Featured Poet

February Open Mic Features Tony O’Brien

Tony O’Brien was the featured poet at First Friday Open Mic on February 3, 2017.  O’Brien is also a photographer and a jazz musician.  He melded his talents of being a poet and a photographer for his performance.  At the open mic, he had participants hold up posters of his photographs with his poems imprinted on them.

When O’Brien was asked when he started writing poetry. He said that in 1980 he was “messing around at work, placing some thoughts on paper . . about my kids.”   He was writing about life in general and about his two boys.  He became more serious in 1992 and he really started in 2006 when he developed his style, “word poetry.”  He explained that “word poetry” was “rooted in Hebrew poetry.  (It is a) biblical way of writing, based on parallelism, step and climactic. . .and end up on paper visually.”  His poems were published in the book, “Inspirational Poetry by Design.”  The book is available at the Beale Library.

O’Brien said he went on to brand his style of poetry, “Work Poetry,” by registering the name with U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.    One of the poems that O’Brien performed was “Before I Die” which is an example of a climactic poem.

Before I Die

Within the sixty-six books

That were inspired by your spirit

And written for the sons of mankind.

I have but one question that I must ask from my heart

That has caused my soul to be in fear. . .

I am like a ship without a rudder.

I beg that you guide my heart

So that my soul will not be in fear, and that you

Anchor my heart upon your word

So that I can find my rest.

And as I like in my resting place,

I beg that you cause my soul to stand

Because my greatest fear is that I give you a reason to

Refuse me before I die.

Following the performance by Tony O’Brien was open mic portion of the evening.  Here are poems from poets who performed during the open mic.  These poets provided their words to be shared on this website.  The poems are placed according to the order of performance by the poets.


Honey, Scruff, Whiskey Moan by Mateo Lara

“It’s always ever a disaster,

paying attention to details,

I’d run the moon out of the

sky, waiting for everything to

fit together.”



“I was high” Yaritza Castro

(an excerpt)

“I love you,” he said.

Three words planted like seeds

in my mouth.

Seeds I would cultivate

into beautiful flowers, only to

hide them from anyone who wouldn’t

replant my garden after I tor

those flowers from their roots.”


Poems by Clark Long

“Some day the Sun will blow

and toss the planets into deep space

and all the sunscreen will freeeze!”

“My name was X,

now Pluto

soon to orbit NOTHING!”


A poem by Diana Ramirez

“. . .Frown upon me you might,

But i have been created to create,

and you were born to see the light,

In me,

In her,



And our story

is the longest

ever told and I refuse to be a mold,

molded in the image that man has sold.”


Altars by Normal G. Camorlinga

So I sit by the altar Latinos leave

for their dead

Placing silly ideas into boxes

& rearranging them in my mind

Sitting breathless


With a Marigold flower in one hand

And my heart in the other to

greet you when

you return







First Friday Open Mic January 6, 2017

story by Portia Choi

On the First Friday of January 2017, the featured poets at Dagny’s Coffee were Joseph Mosconi, Barry Michael and Maryah Paige Chester. They read from their poetry books which were in themselves a work of art. Each book was unusual and unique in its approach to presenting poetry.

Joseph Mosconi’s book had the look and feel of a magazine. The work was titled,
“FRIGHT CATALOG.” It consisted of ninety-one stanzas, one stanza of the poem to a page. On the first page of the book, it stated that “Each stanza of Fright Catalog was fed through the search engine of an online Color Theme generator. A different color theme was determined for each stanza, resulting in the color combinations you see on each page of this book. Every color theme addresses your feelings and is employed for certain moral ends.” One of the longest stanzas had sixteen words:
One of the shorter ones was:

Barry Michael’s book had a QR code corresponding to each of his poems. An excerpt from one of the poems that he read was:
“Take my love, take my land take me where I cannot stand
I don’t care, I’m still free You can’t take the sky from me . . .
There’s no place I can be since I’ve found
Serenity, and you can’t take the sky from me.”

Maryah Paige Chester’s book had her poems as well as poems by other prominent poets. The book also had artwork from artists: Georgia O’Keeffe, Alexandra Levasseur and others. There was a painting by Dimitra Milan in the book, and interesting the image of the woman in the painting looked very much like the poet, Maryah. Excerpt from one of her poems that she read was:
“I keep dreaming, thinking that there’s
Something else out there for me. . .
Murky waters is a false prophet, worthy of
An honorable deception. You see the light. . . “

Poetry books from The Bakersfield Fan Forum by Mosconi, Michael and Chester can be found on

(There are more stories and photos about The Bakersfield Fan Forum are on previous posts on this website:

During the Open Mic portion of First Friday, one of the poets, Mateo Lara, performed. He was willing to share his poem for the website,

It Took Me (an excerpt):
“Fires: embed themselves in our withered shroud,
Tangled up in my doubts, so I thought of a flood,
Ravaged by a simple need, quench, that what we feel,
Even torn apart, by little wants and desires, . . .
Caked with words left unsaid, I guess they’ll dissolve in my mouth,
Right here, it took me too much time, to tell you all I had in mind,
When you’d disappear, reappear, and never once figured out what it meant.”


Another performer was Shanna O’Brien who sang her original lyrics and played the guitar:

Invisible Wings (an excerpt):

“When I was a young girl before I’d fall asleep
I prayed that I would wake up with invisible wings
Promised not to show off or do outrageous things
I just wanted to fly with my invisible wings. . . . .

Young girl dreams never go away
Still in my heart even today
Strumming my guitar a melody to sing
Suddenly I feel invisible wings

And I can fly over mountains high
Over the rivers and valleys in my life
Fly feeling my heart sing. . . . .
I’m soaring over oceans of life with
Invisible wings”

Featured Poet: Chris Fendt

Story by: Martin Chang

Photos by: Greg D. Cook and Martin Chang

top box photo provided by Chris Fendt


Chris Fendt is inspired by different aspects of life. For Fendt, a chance meeting with a stranger, his favorite music, or quiet moments in Bakersfield, can inspire him to write.

Growing up in Orange, California, Fendt describes his home life as supportive.  “My parents were great, very nurturing,” he said.  In kindergarten Fendt was picked on and his parents found a solution.  “My parents could sense that I wasn’t very happy,” Fendt said.  “So, they gave me an option, they said “would you like to go to a different school? I jump at the chance. Saying “yes please get me out of here.”

So Fendt spent first through eighth grade at a private Catholic school called Holy Family.  Some writers find the rules and conformity of private school unenjoyable, Fendt enjoyed the experience.  “private school you have to wear uniforms; everyone looks the same, dresses the same. It was a very harmonious experience.”

It was also at Holy Family that got the first taste of attention and recognition for his writing talents.  “For a brief time I was an altar boy, and I remember in seventh grade that I got some recognition from one of my instructors. I got a creative writing pin,” Fendt fondly remembers.

Although he does not consider himself particularly religious, Fendt’s time spent being exposed to religious belief as a child led him to believe that artistic talent comes from a place outside of the person.  Fendt has had experiences with what he calls the “unknown” and “mysteries that I can’t wrap my head around.”  He said, “that ability to write, that talent, you wonder where that comes from.  It makes me wonder if there is a God.”

“Cozy,” one of Fendt’s recent poems, captures a moment of clarity that he experienced here in Bakersfield.  “I was sitting on the bluffs overlooking the oil fields.  I didn’t have much sleep that night and the sounds of the city, the traffic, barking dogs, captured that way I felt within,” recalls Fendt.  “It always feels like I’m looking for something,  but I can’t have the answers.  I think that might be the human condition that you’re always searching, that you will always be learning something till the day you die.  So I guess that why I wrote this poem. “

Fendt titled the poem “Cozy” because he wants to create the feeling of that moment he experienced. He describes that feeling, “finally I feel that I have a warm blanket around me and everything will be okay.”   “Cozy” is below:


People pass right through me

Like mourners in a line,

Not a word

Nor laughter.

Passing away in time.


Shadows seem to threaten,

And I can’t get warm.

This climate can be oppressive

As chaos seems the norm.


Damn these hellish cities,

Where is my sacred bliss

As I lean upon the fence

Of limbo’s woebegone abyss?


And then in that moment

Of self perpetuating despair…

An impartial blood moon to greet me

Releasing me of care.


Fendt finds inspiration in everyday meetings. One of his poems was inspired by a chance meeting with a stranger. “There was one guy who came up to me, he had on a motorcycle helmet straight out of Easy Rider.  He had a pink Frisbee around his neck. I don’t know how he got it over his neck.  He just looked so weird.”  The poem inspired by this meeting is “Homeless Man” and reads as follows:

Pink frisbee like a halo

Around his neck-

Light er’ up

What the heck.

The world can end at any time.

All he wants is a thin dime.


Fendt has been a lifelong fan of music and is a musician himself.  He is a fan of music with a darker edge and is a particular fan of Depeche Mode and their song “Everyone Counts.” The lyrics of rock music was his first exposure to poetry.

In his poem “Hope” He responds to a song with a whaling child in the background. “In the song you hear a baby’s cry, then as the song progresses it turns in an adult’s voice.  The song is trying to say that the suffering will continue,” Fendt said. ““Hope” is kind of putting that into words. Then I add my own answer to that dark environment that the song creates.” In “Hope,” Fendt attempts to put some light into the dark themes of the song, he wants to create the feeling of believing in “greater things then yourself.”  “Hope” is as follows:

Cries of infancy

Carry over into adulthood-

The wailing

And suffering

Of want.


The drone of existance

In the backdrop-

Dull routine

That we resist

Only leaving us

Incumbents of incapacitation.


Who will resusitate

Our will

But by faith alone

In greater things

Than ourselves


Fendt’s poetry can be found at

Ara Shirinyan performs at The Bakersfield Fan Forum

photos by Greg D. Cook

story by Portia Choi


Ara Shirinyan was the last guest poet of the Bakersfield Fan Forum at California State University Bakersfield (CSUB) Todd Madigan Gallery.  He performed at the gallery on November 30, 2016.


Shirinyan is a poet, publisher and musician.  He was born in 1977 in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic. His works include Syria Is in the World, Your Country Is Great Afganistan-Guyana, and Handsome Fish Offices. He is currently getting the next sequence of Your Country Is Great to press. He co-founded the Smell, an all-ages music venue in Los Angeles and was until recently one of the co-directors of the Poetic Research Bureau (PRB).  The other directors of PRB were Andrew Maxwell and Joseph Mosconi.

Beyond the larger perspective of countries and cultures was his understanding of the microcosm of another form of culture, that of fishes and offices in his book, Handsome Fish Offices.  As he explained and performed the poems, there was delight in his voice and expressive movement of his arms and hands as he spoke about the fish cichlids in the Lake Malawi.   The book was fascinating and fun with the juxtaposition of his poems with clippings from other published writings.  (The writer of this story sensed in the poet a longing to be away from the neutral, impersonal nature of offices and to be with the fun-free movements of lively fishes in a lake in Africa.)


Excerpt from Handsome Fish Offices:


Lake Malawi has islands,

Lake Malawi has muddy

Oceanic coral islands,


Muddy water runs through huge rocks

Under twin, folding side shelves

Business-day deliveries of nutrient salts. . .


The many cichlids found there

Assembly service

Available (not included). . .


Glance through collegiate appointment books

Many Malawian cichlids dig into malfunctioning writing

Instrument feature needs available combination. . .



During the performance, Shirinyan shared a poem that he found on the internet “written” by another poet.  To be frank, the poem was technically not written, since there were no words, no use of letters of the alphabet, rather it had series of dashes of various length.


With his performance and his poetry books, Shirinyan shared his internal thoughts and impressions of his world.  He communicated and portrayed a way of seeing and understanding our world in a new way.



The following are reviews from about Your Country Is Great by Ara Shirinyan


“Reading travel literature—not to mention postcards or emails from your friends—will never be the same after reading Ara Shirinyan’s hilarious and sardonic Your Country Is Great; Afghanistan-Guyana. Proceeding alphabetically and hence giving equal time to nations as diverse as Belarus and Belgium, Cameroon and Canada, and splicing found text to produce capsule descriptions of one “great” place to visit after another, Shirinyan exposes the fault lines of contemporary geopolitics with much wit and aplomb. In the end, maybe staying home—and reading Shirinyan—is what’s really GREAT.”
—Marjorie Perloff


“Ara Shirinyan gives us an early glimpse at the deadening effects of globalization on language. Collapsing the space between the ‘real world’ and the World Wide Web, this book calls into question: What is local? What is national? What is multicultural? Instead of accepting current notions of language as a medium of differentiation, Shirinyan persuasively demonstrates its leveling quality, demolishing meaning into a puddle of platitudes. In a time when everything is great, yet nothing is great, you can almost hear Andy Warhol—the king of blandness and neutrality—saying, ‘Gee, this book is great.’”
—Kenneth Goldsmith


Open Mic: December 2016

The Open Mic for December 2016 featured Yaritza I. Castro. Castro has been an active member of the poetry community and has performed at the Open Mic several times. She read from her first poetry book “Unfinished Poems for a Lover.” To read more on Castro you can read our profile here.  

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.”

Featured Poet: Yaritza I. Castro

Story by Portia Choi

Photos by Martin Chang

Yaritza I. Castro is another poet who found a place to express her writing at First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s Coffee.  She started attending First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s Coffee in summer 2015.

Castro found out about the Open mic through another poet, Mateo Lara.  They had met at the university when Lara was directing a play and Castro was one of the actors.  Lara shared his poems with Castro.  He had a stack of poems that he read and gave her books to read.  Castro says of Lara, that he “inspired me to write a lot more, because I was so used to hiding my poetry.”  She found that he was “shameless himself in his writing.”

Castro describes her poetry as “honest and raw because they are poetry entries in my journal.”  She found that after she had written in her journal and by coming to poetry reading that she “realized that not all poetry had to rhyme.”  The journal entries were poetry.

Castro started writing poetry in the seventh grade when there was a poetry unit at school.  She “realized how easy it was for me to come with couplets and meter. . . so I got really excited and showed (it) to her mother.”  It was then that Castro’s mother told her that she wrote poetry too.  Her mother “took down a big finder of poetry that was old, like ten to twenty years old.”   (There is a poem by Castro’s mother in Spanish which Castro translated into English “Do not fall in love with me.”)  Her mother influenced Castro to write in personification as in her poem “Ice & Fire.” Castro came to know and understand her mother by reading her mother’s poetry.  She came to understand her mother “at a different level.”

Castro dedicated her first book of poetry, Unfinished Poems for a Lover, to her mother.  She wrote “For my mother. Thank you for passing down your love for art in the purest form.”  Castro said that the purest form of art was “words.”

Castro has other relatives who are poets.  One is published and known in his country.  Castro’s favorite poets are Spanish; Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado and Jorge Luis Borges.  She especially likes a poem by Borges with its message to her to “take initiative.”  And Yaritza I Castro took initiative and published a book of poetry.  Following are excerpts from her first book of poems, Unfinished Poems For a Lover 


1:55 AM  (Written initially as a journal entry)

“Love is not real,” he said.

“We as humans made it up to justify our selfish

Actions, our needs.  It’s made up,” he said. . . .

Love isn’t a selfish act.  Love isn’t made up.  It

Isn’t just lustful.  Love is real because it hurts.

My biology teacher said love isn’t real, but I’m

Awake at 1:55 am and I love you.


Ice & Fire  (First poem read at Open Mic)

Porcelain kisses burn like fever; . . .

Luke-warm touches, harlf0hearted embraces,

A light ignited by someone else,

There is such as thing as colder places

Once ice begins to melt.”

Featured Poet: Mateo Lara

Mateo Lara performs his poems regularly at the First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s for over a year. He has recently published his first collection of poetry, “Keta-Miha and Other Poems.” Mateo will be the featured poet at the next Open Mic on November 4. He is a Cal State University of Bakersfield student. He is studying English Language and Literature. He has always been fascinated by the darker side of life. Including: Vampires, horror movies, phantoms, and ghouls. He has tried to incorporate all the madness and macabre into his art, he first got to writing poetry in high school where the first bouts of pain, love, and growth began. He began reading the likes of Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson, and the like. He has been writing ever since. He tries to give voice to topics that some are too afraid to talk or even learn about.
Mateo likes to incorporate his experiences with that of cinematic value, neon-noir, and passion, whether it is sexual or emotional. He likes to remind that it all derives from the same core. He is interested in the human condition and what it means for the universe, the people, and for everything we cannot see. He hopes to keep writing poetry as well as plays and scripts for the movies., and keep giving the world some color and maddening truth.


When did you begin to write?

A: I consider my first time writing, like actually writing with a serious purpose, probably began when I was a freshman in high school. I used to write before that, but it was just nothing of value, really. Just ideas and weird songs and stories that didn’t have much thought or quality. Haha. I really started writing for my own self in high school when I dealt with my first bouts of love, pain, growing up, identity. I didn’t have an outlet to put all this stuff I was going through and learning about, so the only thing that really helped me was to write it out. So I did. I wrote songs, journal entries, thoughts, whatever helped me get all the yucky hurt and chaos out of me. I probably still have some of those journals if I looked around my room in my boxes. But yeah, I began to write, I consider, around 13 years old, when it started taking shape and actually meaning something to my heart. As cheesy as that sounds, I’ve always been a story-teller. I liked to tell stories during recess or whenever I could. I liked to just expand my imagination and I was lucky to be able to do that and express myself, not all the time, but most of the time. And as soon as I could write and use a pencil, I was always doing it.


When did you start to write poems?

A: Ahhh, I guess I wanted to be a songwriter at first, I used to take inspiration from bands I was listening to at the time. But then it started forming differently, I found myself wanting to just speak these things. These monologues. Then they started forming into a different form. I think songwriting and poetry go hand in hand, but my writing really started to form into poetry around junior year of high school. I found myself just forming a style, rhyme schemes, taking from Sylvia Plath and Emily Dickinson and of course, Shakespeare. The words became something more potent and then my poetry began forming, I used to write blog posts and notes and try to make my own quotes, back in the MySpace days, and then I used to write notes on Facebook and the writings just happened and kept happening. I always needed to express myself through words because it helped me feel better about whatever was happening. and now, here we are.


What influenced you to write in general and poetry specifically?

A: I honestly think what started me writing was just my interest in books and theatre. I wanted to create my own stories, my own worlds, my own people. I really was invested in creation. And so I wanted to do it. And so I did it. I guess I tended toward poetry because I used to be scared about telling people how I felt. I’ve heard that poetry is the coward’s way of telling the truth. So I guess to tell the truth I wrote it in a poem. I used to talk about boys in poems (still guilty of that) talk about people who caused me drama, and just my family life and everything in between. Poetry became a sort of hallowed ground of thought and truth. I am getting better about cutting to the chase, but poetry definitely helped me comment on my subjective reality and world. I guess what influenced me to write was music, and people in my life who I was surrounded with. I was always the odd one out in my friends. My friends were athletes, or musicians, or smarter than me, or more creative, or whatever, and I just took to writing because no one else was really doing it and I found that curious, because I enjoyed it and it encouraged me to do it more.



When was the first time you remember reading or hearing a poem?  What did you feel?

A: Let me see, the first time I actually remember becoming interested in poetry is probably everyone’s first flirtation with poetry, and that’s Shakespeare. I guess also Roald Dahl and Shel Silverstein. I would read those books. And of course, Dr. Seuss. All these fantastical worlds of words and rhyme, I always found myself absorbing them. Music is also its own form of poetry, so that really was another first time of hearing poems alongside music. I remember always reading, and it made me feel good, powerful, in control, in a sense. In control, as in, I could imagine what I wanted, what the poems meant, what I could take from it. I was always constructing something in my mind when I read other’s works, forming my own ideas through theirs. I always mix my style; I still do it to this day. I feel such admiration and respect for words, the good ones and even the bad ones, but that’s subjective, haha. But nevertheless, I always feel a mix of emotions when I read and hear poetry, it is just a way of expression that has stood its test of time.



Why did you title your first collection of poems, KETA-MIHA AND OTHER POEMS?

A: Ahh, now we begin the mining, haha. For the past 3 years, my life has been a swirl of misfortune, happiness, sadness, change, shifts. If I look back now, it seems like I was in this trance, like on this super-high from some hallucinogenic. I dealt with so much heartache, growth, anger, sadness, chaos. I really couldn’t piece it all together without seeing images and fragments and not knowing what was real and what was fantasy. Everything feels like a dream sometimes, but I know it happened, but still, you never know. So with that in mind, I had written so much poetry between 2013 and now, that I didn’t know what to do with it, but I wanted to evolve and elevate myself as an artist. Earlier in 2016, I got a heaven-hell sent person into my life. His name is Mihael. He had his own past and his own demons he was fighting. He was this athletic, super straight, super interesting human being. We got to hanging out and learning about life and a shift occurred. He taught me so much, hurt me so much, showed me a different side of the universe and of life, and I could never thank him enough for that journey. He no longer lives in America, but he definitely made his impact in not only my life, but other’s lives as well. He is one of a kind. Anyway, he pushed me to write this poetry book. Plus, my spin on the title was a long time coming, I couldn’t settle on anything, but I wanted something mysterious but symbolic to my life. So Keta, is short for Ketamine, the drug, but Keta also means “a series of rapid images that come from the past…” so with that, it really summed up my life the past 3 years. In these sense that so many images rapidly attacking the mind at once and just bringing this numbness…this fantasy and reality. Miha, well that’s my friend’s nickname, and he was a major influence in writing the book, so I just combined them together. A play on words. Ketamine became Keta-Miha, and that’s the story. It really explains my life from the past few years. From love, change, learning, evolving, everything. I always find my poetry cinematic, a quality of haze and whimsical fashion, and I incorporate it a lot into my writing, Mihael really helped push me to always expand and see the world for what a lot of people don’t see it as. As much as he brought me pain, he also brought me insight.


In the dedication to the book, you mention “and those who tried to stifle my creativity.”  This is interesting that you dedicated to these persons.  Why?

A: I wanted to acknowledge everyone in my life in this first book. From the ones who never supported me, who thought me wanting to be a writer or pursuing this whole artist thing was stupid and I wasn’t good enough to do it, well this is the debut and here I am. So essentially, telling them, well, look, I made it, this is for you too. A lot of boys I used to talk to thought it was dumb for me to go down this path, and it was “Too gay” or whatever, or “too this” or “too that” some people still think that, but I think it’s a healthy outlet and process to show the world something different. And something from the soul. Subjective or not. I’ve had people tell me that I’m not a good writer, or this or that, and this just proves to them, I know I am okay and good and even if you wanted me to fail, well here I am. Thank you for fueling the fire.


Which poem in the book do you want to express more about?

A: I can honestly say I am proud of all of the poems in this book. I picked them with a reason and I wanted to express all I had done up until this moment. But I guess the turning point of my writing, where I knew this was something else, was the poem: New Blood Hymns. The first line is: “And at first it pummels you/and slips between your thin skin.” I think that image hit me one night so deeply I had to just expand on it. It really incorporated my style and what I like to express. Color, sex, life, change, universe. Just this whole moving entity and story. I wrote it about my friend, Mihael. There’s literally a whole part in the book called: The Vukić Poems, that are dedicated all to him. Some bad, some good, some angry, some happy. But nevertheless, true emotions. Anyway, back to the poem, I like to express these images, this cinematic picture of what I am feeling and how it connects to the world, however small I am in this big universe, I still hold weight with my soul and it matters. And this poem: New Blood Hymns, really encompasses this whole shift in my life about destruction and rebirth and how you will hurt, pain is inevitable and change, but there’s always something new to take away from a situation and life and you will keep going, in aftermath there is always growth.


What is the connection between the design/illustrations on the covers of the book and inside the book with the poems?

A: I have a very dear friend, Ryan Bailey, who is a graphic designer in his spare time. I had been talking to him about my poetry book, before it’s conception, and I needed an image, something harsh but meaningful. One day he sent me these pictures and they were beautiful. They were raw and enigmatic, but colorful and deep. I wanted something that represented the mind, the veins of the body, and nature. So he sent me the images of these flowers. They were very abstract but colorful and it was perfect. They connected my theme of the book. The threads of the soul that are of nature, but also of everything else. The images really relay that whole you see what you want to see, is it real or not real? Is it a flower or a face, or a heart? You don’t know, but it is up for your interpretation and that’s what we took out of it. SO, thank you Ryan! Haha.


You mention “tundra” in more than one poem—in “Keta” and in “A Confessional.”  What is tundra to you.  I was in Alaska and in an area with tundra one summer.  So I am curious about how it was that you chose tundra to be in your poems.

A: Yes, Tundra to me is a huge symbol for life, the perseverance of nature, people, the endurance of the spirit. My whole philosophy is thriving. You must thrive even in the harshest conditions. You have to let life do its thing and you have to survive it. Where tundra exists, animals, and nature still manage to make it home and thrive, basically find life in a place where things seem dead and cold and inactive. Tundra plays an important part, ice, nature, really, it is also the image of the flower in the front of the book. It is an interpretation of an Alaskan poppy. It manages to grow in harsh environments, cold, devastating weather and withstand life. And I feel like that is what people must do. Thrive in the parts of their life that are swallowed by Tundra.


Anything else you want to express to the Kern Poetry community?

A: I think I am extremely blessed to be creating art in a time where art is finally getting the recognition and respect it deserves. The whole art community in Kern County has really evolved and progressed so much in just a short time and it’s great to see it grow and I look forward to it growing even more in the coming years. Especially being able to invest in it, and find a platform, I am blessed to write and share my experiences and life and social commentary on our ever-changing world and tell my truth and show my colors. I thank everyone in my life who is still here, everyone who used to be here, and everyone else who will be here eventually. Things always change, but you’ve gotta have your mind open and your heart ready. And I am. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store and ready to begin the journey of my next book. Every day I am writing more and more, and I am thankful for art and everyone involved in it.

So thank you.



Heavy Vinyl: A Shared love of the Blues


by Martin Chang

Guitarist and vocalist Tomo and drummer Glenn Mattews have built a bond based on the sharing of Blues and Rock and Roll. Through this connection they create words and music that flows out of them with a unique flavor, Tomo likes to call it “just jamming.” Together, Mattews and Tomo are known as Heavy Vinyl.

Mattews met Tomo through happenstance when Mattews was working at a grocery store and noticed that Tomo was wearing a Beatles t-shirt.  “I asked him ‘do you play music’ and he said ‘yeah I play guitar’ I said ‘cool I play drums.’ We exchanged numbers right there on the spot at the checkout counter,” Mattews said.  Tomo was the one who asked to exchange numbers. Mattews immediately found Tomo’s focus on music and tenacity refreshing. He said, “I found it pretty bold. I liked that actually, that he wanted to get together right then and there. I’ve jammed out with other musicians here in town and they are as forward but they don’t follow up.

They tell me ‘let’s make a point to jam out this day’ and ‘this day’ comes and they never arrive, so it’s been frustrating. He’s one of the first people I met that ‘this day’ comes and they actually show up.” Originally, Tomo and Mattews formed a four-piece band. Tomo describes the band at that point as “a solid sound.” But, as Tomo said, “life gets in the way sometimes” and they eventually became a two-piece band.

Sharing and discovering music is an important part of Heavy Vinyl and Tomo and Mattews friendship.  Tomo said that Mattews helps him “widen his horizon” and considers Mattews a “music connoisseur.” Together Heavy Vinyl discovered bands like Cream and Led Zeppelin. Tomo enjoys discovering music with Mattews. He said, “We both engulfed ourselves (in music history.) It was awesome we got to experience it together.” They also shared a love of shows and films about the history of rock and roll.  They both shared the HBO show “Vinyl” and the documentary “Sound City” with each other.

Yet it was a song that Tomo showed Mattews that defined the music that they would create. The song was “Bring Me My Shotgun” by Lightning Hopkins and it changed the way Mattews looked at Rock and Roll. “I had never heard anything like what he had showed me,” he said.  “There’s artists that he (Tomo) finds, I don’t know where he gets them and it just blows my mind. So when he showed me that song, it was like ‘wow you can do this with Blues?’ Let’s infuse that in our music. We are still trying to achieve that goal. ”

It is this shared love of similar music that is the building blocks of Heavy Vinyl’s sound. Tomo feels that the music fits in a unique way because of a shared communication. He said, “it always comes back to the Blues with us. Everyone has natural music in them their sound, their tone.  Our tones are off the spectrum weird, There’s this weird hip-hop beat that Mattews does, but he tries to make it rock and roll and he makes it rock and roll.  I play a punkish way.  Then I try to turn it into Blues. We always try to turn it into Blues.”

With this connection, Heavy Vinyl is able to create new music and lyrics on the spot. During the interview two people noticed Tomo’s guitar and a man asked him to play a song.  Suddenly Heavy Vinyl was playing a show.  Tomo decided to play a song that he was working on in his head.  The song came out of him fully formed. Words like “she does the boogie in the corner of my mind” may have existed somewhere in a notebook, but Tomo was inspired. He made the words fit into the tradition of Blues and Rock that Heavy Vinyl treasure so much.  Even Mattews used his hands to add hand claps to add to the song. was lucky enough to capture the sound of this moment. Below is a clip of this moment of music creation.  The entire clip was not included for sound quality reasons. If you as a reader would like to hear the whole song despite these concerns please comment below.

Greg Stanley: A love of Painting and Poetry

By Martin Chang

Greg Stanley has been in touch with his creative side for most of his life. He paints, writes poetry, and gets a different feeling from both types of artistic expression.

Stanley grew up in Gaithersburg, Maryland until he was around 30. Then, in 1989, he moved to Austin, Texas where he worked for a friend’s band. This band broke up after a few months but Stanley stayed in Austin. While in Austin, he went to college and worked as a sign painter and graphic artist. In the 70’s, while he was developing his graphic art skills, Stanley began to dabble in writing, “I actually started writing funny limericks, stories,” he said.  Even at this early stage, he found a creative outlet in poetry. He said, “I really enjoy trying to create a feeling. When I get a little depressed or down, or feel really good, I just start thinking and the poetry comes out.  It just comes to me.” In order to get in this mood of “feeling” Stanley likes to do things like relax in a field and listen to music.

One of Stanley’s early poems represents to him this desired emotion of what he calls “instant gratification.” This poem is called “Dreaming of You.”

Here I lay dreaming of you,

It’s the only thing left to do,

For you have gone far away

 where it is you did not say.

In comparison to the immediate emotional impact of poetry, Stanley finds painting to be a meticulous process.  He describes the process of doing one painting, “It took months of planning, I took photographs, it was a very long process.”

Despite this, Stanley still prefers painting to poetry overall. “I like them both but they hit me at different times,” he said. “I’ve been painting much longer and I’ve been drawing since high school. I enjoy doing it and I just love seeing people’s reaction when they see it.”

Stanley was first made aware of the Kern County poetry scene when he met Portia Choi at one of the galleries here in town.  According to Choi, they had a pleasant conversation, “I noticed his paintings were playful and also had depth of feeling. He seemed interested in what I was doing and I told him about the poetry Open Mic,” she said. Choi feels his poetry has a similar tone. She said, “I looked his name up and read his poems.  I found a similar depth of feeling and playfulness in his poems.”

Choi also enjoyed getting to know Stanley because his name had a humorous connection to her past artistic inspiration in life. As a coincidence, one of Choi’s early creative and personal friends also had the last name of Stanley.  This person’s name is Christine Stanley and seeing another artist with a similar name was a pleasant reminder of Christine Stanley and that time in her life. “I met Christine during the early part of my career when I lived in an apartment in Los Angeles,” she said.  “She was carrying many paintings upstairs to her apartment.  The paintings were those of her parents.  She became a dear friend over the years. She encouraged me to write and trust my creativity.”

When he is not painting or writing poetry, Greg Stanley enjoys the outdoors. “I love hiking. I do backpacking. I like nature, you can see that in some of my poetry,” he said.  Stanley cares deeply for his two dogs, a brown dog with white spots named Sinkerdoodles, and a black dog with white spots named Tulip. He refers to the two dogs as “my girls.” He can be seen beaming proudly with Sinkerdoodles and Tulip in the first image of the gallery at the top of the page.  Stanley tries his best to include his two pets when going out on hikes and nature walks. “Snickerdoodles is getting a little old. She can’t walk as much as she used to,” he said. “But Tulip loves going outside.”