Poetry: Verse and shaping forms

In The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms,  editors and poets Mark Strand and Evan Boland write:

“If metrical forms (sonnets, villanelles, etc) are the architexture of of poetry, then the shaping forms of ode, elegy, and pastoral are its environment.”

Ventura College English Class Publishes Anthology: Writers by the Sea

“Writers by the Sea”:
Creativity from Gwendolyn Alley’s English V01B
Ventura College Summer 2009

Introduction by Gwendolyn Alley

You hold in your hand work that we have selected to share with you, the reader, work that we wrote, for the most part, this summer 2009 as part of our productivity for English 1B at Ventura College. You can learn more about who we are by reading our bios at the end of this collection.

We can’t escape being influenced in our writing and our choices with what we’ve read this summer. We started out the first day of class with a poem by Nanao Sakaki, “Break the Mirror” which you can find on the next page. “Break the Mirror” set the stage for our journey this summer into Ways of Seeing including John Berger’s seminal work. What do we see? How do we see it? How does that influence how we read the world—and ourselves?

Our journey continued with three plays: “Riders to the Sea” by J.M. Synge (the title of which helped us find our title), True West by Sam Shepard, and Macbeth by William Shakespeare. Since Cal Lutheran University was producing the play this summer, director Michael Arndt spoke to our class about putting the page on the stage.

Following our sojourn into dramatic literature, we immersed ourselves in the world of Ray Carver as we read his collection, Where I’m Calling From. We also read the short stories “Yellow Woman” by Leslie Marmon Silko,  “Red Convertible” by Louise Erdrich, and “Brokeback Mountain” by Annie Proulx.

Before we went deeper into fiction, we read poetry, some from handouts, but mostly poetry what students in the class found and analyzed and brought into class to share with us. Poets ranged from Sylvia Plath, Langston Hughes, Robert Frost, Sappho, Emily Dickinson, and song lyrics by Garth Brooks. We shared what we learned on our blogs which focused on diverse topics including Slam (Trevor Scott), Maya Angelou (Ariel Namm and Jordan Clegg), poetry from Guantanamo (Meghan DeSchmidt and Ana Ramirez), and the local poetry scene (Jennifer Fildes).

We finished the semester with fiction and a research project which we published on another blog. Some of us chose to read and study Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko and others did Beloved by Toni Morrison. Two research blogs covered the experiences of individuals who go through war as inspired by Ceremony and gender roles and gay rights as influenced by Brokeback Mountain.

In addition to all this, we all went to four or more literary events, including plays and poetry readings, and you will see some reviews on those events here.

We read a lot, wrote a lot, talked a lot, and even blogged a lot! Enjoy! Keep reading and writing!
Best, Gwendolyn Alley
instructor, English 1B, Ventura College

“Writers by the Sea”: Creativity from Gwendolyn Alley’s English V01B Summer 2009
Table of Contents

Introduction:    Gwendolyn Alley
Poetry:     Red Wine by Vernita Bashe
Review:     Macbeth Comes to Life in Cal Lutheran University by Marlene Arambula
Poetry:     “The Living God” by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Presenter:      Kimberly Libman
Essay:        Riding into the West by Kristine Blando
Essay:        A Deeper look into “Brokeback Mountain” by Jordan Clegg
Poetry:    “Fable” by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Presenter:    Kalia Randall
Review:     Macbeth by Joel Velasco
Poetry:    A Sister Gone Too Soon by Jennifer Fildes
Poetry:    Shishilop Project: Surfer’s Point (September 2008) by Gwendolyn Alley
Poetry:    Where I’m From by Jordan Clegg
Poetry:    The Good Baby by Trevor Scott
Essay:        Perception by Ariel Namm
Poetry:    Sonnet XUII by Pablo Neruda
Presenter:    Ana Ramirez
Poetry:    And 2morrow by Tupac Shakur
Presenter:     Genaro Garcia
Poetry:    The State of Optimism by Gwendolyn Alley
Poetry:    “The Shoe” by Kathryn Starbuck
Presenter:     Megan DeSmidt
Poetry    :    Curiosity by Trevor Scott
Poetry:    Back to School by Jennifer Fildes
Essay:         Ways of Seeing by Jordan Lukiewski’
Poetry:    Red Pen by Kalia Randall
Poetry:    Poems by Scott Jarrid
Poetry:    Inspiration by Vernita Bashe
Contributor Biographies

to be added…

Summer 2009 Final Projects and Due Dates

Dear students,

This is it–the home stretch! We’ve gone over each of these pieces in parts, but here is the whole. We will go over the in-class final with more specifics on Tuesday July 28; we will also go over the fallacies handout.


•    Group Research Blogs: Due Mon. July 27; meet at the Beach to go over them
Class time to work with your group Th. July 23 (plus Th. July 16)
Please leave a comment below on Thursday with a link to your blog so we can go see it over the weekend and leave comments!

•    IN CLASS GROUP PROJECT: Publication

Draft Due: Mon. July 27 Meet in the Beach; bring ideas for a title, cover art
Final and X# Copies Due: Tues. July 28 Meet by the Canon Copy Center (where you can make copies)

Minimum: 2 pages, 17 syllable haiku or American sentence per page. No maximum. Revise for publication something you’ve written this semester that you’d like to share: essay, reading response, event review, writing practice, creative writing, etc. Reading and publication party 730pm T. July 28 at the Artists Union Gallery. Friends and family welcome! If you read something you wrote at the open mic, you will not have to do two essays for the final exam, only one. If you write this up, it can count as one of your four literary events. We will decide on Monday how many we will make; bring $3 for binding.

•    FINAL Self-Assessment, Portfolio Due Weds. July 29

Portfolio review; Online and print. Will continue on Thursday. Your print portfolio should include your RAB, your self-assessment, all your written work with comments from readers and the instructor, plus revisions to total 25 double spaced typed pages (your five page paper plus revisions, selected lit events, reading responses, blog posts and pages, etc).

As you revise keep the following in mind:

Reading Responses are not just a summary of the reading. A reading response includes summary, analysis, response (your opinion), vocabulary words (either in context of the response or at the end), questions for discussion.

Reading Responses need at least ONE QUOTE from each text you discuss using MLA, and full MLA citations of each text at the end.

Final self-assessment. Reflect on the semester, what you achieved and learned; use these reflections to support your grade. What grade you think you’ve earned and why is the thesis. Include: Of what are you most proud with regards to your own effort and accomplishment in the course? How has the course changed your writing (Quality? Techniques? Attitudes?)? Your critical thinking skills? Your understanding and appreciation of literature?

–Productivity: 60% RRs, lit events, blog posts, etc

–Commitment, Participation, Teamwork: 20% attendance, preparedness

–Risks, Goals and Follow Through, Improvement: 20%

In the “Teamwork” section of your assessment credit your own contributions and please credit by name those in the course who contributed to your success this semester. Under improvement, discuss vocabulary and concepts you understand more deeply. Optional conferences can be scheduled after class T. 7/28, W. 7/29, and Th. 7/30; bring your portfolio and materials.

•    “My Top Ten Texts: RANKED ANNOTATED BIBLIOGRAPHY” Due Weds. July 29

Bring draft July 27 and 28. As you prepare your portfolio and final self-assessment, consider your Top Ten Texts and prepare a typed, ranked (1 being best), annotated (1-2 paragraph notes which support and explain your rankings), bibliography (complete bibliographic citations in MLA style). Which texts from this semester did you like best? Had the most impact? Why? Your annotations should support your rankings and include a few lines of summary with the occasional quote or key phrase. You may cut and paste from your reading responses but keep each annotation to one or two paragraphs of 3-5 lines each.

•    IN CLASS Final Exam: Bring BLUE BOOK and portfolio W. July 29 BEACH

You’ve done great work so far! Hang in there as we come around the bend toward the finish line!

best, gwendolyn

E.M. Forster: Aspects of the Novel

“Books have to be read (worse luck, for it takes a long time); it is the only way of discovering what they contain.” E. M. Forster, Introductory, Aspects of the Novel

“We have visualized the novelists of the last two centuries all writing together in one room, subject to the same emotions and putting the accidents of their age into the cricible of inspiration, adn whatever our results, our method has been sound–sound for an assemblage of pseudo-scholars like ourselves. But we must visualize the novelists of the next two hundred years as also writing in the room. The change in their subject matter will be enormous; they will not change. We may harness the atom, we may land on the moon, we may abolish or intensify warfare, the mental proceses of animals may be understood; but these are all trifles, they belong to history, not to art.” E.M. Forster, conclusion, Aspects of the Novel

Novelist E.M. Forster gave a series of lectures at Trinity College in the early 1920s which resulted in the influential book Aspects of the Novel which I first read as part of an independent study on the novel back when I was at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA.

For the class, I read one of the novels he discusses in each of his chapters so I would understand his examples better. I learned a lot about Aspects as well as the craft of the novel, both as a writer and as a reader. And I read a lot of great novels which I found necessary to really understand what he was saying. I find the more novels I read, the more examples I have, and the better I can apply his ideas.

When at Y2K there was a flurry of “best” lists, I was not surprised to find Aspects of the Novel on the list as it was the first real book of literary study. It’s insightful and written in an easy to read style giving it a balance between accessibility and complexity. Forster writes with ease and humor; we learn about teh novel, yes, but also about human nature.

While nothing gives you the same experience of reading the book as reading the book, below are some of the main points of E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel as I see them.

In essence, Forster defines the novel as telling a STORY about PEOPLE who do something for a reason aka PLOT which we understand the implications of through the use of FANTASY, PROPHECY, PATTERN and RHYTHM.

STORY What happens: and then, and then, and then. The king dies, then the queen dies.

PLOT Why what happens: cause. The king died then the queen died of grief. It requires memory and intelligence from the reader.

PEOPLE What happens to who: the characters who do something. We should believe their actions yet somehow they must be capable of surprising us. In order to bring a novel to conclusion, sometimes a character is stretched to its limits.

FANTASY Asks the readers to give something extra, and “implies the supernatural but need not express it” (112).

PROPHECY A tone of voice; what is implied is more important than what is said


I’ll add more to this, including some key quotes from the text, when I get a chance!

Poetry by current US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan

Kay Ryan, the 16th poet laureate of the United States
US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan

DEW by Kay Ryan, US Poet Laureate

As neatly as peas
in their green canoe,
as discreetly as beads
strung in a row,
sit drops of dew
along a blade of grass.
But unattached and
subject to their weight,
they slip if they accumulate.
Down the green tongue
out of the morning sun into the general damp, they’re gone.

According to this article by Adam Phillips,

For the past year, Kay Ryan has been serving as America’s 16th poet laureate, tapped by the librarian of Congress to be ambassador for American poetry. She has published more than half a dozen books of collected poems. She is well-known for her compact, vivid and accessible verse.

The august marble-and-gilt halls of the Library of Congress, where Ryan has her official headquarters, seem an unlikely place for someone raised in what she calls the “glamour-free, ocean-free, hot, stinky, oil-rich, potato-rich” San Joaquin Valley of California. But then, growing up, Ryan didn’t want to be poet.

“It [to declare oneself a poet] seemed like putting on airs,” she says. “It seemed self-absorbed. It seemed like something that my oil well driller father wouldn’t understand at all and that my mother would disapprove of, because it was just showing off.”

Kay, I hear ya! My grandfather Norris Nathan and his brother Normal Claude were the first set of twins born in the San Joaquin, in Oildale, to an oil man. Although they moved away from Oildale–all the way to Bakersfield– they all worked in the oil fields at one time or another. My dad was born just a few years before you–you may have even gone to school together.

Continue reading this article by Adam Phillips from 21 July 2009 about US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan and hear her read more of her poems.

Silko’s Ceremony: Notes, Links, Questions to Consider

A paper analyzing the embedded “poetic” texts which resemble oral narratives: https://facultystaff.richmond.edu/~rnelson/kaupata.html

This next paper, by UCLA Professor Paula Gunn Allen, can be accessed by students using their “900” number or student ID number through their college library: “Special Problems in Teaching Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 4 (Autumn, 1990), pp. 379-386. Published by: University of Nebraska Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1184964

Here are a few more sources of information in the form of an annotated bibliography. You should be able to access these journal articles through the college library also:

  • Allen, Paula Gunn, “The Feminine Landscape of Leslie Marmon Silko’s Ceremony, in Studies in American Indian Literature, edited by Paula Gunn Allen, New York: Modern Language Association, 1983, pp. 127-33.

    Allen looks at the close relationship between Native American ideas of nature and Silko’s writing. She particularly focuses on how Silko uses feminine attributes of landscape.

  • Manley, Kathleen, “Leslie Marmon Silko’s Use of Color in Ceremony, in Southern Folklore, Vol. 46, No. 2, 1989, pp. 133-146.

    Manley looks at the symbolic value of various colors in Silko’s most famous novel. Her insights about the importance of colors in Laguna mythology, though, apply to Silko’s poetry, as well.

  • Nelson, Robert M., Place and Vision: The Function of Landscape in Native American Fiction, New York: Peter Lang, 1993.

    Nelson examines the uses that Native American writers have for landscape and nature. Although Nelson’s subject is specifically fiction, the importance of nature and landscape is perhaps even greater in American Indian poetry.

  • Swan, Edith, “Laguna Symbolic Geography and Silko’s Ceremony,” in American Indian Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 3, 1988, pp. 229-249.

    This discussion of the symbolic geography of Laguna mythology is crucial to any understanding of the philosophical underpinnings of the symbols in Silko’s writing.

Some links on Leslie Marmon Silko (from herehttp://www.fredonia.edu/department/english/simon/engl209f02/links.htm🙂 I really like the paper “Fences from Freedom.”

These background links (some repeated from above but organized differently and some of which unfortunately don’t work but might lead you in a valuable direction) come from Cal Poly Lit Prof Steven Marx:

  1. Background
    1. Laguna Indians
      1. http://www.ipl.org/div/pottery/map.htm
      2. http://www.cabq.gov/aes/s3pueblo.html
    2. Geography of the area
      1. http://www.gallupnm.org/pages/nativeamerica.htm
      2. http://www.ipl.org/div/pottery/map.htm
      3. http://www.lapahie.com/Mount_Taylor.cfm
    3. Silko’s biography
      1. http://web.nmsu.edu/~tomlynch/swlit.silko.html
      2. http://www.richmond.edu/~rnelson/woman.html
    4. Essays by Silko
      1. http://www.tucsonweekly.com/tw/09-26-96/cover.htm
      2. http://www.iath.virginia.edu/~erben/fences.htm

These discussion questions come from the website of the publisher. Choose one which was not discussed in class to be an “expert” in and prepare to lead the class discussion on it.

1. Readers sometimes find the reading of Ceremony a disorienting experience, in part because Silko frequently shifts scenes and time frames without warning. How does this technique help the reader to participate in Tayo’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences? Is its influence on the narrative consistently the same, and is it always effective?

2. How does Tayo’s status as a half-breed influence his choices, his thinking, and the way he is perceived by other characters in the novel? What tensions and conflicts does his mixed ancestry contribute to Silko’s story?

3. For what reasons do Tayo and his cousin Rocky join the Army? In what ways do they and the other young Native American men benefit from their armed service, and why do these benefits evaporate once the war is over?

4. Ceremony has been described as a story of struggle between two cosmic forces, one basically masculine and one essentially feminine. Assuming this to be true, what are the images of masculinity and femininity that Silko presents? Is this gendered analysis an adequate way of understanding the novel? Are there important ideas that it leaves out?

5. Ceremony offers the suggestion that the European settlers of America were created by the “witchery” of a nameless witch doctor. What is the effect of this assertion? Does it make white people demonic by intimating that they are agents of evil, incapable of doing good? Or, to the contrary, does it somehow absolve them from blame because they are merely tools of the “Destroyers” and are not really responsible for their actions?

6. How do the poems and legends that are interspersed in Silko’s text influence your reading of the novel? Why do you think Silko centers Emo’s tale of debauchery (pp. 57–59) on the page in the same way that she centers the older, sacred stories?

7. One aspect of white culture that Tayo especially resents is the way in which its educational practices, particularly instruction in the sciences, dismiss Native beliefs as “superstitions.” What are the similarities and differences between the way Tayo feels about the treatment of his ancestral beliefs and the way in which a believer in the creation stories of Genesis might respond to Darwinism? To what extent is the novel a story of the struggle between technology and belief?

8. Silko’s use of symbolic imagery often makes use of contrasting opposites: dryness and wetness; mountains and canyons; city and country; sunrise and darkness. Choose one of these contrasts (or another one that you have observed); what values does each of the two terms represent? Do their meanings remain constant?

9. Blindness and invisibility are recurring motifs in Ceremony. What does Silko suggest through her repeated uses of inabilities or refusals to see?

10. How do the cattle and other animal presences in the novel function to illustrate the traditional values of the Laguna tribe and their conflicts with the principles and desires of white Americans?

11. Tayo believes that Emo is “wrong, all wrong” in his attitudes toward Indian identity and other aspects of life. What is the nature and what are the causes of Emo’s wrongness?

12. Because Silko presents a number of Native American characters with drinking problems, her novel has been accused of playing into a negative stereotype. Do you think this charge has merit? Why or why not?

13. Silko, who has suffered from headaches, depression, and nausea similar to those that plague Tayo in her novel, has said, “I wrote this novel to save my life.” How is Ceremony a novel of salvation, for Tayo, for its author, and for its readers? What are the limits to the salvation that it appears to offer?

Toni Morrison’s “Beloved:” some ideas to consider & some questions to ask

Some ideas to consider and some questions to ask when reading Part One of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Thanks goes to Stanford’s Great Works Program and to the observations of UCSC Professor Paul Skenazy.

Basic timeline:  Sethe came to Sweet Home at 13, chose Halle at 14, and was married to Halle for six years bearing two sons and one daughter by the time she is 20 and escapes Sweet Home pregnant with a second daughter in 1855 to live at 124 Bluestone Road outside Cincinnati, Ohio.

In the beginning of the novel, when Paul D. from Sweet Home turns up 18 years later, Sethe is 38 and her youngest daughter Denver is 18.

1. Consider the epigraphs (read the Wikipedia definition here.) Review the first episode of Beloved carefully, and discuss your reactions to it. What expectations does the opening scene raise for the work to follow

2. Consider the novel’s complex structure. Why does Morrison choose this particular way of telling Sethe’s story? What does the way the story is told suggest about Morrison’s view of the human mind and its workings?

3. Slave narratives, such as Frederick Douglass’s autobiography, are the starting point of the African-American literary tradition. One of the biggest themes in Frederick Douglass’s story is the question of his name, or his identity. How does this issue relate to Beloved? If you are familiar with slave narratives, can you find ways that Morrison refers to, uses, or reworks the slave narrative tradition in Beloved?

4. Morrison makes a point of including traditional, folkloric, non-literary African-American culture in Beloved, some of which is derived from ancient African roots. What is the effect of this inclusion?

5. Among other things, Beloved is a ghost story. What are the special problems for writer and reader in having a ghost featured as a main character?

6. Give some thought to the presence of (and commentary on) white people in the novel. Why does the author make the choices she does in her presentations of whites?

7.  What have you observed about how and where Morrison uses the words “niggers”? Blacks? Negroes?

8. Part 1 is bracketed by two comings and goings: Paul D. and Beloved. What do you make of this? What might bracket Parts 2 and 3?

9. Early in the Part 1, Amy Denver tells Sethe, “Anything dead coming back to life hurts” (page 35 in my edition). How does this foreshadow much of the novel?

10. One site explains Sethe’s “chokecherry tree” this way: “Upon Sethe’s back is a maze of scars, referred to by Paul D as a “chokecherry tree.” It is the remains of an operation schoolteacher performed upon her back in an effort to determine how much she resembled an animal. The tree, which is ever-present but can never be seen, is symbolic of the burden which Sethe carries. It is her past, and it is the prejudice of white men against her. It is a mark made by people who believed her to be an animal.” What do you think of this analysis?

Some ideas to consider and some questions to ask when reading Parts Two and Three of Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Choose one question to be an “expert” on and prepare to lead a discussion about it.

SPOILER ALERT!! If you haven’t finished Parts Two and Three, go no further!

According to the website Ohio History Central, Margaret Garner escaped slavery with her husband and children, but a group of slave owners found the family shortly thereafter: “Before the slaveholders captured the runaways, Margaret Garner used a butcher knife to kill her young daughter. Garner also tried to kill her other children, but she was unsuccessful in her attempt. Garner did not want her children returned to a life of slavery. Margaret Garner’s story of her willingness to kill her own child to prevent her from being returned to a life in bondage received national attention. The story of Margaret Garner was the basis of the Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved by Ohio native Toni Morrison.”

1.    Now that you’ve completed the novel, review the first episode of Beloved carefully, and discuss your reactions to it again. How does it function in relation to book as a whole?

2.    What judgments does Toni Morrison make on Sethe’s killing of her daughter? How does Sethe’s community judge her? How does Paul D. judge her? How does she judge herself? How do you judge her?

3.    Give some thought to the presence of (and commentary on) white people in the novel. Why does the author make the choices she does in her presentations of whites?

4.    Reflect on the detailed attention that Morrison gives to experiences that will certainly claim your attention (and will probably shock and disturb you): Paul D. on the chain gang, locked in the box; Paul’s experience of the bit; the milking of Sethe; School Teacher’s recording of the slaves’ animal characteristics; Sixo’s death. What is the effect of those experiences, on those who live them and on us as readers?

5.    What’s the significance of the number 124? Of the little “i” ?

6.     Toward the end of Part 2, Morrison uses some unusual narrative devices. Take note of who is the narrator of each of the “sections” or chapters in Part 2 and who’s perspective does the narration come from. In the chapter full of short sentences starting with “you” or “I” or “we,” who is speaking? Why do you think Morrison writes in this way?

7.    When you finish the book, note your reaction to the last passage. How do you feel about the ending? Why do you suppose the book concludes (or doesn’t conclude) in this way?

8.    The novel asks many questions, among them, what it means to be a “man,” to be human, and what it means to be “free.” What do you think it takes to be human? What does it mean to be free?

Jen Bervin “nets” her own poems from Will’s sonnets

“The first time I encountered a Jen Bervin poem,” writes Philip Metres in his review of Bervin’s Nets, “was in a broadside format, among the books, chaps, seven inches, and other paraphernalia on the Ugly Duckling Presse table at the AWP conference in Chicago in 2004. In a small wooden frame, a short poem:


8                      In singleness the parts

Strike  each in each

speechless song, being many, seeming one

When I peered a little closer at the object, I noticed that there was a raised, but un-inked, undertext: Shakespeare’s Sonnet #8. Thus:

Music to hear, why hear’st thou music sadly?
Sweets with sweets war not, joy delights in joy:
Why lov’st thou that which thou receiv’st not gladly,
Or else receiv’st with pleasure thine annoy?
If the true concord of well-tuned sounds,
By unions married, do offend thine ear,
They do but sweetly chide thee, who confounds
In singleness the parts that thou shouldst bear.
Mark how one string, sweet husband to another,
Strikes each in each by mutual ordering;
Resembling sire and child and happy mother,
Who, all in one, one pleasing note do sing:
Whose speechless song, being many, seeming one,
Sings this to thee: “Thou single wilt prove none.”

Go see the rest of  Philip Metres review of Nets by Jen Bervin (Unpaginated. Ugly Duckling Presse. Paper. $10. ISBN 0-9727684-3-2).

I love this book, which Jen Hofer recommended to me when both Jens were on the Wave poetry bus tour a few years ago. It’s beautifully done, and the work is amazing–both to have a collection of Will S’s sonnets in this format and to experience Jen Bervin’s “nets” of them. Unfortunately, I am afraid I loaned it to a student and it is long gone…

What aspect I like most is how the “nets’ call to mind both Will’s time and ours. Here is one of Shakespeare’s most well known sonnets surrounding one of the most decisive moments of our time:

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

Zen Haiku by Santoka Taneda from “Mountain Tasting”

Some works of zen haiku by Santoka Taneda from the collection Mountain Tasting translated from the Japanese and introduced by John Stevens:

If there are mountains, I look at the mountains.:
On rainy days, I listen to the rain.
Spring, summer, autumn, winter.
Tomorrow too will be good.
Tonight too is good.

During the Japanese-Chinese war, no protests were allowed, and poets were expected to support the war effort. In response, Taneda wrote a series of powerful poems. Here are three of them:

The moon’s brightness–
Does it know
Where the bombing will be?

Winter rain clouds–
Thinking: Going to China
To be torn to pieces.

We move silently
in the cold rain
Carrying the white boxes in front.

Santoka Taneda (1882-1940)

Some Ventura County mid-July Lit Events


Ventura’s Favorite Poem Project
“Share your favorite poem with Ventura”
Tuesday, July 14 at 5:30pm-7:30pm
Zoey’s Café and Loft
no feature

Robert Peake, featured reader
Tuesday Night Poets
Tuesday, July 14 7:30pm
open mic follows

Feature: F. Albert Salinas
Open mic to follow
Host by Friday
7:30PM Saturday, July 18th
Bell Arts Factory
432 Ventura Ave, Ventura

Broken Word Happy Hour is a spoken word reading series featuring fiction and poetry writers from around Southern California. Thursday, July 23rd at 7PM Farmer & Cook. Come enjoy a summer evening on the patio, listening to stories and poems while enjoying Farmer & Cook’s signature vegetarian snacks as well as organic beer and wine. They have THE BEST chai. More info: Broken Word website.

Theater 150 presents Hamlet

hamlet poster web-1.jpgHamlet is coming to Theater 150!
Previews July 16 and 17: 8PM
July 18: 8PM -Opening Night Gala
Runs July 19-August 8
Thursday-Saturday: 8PM, Sunday 2PM
Tickets $15-$29 Gala-$50
Sundays, as always, 2-for-1

Ojai, California, nestled in a valley seventy five miles north of Los Angeles, lures visitors from all over with its world-class spas, idyllic natural beauty, and friendly, small-town feel. In June, music lovers flock to Ojai for the famous Music Festival, art lovers come in October for the Studio Artist’s Tour, and now theater lovers have their own reason to make the trek to the village locals refer to as “Shangri-La.”

Theater 150, already well loved by Ojai residents for its top-notch local productions, recently made a bold leap into full professional status, and is mounting its first Equity production: Hamlet, opening July 18. Guest director Jessica Kubzansky calls Hamlet “The best play in the world” and promises “a thrill ride” for actors and audiences alike. The award-winning Kubzansky, Co-Artistic Director of Pasadena’s Boston Court Theater, has long dreamt of directing Hamlet. She is “…profoundly moved by the rich and deep and flawed humanity in this play” and has temporarily relocated to Ojai to bring Shakespeare’s most famous characters to new life for Theater 150 audiences.

Chris Nottoli and Deb Norton, Theater 150’s dynamic artistic team, chose Hamlet to mark the already top-notch local theater’s debut as a Small Professional Theater or SPT (the distinction the Actors’ Equity Union gives to small, emerging professional theaters), not only for its 400-year track record, but because they believe there is something very timely about the piece itself.

“It’s a story about a guy who’s perfectly happy in his ivory tower, who gets wrenched home to discover an enormous mess which doesn’t seem to bother anyone else. He isn’t prepared to deal with it. But in the course of the play, he chooses to step up and face it,” explains Nottoli. “ ‘The readiness is all,’” he quotes. “The readiness to face your destiny, to make seemingly impossible choices, to do what it takes.” Nottoli and Norton see a parallel in the challenge Hamlet faced, to the challenges facing the arts in today’s economy “People ask how we are taking these giant steps forward when many other arts organizations are forced to send up the white flag,” says Nottoli, “and it’s simply this: We only had two choices, and the other one was quit. The mission of this non-profit is to create the best possible productions in Ojai and going unequivocally pro was the next step.” The community has responded enthusiastically by tripling of the size of T150’s board of directors and contributing huge new sums of money. “This is clearly what the people want and we are honored to deliver,” says Nottoli. “As a theater, we chose to ‘take arms against the sea of troubles’ now, and step up to the call, rather than hesitate until it was too late.”

Interpretations of Hamlet and the title character have changed drastically throughout the play’s history. The Jacobeans loved Hamlet’s madness and melancholy, Restoration critics saw the play and character as primitive and lacking in decorum. In the 18th century, Hamlet was recast as a hero, a pure and brilliant man thrust into damning circumstance. By the 19th century, the Romantics loved the character for his complex internal struggles. In the twentieth century, Freudian interpretations fetishized Hamlet’s struggle as an Oedipal fixation on his mother.

Kubzansky has seen dozens of productions of Hamlet in the years she’s been waiting for the perfect chance to direct it, and her Hamlet, played, as she says, “by the truly astonishing Leo Marks,” lives in “a young and vibrant kingdom in a time when monarchies matter. He is a perpetual student who suddenly has to grapple with affairs of state.” The production is set in a world inspired by the 16th century but with a fluid modern influence, so that the people don’t feel encrusted in the past. “This is a passionate, alive, terrifying, dangerous place to be,” she says, “both in Hamlet’s head and out of it, and I want the world to be immediate, visceral, evocative.”

The 150’s black-box theater is being completely re-configured to accommodate this play. Audiences will appreciate the intimacy the new configuration offers. “We’ve done ‘theater in your lap’ and ‘tempests in a teacup,’ so why not ‘fencing at your feet?’ asks Nottoli, referring to the theater’s tiny (42 seat) original home. “We can do it safely because the actors are professionals, and they are training non-stop. There is no way to ‘fake it’ when you’re this close. I guarantee, you’ve never seen anything like it in Ojai.”

Which is why they are doing it. Nottoli and Norton, singled out by Ventana magazine as two of the forward-moving “9 for 2009” cite the words of Orson Welles as their guiding principle: “Don’t give them what they want, give them what they never thought was possible.” Their vision is to bring world-class professional theater to Ojai, both for the theater lovers of the community and the visitors who are already lured by Ojai’s international reputation as an artistic Mecca.

“Our Hamlet brings the best artists, working at the top of their game, to Ojai,” says Norton. “It’s our vision coming true.”

Those artists are finding Ojai to their liking as well. Kubzanski, when asked why she would come to Ojai to Ojai, laughed, “I can’t see why people would leave here. It’s beautiful, relaxed… and I love how many brilliant people I’ve met here.”

Leo Marks (AEA), playing Hamlet, goes for a run in the hills every morning, and says “It’s great to get out of the city [Los Angeles] to do this. It’s a huge show and we’re putting it together in a fairly short time. You can’t afford to lose any rehearsals. Ojai, allows serenity to focus you, not panic.” Tim Cummings (AEA), who plays Polonius adds: “To be living in Ojai, doing Shakespeare with Jessica Kubzansky, and getting paid for it, transposes Hamlet –our most renown tragedy– into an exhilarating fantasy.”

Theater 150 is named for the state highway that runs through town. The artistic team has plans to bring theater lovers along that highway for both a summer Classics Festival, and a winter New Works Festival. Hamlet is the summer festival’s first “shot over the bow,” explains Nottoli. Ojai embraces the 150’s vision of a world-class theater whole-heartedly. Local merchants are participating in a cross-marketing “Hamlet Trading Card” program, spreading awareness of the play and encouraging residents and visitors to visit their businesses. Several local Inns and B&B’s have gotten involved as well, offering “Play and Stay” discounts for guests coming to town to see Hamlet.

“We are really looking forward to this production” says Ojai City Council member and former Mayor, Sue Horgan, “Theater 150 already brings a lot to the community, and we are glad to have another great offering for our visitors. If you’ve been looking for a reason to visit Ojai, and you love great theater, the time is now.”

by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Jessica Kubzansky
Featuring Leo Marks as Hamlet

Theater 150
316 E. Matilija Street
Ojai, CA 93023

Previews July 16 and 17: 8PM
July 18: 8PM -Opening Night Gala
Runs July 19-August 8
Thursday-Saturday: 8PM
Sunday 2PM
Tickets $15-$29 Gala-$50
Sundays, as always, 2-for-1

For more information or reservations
Please call the Theater at: 805-646-4300
Or visit: http://www.theater150.org

Theater 150’s flagship professional production features a dozen of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, and soon you will be able to collect all twelve!

Participating merchants will have the trading cards available free with store purchase. Will you get Horatio? Ophelia? Laertes? Rosencrantz? Guildenstern? Claudius, Gertrude, Polonius, the Player King and Queen, and of course, the Melancholy Dane himself round out the deck. But who is on the twelfth card? For if you collect all twelve, you will be able to piece together the puzzle on the back, and collect a prize. Prizes available for certain combinations as well. Stay tuned, more details to come.

“There are more things on Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”