Thursday, February 4, 2021

Poetry Letter No. 1, 2021 - Reviews of Books by Toti O'Brien, Cindy Rinne & Bory Thach, and Carole Boyce

Book Review by Mari Werner: An Alphabet of Birds by Toti O’Brien

Los Angeles: Moonrise Press, October 2020;

ISBN 978-1-945938-41-2, paperback, 184 pp, $15.00; 

ISBN 978-1-945938-42-9, ebook in ePub, $10.00

In mindfulness meditation, the object of the practice is to be fully present in the moment. In Toti O’Brien’s prose collection, An Alphabet of Birds, the stories are told by a narrator who is keenly in the moment and acutely perceptive—so much so that the reading experience can become like a meditation. This is a prose collection but it’s difficult to nail down whether they’re stories, essays, or prose poems, fiction or creative non-fiction. And it isn’t necessary. These are literary pieces told through a rare and distinctive voice that slips effortlessly from the real to the surreal, and from the outer to the inner world. The details that bring a story to life and bring a universe into the mind of the reader are poured so naturally into the pages that it’s easy to forget one is reading.

The title of the piece, Five Senses, may be something of a representation of the character of the book— except that it turns out not to be limited to five. This particular piece is an intriguing exploration of the perceptions, influences, and decisions that shape or foreshadow the vectors of life from an early age. It begins with the inner story of a small child quenching her thirst for sense, experience, and understanding under the wise tutelage of her grandparents, or out on her own roaming orchards and wild ravines.

Her explorations and the expansion of her world come to life in full detail, but at the same time other senses are invoked in the reader, such as developing a love for the grandfather or feeling the apprehensive chill of another side of the child’s life. “Back in town with her parents, in winter, she’ll start school. When spring and the swallows will come she will return South, Grandma promises. Right. She begins waiting for spring without further ado.” 

The words are beautifully written without calling attention to themselves. They conjure another realm without particular regard for the confines of time and the standard definitions of how things work in the ‘real’ world. Most of the pieces are not linear, they ride conceptually in what flows like gliding down a river on a raft. 

O’Brien paints both the outer and the inner landscape in vivid detail. In Sunset Walk, the reason for the deep grieving taking place in the inner world of the walker is never revealed, but the grief is interwoven as the outer world plays in full color texture and motion. “And I long for every house, for every life I haven’t lived, feeling both its sweet promise and its irreparable loss.”

Parts of the book are humorous in a wry matter-of-fact way devoid of any self-conscious effort to make you laugh. For example, the squirrel contemplating an orange in Creation: “Judging by the gravity of its frown it must be debating large matters, either the original sin (the type of fruit makes no difference, all round juicy things work, temptation-wise) or else global issues such as climate change, inequality, resource shortage…” Or in Darwin where the reader enters a place in which everyone knows a bird doesn’t fly. “It can’t for a crucial reason, a deal-breaker. Such a feat would take lots of oxygen, and birds talk too much. In fact, they never stop. That is why fish fly, dear, fish only. Because they shut up.” One may be left wondering if other assumptions about the structures of reality have evaporated too. 


The pieces, even the humorous ones, are philosophical, but never by way of bringing messages tied up in packages. The narrating voice is deeply inquisitive and observant, not just of physical perceptions and the inner emotional realm, but also of the world at large, the universe, the perennial questions related to being a human on Earth. It raises questions, opens doors, explores ideas—such as this from the first-person piece, September, as the narrator listens to Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy: “Quite a simple message. Sursum corda, be brave, never give up. Isn’t it what Beethoven always intends? He did. The man is long dead. But his notes are resounding against my bones, striking my membranes. They vibrate through my throat, echo within my ears. The composer is dead, but he’s not…I know it is common sense. Still, how common is that? What outlives the body, where, why?”

Though this work visits many different emotions and situations, overall, it provides a collection of clear windows into colors, tastes, textures and music of life that are there to be experienced—if you’re paying attention. This is gifted writing that deserves a broad readership and critical attention.

~ Mari Werner, Claremont, CA

Book Review by Joe DeCenzo: Letters under Rock by Rinne and Thach

Letters under Rock: Performance Poetry by Cindy Rinne and Bory Thach. 

ISBN 978-1-334529-0-8, paperback,86x pages. $16.95+S&H. Elyssar Press, 2019.

Letters Under Rock: A Spiritual Emergence Through the Arousal of the Heart

Within the pages of the earth toned cover lives a work to calm an anxious mind and awaken a slumbering spirit. Cindy Rinne and Bory Thach have done more than compose a book of ethereal poetry. They are the parents of a performance art experience conceived from the realms of both eastern and western philosophies and faceted with tradition and lore from an array of cultures. It gestated for a number of months as the artists corresponded in letters which allowed their characters of the orphaned Wanderer and Nomad to channel through them, using them for the vessel as their charismata evolved.

Rather than leap at the reader like a bolting deer, the cover draws you in with its matte finish and placid hues of tan, clary sage and flecks of coral. Coiled koi fish, often seen as a symbol of harmony, perseverance and enduring love swim peacefully above the title. And the screened image of stacked rocks does more than imply the obvious balance we all seek in life. To the yoga master, it’s a meditation practice of quieting the mind while finding patience and intensifying focus. To the Buddhist, it could be a form of worship or request for good luck. While to the hiker/traveler, rock cairns mark rugged trails to aid those seeking a way down from the mountain or out of the forest or most usually a way home.

The introductions by the authors are meaningful in that they afford a glint of insight to the process that produced the work. We are invited to engage our palates for we will taste the flavors of many lands. We’re shown images of the Wanderer and Nomad to enhance visual recognition. We’re also shown a photo of the 12’ x 2’ tapestry sewn by Cindy Rinne which features prominently in the physical presentation of the work. It’s a blend of patterns, colors and textures harmoniously combined to create a collage of their feelings perhaps mementos gathered from their travels. Let the journey begin.

The poetry resides in a series of letters written to each other. The anguish of their separation steadily grows through their endless nights of longing. We get the sense many of the letters were composed late into the night when daylight steals stars from the sky, signs of life begin to stir and another day of searching for their love’s desire begins. It is clear the lovers are one spirit, of one mindset tragically separated by untold miles able only to touch each other dimensionally on a cosmic plane free from physical obstacles. Allusions to the precepts of Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism and ancient mythology are woven through the pages like silver threads in an heirloom quilt.

The correspondence of the Wanderer and Nomad takes us back to the era when thoughts and feelings were imbued on the material page. When somehow the expression flowed down the arm, past the wrist, through the hands and fingers then impregnated the parchment through the pen. The intent of the sender was tangible with its energy transferred to the receiver once in their grasp. Days of anticipation and feelings of expectancy are palpable as the Nomad and Wanderer await a beneficent courier to deliver the envelope often showing signs of wear from its miles of travel. The stamps and postmarks of different lands, territories and boundaries the message had to cross before its arrival are depicted in the patchwork garments the characters wear and exquisitely evident in the imagery written, “Maple leaves fall in the windblown spring of autumn. Birth and annihilation lead me to your footsteps.” pg.49

The book is divided in sections, each depicting a different phase in the developmental growth of their awareness of each other, their ancestral roots and their dependence on nature. In their respective worlds everything is sentient. The birds that surround them; the insects that pervade; the rocks, trees, stars and moon all breathe their existence. Tenderness and affection are the fundamental essence of their writing. Despite the seclusion and loneliness separation brings, they orbit around the gravitational power of their dreams, “With the cosmos falling apart, you alone make it beautiful… For your face has become a psalm of memory, never to be forgotten.” pg. 35 Each section is sealed with a wax stamp of the author’s emblem, one a heron, the other a dragon to insure privacy and hand of origin.


The Wanderer who is constantly seeking and the Nomad who never settles long in one place convey their sorrows ironically in their depictions of the wonders of nature. Yes, a feeling a melancholy permeates, but they are so connected spiritually there is an underscoring of hope and promise of deliverance as they suffer their isolation, endure their demise and are revived through there souls’ transmigration.

To comprehend this story beyond the printed text, this author encourages you to take a companion of similar perception and read your copy outdoors by firelight during a meteor shower far away from urban distractions that would interrupt the true sounds of Prithvi Mata. For silence isn’t the absence of sound but the acquisition of peace. Take turns reading the passages out loud to each other and to the rocks and leaves. Then listen for their comments. Letters Under Rock reminds us that dreams are eternally ours, but the earth and its trappings are only ours to borrow.

~ Joe DeCenzo, Tujunga, CA

Adrianne Lawson-Pope Reviews Blue and the Blues, Edited by Carole Boyce

Blue and the Blues, Anthology by Pisces Publishing, ed. Carole Boyce 

(San Diego, 2021), xii + 56 pp. paperback, color cover, illustrations. $12. 

Limited edition 100 copies.

What a Concept! Blue would be more than pleased about this tribute to her essence. This unique anthology brings poets together to glorify the color blue, to write about the emotion of feeling blue and to pay tribute to the genre of blues music. Hues, moods and music; this collection is as varied as poetry can be with a broad spectrum of interpretations, both literal and figurative on each section. The book demonstrates the range and complexity of the creative mind.  The author of More Than A Color makes clear to the reader that the actual pigment is viewed as a safety net; a source of comfort and strength, available as needed. In Blue, she says “there’s a shade for every person” and lists some blue colors and emphasizes in the final lines: “I live blue. I speak blue. It’s a language you know. I love blue.”

Other poets speak of blue literally. In The Edge, Georgia Washington writes: “Place emphasis on this gallant shore, where the blue tide rolls in and the waves roar…a place where sand and water meet.” Eileen Carole is also literal in Ruby’s Blue when she says: “I am made to feel small in the middle of God’s great big, blue ocean.”

Back cover of the Blue anthology

Indigo Woman, the longest poem in the book, (four pages) by James Evert Jones speaks of a woman: ‘Baby…you make my world indigo. I need to know what you got to make me so blue it’s black, like cool ocean black, like sixties R&B black”…and later blue becomes a verb! “till we get our blue on, till we blue our world away, till we blue ourselves out, till I blue your mind." The intensity and the color repetition tell you this man is in love! 

Blues enthusiast, J. Todd Hawkins is historical in his telling of Jelly Roll Morton in Jelly’s Travels…” He would call them joys because they were the farthest thing from the blues he could think of. They were the contra blues, the anti blues, the un blues.” We also get factual information about a famous blues song standard, Down Home Blues in the Sharon Smith-Knight poem tribute to songwriters DC and Selby Miner: “From dusk to dawn they sing the joy and sadness of our cultural core.”  If you want to know sadness to its depth, then walk in Loretta Diane Walker’s shoes in Variation On Cancer Blues

This book is magnificent in its scope in just 56 pages, but there is poetic sustenance on every page. A section of Haikus on the three facets of blue was an interesting footnote to the longer poems. Even in those three short lines; meaning was conveyed. Loretta Diane Walker poignantly stated: “BB King’s voice died/His blues are ghosts on vinyl/Lucille keeps singing”—You can just picture the sunset when Mellonease Wharton writes: “Arizona skies/Rust orange tinted with blue hues/I stand in wonder” —Eileen Carole uses capitalization for visual emphasis when she says: “Blue as deep as sea/Fathoms beyond one can guess/Imagine BLUE blue.”

Blue collage from the cover of the anthology, by Carole Boyce

Each poet was given space for a short bio to credit their other writing undertakings. 

Three pieces of artwork defining and complimenting each section were an added bonus to the writings and not often seen in chapbooks. A painting of BB King (UK artist, Alan Hancock) was a natural divider for the music section as he, accompanied by his guitar Lucille has always been known as universally acknowledged King of the Blues. Likewise, there are few images sadder than the woman in Annie Lee’s Blue Monday. Sitting on the edge of the bed with head hung low; the body language says this woman is dreading the start of the work week in no uncertain terms. 

Lastly, a photo of a blue piano on the patio of the Los Angeles Sims Library of Poetry was a perfect selection to rejoice in the color blue, since it also shows a quote by Voltaire, “Poetry is the music of the soul, and, above all, of great and feeling souls.” The art is in synch with the poetry and the combination is a magic chapbook! As a finishing touch, the editor included a strip of small photos on the back cover heralding blue items, from Henri Matisse’s famous Blue Nude, to the Blue Yusef Lateef jazz album cover; among others. The front cover has a reduced original 18x24 photo collage of 50 plus blue objects by Carole Boyce.


Readers that do not have this ‘blue’ book should give it a read and delve into what it is all about. They might find themselves with a new allegiance or at least a different outlook on color. There is a reason people have a favorite color. If you tap into yours, you may see how its expressed in your life. Poets out there may be encouraged to ‘anthologize’ their own special color and share it with poetry fans everywhere. In conclusion, Blue & The Blues has set the standard.

                                                                                                           Adrianne Lawson-Pope

Heaven and Nature Sing, oil California landscape by Karen Winters

NOTE The reviews have been published in February 2021 in the CSPS Poetry Letter No. 1, 2021, edited by Maja Trochimczyk, in PDF format, emailed to members and posted on the society's website: 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

CSPS Monthly Contest Winners for 2020

"Late Hue" by Julian Stanczak (1975)

The year 2020 was eventful for California State Poetry Society, perhaps because “change” was in the air. After suffering the loss of long-time Monthly Contest Chair, Keith Van Vliet, who died in 2019. We started the year with Richard Modiano, Vice President for Communications serving as Monthly Contests Chair and Judge. 

In November 2019, Alice Pero was approved as the new Monthly Contests Chair and Judge and she adjudicated the contests for the rest of the year 2019 and all of 2020. The winning poems are now gathered all together for the whole calendar year. 

  •  January 2020.   1. Jane Stuart - "Our Winter Garden"    2. Jane Stuart - "Early on a Winter Morning"   3. David Anderson - "The Apple Spy"
  • February 2020.  1. Pamela Shea - "Rosebuds and Lovers"  2. Jane Stuart - "Dancing Into Love Again" 
  • March 2020. Dorothy Skies - "The Coyote’s Howl"
  • April 2020. No Winners
  • May 2020. Marlene Hitt - "Enlightenment"
  • June 2020. Joyce Futa – “Kumquat Marmalade”
  • July 2020. Jackie Chou – “Cerulean”
  • August 2020. Joan Gerstein – “Self-Portrait as Clark Gable One Liner” 
  • September 2020. Louise Moises – “Empty Chairs” 
  • October 2020. No Winners
  • November 2020. Charlene Langfur – “Meandering”
  • December 2020. Ambika Talwar – “Losses into Treasures”
NOTE: To submit poems to our Monthly Contests, please send the poems to and the payment via PayPal to 

"Mirrored" by Julian Stanczak (1971)

January 2020: “Our Winter Garden” by Jane Stuart

Our Winter Garden

Our winter garden greens under dark snow
that fell upon the terrace in our sleep--
the moon's shadows glisten and glow,
the wind makes footprints that are deep
beside the garden wall that is so tall
it almost reaches the winter sky--
and now, the lightest morning snowflakes fall
from greyest clouds stuck to the sky.
Snow falls where flowers bloomed and young trees grew
up, up, to blossom on a summer day.
The garden was a green place where birds flew
 in flocks to find their nests; time blew away
 these months then winter raindrops fell with snow
over dark earth under the full moon's glow.

February 2020: Pamela Shea's "Rosebuds and Lovers"

Rosebuds and Lovers

The bud of a rose,
Layer on layer of petals,
Held tightly, perfectly,
Unfolding when the time has come,
Bursts open and a flower is born,
Releasing sweet perfume.

The heart of a lover,
Layer on layer of emotions,
Trembling, hidden, waiting,
When touched by the beloved,
Bursts open and a poem is born;
Sweet music fills the air.

"Duality in System" by Julian Stanczak (1990)

March 2020: Dorothy Skiles's "The Coyote's Howl"

The Coyote’s Howl

January’s draught
portent of a scorching
summer to come…

The San Gabriel Mountains
and Verdugo Woodland’s
are but a tinder box-
terrain covered with
chaparral, a dry dense
stubborn thicket -
fuel for wildfires.
On summer nights beneath
the full moon’s light, coyote’s
coat the color of nickel.
Her features gaunt, gait less
confident, yet her sense
of smell remains keen.

From dusk to dawn
she traverses the ridges,
the low-lying hillsides
hunting rodents and rabbits.
She often treks into
neighborhoods, climbing
fences as swift as a thief.
The coyote is not too proud
 to forage for plums,
berries or pears.

This fall as the Santa Ana
winds rage, I’ll listen
for the coyote’s howl,
wondering if she’ll
make it through
the threat of famine,
the peril of wildfires,

sure, to come!

"Line Up" by Julian Stanczak (1978)

May 2020: Marlene Hitt's "Enlightenment"


A dust devil blew in
from my childhood.
Dead leaves whirled up
from summer’s hot soil
while a jay feather flew birdless
swirling into midsummer sky
up to the puffs of white cloud
as on the day when I was ten,
when I ran into the vortex
trying to find a secret
in the center of the whirlwind
only to rush away
with sand in my eye.
Why does that thrill return
as the wind whirls in?
And why, now, do I run away?

June 2020: Joyce Futa – “Kumquat Marmalade”

Kumquat Marmalade

My sister and I slice a huge mound of kumquats for marmalade, a tedious, time-consuming task; each tiny fruit has seeds we must tease out with the tip of a knife. One could go nuts doing this alone, but we pass the time chatting about friends, sons, the awful daily news.  Twelve jars of orange jellies with little bright haloes of rind will be our reward.

We start to talk about movies. Suddenly we are caught in the familiar senior struggle to remember someone’s name, this time an actress we have loved in many roles. We catalog facts we know about her – she played an artist in that movie with whatshisname … and X’s sister in a film set in San Francisco – was she nominated for that? Finally, my sister says she gives up and rinses her hands to google. When she returns with the name, we slap our numbskulls.

slippery seeds of memory
we leave drama behind
and enter the age of comedy

"Conferring Blue" by Julian Stanczak (1978) print on paper

July 2020: Jackie Chou – “Cerulean”


My mother clad me in pink,
and later in my teens, lavender.
But the blue was always there,
underneath the pastel colors.
It was in my genes,
blue with its melancholia
and myriad synonyms,
azure and cerulean.
My mood is a spectrum
of different shades of blue,
including royal and navy.
The sky and the sea are blue,
with every variation in between,
turquoise and indigo.
Blue is behind my strawberry-colored smile.

August 2020: Joan Gerstein – “Self-Portrait as Clark Gable One-Liner”

Self-Portrait as Clark Gable One-Liner

I’m large ears, not a rouge elephant
in the room. I’m no monkey,
giraffe, donkey. I’m fame, drama
money, talent, often remote, dark.
I’m a good-looking ladies’ man.
I’m a decades-long romantic,
rugged legend, a dream-boat.
I’m not meatloaf, filet of flounder,
fish gravy. I’m an early inning
grounder, grinning leading male.
I’m army air force, not a feathered
fledging dragon. I’m beguiling
to a fault, make traffic halt.
I’m flair like the Golden Gate.
Friendlier than a diva, louder
than a lady. I’m a brash laugh.
I‘m five fingers, a foot, a fathom.
I‘m a photo album minus a mother.
I’m oft married, alpha male, father
that denied infant daughter
for the reason that frankly,
my dear, I don’t give a damn. 

"Opposing in Dark" painting by Julian Stanczak (1984)

September 2020: Louise Moises – “Empty Chairs”

Empty Chairs

I search for him in all the chairs,
but every day, he isn't there:
the yellow dining chair bereft
of shoulders broad, his chest, his neck,
the wooden stool where once he sat
perched upon the kitchen matt;
he was there to prep a dish:
peel a vegetable, bone a fish,
and on the deck the slatted chair
its arms all stiff with vacant air;
no more a conversation shared;
I can not hear the voice that cared.
The garden bench beside the wall,
where once he read in spring and fall,
the cat now sleeps upon his place,
I can not see his smiling face,
the office chair that does not roll
that creaked the floor and took its toll
of difficult financial times,
checks to write and poems to rhyme,
the recliner sits in upright space
no feet to rest, no back to brace.
The bedroom chair without his clothes ...
My mind in logic surely knows,
he'll not return to take a seat,
but my heart with longing prays to meet,
the man that sat in all those chairs
could he once more find comfort there.

"Chase" by Julian Stanczak (1977)

November 2020: Charlene Langfur – “Meandering”


Today all of what's around is seeds and scraps and petals
picked up along the way, ideas about love opening up again
bigger than the giant fan palms, where the mountain
edges touch the sky near where I live,
the fat white clouds hanging over it in the blue sky
where the full moon rises at night and the sun
lights up what we know of where we are
and seeds are everywhere on the sand and scrub grass
when the cold settles into the desert at night. 
Today I know the love stays inside me now
and carries forward in time, the same as any
abundance no matter how little or rare,
my dog leaping in the wild grass, unflappable,
my friend smiling after her cancer treatments,
her bald head bobbing in the sun. I think today
getting older is only the other side of something else,
everything redeemed as always, dreams unobscured,
and the flowers, you can see for yourself, petals  absolutely luminous

"Shared Center"  by Julian Stanczak (1983-99)

December 2020: Ambika Talwar – “Losses into Treasures”

Losses Into Treasures

My father - dear glorious one.
How do you fare so far away? I am
readying for another visit to
a distant home. I miss you as mad
earth who contains all our stories.

Your absence so palpable – even trees
bend to gaze in my eyes; in these presences
I gather riches of your wise brown eyes
I wrote of wild moons ago.

Some riches are borne of loss – all losses
become treasures – not yours not now
maybe tomorrow. I cannot shed pain
of my lostness of you 

Wild orange blue bird-like flower courses
through my domain – walls wither.

There are no excuses for not speaking
tongues of love. Moments of eternal stories
gather moss strung in my heart’s eyes.
I must speak of them now. To you.

Tales from my little days – as teen years
pulled me tall. My injured hand,
shy smile, falling star – maker of tea.
I could never say them aloud; power of silence
of shutting had me captured with tales
of she's too much.

Find out now – how too much I am
I love too much to come close…
you with the grand trine in the skies
that mirrors mine – Stargazers have told me
But I could tear apart the sky looking
for you – to tell a story a day for 100 years.

Your palms bruised curved ridges
disappear into a lost horizon –
I search – my shadow walks behind me…
Your voice remembers.

First published in The World Literature Blog. January 18, 2020;

"Accumulative" by Julian Stanczak (1975)



California State Poetry Society encourages poetic creativity by organizing monthly contests. The contests are open to all poets, whether or not they are members of the CSPS. Reading fees are $1.50 per poem with a $3.00 minimum for members and $3.00 per poem with a $6.00 minimum for non-members. Entries must be postmarked during the month of the contest in which they are entered. They must consist of a first page with all contact information (name, address, telephone number and email address) and the titles of the poems being submitted. 

At this time there are two ways to submit, by regular mail (enclosing check) or by email (using PayPal and email to make a payment  - adding $1.00 for PayPal fees if submitting by email.

CSPS Monthly Contest – (Specify Month)
Post Office Box 4288, Sunland, California 91041

Alternatively, poets may submit their work by email to: (Specify Month) and simultaneously pay their contest fees by PayPal to:, adding $1 for PayPal fees.

All contests are judged by Alice Pero, CSPS Monthly Contest Judge. The 1st place winner receives half of the prize pool for pools less than $100. For pools of $100 or more, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners receive $50, $10 and $5, respectively. If there are insufficient fees submitted, the minimum prize is $10. There are no exceptions to the prize disbursement rules. The monthly contest winners are announced as they are awarded and the winners are notified by mail. All of the winners for the year are listed in the first CSPS Newsbriefs of the following year. In addition, the first prize winners are published in the CSPS Poetry Letter (PDF, email, posted on website) and posted on this blog. 

Please note: Do not send SAE’s. We do not return poems. If you win, we will let you know. Otherwise there are no notifications.

CSPS Monthly Contest Themes (Revised)

  • January    Nature, Seasons, Landscape
  • February  Love
  • March      Open, Free Subject
  • April        Mythology, Dreams, Other Universes
  • May         Personification, Characters, Portraits
  • June         The Supernatural
  • July          Childhood, Memoirs
  • August     Places, Poems of Location
  • Sept          Colors, Music, Dance
  • October    Humor, Satire
  • November Family, Friendship, Relationships
  • December  Best of Your Best (Winning or published poems only. Indicate name of contest or publication and the issue/dates of publication/award.)     

To find out more about our Contest Judge read ALICE PERO's Interview on ShoutoutLA website:


The paintings of Julian Stanczak (1928-2017), represent the most vibrant period of Op-Art. Born in Poland and training to be a cellist, the young Julian was deported by Soviets after their invasion in 1939 to a Soviet gulag, where he was badly beaten and lost the use of his right hand. When the prisoners were released in 1941, and left with the Anders Army, they were distributed around the world in a variety of refugee camps. Julian ended up in Uganda, where he learned how to draw and paint using only his left arm and hand.  He was delighted with the richness of color and light that he saw in Africa and this period was formative for his development as artist. 

After coming to the U.S. in 1950, he studied art at Yale University and settled in Cleveland, Ohio, where he was a professor for 31 one years. One of  CSPS poets, David Sapp, wrote the following recollection: "Julian was a long-time professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art. I remember seeing some of his work in person when I was a student there a very long time ago. Astonishing color. It was said that he would sit on the edge of his couch and imagine these complex paintings in his head and then -- like Mozart -- simply paint them without studies."  More information may be found on the website

Friday, January 22, 2021

Village Poets Present Maura Harvey, Poet and Painter, CQ Editor - January 24, 2021 at 4:30 pm on Zoom


Village Poets of Sunland Tujunga and California State Poetry Society are pleased to present poet and artist Maura Harvey on Zoom. Two segments of open mic readings will be available for poets in attendance. The feature will take place on Sunday, January 24, 2021 at 4:30 pm. Zoom invitations will be sent to Village Poets email list and upon request sent to Maja Trochimczyk Only guests with names (not Admin, not IPhone User, etc.) will be admitted to the reading. Meeting number and password are required).

This presentation is partly sponsored by the Dignity Health Foundation, through a grant for "Close to Nature" Project for Phoenix Houses of Los Angeles, with the California State Poetry Society  as one of the collaborating partners. 

Ethiopian Guardians by Maura Harvey

Maura Harvey is an award-winning bilingual poet, whose work has appeared in collected works and venues  from San Diego to Venezuela.  Her art has been exhibited internationally from México to Istanbul. She feels at home in the world because her home is where her art takes her. More information:

El jardín de los recuerdos

de mi padre aprendí a amar

el cactus de orquídea

con sus flores suntuosas color magenta

las que apenas duran tres días

en su último año de vida

mi padre cantaba

romances tradicionales todas las mañanas

para espantar el porvenir

resucito sus plantas

por debajo de donde colgaban 

olvidadas entre la maleza,

con manos seguras las planto en nuevas macetas

con mi madre aprendo

de los días en el jardín de la familia:

cactus, naranjos, adelfas,

tíos, tías, primos, rosas rojas

luego se adormece

sueña con su infancia

las plantas cantan su sueño de primavera eterna:

tierra, lluvia y sol

Maura Harvey

Julio, 2020

Aix-en-Provance Fountain, by Maura Harvey

Garden of Memory

from my father I learned to love

the orchid cactus

epiphyllum with sumptuous magenta blooms,

the ones that last just three days

in his last year my father sang 

traditional ballads every morning

to frighten away the future

I resuscitate his plants,

pull them down from where they've hung

forgotten in the overgrowth,

with sure hands plant them in new pots

with my mother I learn

about days

in the family garden:

cactus, orange trees,oleanders,

uncles, aunts, red roses

then she nods off,

dreams of her childhood

the plants sing their dream of eternal spring:

soil, rain and sun

Maura Harvey

July, 2020

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Winners of CSPS's 34th Annual Poetry Contest, 2020

The 34th Annual Poetry Contest of the California State Poetry Society was managed by Joyce Snyder and adjudicated by Kaecey McCormick, Poet Laureate of the City of Cupertino, California. The results are as follows: 


1st  Prize — “Respite” by Anara Guard of Sacramento, CA 

2nd Prize  — “Low Sun Angle” by Susan Gunter of Santa Rosa, CA 

3rd Prize  — “Boundaries” by Barbara Allen of Palo Alto, CA 

The prize-winning poems have been published in the California Quarterly, vol. 46 no. 4 in December 2020.


“The Gain” by Hilary King of Los Altos, CA

“More War Than the One Staying Alive Demands of Us” by Abby Bogomolny of Santa Rosa, CA

“April, 2020” by Mark Meierding of Rohnert Park, CA

“For My Twelve Students Absent on Halloween” by Kathleen McClung of San Francisco, CA

“Covers” by Greg Gregory of Antelope, CA


Reading poetry requires curiosity and a willingness to learn. Each piece is a lesson, each line a challenge to one’s subconscious biases. Every poem submitted this year offers something unique, and choosing the winners was not an easy task. I am grateful to each contestant for sharing their creative spirit and am honored to have learned from these wise and honest writers. 


A meditative and pensive piece, this short poem lingers long after the reader sets the page down. “Respite” demonstrates the ability of poetry to transport the reader in mood and place. The first two lines both pull the reader in and slow the reader down, setting the rhythm and tone of what is to follow. Simple yet powerful imagery planted in lines six and seven allow the reader to celebrate along with the speaker, and the language choice evokes a sense of timelessness. The entle command of the third stanza is a call to action, an offering for the reader to seek respite in nature again. As a whole, this well-crafted poem succeeds in delivering what the title offers. 


A modern sonnet, this poem begins and ends with strong imagery. The soft, slow language in the second line contrasts with the blunt language in line three, setting a pensive and reflective mood. Concrete language grounds the poem, making the images accessible while the lexicon evokes a sense of discomfort, contemplation, and loss. The steady rhythm leads the reader deeper into the reflection, and sound plays an important role. The couplet works to solidify the theme, yet the soft hiss of the final word (“space”) adds to the simile’s power and brings the poem to a soft, slow close. 


Deceptively simple, the poem’s short form and lines hide a powerful and effective metaphor. The title leads the reader into the poem and plays a key role in unlocking the poem’s message. The 30 words in the poem are so effectively selected that those few present succeed in creating a vivid image and compelling analogy. The kitchen references set the scene, evoking a sense of familiarity and continuity through the shift in stanza two. While the message of the poem is straightforward, it is skillfully realized, highlighting how a short poem can showcase complex themes. 

"Redwood Creek" by Karen Winters,  20 x 16", oil;


In deep woods, 

language slows down: 

first the tongue, 

then the mind. 

With reverence, we gaze: 

oh, the red soil, 

oh, the fern’s green. 

We thank the cobblers and knitters 

who outfitted us, 

the trail makers, 

the grove savers. 

Into this silence, listen well. 

Fresh words will arise,

unhurried thoughts, 

allowing us to ask 

the right questions 

when we return.  

Anara Guard  

Sacramento, California 

First Prize Winner 

Anara Guard grew up in Chicago where she studied writing at the Urban Gateways Young Writers Workshop with Kathleen Agena and Sterling Plumpp, at the Columbia College Story Workshop, and at St. Joseph’s College with Stu Dybek. While attending Kenyon College, she was awarded the John Crowe Ransom Poetry Prize and the Doris Crozier Award. At the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts, Guard studied with Norman Corwin; in the fiction workshop at Bread Loaf Writers Conference with Robert Cohen and Alix Ohlin. In 2016, she attended the fiction workshop at Community of Writers at Squaw Valley. She lives in northern California with her husband David Hutchinson. 



The hours weight the winter light down,

dried daisy stalks sashaying in the wind. 

I’m flattened by my own history, 

trying to compost a past I can’t revive. 

Today my memories nag at me, 

that empyrean of years, felonies 

of mind like so many bees mining 

the purple starred rosemary blooms. 

My tongue licks words for the honey 

of remembered tunes, for the nectar

of winter afterthoughts, those blue 

candles I can’t quite snuff. 

Old age is like that: thoughts like 

spider webs, trailing into space. 

Susan E. Gunter   

Santa Rosa, California

Second Prize Winner 

Susan E. Gunter is a professor of English emerita and a three-time Fulbright scholar in American and gender studies. She has published poems in America (Atlanta Review, Louisville Review, Paterson Review, Poet Lore, and many other journals), Bulgaria, England, Montenegro, and Sweden. Her reviews of poetry have appeared in American Arts Quarterly, Crab Creek Review, and The Harvard Review. She has also published three academic books on the Henry and William James family. She lives in Santa Rosa, where she paints watercolors, plays golf, and helps care for her grandchildren. 

"Vineyard Valley" by Karen Winters, 18x24, oil on linen


She wished for me 

to hold her pain 

in my red ribbed mixing bowl, 

balanced on my belly 

just beneath the heart. 

I offered her instead, 

my arm outstretched, 

a teaspoon.  

Barbara Allen 

Palo Alto, California 

Third Prize Winner

Barbara Allen’s interest in poetry began as a child reading weekly from “101 Famous Poems” to her visually impaired great aunt.   Her fascination with poetry continued throughout her four decades of elementary teaching career.  Upon retirement, she joined an adult education poetry appreciation class and began attending various writing workshops and retreats.  In 2014, she established Palo Alto’s first Poetry Post outside her kitchen door, posting a classic or contemporary poem weekly for the community’s reading pleasure. Reading poetry has become a daily practice, as she seeks poetry for The Post that reflects a particular time or season. As a writer, Barbara is enchanted with the hunt for “just the right words in just the right order.” Boundaries is her first publication and award.


Kaecey McCormick, the 2020 Contest judge, is an author, artist and educator who was named 2018-2020 Poet Laureate for the City of Cupertino. She holds degrees in Anthropology & Psychology from UCLA and the University of Maryland, and an MFA in Writing from Lindenwood University. Her poetic work has been featured in numerous journals & anthologies. Her recent chapbook, Pixelated Tears is currently available and her book The Creativity Blueprint is forthcoming. 

"June Lake Sunset" by Karen Winters, 24x30, oil on linen


This contest is open to all poets, whether or not they are members of the CSPS. Poems must be uploaded to our website or postmarked from March 1st through June 30th. Reading fees for all entries, domestic or international, are $3.00 per poem for members and $6.00 per poem for nonmembers. There is an 80-line (two page) limit for each poem. Winning entries are announced on our website, blog, and in the CSPS Newsbriefs included in the fourth issue of the California Quarterly in a given year. 

Poets winning 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes receive $100, $50 and $25, respectively. As many as five Honorable Mentions may also be awarded. Placing poets are published in the fourth issue of the CQ in the contest year. The Honorable Mention poems and other submissions are forwarded to the CQ editors for possible inclusion in the subsequent issue. Contest results are posted on our website.  If submitting by mail, send a cover letter with all poet information and a list of submitted poems, one copy of each poem with no poet identification, plus an email or SASE for contest results, to:     

CSPS Annual Contest Chair 

3371 Thomas Drive Palo Alto, California 94303 

Photos from High Sierras, CA - near Huntington Lake by Maja Trochimczyk
Artwork by Karen Winters, California painter based in La Canada.