Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Poets' Picnic in Benicia - 8/6/11

On Saturday, August 6, from noon to 4 p.m., Poets Laureate of California will have a reunion in First Street Park with Gazebo (Military and First Street) in Benicia, California.

Organized by Benicia's Poet Laureate, Ronna Leon, the Poets' Picnic is subtitled "Grassroots Poetry on the Grass" and will include readings by Poets Laureate or Poets Laureate Emeriti and their Poetry Communities during an afternoon of poetry, food, and discussion. All guests are asked to bring a Cold Picnic Dish to share. The Benicia poetry group will supply watermelon and beverages. Listeners are also encouraged to bring a poem to put in a picnic basket for a chance to have it read by a Poet Laureate in the reading.

The reading by Poets Laureate is from 2:30 to 4:00 pm and will include the following poets (who will read their own work and poems picked at random from the picnic basket):

*Cynthia Bryant, Pleasanton, 2005-07, 2011-12
*Terry Ehret, Sonoma County, 2004-06
*Joel Fallon, Benicia, 2006-08
*Deborah Grossman, Pleasanton, 2009-11
*Parthenia Hicks, Los Gatos, 2010-12
*Ronna Leon, Benicia, 2010-12
*Juanita Martin, Fairfield, 2010-12
*Janell Moon, Emeryville 2010-12
*Connie Post, Livermore, 2005-09
*Mary Rudge, Alameda, 2002 ongoing
*Robert Shelby, Benicia, 2008-10
*Allegra Silberstein, Davis, 2010-12
*Gary Silva, Napa County, 2008-10
*Maja Trochimczyk, Sunland-Tujunga, 2010-11
*Cher Wollard, Livermore, 2010-14
*Ronnie Holland, Dublin 2008-2010
*Ruth Blakeney, Crockett, 2006

Ronna Leon's previous and ongoing project was placing "Poem Homes" around her community of Benicia. These sturdy and decorative containers, somewhat resembling birdhouses, included copies of poems sent in from around California by poets who wanted to participate. The poems were printed out and distributed via the Poem Homes - people could just pick up and take home a poem they selected in one of the Poem Homes that could be found in various offices, stores, and community locations around Benicia. What a sweet idea!

Another great idea that Ronna has brought to fruition was taking portraits of all Poets Laureate in California, and illustrating them with a short quote from a poem and a handwritten signature by each poet. These black-and-white portraits are certainly a fascinating gallery of spiritual and artistic personalities. My portrait was taken in the library of John Steven McGroarty, California Poet Laureate in the 1930s, whose home now serves as a community arts center in Sunland-Tujunga. In the portrait, I'm holding the heart filled with laurel leaves that is passed on from one poet to the next during the solemn ceremony. I organized a poetry booth at their puppetry festival in 2010 and was teaching a poetry class to kids that summer. We held some of our sessions in the historic library, filled with vintage photos, books, and memorabilia. I would not mind moving in to that room, to spend my afternoons thinking poetic thoughts while looking at the pines surrounding the mansion and at the mountains beyond.

While my participation in the Poets' Picnic is not certain, I have contributed the following selections to the Poem Homes: Tiger Nights, Buddha with Swans, Skydance, "Look at me..." and Rose Window. I have already reprinted in this blog the Buddha with Swans and the Rose Window, the other three poems, were published earlier in various venues.

Two of these pieces will soon appear in a discussion of Moonday Poetry reading in August. The third poem that I submitted to Ronna Leon's Poem Homes, is entitled Skydance and belongs with a series of poems associated with paintings and other artwork created at Manzanar Internment Camp. This historical site documents a dark page in American history: the WWII internment of Japanese-Americans suspected of wrongdoing as potential "enemies of the state", though not proven guilty. Their lives and careers destroyed, the Japanese-Americans showed a remarkable resilience when they returned to their communities and started to rebuild their lives.

Some, like Henry Fukuhara, a former prisoner, painter and organizer of the annual plein-air workshops, have never forgotten and hoped to make Manzanar an example of darkness overcome by light, of suffering erased by creativity. A Japanese-American photographer, survivor, artist and poet, Beth Shibata, is a frequent contributor to these workshops and has inspired many members of the Pasadena group, Poets on Site. In 2010, she made a collage of a photo of the mountains and paper cranes that permeate the landscape and ... my poem.


~ to Henry Fukuhara and the prisoners of the Japanese Internment Camp at Manzanar

the mountains rose and fell
with their glory useless –
trapped in time they did not
think they’d make it –
days so long, stretched
to the horizon, mindless

and the sky danced above them
avalanche of paper cranes

it was not a time for joy
the landscape said –
bleak, unforgiving,
it was not that time yet –
in gaps between minutes
a shadow rose, a breath

and the sky danced above them
spring dreams of paper cranes

contours remembered,
felt in the fingertips
filled the world with color
faded pastels, knowing,
pale rainbow, hues
of distance, serenity

and the sky danced above them
paper cranes, oh, paper cranes

This poem, inspired by Shibata's art is dedicated to her master. Similarly to the poem "Look at me.." the narrative form is structured around the irruptions of a brief refrain, bringing the dance of the sky down to the earth and the painter's canvas. Henry Fukuhara lost his sight and painted from memory; his friends and associates continued to surround him and draw inspiration from his joie-de-vivre.

Skydance was published in Poets on Site chapbook on the Exhibition of art from the Annual Plein-Air Workshop at Manzanar and Alabama Hills, held in September 2010. The chapbook belongs to a series of ekphrastic poetry chapbooks edited by Kathabela Wilson. The series continues and the future Poets on Site projects will include my voice.


Maja Trochimczyk's Portrait as Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga, (c) 2010 by Ronna Leon, used by permission.

Poetry and photos (c) 2009-2011 by Maja Trochimczyk. Photos taken in Sunland, Granada Hills, and at Lake Elisabeth, California.

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