Friday, February 10, 2012

On Pursuit of Happiness - from Paris to Monrovia

For the Voice of the Village, February 2012 issue, I wrote the following column. My term as Poet Laureate of Sunland Tujunga is coming to an end, so I thought about what happened in the last two years. . .

Poetry … in pursuit of happiness

As a new citizen (American for mere two years), and a resident of Sunland for just fifteen years, I was delighted to have been elected the Sixth Poet-Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga in March 2010. English is my second language, so it was quite an honor. During my “Passing of the Laurels” Ceremony in April I was wearing a silly grin almost the whole time: I was so excited! I picked my motto for the two years in office to be “Poetry ... in pursuit of happiness."

There are many rights enshrined in constitutions of different countries; only in America do we have the pursuit of happiness. Many people came here for that reason and I am one of them. As a professional music historian, I spent years finding out and explaining what others thought – why the composers created the music they did, what did they try to say… It was – and is – a worthwhile occupation, but there is no comparison with writing my own poetry, about what I think and, what’s at the core of my being, what I feel. “The moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself” (e.e. cummings).

I feel calm and safe when wondering in Tujunga Wash, taking pictures and scribbling notes for my poems. There are so many things you can say about the sublime beauty of the mountains and the river. I feel proud to have found a place where I am at home among friends, where I can be, for once, for all, “nobody-but-myself.” Sunland-Tujunga is a wonderful, homey, friendly community, with amazing history and talent. The natural surroundings, the colors of clouds in the sky, the infinite variety gardens – this is all breathtakingly beautiful, but the greatest treasures of our neighborhood are its people. This is why we have Watermelon Festivals, Bolton Hall Museum, Village Poets Readings, Fourth of July Parades, art exhibitions, and community papers. Time for some “love poems” for our neighborhood… one illustrated with my photo, and one with a painting by Susan Dobay, Musicscape 12. (


I already posted here one of the two poems from the column, "My Sky" (I live inside a painting by Rene Magritte...), which I had illustrated with a variety of photographs I took in the Tujunga Wash and in my garden.

The other poem belongs in a set of four inspired by paintings by Susan Dobay. These particular light blue paintings are incredibly happy and whimsical. Looking at them fills me with happiness that can be felt but rarely. Reading poems with music by Rick Wilson improvised to accompany my voice was one of these unique, unforgettable moments of complete and perfect happiness. The sun was golden, in that four o'clock hour that fills the day with ripeness of things well done. The friends as attentive as they could be. The host, Susan Dobay was asking impatiently if I'll read my "Awakenings" that she's so fond of... Kathabela was spectacular in her light turquoise outfit with shiny mirrors on the skirt. Rick's playing was inspired. I think that making art makes life worth living.

Thanks to my poetic and artistic friends, I have found happiness in Sunland and Monrovia. The painting for this poem is above and on the cover of the book, "On Awakening" edited by Kathabela Wilson for Poets on Site and including poems by many poets, inspired by seven of Susan Dobay's paintings. That one, of a large tree, reminded me of a children's game. . .

See, how we dance?

Simon says – “grow”
and our roots reach for water
our branches for the sun

Simon says – “blossom”
and our pink petals open
in a gold mist of newness

Simon says – “sing”
and we let the breeze whisper
with hummingbirds, jewels, leaves

Simon says – “fly”
and we turn and turn again
in swirling clouds, voiceless music, dancing


Hilda Weiss and Wayne Lindberg of Poetry LA have recently visited Bolton Hall Museum in Tujunga, to record Featured Reader Just Kibbe and local poets. As one of the co-hosts of the Village Poets Open Reading on January 22, 2012, I was recorded as well.

I presented my Three Postcards from Paris which will appear in Quill and Parchment later this year. The postcards are about my visit to Paris on the occasion of the Maria Szymanowska Conference in October 2011. There's nothing about Chopin in my postcards, except that he lived in Paris and I walked some of the same streets. I had visited his grave at that time, but I did not write a poem about it.

Poetry L.A. posts videos on YouTube and links on their website. Thanks a lot to Hilda and Wayne! This is their labor of love. They are not paid for it and they spend countless hours documenting the state of poetry in L.A.

As for the fruits of my own labor, I had already rewritten the central poem and reorganized them, moving the first one to the end. Maybe it will not be moved, in the final version. I'm still figuring out the flow. The current one is fine, too - ending on a humorous note.

Maja - Three Postcards from Paris

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