Connecting with Poets over Zoom

Poetry Connection

While the world has opened up since the pandemic, one of the lasting boons is the ability to zoom and interact with people worldwide. The experience cannot replace an in person gathering, but zoom works well for a lecture format, along with questions and answers. I must admit, it’s taken me a while to warm up to zoom poetry readings. Only a month ago, Amanda Gorman was offering the audience tips on how to show their appreciation for poetry. She gave the snapping of fingers as an example or the audible moan, similar to enjoying a yummy piece of cake as acceptable ways to respond to poetry at a reading.

In a zoom room, the microphone is turned on only for the poet. The audience does more talking than during an in-person event. I find all the chatter distracting, especially if I am the one who is presenting. I want to continue with my set but I also want to know what everyone is saying in the chat. Usually, people are praising the reader or poet, writing down words or phrases that linger in the ear. I think I am old fashioned and want people’s undivided attention. Even as a listener, I want to hear the poet and not have my attention divided by reading the praises of friends in the audience. In my ideal zoom room, a moderator would limit or open comments on the chat for a specific time period when the poet is not presenting their work. Perhaps, a few minutes in between the poems or at the end, the chat can be available for everyone?

Over the Memorial Holiday Weekend, I attended the Mission Poetry Series via zoom and the poetry was amazing and featured Inaugural Poet Richard Blanco and the Alta California Chapbook prize co-winners Fred Arroyo and Amelia Rodriguez; their winning chapbooks are available through Gunpowder Press. While the poems were stellar, I have to say I was equally moved and impressed by the Q&A that followed the poetry reading. A strong discussion on reading your work aloud before and after it is printed ensued. Someone asked if the poets read their work aloud while composing and the answer was unanimous.

Amelia Rodriguez said she always reads her finished poems aloud. “You have to read it for the music,” she said. “If you don’t read your poems aloud, they exist in this insular world where they never get better. For her, the sharing and reading to other people is an important part of the poem writing process.

Richard Blanco talked about the importance of feeling the poem in your body when you read it out loud. For him, the act of reading a poem aloud speaks to poetry’s oral roots. When he was writing the inaugural poem for President Obama, he started paying attention to the sound of his poem. “It has to come through the ear,” he says. “Take anyone’s poem and read it out loud, you will understand something different about it. We always say show don’t tell to ground to ground your work in the details and five senses.

Fred Arroyo fell in step with Amelia and Richard. He said he reads everything out loud, including reading of other poets. He does a lot of walking with his manuscript in hand and edits as he walks. “If I find anything that is not singing right, hitting the ear right, then after the reading, I go back and revise the manuscript.”

I find that the idea of making sure there is music in a poem is what can turn a good poem into a great. Poets will spend an extraordinary amount of time searching for the right word, the word that will convey a precise meaning while making you want to bob your head or tap your foot or melt into your seat because the words sound so good together.

The Mission Poetry Series, in its 15th season now is a Santa Barbara treasure. Emma Trelles, Santa Barbara’s 9th Poet Laureate does a wonderful job with the series. I remember early days of the Mission Poetry Series, when it was run by Paul Ferricano and Sister Susan at the Mission. The Memorial Day holiday was well spent at the Mission with the I Madonnari Festival. This year was the first time poetry was included in the I Madonnari Festival. However, due to short notice I was the only poet available to read. On Sunday, I read for fifteen minutes in front of the stage as it was being cleared for the next high school band to perform. Reading in front of people sitting with their picknick or passing by with their churros and hot dogs as they carried on loud conversations was challenging, but there were several people listening and I was happy to keep going. On Monday, I read “Arroyo Burro” from my book, How Fire Is a Story, Waiting, at the festival’s ceremony which was dedicated to the late Margie Yahyavi who was on the City’s Arts Advisory Council and an important member of our community.

For more discussion on the crafting and reading of poetry, come to the Santa Barbara Writers Conference next week. Poetry is in the spotlight this year with an all-laureate panel, featuring eight Santa Barbara poets laureate, poetry workshops all week and poetry presentations before the evening speakers, as well as workshops and lectures in all genres. The Santa Barbara Writers Conference honors Perie Longo, who has been running the poetry program for 40 years.

This week’s poem is one I wrote about the Mission’s Bell for the Creative Community’s TV Santa Barbara episode, featuring poems about the Santa Barbara Mission.

The Old Mission’s Bell

By Melinda Palacio

Me llamo Santa Barbara.

I am a discarded bell,

too old to ring the days away.

I carry my city’s name.

Me llamo Santa Barbara.

Santa Barbara, discarded bell.

Santa Barbara, dethroned saint, calendars say.

Santa Barbara, city of the Old Mission,

Santa Barbara, twin bell towers, red.

Red to mimic near mountains and sky,

setting in sun-shimmering gloria.

From my round capped home, see

the ocean, a holy shade of blue, beyond

San Nicolas, once home to another

lost woman, christened Juana Maria.

Saint Barbara, imprisoned in a single

tower with a trinity of windows,

discarded, discalced, but revered.

Your bare feet never walked

on smooth adobe floors. Your

robes never soaked in spouting

water from a bear totem, our

Chumash lavanderia.

No worries for red skies or red roses.

Your name remains.

This old Mission holds your head true,

namesake of sword and palm.

Me llamo Santa Barbara.