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Poetry at State Water Board Meeting on October 5, 2021


Poetry at State Water Board Meeting on October 5, 2021

Poets and creative persons from our community presented their works (virtually) to the State Water Board on October 5, 2021.  Their presentations portrayed the importance of the Kern River to our community from different angles (music, children’s book, painting, and poetry).  They also hoped to influence the policy makers regarding the initiative to bring back water into the Kern River.

Creative expression reveals the beauty of living to oneself. connection with others and community.  And poetry made its vital presence at this meeting.  Afterwards,the law makers expressed their appreciation of the opinions shared.

The presentation of poets and others was requested by Jonathan Yates.  He is spearheading the “Bring Back the Kern” movement.  He is interviewed for this story.  

The poems, recited at the meeting, were those of Margie Bell, Shelley Evans, Diane Lobre, Carla Martin, Don Thompson, and Jana Lee Wong.  Each author sought to express what the Kern River means to them.  These poems are provided for you to read after the Jonathan Yate’s interview.  

Interview of Jonathan Yates
by Carla Martin 

Q: What inspired you to spearhead this movement to Bring Back the Kern?  What steps have you taken?  How do things stand now? Is there any hope of water flowing again, or are the investments of agriculture and oil too entrenched to sway the powers that be?

A (JY): I moved to Bakersfield first in 2016 and in my short time here I’ve seen the dramatic difference a flowing river makes to the quality of life here. Some of my favorite things to do here are whitewater kayaking on the river, rock climbing, hiking, or mountain biking near the river. The dry river became a real frustration to me as I always saw water flowing through canals throughout the city, including in canals directly parallel with the river channel. This frustration boiled over in 2020 after a 30th birthday 100 mile backpacking trip took me to the magical headwaters of the Kern River. I came home wanting to do something to change the status quo. It started with an online petition. One thing led to another and now we have a team of people working to get the river flowing again. We do this through fun and interesting public awareness projects, direct advocacy to the State Water board, and putting pressure on decision makers to prioritize the river.

The Kern River should be flowing – the fact that is not is a violation of California law, including the Public Trust Doctrine, which mandates that the state protect rivers for the benefit of all Californians, and also Fish and Game Code 5937 (another law), which mandates that operators of dams always allow enough water to pass through the dam to keep fisheries below the dam in good health. We have a historic opportunity this year to get water back in the river, because the State Water Board is holding a hearing on the Kern River to resolve some decades old disputes. Just because the hearing didn’t arise due to the river being dry doesn’t mean the State Water Board can’t do anything about it. In fact, Bring Back the Kern, along with other partner non-profits, is directly involved in the hearing to argue that the State Water Board has a legal obligation to use this opportunity to assess the harm done to public trust resources along the river (wildlife, habitat, recreation) and to restore them. Environmental justice has won similar victories on other CA waterways, and we firmly believe that the Kern River will be next. Stay tuned by signing up for our email updates on www.bringbackthekern.org and by following us on Instagram.

 

 Q:  Why did you think it was important to include the words of Bakersfield poets, artists and musicians in your presentation to the Board for “Bring Back the Kern”?  Are you a creative soul as well?  What value do these art forms have in this crusade?

A (JY):  Poetry, art, and music all hold an important place in our culture and our hearts. These art forms have the power to evoke emotions that cannot be conveyed by simple prose. This is especially important as we are in a battle to show that a flowing Kern River matters. The River and all that it sustains cannot and should not be reduced to a calculated dollar figure to be weighed against other dollars that could be made with the use of Kern River Water. We need the State Water Board and people within and outside our community to clearly understand the value of this life giving body of water. Music, art, and poetry can win over skeptics in our community who may not otherwise realize the significance of what we are losing by not having a river. It can also win over decision makers who have no personal connection to the river, but can deeply connect with the river through the work of creatives.

I’m grateful for the poets, artists, and musicians in our community who are able to tell the story of the Kern River through their work. I myself don’t have the same giftings, although I do like to generate ideas and hand them off to the professionals to make them a reality, like the ephemeral artwork we did in the river in February or the river mural we are planning for the parkway.

 

Q:  What can we, the ordinary folks who live here, do to further your cause?  What future events/meetings have you planned?

A (JY):  For people who want to be involved in “re-watering” the Kern River, please join our email subscriber list to stay up to date on what’s happening. We have an upcoming march in the dry Kern River on 11/13 (a river of people to raise awareness for a flowing river) as well as several trash cleanups along the river, which we always hope will garner strong community turnout. See this page for our upcoming events. If you’re especially passionate about the river and want to join the Bring Back the Kern core team to put in some regular volunteer hours, please reach out to contact@bringbackthekern.org – we would love to chat with you on how you can put your skills to use in service of the community & the river.

Q:  Is there anything else you would like to share?

A (JY):  Spread the word! Make sure your neighbors, friends, and family all know you care about having a flowing river. Inspire others with this vision. The river is a public resource – it belongs to all of us. If all of us remain quiet, if we don’t show we care about the river, the abysmal status quo of a dry river will continue. If we continue to push for water in the river and don’t give up, we will succeed. History is on our side.   

Poems recited to the State Water Board on October 5, 2021 

The Dry Riverbed
by Marjorie Bell

The dry riverbed
speaks of neglect
and even despair
in a world that cares
not for wild things,
but uses and abuses
grasslands, trees
and creatures beyond
our wildest imaginings.

The riverbed lies dry,
barren, trashed by those
who do not know its history,
the source for plants that
renew the earth and turn
the desert green.

Rivers, streams can
awaken our dreams
of plenty in this barren land.
Relaxing by a river
brings comfort to the soul.
Wading into a stream
awakens our senses.
Following a river to its source
restores our bond with
nature as we make
amends for our disregard.

 

Free the Mighty Kern, Let it Flow
by Shelley J. Evans

Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink?
Nothing flowing in the Kern? What are we to think?

A parched and arid riverbed;
through Bakersfield it appears as dead,
quite unsightly, not so pretty;
it’s definitely an eyesore in our city.

Water’s a life source to plants and fish;
it’s also for people, to entertain and enrich.
A healthy river needs waterflow;
it shouldn’t dry up nor be so low
as to be mistaken for a useless, empty ditch.

Imagine what it would be like
to head to Beach Park for a hike:
past the ballpark, up over the hill,
across the bike path ~ WHAT A THRILL!
to see the Mighty Kern flowing free, 
full of water as it should always be.

Some people in our city can’t get to the beach;
lakes and other rivers are beyond their reach.
If the River ran through it,
Bakersfieldians could canoe it,
swim, raft, and kayak – we should be able to do it.

What about those not active in a water sport,
such as authors, poets, lyricists, and the sort,
who relish the quiet
of the River? Beside it,
we’re inspired and our creativity becomes art.

 

River of Kern
by Diane Lobre

Water, precious water
Sustainer of life
Flows through the Kern 

Green adorns her banks
Shining under the sun
Willow trees lazily drink

Fox and chipmunk refresh
Barren dry, burnt brown earth
Begs you stay, replenish

Dry river bed a reflection of need
Mother’s tears shed in vain
Snow melt tracks diverted

River return your cooling flow
Let children’s laughter lift up
Dancing in your shallows

Let us sit by your banks
Listen to your peaceful song
Lull us into gentleness

Rippling over rock and sand
Like a joyful spring giving life
Your currents ebb and flow

 

Water Brings Life
By Carla Joy Martin

Water brings life
Rushing down from mother mountains
The mighty Kern feeds the valley
Once the Yokuts fished and feasted
Settlers forded it
Developers canaled it
Now the bed is dry and famished
A few lone egrets stalk the rushes
The ghosts of the Indians cry
Children look at the dirty ravine and ask “why?”
As we drive around our city
The ugly gash is such a pity
Water would bring life to the land
And bless the creatures and every man
Will we continue to starve our souls?
Water brings life
Life brings water
Will you use your life to bring our water back?

 

DOWNSTREAM
by Don Thompson

The river is quiet here
and almost motionless, drifting
into little eddies of anticipation.
Cottonwood leaves tremble, excited,
although the air is still:

The wind has gone upstream
where you can almost hear,
if you listen closely,
white water applauding.
something wonderful is coming.

 

Kern River Coyote
by Jana Lee Wong

on the banks of where the river used to be,
i saw you, coyote, too weak to howl at the moon.
lost on the western side of the riverbed,
where all water is lost to groves,
where banks have turned to dune.

the fish dried up to greed, 
rabbits losing ground,
squirrels suffocated in their holes,
not even the snakes come around.

your ribs tell the story of mansions built
where nature once ran wild,
your eyes stare in desperation
as wetlands dry, dead weeds piled.

the herons that once flocked here
have gone so far of late,
and you are a reflection of our future, 
what man has made his fate.

if the water should be returned
to its natural ebb and flow,
trees would return, the owl, the hawk,
a thousand birds of show.

Oh coyote, they know what they do,
they sacrifice their grandchildren still,
to the price of the milk of almonds
and the land they excessively till.

First Friday Open Mic by Zoom in December 2020

 

To end year 2020, poets shared their words at First Friday Open Mic by ZOOM on December 4.  

The poets who performed were Anke Hodenpijl, Carla Martin, Chris Nielsen, Eric Osborne, Mandy Wallace, Portia Choi, Suzanne Weller and Thomas Brill.  Listening to these poets was Irene Sinopole. 

The poet who was interviewed was Anke Hodenpijl

Interview with Anke Hodenpijl, 

By Carla Martin

Here is the poem Anke shared with us that evening:

Talking to Privilege

By Anke Hodenpijl

Oh, privilege, I should not wear you
like a favorite sweater,
hanging on the brass hook at the door,
ready for the next chill,
seeking easy comfort.

I should heed your
frayed seams and shabby demeanor;
toss you into the trash
naive threads, thick with benighted yarns,
a graceless fashion, unworthy.

You think I did not try to scrub the stains
spun into your fabric?
You, a hand-me-down,
hanging on the clothesline of fragility,
before I was born.

I need
to disinherit 
your sympathy,
your deception, 
your delusions. 

I am
no longer 
your silver-haired poser.

You can not have
my body
to carry your story
any longer.

Q. What inspired you to write your poem?  What is its back story?

A.  I wrote ‘Talking to Privilege’ in response to the unjust violence inflicted on Americans born with dark skin. The summer of 2020 called on a new kind of hero to carry the torch for America. As the coronavirus spread worldwide, I saw fellow human beings dying in our streets while being choked to death by our police. I could not march with the protestors, but I could march with my words and poems. I wanted to support my fellow Americans who still do not receive an equal measure of justice in education, medical services, job equity, and policing services. I was inspired to write this particular poem (for the anthology, ENOUGH, “Say Their Names…” Messages from Ground Zero to the WORLD) as a promise and a possibility for those of us who struggle to remain woke amid hidden agendas and systemic racism.  

Q.  You recently had many poems published in ENOUGH, “Say Their Names…” Messages from Ground Zero to the WORLD.  Could you describe to us your part in the process of putting that amazing book together? 

A.  I was fortunate enough to have twelve poems selected for the anthology. Each required my educating myself about the plight of the African Americans and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Sure, I was sympathetic but truthfully never educated. I was horrified to learn the specifics of how history was misrepresented and ignored. My heart bled. I felt ashamed to be so naive. How could I be this out of touch? How could I be this ignorant? I educated myself, talked with my friends and family, and began to write. The process was an arduous task of digging into my soul and admitting I was complicit. Recognizing this complicity was the breakthrough moment for me as a poet. I suddenly found the freedom to write authentically.

Q.   Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  Reading other poets and attending Black Lives Matter Poetry Slams were part of my process. But actually, I read poetry as part of my daily writing practice. I like to think poetry mirrors my personality in that it is layered in metaphor, is artistic, is concise, and to the point. My favorite poets are Marie Howe, Gwendolyn Brooks, Jericho Brown, Ellen Bass, Ilya Kaminsky, and Mary Oliver. All these poets reflect on life from the margins and support social justice issues. I admire their use of metaphor, word placement, and connection to the human soul.

 

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  I always recommend writers include reading as part of their poetry writing practice. Writing well is all about practice, practice, practice – write, write, write – read, read, read.

Creating a piece involves an actual release of ego, because as Ellen Bass likes to say, “We are in service of the poem.” Let the poem guide you. Take it slow. Let the story unfold. Be patient. 

I like to write in my studio at home. Sometimes I use a pencil, sometimes a pen and other times my computer. If I am stuck, I start to read one of my favorite poets, go for a walk or garden. Writing is still going on in my head; it just hasn’t found its way to my fingers yet.

First Friday Open Mic by ZOOM in February 2021

 

We had another performance of original poetry and music on February 5th by ZOOM.  Creativity continues, as always, and a way to share our creations happens even during the social precautions of the pandemic.  

The performers and those listening were Carla Joy Martin, Chris Nielsen, Eric Osborne, Fabian, Faith Logan, Heather Ponek, Kimberly Ramirez, Lola Jimenez, Portia Choi, Suzanne Weller, Viridriana Pena and Yulisa Cervantes.  

The poet who was interviewed was Carla Joy Martin, who is also the co-host for the Open Mic.

Interview with Carla Joy Martin, Zoom First Friday Open Mic, February 5, 2021

By Portia Choi

Here is the poem Carla shared with us that evening:

To Sophia

by: Carla Joy Martin

One quiet winter morn
You were born.
Clouds covered the sky,
The air was cool and fresh,
Earth was holding her breath,
Waiting for the emergence
Of a new life.

Then you arrived!
Lifted up by the doctor,
Given to your mother and father to hold —
Perfect little fingers,
Curling little toes, 
How amazing!
How wondrous!
You are healthy and whole!

Welcome to our world, 
Sophia!
Your name is a name of beauty
And braveness.
Women before you 
Have risen out of poverty,
Surmounted obstacles,
Brought loveliness and light
To a dark and hurting world.

May your life be filled with wonder.
May your soul be as quiet and peaceful 
As the morn you were born.
May you always bring joy
Into people’s hearts.
We celebrate the arrival of you —
Sophia!

By Carla Joy Martin

Q.  What inspired you to write your poem?  What is its back story?

A.  One morning this winter, it was cloudy and smelled of rain.  The whole world just seemed expectant, for some reason.  Out of the blue, I received a text from a dear friend who announced her daughter had just given birth to a little girl named Sophia.  My friend sent a darling photo of her grandchild wrapped up in a snuggly, captioned, “Our new burrito!”  It hit me how momentous a moment this was – that a new soul had just entered our world – and out poured this poem.  I sent it to my friend that day.

Q.  How did you become interested in poetry, in general? 

A.  I lived in St. Andrews, Scotland when I was five and six years old.  My mother read me Mother Goose rhymes almost every day. They are really popular for children over there.  I learned to speak with a proper Scottish brogue.  I used to practice rolling my r’s in the bathtub at night!  Scottish is such a musical, lilting dialect.  I know that was my first experience of the importance of how language sounds.  I still enjoy listening to my CD of the great Scottish comedian, Billy Connolly, reading Robert Burns’ poetry.  It takes me back to the days I was first learning a “new” language, and how much fun it was.

As for later in life, I started writing poetry in earnest after my divorce.  While sitting in the Barnes & Nobles Café in the afternoons.  I poured out my grief.  Then I started looking around and wrote a whole series of poems about the different people I observed in the café.  I heard about First Friday Open Mics and, on a whim, attended one and performed.  It was such a cathartic experience, and everyone was so warm and welcoming – I was hooked. 

I joined Writers of Kern and met three amazing women in a poetry critique group.  They helped me hone my craft.  But my greatest inspiration came when I fell in love with another local poet. The flood of poetry that came out of that beautiful, yet bittersweet experience became my first chapbook, A Kaleidoscope of Love.  

Poetry is best when it comes from your heart, when you are trying to make sense of something, trying to find words for an emotion, an experience, even heartache.  And, as I said before, it’s cathartic.

 

Q.  You interview participants at First Friday Open Mics for the website, KernPoetry.com.  What is it like for you to connect poets with other poets and lyricists?

A.  I enjoy getting to ask local folks about their poetic journeys.  I’ve interviewed people from all walks of life and everyone’s story about how they came to write poetry is different, yet, in some ways, the same.  We all are searching for something – an understanding – of our world and our place in it.  I am astonished at the vibrant, thoughtful, and often humorous poets that live in Kern County.  It really is astounding.  And so many young people are turning to poetry now, across the nation.  I believe poetry is experiencing a renaissance all over the world.  It is exciting to witness. I hope my interviews on KernPoetry.com introduce people to new poets they can enjoy.

Q.   Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  I journal almost every night.  I let out all my concerns, worries, hopes and dreams into little black moleskin books.  I don’t edit or even re-read the entries very much – but getting my thoughts out on paper often leads to new poems.  I find whenever something is troubling me, or I feel a strong emotion, whether its joy or fear, then I am compelled to write a poem about it.  Poetry is how I make sense of the world.  Creating a poem may not solve a dilemma, but the process will soothe my soul.

When compiling A Kaleidoscope of Love, I found I had poems that expressed the many emotions one has when entering a meaningful relationship.  My book sweeps the reader up in a love journey.  It has been wonderful to hear from friends, family and total strangers who say this book touched them.  I am busy trying to write more poems for another collection!

First Friday Open Mic by ZOOM in March 2021

 

The March 5, 2021 Open Mic (via ZOOM) was especially meaningful.  The poet, Betty Lee Cortez recited her heart-felt poem about her brother who had died, and her family and friends joined the Open Mic, listening to her words.  Also performing during the evening was Chris Nielsen, who wrote of an old barn at his new home in Idaho. 

Other poets performing were Cynthia Bermudez, Portia Choi, Carla Martin, Eric Osborne, Heather Ponek, Kevin Shah, Irene Sinopole, and Suzanne Weller. 

The photographs of all the poets reading are in the gallery.  The entire event can be enjoyed in the video of event at this link:  https://us02web.zoom.us/rec/share/O1Lrb4nk7ZedhKs3WMKEjd6nO_TgFhtT5VP67m8J0ZjwGF_9JO0O1jNdHp7z9tAa.4yJ-spcPAJFYyoQT Passcode: =2XEkh6.  (The passcode has a period at the end.)

Interview with Christopher Nielsen, First Friday Zoom Open Mic, March 5,2021 

By Carla Martin

This is the poem Chris read to us:

The Red Barn

By Christopher Nielsen

The red barn is old
but in use these days.
Weather in phases —

snow on the rooftop, 
spring grows around barn doors,
summer sun bakes the wood walls,

autumn trees relieved 
of seasons growth,
leaves gather and blowing.

Wanting to meet the owners, 
past the no trespassing sign,
giving them a picture or two

of the red barn, sky drizzles or glowing.
Days change the looks often.
Animals circling, migrating, 

feeding and sheltering,
the people care for them,
providing the red barn.

 

Q.  What inspired you to write The Red Barn”?  What is its back story? What do you want readers to glean from it?

A.  First day I moved into my home in Idaho. Arrived at 4:30 am in the dark. Woke up at 8:30 a.m. and I looked outside in the backyard. Past the backyard fence there is a large pasture of alfalfa with a large red barn. Now at home. 

Daily watching the barn, out my back windows or out in the backyard. Sometimes it is sunny, cloudy, or snowing. People who live nearby have the barn and have a bit of time in the fields around it. Cattle roam about and eat the alfalfa or hay. Sunsets, or weather happens, and photos are taken.  

Life viewing a barn daily is copacetic and bucolic. Scenes change, lighting and darkness move around day through night. It makes one might want to write about it. Peaceful with a camera and a pen to tell a story and with a photo too.

Q.  How does photography and poetry connect in your experience?  Do you gain inspiration for poems from photos youve taken, or the other way around?

A.  It is back and forth with inspiration – poem comes first and then the photo is looked for. Or, the photo gives thought to words written and hopefully becomes a poem. The two go together. Each tells about the other. They are the whole story. Art is true with images and also writing. A book of photo-poetry works as one. Building one now. 

Q.  What does it feel like to create a good shot” and a good poem”?  Is one form of expression easier for you than the other?  How long have you been a photographer/poet?

A.  My Dad gave me a camera around the age of ten and he showed me what to do. Photography grew out of that part of my life so young. It is amazing when you can take photos. They stay with your life and you love to share them. 

Poetry came later. In high school reading some poets gave interest into poetry. Later in teenage years I tried to write some poems. In my twenties it got a little better at times. 

Art develops in different areas in our minds. For me, a photo is there or an idea forms and it happens. Other times a word, a thought an idea comes out into writing. Write when you must. Dont forget, write it down.

A good poem or a good photo, they can be created well, the special ones are a gift. 

 

Q.  Who are some photographers you admire?  Are there any poetry collections/publications you can recommend that combine photography with the written word?

A.  Ansel Adams. Others as well. Lighting, places outside or inside, positioning, objects and chances at the times. Processing also. Study the best photos to learn from them. They are guiding by what they make.

I wish there was more poetry with photos. You see it occasionally. Other books have some mix of photos and written words. That helps.  

Note from Kern Poetry:   Here are a few books that combine written word and photography by Kern County residents.

Christopher Nielsen published a book, From the Sky to the Earth, A Book of PhotoPoetry, a collection of his original poems and photographs. Please email Christopher at light.imagery@gmail.com if you are interested in his book.  

Kevin Shah has a book, Rainbows in the Dark, that combined his poems and original photographs.  One can see sample of his poems or obtain a copy of his book by e-mailing Shah at themelaman@yahoo.com. 

Gregory Iger was the photographer and writer for the book, Buena Vista II Kern County Landscapes from the four seasons.  Iger was the photographer for Buena Vista a pictorial view of Kern County.  Each photograph has an original poem by Ardis Walker, written in haiku verse form.  Walker was a poet and historian of Kern.

 

Interview with Betty Lee Cortez, First Friday Open Mic, March 5, 2021

By Carla Martin

Here is the poem Betty shared with us that evening:

Poem Dedicated to my Big Brother Johnny.

My Brother, My Friend

By Betty Lee Cortez

A phone call away, you were.
We often chatted on the phone
Shared many things by phone.
Our health, our families and more.
We shared much laughter
on them darn phones.
My Brother My Friend.

It’s been a while since you left.
Someday’s, it’s just so darn hard
I walk your comfy home,
Pacing floors, walking the yard.
I miss our conversations brother
Even more, our laughter Johnny.
My Brother, My Friend.

I still dig deep within my heart
Wondering why you left, so young.
I know you wouldn’t want me to,
But, here I sit, still missing you.
In time, dear brother, I will heal.
Forever though, you’re in my heart.
My Brother, My Friend.

Q.  What inspired you to write your poem?  What is its back story?

A.  The poem “My Brother, My Friend” comes tearfully from my heart. It’s a dedication to my big brother, Johnny Thomasson who was very special to me, loved by many and not|

just family. My brother passed away, few years back and it’s been hard. I miss him very much; we talked often on the phones. He was heavily on my mind one day and I had the need to express how much I loved and missed him. So, I sit with tears raining from my eyes and let my feelings flow through my pen to paper. It helped.

Q.  You had many members of your family come and view your performance Friday night.  How does your family inspire you to write?  Have there been any other poets in your family?  Are you the first?  How can family members support a poet?

A.  I have a big family, were a close-knit family. My parents were always very loving and supportive of us growing up. They were always there through thick and thin moments. Like all families, we had our differences among one another, but through time we dissolved them. My children and husband, the love and communication we share is a big inspiration to whatever I do, even my writings. There’s been a few family members to write poems, but I’ve been writing since a young age. Much of my writings are done throughout emotional times I encountered in life. It helps me to release my emotions and cope with my feelings. It lets me share what I’m feeling deep within myself.

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  My advice to others who enjoy writing poetry or have interest in wanting to write; let it come naturally. I feel there’s no better writing, then what comes from the heart, the real you. Your ideals, your thoughts, your own perspective of anything is what you want to share. My writings of poetry come to me from many directions. It can be an event I’ve experienced, a person I’m fond of, a moment I experienced, the beauty of something. My writings are a part of me, and when I write it just comes to me in natural way. That’s important.

 

First Friday:  Open Mic, November 1, 2019

First Friday:  Open Mic, November 1, 2019
F
eaturing Annis Cassells. 

Annis Cassells was the featured poet at the First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s Coffee on Nov 1, 2019, she read from her book of poetry, You Can’t Have It All.  Even though the event was over a year ago, it seems fresh as we remember the excitement of the poets and musicians sharing their original creations. 

There were three performers interviewed:  Annis Cassells, Cynthia Bermudez and Nelson Varon.  These interviews allow us to know the poets and their poems in greater understanding and liveliness. 

Other poets and musicians performing at this Open Mic were Zack Alqaisi, Cynthia Bermudez, Tim Chang, Christopher Craddock, Shelley Evans, Carla Martin, Jim Merrick, Alyssa Morataya, PAWN, David Tetz, Fabian Tolan, Nelson Veron, and Suzanne Weller.

Open Mic November 1, 2019
Photos by Josh Burgos

 

Interview with Annis Cassells

By Carla Martin

Q.  You read to us poems from your chapbook, You Can’t Have It All.  How did you choose the poems for this collection?

A. All of our writing is a revelation — not only to our audience, but to ourselves. So the so-called themes of my poems did not reveal themselves to me until they were written and gathered. They were just poems I’d written over a number of years that I thought were good enough to include.

Q.  What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their back stories? 

A.  I’ve always been a writer, kept a diary as a child, wrote for my high school newspaper, wrote with my students when I taught, and served as editor and writer for two different newsletters. Through the years I dabbled in poetry, but I became more serious about poetry and learning the craft after attending workshops for a couple of years at the San Miguel Writers Conference in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. That’s where I first encountered the poets Ellen Bass and David Whyte and really became hooked.

Many of my poems are autobiographical and the incidents must have made an impression on me since those childhood memories are more than 65 years old. I clearly remember the time recounted in “First Taste”– that cellar and my sweet grandmother’s joy at sneaking that grape juice. As I think of it now, it was probably one of the first secrets an adult shared with me.

I wrote her name Annie Cass-ells because that’s the way she pronounced it “CASS-els.”

 

First Taste

by Annis Cassells

The Cassells home-place cellar,
earthen-floored,
must-scented, raven-aired.

Grandma Annie Cass-ells
and ten-year-old me,
we heave worn wooden doors,

throw daylight underground,
pick our way down brick slab steps,
stand still, let our eyes adjust.

She leads
bound for thick, unpainted plank shelves
jammed against an uneven patched wall.

She reaches
for a dusty jug
amongst canned pickles, peaches, beets.

She pours
a half-pint jelly jar one-quarter full,
“grape juice.”

She savors
A dark liquid sip
“Ahhhhh.” 

She passes
the almost-empty vessel
to me.

She cautions
“Just a little now.
Makes you feel warm inside.”

She stretches
knobby fingers for the rest
as the jar leaves my lips.

We ascend
hugging peach and pickle jars
Silent glances sealing our secret.

Daily life is inspiring. Looking around and seeing what’s going on, noticing things that catch my attention for whatever reason, or listening in on what others are saying might spark a thought that germinates into a poem. My poem “Don’t Slice My Bread” started with a trip to a farmers’ market in Coos Bay, Oregon and stopping at the stall of a local baker. When the vendor asked if my friend wanted her newly purchased loaf of bread sliced, she responded, “Oh, no! Don’t slice my bread!” I immediately said aloud, “That sounds like a poem!” and it became a poem that’s a metaphor for my philosophy of life.

 

Don’t Slice My Bread

by Annis Cassells

Measured segments bore me
The best we can hope for,
a yeast bubble
Or slight deviation in height

Uniformity restrains

Let me gouge boulders
Catch crumbs
Inhale the yeasty aroma
of finger-held fissures
Oozing melted butter.

Let me delight in haphazard hunks
Leave none untried, untested
Skirted or ignored.

Let me taste it all
In its simplicity
In its complexity
Stale or fresh,
Life’s staff and stuff.

Some poems, though autobiographical or concern social issues, came about because of themes for upcoming publications, like the community poetry anthology our current Kern County Poet Laureate, Matthew Woodman publishes through CSUB. So when he announced the call for poems about drought, I asked myself, “What do I know about drought?” and came up with very little. I began listing all the types of drought and what that could mean. The process took me back to my own experience, of course, and I wrote about societal drought.

 

Inner City Girls Survive

by Annis Cassells

Drought distresses inner city girls.
Oh they have water
take twenty-minute showers
soak hours in claw-footed tubs.
Come summer, they cavort beneath
oscillating lawn sprinklers.

Inner city girls living it survive
a different type of drought.
Reduced by a lack of civility
Controlled by an absence of compassion
Restrained by a want of understanding
Checked in their right to equality.

Civility, Compassion
Understanding, Equality
Commodities in short supply.
All the water in the world
cannot compensate
for societal drought.

Inner city girls living it possess a thirst
A craving that begs to be slaked
Ambition that needs to be fulfilled
Potential that expects to be reached.
By wits and will, and bits of kindness,
inner city girls survive.

Q. What poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  I’ve always loved Lucille Clifton’s work. Her poem “Blessing the Boats” is one I often read and hand out during “Poem in Your Pocket” Day. Of course, Maya Angelou and Alice Walker. Poets I heard and loved from programs at Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, Sharon Olds, Yusef Komunyakaa, our own Kern County Don Thompson, Sandra Cisneros, Claudia Rankine, Jericho Brown, Clint Smith, Ada Limón, my cousin, poet Cyrus Cassells—and so many that I’m newly encountering since I’ve been able to put more concentration on poetry and have been able to hear and read their works.

But, a major influence in my writing has been Ellen Bass. The first time I saw her, as keynote speaker in San Miguel, she opened her program with the poem, “At the Padre Hotel in Bakersfield, California” and I was an immediate fan. At the conference I took a half-day workshop with her and since then have done a week-long retreat with her in Canada and two six-week craft workshops over Zoom during the pandemic.

One of the good things that has come out of the pandemic is the ability to have access to poets, readings, classes, workshops all over the world. And this year I’ve truly taken advantage of that. Since the Dodge Poetry Festival was virtual, I was able to fulfill my dream of attending and heard so many new-to-me poets as well as ones I was familiar with. Right now, I’m in a 4-week workshop with poet and teacher Erin Redfern.

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create a book of poetry?  It might be interesting and helpful if you describe your journey in making your book.

A.  First, write and write and write some more. Then write some more. I had amassed quite a body of work, over eight or more years’ worth, but when the time came to publish my collection, about 25% didn’t get included. Either I didn’t think they were good enough or they didn’t seem to fit.

Enlist people to read your poems and give you feedback. I have a critique group and other readers whom I trust. Send some of your poems out to journals and magazines for publication and see how that goes. Sometimes you get rejection, sometimes you get feedback, sometimes you get a note of acceptance.

Have someone read your entire manuscript, give you more feedback, and suggest an order to put the poems in. By the time I reached this point, I was weary and could not keep anything straight. I’d read and worked with those poems so many times. I handed off my set of poems to two different people whom I respect. Both gave me helpful feedback. Some suggestions I took and others ignored. One of those readers ordered the poems for me and gave me an idea of which two should be the beginning or final poems.

I published my book through Amazon’s KDP. I decided to go the self-publishing route because I wanted my book out into the world. And, I did not want to wait around for a traditional publisher to pick it up. At that point, I was 75 years old and felt I had no time to waste! I certainly didn’t want any more suggestions for changes.This is the plus side of self-publishing: the author is in control of it all.

KDP was ALL new to me. After reading through the instructions, I knew I needed to print them out so I could re-read off screen and highlight directions. Once I decided on the title, I chose my cover photo and author head shot from my Pictures file on my computer. So they were ready to go.

Designing the cover was challenging. Yes, KDP has templates, but I had to try out several to discover the look I wanted (placement, fonts, back cover), and that meant starting over a number of times. It’s a good idea to study the covers of books you own to note what is usually displayed on a cover and to see what design elements appeal to you.

With the help of the instructions, experienced friends, and some YouTube videos about formatting, I finished the project. It took several weeks of treating the work on the book like it was a job. Each day I spent from 6:00 to 8:00 am “at work.” Sometimes it was a little longer if I wasn’t at a good stopping place.

It felt so great when it was time to press “PUBLISH” and order my advance reader copies! But, that feeling didn’t compare to the elation of having the actual book in my hands.

Q.  What steps have/are you taking to promote your book? (readings, Facebook promos, etc.)

A.  Authors these days must be willing to promote their own book, and that seems to be true with traditionally published books as well as self-published. The online steps I took were announcing and showing the book on my blog, The DayMaker, and on Facebook and Twitter. I added an author page to my Facebook account and have posted videos of me reading poems on both pages.

I approached Indie bookstores and coffee shops to do readings and contacted libraries to read and participate in their Meet the Author programs.  I read at Open Mics, here in Bakersfield at Kern Poetry’s First Friday, virtually in Durham, NC, Florence, OR, and Salem, OR. I displayed and sold books at the Writers of Kern Spring Conference and participated in a book fair in Oregon at which I sold a dozen books.

I had help from others, too. My family alerted the world my book was out and urged folks to buy it. One daughter invited friends to a reading when I visited her. She also gave my book to a friend as a gift. That friend is a professor at UNC in Chapel Hill, NC, and she determined my book fit in with the curriculum of one of her classes, so it became required reading and she taught from it. I was able to visit her classroom shortly afterward and read and answer questions from her and the students. That was a real highlight and blessing that came from writing and publishing You Can’t Have It All!

One of the loveliest things is the many folks I’ve met because of my book. They’ve attended readings, or received the book as a gift, or they’re fellow poets and writers. So publishing my collection has enriched my life in so many ways.

 

 

Interview with Cynthia Bermudez

By Carla Martin

Here is the poem and vignette that Cynthia shared with us on First Friday:

 

Snow Stars

by Cynthia Bermudez

They fell from the sky looking like white-colored sea urchins, sharp spines penetrating their first contacted surface: people, cars, buildings, everything.

One attached itself to me as I sat on a park bench. It landed on my forehead piercing my skin.

A thousand tiny teeth digging into my flesh. Tendrils thinner than silk spread across my face eyes, cheeks, nose —a myriad of lines coloring my face a pale blue.

They called themselves Snow Stars, loosely translated. Although, they weren’t made of snow but instead of a crystalline structure not found on Earth.

Everything looked like distorted candy dots as if porcupines painted the world and people were now flocked trees with meat ornaments. Everywhere a pristine white.

The sun rose and set, rose and set.

I hadn’t noticed how my movement stopped. My cells, every atom slowed to nothing I realized I still sat on the bench.      

The sun rose and set, rose and set.
I heard the others in my mind, others like me,
connected by pale blue veins rooted into and through my body down through the bench and into the ground.

I … no. We.

 

The House on Agate Street

by Cynthia Bermudez

When I was eleven years old, I packed a small plastic bag with a week’s worth of clothes and my favorite book and stayed in an old abandoned house down the street, something I had seen my older sister do when she was angry with my mother. Two teens were already sheltered there, a boy and girl. They took a spot near the ashen fireplace. Charred wood scorched the firebrick. They held hands and kissed and asked me questions. What my name was and why was I there. We all slept under a thin cotton throw on cold concrete. The wooden floorboards ripped from the ground. The smell of dust and mold filled every corner, every break in the wall, the crumbling popcorn ceiling.

A teenaged boy named Mason, who rode around the neighborhood on his bicycle, brought us scraps of half-eaten corn ears and burnt tortillas and day-old cold chicken. We feasted on the floor, a turned over crate the finest table, our food on plastic bag plates. Mason called the lovebirds Elvis and Marilyn and every time they’d chuckle. Elvis played music on a guitar he had bought with six whole dollars, money he saved cleaning yards and cashing in plastic bottles at a Five and Dime. He strummed the cords and Marilyn watched him dreamily. Elvis was going to be a big star someday, Marilyn his wife. He’d build her a house in the woods; she’d be safe there. He said I could come, too. Marilyn put her arm around me and said of course. Mason said he’d bring the food.

Q.  What inspired you to write your poem?  What is its back story? 

A.  I set out to write two short pieces: a poem, “Snow Stars,” and a vignette, “The House on Agate Street.”

“Snow Stars” was written from a contest prompt. The challenge was to write a short 250-word narrative about an alien invasion. I thought what if aliens arrived not in massive space ships with advanced technological weapons but as small creatures from another world drifting slowly down from the sky. And what if these aliens assimilated the Earth and its inhabitants, indiscriminately altering life on Earth and terraforming the land. I didn’t win the contest, but the poem was bought by Devolution Z and later purchased as a reprint in an anthology titled, “Untimely Frost.”

“The House on Agate Street” was a personal assignment. I wanted to write a character sketch and a vignette, though I cannot remember what my motivation was. I had read The House on Mango Street some time before and loved the idea. I set out to write two short pieces: a one-character sketch and one vignette. The fantastical/imaginative elements are fictional but the vignette was inspired by one of my own experiences. “The House on Agate Street” was published by Vine Leaves and later reprinted in their 2014 “Best of” anthology.

Q.  Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?  What other art forms inspire you, like songs or paintings?

A.  I love reading and listening to poetry. My early exposure to poetry were poets like Frost and Yeats, but I feel like more contemporary and even a few unknown poets have influenced me. I love listening to spoken word poetry and my favorite site is Button Poetry. Also, I read pseudonymous poetry from various forums that have influenced me. Other types of art forms inspire me as well. I love music and visual art.

There are many poems that have resonated with me. “Dolor” by Theodore Roethke. “All for a Day” by Robert Sward. “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. Works by spoken word poets: Rudy Francisco, Sabrina Benaim, Phil Kaye, Guante, Porsha Olayiwola, just to name a few.

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  There are poetic forms and styles a writer can choose to use. Or they can write free verse. My personal preference is free verse, narrative-style poetry and songs. I think if you want to write something, just write it. Don’t worry about anything or anyone else. As for my creative process…I’m not even sure if I have one. I write when I can. Anything can inspire me: music, art, a conversation, etc.

 

 

Interview with Nelson Varon

By Carla Martin

Nelson read us his poem “Shalom, Shalom,” which was one of the poems read at the Bakersfield World Peace Day rally in September 2019. Here is his poem, which Nelson also wrote music to:

SHALOM, SHALOM

(A   S o n g    o f    P e a c e)

by Nelson Varon

                                                                                                   

The roar of oceans filled with tears,
The thunder of the silent dead,
Together cry, for once for all,                                              
SHALOM, SHALOM.

The babies in their mother’s arms,
Are held with desperate urgent prayer,
That G-d will grant them in their world                                        
SHALOM, SHALOM.

No more the waste, and 
No more the shambles,
The human suffering,
No more, no more.

The promise must be made again,
“All war will end, all war will end”.
And we must somehow learn to find
SHALOM, SHALOM.

Dear G-d, how long must it go on
‘Till neighbors learn to live as one?
Please help us live in love and peace,
SHALOM, SHALOM

No more the waste, and
No more the shambles,
The human suffering,
No more, no more.

The promise must be made again,
“All war will end, all war will end”.
Then shout with ever-lasting joy,
SHALOM, SHALOM.

So brothers, sisters take my hand
And sing with all your hearts a song
Of peace for all the earth, Amen!
SHALOM, SHALOM. 

Copyright 1973 – Renewed 2001 All Right Reserved                                                                          

Q. What inspired you to write your poem/song?  What is its back story?

A.  By the time I had come home from work at my organ and piano store very late one night in 1973, my wife, Edith, and our three children were already fast asleep. After eating the dinner she had left for me, I turned on the TV in the family room to the “Late, Late Show” and sat down to relax before going to bed.

The film, which had just started, was about a ship called the SS St Louis which had picked up almost 1,000 Jews, who, in 1938, were fleeing Germany for their very lives following “Kristallnacht” or Crystal Night. The ship first docked in Cuba asking for permission to disembark their passengers as refugees but were denied entry. The ship, according to the film, then went on to Miami in the United States and to various ports in South America only to be denied entry over and over again. In desperation, the SS St Louis, having no other alternative, was forced to return to Germany with their cargo of desperate human beings, all of whom knew they would be facing certain death at the hands of the Nazis upon their return home.

Being a musician and a retailer of organs and pianos, we had a music room in which was a grand piano and a Lowery organ. I was so moved by the film that, notwithstanding the late hour (about 1:30 am), I sat down at the organ and began aimlessly playing. Almost immediately my fingers started playing a melody over and over again. Each time I played this haunting melody, words came into my consciousness from seemingly out of nowhere until, after about a half an hour, the lyrics and the song were completed and remembered in my mind.

As a songwriter, however, I always kept manuscript paper and pencil on the organ to jot down song ideas which would come to me from time to time before I forget them. I stopped playing long enough to write down the entire melody and the lyrics. I then continued playing the completed song over and over again, singing it out loud in my music room in the middle of the night, with tears streaming down my face the whole time. I will never forget that experience, (nor will my daughter whose bedroom was adjacent to the wall in which the organ speakers were mounted and kept waking her up).   

The poem, “Shalom, Shalom,” is actually the lyrics to that song which I had named, “Shalom, Shalom:  A Song of Peace.”  The poem (lyric) is included for you to read.

Q.  Do you like to read poetry and if so, which poets have influenced you?

A.  Yes, I do like to read poetry, but tend to prefer those poets who write in a narrative style. One of my treasured books is A Treasury of Great Poems, English and American. I frequently will randomly select poems to read in this book of poems from all periods dating back to the fifteenth century and up to the twentieth century. Three poets who have influenced me, though not on a conscious level, are Samuel Taylor Coleridge (The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is a favorite poem of mine), Robert Byrnes, (Jon Anderson, My Jo is another favorite) and Robert Browning (My Last Duchess, also a favorite).

Q.  What advice would I give to other folks wanting to create poems? What is your creative process?

A.  I can only say that I still have much to learn myself about writing poetry. It would, therefore, be presumptuous in the extreme were I to even try to advise anyone on this topic.

I can only say that in my experience, poetry, like any other type of writing, is a trial-and-error process in which you can learn to write poetry by simply writing poetry. Sharing your work with others in critique groups of other would-be poets is really helpful. I would also suggest that you try to become familiar with various structural formats in which established poems have been written. These formats can be learned in poetry classes but can also be identifiable as you read poems written by iconic poets. In that regard, it would probably would not be a bad idea to read as many ageless great poems as you can.

As far as how I go about writing poems, or song lyrics (which has comprised most of my poetic writings so far) it usually starts with an idea I may have for a poem or, as in the case of lyrics, a melody that I have written. I will generally write a first draft, then rewrite it and then rewrite it many, many times over the course of days, weeks, months and sometimes years.

Many of the great song lyrics that have been written are, in fact, excellent stand-alone poems. Song lyrics have a great deal in common with good poetry, particularly in the observance of the admonition, “show, don’t tell” and in their use of imagery to define a feeling. Great love longs, for example, seldom mention the word “love” in the lyric but instead use extraordinary imagery to poetically communicate love, or remorse at its loss. (To see an example of this, you might want to Google the lyrics of Irving Berlin in describing the loss of his first wife in “When I Lost You,“ or the lyrics of Jerome Kern describing his love for a woman  in “All The things You Are”).

I usually do my writing seated at the desk in my home office if it is a poem or seated at the piano (I no longer have an organ) if it is a song. I write about my observations of things I see or experience, or about the feelings I have about love or relationships or the loss thereof.  I do not have a disciplined time which I regularly devote to my writing but rather tend to write when I have something to write about.     

First Friday Open Mic by ZOOM in January 2021

 

We started the New Year with sparkles of spoken words at Open Mic poetry.  The poets who performed were Portia Choi, Lola Jimenez, Carla Martin, Chris Nielsen, Eric Osborne, Kevin Shah and Suzanne Weller.  Barbara Mattick and Viridiana Pena listened in. 

The poets performing their poetry for Open Mic can be viewed on this video at:
Zoom Kern Poetry Meeting     
Passcode to enter:
poetry12#

Two of the poets, Lola Jimenez and Kevin Shah, were interviewed by Carla Martin. 

Interview By Carla Martin

Interview with Lola Jimenez

Lola Jimenez graduated from Cal State Bakersfield in Spring of 2020. She majored in English and plans to go back in the fall for a second BA in Communications. She is 22 years young and has been writing since middle school.   

Q.  What inspired you to write your poem?  What is its back story? 

A. “Diamond Eyes” was actually inspired by makeup. As a creative, I like to do more than just write, I also like to express myself through makeup. I hate using glitter, but for some reason I feel like it always completes my looks. As much as I hate glitter (because it’s messy) it always adds that extra thing I’m looking for. I also feel like I write a lot of sad poems, and I wanted to bring some light and love into my portfolio so, I decided to write “Diamond Eyes.” It slowly transformed into a poem about an old friend and how I had a love/hate relationship with them. However, I always ended up feeling complete when I was with them.    

Q.  Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A. I love to read poetry! I would definitely say my current favorite authors are R.H. Sin and Rupi Kaur. However, Pablo Neruda and Philip Larkin had big impacts on me growing up. Neruda introduced me to Odes which is something I do now in my own writing. His “Ode to the Lemon” was so simple yet so beautiful. There was so much appreciation for such a small object and there are everyday objects that deserve some form of recognition. Both Rupi Kaur and R.H. Sin have messages about life I relate to. Both write to or about women and I being a woman identify with many of their pieces.

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A. Advice I would give to people wanting to write is just to do it! There are no rules to poetry! Every poem looks different and there’s so many different styles and I promise if you feel like someone needs to hear what you have to say, I can guarantee that other people relate to it.  I write poems in 3 ways. One is to write down whatever I have on my mind. This can be just getting things off my chest, how I feel or write about a heart break. 2nd way is to read poetry books and write responses or underline something that really spoke to me and write using my perspective or opinion. 3rd I learned in college, which was to write everything I want the poem to contain words, phrases on the side and then find a way to formulate the poem using all of the things I brainstormed. I usually listen to music when I write but I feel the music HAS to match the mood or sound of my poem. I also feel the best time to write is at night when we’re more vulnerable. There’s something magical about late night writing sessions with a good playlist that make me happy.

I made a flyer with my own personal brand colors and font. 

Diamond Eyes

By Lola Jimenez

Growing up
I used to call glitter
The devil’s spawn

It was hard to get rid of 
& it lasted forever
Years later you would 
Still find it wherever you 
Left it 

However, I see glitter different now
Years later & i’m glad it lasts forever
Because I will never
Forget how your eyes
Shined, shimmer, 
Glimmered, & glittered
In the light

The twinkle in your eyes
Have lasted a lifetime in
My mind

Glitter always reminds me 
Of you 

 

Interview By Carla Martin

Interview with Kevin Shah

These are the two poems Kevin shared with us:

PASSING ACT

By Kevin Shah

They stopped before the gently sloping hill
to look up at the Moon.

The young man in the heavy coat
rubbed his hands together, his breath
rising like a ghost.

“Do not watch the Moon too long, old man.
“It’s a traveling act.”

The old man, with a lighter, longer
coat spoke. “Son, the moon will be here
tomorrow. We are a passing act.”

MY FIRST PANDEMIC POEMIC¹

By Kevin Shah

I’m taking a Master class
$180

I’m glad to spend the money because I can learn how to write
From James Patterson or David Baldacci.

One of my favorite writers, David Sedaris, inspires me with his suggestion on how to get stories.

He says you have to engage with life. Go out there and do things.

Let’s take this thing called life. He’s right. Unfortunately, the best stories come from the worst decisions of life, its tragedies.

And the s***’s real

Outside my door, I hear the cars. They’re louder these days, more menacing. And when I take my daily walk, I see dark circles in the street where children usually play. Well maybe I exaggerate. But at any rate, it’s a place I will often walk, the middle of an intersection.

And we’re in the middle of a pandemic. Everybody’s huddled indoors or pretending to be.

Back to story. Writers know that bad situations make for good stories. Unfortunately, we must participate in this thing called life, and I’m talking about the bad stuff.

And like I said before, the s***’s real.

Last I checked, earthquakes still happen. And we think that this virus has ended the world? I had a student who died in a car accident a couple of months ago. Her world ended in an instant.

Recently, a volcano became active again in Hawaii. I have a friend whose mother died from cancer during the summer. He couldn’t visit her. I know of others who have died, and I suspect it’s because they couldn’t get the medical care, or they decided against their better judgment to stay home and wait out this virus, one month, then two, then, I just told you the rest of their story. I suspect one of my heroes, Sir Kenneth Robinson, may have died of cancer. I can’t remember.

I’m so mixed up and bent out of shape with worry that I can’t even remember what I was going to ask my doctor when I see him later today. What worries me more, the questionable safety of a rushed vaccine or my aching thyroid? I have reached the point where I can’t remember all the bad news. It just keeps coming. On my thyroid is a 4 cm mass. Don’t worry too much. It was biopsied last year and shown to be non-cancerous.

And of course, depression and suicide are up.

It’s all a big mess. And for this reason, I write. And I don’t know what happens to what I’ve written once these words are spoken here. My hope Is that they will spread like a virus and find a home, infecting the host listener and living within her bloodstream with truth and perhaps a chuckle or two.

It’s the one good virus.

¹I invented this word to mean a short speech masquerading as a poem. Inspired by the word polemic.

Q.  What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their back stories? 

A.  PASSING ACT started with a visual of the moon outside my door. I was inspired by a line that came to my mind: “passing act”. There are many poems written about the Moon, but one in particular has lived with me for almost fifteen years. One night, as my CSUB English professor and I drove into Bakersfield, following some poetry research we were doing out of town, she pointed at the crescent moon and quoted two lines from Samuel Coleridge’s “Dejection: An Ode”:

Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon,

With the old Moon in her arms;

And I fear, I fear, my Master dear!

We shall have a deadly storm.

(Ballad of Sir Patrick Spence)

I don’t know if I was inspired by that. But I cannot look up at the sky without thinking about poetry.

MY FIRST PANDEMIC POEMIC was an outpouring of thoughts and feelings that I wrote for the First Friday virtual open mic. I just wanted to voice what I think many people are dealing with as they struggle to cope with life in a society that has been locked down indefinitely and to great detriment. I think it was writing as therapy for me. 

Q.  Do you like to read poetry? 

A.  I am forever in love with poetry. I prefer to hear people read poems. I want to feel the rhythm and the sounds. I always tell myself I should not write poems. But once I hear a poem I love, I have a deep need to write. Writing poetry is a creative way of saying “amen” to the poems I hear. Kind of like when you hear a drum beat. You feel like striking a drum and joining in. So, each time I write, I am honoring poetry in gratitude and music.

Q.  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  I also like to read poems in a book. Kern County’s Don Thompson, Robert Frost, Dylan Thomas, Shakespeare, Billy Collins, and Ted Kooser are some of my favorites. I also sense the poetry of Sandra Cisneros’s writing. I think that all of these poets have influenced me. More directly, I have been inspired by Don Thompson’s poetry. He lets life speak through wildlife and landscapes. 

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems? 

A.  I would get comfortable with the various forms of poetry and try to discipline yourself with these forms for a season. This will give you creative confines that will not hinder but release your creativity by squeezing it out of you and forcing you to learn new words and new ways to say old things. Read widely and often. Imitate many poets so you can find your unique style.

Q.  How do you make a poem? 

A.  Very quickly. I used to ask Facebook friends for a topic. Then I would compose a poem in under ten minutes. I like to write many poems so that maybe I might find one that is worth revising. By the way, the best poets revise many times. Once you are used to writing sonnets or haiku or other forms, you will have a brevity that you can release when you write free-verse.

Q.  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.? 

A.  I do not purposely listen to music or read poems to write my own. I just stop whatever I am doing as I think poetically and visually throughout the day. I also am inspired by my photography, which is a huge focus for me when I travel to Frazier Park to do astrophotography. Poems need to have sound, sense, and imagery. So, anything that engages those helps you think and feel poetically. I just believe that poetry, especially the poetry of those I mentioned earlier (add Khalil Gibran and, of course, the Bible), teaches us how to experience the world. I am almost always ready to write a poem. Poetry is well-suited to the wisdom and music found in words. And, of course, I am inspired most often by or in nature.

Q.  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  As I mentioned, I write things all the time. I will let the poems sit or post on social media. Very often I will see a poem on my pages that I have forgotten about for many years. I will immediately revise it in light of what I “see” in the poem and what I or others may be going through. I recently created my first poetry book “Rainbows in the Dark,” which will ship to me in mid-January. This was just a photobook with pages devoted to some of my better, shorter poems. It incorporates my photography. That process was about arranging poems and images into a book form. The last poem is PASSING ACT, appropriately placed. So, if I in a fresh-read state of mind and I have images and ideas coming at me, I get caught up in the energy and make subtle revisions. But I always need to let poems sit for days or weeks or even years. I don’t force them into their final state. Or I do, but I give them a new life, new title, new format as needed.   

 

First Friday Open Mic by ZOOM in November 2020

Story by Carla Martin

We had our first ZOOM First Friday Open Mic on November 6, 2020.  A delightful group of Bakersfield performers read their works.  There was a wide range of poetry shared.  Here are some of the highlights:

Tanya Dixon sang the hymn “It is well with my soul” as part of her inspiring poem, while Annis Cassalls repeated George Floyd’s desperate plea of “I can’t breathe!” in her impassioned work.  Anke Hodenpijl also read her stirring poem on social justice which is featured, along with Annis’ poem, in the new national anthology, ENOUGH:  “Say Their Names.”

Two students from Eric Osborne’s English class at East High, Adaliz Rodriguez and Kimberly Raminez, read their intriguing poems.  We are so jazzed they joined us and look forward to many more students appearing in our Open Mics.  Eric Osborne, their teacher, also read his entrancing poem reminiscing about past students after visiting the now-empty East High campus.

Chris Nielsen shared his heartful verses from his soul about a life well-lived.  Anna Byrd Marco read the shortest poem of the evening, the sublime “Red pepper moon, hot chile sky,” succinctly describing the landscape in our valley during the September wildfires.

Ruth Handy read her haiku about the energy of Japan, while Carla Martin read her seductive “recipe” for love and 40 clove garlic chicken.  Chloe Joseph shared her imaginative portrait of “Daughter of the Sea” which created a memorable image of a woman who longs to drown.

Suzanne Weller shared two poems – one in English and the other in French.  We were entranced with their lilting meter and rhyme.  What a wondrous ability to write poetry of this caliber in two languages!  Chris Craddock shared his clever poem about his lover with an allusion to Edgar Allen Poe’s famous raven, who quoth, “Nevermore!” 

Veronica Madrigal, Barbara Mattick, and Heather Ponek were an appreciative audience to us all.  We appreciate their support!

So many voices, so many messages.  This Open Mic was a true melting pot of our community’s concerns, hopes and dreams.  Thank you to all who joined our event.  We look forward to hearing from you next month!

Interviews with Eric Osborne, Suzanne Weller, and Dr. Tanya Dixon from Zoom First Friday Open Mic, November 6, 2020.

Interviews by Carla Martin

Interview with Eric Osborne

Eric Osborne is an English teacher at East High.  He encouraged some of his students to share their poetry at our Open Mic as well.  Once you read his comments, you will see why he is a much-loved teacher and wonderful poet.  Here is the poem he shared with us:

This Place

     by Eric Osborne

This place is just a building.

Stone walls and tile floors and glass windows.

This place is like so many other places

That I wish I could be instead.

Those doors that shut me in can open

So easily; a gust of wind is all it takes.

I am free to leave whenever I want

And go home or somewhere that feels like home,

But the voices echo through these empty halls.

The laughter, and the tears, and the thank yous for

Everything, for being there, for believing in me

Linger in my skull, and

This place comes alive, and they wrap me

In their memories.

This place does not hold me here;

Their memories do.

This place is a rye field on the edge of a cliff

And they are my bungee cord.

Q.  What inspired you to write your poem?  What is its back story? 

A.  This poem drew its inspiration from two different ideas that I was trying to flesh out. It turned out that they were two parts of the same puzzle. The repeated “this place” and the building imagery came to me while I was in my empty classroom in a nearly empty school during the pandemic. I went back in to gather some materials that I would need to finish the 2019-2020 school year online and begin preparing to teach 2020-2021 online as well. The emptiness of the school really impacted me because of how much love I have always felt there. I realized that it was not the place I loved but the people in the place. The idea of my students being a “bungee cord in the rye” is something that had been on my mind for a long time. The Catcher in the Rye was hugely influential on my becoming a teacher in the first place as I wanted to help students the same way that my previous teachers have helped me. However, I have realized over the years that these same students are also the ones keeping me from falling over the cliff as well. “This Place” is really about the level of importance my students play in my life. 

Q. Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  I enjoy reading poetry very much. My early inspirations are probably the same as most other writers. Men like Shel Silverstein and Edgar Allen Poe are the first I can recall being favorites. Later, Allen Ginsburg’s “Howl” showed me the power that poetry can have and how it can be both dark and beautiful at the same time. More recently, Taylor Mali was an influence for me as being a teacher is also a theme in many of his works. When I write pieces that are not about my job, people like Shane Koyczan, Sarah Kay, Rudy Francisco, Neil Hillborn, and Jared Singer are all influences for me. I like how they weave narrative elements into their works and how they are so emotionally vulnerable. There is a level of catharsis and release in their poetry that I often hope to find when I write my own.

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  The biggest piece of advice I would give to other people wanting to create poems is to stop trying to write what you think other people think poetry is. If you look at was presented at the Open Mic in November, they were vastly different. Someone presented a poem that was two lines long. Someone else presented a poem that took the entire five minutes. Still a third person presented a poem that was in French. Some focused heavily on their rhyme while others focused on some other poetic device. The beauty of poetry is that it can be whatever you need it to be and do whatever you need it to do. The only rule is that there are not any.

Before now, I have not really thought about my creative process. I do not really have something that I do every time. Typically, a line will pop into my head, and I will toss it around for while until it builds up enough momentum to jump out. My first drafts of poems (and by this, I mean just the first time I write. Poets know the first million drafts of a poem happen in our heads) are usually stream of conscious writings. Once the concepts are on the page, I will go back over it and refine, refine, refine. Because of having the Google Docs app on my phone, I do not really have a special place to write. It is really just wherever I am when one of the ideas decides to fall out.

Interview with Suzanne Weller 

The first poem Suzanne read was one she wrote in August for the Tuolumne Meadows poetry workshop Zoom meeting.  It shows a mastery of meter and rhyme:

Poem by Suzanne Weller

Cool breezes blow through ceiling grates

In icy worlds bears hibernate

The indoor air recycled, worn

not mountain winds in early morn

The upstairs currents ventilate

Words circulate, time to create

New furniture adorns my room

A sacred place where flowers bloom

And daylight streams through shutters white

to brighten up the Range of Light

My Bonnie book, my cup of tea

I’ll sip it slowly, thoughtfully

The Wilder Muir, the walks and talks

and poetry in Parson’s Lodge

 

The second poem Suzanne read was a sonnet in French written for the French Tea Club in Bakersfield:

Sonnet pour le Vert

by Suzanne Weller

Le vert, la couleur que moi je prefere

depuis mon enfance elle est ma plus chere

le feu vert montre ma voie encore libre

pour faire un voyage, mes trois vertes valises

Couleur de printemps, naissance de la vie

des plantes, des arbres, calmes et tranquilles

meme en automne quand les feuilles rougissent

les plantes vertes toujours verdissent

Les feuilles respirent de l’air pur au soleil

nous faisant de l’air tout oxygene

j’aime le vert d’eau et le vert bouteille

le jaune, le bleu, vert intermediare

le rouge par contre est complementaire

parmi les couleurs le vert est meilleur

 

Suzanne wrote an English version called “Green

Green is the color of nature

Color of life and nurture

Color of spring, birth of new life

Color of calm, absence of strife

Even in fall when leaves still turn

evergreens stay constant endure

Leaves breathing in taking in sun

breathing out air, pure oxygen

Emerald green, green serpentine

yellow and blue, green go between

Complements red, red shining sheen

Green light means go, your way is clear

Leave behind red, guilt, shame and fear

Take a deep breath, nature is near.

Q.   What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their back stories? 

A.  Nature usually inspires me to write poetry, and also I love the musicality of words, the rhyme, the meter, the assonances of sounds.  I have also loved music my whole life.  At the age of 5 I wrote a piece for the piano, then studied piano and majored in music at Lewis and Clark College In Portland Oregon for a year.  I wrote my first poem there, in French, inspired by the sonority of the language.  After I completed my Master’s in French at UCLA, I spent several years working in music writing songs and performing with a group called Carmen.  Writing a poem is like writing a song.   I returned to UCLA and completed my doctorate in French and wrote a thesis about the musicality of poetry, called “La Semiologie de la Musique dans la Poesie.”  I began writing poems about nature while working in Yosemite and being inspired by the poetic writings of John Muir.

Q.  Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A. While studying French Literature I read and enjoyed many French Poets:  Rimbaud, Valery, Baudelaire, Mallarme, and the surrealist poets, especially Paul Eluard.  I enjoy Eluard because of the musicality of his poetry and positive messages of hope, justice and Freedom: La Liberte.  I also like the nature-oriented poetry of Gary Snyder, the Pullitzer prize winning California poet and many songwriters like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan who recently received the Nobel prize for literature.  I admire our own music and poetry writers: Buck Owens, Red Simpson and Merle Haggard, who created the Bakersfield Sound.

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  When you write a poem let your mind be free.  Be spontaneous.  You can rewrite and edit later or the next day.  Find a subject that inspires you.   I like to work with forms like Sonnet, Vilanelle, Haiku, Counted syllables, rhythm and rhyme create a musical effect.  But poetry can also be written without forms or rhymes or meter.  The poet is really free to write in any way that is spontaneous, personal and natural.  In Yosemite I would go for nature walks in the woods, then come home and write about my impressions of nature’s beauty in poetic language.  Poetry is often described as being an emotional expression of language.  Poetic emotion often results from musical structures.  The principles of musical continuity, return, closure, and the technique of theme and variations all apply to poetry.   In fact, in poetry, musical patterns often replace linguistic norms.  Repetition is essential to the understanding of musical syntax and also of poetry.  In poetry, repetition creates rhythm that makes language flow.  Poetry is like water that flows around obstacles in a river, like dams or boulders or logs.  It can also create eddies and still pools below rocks.  But it just keeps flowing like water or music until it reaches the ocean.  The end of a piece in music usually slows and reaches a final cadence, from the dominant to the tonic. The end of a poem is often indicated musically, by returning to a final cadence or theme.   In poetry, sentences don’t exist like in prose, because in poetry, musical continuity doesn’t adhere to grammatic rules.  Poetry is a deviation from linguistic norms.  A series of adjectives or a series of repeated words without a verb could be poetic but wouldn’t be prose. The repetition of the adjectives or the same word would create a sort of musical rhythm that would come to a musical conclusion at the end.

Interview with Dr.Tanya Dixon

This is the poem Tanya shared with us so eloquently Friday night.  Her lovely voice rang out as she sang the words to the hymns.

Hymn (Memories)

by Tanya Dixon

As she sang the hymn

I was reminded

Of how the Baptist hymnal

Was burgundy with gold

Lettering on the front cover

Full of songs by authors

Whose lyrics

Bore their experiences in measures

Eighth notes sixteenth notes

I especially love, “It is well with my soul.”

 

We stood up in church to sing the hymn

We were taught respect

Pastor Tyree Toliver would sing out…” AAAAHHHHH MAAAA ZINNNG GRAAAAAACE.”

RESPECT

We’d chime in

Harmoniously and some not so harmoniously

Swaying, some folk were sitting down on the pew

It was okay

We were in the house of the Lord

We sang hymns and honored our elders

We sang hymns in stormy and foggy weather

We wouldn’t dare roll our eyes to those

Who had hair that was salt and pepper

 

Thank God for Rev. Spencer, the corner preacher

Who rendered How Great thou Art with such splendor and dignity is his demeanor

Thank God for the deacons who lined the hymns

The spirituals

With gratefulness and simplicity

My soul tires even though we have the latest technology

And some still are ungrateful

Oh, and the mother, Sis. Deloney who hummed a tune

In the corner pocket of the sanctuary

As Pastor Toliver broke down the text

I thank God for these precious moments

That have been embedded in my

Cellular memory…forever

Q.  What inspired you to write your poem?  What is its back story?

A.  This hymn is an excerpt of my upcoming book entitled, “Keeper of the Chapel.” It’s a book of poetry and prayers. I use hymns to settle me before doing Sacred work or to soothe my soul on difficult days. One day, I was reminiscing about growing up in my home church here in Bakersfield, CA. We sang a lot of hymns. So, this poem entitled, “Hymns” is an ode to my former Pastor, the late Dr. Tyree Toliver, and some of the elders of the church (i.e. Rev. William Spencer and Sis. Deloney) who were dedicated to singing the hymns. The way they sang moved me and helped to establish my faith in God. These precious memories are still affirming to me naturally, spiritually, and culturally.

Q. Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  I enjoy reading poetry. Before I continue, I have to say that I come from a family of orators. My grandfather, Morris Hicks Sr., was voted Class Poet while attending high school in Texarkana, Texas. He encouraged me to do public speaking. He had such a way with words. My godmother, Censa Faye Webster was a Poet who influenced me to write and produce books. I have been influenced by the works of Dr. Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, and Billy Chapta. I like Billy Chapata’s poetry. It feels like quiet healing. He has a way of speaking to the heart. I admire all the styles of the poets that are listed. Overall, I am a huge fan of Dr. Maya Angelou’s style. It is rich with wisdom and will cause you to swim in your own truth. .

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.?  Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.  Poets: Write what you feel, write what you think, write what you see, and be true. Never compare yourself to other Poets. Comparison will take away your joy. You are an original, so let your original voice be heard. Find your thing that will help you to write poetry. For me, prior to the pandemic, I had to go to Starbucks and write or go to the beach for inspiration. Now I take pleasure in the simple things like drinking an Apple Snapple.  I listen to hymns, classical music, instrumentals or Hip-Hop music while writing. Write about the times the unrest is healing. I never start with the whole poem in mind, sometimes it is just a simple word. Poet friends, I encourage you to speak through the ink, in the note section of your smartphone or on the keyboard of your computer. Whatever you do, Speak!

First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s  Coffee (Summer 2019)

First Friday Open Mic at Dagny’s  Coffee (Summer 2019)

There were poets and musicians, new faces and seasoned performers at Dagny’s Coffee during the summer 2019 at First Friday Open Mic. 

Below are interviews of poets who performed during the summer.  An in-depth interview is made of Julie Jordan Scott by Carla Martin.  Julie hosted the Open Mic on May 3, 2019 and on July 5, 2019.  Additional interviews and their poems include Austin Yi (performed June 7, 2019) and Mateo Lara (performed August 2, 2019).

Open Mic June 2019
Photos by Kern Poetry

 

Open Mic July 2019
Photos by Kern Poetry

 

 

Interview with Julie Jordan Scott 
By Carla Martin

Q.  Julie, you hosted in May and July of 2019, and did such a fabulous job! I was wondering if you’d care to share some of what you know about poets and poetry in our community and beyond?

A.  First, I love hosting Poetry Open Mics. Many people in Bakersfield know me from my work in local theater. What they don’t know is that long before theater I was hosting Open Mic Night at Barnes and Noble, almost twenty years ago. I love encouraging poets and writers. I especially love creating community among writers and poets. That was one note of kudos I received when I hosted at Dagny’s. One of the people there said I made everyone feel welcome and affirmed.

Q.  What are some “happenings” you are aware of? Opportunities to submit poems, or read poems, etc.

A.  I spend most of my time with poets and writing poetry on social media. I need to improve my submitting skills!

In May, for example, I did a livestream series on Periscope and Instagram on Meditation and Poetry. What I loved most about this was sharing poetry found on the Poetry Foundation website which houses every single issue of Poetry Magazine that has been published since 1912. Visitors may print the poems there which is what I did during May and I encourage others to do as well.

Here is a link to the blog post I wrote introducing that series.

http://creativelifemidwife.com/2020/05/beingacomma/

Videos may be found on my Instagram page.  Here is one:

https://www.instagram.com/tv/CAqdI-TABnR/

I don’t know of any local events right now. I am not looking to be out and about much. I am at high risk after my illness in October, so I am better off staying at home. I know the Thursday night open mic at Dagny’s was doing some instagram lives for a while, but I don’t know if they still are.

Q.  Are there any issues pertaining to our region that you are passionate about? What should we be aware of?

A. In the past I was very interested in education and immigration. I am still interested in both but not as active.

Recently I participated in a Pride Parade in the Oleander area that was so fun. My daughter and I decorated our car and we represented the Empty Space theater. The Creative Crossings have done many murals in Oleander and beyond, some permanent and some chalk. Watching them grow and share so much exuberance in the community is my new local favorite.

Q.  Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  I love reading poetry. When I was a newer poet, I didn’t understand the power of reading other people’s poetry: it felt like being in the classroom which I didn’t want to do! Once I started reading poets like Mary Oliver and Billy Collins I just kept going. I love finding prose writers such as Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich and Diane Ackerman who are also poets.

When I teach writing classes to adults, I always encourage poetry reading as a way to become better prose writers. As Samuel Taylor Coleridge said, “Prose = words in their best order; — poetry = the best words in the best order.”

Q.  What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems? How do you make a poem?Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.? Give us a glimpse into your creative process.

A.

  1. Always carry a notebook with you AND/OR jot notes in your phone. I have a note folder in my phone I call “poetry jots” where I take notes on imagery, portions of eavesdropped conversations, interesting things I may say aloud or think that may become an interesting bit of poetry.
  2. Write everywhere. It might sound counter-cultural, but I am opposed to having “one special place to write.” To me that is an invitation to being blocked. The more comfortable writers can get in more places – and become less self-conscious the more freely their words will flow.
  3. Create a writing goal. My current everyday writing goal sounds enormous – which it is – and also tiny – which it is. Today is 198 of 377 consecutive days of haiku poetry I write every day in the morning and post on my Facebook page. In fact, I often assign my writing students to use haiku for lots of writing. Allen Ginsburg, one of the great beat poets devised something called “The American Sentence Poem” which is a seventeen-syllable poem without the three-line Japanese haiku structure of five syllables-seven syllables – five syllables.

Right now, until the beginning of August, I have added an additional challenge of writing a haiku at sunrise.

How this process works has definitely helped me during the pandemic because it requires me to leave my house and be in (urban) nature here in Bakersfield. I take a photo, I write a haiku to go with the photo, I post on Facebook and I go on with my day.

Some of them have bombed and others have been embraced. This helps the creative to learn some work will be a success and some work will flop. It’s all good, either way! What is important is every day I am intentionally putting my words out there into the world. It wipes away self-consciousness and sometimes it even inspires people.

Julie’s poetry blog:  https://juliejordanscott.typepad.com/jjspoetry/

See Julie Jordan Scott’s words and photos on Facebook. Here are a few selections.

The first one that started it all:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10156937934987333&set=a.10156937936012333&type=3

Making my subject local historical places gets audiences interested:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10156983044352333&set=a.10156937936012333&type=3

Art begets Art

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10157179265937333&set=a.10156937936012333&type=3

 

A poem by Julie Jordan Scott

Solitude, when it is a choice,
is better than
when it is a rant:

Interrupted like the loud
purr of my
neighbor’s lawn mower or
the too loud
drunken laughter of my daughter
that relegated me to my
very very very
visible porch dungeon
chocolate cake and I
are the sinews and the cartilage

ancient black out poem winks
“Interwoven” of deserted island pink
in a sea of gesso
smudgy innocence, breasts
undercover when I am stuck alone
in the clock tower…. apologies for less than
stellar poetry
accepted

I don’t even

So here’s the deal:
uniformity, lock step agreement is boring
(and that bulbous choice is an
utterance I don’t use lightly) feel the
frowning energy, mutterings airborne
and the appeal of the flibbertigibbet
nestles into the roots of my crown
smiling, Mona Lisa like.
Like Mona Lisa. akin to
Mona Lisa basking in her
mystery. people continue attempting
to fit into boxes marked “understood”
rather than rolling into the welcoming
womb of mystery, the antidote to
know-it-all’s snarkdom wouldn’t we as
humanity be better off if we accepted
it is in the not knowing and the moving
forward even with the fog swirling about
the antidote is in the airborne space between the
foot and the soil, the roll of the wheel, the
movement of the pencil on repeat

 

Interview with Austin Yi
by Carla Martin

Here is the poem Austin shared with us at Dagny’s on June 7, 2019:

Air Apparent
after Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928)

flurried utterances
                                          of consecrated smut
off shelves of humorless self-styled holy
men among other Hollywood martyrs
back from the marketplace, spruced up
in ashes gathered from
                                          burning bouquets
belonging to a girl no more an ornament
than a coal lump but
                                          just as bright;
wheezing through rerun lapses erected
to rank of mantra,
                                          a prayer, a state
of grace attained through the naming of
                            things that don’t belong
to them,
bungling branches hacked for that
original magic―

               the whole thing just faded away
                                                         the mount and the ramp
down
               the other side exactly as you    
                                                                     described
highly stylized  
                            grandiose but
no trick                                                      the little strength
                                                        of our universe
                                                                                    with its
               bonobo incontinence
and
               useless inclinations—
                                                       my best
                             friend on a beach
                                                                                    with a fistful of sand
                                            for home
                                                          has nothing to do
                             with self-
                promotion;
                                                          what a woman!

                                           delighting in trees
simply because their leaves
                                                                        move
                            if
                                           even by the very wind
              enkindling faggots
             of sapless wing
                                                            and limb
                                           below roasting soles
as soiled
as Christ’s

 

Q.  What inspired you to write this poem? What’s its back story?

A.  I watched “The Passion of Joan of Arc” for the first time in March and couldn’t help but see it as an allegory of the #MeToo Movement.

Q.  What poets do you admire? Who has influenced your own writing?

A.   Right now my Holy Trinity of Poets consists of Frank O’Hara, William Carlos Williams, and Audre Lorde. In O’Hara’s work I admire this sense of “programlessness” as his friend and contemporary John Ashbery puts it, or rather how he can create poetic structures based on the rhythm of a beautiful sentence rather than developing sentences to fit into an already-made form, like a sonnet. He reads like jazz.

I admire Williams for staying home when every other artist and writer sought ex-pat status. He also has more humanity than T.S. Eliot.

Reading Audre Lorde’s poetry empowers me. I haven’t come across a writer who speaks to the disenfranchised the way she does.

Q.  What advice would you give aspiring poets? Describe your creative process.

A.  I write poetry the way I doodle, in the margins of something “more important.” This means it’s impossible for me to intentionally sit down and write a poem. Instead, depending on the feeling I’m trying to capture, I’ll scavenge through notebooks, journals, receipts, napkins, anything, for phrases I don’t remember the origins to, compile them into a list on a word document or notecards, and begin arranging and rearranging, try to discover a rhythm and hopefully meaning beyond the nonsense of arbitrarily clustered phrases. It’s the weeding-out of sentences, words, and phrases that I find to be the closest thing to writing poetry. And the content of my notes can literally be anything, although I do prefer the eavesdropped conversation more than any other source.

 

Interview with Mateo Lara
by Portia Choi

Here is Mateo Lara’s poem shared at the Open Mic on August 2, 2019:

 

“Rest Here”

By Mateo Lara

time     to         rest here           the space above           your head above

the lie              here I pull                    us down together.

this                  which bastardizes light           which bastardizes ownership             

the joke of land           the split skin                the withered throat      hide the truth

the cursed land            here     the sleep eternal          us, quiet weakened things

broken-glassed room   mouth  ghost   bed      the confinement

the trap is freedom      the trap is open            ness     necessary

the shadow falls          the secret in our walls             voices escape, we finally        escape

now we ask for freedom         when we          though we       should have taken it from the

beginning.

 

Mateo emailed that “What inspired me to write the poem is the fight for immigrants on the border. Just having family dealing with the obstacles and struggles of finding safety in the violence and chaos that the U.S. has posed to immigrants, especially immigrants of color. It was a kind of evocation to rest, and ask for your freedom, demand it, despite the pain.”

Open Mic May 2019 Featuring Jerry D. Mathes II

Kern Poetry Interview with Jerry D. Mathes II

Interview by Carla Martin
Photographs by Kern Poetry

Jerry D. Mathes II was the featured poet for Dagny’s First Friday Open Mic Night, last year on May 3, 2019.  The event was hosted by local poet and poetry advocate, Julie Jordan Scott.

 

 

The interview with Jerry D. Mathes II 
by Carla Martin

Q.  What inspired you to write your poems?  What are their backstories?

A.  I am inspired by life to write poems. That thing that drives anyone to tell a story that is as innate as painting on cave walls. In poetry, I write about events that have an underlying transformational moment, an emotional turn that happens. In the poem, “Venus in Retrograde” I was driving out Highway 58 before sunrise between Tehachapi and Boron headed to Las Vegas, Nevada where my father had been hospitalized and was about to undergo heart surgery. My two daughters were asleep and I was alone with the road noise and Venus burning in the light of false dawn. I wrote the poem in my head as I contemplated the gravity of the trip, my rocky relationship with my father, and the drive, the journey itself. This is classic story telling. What is the physical action of the story and what is the emotional action of the story? I had my journal with me, as I always do, so scribbled out the lines as it rested on my thigh. I’d learned how to write on a steno on my thigh as a helicopter manager when I was a wildland firefighter, so it’s something I can do easily.  

 

Venus in Retrograde 

The girls and I drive east, 
Sunrise like a creamsicle, 
spread only the way a desert 
can make it, edged between jagged 
mountains and the freezer blue 
of a sky, failing before day. The half-light 
ripples the frost on the dry lake, 
and Venus hangs a punch hole in the dark sky. 

We travel to see my father, whose heart 
is battered with decades of cigarettes, 
industry, and the working class diet 
designed to keep the body burning 
through the long shifts of mining ore, 
hauling the nation’s freight, or the rejection 

of a first born son. The space around 
his heart has filled with fluid like so much 
sweat and tears of a lifetime of work, 
compressing it until it struggles to beat, 
to do its job. 

My daughters sleep as I drive and regard 
Venus through the windshield, fading 
with the sunrise. How the son always 
feels the pull of the father, no matter 
how far away he travels or long ago 
the last civil word. 
Venus maybe in retrograde, 
but it always returns along its frozen 
ellipsis, not to the heart, but close enough 
to see its light at its brightest. 

 

Q. Do you like to read poetry?  If you do, what poets have influenced you?  Who have messages you connect with, or styles you admire?

A.  I do like to read poetry. And poets who have influenced me are Walt Whitman, Emily Dickenson, Tennyson, Wilfred Owen, Langston Hughes, Richard Hugo, Jane Kenyon, James Wright, Anna Akhmatova, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Hayden, Phillip Levine, Yusef Komunyakaa, and others. I don’t really look for messages, but how a poet uses words and images and how they connect to the human condition. I like when a poet lets a poem have room to breathe and even if it adds up to a certain way of looking at the world, like in Levine’s “What Work Is” or Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” events within the poem led us there and we aren’t being preached at. Even political poets like Owen and Ginsberg work through imagery and in the end let the readers contemplate how they feel about the subject. You can look at Ginsberg’s “America,” and its litany of injustices, sense of protest, or those people on the fringe, where it seems a rejection of America and its values because “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing,” but in the end turns it upside down when he says “America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.” The same with Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum Est.” He isn’t saying the war is hell, stop the war. He is showing you the horror of war as it existed for him on the Western Front and the reader can see the horrors and come to their own conclusions, which is much more powerful as he comes to the final line in Latin that works against the idea of glory and honor in war. Poetry can reveal to us injustices, horror, or oppression and it can be celebratory, elegiac, or mythic in searching, but how it wrestles with these things is what is important to me. Aristotle wrote in Poetics, “the ending must be unexpected, yet satisfying.” He was talking about all narratives. It’s what gives us surprise or delight as we finish reading. It’s also important to remember the reader is smart and doesn’t need to be told most things, and it robs a reader of the satisfaction of discovery. For instance, in Whitman’s “The Artilleryman’s Vision,” the artilleryman is hallucinating the battle in his home in bed with his wife and “through the dark, I hear, just hear, the/breath of my infant.” He shows us and we are left to share the experience. You can see this also in “Starlight Scope Myopia” by Yusef Komunyakaa where we are looking through a night vision scope at enemy soldiers who “Gray-blue shadows lift/shadows onto an oxcart.” and what is flat and dark opens out into a larger world of humanity we couldn’t have predicted, and discover a revelatory ending. I think a lot about Richard Hugo’s “Degrees of Grays in Phillipsburg” about a trip to a played-out mining town and he shows us the wreckage and hope of life in this trip. It begins, “You might come here Sunday on a whim,” and if that isn’t inviting you into a world laden with meaning to ponder, then I don’t know what is. But for all these authors, it is the imagery that shows us the way, and not the author telling us, and the author trusts we are smart enough to get it. I have no use for preachy poetry. In fact, preachy poetry is more for the writer than the listener. As the poet Richard Hugo said, “I you want to send a message, call Western Union.”  

 

Q. What advice would you give to other folks wanting to create poems?  How do you make a poem?  Do you have a special place you go to, or music you listen to, etc.? How long does it take you?  Do you write in the morning or evening?  On the back of envelopes or on your phone? Give us a glimpse into your creative process! 

A.  The advice I give people who want to be poets is to write and read and write some more. Look at poems you like and figure out how they were constructed. A good thing to do is get a book on forms and learn how to construct formal poems that don’t sound stilted, archaic, or forced, and after that you can break the form and create what you want. Another exercise I learned in college was modeling. Take a poem you love and use it as a blueprint for your own poem. Copy the meter, the line length and the number of lines, but use your own words and imagery. 

I don’t have a special place, or music, or a particular time of day and compose poems with whatever is handy. A poem can take years or days to minutes to write, because that’s how it works. My creative process is to look at the world or think about events or things and what questions they raise for and how to work it out. Yeats said, “Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” The poet must be introspective and struggle with her or himself as they confront the world and, most importantly, confront themselves. Poetry, it’s a search for meaning.  

Bakersfield Poets Respond to COVID 19

Bakersfield Poets Respond to COVID 19

I, Portia Choi, of Kern Poetry thank you, our poetry community. These are times of change – a time of mandatory precaution due to COVID-19. It has also been a time of connection with poetry and with creativity.

This story is an initial sharing of poems and interviews of local poets about their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I have asked Carla Martin, a Bakersfield poet, to interview Blake Short, Diane Lobre and Jana Lee Wong.

Interview with Blake Short
By Carla Martin

Blake Short shared with us one of his poems at Dagny’s Open Mic Nights on April 5, 2019. He has written a new poem that is particularly relevant to what many of us are feeling during the current COVID 19 crisis. It is included here with his interview.

Q. What inspires you to write your poems?

A. The definition of poetry is “…literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings.” With that definition in mind, poetry has allowed me to channel my inner-self with a naked, bare intensity, allowing me to convey thoughts of joy, pain, confusion, etc. I am able inhabit a place where all of those emotions define who I am without being ashamed about what I have done or who I am. But allowing my hand to write out a truth that in turn may be my only way of confronting what it is I am trying to understand.

During this time of the corona virus, we have isolated ourselves in order to stop the spread. But for some us, it has brought the best and worst out in us. Isolation can take someone’s head to go to places that it would not normally go. I wrote this poem about that place, This is the poem:

solitude taught me of my nature.

my hollow thoughts

became more real than my dreams.

my heart living in the shade of night.

this imperfection taught me of my selfishness.

for it is we, not I,

that make up this life.

This poem talks about how many of us isolate even when there is no reason to. But we are social creatures–we need each other! Because when we isolate, we believe that we will write something profound, or supposedly intuitive. We may write down some arrogant thought that makes us believe we are better than other people.

When all of this social distancing ends, I hope that people will step out of their comfort zones and connect with people–allowing a true organic relationship to grow! I am extremely guilty of isolating. But after being in this quarantine, I realize that we need each other.

Q. Do you like to read poetry?

A. If you are a poet, and do not read poetry, it causes me to be perplexed. Reading is the way we learn! Digesting the expression of others is essential to how we express ourselves.

Poets that influence me are Pablo Neruda, E.E.Cummings, Robert Frost, William Blake, Sylvia Plath, just to name a few! I can’t say that I have a favorite, but if I had to choose, I would say E.E.Cummings! However, I read Willam Blake’s poem, “The Tyger,” in high school, and I can honestly say that that is when I wanted to write poetry. It was the language of the poem that spoke to my heart.

Q. What advice would you give other folks wanting to create poems?

A. I would like to tread lightly on this question, because when you begin giving creative advice, it can be as though you are admiring yourself in a mirror. The advice is backwards and becomes all about you, not the people you are trying to help/inspire. But if I were to say anything, I would say the cliche line, “be vulnerable” in your writing. The beauty of poetry is, like the definition states, it is about expression! What do you want to say? How do you want to say it? You can choose whatever creative process that releases the truth from your heart and mind. In the words of the sportswriter, Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, when asked if writing was easy, “Well, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”


Interview with Diane Lobre
By Carla Martin

This is Diane’s uplifting poem, her philosophical response to COVID 19:

Heart Holds Hope

          By Diane Lobre

The mind is racing with potential

For catastrophe and fear

But the heart holds hope

Any spark of hope, joy to be found

In this morass of change

Days pass in an illusion of sameness

Amidst calamity, humanity

Is slowing down, finding

Ways to cope

Hope whispers words

Encouraging us to be kind

To share and learn

Uncharted waters lay before us

Perhaps, it’s time to listen

To our inner voices

And navigate using our innate sense

Of what is right, how to reach

The distant shore together

Finding the eye in the storm

Breathing calm, holding tight

To love and those we love

Being thankful for those who serve

With reverence for selflessness

And humble acceptance

Gifts of concern, friends’ support

Offers of help and giving

These buoy the kernel of hope

Hope, the candle in the window

Lighting our way

Lifting spirits

Q. What role does poetry play during uncertain times? How can it help us? (the individual, the masses, society — you name it!)

A. For me, writing poetry in response to a strong feeling/emotion helps me process the feeling. Instead of focusing on the negative, I try to find and highlight the positive. The news I read, the people around me, my experience within the situation all come into play.

Q. What has been your own personal response to the pandemic? How does your poem explore this feeling?

A. The pandemic has not drastically impacted my life. My health and income have not been affected. The long periods of distancing from family has been the most impactful. There is a fear and sadness buried within me for my family and community. That poem has not been written yet.


Interview with Jana Lee Wong
By Carla Martin

This is Jana’s poem written just as COVID 19 arrived in our lives:

Pandemic 2020

          By Jana Lee Wong 

6 feet back

6 feet under

it hits as fast

as the numbers

in the news

chime daily.

we forget

to breathe

as those struggle

for breath.

fathers afraid

of the plague

their sons bring,

shut doors ghostly

freeways national

guard

iran

china

italy

all closed

ghost towns

in the wake

of daylight.

we used to read

histories of death,

now we make history

with slow closures,

slow fires to burn

posies in our pockets.

Q. What role does poetry play during uncertain times? How can it help us? (the individual, the masses, society – you name it!)

A. Poetry plays the role of truth to the individual in uncertain times like these, and then it is conveyed to the masses. It is a message to society that sometimes inspires, sometimes provokes, but its overall theme should be timeless.

Q. What has been your own personal response to the pandemic? How does your poem explore this feeling?

A. My own personal response to the pandemic was portrayed in my poem, “Pandemic 2020.” I was, like most people, in shock of the reality unfolding around us with the shutdown and the social distancing. When the hotel canceled my summer reservations, I knew we were going to be in this predicament for the long haul, and when a friend’s parents went into the hospital for the fight of their lives, I knew we had never seen anything like this before in our lifetimes.

Q. How can poets and creative thinkers use our new blocks of free time to hone their craft? What personal challenges or schedules or aspirations are you pursing during this crisis–also a time of opportunity?

A. Of course, there is a positive transformation that I have seen in our community and across the nation. Neighbors are talking to each other more often and helping each other from a distance. Families are finding creative ways to have fun and find meaning in their lives, and artists are finding the time to create. I am personally finding time to write a science fiction novel, and I find the key to getting anything accomplished is to set a schedule for yourself, and try to create something every day, no matter how little it may be. We all want to look back and say, “I did something pretty amazing during the COVID-19 lockdown.” This accomplishment can take many forms, but we have to begin now.