Thursday nights are lit in downtown Riverside.
Eclectic electricity is in the air with vendors, artists, dancers, musicians and poets. The creative spirit reigns mingling the inventive new with the tried and true.
When Cati Porter - Founder and Director of Inlandia, invited me to be a featured reader - there was a yes and yes that filled me ecstatic. National Poetry Month featured reader alongside Honduran social justice poet, videographer and CSUSB professor, Alex Avila, was a new adventure at the Riverside Public Library. I forgot how much I love the Mission Inn and the classic architecture of the area. There is a rootedness that is unique for the Inland Empire region, something that feels like ocean of centuries and the current wave of revolution.
Being in a library, family friendly was the tone for the evening. Alex had the audience engaged with folklore participation and poetry peppered with Spanish for flavor. I shared poems that celebrate my love of poetry and the innocence of children.
Thank you Cati Porter, founder of Inlandia, and host for the evening, for the opportunity to celebrate National Poetry Month in a delightful venue of culture, literature and kinship.
No Foolin' - this was the perfect way to usher in National Poetry Month at the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.
4th Sunday Claremont Poets.
I wasn't sure what to expect: A pathway lined with beautiful rose bushes leading to a proper English garden, a wafting fragrance of Bergamot tea to celebrate the first day of National Poetry Month? A tea garden of lavender, rose hips, and chamomile... where my pastel pink top could tease the other flowers? A large white gazebo where my white gauze wing sleeved top and long flowing pastel skirt could twirl in words? And there I was dreaming too much - doing too little, reciting Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Swing" over and over to myself.
The pathway to the reading was lined with indigenous plants, a variety of cacti and succulents with small, big-bellied lizards swiftly waddling around - doing those lizard push-ups (I'm sure there is some scientific explanation - but I just like to imagine that they are buffing up). I also like to imagine that - and I don't know why - squirrels are kids playing baseball... rabbits always seem to be wondering what they were doing... they pause - look about like they are trying to remember what it is they were supposed to be doing - take a couple of hops and stop again... And none of this is even part of the poetry reading yet.
Needless to say, with all of these mind journeys - I was late and got lost several times. At this event, sharing poetry in nature seemed to allow the words to seep in a little bit more, they seem more organic. The absences of the distracting hum of lights and background white noise was refreshing and the breeze and movement of nature kept the energy flowing even when everyone sat quiet and still.
Though not quite transcendental - it was definitely a refreshing reconnection to the profound peace and joy that poetry and nature nurtures within us.
An added bonus: I enjoyed the day and experience so much I bought a one year membership so that I can go on nature walks and write at leisure.
Mrs. Sheila Marchbanks is the consummate cultural event planner. When she extends an invitation to attend a gathering it is promised to feed mind, body and spirit. So, it was a great honor when she invited me to give a presentation on my book Sirens in Her Belly to the Sistah Readas Book Club.
I arrived a little early and Mrs. Loretha Nwosu graciously lead me on a tour through the pleasant, well-lit, Ontario Museum. Sistah Readas began arriving and many brought a guest with them for the event. This was one of those days where everything took its cue from the weather and the book club members made a unanimous decision and requested that the meeting be moved to the museum courtyard. As soon as the request was made, Mrs. Loretha Nwoso graciously orchestrated the arrangement of the tables and chairs.
When Mrs. Sheila Marchbanks arrived so did the delicious homemade food.
The day blossomed into a picnic with Sistah Readas. The ladies came prepared with questions; conversations unearthed emotions and explored the roots of situations in the poems, our society, and our personal lives. We closed the day with a writing exercise and future plans.
A little of Bessie Smith's Black Water Blues and Give Me One Reason - Tracy Chapman coupled with a template on how to write the blues, made for a fun evening of playing with rhythm in poetry. All I needed to do was bring ingredients and stir and the creativity poured out.
Kris Peterson wrote and performed blues at the workshop.
Thank you PI Founder and IE Literary Laureate, Nikia Chaney for the invitation to teach. It was great fun being a guest facilitator for the lesson: Writing in Rhythm at PI - The Poetry and Performance Alliance of the Inland Empire in San Bernardino's Garcia Center, 536 W. 11th St. They meet every other Monday evening 6 - 8 p.m. It is one of my refilling stations and I'm looking forward to our next poetry rendezvous in music, meters and memory.
We are all gifted, that's our inheritance. - Ethel Waters
To close out Black History Month and usher in National Women's History Month, on the last Sunday in February, Inlandia Literary Laureate Nikia Chaney, along with curator Lisa Henry, coordinated a poetry reading at the San Bernardino Garcia Center, in honor of Our Ladies of Blues.
Artist Linda J. Phelps Young's vibrant depictions of blues giants: Josephine Baker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters was infused with an art deco style. You could feel the camaraderie and love of life and entertainment from each framed regal blues lady.
Before the reading, I refreshed my memory with research on their lives and From Billie's rough harsh beginnings, to Bessie literally singing and dancing for her supper, I am in awe of the power and resilience of these five creative warriors. These weren't "nasty women" they were women who could stare nasty in the eye and shame him. Jim Crow's wings were amputated in their presence.
Two Conversations in Blue
Composed of Quotes from the Five Ladies of Blues
If I don't have friends then I ain't got nothin' - Billie Holiday
Billie Holiday: I've never had a chance to play with dolls like other kids. I started working when I was six years old.
Ethel Waters: I've never been a child.
Bessie Smith: I ain't good lookin' but I am somebody's angel child.
Josephine Baker: Beautiful? It's all a question of luck. I was born with good legs. As for the rest ... beautiful, no. Amusing, yes.
Ella Fitzgerald: What everyone wants more than anything else is to be loved.
Josephine Baker: The things we truly love stay with us always, locked in our hearts as long as life remains.
* * * * *
Josephine Baker: I was learning the importance of names - having them, making them - but at the same time I sensed the dangers. Recognition was followed by oblivion, a yawning maw whose victims disappeared without a trace.
Bessie Smith: It's a long road, but I know I'm gonna find the end.
Billie Holiday: I'm always making a comeback but nobody ever tells me where I've been.
Ethel Waters: We miss a lot in life because we don't know when to quit, what to leave out.
Ella Fitzgerald: It isn't where you came from, it's where you're going that counts.
Welcome to my observations on the craft of writing, venues and writing community experiences.