First Friday Open Mic on February 4, 2022

For another evening of poetry, poets gathered to share their creations virtually.

The poets included Carla Martin, Chris Nielsen, Christopher Robert Craddock, Jill Egland, Portia Choi, Sandra Hughes, and Shelley Evans.

The video of the evening’s event can be seen at the following link:

Two of the poets from the open mic were interviewed, Jill Egland and Christopher Robert Craddock.  

Interview with Jill Egland
By Carla Joy Martin

Jill read us three provocative poems that evening:

The Funeral
Jill Egland

Fog rolls in around us.
Delicate fingers of ghosts
long forgotten
clasp tight and cold,
blocking our view of everything
but each other. We sing—
G major dirges in waltz time
and familiar harmonies—
mountain music we brought to
this valley and bring out at 
times like these. 

We stand huddled around
that mound of AstroTurf and dirt
removed from the particularities
of this January Central Valley morning,
the markers at our feet our
only reminder that we aren’t
the first to mourn,
that this pain is our inheritance,
this label of orphan as inevitable 
as the dew dripping cold and quiet 
from the fiberglass panels
laid high on the wrought iron
structure somebody has thought to paint green. 

Big Box Justice
Jill Egland

The new Traffic Court used to be an Office Depot.
Now I sit in a room where in a previous life I purchased post-its
Watching a video on the rule of law with 150 others who, like me, have broken it.
The video ends and we have that moment of silence
Like church—right before you’re asked to tithe.
I think I’ve seen the two sullen young men sitting next to me—are they artists? 
But I don’t ask even though the bailiff sits in the back.
We start with the As. I’m an E. This will go fast.
But good god there’s a lot of Bs. 
The translator hurries in during the Cs
apologizes to the judge who doesn’t look up. 
And now we go back to the As.
The Ds are uneventful. 
My name is called.
“How do you plea?” the judge asks me.
No contest. 
“$250 at the window outside.”
Post-its were just a couple of bucks.
But paying for them didn’t help me atone for anything
Except memory loss since
Only a well-placed pink post-it keeps me from
Breaking the rule of law
That commands I be at places like this Big Box courthouse
on a Tuesday.

The Guy in the Sky
Jill Egland

People down here think the moon looks like a guy in the sky
His big, old man’s head floating
In the firmament
Like a balloon or a corporate blimp
And looking surprised
His mouth in a perpetual “oh”
As if he only just this very moment
Realizes he’s lost his body.

Q.  What inspired you to write your 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.  Method One: 

I have volumes of scraps of paper with scribbled thoughts on them that go back 20-30 years.  That’s what I do—write down ideas as they come to me… Bits of conversation I—inadvertently or advertently—overhear. Weird signs I come across.  Bizarre interactions I have. Now they serve as prompts. I put the Jill from 1995 in dialogue with the Jill from 2022. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t…Yet. It will. It just needs more time. Big Box Justice is an example of this method. I stumbled upon a piece of paper I had written in 2010 as I sat through the Spanish version of the These are Your Rights video they make traffic violators watch before they go to trial. 

Method Two:

I keep a daily journal in longhand. Sometimes I reflect on something in a way that particularly strikes me and I want to expand on it. But I consider this initial output my Shitty First Draft (a technical writers’ term). I type it and print it out and then fiddle with it for a while. I have copies of these poems-in-progress that I carry around with me. On my computer, I keep each version as it evolves by numbering it sequentially. This is how I composed The Funeral. It’s actually The Funeral v 6, and it took me about a year to actually get it to a point where it felt finished.

Method Three: 

Very rarely a poem will write itself. But that’s what happened with The Guy in the Sky. I tried various modifications, but I kept coming back to what I had originally started with. The final version is pretty much the original, with a few structural changes—line breaks and so forth.

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.  What I read:

I’ve recently discovered Cento, a form of poetry created from individual lines of other poems. I think the best thing about engaging in this process has been rediscovering the poets I’ve admired over the years: Adrienne Rich, WB Yeats, Pablo Neruda, and others. But it also has me combing through my daughter’s thick college anthology of international poets. I love just opening it at random and reading whatever pops up.  The thing I love about Cento as a poetic form is the spareness of it. All the superfluous stuff gets weeded out as I pick out single lines from poems that speak to me and then thread them together into a cogent, independent thought. 

Here’s an example: 

somewhere in the night
I have spread my dreams under your feet

its sideways surrender
a line between two places
in the wrong bell of time

enter with the slow step
in whatever state
body or skeleton

at most
let it matter

(in line order: Aracelis Girmay, WB Yeats, Lotte L.S., Bhanu Kapil, Zaina Alsous, Katerina Gogou, Angel Nafis, Gabrielle Calvocoressi, Wendy Trevino, Solmaz Sharif) 

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

A.  My advice to people writing poems:

What initially inspires you is not your poem. Your poem is the critical development of that inspiration. It’s the difference between “what I said on a whim” and “what I want to say after giving it some thought.” There is nothing sacrosanct about the regurgitation of an emotion. By all means keep it, the way you keep all the little stick drawings your precocious two-year-old ever produced. Cherish it, even. But the art is in the crafting.

Interview with Christopher Robert Craddock
By Carla Joy Martin

The poem Christopher shared with us that evening alludes to the Preakness Stakes, which is an American thoroughbred horse race held on the third Saturday in May each year in Baltimore, Maryland.  Christopher shares more about what inspired him to write the poem in the interview that follows.

O, Grande Amor
Christopher Craddock

O, Grande Amor has won.
The race is run.
Fate decreed the steadfast steed
Will do the deed
Even though the jockey was thrown.

The throne awaits her stately grace
A grateful nation’s adulation
anticipates her coronation
The stalwart stallion
Prances through
The old pavilion.
Throughout the land
Ovations stand.

This War of Wills will rage.
The poets sharpen quills
And wonder what to make
Of Shakespeare versus Blake
Bootless cries compete with alibis
And boatless pirates
Can only wave at the waves.

The crocodiles that fill the moat
Have not been fed in quite a while.
The minotaur bites his knuckles
As he quells the urge to chuckle
Knitting Ariadne’s yarn into Theseus’s shroud.

Though ravens rave,
Hyenas laugh,
The giraffe has spotted
Leopards on the path.
The tigers gripe that
The zebra’s changed his stripes
The viper pipes upon the flute
The sly raccoon prefers the lute
The rhinoceros,
Although a brute
Prefers to play the harpsichord
The queen is crowned
The crowd looks on in praise.
Long may she reign.

Christopher Robert Craddock © 2019

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

A.  It is always validating to see your poem in print. This poem, “O Grande Amor,” was just printed in a local Art and Poetry zine called Wasteland. Rusty Hatfield is the editor. I wrote it in 2019. This poem was inspired by the women in my life that I am in love with. I met one of them at the First Friday Poetry Reading in November of 2019. She brought her guitar and played some songs she’d written. But maybe I wrote it before I met her. I remember that the Preakness Stakes was really weird that year, and Bodexpress threw the jockey and finished the race without a rider. War of Wills won, and that’s where I got the line about a rivalry between Shakespeare and Blake. That was kind of the seed. The Preakness.

But it was also inspired by the song, “O Grande Amor,” that is on the album, Getz/Gilberto, and it is in Portuguese, so other than the title, I don’t know what any of the words of the song mean, but it follows the rhythm of that song. Also the feelings, the emotions. The song is by Antonio Carlos Jobim. In college I played it for my student recital. I played it on alto sax. I memorized the Stan Getz tenor solo, which one of my teachers said was uncool–to play someone’s solo. I am grateful for that teacher because he said I would never make it as a musician, and I am dedicated to proving him wrong. I have forgotten his name, as has the world. Guess he never made it.

This woman, who I’ll call Jezebel, and I had a tumultuous affair, but she always managed to leave in a dramatic way just before Valentine’s Day and my birthday, which is the day after Valentine’s Day. It was often a double disappointment for me, not having a date for Valentine’s Day and my birthday, but it was a real drag when she’d make such dramatic exits mere days before. This exact scenario played out in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Three years in a row. But I met her on the First Friday of November 2019. So, the Preakness in May was before that. But it all went into the mix. I might have scribbled a line about the Preakness in my notebook.  

There was another woman, though, that I knew from when I lived in San Francisco. She remembered my birthday and though she lived in another state she called me and we talked about getting together. This one I call Jasmine. She was an astrologer and she said that I had a very strong attraction to Jezebel. It was in the stars – an explosive supernova. When Jezebel exploded Jasmine was always there to pick up my pieces. So, one was like Jezebel and the other was more like Julian of Norwich who was an anchoress during the Black Plague. Julian’s cat was named Ezra Pounce because he liked to climb the walls in her cell and pounce on the rats. Probably saved her from the plague. That was pretty prophetic, if you ask me, naming her cat Ezra Pounce, because Ezra Pound wouldn’t even be born for a few centuries. But as Nobel Prize for Literature-winning bard, Bob Dylan, said:

  And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot are fighting in the captain’s tower
  While calypso singers laugh at them and fishermen hold flowers
  Between the windows of the sea where lovely mermaids flow
   And nobody has to think too much about Desolation Row

Julian of Norwich gave advice from the small window in her cell, like Lucy Van Pelt – except she didn’t charge a nickel. It was all free. A few centuries later they found a book she had written called, The Revelations of Divine Love. It was about her visions of Jesus, who came to her 12 or 15 times and cured her illness. He was very maternal, for a carpenter.

So these women have been my two muses. Jezebel and Jasmine. One is a devout Muslim from Morocco who prays five times a day, while the other harlot harbors the demonic spirit of Jezebel, but sings like an angel. So, Jezebel puts me through the dharma gate, as the Zen Buddhists say, and Jasmine, saves me from the misery and despair these encounters cause me.

 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.  Yes, I really love poetry. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Yeats, Rimbaud, Bukowski, Wallace Stevens and Delmore Schwartz. William Shakespeare and William Blake are referenced in my poem when I say, “The War of Wills.” Two “Wills.”  They aren’t really opposed. I love them both. A Shakespeare sonnet has a phrase that goes, “trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.” That is in there. Also there is mention of the minotaur. He is a man with the head of a bull that was in the labyrinth. Theseus was thrown into the labyrinth but Ariadne, the king’s daughter, was in love with him. She gave him a thread so he could find his way out of the labyrinth. O, Grande Amor.

I am very well-read. If I throw in a literary allusion, I hope there is some justification, not just to show off how well-read I am. On the other hand, I want people to be able to register some emotion from it regardless of whether or not they’ve read what I am alluding to. The critic Harold Bloom wrote a book called The Anxiety of Influence, and Harold might say I am just regurgitating. Thankfully, Harold Bloom is dead.

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.  Though it works for me, having two muses who are polar opposites, I don’t recommend it. I serve as a negative example. But if you should find yourself in that situation there is a lot of material that can be utilized.

There is a Velvet Underground song by Lou Reed that goes:

      Riding a Stutz Bearcat, Jim.
               Those were different times
   Poets studied rules of verse
  And the ladies, they rolled their eyes

My final advice is from The Book of Isaiah, Chapter 58:

 Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their             transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.