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Thomas Brill featured at May 2018 Open Mic

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Chris Nelson

 

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:

“C”

By Thomas Brill

the letter c

is the only letter

I could love

because it is smooth

and so

delicious

 

 

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.

 

rebecca

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

done

 

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

bitch

 

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

enough,

patiently pretending I was done

already,

slow strokes covering every

crevice,

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…

 

BALLET

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:

 

SWINGING

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:

 

I

Went

Camping

And

Saw

A

Beautiful

Unicorn

In

Evergreen

 

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:

 

“A WILD TALE”

I LOVE TO COOK

LET’S READ A BOOK

BUT WHAT AM I GOING TO DO?

I BIT OFF MORE THAN I CAN CHEW

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, don-e-thompson.com, 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.

 

*  *  *  *

QUESTIONS FOR DON THOMPSON:  

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 (don-e-thompson.com).

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:

*  *  *  *

Rose

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.

 

*  *  *  *

QUESTIONS FOR ANDREA FRANCO:

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.

 

*  *  *  *

QUESTIONS FOR MATEO LARA:

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.

*  *  *  *

QUESTIONS FOR SIDNEY RUSSELL:

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!

First Friday Open Mic – November 3, 2017 features Jeremy Casabella

Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

It’s such a pleasure to see so many creative folks come out to support Kern Poetry First Friday open mic night at Dagny’s.  As usual the room was full of artists and electric with energy as regulars and new-comers mentally prepared to open their hearts and share their thoughts in either poetry or song.  Each artist was shown respect and appreciation for their work.

Our featured Bakersfield artist for the night was Jeremy Casabella who read several of his short and poignant poems which captured the poet’s spirit and love for words.  Following is Jeremy’s answers to my interview questions, allowing us to better know him and his interesting work.

Please give us a short profile about your poetry background, what got you started, your influences, inspiration….

I memorized a poem by Emily Dickinson, “I Am Nobody Who are you?” for a poetry parade in the third grade. I started writing short poems the next week, though I really did not appreciate then exactly what it meant to write a poem.

I was a terrible high school student and spent much of my time doodling rhymed verses that told bizarre narratives rather than paying attention. I recall wanting to be dark or edgy like Sylvia Plath but with a bit of an obscure or maybe Suessian angle.  One poem I can remember was about explaining cigarette’s to aliens, written in the voice of the “cigarette smoking man” from the X-Files. Another, in the voice of an old lamp, lamented lost light bulbs.

I dropped out of Commercial Design studies at the San Francisco Academy of Arts College my first semester after testing out of high school. I loathed the experience. At that point I wrote poems only when inspired until, in my twenties, I started college again. I took many different courses at the community college in Glendale, CA where I met the poet Bart Edelman. He gave me some insight on my work and a little space in the Journal he edited: Eclipse.

In school I focused on English, preferring courses that emphasized poetry or were taught by poets. Later I graduated from UCLA, where I had participated in workshops with Calvin Bedient and Stephen Yenser. I then studied Writing at Sarah Lawrence College where I achieved my MFA through the good graces of teachers like Jeffrey McDaniel, D. Nurkse and Marie Howe. Even while studying Literary Criticism at Sonoma State I worked in a course of guided writing with the poet Gillian Conoley. Throughout my life poetry has been my therapy.

If I had to give a list of influences whom I have not met beyond the page, it would include those whose writings I return to most often: Larry Levis, Robert Hass, Wyslawa Szymborska, Charles Simic, James Gavin and Dorothea Grossman.

What are you trying to communicate with your poetry?

The poem needs to communicate whatever is necessary to the poem; this changes. I am obsessed with trying to write words that will evoke specific mental or physical reactions or understandings of experience by the reader. I’m excited most by the connotative and mimetic aspects of language. In that respect I suppose any poem in my computer-files or journals ultimately imparts moments of time and place and image wrapped in allegory. Mostly I just like to create.

Do you have any creative patterns, routines?

I write at a computer. I am so used to typing in MS Word that I frequently find myself translating my experiences into words on a page in my mind. If I seem distracted and inattentive it’s probably because I’m bothered by a word choice in our circumstances.

As a student my most consistent note in critiques, whether in praise or derision, was always that I wrote eclectically; that is to say I defied any overall unifying style or even impetus in my work.

Now, independently, I continue to work in as many modes as possible. I write tanka regularly. I’ve created what I call “observation poems” which are very tanka-like ideally, but have no set length and the added requisite of including five observations, one from each sense. I’ve also started a series of “abecedarigraph” poems, which are 26 word texts where each word must begin with a successive alphabetic letter. I love struggling with the xyz. I’m writing a chapbook of free verse poems posed as descriptions of different parts and pages in a graphic novel. I often cannibalize different components from these and other endeavors to create unique works. Those latter creations tend to be my favorites. Sometimes I just get lucky and write a relatively complete poem in one attempt. I still of course revise the crap out of it.

I borrow ideology from OuLiPo, and L-A-N-G-U-A-G-E poets, sensibilities from the imagists and the Black Mountain School. I think about form and tradition all the time leaning toward imagism. To be overly figurative for a moment, I assume the mysterious task of tracing the footprints of duende that walk through the pages of all of the styles I admire with poem colored paint on their toes. It’s an exhausting hobby.

Please mention any publications you’ve created.

While I publish in journals regularly, I have yet to put out any collections or chapbooks, but do work daily on about a dozen different large groupings of poems with various controlling features like those mentioned earlier.

My words have appeared so far this year in Vinyl, The American Journal of Poetry, GNU, Right Hand Pointing, The Invisible Bear, and Rabid Oak. Though I still have two sets of work under consideration, I have placed myself on a submissions sabbatical since May.

Please share one of your poems you would like to feature.

I’m happy to share a copy of one of the more difficult poems I’m currently writing. It is tearing me apart right now:

Anecdote for Autonomy

By Jeremy Casabella

 

In giant wing-like bulbous

flaps that deflate back

into cut mats from

gnarl

 

on youtube,

the tableful of lungs outside their jar

expand into their reflections in our

eyes.

 

Three sets of

hammered out filets

pump repeatedly; as they go “Flit-

flump”

 

—become gnarled thin pads

plugged by plastic hoses

to some medichanical apparatus.

Un-

 

bound to the grunting

press of rubbed dull bone

from which they must’ve lingered to

burst

 

forth again like a vaulted question

“Could the torso previous respire

of its last setting

so?”

 

(any cool spring afternoon when

thin petrichor  made transient

promises to disperse

or

 

another rectangular

sterile room, tiny as the video

on my smart phone’s stupid plastic

screen).

 

Or “Did her breath become

what endures here through terrible

unusually over-prolonged bubble-gummy

sheens?

 

(Yet some oxygen nonetheless

remains inside her presence the shape

of being unable to let go). And

again?

 

If there is anything else you’d like to say or contribute, please do so.

I would like to thank all involved for their contributions to the furtherance of poetry in Bakersfield and Kern.

Well, Jeremy Casabella, we would like to thank you for your contribution to the Kern Poetry website.  Please continue to come back to our First Friday Open Mic night and share your interesting poetic mind with us.

 

***

 

At the end of our featured artist segment, the open mic portion of the night began and at this time we had the honor of listening to Professor Kai Chu read some of his beautiful poetry.  Professor Chu will be the featured artist at our upcoming First Friday on December 1, 2017.  Following is a couple questions I asked Professor Chu.

Please give us a short bio of your poetic journey.

My Chinese mother inspired me to write poetry, practice calligraphy as well as appreciate music.  She was an artist herself. She gave me the poetic name or sobriquet “Wood-gatherer of Purple Mountain” in reference to my hometown and evoking humility and simplicity. My love for words has stayed with me, crossing oceans, continents, cultures, and genres.

Do you have something special to share with us at the Dec. 1, 2017 First Friday night?

I will recite a poem of mine, entitled, “Silence.”

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your upcoming performance?

‘Xiu Shi’ Eileen Moy will perform original and traditional pieces on Chinese musical instruments: 琵琶 (Pipa) and 古琴 (Guqin). The latter is a rare ancient instrument with a long tradition that has permeated Chinese culture, especially the poetic song, for thousands of years. The guqin was chosen as one of three intangible world heritage traditions by UNESCO to represent China.

Thank you Professor Chu.  We are so excited to hear your new poem, “Silence” and also hear the beautiful music that will be presented by Eileen Moy!  This will be a memorable evening for sure!

 

***

Several more poets and musicians shared their talents and we enjoyed everyone.  Cheyenne Goossen caught my eye while she sang an original song accompanying herself on guitar. She has graciously given us insight into her creative life by answering the following question and sharing the lyrics to her song, “One Shot Honey.”

Please give us a short bio about your poetic/songwriting journey.

I have been inspired by all types of music for as long as I can remember but my first impactful music memory is of a 5 year old me gazing into Cat Stevens’ album record cover while being serenaded by ‘Moonshadow’. At 14, I taught myself guitar and began writing and singing my own music and eventually formed a band with my older sister and another friend, whom I still love playing with today.  After graduating CSUB with a bachelor’s of science in biology, my husband and I were elated with the birth of our first son, followed by two more precious boys who are now 9, 7, and 4.  Music has taken more of a backseat while raising my family but writing, playing, singing and listening to music has remained a daily constant in my life.

It had been a year since I had performed in front of others the night I sang my most recent original song, ‘One Shot Honey’, at Dagny’s.  I was very nervous and the only reason I chose to preform was because my son’s oral language partner was experiencing extreme stage fright and I promised I would take her and my son so they could come watch for inspiration. Although I was secretly embarrassed that I only made it halfway through my song, at her next oral language performance she overcame her fears and gave it her all.  That’s what ‘One Shot Honey’ is about.  Never losing sight of your deepest passions and giving them your all, all the while staying free from the entanglement of boredom, doubt, and ego.

 

“One Shot Honey”

By Cheyenne Goossen

 

I ride on horses

While you ride on cycles

In our dreams

Every damn day

 

You like the movies

But I choose the music

And it’s tearing us apart

Now we’ve got 5 count them 5

Broken hearts

 

I described a donkey

But you saw an elephant

Dividing our love by a continent

 

Chorus

Oooooh Oooooh

Oh oh oh

Repeat

 

You took the high road

While I took the low road

God it felt like I stabbed myself behind my own back

 

And then you brought me flowers

After I made you cry all them hours

And I thought to myself this is our last shot

 

This is our last shot honey

We’ve got to give it all that we got

Cause in the end all we have is each other

 

Repeat chorus

 

***

 

Thank you all for visiting the Kern Poetry website and please come back again and get to know more of our wonderful poets and musicians who participate in the Kern Poetry First Friday event at Dagny’s.  Everyone is different yet we’re all the same, wanting to express what’s in our hearts.

 

KEEP WRITING!

 

 

 

 

 

Open Mic August 4, 2017

First Friday Open Mic – August 4, 2017

 Story by Shanna O’Brien

Photos by: Christina Noel

 

It was so much fun covering the hostess position for Portia at the August 4, 2017 Kern Poetry open mic night held at Dagny’s Coffee Shop.  The room was full to capacity with enthusiastic smiling folks ready to share their hearts and souls.  As each poet or musician expressed their art, the audience quietly listened and responded with appreciative applause. Everyone encouraged the “newbies” to continue writing and continue coming back to share.  Several people said they could feel the love and support in the room and that’s what it’s all about.  It takes courage to stand in front of people we don’t know and expose thoughts and feelings in poetry and song. At the end of the night we gave one last round of applause for everyone in the room, thanking each other for showing up and participating.

One of the poets who attended was Emily Andrews, who graciously agreed to an interview and below are her answers to my questions:

How did you come to express yourself through poetry? 

“I was looking for a way to express my heart’s language.  I wanted to speak the truth and just get everything out on paper.  Once I wrote my first poem I was hooked.   It was so thrilling —  the feeling you get when you finish your very own masterpiece.”

Do you have any influences?

“My first influence was my Mom. She sparked my interest in English and writing at a very young age.  She taught English.  She is a very captivating and educated woman.  I am also influenced by Reyna Biddy.  She speaks from the heart and is all about spoken word.  I also admire the R. H. Sin’s “Whiskey, Words, and a Shovel” series.  It gets me writing every time I put the book down.”

What inspires you to write?  “What mainly inspires me is an emotion bubbling up inside and when I spill the ink on paper it represents how I’m feeling in that moment in time.  And when I write, I try to come up with a message of truth and go from there.”

Can you describe the time when you first realized that writing was something you absolutely had to do?

“I felt very empty inside and writing filled my soul and I realized, when other people could relate to my words, it was something that I had to do.”

Do you have a favorite poem you’ve written?

“My favorite is a simple poem called “Life’s a Beach” – it was a simple time in my life that sparked that emotion but it was the first poem I was ever proud of.”

 

Below is one of the two poems Emily shared with us on Friday, Aug. 4.

“Revolving”

by Emily Andrews

Boom! I’m Back

Thrown against the ground tossed under the depths of ocean blue emotion I feel for you

I might drown

I’m like a boomerang you see

I always come back around

I come up for air before I hit the ground

Why do I feel things so deeply you ask? My answer is simple, love doesn’t hurt me, the love I have for you doesn’t hurt me, what you choose to do with that love hurts me. I’m a boomerang but I’m not coming back around this time

Lies I tell myself as I prepare to deny your late night messages of lust

Throwing me away but expecting me to come back

As if you didn’t confine me enough

I’m a boomerang and I keep coming back

I always come back

It is the way I am wired

To love without getting tired

To give without anything in return required

One thing must change

I’m a boomerang

You just need to want me when I come back around.

 

 

Also attending was actor/writer/landscape architect/artist, Edward Charles Waters, who shared his spoken word describing what his father meant to him. Edward’s emotional presentation came from deep in his heart and his tears moved everyone in the room.  Edward agreed to answer a few questions for our readers.

What moved you to present spoken words about your Father?

The piece I presented titled “Dad” is one of two dominant works of mine.  Both are about my father and me during the period of time when I was between the ages of three and eight.  I wanted to support my friend Shanna O’Brien who was hosting the Open Mic at Dagny’s on August 4.  I wanted to perform this most personal piece for her and for a live audience.  As an actor / performer, it is important that I take advantage of opportunities to flay the skin off my vulnerabilities.

What are you trying to communicate with your art?

Who I am and what I came from I suppose.  I like “slice of life” works.  Ones that take me somewhere vividly and introduce me to people and thoughts I otherwise would not have known – works that inform me and teach me.  I am informed and taught in the writing of the work and am informed and taught in the reading or observation of what others produce.  This kind of work brings us closer together.

What does being creative mean to you?

It means everything.  I am so fortunate to be gifted with Creativity.  To be able to express what I see and feel artistically!  Art, which is the expression of Creativity, is the language of God.  By utilizing my gift, I align myself with God and all the Power and Knowledge of the Universe!

What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

I always get still.  I listen.  After a while, I see.  After another while, I understand.  The answer comes.  The answer comes as to what to say, how to play the part, how to solve the design problem.  I have learned that in all forms of Art, I cannot force the process.  I merely have to get out of my own way.

What’s the favorite thing you’ve ever created?

My life and I create and recreate it daily!

 

Below is Edward Charles Waters spoken word titled “Dad.”

“DAD”

by Edwards Charles Waters

In the early fifties, I was just a little guy and Dad was a single parent who had custody of me on weekends.  He was a striking figure of a man with matinee idol good looks.  But instead of opting for a social life with adult friends on weekends, he chose to spend that time with me.

He was a guide and a teacher and the world of Chicago was our classroom.  His style was somewhere between Socrates’ and Mickey Spillane’s.

He introduced me to so many people, places and things that I had a head start on other kids my age and never lost ground.

He took me to every nook and cranny in the City of Chicago.  To Lincoln Park and the Zoo.  To see Bushman, the gorilla.  To the Lion House at feeding time.  He sat me on his shoulders so I had a good view.

We walked and talked on dark streets late at night.  A “Mutt and Jeff” pair.  He took me to past crime scene locations, to all-night diners and to corner taverns.  He took me to all the museums and to the planetarium.  To Lake Michigan and the “Rocks”.  To Notre Dame and to mass.

He introduced me to Shakespeare, Homer, Cicero and Caesar.  To navy bean soup, cotton candy and street vendor hot dogs.  To “Dick the Bruiser”, the “Cisco Kid” and his sidekick “Pancho”, and to Jack Brickhouse.

He let me sit on his lap and drive his car and ride the roller-coaster at Riverview Park.

He taught me how to swim and how to dive, how to tread water and how to float on my back.

He taught me to “try it”, to fear nothing and no one, to be proud to be a Waters, and to walk right up and “stick your hand out.”

He taught me to help a blind person cross a street, that where there is right there is might, and that everyone deserves their “shot.”

He bragged some, but usually about others…like Uncle Charles, or me.

He loved his country.  He loved the Navy…they had good “chow.”

He loved to lie in the sun.  He loved the water…any water.

He liked a beer every now and then, and to “stop in” on friends.

He loved me and I loved Him.

Bye Dad. I’ll see you soon.

Eddie

 

In closing I would like to say, “What a wonderful evening!”  Everyone is different yet we’re all the same, wanting to express what’s in our hearts.  So let’s

KEEP WRITING!

Open Mic July 7, 2017 at Dagny’s

First Friday Open Mic

Story by Alex Victoria

Photos by Ezekiel Espanola

Like too many other Bakersfield summer days, the heat had not abated going into the afternoon, but perhaps thankfully our tiny room within Dagny’s Coffee Shop offered a chilled refuge for attendees of the July 2017 First Friday event.

However, a different kind of heat pervaded the open mic night as soon as the performances began.

On top of the usual poetry performances, there were a number of standout musical performances, beginning with the impressive strums of Kyle’s powerful performance about daily life and contemplation of the plight of others.

Notable as well was the memorized (and mesmerizing) spoken word performance by Sunny, a new arrival to our local community by way of Michigan. He painted a scene in the life of a damaged but determined woman with his first piece, and delivered an enthusiastic and at times biting social and political commentary with his second piece.

Notable among the more traditional poetry performances were the grim (by his own admission) but poignant pieces of Terry, the impromptu, crowd involving craft of Julie Jordan Scott, and a performance by the always wonderful Liz Greynolds. You can find the piece she delivered presented in full below.

 

I’ll Tuck n Roll

by Liz Greynolds

 

I’ll tuck n roll

me to my death baby

ooo I like it raw no skin

skraight scraped bones

in the holes where my teeth go

from gnawing on ropes and chains

and headphone strings and that sorta thing

 

I’m going to drive a car

I’ll make my mark and wake

not to find a place or a bottomless pit

but a sweet sweet vomitorium with a scent

nothing short of intoxicating

 

but if you’re ever feeling

something maybe more milder

I’ll take you where I loiter be my experiment

incomplete my garden overflows with lillies in the

sometimes

 

Foundation for Second Chances

Story by Portia Choi

Photographs by Martin Chang and Portia Choi

A new charter school in Bakersfield, Foundation For Second Chances, had poetry as part of their developing leadership component.  The school focuses on at-risk young adults to obtain a high school diploma and to learn a skill in construction.

The Office Manager of the school, Alison Williams, wanted a poetry workshop.  “We want our students to see what is out there; help the students to expand and learn how to express themselves,” said Williams.

The poetry workshops were on June 2 and June 9.

On the first day, Don Thompson, the poet laureate of Kern County, recited from his poems.   Thompson encouraged the students to keep trying.  A line from one of his poems was “Now anything is possible.” (From “Sightings” in the book, Turning Sixty.)

The workshops were facilitated by Portia Choi, of Kern Poetry, who focused on experiencing various senses to enhance creativity.  Choi had mint and gardenias to enhance sense of touch and smell.  She struck a gong to help students focus on hearing.  She provided blueberries and granola bars for tasting.

One of the students, Aaron Cardenas, used seeing, feeling and smelling gardenias to write the following poem:

Gardenias

by Aaron Cardenas

The gardenias are soft, gentle and light, as if they were made of silk.

The smooth and soothing smell.  Plays a relaxing, relieving sound in my head.

Gentle and soft, as my grandma as she is sitting in the church, showing me a good,

spiritual example.

 

Another student was Bayley Brooks who has been writing since 13.  He said, “When I was younger, I was angry.  I wrote rhyming poetry and short stories.  I got feedback, thought I had talent.  I like putting smile on their faces.  It keeps me happy, inspired.  They tell me their story.”  Brooks is involved with poetry.  He has a social media site, riddlemepoetry.tumblr.com.  

After Brooks scratched and smelled a lemon, at the workshop, he wrote:

If life gives you lemon,

Squeeze it back into the eyes of life.

 

At the ribbon cutting for the Foundation For Second Chances school, Karen Goh, the mayor of Bakersfield met the students and attendees.

At the event, Bayley Brooks read an essay he wrote for the English class.

Brooks wrote “It’s crazy how I almost quit the Program, when I came back it was like a slam to the face.  Now things are easier that I’m keeping my own pace.  I’m doing this for me, nobody else and thank you Foundation for Second Chances for all your help. . . I had a lot of things on my mind.  It’s hard to live when you’re in a bind trying to find yourself and find a purpose and share my love ad knowledge, yeah, in surplus.”  

Cindy Rivas was a student who liked roses.  She said, “I like roses because of their fruity scent, looks beautiful, nice.”  She remembered, “When grandma passed away, I picked a rose, made a stick figure and prayed.  Soft, nice texture, when touched it gives it a smell.”

The students wrote a poem together, “Exquisite Corpse,” by taking turns writing a line seeing only the immediately preceding line.  The students who wrote were Bayley Brooks, Cindy Rivas, Chris Gredler and Jazell Vela.  The poem is:

 

Exquisite Corpse  

by Foundation For Second Chances students

The bloody person jumped fast

I’m a wonderful mom

Who lives happily in a tree

My self playground dog

Yay Life is,

Terrible

The most wonderful thing

I think about it as I sing

I’m High off Life!

 

Kelsy Watson, a case manager with the school, wrote a poem at the workshop as she was looking at marigolds.  Watson started writing poetry when 10.  Writing poems came naturally to her.  “Poetry comes from the soul, it’s soul deep,” she said.

Watson wrote:

Marigold

by Kelsy Watson

Early summer afternoon, 1992:  my sister, brother and myself all gather in the front yard in a circle, holding hands, spinning around (giggling amongsts) singing, “Ring around the rosies, pockets full of posies.  ashes, Ashes. . . . . .”

Daddy came outside with a subtle tone “Okay kids come on in a’ wash y’all hands and get ready for dinner.”

Our faces lit up with glee.  Oh, how we loved daddy.

The smell of daddy’s Love.  His gentle touch (so caring, so protective.)

I place these flowers on your grave site.  They have blossomed.  Just like you Always told me and sissy we would bloom into women.  (Queens.)  The stems are strong (holding up the flowers) just the way you always taught brother to be a strong man and to Always look out for his sisters.  

Oh how I love my daddy. . .

Nancy McCallion and Danny Krieger at Sheridan House

By Martin Chang

Photos provided by Nancy McCallion

Nancy McCallion and Danny Krieger will be performing at Sheridan House on July 14. Call 661-371-6118 for information. Suggested donation is 10 to 20 dollars.  They perform a mix of traditional folk music and McCallion’s originals.  Both musicians have toured nationally and internationally. Danny Krieger plays slide guitar and sings harmonies with McCallion.  Krieger has played with musicians like Andy Gibb and Eric Burden.

McCallion was first exposed to traditional music through her upbringing. She said, “I grew up with Irish folk music, my father was from Scotland and his parents were Irish.  When I was young, he was in the air force and we were stationed in England.  So, I got to visit my Irish family members.  That was a big reason I got into Irish Folk music.” She first learned music on the piano. At first, she wrote poetry.  Then she began playing professionally at 19.  She didn’t start touring as a musician until her late 20’s.

Nancy McCallion

When McCallion was asked why she liked traditional folk music, she said that she enjoyed the honesty of the emotions in first person ballad songs. She said, “There’s an old Irish folk song called ‘Blackwater Side.’ It’s a very real, human kind of story.  It’s not romanticized. It tells the story without telling you how to feel about the story, which is one of the things I like about the narrative songs.”

One of McCallion’s favorite original songs is “I’m Not as Willing.”  It is a waltz. McCallion feels there is an emotional punch added by the rhythm of the style. “There is something mournful about the waltz time signature.”

McCallion enjoys performing “I’m Not as Willing” because of the moment the song captured. “I wrote the song when I was feeling down.  I was on the road and homesick. I had a long-term relationship that wasn’t going well. It was very real as far as what I was feeling at the time,” she said.

Below are the first few lines of the song.

I’m Not as Willing

Nancy McCallion

I saw you dancing with your sister in law

A black-eyed cajun in a Texas dance hall

Sure of your feet and sure of your smile

Good for a dance, and a kiss and a while

Oh but I’m not pretending you weren’t looking at me

But I’m not as willing as I used to be

 

McCallion was asked for a piece of poetry she would like to share. She chose this Sonnet to share with us.

The Kaibab Squirrel

By Nancy McCallion

The Kaibab squirrel, lacking in all shame

poses for pictures, grasps for commissions,

French fries, sugar cones, other concessions.

A squirrel, yes, perhaps, only in name

He would peel your pocket to find spare change.

No blinks at click or flash, his impression

posture perfect, in high definition

foregrounded in a rectangle, and framed.

What brings you here, for surely you are lost?

Sciurus, scurrying salesman confined

to posing for self-same selfies. It pays,

He says, now conversational. The cost

is minimal, the memories divine

da Vinci didn’t work for free. No way

Open Mic June 2, 2017

 

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Martin Chang

At the June 2 open mic, Norma Camorlinga performed her poems before moving to the East Coast.

She has been performing regularly at the First Friday poetry event since October 3, 2014.  She first attended open mic to be supportive of another poet, Mateo Lara.  Later, she started to recite her own poems.

Norma had her beginnings in performance in the theater.  For her, performing poetry was different from the theater.  “At open mic, it was different because in theater you perform someone else’s work.  In poetry, you perform your own,” said Norma, “it is more intimidating.  But it felt good, to get out and there is energy to share.”

Norma especially felt good to write a poem, “Altars,” about her Dad with allusion to “Day of the Dead.”  The poem starts with:

Like time

I think distance is relative.

The three dance a number

Take turns twirling in and out of fragile realities.

 

The entire poem, “Altars” and the poem that Norma read on June 2, “Chaotic Particles,” is provided at the end of this story.

Of her beginnings in writing poetry, “I started writing in the 7th grade; my teacher had me enter a contest,” said Norma.  “It was a poem about my family, how everyone felt about my grandmother.  She was the root of the family.”

Another poet who performed at the open mic was Matthew Mendoza.  He memorized his poems in the spoken word style.  An excerpt from the poem that he recited at the open mic is:

“. . .with the borrowed voices of the leaves/ your laughter fills my chest.”

A poet who recited at the open mic, wanted to share this poem anonymously: “I’m a person.  I am a human being.  I am disabled.  I will be a success story.”

Another poet, Walter Stormont, performed with a red cap to enhance his recitation of his poem “On, What is Love?”

 

 Oh, What is Love?

(A Redneck Rime)

By Walter Stormont   © 2017 Walter Stormont

 

Oh, what is love?  Oh, what is life?

An empty ice box full of strife.

A flying fist you have to duck,

A rusty, worn out pickup truck.

 

The distant dreams and bouncing checks,

The prices at the multiplex.

 

A barking dog, an aching back,

Another pert-near heart attack.

 

A leaky roof, a storm above,

Oh, what is next?  Oh, what is love?

 

A long-time friend, a caring spouse,

A kid who draws me Mickey Mouse.

 

A blooming, fruitful family tree.

A universe of unity.

 

I best slow down, like pop the clutch.

I never thought I’d think so much.

 

 

 

The two poems by Norma Camorlinga mentioned in the story are:

 

Altars

By Norma Camorlinga

 

Like time

I think distance is relative.

The three dance a number

Take turns twirling in and out of fragile realities.

The hours here nor there are real,

All a figment of the imagination.

You may think I am mad for stating such a ludicrous idea,

But when I sit next to you

Your heart is no longer where mine lives.

The fire that tethered it here has extinguished,

The dreams we pieced together have shattered,

And this happiness is long gone.

Time has swept away such precious moments,

They no longer have meaning to you.

I sit on your bed,

Bring you flowers

Patiently wait for you to speak,

Move,

Return to me,

Yet you remain still… Breathless,

Always six feet under.

I want this circle to break

For you to tear at the earth,

At the prison that surrounds you.

I want to erupt from this mundane pattern of birthing, losing, mourning, and complacency,

This colonized notion that it could be worse.

Even if I have to offer myself up to higher beings to have you back

I’d do it time and time again.

But… this is reality.

You left your mark on me,

On this world and

Now all we have to remember you is a monument that arrived too late.

Your is face slowly fading from my mind

Echoes of your voice faintly sing a tune

Your smile is slowly decaying

Your bones rattling a steady beat

Regenerating heat into this cold world.

You aren’t a zombie coming back to life,

So I sit by the altar Latinos leave for their dead

Placing silly ideas into boxes and rearranging them in my mind.

Sitting breathless,

Hopeful,

With a marigold flower in one hand

And my heart in the other to greet you when you return

 

“Chaotic Particles”

By Norma Camorlinga

They say that matter isn’t created nor destroyed

That the molecules we see today are remnants of a burning universe
Reorganized matter fused together, torn apart with time
Chaotic and unpredictable 

Serendipitous and timely.
Perhaps, this is why your eyes burn a familiar fire,

A familiar fire, within my chest

Parts of an ancient past, a self once, once floating beside those dark brown pools on your face, 

Like a pair of stars burning their way into my soul
And now, like those cosmos, you lay naked before me on sheets as white as cosmic ivory,

This dust is dreams,
So, You sleep
Filled with desire.
I connect the spots on your back
Constellations of black and blue fading red into soft skin

My mouth: their creator
Their celestial architect
Building an empire, stardust,
Let these cold hearts melt with lust.

Let the particles around our bodies become one
If only for a night or two,
Let us carve out unity,

Just this moment, be a lingering flame,
For Tomorrow we’ll rearrange this greatness,

We may become static,
But who is to say that the effects will not impact what we have created.
Like the Big Bang,
Catapult me into unforeseen futures,

Unforeseen sorrows

Inspire and caress my mind,

Be blind, but burst
Brighten my memories with clouds of stardust resting in your eyes
Idly waiting to fuse once again,
From the particles they once belonged.

We cannot create nor destroy,

but I’m suffering in this formation,

My eye sight begins to deteriorate with all the sadness in this world

Withering away into nothing

So let me build in the darkness of our space,

Where light cannot invade fast enough,

Let me cover your body in fading stars like braille

Small yet profound stars showing me the way

I’ll memorize them like some holy scripture

And learn to walk through the darkness

We can swallow these particles, though we won’t call it love,

We’ll only agree like the planets aligning with gravity,

To settle in this chaos.

 

Brendan Constantine Teaches Everyday Poetry

By Martin Chang and Portia Choi

Photos by Portia Choi and Martin Chang

When Brendan Constantine shopped at big box stores, he saw the same word over and over.  “I was shopping at a place like Smart and Final and they would have industrial versions of different products, and they were all about how to get the most out of them,” he said.

This inspired Constantine to think about teaching poetry differently.  “If I address poetry in that way, as a thing that is practical, something that is not just a hobby, or because something that you do because it’s pretty, but a day to day means to clarity. That could be the way to teach poetry.”

This is how Constantine came up with the workshop titled Industrial Poetry. He taught the workshop at on June 1, 2017 at Walter W. Stiern Library of California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB.)  The workshop was so popular that it had to be moved to a larger room in the library.

Constantine performed for the students at the 5-hour workshop like a comedian giving high energy examples of techniques and methods of inspiration.  These methods include writing exercises and prompts with titles like A Change of Season, Poverty, Divorce, I was so Drunk, and After the Wedding.  Or to write about “We were never to talk about . . .” and “What are the stars waiting for?”

He spoke of the “openness of possibilities.”  That there are two directions of most poetry.  One is the lyrical that moves by association and the other being the narrative that moves with time.

From vocabulary to job hunting, Constantine believes that the teaching of poetry can help people communicate. He believes that this communication can bring people together. “It’s not enough to tell you I’m sad. I haven’t told you very much. If I can get you to feel it with me, maybe I get you closer to what I am talking about. People with skills with things like simile and metaphor and image will just write a better letter, even a letter for a job,” he said.

This can extend to the current climate of division. “People are being separated by beliefs.  These divisions are becoming greater through semantics, people not being to articulate how they feel.  I feel that right now, with a country that everybody is saying is divided, that anything that we can do to stimulate communication is great.”

On a deeper level, teaching poetic expression can help people become more complete.  This is what Constantine believes he can give to students. “When it comes to poetry, metaphor is a gateway to compassion.  If I can fill a room full of people, who on a daily basis, is tasked to empathize with everything from nature to a chair, that is someone is also concerned with how others feel, that to me is a healthier world.”

Runda Osman took the workshop with her daughter Rawiah Mohamed Osman.   Runda enjoyed experiencing the workshop with her daughter. She said, “In my culture, we do not communicate by talking but by spending time doing something together. So taking this workshop was doing something with my daughter.  I am Middle Eastern, Sudanese.  It is the first time for me to be in a writing workshop.” Rawiah wrote when she was younger and is planning on writing poetry again.

Jorge Lopez took the workshop to “improve writing poetry. I write short stories and plays at CSUB.”  Lopez said, “The workshop was fun, liked it a lot.  Creative way to write poetry.”

Priti Devaprakash of East Indian heritage, also took the workshop. She found Constantine “animated, enthusiastic and creative.” She enjoyed one writing activity called Why and Because. In this activity, one side of the class wrote five sentences starting with “Why.”  The other side wrote five sentences of “Because.”  In random order, a participant said a “why” and then a person on the other side responded with one of their “because.”

Devaprakash enjoyed the freedom of the activity. She said, “In school classes there are rules on what you can’t do.  The workshop showed how randomness goes into creativity.”

During the workshop, Constantine did not read any of his poems even though he has several published books of poetry. His first collection, Letters to Guns, was released in February 2009.   The book is used extensively in schools.  His website is Brendanconstatine.com.

Here are poems from two of the participants of the workshop.

 

Jorge Lopez wrote the following poem during the workshop, in the activity he was asked to write a his choice.

My dream will be found

by someone who talks to loud.

They will lose their voice

and utter no sound.

Being forced to listen

to the noise of the crowd.

They have talked over so much.

 

 

Rawiah Mohamed Osman provided the following poem that she had written previously for the Kern Poetry website.

American Superheroes

by Rawiah Mohamed Osman in 2015

There are heroes who are fighting for our freedom and voice

They are courageous, brave, mentally and physically tough

Will always be waiting for the day they return so we can rejoice

God, please bring them home safely and keep them strong which is enough

 

While we worry about what we will wear today, they worry if they will see their families once again

Those are our troops who without we wouldn’t be who we are today

Unlike the immortal heroes we grew up with like Superman and Wonder Women, they are real women and men

They are mortal, they fight and die, while others get captured and never able to get away.

 

Even though you might not know them and they don’t know you

They are the reason you are here to stay and will protect you

While you’re complaining your life is hell, they are going through it for you

But they won’t quit or accept defeat because they always push through center of gravity

 

Because what’s starts with an S and protects as all

 

Soldiers, thank you to all the women and men who serve