Sticks and Stones: Memoirs About the Writing Life

Are you wishing you could write poetry but think it’s too hard? That you have to be “real poet” or “sophisticated”?? Read Erica Goss’s post about why reading poetry by kids is a great way to inspire your own efforts. It doesn’t have to be hard or complicated or obtuse or opaque or all twisted up strange to be poetry.

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Write Like a Kid

I have the two latest California Poets in the Schools anthologies on my desk: If the Sky Was My Heart (2014) and Sing to the Heart of the Forest (2013). The more I read them, the more I understand why I read them, and why I, and everyone who reads and writes poetry, need these poems. In his excellent introduction to Sing to the Heart of the Forest, Steve Kowit explains:

“Unlike many journals and anthologies of contemporary American poetry that relish ambiguity and opacity, this anthology of young people’s poetry is deliciously readable, the poets managing to be surprising and creative in their language without diluting their humanity and ability to communicate what they wish to tell us.”

The insights in children’s poetry often startle us. A third-grader writes, “Green is the mighty bite of a snake” and a first-grader, “The world is blooming…

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Poetry at San Jose’s Mayoral Inauguration

Our fearless Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, David Perez, wrote a beautiful and exciting poem for the city of San Jose. Last night he read it at the inauguration of San Jose’s new mayor, Sam Liccardo. Read it and be amazed. Read it and join in the celebration of civilization by great poets. What a tradition!

Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Blog

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Last night I read this poem at Mayor Sam Liccardo’s Inauguration and in so doing shared the stage with Aztec dancers, Spanish guitarists, Christian ministers, Buddhist monks and wonderful host Tamara Alvarado. Thanks to Mayor Liccardo and to all who were present. Here’s the poem! And stay tuned later this month for more laureate news and upcoming events!

JANUARY AND THE RUBE GOLDBERG MACHINE

I hear shouts issued from mothers, their chords tired and tuned, bidding
daughters and sons: Stop at the crossing and wait for the light

Cutting through St. James park
the voices of women in threadbare Starter parkas
recline on liberated Safeway Market carts
Greeting me with Pall Mall smiles
their cupped hands rise as if presenting
some delicate artifact for my inspection

Where north meets south First, I hear people whisper into palm-sized boxes
of pure obsidian, and the boxes whisper back. I hear it’s the…

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Chaos & Kindness Poetry Reading

Last night was such a great event. I was thrilled and honored to see the largest audience to date for an Unsung Holiday poetry reading. We were publicized in the De Anza college paper, so maybe that helped. Here’s a photo of the notice that my son texted me!

De Anza news announcement

I’m a little cranky that I didn’t think to take any photos, but hopefully some of my friends who attended will have some photos I can share. In the meantime, the photo featured at the top of this post is of a piece of art featured at the museum right now, Thinly Veiled, by Mark Engel. It puts me in mind perfectly of chaos, and the beauty to be found there.

David Perez and Kim Johnson were fantastic and moved me and the audience with their spoken word poetry.

  • Kim performed “off book” which put the rest of us to shame. But it’s also a different style of poetry — a hybrid of theater and poetry, a performance reminiscent of a one-woman play. As much as I admired what Kim did, I don’t have that voice, so will try not to be envious! Here’s a link to a performance Kim gave in 2011.
  • David’s poetry is also fine and powerful. He’s a seasoned performer and I love the asides and stories about his work he shared. He read poems about his mom, which I especially enjoyed. You can find out more about David and what he’s up to, with links to his work, at his website and hear some of his performances on his YouTube channel.

If you want to hear David again soon, he’ll be reading Sunday November 16 with Erica Goss at her Poetry Kitchen at the Lost Gatos Library. Check out all his activities as Santa Clara County’s Poet Laureate here.

In addition to my featured readers, we had ten (10!) for our open mic. We put it in the middle of the show, instead of at the end where you typically hear an open mic, and I liked the arc of the reading that created. The energy was up and down and up and down again, the flow constant. Familiar faces read with us and some new folks, who I hope will come again.

The Euphrat Museum of Art is a fabulous venue, and this time the exhibit included works by De Anza and Foothill College faculty and staff. I encourage you to get over there and see the great show. I remain grateful to them for allowing us to hold our readings in such a great space.

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“The De Anza and Foothill Art Faculty/Staff Show highlights the diverse yet interconnected work of art faculty and staff from De Anza College in Cupertino and Foothill College in Los Altos Hills. Painting, drawing, prints, mixed media, photography, sculpture, ceramics, and more will be on display. The fall exhibition also includes special projects with summer Artist-in-Residence Titus Kaphar and De Anza students in the Black Leadership Collective, and a Puente class Día de los Muertos installation. Sponsored by De Anza Associated Student Body, the City of Cupertino, the Friends of the Euphrat, and the Creative Arts Division.”

Chaos Never Dies on World Kindness Day

The third reading in my series on Unsung Holidays will be Thursday, November 13. Join us at the Euphrat Museum of Art, at De Anza College for two fabulous featured readers and an open mic.

Below, some information from the press release.

Featured poets for the evening are Santa Clara County Poet Laureate David Perez, and the adult winner of the 2013 Cupertino Library Foundation’s Silicon Valley Reads poetry contest, Kim Johnson.

There is no charge for this event, to be held on World Kindness Day, and celebrating Chaos, and sponsored by the City of Cupertino, the Cupertino Library Commission, the Cupertino Library Foundation and Friends of the Cupertino Library.

“The variety of events this year,” commented Swanton Brown, “has enabled me to touch the many and varied groups in Cupertino. It keeps me energized, and hopefully, encourages others to write poetry.”

Perez currently serves as the 2014-15 Poet Laureate of Santa Clara County. He is a recipient of the Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowship for Literary Art, a repeat guest on the NPR storytelling series “Snap Judgment,” and author of the poetry collection, “Love in a Time of Robot Apocalypse” from Write Bloody Publishing. In 2012, he was voted “Best Author in the Bay” by the SF Bay Guardian. He currently lives in San Jose.

Johnson was named the 2013 Grand Prize Winner in the adult category for the Library Foundation Silicon Valley Reads poetry contest. She won $350 for her poem related to one of the featured books about technology.

The Cupertino Library operates Monday through Thursday 10AM-9PM; Friday and Saturday, 10AM-6PM; and Sunday, noon-6PM. http://www.sccl.org

The Cupertino Library Foundation is a 501(c)3 Public Benefit Corporation with the purpose to raise money to continue programs encouraging life-long learning and self-improvement through the Cupertino Library. The Foundation has the Non-Profit Seal of Approval by Guidestar demonstrating satisfaction of transparency requirements and is a member of the Google for Nonprofits program receiving tools to work efficiently. It seeks major donations from corporations and the business community and from other foundations as well as individual donations and planned gifts and bequests. For further information visit: http://www.cupertinolibraryfoundation.org.

Photos from Cupertino Library Anniversary Celebration

I posted an album of these photos on Facebook, but for those of you who don’t “do” Facebook, here’s the best of the bunch. It was a great afternoon and I’m thankful to have been invited by the Cupertino Library Foundation and Library Commission.

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I decorated my booth with poems written by me and by winners of the Silicon Valley Reads contest (March 2014). I had magnetic poetry for folks to play with and my trusty golden poet laureate cup.

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I had some very special guests. Meeting the Cat in the Hat has always been a life long dream! Batman and I discussed poetry about bats. Former Cupertino Poet Laureate, David Denny, chatted up Darth Vader, who commented, that, although the Empire was not much of a poetical place, “I’ll have to think up some Imperial Haiku.”

I also had many community members drop by, play with the magnetic poetry, and create the own poems. Here is a sampling.

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I’m not sure why some of the poem photos are coming out sideways, but I guess that’s okay with poetry.  I also provided a game of “Exsquisite Corpse” and many people wrote lines. You can see the Imperial Storm Trooper above adding his. I’m working them all into a single poem, and will get that up here one of these days.

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It was a great day for the library and for poetry. I’m grateful (as always) to my supporters from the Library Foundation, the Library Commission and from the community. This time, especially to Bev Lenihan, Gayathri Kanth, and Adrian Kolb.

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One final shout out to my neighbor, Barbara Pollek, for making my fantastic Poet Laureate apron. It was the perfect gear for the day.

“Listen, Steel” an Ekphrastic Poem about a Bridge

The San Jose Museum of Art has posted my poem, “Listen, Steel,” to their Tumblr site. I wrote this earlier in the year, and read it on Thursday, April 17, 2014 at their poetry and art invitational, based on works in the exhibit “Initial Public Offering.” I was invited to participate by David Perez, the Santa Clara County PL. It was a really great event, and I’ve been waiting for the photos and video (promised!) to appear.

Each poet was challenged to choose a piece of art and write an ekphrastic poem. I chose Stephanie Syjuco’s International Orange. The poem was inspired in part by research I did on the art piece.

Below are a few photos taken of the event by my husband and me. I particularly loved the rack of postcards. All international orange.

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And here is the poem, with the correct line breaks.

“Listen, Steel”

“Listen, steel,”
“listen,” said the engineers to the towers:

“Listen to the voices of the ferries,
and of the nearby hills,
even the ocean and the sky
speak in voices that count and measure.”

“Steel, you will have to stand
through the changing seasons.
Your name will be taken into the mouths
and onto the wings. Your song
will be highly pleasing
and unusual in the realm.”

“The black water, the grey sky,
the aluminum sea gulls
will look to you for a returned music.
One vermillion bird,
one terra cotta grain of sand.”

“Listen, steel, to the voices,
and with your molecular symphonies,
carry our message of admiration.”

“Our message,” said the engineers,
“will be in your voice for anyone
who wants the news.”

“The bridge news, steel, is you.”

 

Photos and Friends from the Beat Museum Poetry Festival

What a fun event. Last weekend I was invited to read at the SF Beat Museum 7th Annual Poetry Festival. What a blast. Here are some photos of the event, with some of the lovely poetry people I met.

Terry Adams was the MC and the photo above shows me in the Literature Bathtub with Terry! I’ve know Terry since 1986, through our long association with Waverly Writers in Palo Alto, but I think this is the first time we’ve shared a bath.

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Here’s Erica Goss with the bathtub full of books.

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I took a selfie with some famous beat women writers.

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Another shot of beautiful Erica with more women writers.

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Some great decor in the museum, behind and upstairs from a funky little bookstore.

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Erica and I hanging out with Allen Ginsberg. I bought a copy of the poster and am going to put an “e” between the “o” and “t”.

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Maurine Killough, Erica Goss, Bob Dickerson, and Sarah Kobrinsky (the Emeryville Poet Laureate)

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Gwynn O’Gara, fellow teacher at California Poets in the Schools and former Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, with the current Poet Laureate of Pacifica, Dorsetta Hale.

 

Last Poem-A-Day Prompt #43

It’s been a good year, and a long haul, and I’m tired. I didn’t think I could be tired of poetry, but I’m tired of this project. So long, it’s been good to know you….

I began on October 10, 2013. First on Facebook, then here. The Tumblr part of the project was much harder to keep up with. But, for all the trials, it’s been a very interesting experiment and I’ve written some poems I’m proud of. I hope now, that I’m not focusing so much on new work, I’ll be able to get some of the raw poems tuned up into poems that might get published.

If you’re interested, I wrote about the PAD (and about my writing process in general) on a post on my other blog, “A Twirly Life” last week, as part of a Virtual Blog Tour.

For the final prompt in the project, I offer you some resources. These are books and websites that I’ve used over the years to get me writing and help keep me writing. I hope that they might serve you.

Books I Like

National Society Websites

  • The American Academy of Poets (www.poets.org)
  • The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org)
  • The Poetry Society of America (www.poetrysociety.org)

International

  • The Poetry Society (UK) (www.poetrysociety.org.uk)

For High School Students

  • Poetry Out Loud National Recitation Contest (www.poetryoutloud.org)
  • The National English Honor Society for High Schools (www.nehs.us)
  • Poetry 180: A Poem a Day for American High Schools (www.loc.gov/poetry/180/)

For Younger Kids

Don’t worry, I’ll still post on Facebook and keep up with current events and the upcoming 2015 Cupertino International Poetry Festival here, but no more prompts weekly (or not even weekly!).

(I’m not sure what to make of 43 prompts — in a whole year there should be 52, if they were really weekly. Once I get to the number crunching, it will be clear what happened. 43 is not such a bad number.)

Beat Museum Poetry

Tomorrow, Erica Goss and I will be part of this only-in-SF poetry festival. The 7th Annual Beat Museum Poetry Festival should be fun and if you’re in the city, join us! The event is from 1-6 pm, at the Beat Museum, 540 Broadway, in SF, across the street from City Lights bookstore. Many cool poems, and my friend, Terry Adams, as MC. (More about Terry here.)

The theme is “World of Change: Jack Kerouac Is Alive and Well!” and that’s JK in the cool graphic at the top of the post.

If you didn’t know that Kerouac was a poet as well as an author, read a poem or two here. “Everything is perfect because it is empty.”

Prompt #42 Poets, Food, Limes, Love and Death

Food makes regular appearances in poetry: appetites, hunger, desire, love, family, togetherness, physical senses, the body, color, flavor and scent. It’s not surprising that poets, who famously attend to the textures of the world, would use food metaphors and write whole poems in honor of the senses that we savor.

Some of the most famous poems to food include the following:

  • Pablo Neruda’s odes — including these two, among my favorites — “Ode to A Large Tuna in the Market” and “Ode to the Orange.” (If you want a real treat, check out this amazing food and poetry blog, Eat This Poem, for recipes and poetry. What did I tell you about this relationships between eating and poets?) (Neruda is so beloved, his poetry is everywhere. Check out this blog where “Ode to the Onion” is translated into many languages!)
  • Gary Soto’s “Oranges” which from this link can be printed onto handouts to use in a classroom!
  • Giggle Poetry has a whole page of silly food poems, ready to tickle kids.
  • Food poetry is often nostalgic, as in Amy Gerstler’s “Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup.
  • The Academy of American Poets has a great list of books with food and poems.
  • Even the important and creepy Emily Dickinson uses food imagery. “Fame is a Fickle Food” is a scary poem and should be a lesson to us all!
  • And what about Kay Ryan’s “Lime Light” which is a modern (and slightly less creepy, more compassionate version of ED’s poem)??

I think you get the idea.

Perhaps my favorite use of food in poetry is, however, not silly, or even in a poem about food. When Donald Hall‘s wife and fellow poet, Jane Kenyon, died, he wrote an astonishing book called Without. The poem at the center of this bleak, grim, grief-struck book — which marks the turn towards poems that begin to think about the possibility of healing — is a poem called, “Without.” Fortunately, you can click through and read it for yourself. The reason I thought of it for this post, is because the last word in the poem is “garlic” — a word that hangs at the end of the last stanza — a potent, flavorful, sharp universal food at the end of a poem that can’t possibly end. How can a husband ever finish a poem that describes all the things he is forever without, now that his wife has died? There are other food words in the poem, many sensual and intellectual images, but to end with garlic seems so wrong, so painful, so impossible. It’s a remarkable poem and I hope you’ll take the time to read it. I have never forgotten it, or how strange and perfect that one food image resonates with the universal experiences of love and great loss.

So, your challenge, today, this week, is to write a food poem! I had the delightful experience today of reading at Erica Goss‘s Poetry Kitchen, a new series she is hosting at the Los Gatos Library. I read several food poems that I’ve written. I’ll write a new one, too, if you will.

(Onion illustration source here.)