Saturday, June 9, 2018

Scott Noon Creley

I was very happy to be able to feature Scott in this blog. He is not only a great personal friend, but a poet whose work I have admired and enjoyed for a long time. His words are moving, full of meaning, and often evoke a sense of familiarity with shared human experience. I asked him to write a brief reflection on the shoot we did.

"I wrote some of my first real poems in Claremont. The courtyard in this photo set is like the places I would go to when I ditched my high school classes and smoked cigarettes while I evaded Claremont PD (which is harder than it sounds, they don’t have much to do). It’s amongst the places where I made my first attempts at writing about the forces that seemed to lurk below the pretty surface of things. That’s the direction I’ve tried to take my work ever since. I want to catalogue what might otherwise be forgotten or unnoticed. Despite the immense privilege they represent, the campuses of the five colleges have always seemed a bit dark and occult. You can feel the prestige and secrets and symbolism of the place, you can sense the lives that have passed through here, and that’s always been something that’s intrigued me. Having grown up in Pomona, where gentrification or neglect often overwrite the past fairly quickly, this was a place that fascinated me when I was a teenager because you could feel both the history the powers-that-be wanted you to see, and then, below that, you could also sense some of the secret history of the place -- the fact that people ate and made love here, that they got high and cut classes.


For me, writing is about cataloguing place as much as it is people. For a while, at least, we leave the remnants of our ideas upon a place -- We become part of it, it holds some existential echo of us, and we carry a bit of it when we leave. I used to hang out in a haunted stairwell near where these photos were taken. The folklore is that this was where a Scripps college student jumped to her death from the top flight, vaulting over the bannister and then crashing into the courtyard. The students say that her spirit roams around the halls and offices there. They say that you can sometimes catch a glance of her in the mirror of a tiny, forgotten bathroom on the third floor.


Even before I knew the story of the place, I felt it. Maybe I noticed the way people hurried through it, or the sad art around the place. Maybe it was something else. Regardless, there was something there beyond the ordinary physicality of the architecture, or the garden, or the artwork dedicated to regents -- The place was made into a story by the people who inhabited it, and that makes it fascinating to me.  


Now I carry the ghost of that girl with me to all the places I’ve lived in. Even decades later, I often think about her in the still hours of the morning, and she makes me wonder about the stories under my feet, about the ways all of us haunt the world. Most of my writing is about unearthing those stories and preserving them, so this seemed like an excellent place to take photos that might represent some small piece of who I am as a poet. "


Scott Noon Creley holds an MFA in poetry from California State University, Long Beach, and a BA in writing from UC Riverside. His work has been featured in the collections Bear Flag Republic, One Night in Downey, Cadence Collective: Year Two and , as well as in quality journals as diverse as Sentence, Miramar, Spillways, Cadence Collective and Carnival Literary Magazine. His most recent book Digging a Hole to the Moon debuted in the top 50 on Amazon.com’s poetry section.


He recently returned from China, where he read for Beijing Normal University, the Lu Xun Literary Institute, and Yunnan University as a featured visiting reader alongside Pulitzer Prize winner Gregory Pardlo and Pushcart Prize winner Tony Barnstone. He is the founding chairman of San Gabriel Valley Literature Festival inc., a non-profit literacy foundation that holds monthly free writing workshops, monthly readings, and an annual community literature festival.


He is one of the Writers in Residence for The dA Center for the Arts in Pomona, California.


His collection Digging a Hole to the Moon, is available from Spout Hill Press.


He lives with his wife, painter & photographer Carly McKean Creley, in Los Feliz.

A poem of his appears below.









Ashes, White Noise
by Scott Noon Creley

It is Ash Wednesday.
The children who walk by the window
have crosses smeared over their foreheads
in the thick pigment of burned palm fronds.

Those sigils are so rigid, so geometric -
Trailing down the sidewalk like a long line
of precisely punctuated speech,
a message that, for all its coherency
I cannot grasp before it trails out of view
around the corner.

Turning on the radio,
I want to listen long enough
to extract this same voice
from the ghost orchard of static,
my fingers twitching
at every tinny scrap of sound.

Here, with the blinds drawn,
with the glow of the television
pervading the room and mingling
with the blue onset of early twilight
it is easy to envy those children their markings —
to hunger for the dead black certainty of them.


Monday, May 14, 2018

Chiwan Choi

I have spent most of my adult life living in Los Angeles. I identify as a Los Angeles writer.   Because of this, it is particularly fulfilling to be able to feature artists whose work I feel strongly reflect the character of this city.  Chiwan Choi's work does just that...and then goes beyond.  As a writer and publisher Chiwan has become a fixture in the LA writing scene, through his own powerful work and by putting forth and the work of others through his press Writ Large.  I asked him to write a brief reflection after the photo shoot we did.  


"I will be 48 this year, in 2018. I left Korea when I was 5. It’s weird because when people ask, I tell them Los Angeles is home to me. And I think I mean it when I say this. I really do. But not a day goes by where something or someone, a memory or a movement, a building or a person or the sound of voices or music, a taste of a food, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t lose track of where I am and my body braces for the relocation to come. I used to say how moving was just tiring. I also say how fun it is to travel back and forth from coast to coast. But the truth is—I will be 48 this year and I don’t think I’ve ever recovered—no, scratch that. I don’t think I’ve ever recognized, therefore ever reconciled with, what leaving Seoul at 5 did to me."

Chiwan Choi is the author of 3 books of poetry, The Flood, Abductions, and The Yellow House. He wrote, presented, and destroyed the novel Ghostmaker throughout the course of 2015. His poems and essays have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including The New York Times Magazine, ONTHEBUS, Esquire.com, and The Nervous Breakdown.


Chiwan splits his time between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.  A poem of his appears below.










untitled (work in progress)

today

i cried

for me
because

this thing
of mine
named Body
is broken
and i can’t

remember
when it began                        the first fracture
that gave
birth
to the life
that followed

today

i cried

for the me
in between

strangers on
another
cross country flight
thinking of
father                                     and mother

pointing outside
the small windows
of a pan am
flight
into darkness
telling me

to be happy
of the uncertainty
to come
beyond boundaries
i was too young

to even know
existed.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Kevin Ridgeway


Kevin Ridgeway is a writer with whom I’ve had the honor of sharing a stage with.  He is incredibly talented, prolific and has become a rather recognizable face in the Southern California poetry community.  I was really excited when he agreed to be part of this project.  We agreed that shooting in Whittier, a city he considered a sort of “home town” and part of his essence as a writer would be a good choice.  I asked him to reflect a bit on the experience. 

"I was born in Bellflower and raised in Whittier, CA, at the southern most end of Colima Road.  My life in South Whittier growing up came without kids my age, and I mostly isolated in my own little imaginative world with my mother working, my father in prison, my older brother at a different age than one I'd understand and a great-grandmother as my constant companion.  I watched movies and read obsessively, also pacing back and forth with great intensity as I daydreamed my own works of art.  I left when my mother died and we sold the house in 2015.  My uncle is leaving in the summer for Boise.  My family is no longer in Whittier.  I never belonged here.  Maybe on its theater stage, in its record and bookstore aisles and over at St. Matthias with the misfits, a place Fred Voss wrote about in his poem "Toy Trains & God".  I grew up in Whittier, where I missed out on too much beyond make believe with the community theater, funeral eulogies and a longing for a dream deep inside of me that is far away from the streets of Whittier."  

Kevin Ridgeway was born in Bellflower, CA, and raised in Whittier, CA.  He is the author of six chapbooks of poetry, including All the Rage (Electric Windmill Press, 2013), On the Burning Shore (Arroyo Seco Press, 2014), Contents Under Pressure (Crisis Chronicles Press, 2015).  His latest book is A Ludicrous Split alongside poems by Gabriel Ricard (Alien Buddha Press, 2018).  His work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net.  Recent work has appeared or is forthcoming in Slipstream, Chiron Review, Nerve Cowboy, Spillway, Plaingsongs, The Cape Rock, San Pedro River Review, Lummox, Misfit Magazine, Suisun Valley Review, The Mas Tequila Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, 48th Street Press, Thirteen Myna Birds, Trailer Park Quarterly and Cultural Weeky, among others.  A poem of his appears below.  









The Original Unsung Hometown Zero 

by Kevin Ridgeway

I daydreamed in the grooves of vinyl LPs scooped up for discounts in the rare expertise of Lovell’s Record Store on Greenleaf Avenue and hid in the claustrophobic stacks of the Little Old Book Shop,terrified during auditions for plays at the community theatre my

brother, Richard Nixon and I all performed in over the decades. BGirls I had crushes on saw me in my underwear behind that stage during quick-change pants-drops in between scenes onstage where they gave me my first kisses. I spent so much of my time up in my head that I forgot to experience Whittier much beyond my role as one of its fallen stars, a drunk in the pews of Saint Matthias Church listening to musicians eulogize the husband of my first AA sponsor the week after my great grandmother died and my father was sentenced to life in prison on the front page of the Whittier Daily News. I whisper Happy Mother’s Day to him as a reminder of his wife's death from inside those St. Matthias pews as I croon a Sympathy for the Devil feared by old John Greenleaf Whittier who came from Haverhill, Massachussetts where my college best friend grew up and where we wrote bad poetry that had nothing to do with two places where I never belonged, wasted

and in search of the eternal poet who writes verse that’s beyond all human comprehension, the one that saves me

in my newfound life as a rolling stone

on my way to finding myself,

whoever that is but he's not in Whittier

or Haverhill. His mind is his hometown.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

George Hammons

This month's first feature is a particularly important one for me as I got the chance to photograph a fellow photographer.  I've gotten to know George Hammons over the past few years around the Southern California literary scene.  A poet and photographer, George is a keen observer of the human character, as is reflected in his own impacting, powerful work. He isn't at all afraid to be deeply personal, as well as delving into themes that might make others weary such as history, religion, race and violence.  I asked George to give us a brief rundown of who he is and his connection to the city of Pomona.  A poem of his appears below.

"I originally moved to Pomona because of its central location and proximity to L.A., the O.C. and the Inland Empire. Since arriving I have come to appreciate the fact that the city has a tenacious and eclectic vibe, punctuated by its Antique Row and Arts Colony. The city is flush with art galleries, museums, concert venues and restaurants. Every 2nd Saturday of the month is an Arts Walk where you can stroll the Arts Colony and get a taste of why Pomona is a haven to artists. I am particularly fond of the “dA Center for the Arts,” because, for me, it has become a touchstone for poetry. The “dA” hosts several poetry events regularly each month and it also provides daily classes covering a wide range of creative activities."

 George Hammons is a proud graduate of Verbum Dei High, in Watts, CA.  George attended Cal State Fullerton University, and Rancho Santiago College (Santa Ana, CA.) where he studied radio and television communications. He also attended Cal State University San Bernardino, where he earned a certificate of completion, in English, Creative Writing, with emphasis in poetry, while he worked as a staff member for CSUSB’s Public Safety department. 

George has written poetry since he was in elementary school and attributes his fascination with language, especially poetry, to his early admiration for Muhammad Ali, Langston Hughes and Gil Scott-Heron. George writes about family, the African American experience, and love. 

George has had poems published in American Mustard Poetry Review, Cadence Collective, Year Two Anthology, (Sadie Girl press) and the Pacific Review (California State University at San Bernardino).  George’s work can also be seen in his chapbook “Hungry to Bed, Love Poems by George Hammons,” (Arroyo Seco Press 2017), available here.

George is a devoted, amateur photographer and rarely goes anywhere without his camera.








North 
by George Hammons

And this is how we dreamed,
one bare foot in front of the other,
one desperate soul, in front of the other, my hand on
your back, in the darkness, and
us bent at the waist, as if somehow our very bodies
could be bowed into a
whisper.

And this is how we dreamed,
near naked, our best rags,
stowed in a tattered rucksack,
packed away  safe, for that day when we made it
North.

They said, there’s milk and honey up there,
they said, that they pay you, for your work, up there.
Babies suckle at their mother’s breasts,
never to be torn away, up there.
North.

And this is how we dreamed,

secrets, hidden in our work songs,
we’d sing “Steal away, steal away, steal away to Jesus,
Steal away, steal away home.
I ain’t got long to stay here.
and under our breath, a code that told of the day
and time for our departure.
And this is how we dreamed,   
of going  North.

We learned to follow the signs;
the way the trees bent, or where the moss grew
even our little children understood that to get north,
 you follow the drinking gourd, some call it
the lil’ dipper, home of the North Star; the pole star,
Polaris, which always points North.

And this is how we dreamed,

 they said, that a slave up North,
is freer than a free Negro, in the South;
and we believed it.

They said, that we could learn our ABCs
and readin’, writin’ and rithmatic ,
without fear of being whipped or starved
as punishment,  
and we believed that too.

And so bruised and bright eyed, we climbed and
stumbled through wood and thistle,
 barn yard and swamp; goin’  
North, North always North.

We watched for the secret signs, of the, Underground
Railroad.
Here and there  we met a conductor, who
provided a cool drink of water and a meal,
a warm place to spend  the night
some even lead us, safe passages, through
woods and swamps, some put us on  boats or  trains;
with a prayer of fare-thee- well,
and a hopeful hand
pointing, the way North.

And this is how we dreamed;

not about  a flag or  a country,
not about vengeance or hate,
we dreamed about walking out into the world,
without someone standing behind us with a whip.
We dreamed about speaking up for ourselves, having
our own voices, our own opinions, without fear.

And this is how we dreamed:

But the reality that we found,
is that no matter how far north you run,
you are still, always south of some-place;
perhaps it’s just south of your, own expectations,
perhaps it’s south of  opportunity,

perhaps you feel as if you have fallen into that
“Sunken Place”
and you realize that the farthest north you ever made it
was Charlottesville;
with it’s  tiki-torch toting “good people,”
who came from every corner of this country, talking
about “heritage,” lamenting the removal their
monuments to rape, murder and exploitation .  

Perhaps you’ve fallen, into that place of
gerrymandering, suppressed voting and hate crimes.
Perhaps you have found yourself south of the fact,
that for every Barack Obama, there is a Ben Carson,  
and for every Michelle there is an Omarosa,
for every Colin Kaepernick there is
a Sheriff, David Clarke;

 And so:  
Perhaps now, in 2018, that long journey North was
really, always about those ancestors; who sacrificed
everything. So that we might look south, across the
border, at starry eyed neighbors, braving  coyotes
and deserts,  armed with little more than hope, and
a hand full of, well-worn rosary beads, trudging one
foot in front of the other . praying that someone will
say; 
 “I understand your dream”.

Maybe in 2018 our journey north, was really always
about, us learning how to look  across the ocean,
at neighbors running from  bombed out cities, where
they have had to dig their loved ones, gray bodies, out
from under the concrete rubble, of  places they once
called home.
Maybe our horrible journey was always meant
to teach us how to say to them;
“I understand your dream.”

Maybe in 2018, our ancestor’s, desperate, journeys
were really, always about us calling our relatives in
South Carolina, and Ohio and Michigan and asking them
“Are you registered to vote? Do you have a way to
get to the poll?  Do you know where your voting poll
is; are you sure that it hasn’t been moved?”


Because we need for them to know,
that North in  2018 and 2020;  is about the flag
and  is about this country.
We are in a political “Me Too” moment,
and we are saying “Time’s Up!”

And so, yes, this is how we dreamed;

one bare foot in front of the other, near naked,
our best rags, stowed in a tattered rucksack, packed
away, safe for that day when we made it.

North.



Monday, February 19, 2018

Irene Sanchez

Poetry has always been political.  A means to raise a voice that needs to be raised. For this month's second feature I am happy to feature a writer who has established a presence for her literary skills as well as her passion as an activist.  Irene Monica Sanchez is a fantastic writer, academic and educator.  I asked her to provide a brief rundown of who she is.  Below you can also find a poem she wrote about the vibrant city which she is closely tied to, Pomona.  


"Irene Sanchez is an educator, poet, public scholar, and writer committed to social justice. She engages with people through projects she works on and centers social justice in her work by producing stories, essays, talks, presentations, workshops, poetry, and academic research/writing.  Irene has spoken/presented/keynoted at: University of Washington-Seattle, Highline CC, Everett CC, South Seattle CC, Reed College, Chapman University, Harvard University, Adelante Mujer Latina, University of California, Riverside, National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, El Mundo Zurdo (Society for the Study of Gloria Anzaldua), OC Ethnic Studies Summit, Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social, Mira Costa College, Fresno State University, UC Students of Color Conference, UC Davis and more. 

She has had her work/writing featured by KPFK 90.7 Los Angeles, KPCC-Southern California Public Radio, Latino Rebels Radio, Telesur English, Inside Higher Education, NASPA, and The American Federation of Teachers. She is the co-founder of The Southwest Political Report and Xicana Ph.D. Blog where you can find some of her writings. She is a danzante of the Aztec/Mexica tradition. She is also the co-host of a monthly poetry open mic at Café con Libros in Pomona, CA called Poetry y Pan.

Now based out of the San Gabriel Valley in LA County, Irene teaches high school Latinx Studies and can often be found at a community/cultural event with her family."

For more information visit her page here.







Pomona 

When I was younger I wondered
What lies beyond the horizon 
As the Santa Ana winds call me to move closer to it
There is more to see
Beyond where these valleys end 
And mountains begin 

Where poetry nights
Are held by dim lights
And memories blink rapidly 
As you travel these freeways
Fast 

How can you be in two places at once
It is not the IE or LA
But to you it is 
Where you are supposed to be

Pomona was a place I hardly spoke of 
After 
I left Southern CA
After 
I left him
A place I worked and made a home
Out of another person
Before I learned a person could never be a home

Foothill and Garey 
At 4am
Is cold 
I was 18
Newly married
Trying to make something 
Out of gifts I didn’t know I had

Open the door 
The bell rings
I took orders 
They came by the dozen 
Just like the prayers I had spoken when I
Thought no one was listening

I wanted my life to be as sweet as the morning I boxed 
So I placed them carefully
Knowing one day 
I would have to leave all that was 
Warm and comforting
Like those mornings
And how they masked the cold

After the shift ends
I took a drive 
By the Glass House
Stopping by The Globe
Before I became apart of something bigger
Beyond this new horizon I realized
There was more to see

So I left all that I ever knew
Hoping I could come back to it 
But all these years later I see 
How it came to me 

That in Pomona
Is where I learned to 
Make a home made of dreams 

I thought I had lost