Tuesday, June 19th may have been a typical hot day in Riverside, but I escaped the heat with over twenty of Celena Diana Bumpus’s poetry students and guests at the second reading in the Tuesday Literary Series at the Janet Goeske Center in Riverside, California.
Ms. Bumpus leads a highly engaged group at the Goeske Center for an hour-and-a-half long workshop each Tuesday afternoon from 1:00 to 2:30, one of the Center’s many free lifelong learning options.
I shared forty short poems from my current manuscript, including “Riding the Flexible Flyer,” which tells the story of a memorable childhood sled ride. You can see my splayed hands and bent knees in the photo above as I describe the launch of my sled. Nothing like a fanciful winter poem and a well-airconditioned room to help one forget the wilting temperatures outside.
My poems explore nature, time, and family relationships with images from my rural childhood in Northeastern Pennsylvania and from Southern California’s Inland Empire where I’ve lived for nearly twenty years.
After reading I enjoyed conversation with the group about my poems and the craft of writing.
I look forward to hearing Michelle Gonzalez read on July 10 at the third presentation in the Tuesday Literary Series organized by Bumpus’s Islands for Writing Publishing. Tim Hatch will read on August 7.
I finally found what to do with the journal I got for a gift that I couldn’t bring myself to write in.
Recently, I’ve been exploring the use of a commonplace book for myself and for my students. My Inlandia Literary Journeys column for this morning appeared in The Press Enterprise, The Inland Valley Bulletin, and the San Bernardino Sun.
Since my plans to travel this weekend had only recently changed and I had not signed up to read, I went to the reading for the 2017 Writing from Inlandia today to listen to other local writers and not to read myself. However, just as the last scheduled reader was preparing to read, I was urged to follow her at the podium.
I shared three of the five poems I have in this new anthology:
Rest in the Grove
Two Hollows on a Hill
At Last a Black Lily
“Birdie, birdie, birdie, / calls the cardinal,” I chirped out as I began “Standing Ground,” which features the territorial calls of a cardinal perched above a hanging carcass. My mother loved cardinals. She would have hated this poem. “Why write about such a gruesome scene?” she would have said, but she was not there. She and my father were interred at Hickory Grove Cemetery just two weeks ago. My mother passed early in January and my father less than a year earlier.
I struggled to lift my eyes to face the audience. Maintaining periodic eye contact while reading is a part of my daily routine. I’m a teacher. But I found myself desperately struggling to maintain composure as I thought of my parents.
As I read the dedication, “for Benjamin Mileham Stone,” I felt my voice begin to waver. I came close to crying, but made it through the poem. “Rest in the Grove.”
I hadn’t introduced the poem, but after a deep breath at its end, I shared about the recent loss of my parents, feeling a need to explain my quavering. The compassionate faces I saw in the audience, many who I have known for years now, steadied my nerves and voice as I read through the four stanzas of “At Last a Black Lily,” which reflects on the death of a raven from the West Nile virus. Rest and beauty came for the bird in my poem as courage and peace came for me. I am grateful for the community of writers I’ve come to know through the programs of the Inlandia Institute.