National Poetry Month gathers local poets at BC


Portia Choi recites poems during the poetry reading for the National Poetry Month event held in the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities.

Elka Wyatt, Reporter

Local poets gathered to kick off National Poetry Month by reading poetry inspired by life in the San Joaquin Valley.

About 30 people, including Mike Russo, owner of Russo’s Books, attended the poetry reading that took place at the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities on the Bakersfield College campus on April 9.

The theme was Valley Life: Poetry About Our Community.

Don Thompson was the first poet of the evening. Thompson, a former instructor of English 60 at Bakersfield College, was born in Bakersfield. He has been writing poetry for about 50 years and has been a published poet since the ’60s. Thompson has several books in print as well as a few e-books that can be purchased through his website

Local Color, one of Thompson’s books, is a collection of poetry based on Kern County history. Thompson read selections from another one of his books, “Keeping the Secrets,” which, according to his website, is part three of a San Joaquin trilogy beginning with “Backroads and “Everything Barren Will Be Blessed.”

Professor Emeritus Jack Hernandez, who has taught English, philosophy and American literature at several colleges, including CSUB and Bakersfield College, the next speaker, told the audience that he writes in coffeehouses. He said that writing his poetry helped him deal with his son’s suicide. His selections included “This Mountain and “Jastro Park,” which he had written about meeting with a colleague to play racquetball at Bakersfield Racquet Club before heading to adjacent Jastro Park to drink beer and talk.

“The best thing about poetry is when it is being shared with people,” said Hernandez.

Marit MacArthur, an English professor at CSUB, read her selections “In the Lobby and “Two Pastors at Starbucks,” which was about a conversation she overheard between two pastors at a local Starbucks.

She was followed by Matt Woodman, also an English professor at CSUB, who read his poems “Ode to a Kit Foxand “Roadrunner.” Another poem he read, “Drought was inspired by the recent drought in California.

Jill Egland, a Bakersfield native and playwright who has had two plays produced off Broadway and a few produced locally, read her poem “Lost and Found” which is about Kern County, as well as her poems “Seagulls” and “Asparagus.

Professor Emeritus Nancy Edwards, a former English professor at Bakersfield College, read “Light Before Sunrise,” “Afterglow” and “Taco Bell Moon.”

The last speaker of the night was Portia Choi, who became interested in poetry in high school.

“If one is able to get in touch with one’s feelings, write about it and share it, it is part of our common humanity,” said Choi. “Poetry is being able to feel.”

Her poem “Line Dance” is about being welcomed into the community.

Choi is the president of Kern Poetry, which she started in 2010 at the encouragement of two poets Lee McCarthy and Helen Shanley, both of Bakersfield.

“I want to thank Norman Levan Center for the Humanities for hosting the kickoff for National Poetry Month in Kern County. I would also like to thank Dr. Jack Hernandez, the poets who read, and the wonderful, wonderful people who came to hear our poetry being read,” said Choi.