Monday, August 29, 2011

Living in the Moment

Thanks to the lovely hostess, Elena Secota, and friendly poets and musicians the featured reading at the Rapp Saloon was very enjoyable. I even had a bass-guitar accompaniment to some of my poems, including "Look at me..." inspired by Ella Fitzgerald's version of Misty. Rocky played the melody during the poem's refrains and was silent during the narrative stanzas. It worked very well! The poem itself is published on this blog, as well as in the Loch Raven Review.

My listeners liked it a lot, but the greatest impact on the audience was made by another, older poem of a more philosophical nature. I wrote "Memento Vitae" after the death of a good friend. The title, modelled on a medieval monks' maxim, Memento Mori (Remember Death), means "Remember Life."

Memento Vitae

Let's talk about dying.
The gasp of last breath.
The end. Or maybe not,
We don't know.

Let's talk about the last day.
What would you do
if you knew?
Whom would you love?
Would you find your dearest,
most mysterious love?
Or would you just stay
in the circle of your own?
Would you rob, steal
or insult anyone?
Would you cry?
Burn your papers?
If the fabric of your future
shrank to one day,
or maybe just an hour?

Let's talk about living, then.
The next breath,
that will take you
to the next minute,
the next heartbeat.

Just about – now.

Soon after presenting my work to a very gracious audience at what should be called "Poetry Salon at the Saloon," I was on the way to the High Sierras for my first real vacation in years - without the internet, TV, or Blackberry. I was off the grid, wandering around lush mountain meadows and forests, while the Kadafi regime fell and Hurricane Irene was approaching New York.

A week in the wilderness was a time of tranquility, rest, and spiritual revival. I listened to the breeze singing in the tops of the trees, as they whispered and sighed. I swam in the cold mountain lake every morning, leaving my worries "in my wake" - and I wrote a poem about it. Since it is still unfinished, here is a humorous testimonial to picking wild mushrooms among tall pine trees and delicate aspen.

On Mushrooms

In the forest of Christmas trees for giants
I look for the shapes of mushrooms
I used to know well – hiding
In tall grass under the aspen,
Beneath piles of pine needles and bark

– the true one,
The king of the forest, Boletus
Rules in unexpected places
Among birch twigs and Douglas fir
Osaki, Kozaki – his second-rate,
Still lovely cousins wait in the shade
Among manzanita, wild currants and fern.

I find bitter, colorful szatans,
Pretending to be true
Pale muchomory my grandma used
To kill flies in a glass filled with sugar water
Psie grzybki fit for a dog
That would not eat them
And twisted, tree-growing huba
I do not know how to cook.

My share of mushrooms?
The toxic lookalikes of true ones!
That’s all there is in this
Enchanted forest for me.

And this is why, my dears, I wrote
And you read Confessions
Of a Failed Mushroom-picker

Picking mushrooms is a great activity, as it takes your mind off everything, since it requires all the attention you have to spot and claim the mushrooms hidden under pine needles or in the grass. Next year I might be more lucky and actually find some... Besides, I do have to swim around that rocky island in the middle of the lake, with just one pine tree on it!


All poems and nature photographs (c) 2008-2011 by Maja Trochimczyk. Portrait of Maja and Rocky by Elena Secota.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Watermelon Festival and the Rapp Saloon

When I last went to the Rapp Saloon, I thought that visit would be that, "last." I did not find the majority of the poetry I heard there, with an overabundance of one letter, "f," to be of much interest. I decided to skip driving that far for so little. However, I made a friend there, Elena Secota, who turned out to be a fascinating poet in her own right. She now hosts one of the weekly Friday Open Readings and books her own monthly features. I am very glad that thanks to her invitation, I will be able to re-visit the Rapp Saloon and see the changes that her high-class act has brought to this establishment. My appearance is planned for Friday, August 19, 2011 at 8:30 p.m. To honor the vibe of the place, I'll read a darker, more edgy fare than at the recent Moonday feature, where it was all about awakenings...

1436, 2nd STREET, (between Broadway & Santa Monica Blvd)
Santa Monica, California 90401



The Magnificent Four, or the Village Poets of Sunland Tujunga: Joe DeCenzo, Marlene Hitt, Dorothy Skiles and yours truly, created and managed a new element at the 50th Annual Watermelon Festival, held at Sunland Park on Saturday, August 13, 2011, from 1:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Poetry Corner presented new, original poetry for children along with well-known classics by Shel Silverstein, A.A. Milne, and Rudyard Kipling (The Tale of Elephant Child). We recited English and Polish tongue-twisters and sang humorous rhyming children's songs. The model of a home-setting with children's chairs on a giant comforter, scattered with zebra pillows and stuffed animals, was created at a poetry event for the Puppetry Festival at McGroarty Art Center last year.

Each of the four poets contributed something: Joe brought the baloons and comforter, Dorothy donated the gifts, Marlene lent us a mike, and I had signs, books, and more comforters and stuffed animals that I cared to carry from my car... Our fifth member, Barry Ira Geller, did not make it, though contributed to advance publicity of the event.

Children came with their parents to rest for 10 - 15 minutes from the hectic pace and excitement of the festival. They sat quietly, listened, read poems from the books provided by poets, and picked up their prizes - colorful balloons and little toys. We planned on two hours, but filled out three - due to the constant ebb and flow of the audience it was hard to find a good time to pack up and go. We are happy that Beverly Collins once again brought her poetry to share in Sunland.

I do not write for children and certainly do not write in rhyme, so I was especially pleased that Joe DeCenzo read from his Ballad of a Hawk and twice recited a very amusing, brand-new poem-game, helping children to learn the names of body parts in English. In his poem, the last word of each couplet is missing and children have to guess what it is..."head" or "chin" or "shin." I noticed quite a few children who were English learners and this was a very good lesson for them.

We also had a couple of older children reading from our stack of books - picking poems they found funny. My contribution included poems "What I love in Sunland" and "On the Beach" for Father's Day, as well as two New Year's Haiku about the Year of the Rabbit. I also sang about The Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly and recited tongue-twisters about the winsome woodchuck and the warbling warbler, and, my favorite, a Polish beetle rustling in the rushes:

W Szczebrzeszynie chrzaszcz brzmi w trzcinie
a w Trzemiesznie straszy jeszcze postrach oczu strzyg!

Next year? More poets, and some limericks, I think... the G-rated ones, of course.



The Poetry Picnic of August 6, 2011, went very well according to Benicia's Poet Laureate, photographer and organizer extraordinaire, Ronna Leon. She created lots of wonderful poetry posters and other materials to distribute at the event and through the Poem Homes installations in the community.

My poem dedicated to Henry Fukuhara and inspired by a digital artwork by Beth Shibata, "Sundance" was printed in color as a broadside and I'm very happy to see this attractive poster at my home.


NOTE: All photos from the Poetry Corner at the Watermelon Festival in Sunland, held on Saturday, August 13, 2011.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Tigers, Orchards, and Moonday (August 8)

The famed Moonday in the Village Poetry Reading will feature myself & Lucia Galloway during the August event that will take place at a private home at 14839 West Sunset Blvd, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 on Monday, August 8, 2011 at 7:30 p.m. Moonday is a once-a- month poetry venue, co-produced by Alice Pero & Lois P.Jones. There will also be an open reading. See for more details.

A featured reading is a self-portrait; every time I have to pick a set of poems for a feature I wonder about "the type of a person do I want to present." Since I am a community poet, a complete and proud "amateur" (lover) of poetry, I do not have to follow the rigors and snobbery of the poetry world. I've seen enough of that in the academic music world to give the whole thing a pass. I often write and read love poems. These are welcomed very warmly, but too often misunderstood. Written in the first person, they impress some of my listeners with an idea that the poems are autobiographical and talk about real people and events that transpired in my life. While fragments of experiences and deeply felt emotions served as the foundation for each of these poems, the events as described in the poems did not happen.

After one reading, a female listener came up to me all excited and moved by one of the faux romances I just read with great sincerity and conviction. She breathlessly asked: "And what happened then to the guy that gave you the ring?" "What ring?" I answered. There was no guy with a ring. There was no ring. Or, rather, there was one, but in a jewelery store window... Several poems that I selected for Moonday belong to this category, including two reproduced below. They fit the spirit of the late summer very well - the time of the Hollywood Bowl and outings to the countryside.

Tiger Nights juxtaposes a strange dream with a re-imagined concert at the Hollywood Bowl, with Joshua Bell as the soloist. It is written in the first person, to strengthen the immediacy of the experience and the intimacy of the voice. The poem appears to be a favorite of editors and publishers, as it was selected to appear in The Epiphany Magazine (No. 6, 2011), along with my profile for the Poets' Cafe radio interview, posted on Tim Green's website, and on the announcement of the upcoming Moonday Poetry Reading. Of course, the incipit of the poem also appears on my Poet Laureate portrait by Ronna Leon posted in a previous blog.

Tiger Nights

Someone nailed gold-plated clouds
to the hard, polished turquoise of the sky.

Striated, like the stripes of a tiger
I did not know I had for a pet

until he bared his teeth
at the dogs flowing through the air

to corner him in my backyard.
The blond fur glistened in shadows.

Three golden labs growled
at the cat the size of a calf.

He turned. His stripes shone
with danger. I woke up afraid.

Now I watch the gold of the clouds
change into orange, scarlet and amaranth

in a quickly darkening cupola
that rests on the hills

above the Hollywood Bowl.
Smooth tones of Joshua Bell’s violin

glow in the air, escaping
the relentless chase of the brass.

Wind snatches notes from the bow,
plays with their glossy sheen.

Stars blossom on cloud-stems
in bouquets, wild as tiger lilies

you gave me that night.
Danger lurks in your smile

as you caress my ear
with a whisper: “Remember?”

To everyone thinking that "first-person" poetry is strictly autobiographical, I hasten to explain, again, that I went to the Joshua Bell concert described in Tiger Nights with my best friend, Elizabeth, who certainly does not resemble a tiger, did not give me any tiger lilies, and did not whisper seductive and ominous thoughts into my ear.

The dream was as real as dreams are, but the tiger's smooth coat appeared to be beige and not striped at all, until I recognized the cornered, graceful creature as one of power and danger: the lovely animal turned its head at the dogs and snarled, becoming a striped beast. That was enough to wake me up. But the word "beige" is too plain for a dream poem, someone said, so I changed it to a more human "blond." The stripes on the sky, the stripes on the tiger, the tiger lilies... this fragmented imagery creates a surreal scene of uncertainty, filled with seductive charm and vague threats. The "gold-plated clouds" become real in a jewel sky as the danger passes, or, at least, seems to do so.

The second "imaginary romance" poem, also a favorite with audiences and publishers, draws together scattered seeds of experience: a glance from a passing biker, a long ride between slopes of California's dry golden grass , contrasting with the deep green of the live oak during a trip to Lake Elizabeth, and the favorite melody outlined by the flowing voice of Ella Fitzgerald. No, it did not happen in my real life. Yes, it could have happened, as the poem is cobbled together from fragments of different memories. Instead of two contrasting images - as in Tiger Nights - I use a refrain that brings back the beguiling singer's voice to lift the biker's narrative high above the melting asphalt.

“Look at me…”

- after Ella Fitzgerald’s “Misty” and a Sunday drive to a peach orchard

the dark honey of Ella’s voice
filled the valley with a golden sheen

The bike stopped at the red light.
The biker looked at me intently.
All in black leather, he did not seem familiar.

the dark honey of Ella’s voice
spilled onto the asphalt

The light changed to green. I was touched
by the brightness in his eyes as he drove by,
turning his head, clearly off-balance. He stopped
to gaze at my metallic Honda. I felt his surprise.

the dark honey of Ella’s voice
blossomed in an aftertaste of sweetness

I knew he realized who I was,
the woman he found irresistible again
and again and again. I wonder if he told
his girlfriend about our sunny encounter.

the dark honey of Ella’s voice
flowed over the wonderland –
the dark honey, oh, the dark honey

The country road led me towards live oak
and grassy slopes, shining yellow and bronze.
There was no hatred, just being alive
after the storm. I was silent. I had nothing to say.

The poem was published in Loch Raven Review (Spring 2010) and reprinted on the Poetry Super Highway website where I was a Poet of the Week in January 2010. The title comes from the first words of "Misty" as sung on that astounding collection of Ella's Blues and Ballads (Verve). The song, by Johnny Burke and Erroll Garner, ends with "I'm too misty, and too much in love..." You can listen to the version I love on YouTube. Compare it with other interpretations: by Sarah Vaughan, Julie London (with a charming alto and annoying twitter of flutes), and Ella Fitzgerald, again - with the Tommy Flanagan Trio. If you do not like singing, listen to Stan Getz, as delightful as any of the singers.


The Moonday reading will include some other perennial favorites of mine, like the Rose Window, and one of the Chopin poems, and maybe The Music Box that I like reading with an actual music box. Of course, I will read some ekphrastic poems to paintings by California artists - I have too many to chose from... The difficulty with selection stems also from boredom; poems written more than a couple of months ago sound old and tedious to me. The most interesting ones are the ones I'm currently working on and I hope to revise and improve as a result of a public reading. But these ones are still unfinished.

The most important reason for selecting a particular poem to read is the spirit of generosity - sharing poems with friends and listeners to enrich and brighten our lives. We are interconnected in a "noosphere" of minds that reach out and link together, raising each other to a higher level of awareness. I hope to do so, again, on Monday.


Photos, digital collage "Tiger Nights" and poems (c) 2009-2011 by Maja Trochimczyk.