By Camille Gavin
As its name implies, National Poetry Month is meant to be observed across the country. But here in Bakersfield, it's strictly local.
What else could it be with folks as celebrated as poet Don Thompson and author Gerald Haslam featured at the kickoff Sunday afternoon at Russo's Books?
What: Presentations and book-signings by poet Don Thompson and writer Gerald Haslam
When: 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Russo's Books, 9000 Ming Ave.
Schedule of events
1 to 4 p.m. April 7 at The Foundry, 1602 20th St.: Free workshop on the power of concentrated expression and performance strategies in preparation for the Spoken Word Event & SLAM Competition, hosted by Kevin Shah. Instructors include Nick Belardes and Tony O'Brien.
6:45 to 8 p.m. April 12 at Russo's Books. Featuring James Meetze, author of "Dayglow," winner of the 2010 Sawtooth Poetry Prize. His reading will be followed by open mic, with signups beginning at 6:45. Free. All poems need to be family-friendly, and prose is welcome.
7:30 to 10 p.m. April 13 at The Empty Space, 706 Oak St. A spoken-word event followed by SLAM competition. To sign up, contact Kevin Shah at 809-3784 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations to The Empty Space will be accepted. Adult themes or language; may be inappropriate for children.
7 to 8:30 p.m. April 14 at Russo's. Free workshop on poetry writing and performance for poets of all levels, taught by Nancy Edwards and LisaAnn LoBasso. All ages.
6:30 to 8:30 p.m. April 20 at Russo's. Students of all ages are welcome to read. Limit of two family-friendly poems per student. Free.
1 to 3 p.m. April 22 at Bakersfield Center for Spiritual Living, 222 Eureka St. Free workshop on poetry and healing. Participants are encouraged to bring their poems and songs and share with the group. Taught by Portia Choi.
6 to 8:30 p.m. April 28 at Russo's. Poets and writers from the community will present two poems or short prose pieces each on a previously assigned theme. The poets and writers have been pre-selected and invited to participate. Free and open to the public.
For more details, visit tinyurl.com/april-poetry or call Choi at 717-1346or Edwards at 831-1067.
POETRY MONTH KICKOFF
True, Thompson lives on a farm in Buttonwillow and Haslam, who grew up in Oildale, now makes his home in Northern California. But you get my drift. If you're anything like me, you appreciate the really good stuff these two write. And it's nearly all about this rich, fertile valley we love so well. Well, most of us do -- love it, that is.
A few days ago I talked to Thompson about the early stages of his writing career and was surprised to learn that Haslam recognized the poet's talents even then.
"I'm grateful to Gerald Haslam," Thompson said. "He contacted me in the '70s and put two of my poems in a book he was writing at the time, 'California Heartland.' Meant a lot to me, gave me a sense of validation."
The anthology, co-authored by Haslam and James D. Houston, is subtitled: "Writing from the Great Central Valley." Haslam has since published several fiction and nonfiction books relating to California and the West. His latest is "In Thought and Acton: The Enigmatic Life of S.I. Hayakawa," a biography of the San Francisco State professor who became famous for his controversial role in the protest movement of the 1960s.
It's expected that Haslam will read from or discuss the Hayakawa book on Sunday at Russo's. And who knows? He may draw upon a few others, such as the second edition of "Workin' Man Blues: Country Music in California," or "The Great Tejon Club Jubilee."
Thompson, who now has six books to his credit, will read from "Everything Barren Will Be Blessed," his most recent published volume of poetry. Like most of his other work, the poems are inspired by the area surrounding his home, a farm that has been owned by three generations of his wife's family.
"I'm not an urban man. I wouldn't be able to write and live in an urban environment," he said. "I belong in a rural environment."
Poetry Month grows
This marks the third year local writers have come together to celebrate poetry. The program was founded by several local poets as a tribute to two colleagues, Lee McCarthy and Helen Shanley, who had died a few months before the inaugural event.
As the celebration has evolved, it's become more inclusive and now features participants performing in various formats, such as a theater, an art gallery, an independent book store and a church.
There will be eight events this year. All are free and open to the public, with the exception of the Poetry SLAM on April 13 at The Empty Space, where donations in support of the theater will be accepted.