The Ojai Poetry Festival.
At the Libbey Bowl, Ojai.

Sights and Sounds

Friday night reading: After an opening sage burning, Sandra Alcosser speaks for at least 15 minutes before she gets to a poem. She continues to speak more than she reads, including a had – to – out – the – oven – mitts – when – a – hawk – crashed – through – our – window story. The poetry blends nature and culture. From “Sweat”:

Babies have been conceived on sweat alone-

the buttery scent of a woman’s breast,

the cumin of a man.

In response, Sherman Alexie starts out noting how “hot” Alcosser is. His “Avian Nights” begins:

Starlings have invaded our home and filled

Our eaves with their shit-soaked nests.

But then it goes places like this:

Our son almost died at birth. His mother

And I would have buried him in silence

And blankets that smelled like us. These birds

Don’t believe in silence. They scream and wail.

Later, Alexie shakes his head after remarking that a local paper has characterized him as the only one of the poets who is not an environmentalist. “Fucking liberals : I’m an Indian : I am a natural resource : Save my ass.”

From left to right: Sandra Alcosser, Mar-a Melendez, and
Gary Snyder.
Beth Taylor-Scott

Saturday morning discussion: Mar-a Melendez ends her presentation with a corrido, “Googling the Virgin.” Gary Snyder mentions that we might see such things as death and cancer as allies. When asked about this comment during the open discussion afterward, he is restrained about prescribing the viewpoint but visibly chokes up when talking about his wife’s death from cancer.

Saturday afternoon, readings by local poets: Poets are categorized as those who write about trees and those who do not. Paul Willis, one who does, captures the sense of nature writing, of “sap pitching slow into our waiting hands.” Kimberly Young, one who does not, empties Libbey Bowl of families with a series of impressionistic poems about drugs and child abuse.

Saturday afternoon, open mike: David Taylor-Schott wins first prize with “Allomother.” Vern “Some people think I’m not in my right mind” Foster comes in second.

Sunday evening reading: Melendez reads a poem for Alcosser, “Buckrail,” which entwines the fates of the bison in Yellowstone and Matthew Shepard. She also reads two for Snyder and two for the audience. The occasion once again proves itself to be the best local poetry event where you can make out. Snyder reads a cycle of poems that begins with Hiroshima and ends with the Twin Towers, by way of Mount St. Helens. His voice is so articulate and sonorous that his introductions sound like poems themselves; more than once we believe him to be halfway through a piece when he announces, “This is the poem.” As an encore, Snyder reads and then we all recite an alternative pledge of eco-allegiance.


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