December 13, 2018

 Photo by Brian Biery at  The Battery Bookstore

Photo by Brian Biery at The Battery Bookstore

“To me, writing is freedom. It allows me to fly, sometimes with a parachute and sometimes without.”

I met with Gerda Govine, the Poetry Lady of Pasadena, at The Battery Bookstore on Los Robles and was immediately struck by her elegance and style. A natural poet, she has helped to shape the literary arts community in Pasadena, and beyond, through the power of poetry.

Originally from the Virgin Islands, she made her way to California, by way of New York City, in 1982, and now, calls the megalopolis of Pasadena, Los Angeles, San Diego and Tijuana home. She has cultivated friendships and creative collaborations across these divides, through her work with La Casa del Tunel (The House of the Tunnel), a converted art center along the Tijuana border, co-founded by Gerda’s partner, artist Luis Ituarte, and most recently, with the opening of DesEscondido/No Longer Hidden: Public Address at the California Center for the Arts, Escondido. DesEscondido is a group show that features multimedia artwork by seventeen artists and poetry from Gerda’s latest collection, Poetry Within Reach In Unexpected Places.

Gerda speaks about the process behind her fourth book, “I collected and harvested words and phrases, for over a year and a half, from the other seventeen artists, and was able to connect each artist to their work and their work to the title of the show.” She describes her writing practice as “opening that space and allowing it to stay open” and “hav[ing] the confidence that the words won’t fail me.”

For the past year and a half, Gerda has facilitated “Poetry Within Reach,” a poetry reading series at the Pasadena City Council Meetings. After six months of reading her poetry at the meetings, she received a call from Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, thanking her for her work and asking her to continue. “Poetry Within Reach” was born. Gerda says, “I believe that as poets we have a right, a responsibility, to give back, to be civic-minded, to be citizen poets, and that’s why I started the readings at City Council.” Her goal is to create a “chorus of poets” who read at City Council meetings across the country.

The Pasadena Rose Poets are members of this chorus. Founded by Gerda, the Rose Poets include Teresa Mei Chuc, Mel Donalson, Kate Gale, Damian Gonzalez, Hazel Clayton Harrison, Gerda Govine Ituarte, Shahé Mankerian, Carla Sameth, Annette Wong and Toni Mosley. The group is comprised of poetry advocates and ambassadors, who hold readings through out the city, including at the Pasadena Public Library, the Pasadena Museum of California Art and “The Noontime Reading Series” at the Pasadena Senior Center.

Gerda describes reading to an audience as taking a bath in the words on the page, “It’s organic. I use my hands. I use my body, my intonation, my speed…Each poem I read differently, to keep the words alive…”

Looking forward, Gerda plans to continue to build connections and hopes to curate shows internationally, and to, of course, keep writing. “I have a lot of poems running around in my head,”she says. “They’ll come out when they’re ready.”

UPCOMING EVENTS

3/8 & 10/11 ArtNight Pasadena Light Bringer Project and Day One

5/18 & 5/19 LitFest Pasadena in the Playhouse District - Free

5/19 2-4pm Expressing Feelings Through at Art Center College of Design - So. Campus

6/15 & 6/16 Pasadena Chalk Festival at The Paseo on Father's Day Weekend - Free

11/24 11am Pasadena Doo Dah Parade East Pasadena - Free

 
 Actress Jasika Nicole (“Fringe”) reads a finalist’s story for The Tomorrow Prize Reading & Awards at LitFest Pasadena. PHOTO BY ROSALIND HELFAND

Actress Jasika Nicole (“Fringe”) reads a finalist’s story for The Tomorrow Prize Reading & Awards at LitFest Pasadena. PHOTO BY ROSALIND HELFAND

November 25, 2018

High school students: Take out your keyboards and your wildest imagination. 

For the fifth year in a row, the Pasadena-based nonprofit, the Light Bringer Project, is sponsoring a science-fiction writing competition open to all ninth- through 12th-grade students enrolled in schools across L.A. County. The Tomorrow Prize for short science fiction “inspires students to explore their present through speculating about their future and to excel in the art of storytelling,” according to the website.  

Sci-fi is one of the most popular contemporary literary genres, especially with young writers because they all grew up with technology. This competition encourages teens to explore scientific, social, technological, environmental and philosophical themes in their writing. The winning stories will combine the exploration of these topics with well-crafted storytelling. 

Five finalists will be chosen. In the past, judges have included scientists from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and celebrity Young Adult authors. The winning stories will be read on stage by famous actors in May at Litfest Pasadena. The Los Angeles Audubon will also present The Green Feather Award for the best environmentally themed sci-fi story. Hundreds of students and more than 20 schools have participated in the contest over the last four years, and organizers say this year promises to be the biggest one yet. L.A. Parent is serving as a media sponsor. 

As someone who spent several years teaching high school English, these writing competitions are very close to my heart. Several of my former students won awards from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs from the various competitions the department has sponsored over the years. The opportunities presented in these contests can end up being transformative for all involved.  

Beyond the competitive aspect, these writing contests are an extracurricular activity that empowers students and offers them a chance to express their imagination beyond standard regurgitation. A statement from the Light Bringer’s website elucidates this further: “Science fiction is a uniquely inspiring medium that has enabled many of our great thinkers and scientists to imagine the heights and limits of human achievement, leading to important moral and ethical debate, long-range planning for humanity and scientific innovation.”   

Former participant Chelsea See says the biggest benefit for her was meeting and hearing the work of peer writers. “It was a grounding and humbling experience to be a part of such a dedicated and skilled group of writers that were all my age,” she says. “I truly believe that participating in this contest helped me realize just how close I can get to achieving my dreams.”  

For more information on The Tomorrow Prize, see the Light Bringer Project on Instagram and Facebook @LightBringerProjectand on Twitter @LightBringerP. At the same time, share the announcement with teachers and high school writers across L.A. County. The judges are waiting to read Tomorrow’s Prize – today.   

 
  Editor's Note: We wish to clarify that the Doo Dah Parade this weekend is on Sunday, November 18. An earlier version of the story said otherwise.

Editor's Note: We wish to clarify that the Doo Dah Parade this weekend is on Sunday, November 18. An earlier version of the story said otherwise.

November 14, 2018

Pasadena’s Doo Dah Parade has selected the Altadena pizza parlor proprietor who orchestrated a boat rescue of his grandparents amid the Woolsey Fire to lead this Sunday’s festivities as Grand Marshal.

In a nod to his bravery and innovative problem solving, the nonprofit Light Bringer Project, which is organizing the 41st Doo Dah Parade, wanted to honor Jamie Woolner, Light Bringer Project President Tom Coston said.

“We like to highlight a community hero and somebody has given a lot to the community and celebrate that. It’s maybe the one little serious life of Doo Dah that exists,” Coston said. “…the people who were the unsung heroes. They don’t get a lot of attention, and they really should. And this parade being a people’s parade, you know, it’s a chance for us to really salute their good deeds that they give us during the year.”

Woolner owns Pizza of Venice on Fair Oaks Avenue in Altadena. When the flames of the devastating Woolsey Fire descended on the neighborhood of his grandparents, who are 87 and 90 years old, he said he just had to get to them.

With roads into the area closed or impassable, Woolner hatched a plan to use a boat to reach his grandparents on Saturday.

Helped by Anthony Perez of Marina del Rey-based Nautical Tech Services, Woolner said he was soon diving from a yacht into the water off of Paradise Coast and swimming toward shore.

Woolner and his associates persuaded the grandparents to leave their endangered home, and also managed to snuff out flames burning near fuel drums at a construction site before leaving, he said. And all while barefoot and shirtless after the swim to reach the neighborhood.

“We were barefoot, stepping on thorns and embers getting burned on our feet, and it was hot,” he said.

The group then spotted burning brush near 55-gallon barrels of diesel fuel.

“We realized we really needed to put out that fire, because if the construction site caught and those barrels got hit by the fire, I can only imagine the devastation that it would have cost to the area,” he said.

They waived down a small boat, which helped take the elderly passengers from shore to the anchored yacht, according to the LAist.

“I feel really honored, actually. I’m super excited,” Woolner said. “It’s really nice to be thought of as a person worthy to be highlighted in the community, and I’m very happy that this story ended as well as it did, because I know that there are a lot of people whose stories did not have happy endings.”

“There’s a lot of heroes out there who are risking a lot more than I did, and so I feel very fortunate.”

Woolner will lead a strong contingent of lunacy at Sunday’s Doo Dah Parade, Coston said.

“We probably have about 90 different entry groups, about 1500 marchers,” he threatened. “We’re expecting several thousand people up to come watch. We imagine that there will be a tortilla or two in the air.”

Interest seems to have been increasing lately, according to Coston.

“We’re getting a lot of new entries and people that are coming into the parade that had never been in it. Usually they come to it because they’d go to a Doo Dah and they say, ‘I could do that,’” he said.

“And then they come up with whatever routine or whatever it is that’s funny in their living room. They bring it out to the street and sometimes it’s funny on the streets, sometimes nobody knows what they’re doing, but it’s still interesting,” Coston said.

“Because that’s the whole point, you know. It’s a stage for people to do whatever they want. If they want to be political pundits… or they want to be a performance artist or whatever.”

One new entry is titled, “Rocket Boy,” Light Bringer Managing Director Patty Hurley said. “So we’re curious what that will be.”

“I got a call from the ‘Clown Doctors of Outer Space.’ I have no idea who’s showing up. But it sounds like something that haunts the back of a lot of people’s nightmares.” Coston added.

“We have ‘Mr Claw.’ We have no idea what that is,” he said.

“He’s a robot,” Hurley interjected.

“Oh really? Oh yeah, of course. He’s a robot,” Coston said.

The always irreverent and twisted stream of consciousness brought to life that calls itself the Doo Dah Parade will strut its one-of-a-kind brand of artistically inspired insanity in East Pasadena starting at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Decent, serious-minded folks will want to avoid the area of Colorado Boulevard, between Altadena Drive and San Gabriel Boulevard.

For those unable to avoid the path of the unrepentant nonsense, a word to the wise: The ballistic properties of corn tortillas are far superior to those of flour tortillas.

More information is available online at pasadenadoodahparade.info.

 
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March 30, 2018

Leigh Adams sits on her story tree and looks up at the branches. They extend this way and that, and intertwine like arms hugging. Her purple hair catches the light, as she points at the bark, "See the smiling faces?" she asks me.

Leigh has been the Artist-in-Residence and an Interpretive Horticulturalist at the Arboretum for the past ten years. She is a mosaic artist, activist, water harvester, educator, storyteller, longtime Altadena resident and all-around lovely soul. I feel very luck to have spent an afternoon talking and strolling with her through the gardens of the Arboretum--Leigh's home away from home.

"Magic realism is a huge part of my life," said Leigh, as we walked the grounds. This magic can be found in Leigh's spirit. She buzzes with a warm electricity that brings you in and leaves you feeling open. It can also be found in her gardens. They are fertile and inviting places, places where you can set aside your daily burdens and daydream.

“What we can do together, no one of us can do alone.”

One of which is the Crescent Farm at the Arboretum. The farm is Leigh's brainchild; it has continued to grow and be enhanced by the help of the community and the consistent TLC of John Latsko, an Interpretive Horticulturalist at the Arboretum and, as Leigh puts it, "the best garden husband I could ask for."

At the entrance to the Crescent Farm, stands a mosaic mural that children like to trace with their fingers. Artists from Skid Row were commissioned to create it. For many years, Leigh has taught for and worked closely with Piece by Piece, a nonprofit organization that provides free mosaic art workshops to low income and formerly homeless populations.

Leigh incorporates mosaic into all of her gardens and continues to host free mosaic workshops, as well as gardening workshops at the Crescent Farm. Participants learn the process behind habitat gardening--working with the land instead of against it--and water harvesting, or water optimization, a key part of Leigh's gardening practice.

Water harvesting captures rainwater and water runoff, and uses it in lieu of unnatural irrigation systems. Leigh has helped to expand the public's knowledge of water harvesting, and is at the helm of the urban sustainable agriculture movement because of it.

"If you master the process, you can have any product you want," Leigh said about her work in the garden, the studio, and the classroom. For decades, her work as a teaching artist has taken her into schools through out Los Angeles and Pasadena. She stresses the power of collaboration to her students and "do[ing] what you believe in and see[ing] what comes of it."

Leigh's upcoming project will be working with Metabolic Studios to implement water-cleansing processes for the LA River. She is exploring the possibilities of ancient weaving with willow, a natural cleanser that belongs in the river. We look forward to seeing the ripples she creates!

More information about the fabulous Leigh Adams can be found on her website.

UPCOMING EVENTS:

5/19 & 20 LitFest Pasadena in the Playhouse District - Free

5/20 2-4pm Expressing Feeling Through Art - Art Center South Campus - about EFTA

6/16 & 6/17 Pasadena Chalk Festival - The Paseo - Free

11/18 11-3pm 41st Occasional Pasadena Doo Dah Parade