Old Capitol Books hosts second annual Monterey Poetry Festival

Multicolored Christmas lights were strewn from ceiling-high, novel-filled bookshelves as guests began filling seats and mingling amongst each other before Old Capitol Book’s second annual Monterey Poetry Festival started on Oct. 2. Featuring more than a handful of California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) poets, the festival was complete with professors, students and an open mic for community members.

CSUMB’s afternoon performance was the perfect kickoff to Saturday’s events. As the night drew on, the evening performance featured various poets from all across the nation, with important messages of identity, racism, death, incarceration and the struggles of life. 

Kenny Garcia, an associate librarian at CSUMB and fellow poet, was emceeing CSUMB’s afternoon event, introducing the talented professors and students reading their spoken word for the audience.

“We are very excited to have everyone here today, “ Garcia said. “We have some amazing CSUMB faculty and students that will be sharing their work with you today.”

First up to perform was CSUMB’s Humanities and Communication (HCOM) professor Kent Leatham. Before indulging the audience with his poetry, Leatham informed the audience of important trigger warnings his poetry contains.

“My poetry [I will be reading today] revolves around growing up during the AIDS/HIV pandemic, mass school shootings and the trauma of enduring a global pandemic,” Leatham said.

Despite the adversaries Leatham’s poetry describes, his poetry shows the resilience of the human spirit and how change is essential to enabling social justice.

After Leatham’s performance, fourth-year Lizz Wiles took to the stage, reading different pieces of her poetry – some which comes from her capstone project – highlighting mental health awareness and validation, feminism and self-realization. 

CSUMB’s associate professor of Social Action and Composition Daniel Summerhill was up third, and he read a few pieces of poetry from his book “Divine, Divine, Divine,” while previewing some of poetry from his upcoming book “Mausoleum of Flowers” being published in 2022. 

Summerhill’s last poem “An Ode to Elijah” was a beautiful tribute to his nephew, Elijah, who has autism. As Summerhill notes, it’s recognition of their fight against the world in creating an equal space between spectrums. 

Fourth-year Rocio Carranza-Pineda is a first-generation, LatinX poet at CSUMB who writes poems in English and Spanish to express her own “cultura.” Carranza-Pineda read poetry, some of which was dedicated to her mother, interchangeably using the two languages to portray her message.

CSUMB’s professor of Service Learning and Social Action Chrissy Hernandez was the last featured speaker of the event, reading poetry from her college days and current work, which discusses the effects of drug addiction and assault. 

In a homage to her grandfather, Hernandez read a poem on strawberries and his life lived as a farmworker, teaching her ways to determine a strawberry’s ripeness, informing her of pesticidal practices, while giving her unforgettable memories she holds dear to her heart today. 

Once the open mic portion began, CSUMB’s third-year Zoe Atlas read three poems focusing on different premises such as her family back in Palestine and the injustices facing them, the nonlinear nature of time and breaking comfort zones – translating pain into art. 

Community members from Santa Cruz and Monterey all took turns sharing their poetry and expressing themselves before the afternoon event came to a close. 

Aideed Medina, a poet living and working in the Fresno art scene, was the last performer and, in contrast to the poetry shared about grandfathers, spoke on the beauty of seeing her grandmother burst with joy as she danced the night away, twirling her dress and showcasing an ear-to-ear smile. For Medina, the happiness exuberating from her grandmother that night, still brings her an unparalleled sense of freedom.

Fingers were snapping in applause of the poets, audience members would echo praise in responses to particular stanzas or words, and there was an undeniable sense of acceptance and community parading throughout the room. 

Transitioning from the afternoon to evening event, audience members were given a two-hour break to shop around the store, check out the temporary art exhibits or catch some dinner in Downtown Monterey. 

Stephanie Spoto, HCOM professor and co-manager of Old Capitol Books, hosted the nighttime performances and expressed her excitement of the return of the poetry festival and in-person activities.

“This is my favorite event of the poetry festival,” Spoto said. “This is when I get to invite all of my closest friends to come share their poetry.”

Heather Flescher, poet and transgender activist, spoke on recognition and transgender identity. Flescher grew up in Cape Cod, but now lives in the Monterey area and has for the past 23 years. 

Flesher’s first chapbook “One Foot on the Ground,” is available for purchase, and she is working on poetry that will examine mental health and transgender issues.  

Monterey poet Jeff Erwin was the second performer, sharing poems on different aspects of life and the struggles we endure. Comically, Erwin tore the paper his poems were printed on as the ending to his set. 

Poet David Mendez gave a passionate reading of his poems focusing on incarceration, bilingualism, love and genealogy – paying special attention to his Native American heritage. 

Brian Sheffield is a Monterey-based poet who has performed and is published internationally. During his set, Sheffield read poetry on death, heartache, loss, obligations and time. His interactions with the audience added to the wholesome and inclusive atmosphere.

Coming from Brooklyn, Chris Carr is a poet, artist and educator who gave an electrifying performance of his poetry – a powerful rendition to his hip-hop and creative arts background. Carr spoke on breaking down stereotypes, racism, gentrification, rehumanization and the emotions we experience in our lives. 

Musical act Bedrooms sang an acoustic set to send the audience off. Mystifying lyrics and the strumming of guitar was a serene ending to the festival’s second day. Chatbooks were being sold left and right as audience members made their way out of the bookstore. 

Closing down for the night, the store sleeps in preparation for its final day of the festival on Oct. 3, which will be hosting a poetry writing workshop and zine launch party. 

Old Capitol Books is open to the public Thursday to Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. A variety of books are available for purchase. Boukra Press is a project of Old Capitol Books with plans to publish different chapbooks all throughout 2022. 

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