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Jelena aka Helen the Bashful Dragon 10.24.03

Sometimes, life is like zen - perpetual koan. Sometimes, destiny takes a roundabout way instead of a shortcut. Every time, things happen just as they were supposed to.

It took my moving to Alaska after almost 12 years spent in California to finally see and hear Jane Hirshfield (one of California's best known contemporary poets) in person. Jane was a guest of the University of Alaska Anchorage on Friday, October 17th, and Saturday, October 18th, and what a gracious guest she was! She gave a wonderful poetry reading in front of the full auditorium at the Arts Building on Friday, and conducted a shop talk in front of an equally full auditorium in the Business Education Building on Saturday.

On Friday night, Hirshfield presented poems from her own books of poetry (5 so far and still counting), as well as snippets from "The Ink Dark Moon," a collection of poems by Japanese women writers Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu which Hirshfield co-translated with Mariko Aratani. She closed the evening with some of her new and not yet published work, which put all of our minds at ease -- Jane Hirshfield is STILL WRITING!

Purposely or not, Hirshfield opened with "November - Remembering Voltaire," a poem about pruning one's own soul garden. From the moment the first stanza was uttered, beauty of Hirshfield's garden started revealing itself to the audience, never to stop unraveling, even for a moment, through the end of the reading. Still, we managed to glimpse only the most fragrant blooms in that garden of Zen and pain, wisdom, and subtle humor. From word to word, from poem to poem, colors in that garden kept changing, like history, like paintings by Bonnard ("History as Painter Bonnard"), like Hirshfield's own seven word definition of Buddhism: "Everything changes. Everything is connected. Pay attention."

Hirshfield's spiritual beliefs definitely lead to her poetry as it is now, as much as her early poetry led her to Buddhism. As she writes about nature, the animal and the human, the heart, the stone, the moon. as she writes about living and dieing, she professes deep truths. "The world only asks of us the strength we have. We give it. Then, it asks us for more. We give it." And she gives abundantly, both through her poetry and her personal life. Although her words can sometimes be perceived as controversial, deep down, they always express compassion. Always. Even in the most controversial of her poems, "The Dead Do Not Want Us Dead," inspired by the events of September 11, 2001.

"The dead do not want us dead;
such petty errors are left for the living.
Nor do they want our mourning.
No gift to them - not rage, not weeping.
Return one of them, any one of them, to the earth,
and look: such foolish skipping,
such telling of bad jokes, such feasting!
Even a cucumber, even single anise seed feasting."

Hirshfield reveres life while at the same time acknowledging the inevitability of change. She throws poems, like pebbles, into the pond of life. She performs "poetic assays" of everything that defines our humanness. She finds those "openings in our lives of which we know nothing," and she moves us graciously, silently, like a shadow over a moon-lit pond. At the same time, it all seems so simple: if you want to write, there are no set formulas, she says. Write in the morning, or in the afternoon, every day, or when the muse strikes. Write from your soul. If poetry is an intrinsic part of your life, it will always come back, no matter what happens in the outside world. Poetry needs to have flavor, so give it your own sugar and salt, just like Jane Hirshfield does (her latest poetry book, "Given Sugar, Given Salt" was a finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award).

"She is working now, in a room
not unlike this one,
the one where I write, or you read.
Her table is covered with paper.
The light of the lamp would be
tempered by a shade, where the bulb's
single harshness might dissolve,
but it is not; she has taken it off.
Her poems? I will never know them,
though they are the ones I most need.
Even the alphabet she writes in
I cannot decipher. Her chair -
let us imagine whether it is leather
or canvas, vinyl or wicker. Let her
have a chair, her shadeless lamp,
the table. Let one or two she loves
be in the next room. Let the door
be closed, the sleeping ones healthy.
Let her have time, and silence,
Enough paper to make mistakes and go on."

(The Poet by Jane Hirshfield)

Note: Jane Hirshfield resides in Nothern California. Her books of poetry include Given Sugar, Given Salt; The Lives of The Heart; The October Palace; Of Gravity & Angels; and Alaya. She is also the author of a book of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, and editor and co-translator of two collections, Women In Praise of The Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women and The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan.

Julie Bemiss 10.15.03
Nordling Rocks the Rapp

Dave Nordling, with fire and brimstone, tore through his feature set like a preacher on the day of reckoning. He ripped through his chapbook like he was tearing through his own personal bible and it was brilliant. Never have I seen Dave so imbued with the passion of poetry. And say what you will about his war poems, the man speaks his mind succintly, intelligently, and whole-heartedly.

The night was electric and a full-house was up to task. It was like feature night, a night of heavy-weights, with Mr. Nordling blazing the way. Simply powerful.

Oh, let us eat cake! And make it chocolate, Mr. Nordling! (while wiedling and waving our forks at the Internet Cafe).

Julie B.

Little Jack 10.15.03
Angel Perales at the Cobalt

I wanted to get out of the house last night and had a doctor appt. in Los Angeles anyway so I convinced my daughter and son-in-law to take me and figured we could go to Cobalt afterward to see Angel Perales.

I had never seen him feature before but had heard him in open readings and was somewhat impressed with his work.

Understand that for some reason I am not really easily impressed by most poets. I don't know why, probably just my own lack of knowledge.

Last night, however, Angel blew the room away. His work is some of the most powerful I have have heard anywhere.

If you get a change to hear him, don't pass it up, he is worth the ride from Bakersfield, worth the ride from anywhere.

Be well, my friends,

JC 10.8.03

Two Idiots Peddling Poetry at the Ugly Mug Cafe in Orange was lucky enough to have TWO outstanding featured poets this past Wednesday: Marj Hahne and Terry Wolverton. Marj, on the perpetual "Plastic Igloo Tour," was supporting her recent CD, Notspeak . Although I haven't had a chance to listen to the CD yet (I'm writing this on my Thursday lunch break, before you start thinking of me as a slacker), I can only hope that it accurately captures her quiet intensity onstage -- I was very impressed with her performance and the quality of her imagery. (As she quipped while fumbling with the microphone at the beginning of her set: "I don't know how to use a mic -- I just talk into it.") Set list: "Keeping Things Whole" (by Mark Strand), "Snapshots From A Roadtrip," "Election Day 2000," "No Place Like Home," "Brevity," "Do Not Speak Of Rocks." Terry was reading in support of her new book from Red Hen Press, Embers . The book is a novel-in-poems about the life of her grandmother; the seven poems she excerpted from the narrative spanned over fifty years. In addition to having some very well-crafted work, Terry was very engaging onstage, setting up each piece in enough context to help the listener understand and holding the audience's attention. Set list: "Orphan," "The Customer," "Another Bartender's Story," "Common Law," "House Afire," "Vixen," "Graduation."

Although the reading attracted the usual crowd of Orange County writers, it felt as if the room was populated by twice as many poets as the headcount would indicate -- largely because so much excellent work was read from poets not present. Ben Trigg and Steve Ramirez (the aforementioned Idiots) encourage open mic readers to share work which inspires them, and it seems that many of the regulars have been honing their performance skills by interpreting the works of published poets. (As a quick tangent -- I think it would be a great idea for someone to book a feature which was a group of performers doing work ENTIRELY not their own, selected and sequenced in a way which would resonate as a whole...the poetry equivalent of the DJ set.) There were poems by C.D. Wright and Adrian Lewis (didn't catch the titles), three from Mary Oliver (read by Michael Paul, whom you probably know from his LitRave article a few weeks ago and OUGHT to know as a great poet from all of my ramblings elsewhere on this site), Tony Hoagland ("Honda Pavarotti"), Russell Edson ("The Secret Graveyard"), James Tate ("The Restaurant Business"), Louise Glück ("Landscape"), Dean Young ("I Said Yes But I Meant No"), and Mark Halliday ("Population"). Heck, Jeremy Stephens even read a found poem from a GREETING CARD.

Some other random, wacky stuff: Ed O. (first time reader) read a poem called "The First Date" which described (among other things) taking a date to play Street Fighter. Ed, your personal life is your own business, but take it from a guy who misses the good old Street Fighter Alpha 2 days -- you don't get many second dates if the conversation on the FIRST date centers around the relative merits of Ryu vs. Sagat instead of, say, how pretty her eyes look by candlelight. Jeff K. read a poem about wishing a painful, bitter fate on some guy in Borders who didn't give him a sheet of paper. Ann, a cutie from Long Beach, did a slam poem which related poetry to orgasm. Meanwhile, I was dying in my chair. (That's a Shakespeare joke. No, I'm not going to explain it.) Slate returned and did more rhymes over hip-hop beats, presumably music he put together. Despite all appearances, I do like hip-hop (pick up the new Soul Position and Lyrics Born albums if you haven't already, by the way), but I had trouble making out his rhymes, and I wasn't feeling the beats. The first song sounded like Aphex Twin playing electronic glockenspiel over a spastic drum machine. The second one sounded like a Casio keyboard with the Bossa Nova 3 and Hip-Hop 2 buttons pressed simultaneously. Or, it could have been late and I could have been out of my hip-hop mood. Pick one.

Readers: Steve Ramirez, Joy, Michael Kramer, Jeremy Stephens, Aaron Roberts, Marj Hahne, Michael Paul, Terry Wolverton, Ed O., John Casey, Jim Isidro, Jeff K., Ann, Slate, Ben Trigg.

JC 10.7.03

In the middle of a long-delayed reorganization project in my apartment, I found my lost LitRave membership card in the back of my sock drawer...right next to my Haiku Master card, as it turns out. Feeling sentimental for the good old days of high-paying freelance assignments for LitRave, I decided to dust off the card and attend the first poetry reading I could find within walking distance. Coincidentally* enough, the nearest poetry reading was at Coffee Cartel...and the feature that night was Papa LitRave himself, Wayman Barnes. He doesn't read that often anymore, but he is ALWAYS hilarious. (There are a lot of poets who don't think about the audience when they perform...Wayman clearly wants to make sure that people are entertained.) Set list: "The Saltiest Meat," "Jesus And The Two Older Women," "This Parenting Thing," "Corporate Coffee," "I Like Chicken" (although this poem was dedicated to the "Texans out there," I thought they called them "yardbirds"...?), "Filth Like This," "Another Wayman In The World," and "How To Not Break Up With Margaret."

In an even bigger coincidence*, several other members of LitRave were in attendance -- a veritable LitRave coup, if you will, on a night when Californians were in the middle of their own insurrection. (But that's a separate rant.) Frankie Drayus read a sonnet (!), a poem starting with two lines from Rilke (!!), and a damn interesting piece called "O Open." (One of these days, when I grow up, I want to be literary. Frankie always motivates me to read and study) Charlotte O'Brien also read: two poems from her most recent chapbook ("November's Crescent," "Tree, Woman") and an impressive new piece titled "Suicide's Last Secret." It's rare to see Frankie or Charlotte at readings these days...seeing them both in the same night was a treat.

The open reading was typically interesting stuff. Wanda Van Hoy Smith led off with two Shel Silverstein poems...one of which was printed in an old issue of Playboy magazine. (I WISH I had my camera with me to have captured the image of sweet Wanda with an open Playboy at the mic...priceless.) Zack Wolk read and passed out flyers for his new website, http://www.funkyrailroad.com/ -- kind of an artists' collective thing. FrancEyE was in a hurry to get to the reading and didn't bring her binder, so she read some poems from memory, including "My Manifesto." John Carmichael, a relatively new face to the reading, shared poems by Juan Ramon Jimenez and Robert Bly. (Reading other poets' work at open mics is a great tradition, by the way. It's a chance to hear some really good work you might not be exposed to otherwise.) Kristen read a clever little piece title "Hypothesis." Her friend Christina read a poem in the "lightning round" titled "Fat," a heartbreaking piece about a complete lack of self-esteem from being overweight. The thing is, Christina is this beautiful, skinny girl...so I honestly hope that it was a persona poem and not how she actually feels. (With so much confessional poetry these days, it's hard to tell where the autobiography ends and the art begins.) Melissa, another new face to the reading, impressed me with her poems "Fish Feeding" and "The Pens At..." GODDAMMIT JOHN LEARN TO WRITE FASTER TO GET DOWN THOSE LONG TITLES. (That's what it says in my notes.) Craig Anderson read from San Francisco via cell phone, which is becoming a regular institution at the reading. (Craig -- good to hear you man, but get back here, willya?) Finally, Jim Doane (Redondo Poets co-host) finished off with his dark-but-funny "The Day I Made Myself God."

Readers: Wanda Van Hoy Smith, Zack Wolk, FrancEyE, Frankie Drayus, Larry Colker, Wayman Barnes, John Carmichael, Kristen, Christina, Karen, Melissa, Charlotte O'Brien, Craig Anderson, John Casey, Jim Doane.

Upcoming features: The Redondo Poets always pull in some impressive features, and the next few weeks are no exception: Larry Jaffe (10/14), Susan McCabe (10/21), the ever-elusive TBA (10/28), Kate Gale (11/4).

And just for one more blatant name-drop to add to the other five references herein: LITRAVE.

* Not really a coincidence. I had this reading circled on my calendar for weeks. I read all about Wayman Barnes on the Redondo Poets website in advance. You should too. I hear good things about his profile. Hint, hint.

Isaac “Zack” Edwards 9.19.03
excerpt from The Judge T Chronicles by Isaac "Zack" Edwards
a group of poems about a co-worker / mentor who drank himself to death in 2002

Volume XVII - ashtray

The walk upstairs was slow and lonely
His cube is haunted with his memory
His shadow trods down the hall
all afternoon, but he never shows
The building will never be the same
He's a whisper in the mind
of everyone around me
It's a collectively dark mind
since October third, and this rain
isn't helping one bit
It hurt
It hurt worse
than what this fucked-up weather
has done to my ruptured
It's been raining all week
The ashtray out back
is full of water and floating
cigarette butts
after lunch,
I flipped my smoke
into the pool
and saw
one of The Judge's
brown, menthol
stuck on the bottom,
resting there ...

Michael Paul 9.18.03
Tebot Bach

Lucite, Lace, and Leather shall be our media. Longing and Loss, our universal themes. Our subject is August at Tebot Bach, the “literary” poetry reading series in Orange County (that is how the hoi-polloi refer to it…pinky in the air), hosted by the five penny poets, Paul Suntup, Mindy Nettifee, Steve Ramirez, Dima Hilal, and Mifanwy Kaiser, CEO and Queen Bee. On the menu for August were: Larry Colker, Cathie Sandstrom Smith, and the legendary Jack McCarthy. And what a poetic cap on Tebot Bach's summer, all three wowed the house with a remarkable mix of styles and energies. Larry was Lucite, Smith was Lace, and McCarthy was distressed Leather.

First in the playlist, after a short open mic introduced by Dima Hilal, shiny newest penny, was Larry Colker, co-host of the Redondo Poets series at The Coffee Cartel. Mr. Colker is a disciple of Jack Grapes, has been published by a number of fine journals, and is a respected figure in SoCal poetry. Why Lucite? Because his work brings to mind another artist (now deceased) who utilized that space-age material to wonderful advantage by creating transparent sculptures with images within images, introducing extra nuance and subtlety by showing both the outer and inner, the surface and the subsurface, the “real” and the dreamlike, numinous, inner aspect of things. If you've heard or read Larry Colker, you know that Larry's poems are much like those Lucite sculptures. Not as immediately transparent, but layered and multi-dimensional, their surfaces showing well crafted tropes, their subtle inner shapes providing punchy, emotionally satisfying payoffs. Larry Colker is a poet of accomplishment, and bravura. Example:

The Caterpillars

They wake like cosmetic surgery patients.
Memories of crawling vanish
as the sun warms the bodies
they could not have dreamed of:
Dog Face,
Provence Chalk-Hill Blue,
Great Spangled Fritillary.

When the woman I married woke up
next to the wrong man,
that was my signal
to become inert,
await rebirth.

I want to be great,
I want the caterpillar's gift to the butterfly -
amnesia, and wings.

© Larry Colker

Cathie Sandstrom Smith came next as the Lace, the rose between the thorns, the second act, and she was marvelous. Meticulously crafted poems delivered with verve and poise. Lace is a tired metaphor, but Cathie's particular lace is made of, among other fabrics, Kevlar, making a filigree of such bullet-proof beauty, one can't take one's eyes/ears away. The attempt to sum up the job function of poets has been undertaken by Victor Infante, five penny poet retiree, in three words: to mourn, warn, and celebrate. That is the poet's job. Cathie does hers in a more than workmanlike manner. She also manages to accomplish what The World Stage's D Black, defines as the poet's function, i.e., to: “take the pain and make it pretty.” Amen Mr.Black. Brava, Ms. Smith, brava:

Releasing the Birds
Next to her embroidered lawn handkerchiefs
my mother's empty gloves lay
paired in the nest of her drawer:
short white Easter ones that stopped at the wrist;
netted crocheted gloves for summer; an ecru pair
four inches past her watchband, the backs detailed
with three rows of stitching raised like fine bones;
three-quarter length pigskin to wear under coats;
black lace for cocktails, white for weddings;
sexy gloves with gathers up the length so they'd
look like they were slouching; the knitted
Bavarians, Loden green, stiff as boiled wool.
My first prom dress--- strapless, floor-length---I wore
her formal opera gloves. Pearl buttons on the delicate
underside of my wrists, then the white went up and up.
I kept six pairs, my sister took the rest. Saying
someone should use them, she gave them away
at work, set them out for the taking.
Tonight, I lay the table with my mother's china.
At each place, a pair of gloves palms up, wrists
touching in a gesture of receiving and giving.
I held back the gloves she'd bought in Italy: black
leather, elbow length, the right glove torn at thumb
and palm as if she'd reached for something too late
or held onto something too long.

© Cathie Sandstrom Smith

Jack McCarthy was the Leather. Leather is Old School. Leather is the sine qua non material of all things manly: saddles, baseball gloves, gun-belts, so on. Jack McCarthy is a legend in the world of slam, distilling content-rich stories into poems with the patina and polish of aged leather. Thomas Lux (no less) penned an intro for Jack's book, in which he asks: “Have you ever wondered if obscurity is really often a cover up for arbitrariness? You won't have this problem with Jack McCarthy's work. You'll hear a natural, unforced voice in his poems, like listening to your best friend talking to you - urgently, calmly - while looking you straight in the eye. Of course, the poem will be much more articulate and rhythmical and less redundant than your best friend.” Hear. hear! Here:

I Didn't Miss the Robins

till we were down the Cape that weekend
and there they were again
on the grassy banks that line the highway;
on lawns, resolute among the blowing leaves,
intent on sound beneath the surface;
thronging the branches of small trees
with yellowed leaves and bright red berries
where they arrived singly
but always seemed to depart
in furious one-on-one pursuit,
a feeding and mating frenzy like -
well, a lot like summer on the Cape.

The first robin of spring
is like the clicking of a tumbler
in some marvelously complex lock,
a milestone like a birthday,
the longest day of the year,
the first time I told my father
that I loved him.

But there's never anything about
the last robin of fall
that announces it
as last.

© Jack McCarthy

It was a fine send-off for the summer of 2003, with Colker, Smith, and McCarthy singing us into fall. Tune in September at Tebot Bach for the marvelous stylings of Brenda Yates and Suzanne Lummis.

Jelena aka Helen the Bashful Dragon 9.15.03
Poetry Fundraiser

When somebody mentions a poetry fundraiser, it usually implies that the money raised would go to support a slam team, pay rent for a poetry venue, or fund a writing program for underprivileged budding poets. In Anchorage, Alaska local poets have set their sights much higher in their fundraising efforts. On Saturday, August 30th, SpeakEasy - a premier Anchorage spoken word and performance venue - teamed up with La Cabana restaurant to raise funds for Kid's Kitchen.

Kid's Kitchen is a privately funded organization which provides food for children between the ages of 3 and 17. It was founded in 1996 by Elgin Jones, and presently has 3 different locations in Anchorage. SpeakEasy donated 100% of all profits from Saturday's event toward groceries for at least one of the neighborhood locations Kid's Kitchen serves.

The evening was hosted by two powerful poetesses/poetic goddesses, Faye Sikora nad Corinna Delgado, and it incorporated poetry, spoken word, song, rap, and live music. The upstairs at La Cabana was full of artists and art lovers. Decorated in a mixture of Mexican (restaurant decor) and African ethnic decor, with lights turned down low, candles and incense burning, the atmosphere of the event was both inviting and relaxing. Faye Sikora opened the show with a poem about a "Skillful Scribe," only to introduce Corrina Delgado, who followed with a powerful piece about a woman's feelings of self-hate and not being true to oneself. As she was "looking in the mirror and wondering..." trying to find herself in what others wanted her to be, a burning question remained still to be answered, "If the make-up isn't real, than who am I?"

After leaving us all speechless at the end of her poem, Corinna went on to officially open the open mic, which had only 4 poets this evening. Yours truly distributed some "Holly Communion" to the audience, Daryl read a new poem titled "It's Going Down" that he dedicated to "his peoples," Bruce read about Dana "who was 16 and a town slut," and Brian - who "needs to work on his attitude" - read his oldest and his newest poem. The open mic was followed by a rap performance by AK MCs - two MCs and DJ Shakes, who performed 3 raps without uttering a single curse word. (Can you imagine that?!?) I also have to mention that the last song they performed, "Through The Skies," had won a competition in New York. Way to go, AK MCs!

Second half of the show started with the performance of the resident SpeakEasy singer, whose name your clumsy reporter unfortunately didn't catch. Guess, I enjoyed performance by this soul sister so much that I forgot I was supposed to take notes for my LitRave report. One thing is for sure though: whether she recites and sings her own poetry and songs, or she performs a well-known tune, this sister is definitely a "Natural Woman." After the musical performance, featured poets followed. First in line was a member of the Anchorage Slam Team, Emil Churchin, whose first nice-and-slow contemplative piece was met with complete silence from the audience, which prompted him to declare that he was "not feeling angry any more," or at least not angry enough for the audience that expected to hear a few high-powered slam pieces. He did end his set of 4 poems with a slam poem about pot smoking in Girdwood (an area just outside Anchorage), and the audience did show him love after all. Next on the mic was a brother named Kokai. (Now, bro, forgive me if I misspelled your name - it did sound like "coke eye") He opened with a regae inspired poem (this brother can sing, too!) and closed with a sexy one titled "Black Lingerie." I must say, most ladies in the audience were especially moved by this piece, and I am not sure what exactly happened to the poet after the performance. The only thing I know is that he seemed to have vanished into the thin air before the end of the show. (Does anyone out there know if poets have groupies too?) Sinclair Jackson followed on the mic with a new slow rap about an older woman, and a poem titled "Differences," which - if you happen to be Mr. Jackson's wife, or you happen to know his wife - he didn't actually read (wink, wink!), but I can tell you the piece was powerful. He ended with a poem for his daughter, Soraya, titled "4-7-03."

Featured poets were followed with another singing act - E. Double, who sang a song by Luther Vandros. Then, we had the pleasure to hear a cool jazz flute performance by P.J. I would be curious to find out where he is performing next. This brother can IMPROVISE!!! The evening closed with a powerful group piece about woman's pain by our generous hostesses/poetic goddesses, Faye and Corinna. A perfect ending for a perfect night! The audience got their fill of performance art, and Kid's Kitchen will get the groceries to help fill quite a few hungry tummies. Way to go SpeakEasy!

If you happen to find yourselves in Anchorage in September, stop by La Cabana on the 20th around 9 p.m. and look for Faye, Corinna, and another installment of SpeakEasy. Spoken word is the best thing to warm you up on a chilly Alaska autumn night.

at La Cabana Restaurant
312 E. 4th Avenue
Anchorage, AK
Saturday, September 20th - 9-11 p.m.