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Calling Our Spirits Back from Wandering: Meet Joy Harjo, New US Poet Laureate

June 25, 2019

Father’s Day 2019 Full Moon at Refugio State Beach north of Santa Barbara, CA c. Gwendolyn Alley

For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in Its Human Feet
by Joy Harjo

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give it back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and back.

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the guardians who have known you before time, who will be there after time. They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call your spirit back. It may be caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.

Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It may return in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

Congratulations to Poet Joy Harjo, member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, who will become the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate this fall. Harjo is a poet and a musician who says: 

“You hit words together with rhythm and sound quality and fierce playfulness,” Harjo told NPR in describing her poetry and writing process. 

According to NPR, Harjo’s goals as the country’s 23rd poet laureate consultant in poetry include bringing about   “a healing of people speaking to each other, with each other.” She sees poetry exchanges as a way to accomplish this:

“I really believe if people sit together and hear their deepest feelings and thoughts beyond political divisiveness, it makes connections. There’s connections made that can’t be made with politicized language.”


Let us call our spirits back from wandering. Let us gather around a kitchen table. This is how we could save the world. 

Photo: Karen Kuehn

According to the about page on her website, “Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. Her seven books of poetry, which includes such well-known titles as How We Became Human- New and Selected PoemsThe Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and She Had Some Horseshave garnered many awards.  These include the New Mexico Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas; and the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America.”

Learn more about Joy Harjo’s books and music on her official site. Watch for her latest book of poetry coming out this August, An American Sunrise will be published in August.

Where I’m Calling From

May 21, 2019

May 2019, Arroyo Verde Park, Ventura, CA

I come from Ventura, California
from hiking through cattle to Two Trees,
seeing Channel Islands float in the sea,
eucalyptus at Mound, quad at Buena.
I come from Aspen, La Honda, Taos,
Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View,
Los Altos, Peet’s coffee, Ridge Winery,
Stanford, Santa Cruz, Reno, Jackson Hole.

I come from driving school halls delivering
fresh student newspapers, from reciting
poetry on hay bales at Renaissance Faires
in Agoura, Larkspur, Novato, from
climbing Collegiate Peaks Colorado
Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Princeton,
Yosemite granite and gym plastic,
Gibraltar sandstone, monkey bars, school roofs.

I come from mud between my toes, hail on
my head, sagebrush in my cuffs, hot springs in
my curls. From burrowing owls, red tails,
spotted owls, bush tits, Hollywood finches,
peregrine falcons, wrens. From sycamores,
cecil bruner’s, rose geraniums, pine.
From crows nests, trailers, vans, stucco, tents.

From Santa Anas and El Ninos. From
Sierra, Rockies, Tetons, Pingora,
Castleton Spire, Cascades, Mojave,
Great Basin, Coachella, Black Rock City,
Telescope Peak, Wheeler Peak, Badwater,
oceanwater. From sweat. From tears. From dew.

We’re no longer citizens, we’re consumers, says Patagonia’s Chouinard to VC Students

May 20, 2019

“We’re no longer citizens, we’re consumers,” pointed out Patagonia founder and owner Yvon Chouinard at Ventura College on Earth Day, April 22, 2019.

“Webster’s says someone who’s a consumer is someone who destroys,” he continued.

I took a break from writing my Earth Day piece that was published in the local paper (and reprinted with some addendums and photographs here) to listen to Yvon Chouinard’s wide ranging conversation with his long time friend and business associate Rick Ridgeway. He also engaged with student questions, and gave away copies of his new book, Some Stories: Lessons from the Edge of Business and Sport. Read more…

Ventura’s Midtown Monarch Paradise Park: RIP b. 4/22/98 – d. 4/22/19

May 14, 2019

After being planted by volunteers, shrubs and wildflowers like these lupine naturalized in a vacant lot 1570 Thompson in Ventura CA.

After 20 years, Ventura California’s Midtown Monarch Paradise Park is no more.

RIP Midtown Monarch Paradise Park

On Earth Day April 22, 2019, I watched from my home as the excavator scooped up the remains of the twenty year old Midtown Monarch Paradise Park, a Wildlife Habitat Demonstration Garden in Midtown Ventura CA funded by two Earth Day grants and built by the community on a vacant city lot and hillside near the terminus of Prince Barranca at Ocean Ave Park. This heartbreaking event helps to explain my absence from this blog… the noise alone is enough to break anyone’s concentration.

my former view

 …a wildlife habitat demonstration garden now dead  Read more…

Swing into Spring’s Festival Season! Santa Barbara’s Lucidity, Ventura College’s Culture in Diversity, and more

April 11, 2019

Coachella may be the biggest around here, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only festival or the best one for you! It’s Earth Month so watch for Earth Day Festivals near you all month!

This weekend is Lucidity near Santa Barbara, California and yesterday and today is the FREE Fourth Annual Diversity in Culture Festival at Ventura College, 4667 Telegraph Road, Ventura CA 93003. The FREE event includes a number of speakers on stages and classrooms around the campus.

We’ll be performing an extended version of our Thomas Fire piece, “What Does Thomas Teach Us” TODAY at just after noon on the Main Stage located by the library. We follow the Student Slam and the announcement of the winner of next year’s poster contest.

Here’s the blurb and our bios:

In the surprising, humorous, entertaining, and award winning “What Does Thomas Teach Us” originally produced for Santa Barbara’s Lobero Theater, experienced performance artists Gwendolyn Alley, Rasika Mathur, and Rosel Weedn present personal, poetic, and eco-psychological interpretations of the events that led to and transpired following the December 2017 Thomas Fire. Read more…

Spring substitute teaching gig then BEquinox!

March 21, 2019

This winter and now spring I’m on a bit of a sabbatical from teaching at Ventura College but I am substituting a literature class today, so I thought I’d do what I often do when I’m teaching: put up a post about it. Students read these three short stories about death and wrote essays about the techniques the authors used to get their ideas across:

Some of the literary techniques they’ve learned about via a handout that I’m looking forward to checking out. The instructor Lin Rollens describes these literary techniques as “tools in the writer’s tool kit and that you reach for them as easily at you’d get a phillips head screw driver to put the right pieces together.” I love this! She says, “We’ve talked about other things that are techniques–dialogue, repetition, long sentences etc or anything that makes your story work–and they are free to pull those into their pieces as well. I just want them to be able to see how these stories are things made and how art moves/manipulates them so effectively.”

I will also have students share on the board:

— the best thesis
–the best hook or intro
–the best quote from the paper
–works cited

I read the stories last night — and they are as heavy as you might expect. In class today, they will form groups with others who are working with the same story, and workshop their papers. I will also have them share the best thesis and quote from the papers and write it on the board and have them put the works cited up too. Next week is spring break but when they come back, they’ll be reading: Updike’s “The A&P”, the first chapter of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” and Yukio Mishima’s stunning and difficult “Patriotism.” In preparation for the next set of readings she suggests we discuss the nature and history of honor:
“Honor is not something that we, as a culture, tend to talk about much, and the students often have a difficult time at first delineating what they think honor is and how it manifests, so I generally give a little back ground about nature and history of honor,” she writes in an email with class instructions.
“The Japanese sense of honor is a little tougher, and these articles may be of use:

Read more…

RIP Dick Dale, King of Surf Guitar

March 17, 2019



Richard Anthony Monsour (May 4, 1937 – March 16, 2019) aka  Dick Dale died yesterday. He was nearing 82 yet still playing shows in LA last year (see below).  The guitar legend was made most famous by his song “Misirlou.”

Read more…

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