Open Mic at Dagny’s Coffee September 3, 2022 – Featuring Carla Joy Martin
On September 3, 2022, Carla Joy Martin was the first featured poet at Dagny’s Coffee Open Mic since restarting in-person performances. Due to COVID, Kern Poetry had been having open mic only by ZOOM. Then in summer 2022, in-person performances restarted.
Currently, Open Mic now occurs in person on the First Saturday of each month at Dagny’s Coffee, and also by ZOOM on the third Saturday, the “Spectacular Saturday Open Mic”.
There was excitement and happiness at the “filled to capacity” crowd at Dagny’s. Carla read from her “Coffee Café Customers”.
Also performing during the evening were Jill Egland, Christopher Robert Craddock, Heather Poenek, Carla Joy Martin, Christopher Nielsen, Suzanne Weller, Samuel Rain Benjamin, Zee, Daniel, Shelley Evans, Gary Evans, Richard Aguirre, Colleen Soltis McGraw.
Interview of Carla Joy Martin
By Portia Choi
Carla read from her poems about her observation and thoughts inspired by the customers at the coffee café. Here are excerpts from the poems which Carla shared at Open Mic at Dagny’s,
I hand the plastic over. Her long-lacquered nails lift it deftly and slide it through the machine.
I take in her thick false eyelashes, drawn-in eyebrows, perfectly outlined lips in rich burgundy.
I glance at my pale unadorned sixty-year-old reflection in the plexiglass partition.
Blond hair faded white. Fingernails trimmed to a practical, respectable length.
What could you and I possibly have in common?
The Retired Paratrooper
“What is this career military man doing in a coffee cafe?” I ask.
“I’m studying to become a high school biology teacher.
You have to establish the rules and let them know who’s boss”
“Why are you here every day?”
“It is not good for me to be alone.”
The Elegant Hippie
This relic looks like a leather-bound collector’s edition of Rip Van Winkle.
I can imagine him sitting with a granddaughter on his knee,
regaling her with Woodstock fairy tales.
Is he an elegant hippie? I wonder.
What’s with the ironed shirt?
And the shiny boots?
So much care given to the accoutrements!
Q. What was the moment you decided to write about the customers at coffee cafes?
A. I started frequenting Barnes & Nobles and Dagny’s Coffee Shop around 2016, in the
afternoons after substitute teaching. It was a great place to unwind and relax – and I was
comforted being around other folks, especially because my own home was an empty nest.
One day, I started writing about myself, a lonely woman browsing through a cookbook, staring at
photos of all the birthday cakes that I made for my own children. I flashed back to memories of
my infant sons, faces smeared with cake and icing, enjoying their special days.
After getting that poem out (which actually felt great, even though it was sad), I started looking
around the café at the other customers. “What are their stories?” I wondered. I began to watch
people and jotting down their descriptions. Sometimes I actually conversed with customers, or
overhead conversations. Sometimes I could only watch carefully and imagine their histories.
I noticed there were people from all walks of life. Every nationality, gender, age – it simply
amazed me all the different folks who would join me in the café. I thought, “What if I wrote a
collection about the customers as a sort of glimpse into America?” That is how my “Coffee Café
Customers: A Contemporary Americana Collection” was born.
Q. Does writing poetry have a transformative healing property?
A. I can attest that poetry has transformative properties, as it helped heal me. Before I began
writing poems in coffee cafes, I was deeply grieving my divorce and my sons’ departures for
college. I hadn’t written a poem since the third grade – but now I couldn’t stop. And each poem
made me feel validated, stronger and hopeful. It helped me become a whole person with a voice
– a powerful thing, indeed!
Q. What poets have influenced you?
A. Mary Oliver blows the top of my head off! I think she manages to share such profound
observations about being human while observing the wonders of nature – and her skill in
designing a poem on the page is amazing.
I also love to read the Odes of Pablo Neruda – with the poems in Spanish on one side of the
page, and in English on the other. I read back and forth, seeing how the languages are similar,
yet different. I think Neruda loved writing poems in Spanish, as there are so many words ending
in similar vowels, so melodious. English is a harsher language, more direct. It can deliver a
powerful punch. But for music, I think Spanish or any romance language is better.
For poems about the American experience, I love Walt Whitman, and his catalogues of common
folks doing their jobs in the fields and factories. Langston Hughes captures the essence of what
it means to be Black in America. Maya Angelou is another vibrant voice proclaiming the
strength of Black women – and all women.
I also read poetry in countless online literary journals and especially enjoy poems on Rattle,
written in response to current events. I just submitted a poem to them, written about Putin’s
speech in the Kremlin, when he laid out his plan to “liberate” and take over parts of Ukraine
while his supporters sat miles across from him, with stony blank faces, clapping robotically.
That scene just begged for a poem – so much to unpack!
Q. What advice would you give to folks wanting to write poetry? What is your creative
A. My advice would be both to write when the inspiration hits you – but also, when it doesn’t.
When the words just won’t come, try starting a list of everything that’s on your mind – all your
concerns, worries, things you need to do. Every time I do this kind of “brain dump,” near the
end, some poetry emerges! It helps to just let words come and not to edit or evaluate them at
first. Let the emotions out! Later, I go back and rearrange, cut or add. But never at the
I also get inspiration from poems shared at Dagny’s Open Mics and Spectacular Saturday Zoom
Open Mics. Hearing poems written by my fellow Bakersfieldians is always inspiring. Rusty
Hatfield’s zine, The Wasteland, contains many fine examples of work by local authors. You can
find it on the counter at Dagny’s!
Each person who shares at these Open Mics has a different style and message, yet we all write
poetry that is meaningful and expressive. I am so happy to get to see so many poets, month after
month and share a little bit in their journeys. It is a blessing to be a part of a creative community!
So yes, get out and share your work! The thrill of feeling an audience latch onto your words,
the applause and kind praise afterwards – the whole experience is very uplifting for me, and
could be for you, too!