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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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!

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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.”

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.

 

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.)

Reading Food Poems!

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This Sunday I’ll be joining the lovely Erica Goss, Los Gatos Poet Laureate, for her Poetry Kitchen reading series. Come hear! And, come read — there will be an open mic following.

September 21, 2014 update: Here’s a photo of Erica and me, after the event. It was so much fun. I hope to attend the upcoming readings in the series. Photo by Amanda Williamson.

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Loving Day Reading Photos

Almost a month later, I’m finally getting around to posting photos.

The second in my series of “Unsung Holiday” poetry readings, the Loving Day reading (June 12, 2014) was a lovely event — we had a great turnout and the venue was perfect. Here is a photo of me with my featured readers, (left to right) Michael Cross, (yours truly, Jennifer Swanton Brown), Erica Goss, and Bob Dickerson.

I opened the reading with Natasha Trethewey‘s poem about her parents interracial marriage, “Early Evening, Frankfurt Kentucky” — which of course has the important quality of not mentioning their races. When she was born in 1966 her parents’ marriage was illegal in Mississippi. Her birth certificate listed her mother’s race as “Colored” and her father’s as “Canadian.”

This photo is “of me in my element” taken by my friend Ellen.

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The Euphrat Gallery at De Anza College is a great place for a poetry reading and the staff there were friendly, helpful, attentive and smart. Just what you need when you’re a nervous M.C.

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Joining Erica (second from the left) in this photo are (left to right) Amanda Williamsen, Dave Denny, and Adrian Kolb. Amanda (who was a featured reader at the April Fool’s Day event) read a riotous poem during our open mic session. Dave Denny, is of course, my friend and Cupertino’s first PL, and Adrian is a member of the Cupertino Library Commission and the captain of my Poetry Posse — without whom most Cupertino PL events would be a mess or non-existent.

Behind us is a whirling sculpture of nails — a remarkable work of art. I wish I had jotted down the name of that De Anza student artist.

“Loving Day” Poetry Reading June 12, 2014

June 12 is “Loving Day” (every year) and this year I’ll be hosting the second poetry reading in my Unsung Holidays series. (Remember April Fool’s Day?)

“Loving Day” is an annual celebration held on June 12, the anniversary of the 1967 United States Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia which struck down all anti-miscegenation laws remaining in sixteen U.S. states citing “There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause.”  According to the official website, there are official celebrations all over the world every year. This year, in Cupertino, we’re having a poetry reading.

I will be hosting, but the poems will belong to my three featured readers:

The reading will be at the Euphrat Museum, on De Anza College campus. 7-9 pm, open mic to follow. We hope you will join us!

 

Local National Poetry Month Events

Cupertino Poet Laureate April Poetry Events

April 1 “Unsung Holidays: April Fool’s Day” Poetry Reading with Jennifer Swanton Brown and Guest poets: Stephanie Pressman & Amanda Williamsen, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, Stevens Creek Blvd, Cupertino 7-9 pm

April 4 Mary Avenue Dog Park Dedication, 5-6:30 pm

April 17 Art and Poetry: 5th Annual SJMA Poetry Invitational, San Jose Museum of Art “Initial Public Offering” poetry and art, 7 pm

April 19 Erica Goss & Friends Poetry Reading, Friends Bookstore, 110 East Main Street, Los Gatos, 2-4 pm

April 26/27 Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival – Surprise poetry games and opportunities for the whole family! Memorial Park

Check out these local websites for all kinds of poetry month activities brought to you by my friends and colleagues.

Erica Goss: Los Gatos Poet Laureate
Starting with Book Launch Party for Vibrant Words: Ideas and Inspirations for Poets, Come and meet Erica and the members of PushPen Press for a reading and book-signing, CB Hannegan’s Restaurant, 208 Bachman Ave., Los Gatos CA 95030, Wednesday, April 2 at 6:00 pm

David Perez, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate
“National Poetry Month is upon us, and here are my upcoming events! Also, as many have requested, here is the video of the speech I gave at my reception. If you have questions, email me at info@thedavidperez.com. If you want reminders as events get closer, follow my Twitter @dperezer. Enjoy your poetry month!”

San Mateo County Poet Laureate Caroline Goodwin
Including Tuesday, April 22 – 9:00 a.m., Poetry Reading at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Meeting, Board Chambers, 400 County Center, Redwood City

Embellish Your Poetry with the Web

This poem, the genesis of which I described in an earlier post, is an example of how to embellish your poetry with “junk and stuff” you can easily find on the internet. Hyperlinks are easy, and while they might take your reader away from your poem temporarily, they might also provide context or audience to a poem that might enjoy a little of both.

Ode to an Oddball Winter

A giant runaway snowball
crashed into a college dorm.
Nothing about this winter
fits the norm.

Floodwaters rise in England
taking lives and homes –
Eliot’s strong brown god
groans.

Drought in California!
Farmers and ranchers fear,
gardeners, fishermen, skiers
stow their gear.

Brutal ice in Georgia
cancels Valentine’s Day.
Power’s out, trees are lost,
skies are gray.

Winter comes to all;
none are spared its pain.
Some will find its beauty
and love again.

Darkness threatens the spirit,
but shivering warms the blood.
Daily the light shines longer on
first bud.

Let’s write a poem for pleasure,
tell a story to coax a smile,
sing a song to offer solace,
survive in style.

If you’re writing a poem to enter in the Cupertino Library’s Silicon Valley Reads Poetry Contest, this is one way to get your poem to speak both on the page and in the techno-sphere.

Another place to explore, if you want ideas for how to combine poetry and other media, I suggest you visit The Poetry Storehouse. They have a host of videos that use poetry and I encourage browsing there. A “remix” I did of Erica Goss’s poem “Afternoon in the Shape of a Pear” is another type of poem + technology fun. I am still drawn more to collage than to video, but the field is wide open. Go for it!