Write Your First Poem

One of Jennifer Swanton Brown’s last events as Cupertino Poet Laureate was the “Write Your First Poem” workshop, held Thursday, October 8, 2015. Fifteen people came to the Cupertino Library Story Room for a fun and interactive workshop. A few people were there writing their very first poems, and a few were old timers from the community, looking for some new inspiration. All went away with poems, and from the smiles on their faces, a good time was had.

write your first poem group with kids.JPG

These photos are of the exercise Jennifer did to warm up the crowd, the poem they wrote as a group from random words (chosen from Jennifer’s “word bowl”) and the prompts offered to tempt first time writers.

One of the first time writers was Yana Gulati, an elementary school student from Cupertino, who came to the workshop with her mother Elisabeth Merkle. Yana has given us permission to post her poems here, both in their first rough draft form and her typed second drafts. (I have a sneaking suspicion that Yana is not really a first time poet…)

Enjoy Yana’s poetry and please, Cupertino, keep writing!

two poems by Yana Gulati rough drafts_Page_1two poems by Yana Gulati rough drafts_Page_2

 

Why?

Why part for tomorrow, when you can do things today?

Why go back in the past when you can live in the present?

Why have a world with worries when you can have a carefree world?

Why would you have wrinkles when you could be young and frolicky.

Oh yes, there are many “why’s” in our planet.

 

Lies

Lies? Why tell lies about rushing when you say you got stuck in traffic, but you actually lost your pet rat Cinnamon.

Lies, Lies, the more you tell, the guiltier you get.

Why tell lies about loving spinach leafs, but when you eat them you spit it out.

Why tell the lies, the guilty, guilty lies instead of being truly honest.

 

 

Photos from Cupertino Diwali Festival

October 17, 2015 was a great day! I wrote a poem and read it from the main stage. (Wow, that was an experience, sandwiched between children singing and dancing and very lovely ladies in their costumes dancing and clapping — I think the audience wasn’t quite sure what to make of me!)  I would never have gotten the saree to stay on without the help of Janki Chokshi.

diwali janki and jennifer sari

Janki and Jennifer in festive garb.

I spent the rest of the day hanging out with Clare Varisio and Godha Krishnan (librarians and awesome humans) at the Cupertino Library booth. Here are some photos of the general scene. Amanda Williamsen was with us for the morning.

diwali cupertino library table

Clare took this photo — they were signing up people for library cards all day.

diwali poetry booth amanda ghoda clare close website

Amanda, Godha and Clare!

diwali booth amanda clare godha website

Amanda, Godha and Clare in the booth early in the day. Amazing yellow stars gave the booth such charm. Just like the lights of Diwali fighting off the gloomy overcast day.

diwali jen with poetry booth and sari website

Jennifer wearing the saree, her first time ever.

diwali godha and clare with their poem website

Godha and Clare, with the poem I wrote for them.

I was typing poems on my typewriter, and this one is for the great new librarian friends I made.

I was typing poems on my typewriter, and this one is for the great new librarian friends I made.

diwali harry potter in hindi website

You can read Harry Potter in Hindi if you check the book out of the library!

As the poet laureate, I had two activities going on. First, folks could come and check out my 1950s typewriter — and many many (many) kids tried it out. It’s hard to type on a machine like this if you’re used to an easy computer keyboard!

diwali girls typing website

Secondly, Clare made great yellow cards with prompts “Diwali means…” and “On Diwali, I…” which anyone could write on. We collected over 60 cards from kids as young as three, teens, and adults, and had a lot of lovely conversations with people about Diwali in the process. Amanda and I are writing poems from these messages to read at the October 24 Diwali Festival of Lights event at the Cupertino Library. Read those poems at this link and at the library.

diwali help us write a poem website diwali filling out a yellow card website

Diwali yellow poem card sample

I’m so grateful to Clare and Godha for all their excitement and support. Amanda and I had a blast. What a lovely day it was, in spite of the cool cloudy weather. I certainly understand now why so many people love Diwali. I am especially grateful to Anjali Kausar and Ann Stevenson of the Chamber for arranging the reading, and to Gayathri Kanth, the Cupertino Community Librarian. Ann is also a Cupertino Library Commissioner.

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Cupertino Poem for Diwali

I was delighted to take on the challenge of writing a poem to help celebrate Diwali in Cupertino. The Chamber of Commerce hosted a huge Diwali Festival in Cupertino’s Memorial Park on Saturday, October 17, and I read this poem at the festival.

(For more information about my adventures at the Cupertino Library’s booth, and the community poem written by me, Amanda Williamsen, and 63 visitors, read more at this link.)

This poem is in the form of a pantoum. I like the form for holiday and seasonal poems, because it emphasizes repeated images and is well suited to themes of time and celebration– events like Diwali that come around year after year. In this poem I linked my memories of being a teenager in Cupertino (seeing the distinctive shape of lights from the quarry on the hillside while driving home in the dark) to current images of lights (the Mary Avenue pedestrian and bicycle bridge) that can be seen at night driving into Cupertino.

mary avenue bridge at night

Also, in October, you might see both Diwali and Halloween lights driving around your neighborhood.

“Home on Diwali”
A Pantoum for the Cupertino Diwali Festival, October 2015 

I don’t know much about Diwali,
but I know the shape of familiar lights
means that I am home.
I’m told Diwali means “rows of lighted lamps.”

A familiar shape of lights,
shining in a line on the dark hillside,
might be a row of lighted Diwali lamps –
twisting like a broken tree branch –

The shining lines on the dark hillside
(it was the quarry above our house)
twisted like a broken tree branch,
seemed so close when I was a child –

The quarry lights above our house,
for many years a welcome sight,
seemed so close when I was a child,
after late night family parties.

In recent years a welcome sight
while driving westward on 280
after late night family parties,
the pedestrian & bicycle bridge glows!

Driving westward on 280
I see, lit up against the sky
the pedestrian & bicycle bridge glowing:
a shining gate into the city.

Lit up bright against the sky –
this symbol of our rushing lives –
a shining gate into the city,
where things are happening, in October.

A symbol of our rushing lives,
the end of summer is a time
when things can happen! In October
my house is hung with purple bats –

The end of summer is a time
when orange globes and spider webs
hang on the house with purple bats –
my children decorate this year.

When orange globes and spider webs
light up our neighbors’ streets
(my children decorate this year)
we find light in gloom and darkness.

Light up our neighborhood streets!
I don’t know much about Diwali,
but I’ve found light in gloom and darkness,
and know that I am home.

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diwali janki and jennifer sari

Janki and Jennifer, photo by Chwen Lim.

diwali sari three best website

Posing for the photographer — thank you to Chwen Lim for all the great shots.

Here I am in the beautiful saree I was invited to wear for the occasion. I’m very grateful to Anjali Kausar and Janki Chokshi for all their friendly support! Janki pined me into the saree so I wouldn’t lose it. Many thanks also to Ann Stevenson of the Cupertino Library Commission for arranging this reading with Anajli (current CEO of the Chamber). Thanks to Chwen Lim for the photos of the saree fitting.

diwali janki and anjali website

Janki and Angali

See more photos from the day here. I learned so much at the Diwali Festival. What a great outpouring of spirit and energy!

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Other pantoums can be found at the Poetry Foundation.

Other poems that celebrate Diwali can be found on these sites and I’m sure many more:

Three Favorite Books — Sponsored by the Cupertino Library

Check ’em out here!!  My most favorite book of poetry for children isn’t in the Cupertino Library, being quite old and in a extinct edition. You can see from the image below that it’s quite tattered.

IMG_6425 (1)

The Cupertino Library features three favorite books by local readers every week on their Facebook page, and the previous Thursday, they featured Amanda Williamsen, the incoming PL.

three favorite amanda

As devout and dedicated readers, it’s hard to choose just three.

Write Your First Poem (or Your Second…)

Come to the Cupertino Library Story Room, Thursday evening, October 8 at 7 pm to join a friendly, relaxed group of people who are not poetry experts but love to write poems. I hope this means you.

  • If you’ve never written a poem but would like to try, this workshop is for you.
  • If you’ve written poems in secret and are ready for a gentle group, this workshop is for you.
  • If you’ve written poetry for years and you just want a night out and a new prompt and a new poem on a blank page, this workshop is for you!

Free and open to the public. All ages welcome.

October 2015 Plans

October 2015 will be full of great poetry-related events!

October 8, Thursday: Write Your First Poem workshop

October 16, Friday: Peninsula Literary ( Jennifer Swanton Brown, Featured Reader) — check out the flyer and more details here.

October 17, Saturday: Cupertino Diwali Festival

  • Come see Jennifer Swanton Brown and Amanda Williamsen at the Cupertino Library’s booth. Event sponsored by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce. Video preview here!
  • Video by Cupertino poet Archana Panda  “Celebrating Diwali in America” (Diwali Festival, 2014)

October 24, Saturday: Cupertino Library Diwali Celebration

Adventures at the Silicon Valley STEAM Festival

In one of my other poetry guises, as a California Poets in the Schools poet/teacher, I hosted a poetry play booth at the Silicon Valley STEAM Festival yesterday.

svsteamlogo

We had hundreds of kids and parents making poetry about planes in our booth. It was a lot of work, but fun and rewarding. Here I am with my pals Erica Goss and Amanda Williamson at the end of the day — looking as stunned, sunburned and windblown as we were!

all three 3 best

Here are a couple of photos of some of the great poems kids wrote (click through the “poetry play booth” link above to read all about the way we built the booth and to see more photos).

I want to fly to Israel orange boys poem

reading is a dream tablecloth poem 1 tablecloth poem later

KKUP Interview and Poems

Did you know Cupertino has it’s own public radio station? KKUP (FM 91.5) is a sweet little station filled with volunteers and subscribers who broadcast out of a funky studio in East San Jose.

KKUP from web

Last month I was invited to read poetry and talk about the current search for the next Cupertino Poet Laureate. Pushpa MacFarlane, a member of the search committee and a friend and awesome local poet, arranged the time with KKUP music mixer extraordinaire, David Stafford.

David Stafford, KKUP

David Stafford, KKUP at his sound board (Photo by Pushpa MacFarlane)

Pushpa reading

Pushpa MacFarlane, reading her poems

Jennifer at KKUP

Jennifer Swanton Brown, reading her poems at KKUP (Photo by Pushpa MacFarlane)

I read my “Softball Sestina” (published in The Sand Hill Review 2006) which I wrote for my daughter and her team, The Purple Power. I read “In A Dry Time” which I wrote for the 2014 Silicon Valley Fall Festival, and “Dog Park Rules” which I wrote for Cupertino’s Mary Avenue Dog Park.

I also read “My Elements: Earth” by a student I taught last year while working as a poet/teacher with California Poets in the Schools. This poem was published in If the Sky Was My Heart (the California Poets in the Schools 2014 Statewide Anthology). I teach a lesson based on one by Maureen Hurley, CPITS Area Coordinator from Alameda County.

My Elements: Earth

I shake like an earthquake,
I erupt like a volcano.
My outside is as hard as a rock.
My inside is soft,
a dark brown soil.
Inside, I have peace,
hills, fields, and valleys.
Don’t judge on what you see outside,
look past that boulder, look past that mountain!
Behind them grows peace.
Mounds of green, birds are free!
My soft, underground soil
is better on the inside.
Outside, I am hard,
boulder, grime, and rocks.
When I’m mad, I’m a volcano,
when I’m mad, I’m an earthquake.
Outside, there’s mud, muck, and dirt.
Two completely different sides.
Please don’t judge on what you see.
Both sides of me bring all my harmony.

Alicia Chen
Grade Four, Gomes Elementary School
Alameda County

The rest of these photos show the inside of the KKUP station — I admired the signs and the pictures. All around, a great place!

KKUP sign KKUP poetry KKUP tapes KKUP photos

Reading at Sunday Assembly

One of the joys of being the city’s Poet Laureate is that your name gets circulated among poetry lovers all over the county. I had the honor last month of being invited to read some of my poetry as part of the Sunday Assembly Silicon Valley meeting, June 14, 2015. (Photo above by Vickie Thompson, (c) Sunday Assembly.)

The featured reader for the morning was Lester Deanes, assistant dean at Santa Clara University’s Office of Student Life. He gave a great talk called “Man in Progress – A Conversation on Redefining Manhood and Family.” For me the highlight was a video he showed at the end of the talk of kids at a camp singing songs about gender issues.

Sunday Assembly is a group that meets, sings, listens to lectures and poems, shares adversity and adventure. They meet in the absolutely gorgeous old San Jose Women’s Club building, which has a lovely auditorium. I took several photos of the light fixtures while I was warming up my poetry mojo.

Sunday Assembly sconce Sunday Assembly light fixture

I especially love Sunday Assembly’s motto: Live Better. Help Often. Wonder More. I took these photos of the palms they use to define a more intimate space for meeting. Look closely for their little signs of joy.

Sunday Assembly Wonder More

Wonder More!

Sunday Assembly Live Better Sunday Assembly Help Often

I read two of my newer poems, “Liver & Onions,” and “Hold What He Made” about my own father. I read “The New Season: A Baseball Sestina,” which celebrates my son and husband, and Little League Teams everywhere (published in What the World Hears, California Poets in the Schools 2009 Statewide Anthology). I also read a CPITS student poem, “My Father’s Hands” (published in If The Sky Was My Heart, California Poets in the Schools 2014 Statewide Anthology), and which I reproduce here:

My Father’s Hands

Scarred are my father’s
hands and wrists
from cuts,
never self-inflicted,
but the scars
of a working man.
Unfortunately, also those
of a junkie,
the poison needle
long gone,
but its marks
ever present,
the veins standing out.
He wears fantastic
silver bracelets,
drawing attention away
from the marks.
I think he’s ashamed,
embarrassed,
or both.
The hands of my father,
loving and caring,
despite the permanent marks
and the roughness.

(c) Cassidy Bailey
Grade Nine, Six Rivers Charter School
Humboldt County

Code Poetry Hack-a-Slam Success!

It was our first ever Cupertino Code Poetry Hack-a-thon and Slam. We had no idea what we would happen. But, in the end, plenty of people showed up, and we slammed six poems at the end of three hours of concentrated fun. I am so pleased and grateful to all who helped and came out for our wild and crazy tech + art event.

Here are my photos of the slam portion of the event. There was video and I’m sure other photos, but for now, you’ll have to imagine us listening to the lecture and demonstration and eating our pizza.

Table 1 included tw0-time Stanford Code Poetry Slam participant Julian Bliss and “two novice coders and amateur poets” (yes, that’s how these kids described themselves). Both students read about the event in the Cupertino Courier and came ready to learn and work. (See more of Julian’s work here and here.)

Table 1 Bliss with two edited Table 1 presenting with Ben and Julian Table 1 on screen 1

I am asking my friends what computer languages these poems were written in, so stay tuned for updates.

Table 1 on screen 2

To our utter delight, Ms. Ghaidaa Mousabacha (language arts teacher from Morrill Middle School in San Jose) brought many of eighth-grade students to our slam. There were three tables of Ms. M’s students. They loved the pizza, but I think they truly enjoyed the poetry and the coding (for which they had no previous experience!) I was very inspired talking to Ms. M. about her love of teaching and her dedication to her students.

Table 2 wrote a code poem about Starbucks. Three brave souls presented it to the audience.

Table 2Table 2 on screen Table 2 presenting

Table 3, also students from Ms. M’s class, worked on their poem with Stanford Code Poetry Slam founder Melissa Kagen and then presented it with another Stanford Code Poetry guest Ben Allen. Their poem was about Batman.

Table 3 with MKTable 3 batman on screen Table 3 presenting wide with Ben  Table 3 presenting Table 3 presenting with Ben

We had some technical difficulties projecting Table 4’s poem on the screen, but they did a fine job and had the audience laughing. You can see them working on their piece with Ms. M and Ben.

Table 4 with Ben and Ms MTable 4 presenting

A local De Anza College student wrote the beginnings of a very interesting poem about Cat’s Cradle (is that a language?) and I overheard her and Melissa talking about how she should keep writing it and submit it to the next Stanford Slam.

Juhi presentingJuhi on screen

Well-known local poet Dennis Noren also joined us for the afternoon. Dennis brought his background in economics, data analysis and poetry together in his piece. My photography skills weren’t always up to the task of getting poet and poem at the same time, but I did get a fun view of Dennis’s poem while he was writing/coding it!

Dennis presentingDennis laptop coding Dennis on screen

Here are a few more shots of the scene, including a silly selfie of Melissa and me — we had such a good time.

JSB with CupPL poster JSB MK selfie

My most heartfelt thanks to Adrian Kolb for bringing the pizza, and to Chris in the blue shirt who served as our great room and tech guy. The City of Cupertino really went the distance this time, supporting us with space and technical assistance. Without them we wouldn’t have had such a successful event.

P.S. Did you know that there are over 9 pages of programming languages on Wikipedia? I was told yesterday that is is just the beginning. I remember my Dad writing in Assembly Language. I tried to learn Pascal in college. The possibilities are endless.