that pillow-thick-membrane,

the aorta, four chambers, the heart.

I asked her, “What happens when the seed grows?”

She dropped the greens into the water,

snatched my little hand within her own and forced it

on her chest between the white straps,

the soft creases of her summer dress.

She was all brown skin and sweat

when she said, “That seed stays and it aches and it tangles you up.”

I felt the thump and rush of her heart through the palm of my hand,

but something in her eyes changed, clicked, then something in her chest,

like that seed was growing up and up,

drumming each of her ribs on its way.

Another click, the doorknob as my daddy walked

into the living room, click-click, the kitchen,

click-click, the thick heels of his shoes

working the tile that mom worked

hard to clean.

I saw his movements from the corner of my eye,

he was watching us as if nothing was wrong, my hand still on her damp skin.

I took a breath and pulled away from her meekly,

Ran my bare toes over cracks on the aged linoleum floor.

She turned her back on me then,

finished cleaning the collards for dinner.

My dad placed his hands on my mother’s waist, kissed her neck,

and she craned for his caress.

I watched the movement of her slick shoulder blades,

traced the canals of green and blue veins,

watched them intersect without warning,

with the subtlety of vines, vines, vines

running all over and under that skin,

her backless dress failing to hide all the hush-hush.


Thomas Brill featured at May 2018 Open Mic

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Chris Nielsen


Thomas Brill was the featured poet at the May 2018 Open Mic at Dagny’s Coffee.  He has written about 1000 poems over the years.

Brill said “I first wrote poems in high school. Bad poems.  Song, lyrical poetry.  I was interested in creative writing, and some poems were published.

“It was during college years when I was really interested in poetry.  Another student, a poet and musician, wrote a lot.  We wrote together.

“Then there was a professor who was really encouraging.  He said my poems were ‘brilliant.’  My poems during college were bold, interesting, ‘dadaistic,’ silly and fun.  (In college,) I expressed my nutty, expressive self.  Writing was a refuge.  My eccentricities became more pronounced, like dancing out on tree limbs.  It was liberating and freeing.

“In later years, I wrote about my anxiety, strong emotions, especially negative emotions.”

Brill said “I grew up with seven siblings, so I was never alone.  So I do not like being alone.  But when I write poetry, I am comfortable being alone.

“I am a unconventional guy with the trappings of conventionality.  (Brill is an attorney in a large law firm.)  When you really write poetry and are baring your soul, that is not a conventional thing to do. Now (writing) is a necessity, to express myself.  It’s like food.  It’s like stretching.  Every morning.  Usually five days a week.”

Of the 1,000 poems that Brill has written, he considers 200 to 300 of them to be decent.

At the Open Mic, Brill recited his “decent” poems from the various phases, over the years, of his writing.  For the story for Kern Poetry website, Brill provided examples of poems from the various phases of his writing.


The first phase was as a college student.  Brill provided, by memory, the following two poems from those years:


By Thomas Brill

the letter c

is the only letter

I could love

because it is smooth

and so




the CIA                                                (a Haiku)

by Thomas Brill

Fidel Castro has

Charisma.  The CIA

Wants to wear his beard . . .


Brill’s second phase of poetry writing was during law school and the first few years practicing law.  He felt frantic living alone.  And he wrote a lot while drinking.

The poem, rebecca, is from the second phase and it was performed at the Open Mic.



by Thomas Brill


this bitch called Rebecca called

snotty nosed female of the genre

and said oh boy was she pissed

and she doesn’t know how many

people dumped shit on me but i

didn’t have to do it to other people

and yelled like that at me and got

real mad and told me she had a

husband and three kids and a dog

and she didn’t know she was gonna

hafta stay til eight to get the research



I said oh yeah well it’s just part of

the job you persnickety bitch and she

stopped me and said what’s persnickety

and I said you know kind a like uppity

only when white people do it and she

said that’s stupid how can you even say

something so racist you fecund hound

and I said I don’t think you used fecund

right and she said I did too and I said



then there was this older lady like seventy

eight or something who blew her brains out

the same day but I don’t think it was cause

she heard us fighting on the telephone



The third phase of Brill’s writing was when he was in Napa, California.  There was a group of writers which he was a part of.  There were 200 people who got together and about 20 would read.  Brill said “This was when my writing became mature.  The nature of my writing changed, it was more creative.”

One of the poems from the third phase is Man Living Quiet Life in the 21st Century.


Man Living Quiet Life in the 21st Century

By Thomas Brill


It’s not that I go around crying with big

gooey tear drops in my eyes, oh no,

like a refreshing rain storm that would bring too much relief,

instead I’m parched dry like Bush-Gore debate,

feeding on e-mails that contain no e-motion,

reeling in fish hooks to which bits and bytes

have attached themselves leaving no room for the fish,

guesstimating my age and weight like the carnie

who’s always right—how does he know?

–I can’t even get my remote to work.


Another poem from the third phase was inspired by the death of Brill’s brother-in-law from a car accident.  Brill said, “the poem is about the juxtaposition of the very profound moment, like death, and the triviality of the way most lives are lived.  The way we live the biggest part of our lives.”  The poem is fill the hearse.


fill the hearse

by Thomas Brill


fill the hearse

with super unleaded,

not regular,

at least 89 octane

turn on the headlights,

day or night,

and drive slowly

down the grease stained highway,

while all the other cars

sputter and drool

carbon deposits

on the wheezing asphalt,

following slowly headlamps lit

dimly searching

for signs of life in

oncoming cars—

nothing there


then single file into

the park,

strewn with crumpled bags

and paper McDonald’s cartons

(no more Styrofoam,

because it doesn’t biodegrade,

he thought,

as they lowered her body

into the hole)

and Thunderbird bottles,

cigarette butts right there

where they’ve put her


a squirrel suspiciously fat

runs off,

crows perched on branches of

trees blooming

like a lover’s lips in Spring,

they lay her down

under one,

where in the Fall the

pink blossoms would

slowly wrinkle up


and drop onto the young

grass there


The fourth and current phase of poetry writing is since being back in Bakersfield in 2007.  Brill said, “my poetry is more reflective and deeper.  I see things more holistic.  The different parts making sence, seeing how everything fits together.”  The poem, Mere illusion, is from this period.


Mere illusion

By Thomas Brill


There is music

and there are lists.

The rest is mere illusion.

Oh, and there is the bed frame I

painted blue yesterday,

Not Picasso blue,

just the most basic blue

you can paint,

the blue not of sky and not

of Picasso, but of Home Depot,

which for me was challenge


patiently pretending I was done


slow strokes covering every


The first thing I ever painted.

There is no poetry

in painting a bed

Home Depot blue.

Oh, but there is poetry too.


Music, lists, the

blue bed frame

and poetry.

The rest is mere illusion.


~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


The May Open Mic was another evening of sharing of original poetic words.  The variety of subject and honesty and fun was ever present at the event.


Reading, Rhyming and Writing at Kids’ Open Mic

Story by Walter Stormont

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola


In the Children’s Section of the Beale Memorial Library there is a colorful little amphitheater that people might overlook as they head toward other destinations.  Not so an excited group of youngsters, parents and other adults who gathered April 21 for a Kids’ Open Mic as part of National Poetry Month.

“It’s something new for us,” said Library Associate Ariel Dyer.  “Next year, definitely, let’s do it again.”  She organized the experience along with Portia Choi.

The Open Mic kicked off with an appearance of children’s author Shirley Castro who has written a series of books about the Pelican Family, illustrated by her son Chris.  Shirley brought a huge pelican puppet to the library.

But the kids were the stars today, and Shirley invited Makenna Moon and Ally Price to take turns reading from one of her books.  And a wonderful job they did, bringing applause from the captivated audience.

Up stepped Coco Chapman, complete with not one, but two original poems.  The first was an acrostic using the first letter of each line to spell out the title…



By Coco Chapman

Bun spun,

Arms graceful and elegant,

Laces tied, neatly tucked,

Leaping then landing,

Every ballerina on her

Toes seeks applause.


The next poem in Coco’s repertoire was titled “Swinging,” a concrete poem, shaped like the topic.  Coco had made copies available to the audience.  “See the swing?” she asked.  Sure enough, the words of the delightful poem were arranged to resemble a swing: the first and last lines being the ropes or chains, and the middle five lines as the “seat.”  So, imagine that as you read:



By Coco Chapman

Like a bird in the sky I fly high,

like a kite in the wind I glide by, as I sing to and fro,

back and forth, high and low… Like a branch in the breeze

I sway low, like a leaf in the fall I drift slow, as I spring

down and up, upside-down, right-side up… I see the trees,

I bend my knees, I kick the air, I flip my hair. I dip and tip, I

soar and rise, all the way up to paradise!


It’s probably no surprise that Coco, the daughter of Richard and Lora Chapman, is also an accomplished piano composer.

Portia then came to the mic and asked for help reciting a poem by the great Maya Angelou titled “Life Doesn’t Frighten Me.”  This holds true for Ally who returned to trade lines with Portia. While propping the book open, Portia quipped, “I’ve had 65 years of learning to read upside down!”

When Ally capped off the poem with, “Life doesn’t frighten me at all,” Portia threw out the question, “Anybody want to share what you’re frightened of?” For example, she said, she was afraid of the dark when she was a little girl in Korea.

A hand shot up… “I’m afraid of snakes!”

“Black widow spiders!” offered another youngster, to which Portia said, “You can run away or stomp them with your feet.”  Coco countered, “Not if you’re barefoot!”  A wonderful creative moment.

Near the library’s sign proclaiming, “Reading Books is Awesome,” Makenna stepped back up and recited a poem called “Lonely Flies the Wind.”

As all this was going on, Ava Fernandez was looking for something to recite from a stack of poetry books.  She settled on a selection from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends.  In her clear, expressive voice, Ava did a fabulous job with “The Dentist and the Crocodile.”

During an interview, Ava was asked if she writes any poetry.  “I read poetry,” she answered, adding that she does plan to write in the future.  She showed that she’s truly a modern poet when she commented, “Rhyme doesn’t matter.”

With recitals done, Ariel from the library announced the second phase of the day’s festivities: “You guys want to make poems?”  Arranged on a table were sheets of paper, glue sticks, and hundreds of single words trimmed out of magazines.

Coco, Iris and Jaden stayed for at least another hour, focused intently on looking for the right words amid all the possibilities.  They were literally mining for rhymes.  But, as previously noted, rhyme doesn’t matter, as evidenced by Jaden, who pieced together a rhythmic tale of Dinosaurs, Giants and Amazing Bots.

Iris, who completed several works, filled in with crayon where a few words were needed:













The young artists had great fun reciting, chatting, concentrating and creating in celebration of National Poetry Month.  In the end, Coco was the last one sitting, having found the final piece to her poetic puzzle:







Flora and Fauna are Natural Topics for Poetry

By Walter Stormont

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola 

Flora: the Yucca Plant, the Golden Poppy, the Giant Sequoia and the Kern County Larkspur.

Fauna:  the Roadrunner, the Kit Fox, the Golden Trout and the Honeybee.

All the above are examples of plants and wildlife native to California.  Each was immortalized in poetry shared by local authors whose works are collected in Writing Flora, Writing Fauna: A Collection of Poems from the Southern San Joaquin Valley.  It’s the third in the “Writing” series conceived and edited by English professor Matthew Woodman of California State University, Bakersfield.  The books are published in collaboration with the Walter Stiern Library.  They can be purchased through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

On April 10 in the library’s stately Dezember Room, the tome’s contributors gathered to recite their works before a gathering of about 100 aficionados, many of whom received a copy of the beautiful anthology.  It was one of a series of events organized to mark National Poetry Month.

Annis Cassels of Writers of Kern put in a good word for her group and noted, “I’m thrilled to see seven of our members represented in this book.”

CSUB Outreach Librarian Terezita Overduin kicked off the evening by welcoming the poets and audience and introducing the evening’s emcee, professor Woodman.  He in turn called each contributing poet to the microphone after sharing their biographies from the book.

One by one, the poets presented their thoughts on flora and fauna in verse.  They spoke from the heart, some even using visual effects and a bit of performance skills.  At one point, Mother Nature, who was being celebrated, actually got in on the act as Tim Vivian recited “The Startling Wild Grasses of Amsterdam.”  Blustery winds outside caused a dramatic whistling sound through a couple of side doors, which added to Tim’s moment.

When David Kettler came up to recite his selections, “The Snake” and “Cold Grass,” he quipped, “This is the first time I’ve read a poem and it wasn’t at a wedding or a funeral.”  His skillful rhyming, sometimes with a touch of humor, proves why he is often called upon to do public presentations.

Professor Woodman has already announced the topics for next year’s anthology: Bakersfield and Sound, so surely the tumblers of many poetic minds are now spinning.

*  *  *  *

Several of the Flora and Fauna authors agreed to answer a few questions about themselves and one of their featured poems.

Among them is Don Thompson, Poet Laureate of Kern County, who told the gathering, “The poetry scene in Bakersfield is amazing. There are things going on in the big city that don’t match this.”  His website,, is where you can find out about his books and chapbooks, including the latest collection, From Here On: Four Sunday Drives.

*  *  *  *

Sequence In Which The Roots Could Be Praying For Us

By Don Thompson

  1. Burned Chaparral


The deep roots could be praying

Inaudibly, taking time

From their own slow recovery

To make intercession for ours.


  1. Uprooted


The wreckage of this almond grove,

Dead leaves the color of dried blood,

Shouldn’t trouble anyone—unless

Every loss reminds you of all losses.


  1. Mesquite


The sparse shade beneath it tattered

Like rotten cloth, it has nothing to offer.

Dry branches twist in on themselves,

Choosing half-death as a way of life.


  1. Underground


Among things that feed on light,

Communion: faith in rain,

Fear of drought, of fire and pale nodes

For which there is no known cure.


  1. Semiotic


In the rain, burnt umber nut trees

Finally come to the dark end

Of the brown scale.  That means

We’ll see leaf buds in less than a month.


  1. Faith


From here to the barren hills,

Nothing but sand grass and thistles—

Except for one spindly mesquite

With roots six inches deeper than doubt.


*  *  *  *


From first thought until completion, how long would you say it took to write this poem?

It depends on how you look at it: an hour or so in one sense and fifty years in another.

This is an interesting form, the “sequence” format.  Is it your own invention?

A whole book of stand-alone quatrains would be tedious, I think, so I wanted to find some way to gather them into groups around a subject of some sort.  Ultimately, these groups will accrue since I tend to write about the same things over and over: trees, rocks, and critters.  The idea of calling them “sequences” occurred to me, then the wicked impulse to add something quirky or goofy.

Tell us about your routine as a poet.  Are you always thinking about it?  Do you carry a notebook around?

No notebook.  But I’ve always written daily for the most part, early in the morning since there’s no way I would have had any energy left after working all day.  Retired, I keep up the routine, being a notoriously inflexible creature of habit.

What is the first poem you remember writing (and some background on it)?

As I recall, I was reading Marianne Moore and came upon a phrase that set off something in me.  I jotted down a ditty beginning with those words: “I saw a bat by daylight.”  Surprisingly, it was published in a poetry mag in 1964.  Of course, this story may not be true – only a true memory.

How often, if at all, do you use rhyme in your poetry?

I spent a year (about ten years ago) writing only rhyme and meter.  Never could publish those things as a book, but you can find them as a free e-book online if you’re interested.  It’s called Nowhere. There should be a link to it on the website: San Joaquin Ink (

What would you say to encourage the budding or aspiring poets out there?

Read.  Write, even if it’s only practice.  If a poem drifts by, you’ll miss it if you’re not sitting there waiting.  Also, I have a Latin motto on my desk: “Opus fac. Nihil aliud valet.”  (Do the work.  Nothing else matters.)


*  *  *  *

A third-year English major at CSUB, Andrea Franco selected an example of flora that many of us can relate to:

*  *  *  *


By Andrea Franco

 She sits there, peacefully.

Occasionally swaying back and forth

As the forceful winds

Of winter nights approach.


She sits there, puzzled.

Not knowing her purpose,

Nor understanding the means

Of her existence.


She sits there, impatiently

Waiting upon his arrival.

Hoping he’ll finally act

On his temptation.


Dressed in red,

So radiant.

So exquisite.

Blemishes nonexistent.


Bursting of exotic beauty,

She screams, settling the voices

Of those around her.

She is the outspoken one

Sitting quietly among the ones

Less talked about.


Although grown, she blooms

At the sight of him.

Observation is no longer enough.

He must have her. Cherish her.

Not just momentarily, rather,

For all of eternity.


He reaches for her- nature’s gift,

Finally ceasing to resist the urge.

Carrying her away,

She sits peacefully in palm.

No longer impatient.

No longer puzzled.


*  *  *  *


What prompted you to write this poem? 

“Rose” was inspired by my fondness of roses, specifically red ones.  I find that a rose’s beauty lies in its intricacy, and its rich, intense red pigment is incredibly luring to the naked eye.  It’s hard to pass by one without taking a second glance.  Not only did I want to express the beauty of a flower such as this one, I wanted to express the beauty of unconditional love.

Is the poem written in any particular form or style?

This poem was written in free form.  I did want each stanza to convey a certain idea, however, rather than focus too much on the structure of it, I was preoccupied with making sure the poem clearly captured all my thoughts and ideas.  I find it is most satisfying to have my ideas expressed in full, on the page, rather than making sure I write a sonnet or develop a poem that uses a specific poetic meter.  The use of imagery and personification helped capture the ideas I had for the creation of “Rose.”

How long did it take to craft your poem “Rose”?

It took about a week to craft “Rose.”  Each day I worked on it I spent hours on end trying to mold it to perfection.  I tend to be a little picky, so I wanted to make sure I felt nothing but fulfillment when reading the poem entirely.  I wanted to make sure it expressed romanticism, and that it rolled off the tongue as a sort of love story while reading it.  I can honestly say I am quite happy with the result.

When did you start exercising your poetic gift, and what caused you to want to be a poet?

Since youth, I’ve always thought there was a sort of sophistication that came with being able to develop your own piece of literature.  I’ve always been fond of novelists and poets and appreciated their intelligence.  Although I felt this way at a young age, I never really had the urge to write works of my own until recently.  I did, however, craft one poem when I was about ten years old.  It was inspired by the hardships my mother was going through at the time.  I wanted to express what she may have been feeling so she could read it and relate to it.  Now, I’ve been writing poems and short stories for a creative writing class I am taking, which has given me the want to continue expressing myself through writing when the class is over.

Do you have a favorite poet?

I can appreciate the works of all poets, however, I would not necessarily say I have a favorite. There are a few poems that spark my interest belonging to different authors.  These include: “Tell the truth but tell it slant” by Emily Dickinson, “To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet, and “Sadie and Maud” by Gwendolyn Brooks.  These are the few poems I have come across that stuck with me.  I enjoy the way Bradstreet expresses passionate love in her poem, as well as the underlying message and suggested meaning in Dickenson’s and Brooks’ poems.

As a poet, what is your routine like, or is there one?  Do you write every day?

I do not have a set routine when it comes to writing poetry.  I do, occasionally, write down how I’m feeling.  Finding the words to express myself verbally is a struggle for me, so I sometimes like to sit down and give myself time to think about how I would like to describe the way I’m feeling and write it down.  I would like to start writing in a diary, daily, and use it as a reference to write more poetry.

What is your normal poetic style?  Do you use rhyme often?

I am very much fond of poems that rhyme.  I also like reading poems I can easily comprehend, rather than ones I would start pulling my hair out to try and decipher.  That being said, I enjoy writing poems that rhyme and can easily be understood.  Making sure a poem rhymes, however, is not always a main concern.  With “Rose,” my main concern was making sure it captured a sort of romantic flare.  It is most important that all my poems capture the concept I initially had for each of them.

Please tell us a about yourself… where you grew up, your family, anything you would like to share.

I am originally from Santa Maria, California.  I am 21 years old and have no siblings.  I’ve always been socially awkward, at least, that’s what I think.  It has always been incredibly difficult for me to interact with people partly because I struggle communicating verbally, and because I don’t know how to be myself.  As cliché as this may sound, I don’t really know who I am entirely.  One of my biggest difficulties is forcing myself to stray away from conformity.  I don’t want to act a certain way or do certain things because people tell me to.  I want my actions to be the result of my true feelings, and I want those feelings to be accepted by others.  I may be rambling here, but I mention these things not only because it’s incredibly therapeutic, but also because I want those who can relate to feel better knowing they’re not alone.  You’re not alone.  On a new note, I have two amazing parents who express their love for me in their own unique way.  How hard they work to take care of me and provide a sense of stability is beyond incredible.  They have endured so much, and still they fight for achievement.  Still they remain sane, even if one argues otherwise.  Still they are the kindest known to man, and still they conquer the world.

As a poet, do you have any goals?

My goal is to create works of literature people can relate to.  I want to express myself through poetry in hopes my finished works will touch the souls of others.  I also want to continue expressing my love of love.

*  *  *  *

Mateo Lara has published two books of poetry, Kita-Miha and Other Poems and La Futura Tuga, plus a chapbook, X, Marks the Spot.  These are all available on Amazon.  He has also had works published in Orpheus and The New Engagement.  A note to keep in mind as you read the Q&A: Mateo attests he enjoys cheap wine and bad horror movies.


*  *  *  *

Crotalus scutulatus


By Mateo Lara


Pardon its lethal dose, side-winding its way through California dystopia.

Forgive vicious flicking, glare sharp, piercing through thin skin,

Satisfying quick tantrums.

The real: do not tread on me.

It must resist, look for heart, sweltering, hissing,

Bit into every fiber of your identity.

Rattling against a temple, conveying power,

This pattern bursting on hazardous journey through golden state terra.


And I’m hissing now, I’m cold-blooded,

Minding my own, witness the dry storm of us.

Scales connecting brown skin

Between ivory fang, poisonous to the veins,

Let me strike you.  I will love you like you are non-threatening.


And the click-clack, is just my warning.

My tribal noise is just reminding you.

Leave me where I need to be, and walk the other way,

You’ve done enough, your first error, was coming here.


Yellow eyes, fixed on radiating warmth, scent through my tongue,

I cannot let go, I remember what you taste of.


*  *  *  *


What prompted you to choose this topic for your poem?

Well, we were instructed to write a poem based on California fauna.  I didn’t want to do something traditional.  I am sure someone might have done the kit foxes, or the birds, or California bear, you know, just something like that.  So, I decided to go the reptile route and see what was native to California.  I picked the rattlesnake because it gets a bad reputation for being venomous but oftentimes, it is because people go into its territory and get bit.  Reptiles mind their business, so with my poem I wanted to make it about the rattlesnake, but also how people just want to be loved, but sometimes it is hard to do that because they have a bad reputation as a toxic person.

Can you say how much time you spent on it?  Did it come quickly or was it a gradual process?

I was sitting on a line for a poem for a long time.  I didn’t know how to incorporate it or make it more. When this prompt came up, it fit perfectly with the idea I was going for.  The line was: “I will love you like you are non-threatening”, and the rest of the poem gradually came.  I think I wrote it in like three days.  After getting the prompt.

What reaction have you gotten to the poem?

Some people think it’s one of my better poems.  They like the comparisons of the rattlesnake to human beings.

What is the worst horror movie ever made?  Does that make it the best?  

I think the worst horror ever made was probably any of the movies from the Leprechaun franchise.  No, it does not make it the best.  My favorite horror movie is Nightmare on Elm Street.

Okay, back to poetry… When and how did you become interested in poetry?

I was interested in poetry in high school, but I didn’t take it seriously until my freshman year of college.  I had always been writing, but I never had a specific outlet to put my thoughts and observations, but I found poetry and it helped put everything together.

Do you have a preferred form, or do you mostly “do your own thing?”

I usually write in free verse.  Sometimes I add rhyme schemes, just depends on where the poem wants to go, but I usually stick to free verse.  I like it because of the freedom and different styles that have emerged from it.

What is it about poetry that keeps you writing it?

I think there is something important to say.  Finally, I’ve found that is okay to empower myself through words.  Whether bringing power to the LGBTQ+ community or the Latinx community, poetry helps me say what I need to say.  If something is bothering me or someone is hurting me or the world is doing something, I have this outlet to bring it out there and discuss it.  Poetry has many forms and reasons and it is inherently political, identity politics and world politics, whatever comes to the front and burns in my heart.  Well, I can talk about it.  We each have a unique perspective and poetry helps lend our voices to the fight for change and understanding.

Are you interested in writing a novel, or being a playwright or other writing pursuits?

Yes!  I hope to write one novel in my life.  I do want to keep writing plays and maybe screenplays.  I have been working on plays and short film scripts, so maybe I’ll keep pursuing these other writing outlets while Poetry stays my focus.

Tell us a bit about yourself.  

I grew up in Delano, California. I moved to Bakersfield in 2005.  My life was definitely different back then than it is now.  I did a complete 180 as an individual.  I am learning more about myself and learning to love myself more after years of hating who I was.  My mom basically raised me and my brothers by herself, with help from my grandma and grandpa, but mostly it was a rough time, but we were always taken care of.  I like horror movies, cheap wine, and I know that life is a growing process and I will always grow and get better if I am open to it.

*  *  *  *

Sidney Russell and her sister Bailey Russell are not only identical twins who dress exactly alike, they have identical goals in life: to become pediatricians and authors.  They are pursuing PhDs in English before attending med school, and they both work at CSUB’s Writing Resource Center.  They and their mother, Caroline Russell, are all published in Writing Flora, Writing Fauna.  For now, we’ll let Sidney represent the family.

*  *  *  *

One Stalk for All the State

By Sidney Russell


Standing Proud and strong

In the field beneath the sun

On the mountainside

In the day and in the night

Swaying gently with the breeze

A vibrant orange

Like the fire, like the dawn,

Deep green too as the verdant grass

Reaching for the sky, never trembling

Signaling the power and the grace

Of the entire state and all its glory

And the majesty of a mother so enduring

Even in the driest years,

Yes, even in the drought

Still quietly standing, never stirring

Though lessened mass not at all diminished

In the eye of the beholder

A symbol of so much

Yet so little of frame, of stature

This is the California Poppy.

*  *  *  *


How did you go about preparing to write your poem?  Did you study up on the California Poppy?

I actually didn’t study the California Poppy for this particular poem, but I have always been fascinated by them.  When we were little, Bailey and I got to go on field trips (or the equivalent of them for home-schooled students) with our grandparents which were in the wilderness looking at wildflowers (Grandma had studied botany and knew a lot about them making it more than just seeing a flower or two – we even learned some of the edible ones like Miner’s Lettuce, Brodiaea, and Lemon Grass).  When the flora/fauna topic came up, I had a hard time picking what plant to write about because there are just so many wonderful ones, but eventually I decided to write about one that stuck in my mind – the California Poppy. I remember driving by a hill covered with the orange flowers when we were little – orange is my favorite color by the way, so it really stood out to me – and then I got to thinking about how the Poppy is also our state flower and how it represents so much, and I wanted to write a poem that reflected that.  The rest just sort of flowed without much more preparation than Googling a picture so that I could check the color of a poppy stem.

Was there any other example of the state’s flora that you considered?

Yes, I considered many other plants in the state.  One was the Redwood, but, ultimately, I thought the image of a small, delicate flower that was somehow representative of us all just might make a mightier poem than the more obvious ancient and towering Redwoods.  Still, it was a close call.

In your busy life, how often do you find time to sit down and exercise your poetic gift?

Rather than finding time to sit down and exercise my poetic gift, poems just sort of knock me over the head and I scramble to find somewhere to write them down.  I’m always on the go, whether in classes or working at the Writing Resource Center, or at an academic conference (three of the four weekends in April), so my poems tend to be written in weird places like in the back of a notebook (I have actually taken to writing notes only on the front side of the page so that the back is free for poems, story ideas, and sketches), on a napkin (I have pens that I carry for just that purpose), in an obscure Word document on my laptop that I may have to hunt down later, or on some scrap of paper – I’ve even emailed a short snippet of a poem to myself.  I try to make time at least once a week to formally sit down and write, but I find keeping schedules like that is rather difficult and I would rather write when the mood strikes me – I just have to be prepared to multitask!

What poets, if any, would you consider your inspirations?

Oh, there are so many poets I consider inspirations that it is hard to list them all.  Among them are my Mom who taught me to write (she was my teacher until I started high school), J.R.R. Tolkien whose snippets of poetry and verse throughout The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings stick with me always, and Shakespeare (as well as anyone else who has the patience to write in Iambic Pentameter!  I do occasionally and find it fun, time consuming, and sometimes difficult.)

Have you and your twin sister ever collaborated on a poem, maybe trading off stanzas?

Bailey (my twin sister) and I often collaborate when we write – not just poems, but stories as well.  That said, there is no rhyme or reason to how we co-write.  Sometimes it’s by line or stanza; other times, we just start talking and see where it goes.  We are also each other’s critics – so a poem that you see of mine has usually been read at least once by Bailey for feedback and vice versa. 

Did you ever consider writing a novel?  If so, what would it be about?

Consider!  I have already started writing a novel – a few to be exact – and on all different topics.  One is based in a country after a war has just ended, following the 17-year-old female leader of the victorious army who feels responsible for all the deaths in the war.  Another is set in a more fantasy-like world (Tolkien-esque, if you will).  As for any other details… those are a secret until they’re written!

LisaAnn LoBasso featured at April Open Mic

Story by Portia Choi

Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola


LisaAnn LoBasso was the featured poet in April 2018.  LoBasso has performed in California and nationally.  She has performed as a featured poet with past California Poet Laureate Al Young and also in well-known venues such as the Bowery Poetry Club, the Nuyorican Poets’ Cafe, Cornelia Street Cafe, and A Gathering of Tribes in New York City.

LoBasso said that she “started performing when I was about 18 years old. I began performing while in college at Berkeley and then performed at the art gallery at Bakersfield College (BC) while back in Bakersfield for the summer.  During my time in town back then, I also curated and organized exhibits at BC.”  Although she’s been on a long hiatus from performing, she has performed a few years ago at the Claremont Reading Series, in Los Angeles County, after being asked by a retired professor who has been her lifelong mentor, as well as at Bakersfield College in an event that honored poets of this valley.

When asked what it was like to recite her poetry to a local audience at the Open Mic, LoBasso said that “I can perform almost on automatic.  But, I always want to do something new.  I don’t write poetry right now, so I did not want to repeat the same poems again to the same people.”

At the April Open Mic, LoBasso commented that the photographer Ezekiel Espanola was a close friend.  She said, “He thanked me, how I had influenced him to pursue the arts, that said that without my influence he may not have conceived art as a career option.  I met Ezekiel when I had the nX (Non-Profit Arts Venue).  He felt we had created a true artists’ community and was doing his own work to try to influence the arts in our county and he wanted to be involved and try to combine some of our efforts.”

When asked about her writing habit, LoBasso said that when and if she writes, she “sets aside time, usually late at night or early in the morning when it is quiet.  In the past , I might have taken my computer into a corner in a dark bar where I’d be left alone to my soda water and thoughts, but now I don’t do that.  When I was very young, I hand wrote everything. And then typed it out on a typewriter. It was a cumbersome process. Sometimes when I was out, I’d write on anything, a napkin or a receipt, but eventually, as technology advanced, I wrote directly into the computer.”

About the book that she is working on she said, “I wrote 7,000 words in one day.  I’m a high intensive writer when I write, but I’m more restricted physically than I used to be. I cannot just sit at a computer and write. Instead, I may dictate to another person or voice record and then have it transcribed. If I write, I write whatever thoughts I have and avoid all self-editing on that first initial draft.”

When speaking about the poetry community in Bakersfield, LoBasso said “There is an interest in the community more than I have ever seen, but it doesn’t always feel like more people are involved in the organization of poetry events. It would be great to see more and more people who are interested step up and initiate more events.”

LoBasso is currently concentrating on a writing project which is not poetry but relevant to our current societal changes.

She has published two books of poetry:  In the Swollen and Oleander Milkshake.

Two of the poems that LoBasso recited at the Open Mic are “Sugarloaf” and “Third Marriage.”  LoBasso said, “’Sugarloaf’ was written in the first few months of Jasmin’s life in 1992 and ‘Third marriage’ was written in May 2015 when Jasmin married.”



by LisaAnn LoBasso


In Sugarloaf, in the center of 102

acres, her twenty-three inch body

watched trees grow, saw streams

flow below the earth, heard wet

sugar dripping from branches where

whispering birds shot from waterfall

to pine.


A poem always has rape in it.


Molestation crawling from the walls.

Anger scrawled in a dark place, in a poem.


When she turned, I didn’t answer her gurgle.

Her white skin, pasting her body together,

Tightened as she smiled.

And I smiled.  What is this?

Everyone needs peace.


Yes, from the fear in a hollow space, in a poem.

Her syrupy body glimmers in the daylight.

Her eyes glaze over as the fog creeps around

her cheeks whining red.

She licks my nose, nodding her football head

when I laugh.

Her small hands clasp my hair, ripping it.


I stare at her lightbulb body.

How could anyone not love her body?

How could any man love her body?

She is my baby, my daughter dripping

sweet from her mouth like sap from leaves.

Her eyes are blue-grey like the pewter sky.


I don’t doubt for a minute that she loves her life.

Her grandfather blasts Gatorade cans off fallen

logs where I spot deer tracks.

Her grandmother wipes her diamond chin

As white slop flows like a river.

Why can’t life be like the forest, she crinkles

her question, her forehead growing old

like her mother.

I flatten my face in the icy creek

that dries up in seconds.  The tress fall.

Birds boomerang into oak trunks and crash

to the sad earth.


I am still mesmerized by her body,

its picturesque innocence dripping

sweet square sugarloaf, I almost cannot

hear the roar of the monster

eating the mountain

filled with rape, incest

molestation in the dark silent squirrel holes.




Third Marriage

by LisaAnn LoBasso


It’s 11:14pm, the night before you will wed

The rehearsal dinner just ending, we slipped out

hours early, for the needs

of our abandoned bear

scratches on her head


The girls henna and polish, scrub and thread

The black and white flashdrive missing

No, no, not in the hole

of my coral cross-body bag


It’s the final hour

The sweet short poem I was to read is tossing back

a nightcap with the flashdrive

I scour the world wide web for something to

capture a moment, a poet’s perfected ppppp


(But) there is no alliteration for marriage

I know I should be writing your wedding poem

But I dont write poetry anymore

I read Sharon Olds


We stood

            holding each other by the hand, yet I also

            stood as if alone, for a moment,

            just before the vow…


            …I felt

            the silent, dry, crying ghost of my

            parents’ marriage there…

            …one of the plummeting flies…


I’m zombie-ing through, you

insert yourself to claim a promise

set into motion more than two decades ago

Two weeks, only my back to you

as wedding moments whisk


I remember my apartment in Rockridge, 18, before you

As your Grandma and Grandpa set me out on my own

I remember my mother’s back

My father scolding

“Look what you’ve done now”


Stuck in the transition, I think liar,

my mother doesn’t cry

But, I edge around her

and I see


Today is your third marriage

I should be practiced for this rehearsal, but

Leanardo never took you from the sinking ship

Or my arms, when you confessed your love,

kissing the television


It was a marriage of sweet spirit

the storyline already laid out


Number 2 was simple too

your sister’s secret elopement with you

never made he newspapers

Or the scandal rags


It was a marriage of fantasy

sisters as close as hands and feet


Today, this marriage,

your third marriage

is all about reality

That you would rather share a coke

With him, than anyone


Mothers do not walk brides down aisles

lift veils, or shake hands

Letting go is in the grace

It’s a love like sugarloaf pines


High on the moantian

you stand to the left, my baby, pewter eyes,

tradition signaling marriage by capture,

your groom saving his fighting hand

to pick up the reigns, protect you


Weddings are the same everywhere,

families, complaints, promises,

reverie we can forget without the camera clicks

A few moments stick


Like Sirius XM calls

traditions disturbed by music

salesmen dripping uninvited

into this intimate moment


Your groom is quite sure

“No, no, I do not want to renew my service.”

Inconvenient rings magnifying.  Freezing.

This is one of those stone moments

But hold them, don’t throw them


My father once said I will wed many times

I say, let the third be your last, my doll


My mother says:  What,

no chocolate cake?

Fluffy promises of a covert cake operation.

My eyelashes fall off. I say


Let them not eat cake!




Don Thompson, Poet Laureate of Kern County Honored by City Council and Board of Supervisors

Story by Portia Choi

Photograph (at council meeting) by Ezekiel Espanola


Don Thompson is the inaugural Poet Laureate of Kern County.  It is a well-deserved recognition of a poet who has written about the south San Joaquin region for four decades.

Thompson is a native of Bakersfield, California.  He attended Bakersfield High School.  He currently lives with his wife, Chris, on her family’s farm.

During National Poetry Month in April 2018, as Poet Laureate of Kern County, Thompson recited his poems at the Kern County Supervisors meeting on April 10 and at the Bakersfield City Council meeting on April 11.  On April 10, Thompson recited his poem “Aqueduct” and on April 11 his poem “Yokuts.”  Both of these poems can be found at the end of this story.

Accompanying Thompson at these meetings were David Gordon, the Executive Director of Arts Council of Kern and Portia Choi of Kern Poetry.  The Arts Council of Kern was the organization that made the Poet Laureate for Kern County possible.


The following interview of David Gordon (DG) was done by email.

Could you comment on the Art Council of Kern’s role with the Poet Laureate for Kern County? 

(DG):  The ACK’s role with the Poet laureate is to further the role poetry plays in the arts and the arts in Kern County. By appointing the first Kern Poet Laureate, the ACK has demonstrated the importance of a person who represents poetry in our County. The Council’s mission is to provide, support, and promote arts access, advocacy, and education for all Kern County residence and visitors and that includes poetry. The ACK uses the Poet Laureate to validate and elevate this art form.


What was it like to be at the meetings with Don Thompson at the presentations? 

(DG):  Mr. Thompson is a serious artist. His command of his craft is professional, inspiring and emotional.  I felt pride in our City and County for supporting the art of poetry by giving Mr. Thompson the opportunity to read his work at these public meetings.


The following interview of Don Thompson (DT) was done by email.


How and when did you become interested in poetry? 

(DT):  Hard to say.  I was fascinated by Mother Goose rhymes as a child.  In high school, I came across a copy of Shropshire Lad in a box of old books in the garage and was blown away. Still have that book.  I started writing after high school and published the first poem I wrote.  But the real beginning, the vocational call, came with discovering William Stafford’s Traveling Through the Dark  while browsing in a library when I was a student in forestry school about 1965.


When did you write your first poem? 

(DT):  I was about twenty, newly married and with a baby on the way.  Reading Thoreau’s journal, I came across a phrase that grabbed me for some reason, sat down and wrote the poem beginning with his words:  “I saw a bat by daylight.”  I still have the magazine it appeared in. Stylistically a bit under the influence of Marianne Moore, whom I still read every few years–starting her again right now, in fact.


Do you have a discipline or practice of writing, such as certain time of day, so many hours? 

(DT):  Basically a daily writer–well, Monday through Friday.  Up at five, do push ups and stretching, pray and read the Bible, feed the animals, take my morning two-mile walk, and then write for about an hour.


Which poet(s) or writing influenced you the most?

(DT):  First major influence, as mentioned, William Stafford, whom I visited in Lake Oswego, Oregon, in 1972, on my way to grad school in Vancouver. Wonderful, gracious man. My influences and tastes have varied over a wide spectrum: Spanish and Latin American, Classic Chinese.  Early John Haines. All writers with a close connection to the land.  In later years Mary Oliver, though I can’t quite see what attracted me so much anymore, and especially Ted Kooser.


What inspires you to continue writing?

(DT):  Writing inspires me to write.  I have only about a dozen poems that I write over and over again like a jazz musician improvising on the same tunes every night.  The Valley landscape is part of me–as a person; but the writing itself comes from the language, from the actual word-work, which I love more than anything else.


What is it like being the first Poet Laureate of Kern County?

(DT):  Well, I have nothing to compare it with.  But being the PL (Poet Laureate) is gratifying, of course.  A validation–recognition of a lifetime of poems about the Valley, which is very welcome indeed, although I would have kept writing without any recognition.  Writing is more who I am than what I do.


More about Don Thompson and more of his poems can be found at

Following are the two poem by Thompson which he recited at the Kern County Board of Supervisors and Bakersfield City Council meetings.



By Don Thompson


Some rivers become so sluggish,

So depressed

They can barely feel their way around a rock;

Others are manic in spate & rip trees from the banks.


What about the California Aqueduct,

That bureaucrat

In a concrete suit, relentless, obsessed

With draining the North dry?


If you fall in, it’ll file you away forever

In its deep archives.

Drown in a ditch & we’ll close the weir

To search for you….


It’s personal.

But the Aqueduct flows on & on

& won’t stop for anyone:

Los Angeles is always thirsty.




By Don Thompson


They say the dust rises by itself

Sometimes, even if there’s no wind at all,

But absolute stillness under the flat sky….

I don’t believe it.


They haven’t considered, for instance,

How the coyotes in their afternoon slumber

Where no one can find them

Breathe out their dream whimpering;


Or how the birds dozing on their perches,

Holding on so tight,

Puff & deflate like bellows—

Thousands of breaths that begin to add up.


Nor do they take into account the rodents

Down in their burrows

Busily opening passageways

Through which the earth itself can exhale;


Not to mention the Yokut ghosts

With nowhere else to go

Who wander aimlessly across the valley,

Their bare feet kicking up clouds of dust.

Tim Vivian Featured at March Open Mic

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

The featured poet for the Open Mic in March 2018 was Tim Vivian.  Vivian is a professor of Philosophy & Religious studies.  He recently retired from being the Priest-in-Charge of an Episcopal Church in Bakersfield.

At Open Mic, Vivian recited a number of poems including “Light, and its Children:  A Midrash at Dusk on John I” and “Shimon Speaks from His Cross:  A Midrash on John 19:18.”  These poems are reprinted at the end of following interview with Vivian.

What is a Midrash?

A midrash (plural: midrashim) is a Jewish term for a reflection on a passage of scripture.

What interested you to write this type of poetry? 

My midrashim offer a Christian perspective on passages of scripture, mostly from the New Testament but some from the Hebrew Bible. Scripture is often story; a midrash is a retelling of a story, after reflection, offering a different perspective.

In the poem, “Light, and its Children,” the words in the 6th & 7th stanza beginning with “Holy silence . . . we dare listen to darkness” impressed me.  Could you expand on these words?

Light is a key part of every religion that I know. Both light and darkness and their meanings go back to primeval times: the deep darkness of night with its fears and yet its rest, and the wonderful new light of the sun in spring, the light each day. John’s Gospel says that Christ is the light who has entered the world and the darkness has overcome it. It takes courage to confront the dark; the parents of the children in the poem refuse to do so.


From “Shimon Speaks from His Cross,” could you tell us more about Maccabeus and possibly why Jesus would have it tattooed?

The tattoo belongs to Shimon. Judas Maccabeus was a Jewish freedom fighter some 200 years before Jesus (and the imagined Shimon). I have no idea if Jews of that time sported tattoos, but I gave Shimon one because he stands in solidarity with the Maccabees against Roman imperialism and occupation. The two others on crosses are lestai, not thieves but bandits; banditry was a form of social protest—and traitorous to the Roman and priestly oppressors. Who are our oppressors now?

How did you become interested writing poetry?

I began writing as a teen, imitating the lyrics of some big rock groups at the time like the Byrds.

What was it like to share your poems in front of an audience?

First time! Since I’m a college professor,  I was mostly used to being in front of people. But poems are much more personal than the classroom, so I was a bit nervous.

Do you have a practice in writing?  such as designate a specific time of day, write as a discipline, or write spontaneously?

I’m very disciplined. I’m now semi-retired at CSUB, teaching two classes in the morning, and I’ve retired as a parish priest, so I devote my afternoons to silence, reading, gardening, and writing. After I finish my school prep and other reading (I daily read fiction, mostly novels), I turn to poetry, reading essays about poems, biographies of poets and, of course, poems themselves. This is also my writing time. Almost all my poems come spontaneously, usually the first line, and I take it from there.

Is there anything else you wish to share with the poetry community?

I think it’s great that we have interest in poetry (and song) in Bakersfield. Poetry, like fiction, opens up vistas, and deep valleys within, for us to explore. Thank you for your efforts.


Light, and its Children:

A Midrash at Dusk on John 1

by Tim Vivian


“ The light shines in the darkness,

and the darkness has not

overcome it.”

—John 1:5


The memory of light is

light. Even the light

in trees no longer here.


In their absence darkness

grows, like new growth

on a dying branch. In


solitude, birds are silent.

Decaying light from

dying branches of palm


trees offer annunciation,

even resurrection. Their

silence brings us renewal.


What measurements do

we here have to offer?

Yet superannuated


light—dare we name

it miracle?—is light.

Holy silence pervades


the opportunities we

have if we dare listen

to darkness, the children


she bears when we are

in defeat. Light once

overcame its darkness.



children heard the good

news, they clapped and

sang, danced, and told


the empty air to boldly

ring the church’s bells.

When their parents hear


these acclimations,

they lock their doors

and close each shutter.




Shimon Speaks from His Cross:

     A Midrash on John 19:18

by Tim Vivian


There they crucified him,

and with him two others,

one on either side, and

Jesus between them.


He probably didn’t see me

die, twisted as he was, north,

as if trying to see Jerusalem.


I wondered what he could see.

He was being executed like

any ordinary bandit, like me.


I had wondered why they had

left the middle post free, with

me and Judas on each side.


Maccabeus: I saw it tattooed

on his wrist, not in Aramaic

but in Hebrew, the language


God spoke when he brought

everything into being, even

these crosses we lived on.


When they brought him, like

us, carrying that crossbeam

across his shoulders, he had


a crowd. I had no one. His

followers were all women.

I didn’t understand that—


at least at first. When I did,

I was so far gone that it

looked to me like the sour


wine someone had given him

had mixed with his blood and

was running into the women’s



*     *     *

“Shimon” is “Simon”; “Judas”

was a very common name in

Jesus’ day. The Judas of the

poem is named after Judas

Maccabeus, leader of the

Maccabees, Jewish freedom

fighters 200 years earlier.




One of the musicians, Brandon Todd, was interviewed about the creative process in writing a song.

What was the name of the song?

The name of the song that I wrote, played, and sang was called “Love Song.” It was originally about a girl I was starting to “fall in love” with in my early high school days (long term). The only difference is (especially from other typical love songs) is that I am questioning on it because I’m very cautious and don’t want to hurt her or me. Because to me, it had to be “Love,” and not REAL LOVE because of the age I was. There was no way to me that I found REAL LOVE that quickly in my years of living. Hence, the name “Love Song,” with quotes on it. Later on in my senior year, I noticed that it could also pretty much mean anything other than girl/boy love. It could be a dream, family, etc.


What influenced you to write songs?

I started mostly in my sophmore year of high school. It was after that first part of the year when I got an electric guitar for my birthday. Then I started playing and practicing, soon joining a guitar club. Then I met a friend who seemed interested in writing and playing songs (later on he moved, I also didn’t think I’d be doing much with my writing, in my young mind thinking of it as just for fun). During all of that, I found out I was capable of singing during a guitar club session. My writing, playing, and singing only grew from there. My main influence was Green Day (my FAVORITE), but all this mainly played out in my life.


What was it like to play at Dagny’s Coffee?

It was interesting for me. It wasn’t much different from performing that song in a classroom my senior year.



Another thoughtful and entertaining evening at Dagny’s Coffee Open Mic.



Helen Shanley honored at Open Mic in February Open Mic




Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

Dagny’s was packed again this month at our February Kern Poetry open mic. More and more poets and musicians are showing up to share their artistic selves.  Newcomers as well as seasoned poets open their hearts and pour out words and melodies.  It’s a joy to behold.

This month our featured poet was selected by our hostess, Portia Choi, who started the evening off by making a tribute for Helen Shanley.  February was the month in which Shanley was born.  Choi said, “Helen was my mentor in poetry.  Helen held poetry groups in her home each month. She was a genius with an IQ of 188.  She remembered lines of poems during the poetry groups which revealed her remarkable memory.  She was also a gifted poet.”  Choi read four of Shanley’s poems.  Two of them were “My Mother’s Hands” and “Note to an Embalmer.”  More about Helen Shanley and her poems can be found at

My Mother’s Hands

by Helen Shanley

Your blue-veined hands
swept all things into light;
a box of apricots, a peeled grape,
a sick dog that had to be chloroformed,
a child to be led down hallways of ideas
up staircases of words
–anything to be fixed,
mended, made out of nothing.
How could you whirl about
when you loved the little things
–lillies of the valley, forget-me-nots?
And, when you lost your memory,
your hands themselves remembered how
to Southern-fry a chicken.

After a world of loss.
your funeral was lovely.
People and roses overwhelmed us both.
I put on a big brown hat,
hid under its dowager roundness,
but could not make something from nothing,
nor put Humpty Dumpty back.

So this is a poem for you, Mother,
whose blue-veined hands
remembered how to do
past your last thought,
whose light still sweeps the world,
whose memory has come to mine, and I

forget you not


Note to an Embalmer

by Helen Shanley

Do not remove the heart.

Extract the brain through open nostrils,
but leave the paradise within
my heart of hearts.

It is a point
so hot it would burn your fingers.
This pulse-point is the drum of Shiva
calling Shakti
–and when she dances
my heart rises to the doorway
to that small ether which conceals
a Spirit so vast the universe
cannot contain it.

There is a pulse-point
in my heart no perfumes reach.
From here the shadows of God have descended
to form/reform my body.

Draw out the guts.
Fill the great cave with sweeter things.
Do not remove the heart.


We thank you Portia Choi for sharing the works of Helen Shanley with us.  Helen Shanley is truly an inspirational poet.



The night was filled with many enthusiastic poets and one who caught my eye was Jay Squires.  Jay agreed to participate in my interview questions.  Please read his insightful answers as well as his amazing poem, “I am the Skimmer of Stones,” at the end of the interview. When I approached Jay about my interview he said:

I’m thrilled with your response to my poem, “I am the Skimmer of Stones,” Shanna. I must admit it’s one of my favorites. When, after successive readings of it, I still come away feeling there is a depth to it I’ve yet to plumb, I know I’d tapped into something approaching a universal vein of truth. Saying that, I’d have to add that I’m all too aware of the personal limitations of the mind I wake with in the morning and take to bed with me at night… And that poem never had full residence in it.

Any good thing I’ve written that comes to me too easily; I’ve always felt there’s been a fairy nearby, tinkering with it. If it had the scent or flavor of true inspiration, then that fairy had to be holding hands with an angel.

When did you realize you were a writer?

My first novel was “Sawdust and Glory,” about a high school high-jumper. I was home sick from school and my Uncle Jimmie Duncan promised if I wrote it, he would sell it in front of Woolworth Five and Dime. It was scrawled in pencil and bound at the “spine” by Mama’s needle and thread. I know I wasn’t more than six. It was raining and Uncle Jimmie tried to bow out, but I wouldn’t let him. A deal’s a deal. The book fetched a nickel, and I learned the valuable lesson of farming out book marketing to others.

Tell us about your process.  Do you write on the computer, use notebooks, pen and paper – how do you write?

Other than my brief foray into writing, above, I’ve never created by pen or pencil. Before computers, I did my writing on the typewriter, a pink Olympia I brought back from Tripoli, North Africa. I always favored the poetic image of having words flow out from the tip of a pen or pencil. It’s nonsense, though. I prefer my words to dance out onto the screen as on taps. When you look for the single event that most revolutionized the human mind, right up there elbowing Gutenberg and his rusty, oily printing press out of position, was the nerd who envisioned the “insert key” on the computer. Before his brilliant intervention, imagine the writer giving his manuscript a final once-over before slipping it in the manila envelope when he discovers he left out a word on page two. Moreover, it was a loooong word on a page that was crammed from margin to margin. Got the picture? He could return to the typewriter and retype that page, adding in the word, but when he finished there would be one or two words left over at the end. These were realities I personally lived through, and I’m sure a few of you are bobbing your heads and wishing you could shake that nerd’s hand for what he freed us from.

What scares you the most?

No humor in this answer. It’s losing my mental faculties. It’s hard to fathom, but it’s too much around us to deny it could slide into our lives so quietly, and progress so gradually that by the time we realize it there’s little that can be done. I just noticed how I democratized the process by sharing it with the reader who became “we” and “our” and “us.” Yes, it’s too scary for one person alone to endure even the thought of.

How many poems do you throw away – if any?

Hearkening back to the image of my pre-computer days when I would wad up a typed poem and toss it in the trash, I must say I’ve saved and filed away not just a few poetic abortions I thought I might play God with and resuscitate later–but didn’t.

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?  

I was thinking about this subject just today and considering whether I should include it in a blog post. I’ve observed the physical effects of aging over the years, as many of us have (and the rest of you get to look forward to). I’m not as fast as I once was, nor as strong. My eyes tire when I read or write too much. More than once I’ve fallen asleep at the computer because my body tells me I didn’t sleep enough the night before. (When I was younger, my body wouldn’t win the battle against fatigue.)

But there’s one thing that steps out in front of my aging, striding on the legs of a teenager … and that is hope; hope which is fired by enthusiasm. I am self-publishing my novel on Amazon at month’s end, and I’m as excited about the process and possibilities as I was forty years ago when I had my first publishing success. Hopes and dreams and the excitement they produce are a part of us that doesn’t age. It is something that age will never defeat.

           I Am the Skimmer of Stones

           by Jay W. Squires

I Am the Skimmer of Stones

and I fancy myself as well

the smooth stones skimmed

(imagination lets me, you see);

I, too, am the surface of Jacob’s Pond

they skim across

or not entirely across

or not across at all.

But if the stone falls short

I do not become the pond’s depth;

oh, most assuredly not the pond’s depth

(even imagination won’t take me there)


though years and years ago it would and did.


To be a skimmer of stones

I first must find the perfect stone;

for I am not a pitcher of balls

to be given the full game’s span

to peak the perfection of my throw

  1. I allow myself but one—

one toss to test my form and faith

my existential curriculum.


It must be smooth and flat, of course

but not too flat and light that at first skip

my leading edge will lift me up to glide too high

then fall before my enthusiasm’s spent.

The perfect stone will fit the half-mooned slot

between crook’d forefinger and thumb

as snug there and seamless as a duck’s webbed foot.

The wrist knows when the stone is right;

from the body’s deeper knowing, I listen

and watch my wrist test the heft.


And, when the time is right

I measure the span from lapping water’s edge

to the far concave that curves its arms toward me

while it holds within its caress

the surface of its length and breadth

I’ll soon lay the spinning stone upon.


The stone and I have learned to admire

the stateliness of skimming the surface of things,

whirring past the center’s downward pull,

the perpendicularity of the mystery below.


They say at the center the pond’s immeasurably deep

that the depth of the pond’s mysteriously deep;

they say, and I say I must agree

that sometimes a mystery’s best left to mystify.


But once I thought my courage deeper

than Jacob’s Pond could ever be.

So I became one with the stone I skimmed

that hummed and skimmed and skimmed again

but not entirely across.


And where it sank, there too I plunged

down from the surface of Jacob’s Pond

down with immortal youth and a lungful of air

down into the heavy-black-deepness of Jacob’s Pond.


That Jacob’s Pond went deeper forever

was not mine to know that day

for fear soon squeezed life from courage

and a blur of my spider’s legs and arms

sent me scrabbling up the bubbled web

to light and air and breath and the safety of surfaces.

For, it’s a blessing now

to be once—and only once—young

And once to test the depths

once to dare to fail

and Once to Succeed in Failing

and in failing, yet survive

with a greater knowing

that there’s a near infinity of learning

oh, a precious, near infinity of learning

from lightly skimming

from blithely skimming

the safer, monocular surface of things.

~    ~    ~

Author Information

Jay Squires


Join the Readers’ Group at: and receive TWO FREE e-book novelettes*

* BENT: Wake or Cross, by Jay Squires

* Lying on the Alter of Self-Sacrifice, by Jay Squires


Thank you Jay Squires for your brilliant poem, “I Am the Skimmer of Stones, and for your participation in the interview.  Please keep writing and sharing your incredible imagination and words with us!



After such a seasoned poet as Jay Squires spoke, I found it stimulating to hear a new-comer to our poetry open mic, Bridgette Love, share her written word for the first time.  Even though it was Bridgette’s first time to stand in front of our open mic, she spoke with confidence and clarity.  Here are her answers to my interview questions and at the end is her poem, “Mantra.”

When I asked Bridgette to give us a little insight into her poem, “Mantra” she said:

The first poem I shared during the open Mic at Dagny’s, which was untitled at the time but I now have decided to call “Mantra,” was inspired by a couple of feelings that play a significant role in my life. Anxiety and sorrow tend to coincide inside me on a regular basis and I work on reducing how heavy they feel. I meditate to try and clean out my being so I can function in a more positive and clear place and this poem is a peek into the journey my mental state goes on in an attempt to cleanse away those messy feelings. There are deeper layers in this poem but that is what this poem boils down to.

When did you realize you were a writer?

I realized that writing gave me solace in junior high. I’ve always been someone who feels with their entire being. Writing has gotten me through a lot of tough times.

Tell us about your process.  Do you write on the computer, use notebooks, pen and paper – how do you write?

I typically prefer to write on paper with a pencil but if I don’t have those available, I will use the notes app on my phone. It starts with a rush of feelings, an interesting thought, and a sense of urgency to write down those things.

What scares you the most?

What scares me is stunting my own growth in life, and also I fear not giving enough kindness to people.

How many poems do you throw away – If any?

I generally won’t throw away my writing at this stage in my life, I’ll just scribble things out, and sometimes if a couple poems are on the same wavelength I’ll combine the lines I like.

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?

What inspires me and keeps me going is the power of human connection, love, and kindness.



by Bridgette Love


Yellowed teeth

Manic heart

Rip my guts out and shove them into my pockets

Frantic and overwhelmed by the stench and my oozing fingertips, caking inside the crevices that make up my fingerprints

Disheveled, hot, and squirming with uncertainty

The very hair on my head agitating the volcano erupting at the base of my being, the hair brushing up against my cheek seemingly burdening

My truths and irrationality tickle my ribs, crawl up my throat and tickle my lips

Inhale the good, exhale…anxiety, worry, uncertainty, inferiority, sorrow, doubt…

Better, but I feel the left over gunk residing in the walls of my belly and the edges of my breast bone…

Inhale the good, exhale…suppressed anger, unresolved arguments, hurt feelings, unworthiness, anxiety, sorrow, doubt, uncertainty, inferiority…


Clarity, peace, confidence, courage

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage

Clarity, peace, confidence, courage…


WOW!  There is such honesty and authenticity in this expression of your feelings, Bridgette Love.  We can all identify.  Please keep writing and sharing your true self with us!




So many wonderful poets followed and Carla Martin made me smile with her poem titled, “Coffee Cafe Customers:  The Barista.”  I was delighted when Carla agreed to participate in my interview.  When asked to share her inspiration for her poem, “Coffee Cafe Customers:  The Barista,” Carla said:

I am a frequent customer at local coffee cafes in the late afternoons, and have been inspired to write several poems about the interesting people I have observed there. You see a real slice of America. I love checking folks out and imagining what they are thinking, or what their lives are like. Sometimes I get to talking with them, as I did with “Coffee Cafe Customers: The Barista” and their stories become even richer.

I am a poet, a teacher, and a mother, not necessarily in that order. I have lived in Bakersfield for thirty years now. I recently joined Writers of Kern, a wonderful organization of published and soon-to-be-published authors who hone their craft together. On a whim, I signed up for a Poetry Critique Group, and that really got me writing again. It is made up of some remarkable folks who read each other’s’ work and make insightful comments. We have become fast friends—you really show your soft underbelly to people when you share your writing—and there is a sense of trust and respect that grows. I have started sending my poems out for publication—wish me luck! 

When did you realize you were a writer?

I remember writing my first poem when I was in third grade, laying on a boulder in the middle of a stream up in the San Bernadino mountains. It had a line in it that read something like, “And the great pines rise above me/ like the loftiest of cathedrals.” I can still recall the beauty of that scene and the closeness I felt to God at that moment. Writing a poem about that feeling was just something that poured out. And that’s what poetry is, isn’t it? It captures the essence of experiences.

Tell us about your process.  Do you write on the computer, use notebooks, pen and paper – how do you write?.

I write most often on my trusty laptop. Sometimes poems come to me when I am napping on my family room couch. Then I scribble lines on post-it notes to transcribe later.

What scares you the most?

Standing in front of a room of elementary students each morning as the substitute teacher.

How many poems do you throw away – If any?

I don’t throw away any poems—there are just some that are still works in progress, percolating away in my mind.

What inspires you the most and keeps you going?

I am inspired to continue to write poetry because it makes me feel healed! I have written out all kinds of emotions and experiences in my poems. As a friend wisely pointed out to me, giving these things a name and creating a work of art out of something that was hurtful, or wonderful, is extremely cathartic. I also love to fashion language— find imagery or metaphor—to convey an idea. I often ruminate about poems while driving and get the perfect word I’ve been searching for while turning left onto Truxtun


Additional Information:

I just created a blog and have promised to write two new posts every week until May. I would be delighted for all to read it and see my latest poems and prose. Its address is


“Coffee Cafe Customers:  The Barista”

By  Carla Martin


Her high cheekbones

Are smoothed with pancake make-up

And thick, false eyelashes

Flutter on her heavy lids

She smiles

And gracefully takes my order


She repeats the liturgical litany

“What would you like today?

Are you a member of the Bookstore Cafe

And receive a 10% discount?

Would you like cream and sweetener with that?”


Do these phrases repeat in her mind

Through her dreams at night?

An endless stream

Of garbled gibberish?


Does she wake up

Longing for Dostoevsky

And complex plot turns

And deeply introspective characters

Wrestling with conflicting desires

Galloping through sweeping vistas

On glorious steeds?


Stuck behind the formica counter

Surrounded by a fortress of blenders

Cappuccino makers

And  bottles of syrup

She is trapped by these sentinels

Of modern addiction

Her life is bound in chains

Of service to pleasure seekers

Craving their afternoon fix


She is the cover

Of last month’s Cosmo magazine

Filled with snippets

Of bedroom wisdom

Gained by wise vixens

In deep decolletage

That whisper the secrets

Of how to arouse him

While waving lavish, lacquered nails


In brief, two-minute conversations

I try to pierce the perfect facade

And gain a glimpse

Of the cracked vessel within


She lets slip

That she has a daughter

That she had when she was eighteen

Who is finally doing better in second grade

after spending many afternoons in the principal’s office

Because she can’t get along with her peers

She is used to being around adults

The only youngster in the family

She can’t fathom the confusion

Of all her squirming classmates

But a child can learn

And now she is doing much better,

Thanks for asking


Everyone has a story

That’s as complex as a classic novel

Don’t let the glossy cover fool you

The dog-eared pages are tear-stained within

Such a wonderful poem and observation of people, Carla Martin!  Your poem expresses the art of carefully listening, which is a true art in itself.  Keep writing Carla.  You are a joy to read!




Well that’s it for another fabulous night of sharing poems and words at Kern Poetry Open Mic night that happens every First Friday of the month.  Please come join us and share yourself!  You are one-of-a-kind and we want to hear your words and get to know you.  Until next time – KEEP WRITING!