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“50 States: 1 Kelp” –a poem inspired by Bob Hicok’s “Primer”

May 19, 2008

(written on Pine Mountain May 17, 2008)

I remember California violently as the place I go
to be in California. The right hand of America
waving palm trees or the left
flipping into traffic a bird to send home
from the freeway to another. I lived in California
for forty some years. The state bird
is a peacock. The state flower
is Goldie Hawn, which sounds supercilious
though it is merely flashy and sound of breath.

A Californian can use the word “breath”
can surprisingly use the word “surprise.”
True truth California is not west but left.

When I go back to California I drive through Nevada.
There is off I 15 in Nevada a strip, so life
goes scrub scrub scrub strip. I salute at money
which we’re not getting along with
on account of the loans as I slip.

Then Nevada goes scrub scrub scrub
casino, goodbye strip. You never forget
how to be from California when you’re from California.
It’s like riding a Santa Ana and surfing.

The Mojave desert is a spare country
in case the San Andreas faults. I live now
on Pine Mountain which has flies and birds
but is named the same as its trees.

I live in the trees again which is windy
but so is my mouth on my face is doing
shockingly there’s an opening like a cave
needs fire. The statement is blank.

“Hutash, we beseech you, rise and give us waves”
is how we might sound if we were surfers in August
when June hasn’t ended. June
is 18 months long in California.

We are beach lovers who by June
want to fire the sky for being so gloomy
and damp with us. “Why do I have to grow up?”
is the state motto. There’s a day in fall
when we’re all bronzed, artists
everywhere and kelp are asked
by young artists to be partners. When artists escape
with kelp, you know where they’re from.

In this way I have given you a primer.

Let us all be from somewhere.
Let us all tell each other everything we are.

Ride the Poetry Train! Check out readwritepoem! Write your own primer and paste it as a comment below or as a link! Or join me in trying to write 50 states in 50 days! You might also check out the “mystery box” at poemeleon which is also an inspiration as well as a possible container for this poem…

UPDATE September 3, 2008: I have posted another poem in this project “The State of Optimism” here as well as a video here.

22 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2008 8:01 am

    I love this, I love the stream of consciousness style, the tone of voice, the humour. Excellent.

  2. May 19, 2008 10:25 am

    i really enjoyed this.. i live in california,, even tho i am not originally from here,, and i had a good laugh at a few of the lines…

    want to fire the sky for being so gloomy
    and damp with us. “Why do I have to grow up?”
    is the state motto.

  3. May 19, 2008 1:25 pm

    Fascinating project and poem! (I’m an ex-Cal, too, and loved the references.)

  4. May 19, 2008 4:31 pm

    Thanks! I know there are readers of this blog on several continents (like Crafty Poet!) so I am curious how universal this might be, whether it works for people who may not be that familiar (except I forget how overwhelmed the rest of the world can get with our constant media churning…)

  5. May 19, 2008 4:43 pm

    Actually it feels familiar even to me, minus the beaches. And I live in Delhi!

  6. May 19, 2008 6:09 pm

    It is great to see the attachment to your homeplace! And living near the sea is amazing, I need to give it to you! I have never live more than an hour from it, and hope that I never will have to

  7. May 19, 2008 6:22 pm

    What a great writing exercise (I totally want to write Minnesota now) and what a great result. I am formerly from California and I must say that this is a very accurate portrayal of the mindset. Fantastic! The end lines, btw, are killers!

  8. May 19, 2008 6:38 pm

    I look forward to reading your Minnesota one! I have two poet friends –Scott Vetch and Spam– who live in the Twin Cities and it would be fun to write one from their point of view–maybe even using some of the lines from their chapboks!

    Have to admit that the last lines came directly from Bob Hicok’s Primer (posted before this one) and I see them as a sort of chorus for the project.

  9. May 19, 2008 6:56 pm

    I love this poem! I was just longing for California today. I’ve never lived there, but it has always been magical to me.

  10. May 19, 2008 9:23 pm

    Okay, I’m English but I really enjoyed this, put me right there, me and my preconceptions, it has great energy and form. Very well done.

  11. May 19, 2008 10:09 pm

    This is fab, fab, superfab. I’d like to do one, too. I read the Michigan one, and having spent my early childhood years there, plus numerous visits back, I totally agree with it. Your California one takes the form and runs with it. Really marvellous.

    It will likely take me awhile to get to it, as I have several things in the works right now, but I’ll let you know when I do.

    ‘The Mojave desert is a spare country
    in case the San Andreas faults.’

  12. May 19, 2008 10:15 pm

    Cassandra, California is a magical place—in one state it has deserts, mountains, ocean, forests…not to mention Disneyland which I think I might do as my next state! I hope you get a chance to visit soon.

    Jo, glad the poem put you and your preconceptions here–I wanted to play with both preconceptions but also local knowledge…

    Julia, I look forward to reading yours! And the lines you pointed out are my favorites too–Amalio Madueno always says to delete the most precious lines but I never can do it…

  13. May 19, 2008 11:44 pm

    So clever and creative! I wanted it to go on and on!

  14. May 20, 2008 5:05 pm

    thanks for your comment. i have changed the title, and some of the wording, in the poem. perhaps you can revisit it? your poem here is, well, amazing. i am lost in it, really. so much to ‘experience’ in it…not being from CA.

  15. May 21, 2008 7:37 pm

    the state of things

    far from disrepair
    our golden gate


  16. May 21, 2008 8:14 pm

    after a bad start to my Wednesday

    I’ve started my Hicok inspired “california”

    yes. let’s take a poll of the states at LIB

    I’ll bring my voice recorder. We’ll poll the LIB pool.


  17. May 21, 2008 9:41 pm

    cool cool cool!

    or as gingatao says, cool bananas!

  18. onevisit permalink
    June 15, 2008 3:31 am

    Where is the department of transportation
    who did (not) this road
    god where is the sign
    such trees
    such forests
    such valleys
    such summits
    are the pot holes in the system really necessary
    and the travel bureau spends so much on brochures
    to entice folks to come when half the job by better memories would be done

  19. December 23, 2008 12:37 pm

    Massachusetts is a place I moved to
    when I wanted to get out of New York.
    It is filled with hopes and surprises and
    disappointments. They have another
    team here and other stuff I know nothing
    about. If I could do it all over again I
    would, but I would understand ahead
    of time that I will never be from there
    I will always be from where I came

  20. December 23, 2008 4:49 pm

    one visit and me, thank you for your contributions to this project!

    me, i think your piece really gets at bob hikok’s goal-for people to understand that.

  21. December 24, 2008 9:31 pm

    the venting gave our neighbor some representation


  1. The State of Optimism: a primer by way of a poem « art predator

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