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.
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.
Conversations have converged on my desk.
In The Philosophy of Literary Form, Kenneth Burke metaphorically describes the exchange of ideas as a never ending parlor conversation to which we may contribute but never provide the last word because we must leave before the conversation ends.
I’ve been taking dips in Catherine Blyth’s The Art of Conversation since 2012. Her light blue book seems to submerge in my book stack and resurface annually. Constantly distracted by my life’s demands, I’ve yet to finish it, but yet I find it refreshing each time I return to it. Blyth says, “The irony of this communication age is that we communicate less meaningfully. Not despite but because of our dizzying means of being in touch. So many exchanges are conducted via electronic go-betweens that, what with the buzz, bleeps, and blinking lights, it is easy to overlook the super-responsive information technology that is live-action; up-close-and-personal; snap, crackle, and pop talk–one that has been in research and development for thousands of years.”
I keep a post card with Lucia Galloway’s poem “Conversation” on my desk (pictured above). I can’t get myself to part with it. I reread it at least once a week, savoring its first four stanzas of “Not” and its last four of “More like.”
Yesterday, I found three lines in a Cati Porter poem which brought me such pleasure that I copied them in my quote book.
Just the day before I had spent over an hour messaging with one of my grade-school classmates with whom I hadn’t talked in years and last night I talked on the phone for over an hour to my cousin.
Though nothing beats a face-to-face conversation, preferably over food, exchanging words with others in any way brings such a particular pleasure, as Galloway says, “like friends at the shore tossing a beach ball.”
I found courage on Friday when I read Juan Vidal’s “Where Have All the Poets Gone?” through a link from NPR. Having sent off my own essay, “Poetry Called Present”, for consideration by The Press Enterprise and not knowing for sure if they were going to publish it, I felt affirmed by Vidal’s passionate questioning about the causes of the dearth of political poetry in America today.
I argue newspapers should be the “the viable mainstream presence” that Vidal says poetry lacks today. In addition to the example of The Los Angles Times‘ “opinionated poems” that I cited in my essay, I think the Washington Post‘s publication of Jabari Asim’s “‘The Talk,’ a poem inspired by Ferguson, Mo” shows the potential of regular inclusion of current-events poems by newspapers.
The number of questions in Vidal’s essay reminded me of Warren Berger’s “Chasing Beautiful Questions” in the April 2014 edition of Spirit. Berger says, “To question well and productively requires stepping back from habits, assumptions, and familiar thoughts; listening to and closely observing the world around you; being unafraid to ask naive or fundamental questions and being willing to stay with the questions as you endeavor to understand and act on them.”
I’m going to continue to question: How might I encourage poets to write more current-events poems and more news mediums to include them?