Story by Portia Choi
Nancy Edwards passed away on January 5, 2017. Nancy was a poet. She was also a professor of English at Bakersfield College from 1968-2009.
When poets and friends of poets were informed of her passing, there was a profound sense of loss.
This story is written to fill the loss with memories of Nancy and words from her poetry. It is with the belief that for as long as a person is remembered and their words are read or spoken, the presence of the person lives on within and among us.
Poets and writers who knew Nancy shared their thoughts and feelings with Kern Poetry.
In this story the first names for Nancy Edwards and contributors are used due to fondness for each of the persons.
Sharing by Rosa Garza
Rosa said that Nancy was a great friend and she was “like family, like another sister.” She met Nancy in a Creative Writing class that Nancy was teaching at Bakersfield College. Rosa was a student in the class. Rosa had returned to school after staying home for 20 years after she obtained her Bachelor’s degree. When she went back to school, the Creative Writing class was one of the first classes that she took.
Rosa eventually obtained her Master’s Degree in history. She applied for employment at Bakersfield College and was hired to teach history. Nancy and Rosa continued to be friends and were now colleagues. Their offices were down the hallway from each other.
They worked together on two books of poetry. One was a chapbook that contained the poems from the students of a Creative Writing class as well as their poems. In the book, Beloved Mothers Queridas Madres, some of the poems were translated into Spanish.
In the forward of the book, Beloved Mothers Queridas Madres, Nancy wrote “This book is for the women who raised us, the mothers, grandmothers, sisters, sisters-in-law, aunts, mothers-in-law, godmothers, and special friends who book us to the place leading into our adulthood.”
Another book that Nancy and Rosa wrote together was The Women Within.
(Rosa Garza is a professor of History at Bakersfield College.)
Sharing by Kevin Shah
“I enjoyed our many meetings at . . .local places. And her (Nancy’s) closeness with James her husband was endearing to watch, as they accompanied each other to all her events. They both supported each other in so many tender ways.”
“I want to say that Nancy was a vital part of the creative community. She brought her insights from the academic world into her work with planning our poetry events in Kern County. She was a friend who loved to share her stories. She wrote poems from her heart and performed them in public, most memorably performing a dual poem with her husband James Mitchell. She was willing to step outside of her “professor” role, although she never stopped bringing her expertise as an English professor to her involvement with a recent online newspaper/blog entitled “Kit Fox Bakersfield.” She had a lot to say and a lot to share. She was energized by being an active writer and contributor. Nancy will be greatly missed.”
(Kevin Shah is a poet and an English teacher. Kevin hosted poetry open mic at bookstores in Bakersfield. He was on the planning committee for National Poetry Month.)
Sharing by Annis Cassells:
“Nancy Edwards, Bakersfield College professor emerita of English and long-time Writers of Kern member, passed away January 5, 2017 after a long bout with cancer.
Beloved by former students and the Kern County writing community, Nancy co-sponsored Bakersfield’s National Poetry Month celebrations, coordinated poetry events, and co-hosted readings and performances in many venues around town. She presented writing programs and workshops for Writers of Kern, 60-Plus Club of CSUB, gifted students at West High School, and at local and regional college-level conferences throughout her career and into retirement.
Nancy was a gifted and prolific writer of fiction and non-fiction as well as poetry, with numerous publications: books, anthologies, and literary journals. Most recently, she had two poems in the 2016 chapbook, Writing the Drought, A Collection of Poems by Kern County Authors.
I admired Nancy greatly for her talent and generous spirit. I first met her many years ago when she read one of her poems at a Writers of Kern meeting. That poem, “You are my Africa,” made my breath catch in my throat. When I mentioned it to her a few years later, she found a copy and gave it to me. I took Nancy’s flash fiction class through the Levan Institute. The lessons she taught influence my writing today. When we co-presented a program on writing memoir for the 60 Plus Club’s ElderCollege in 2015, I found her to be an excellent and gracious working partner.
Nancy Edwards loved writing, teaching, and encouraging and mentoring writers. We in Kern County and Writers of Kern were lucky and privileged to have her among us.”
The article, “In Memoriam”, was written by Annis Cassells for the Writers of Kern Newsletter.
(Annis Cassells is a poet and considered the poetry representative for Writers of Kern.)
Sharing by Katie Romley
“I did not know Nancy for a long time. A year at most. But she leaves an indelible impression on me. Nancy had a way of being a champion for others, while also being part-confidant and part-teacher. I believe the teacher in her soul never left, but neither did the friend. I have fond memories of Nancy’s poetry. Even the way she dressed was poetry, with dangly earrings to match her outfits and her hairstyle, sort of wildly neat all at once. Her mother was Southern and she spoke about southern manners and etiquette. . .
We were going to create a literary journal, The Kit Fox. Nancy brought ideas for journals, chapbooks, they’re called. We put the writings online in the end, but Nancy never stopped giving me her praise, thoughtfully written. She bought me a folder one day, with a fox on it. I kept the folder and some of Nancy’s writings inside.
Her e-mails always began “Dear Katie” and ended “Nancy Edwards” and the date. In some ways, formal, she was gracious and kind. She was a leader but she was actually a developer. A champion for other leaders to emerge. Sometimes you read about women leaders, and how the best ones are always scouting other women to come up and join them. That was Nancy. I never attended Bakersfield College but I had always heard about what an extraordinary teacher she was. It was pretty cool actually to know about her almost 20 years before I ever interacted with her.”
(Katie Romley is writer and publisher of Kit Fox Bakersfield at http://kitfoxbakersfield.wordpress.com/)
Sharing by Portia Choi
The poetry community of today is a direct result of involvement of Nancy Edwards. In 2010, when the National Poetry Month was being planned, Nancy was an enthusiastic partner of a group of four poets. Nancy brought her knowledge of poetry and her connection to the academic community. She provided credibility to the group’s work.
On a personal note, Nancy was encouraging and supportive.
Nancy was always improving her craft as a writer. She continued to take writer’s workshops even after she had retired.
One of the poet wrote about Nancy’s passing. He wrote that “a wonderful, beautiful voice has been stilled.”
Although Nancy will not be performing her poems in person, her words can continue to be read, spoken, and shared.
The following are a few of Nancy Edwards’ poems:
For Pablo Neruda
By Nancy Edwards
The past is a red-eye sockeye salmon
Somebody dropped on my living room floor,
And no one noticed until it smelled so
Damned bad people reeled in nausea;
Take it out, oh God, take it out!
Dispose of it and air the place –
So I did and washed the rug clean,
But still the odor lingers in my mind
As though the sockeye salmon
Still leers at me in decaying pleasure,
Its thin bones inn skeletal elegance
Outlining the feast of your past.
Source: Valley Light Writers of the San Joaquin, gathered by Jane Watts, POETS & PRINTER PRESS, 1978
By Nancy Edwards
In the webbed flesh of your
In these layers of tender skin
I am born once more
When you hold me,
. . .
You are always
The place inside
You hold me forever
In the stream of my birth
When I am in your arms
You are my beloved Mother.
Querida Madre (Beloved Mother)
Translated by Rosa Garza
En la tela de tu codo
En esas capas de tierna piel
He nacido otra vez
Cuando me acaricias otra vez
. . .
El lugar adentro
Donde me abrazas para siempre
En la corriente de mi nacer
Cuando estoy en tus brazos
Tu eres mi querida madre
Source: Beloved Mothers Queridas Madres, BAKERSFIELD COLLEGE, 1992
By Nancy Edwards
In late September, it is Donna weather in Bakersfield,
When the air begins to lose its’ blistering heat,
And we can sit outside at the downtown Greek Festival,
The cool air against or necks and legs,
. . .
“Time for Donna to be back,” someone says,
Expecting her to call any day,
. . .
We were positive she would return,
Now it is as if she had been stolen from us,
. . .
We share the phantom pain of loss
Of a limb, our friend gone from view,
Yet so much remains,
So much she wanted us to have,
So much in the air we breathe
In Donna weather.
Source: Writers of Kern Anthology III, 2008
By Nancy Edwards
All week, I dreaded the drive to Yosemite,
I obsessed about the sheer cliffs on one side,
Looking down into the straight drop,
Lovely Ponderosa pine, cedar, black oak trees,
The car only inches from the side,
a twisty road, my childhood fears drilled
deep into my consciousness.
My father’s voice ridiculing my fear of heights.
. . . . .
And in your final years
when I could do something for you,
I came through mountains and storms
to see you again.
We read our poetry to each other as always.
You never spoke of the sheer drop
On your side: we both knew.
Source: Levan Humanities Review, Volume 4, Issue 1, 2016. www2.bakersfieldcollege.edu/LHR.
Missing and Welcoming Back
By Nancy Edwards
I have missed the pure white egrets,
sleek and graceful,
gliding across Lake Truxtun,
landing like aristocracy,
the royal family on display.
. . .
When spring arrives this year,
so comes hope.
Bright thick green leaves appear
between the blackened branches.
An egret circles the lake,
dips down and lands.
I have seen two red squirrels racing around
a tree chasing each other like passionate lovers.
A lone fisherman casts his line
and stands patiently;
the earth returns and begins again.
Source: Writing the Drought, A collection of Poems by Kern County Authors, April 2016.