Saturday Afternoon Poetry

Pasadena Public Library, Santa Clarita Branch
Saturday Afternoon Poetry
26 June 2010, 3-5 PM

On Saturday, I attended an afternoon reading the Santa Clarita Branch of the Pasadena Public Library, located on East Washington Blvd. off Lake Ave. in Pasadena. I arrived a little bit late, but luckily they also started late, so I didn’t miss anything and didn’t even interrupt the introductions. The reading was given in a back room of the library, and if I hadn’t asked where to go, I wouldn’t have been able to find it because the door to the room looked like it was meant for librarians only (and perhaps it was, once). At the front of the room, there was a long folding table that had various collections and chapbooks from the featured readers for sale on it. Fours rows of six chairs each were set up facing the table, with the chairs split down the middle for an aisle. Though Poetry Flash only mentioned three featured readers, there were actually four.

It seemed like it was a group of regulars who all knew one another (and had heard some of the poets before) because there was little in the way of introductions. There was also an open mic, the readers of which signed up ahead of time and were interspersed between the featured readers. There were two open mic readers, who each read for five minutes or less, and then a featured reader, who read for around fifteen minutes. Then, two more open mic readers and a featured reader, and so on. I didn’t take many notes on the open mic readers since I wasn’t attending the reading for them, and they seemed to have less of a stage Poetbrokerpresence than the featured readers anyway. I don’t know if that’s because they [1] read fewer of their poems (as opposed to the featured readers), or [2] had less time to get going, or [3] rarely raised their heads from the page (so frustrating! It was like they were giving reports instead of reading poetry!), but there you go.

The first two open mic readers were Rich Lufta (I’m not sure of the spelling), who read three poems, and Rafael F.J. Alvarado, who read one. The first featured poet was introduced as “Poetbroker” (left) and he never gave his real name, so I guess an alias is just fine for him. He explained that he is a real estate broker who writes poetry about real estate and has therefore taken on his moniker. He didn’t give any titles to any of the poems he read, so I wrote down the first lines of each, including “When a poet was heard to say” and “Developers are tinkering with a tinsel town tool kit”. He was an engaging reader, but his choice of topics was completely uninteresting to me, so I found most of his poems to be, basically, forgettable.

Poetbroker had a tendency to explain each poem before he read it and interrupted himself at least once midway through a poem to explain something he didn’t think we understood. (Or maybe that interruption was part of the poem? It didn’t sound like it, but it’s possible.) One interesting one that he did name was “Ezra and Ezri”, which was named after Ezra Pound and Ezri Namvar, a man who is considered by many to be the West Coast’s Bernie Madoff. Lucia GallowayHis last poem, which began with “Terrence O’Connor was a kid that wasn’t afraid to make trouble”, was also memorable (to me) because he mentioned the Far Rockaway Local, which is part of the A Line that makes local stops in the New York City subway system. He has a chapbook published called Jaded Deco.

Following Poetbroker were two more open mic readers: Jerry Garcia (no, not the Jerry Garcia), who read two poems, and CaLokie, who read four poems, including a sonnet and a call-and-response, “Oklahoma Stomp Dance“. “Ghost Ships”, his third poem, had (a) good line(s): “Weeping Cherokee woman walking in front of Anglo-Saxon soldier on horse could have been my ancestor. The soldier, too.” The second featured reader was Lucia Galloway (right). She read seven poems from her collection, Venus and Other Losses. One interesting line from “Winter Tales” was “small rat he was to trail a tail so long”. The title poem, “Venus and Other Losses” was in seven parts, one part of which had the line(s): “Last night I dreamed my infant daughter had been thrown into a barrel and I, armless, could not save her.” It included poignant imagery of arms and hands and mentioned the Venus de Milo along with other references to ancient Greek mythology and architecture.

Galloway also read “The Comtesse d’Houssonville with Nature Morte”, about a painting of the same name. Another poem she read, “Jane Carlyle Laments”, is a persona poem in the voice of Thomas Carlyle’s wife. (Thomas Carlyle was a Scottish satirical writer, essayist, historian, and teacher who lived in the 19th Century.) “Instructions for the Lucialet” was an ars poetica for a made-up poetic form that the poet named after herself. Galloway’s last poem was interactive, with members from the audience reading parts of “Urban(e) Pianos”; Mikel WeisserI read the third and fourth stanzas, which were coupled together because of enjambment.

Two more open mic readers followed Galloway; Judith Terzi, first, read two poems, including an anagram sonnet. She has a collection out called The Road to Oxnard. Michelle Angelini went second and read three poems, including one called “A Metamorphic Weariness”, which alluded to The Wizard of Oz by mentioning Dorothy in a field of poppies. The third featured poet was Mikel Weisser (twitter) (left), whose most recent chapbook is Leaving the Empire. Like the last featured poet, he also read seven poems, including “Another ‘P’ Word” (a prose poem about plumbing at a friend’s house), “Reach” (a slam poem), “Here’s What You Do”, and “Careful, my hair is here to be dangerous”. Weisser had a very good stage presence and his work was more interesting than the first featured poet, Poetbroker.

In “For My Late Wife”, Weisser wrote about his wife’s six suicide attempts and her seventh success (if you could call it that): “Seven times we went down that road and the seventh time I came back alone.” Another poem about aging poets, especially one woman who had to drag her oxygen behind her when she stood up to give a reading, was called “The Good Grey Poets”. It had quite a few similes and ended with “a few more measured breaths, a few per minute, a few minutes more… or less”. His last poem, “Someday”, was about possibly coming across a Great Poem (so great that it can even cure cancer) written by someone completely unexceptional. It ended retrospectively: “and when that moment comes, I hope I don’t recoil. I pray I’m listening.”

The last two open mic readers were interesting for different reasons. The first of the two was Neva Wallace (on left in photo), who read two poems. The first was “The battle rampaged throughout the year”, a sonnet about man’s struggle against man that had a quirky twist ending. Her second poem, “Tribulations”, was much longer and more enthralling than most of the poems previously read by the other poets. Her two-poem reading made me wish that she was a featured poet instead of one of the other, lesser choices. (Actually, I think that she was a featured reader at Saturday Afternoon Poetry in April or May this year.) The other open mic reader was Don “Kingfisher” Campbell. He read three poems from two of his collections, Campbell’s Classics and Amongst the Detritus. He was interesting because he was also the afternoon’s emcee. Heather Derr-SmithHe had commented on various other poems all the way through and then he read, too. His last poem was printed out on a broadside for some inexplicable reason.

The last featured reader was Heather Derr-Smith (right), who flew in from Iowa (specifically for this reading? I’m not sure; she might be touring) and who has spent a lot of time in Damascus, the subject of her second collection, The Bride Minaret. “It’s about exile and identity in the Middle East,” she said. Derr-Smith was an engaging reader and is a poet with a few memorable lines, but by the time she got up to read, I was pretty much poetry-ed out for the day. The poem called “The Girl Named Tents” was the most impressive of the ones she read, about a girl born into a (refugee?) camp in the Middle East. One line about why she was named Tents says, “She was supposed be a boy, as all girls are.” Derr-Smith also read “Witchcraft in Twin Springs” about her brother heading out of the suburb where they grew up with their mother to meet up with some 30-ear-olds practicing magic in the woods. “The Pelican” was a story in poetic form that her father had told her after she was able to reconnect with him as an adult. (The last time she saw him before finding him again was when she was five. Shortly thereafter, he “went missing” and lived in Mexico for a long time.)

I still would’ve liked to have the poems in front of me while they were read so that [1] I’d know each poem’s title, various spellings, and line breaks, [2] I’d be able to follow along more easily and not get lost in what felt like buzzwords (especially in the case of Poetbroker), and [3] I’d have a flavor of each poet’s work on which to base my assumptions. It’s probably a completely different experience when an audience member is already a fan of a poet’s work and then decides to attend a reading where that poet is speaking. Presumably, that audience member would already know the work and possibly more about the life of the poet than I did today.

L.A. Times Festival of Books

On Sunday, I attended an afternoon of the L.A. Times Festival of Books with my mother. We listened to two poets read their work on the Poetry Stage near the inverted fountain on UCLA‘s South Campus and then had a look around at the many booths.

The Poetry Stage was the smallest of the many reading stages at the Festival, but it was just as well because it made for a more intimate atmosphere. The stage itself was set up on the grass to one side of the walkway. It was simple enough: a podium and microphone. Behind the poet was a banner that read “POETRY STAGE”—as if we couldn’t figure that out for ourselves. The audience was seated in plastic folding chairs with a few umbrellas around to shade against the sun. Behind the audience was a small table with information about poetry, including free bookmarks and copies of Poetry Flash. (I picked up a copy on my way to visit other parts of the Festival after I’d heard two poets read.) Across the walkway was the Small World Books booth, which was selling the readers’ works, as well as other books like The History of White People and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Cathy ColmanThe first poet (that I heard) was Cathy Colman (click photo at right for larger). She read a total of eleven poems during her half hour time slot and briefly prefaced most of her poems with some background information about the poem’s subject or form. Her first piece was an acrostic poem called “Acrostic at Dinner”. It was helpful to me that she explained what acrostic meant (“a poem in which the first letter of each line in the text spells out a word or a message”) because I’d have been lost if she hadn’t. Her second piece was an instructional poem called “How To”, which I really liked, about how to write a poem. She said she wrote it for her students who seemed to be perpetually afraid of the blank page. Her seventh poem, titled “Night Swim, 1974”, was based on a party she went to as a young student. Also in attendance at the party were many famous poets, who she mentioned in the poem, though she didn’t name any names, and I’m not familiar enough with many poets to figure out who she was talking about. I wrote down this line: “…his throat pulsing like mud does during rain…” because it included some interesting imagery which I haven’t seen elsewhere. Another poem, “Duplicate Letter” had a preface (correct word?) from Rilke. Colman tended to use a lot of allusion and alliteration in her work, something I mentioned numerous times in my notes. My favorite poem of hers was “Jacobson’s Organ: A Memo”, which was written from the point of view of a snake. (In snakes, the Jacobson’s organ is an olfactory sense in their tongues which helps them smell despite not having noses.) Cathy Colman’s most recent collection is Beauty’s Tattoo, published in late 2009 by Tebot Bach Publications.

Margaret Emery reading for Annie FinchThe second poet of the afternoon, Annie Finch, had actually missed her flight to Los Angeles and was unable to read. Instead, an actress named Margaret Emery read some of Annie Finch’s poems in her place from two of her books, Eve (forthcoming in June) and Calendars. It was unfortunate that Finch didn’t get to read her own work, but Emery did a decent job in her place (click photo for larger), especially since it seemed like she’d been called in on short notice. Emery read a total of sixteen poems of varying lengths during the allotted half hour. The first poem, “Running in Church” (dedicated “for Marie”), had a lot of internal and end rhyme. The fourth, “Walk With Me”, had a lot of repetition, which had a soothing quality. I was expecting the repetition to be irritating, but it actually helped me get into the flow of the poem better. Another poem, “Letter to Emily Dickinson”, was a good example of apostrophe and included a line which I wrote down: “I take from you as you take me apart”. Finch’s poems had beach or sea imagery (“The Woman on the Beach”) and images of motherhood/childhood (“Being a Constellation”)—and some had both (“The Last Mermother”). “Two Bodies” included the beautiful line: “…they reach through the ceilings of the night…”; the speaker in “Blue Willow” stated, “It’s morning; day rises above me…”

Overall, I would have liked to have the poems in front of me while they were being read aloud so that I could follow along and notice the line breaks and other notations that don’t translate well into speech. My mother, sitting next to me the entire time, would periodically lean over and say either “I got that one” or “I didn’t understand that; could you explain it?” I don’t have a good enough short-term memory to be able to reproduce and explain something so recently introduced (it’s why I write things down in the first place), so I’d have to say, “Maybe we should buy the book” instead of actually being helpful. I like listening to poets read their own work (they know the work best, after all), but it helps to have read the poems for myself ahead of time.

Thanks to my mother for the photos.

Day of Silence 2010

Today is the National Day of Silence. Though other blogs have written about it, too, I wanted to note something that’s bugged me for the past couple of years about the Day. Not the Day itself, I guess, but the way—in my experience—it’s been handled by members of the community supporting it. I don’t know if this is even appropriate, but I just have to write it to stop it from continuing to annoy me. And that is…

It really bothers me when someone says, “I’ll be participating in the Day of Silence, but I’ll be speaking in classes, of course, because I have to…” etc. The whole damn point of the Day of Silence is for people to realize how much they’re missing out on by not hearing other people’s voices (specifically, LGBT people’s voices).

The first year that my high school participated in the Day of Silence (in 2001), I was (supposed to be) the main coordinator. I was working with the GSA president (I was a sophomore and vice president at the time) to bring the Day to fruition. Unfortunately, after we went to the Associated Student Body (ASB, the students’ elected representatives) for support from them and from other groups on campus, ASB basically ran us both over and took over the project with a fervor I’ve never seen before or since from that group. Although everything still went through the president and me, in theory, we were leaders in name only. We were given sheets of paper to sign and told what was going to happen and that was about it for our involvement.

The first change ASB implemented was to make the Day of Silence about more than just LGBT people. On the Day, we were given different color ribbons depending on what group we supported (ie: people who are silenced because of racism, ableism, sexism, heterosexism, and so on.) The GSA president and I went along with this (even enthusiastically!) because we were warned that the school might not approve a Day of Silence “that’s only for the gays”…

The second—and, I think, more detrimental—change the ASB made was to “allow” for speaking in class “when required” because they couldn’t make the teachers change their curriculum for one day “on such short notice”. What if a teacher called on you to answer a question for the class? the ASB asked us. I’ve never been a teacher of high school students, so I don’t know how difficult it is to change one day’s worth of the curriculum to allow for students standing up for something in which they believe, but that’s beside the point because it seems half-assed to say (as a student, not a teacher) that you’ll participate in the Day and then talk when called upon anyway. Isn’t the whole point of the Day to show how bad for everyone silencing just one person can be? If participants are “allowed” to speak when called upon, they’re not really silent, now are they?

Honestly, though, my high school’s first Day of Silence was better than I expected it to be. I’m not saying it was all bad (as this journal entry may imply), and in subsequent years, after we showed the administration that we weren’t going to blow up a building or something, we were able to focus the Day more on LGBT people.

And I’m not saying that Day of Silence participants should be shunned or something for speaking in class, I just think they should really think about what they’re committing to and why… and truly commit to it, if they want to. Be silent, or don’t. You can still support the Day without being silent, as other bloggers have mentioned. But if you decide to be silent—be silent! Trust me, it makes for a more seriously-taken statement.

Saint Patrick’s Day

Shamrock FieldEducate yourself a little on this Saint Patrick’s Day. It’s not only about green beer, you know.

The truth behind the shamrock
The story of Saint Patrick
Life, miracles, and prayers
Who was Saint Patrick?

StPatty’sDay.com says:

The person who was to become St. Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, was born in Wales about AD 385. His given name was Maewyn, and he almost didn’t get the job of bishop of Ireland because he lacked the required scholarship.

Far from being a saint, until he was 16, he considered himself a pagan. At that age, he was sold into slavery by a group of Irish marauders that raided his village. During his captivity, he became closer to God.

ShamrockHe escaped from slavery after six years and went to Gaul where he studied in the monastery under St. Germain, bishop of Auxerre for a period of twelve years. During his training he became aware that his calling was to convert the pagans to Christianity.

There you go. Even Saint Patrick’s Day has (indirect) pagan origins. Who knew? Who indeed.

When I was in college

Recently, I read a post by a friend of mine* which has some good advice for students who haven’t yet picked a major… It’s long, but it’s got some good commentary about tangible versus intangible skills, why you should pick a major that focuses on tangible skills, and why that’s important, even though more majors teach (and more potential jobs require) intangible skills over tangible ones. Overall, I recommend it to those who’ve gotten into a good school and now aren’t sure what they want to do with their time there.

* We’re not really friends, but we were never not friends (that is, we were never enemies), either, if that makes sense, so I’m going to assume the best until he says otherwise.

What interested me, however, was his rundown of what he did in college, how he placed upon graduation, and what he’s doing now. I knew him our freshman year, for Christ-sakes; I think it’s okay for me to be interested, right?

Well, I was screwed up in college. Personally, I mean. I did decently in classes and even managed to get a close friend or three out of the deal, but in my head, I was screwed up. My story, compared to his, isn’t as idyllic. (Maybe he’s sugar-coating it, I don’t know, but I’m not given that impression upon reading his post.)

Freshman Year
Unlike my friend, I was not pre-med. I never intended to be pre-med, and I never had any intention of saving the world, at least not through medicine. I wanted to take the world by storm, and not just one person at a time. At first, I wanted to go into politics or linguistics. I’d participated in consciousness-building workshops, political how-to discussions, and awareness rallies. I wanted to make things better for the people around me, and I wanted people to stand up and take notice of the injustice in their lives and around the world.

I entered my freshman year as an undeclared government/German language double major. I’d taken three years of German in high school and wanted to continue my studies. I quickly discovered, however, that I had no idea what I was doing in college, especially since the entire point of my school existence up to that point had been to just get into college. I didn’t know what to do once I’d achieved my high school goal. I’d gotten into college, I was thinking to myself, now what? I had no life goal beyond that. It wasn’t as though I was expecting my life to end or something, I just hadn’t entertained any thought beyond getting in.

My grades plummeted. I went from being a 3.67 student, as I’d been in high school, to less than a 2.67 student. I had trouble attending class without an external motivator. By the end of my first semester, I was thrilled just to have earned three Cs and a B, so fearful was I of outright failure. My downward spiral didn’t end there. I was depressed and I didn’t know why—I’d been depressed for so long it felt almost normal. My over-active imagination told me things that were obviously not true, and I convinced myself and no doubt my hallmates that something was wrong with me. I didn’t know what was happening to me, except that I was falling apart, and I was watching my grades fall apart with me. Second semester, I managed to pull myself together enough to earn three Bs and a C, but the damage was done. I would never be an excellent student, as I’d once been.

Sophomore Year
Sophomore year might’ve been my sophomore slump (pdf), as my friend mentions, but if it was for me, it was just a continuation of freshman year. My roommate didn’t return to my school for personal reasons, I pledged a sorority, and my grades continued to fall. I’d had a rough summer between freshman and sophomore year, but I’d insisted on returning to school despite my limitations. I knew what I was dealing with this time around, but I still had trouble attending classes, and I started self-harming. I got mixed up in some nasty business that I just barely managed to get myself out of more than a year later. I thought I was able to handle it, but it came back to bite me in the ass and I realised there was no way I could go into politics, at least not successfully. I ran up credit card debt like I’d been handed a free pass to buying whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.

By the end of the year, I was worse off than I had been my freshman year. I earned two Bs and two Cs the first semester with the help of my pledge sisters and my boyfriend at the time, but the second semester I had to withdraw from a course for missing too many class sessions. My cumulative GPA hung in the balance around 2.4, much to my chagrin. I knew that language was not my forte, having earned only Cs in two semesters of German my freshman year, and politics was out. I had to pick a new major, or majors, and it the time to declare was fast approaching.

Junior Year
I was determined not to let things fall apart anymore than they already had. My GPA was comparatively pitiful—I’d never had such a crappy time academically in my life. I took a class over the summer and, thankfully for my self esteem, earned an A. I knew, then, that getting good grades was still possible, if not probable. At the beginning of my Junior year, I declared a double major in English and History, which seemed to be the path of least resistance. The first semester, I pulled off a 3.25 GPA and raised my cumulative GPA to almost 2.6… Things were looking up. But getting it to just a 3.0 was going to prove impossible. I relapsed into depression and over-imaginative thinking my second semester and had to withdraw from another class. My sorority sisters and friends didn’t really know how to help me, and I didn’t know how to help myself. I was lost. Nevertheless, I earned straight B minuses despite failing to attend class regularly.

Senior Year
The summer between my Junior and Senior years, I stayed on campus and took two courses in order to catch up and graduate on time, poor grades or no. The first semester of my senior year, I did well. I was living off campus with an apartment-mate who I liked, and I had an on-campus job that allowed me to make classes a priority. Somehow, though, I did poorly my second semester. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I wasn’t that I wasn’t smart enough. I just wasn’t applying myself as much as I could. I realised half way through my second semester that I was going to fail if I didn’t do something different. I had to start attending classes regularly. I had to. Despite my depression and mental issues, I talked with my professors and managed to pull the last semester out of my hat with the same grades as I’d started with: three Cs and a B. You have no idea how grateful I was just to be able to walk across the platform and accept my degree. I was ashamed at how out of control everything seemed to have gotten, and I was determined not to let it hold me back.

Post-College
During my Senior year, I applied to numerous graduate schools and was accepted into a few, despite my poor grades. I began attending one for Creative Writing shortly after graduation and have since earned a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing with a cumulative GPA of 3.67. In attending graduate school, I was back to the type of grades I expected and earned in high school, and for that, I was gratefully relieved. I really was smart enough; I just needed internal motivation, it seemed. I moved from Pennsylvania to New York and got a job as an executive assistant at a small non-profit organization in Brooklyn. I might still have that job if it wasn’t for the crappy economy falling on us at exactly the most inopportune moment. I was laid off through no fault of my own and struggled to stay afloat without an income in New York for eight months before giving in and moving home to California.

Now, I’m in the spot about which my friend warns: “While D does stand for ‘Degree,’ it also increases the probability that you will be ‘Dependant’ [sic] on your others for shelter which may mean living in your parents’ basement.” I’ve only ever earned one D in my life, and that was in Junior High, but the principal remains the same: I’m still out of work, graduate degree or no, and I’m living with my parents. It’s embarrassing to admit that because I feel like I should’ve succeeded at taking care of myself by now, but no. I have a different problem than my friend; he wants to change jobs, I want a job in the first place. I’m working to remedy the situation, but finding work in this economy isn’t easy. I wonder if he has any good advice for someone like me?

Memoriea opening night

Though the opening night for Memoriea was postponed from its original date, February 9th, I am pleased to report that it was a great success, chocolate fountain and all. I have a bunch of photos, but I’ll just upload three to give you an idea of what you missed. Too bad for all of you. Seriously.

Memoriea main entrance
What you see upon entering Duke Gallery.

The chocolate fountain
We had crackers, pretzels, marshmellows, cheddar cheese cubes, banana slices, and shortbread to accompany the chocolate fountain, as well as water and punch, bubble gum, and mints.

Memoriea Issue 1, page 14
One of my favorite pages from the exhibit. I also especially liked pages 4 and 10.

Found

I found this card in my mom’s office at APU while I was cleaning on Monday. I know it’s not to her since it’s in another language, and I’m curious to find out what it says. I think it’s a ‘thank you’ note or other note of gratitude, though I’m just guessing, really. Can anyone read it and/or at least tell me what language it is? (I’d still like translation help with this, too, if you have time.) Thanks!

Click either picture for larger.

Front:
Madonna and Child

Inside:
Inside of Madonna and Child card

Text (not the handwriting) in English: (on left) “The Lord is my light and my salvation… Psalms 27:1”; (on right) “My peace and joy / surround you this season / and may love light your way / at Christmas and always.”