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.”


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!