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Brendan Constantine Teaches Everyday Poetry

By Martin Chang and Portia Choi

Photos by Portia Choi and Martin Chang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

My dream will be found

by someone who talks to loud.

They will lose their voice

and utter no sound.

Being forced to listen

to the noise of the crowd.

They have talked over so much.

 

 

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

American Superheroes

by Rawiah Mohamed Osman in 2015

There are heroes who are fighting for our freedom and voice

They are courageous, brave, mentally and physically tough

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

Surprise Guest Poet at Open Mic May 2017

Story by Portia Choi

Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

The councilman, Andrae Gonzalez, came to the open mic on May 5, 2017.  He represents the Bakersfield downtown area that includes Dagny’s Coffee where the open mics are held.  Gonzalez recited his poem, “Echo,” about his father.

At the open mic, the featured performers were Katie Collins and Frances Eghre-Bello, the top contestants in the Poetry Out Loud contest in Bakersfield.  Their English teacher, Andrew Chilton, at Stockdale High School made the contest possible.  It was the first time that the contest was held in Bakersfield.

The contest is a national contest.  “Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation,” states the Poetry Out Loud website.

Collins said she memorized poems through “Repetition and reading out loud to her friend, pronunciation of some of the words.”  Eghre-Bello said she memorized by “reading the poem a lot; and writing it out.”

For the students, the experience at the open mic to a live audience was different than at a contest.  Eghre-Bello said, “it was a lot of fun.  I was more relaxed.  I liked the environment here, people passionate about poetry.”  Collins said, “it was the most comfortable performance, not being judged.  I enjoyed it.”

One of the poets at the open mic was Christopher Robert Craddock. He has been writing poetry since he was four.  His first poem was:

“The tree looked at me

Up jumped the tree

Up jumped me!”

He read “Yertle the Turtle” by Dr. Seuss as a child.  Craddock said, “I searched for inspiration.  I was inspired by W.B. Yeats, Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Delmore Schwartz, Gerard Manley Hopkins and, of course, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.”

At the open mic, Craddock recited a poem, “Hummingbird.”  He said, “My sister has a garden with aloe vera,” where he saw the hummingbirds.  In the poem he contrasts the hummingbird and the poet in the last stanza of the poem

“. . .Hummingbirds

Never know the words

Because they’re in too big a hurry

To ever learn the lyrics–

Discuss philosophy with clerics

In the middle of a circus.

No, they’ll leave that to the poets.

Words are all they have to work with.”

 

The complete poem by Craddock is presented.

 

Hummingbirds Never Know the Words

By Christopher Robert Craddock

Hummingbirds

Never know the words

Because they’re in too big a hurry

To ever stop and worry.

They move on to the next flower and

If the nectar isn’t sour

Then they will take a sip . . . .

 

“Hmmmmmmm,” hummed the hummingbird. “Tra la la,

hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm?

 

One flower down, only nine-hundred and ninety-nine to go–

Not that I’m counting, but scientists, ornithologists,

I am told–with their slide-rules and microscopes,

And their probes, have clocked us at a rate of a

Thousand flowers per diem, which is the fancy-pants

Scientists’ way of saying per day. In Latin, no less,

Only used now in surgical, or situations liturgical,

Or when naming the flora and fauna, by genus and species,

Like calling me Calliphlox Amethystina ‘stead of plain old

Amethyst Woodstar, or Metallura Phoebe for Black Metaltail.

Heliothryx Aurita for Black-eared Fairy;

Lesbia Victoriae for Black-tailed Trainbearer;

Trochilus Scitulus for Black-billed Streamertail!

 

One thousand per day! ‘Hmmmmm,’ the scientists say.

‘That’s a lot of nectar.’

 

A heck of a lot of nectar. Hmmmmmmmmmmm, and tra la la la.

But it takes a heck of a lot of nectar to fuel this plane.

I never stop to count the flowers. Hmmmmmm?

I guess you could say, ‘I wing it.’

 

While wending my way through the warp and woof of time,

Weaving my way through the warp and the weft,

Why worry about words and whether they rhyme?

Why wonder what word best describes my emotion?

When what really matters is: my wings are in motion.

 

The tortoise, porcupine, or possibly opossum,

Move at a pace where such notions may blossom.

Maybe a mirror in a palace of perfection

Could afford the luxury to support such idle reflection?

 

I have not the time, as I hover in space.

Look how fast I have to flap my wings

To remain in the air,

Suspended in one place?”

 

Hummingbirds

Never know the words

Because they’re in too big a hurry

To ever learn the lyrics–

Discuss philosophy with clerics

In the middle of a circus.

No, they’ll leave that to the poets.

Words are all they have to work with.

 

© Christopher Robert Craddock 2017

Diana Ramirez and Thomas Lucero Featured at Open Mic

First Friday April 7 features Diana Ramirez and Thomas Lucero

Story by Portia Choi                                      Photographs by Ezekiel Espanola

Event hosted by Kevin Shah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are poems of Ramirez and Lucero:

 

 

My Anima

By Thomas Lucero

 

Farther than mine eye can see,

and Further than my mind can conjecture.

I strive ever upwards

And climbed the Giants Scepter

to the right hand of the father

in Search of my Center. . .

I found the water,

Drank upon her

Sacred tonic.

A tincture of timeless wine

derived of the finer divining process,

my Secret obsession

objective of my infernal affection,

eternal reflection

internal, abnegation.

Lust and hatred, consummated

in the bridal chamber.

When Cupid met Psyche,

When two fools wandered away from the light nightly.

to sight see

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

Conspiring to swipe the Keys to life,

And knowledge occulted.

Kept out of sight

of the unsightly”

 

 

Map

By Diana Ramirez

 

You don’t have to like me,

You don’t have to care,

You think I’ll share

The battle being fought in my head,

Well, I won’t.

You think I’ll hide,

Afraid of what, exactly?

And don’t fucking assume I’m alright

If you see me smile,

If you see me laugh,

Be careful,

It’s a map,

To all the detoured journeys,

Out on the road, where I’m trapped,

Caught between the wrong turn,

And the right stop,

But I keep driving,

This peculiar tune on repeat,

Skip, repeat, skip, repeat

But wait,

Can you hear it?

Delusional,

Driving through a mirage,

Mirrored through myself,

Blurred out of sight,

Through a tunnel,

Into the light,

Yet you never found me,

I got lost along the way,

Because I was rotting,

Transforming, perhaps,

In a cave

Made,

of all the walls I ever put up,

You think you know,

But, honestly,

These massive stones

Came crashing down,

Access denied,

As I try to find,

A way out,

With no amount

Of miles to bring me to my escape,

So, are you still trying,

To get through,

There’s no way,

You know nothing,

You assume everything,

And will never know my pain.

Juan Felipe Herrera, US Poet Laureate, in Bakersfield

Story by Portia Choi                                                  Photograph by Ezekiel Espanola

 

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

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

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

Herrera entertained the crowd with combination of seriousness and humor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Borderbus

By Juan Felipe Herrera

(excerpt)

No somos nada y venimos de la nada

pero esa nada lo es todo si la nutres de amor

por eso venceremos

We are nothing and we come from nothing

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

that is why we will triumph

 

We are everything hermana

Because we come from everything

 

 

 Poem by Poem

 By Juan Felipe Herrera

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Katie Collins represents Kern County at “Poetry Out Loud”

(Katie Collins & Assemblyman Vince Fong)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Wreckage

By W.D. Ehrhart

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Open Mic- Shanna O’Brien Featured

Shanna O’Brien was the featured performer at the Open Mic on March 3.  The Open Mic is held at Dagny Coffee, downtown Bakersfield, every First Friday at 6:00 pm.

O’Brien has performed since 1980.  A few of the places were the Mandarin Hotel in Singapore and MGM Grand in Reno.

One of the song O’Brien sang, “Secret Tears” was about her mother. “She was a gifted singer and sang around the house and in church and I felt she longed for the same thing I did.  Watching my Mother cry from time to time gave me courage to forge ahead on my own, develop my talents and helped me make up my mind that I wouldn’t leave my dreams behind,” said O”Brien.

Another song that was performed was, “Thank Goodness You’re Here.”  It was about one of her many jobs.  “I was working for a great company in Beverly Hills in a small office of three, the boss, the bookkeeper and me.  One day the bookkeeper, who dressed like Mae West and was mean and abusive to me when the boss wasn’t around, got in a fight with the boss, quit and stormed out.  I was given the job of interviewing candidates to fill her position.  One day a really sweet, funny, intelligent young woman came for the interview and we immediately clicked.  We became great friends and she inspired this song,” said O’Brien.

Both O’Brien’s songs are provided at the end of the story.    

O’Brien has produced CD.  Two of the recent CD are “Timeless” and “Focus on the Light.”  She spoke about the process of making a CD.  “All CD is a challenge.  They take years.  Lot of preparation, writing and editing.  Creating a CD is a lot of work,” said O’Brien.       

After O’Brien, there were musicians and poets who performed.

This evening’s Open Mic differed from previous ones.  Usually there are no musicians performing; sometimes one or two.  This night there were four musicians.  Three of the musicians sang and played the guitar:  Christina Ramirez, Angel Monreal and Jose Lopez.  The fourth musician, Sequoia June, sang and played on a smaller string instrument.

One of the musicians, Jose Miguel Lopez, wrote a song to be performed at the Open Mic.  At the event,  “I walked through the fear of performing the songs I wrote, a part of me,” said Lopez.  After performing, he “felt so good, I pushed through and grew as a person.”

Lopez first started playing the guitar then later wrote songs.  When he wrote poetry, “it was fun, expressing myself.  If I can connect to another person in poetry, that feels good to me,” said Lopez.  He mentioned many factors that contributed to his being a performer.  He had sung in the choir and took theater.

Lopez is currently working on an album.  A test song for it is “Go and rejoice, you’ve got a choice.  Go and use the voice you’ve been given.”

There were several poets who had performed on multiple occasions at the Open Mics.  They were Chris Craddock, Mateo Lara and Diana Ramirez.

One of the poets, Diana Ramirez, had created and organized an event, “Words Come to Life.”  She sent poems to artists, who then painted inspired by the words.  At the event, the artworks were displayed at a gallery.  The poets recited their work.

Ramirez first started writing poetry in high school.   She stopped after graduating, then restarted writing in Bakersfield College.  For a class she took photographs during the summertime.  She said that there were opposites during the season, those of aliveness and dying.  “It was a refreshing and also a sad feeling.  I love the opposites,” said Ramirez.

Ramirez has performed regularly at the Open Mic.  “Every Open Mic is different.  I like the variety of writing.  Everyone writes differently and recites differently.  Its inspiring.  It sometimes triggers something in me to write,” said Ramirez.

The other poets who performed their poems were: Chess Trustworthy, Francis B. (could not read his last name) and Edward Waters.

There was a poem that was written by an anonymous poet.  It was not performed but written on a card.  The host of the Open Mic had requested poems to be submitted for posting on the Kern Poetry website.

(poem was untitled)

Thoth ibis–headed god of

Writing, alchemy Magic.

Messenger between dreaming and earth.

Between the land of living & dead. . .

 

 

 

These are two of the songs that O’Brien performed, “Secret Tears” and “Thank Goodness You’re Here”

 

 

SECRET TEARS

©2007 Shanna O’Brien

 

Watched you staring out the kitchen window when you were feeling blue

Longed for you to notice me and help me make my dreams come true

But you were a southern girl raised with small town fears                          

You said, “We’re born to bake red velvet cake and cry secret tears.”

 

My brothers and sisters ran ‘round the house we took up all your time

Made me wonder if the tears you cried were for the dreams you left behind

I knew you loved me through all those years

But I didn’t want to bake red velvet cake and cry secret tears

 

So I took my little dreams into the corner of my room

Where I listened to my radio and sang every single tune      

As the music moved me I began to realize        

Your secret tears taught me not to cry

                             

Secret tears will never fall from my eyes                            

Secret tears taught my dreams how to fly                           

 ‘Cause I didn’t want to cry

 

You left to sing with your angels when life was too much to bare                  

No tears in heaven now ‘cause I can feel you smiling there

As you watch the wings of my dreams in the sky

You know you secret tears taught my dreams to fly

 

Secret tears will never fall from my eyes                           

Secret tears taught my dreams how to fly                           

 ‘Cause I didn’t want to cry

Secret tears

 

 

 

Thank Goodness You’re Here            

© 2007 Shanna O’Brien

                

Like a summer breeze she blew into this cold corporate world                                                                                                                                 

To replace the mean ole’ battle-axe who had stormed out in a whirl

I reached out to shake her friendly hand and her pearly whites appeared                                                                                                                                         

I smiled back and thought to myself, “Thank goodness you’re here!

 

At first the boss was mesmerized; his new girl was a blond

But I knew she’d soon see the light and our friendship would bond

Sure enough when he cracked that whip that brought her to tears

With her eyes wide open she said to me, “Thank goodness you’re here!”

 

Girlfriends in the office make this job OK

Girlfriends in the office gettin’ through another day

Just workin’ in the office doin’ what we do

Girlfriends in the office stick together like glue

 

Years have gone and we’re still here workin’ for the man

Doin’ the letters, doin’ the ledgers and doin’ the best we can

Through it all our friendship has become mighty dear

High fivin’ in the hallways, “Thank goodness you’re here”

 

Now we twirl the boss around our fingers like a baton

Watch the clock and count the minutes until he is gone

Then we flop on the couch talk on the phone

Surf the net or write a song, read a book or do yoga on the floor

Watch TV with an eye on the door while the coast is clear

And laugh about how lucky we are, “Thank goodness you’re here!

 

(Oh shit – here he comes!)

 

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Night of Poetry at Levan Center, Bakersfield College

Night of Poetry at Levan Center, Bakersfield College

The “movers and shakers” of poetry were together to read poems of nationally acclaimed poets at the Levan Center on February 16, 2017.

Each of the presenting local poets read a poem by another nationally known poet who was either born in the Central Valley or was a California native who grew up in the Central Valley.

Two of these nationally acclaimed poets were born in Bakersfield: Frank Bidart and Sherley Ann Williams. A third poet, Robert Duncan, began writing poetry as a teenager while living in Bakersfield.

The event was organized by Don Thompson, the current (and first-ever) Poet Laureate of Kern County. Thompson introduced the eight poets that presented.

Jack Hernandez, a poet and the Director of the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities, welcomed the audience.

A previous story, “Valley Poets February 16 at Levan Center,” was posted on this website Feb 12, 2017. There is additional information on the nationally acclaimed poets in this previous story.

The format of this story begins with a description of the local poet. Each poet was asked to comment on the poem that they had selected to read at the event. This story then presents the poem that was read, followed by a poem authored by the local poet.

 

Catherine Abbey Hodges presents William Everson.

Catherine Abbey Hodges, a California native, was the first presenter. Her poems have appeared widely including in the Verse Daily and The Writer’s Almanac. Her book Instead of Sadness was winner of the 2015 Barry Spacks Poetry Prize. In addition to her work as a poet, she teaches composition and literature at Porterville College.

Hodges chose to read “These Are the Ravens” by William Everson. Everson was also known as Father Antoninus. Hodges says that the poem “demonstrated two Everson quintessentials: his preoccupations with the natural world and with spirituality.” Hodges’ feels that preparing for the event was “a welcome excuse to indulge myself in learning about the life and work of a poet I’d only known by reputation, which is why I chose Everson. Reading poems, interviews, and prose of his alongside a nuanced biography expanded my knowledge and experience of our literary landscape.”

 

THESE ARE THE RAVENS
By William Everson

These are the ravens of my soul,
Sloping above the lonely fields
And cawing, cawing.
I have released them now,
And sent them wavering down the sky,
Learning the slow witchery of the wind,
And crying on the farthest fences of the world.

William Everson, “These are the Ravens” from The Residual Years.

 

HOW TO BEGIN
By Catherine Abbey Hodges:

Wipe the crumbs off the counter.
Find the foxtail in the ear of the old cat.
Work it free. Step into your ribcage.

Feel the draft of your heart’s doors
as they open and close. Hidden latches
cool in your hand.

Hear your marrow keep silence,
your blood sing. Finch-talk
in the bush outside the window.

You’re a small feather, winged seed, wisp
of cotton. Thread yourself
through a hole in the button on the sill.

You’re a strand of dark thread
stitching a word to a river. Then another.

Catherine Abbey Hodges, “How to Begin” from Instead of Sadness.

 

Matt Woodman presents Robert Duncan

Matt Woodman is an English professor at California State University, Bakersfield (CSUB). He hosts an annual Poetry Month reading every April at Stiern Library. Thompson says of Woodman, “he is an Orphic poet, deep in the mysteries of the craft.”

Woodman said that Duncan grew up in Bakersfield. He attended high school which became Bakersfield High. Woodman chose to read the poem “Poetry a Natural Thing” by Duncan. Woodman chose the poem because it was about poetry, “the writing process, finding inspiration, finding meaning.” There was “allusion to Stubbs, who painted a moose.” It was “nice to see connection between poetry and art.” In preparing for the presentation, Woodman read a lot of Duncan’s “interviews, to his speaking voice.” It was like getting to “know the poet, to meet a person.”

 

POETRY, A NATURAL THING
By Robert Duncan

Neither our voices nor our virtues
further the poem. “They came up
and died
just like they do every year
on the rocks.”

The poem
feeds upon thought, feeling, impulse,
To breed itself,
a spiritual urgency at the dark ladders leaping

This beauty is an inner persistence
Toward the source
striving against (within) down-rushet of the river,
a call we heard and answer
in the lateness of the world
primordial bellowings
from which the youngest world might spring,

salmon not in the well where the
hazelnut falls
but at the falls battling, inarticulate,
blindly making it.

This is one picture apt for the mind,

A second: a moose painted by Stubbs
Where last year’s extravagant antlers
lie on the ground.
The forlorn moosey-face poem wears
New antler-buds,
The same,
“a little heavy, a little contrived”,

His only beauty to be
all moose.

By stress and syllable
By change-rhyme and contour
We let the long line pace even awkward to its period.

The short line
we refine
and keep for candor.

This we remember:
Ember of the fire
catches the word if we but hear
(“We must understand what is happening”)
And springs to desire,
a bird-right light
sound.

This is the Yule-log that warms December.
This is new grass that springs from the ground.

Robert Duncan, “Poetry, a Natural Thing” from The Opening of the Field.

 

OPTICAL ALLUSION
by Matt Woodman

In 1924 on the southside
of Nineteenth Street between Chester and Eye
the Pastime Theatre unveiled a sign
promoting the latest wise-guy
feature, but fourteen million years ago,
this was all a shallow saltwater sea
starring sea lion and shark, a dumbshow
one can excavate from Ant Hill to reel
in whale song, salt on the tongue, vertebrae
the temperature of sedimentary
Miocene siltstone, a fossil bouquet
the color of your slow trajectory
through anniversary sales and visits,
for glaucoma, to the optometrist.
Matt Woodman, “Optical Allusion” in https://matthewwoodman.com/2015/09/18/ekphrasis-pastime-theater/

 

 

LisaAnn LoBasso presents Frank Bidart

LisaAnn LoBasso is known for public readings throughout the nation. Thompson says of her poems that they are “powerful, often gritty poems.” LoBasso can be watched on YouTube. She is the author of poetry books, In the Swollen and Oleander Milkshake.

LoBasso discovered Bidart’s poetry while an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley. She was drawn to Bidart’s style and voice before she even knew he was from Bakersfield. LoBasso met Bidart in April 2010 at a poetry event in Bakersfield. She chose to present Bidart’s poem, “Mourning What We Thought We Were,” because it was just published in the New Yorker. It was also the “perfect poem that represents Bakersfield and speaks to the current social climate of our world today, and also speaks to the heart.”

 

MOURNING WHAT WE THOUGHT WE WERE
By Frank Bidart

We were born into an amazing experiment.
At least we thought we were. We knew there was no escaping human nature: my grandmother
taught me that: my own pitiless nature taught me that: but we exist inside an order, I
thought, of which history is the mere shadow—
*
Every serious work of art about America has the same theme: America
is a great Idea: the reality leaves something to be desired.
Bakersfield. Marian Anderson, the first great black classical contralto, whom the Daughters of the American Revolution
would not allow to sing in an unsegregated
Constitution Hall, who then was asked by Eleanor Roosevelt to sing at the Lincoln Memorial before thousands
was refused a room at the Padre Hotel, Bakersfield.
My mother’s disgust as she told me this. It confirmed her judgment about
what she never could escape, where she lived out her life.
My grandmother’s fury when, at the age of seven or eight, I had eaten at the home of a black friend.
The forced camps at the end of The Grapes of Wrath were outside
Bakersfield. When I was a kid, Okie
was still a common term of casual derision and contempt.
*
So it was up to us, born in Bakersfield, to carve a new history
of which history is the mere shadow—
*
To further the history of the spirit is our work:
therefore thank you, Lord Whose Bounty Proceeds by Paradox,
for showing us we have failed to change.
*
Dark night, December 1st 2016.
White supremacists, once again in America, are acceptable, respectable. America!
Bakersfield was first swamp, then desert. We are sons of the desert who cultivate the top half-inch of soil.

Frank Bidart, “Mourning What We Were” in The New Yorker, Jan 23, 2017.

 

Third Marriage
By LisaAnn LoBasso

It’s 11:14pm, the night before you will wed
The rehearsal dinner just ending, we slipped out
hours early, for the needs
of our abandoned bear
scratches on her head

The girls henna and polish, scrub and thread
The black and white flashdrive missing
No, no, not in the hole
of my coral cross-body bag

It’s the final hour
The sweet short poem I was to read is tossing back
a nightcap with the flashdrive
I scour the world wide web for something to
capture a moment, a poet’s perfected ppppp

(But) there is no alliteration for marriage
I know I should be writing your wedding poem
But I don’t write poetry anymore
I read Sharon Olds

                We stood
                holding each other by the hand, yet I also
                stood as if alone, for a moment,
                just before the vow…

                …I felt the silent, dry, drying ghost of my
                parents’ marriage there…
                one of the plummeting flies…

I’m zombie-ing through, you
insert yourself to claim a promise
set into motion more than two decades ago
Two weeks, only my back to you
as wedding moments whisk

I remember my apartment in Rockridge, 18, before you
As your Grandma and Grandpa set me out on my own
I remember my mother’s back
My father scolding
“Look what you’ve done now”

Stuck in the transition, I think liar,
my mother doesn’t cry
But, I edge around her
and I see

Today is your third marriage
I should be practiced for this rehearsal, but
Leanardo never took you from the sinking ship
or my arms, when you confessed your love,
kissing the television

It was a marriage of sweet spirit
the storyline already laid out

Number 2 was simple too
your sister’s secret elopement with you
never made the newspapers
Or the scandal rags

It was a marriage of fantasy
sisters as close as hands and feet

Today, this marriage,
your third marriage
is all about reality
That you would rather share a coke
With him, than anyone

Mothers do not walk brides down aisles
lift veils, or shake hands
Letting go is in the grace
It’s a love like sugarloaf pines

High on the moantian
you stand to the left, my baby, pewter eyes
tradition signaling marriage by capture,
your groom saving his fighting hand
to pick up the reigns, protect you

Weddings are the same everywhere,
families, complaints, promises,
reverie we can forget without the camera click
A few moments stick

Like Sirius XM calls
traditions disturbed by music
salesmen dropping uninvited
into this intimate moment

Your groom is quite sure
“No, no, I do not want to renew my service.”
Inconvenient rings magnifying. Freezing.
This is one of those stone moments
But hold them, don’t throw them

My father once said I will wed many times
I say, let the third be your last, my doll

My mother says: What,
no chocolate cake?
Fluffy promises of a covert cake operation.
My eyelashes fall off. I say

Let them not eat cake!

–completed 2:21 am May 15. 2015
© LisaAnn LoBasso, “Third Marriage”

 

 

Annis Cassells presents Sherley Ann Williams

Annis Cassells is a poet, life coach and speaker, and an officer of the Writers of Kern. She is the “go-to writer” for poetry matters for this organization.

Cassells chose Sherley Ann Williams’ poem, “If he let us go now,” from the Peacock Poems. Cassells chose this poem because of the “Black language.” The poem was also from Williams’ as she was a single mother. When Cassells was preparing read a poem of Williams, she at first felt that it was “a little daunting”. Williams had written so much. Cassells said that Williams “wrote children’s books, a play, historical fiction novel. She was getting ready to write a sequel to the historical novel” when Williams died at age of 55.

 

If he let us go now
By Sherley Anne Williams

let me strap
the baby in the seat, just don’t say
nothin all that while . . .
I move round to
the driver side of the car. The air
warm and dry here. Lawd know what it be
in L.A. He open the door for me
and I slide behind the wheel. Baby
facin me lookin without even
blinkin his eye. I wonder if he
know I’m his mamma that I love him
that that his daddy by the door (and
he won’t let us go; he still got time
to say wait. Baby blink once but
he only five week old and whatever
he know don’t show.
His daddy call
my name and I turn to him and wait.
It be cold in the Grapevine at night
this time of year. Wind come whistling down
through them mountains almost blow this old
VW off the road. I’ll be in
touch he say. Say, take care; say, write if
you need somethin.
I will him to touch
us now, to take care us, to know what
we need is him and his name. He slap
the car door, say, drive careful and turn
to go. If he let us go now . . . how
we gon ever take him back? I ease
out on the clutch, mash in on the gas.
The only answer I get is his back.

~ Sherley Anne Williams. The Peacock Poems, p. 15, 1975

 

Talk
By Annis Cassells

What kinda talk is that
My mother’s moon-wide hazel eyes shine
harsh light on my unacceptable grammar

We don’t say ain’t in this house
It’s That’s not right
And I don’t have any

I yearned to please
Learned the code
Knew when not to say Ain’t got no

And when to talk proper
Learned double negatives negate
Tacked on the i-n-g’s

Precise, equalizing speech
a life-long saleable commodity
Cash language

She talk white
Like a col-lidge gurrl
She think she bettah den us

©Annis Cassells. 2015. All rights reserved. “Talk” first published in Yellow Chair Review 2015 Anthology.

 

 

Marit MacArthur presents Kay Ryan

Marit MacArthur is a professor of English at California State University at Bakersfiels. She hosts poetry readings on the campus. Her poems and translations from the Polish have appeared in Southwest Review, Leveler, Front Porch.

MacArthur chose to read a poem by Kay Ryan, “A Certain Meanness of Culture.” It was the first poem that MacArthur read of a poem by Ryan. MacArthur wrote by email that “in the Central Valley and many rural areas, there is a perceived lack of culture, or a sense of cultural inferiority. And Ryan has a keen awareness of that, and plays with it” in the poem.

 

A CERTAIN MEANNESS OF CULTURE
By Kay Ryan

What else can we do,
born on deserts
occupied haphazard
by borax traders
aspiring to a
stucco elegance
if they’re real lucky?
Someone has to get here
before the mythology,
to be happy in the
first tailings of industry,
and of course lonely
and susceptible to
the opinions of donkeys
since donkeys are the
main company out here
among the claims.
Snakes and wild things
skitter off too fast
for conversation.
You can get an appreciation
You can get an appreciation
for why a donkey is
fussy about books
since she has to carry them.
You start to value culture
like you would water. . . .

. . . And when
you dream, it’s not romance.
Things are too thin
out here already to chance
sad endings. You get
pretty stringy and impatient
with the fat smoke off
old cities. You get cranky
and admire just what stands up
to the stars’ cold and the
sun’s fire. You like winches
and pulley’s, picks and khakis,
and the rare sweet grass you can
find for your donkey.

Kay Ryan, “A Certain Meanness of Culture”

 

Standing Female Dignitary (Hillary Clinton) in the Form of a Pre-Columbian Whistle
By Marit MacArthur

From the outposts
of Lovemaking and Motherhood
she advanced, a vessel
worked into the desired form.
No slenderness to the waist,
her feet are gone beneath
the long heavy dress of terracotta
sun-baked, kiln-fired,
stitched with nails.
Slack chin, hawk nose, high
cheekbones, eyes half-closed
in an easy smile, all
beneath a uniform
powder mask.
A giant brooch clasps the cape
to draw the eye away from
spent breasts. She’ll ring if lightly
struck, her iron-rich reds
oxidizing blue, hands held up
in supplication or defense.
Visible from the crowd, giant spiral
earrings match the coiled headdress,
itself the mouth-piece of the whistle,
her hollow body the resonant chamber.
Puffs of air split by the fipple
pierce the composure of the other
dignitaries, who all outrank her so far.
After the strictly ceremonial
peace talks, she follows them
back to the palace.

Marit MacArthur, “Standing Female Dignitary (Hillary Clinton) in the Form of a Pre-Columbian Whistle” from Southern Pacific Review

 

Don Thompson presents Larry Levis

Don Thompson is the current Poet Laureate of Kern County. Thompson was born in Bakersfield. On his website, Thompson states that he has lived most of his ife in southern San Joaquin Valley, “the setting for most of his poems.” He lives on a farm that has been in his wife’s family for generations.

Thompson says that Larry Levis “is a poets’ poet. . . because of that fire-in-the- belly evidence of authenticity.” Thompson says of Levis, “elegiac is the word most often associated with his mature work, often also nostalgic in an unsentimental way for our Valley and life on his father’s farm.” Levis was born on a family farm near Selma, CA.

In preparing for the event, Thompson says that “reading Levis is like sitting with him in a backyard on a Valley summer evening with a few beers, listening as he lets his imagination run free.”

 

THE OLDEST LIVING THING IN L.A.
By Larry Levis

At Wilshire & Santa Monica I saw an opossum
Trying to cross the street. It was late, the street
Was brightly lit, the opossum would take
A few steps forward, then back away from the breath
Of moving traffic. People coming out of the bars
Would approach, as if to help it somehow.
It would lift its black lips & show them
The reddened gums, the long rows of incisors,
Teeth that went all the way back beyond
The flames of Troy & Carthage, beyond sheep
Grazing rock-strewn hills, fragments of ruins
In the grass at San Vitale. It would back away
Delicately & smoothly, stepping carefully
As it always had. It could mangle someone’s hand
In twenty seconds. Mangle it for good. It could
Sever it completely from the wrist in forty.
There was nothing to be done for it. Someone
Or other probably called the LAPD, who then
Called Animal Control, who woke a driver, who
Then dressed in mailed gloves, the kind of thing
Small knights once wore into battle, who gathered
Together his pole with a noose on the end,
A light steel net to snare it with, someone who hoped
The thing would have vanished by the time he got there.

Larry Levis, “The Oldest Living Thing in L.A.” from Elegy. Copyright © 1997 by Larry Levis.

 

WHERE WE LIVE
By Don Thompson

Nocturnal creatures must teach their young
to be heard and not seen.
Coyotes yip to the east of us
and to the west, frogs beat their drums.

Somewhere to the south, a bird calls—
two thin, falling syllables
in a language we’ll never know,
except for rough translations into loneliness.

Where we live, you have to listen hard
through cricket static to hear yourself think.
I like that. For once,
everything human has to shut up and sit still.

You can’t even hear the traffic on I5,
only a few miles to the northeast,
where big rigs drift by like ghosts with lanterns
trapped in a long, dark hallway.

Don Thompson, “Where We Live”, from Where We Live and www.don-e-thompson.com

 

 

Diana Ramirez presents Juan Felipe Herrera

Diana Ramirez’s primary work is as a Community Outreach Coordinator at Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) of Kern County. She recently organized “Words Come to Life.” This event included art inspired by poetry, the performance of poetry and live music.
Ramirez recited a poem of Juan Felipe Herrera, the national Poet Laureate.
She chose the poem “Half-Mexican.” Ramirez said the “title drew me.” As she kept reading the poem, she found that the poem was very different, “there was so many references to the past.” She said that as she recited the poem at home, she became “more connected with the poem.”
Ramirez said that she felt “excited and nervous” preparing to present at the event. She “had not recited another poet’s poem . . . to recite the poem and be respectful. The more I read the poem, I felt okay reciting it.”

HALF-MEXICAN
By Juan Felipe Herrera
Odd to be a half-Mexican, let me put it this way
I am Mexican + Mexican, then there’s the question of the half
To say Mexican without the half, well it means another thing
One could say only Mexican
Then think of pyramids – obsidian flaw, flame etchings, goddesses with
Flayed visages claw feet & skulls as belts – these are not Mexican
They are existences, that is to say
Slavery, sinew, hearts shredded sacrifices for the continuum
Quarks & galaxies, the cosmic milk that flows into trees
Then darkness
What is the other – yes
It is Mexican too, yet it is formless, it is speckled with particles
European pieces? To say colony or power is incorrect
Better to think of Kant in his tiny room
Shuffling in his black socks seeking out the notion of time
Or Einstein re-working the erroneous equation
Concerning the way light bends – all this has to do with
The half, the half-thing when you are a half-being
Time
Light
How they stalk you & how you beseech them
All this becomes your life-long project, that is
You are Mexican. One half Mexican the other half
Mexican, then the half against itself.

Juan Felipe Herrera, “Half-Mexican”

 

DREAM
By Diana Ramirez

When’s the last time you went to sleep,
Hoping never to wake up,
To remain corrupt,
Forever
in this nightmare,
A nightmare called life.
In my dreams I am magic,
Floating,
Coloring clouds in the sky,
The rain still exists,
It paints passion on my lips,
Faded in red I fly,
Descending into a world
Where love never mends,
Scattered in the ocean floor,
Deep,
Forgotten,
Dive into the blue,
Seek what you never thought to be true,
Committed to forever,
Forever lost in foreign lands,
And when I seemed confused,
Misplaced,
It was in the starved desert I would stand,
On a search for beauty
That would blossom
From the sands,
Moonlight at my feet,
Sounds of the night is all I see,
Imagine,
share in my dream,
Revel in it,
Shine in the dark,
Days and nights know nothing of time,
And pain and sorrow are strangers in my heart,
Bliss lives in the air,
And I’m not scared
To never be discovered,
As I discover my own journey
Where my poems will unfold,
And my life will be told,
Unlike my nightmares,
And more like my dreams.

Diana Ramirez, “Dream”

 

Portia Choi presents David St. John

Portia Choi is described as “Impresario of Poetry in Bakersfield” by Don Thompson. Choi maintains the Kern Poetry website and hosts the monthly First Friday Open Mic, at Dagny’s Coffee House at 6:00 pm. She says that she “promotes poets and poetry.”

Choi read a poem by David St. John. He was born in Fresno. He is currently the Chair of English at the University of Southern California, where he teaches the PhD Program in Creative Writing and Literature.

Choi recited a poem “Hush” by David St. John. She was deeply moved by the depth of emotion of St. John for the child that he had lost. She immediately connected with the
“Chippewa woman” in the poem. Choi felt a connection to the poem as she had written a poem about her own doll, Oaksun.

 

Hush
By David St. John
for my son

The way a tired Chippewa woman
Who’s lost a child gathers up black feathers,
Black quills & leaves
That she wraps & swaddles in a little bale, a shag
Cocoon she carries with her & speaks to always
As if it were the child,
Until she knows the soul has grown fat & clever,
That the child can find its own way at last;
Well, I go everywhere
Picking the dust out of the dust, scraping the breezes
Up off the floor, & gather them into a doll
Of you, to touch at the nape of the neck, to slip
Under my shirt like a rag—the way
Another man’s wallet rides above his heart. As you
Cry out, as if calling to a father you conjure
In the paling light, the voice rises, instead, in me.
Nothing stops it, the crying. Not the clove of moon,
Not the woman raking my back with her words. Our letters
Close. Sometimes, you ask
About the world; sometimes, I answer back. Nights
Return you to me for a while, as sleep returns sleep
To a landscape ravaged
& familiar. The dark watermark of your absence, a hush.

David St. John, “Hush” in Hush

 

Oaksun, My Doll
by Portia Choi

Oaksun, you are my love,
you make me smile
Oaksun, my dear Oaksun,
dressed in silk stripes of grass green, tomato red,
butterfly yellow, and sky blue.
Your slip sewn together of tattered, thrown-away clothes.

I find a torn piece of red balloon among pebbles and dirt near the chain fence.
I suck a circle into my mouth, out pops a rounded, shiny ball.
My teeth rub back and forth, squeaking the rubber.
For you, Oaksun, your balloon.

I am your mother, Oaksun.
I will protect and hide you from the soldiers.
I will look for you, so you cannot see the shattered arms.
I will cuddle you to sleep, so you cannot hear the cries.

I protect you.
You know Oaksun, I am frightened of the night.
I think that dying man may grab for you in the dark.
I will hide you.
Oaksun, no one will take you from me.

I feed you a kernel or two of rice. I find one stuck on your cheek.
Just a kernel dried from yesterday’s dinner.
You are very lucky, Oaksun, having rice two days in a row.
You are very smart too, saving one for tomorrow.
Yes, Oaksun, who knows when we will eat again?

The sun is out. There is clover among the grass, Oaksun.
See, I made a bracelet for you and a ring for me,
the white crescent flowers and the three leaves playing together.
I toss you up in the sky. You fall face down in my palms.
I toss you again, you fall with your back down.
Fly higher and higher, Oaksun.

You are with me and I am with you.
I am your mother. Oaksun, my love, my doll.

Portia Choi, “Oaksun, My Doll” in Sungsook.

 

 

Don Thompson presents Gary Soto

Don Thompson presented Gary Soto on behalf of another presenter who was unable to attend the event.
Thompson said that he “once read with Soto at the old Cody’s Book Store just off the UC Berkeley campus. It was 1978.”

Thompson said that Soto was born and raised in the Fresno Barrio. Soto’s father died when he was five. Soto and his siblings worked in the fields to support the family. Soto eventually became a professor at Berkeley.
Thompson chose to read “The Drought” by Soto. It was an early work that “has been most important to me” said Thompson.

 

THE DROUGHT
By Gary Soto

The clouds shouldered a path up the mountains
East of Ocampo, and then descended,
Scraping their bellies gray on the cracked shingles of slate.

They entered the valley, and passed the roads that went
Trackless, the houses blown open, their cellars creaking
And lined with the bottles that held their breath for years.

They passed the fields where the trees dried thin as hat racks
And the plow’s tooth bit the earth for what endured.
But what continued were the wind that plucked the birds spinless

And the young who left with a few seeds in each pocket,
Their belts tightened on the fifth notch of hunger—
Under the sky that deafened from listening for rain.

Gary Soto, “The Drought” in The Tale of Sunlight

 

TUMBLEWEEDS
By Don Thompson

A lost tribe of tumbleweeds
crosses the road
a half mile or so ahead of me,
bounding along
while little ones hustle to keep up.

They’re uprooted, or course,
subject to the wind’s whims,
and could end anywhere—
maybe against a fence
to be gathered and burned by farm hands.

I know that …
But they seem so cheerful,
confidant and in control,
as if pulling the wind behind them
caught on thousands of tiny hooks.

Don Thompson, “Tumbleweeds” in Everything Barren Will Be Blessed

Valley Poets February 16 at Levan Center

Don Thompson, the first Poet Laureate of Kern County, is hosting an event on February 16, 2017 at the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities on the Bakersfield College campus.

Thompson stated that the “San Joaquin Valley is known for agriculture, oil, and country music, but down through the years, it has also produced a number of major poets.”

At the event, there will be a reading of work by eight poets born in the Valley who have achieved a national reputation.  Two of the poets were born in Bakersfield, Frank Bidart and Sherley Ann Williams.

Another poet, Robert Duncan, although born in Oakland California, he “began writing poetry as a teenager in Bakersfield,, when a high school teacher encouraged his creative endeavors” according to the Academy of Amerian Poets on their website, www.poet.org.

The other nationally known poets are William Everson, Juan Felipe Herrera, Larry Levis, Gary Soto and David St. John.

At the event, a poem from each of the nationally known poets will be performed by a local poet or advocate for the arts:  Annis Cassells, Andrew Chilton, Portia Choi, Catherine Abbey Hodges, LisaAnn LoBasso, Diana Ramirez, Don Thompson and Matt Woodman.

 

The following is a brief information about each of the acclaimed poets and one of their poems.

 

Frank Bidart

Frank Bidart was born in Bakersfield, California on May 27, 1939 and educated at the University of California at Riverside and at Harvard University, where he was a student and friend of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, according to the Academy of American Poetry, www.poet.org.

The website stated that “his first volume of poetry, Golden State (G. Braziller, 1973), was selected by poet Richard Howard for the Braziller Poetry series, but it wasn’t until the publication of The Sacrifice (Random House, 1983) that Bidart’s poetry began to attract a wider readership.”

Bidart’s book, Desire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997), “was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.”

“About his work, the former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Glück has said, ‘More fiercely, more obsessively, more profoundly than any poet since Berryman (whom he in no way resembles) Bidart explores individual guilt, the insoluble dilemma.’ And about his career as a poet, she said, “Since the publication, in 1973, of Golden State, Frank Bidart has patiently amassed as profound and original a body of work as any now being written in this country.’ ”

“His honors include the Wallace Stevens Award, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Foundation Writer’s Award, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Shelley Award of the Poetry Society of America, and The Paris Review‘s first Bernard F. Conners Prize for “The War of Vaslav Nijinsky” in 1981. In 2007, he received the Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.”

“Bidart was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2003. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has taught at Wellesley College since 1972.”

 

Happy Birthday by Frank Bidart

Thirty-three, goodbye–

the awe I feel

is not that you won’t come again, or why–

or even that after

a time, we think of those who are dead

with a sweetness that cannot be explained–

but that I’ve read the trading cards:

RALPH TEMPLE CYCLIST CHAMPION TRICK RIDER

WILLIE HARRADON CYCLIST

THE YOUTHFUL PHENOMENON

F.F. IVES CYCLIST

100 MILES 6 H. 25 MIN. 30 SEC,

–as the fragile metal of their

wheels stopped turning, as they

took on wives, children, accomplishments, all those

predilections which also insisted on ending.

(From THE BOOK OF THE BODY, 1977 by Frank Bidart)

 

 

Sherley Anne Williams

Sherley Anne Williams, American novelist, poet, and scholar, was born in Bakersfield, California in 1944 to Jesse Winson and Lena Silver Williams.

Williams “was raised in poverty in a housing project in Fresno” according to the website, An Online Reference Guide to African American History, Black Past.org.  This website further stated:

“Williams’ mother, (who) discouraged Sherley from reading because she thought books would fill her head with false hope for the future, died when Williams was sixteen years old. Williams was placed in the custody of her sister, Ruby, who was a single mother, struggling to get by on her own. Sherley and Ruby managed to provide for themselves, eking by on income earned from odd jobs such as picking cotton, working seasonally in department stores, and cutting grapes.”

“After graduation from Edison Junior/Senior High School in Fresno in 1962, Williams attended California State University, Fresno where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. In 1972 she received a master’s degree from Brown University.”

“In 1975 Williams joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego and became the first African American female faculty member in the university’s English department. She worked at the University of California, San Diego until her death in 1999.”

“Williams’ writing highlighted the importance of folklore and history in shaping black identity. While she started writing in 1967, the 1972 publication of Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature was the first piece that brought her national attention.  Give Birth advanced her theory that said black folklore should be examined as a force shaping African American identity.”

“Her 1975 book, The Peacock Poems, examined that theory by focusing on the history of her parents and their use of black dialect and musical forms such as spirituals and the blues.  The Peacock Poems was critically acclaimed and received a National Book Award nomination in poetry and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.”

 

A Pavonine Truth  by  Sherley Ann Williams

I ain’t never left this town/but it’s like I been around the world

Ain’t never left this one lil town/but I might as well have been round the world.

Yeah, you know the streets/can put a hurt on just about any young girl.

 

Good lovin love/can put you in a lot of pain,

I know it’s funny peoples,/but good love do cause pain.

Make a woman wonder/when her man say,/let’s try again.

Some men call me sister,/some, then queen of the earth,/the bearer of all life.

But what really would groove me is my sweet man callin me his woman,/his wife.

 

Life put a hurt on you/only one thing you can do.

When life put the hurt on you/not but one thing a po chile can do.

I just stand on my hind legs and holla/just let the sound carry me on through.

 

Take yo self to get self togetha/(ain’t it funny though that it

takes a woman to make anotha one pretty

but take a man to make the beauty shine true.

Baby, you gots to keep on lovin me:

My natchal life be dependin on you.

(From THE PEACOCK POEMS 1975 by Sherley Ann Williams)

 

 

Robert Duncan

Robert Duncan  (1919-1988)  was born in Oakland, California.

Duncan “began writing poetry as a teenager in Bakersfield, when a high school teacher encouraged his creative endeavors” according to The Academy of American Poets, on www.poet.org, stated that

“In 1938, after two years at University of California, Berkeley, Duncan moved to New York and became involved in the downtown literary coterie that had sprung up around Anaïs Nin. . . .Duncan returned to Berkeley in 1946. The poetry scene there was developing into what would soon be called the San Francisco Renaissance.”

Another source, the Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org, stated that Duncan was a “distinctive voice in American poetry, Duncan’s idiosyncratic poetics drew on myth, occultism, religion—including the theosophical tradition in which he was raised—and innovative writing practices such as projective verse and composition by field.”

The Poetry Foundation stated that Duncan’s “Selected Poems (1993) was published posthumously, as was his volume of collected writings, and personal tribute to the work of H.D., The H.D. Book (2011). A decades-long project that distills much of Duncan’s thinking on poetry, modernism, and the role of the occult in the imagination, The Nation’s critic Ange Mlinko described The H.D. Book as a “palimpsest.” Mlinko noted the importance of book for being “not only revisited and restarted many times over the years, but incorporating different sources from different points in time… Duncan’s roving eye for patterns consistently saw relationships between the new science of his day and the ancient wisdom of the poets.”  ”

 

WHAT I SAW                     PASSAGES 3                   by Robert Duncan

The white peacock roosting/might have been Christ

feathered robe of Osiris,

the radiant bird, a sword-flash

percht in the tree          .

and the other,     the fumed-glass slide

—were like night and day,

the slit of an eye opening in

time

vertical to the horizon

(From BENDING THE BOW 1968 by Robert Duncan)

 

 

William Everson

William Everson (1912-1994) was a Beat poet and critic born in Sacramento, California.

Everson was “part of the San Francisco Renaissance. He was the founder of Lime Kiln Press” according to the New Directions Publishing Company website, www.ndbooks.com,

The Poetry Foundation’s website, www.poetryfoundation.org, stated that “though William Everson had established himself as a respected regional poet many years before the Beat movement of the 1950s came into being, he first came to national attention when he was identified as a member of that group. A deeply serious and religious writer, Everson spent eighteen years as a Dominican monk and published many of his works under his name in religion, Brother Antoninus.”

 

THE GASH  by William Everson

To covet and resist for years, and then

To succumb, is a fearsome thing.  All you craved and denied

At last possesses you.  You give yourself

Wholly to its power; and its presence,

Invading your soul, stupefies

With its solace and its terror.

 

There is nothing so humbling as acceptance.

 

I sense the mushrooms in the night,

Tearing their way up through loose soil,

Brutal as all birth.

 

And I bend my head,

And cup my mouth on the gash of everything I craved,

And am ravaged with joy.

(From MAN-FATE, The Swan Song of Brother Antoninus 1973 by William Everson)

 

 Juan Felipe Herrera

Juan Felipe Herrera was born in Fowler, California, on December 27, 1948.

Herrera was the “son of migrant farmers, Herrera moved often, living in trailers or tents along the roads of the San Joaquin Valley in Southern California” according to the Academy of American Poetry, www.poets.org,

“As a child, he attended school in a variety of small towns from San Francisco to San Diego. He began drawing cartoons while in middle school, and by high school was playing folk music by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.”

“Herrera graduated from San Diego High in 1967, and was one of the first wave of Chicanos to receive an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) scholarship to attend UCLA. There, he became immersed in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, and began performing in experimental theater, influenced by Allen Ginsberg and Luis Valdez.”

“In 1972, Herrera received a BA in Social Anthropology from UCLA. He received a masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford in 1980, and went on to earn an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1990.”

“His interests in indigenous cultures inspired him to lead a formal Chicano trek to Mexican Indian villages, from the rain forest of Chiapas to the mountains of Nayarit. The experience greatly changed him as an artist. His work, which includes video, photography, theater, poetry, prose, and performance, has made Herrera a leading voice on the Mexican American and indigenous experience.”

The website, juanfelipepoet.com, stated that his “numerous poetry collections include 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), and Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999). In addition to publishing more than a dozen collections of poetry, Herrera has written short stories, young adult novels, and children’s literature.”

“In 2012, Herrera was named California’s poet laureate, and the U.S. poet laureate in 2015.”

“He has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, the Focal Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN West Poetry Award. His honors include the UC Berkeley Regent’s Fellowship as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Stanford Chicano Fellows. He has also received several grants from the California Arts Council.”

 

Pascuala by Juan Felipe Herrera

  XI

Your father’s guitar

still lies next to the drinking well.

There in its silent scar

the drumbeat of the mountain is born.

 

The guitar tilts toward my sewing colors,

my cotton.  Its strings are sewn

to my loom, waiting for your dark fingers.

The soldiers search for your father, they say,

but they do not know he is made of wool,

earth and song.

 

XI

La guitarra de tu padre

todavia esta tirada junto a la noria.

Alli en su cicatriz callada

nace el latido de la montana

 

La guitarra se inclina hacia mis colores,

mis algodones.  Sus cuerdas estan enhebradas

a mi telar, esperan tus dedos calcinados.

Los soldados buscan a tu padre, dicen,

pero no saben que el es de lana,

tierra y cancion.

(In the Spanish words, additional accents are needed to reflect correct language.)

(From HALF OF THE WORLD IN LIGHT  2008 by Juan Felipe Herrera)

 

 

Larry Levis

Larry Levis was born in Fresno, California, on September 30, 1946.

“His father was a grape grower, and in his youth Levis drove a tractor, pruned vines, and picked grapes in Selma, California” according to Academy of American Poets, www.poets.org.

Further information from the Academy of American Poets stated that Levis “earned a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) in 1968, a master’s degree from Syracuse University in 1970, and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1974”

“His first book of poems, Wrecking Crew (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972), won the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum. His second book, The Afterlife (University of Iowa Press, 1976), was the Lamont Poetry Selection of The American Academy of Poets. In 1981, The Dollmaker’s Ghost (Dutton) was a winner of the Open Competition of the National Poetry Series.”

“He taught English at the University of Missouri from 1974 to 1980, was an associate professor and directed the creative writing program at the University of Utah from 1980 to 1992, and from 1992 until his death was a professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.”

“Levis died of a heart attack on May 8, 1996, at the age of 49. A posthumous collection, Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press), edited by Philip Levine, was published in 1997, and The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems (Graywolf Press), edited by David St. John, was published in 2016.”

 

Ghazal by Larry Levis

Does exile begin at birth?  I lived beside a wide river

For so long I stopped hearing it.

 

As when a glass shatters during an argument,

And we are secretly thrilled. . .We wanted it to break.

 

Always something missing now in the cry of one bird,

Its wings flared against the wood.

 

Still, everything that is singular has a name:

Stone, song, trembling, waist & snow.  I remember how.

 

My old psychiatrist would pinch his nose betwee

A thumg & forefinger, look up at me & sigh.

(From The Darkening Trapeze:  Last Poems, (c) 2016 by the Estate of Larry Levis.)

 

 

 

Gary Soto

Gary Soto was born in Fresno, California, on April 12, 1952, to working-class Mexican-American parents according to Academy of American Poets, www.poets.com.

It further stated that as “a teenager and college student, he (Soto) worked in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley, chopping beets and cotton and picking grapes. He was not academically motivated as a child, but he became interested in poetry during his high school years.”

“He attended Fresno City College and California State University–Fresno, and he earned an MFA from the University of California–Irvine in 1976.”

“His first collection of poems, The Elements of San Joaquin (University of Pittsburgh Press), won the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum in 1976 and was published in 1977. Since then, Soto has published numerous books of poetry. . .”

“Soto cites his major literary influences as Edward FieldPablo NerudaW. S. Merwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Christopher Durang, and E. V. Lucas. Of his work, the writer Joyce Carol Oates has said, ‘Gary Soto’s poems are fast, funny, heartening, and achingly believable, like Polaroid love letters, or snatches of music heard out of a passing car; patches of beauty like patches of sunlight; the very pulse of a life.’ ”

“Soto has also written three novels, including Amnesia in a Republican County (University of New Mexico Press, 2003); a memoir, Living Up the Street (Strawberry Hill Press, 1985); and numerous young adult and children’s books. For the Los Angeles Opera, he wrote the libretto to Nerdlandia, an opera.”

“Soto has received the Andrew Carnegie Medal and fellowships from the California Arts Council, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Northern California.”

 

Field Poem by Gary Soto

When the foreman whistled

My brother and I

Shouldered our hoes,

Leaving the field.

We returned to the bus

Speaking

In broken English, in broken Spanish

The restaurant food,

The tickets to a dance

We wouldn’t buy wit our pay.

 

From the smashed bus window,

I saw the leaves of cotton plants

Like small hands waving good-bye.

(From NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1995 by Gary Soto)

 

 

David St. John

David St. John was born in Fresno , California in 1949.

St. John “received his BA in 1974 from California State University, Fresno, and an MFA from the University of Iowa” according to the Academy of American Poets, www.poets.com,

“His many books of poetry include The Window (Arctos Press, 2014); The Auroras (HarperCollins, 2012); The Face: A Novella in Verse (HarperPerennial, 2005); Prism (2002); The Red Leaves of Night (HarperCollins, 1999); and Study for the World’s Body: New and Selected Poems (1994). . .”

“The poet Robert Hass says of St. John’s writing:  ‘It’s not just gorgeous, it is go-for-broke gorgeous. It is made out of sentences, sweeping through and across the meticulous verse stanzas, that could have been written, for their velvet and intricate suavity, by Henry James.’ “

“His awards include the Discovery/The Nation Prize, the James D. Phelan Prize, and the prix de Rome fellowship in literature. He has also received several National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2017.”

“St. John currently lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches in the PhD Program in Creative Writing and Literature and is the Chair of English at the University of Southern California.”

 

ORANGE by David St. John

Tonight, loneliness or winter

so perfect, I cut open an orange

and read the news of old affections,

friends, beliefs & lies left home as

we fled and set sail for a new world.

 

 

Here’s a necklace of water, seeds

of awe, childhood:  rust-black.  Names abandoned

or given back – son, Broken Bow, future, bastard, sir.

Lavish dolls, & fear’s message:  witch * touch * faith.

Day-raids & sack lunches, desks, fresh orange,

cloud, cloud.

 

My father peels hemispheres,

and hands me a world lucent, naked, & orange.

(From Hush 1976 by David St. John)

 

The images for this gallery were sourced from the following pages:
Frank Bidart: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2013/08/15/frank-bidart-poet-who-dares/
Sherley Anne Williams: http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/archive/newsrel/general/cwilliams.htm
Robert Duncan: https://black-mountain-research.com/2015/02/27/robert-duncan-at-black-mountain-college/
William Everson: http://www.portlandartmuseum.us/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=58186;type=101
Juan Felipe Herrera: http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-poet-laureate-juan-felipe-herrera-reading-poetry-20150610-htmlstory.html
Larry Levis: http://lithub.com/charles-baxter-on-larry-levis-and-a-moment-of-genius/
Gary Soto: http://healdsburgshed.com/events/luminarias-ii/
David St John: https://news.usc.edu/files/2016/04/DavidStJohn-824×549.jpg

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Poetry Out Loud 2017

Story by Portia Choi with Contributions by Martin Chang

There was a first time event in poetry for Kern County on January 18, 2017.  It was the Poetry Out Loud competition in which high school students recited famous poems by memory.  The event took place at the Access Center that houses the Arts Council of Kern.  It was the Arts Council that announced the first Poet Laureate for Kern County in March 2016.  The Poet Laureate is Don Thompson, who was at the current event as one of the judges.

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

This first time event was made possible, in Bakersfield, due to the effort of Andrew Chilton, an English teacher at Stockdale High School of Kern High School District.  Chilton found out from the State’s POL, that the contest had to be sponsored and sanctioned by the arts council.  In Kern County, the Arts Council of Kern was already involved in the literary arts and became an enthusiastic partner for the POL effort.   Even further, Chilton worked with the students to prepare for the competition.

Chilton’s enthusiasm for the event was evident as he expressed that he enjoyed seeing “classic, good poems read and studied” by the students.   He also shared that by memorizing and reciting the poems, the students “internalize the poems.”  He further stated that for the parents, the event is a “special moment, special time.”  In a follow-up e-mail with Chilton, he responded that he “was interested in getting Poetry Out Loud for Bakersfield because I had seen first-hand what it could do for students in North Carolina (where he had previously taught). I saw students who had no interest in poetry finally understand its power and impact on their lives when reading and reciting on their own. Students gain confidence, study skills, public speaking skills, and exposure to great works of literature that otherwise they might miss out on. I’m also simply a fan of reciting and memorizing poetry in my own life. I am often memorizing poetry on a weekly basis for my own enjoyment and intellectual stimulation, so I wanted students to see what it could do in their own lives.”

When Chilton was asked about how he became interested in poetry.  He shared that it was “during college when I first read Billy Collins for the first time. His poetry spoke to me on an immensely personal level and I understood that poetry was not simply to be read in a textbook in school but it offered a different way of looking at the world.”

At the competition, the high school students came up and recited their memorized poems in front of parents, guests and judges.  There were nine students who competed by reciting two poems.  There were two rounds of competition, the students reciting one poem during each round.  The students had selected the poems from hundreds of poems from the POL website.  Chilton had a copy of the poems selected, and he followed along during the recitation for the accuracy of the memorization.  There were three judges that scored electronically according to a grid.  The results of the scores were available immediately.

The next step after the local competition, will be for the winner to compete in Sacramento.

The winner of the contest was Katie Collins.  When asked about how it felt to be the winner, Collins said that she was surprised since any of the students could have been the winner. “I wasn’t really expecting it since everyone was so amazing. I was just shocked.  They were all fantastic and everyone gave it their best,” she said.

Collins’ choice to perform “Beautiful Wreckage” was because of a personal connection to the poem. “It was dramatic to me. It was easier to connect with because I know Vietnamese people. So I know the history of it,” she said. Collins picked “April Love” as her second poem because she wanted a “light” and “airy” poem to balance the seriousness of “Beautiful Wreckage.”

April Love

By Ernest Dowson

(Excerpt)

We have walked in Love’s land a little way,
We have learnt his lesson a little while,
And shall we not part at the end of day,
With a sigh, a smile?

So shall we not part at the end of day,
Who have loved and lingered a little while,
Join lips for the last time, go our way,
With a sigh, a smile?
 

Beautiful Wreckage

By W.D. Ehrhart

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

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

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

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

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

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

The runner-up of the contest was Frances Eghre-Bello.  She used her experience in acting to help prepare for the performance. “I’m in theater,” she said. “I’ve taken classes on memorization. I used the same process, just going over it in my room and asking others for feedback,” she said.   The two poems that Eghre-Bello recited at the contest were “America” by Claude McKay and “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou.  When deciding on what poems to perform, Eghre-Bello wanted to perform a poem by Angelou. “I read her book (in) freshman year and fell in love with her poetry. I felt it was very easy to understand. The first time I read through it I just got the metaphors. I felt I could do a good job reciting it.”

Caged Bird

By Maya Angelou

(Excerpt)

A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky. . .

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

America

By Claude McKay

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.

Day of Poetry

by Portia Choi

The day was dawning when I arrived at Dagny’s Coffee at 6:55 am.  The front door was locked, and there were workers inside with dim lights.  When the main lights went on and the door was unlocked, several cars parked and several men got into Dagny’s.  They seemed to be regular customers of the place; they found a table all to themselves near the window.  I went to the smaller room of the coffee house to set up for the Day of Poetry.  One of the workers unlocked the door to the smaller room and brought in several copies of the newspaper.  When I went to order my caffeine-free hot tea, the customers were already reading the newspaper and sipping their latte or expresso.

I set up the room for the Day.  There was the easel-sized post-it for our communal poem to be written one line at a time by all the poets and participants throughout the day.  There was paper of various colors, crayons and markers for persons of all ages to doodle and relax.  Today was to be spontaneous, to allow for flexibility and fun.  It was the first time to have a whole day of poetry—better be flexible (I wasn’t sure what would happen or who would show-up).  It was a nice thought to start the beginning of the year with lots of poetry.

To make the event seem friendly, there was a fruit bowl and water set out for any participants.  I was thinking about what to write for the first line of the communal poem.  The theme was to be on “NURTURE.”  As I was thinking, it would be interesting to have the first poet help write that first line.  As it happened, the first persons to come into the room was a father with a baby snuggled on his chest and also his daughter.  I knew the father and daughter.  I had not seen the baby before; I was told he was four months old.  And his daughter had grown; she was now nine years old.  The father was starting to feed the baby from a bottle.  (How appropriate, I thought, to have a father nurturing his child as we were getting ready to write a poem about nurture.)  I wanted the daughter to be relaxed, so she started to draw on a paper.  Well, I thought, why not have his daughter help with the first line.  She wrote: “Feeds, changes, love me.”  Then I wrote the second line:  “Listening, smiling, laughing.”  So the communal poem about “NURTURE” started, and the poem would be written throughout the day with persons adding one line at a time, only seeing the previously written line.  (The completed poem was read at the end of the day, and the poem is at the end of this story.)

 

Around 10:00 am, there were poets and friends who came to read their own poetry as well from their favorite poets.

Then there was a break for lunch.  (Throughout the day there was food:  fruit bowl all day, lunch boxes, and cookies in the afternoon)

At 1:00 pm, there was a guest poet LisaAnn LoBasso who happened to be at Dagny’s  speak about poetry.  Then the group helped with an “Exquisite Corpse.”  This is a poetry game in which a person writes one word on a card which is a noun, adjective or a verb.  The cards were collected and mixed up and a poem is written from the jumbled up cards with an adjective, noun, verb, adjective and noun.  What was unique about the Day’s Exquisite Corpse was that the words of the poem were being drawn as the words were being spoken.  This was possible since there was a poet, Thomas Lucero, who is also an artist at the event.  When a word was read, he drew images on the easel.  After the Exquisite Corpse was completed, there was a writing workshop.  Each of the persons  was asked to select a paper with different color.  The instructions were to write down the first word that came to their mind inspired by the color.  Then they were to write about the color:  the feeling, smell, sound, sight and taste.

At the end of Day, there were two poems that were written together by the community of poets and friends:

 

Nurture

(Each person wrote one line only seeing the previous one line written by another person.)

 

Feeds, changes, loves me

Listening, smiling, laughing

High love, we love, love

Patiently and tenderly

A lesson of nurture will last forever

I want to nurture to others that need help

Be who you are, shine from your heart then give it away, doing your part

Every act of love makes a difference

The time we take to weave our love into their hair

Trust in yourself.  Love, one human being to another

It’s OK to make mistakes

Cut us down will grow again

When you fear rejection and you assume the worst, give someone a chance to prove you wrong

Forgiveness is more for your peace of mind than for the transgressor, give it freely.

I built a snowman yesterday, it was made of SNOW. . .

The radiance of the Sun made it melt and glow

Bear tracks glittered in the lightness

As we come face to face with the lion within

Simply ordinary.  Chicken noodle soup.  Down comforter.  Flannel pajamas.

Make a suit.  Made of pure clouds

. . .But when I came out yesterday to play, there MANY in a row. . .

All lined up, ready to love and be loved.

I wished to wrap you up in peace, to make you feel at home, to give you all my love

To love.  To Encourage.  To give unconditionally.  To watch HER GROW & SET HER FREE.

O see love stand the test of time, to have her . . let me see me grow

 

Exquisite Corpse

(Each person wrote one word on a card, then the cards were mixed up and read out consecutively)

throwing solemn face

crazy flower, beautiful notebook help!

shiny bird,

frenetic monolith holding radiant waterfall

complicated bees singing cowardly moss tower

luminate lusterous art