BY CAMILLE GAVIN Contributing writer
Clarence Major, a prize-winning poet, painter and novelist, will present programs next week at Cal State Bakersfield on Wednesday and at Bakersfield College on Oct. 3.
His appearance at CSUB is part of the university's California Writers Series. At BC, he is being sponsored by the Norman Levan Center for the Humanities.
Clarence Major: Readings
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Cal State Bakersfield, Walter Stiern Library, 9001 Stockdale Highway.
11 a.m. and 7 p.m. Oct. 3 Bakersfield College, Levan Center, 1801 Panorama Drive.
Information: 654-6503 or 395-4339
Note: This poem by Clarence Major appears in "Configurations: New & Selected Poems 1958-1998," Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, Wash.
Waiter in a California Vietnamese Restaurant
With the smell of firebombing
still in his nose,
he brings our plates to the table
pausing for a vertiginous instant,
holding them as though they are two stones.
When he tries to smile his face
turns purple like sky above
that Red River delta.
He once stood against a tree
with both arms above his head,
like somebody about to dance
flamenco, but he wasn't, it was
the time of the Spring Offensive,
and he was looking into the barrel
of a rifle held by a boy
whose trigger finger
had turned to stone.
Written by Clarence Major, 1989
In a recent phone conversation the 76-year-old retired UC Davis professor recalled his first exposure to poetry, in Atlanta, where he was born.
"I was about 5 and my mother wrote a poem for me to read in church," he said. "That was my first consciousness of poetry."
Then, with laughter in his voice he added, "After that I went home and tried to write poems but it certainly wasn't poetry."
Since then, Major has won many awards. He was a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry and received a Western States Award for fiction, two Pushcart Prizes, a Fulbright fellowship and a National Council on the Arts fellowship.
CSUB English professor Marit MacArthur made the initial contact with Major, who lives in Davis where he still teaches occasional summer classes.
"With every California author we invite," she said, "we hope to share with Bakersfield a little bit more of the vibrant and diverse culture of contemporary California, and to encourage young writers just starting out."
MacArthur is acquainted with Major but said her husband, Greg Miller, who teaches English and communications at CSUB, knows the poet and his work better.
Miller is editing a yet-to-be published anthology of essays on Major's fiction and poetry, and obviously admires the writer's work.
"Clarence Major has spent a lifetime following his muse regardless of trends and expectations," he wrote in an email. "Offbeat yet accessible, his poetry and fiction is moving, thought provoking, playful, disturbing and funny -- sometimes all at once. He's also a terrific painter."
In regard to his artwork, Major, who calls himself a "visual thinker," said he would not paint a picture to illustrate a poem and vice versa. He does see similarities in the two artistic methods, however.
"The most noticeable correlation is the narrative," he said. "My portraits are very expressionistic, so the narrative element is more pronounced. "
As an example, he cited his painting titled "Two Sisters."
"One (sister) is in the foreground, one is in the background in which light is pouring into the room," he said. "Both are frowning -- it tells you something."
Although Major won't be showing any artwork during his visit here, his published poetry and fiction will be available at both CSUB and BC, courtesy of Russo's Books. His most recent book of poems, "Down and Up," is scheduled to be released on Oct. 15.
Jack Hernandez, director of the Levan Center, said the poet will give two readings at BC. Both are open to the public and parking is free.