Village Poets Welcomes Two Celebrated Poets in February
Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga is delighted to invite poets and friends of poetry to our monthly reading held in person, on the 4th Sunday, Feb 25, 2024 at 4:30 pm. at Bolton Hall Museum, located at 10110 Commerce Ave, Tujunga, Los Angeles, CA 91042-2313
In February we are honored to have internationally celebrated poet, James Ragan, as well widely acknowledged poet, Amy Gerstler for this special reading. Come celebrate the month of love with two amazing writers and join in the open reading or just come to listen.
Two segments of open mic will be available and refreshments will be served. Suggested donation $5 per person for the cost of refreshments and to donate to the Little Landers Society that manages the Bolton Hall Museum, a Los Angeles Historical Landmark built in 1913.
Appearing in 36 anthologies and 15 languages, James Ragan is an internationally recognized author of 10 books of poetry, including The Hunger Wall and The Chanter’s Reed, and 3 plays staged in the U.S, Moscow, Beijing, Athens etc. With poems in Poetry, The Nation, World Lit Today etc, he has read at the U.N, Carnegie Hall, for CNN, NPR, PBS, BBC and 7 Heads of State including Vaclav Havel and Mikhail Gorbachev. Honors include 2 Litt.D’s, 2 Fulbright Professorships, an NEA Grant, Emerson Poetry Prize, 9 Pushcart Prize nominations, Swan Foundation Humanitarian Award, a Poetry Society of America citation, finalist for the Walt Whitman Book Award, London’s Troubadour Int. Poetry Prize, etc. He’s the subject of the Arina Films documentary, Flowers and Roots, awarded 17 Int. Film Festival recognitions, and Platinum Prize at Houston’s Int. Film Festival. He directed USC’s Professional Writing Program (25 yrs), served as Poet-in-Residence at Cal Tech (3 yrs) and 26 summers as Dist. Professor of Poetry at Prague’s Charles U. Czech President Vaclav Havel honored him as “Ambassador of the Arts” at the 1994 World PEN Congress. Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney praises his poems for “sparing no passion in believing they sing,” and Nobel nominee Miroslav Holub lauds his “domination of the art of poetic narration with insight that marks major poets.”
Poems by James Ragan
The River in the Tree
In the hollow where the dark spits up
cat’s teeth in white and alder green,
I hear the wind click down along the willow spars
like crackling leaves in chimney fire,
and know the river in the tree.
It is May always and the same willow
sprays its haunt of lilacs down the watercourse.
All month the dozers sweep the hillside up
and toss it down in puddles. It is said
the stream is swamp and old for rooting.
In sleep I hear its false voice calling
like the dance of air when the crickets sing.
All night the swish slag pours into my ear,
and sparks of evergreen and potato pokes
drip in mud pouched like melting butter.
Above the iris path I hear the quiet passing
of the swing rope slicked by finger oil.
With bony child’s feet I served the sky
and leaped for the greater good
to the solid slag of the city side.
I know the past needs leaving like the river
my body makes to root all grounding leaves.
Today my neighbor tilts his finger to the air,
and praising axe handles, fells the windless willow.
It lies old for rotting, the good for nothing.
from Womb-Weary, Carol Publ. 1990, Finalist, Walt Whitman Center Book Award 1987
Its mind has from the little bark of thinking
created the whale, a water tree, a floating
paradox. The ocean seems to believe there is no shore
worthy of thought and beyond the thought no memory.
It has seen the otter’s sand diminished, the sea mews tarred,
the mountain space above the beach a swale of fire
burled out of poppies or the greens of weed and kelp
as if persistence by a larger will were reigning,
as if from whales a long thick oak were being carved.
From any distance where the rower steers the waves
away from ground, a reflection enters, breaks apart,
and on the stirruped shafts of light, a whale dives up
to branch the shores of memory extinguished in our hearts.
from The Hunger Wall Grove Press, 1995
to a Slovak mother
Born of wheat root and summer rusk,
born of rain, sheened gold as hair swirled
in the soft comb you rake and truss,
you delight in a mirror or photograph
or the touch of any son. When you bale
bread one by one with prayer hands,
the heart of hair on every child’s arm lingers.
You blush at a wedding dance
and love counting fingers
when I play the boy and promise to die young.
All day in the shadow wood of the green martyr,
you kneel, your babushka slung
high across your shoulders. You can never die.
The earth would cease to grow and only know water.
The shale beneath the house has claimed your hair
possessively, the way spring water fawns moss
for breath or the wash of fresh air,
the way childskin seeks a bed to smoothly lie across.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Mother’s Day, May 14, 1989., From Womb-Weary, Carol Publ. 1990
If For Each of Us
a rope could swing us
long and light across a widening trough
of all that fails us in our lives,
I would want to land upon the Isle of Echo,
lush with repetition, green with being
original in birth and twice the twin
a wave might dance along the skerry.
I would want a canyon tall for hawks to carry
long the deep tattoo of voices on the air.
I would want an ear to hear
what words to read again to memory,
what verse to carol, thoughts to root
before the sparrow’s flight the mind has taken
comes to rest on truth. I would want
to hear a vowel repeat in consonance
with alliteration’s frothy throat.
And should the landing fail its footing,
I would want to know what inspiration
in shorter flight one syllable might repeat
as in the swash the flat-stone makes
to skip across the light in water
or the voice a wind gives to birch and linden.
I would want the distance to all understanding
to narrow just enough to fail at failure.
I would want a melody of chances
to learn to love again what first I dreamed,
free as wonder, soft as touch,
and of all things simple
to care again for them as much.
from Too Long a Solitude, Oklahoma University Press, 2009. Finalist, Oklahoma Book Award 2010) originally appeared in Poetry Magazine Pushcart Poetry Prize Nomination, 2005
© 2024 James Ragan
Amy Gerstler's most recent book of poems is Index of Women (Penguin Random House, 2021). Her work has appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, including the New Yorker and Paris Review. She is currently collaborating with composer, actor, and arranger Steve Gunderson on a musical. Her previous books of poems include Scattered at Sea, Dearest Creature, Ghost Girl, Medicine, Crown of Weeds, Nerve Storm, and Bitter Angel. In 2019, she received a Foundation for Contemporary Arts CD Wright Grant. In 2018, she was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her book Dearest Creature (Penguin, 2009) was named a New York Times Notable Book, and was short listed for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in Poetry. Her book of poems Bitter Angel won a National Book Critics Circle Award. In addition to poetry she also writes fiction, nonfiction, plays, journalism and art criticism.
Poems by Amy Gerstler
Ode to the Pillow
Must a pillow, that cushiony head-welcomer, always concede to our cheeks? Can it nurse no higher ambition than to impersonate a marshmallow? Might a pillow never stand up for itself? Does it possess no intrinsic personality? Must it shun sharpness, remain nothing but slump and mush, never displaying its anger or will? The sad fact seems to be that for all its virtues the pillow lacks backbone. Smooth and cool to the touch, clad in a fresh pillow slip, my pillow for tonight exhales a whiff of the steam iron's disciplinary rigor, but transformed, its cotton sweetening the iron's hot metal breath---the breath of a prison matron--into something more like the breath of a meadow. A shock absorber, a pillow is more forgiving than a priest (much is spilled onto it: think dream leakage.) And a pillow functions well as a confessional. The sick and the helpless may be buoyed up, as if by a life raft, in clinging to their pillow, or they may be smothered with one into a final goodnight. Like the uncomplaining potato, the pillow is willing to take shape according to people's needs, enduring mashing after mashing. Pillows have no sense of their own splendor. Employed as ineffectual weapon a pillow can of course burst and snow feathers, drizzle fluff or rain buckwheat husks...and herein lies the pillow's mysterious connection to weather. It's believed pillows subsist on a diet of fog and cloud, though no one has ever seen them eat.
Published in “DMQ Review”
I have a fish’s tail, so I’m not qualified to love you.
But I do. Pale as an August sky, pale as flour milled
a thousand times, pale as the icebergs I have never seen,
and twice as numb–my skin is such a contrast to the rough
rocks I lie on, that from far away it looks like I’m a baby
riding a dinosaur. The turn of centuries or the turn
of a page means the same to me, little or nothing.
I have teeth in places you’d never suspect. Come. Kiss me
and die soon. I slap my tail in the shallows–which is to say
I appreciate nature. You see my sisters and me perched
on rocks and tiny island here and there for miles:
untangling our hair with our fingers, eating seaweed.
Published in Bitter Angel (North Point Press & Carnegie Mellon Press)
Doing fantastic, thanks for asking! I just chugged
a glass of dinosaur urine and feel new-baptized!
If you're ever lucky enough get your hands
on a quart of this stuff don't be squeamish.
It makes penicillin seem like skim milk!
No virus can slay you with dino piss in your system.
Last night I participated in the 8 pm scream-out
again. For a quarter of an hour the two halves
of my neighborhood yell as loud as they can
across our little canyon to prove to ourselves
as well as the folks we can't see anymore
that we're still kicking after nine months
of pandemic lockdown. Now my throat feels
strip-mined, but I'm glad cause my sense
of connection got fed--not a whole meal,
just a handful of crumbs--but hey, that's way
better than nothing. After yesterday evening's
hoot and holler session, a dude on the far side
of the ravine lugged a pair of ginormous speakers
up to his roof and blasted excerpts from two
of Dr. King's famous sermons, plus some lines
from a Cesar Chavez speech I could understand
only half of because alas my Spanish is not what I
might wish. Then he proceeded to DJ a weirdass
menu of songs, so loud the balcony was quaking
under my feet, ranging from "Stayin' Alive" by
the squeaky-voiced Bee Gees (who do sound like
insects) to Aretha Franklin belting "Chain of Fools"
(a comment on the hopefully outgoing government,
was my guess). Joan Baez sang "We Shall Overcome"
in her reedy soprano. Then Aretha again with
"Amazing Grace." When realized I could actually
see the ant-sized guy responsible for curating
this spoken-word-and-song broadcast from across
the arroyo, shirtless on his roof with a quartet
of friends, I admit I cried a little bit. Then I went
back inside and downed another mug of sauropod
pee. It's a lovely amber color, with notes of gingko,
horsetail and fern. That drink sure has kept me
going during this dark time.
Published in “Court Green”
© 2024 Amy Gerstler