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Poetry Out Loud 2017

Story by Portia Choi with Contributions by Martin Chang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April Love

By Ernest Dowson

(Excerpt)

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

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

Beautiful Wreckage

By W.D. Ehrhart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Caged Bird

By Maya Angelou

(Excerpt)

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

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

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

America

By Claude McKay

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

Day of Poetry

by Portia Choi

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Nurture

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

 

Feeds, changes, loves me

Listening, smiling, laughing

High love, we love, love

Patiently and tenderly

A lesson of nurture will last forever

I want to nurture to others that need help

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

Every act of love makes a difference

The time we take to weave our love into their hair

Trust in yourself.  Love, one human being to another

It’s OK to make mistakes

Cut us down will grow again

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

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

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

The radiance of the Sun made it melt and glow

Bear tracks glittered in the lightness

As we come face to face with the lion within

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

Make a suit.  Made of pure clouds

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

All lined up, ready to love and be loved.

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

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

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

 

Exquisite Corpse

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

throwing solemn face

crazy flower, beautiful notebook help!

shiny bird,

frenetic monolith holding radiant waterfall

complicated bees singing cowardly moss tower

luminate lusterous art

 

 

 

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:
“AN ACCIDENTAL SHOT HEARD ROUND REFLECTIVE PROPERTY CARRIED BY CRAWLS OF TITAN BATS & SUPREME NARCOTIC AUDNANCE.”
One of the shorter ones was:
“DREAMS OF HORROR IN A RETARDED RAIN FOREST.”

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 http://thebakersfieldfanforum.tumblr.com.

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

 
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:

Cozy

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 emptyglassgeometry.com

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 www.futurepoem.com 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, danagioia.com.   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.”

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 http://www.don-e-thompson.com/.

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

shackles

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 http://thebakersfieldfanforum.tumblr.com/.

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 http://thebakersfieldfanforum.tumblr.com/.)  The gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday from 1-6 pm, and Saturday 12-5pm.  For more information contact Jedediah Caesar at Caesar@csub.edu.

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.