Jack Hernandez writes of “A Journey with Poetry”

              Jack Hernandez wrote “A Journey with Poetry” in the Community Voices of the Bakersfield Californian.  It was published on April 1, 2020 which coincided with the the first day of National Poetry Month.  The essay is reprinted below.

              “We are born and our journey begins. On this journey there are two travelers: our outer self and our inner self. Our outer public self, our body, we adorn with fabrics and colors, and with it we walk here and there, everywhere through life, first to school, then to work, love, family, retirement, and death.

             “Of course this journey is not the same for all, but however it goes, whatever roads it travels, we make it with this outer self that occupies space and time, that we and others perceive as we do trees, flowers, the clouds, the moon, sun, rain, dawns and dusks, all that exists in nature’s seasons, comings and goings.

           ” Through our journey we take care of our outer self by feeding it, grooming it, exercising it, giving it shelter, and having it regularly checked medically. We want it to be strong, alert, and healthy as it shifts and moves, grows and diminishes, dodges and darts, laughs and weeps, wakes and sleeps until the final night.

           “But what about our inner self? This self we call our soul, who we truly and deeply are? On our journey, this private, hidden self that only we can see grows from a seed to a tree with its branches of memories, knowledge, thoughts, desires, loves, regrets, aspirations, and visions. We receive from without to nourish within. All this to discover who we are and wish to be. To do this we experience the news of our world, the writings of scholars and thinkers, the stories of history and literature, the light, darkness and beauty of music and art.

           “And poetry? April is National Poetry Month. “So what,” some would say. What is poetry and who needs it? A fair question since poetry is rarely read, or should I say, experienced. For reading and hearing poetry is an experience that helps us understand the pulse of life and ourselves, a form of revelation, of wisdom, and beauty.

           “We are rational beings, who prize logic and critical thinking. Embrace carefully thought out theologies and philosophies. Treasure scientific knowledge about our world, our universe. Imbibe history of civilizations come and gone. Often we limit our soul’s growth to these rational ways of understanding. Through them we think about what makes a good life, what is truly moral, about others and how to have empathy for those whose lives differ from our own. Thus we widen our minds and thoughts so we can find truth and wisdom.

            “How then does poetry fit in, grow our souls? A poet writes about experiencing life in a direct way that can be expressed only through imagery, sound, and metaphor. Yes, we can talk about, describe objectively, love, joy, pain, sorrow, depression and death, but poetry helps us be with them intimately. Talking about falling in love is not the experience of falling in love, talking about death is not the same as seeing someone close to us die, to feel our own mortality. I remember when my father’s memory was almost gone, and when I went to visit him he recognized me once and we hugged and cried. Now I increasingly hear of and see my retired Bakersfield College colleagues diminishing, failing, and dying. To experience this is not a matter of medical information; it is, rather, a soul-moment, one that only poetry can capture, as Jane Kenyon has in these lines from her poem In the Nursing Home:


                                                She has stopped running wide loops,

                                                stopped even the tight circles,

                                                She drops her head to feed; grass

                                                is dust, and the creekbed’s dry.


Such a vivid a vivid image of a once powerful, vibrant life now reduced to waiting for death. The poem makes us feel it, feel it deeply, personally. We all run in wide loops until, almost imperceptivity, they narrow and we are shocked and saddened to find ourselves slowed, limited, and finally stopped, dust unto dust.

           “During this month, find a poet who speaks to you, one whose words take you into the beating heart of life, touch you with the breath and bones of living. Poetry is felt, not analyzed. A poem is not an argument; it is an experience, a revelation.”


Jack Hernandez is a retired director of the Norman Levan Center of the Humanities at Bakersfield College.






Katie Collins represents Kern County at “Poetry Out Loud”

(Katie Collins & Assemblyman Vince Fong)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beautiful Wreckage

By W.D. Ehrhart

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

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

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

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

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

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



Nancy Edwards Remembered

Story by Portia Choi

A memorial, “Celebration of Love,” was held for Nancy Edwards on March 4 at Bakersfield College (BC) campus.

Colleagues, friends and family revealed a person who was more than a gifted poet and an English professor.  She was a generous friend, a philanthropist and a photographer.  She was an organizer of poetry events.

The programmed part of the memorial was filled with Edwards’ poetry.

Three of Edwards’ poems were sung by John Gerhold, the Performing Arts Department chair at BC.  During the time Edwards was at BC, she and Howard Quilling, a professor of music, collaborated.  Edwards wrote the words and Quilling composed the music.

The leaders of the local poetry community read from a variety of Edwards’ poems.

The Poet Laureate of Kern County, Don Thompson, read an exquisite poem, “A Canto of His Vision.”

Then the director of the Norman Center for the Humanities at BC, Jack Hernandez, read a light-hearted poem of Edward’s experience as a sales girl.

An officer of Writers of Kern, Annis Cassells, read Edward’s poem about love and Mary Magdalene.

One of the promoters of poetry in Kern County, Portia Choi, read a poem that Edward’s wrote about her father’s funeral, “When Father Left.”

Edwards’ colleagues read her poem translated into Spanish.  Rosa Garza, a professor of Social Studies at BC read the Spanish version, “Queridas Madres.”  The English version, “Beloved Mother,” was read by Sheena Bhogal, a professor of English at BC.


After the formal program, during the individual recollections of Edwards, more of her personality came through.

A retired professor, Mita Dhaliwal remembered that “Nancy was a good photographer, it was her hobby.”

Another person who spoke was Ann Finlinson.  Edwards was “young and uncertain about some aspect of her teaching,” she said.  Finlinson then spoke about the BC faculty.  “It is a united academic community to help students. . .to enrich. . .to think and value the creativity that each (student) possessed,” Finlinson said.

A former student, Jorge Guillen, spoke of Edwards as being a “really good person.”  She was important in the development of his art and poetry.

Poets, who had planned National Poetry Month with Edwards, reminisced about her.  The month of April is a national celebration of poetry.

“She had a hunger to share what she wrote.  I liked her vulnerability despite her successes,” said Kevin Shaw.

“Nancy gave credibility to our effort,” said Choi.

“She was right about her writing,” said LisaAnn LoBasso.

One of the former student of Edwards, Nick Belardes, later became her teacher.  Belardes was just 17 when he was a student of Edwards in 1987.  He was surprised to see her in his memoir writing workshop a few years ago.  “She left a great body of work, but she ran out of time,” he said.

A writer, Maria Mercado, said that Edwards remembered the name “Mercado” from the time her husband was a student in 1971.  Maria Mercado learned writing from Edwards

at workshops in recent years.  “I didn’t consider myself as a writer.  I will continue to write, to make her (Edwards) proud,” said Mercado.

Another former student, Kim Vetsch, became friends with Edwards.  “Nancy was a dear friend.  Mischievous.  She had that eye, had humor.  We both had eccentric families,” said Vetsch.  She spoke about Edwards’ mother as an example.

Edwards’ husband, James Mitchell, also remembered Edwards’ mother.  “She was sweet.  Yes, she was a music teacher,” he said.  However, Mitchell said that Nancy Edwards did not sing and did not play a musical instrument.

One of the planners of the service was Tom Greenwood, Professor of Mathematics at BC.  He befriended Edwards through his wife, Ruth, who was a counselor at BC.

Greenwood knew Edwards for 17 years.  He said that Edwards enriched his life by opening his mind up to poetry.  “She was very generous of her time.  She was there for people,” he said.

He remembered the time when he had surgery for his appendix.  “Nancy was the first to visit me, to make sure I was okay.  It meant a lot to me,” he said.

He also recalled Edwards’ 10th wedding anniversary celebration at a local restaurant.  He said that Edwards introduced each of the 75 guests.

“I’m going to miss her.  She left too soon,” said Greenwood.

Editorial note:  She left her writing which can be read and shared.  She continues to inspired others to write.  Here are some poems that Edwards wrote.  There are two poems that were written by her poet friends, inspired by Edwards’ passing.


 Night Time Soliloquy

By Nancy Edwards

(Words to music of Howard Quilling)


Whose voice is this I hear,

Whose vision do I see,

Whose face do I adore,

What love do I feel?


No love lay untouched in the

Harmony of your soul,

In the beauty of your life

The face before me


The perfection of a dream,

The passion of the perfect rose,

What brush lines can be painted,

Which color prism created,


The answer lies within

I celebrate your life

I celebrate your soul

I separate the walking and the dream you are,


This vision is created in perfect time.

I will go to you and everything you are to me,

Everything you are to me.

You form circles of life for me,


No soul is unspoken in the harmony of your life

Each song calls out to speak you name

As if you could deliver us from sorrow

As if you could change the direction of the wind


I speak the words which mean the most,

It is to you I give my soul,

It is to you I pledge my love,

Everything I celebrate belongs to you,


Whose voice I hear even in my sleep,

Whose vision I see even in my dreams,

This face rises before me,

So familiar, yet so distant,


No surface lay untouched,

No sound unspoken in harmony of your life,

Everything that came before you,

It is always for you,

Always you.



Night Blossoms

By Nancy Edwards

(Words to music of Howard Quilling)


Late at night the moon plays shadow games,

Plum blossoms fall past my eyes,

Hear night sparrow sing,


Lavender and pearl sachet

I am in the world of love’s design

If you’re the one, the only one,


Come see blossoms falling past our eyes,

Hear night sparrows sing,

Full moon, full heart,


Curve around our hearts

To you this cup is full

I am your beloved


Love plays shadow games against the sky

Pale blossoms come into view

Late at night, at night


The moon plays shadow games,

Fill the air with mystery

I see your smile calling me,


Round blossom petals,

Round moon,

open night sky,

Sweet plum air,


You come to me in a thousand ways

You fill the air with mystery

Your face fills the sky,

Your eyes float by


The moon’s side

Late at night, at night,

The moon plays shadow games,


Sparrows sing an ancient tune,

Late at night, at night,

The moon plays shadow games.




A Canto of His Vision

By Nancy Edwards


He came from Porum, Oklahoma

To a vague California city,

Population four hundred and fifty,

Old freckle-faced fellow

Nearly blind, white wisp hair

Straw hat, red tipped cane.

He sits along the curb reminiscing

Remembering deputy sheriff days

And travelling west by pickup truck

He came from Porum Oklahoma filled with dreams.

Told his wife it was time to go

When the brown dust bore no fruit

And the government bore no claim

And the working man bore the cross

And Oklahoma turned to dust

And dust turned faces to ash

Before they hit the graves

And the children and the women wept

And the only water was from tears,

He brought the dust in his boots,

Kicking the accelerator till sparks caught

He came from Oklahoma to a California dream

I never was a wheat man, he says slowly

Just oats and cotton for my pickin’ and plowin’

And I never knew I’d see them grow after Oklahoma

He came from Porum, Oklahoma

Ready to work the land

And found the grapes luscious ripe

And the time right

And added five to the four hundred fifty.

Now he’s 85 and his truck’s

In rusted pieces

His children lost to the big city

But I remember in 19 and 34 like it was yesterday,

My only chance to make it big –

Never was the same again,

Now the folks are heading back he says.

Back to Texas, back to Oklahoma,

Where a man can farm his own.”

His eyes see only shapes now.

But he’s not sorry to see people go

Headed east looking for their land

Claims it’s inbred to want to go

Headed east looking for their land

Claims it’s inbred to want to go,

Country boy’s always a country boy

He says at 85, remembering his spirit

Feeling that same desire return.

Remembering what he say in a simple city

He came from Porum, Oklahoma in 1934

To a vague California city, population 450.


By Nancy Edwards, “A Canto of His Vision”, in VALLEY LIGHT Writers of the San Joaquin

Gathered by Jane Watts. Poet & Printer Press, 1978





TENDER VOICE                                                     

by Portia Choi

(Written for Nancy Edwards’ memorial celebration)


Sweetness of magnolias,

graciousness of the South,

her mother’s tender voice,


Polish worker ethics,

selling goods at Macy’s,

professor at BC—

inspiration to us all.


God’s smiling gift to us

gifted poet, teacher;

a compassionate friend.


Nancy’s season to be

more of her destiny,

a guiding star for us.


When her words are spoken,

Nancy is here with us

dependable, always.


Nancy, Nancy, Nancy

your gentleness and voice.

Forever here with us.





by Kevin Shah

(Poem was inspired by the memorial celebration)


One at a time

friends flap

like birds

and land on a single branch

which bends under the weight


waiting for

one bird who flew away


waiting for

one bird who flew away


One by one

we sing

hoping for her harmony

or echo song


waiting for

one bird who flew away


Building music billows

in each sad breast


the piercing music

of discord

becomes a cry



one bird

sings her melody


her melody –

and another

joins in harmony


singing for

one bird who flew away


together we sing

until we hear her voice

that unmistakable voice

buoyed on the wings of harmony


High above,

a branch bends like a string

and before we know it,


the spirit of

one bird who flew away


and landed among friends


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