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Open Mic May 2019 Featuring Jerry D. Mathes II

Kern Poetry Interview with Jerry D. Mathes II

Interview by Carla Martin
Photographs by Kern Poetry

Jerry D. Mathes II was the featured poet for Dagny’s First Friday Open Mic Night, last year on May 3, 2019.  The event was hosted by local poet and poetry advocate, Julie Jordan Scott.

 

 

The interview with Jerry D. Mathes II 
by Carla Martin

Q.  What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their backstories?

A.  I am inspired by life to write poems. That thing that drives anyone to tell a story that is as innate as painting on cave walls. In poetry, I write about events that have an underlying transformational moment, an emotional turn that happens. In the poem, “Venus in Retrograde” I was driving out Highway 58 before sunrise between Tehachapi and Boron headed to Las Vegas, Nevada where my father had been hospitalized and was about to undergo heart surgery. My two daughters were asleep and I was alone with the road noise and Venus burning in the light of false dawn. I wrote the poem in my head as I contemplated the gravity of the trip, my rocky relationship with my father, and the drive, the journey itself. This is classic story telling. What is the physical action of the story and what is the emotional action of the story? I had my journal with me, as I always do, so scribbled out the lines as it rested on my thigh. I’d learned how to write on a steno on my thigh as a helicopter manager when I was a wildland firefighter, so it’s something I can do easily.  

 

Venus in Retrograde 

The girls and I drive east, 
Sunrise like a creamsicle, 
spread only the way a desert 
can make it, edged between jagged 
mountains and the freezer blue 
of a sky, failing before day. The half-light 
ripples the frost on the dry lake, 
and Venus hangs a punch hole in the dark sky. 

We travel to see my father, whose heart 
is battered with decades of cigarettes, 
industry, and the working class diet 
designed to keep the body burning 
through the long shifts of mining ore, 
hauling the nation’s freight, or the rejection 

of a first born son. The space around 
his heart has filled with fluid like so much 
sweat and tears of a lifetime of work, 
compressing it until it struggles to beat, 
to do its job. 

My daughters sleep as I drive and regard 
Venus through the windshield, fading 
with the sunrise. How the son always 
feels the pull of the father, no matter 
how far away he travels or long ago 
the last civil word. 
Venus maybe in retrograde, 
but it always returns along its frozen 
ellipsis, not to the heart, but close enough 
to see its light at its brightest. 

 

Q. Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  I do like to read poetry. And poets who have influenced me are Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, Tennyson, Wilfred Owen, Langston Hughes, Richard Hugo, Jane Kenyon, James Wright, Anna Akhmatova, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Hayden, Phillip Levine, Yusef Komunyakaa, and others. I don’t really look for messages, but how a poet uses words and images and how they connect to the human condition. I like when a poet lets a poem have room to breathe and even if it adds up to a certain way of looking at the world, like in Levine’s “What Work Is” or Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” events within the poem led us there and we aren’t being preached at. Even political poets like Owen and Ginsberg work through imagery and in the end let the readers contemplate how they feel about the subject. You can look at Ginsberg’s “America,” and its litany of injustices, sense of protest, or those people on the fringe, where it seems a rejection of America and its values because “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing,” but in the end turns it upside down when he says “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” The same with Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” He isn’t saying the war is hell, stop the war. He is showing you the horror of war as it existed for him on the Western Front and the reader can see the horrors and come to their own conclusions, which is much more powerful as he comes to the final line in Latin that works against the idea of glory and honor in war. Poetry can reveal to us injustices, horror, or oppression and it can be celebratory, elegiac, or mythic in searching, but how it wrestles with these things is what is important to me. Aristotle wrote in Poetics, “the ending must be unexpected, yet satisfying.” He was talking about all narratives. It’s what gives us surprise or delight as we finish reading. It’s also important to remember the reader is smart and doesn’t need to be told most things, and it robs a reader of the satisfaction of discovery. For instance, in Whitman’s “The Artilleryman’s Vision,” the artilleryman is hallucinating the battle in his home in bed with his wife and “through the dark, I hear, just hear, the/breath of my infant.” He shows us and we are left to share the experience. You can see this also in “Starlight Scope Myopia” by Yusef Komunyakaa where we are looking through a night vision scope at enemy soldiers who “Gray-blue shadows lift/shadows onto an oxcart.” and what is flat and dark opens out into a larger world of humanity we couldn’t have predicted, and discover a revelatory ending. I think a lot about Richard Hugo’s “Degrees of Grays in Phillipsburg” about a trip to a played-out mining town and he shows us the wreckage and hope of life in this trip. It begins, “You might come here Sunday on a whim,” and if that isn’t inviting you into a world laden with meaning to ponder, then I don’t know what is. But for all these authors, it is the imagery that shows us the way, and not the author telling us, and the author trusts we are smart enough to get it. I have no use for preachy poetry. In fact, preachy poetry is more for the writer than the listener. As the poet Richard Hugo said, “I you want to send a message, call Western Union.”  

 

Q. What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.? How long does it take you?  Do you write in the morning or evening?  On the back of envelopes or on your phone? Give us a glimpse into your creative process! 

A.  The advice I give people who want to be poets is to write and read and write some more. Look at poems you like and figure out how they were constructed. A good thing to do is get a book on forms and learn how to construct formal poems that don’t sound stilted, archaic, or forced, and after that you can break the form and create what you want. Another exercise I learned in college was modeling. Take a poem you love and use it as a blueprint for your own poem. Copy the meter, the line length and the number of lines, but use your own words and imagery. 

I don’t have a special place, or music, or a particular time of day and compose poems with whatever is handy. A poem can take years or days to minutes to write, because that’s how it works. My creative process is to look at the world or think about events or things and what questions they raise for and how to work it out. Yeats said, “Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” The poet must be introspective and struggle with her or himself as they confront the world and, most importantly, confront themselves. Poetry, it’s a search for meaning.  

Bakersfield Poets Respond to COVID 19

Bakersfield Poets Respond to COVID 19

I, Portia Choi, of Kern Poetry thank you, our poetry community. These are times of change – a time of mandatory precaution due to COVID-19. It has also been a time of connection with poetry and with creativity.

This story is an initial sharing of poems and interviews of local poets about their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have asked Carla Martin, a Bakersfield poet, to interview Blake Short, Diane Lobre and Jana Lee Wong.

Interview with Blake Short
By Carla Martin

Blake Short shared with us one of his poems at Dagny’s Open Mic Nights on April 5, 2019. He has written a new poem that is particularly relevant to what many of us are feeling during the current COVID 19 crisis. It is included here with his interview.

Q. What inspires you to write your poems?

A. The definition of poetry is “…literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings.” With that definition in mind, poetry has allowed me to channel my inner-self with a naked, bare intensity, allowing me to convey thoughts of joy, pain, confusion, etc. I am able inhabit a place where all of those emotions define who I am without being ashamed about what I have done or who I am. But allowing my hand to write out a truth that in turn may be my only way of confronting what it is I am trying to understand.

During this time of the corona virus, we have isolated ourselves in order to stop the spread. But for some us, it has brought the best and worst out in us. Isolation can take someone’s head to go to places that it would not normally go. I wrote this poem about that place, This is the poem:

solitude taught me of my nature.

my hollow thoughts

became more real than my dreams.

my heart living in the shade of night.

this imperfection taught me of my selfishness.

for it is we, not I,

that make up this life.

This poem talks about how many of us isolate even when there is no reason to. But we are social creatures–we need each other! Because when we isolate, we believe that we will write something profound, or supposedly intuitive. We may write down some arrogant thought that makes us believe we are better than other people.

When all of this social distancing ends, I hope that people will step out of their comfort zones and connect with people–allowing a true organic relationship to grow! I am extremely guilty of isolating. But after being in this quarantine, I realize that we need each other.

Q. Do you like to read poetry?

A. If you are a poet, and do not read poetry, it causes me to be perplexed. Reading is the way we learn! Digesting the expression of others is essential to how we express ourselves.

Poets that influence me are Pablo Neruda, E.E.Cummings, Robert Frost, William Blake, Sylvia Plath, just to name a few! I can’t say that I have a favorite, but if I had to choose, I would say E.E.Cummings! However, I read Willam Blake’s poem, “The Tyger,” in high school, and I can honestly say that that is when I wanted to write poetry. It was the language of the poem that spoke to my heart.

Q. What advice would you give other folks wanting to create poems?

A. I would like to tread lightly on this question, because when you begin giving creative advice, it can be as though you are admiring yourself in a mirror. The advice is backwards and becomes all about you, not the people you are trying to help/inspire. But if I were to say anything, I would say the cliche line, “be vulnerable” in your writing. The beauty of poetry is, like the definition states, it is about expression! What do you want to say? How do you want to say it? You can choose whatever creative process that releases the truth from your heart and mind. In the words of the sportswriter, Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, when asked if writing was easy, “Well, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”


Interview with Diane Lobre
By Carla Martin

This is Diane’s uplifting poem, her philosophical response to COVID 19:

Heart Holds Hope

          By Diane Lobre

The mind is racing with potential

For catastrophe and fear

But the heart holds hope

Any spark of hope, joy to be found

In this morass of change

Days pass in an illusion of sameness

Amidst calamity, humanity

Is slowing down, finding

Ways to cope

Hope whispers words

Encouraging us to be kind

To share and learn

Uncharted waters lay before us

Perhaps, it’s time to listen

To our inner voices

And navigate using our innate sense

Of what is right, how to reach

The distant shore together

Finding the eye in the storm

Breathing calm, holding tight

To love and those we love

Being thankful for those who serve

With reverence for selflessness

And humble acceptance

Gifts of concern, friends’ support

Offers of help and giving

These buoy the kernel of hope

Hope, the candle in the window

Lighting our way

Lifting spirits

Q. What role does poetry play during uncertain times? How can it help us? (the individual, the masses, society — you name it!)

A. For me, writing poetry in response to a strong feeling/emotion helps me process the feeling. Instead of focusing on the negative, I try to find and highlight the positive. The news I read, the people around me, my experience within the situation all come into play.

Q. What has been your own personal response to the pandemic? How does your poem explore this feeling?

A. The pandemic has not drastically impacted my life. My health and income have not been affected. The long periods of distancing from family has been the most impactful. There is a fear and sadness buried within me for my family and community. That poem has not been written yet.


Interview with Jana Lee Wong
By Carla Martin

This is Jana’s poem written just as COVID 19 arrived in our lives:

Pandemic 2020

          By Jana Lee Wong 

6 feet back

6 feet under

it hits as fast

as the numbers

in the news

chime daily.

we forget

to breathe

as those struggle

for breath.

fathers afraid

of the plague

their sons bring,

shut doors ghostly

freeways national

guard

iran

china

italy

all closed

ghost towns

in the wake

of daylight.

we used to read

histories of death,

now we make history

with slow closures,

slow fires to burn

posies in our pockets.

Q. What role does poetry play during uncertain times? How can it help us? (the individual, the masses, society – you name it!)

A. Poetry plays the role of truth to the individual in uncertain times like these, and then it is conveyed to the masses. It is a message to society that sometimes inspires, sometimes provokes, but its overall theme should be timeless.

Q. What has been your own personal response to the pandemic? How does your poem explore this feeling?

A. My own personal response to the pandemic was portrayed in my poem, “Pandemic 2020.” I was, like most people, in shock of the reality unfolding around us with the shutdown and the social distancing. When the hotel canceled my summer reservations, I knew we were going to be in this predicament for the long haul, and when a friend’s parents went into the hospital for the fight of their lives, I knew we had never seen anything like this before in our lifetimes.

Q. How can poets and creative thinkers use our new blocks of free time to hone their craft? What personal challenges or schedules or aspirations are you pursing during this crisis–also a time of opportunity?

A. Of course, there is a positive transformation that I have seen in our community and across the nation. Neighbors are talking to each other more often and helping each other from a distance. Families are finding creative ways to have fun and find meaning in their lives, and artists are finding the time to create. I am personally finding time to write a science fiction novel, and I find the key to getting anything accomplished is to set a schedule for yourself, and try to create something every day, no matter how little it may be. We all want to look back and say, “I did something pretty amazing during the COVID-19 lockdown.” This accomplishment can take many forms, but we have to begin now.

Open Mic April 2019 Featuring Matthew Woodman

Kern Poetry Interview with Matthew Woodman, Kern County Poet Laureate

Interviews by Carla Martin
Photographs by Kern Poetry

 

Interview by Carla Martin
Here are four poems Matthew Woodman shared with us at Dagny’s on First Friday, April 5th, 2019:

The Fugitive
       “I’d like to settle down, but they won’t let me.”
        –Merle Haggard

Who wouldn’t want to shed
their stripes in the shadow
of Mt. Shasta, the most
voluminous strato-
volcano astride the
Cascade Volcanic Arc?

Of the five essential
features of the phono-
graph, Edison opens
with captivity and
permanent retention
of all manner of sound-

waves previously stamped
“fugitive,” reception
as a correlative
of regulation, San
Quentin California’s
oldest prison and the

state’s only death row. Es-
capes may be divided
into voluntary
or negligent, actual
or constructive, Haggard’s
parole and then pardon

inexorably linked
to his band of Strangers
and the birdseye maple
Fender Telecaster
with the two-tone sun-
burst finish. To listen

is to risk being moved.
We are brief engagements
of time and pressure in
eruptive, ecstatic
song. Who wouldn’t want to
be born in a boxcar?

 

Day and Night
       (after Rufino Tamayo’s El día y la noche, 1954)

we purchased a family membership
at the california living museum
the aquarium will open
after the new year after the holiday
lights we watched the cougar
sleep we practiced deep soft stuttering
hoots on the great horned owl
we croaked and clacked the ravens
we followed fox tracks through
the powdery soil outside the cages
a turkey vulture spiraled over
head I told my son something dead
might be on the menu soon
his great grandfather recently passed
and dividing classifying diurnal
nocturnal but then why is the owl
awake sometimes things slide
through the night my grandfather
slipped into a coma I saw him
standing in my living room a high-
way away what propellant keeps
us participating in this bilateral
symmetry can modality be new
what happened after they took him
to the funeral home I explained
cremation and a simplified version
of closed systems of conservation
of energy and life cycles what was
your favorite part I asked the snake
house he replied a building seems
to cut into the side of a mountain
or pyramid and he’s always liked
descending mines or caves reading
about ancient monuments studying
the stars can I go out at midnight
he asks and look for ghosts at first
I dumfounded am but then realize he
refers to a game downloaded on his
mother’s phone of I tell him course

 

The Astronomer (1957)
       (after Rufino Tamayo’s painting El astrónomo, 1957)

The more I look the longer I last
just jump they say right in if you want

to understand but how does one reach
the firmament put oneself into play

amid the fault lines interplanetary
alignments slopes tracing the otherwise

incomprehensible tangle of table
crossed legs and do you want a refill

make of your head an orbital stone
be unafraid to careen and cause

questioning glance if need be at the hole
where the compass would be had you not

ditched it at the border along with your hold
on the pedometer and your corner chair

against the wall where normally you’d watch
the intersections traffic not in what

could happen but rather in fusing
the range your space to the spaces out there

 

Man with Flower
       (after Rufino Tamayo’s painting Hombre con flor, 1989)

The palette knife shaves seconds clean
into years since I had a full head
of hair the pate a sheen robin egg blue

the sky in spring shorn of the last
wispy tufts I still nick my throat’s right
when the razor’s dulled blade has seen

better days of buttered toast bacon
and eggs beneath a mound of biscuits
and gravy shelled on a handwashed plate

the rest proceeds both too quick too slow
how much has what else will rust
this patina before it all leaches

into the soil and sprouts a spindly
white daisy from which children
weave chains and forge crowns

– – –

Q. When did you first become interested in poetry? What poets have inspired and influenced you?

A. I first became interested in poetry as a child through Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein, and I have a “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” tie that I wear on days I am feeling especially nostalgic. In terms of writing poetry, I suppose I would have to blame the writer Jim Dodge, from whom I took three or four creative writing courses at Humboldt State University. His novel Stone Junction is a hallucinogenic quest novel that I highly recommend, Fup is a shorter work about a larger-than-life pet duck, and his collection of poetry Rain on the River: New and Selected Poems and Short Prose contains one of my favorite poems, “Karma Bird.” I am always on the prowl for new poets and poems from whom I can find my own inspiration. Two of my earliest influences were John Berryman (Dream Songs) and Raymond Carver (Ultramarine). More recently, I have been influenced by Charles Simic (Hotel Insomnia), Olena Kalytiak Davis (Shattered Sonnets, Love Cards, and Other Off and Back Handed Importunities), Kay Ryan (The Best of It), A.R. Ammons (Garbage), Homero Aridjis (Solar Poems), and William Carlos Williams (Paterson), and this year I’ve been following Rocío Carlos (the Other House).

 

Q. What is your greatest desire to accomplish as Poet Laureate of Kern County?

A. I seem my role as Poet Laureate of Kern County as being some sort of catalyst who can inspire other people to read, write, and perform their own poetry. If I can inspire or assist another writer in putting their own words into the world, then I will consider my role a success.

 

Q. What advice would you give to aspiring poets? What is your modus operandi?

A. To all aspiring poets out there . . . read as much poetry as you can! Read the classics! Read what was published last week! Don’t obsess over finding your voice; instead, try to gather and give breath to all your voices. There are hundreds of literary journals publishing great poetry. Subscribe to a few, or ask your local library to pick up a subscription; many of these journals also have an online component (or are completely online), so there is no financial obstacle to seeing what’s being created now, in the same time and space in which we are living. I particularly enjoy the online journals Mojave Heart Review, Memoir Mixtapes, and Longleaf Review and the print journals Willow Springs, Puerto Del Sol, and Zyzzyva, but each journal has its own voice, so find the journal that publishes work you enjoy, and keep writing (and editing! and rewriting!) and then submit your own work to that journal. And don’t be discouraged by rejection; rejection is all part of the process and is a sign that you’re on the right path (as long as you continue writing and improving). My poems have been rejected a painful number of times, but –to use an analogy– the only way to build muscle is to tear the tissue and let it heal back stronger. Earn those rejections! And then make changes to your poem (or not!) and send it out into the world again. I also recommend finding a community of writers so that you can encourage and support each other through the process. The Writers of Kern is doing great work on this account, and an aspiring poet could also use the local library’s community page to start a writing group at the library. As for my own modus operandi, I like to give myself writing assignments or projects. For example, one of my recent projects involved the painter Rufino Tamayo, whose painting “Dog Howling at the Moon” stunned me when I first saw it. I then sat down to write a collection poems, each of which would be inspired by a different Tamayo painting. This ekphrastic project resulted in nearly 200 poems, and an earlier collection focusing on “moon” poems ended up numbering nearly 80. Each project has a centered focus (paintings or the moon), so part of my process is trying to expand my stylistic range so that I don’t repeat the same “tricks” or literary tropes. This has allowed me to push myself while also keeping an anchor to hold the poems in some sort of bay.

Open Mic March 2019 Featuring Larry Etue

Interviews by Carla Martin

Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

– – –

Interview with featured poet, Larry Etue, by Carla Martin

These are three poems selected from the ones that Larry read at Dagny’s Open Mic on March 1, 2019:

 

The Time of Now

Night begins to thaw

and light melts

over the landscape

illumination uneven

trickling through the forests, quietly

trickling among the

buildings, quietly

fulfilling the mythological promise

as the bones of Osiris

are again mended

sending long shadows stretching westward

as the arc of day begins 

and begs the question

that greets all who have choice:

what to do with this

the given

this the time of now 

the only time of importance

of all the time

that has ever been

 

Slowin’

Why do you hurry so?

To what do you run?

From what do you flee?

Is rest your foe?

Is silence to be shunned?

To hurry is to blur

To hurry is to miss

Why do you hurry so?

At the end of your race

Is the grave

Didn’t you know?

     Why do you hurry so?

 

Alley Riches

The downtown alley remains in shadow. 

Light never breaks through the buildings

of business and commerce.

This place is a concrete swamp of fetid odors,

a mossy north wall dampness ever present.

It is from here in the predawn that the city’s bedraggled exiles fan out with purpose.

Tenacious as raptors scrapping over road kills

they dumpster shop with pole and sack.

There they find boxes and boards for shelter, bottles and cans for cash.  All goes in the cart

and its plastic saddle bags. 

Grab and go. No waiting, no checkouts. 

Two hours later a day’s work is in before

the sun begins to search for them.

Then its time to sit with fellow exiles,

share a smoke and the narrow-necked sack

and tip a grateful salute to the side glances

and shaking heads of the city’s eight-to-fivers. 

Q.  What inspired you to write poetry?

A.  Working towards my BA in Liberal Arts and experiencing a down period in the process, I came upon the lines, ‘ The woods are lovely dark and deep, I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep.’ by Robert Frost.  The simple message of promises to keep rekindled the energy to continue towards graduation and continues to inspire me in the present.

That experience taught me that the right words at the right time can be a life changing alchemy.  Since then I have found inspiration in the poems, or stanzas within the poems of Dickinson, Tennyson, Heaney, Sandburg, Shelly, Emerson, Akhmatova, and so many others.

Q.  Some of your poems are social commentaries.  Do you think poets have an important role to play in bringing certain issues to light?

A.  I strongly believe that bringing attention to the plight of others suffering from our many contemporary social outrages falls within the purview of poets and others for comment.  Even if a poem or piece of writing or song doesn’t affect a change it demonstrates that there is at least one person who says, “This is not right,” and that one poem, writing, song joined by others 

may contribute to a movement and shift towards the better….maybe.

Q.  What advice would you give to people wanting to write poetry?  What is your modus operandi?

A.  I try to see the ordinary, the prosaic, the literal, beyond the sight lines of everyday vision and give words to the experience.  I work from a sense of inspiration:  source is immaterial;  when something moves me I set it to words in figurative language.  Most of my writing is done in coffee shops and often the ideas, fueled by an inspiration, have to be quickly captured on a napkin or in a notebook if at hand.  I then will develop the theme into a poem.

Rule #1 then is to always have something to secure your inspiration.

    Once my thinking is firm about the theme the writing begins with a very messy melange of words that needs a bit of sorting out.  After the sorting process I turn to the formatting or structure of the poem.  I want it to be pleasing to the eye and invite the reader for at least a momentary scan.  The thematic content can be lost to the reader if not supported by the ‘bones’ of the poem.  

Rule #2 then is to attend to the format once the content has been satisfied.

    I never use cliches…unless writing a poem about cliches, which has yet to happen.  Word choices and clauses to present the theme can take some time and frequent rewrites.  But I find ‘working the poem’  and attending to details an adventure.  Also, if including factual material in your poem…be certain of the facts.

Rule #3 then is to never use cliches or hackneyed phrases.

    I try to say a lot with as few words as possible.  After completing initial drafts I look for ways to eliminate the extraneous while leaving the core theme intact.  Let succinctness be your writing muse.  A poem, to me, is determined by the cohesiveness and clarity of its content.

Rule #4 then is less is best…let every word support the theme…if not, then delete.

    The capstone for me and for you as aspiring poets is to write for yourself…do not write to please an imaginary audience.  Authenticity is important.

Rule #5 then is Authenticity… it is your poem, your theme, your structure. Please yourself but always be ready to revise.

    When you have finished  to satisfaction and titled your poem, read it aloud.  What may flow in silence may not flow when spoken.  And, let’s face it, despite writing for yourself, you and I know you would like to do a public reading.  For experience and confidence I suggest that you find a group of like minded writers with whom to share your work.     

One final comment:  Get a copy of The Art of Reading Poetry by Harold Bloom… it is in paperback and I found it to be indispensable for both reading and writing.


 

Interview with Cori Love by Carla Martin

Here is the poem that Cori shared at Dagney’s Open Mic, March 1, 2019:

 

Black Love

Black Love is bold and beautiful

Difficult and Dramatic

And like my hair,

It can be unmanageable and full of kinks

Yet, its able to flow naturally.

Black love can be crunchy, sweet and salty but like caramel popcorn you always want seconds.

Black Love leaves a permanent stain.

It will never fade to a funky Shade of Grey.

Black is love is always what’s trending what’s new and sexy!

Black Love, when dressed up, stays red carpet-ready.

Go ahead, Tweet that!

When a girl falls in Black love,

that’s when you’ll notice her walking down the street with an extra sway in her hips

While wearing his favorite colored lipstick,

Deep burgundy number 19.

When a guy is in Black love

He will begin to walk down the street with a bit more Swag in his steps.

He is walking to the Rhythm of Black Love.

Black love is fueled by its music..

Luther Vandross sang, “It’s never too much.”

Anita Baker sang, “Sweet Love, hear me calling out your name, I feel no shame.”

And Sade said, “Your love is King, Crown you with my heart.”

So I do not want to fall in just any kind of love,

I want love that’s Dramatic, Crazy, Bold and Beautiful.

I Want Black Love.

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

A.  I was inspired to write this poem. I want to share why Black Love is real to me and why I call it that. Yes, Love is universal but from my afrocentric point of view, Black Love has more attitude, drama and boldness and beauty to it, than any other kind of love that you can have, and that’s why it’s real to me!

Q.  Do you enjoy reading poetry?Who are some of your favorite poets?

A.  I love to read poetry.  My favorites are Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni. They both speak of liberation and their lyrical phrasing is phenomenal.  But more often I enjoy watching  poets performing live on  stage. Seeing poetry come to life is when I get inspired the most!

Q.  What advice would you give to people wanting to write poetry?

A.   My advice to those who desire to write is simply believe that your stories matter. Write about topics that truly matter to you.


 

Interview with Ruth Handy by Carla Martin

This is the poem Ruth shared at Dagney’s Open Mic Night on March 1, 2019:

 

May the Oceans Be Freed of Plastic

What’s on TV?

How important is it?

May the oceans be freed of plastic.

 

Who’s in love with whom? 

Are the children okay after the divorce?

May the oceans be freed of plastic.

 

Did you register to vote?

Do you care what happens?

May the oceans be freed of plastic.

 

How much debt do you have?

How much does the country owe?

May the oceans be freed of plastic.

 

Do you care about yourself?

Do you care for others?

May the oceans be freed of plastic.

 

Does your soul have breathing room?

Are you at one with all life?

May the oceans be freed of plastic.

Q.  What inspired you to write this poem?

A.   I am very upset by the photos of animals and fish suffering and even starving from swallowing plastic in the ocean. Also I learned that there are 5 huge piles of plastic, miles wide, in all of the oceans with no solution in sight to clear them away. Somehow I feel that this pollution is connected to the fact that we are not managing our lives well as human beings – we are careless emotionally and financially, and the consequences can no longer be ignored.

Q.  What poets do you admire?  What kind of poetry really speaks to you?

A. I am moved by Portia Choi’s poems about her childhood experiences in Korea when the war was at it’s height.  I love Haiku, especially Basho’s poems about nature. He wrote these a couple of centuries ago in Japan.

Q.  What advice would you give to people trying to write poetry?

A. If people are interested in writing poetry, it might help to come to the First Friday readings at Dagney’s Coffee Shop. There will also be an Open Mic and Poetry Reading on April 6 at 11:00 am in Artworks in the Pine Mountain village. You can hear what concerns people have. Also poetry allows a person an opportunity to speak from a different plane and perspective, from in between worlds as it were.

Open Mic at Dagny’s February 2019 Featuring Ariel Dyer

Interviews by Carla Martin

Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

Interview with Ariel Dyer 

by Carla Martin

Here are the lyrics to three of the songs Ariel shared with us:

SIREN SONG

by Ariel Dyer

“Hey sailor,” she sang, “I can show you a good time

“So walk right off of that plank, come on in the water is fine”

As he dove under the waves, she began to change her mind

The next morning, the captain read about it in the headlines

So hold her tight but not too long

She’ll be leaving in the morning but she won’t be gone

Thought she left you with a siren’s song

and headed out across the water

You asked her once, she spun the spell

“Do you love me?” “Yes, I love you well,

“Follow me into my pretty hell, if you dare to risk the drowning,

“If I take your hand I won’t let go.”

On the run on the high seas, maritime law’s a real bitch

A lonely life but she had to keep away from all those dirty rotten no good ships

Every night on the same star, she’d make the same wish

To find a love that made sense, she was tired of screwing the fish

So hold her tight but not too long

She’ll be leaving in the morning but she won’t be gone

Thought she left you with a siren’s song

And headed out across the water

You asked her once, she spun the spell

“Do you love me?” “Yes, I love you well

“Follow me into my pretty hell

“If you dare to risk the drowning

“If I take your hand will I be home?”

“Hey sailor,” she grinned, “Wanna make a bet?

I’ll let you keep me forever, if you can make it back to my place without getting wet”

He asked, “What if I lose?” She said, “Well, I guess you’ll be dead”

He walked right off of that plank, and straight into the sunset

So hold her tight but not too long 

She’ll be leaving in the morning but she won’t be gone

Thought she left you with a siren’s song 

And headed out across the water

You asked her once, she spun the spell

“Do you love me?” “Yes, I love you well

“Follow me into my pretty hell, cuz you don’t seem to mind the drowning

I’d rather not be on my own but

If you walk away, I’ll go alone”

UNDER YOUR SKIN

by Ariel Dyer

If it’s not a good look

Why do I wear it so well?

Pardon me I mistook

Your pretty face for someone else

But you’ll just have to do

Because you see it’s getting late

Yeah, it’s a bleak point of view

That keeps the guilt from off my plate

Cuz wolves in sheep’s clothing fight dirtier than I do

And trolls in the dungeon won’t leave to come and find you

You know who I am and you’re gonna let me in

I know that I’m under your skin

Just another sleepless night

You toss and turn until you sweat

Put on her perfume out of spite

But I’m not done with you just yet

While you’re counting sheep

I’m prowling just outside the pen

Mind the company you keep

I may be a monster, but you’ll want me as your friend

Cuz wolves in sheep’s clothing fight dirtier than I do

And trolls in the dungeon won’t leave to come and find you

You know who I am and you’re gonna let me in

I know that I’m under your skin 

I don’t have to huff and puff

To blow your house on down

Tell me when you’ve had enough

I’ll burn it to the ground

Scratch the itch to let me out

From underneath your skin

It’s wearing thin

Cuz wolves in sheep’s clothing fight dirtier than I do 

And trolls in the dungeon won’t leave to come and find you

You know who I am and you’re gonna let me in

I know that I’m under your skin 

COMING BACK

by Ariel Dyer

I dreamt of a horse

A horse that was mine 

We traveled the world

She made me feel fine

One day she fell ill

I sent for the doctor

He said “I know that I’m skilled 

“But I’m no sweet talker

“Your girl’s pretty bad

“There’s no guarantees 

“The one hope you have 

“is to leave her with me”

So I said my goodbyes 

But I wasn’t too worried

Missed that look in her eyes

Was in such a hurry

To be anywhere else 

You know how it goes

I said it myself 

But it’s a bitch when you know

She’s not coming back

I had my fun then I went back home

Next up found my girl all alone

Hardly recognized her moans

All wild eyes and bloody bones

Doctor, doctor, come and see

Just what it is you’ve done to me

But only silence heard my pleas

So I pulled my gun to finish the deed

She’s not coming back

It’s too late to tell her

Too late to say it

No use even thinking 

Pointless to pray it

Your friends all feel sorry

You watched the thing die

Sometimes even the killer 

Can believe her own lies

She’s not coming back

What if it’s your fault she’s gone?

What if there’s no moving on?

What if you’d known all along?

Then you should have fixed what was wrong…

Q.  What inspired you to write “Siren Song?”  What’s your backstory?

A. I wrote Siren Song at the beginning of a new relationship, in an attempt to work out the monotony of dating and the scary transition between casual dating and being real with someone you care about. We all put on our best self when we’re getting to know someone (or at least I know I certainly do), but what about when the walls come down and it’s just you NOT at your best? Are they going to stick around?

I’ve always been a big mythology nerd, and since my name is Ariel and almost everyone makes the little mermaid joke when they meet me, sirens popped into my head. The metaphor of sirens luring men to their deaths as a stand-in for vulnerability and taking a chance in the world of modern dating seemed to work well. 

Q.  Do you think songwriters are poets?  Who are some that inspire you?

A.   I absolutely think songwriters are poets! Although it’s funny, because I don’t think I could write poetry that’s unaccompanied by music. It’s definitely got its own style. I tend to gravitate towards lyricists, and a lot of the best lyric writers in my opinion are hip hop artists. Some favorite songwriters include Joni Mitchell, Kendrick Lamar, clipping., Billy Joel, and Amanda Palmer.

Q.  What might be your advice to aspiring songwriters?  What is your method or process?

A.   My advice to people interested is songwriting is to listen to a wide variety of artists, talk with even more, and just go for it. Pick up your pen and paper, sit at your instrument, and see what happens. I write my lyrics and music mostly simultaneously, but every songwriter I’ve talked to does it differently. The important thing is to see yourself as a legitimate artist worth listening to (which, speaking from personal experience, is hard to do). My best ideas come from spending time with other creative people, drawing inspiration from their determination, commiserating in commons struggles, and even engaging in a little healthy competition.  We’ve got loads of local talent. Start mingling!


Interview with Thomas Brill 

by Carla Martin

Here is the poem Thomas performed that evening.  He provided printed copies of it so folks could see its shape, which is essential to the meaning and understanding of the work.

This

will never

do because at

some point the lines

will become ridiculously

long, each a novel of its own

creation, each touching upon different

topics, no relation between one line and

the next, a Christmas tree of ideas splattered

onto the page without cohesion, without reason,

without rhyme or even poetry.  Indeed we measure

each and learn, as with the Werkmeister Harmonies,

there is a delicate truth and balance in the length of the lines

alone without regard to how they sound or what they mean or who

has said them even.  Instead a universal thing, the same thing that leads

one to believe in spirit and which both unites and terrorizes us in our little

beds that we believe symbolize a whole world when really we don’t even scratch the

surface of our own meaningless drifting existence which feels awkward and difficult as

each lines gets longer until, exhausted, we collapse into a collective grave or gravy of banality.

1.  What inspired you to write this poem?  What’s your back story? (You gave us a fascinating snippet about this Friday night! I am also fascinated by the cross-pollination of the different creative arts).

There is actually a kind of funny story about what inspired the poem.  I sit at my desk in my room every morning and write a poem.  Usually I start by making a vertical line down the middle of the page, and then write poems on either side of the line.  This time I decided to get bold and make a diagonal line.  As I was writing down to the bottom of the triangle, each line was getting longer and longer, and so it just inspired me to ride that theme and play it with it a bit.  A lot of what I write involves people’s relationship with the natural world and how out of balance our lives are when compared to nature, and I eventually worked that theme into this poem as well.

2.  What poets do you enjoy and why do they inspire you?

William Carlos Williams is one of my favorite poets.  He was a doctor and he would write poems on a prescription pad so they were thankfully short.  Also his poetry is very accessible.  His language is simple.  His ideas very clean.   I had been reading Wallace Stevens for a long time and his poetry is obtuse and cryptic–reading it is liking trying to perfectly fold a fitted sheet.  I started reading William Carlos Williams soon after and I was folding pillowcases instead.  Much easier and compact.

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

Write.  Find inspiration from everything around you.  Don’t be intimidated by your thoughts, and write freely about whatever you truly feel.  Cheat if you must by finding a word and simply writing a poem that contains that word, or a number, or something that will get you started.

Try to see the cantaloupe in the pine forest.  Or marshmallows floating in a sea of ink.  In other words, be creative in your thoughts and imagery.  Everything has not been said before.


Interview with Virginia Hines 

by Carla Martin

Virginia sang this original song for us Friday evening.  Here are the lyrics :

Virtuous Woman

Written/Sung by Virginia A. Hines, PhD 

For Carrie B. Hines (My Mother) Title track for the CD: In Memory of a Virtuous Woman

Who can find a virtuous woman?

Who can find a virtuous woman?

In times like these, A virtuous woman is hard to find. (x’2)

A virtuous woman, truth I’m told is more precious than gold.

She rises early to feed her family and wraps them in warm clothes to protect them from the cold.

She surveys the land, and buys it. For all her decision making is blessed by the Lord.

Who can find a virtuous woman?

Who can find, Oh a virtuous woman?

In times like these, A virtuous woman is hard to find. (x’1)

She extends her hands to poor.  Yea, yea, yea

She gives to the needy. Strength and honor are her clothes.

She will rejoice in times to come.  For a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be sustained.

A Virtuous woman, A virtuous woman, who, who can find

A virtuous woman?

In times like these, A virtuous woman is hard to find. (x’1)

Many sisters have done virtuously.  But Carrie, Carrie B, exceedth them all. (x’2).

A virtuous woman.  A virtuous woman, My, my ,mother is,

A virtuous woman.  In times like these, let Carrie, let Carrie, let her, let Carrie, Let Carrie Be!


1.  What inspired you to write this song?

     At some point in life, the focus for many, becomes more altruistic.  My focus became altruistic during the late 1990’s.  Life was going great.  But into each life challenges, crisis, loss, and suffering occur.  Prior to any major issues of magnitude in my life, I began to reflect on my blessings and the most influential person in my life-my Mother Carrie.  I am most grateful for her introducing God, Jesus, and the Holy spirit to me, as I have learned to rely on, lean on, and trust in the trinity at all times.  In response to my trust in the Trinity, I have been able to survive, thrive, and experience blessings I only dreamt of.

     Proverbs 31:10-31 teaches us about the Virtuous Woman.  My mother used this scripture as a blue print for living.  To pay tribute to her I wrote the song and sought God’s guidance relative to the melody for singing the song.   The song like the scripture resonates love, honor, respect and power of the Lord and all virtuous women, specifically-my mother.

I hale from Saginaw, MI. and have been a resident of Bakersfield for 10 months.  I served in the U.S. Army and am currently a federal employee.  I have always loved music.  I sang in the church choir as a teen and still do- at the St. John Missionary Baptist Church, where Dr. Antonio M. Alfred is the Pastor.

    In the 1990’s I wrote a collection of songs inclusive of Virtuous Woman.  To date, I have written more than 19 songs.  Virtuous Woman is the title tract on the Gospel CD entitled: In Memory of a Virtuous Woman: Carrie B. Hines.  The CD was originally released in 2014.  The other songs on the disc include: Victorious, Miracles, Can’t Wait, and Reflections.  The CD can be obtained by going to cdbaby.com/cd/dvirginiahines.  The purchase price of the CD is $10.00. Funds generated from sales of the CD have been used to develop a scholarship fund named in honor of my mother Carrie B. Hines, who passed away unexpected in March 2014.  In efforts to reframe a loss by turning it into a gift, I decided to honor mother’s work and memory be giving to those in need.   Recipients of the scholarship dollars must be participants in Big Brothers Big Sisters or have a GPA of 4.00 and plan to attend any college In Michigan or the University of Maryland (my amateur).  My mother was a big sister for more than 26 years at the Saginaw Bay Area Big Brothers and Big Sisters and I volunteer for four years in Las Vegas, NV.  The goal is to give back by advancing education through music.  The initial scholarships will be dispersed in 2019.  The link to donate to the scholarship fund is www.saginawfoundation.org/thankyou4caring.hines/     

Additional links: Website-CBIVIRTUOUSWOMAN.COM

Endowment/scholarship info-saginawfoundation.org/site/carrie_hines/

Video-https://youtu.be/7JtclLhao-c

Follow me on FB-Virginia Hines

     Music is my way of interpreting meaning from scripture, life, and experiences.  It is the way I reframe the aforementioned through lyrics. Singing is a way that I honor the Lord.  Music is a vocal expression of the ideas, longings, and exhortations God has painted on the canvas of my heart.  Indeed, musicians like poets-express, create meaning, and stir emotion when we share the results of our interpretations.

2.  What artists inspire or speak to you?

     I love all kinds of music…but  my favorite artists include: Sarah Vaughn (technique); Whitney Houston (style and versatility), Mariah Carey (range, ability to draw me in and make me feel deeply- her croons),  Bee Bee and Cee Cee Wynans (creative spiritual prose); Fred Hammond (great ability to communicate God’s word through song); Kirk Franklin( ability to create Gospel music that makes you want to move…celebrate); and Tamala Mann (range, skill, and spirituality).

  1. What advice would you give to folks who are just satarting to write songs?

I believe that God gives his children gifts.  Whatever gift God gives us should be used to edify(uplift) and honor God.  Several skilled singers have told me they do not write their own songs.  I never imagined I would write any of the songs that I have written.  God inspired the songs I have written and many of them originated from a theme, a message, a few words of scripture that remained on my mind….that stir something in me.  Or even something that a preacher preached about….  If anyone wants to write songs, I would encourage them be a good listener.  But listen to what you feel and hear.  Write down themes or hooks that remain on your mind.  Also consider your own inspiration…link meaning to inspiration and I believe it will be blessed and so will your listeners.   Be true to yourself.  Many times, critics try to steer you away from your unique style.  I believe God can sharpen and refine us where we need to be sharpened and refined.  Just be yourself and follow your heart and dreams.  Blessings and Peace,

Virginia A. Hines, PhD

Open Mic January 2019 features Chris Nielsen

Interviews by Carla Martin

Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

– – –

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.
Again.

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,
I-5
to LAX.

65MPH
right rear wheel comes off.
Vehicle fishtails and careens,
sparks fly,
finally comes to a rest.

Logic defied.
Sanity assaulted.
Humanity defiled.
Sabotage.

 

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
songs
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 
joy

– – –

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,

homes

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-

https://youtu.be/iI7OXseGOWU

https://davidt8tzandhislovelyfriends.bandcamp.com/track/sing-through-the-sadness-and-love

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 Poetry.com 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.

     “Yes.”

     “How old are you?” Portia asked Juliette.

     “Seven.”

     “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 facebook.com/KernCountyLibrary.

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

but

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

alive—

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.”

SPRING FROM THE ROAD

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.

Music!

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,

wrong

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.”

BACKLESS DRESS

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:

“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