Summer Work

Summer vacation?  What summer vacation?

I’ve been working on two workshops for the upcoming Central Coast Writers Conference, one on how to frame one’s piece/poem with effective titles and opening and closing lines, and one on finding inspiration by becoming one’s own muse (which involves improvisation, performance art, and unwitting collaboration).  When I’ve given workshops in the past, they’ve ended up inspiring bursts of my own writing, so I’m excited to see how this turns out.  (It’s already inspired one short story and one long poem, so it’s off to a good start).

I’ll also be giving a workshop for Writers of Kern in November on how to craft (and be inspired by) effective metaphors.  Two books that have inspired my own use of metaphors are Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson and I Is an Other by James Geary, both excellent reads at illuminating how metaphors gird (see what I did there) our thinking.

I’m also helping organize a September Art After Dark collaboration between the Bakersfield Museum of Art and California State University, Bakersfield in which CSUB poets will be writing and performing ekphrastic poems inspired by the work of Astrid Preston, Javier Carrillo, and Gwynn Murrill.

Finally, I’ll be teaching two new texts in the fall: Stephen Burt’s The Poem Is You and Christopher Buckley and Gary Young’s One for the Money: The Sentence as a Poetic Form, two great books for any poet.  Now I just have to create some lessons and exercises . . .

Richard Buckner

Many thanks to Richard Buckner for putting on a fantastic Bakersfield Living Room show on February 17.  He is one of the greats in terms of mastering and maintaining a tone, and I can’t decide if his lyrics are poems or short stories: they work as both.  I found myself tearing up when he played “Ariel Ramirez.”  My god, that’s a beautiful song.  I also appreciate his use of interrogative questioning in his newer albums, especially Our Blood, as on the song “Collusion”: “Do you understand, crossing all of those lines and crawling back, slipping from your skin?  You couldn’t keep it in?” I am blessed to have been able to hear him perform these songs.



On the day after the inauguration, millions of Americans (myself included) took to the streets to affirm a common belief in decency, respect, and human rights. For me, this occasion was both deeply inspiring and horrifyingly depressing. Thus, my poem.


How free I feel
huddling the margin
my cardboard sign
asking for change
passing cars honking
or jabbing middle fingers
in my general direction

how free I feel
pressing send
after having composed
an indignant missive
after having calibrated
a tethered screed
apropos the occasion

how free I feel
reading coverage
of my brothers and sisters
castigated and clipped
for possessing the nerve
to demand participation
in how their boundaries are drawn

how free I feel
in hearing how we should go
back to before’s
seen not heard
back to before’s
shadow crowd
we could tell were free

Central Coast Writers Conference

I’ll be giving two presentations at the 32 Annual Central Coast Writers Conference September 29-October 1st.  My first presentation will will engage participants with a lecture and discussion of how the choice of persona and perspective can help shape a poem’s tone and content, and the second will present strategies intended to help poets use rhyme and sound to deepen –rather than distract from—a work’s lyrical complexity. I’m looking forward to working with poets from the central coast region, so this should be fun.

Poetry Postcard Fest

Who doesn’t like getting poems in the mail?

I participated in Paul Nelson’s Poetry Postcard Fest this year, and it has been both inspiring and refreshing.  When I signed up, I joined a list of thirty other poets, most from the United States, but one from Canada and one from Australia.  I had to buy, make, or find thirty postcards and write impromptu epistle poems to each person.  I purchased a set of Pantone color chip postcards made by Chronicle Books and used each color as the inspiration for a different poem/recipient.  Each poem was an exercise in stream-of-consciousness; I had a rough starting point (with the color) and specific restrictions (in the size of the postcard), and while it took me a few postcards to get in the groove, I eventually settled on a coherent style, which you can see in the images below.  Each recipient found two poems, one on the front and back, which was double the fun for me.  I recommend all poets partake in this fest; it’s great for exercising the poetic muscles, and it’s been a joy to see what people have come up with via their own combinations of postcard and poetry.

Inspiration Decks

Too often, writers can find themselves at a loss for words or ideas (the ol’ writer’s block) or stuck in a rut repeating the same ideas (the ol’ writer’s rut).  One strategy for moving past these obstacles (of the self) is to borrow a strategy from the surrealists and use chance, chaos, and the randomness of fate.  One specific method is to incorporate different card decks to help inspire, provoke, and generate thought.  Many writers have turned to the tarot for such inspiration, and Jessa Crispin has a fantastic book titled The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to an Inspired Life that details how a writer can use such a deck.  Three decks that I have used for myself and my students are Corina Dross’s Portable Fortitude, Neil McCann’s Artot Vision Cards, and Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies.  When I find myself blocked or in a rut, all I do is pick a card, any card…

inspiration cards