Don Thompson, the first Poet Laureate of Kern County, is hosting an event on February 16, 2017 at the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities on the Bakersfield College campus.
Thompson stated that the “San Joaquin Valley is known for agriculture, oil, and country music, but down through the years, it has also produced a number of major poets.”
At the event, there will be a reading of work by eight poets born in the Valley who have achieved a national reputation. Two of the poets were born in Bakersfield, Frank Bidart and Sherley Ann Williams.
Another poet, Robert Duncan, although born in Oakland California, he “began writing poetry as a teenager in Bakersfield,, when a high school teacher encouraged his creative endeavors” according to the Academy of Amerian Poets on their website, www.poet.org.
The other nationally known poets are William Everson, Juan Felipe Herrera, Larry Levis, Gary Soto and David St. John.
At the event, a poem from each of the nationally known poets will be performed by a local poet or advocate for the arts: Annis Cassells, Andrew Chilton, Portia Choi, Catherine Abbey Hodges, LisaAnn LoBasso, Diana Ramirez, Don Thompson and Matt Woodman.
The following is a brief information about each of the acclaimed poets and one of their poems.
Frank Bidart was born in Bakersfield, California on May 27, 1939 and educated at the University of California at Riverside and at Harvard University, where he was a student and friend of Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop, according to the Academy of American Poetry, www.poet.org.
The website stated that “his first volume of poetry, Golden State (G. Braziller, 1973), was selected by poet Richard Howard for the Braziller Poetry series, but it wasn’t until the publication of The Sacrifice (Random House, 1983) that Bidart’s poetry began to attract a wider readership.”
Bidart’s book, Desire (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1997), “was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award.”
“About his work, the former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Glück has said, ‘More fiercely, more obsessively, more profoundly than any poet since Berryman (whom he in no way resembles) Bidart explores individual guilt, the insoluble dilemma.’ And about his career as a poet, she said, “Since the publication, in 1973, of Golden State, Frank Bidart has patiently amassed as profound and original a body of work as any now being written in this country.’ ”
“His honors include the Wallace Stevens Award, the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Foundation Writer’s Award, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Shelley Award of the Poetry Society of America, and The Paris Review‘s first Bernard F. Conners Prize for “The War of Vaslav Nijinsky” in 1981. In 2007, he received the Bollingen Prize in American Poetry.”
“Bidart was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2003. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he has taught at Wellesley College since 1972.”
Happy Birthday by Frank Bidart
the awe I feel
is not that you won’t come again, or why–
or even that after
a time, we think of those who are dead
with a sweetness that cannot be explained–
but that I’ve read the trading cards:
RALPH TEMPLE CYCLIST CHAMPION TRICK RIDER
WILLIE HARRADON CYCLIST
THE YOUTHFUL PHENOMENON
F.F. IVES CYCLIST
100 MILES 6 H. 25 MIN. 30 SEC,
–as the fragile metal of their
wheels stopped turning, as they
took on wives, children, accomplishments, all those
predilections which also insisted on ending.
(From THE BOOK OF THE BODY, 1977 by Frank Bidart)
Sherley Anne Williams
Sherley Anne Williams, American novelist, poet, and scholar, was born in Bakersfield, California in 1944 to Jesse Winson and Lena Silver Williams.
Williams “was raised in poverty in a housing project in Fresno” according to the website, An Online Reference Guide to African American History, Black Past.org. This website further stated:
“Williams’ mother, (who) discouraged Sherley from reading because she thought books would fill her head with false hope for the future, died when Williams was sixteen years old. Williams was placed in the custody of her sister, Ruby, who was a single mother, struggling to get by on her own. Sherley and Ruby managed to provide for themselves, eking by on income earned from odd jobs such as picking cotton, working seasonally in department stores, and cutting grapes.”
“After graduation from Edison Junior/Senior High School in Fresno in 1962, Williams attended California State University, Fresno where she earned a bachelor’s degree in English. In 1972 she received a master’s degree from Brown University.”
“In 1975 Williams joined the faculty at the University of California, San Diego and became the first African American female faculty member in the university’s English department. She worked at the University of California, San Diego until her death in 1999.”
“Williams’ writing highlighted the importance of folklore and history in shaping black identity. While she started writing in 1967, the 1972 publication of Give Birth to Brightness: A Thematic Study in Neo-Black Literature was the first piece that brought her national attention. Give Birth advanced her theory that said black folklore should be examined as a force shaping African American identity.”
“Her 1975 book, The Peacock Poems, examined that theory by focusing on the history of her parents and their use of black dialect and musical forms such as spirituals and the blues. The Peacock Poems was critically acclaimed and received a National Book Award nomination in poetry and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.”
A Pavonine Truth by Sherley Ann Williams
I ain’t never left this town/but it’s like I been around the world
Ain’t never left this one lil town/but I might as well have been round the world.
Yeah, you know the streets/can put a hurt on just about any young girl.
Good lovin love/can put you in a lot of pain,
I know it’s funny peoples,/but good love do cause pain.
Make a woman wonder/when her man say,/let’s try again.
Some men call me sister,/some, then queen of the earth,/the bearer of all life.
But what really would groove me is my sweet man callin me his woman,/his wife.
Life put a hurt on you/only one thing you can do.
When life put the hurt on you/not but one thing a po chile can do.
I just stand on my hind legs and holla/just let the sound carry me on through.
Take yo self to get self togetha/(ain’t it funny though that it
takes a woman to make anotha one pretty
but take a man to make the beauty shine true.
Baby, you gots to keep on lovin me:
My natchal life be dependin on you.
(From THE PEACOCK POEMS 1975 by Sherley Ann Williams)
Robert Duncan (1919-1988) was born in Oakland, California.
Duncan “began writing poetry as a teenager in Bakersfield, when a high school teacher encouraged his creative endeavors” according to The Academy of American Poets, on www.poet.org, stated that
“In 1938, after two years at University of California, Berkeley, Duncan moved to New York and became involved in the downtown literary coterie that had sprung up around Anaïs Nin. . . .Duncan returned to Berkeley in 1946. The poetry scene there was developing into what would soon be called the San Francisco Renaissance.”
Another source, the Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org, stated that Duncan was a “distinctive voice in American poetry, Duncan’s idiosyncratic poetics drew on myth, occultism, religion—including the theosophical tradition in which he was raised—and innovative writing practices such as projective verse and composition by field.”
The Poetry Foundation stated that Duncan’s “Selected Poems (1993) was published posthumously, as was his volume of collected writings, and personal tribute to the work of H.D., The H.D. Book (2011). A decades-long project that distills much of Duncan’s thinking on poetry, modernism, and the role of the occult in the imagination, The Nation’s critic Ange Mlinko described The H.D. Book as a “palimpsest.” Mlinko noted the importance of book for being “not only revisited and restarted many times over the years, but incorporating different sources from different points in time… Duncan’s roving eye for patterns consistently saw relationships between the new science of his day and the ancient wisdom of the poets.” ”
WHAT I SAW PASSAGES 3 by Robert Duncan
The white peacock roosting/might have been Christ
feathered robe of Osiris,
the radiant bird, a sword-flash
percht in the tree .
and the other, the fumed-glass slide
—were like night and day,
the slit of an eye opening in
vertical to the horizon
(From BENDING THE BOW 1968 by Robert Duncan)
William Everson (1912-1994) was a Beat poet and critic born in Sacramento, California.
Everson was “part of the San Francisco Renaissance. He was the founder of Lime Kiln Press” according to the New Directions Publishing Company website, www.ndbooks.com,
The Poetry Foundation’s website, www.poetryfoundation.org, stated that “though William Everson had established himself as a respected regional poet many years before the Beat movement of the 1950s came into being, he first came to national attention when he was identified as a member of that group. A deeply serious and religious writer, Everson spent eighteen years as a Dominican monk and published many of his works under his name in religion, Brother Antoninus.”
THE GASH by William Everson
To covet and resist for years, and then
To succumb, is a fearsome thing. All you craved and denied
At last possesses you. You give yourself
Wholly to its power; and its presence,
Invading your soul, stupefies
With its solace and its terror.
There is nothing so humbling as acceptance.
I sense the mushrooms in the night,
Tearing their way up through loose soil,
Brutal as all birth.
And I bend my head,
And cup my mouth on the gash of everything I craved,
And am ravaged with joy.
(From MAN-FATE, The Swan Song of Brother Antoninus 1973 by William Everson)
Juan Felipe Herrera
Juan Felipe Herrera was born in Fowler, California, on December 27, 1948.
Herrera was the “son of migrant farmers, Herrera moved often, living in trailers or tents along the roads of the San Joaquin Valley in Southern California” according to the Academy of American Poetry, www.poets.org,
“As a child, he attended school in a variety of small towns from San Francisco to San Diego. He began drawing cartoons while in middle school, and by high school was playing folk music by Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.”
“Herrera graduated from San Diego High in 1967, and was one of the first wave of Chicanos to receive an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) scholarship to attend UCLA. There, he became immersed in the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, and began performing in experimental theater, influenced by Allen Ginsberg and Luis Valdez.”
“In 1972, Herrera received a BA in Social Anthropology from UCLA. He received a masters in Social Anthropology from Stanford in 1980, and went on to earn an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 1990.”
“His interests in indigenous cultures inspired him to lead a formal Chicano trek to Mexican Indian villages, from the rain forest of Chiapas to the mountains of Nayarit. The experience greatly changed him as an artist. His work, which includes video, photography, theater, poetry, prose, and performance, has made Herrera a leading voice on the Mexican American and indigenous experience.”
The website, juanfelipepoet.com, stated that his “numerous poetry collections include 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border: Undocuments 1971-2007, Half of the World in Light: New and Selected Poems (2008), and Border-Crosser with a Lamborghini Dream (1999). In addition to publishing more than a dozen collections of poetry, Herrera has written short stories, young adult novels, and children’s literature.”
“In 2012, Herrera was named California’s poet laureate, and the U.S. poet laureate in 2015.”
“He has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, the Focal Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN West Poetry Award. His honors include the UC Berkeley Regent’s Fellowship as well as fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and the Stanford Chicano Fellows. He has also received several grants from the California Arts Council.”
Pascuala by Juan Felipe Herrera
Your father’s guitar
still lies next to the drinking well.
There in its silent scar
the drumbeat of the mountain is born.
The guitar tilts toward my sewing colors,
my cotton. Its strings are sewn
to my loom, waiting for your dark fingers.
The soldiers search for your father, they say,
but they do not know he is made of wool,
earth and song.
La guitarra de tu padre
todavia esta tirada junto a la noria.
Alli en su cicatriz callada
nace el latido de la montana
La guitarra se inclina hacia mis colores,
mis algodones. Sus cuerdas estan enhebradas
a mi telar, esperan tus dedos calcinados.
Los soldados buscan a tu padre, dicen,
pero no saben que el es de lana,
tierra y cancion.
(In the Spanish words, additional accents are needed to reflect correct language.)
(From HALF OF THE WORLD IN LIGHT 2008 by Juan Felipe Herrera)
Larry Levis was born in Fresno, California, on September 30, 1946.
“His father was a grape grower, and in his youth Levis drove a tractor, pruned vines, and picked grapes in Selma, California” according to Academy of American Poets, www.poets.org.
Further information from the Academy of American Poets stated that Levis “earned a bachelor’s degree from Fresno State College (now California State University, Fresno) in 1968, a master’s degree from Syracuse University in 1970, and a Ph.D. from the University of Iowa in 1974”
“His first book of poems, Wrecking Crew (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972), won the United States Award from the International Poetry Forum. His second book, The Afterlife (University of Iowa Press, 1976), was the Lamont Poetry Selection of The American Academy of Poets. In 1981, The Dollmaker’s Ghost (Dutton) was a winner of the Open Competition of the National Poetry Series.”
“He taught English at the University of Missouri from 1974 to 1980, was an associate professor and directed the creative writing program at the University of Utah from 1980 to 1992, and from 1992 until his death was a professor of English at Virginia Commonwealth University.”
“Levis died of a heart attack on May 8, 1996, at the age of 49. A posthumous collection, Elegy (University of Pittsburgh Press), edited by Philip Levine, was published in 1997, and The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems (Graywolf Press), edited by David St. John, was published in 2016.”
Ghazal by Larry Levis
Does exile begin at birth? I lived beside a wide river
For so long I stopped hearing it.
As when a glass shatters during an argument,
And we are secretly thrilled. . .We wanted it to break.
Always something missing now in the cry of one bird,
Its wings flared against the wood.
Still, everything that is singular has a name:
Stone, song, trembling, waist & snow. I remember how.
My old psychiatrist would pinch his nose betwee
A thumg & forefinger, look up at me & sigh.
(From The Darkening Trapeze: Last Poems, (c) 2016 by the Estate of Larry Levis.)
Gary Soto was born in Fresno, California, on April 12, 1952, to working-class Mexican-American parents according to Academy of American Poets, www.poets.com.
It further stated that as “a teenager and college student, he (Soto) worked in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley, chopping beets and cotton and picking grapes. He was not academically motivated as a child, but he became interested in poetry during his high school years.”
“He attended Fresno City College and California State University–Fresno, and he earned an MFA from the University of California–Irvine in 1976.”
“His first collection of poems, The Elements of San Joaquin (University of Pittsburgh Press), won the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum in 1976 and was published in 1977. Since then, Soto has published numerous books of poetry. . .”
“Soto cites his major literary influences as Edward Field, Pablo Neruda, W. S. Merwin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Christopher Durang, and E. V. Lucas. Of his work, the writer Joyce Carol Oates has said, ‘Gary Soto’s poems are fast, funny, heartening, and achingly believable, like Polaroid love letters, or snatches of music heard out of a passing car; patches of beauty like patches of sunlight; the very pulse of a life.’ ”
“Soto has also written three novels, including Amnesia in a Republican County (University of New Mexico Press, 2003); a memoir, Living Up the Street (Strawberry Hill Press, 1985); and numerous young adult and children’s books. For the Los Angeles Opera, he wrote the libretto to Nerdlandia, an opera.”
“Soto has received the Andrew Carnegie Medal and fellowships from the California Arts Council, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He lives in Northern California.”
Field Poem by Gary Soto
When the foreman whistled
My brother and I
Shouldered our hoes,
Leaving the field.
We returned to the bus
In broken English, in broken Spanish
The restaurant food,
The tickets to a dance
We wouldn’t buy wit our pay.
From the smashed bus window,
I saw the leaves of cotton plants
Like small hands waving good-bye.
(From NEW AND SELECTED POEMS 1995 by Gary Soto)
David St. John
David St. John was born in Fresno , California in 1949.
St. John “received his BA in 1974 from California State University, Fresno, and an MFA from the University of Iowa” according to the Academy of American Poets, www.poets.com,
“His many books of poetry include The Window (Arctos Press, 2014); The Auroras (HarperCollins, 2012); The Face: A Novella in Verse (HarperPerennial, 2005); Prism (2002); The Red Leaves of Night (HarperCollins, 1999); and Study for the World’s Body: New and Selected Poems (1994). . .”
“The poet Robert Hass says of St. John’s writing: ‘It’s not just gorgeous, it is go-for-broke gorgeous. It is made out of sentences, sweeping through and across the meticulous verse stanzas, that could have been written, for their velvet and intricate suavity, by Henry James.’ “
“His awards include the Discovery/The Nation Prize, the James D. Phelan Prize, and the prix de Rome fellowship in literature. He has also received several National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2017.”
“St. John currently lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches in the PhD Program in Creative Writing and Literature and is the Chair of English at the University of Southern California.”
ORANGE by David St. John
Tonight, loneliness or winter
so perfect, I cut open an orange
and read the news of old affections,
friends, beliefs & lies left home as
we fled and set sail for a new world.
Here’s a necklace of water, seeds
of awe, childhood: rust-black. Names abandoned
or given back – son, Broken Bow, future, bastard, sir.
Lavish dolls, & fear’s message: witch * touch * faith.
Day-raids & sack lunches, desks, fresh orange,
My father peels hemispheres,
and hands me a world lucent, naked, & orange.
(From Hush 1976 by David St. John)
The images for this gallery were sourced from the following pages:
Frank Bidart: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2013/08/15/frank-bidart-poet-who-dares/
Sherley Anne Williams: http://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/archive/newsrel/general/cwilliams.htm
Robert Duncan: https://black-mountain-research.com/2015/02/27/robert-duncan-at-black-mountain-college/
William Everson: http://www.portlandartmuseum.us/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=58186;type=101
Juan Felipe Herrera: http://www.latimes.com/books/jacketcopy/la-et-jc-poet-laureate-juan-felipe-herrera-reading-poetry-20150610-htmlstory.html
Larry Levis: http://lithub.com/charles-baxter-on-larry-levis-and-a-moment-of-genius/
Gary Soto: http://healdsburgshed.com/events/luminarias-ii/
David St John: https://news.usc.edu/files/2016/04/DavidStJohn-824×549.jpg