Poetry readings embody ‘voices’

Written works expose differing perspectives, ways to be published


Denis Perez / The Advocate

English professor Benjamin Jahn presents a scene from his fiction novel during the poetry reading and open mic event in the Library and Learning Resource Center on Nov. 3.

By Asma Alkrizy, Staff Writer

Although the Library and Learning Resource Center  is known to be a quiet area, library department Chairperson Andrew Kuo stirred up the atmosphere by organizing a poetry reading and open mic event on Nov. 3.

Kuo invited five Contra Costa College faculty participants to share their poems and stories along with other student participants who volunteered at the moment to read their writings.

“We heard a lot of written works from different voices,” Kuo said. “Some were funny and some touching. We want students to write more to have a voice.”

The faculty members, who were mostly English professors, showcased their written works, starting with English professor Jeffrey Michels, who presented a poem he wrote about the discrimination and challenges women tackled in Iran.

“A friend of mine, an Iranian woman, was disturbed by my poem,” he said. “Referring to her situation in Iran, she said my poem shares a stereotypical view of Iranian women.”

Michels said the Iranian woman opposed his poem, saying she lived a decent life in Iran and she has never faced the kind of discrimination he described in his poem.

In response, Michel said he wrote a poem subsequently to express why he was disturbed about how women live in Iran. In fact, he called his poem, “Why I am disturbed.”

In this poem, Michels said an Iranian woman, who was abused and wanted to have a voice, had prompted him to write the poem concerning discrimination many Iranian women, like her, had to live through.

“There are Iranian girls attacked with acid if they wore revealing clothes,” he said. “That woman told me ‘build a shield of words,’ and I did.”

Poet and counselor Norma Valdez-Jimenez, who won a first place poem award in San Miguel Writers’ Conference 2015, said she started writing poetry after her son was diagnosed with a “rare genetic disorder.”

“I tried to process what was going on at that time, so I turned to poetry,” she said.

Valdez-Jimenez said she goes by the pen name “Norma Liliana Valdez.”  “Every writer has a pen name,” she said.

Valdez-Jimenez said her family came to the U.S. from Mexico when her mother was six months pregnant with her.

“My relationship to Mexico is difficult to express,” she said. “I wrote a love poem to describe my love for Mexico, the place I seem to admire because of my ancestors and family.”

She also wrote another poem expressing her sentiment toward the murder case of a photojournalist along with other women in Mexico.

“I wanted to know who these women were,” she said. “Why weren’t their names mentioned? Was it because of shame?”

English professors Dickson Lam and Benjamin Jahn introduced their written works.

Lam said, “Names contain history and meaning. I got the idea from Malcolm X. The X expresses the unknown names of his (African) ancestors.”

On the other hand, Jahn presented a scene he wrote in the fiction novel he is planning to publish.

“Fictional writing has always been my favorite,” he said. “I joined a creative writing program in graduate school and didn’t like writing non-fiction.”

He took advantage of the event to promote the literary writing magazine initiated last semester spring on campus.

“We can publish any poems and stories, such as the ones we spoke of today,” he said. “The works will probably be published  in May (2016).”

Kuo also had the opportunity to present a poem he wrote for a “vocabulary exercise.” His poem uses terms that are difficult to grasp, such as “eros” and “prevarication.”

He said this is the second time he hosted a poetry reading and open mic event. The first time he organized the event with the help of Michels last spring in the Library.

“I’m looking forward to doing another poetry reading event this spring too,” he said.

The event was a huge success because many students attended the poetry reading and open mic event, and some even volunteered to share their written works.

“I really enjoyed the event,” undecided major Nina Cestaro, who was also one of the student participants in the event, said.

“I got the chance to read two of my poems about pining for someone that may not love you back and about our confusing academic goals and life.”

“It was a great way to bring together faculty and students to share their ideas,” speech department Chairperson Sherry Diestler said.