Cupertino Library Diwali Celebration

On October 24, 2015, the Cupertino Library hosted a Diwali Celebration of song, dance, crafts, and food. Amanda Williamsen and Jennifer Swanton Brown (incoming and outgoing poets laureate) presented two poems, one each they had composed from comments and memories shared by visitors to the Cupertino Library booth at the Chamber of Commerce Diwali Festival the previous weekend. Many thanks to Gayathri Kanth, the Cupertino Community Librarian for inviting us and making us feel welcome.

diwali yellow card 2 diwali yellow card 3

Over 60 people left memories, feelings, thoughts, and drawings about Diwali. Amanda and Jennifer split them up and wrote poems that are complimentary in their style and substance. Here is Jennifer’s poem:

Diwali Voices

Diwali is, Latika reminds, the festival of joy and light,
which makes our lives even more bright.
Meera and her daughter eat lots of sweets –
the new lehenga is orange and gold –
and the henna tickles.
Aditri likes the colorful creative beautiful rangoli

Diwali is the festival of lights,
which even small boys know
celebrates the victory of Rama.
On Diwali, I go to the temple –
Aarav celebrates with family and friends –
Sanyay does nothing and something –
Yash burns firecrackers.

Oh, the firecrackers!
Noopur lights candles,
Kashish puts lights outside the house
and everyone loves the firecrackers
everywhere. On Diwali I light firecrackers –
on Diwali I hold and play with friends
and do stick fireworks –
on Diwali we all fire firecrackers –
At Ria’s house there are 50 candles in the pool!

I feel more in touch with my community –
the lights fill me with warmth –
I study for an hour –
I have fun praying and celebrating our family –
I love Diwali –
I look forward to Diwali –
I call my friends to my house –
I decorate my house –
I celebrate I celebrate –
spreading happiness and love –

On Diwali, I wear a bright green saree
and listen to the voices of Cupertino.

Written with the voices of Cupertino residents from the October 17, 2015 Diwali Festival.

Visit the library in the upcoming months to see the collection of Diwali cards and the poems on display.

Here are some photos of scene on October 24th in the Community Hall. What a wonderful celebration.

Library Diwali Amanda and friends from Amanda Diwali Library 1 girls used Diwali Library 3 altar use Diwali Library 6 program use

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:

San Jose Mercury News/Cupertino Courier article about Code Poetry Slam!

The Courier editor Matthew Wilson wrote a great story about our upcoming event. Check it out!

Cupertino: Poetry and computer coding collide at May 2 ‘code poetry’ workshop

20150422__scup0424codepoetry~2_GALLERY

Japanese Poetry

As part of my 2015 International Poetry Cantos celebration, April (which is also National Poetry Month, and so quite crowded) is also my opportunity to celebrate Japanese poetry.

I’ll be attending the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, Saturday April 25, which is sponsored by “Cupertino Toyokawa” — the Sister City relationship between Toyokawa, Japan and Cupertino, established in 1978. Come by and chat, and if you’ve got Japanese poetry to share, please please please bring it by booth 15.

I can’t begin to link here all the splendor and history that is the poetry of Japan. Ancient and strong, the tradition is powerful and delicate at the same time. Here are a couple of links, however, to get you started.

Wikipedia does a good job of getting us started.

32_ban_Shokunin_utaawase_Sanoki-Komoso

Here are some biographies (in English) of famous historical Japanese (in America) poets:

  • Matsuo Basho (1644–1694) here and here.
iza saraba / yukimi ni korobu / tokoromade

now then, let’s go out / to enjoy the snow… until / I slip and fall! [1688]
220px-MatsuoBashoChusonji
  • Kobayashi Issa (1763 – 1828) here and here. Translated by Robert Hass here and here.
  • Yosa Buson (1716-1784)  translated by Matthew Rohrer here. And by Edith Shiffert here (below).

The light of a candle
               is transferred to another candle—
               spring twilight.

Read more about Japanese forms at these links:

Michael Dylan Welch (Japanese poetry aficionado and current PL of Redmond Washington) deserves his own shout out. Learn all about Japanese poetry at his website, Graceguts. This tanka is by MDW.

tanka from Graceguts

And, in case you are beginning to wonder if Japanese poetry ended with the death of Issa in the 19th century, or was only written by men, these links provides a wonderful orientation to modern Japanese poetry and poetry by Japanese women.

  • Poetry Kanto — Japan’s longest-running bilingual poetry journal. Really.

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Poetry at the Cherry Blossom Festival

Tomorrow is the Cupertino Cherry Blossom Festival, at Memorial Park. The festival is both days, Saturday April 25 and Sunday April 26, but I’ll only be there on Saturday, with my poetry booth and my poet friends. Erica Goss, Los Gatos Poet Laureate, and David Perez, Santa Clara County Poet Laureate, will both be with me (in booth 15) after about 11 am. I’ll be there the whole day.

(Read about Japanese poetry before you come, if you’re new to the subject).

CBFflyer2015

Come by for a chat, for a free poem (written on the spot just for you by a real poet!), to play with my magnetic poetry or my Haikubes (highly in-authentic, but fun).

haikubes

I’ll have books of haiku and senryu, both by Japanese poets and by Americans. I’ll also have anthologies and lesson books from California Poets in the Schools.

I hope to see you there!

Photos from Persian New Year Event

Wow. I took a chance on this event and tried something I hadn’t done before. But it was such a delightful experience and I’m so happy we went for it.

On Wednesday, March 25, we gathered in the delightful and perfectly-sized back banquet room of Village Falafel after work. We ordered food and wine, which lent a great relaxed feeling to the evening. There were about 15 of us, including two members of the Library Commission and the Mayor of Cupertino, Rod Sinks, and his wife! (Full disclosure — I’ve known Rod and Britta for many years, our children having gone to the same schools, swum at the same club, etc.). Joy of joys, there were also four people who had never attended a CupPL event before, three of whom saw our flier in the library and one who read about us in the Courier. Joy of joys, new poetry lovers in Cupertino.

To my utter delight, a lady came who studied languages and culture in Iran years ago, and she brought with her some poems by Rumi in Farsi, which she read to us, together with her own translations. It was thrilling to hear the meter of the ghazals, and to hear the repeated words at the end of each couplet, even though I didn’t understand the words. She performed with real gusto.

And even better, if possible, was the presence of three women, Iranian natives: two residents of Cupertino and their visitor from Iran. They brought their Hafez, in a bright blue and gold book, and also read in Farsi, several of the poems for which I had brought in English translations. It was so moving for all of us, to hear the poems in their original melodic language, then to read two different English translations and to all discuss together what we thought and felt. They spoke about how important Hafez was in Iran, and I was envious of the reverence the people still feel there for ancient poetry.

Hafez Roses

This is the poem Robert Bly translated as “One Rose is Enough” — the first line is translated by Dick Davis as “Of all the roses in the world.”

The photo above shows me with my Rumi reader on the left and my Hafez reader on the right. The other two photos I took from the book of Hafez’s poems my guest brought. They are the same poems I had translations of.

Hafez Angels

Bly titled this poem as “The Angels at the Tavern Door” (also the name of his book of Hafez translations). The first line, as translated by Davis, is “Last night I saw the angels.”

We talked about a lot of things that evening. About God, religion, spirit. About spring and nature. About love. About wine and food and the place poetry has in our homes. And we talked about Iran, both historically and today, while the world waits with baited breath to hear of possible movement toward diplomatic relations between the US and that great and complex country. I am so happy to say, it was a perfect evening of poetry and companionship for me, and I hope for my guests.

Starting Off Poetry Month By Talking About Race

There’s been a lot of chatter in my poetry networks lately about what obligations white poets have to talk and write about race.

Reginald Dwayne Betts started it off with this article “What It Is,” and his now infamous line, “Don’t write about being white,” which is a quote by Louis Simpson discussing Gwendolyn Brooks’s Selected Poems in 1963. You can imagine the kerfuffle. Sadly, a lot of people read the headlines, but not so many read the article.

  • This story “Should White Writers Write About Race” is a thoughtful response and expansion by Holly Karapetkova.
  • This article is Reginald’s response to the kerfluffle he started, and an explanation of the irony he sees and hears in many of the comments he’s read.

Both are worth your time, no matter what color your skin, no matter what race you identify with. Any amount of conversation on this topic is a good thing.

I’m a white woman. I live in a town where more people don’t look like me than do, which is not the case in most of the US. These are facts, but we may have opinions about them, too. I’m inviting my own version of a conversation about race with my 2015 International Poetry Cantos project, which is going to be as successful as it’s going to be, or not, but will be my best effort to reflect some of the cultures I see around me in my town.

This year for Poetry Month I’m going to search out poems about race, by white folks and poets of color, written about experiences in America. It will be an interesting — and I hope fun — project, even though I expect many of the poems won’t be pretty or nice, as they can’t possibly be if they are honest.

I’d like to start today with “Dillusion” by Langston Hughes, the first poem Knopf chose to send out for it’s annual “Poem A Day” project.  Read what Knopf’s Borzoi Reader has to say about the poem, and the accompanying letter that Hughes wrote in 1926, having dropped out of Columbia University which he found “generally unfriendly.”  I think there is something heartbreaking about the lines “Be kind to me, / Oh, great dark city.” I remember being alone in a big city in my twenties, wondering about poetry, sex, love, work, acceptance. We are often disillusioned in our early youth, as we notice our ideals not matching reality. In this poem, Hughes seems to know his city intimately and to know that it can hurt him. I wonder what won’t come again — youth, optimism, faith?

Disillusion

I would be simple again,
Simple and clean
Like the earth,
Like the rain,
Nor ever know,
Dark Harlem,
The wild laughter
Of your mirth
Nor the salt tears
Of your pain.
Be kind to me,
Oh, great dark city.
Let me forget.
I will not come
To you again.

 

Side-by-Side Transltions of Rumi

For the Rumi and Hafez reading, I’ll have handouts of three poems by each poet: side-by-side translations into English. I’ll be using A. J. Arberry and Colman Barks for Rumi; Dick Davis and Robert Bly for Hafez. The books from which I’ve selected the poems are identified in my earlier post.

A very good read about the pros and cons of having different translations, read this article, “A Rumi of One’s Own,” at the Poetry Foundation website. Rachel Aviv discusses why some translations might be favored by modern Americans. Provocative.

Here is a selection of other internet resources for Rumi. Whew. It’s amazing.

This blog post offers some great side-by-side translations of some of Rumi’s poems. (There is also a nice selection of translations and context/background information on Rumi and Khayyam elsewhere in the website.)

This Yahoo Group has closed comments, but will still allow you to join over 4000 members to whose commentary you can them have access. Looks pretty intense.

This very cool index of Rumi translators includes only academic translators (does not include Coleman Barks or Robert Bly), but it does contain translations into many languages besides English, as well as a fascinating small selection of A. J. Arberry’s earliest translations (1949) alongside their Persian (Farsi) transliterations. Here’s an example (sorry for the crummy resolution — go to the site and check it out!!):

rumi with farsi transliteration

You can also peruse translations into English together with the Persian (in Arabic script). Here’s an example, again, badly snatched from the website. Translations by Shahriar Shahriari.

rumi in arabic

I found the Sufi dance image on several websites, all which attribute it elsewhere, but not to the original. Forgive me.