Tuesday, June 30, 1987

4 FREEWRITES & 4 short poems



FREEWRITE

Behind the sanatarium walls 
kids all lined up for a communal light 
during cigarette break. 
The teacher is the dispenser of fire.
At Napa, there is a subculture 
based on cigarettes. 
I begin to understand 
what my mother once said:
when she knew she was going mad,
the only thing she could relate to 
was a cigarette. The smoke curled 
from her nostrils like an angry dragon.
No one's allowed to have lighters
or their own matches here. 
A human train of smoke and fire 
weaves out of the room.
A conspiracy of tobacco.

6/30/1987, Napa
rev 9/2016


FREEWRITE

My students were born the year 
I graduated from high school, 1970.
Are they products of the love-child generation? 
I feel old. There's a 17-year gulf between us.
These kids don't know Kennedy or Vietnam. 
Some of the girls I went to high school with 
have children old enough to run away from home 
or to wind up here in this sanitarium.
These kids, how long have they been here?
Most of them left home earlier than most, 
runaways, living on the streets, in gangs,
until their world caved. Then it became
juvenile hall, a ward of the state, lockdown.
The last stop in the juvenile court system.
Will they ever leave this place, 
with its double locks, behind? 
Others will graduate to prison.
Their conversations are littered with 
When I get out... When I leave... 
it is always in the present tense.
There is always hope.
Some manage to leave this place for a while. 
Their successful matriculation 
is measured in months. 
Sometimes even in years, 
if they're lucky enough.


6/30/1987, Napa
rev 9/2016



FREEWRITE

Limpear, to clean this blimp of earth 
and the sunshine falling beneath the sky. 
Oh heavens Spears! Milton's lost again 
and we can't find the key. 
I say, llave, in Spanish. 
The car stalled and she's wearing 
green spangles on her ears. 
Someone tells me that the angels 
are loose in the library again. Again. 
And she's gone and left me alone again. 
I could walk out, have a tantrum, 
I could scream, do what they do. 
Instead, I am writing as fast as I can. 
All this music drips off the ceiling, 
half notes looking for completion in the ear, 
and my wrist wants reprieve. 

6/30/1987, Napa
rev 9/2016


FREEWRITE

And the Arabs invented the idea 
of absolute zero out of one. 
They tied it up into knots 
because the desert has so little water. 
I'm looking for an oasis in the stars. 
A black hole is like a binary skater who, 
spinning with legs and arms akimbo, 
suddenly tucks in close to her body, 
and increases the drag and spin 
until light can no longer escape.

6/30/1987, Napa
rev 9/2016



He who makes a revolution 
in South America 
is sowing the sea.


When it snows in La Paz, 
the government will fall – 
said the Bolivian tin miners.

INFLATION 

Bolívar paying his hotel bills 
with bricks of dollars in a handbag, 
paper money by the pound.

Se me cayó, what I've lost
The multicolored balloons 
along the Reforma—
marionettes dancing 
mimicking the tourists.


6/30/1987, Napa
rev 9/2016

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 30

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 7


6/30, Tuesday. 9 to 9:45 AM. I work with Annabel's group, the kids are a little restless. So we use word cards. Terrel really can't read, and Lee is so hyper, he has to stand. Lee writes a great poem, asks for more and more word cards. He is voracious. I tell Terrel to fake it, it's OK, he can invent what words he wants to use. It turns out that he can read more words than he gives himself credit for.

1030 to 11:30 AM Linda Wargo's class. I go to Linda's art room, the class is much better, we accomplish more stuff, I like this group. I give them a sample of of last week's poem, a group poem, with the starter line: I remember the sanatorium walls, and we write ekphrastic photo poems based on photo-poems by fellow CPITS poet, Juan Felipe Herrera. 

I hand the students photos, they eagerly write. Dan says, oh I get it. You put your feelings down on paper. Yes! Yvonne is quite taken by Juan Felipe's work, she wants me to xerox several of his poems. Some students admit they used to write poetry. I tell them to write me poems during the week. 

As a warm-up poem I handed them each a mask. We had the masks talk to each other. Of course, we got a Satan poem, it was interesting because Satan is forbidden here, but I tell therm there's no censoring here. If we use it for publication, we can change the title. As it turns out, they were testing me. 

I wrote down what they said during in class discussion, and I asked each of them to give the mask authority to say one truth about the world, it was a pretty good poem.

I asked them how old they were, it was a bit of a shock to realize these kids were born in 1970, the year I graduated from high school. Most of them were born in California. So we have that in common.

FREEWRITE

Kids behind sanatorium walls 
lined up for a light 
during cigarette break. 
There is a whole culture 
around cigarettes here. 
I begin to understand 
what my mother said 
when she said I'm going mad. 
The only thing she could relate to 
was a cigarette. 
No one's allowed 
to have their own matches here. 
A human train of smoke and fire 
weaves out of the room.

FREEWRITE

These kids were born the year 
I graduated from high school, 1970.
Are they part of the love child crop? I feel old.
There's a 17-year gulf between us.
These kids don't know about Kennedy or Vietnam. 
Some of the girls I went to high school with 
have children old enough to leave home 
or to come here to this sanitarium.
These kids, how long have they been here?
They left home earlier than most, 
but will they ever leave this place behind? 
Their speeches punctuated with phrases like 
When I get out... When I leave... a
Some actually do leave for a while. 
Their successful matriculation from this place 
is measured in months. 
Sometimes even in years, 
if they're lucky enough.




Afternoon session with John G, we made math poems. Kathy K, Chuck, Mark and Barry joined us. Full house.

Finally I am at a place where I too can write it is been frustrating not to be able to write while teaching. This residency is so intensive, I can barely think, let alone, drive home—1.5 hours each way. My personal best, so far, is 1 hour and 20 minutes. Sometimes I stop off at Calistoga for a soak. Leaving here, the Silverado Trail is my personal motherlode. I'm fixated on RLS's mule.

Five minute freewrite: I introduce the concept of five-minute freewrite to them I tell them to write faster than they can think. To demonstrate I showed them. I too, write. 

Limpear, this blimp of earth and the sunshine falling beneath the sky. Oh heavens Spears! Milton's lost again and we can't find the key. I say, llave, in Spanish. The car stalled and she's wearing florescent green spangles on her cheeks. Someone tells me that the angels are loose in the library again. Again. And she's gone and left me again. I could walk out, have a tantrum, scream do what they do. Instead, I am writing as fast as I can. All this music drips off the ceiling, half notes looking for completion in the ear, and my wrist wants reprieve. 

And the Arabs invented the idea of zero out of one. They tied it into knots because the desert has so little water. I'm looking for an oasis in the stars. A black hole is like an ice skater who, spinning with legs and arms akimbo, suddenly tucks close to her body, and increases the drag and spin until light can no longer escape.


This is probably from word cards.

He who makes a revolution 
in South America is sowing the sea.

When it snows in La Paz, 
the government will fall – 
Bolivian tin miners.

INFLATION 

Bolívar paying his hotel bills 
with bricks of dollars in a handbag, 
paper money by the pound.

Se me cayó, what I've lost
The multicolored balloons 
along the Reforma 
marionettes dancing 
mimicking the tourists.


Tuesday afternoon recap. Open afternoon as Patricia, the librarian, is not here today. I expected a lot of free time. Suddenly I was jammed with people wanting to see me.

John end Dennis, both new to the workshop, wrote a math poem. Kathy K recited two of her poems, and begin a new one. Chuck took out his locker poem and revised it. It wasn't done with him. They carry their poems everywhere with them. A kind of hall pass. Validation in this hellhole.

Mark talked about having writer's block. He and Barry, another new client, did five-minute freewrites together. We talked about our problems, etc., mined conversation for poetry. They convey a message to me that the T-12 gang all say hello—including Karl, end the oboist with the badly burned hands. 

I'm finally making leeway here and it's nearly time to go. I am building favor, or maybe it's street cred. Hard earned.



Thursday, June 25, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 25

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 6

6/25, Thursday. 9:15 AM. Today I worked with the kids, five boys from Jocelyn's class. I was told the students wouldn't be able to read the poems, my expectations were too high, but I've found that they can read kid poems just fine. 

We made two oral poems together. The teachers, or the therapists assessment of their students' skills seems to be off. I suspect it's mostly due to student motivation, or a lack thereof. We made one visual poem and another poem on shadows. It all went very well. 

They do get antsy, and then it's harder for them to focus. But we worked 45 minutes straight, which was great, and exceeded expectations. I was told that they couldn't work that long stretch. Original assessment was 15 minute increments. 

Earl E came by today, he's really sweet. I was just so bugged by his psychiatrist. She is so pushy. When she was present, it was all about her. There was no room for Earl, nor was there room for me to work with him. Sometimes I wonder about the staff here—some seem to be way odder than the inmates. The have issues. I learn that it's a fine line of distinction. 

We chatted a bit, I'm learning to steer (wrestle) conversations away from the therapy process, and into poetry. Earl actually crosses his legs, folds his hands in his lap, and says, "Well, Doctor." And glazes over. I cut him off at the pass. His body language changes, and he becomes engaged. But it's a struggle.

I read Earl last week's work, and we wrote another poem together. He is so tickled with his new "P" card, but he is nervous about getting lost. So we wrote poems about being lost. I guess my running interference with the psychiatrist resulted in the issuance of his new privilege card. Something of extreme value. The ante just went up. 

Things of extreme value in a lock down mental institution: a hall pass, a privilege card, coins for the payphone, keys... Yes, key represent freedom. What separates staff from clients are those keys. Some folk carry discarded keys—because of what they represent. I give my clients new keys to unlock the creativity of their minds.

Earl tells me that he'll be back again to write this afternoon on Ward T – 12.
Not everybody came to class today. it's all volunteer. I had one new student, Jack, who didn't want to be there. Jack, the classical musician, whose fingers were burned by fire. So, he can no longer play the oboe, or the flute. When he told me his story, I wanted to cry. Such pathos—to lose your hands to fire is bad enough. But, a musician. I cannot imagine any worse fate. No wonder he's here. I would be too.

Robert, Carl and Craig have new poems already, no need to prime them. Raymond and Sam can't seem to get it together. I work with Raymond one on one and he dictated some good imagery to me. I tell him to give me an early memory, and a dream sequence…

I show Raymond how I would edit the poem to tighten it up. His attitude changes from lipping bibble-babble, spouting stupid singsong nonsense, to uttering something intelligible. Breakthrough. It dawns on me, and I wonder, how much of this is put on, a floor show for the hospital and staff.

I refuse to buy Raymond's well practiced crazy song and dance routine, though I was able to use some of that material as an example of what a poem is, or what you have to do to make a poem work—versus song lyrics. What you can get away with. 

In this way I realize that writing poetry with them is bending the rules, it's subversive, and that it's OK if it's not true.That's a huge taboo lifted. In this hospital, where everybody's sole mission is to get to the truth of the matter, and here I come along telling them it's OK to make things up. Heady stuff. There seems to be a collective sigh of relief when I tell them that. In that not telling of the truth, truth becomes real. 

I tell Raymond that I knew him in high school, he was a year ahead of me. He says he doesn't remember me. But he did remember going to Drake so I was on the right track. I think LSD was his downfall. As it was with many of my classmates. I am toying with the idea of inconsistent memory as a writing process. Owning that you don't remember. I do feel I broke through a barrier. I think it'll be that way with him, working one-on-one to break down the barriers, but that's what psychiatrists do isn't it? I don't want that role. I want poetry, not a confession. I am left with the question of how to utilize the group as a whole, it is a challenge.

Karl wants to continue writing. He was one of the No! I don't want to write poems students. Interesting change of heart. I didn't type up all his poem from last time. And he wrote more on it. I told Robert to write more on the idea of when I'm not there… Both figuratively and metaphorically.

Like little kids afraid of missing out on something, they jealously keep track of everything. They often tell me I didn't type up that poem, or I didn't type up what they wrote. Luckily, I can pull out their original writing (or my transcription). I decide to use it as a teaching moment. 

I tell my students that's the way poetry is. You can always add stuff later, even after it's typed—revision is an ongoing process. In other words, I have learned to turn each challenge into a poetic teaching dance.

Recap. Earl E came back. We reread his work. He added a ditty and we talked about the writing process. There is a marked change in his behavior. He now wants to write, versus my coaxing images from him.

I asked Earl where he was born and we looked it up in The Place Names of California. Dunsmuir. I have been there, I tell him. We talk about the railroad, the trees, the river. I tell him to begin with an image from early childhood. We build the poem using old images. He carefully constructs and tells each line, and I type it into the Canon Typestar 6, and read it back to him. He makes a few changes.

In the process, something else comes to mind. We don't know what he's writing about. He gets it. We don't know the subject, but we go from image to idea. And trust the process. Then suddenly we are talking about Nagasaki and Hiroshima.The images are embedded in the poem. 

We build a shape for it, an arc, and finish it. In this way I learn his backstory, he is a survivor of WWII. The stuff of epic poetry. He confides, that's the darkness inside of me. And I am not touched by the flame. This poem is very hot. It burns on the page, I say.

He has named his fear, and has been touched by the very thing he said he could not name or touch. In this poem, we talk about war and tragedy. I feel elated that he wrote such a fine poem. He's elated as well. Breakthrough. Many poets will read this poem, I tell him. I tell him this is how the real writing begins.

Wednesday, June 24, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 24

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 5

6/24, Wednesday. Nothing scheduled. Linda Wargo's class was canceled at the last minute. These things happen. A riot, a lockdown, and everybody loses. So I hang out with the typewriter and Patricia ushers likely prospects my way.

I got a Canon type star six typewriter that has a three line memory that allows me to type and print poems out at Napa. That process instantaneously makes a radical difference in how people respond to the writing process. Immediate reward.
.
Peter D Berkeley communist revolutionary he tells me his fiancée jumped off the Golden gate Bridge and will bring a poem later.


On the outside why I'm here were our writing prompts.

Peter tells me, We had an unique situation in Marin. We had a teacher, Sam Johnson, at College of Marin, who led us, who brought us books, we wouldn't have been able to otherwise read. He was eventually hit by a truck.

Someone else and don't let that man have any magazines. He's a child molester. There's a picture of kids and babysitting them.

In the library I run into Sally Lacy, my mom's old friend from the Sausalito days. My mom, Sally Lacy, Sally Stanford, Juanita Musson, Sausalito's bad girls. These women were my early mentors. Sally tells me she's from Ward Q1. There's a payphone near their very big deal. 

Well, Mom told me to look out for Sally Lacy here. Sally was standing by the world globe, muttering and looking for Malaysia. The librarian asked her, Do you want to meet a poet? She said NO. And fiercely spun the globe. I recognized her voice. I said: Tell her Kellé's daughter is here to see her. Kellé who? She asked, trying to place the name. Kellé Green, I said. Startled, Sally turned toward me, recognition, dawning, and asked what on earth are YOU doing here? Thinking I too was an inmate. 

Sally tells me I look just like my mother, she says. Spitting image. We talked about my mother and caught up on old times.  She wants to know how Kellé is doing. It's always a variable thing, I say.

It is eerie, even uncanny to be sitting across the table from Sally in the library, knowing that I knew her way back when—when I was very young. And here she is now, the blonde bombshell, now a crone, tongue thick from medication, dry mouth, missing teeth. smeary mascara, Is that what's in store for me? A sobering thought. I didn't ask what atrocity brought her here.

I put up a display of my paintings and poetry in the library, and I made and mailed flyers and sent them to all the words.

Scheduling problems again. I'm trying to work with more groups. Too much slack time. We spent most of the afternoon trying to fill vacancies. Clearly I'm not good with downtime. I could use the time to write, but I'm easily distracted, and it's hard to concentrate in this strange place.

Chuck comes up, and spontaneously dictates a poem to me. You have to be ready to assemble the parts—to borrow from David Meltzer. I'm glad they are beginning to see me as town scribe. But the impulse and urgency to get it down take over everything else. I feel like I'm up at bat, the bases are loaded, and I'm on strike two.


Inside Chuck's locker

A domain
Artistic paintings
Four corners
A picture in the middle
Three cats
A picture of a woman 
down below a rainbow 
underneath a tunnel
It has a saying on there
Once upon a time
A story
A hat
Went to autumn
Come cat
Brittle star
A windmill, 

Tuesday, June 23, 1987

IN MARY BIANCHI'S GARDEN



That young man who
thinking he knew something of cycles
blamed poor old Mary Bianchi
for depleting the soil
instead of his own failure
to understand its needs.
She, who raised two generations
from that same soil
including members of my family
improved the soil each year
with chickenshit
to nourish the chard
which in turn was used
to feed the chickens
who laid strong eggs
like our bones.
She knew about cycles and patterns.
When her first husband died
of mushroom poisoning
she married his brother
and continued her work
in the garden.








IN MARY BIANCHI'S GARDEN, II


That young man who
thinking he knew something of cycles
blamed poor Mary Bianchi
for depleting the soil
instead of his own failure
to understand its needs.
She, who raised two generations
from that same soil
including our family
improved the soil each year
with manure
to nourish the chard
which in turn was used
to feed the chickens
who laid strong eggs
like our bones.
She knew about cycles and patterns.
When her first husband died
of mushroom poisoning
she married his brother
& carried on in the garden.

6/87   (possibly 6/23)? 


1993 We Are Not Swans, with Cecelia Woloch
1991 Poet Magazine, Fall issue
1990 Tight
1989 Sculpture Gardens Review
        Green Fuse
        Gulf Stream



I wrote my first draft during my CAC AIL residency at Napa State Hospital.

This typed draft is from Napa V Poetry conference, Aug. or Sept.









COMMUTER SHARKS

 
COMMUTER SHARKS

Like sharks emerging from caves
the noses of cars edge out
of each driveway
in predatory fashion
to join their brethren.

6/23/1987?

I seem to have written this on the same page as Mary Bianchi's Garden, an outtake.



Monday, June 22, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 23


Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 4


6/23, Tuesday, 8:45 AM. Mark came to visit at 10 instead of 9:30, our appointed time, so I wasn't able to go over his poems in-depth. He is a strong writer. The three poems he gave me are full of good writing.

When I read his homework poem, the sun that rises high on mankind, I'm a little suspicious—did he write it himself? It's a beautiful poem with the rhyme scheme, ABBA. But as it his? If so, he's a great poet. He runs little hot and a little cold as most of us do. I asked him to word gamble, or to do Bantu rhythms with me, and he came back with extended metaphor. Yeah, he's got the goods on tap. Maybe poetry can save lives.

From 10 to 10:40 AM, Annabel Bentley and Kathy Peterson brought the McGrath kids to me, five boys, from 4th to 6th grade. I was told that their writing and comprehension skills were on par with that of kindergarten through second grade writing level. However, when I had them read peer poems from Mark West School kids, they did just fine. So much for categories and I was delighted to discover that they have no trouble with making spontaneous metaphor whatsoever.

From 11 until 11:30 AM, I worked with Linda Wargo's other art class, the S-7 adolescent group, these boys were more together than her last group. Since we only had a half an hour, we read poems and talked about where we were from, and we made a group poem based on early memory, ending with being in the sanatorium… Moving forward in time, first person present memory. Powerful stuff.

The substitute librarian wanted to leave early, so I'm stuck working in the malodorous Xerox room. It really pisses me off. I can't even go to the bathroom without a fucking key. I'm pretty sure her leaving early, and leaving me unchaperoned like this is illegal.

Afternoon, 1:30 PM. Mark showed up on time. We went over his poems, including a new one, for 45 minutes. He said he got the idea for the new work from my imagery and revision lesson on the back of the Bantu rhythms hand-out. I guess my handouts are good for something. 

We also discussed the form and imagery in Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird. He wrote several approaches on a poem to the sun, and was able to use an orphan line that had been floating around in his head for ages. 

The other poem he gave me was from earlier work. When he was 29. He's 40 now. And he was well aware of the problems with old poems. He called it the problem of pseudo-intellectualism. I had to laugh. It was aptly played. His Dylan Thomas:poem was recently revised, and is much clearer than his earlier work. 

Mark wants to publish more work. Something we can work on. He says he has a friend who is a hard editor of his work. Mark is a poet of promise. His work needs fine tuning. His homework is to write about the past, 10 and 20 years ago using imagery from that era. (Before his crime.)

The rest of the afternoon I spent talking with Bart Swain about the structure of Napa and the quirks of madness, how it manifests,and plays out. I was trying to get a handle on the inmates whom I was working with. Steep learning curve. Shoptalk, I was newly arriived. I had to admit that I was beginning to worry that I identified more with the inmates, than with the staff. 

And I couldn't help but wonder if poets were closet sociopaths who didn't act on their murderous impulses. we just write about it. Sweet revenge.


Saturday, June 20, 1987

FREEWRITE



To write nonstop two hours and see where it leads me. This poetry assignment. John saying this is your assignment. How I balk, refuse to write, and yet, here I am writing an assignment, not actually procrastinating. Writing on blue paper with purple pink because it's playful and I like the soothing texture of blue—unlike the disturbing blue summer sky that suggests somethings of the fleeting mortality of it all.

How I'm beginning to recognize the bends in the road, taking Silverado Trail because it's quicker, crawling out of bed late and driving too fast because Richard was still asleep in bed and I am dizzy from lack of sleep. 

Afraid to commit anything to writing, especially this page, afraid it might become public, of what my heart feels, of wanting to write about all that stuff, and not a problem with five seemingly unrelated things. 

With this, I take time out to write in my more private journal, to give space to this preoccupation. 

Yes I'm getting my two hours of writing in… Obsessive as it is. And divulging nothing at all.



6/1987
Napa

Thursday, June 18, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 18

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 3


6/18 Thursday, Day 3: I didn't meet with the fourth and fifth graders at McGrath School.. They're still on vacation, so I read poetry, and worked on some new teaching ideas. I had my first ward class today and it was great. The classroom setting works better, or is it a concept of group? At any rate, I'm much happier with the group setting I feel we get more done, today's group.

Ward T-12, Susan, Sutton's group, a lock-down ward, with double locks both sides of the door, requires two orderlies on either side of the door, with keys, to let me in. It's spooky to be locked into a room like this. Even the windows need a special crank. I can't bring in paper clips or staples, and I have to account for all pencils.

The group was comprised of nine men ranging from real poets to artists. Plus a couple of hostile guys who wrote anyway. We didn't have much time, having started late. I told them a little bit about myself and the program. We went around the room and introduced ourselves. I wanted to find out about their interests and writing experiences. 

One obviously skilled poet, Darrell, stood out, and there are always a few people who say they are poets. Funny how readily they self-identify with poetry, because in the real world, it isn't so. I am amazed by how Craig can recite poetry on the spot. Robert knows Tinkerbell personally, and has good imaginative writing ideas.

Raymond looks too familiar to me. I went to school with him, I'm sure of it. Was it College of Marin, or Drake High School? I almost turned to him and asked, but wasn't sureif it was a good idea. Not knowing if he would want to be recognized, or found out. People willingly gave me their last names, but I can only use their last initial, a privacy act that even if they don't care, I have to be careful. 

I didn't do a d planned writing exercise today with them, and I got five volunteer poems from both of the hostile men, and two drawings—a promising start.

Robert loved my kid poetry book and and bought it! I was shocked! My first sale! I read them some of my poems from Falling to Sea Level. Robert liked them and I was impressed by how they listened so carefully. Some spontaneously read a few poems from the kid book, and the rehabilitation therapist, Susan, was quite pleased with the session.

Michael—in the afternoon I worked with a poet who identifies with his Comanche heritage, he's half Indian, half black. The first poem he gave me suggested to real writing skill, however, the subject, a girlfriend's death, was obscure, because he rhymed. So many people assume that a poem has to rhyme. I did, once. What they don't realize is the reason the rhyming scheme can unduly destroy the meaning and the content of the poem.

Form, without meaning or content, is a type of form looseness. I asked Michael to tell me more. He dictated a poem to me, using natural speech. We called it Renée, II. He liked the idea. You mean it doesn't have to rhyme, he asked with obvious relief.

I asked him about his heritage, I took notes, three pages worth, and then we crafted those notes into a long poem, a self-portrait on being Indian and black and adopted. He was amazed by how easy it was, a deception, beginners luck. But I won't tell him. 

We talked about emotional content and getting it out. He was distressed by his inability to manage his anger. I said welcome to the club. I talked with him about degree of emotion and the tools I used to utilize them, that writing was an excellent tool. I try and write about it, define it, work my way through it.

During the 2 and a half hours I worked with Michael, Mark dropped by, but because we were so deeply into the writing process, I felt I couldn't break out of it. I xerox some of Mark's poems, ones that he wanted me to critique, and I said I will go over them next week. I also gave Mark some homework. A stellar day. The poet is in.




Wednesday, June 17, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 17


Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Day 2

6/17/1987. Day Two. I begin at 10 AM, a light day scheduled. I work with artist Linda Wargo's S – 2 Ward, adolescent training program – they're supposed to be shielded from the adults. Except for us, so I'm a novelty. It is easier to work with them, I'm on familiar ground. They're supposed to be low achievers and I think they do just fine, considering. I really like this group.

We write poems to pictures and photographs. We make one group poem. And I'm amazed by how many students can recite poems from memory. Shantell keeps saying this poem is embarrassing, and then launches into these incredible raps that are spiritual and holy. Spontaneous combustion of poetry. I think the work is his, not something repeated. 

I find that I need to make some basic rules with them, and to be much clearer. Chaos is quick to rise otherwise. I worked with them from 10 to 11:30 AM, and then I was told they couldn't handle it. Ha! 

Only one girl, Julie, was in the group.  I had to draw her out. We talked about where we were born, etc. A lot of male energy in this group. Mostly Latino and African American inner city kids—many from the East Bay. Motivating them isn't difficult. Getting in-depth poetry, and not fragments may be harder to do, because they're not used to writing, or writing in-depth the way I do.

Later, I meet with Eric, from the Q 9–10 geriatric ward and, and his psychiatrist, a tiny Korean woman in a classic white doctor's coat—they're both late. He has trouble disassociate himself from her.

I don't know whether it's a mistake having her here because Eric carries on his therapy session with her. I am invisible. I'm frustrated with this arrangement, because I don't want to be rude and break into their conversation, but if I don't, nothing will happen. 

I will need to be firm about taking the stage. The patients are so used to talking and having the therapist listen. But I need to establish with them that I am not a therapist. I need tools so that I can channel and focus their attention on creativity. I say something to that effect. 

I collect phrases from him and utilize them. It's about love. We make a group poem. They both like what is happening during the session, and  he says he'll come back. He was a bit crabby and a bit of a primadonna. It was a case of the I – me me me syndrome. He says God, all these crazies sound like college professors and poets! Now in the real world....

Andrew is a funny sort. A huge hat completely swallows his head. He says: I want to learn calligraphy. That's the most coherent thing he can say, or do. I find it difficult to get him to do anything at all. He might not have the fine motor skills, though he did manage to make ten pen-widths on his paper just fine, so maybe there's hope. 

I had him write his name and I showed him how to form the letters in italic cursive. He had trouble following the simplest instructions.

At one point, he talked to himself into his hat, and froze for a few moments, and then resumed writing, as if nothing had happened. He said, I can't write Andrew. I'm not Andrew anymore. I have a printing press inside of me. I tell him he should write poetry then. I seriously wonder if I'll make any difference in his life.

Life at Napa so orderly, I have a hard time adjusting. The library closes from 12 to 1 PM sharp. I mean, shut up tighter than a tick! No place for me to go. The whole hospital stops dead at noon, and then again it repeats the shutdown at 4 PM. A strange, inexorable beast. Clockwork Orange.

There's lots of free time for me to work on ideas, but the structure time is inviolate. Patients don't have very much free time to themselves, and going to the library is part of their free time privileges. Some patients only have half an hour a day to themselves. To have 2+ hours a day is a privilege! I am honored that they choose to spend it with me. I have much to think about and process on the drive home.

Tuesday, June 16, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, June 15 & 16

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal




June 15, 1987: I'm nervous before my CAC Artist in Libraries residency. I dreamed about teaching a class and that the patients won't listen. I keep changing my lesson plans and don't have complete information on any of them.  It's as if I had forgotten all the pieces. NO one pays attention. Can the ground please just open up and swallow me whole? I don't know if I can do this. It's great that the CAC has so much faith in me, now I just have to believe in myself. It's only a three-month pilot program.

6/16 Tuesday Day One. Nothing scheduled. I haul in boxes of books and art supplies. Today is my first day up and about after my knee operation, and I'm still shaky. Patricia, the librarian, introduces me to several patients. It's an informal drop-in visit. 

I began my residency. I spread my books out on the table and worked with patients individually.  The first inmate I meet is Liebel has several books of poetry out, as well as essays. It's clear that Leibel knows more about poetry than me. He quoted from Vosnesenski, and his own work. He asks me if I am a radical and had I heard of red papers. I guess he's an old commie. We talk of poetry. He quotes me several sonnets he had written to his wife – some in the style of Khalil Gibran, the inevitable jug of wine and that goddamn loaf of bread…

We talk of Andrei Vosnesenski, the role of form and content in poetry and we verbally spar with some Bantu rhythms to make a ghazal of sorts. I wonder why he's in here – he's missing a leg, he says he's not on the mend. He knows more about poetry than I do. We discuss Alexandrine couplets and Alexander Pope.

Then I meet Cecil, a black man who talks so fast I can only catch one word in six. We read Nazim Hikmet's Things I Didn't Know I Loved. I encourage Cecil to "write" that is, he dictates a poem to me. He listens when I read it back but interrupts. Short attention span. He also mutters under his breath when I talk directly to him – unless I'm reading a poem. It's disconcerting, and also a challenge to keep him actively engaged. He doesn't seem to like eye contact. I memorize the stripes in the carpet.

Bart Swain, one of the NSH staff, drops in, he taught my class last week when I couldn't be here because of my knee operation, and he was amazed at what the kids came up with. We discuss lyric poetry, music, content and form. I read him Carl Sandberg's Rain poem and he gives me a line of his own for each Sandberg line.

It seems the only way to proceed here is to begin a conversation – in medias res. Lesson plans are far too rigid. I interview them, find out what they know, and from that conversation, an idea for writing presents itself. They don't seem to want to write, so I take dictation.

Mark C, a sociopath I'm told, is a bright light. As it turns out I've already read his work in the February issue of ArtScan. Actually he has a collection of poetry. I read his poems and make comments. We play with stanzas that are unclear, we take the poems apart and put them back together. He has several fine poems. I mostly make punctuation suggestions and offer technical advice. 

He likes to read John Berryman. Shades of Leonard Cerino, who was in this very library as an inmate himself. Mark says he'll be out next month. Patricia warns me they will all say that. After class, I find out that he's served six years for killing someone – but he seems so together. I have to look up the definition what a sociopath is. I am horrified. And amazed. Like with Leonard, genius and madness are one thing.

I meet with the therapist to schedule more patients. An exhausting first day. Big learning curve. Long drive back to Forestville at dusk. Much to process.