Thursday, July 16, 1987

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, July 16

Napa State Hospital Poetry Journal, Days 15-16?

7/16, Thursday, a week later, it's becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with my journal. My schedule is so filled at at this point, I have no down time. No time to reflect. So now I'm trying to catch up, after class, on my time. In the employee parking lot. These three pages only represent Thursday. I haven't even covered Tuesday and Wednesday which were equally intense.

Basically all is going well. More people are checking out the program and it's beginning to take off as a pilot project, it's working well and this definitely suggests that a there is a strong need for similar programs. Funding is always a problem.

There are many highlights each day. Working with the teenagers now takes up a large portion of my time, I prefer them to the fourth and sixth graders who are more out-of-control. They're not crazy, they're just little hellions who've gotten away with misbehaving and are proud of the anarchy of their success,. And all of them are boys. Need I say more?

Thursday I finally dressed one kid, John, down when he was rude, as it was getting worse and worse. He tried to lie his way out and I called him on it. I did get an apology from him, but in the process, he upset the others. We had to isolate him. 

Joey said to me, I really like poetry. And just like that, the bitter tide was turned, but four more weeks of this…? The other kids were on model behavior the rest of the session. John started out so promising. Somehow he got it into his head to be an asshole. And there was no turning the tide.

I met a second time with Linda Wargo's new group, lots of kids who are in other classes, so I'm seeing some of them two times a week—and are they ever progressing. Wow! I just have to be ready to leap with my lessons, or change them on the spot, so there's not too much repetition. Louis in particular, shows signs of becoming a really gifted writer and he often tells me how he loves it. This is a great group—unlike the Wednesday group. Ironic in that Linda says that is her low group. 

Floy's two new afternoon groups are resistant and there's a lot of mouthing; they say I don't want to do this. They have ingrained attitude problems. Starting at ground zero breaking down the walls again.

With Linda's group this is not a problem. The attitude cases drive me nuts because it's all about posturing and bullshit. But here they are, locked away in Napa, because they lost their Juvenile Hall passes. I think they're coaxed into participating in some classes, mine included. I suspect a little corporal punishment early on would've been in order for some of them. Not something one want to voice aloud. Too late now. 

Most of the kids aren't clinically crazy. Just survivors of a bad home life. I dislike having to be tough and to call their bluffs. There are better ways to communicate, but it seems the adult/authority challenge is part of the process. Or the process of challenging as part of the process.

Linda's community rehab group, comprised mostly of chicana teenage girls, is great. They come in all uptight not knowing what to expect and then I come on neutral and then I get them loosened up and we were laughing irreverently and being silly, making up outrageous poems. The lone male in the group, a black man, said, I had no idea it was going to be this outrageous and fun. He's aboard.

I'm introducing playfulness as a way of problem solving. Very little levity happens in Napa. It's a very serious place. Unfortunately the young kids mistake this for fucking around time. And then I have to be both good cop and bad cop. I'm schizophrenic, and so am I, said the Gemini.

Linda's and Bonnie's groups overlapped, so they combined classes. But Marcus wanted to schedule a personal critique time in the midst of it all. At one point, I was running different lessons between three separate tables. I got Bonnie's group settled in and working, and then I met with Marcus, who is from the same ward, then I ran back to Linda's group. It was too much, and I shrieked, You'll have to excuse me, I'm having a split personality right now—and we all cracked up. 

Despite its size, it all worked out fine. I'm much more at ease with the groups, and I'm able to tell them my fears and insecurities and the risks I'm taking. The drugs they take are so potent, it's hard for them to fight the medication, and be themselves, but I'm pushing them harder to do just that.

In the men's lockdown ward, Raymond finally gave up his—I'm so crazy—routine, and he wrote a long poem, unasked. I had them write about things they didn't know they loved. 

Kirk didn't show up until later. It was so funny, he came in shouting out his lines—he who didn't want to be in the group to begin with. Carl came undone; he was holding his head and howling—it's too intense it's too intense—and he rushes to the bathroom to retch. And someone else is shouting this is way radical. Wow, cool! They were acting like college kids. Someone asks:  is poetry supposed to be radical?

Two new guys are slow but we are getting there. Today they comment that I didn't need to tear the curtains off the wall to get their attention. I had their attention from the get-go.

Afternoon class: Earl and I explore the renga form on the computer. 

In Brook's group, Michael, who claims he has been illiterate for 14 years, because he can't read without glasses, has lost several pair on violent wards.  He's not used to thinking anymore. So it's all a stretch. However he is beginning to blossom. I took down a poem from him about his life, a road game, we did a poem on what's in a name.

Rick has outbursts of violent behavior. Brooke is able to calm him down. But I can't read his writing, I think he's an ex-cop…I tend to shy away.

Mellow Ned doesn't respond to anything right away, he has a distinct synapse lapse, but clearly he is very gifted with words. He loves writing in rhyme, and the lyric format. He was he is a musician after all.

In Linda's groups I'm beginning to collect drawings for the book. We began a watercolor poster, with the Wednesday group. Wednesday at noon a kid jumped in front of a semi, a suicide. One girl said I smell smoke. It must've been the creek Oregon fire. There is reason for concern. Too many eyes light up at the smell of smoke. Napa has the highest per capita rate of arsonists in the entire state. Fire is a big deal here.

What I've learned is to not take the patron's participation handicaps at face value but to push them gently to get what I want, and to be open about my attitudes and misconceptions, a heavy dose of reality. I am able to articulate and to talk about this place without feeling I have to be delicate, or that there are taboos—other than their privacy rights. 

Howard, after seeing his poem typed up, really liked it. He's an odd one, the chess playing savant. Wednesday afternoon, a formerly dead time, I had a group of men gathered around me and we were all discussing writing. I got a glimpse from the outside looking in, the camera panning in, it's actually working. Success. What happens when I leave?


the time for spring is beyond us
I am tired of all the things 
both visible and invisible
This tightness of ribs 
where the night stars show through
Listen she sighs slowly
I hear nothing

Thunderbolts in a slow sky
Have no need for pathways.

The emptiness of wine glasses 
like sad sunsets 
the frames a ladder to the shadowy past.
I am left in the dust
Who can hear the questions the woman asks
Young beggarsquaking in the roots
This the last week of summer 
before the fall creeps in
Melodious notes of dry grass before rain
We each desire something from the rain

No comments: