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  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


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


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.


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:



(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




Upcoming Poetry Events in January 2017


First Friday Open Mic on January 6 will feature The Bakersfield Fan Forum, pictured above. BFF are, left to right, Barry Michael, Joseph Mosconi, Maryah Chester, Viridiana Pena, Marco Silva.


Story by Portia Choi


The First Friday Open Mic on January 6, 2017 will feature The Bakersfield Fan Forum.   The event will start at 6:00 pm at Dagny’s Coffee located at 1600 20th Street (Corner of 20th and Eye St) Bakersfield, CA 93301.   

The Bakersfield Fan Forum (BFF) was a class at California State University Bakersfield (CSUB).   One of the goals of the class was the production of a book by each of the students and the visiting artist.    Each book was displayed as a work of work at the Todd Madigan Gallery at CSUB.  The visiting artist was Joseph Mosconi of the Poetic Research Bureau in Los Angeles.  The students were Maryah Paige Chester, Barry Michael, Viridiana Pena Tapia and Marco Silva.   These books are available for purchase and can be viewed freely in a downloadadable version at  The BFF also had guest poets from Los Angeles and New York.

More information on the Bakersfield Fan Forum (BFF) and its participants are in a previous post on this website.


On Saturday, January 7, there will be poetry from the time that Dagny’s Coffee opens at 7:00 am until it closes at 6:00 pm.  The Dagny’s Coffee Shop & Eatery is in downtown Bakersfield, 1600 20th Street (Corner of 20th and Eye St).

If you have a poem to share, or just want to enjoy poetry, please show up anytime 7:00 am to 6:00 pm!  One of the activities is for you to participate in writing a poem about  NURTURING:  nurturing oneself, nurturing the poet within, nurturing each other, or nurturing our community.

Throughout the day, there will be reading aloud of poems that the participant has written, or works by their favorite poets, or well-known literature.

The event is sponsored by Dagny’s Coffee and Kern Poetry (  The event is free and open to the public.

Dana Gioia, California Poet Laureate performs at Walter Stiern Library.

By Portia Choi, with contributions by Martin Chang

Photos by Martin Chang


On December 1, 2016 the California Poet Laureate, Dana Gioia, was the presenter at the December Room of the Walter Stiern Library at California State University, Bakersfield.  He was friendly and easy mannered, just as he looked in the internet photographs of him.  He performed his poems by memory.  His feelings for the words and subject matter was expressed in his voice and enhanced by his hands and arms. Gioia’s presentation at CSUB was part of his promise to himself as the Poet Laureate of California.  He had promised to visit each of the counties of California during his tenure as the Poet Laureate of the state.


The information about his life are taken from the program at the event at CSUB and from his official website,   The program stated that “Gioia was born in Hawthorne, California, the son of a Sicilian father and a Mexican mother.  He became the first person in his family to attend college.”  His website stated that “he received a B.A. and a M.B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Harvard University.”  In the program, it stated that Gioia “was the chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts from 2003 to 2009 and launched several nationwide programs to expand public support for the arts and for arts education with a focus on fostering youth creativity and expression. . . .The California native has received wide critical acclaim including his 1991 volume Can Poetry Matter? which was a finalist for the National Critics Circle award and triggered national discussion on the role of poetry in American public culture.  Gioia is also a winner of the American Book Award and was honored with the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2008 for his public service in support of the arts.”


Gioia spoke of how he started to write poetry.   It was when he was 19 or 20 years old that he started writing in a notebook.  Before then, he thought that he would be a musician.  In his home as a boy, he remembered that his mother would recite poetry that she had memorized.  While growing up, he thought that poetry was part of all homes.  One of the poems which his mother recited was shared by Gioia with the audience during the evening.  The poem was “Annabel Lee”  by Edgar Allan Poe.

Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the National Farm Workers Association, attended the reading.  Recent events inspired Huerta to go to the reading. Because of these events it was something she needed as a person. She said, “I loved it. It was exactly what my soul needed tonight.  With all the turmoil and everything, it was something I needed desperately.”


Gioia performed a number of poems during the presentation.  He gave background and commented on each of the poems that he performed.  The first and the last poems of the presentation were the following:


The first poem was written forty years after an experience in his youth.  Gioia remembers that as a child and young man, he had only lived in the greater Los Angeles metropolis.  When he later traveled to northern California, he had an intense experience during a trip to the Sonoma countryside, at an apple orchard.  Gioia describes this experience, “I always had a kind of hunger in Hawthorne, I realized many years later that there was no nature. I visited the ocean but that was a little different. There was this moment where I got what the world was doing. It was a revelation.”

When Gioia visited the apple orchard that inspired the poem, the visit had an air of romance.  “I had this crush on a girl, the two of us when across the Golden Gate Bridge and we found ourselves in an apple orchard in Sonoma County.”

The Apple Orchard

You won’t remember it—the apple orchard
We wandered through one April afternoon,
Climbing the hill behind the empty farm.

A city boy, I’d never seen a grove
Burst in full flower or breathed the bittersweet
Perfume of blossoms mingled with the dust.

A quarter mile of trees in fragrant rows
Arching above us. We walked the aisle,
Alone in spring’s ephemeral cathedral.

We had the luck, if you can call it that,
Of having been in love but never lovers—
The bright flame burning, fed by pure desire.

Nothing consumed, such secrets brought to light!
There was a moment when I stood behind you,
Reached out to spin you toward me . . . but I stopped.

What more could I have wanted from that day?
Everything, of course. Perhaps that was the point—
To learn that what we will not grasp is lost.




One of the last poems that Gioia performed was “The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet.”  He shared that he rewrote this poem almost a hundred time to get the words, the beat and the tone just right.

The Lunatic, the Lover, and the Poet

The tales we tell are either false or true,
But neither purpose is the point. We weave
The fabric of our own existence out of words,
And the right story tells us who we are.
Perhaps it is the words that summon us.
The tale is often wiser than the teller.
There is no naked truth but what we wear.

So let me bring this story to our bed.
The world, I say, depends upon a spell
Spoken each night by lovers unaware
Of their own sorcery. In innocence
Or agony the same words must be said,
Or the raging moon will darken in the sky.
The night grow still. The winds of dawn expire.

And if I’m wrong, it cannot be by much.
We know our own existence came from touch,
The new soul summoned into life by lust.
And love’s shy tongue awakens in such fire—
Flesh against flesh and midnight whispering—
As if the only purpose of desire
Were to express its infinite unfolding.

And so, my love, we are two lunatics,
Secretaries to the wordless moon,
Lying awake, together or apart,
Transcribing every touch or aching absence
Into our endless, intimate palaver,
Body to body, naked to the night,
Appareled only in our utterance.

When asked what is the best way to participate in poetry as a literary pursuit, Gioia said that the best thing to do is to perform.  “We make poetry more interesting by going back to what it originally was, which is a spoken performative art.  Poetry is language shaped into music,” he said.  “That is what people respond to. The entry way into poetry is in the music of poetry.”

Gioia believes that public spaces like the Open Mic at Dagny’s is a great place to celebrate this musical side of poetry. He said, “You may get some bad poems, but you also get good poems.  Everyone who listens to it, participates in heightened language.”

Gioia also believes that events like the open mic can become a great place for people of different backgrounds to connect. “If you could use poetry and use art as a way for everybody who lives in a community to come into contact with each other, that has cultural importance.”

Kern County Poet Laureate Don Thompson speaks at Writers of Kern

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Greg D. Cook

Don Thompson, the Kern County’s first-ever Poet Laureate, spoke at the Writers of Kern (WOK) meeting on November 19, 2016.  Thompson has written about Kern County for over 50 years in his poems.  He was born in Bakersfield, went to Bakersfield High School.  He currently lives in Buttonwillow with his wife Chris on a cotton farm that Chris’ family has had for over four generations.  During the six decades, Thompson has published fourteen books and chapbooks of poetry, a number of e-books and in hundreds of journals, too many to recall, his website is

At the meeting, Joan Raymond, the president of WOK, was asked why Don Thompson was asked to speak to the group. “Because we have poets in WOK, I wanted to expose them to an accomplished and recognized poet like Thompson. He has written, been rejected, and been published.” Raymond thought Thompson would encourage writers knowing “if they have a dream of writing poetry, they can accomplish that dream.”

And Thompson accomplished what Raymond wanted.  During his talk, he encouraged the members of WOK to write poems and publish them as a chapbook.  Such collection of a poems can make a “sweet” gift for one’s family and friends.  He had that “this is the golden age of small presses.”  He said due to computers, there is Print on Demand (POD) and now writers are no longer “stuck on New York (publishers) anymore.”  He described a chapbook which is small and inexpensive with about twenty to forty poems.  Thompson described his experience with chapbook from the first one in “1959, maybe 1960” to the most recent ones published in 2016.  He displayed the cover of the one of the two chapbooks published in 2016, “A Journal of the Drought Year.”  He liked the colors in the cover and the design; it was created by his high school friend.

Then Thompson gave further encouragement to the writers.  He said the one word to remember is “perseverance, to never give up.”  He has been known rejection.  His chapbook, Where We Live, was rejected twenty-five times before it was accepted for publication.  He advised the poets in the group to submit all the time and to have “five out there all the time; within twenty-four hours of rejection, send it (the poem) out.”  He writes and wrote poems; he may keep 25 out of 125 poems he had written.

The announcement of Thompson as the first poet laureate of Kern County was made in March 2016 by the sponsoring organization, The Arts Council of Kern County.

There is a long history of a poet laureate. Information on the history of the poet laureate was found in the internet source, Wikipedia.  “In ancient Greece, the laurel was used to form a crown or wreath of honor for poets and heroes. . . As the concept of the poet laureate has spread, the term ‘laureate’ has come in English to signify recognition for preeminence or superlative achievement.  As a royal degree in rhetoric, poet laureate was awarded at European universities in the Middle Ages. The term might also refer to the holder of such a degree, which recognized skill in rhetoric, grammar and language.”  Upon further search on the internet, Wikipedia stated “The United States Library of Congress appointed a Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1937 to 1984. An Act of Congress changed the name in 1985 to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. . . Juan Felipe Herrera is the current laureate.”  (Juan Felipe Herrera is from the Central Valley, and was born in Fowler, California in 1948.)  Regarding the California Poet Laureate, Wikipedia stated that “in 2001, Governor Gray Davis created the official position. Each poet laureate for the State of California is appointed by the Governor of California for a term of two years and must be confirmed by the senate. Previous to Governor Davis’ action in creating the position, the title was unofficial and the position was held for life. The program is run by the California Arts Council.”  The current California Poet, Dana Gioia, “was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown on December 4, 2015.”

According to Annis Cassells, a board member of Writers of Kern, the poet laureate is a poet connected to an area or group who is chosen as a representative that keeps the fire of poetry alive as a literary art. The poet laureate teaches and encourages, writes and shares his own work, and promotes the appreciation of poetry throughout the region.  The Kern County poet laureate will be a recognized poet/spoken word artist with a proven history of substantial publication of individual poems or books and will demonstrate an appreciation for Kern County.

Toward the end of his talk, Thompson read very movingly from his many poetry chapbooks.  From the poems he read, following are examples from two of the poems:

“Where We Live” (from Where We Live)

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.



Time (an excerpt from Turning Sixty)

It takes hours to make ice cream, a few minutes to make love,

seconds to die, though sometimes months, a long hard night to

be born,

just a heartbeat to get your heart broken and a lifetime for it to mend. . . . .


Everything takes time.  Everything.  And the time it takes is

never enough,

not to appreciate its iridescence before the rainbow vanishes

with a flick of fins,

not to hold the newborn before she slips through your fingers

Into her own life;

never enough time to slice hot bread, butter it, and watch the

butter melt,

not to better your odds against the house or hacksaw your


without getting caught because you had to stop for a smoke.


How could there be enough?  Even if you had eons like a rock,

geological time, you’d still want more when it ran out—

more life, more love, more homemade ice cream.



After his talk, Don Thompson had his book and chapbooks for sale.  All the proceeds were donated by Thompson to the Gary Sinise Foundation, an actor.  The foundation’s mission is:

At the Gary Sinise Foundation, we serve our nation by
honoring our defenders, veterans, first responders,
their families, and those in need.

We do this by creating and supporting unique
programs designed to entertain, educate,
inspire, strengthen, and build communities.

The Bakersfield Fan Forum Gallery and Pop-Up Store

story by Portia Choi


November 7, 2016 was the opening of The Bakersfield Fan Forum at the Todd Madigan Gallery at California State University Bakersfield.  It is being presented by The Poetic Research Bureau through the visiting artist, Joseph Mosconi.  The Bakersfield Fan Forum (BFF) was made possible by Jedediah Caesar, the curator of the Todd Madigan Gallery (TMG) and Joseph Mosconi.

The BFF was a class with a goal of producing books by the students and the visiting artist.    The art being exhibited were books that had poetry which were artistically presented. There were five books produced were by Joseph Mosconi, and the four students:  Maryah Paige Chester, Barry Michael, Viridiana Pena Tapia and Marco Silva.   These books were available for purchase and could be viewed freely in a downloadable version at

The display of the books as art work was evidenced by a large book with the look and feel of a magazine that was on a pedestal that had a sculpture.  Another wall had white lights in kinetic motion.  There was another wall with display of front of poetry books produced by The Poetic Research Bureau. The books were presented differently. They were placed the bookshelf to show the front of the books rather than the spine.  It was the design and creativity of the front of the books which was the art to entice the viewer to look further inside the book.

The Bakersfield Fan Forum is based on the premise that “Everyone is a fan of Something.”

According to the artist statement of the forum, “poets, artists and scholars discussed the politics of fandom, appropriation and the concepts of the amateur and the enthusiast.”

THE POETIC RESEARCH BUREAU attempts to cultivate composition, publication and distribution strategies that enlarge the public domain. It favors appropriations, impersonations, ‘compost’ poetries, belated conversations, unprintable jokes and doodles, historical thefts and pastiche. The publication emphasis is on ephemeral works, short-run magazines and folios, short-lived reprints and excerpts in print-on-demand formats. The Bureau advocates for intellectual resource sharing, material re-use and the “creative commons.” It values artistic experiment and archival research equally, as well as translation and cultural encounter, pluralism and intellectual debate. The Bureau’s activities include, but are not limited to: readings and presentations, screenings and exhibitions, courses and lectures, as well as the production and distribution of art and literature.

The Poetic Research Bureau (PRB) is currently located in the Chinatown area of Los Angeles.  PRB began in the 1990’s with a journal in Santa Cruz, California.  The journal was called The Germ, and was started by Andrew Maxwell.  Mosconi explained that it reflected back to the 30’s that had surrealistic journals with research.   He explained that the title PRB “is a play on words. . .In the 19th century, there was a poetry and artistic movement, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.”   Then Mosconi got involved with PRB in 2006-2007 with poetry meetings and reading series.  Mosconi has roots in the Central Valley.  He grew up in Visalia when there was not much opportunity for poetic and artistic events.  His grandparents currently live in Bakersfield.

Joseph Mosconi’s book is BFF/PRB #1 which has drawings, photographs and words.  The book is filled with the serious and the fantastic fantasy.  The words are in various fonts giving another method to convey context and feeling.  There are words on different colored pages.  Mosconi expressed that “color is emotion.”  The pages evoke emotion from the images, the colors and the words.  One of the creations had words in black on orange paper.  This creation is innovative in the juxtaposition of unlikely topics.  The business-like, impartial questions on a job application are intermixed with fantasy words of the poet.  An excerpt from the creation is:  “Please furnish copies of all resumes and/biographical statements issued by you or any other/ entity at your discretion or with your consent within the past ten years./  I AM ASMODEUS CONSORT OF ERRA/ RAIDER OF CATTLE AND FATHER OF/RAPTORS, CHAMPION WITHOUT PEER./BE YE READY TO FLY ORTOSMITE.  TO/MEDO YE REVERENCE.”  Mosconi is the visiting artist for BFF.

Marco Silva’s book is BFF/PRB #2 with words in white on various colors or black words on white paper.  There is a playful feel overall.  It starts with a cutout photo of Silva on the cover of the book.  There is what seems to be a child’s attempt at printing with misspellings like “imagination/ Curating thoughts for the future…”  There is seriousness in his words of “Becoming a GREAT Artist” with “Be interesting” repeated with various spacing, which is also fun.  He had repeat of “Focus”, the one word on a page in various fonts.  There were insights such as “Transhumanism”, “Noise = No Bueno”, and “ALWAYS progress”.    In his work Sliva writes foods listed with “Nourishment/Feels good/The mind is somehow connected to our gut/Hence gut feeling/Intuition.”  Silva is majoring in Business Administration concentrating on Marketing with a minor in Studio Art.

Viridiana Pena Tapia’s book is BFF/PRB #3 with a photograph of a lotus flower partially in opened and partially closed.  The first page has one letter:  a large, capital “L”; then photographic images of a lotus.  The beginning words are “The Lotus, is a flower that grows in the mud.  The deeper and thicker the mud, the more beautiful the lotus blooms.”  There is an original poem by Tapia, “I call upon you, pleading you to restore my/ soul to see the light brighter than/ before./  To give me strength when I need it/ the most…..We are fragile creatures easily lost and confused.” Most of the words in the book are from other great persons, Aristotle, Buddha, Dalai Lama, Elizabeth Gilbert, Matthew (of the New Testament), Kurt Vonnegut, Albus Dumbledore, and Greg S. Reid.  There are photographs and mandalas.  The book has an overall meditative feel.  Tapia is a psychology major with a minor in graphic design.

Maryah Paige Chester’s book is BFF/PRB #4 with paintings of images primarily women, and those of Georgia O’Keefe.  The cover has pink to red images of oval shapes.  Chester’s original poetry are interspersed among the paintings and poems by Alfred Bryan, Emily Dickinson, rupi kaur, Ann Sexton, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Robert Frost, Lucille Swenson, Adrienne Rich, William Dunbar, Lucille Clifton, Marina Tsvetaeva, Lora Mathis, Yayoi Kusama, Luoise Gluck, Sylvia Plath and others.  Chester has a poem that she read at one of the First Friday Open Mic, (from Circles Encircles):  “Speak out of circles./In whole truths not white lies-/Plainly without regret and self-loathing.”  An excerpt from another poem of Chester is “There’s emptiness in the air-The spaces between you/ and me no longer meets with God-We are not the/children in light anymore.”  Chester’s major is English with a minor in studio arts.

Barry Michael’s book is BFF/PRB #5 which is about fandom looking “specifically at the TV shows (he) watched and been a fan of throughout (his) life.”  He said he “deliberately formatted (his) text into blocks which break up the flow of the lines and obscure the rhyme and rhythm of the poetry. Michael said, “To make my book stand out, and also make it an interactive experience, I created and placed a QR code on every facing page. The reader, using their smart phone, can access a link to a video that plays the opening credits of the matching “poem” so if they cannot identify the show they can still experience the full effect.”   Michael found it an “interesting opportunity to work with an established artist.” Michael’s book takes words from popular TV series and makes them his creation. He said,  “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. . . .This is the dimension of imagination.  It is an area which we call. . .the Twilight Zone.” Then there is the fun TV show, “Scooby-Dooby-Doo, Where Are You?  . . .You’re ready and you’re willing.”  Michael is finishing his Bachelor’s of Art degree in studio art.

The Bakersfield Fan Forum also had guest poets reading at the Todd Madigan Gallery.  The most recent poets performing were Ben Fama and Monica McClure on October 24, 2016.  Both of the poets are from New York.

Ben Fama was influenced by Monica de la Torre who is an artist and a poet.  Fama expressed that de la Torre’s “form was very exciting to me; (an) academic outline, like 1a, 1b, 2a, 2b.”  Fama read the poem “Fantasy” which emphasizes the “conflicted consumer.” The poem is about how he does not want to do it but he does it anyway.  For Fama,  “going to work [is fine], but [he would] rather be writing poetry. . . be authentic.”  He works as an administrator at a non-profit art organization.  “Fantasy” is on the Poetry Foundation website and the following is excerpts from the poem:  “Forever is the saddest word/The poem’s not worth it. . .I hate the George V hotel/But I would take you there/ Then walk to the open market/ Some thoughts are not that great/ The Internet is my home.”  Fama has three other poems on the Poetry Foundation website.   In one of these poems, “Los Angeles”, an excerpt states “Negation is part of the positive identity of an object.”   Fama is the author of several chapbooks and pamplets, MALL WITCH, Cool Memories, Odalisque, and FANTASY.

Monica McClure started reading poetry when she was 14 years, and also writing poetry.  McClure likes Edna St. Vincent Millay who wrote about loss.  This happened at a time when McClure lost a boyfriend.  Millay’s poem helped McClure to grieve.  She also likes ee cummings, and how he used words to create mood.  McClure recently published Concomitance, in which she writes of all that is involved in grooming and hygiene.  According to McClure Concomitance  “began as documentary and aimed to catalogue the infinitesimal yet burdensome acts of labor. behind routine grooming, to examine the daily self reform implied by cosmetic and clothing, Because self maintenance eats up time, the book chews through memory with digressive narratives and swallows the present with real time thought progression.”  In the poem, “House of Joyce Leslie”, which is on Poetry Foundation website, McClure writes “I’m living in this logocentrism. . . So much splendor is owed to dysmorphia . . . like those Gothic spires poking the heavens/that someone just thought up like/ can we tap this broomstick/ on ethereal marble floors or what/can we really do” There are two more of McClure’s poems on Poetry Foundation.  She is also the author of Tender Data, Mala, Mood Swings, and Boss Part 1.

Jedediah Caesar, the curator of CSUB Todd Madigan Gallery was asked what his vision was for the gallery.  He wanted “a place where students can see contemporary art in all its strange forms.”  These forms were poetry and art together; a research space.  He wanted to challenge what constituted art; that which was created across medium and in open space.  He wanted a place for the community to come to see innovative art.  With The Bakersfield Fan Forum, Caesar is fulfilling his vision for the Todd Madigan Gallery.

The exhibition will continue to December 3, 2016 at the TMG, which is next door to the Dore Theatre.  (The books by BFF will be available for purchase and they can also be viewed freely in a downloadadable version at  The gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday from 1-6 pm, and Saturday 12-5pm.  For more information contact Jedediah Caesar at

There is a reading by another invited poet, Ara Shirinyan from Los Angeles.  He will be performing his poetry on Wednesday November 30 at 4:00 pm at the Todd Madigan Gallery.

The BFF group will be performing their poetry at First Friday Open Mic on January 6, 2017 at Dagny’s Coffee located at 1600 20th Street (Corner of 20th and Eye St) Bakersfield, CA 93301.   

November Open Mic 2016


Story by Portia Choi

There was extraordinary excitement at the First Friday Open Mic on November 4.  There was a standing-room only crowd.  That wasn’t all.  There have been other evenings with persons where persons stood to listen to poets perform their word creations.

Maybe it was that Mateo Lara, one of the regular performers at the Open Mics, was the month’s featured poet.  Mateo’s poetry has expanded over the year and a half since he began sharing his words with the poetry community.   Mateo’s first book of poetry, “Keta-Miha and other Poems”, is filled with self-discovery.  An excerpt from a poem is:  “you shivered through terror and trance, and beside this fear, I don’t want you anywhere near my gold…”

Whatever it was, the evening reflected the right combination of elements for an evening  for sharing one’s poetry with the community.

There have been other poetry open mics in Bakersfield.  The First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s started on February 7, 2014.  It seems to have brought together the right mix for poets to express themselves.

The place was certainly right.  Dagny’s Coffee is the sublime local coffee house.  It is welcoming and relaxed:  so comfortable it feels like a second home.  There is an area with a sofa. It has a living room or a den homey feel.  There are areas for concentration for grading papers, or for writing one’s journals.  There is a place for group activity for musical jamming or for spiritual discussions.  The cashiers and servers are always friendly, smiling when bringing out the expresso, varied coffees or pastry.

The day and time was right.  First Friday in downtown Bakersfield is the happening for artistic expression, whether visual or musical.  There are street vendors with crafts and bands playing.  The art studios have their openings on First Friday.

Poetry as a language and performance art and found a home at Dagny’s.  The Open Mic has added to the festive atmosphere of the creative community.

First Friday Open Mic occurs each month at Dagny’s at 6:00 pm.  Sign-in to perform is at 5:50pm.  Each month, except for the summer months of June, July and August, there is a featured poet or a musical group performing their original creations.   Dagny’s is located at 1600 20th Street (corner of 20th and Eye St.)

For more information, contact Portia at or (661) 717-1346.

October Open Mic 2016

These were photos taken at Dagny’s on October 7th 2016. The featured poets were Heavy Vinyl who performed their new song “Rock and Roll Beauty Queen” and between songs describes their process behind the songs they have written.

Words Come to Life: Art Becomes Poetry




By Martin Chang

“Words Come to Life” was an event held to benefit CASA and celebrate the poetry and art of Kern County.

In her opening remarks Diana Ramirez, the organizer of the event, was emotional, and barely held back tears. She said, “Look at all these people, and look at this connection we are making as a community.”

Ramirez described the goals of the event as “bringing words to life through art.” She said, “Each artist was given a poem and through inspiration from that poem have created a unique art piece. Included amongst the sixteen are two poems by local foster youth.”

Mateo Lara had his poem “Neon Candles” interpreted by artist Jose Lemus.  Lara enjoyed Lemus’ interpretation.  “It’s exact how I envisioned it to be. The image makes me happy and sad at the same time. It speaks to what the poem is about.”

Here are the first lines of “Neon Candles:”

You’re staining the room with electric blue sadness,

And last night around 4 in the morning,

You rustled in with maroon stained hands,

And told me to turn on the lights,

So I could see the silver lips you wore.

In order to improve the emotional power of her poetry reading, Portia Choi dressed as “an anonymous woman who could represent anyone in the world.” She had rarely dressed up in such a way before, to  impact the performance. “ This time I wanted to be sure that my outfit reflected a woman who didn’t have very much,” she explained.

Choi saw the outfit as a way of getting in touch emotionally with her younger self. “I was concerned about how believable I would be to those watching, since I am a woman in my sixties performing a poem of the experience and feelings of a two-year-old, in the middle of a war.  I wanted to express the feeling of being left alone, wondering where my sister and mother were,” she said. “I wanted to capture the feeling of a little child not knowing what is happening in her world, of being displaced from the safety of home.  The only thing that was real to me, was a ball of rice I was given to eat.”

Choi carefully picked out her outfit to give her performance an everyday-woman feeling.  “For the performance, I wore a white scarf over my head tied around my neck, as many women do around the world,” she said. “I also wore a dark brown shawl which a woman might use for warmth and protection, and to become invisible and hidden among others.”



Kate Durbin: The Poetry of Places, Objects, and Reality TV

By Martin Chang

Like many others in America, Kate Durbin found herself fascinated by the world of Reality television.  As a poet, Durbin began to watch with a closer eye.  From the way that the camera moves from Kardashian to Kardashian, to the carefully manicured rooms of Playboy Bunnies, to the cluttered lives of the victims of addiction on “Hoarders,” she discovered that the humanity revealed on these shows were worthy of the same artistic deep dive as high art.

“I think we still have a stigma around popular culture used as art,” she said. “I’m interested in taking things that are considered low art and turning them into art works that are taken more seriously. I find the shows very fascinating because they speak to our moment in time in a very specific way.”

Durbin also takes a closer look at Reality television since she believes that the media aware nature of the lives of Reality show stars resembles the media driven lives of us all. “I see it as the medium that we live and exist in now,” she said. “We all live very mediated lives. We all have our Facebook pages, our Instagram pages. We represent ourselves both virtually and IRL (in real life) all the time.”

Durbin found the way that people would talk about Reality show stars such as Kim Kardashian “disturbing.” This also inspired her to take an artistic look at the shows. “Even very smart people that might call themselves feminism felt comfortable trashing Kim Kardashian, calling her stupid, those sorts of these things,” she said.  Durbin vehemently disagrees with this characterization. “She couldn’t get where she is being stupid,” Durbin said.

Durbin wants to explore how the shows themselves are designed to create these strong feelings in otherwise smart and rationale people. She found that there were real reasons why people had such strong reactions. “The framework of the shows, the camera angles, the way the scenes are set up, work to objectify women and portray them as stupid,” Durbin concluded.

“Close watching” is the way that Durbin describes her process of writing her poetic works. “I watch a little bit of the show. Then I pause the show and write down everything that I had seen,” Durbin explained. This process takes Durbin years. She analyzed one episode of “The Hills” for a year.

Through this close watching, Durbin was inspired by the way that the people on the reality shows related to places and objects that make up the world of these shows.  She found the world of the Playboy mansion and the way it was portrayed on “The Girls Next Door” particularly fascinating.  For most of the shows run, “The Girls Next Door” portrayed the life of Hugh Hefner and his, at the time, three girlfriends: Holly Madison, Bridget Marquardt, and Kendra Wilkinson.   This fascination caused her to create poetic works where Durbin attempted to let “the mansion speaks for itself.”

As a part of the Bakersfield Fan Forum series at the Todd Madigan Gallery at Cal State Bakersfield, Durbin performed a poem about Bridget Marquardt’s room. She performed the poem with a scientific accuracy. Yet her description of the room was not dry, in her voice you could hear both Durbin’s fascinations with Bridget’s life combined with a bit of contempt that she has for a life specifically designed to exploit women.  Below are the first few lines of the poem.

This large bedroom is hot pink and organized. The Queen bed’s bright pink comforter is offset with sprays of black and white bunnies with bowties, pillows. There is also a large Hello Kitty pillow. The pink mouse and the pink computer monitor accent the pink desk.

Durbin’s fascination with the objects and places of Reality television eventually led her to the show “Hoarders.” Something Durbin felt was an inevitability. After writing pieces about the rich, as covered in shows like “The Girls Next Door,” she began to wonder how the rest of the people related to places and objects. Durbin explained her line of thinking, “I started to think about ‘well this is the one percent’s relationship to things and stuff, what about the rest of the Country?’” That led her to the thought, “Oh my God, I don’t want to do it, but I have to write about “Hoarders.”

The emotions that Durbin experienced while watching “Hoarders” were very strong. “It was very painful to watch. It was very hard to get through,” she said.  “I always cry when I watch it.” Durbin has this strong reaction because the theme of addiction hits closes to home. “It triggers some things with my family,” she said.  ” There’s a lot of addiction in my family and stuff.”

Other mixed feelings came up in Durbin while she wrote about and watched “Hoarders,” “I have a lot of ethical problems with the show.” “I feel like the people on the show are not in the right mental state to consent to being on a show like that, but it is also fascinating in that it reveals what is going on behind closed doors all over the country.”

Durbin hopes to tap into the healing nature of poetry when writing about “Hoarders,” “I do believe that the process of writing and bringing attention to something difficult does have healing qualities to it. I think that art can do thing that are positive with material that is difficult.”

Below are the first few lines of the poem “Hoarders: Tara.”

Orlando, Florida

My name is Tara and I’m 55 years old Precious Moments angel statue
I would not classify myself as a hoarder, more of a rescuer of Target receipts
When I first moved in it was just mostly boxes because I was moving in then I tried to unpack but everything just got put wherever Martha Stewart magazines

Though Durbin has been writing and creating art pieces about Reality television and popular culture for years and also has many misgiving about much of the shows she covers artistically, she can still enjoy Reality television at the basic entertainment level like anyone else. She said, “I really enjoy watching it. My boyfriend saw me watching the Kardashians one day and said ‘ow are you writing.’ Then I said ‘no I’m just watching.’” Despite her careful examination into what makes the shows tick, Durbin still considers Reality television “fun.”



The Bakersfield Fan Forum is facilitated by Joseph Mosconi and The Poetic Research Bureau.  The Fan Forum is meant to “investigate the various ways enthusiasms and fandoms are articulated in contemporary poetry and visual art.” Learn about the next Fan Forum event here.


Durbin has published many of her works online and in print.

Durbin has published two books of poetry, The Ravenous Audience and E! Entertainment . “E! Entertainment” contains the poetic work about the Kardashians, “The Hills”, and “Girls Next Door”  discussed in the article. Also in “E! Entertainment” are poetic works about The Real Housewives, Anna Nichole Smith  and Amanda Knox. The poems about “Hoarders” are a work in progress and are not yet published in print. “Hoarders: Tara” is available in full here.

Durbin opened her presentation at CSUB with pictures from a project she worked on with Rollin Leonard called Postcards from Disneyland. It is why in the pictures she is wearing a Snow White shirt. In this project she explored her fandom of Disneyland by actually going to the park with a projector and projecting images onto landmarks at the park. Then Leonard took  photos of those landmarks.

Durbin has been a part of several Internet art projects. Below are some examples of her work.

Gaga Stigmata

from the about page:

“Established in March 2010 as the first mover in Gaga studies,Gaga Stigmata: Critical Writings and Art About Lady Gaga is a technological journal that critically-creatively participates in the cultural project of shock pop phenomenon Lady Gaga.”

Women As Objects

A tumblr blog where Durbin achieved young women’s tumblrs. The blog explores how young women define themselves and their sexuality.

Cloud Nine

With “Cloud Nine” Durbin is asking female-identifying artist “What have you done for Money?”