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?”

Open Mic for September 2016


On September 2, Fidel A. Martinez was the featured poet.  He read from his books of poetry:  Factory Lights (2013), An American Mythology (2011), Ghost Stories from the Tower of Souls (2006), and recent poems. Later on that evening, Ian Perry and Paul Clery performed music that contained lyrics written by Fidel.

Summer Open Mic 2016.

photos by Martin Chang

In June and July of 2016 the poets of Bakersfield came to Open Mic.  They had an opportunity to performs more of their poetry these two months.

Don Thompson first Poet Laureate of Kern County



Photos by Martin Chang

    In 2016, Don Thompson was selected as the first Poet Laureate of Kern County.  Thompson has written poems about Kern County for fifty years.  He is prolific in his publication, of over 150 journal publications and dozen books. His love for Kern County is expressed in his poems.  He has influenced the poets in Kern County and shared his poem at various readings and workshop over the years.  Also reading were students from local high school, college and university.  The vitality of the poetry community was reflected in the reading of the works by these talented poets.  These students were Liz Greynolds, Mateo Lara, Adriana Sanchez, and Alex Victoria.

    National Poetry Month, April, was inaugurated in our country by the Academy of American Poets in 1996.  In Kern County, National Poetry Month started in 2010, and celebrated each year.  It was started by local community poets in memory of two poets who have passed on, Helen Shanley and Lee McCarthy. 

Open Mic at Dagny’s for February to May 2016

Photos by Martin Chang

At each First Friday, poets perform their original works to standing room only crowd at Dagny’s Coffee located in downtown Bakersfield.  Most months a poet or songwriter is featured sharing their original works, then the event becomes an open mic to poets, spoken word artists and musicians performing their original creations.


Photos: Open Mic at Dagny’s, Fall 2015

This fall KernPoetry and Dagny’s Coffee held a Open Mic every First Friday. At the event poets and musicians are welcome to share their original work with the public. This fall a variety of talents shared their work. Every month poets and musicians are featured. The above photographs are a sample of the eclectic artists that perform.



“Taft College Literary Magazine Club – Night for Poets & Poetry”

There was excitement mixed with hesitation among the poets at Dagny’s, the hesitation in sharing one’s innermost feeling and thoughts in poetry with others, some who were friends and some who were stranger.  Excitement also in that it was a contest with four poets being recognized with awards.

On Saturday November 21, 2015 poets and friends came together at Dagny’s Coffee for an open mic hosted by the Taft College Literary Magazine Club.  Alex Victoria, the editor of the club’s magazine,  A Sharp Piece of Awesome, was the emcee for the event.  Victoria said that it was a way to promote their magazine and also to accomplish one of the club’s mission to spread and encourage culture and literacy in Kern County.

The event was judged by a panel of published, local poets who selected the first, second and third place.  The criteria were originality in use of words, the poetic expression and ability to connect with the audience.  There was also an award for people’s choice, based on the response of the other poets and friends of poetry.

Geoffrey Dyer, professor of English at Taft College, was the faculty sponsor of the Taft College Literary Magazine Club.

The first place winner was Liz Greynolds who read from her poem “6:00”.  

A few of the lines are:

“That’s where I saw it first.

I sat and watched it – the light

Until the sun got snagged on it and dragged it behind a mountain

And I was left in the unlight of a desert where dark was tangible and colors

Existed in memory”

Greynolds was inspired by a simple moment in her life. “The poem was originally a diary entry that I jotted down really quickly while lying in my bedroom and being awestruck by the way the sunlight was coming in,” she said. “It reminded me of a dream I had where I watched the sunset in a desert. I knew my phone wouldn’t be able to do it justice in a picture, so I tried to use my words instead. It was turned into a poem months later, and it’s one of my favorites to read aloud.”  

Greynolds has been “writing poetry since middle school” and began to “identify my writing as poetry until about a year ago when someone else referred to it as poetry. . . I’m inspired by the things that are all around us, like light and nature.”  She likes “writing that creates a setting and places you in it using delicious language, and poetry is my favorite medium to do so.”

The People’s Choice was won by Mariah Bathe who read a poem after an encounter with an employee of a food establishment after her divorce.

  “I am not and will never be the girl looking for someone to affirm her outward appearance for edification

    No thank you

    Because I’d rather spend a thousand years weeping in front of my ex-husband who has more respect for me in his right pinkie finger      than you did those two minutes.”

Mariah has “always had an interest in poetry and had the desire to write since a young age but it wasn’t until recent that I felt the freedom to actually act on it.”  For Mariah, poetry becomes “a form of release for me in times of heartache or trial. It helps keep my head and heart unburdened.”

The other two awards went to Zack Alqaisi for the second place and Shawn McQuilliams for the third place.

Photos: Open Mic at Dagneys August 2015


Photos and story by Martin Chang

On August 7th, many poets performed to a full room at the open mic at Dagneys.  Above, a sampling of poets are pictured, below a little bit about each of them is explained.

Ebone King read her poetry about relationships. A mother of one, she calls her poetry “my art, my life, my feelings.” At first she didn’t know she was writing poetry. “It started out as me just writing down the things that I had been through, the things that I have seen.  Then someone picked up a letter and said, “this is a poem” and I said no it’s just me writing my thoughts,” she said.

She discovered these writing didn’t take a lot to become poetry.

She said, “I threw in a word here and there and suddenly it was a story.”

King calls her writing a “coping skill.” “Sometimes there’s an inability to express yourself, but nobody listens better than pen and paper.”

Another poet who read that night, Carley Tolomei, gets a similar catharsis from her writing. “Nobody understands me like I understand myself, I’m my own therapist. I didn’t know how to portray the emotions that I was feeling to other people. I really wanted that, I was wringing my hair out. When I started doing poetry, it helped me to do that.” Tolomei’s poetry also started out as just writing in her journal.

Kai Chu read a poem by Lao-tzu, an ancient Chinese sage.  He has a passion for Chinese language and culture. He read the poem in order to share with the young people “a different kind of poetry.”

Benjamin Dunham graduated in  political science at Colorado Mesa University. He calls his poetry a “maelstrom in the mind that I cannot escape.”