Sunday, April 22, 2012

Poetry without Laurels - Two Years Later

Maja Trochimczyk, 6th Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga with congratulations and resolutionsOn Sunday, April 15, 2012 my adventure as the Sixth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga ended where it began: at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga. I invited friends - poets and musicians - to share the spotlight with me and I took off the laurel wreath and placed it on the head of my successor, Dorothy Skiles.

The ceremony, MC-ed by Joe DeCenzo, and introduced by the Director of the McGroarty Arts Center, Claire Knowles, included awards presentations, poetry, songs by William Lenaburg, and speeches. My own speech is copied below in italics.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

My “elevated” position in the community as the Sixth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga is ending. I did not know what to expect and where this adventure would take me when I declared that I would like to make my motto “poetry in pursuit of happiness...” There is only one country in the world that has the Pursuit of Happiness as a constitutional right. … My pursuit took me far and wide.

Just Kibbe with Kathabela WilsonDuring the past two years, I worked with some of the most amazing poets and musicians, including Kathabela and Rick Wilson of Pasadena and Just Kibbe of Sunland. Kathabela and Rick are founders of the Pasadena group Poets on Site that I have belonged to since its creation over four years ago. I often participate in their readings and Rick accompanies me on some of his flutes, as he will do later today. His day job is as professor of mathematics at Caltech… Kathabela and Rick are dear friends of mine and I greatly appreciate that they agreed to come and perform for us today. I wrote about a hundred poems for their projects. Instead of me talking about them, let me then introduce them to you and let them take over...

[Kathabela and Rick read three of her poems, including a brand-new one dedicated to Sunland-Tujunga, and one with Just Kibbe: “Everything I Ever Wanted,” “Something Green” & “Time Begin Again”]

The next guest lives closer to us, Just Kibbe, originally from a farm near Fresno, is now a proud resident of a home near Sunland Boulevard. He is an endlessly inventive poet who was able to create poems from text message abbreviations, create a Three-Ring Poetry Circus, and establish a publishing house and a journal, The Pirate Pig Press and its associated productions. Just has written poetry on just about everything, including a very long rattlesnake skin, burned wood, and walls of public urinals. I mean he did not write ABOUT, but literally ON these things. He has something quite different for you today - a set of love poems. I think it is a bow to my original presentation two years ago, where a portion of my reading was of love poems.

Dorothy Skiles at McGroarty Arts Center[After sharing the mike with Kathabela in her "Time Begin Again" Just Kibbe read three poems: “After Eleven,” “Love Seat Love” & “Butterfly Love." He was accompanied by Rick Wilson in some of them.]

These were my Poets on Site. The next group that I volunteer for is much closer to home. Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga is a local collective – we organize monthly readings of Sunland-Tujunga and consist of current or future Poets Laureate of our wonderfully twin towns. The next poem you are going to hear was written by Joe DeCenzo the Third Poet Laureate and will be read by the group including also the First Marlene Hitt and the Sixth, myself.

[The group reading of "Entitlement" followed - with Marlene Hitt, myself, Lloyd Hitt, Dorothy Skiles and Joe in charge. He had earlier read another poem of his - in the introductory part of his remarks.

Maja Trochimczyk, 6th Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga with Joe DeCenzo and resolutionsFollowing the guest readings, Joe DeCenzo presented a variety of awards from local state, county, and city officials as well as community organizations - commendations and expressions of appreciation for my work and congratulations for Dorothy. My list of honors included additional scrolls from: State Assemblymember Cameron Smyth; Supervisor Michael Antonovich; Councilman Paul Krekorian of District 2 (current district for our area), Councilman Richard Alarcon of District 7 (future district of S-T), the Rotary Club of Sunland Tujunga, and the McGroarty Arts Center Board Member, Ed Novy. Dorothy had the same set, minus a scroll from Sup. Antonovich that she had to earn, but plus a certificate from State Senator Sharon Runner.

Maja Trochimczyk, 6th Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga with Paul KrekorianWe had the distinct pleasure of welcoming representatives from these governmental offices, including Councilmember Paul Krekorian both in person - with a lovely speech - and represented by a senior staff member from his office. Jaimie Rodriguez from the office of Councilmember Richard Alarcon turned out to be a spoken word artist and he proved his chops by reciting a poem about his father. Then, it was time for me.]

Looking back at the past two years, I see a pattern in being inspired mostly by beautiful artwork and landscape that “speak” to me when I look at it. I write it down for myself and others so they can see the world through my eyes. I also write reflections on nature and spirituality.

During my tenure as Poet Laureate, I started two poetry blogs, one called “Chopin with Cherries” after the book I published in 2010 and dedicated to poetry about Chopin, a composer I love. The other one is called “Poetry Laurels” and includes reflections on poetry and poems. Together, they reached over 25,000 people in the U.S., India, England, Canada, and other countries. I also maintain the blog for Village Poets!

Maja Trochimczyk, 6th Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga with Bill LenaburgLocally, I rode twice in the Fourth of July Parade, in a specially decorated convertible, giving away poems. I read poetry to children at Watermelon Festivals and brought a lot of featured poets to Bolton Hall Museum readings of Village Poets. I think I booked 90% of readers there. I published a whole lot of poems and a new column in our wonderful community paper, The Voice of the Village. I edited a whole book, “Meditations on Divine Names” – this book will be the most lasting fruit of my tenure as the Sixth Poet-Laureate in Sunland-Tujunga.

All creative individuals reveal their own deepest sense of self - emotional, intellectual and spiritual in their works. They do so by directly expressing themselves and by avoiding themes of no relevance to them. But is this “self-revelation” the main value of art? What about the audience?

Maja Trochimczyk, 6th Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga with Rick WilsonI hope that my listeners find something of themselves in my reflections, impressions and memories transformed into poems. My quest for being remembered may be summarized in the Latin motto “non omnis moriar” (not everything dies). Survival - cheating Death out of her triumph - is the most powerful motivation for "the pursuit of happiness" through poetry and art. I entitled my set of poems, my Swan Song. . .

[I read “The Veil, the Weave” – with Village Poets; “Easter Apocalypsis” – with William Lenaburg, guitar; “My Sky” – with William Lenaburg, guitar; “Awakenings” – with Rick Wilson, flute; “A Box of Peaches” – with Rick Wilson, flute. Since these are some of my favorite poems, I have already posted them on this blog. . .]

I first met Dorothy when I was being inducted as the Sixth Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga. She brought a whole bunch of congratulatory certificates for me – that left me speechless! Since then, I have come to know her personal generosity much, much better. She has served as the President of Village Poets and has put together the calendar, booked dates, and promoted our events. She has been reliable and supportive, generous and even-minded. I cannot think of a person who is doing more for the poetry community in Sunland-Tujunga. She herself will tell you what her plans are, and her tenure will be different from mine, but not less fruitful. I will just tell you a little bit about her.

The first poem she wrote was about her grandmother who died when Dorothy was fourteen years old. While married, raising twin boys, and managing a career, working for the Los Angeles County as a social worker, Dorothy published several chapbooks, including Spine Flower Blues (1999) with fellow members of the Chuparosa Writers, and Riddle in the Rain (2003) - a joint venture with Marlene Hitt. She has been involved on the local poetry scene reading and organizing community events. She will be an excellent leader of poets in our neighborhood.

Maja Trochimczyk Passes the Laurels to the 7th Poet Laureate of Sunland-TujungaAlas, now comes the part that I have dreaded for quite a while now. Time to part with my crown! I have to take off the wreath I made from olive branches and place it on Dorothy's head. I went to an olive tree on Marlene's street with large scissors and had to explain to the owner the purpose of my attack on his tree.

Olive branches are quite symbolic in their own right - the branch of peace, the oil poured during crowning ceremonies, the symbol of the spirit.... Olive – the tree that symbolizes peace and wisdom. . .

The truth is we could not find a laurel bush in our neighborhood, and decided that olive would look better. So now, ladies and gentlemen, here is the reason we have gathered here today. First, comes the crown.

Maja Trochimczyk Passes the Laurels to the 7th Poet Laureate of Sunland-TujungaSecond – the heart. I got a little plastic heart two years ago with some dried leaves from my predecessors' wreaths, as a symbol of continuity. I promptly lost it, or thought I did, so I bought another gold heart locket to replace it, just in case I had to show that, indeed, I still had a heart. Then I put it in a music box until two days ago, when, again I lost it, with the box, and all. But it turned out last minute when I was leaving for the ceremony, in time to pass it on. Now Dorothy has not one but two hearts, one from the founders But I found it. The leaves in the heart are from the same olive tree that the crown is made of.

Third, we have to unveil the plaque that records all the poet laureate names for posterity and is kept at the McGroarty Arts Center. And here it is...

Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Dorothy Skiles, The Seventh Poet Laureate of Sunland-Tujunga. Congratulations, Dorothy!

Marlene Hitt, Joe DeCenzo, Kathabela Wilson, Just Kibbe, Rick Wilson. Back: Maja Trochimczyk, Dorothy Skiles, William Lenaburg, Lloyd Hitt, Mira Mataric.
L to R (front): Marlene Hitt, Joe DeCenzo, Kathabela Wilson, Just Kibbe, Rick Wilson. Back: Maja Trochimczyk, Dorothy Skiles, William Lenaburg, Lloyd Hitt, Mira Mataric.

Additional pictures may be found in the Picasa Web Album: Passing of the Laurels 2012.

A report in the Crescenta Valley Weekly by Robin Goldsworthy, April 19, 2012: "Skiles Honored as a New Poet Laureate of Sunland Tujunga"

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Poetry for Children and for Prisoners

On March 26, 2012 I started a new adventure - teaching a class on art and ethics to inmates of Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic, CA. I designed my four-part class as lessons in connecting feelings to thoughts, by using artwork, music, and poetry - a full range of artistic experiences - to teach virtues and called it EVA Ethics and Values in Art. The framework is provided by the Four Cardinal Virtues - courage, justice, wisdom or prudence and moderation, or temperance. Known since antiquity and used to teach moral values and character through over two thousand years of Western history, the virtues have largely been forgotten. Their presence in the lives of artists and their artwork is very strong, from Rembrandt to Chopin... I associated each virtue with an emotion - grief, shame, joy and calm and with a moral action - compassion, forgiveness, generosity and gratitude...

While designing the curriculum, I thought I would be teaching women, so I was quite surprised when I was sent to a men's institution. At Pitchess, they have been given a chance to think through their decisions and change their lives. The group I'm working with has decided to do exactly that. They enrolled in and graduated from the MERIT-WISE program, a part of the Sheriff's Education-Based Incarceration project.

Now, they participate in various workshops and classes taught by volunteers like me. The majority have never been to an art museum or a classical music concert. My goal is to help them find their way to the Hollywood Bowl . . . That and not to return to jail. How does one do that?


Justice: Do what's right, what's fair.
Fortitude: Keep smiling. Grin and bear.
Temperance: Don't take more than your share
Prudence: Choose wisely. Think and care.

Find yourself deep within your heart
In a circle of cardinal virtues
The points of your compass
Your Cornerstone.

Once you've mastered the steps, new ones appear.
Faith: You are not alone.
Hope: And all shall be well...
Love: The very air we breathe
Where we are.

The framework I designed and teach right now is non-religious and, therefore, I skip the three Theological Virtues mentioned at the end of my poem. There is enough material for discussion though in the paintings of the Prodigal Son and Tobias by Rembrandt, Guernica by Picasso, City Whispers by Susan Dobay... There is enough inspiration in the Revolutionary Etude by Chopin and the Ode to Joy by Beethoven. If I put my own poetry in this context, am I acting grandiose and, as someone once called me (to my immense delight) - a megalomaniac? The point is to find yourself in your own words. I may "know" what's out there or what I've been taught, but I truly know only what I have experienced myself. I have to go deep inside, to the truth about me, to express a vision of the world that is both deeply personal and unique in my poetry.

Non Omnis Moriar

Only the best will remain.
Startled by beauty
I fly into the eye of goodness.

Only the best . . .
Wasted hours, words, signs,
Sounds and fake symbols.

Blue torrents of feeling
Crystallized in empty space
Twisted above our heads
Where light freezes
Into sculpted infinity


If I could be there



On March 2 2012 I paid my annual visit to the Pacoima Charter School to participate in the Read Across America event during which volunteers go to classrooms and read books to the kids, to inspire in them a life-long fascination with reading. My fifth graders were fascinated with the fact that they saw in front of them an actual poet, someone who wrote books she held in her hands.

This year, I selected several poems about art - including Water Lilies by Claude Monet, paintings from the Awakenings series by Susan Dobay, a number of landscape paintings from the annual Manzanar Internment Camp Workshop, and my own photographs from the "My Sky" poem. At the end, I led the children in writing their own two poems, a haiku of sorts, and a couplet stanza. The assignment was to describe the feelings one has in the spring and the favorite things to do at that time.

swimming in happiness
sunny and sleepy
we bloom in the spring

And the second one:

fun in the sun
getting a tan
under the trees
feeling the breeze

Just right for a bunch of ten year olds... When I was leaving, a girl handed me a strip of paper that she tore out of her notebook. She wrote: "Thank you, Maja for a sweet treat to read the Poems that sink Into our heart." A sweet treat, indeed.


Photos from Big Tujunga Wash and Pacoima Charter Elementary (c) 2012 by Maja Trochimczyk