The bar stool and microphone made for a simple stage, letting the spoken words of student poetry be the real stars of the show.
Fifty years ago, the poetry-reading atmosphere (especially if it were in Greenwich Village) might have included bongo drums, candles, black berets and a fog of cigarette smoke. But not in this 2014 version of a Malibu poetry reading.
As a requirement for their final grade in the Creative Writing class at Malibu High, 20 seniors wrote original poems around the theme of Los Angeles and read them in front of standing-room-only crowds at Bank of Books during two evenings last week.
The “Los Angeles” theme seemed to resonate with students, who wrote not only about LA’s smog and homelessness, but also about the part of LA closer to home — Malibu. One poem was titled “Adventures at Malibu Creek.” Others wrote of place only as a vague background to love and relationships that had gone wrong, truly “emptying their entire souls before your very eyes” as the event description had promised. To read some of the poems, visit malibutimes.com.
It was the first time in 10 years of teaching the class that Eric Carrier had asked his students to recite their poems in public with an audience. The readings were the brainchild of local poet and enthusiast Chela Anderson, whose son took Carrier’s class several years ago. She and poet Doraine Poretz visited the classroom several times to help students read and write poems.
Anderson said she was inspired by National Poetry Month (April), and approached Carrier about doing something with his creative writing class.
“I’ve been surprised at how youthfully wise the students were,” Anderson said. “It’s easy to think of the kids in Malibu as privileged, and maybe this is why they’re drawn to the creative side, it gives them a chance to look at the dark side of things.”
Carrier said creative writing and advanced creative writing are elective classes for juniors and seniors, and include a variety of writing assignments – children’s books, graphic novels, short stories, non-fiction and even “napkins” – writing something on the back of a napkin.
“The first-year students are graded on effort and how they attempt the various writing techniques. In the advanced class, I’m a little more technical with them and it’s more about perfecting it,” Carrier said.
The students worked on their poems for almost two months. Carrier first introduced them to the “Poetry of Place” online poetry atlas and showed them examples of dif ferent kinds of poetry, including lyrics to songs like “LA Woman” by the Doors and “Respiration” by Black Star. Students then wrote their first poems mimicking the styles of others.
“The idea of the students taking ownership of this event has been appealing to me,” said Carrier.
“This is his last year to teach creative writing. Eric deserves a lot of credit, going out with a bang,” Anderson said.
“It’s a year of change and transformation for me,” Carrier said, who plans on getting married shortly and teaching the 11th grade English classes next year.
Malibu’s blossoming poetry community
In a developing poetry scene, Malibu now has a couple of regular venues for poetry readings. Bank of Books hosts a monthly poetry night run by manager Pam Eilerson and originally started by Ann Lambert.
Malibu also has “Poetry by the Sea” programs about once a quarter at Malibu Methodist, coordinated by locals Ann Buxley, Ellen Reich and Ellen Cohen, who draw on their contacts to bring in featured poets from the region.
The May 18 “Poetry by the Sea” event, attended by about 50 people, featured Columbian poet Antonieta Villamil, who interspersed her poetry reading with chanting, singing, and Spanish words; followed by African American poet Cory Cofer, a “teacher of the year” from Pomona, reciting his poems from memory in a rap style. The program also includes ‘open readings’ from local poets