The release for my chapbook Three (Tattered Pages Press: http://www.tatteredpress.org/hannah-kezema) was on Saturday, 11/18/17 at Alley Cat General Bookstore and Gallery in San Francisco, hosted by Kevin Killian, who runs a weekly poetry reading series there. I read with Andrea Abi-Karam and Lourdes Figueroa, who are both local Bay Area poets/artists. During the reading I had a mirror placed on a 6-foot easel – to begin the reading I recited one section of the book with my back to the audience looking into the mirror; moving around so that I was not directly reading to anyone and could not see my own reflection. Three, which I look at as a broken triptych or a failed pyramid, is very much about unrequited relations with others, obsession, and loss. I liked the idea of looking into a mirror and seeing everyone but myself; for them to either see themselves or me, or both.
Some Naropa alumni who were present: Angel Dominguez and Jamie Townsend, more Bay Area poets. 🙂 Amanda Ngoho Reavey, who is also a Naropa alumni is the Founder and Editor of Tea and Tattered Pages, based in Milwaukee, WI, and Three is a sector of the Tattered Pages chapbook series. Also: Kevin Killian who hosted the event has taught at SWP, Naropa’s adjunct faculty Sara Veglahn blurbed the book, as well as Teresa Carmody, who has read at Naropa in the past.
w/ Autumn falling close on our heels we gathered at Innisfree Poetry Cafe on the Hill to tune ourselves to the work we do which makes us change our range of community — for the 100K Poets for Change Global Event. As a writing school at a university whose founding tenements is to using writing as process for hard truths crafted & carried through the human projective, how could we not use this as an opportunity to showcase the activism and activity of our students?
BEATS opened up the global event by hosting a series of featured readers from the ranks of the Kerouac School: Swanee MFA’16, Eric Shoemaker MFA’18, Shawnee Hamer MFA’17, Jeffrey Pethybridge, Caleb Worst MFA ’18, & Nathalie MFA ’19
watch (most) of the features on their Facebook channel: https://www.facebook.com/aplaceofurgency/videos/
at 43:00 you’ll catch Wheeler Light BA ’17 introducing the Slam competition which featured eight poets in head-to-head competition. Slammers from Mercury Cafe & Block 1750 as well as JKS’ own Garen Lavender MFA ’17 took the stage to win their own copy of Bombay Gin. Popular votes were close, but there could only be one winner: Marvin Connor.
As one walked upon the scene for the release party staged at Innisfree for Ella Longpre’s How to Keep You Alive (HTKYA-press-release), one saw a throng of people wearing glittery multi-colored party hats, greeting each other like family. Moving among them was Ella herself, garbed in white showing those who had gathered how to use the projector set and headphones, gesturing toward the photos playing on a white sheet pinned to the red-brick wall. Images displayed, “existing with a technicality and only with great effort” to shut out the chatter and grind of the surrounding din, listening to her voice, “like a floating dream, waiting for a symbol to occur”.
Among the ephemera of the evening were also pages of the text, hanging on the walls, as it was originally intended to exist, hanging as curtains to the many shelves of poetry living behind them.
And it is the collective experience of these particles of a work larger than a body or a house, but, “the demonstration of time as a mentor” working to give a synesthesia of experience. A performance that you don’t need so much as an ordering of holes, filled perforations. Listening to Ella, one has a sense of poetry that is more than Poetry, but “alchemical as the sun’s light changes your fluid”. One part nostalgia-stripped Camelot, another part slope to the window of a ventricle; wholly knit tissue-screen; a technology of windows dreaming of what can keep us alive.
The evening was opened up by Brian, owner of Innisfree who knows Ella well as employer-friend-ally-comrade. In his many words of praise and appreciation for her knowledge and skill as only a book-loving barista can possess, he said, “I hope when she writes her taxes that she will write ‘Poet'”. The essence of his words led us to an elevation of her character as one who takes her path with a cultivated fortitude and humble virtuosity.
When Ella took the stage for some choice readings of the book, it became clear the power a book can have as evidence of survival. That “a mirror adds a negative room to a room”; that negative space is of a dangerous, waking lie. Violence itself is a lie and, “ecstasy means leaving our stain on a room, nervous system of a house”. So if the writing itself exposes the mirror, then her reading was a dream-window and everyone in the room a lucid dreamer.
And if Innisfree is a house (which it is to all those who find sanctuary there), then there is no doubt Ella Longpre released her first book in a place of home.
If you want to get yourself a copy, pick one up at Innisfree, or snag one of the 5 left in stock on Amazon.
The Spontaneous Poem at Convocation at the start of term is an old Naropa tradition, initiated by our founder, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and carried on usually by one faculty or staff of the Kerouac School as conduit. We do this to bring us all into a collective moment and to create a context we can carry throughout the year until the next turn of the proverbial wheel. In our case it is the dharmachakra representing the eight-fold path:
Samma-Ditthi — Complete or Perfect Vision
Samma-Sankappa — Perfected Emotion or Aspiration,
Samma-Vaca — Perfected or whole Speech.
Samma-Kammanta — Integral Action.
Samma-Ajiva — Proper Livelihood.
Samma-Vayama — Complete or Full Effort, Energy or Vitality.
Samma-Sati — Complete or Thorough Awareness.
Samma-Samadhi — Full, Integral or Holistic Samadhi.
Hence, the Spontaneous Poem always has eight lines. They are composed by Naropa Community members who are present at covocation who have submitted their names to a collective sort-of pot. They are consequently pulled blindly, at random until the poem has been completed.
This year Swanee was the Kerouacian representative. She led everyone into the space of composition by instructing us, “…to step into your place of inspiration. Try and speak from an image or a feeling. If there was something said during convocation which inspired you, strike out from there. Whatever is calling you is your message, your transmission for this moment. Please keep it to a phrase or a sentence. Please also speak slowly and maybe repeat the line as I will be recording by type as we speak. Don’t worry about how poetic it may or may not sound. Whatever you say will be some kind of truth. When each consequent name is called, you do not need to necessarily follow the lines or logic which came before you. In the spirit of our founders, your first thought is the best thought. In the spirit of Jack Collom, poetry is everywhere. Let us take a collective breath and begin:”
For the video of the composition of the poem, please visit our YouTube channel.
And so it began. One after the other names were read aloud and lines given by Dennis Kerr, Isaac Eide, Paul Gomez, Judith Simmer Brown, Richard Brown, Kate Blassl, Allen Ginsberg, Charlotte Rotterdam.
It was an unusual moment indeed to pull Ginsberg’s name. Ever prepared for such events from beyond the veil, Swanee performed some bibliomancy with one of Ginsberg’s pocket book series published by City Lights, “Plutonian Ode & other poems” (bibliomancy is a divination technique where you hold your intention or question and find a place in the book at random for your answer/message). He was very clear, “this line right here, where your thumb is”. Professor Schelling noted how Swanee paled before reading the line, “too many happy Nazis”, holding her violently trembling hands for the room to see her shaken composure, the serenity of positioning in the poem coming to a severe point, the whole room responding audibly. No doubt this is exactly the point Ginsberg would be making if he were present with us in life.
Here’s a clip of Paul Fowler, BA in Music faculty leading the Performing Arts Center in an intonation of the poem: ‘Too Many Happy Nazis‘ (If you’d like to see a live stream of the whole convocation, visit the live stream.)
It was a strange parallel to the Faculty entering for convocation to the tune of the Game of Thrones theme song and the sense that here is the Night’s Watch, those who are attending to the real work to be done in a world full of distraction and games, the swords in the darkness, the watchers on the wall, the shields that guard the realms of men… & Ginsberg seems to have a very clear idea of who the White Walkers are. While we recommit ourselves to the work which reconnects in our collective moment at convocation, Ginsberg reminds us why this is so important in the collective national & global moment around us.
The Spontaneous Poem has been sent to Giovannina Jobson, Naropa University’s Contemplative Practice Coordinator for its next evolution– print copy! and we will announce when that is made publicly available to see. When it is, it will be interesting to look back and see how these lines themselves correlate with the eight-fold path (hint: Ginsberg’s line was the 7th!).
Until then here is the copy of Allen Ginsberg’s poem in full which supplied the line for his biblio-mantic contribution (please note the line which comes AFTER ‘too many happy Nazis’!):
“I paused as the surrounding darkness
only made the incredible light even more
various & glorious, there, up the stairs
& through the great glittering gate.”
— Jack Collom, from “A Sled in the Ozarks”
Jack Collom many things to many…and to the
mountains & birds he brought his many friends to…
we thank you in that chorus of discovery…
We were in touch before Naropa & the Jack Kerouac School of
Disembodied Poetics coalesced, landing in Boulder, and lucky we were that Jack Collom was there on the other end to greet us, and join the great experiment of contemplative eco-poetics and “crazy wisdom” lineages…
He was The Poet Guide of the negative ions of the magnificent
spine of the continent and he was editing the magazine “the” and already in touch with poets everywhere.
He was with us at Naropa during our New Weathers themed
program and passed on as the Summer Writing Program ended. His last reading on this earth during our opening week.
Keep yodeling into the goat void of becoming, dear Jack!
You are missed & remembered….
What to say about the beginning of our memorial except with the pure and simple presence of a doe and her twin fawns? The Performing Arts Center was teeming with people as every seat filled to capacity, the walls too, and even the hallway out into the pavilion. Everyone who could afford a good view of the stage could see a handsomely framed copy of his visage, shadow-boxed feathers one is sure to have seen by his writing table, and a heaping basket of “weeds” (russian sage, black-eyed susans, sunflowers, cattails, other thrush and fuss, etc) lovingly collected by his wife, Jennifer Heath.
Jack was further honored by readings and music from two of his children, Chris and Sierra, children and adults who he has taught, poets he worked with, everyone a testimony to his epithet as ‘The Great Collaborator’.
Jovan Mayes, poet laureate of Aurora made an announcement with Val Wheeler and her students about a permanent tribute to Jack honoring his love for nature and habitats of winged-wild things (possibly a tree with bench?). If you are interested in learning more and/or becoming involved, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
And of course there was yodeling by Josepha Conrad and Ken Bernstein, closed the evening for us getting the room of 200+ to yodel en suite in Jack’s spirit.
The Collaborative Poems:
I. Exquisite Corpse
The first line is always the hardest to write and the last is no picnic either Picnics are my grandmother’s temple She always loved candy before lunch
II. I remember…
Jack telling our class that we were “too serious for our own good” & yodeled instructions
I remember after the ceremony at Naropa as we gathered for refreshments and shared thoughts on Jack, I saw a woman from across the crowd, among the hubbub she dropped her tray of food and drink. And as the crowd passed over her puddle of splattered purple juice. Each shoe tracking with it, a tiny sticky imprint of the juice. forever-part of it immortal on their soles. As Jack stays, a small imprint on us. Forever.
I remember when the light sat so low it almost shook its shadow
I remember being proud all the time to be American to be alive
I remember Jack’s poems everyone of them all at once.
I remember playing the “dictionary” game where you get points for the most liked definition without regard for truth.
III. Q / A
Where’s my wallet? Why do you search for it? I lost it in the self I want back Where shall I go now? To the land between yesterday and tomorrow What is Jack Collom’s favorite mollusk? Molly, of course.They visit every 32nd Thursday What are the names of the members of Cheap Trick? Nonsense, Enlightenment, Death, Togetherness… in so many words. What is the dove on the roof saying / so lonely and so often? “Let it be, y’all. Or don’t” Then / it flew off… With all the money and feathers! / Now what? a silver Chevrolet star, shooting to Alamosa Mimosa On a silver-backed / what? A silver sliver of star- / light. What else? (not a question) What happens when we die? We float up into the sky What do the sunflowers / gossip about? Bees’ feet, Jack’s light Endless Acrostics under the soil
J upiter fan, we give
A ll our love
C oming home to make a turnip tart
K abul is not so far
C onsidering the fact that heaven’s / right here
O ddly out of / whatever was / not, when however / it was / poetry … he laughs… he laughs
It is a long poem (25 sections, written in Swansea, Wales, between 2009 and 2011).
There are many threads within the poem, but one of the main threads is: how does the human mind absorb something as vast as climate change? There is an introduction that explains how the poem developed and what it is about.
One of the sections hearkens back to my time at Naropa, in Andrew Schelling’s Eco-poetry class, when we went on a tour of Rocky Flats (before it was turned into a combined superfund site and wildlife refuge).
Bio: I am the author of a novel, A Fish Trapped Inside the Wind (Parthian Books, 2011) and two books of poetry, On the Side of the Crow (Hanging Loose Press, 2006) and All the Beautiful Dead (Bitter Oleander Press, 2016).