Keeping Up Communication

I just finished reading Margarita Engle’s Enchanted Air:  Two Cultures, Two Wings:  A Memoir.  Engle magically describes her childhood and early teen years as she travels between California and Cuba just before the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In light of the current attack on media, I was heartened by the closing lines of her poem “Secret Languages”:

“Right wing or left wing, tyrants always

try to control communication.

They always

fail.”

 

Charlotte Davidson’s March 2nd column in The Press Enterprise, “Get busy writing if you dislike today’s political situation,” also gave me courage to continue to write.

Whatever one’s perspective in these fast-moving tumultuous times, the opportunities to make or to record history present themselves daily.  I need to write more.  Thank you, Margarita and Charlotte, for reminding me of the pendulum swings of history and the importance of communication.

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2016 San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival

San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival 2016

I will be reading at the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival as one of Inlandia Institute’s featured readers. Poet Brutus Cheiftain will emcee the 12:30-1:30 Inlandia Presents segment on Saturday, February 20.  I will be reading with fellow Inlandia A Literary Journey contributor James Ducat and 2015 Hillary Gravendyk Prize winners Angela Ina Penaredondo and Kenji Liu.

One Man at a Women’s Club

Over thirty women filled the luncheon tables of the Beaumont Women’s Club on Sixth Street when I arrived.  “Would you help us with an extra table?” asked Ruth Jennings, the Program Secretary of the Club.  Getting put to work, I immediately felt like I was at a family event where the men had all escaped to another room.

A few weeks earlier, Mrs. Jennings had written me a beautiful handwritten letter in response to my Inlandia Literary Journeys column, The Lost Art of Letter Writing. She had invited me to join Cati Porter, Executive Director of the Inlandia Institute, to discuss the work of Inlandia and share some of our poems.  Written on gray cotton stationary, Mrs. Jenning’s formally formatted letter described her own remarkable personal letter collection, including letters written by relatives describing scenes of the American Civil War and the funeral parade of President Garfield in 1881.

Although in my childhood my grandmother Margaret Stone was a longstanding member of the Waverly Women’s Club in Pennsylvania, and my mother, a housekeeper, had been paid to wash the dishes for that group’s meetings, I had never been privileged to view the proceedings of any of their meetings.

When the women in Beaumont stood to start their meeting by saying the pledge to the American flag as I brought in the last of the extra chairs they had asked me to retrieve from the hall closet, I paused in the door and placed my hand over my heart, feeling like a kid in school.  I quickly joined Cati Porter at our back table in time to listen to the women recite the Women’s Club Pledge as they held hands.  At first I felt compelled to join the women in committing to virtue and service, but hearing my own lower voice, I fell silent and scanned the room.  The youngest were middle-aged like myself.  The oldest, Blanche B. Fries, sat directly in front of me.  At a hundred years old, she told me she still teaches piano lessons to children.  She has five students.

President Joan Marie Patsky, chairing the meeting from a podium at the front, encouraged members to pass a clear plastic jug and give “Pennies for Pines.”  A thoughtful member told me of the Club’s service project, how they collect money to purchase property and to plant trees.  I followed the example of most of the members and emptied my wallet of some green bills and not copper.  A container for a fifty-fifty raffle soon followed.  One lucky member takes home half the pot, and the Club earns the rest.  They asked Cati to draw the ticket for the day.  The winner shouted when she determined she held the winning ticket.

Cati and I filed to the back of the room to pick up one of the antique clear glass luncheon plates with a corner raised ring to stabilize a cup.  Disappointingly, no matching glass cups were set out for this meeting.  I have never dined with that form of dinnerware.

Stretched over several tables were finger sandwiches, deviled eggs, crudités, sweet breads, and fresh fruit.  Back at the table, I pleasantly startled myself as I ate what I thought was a pitted natural olive, but turned out to be a homemade chocolate.  I enjoyed the sweet treat just before I stood up to speak.

President Patsky introduced Cati and I to the members.  Cati described the mission of the Inlandia Institute to promote literary activity in the Inland Empire region of California through writing workshops, readings, and the publishing of books through Heyday Books and more recently under the Institute’s own imprint.  She announced the inaugural Hillary Gravendyk Poetry Book Prize.    Cati read a poem from her book Seven Floors Up inspired by a sticker that came home with her son one day, “Caution Please Do Not Turn The Head Forcefully.”

Inspired by the fine penmanship in Ruth Jenning’s letter of invitation, I began my portion of the program with “If We Stop Teaching Cursive” and “Reading Time.”

Attempting to highlight the range of Inlandia publications, I read several of my poems from the 2013 Writing from Inlandia:   “On Seeing the Cost of Time Change,” “Riding the Flexible Flyer,” and “A Dammed Life.”  I displayed broadside prints for each of these poems with the block print illustrations I had created.

From Orangelandia:  The Literature of Inland Citrus, I read “Wishing for a Ladder” and “Redlands Sunset.”  From Inlandia: A Literary Journey, the official online literary journal of the Inlandia Institute, I read “Creosote,” and “A Rare Night Air.”

I closed with “Two Eggs,” “My Father’s Amputation on Tuesday,” and “My Top Drawer.”

The members asked Cati and I numerous questions about Inlandia and the topics brought up in my poems.  They also spent several minutes in animated discussion of Timothy Green’s Inlandia Literary Journeys column “Poe and Poetic Discovery.”

More than thirty years after my mother had shooed me out of the kitchen at the Waverly Community House and told me a Women’s Club meeting was no place for a boy, I decided it was a great place for a man to visit.

The Conviviality of Writers

Literary readings serve as potluck dinners for writers. Yes, the refreshment tables tantalize us and occasionally satiate, but the real feast is the words of fellow writers which nourish us, comfort us, and invigorate us.

What a pleasure to indulge yesterday on the citric words of fellow contributors to Orangelandia: The Literature of Inland Citrus at the Riverside Barnes and Noble. I so enjoyed hearing again many of this anthology’s works read by their creators and nibbling on a piece of the English shortbread made by Marion Mitchell-Wilson. Gayle Brandeis left the Inland Empire with such a legacy through this collection she edited.

If you’re shopping online for holiday presents at Barnes and Noble before November 26th, use Inlandia Institute‘s identification code (11484482) and a portion of your purchase will be given to support this non-profit arts group that offers writing workshops, readings, and so much more.

Today, I read for the first time at Fourth Sundays: Poetry at the Claremont Library. I think I counted nearly twenty poets who read to a full room. I was particularly touched by the post-reading conversations where poets shared the stories of the personal events that inspired their poems.

Serendipitously, the event was not only a great gathering of poets for an open mic, but also an annual holiday party complete with refreshments, a choice of a complementary book of poetry, and the opportunity to purchase more bargain-priced books in support of the Claremont Library, just finishing its hundredth year of service to the city. I took away Tony Hoagland’s Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, Michael Chitwood’s Poor-Mouth Jubilee and four other great titles. I’m grateful for a feast of poems to enjoy over my Thanksgiving break.