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.

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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:

Happy Lunar New Year! Poem for the Year of the Goat

No matter how you say it, no matter what language you use, Happy Chinese New Year! Happy Lunar New Year! 新年快乐!! 新年快樂, 洋洋得意! Wishing you luck in the upcoming Year of the Goat! Gong Xi Fa Cai (Mandarin) and Gong Hey Fat Choy (Cantonese).

I have been asked again this year by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce to write a poem for their Lunar New Year Luncheon, sponsored by the Asian American Business Council. Information on the February 26th event is here. You may recall that last year I attended the luncheon and read a poem, honoring the Year of the Horse. This year’s poem, honoring the Year of the Goat, will be read by my friend and former Cupertino Library Commissioner, Adrian Kolb (as I will be out of town).

In honor of the day, and the year, here is my poem, “Cupertino, What is Your Moon? A Lunar New Year Sestina.”

Cupertino, What Is Your Moon? A Lunar New Year Sestina

Once a year, the year begins again.
The sun has made his one cycle, the moon
her twelve. The time has come to count your luck,
to launch anew – sure-footed as a goat –
your way, your goals and all your many dreams.
A city – like a woman or a man –

shakes off the dust. Each woman, child, man,
each teenager, each grandmother, again,
each grandfather compares today with dreams
long dreamed, imagined once under the moon
of youth. But truth is stubborn, like a goat,
and dreams as unreliable as luck.

And cities, built of stone, if they have luck,
are only as lucky as their citizens – men
and women – strong-hearted as symbolic goats
(or sheep) will be in the year to come. Again,
we will make plans and love under the moon;
nothing can keep the dreamers from their dreams.

So, Cupertino, what will be your dream?
How hard will you work to make your luck
as certain to come true as the full moon
surely shines in the night for anyone
who waits for clouds to float away again?
And what are we to think of the green goat,

with humble heart, who patiently waits, a goat
after all dreams only goat dreams,
and we are human. Will we try again
our hands at the same games of luck
and chance? Or aim higher, like the man
sent into space, sent to the moon?

Cupertino, what will be your moon?
Will you climb your mountains, like the goat,
will you, every woman, every man,
rededicate your life to those old dreams,
or strike out somewhere new and test your luck?
Now’s the time; the year begins again.

May both the sun and moon shine on your dreams.
May you feel strong and peaceful as the goat, and may your luck
be human, and like the New Year, start again.

(c) Jennifer Swanton Brown

Comments on this poem

The first challenge was to decide on the image of goat or sheep for my poem. I polled my Chinese and Filipino friends. I investigated on the internet. I decided on the goat, since that’s what the Cupertino Chamber is using, and because of some of the internal rhymes available to me (like Cupertin-O) and alliterations (green goat, grandfather, grandmother) seemed right.

(Fortunately, today, NPR has run a lovely story on the radio that the choice of animal in Chinese is not fixed and so either will do.)

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I chose the sestina as the technical form for my poem because of its cyclical nature. The repetition of six end-line words in a sestina allows the poet to return again and again to several central images, an apt technique for a poem describing the cyclical nature of the moon and the years of our lives.

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Read more about this sestina form here (history from the American Academy of Poets) and information about how to construct a poem of this type, here (Wikipedia).

Lunar New Year Poem “Prayer for the Year of the Horse”

This is the poem I wrote for the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce Asian American Business Council’s annual Lunar New Year luncheon. I was born in the year of the rat, and while doing my research for this poem, discovered that I share that Chinese Zodiac sign with President Noynoy Aquino of the Philippines. I understood from my research that 1960 was a “metal” year, making me a “metal rat.” However, I met a lovely woman at the luncheon, Mei Huey Huang, the Editor-in-Chief of the World Journal, who explained that in Chinese, the “metal” would certainly be “gold” — suggesting that President Aquino and I are indeed “golden rats.” I’ll have to write another poem about that. (You can read about the photo on the Santa Clara County Library’s Facebook page.)

Prayer for the Year of the Horse

for President Noynoy Aquino of the Philippines and me

Stay away from stress.
Don’t dress unconventionally.
Praise a horse when you see one,
praise his haughty neck or humble head.

Watch out for sharp objects.
Your mettle will be tested,
but knife wielding can cut both ways.

Wear green or brown,
the lucky colors of California hills.
But keep your hand on your dance partner,
your grip may slip
on the handle of romance.

Above all keep your ratty nose down,
whiskers twitching with keen sense.
Horses have beauty and speed, it’s true,
but you can escape under the fence.

In honor of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce
Lunar New Year Luncheon

February 14, 2014
© Jennifer Swanton Brown

Mango Pudding at Chamber of Commerce Lunch

Mango Pudding at Chamber of Commerce Lunch

This was dessert, mango pudding, at last Friday’s Lunar New Year Luncheon, sponsored by the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce, Asian American Business Council (AABC). This event, the AABC’s 16th annual luncheon, was full of happy noise, good food courtesy of the Dynasty Seafood Restaurant, and many vibrant Cupertino businessmen and women. I wrote a special poem for them to honor the Year of the Horse, and read it together with another poem celebrating horses. It was a “tough crowd” but many listened respectfully and seemed to appreciate the opportunity to hear from the CupPL. I had a blast.

Thanks to Anne Stevenson of the Cupertino Library Commission and the AABC for inviting me. Poems to follow, soon.