Makibaka: Struggle

By Niki Esko

A brother named Ed Jr. M. Arimboanga, who I know simply as JR, showed me love and warmth at a poetry reading last spring called Flip Da Skript. It was an open-mic at San Francisco State University's Rigoberta Menchu Hall, and put on by the League of Filipino Students. The room was filled with young activists, musicians, and poets of color. It was the new "Art and Soul of the Struggle," a mirror image of the famous Striker's place of refuge.

After I read a few poems, JR got on stage and asked, "Where are all the strong Pinays in the house tonight?" while pointing in my direction. Fists shot up in the air. They were all around: intelligent, beautiful, and outspoken Pilipinos. Later that week, after networking and getting to know new folks, I stayed in contact with several through email and messaging, and came across JR's photo album on myspace (you may have heard it).

JR's black and white photos caught my eye immediately. They sing songs of history, living injustices, hopes, and solidarity. This is what art is: a tool, a weapon, that educates and informs, unites and divides people, grasps and transmits experience.

"Eye Hotel"
Where our Manongs, Chinese and Japanese and black and other brown brothers, and student youth came together to fight. It is a symbol of gentrification and racism in San Francisco.

It is not a matter of who suffered more but that we have all suffered enough.

MABUHAY ANG SAMBAYANAN PILIPINO- and all that know the cold grasp of imperialist chains.

Photos courtesy of Ed Jr. M. Arimboanga & his online albums

Contact Ed Jr. M. Arimboanga, check out more of his photography, and wish him a happy [early] birthday.

support local art, struggle through art


By Niki Esko

Padre, Mano Po

Conquer your inability to live merely for paint.

merely for sweet flaky bread. merely

for the dusty brown of your own soil.

Conquer your fear of water.

your fear of discovering new places.

of meeting new people.

Conquer your need to avoid strangers

by walking them to church. walking

them to the rivers.

to unmarked graves.

What does your tattoo mean?

By Niki Esko

[she hid her arms in the photograph, she knew shame in them, was taught shame]

"Rolled Sleeves"

The photographs captured her

shame. History echoes in the memory of ta-tak, ta-tak

the calling of her forearms, the calling

of a past she remembered only

when she saw my back.

Old Woman, Old Wind from the North,

she traced the green-black lines that spell

in a downward, falling action:

Rage— or the times I knew nothing of my own blood,


of the entrapment of pineapple silk against brown skin,

of blacklists, dark oaths, privilege,

of the superiority of shades within 7,107 islands;

burnt being at the bottom,

of my two siblings who died

of the cold

and the measles,

of the missing peasant farmers and their teachers;

of their deserving disappearance

and reappearance in black water rivers.

These times were easy

on my ears and boiled questions

to just the right temperature.

Rebellion—or the times I found out that bamboo

was more useful than oak trees,

that my parents were helping me by not showing me

how to think in their language; an American accent grew brain


that middle school teachers could kick me out of class

for commenting on the presidents or

refusing to bake a red velvet cake or

laughing in the face of the (F)ilipino instructor who claimed to have

saved lives while serving in the marines. the marines

that tried to cover up Daniel Smith’s carpool ride—

the Visiting Forces

of the master’s helping hands.

These times were hard

on my back and charged questions

in every direction.

Reason— or the times mentors from the Filipino Youth Coalition sat by my side

and told me stories of konquistador killers

from my island; men and women who took pieces

of Magellan and wore them out

side during momentary celebration,

and my parents knew nothing about these savages

and only read about them in books

and that they were extinct,

and that if they did still roam the mountains…

then they were not Pilipinos,

and that they were to be studied. my parents

also told me of promises written on yellow paper

with blood from Katipunero wrists, men and women

who changed their last names from Du-ku-we to Es-co-bar

to escape

only to find themselves

in America.

These times are easy

on my feet and make yelling questions effortless.

Redemption— or the times I spent with my birth family

the first and second times

and heard my language and dialect

in the form of slurred Waray cries and proud begging and

in wide eyes,

sometimes pointed down

when I looked back. pieces of me were left there,

in the torn nike t-shirts and coca-cola advertisements

in Tagalog,

in the folgers breakfast for four year olds,

in the furious fight to find fish,

in trafficking attempts disguised as modeling jobs

in the poorest provinces.

and pieces were found here

in the diverse campus of San Francisco, my second home to education

not always offered every semester,

in the literature that is unsearchable online and unknowable at borders

or barnes & nobles,

in the megaphoned fists of young students informed

of more than one way to absorb

the world.

These times are hard

on my eyes and the questions keep me awake at night.

[does she know shame]

Stomach Pains

By Niki Esko

[use your voice]

"Nixim Matahum
or Splendid thing that sprouts from the earth and blooms in the air"

She comes to me in s p e c k s of dust trail i n g
behind green moths
of inexperienced choices
that led me to her

miraculous fluttering.


I found her name in a dream
about war,
and resilience.
A path dips and twists before me.
It is layered with black thorns, ditches, grey mud,
whips, rosaries, and chains.

I welcome it
on both knees.

A seed sprouting two sets of roots
needs twice as much good soil
and so I will give it
in the marvelous bullets of Ricardo Flores Magon,
Praxedis Guerrero's callous free and dustless knees,
the quick breaths of Jose Garcia Villa,
and the fist of Sixto Lopez.

She will know the curly tongues of invasive insects,
feel the emerald beating of hummingbird wings,
endure the burn of red suns and
the unstoppable unraveling of winter--
frost on her leaves.
For her
protection: the poetry of Hagedorn, Villanueva, the
pidgin artillery of Linmark,
the feet of Ninotchka,
Sandra Cisneros' never
marry a Mexican,
and Moraga's lessons on
Loving in the War Years
because that is when it's needed most.

As her petals close for the night,
stories of the epic Battle of Mactan
and Lapu-Lapu will sweeten her

or a folktale of why mango trees laugh
as one passes will open more possibilities
for sleep
and for mourning.

Turntable Tricknology: DJ Qbert

By Niki Esko

If one wanted to know about DJ Qbert, then one could visit his website, find him on Wikipedia, watch a DVD such as Scratch, or just ask some peoples (& one wouldn't have to stick to Bay Areans to get that info). He is what I believe English speakers would call "Famous." Beyond his lists of achievements and beneath his DJ celebrity is a down to earth person with dreams just like everyone else. To create, we must destruct mysticism, destroy thoughts of inadequateness, fear. When I think of writers I most admire, I see them as souls first, as poets second. Let's do that here.

Now, I don't want to assume that everyone knows who homeboy is. He is a composer, producer, entrepreneur, raw vegan, spiritualist, artist, musician; and the labels can go on and on and on. An important idea that has always stuck in my mind is that the turntable is an instrument, and Qbert proves this as fact.

Photo of the QFO, Qberts creation.

Peep a portion of his skill in this video (you'll never forget afterwards). For those who are already fans and friends, eat this up for its nutritional value ;)

Q + Turntables + Drumming = Good Times.

Growing up in the Bay in the 90s allowed me to be raised by all the elements of hip hop. The memories are still fresh in my mind: my older cousins and friends getting into deejaying, emceeing, breaking, and myself into graffiti. I once heard someone say, "I can't associate Asians with hip hop. It's so weird to me." Well, here in the C-A, we know no other way. Plenty of pride was born from Cali's hip hop culture, especially for those who were of Pilipino descent because some of the well-known artists were Pinoy. Not only were they popular names but talented, creative, and hard-working youth.

Although DJ Qbert is part Pilipino he is also Negrito, Turkish, Spanish, and Chinese. However, the positive/negative tribalism of the Pilipino community has almost completely claimed him ;p His talents, personality, and goals cannot be defined by ethnicity, race, or location alone:

Many people can research your story or hear about it in films; tell us in your own words how your relationship with turntables began.

it was a part of life for every music lover back in the early 80's.
there were no cd players or mp3s... just turntables and records. so that's what all the djs used and still to this day, it is the best thing to use to control the sound of skratching and playing any recorded sounds like a musical instrument. the influence of skratching started with the break dancing movement and all the music at the time had some skratching in it. it was just a normal thing with this under ground phenomenon.

You compose, produce, battle, and the list goes on. How often do you practice? What can you say about the amount of work you put into your art?

i love to practice everyday... it's like caligraphy. you have to draw the sound or paint it. so if you miss a day of practice, you can tell in how fluidly you sculpt your sound. i need to practice skratching at least 2 hours a day. then there's time for composing, producing, making videos, exercising, learning, meditating, and experiencing life, etc.

What [so-called] genres influence your music?
mainly jazz from the 30's 40's and 50's. but i also love my funk from the 70's and 60's, that james brown kinda stuff b-boys breakdance to. and then there's classical, rock, blues, blue grass country, indian music, etc etc etc... i love it all.

Have you, or are you, studying music theory?
all the time... i am and always will be a student in this art. when you think you know it all, there's a million things you still haven't thought of.

Do you have any rules to live by when it comes to handling your success?

rules are meant to be broken, ha! but normally i just keep level headed and always remember that i am an entertainer and that means that i serve people... i'm not some kinda star that is there to be praised. i have to work hard to give people a good time. i'm a slave who loves his job =)

How does your music fit into your vegan and/or socially aware and/or spiritual lifestyle? If you couldn't touch a turntable again, what would you turn to? Would you be able to breathe?

i guess i would do something with music in some way or another... there's tons of other musical instruments out there. i also make beats and produce. but being a raw vegan, hmm.. that keeps me really healthy and because of that i can be a better clear headed and clear spirited person who can have an open mind to create for a longer period of time than someone who's gonna die sooner or get sick from eating crap =P but actually some people who eat crap, are really healthy. it can just be a state of mind. but i like what i eat and i feel right doing it.

Can you pick out one moment that stands out from the rest of your music career?

there's a billion times, but i'll pick one that will hopefully help other djs. when i discovered that music is poetry, and that was a big key to making it all sound delicious. making my skratches rhyme like i was an mc rapping =)

Currently, who are your biggest influences /or where do you find the most inspiration right now?

benny goodman, miles davis, pee wee russell and louis armstrong... the phrasing on their instruments is out of this world!

What are your plans or out-of-this world goals for the future? (Anything.) Where can people see you perform next?

well, i want to make another film with my next album... so that is a big project that i hope will be out of this world like my first movie "wave twisters". also right now we just got our own channel for google:
youtube. com/thudrumble . it's what i've been doing for the last 2 months... just posting videos of skratching and random stuff that we think is entertaining in some way or another... you gotta see it. we just posted our 88'th video in commemoration of 8.8.08!

I believe that everyone has a passion in life, no matter your background, no matter if you were born with privileges or grew up in the slums or barrios, no matter if you are a male or female. It is just a matter of search and discovery. Once a person finds that one thing, he or she should stick to it for life. They should be taking steps, every day, to feel complete through that art. That will take an interested person, an eager and excited-to-learn person. A person who finds wonder in several things, who sees the details of life. Writing poetry is the world to me; but, being socially active, school, the joy and pains of love, spirituality, intellectual thought, radical books, friendships, art, music shape that passion every second. Your passion can open new doors for you, lead you to new projects, innovative ideas. I say, never fight that feeling of wanting [music, graffiti, design, spoken word, etc] every day. Go through with it with a bold heart.

Hard work will always be hard. We all have to figure out if what we're working for is worth the effort.

DJ Qbert's balance of thought, spirituality, and art can be an inspiration to everyone discovering that they are not one dimensional, that no one is. After interviewing Q I saw him in a brighter light. I hope that you do, too.


Qbert is a nominee for America's Best DJ 2008 put on by DJ Times
among other turntablists such as ?uestlove, Mix Master Mike, and Funk Master Flex, Last day to vote was Aug 16th. Keep up with the contest at DJ Times

Contact him on his website or myspace
Watch more of him, listen to tracks, peep future projects, and visit his online store at ThudRumble

We'll close this session up with a vid from the youtube ThudRumble page. Qbert + J-Dilla = "Yes"

All that scratchin' is makin' me itch!

Spoken & Heard: Ed Koch

By Niki Esko

Two Sundays ago was my last night in Austin. During my stay, my friend Mike had taken me to three poetry events around the area so that I could be around poets as well as read my own pieces. I don't think I should mention the names of the events because I don't want people to judge them right away.

The first event was at dandy-fine and filled with interesting low-energy people. We attempted the event @ The Red Scoot Inn but the cliques were ever-present and full of themselves. Another event was satisfactory @ Sticky Fingers which was equipped with an acoustic outdoor stage and cheap lighting; it was a night filled with really different kinds of poetic energy.

The other event which wasn't so hot was the... oh wait, I shouldn't mention the name. No, screw it, Ruta Maya Poetry Open Mic every Tuesday. The purported 'uncensored' open mic was completely censored. The words "You can't use that kind of language" actually crawled out of the co-host's mouth; he then proceeded to kick the poet off the stage. Ruta Maya is actually a great space for art, poetry, social awareness, organizing, and community (fair trade organic coffee anyone?) BUT the event planners need to seriously reconsider their co-host Marty-- oops! Did I say his name? Oh well.

Thank goodness for Sunday's open mic @ Kick Butt Coffee.

At first, I just wanted to read my poetry one last time before I headed back out to the Yay Area and didn't care if a host was wack or if the audience was rude. Early into the evening I met many young poets that I wanted to interview. Womyn represented strong, men supported each other; family was in the air. A particular poet that stood out is a dude named Ed Koch, a young Bo-ri-cua from New York residing in Austin.

Ed performed two clever poems with style & grace: BATSLAM and NERDLOVE. Can you imagine? Maybe, maybe not because Ed intricately wove the complex with the light. BATSLAM took direct quotes from the movie Dark Knight (which, I believe, he saw a billion times) and added fresh point-of-view. Here is one of my favorite stanzas from this poem:

"This… guy had a father, wait- he had a wife… wait, they had no matches on prints, DNA, dental…
Clothing is custom, no labels… nothing in his pockets but knives and lint.
A criminal of the stranger sort. Oscar worthy if you love a sicko.
Closest thing to Frank Miller.
And 300 seconds later, he’s here… to kill the bus driver."

If you only get to see Ed read a couple poems, make sure one of them is NERDLOVE. This poem makes me wanna go Wii in my pants because I am a nerd myself. Here are some lines:

"So let’s exchange post-it notes with scribbled love quotes,
go to a bar, and before we have dork sex, flirt via text.
Because all I wanna do…is summon the rage of Akira, the hands of Lion-O, and the POWER OF GRAYSKULL-
and make happy little trees with my tongue all over your body.

You make me wanna download every episode of Star Wars, Star Trek and Stargate.
I wanna take off my Yankee jersey and throw on a T Shirt that says-

Ed Koch was the featured poet @ Kick Butt Coffee this past Sunday. I heard he made poetic love to that mic! Be sure to check him out sometime and give him all your listening energy.

Photo courtesy of Mike Avila

Ed shares a few words with us (if you're a writer or performer of any kind, I encourage you to read every word!):

Tell us a little about your background.

I’m 29, born and raised in the South Bronx. I’m Puerto-Rican. My criminal record is clean, hahahahaha. I was a child performer when I was a toddler and spent most of my childhood as a professional actor (1984-1992). I graduated from Vassar College with a Bachelor’s degree and my Major was Urban Studies. At Vassar, I took enough courses to qualify for a Theater Minor (though they didn’t allow it) and I also ran a theater group. I moved to Austin in June of 2007 after working in public television for 7 years to live with my then girlfriend (things didn’t quite work out). I wanted to take a big risk in life, move to a new city and things seemed right. I love so much about Austin, it’s hard to see myself leaving this town.

What competitions have you been a part of/involved in?

I used to do talent shows as a kid. I did Showtime at the Apollo once, performing as a Prince look alike, doing lip sync for “Let’s Go Crazy”. I came in third place. I was on my high school’s speech and debate team, and made it to the State Championships twice in Duo Performance. I started slamming downtown at the Austin Poetry Slam and I was a finalist to make the Austin South Flavaz National Slam team this year.

Who is your all-time favorite poet? Musician?

I’ll throw Pablo Neruda and Miles Davis into the mix, simply because I’ve turned to them so many times this past year for inspiration. If I had a choice whose poetry I could listen to every night… it would have to be either Da’Shade Moonbeam or LaLove Robinson, who are both Austin slam legends. I’m forever incited and excited by their words. And there are too many musical genres to point to, but I’ve been listening to a lot of R&B lately… mostly Blackstreet and Aaliyah.

How did you get into writing and performing? How'd you meet the Spoken & Heard peoples?

When I was little, I used to perform with a group of girls and we would impersonate Menudo. My grandmother hand-sewed replicas of their costumes and my mother taught all of us their dance moves. We’d perform at local hospitals during the holidays and compete in talent shows. My mother tells a story where I was watching one of the local morning shows and told her that I wanted to get into professional acting.

Ten years ago, I was writing rhymes and working on an original play. Now I’m a featured poet at a local Austin open mic. Slam poetry has allowed me to get back to both performing and writing. I met Element615 through one of my good friends, Da’Shade Moonbeam. I’ve been a regular at Spoken & Heard ever since Element615 started the event.

What do you love to write about? Where do you find inspiration?

I find inspiration in my life experiences- sometimes I can be very autobiographical with my work. I also find inspiration in the people in my life: family, friends… the people who are closest to me. Sometimes I’ll have phases where I’m writing about spirituality and military strategy. It’s weird, but I run with what comes to me.

Tell me a little about the humor behind the two poems you read on Sunday. How do your personal interests affect your writing subjects? Oh, and do you really consider yourself a dork?

I think I was born a nerd and raised a dork.

The humor behind the Dark Knight poem is very basic in its pathos- I’m obsessed with Batman. I’m probably gonna write at least one more poem about Batman, because there’s so many angles to take with a comic superhero.

I actually started to write “NerdLove” while waiting at the drive-thru of my local Whataburger. I was thinking about how cool it would be to date a woman who liked cartoons. Then I started freestyling about being Shazam in bed, and then it trailed off into me turning back to normal if she said my name.

Explain, with the best of your ability, how you feel when you're performing.

Sometimes I forget the audience is there. I’ll try to sink into the words I’m reciting and focus on their imagery or my gestures. Other times, I find myself engaged with every person in the crowd. I’ll feed off reaction and improvise. I think I’m at best when I’m loose, I feel like I’ve rehearsed the material enough times, and I’m focused on breathing.

Performing gives me a big rush. There are so many parts to performing- they all add up and give me a sense of feeling both connected and detached. The icing on the cake is the feeling I evoke in people.

Where can people find you & your words regularly? Do you have a CD or book? Are you in the process of putting any together?

Right now, the only place you’ll find my poetry is at Spoken & Heard or wherever I slam locally. I’m planning on putting all of my work in one place soon, but as far as CDs and books and concerned, my second year in Austin is going to be very exciting. The quickest way to find me now is on the web (myspace. com/twoblocks).

What advice would you give to those who want to write but are hesitant about sharing or performing?

Go to a local poetry event. Meet people. Find someone or something inspiring and write about it. The key is not taking yourself too seriously. Once you find the right place and the right time, do it for YOU. No one else.
The key is to be comfortable with yourself and to build community with other artists, poets, and people.

Check out the event (address noted on the flier), the websites (noted on the flier), and say "Hi" to Ed @ Spoken & Heard's next open mic!!

More photos will be added by the end of this week!

Bay Strong: Hopie Spitshard & EyeASage

By Niki Esko

*I did not put together these videos. This is a repost to promote both Frisko artists, their show, and womyn emcees!

Support local artists! See you @ MILK!



By Niki Esko

Read softly, slowly, to yourself or to another. Feel the movements of your mouth, feel the air on your lips. Know or explore each word:

"Everything begins with an inhale and exhale, and never ends, moment after moment, yourself inhaling, and exhaling, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting, moving, sleeping, waking, day after day and year after year, until it is now, this moment, the moment of your being, the last moment, which is saddest and most glorious."

The boy knows death well.

He says, I am of you, I come from the turns you have attacked me with, the smell of your passing movements leaves bruises on my breath, takes pieces of my breath, ‘inhale and newness, exhale and new death,’ I am a boy at your godlessness, a boy in my own.

He thinks, Inimicable hand that lets go, not even you will stay by my side after you take all the nutrients, the food of my days, all that is beautiful in me, not even you will watch the curl of my spine, not even you will listen to the inharmonic bond between rage and fragile will, between fond memories and regrets. Godlessness: there is no difference: pain on one side and pain on the other.

He says, Take me, take me, take me, because, already, you have taken my limbs and what is life if I cannot run, if I cannot embrace, if I cannot fight.

Pause. Hold your breath, he thinks. With death there cannot be life, cannot be love. But here it is. I feel it hold me close, its fingertips dig into my muscles. Moments once dead are no longer through the life of my memory. Deathless because of my memory. All is resurrected with life, this life that has love, this love that is worth all the pains of life, he thinks…

He says, I am of you but I do not return to you, not yet.

He is ‘another boy alive on earth, seeking the essential truth of the scene, seeking the static and precise beneath that which is in motion and which is imprecise.’

It is private, ‘the destruction of the universe in the brain and in the senses of one man.’

The boy knows that death, somehow, is not death at all.

Copper Avila


Rest in Our Thoughts

Quotations from Resurrection of a Life by William Saroyan

Daily Serving: Ain HD

By Niki Esko

I will say this again and again: I am not a critic. When it comes to art, sometimes I feel that those who can do and those who can't criticize. Professional critics find work everywhere and anywhere; but this is a creative space. I want to share my experiences with the art; my interests are far from deciding whose writing is right or wrong and why.
However, Ain HD's book [If] Life's Rotten, Write to the Core is right and let me tell you why ;)

I first met Ain on myspace when she was networking through her vegan lifestyle page directed towards the black Hip-Hop community. She is a writer from Detroit and graduated with a degree in English/Professional Writing in Michigan. We stayed in touch for over a year and then I found out she was publishing a book. A few months later I bought it and now I'd like to share it with yall.

The work has a young & wise quality reminiscent of a writing notebook (in the journal practice & diary sense). I say this because one poem can be a flash of an early memory discussing love while the next page contains heavier observations of American society. Looking at my own notebooks, I find that some days I write outwards and other days I absorb the outward. From storytelling to socio-political examination, the pieces are accessible & direct. Besides the varying subject material on the pages, Ain allows the reader to write directly in the book with 25 writing prompts thereby engaging him or her with the poetry. The invite manifests the notebook.

To give you a sneak peak, here are the first and last lines from the poem "Katrina" that demonstrate Ain's style well:

"You were devastating
A modern Medusa
With a dangerous eye
The Cyclops that cried into the gumbo pot...

...No liquor to burn the throats of voodoo children
As bloated bodies drifted along a regrettable stream"

Here is the author in her own words:

What was your goal for [If] Life's Rotten...? Did you write the set of poems as a manuscript with a purpose or did they fall together under a purpose?
I think the pieces work together as a collection because I maintain my integrity as a writer. I started this collection over five years ago and never had the intention of putting together a book. These were all poems that had been taking up space on my computer. I put them all in one document, deleted some, revised others, and in no particular order, "[If] Life's Rotten" came together.

Explain how you found poetry.
Hip-Hop was definitely my first influence. Even before I knew the names of notable poets and literary artists, I was studying the lyrics of Ice Cube, Queen Latifah, Public Enemy, and Tupac. I started off writing rhymes over Hip-Hop instrumentals. After I realized that I didn't have the gift of flow, I started transforming those thoughts into poetry.

Which musicians inspire your thoughts and poetry? Why?
I'm inspired by a ton of musical artists, Talib Kweli, Nas, Nina Simone, Andre 3000, Micah Dalton, Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu are especially lyrical.

Which writers inspire[d] you?
Toure is amazing, he writes from the heart when it comes to journalism and defies the "rules." He also has a great novel called "Soul City." So I'm inspired by the way he crossed genres. I'm a poet and novelist, but I also write for SchemeMag. com. Toure is a great model for me when it comes to being versatile.
When it comes to poetry, I have to be honest in saying that I don't read much of it, Langston Hughes is by far my favorite poet, but I prefer spoken word artists, like Saul Williams, Last Poets, Black Ice, Jessica Care Moore and others.

What are you currently reading?
I'm reading "Never Drank the Kool-Aid" by Toure. It's a collection of his mag features and essays.

Can you explain a little about your process?
I can't say I have a sole process. I keep a notepad with me at all times. Sometimes a poem comes to me in pieces, other times they come all at once. I never push myself to finish a piece. I never stare blankly at a sheet of paper or drive myself crazy trying to drum up concepts for poems. I write when the words strike me, which is why my work is so sincere.

How much 'formal' training did you get before college?
Throughout grade school and high school, I was into everything you can think of. Karate, dance, art lessons, theater, volunteering and sports. I never took any writing lessons outside of my creative writing class in high school, and I never wrote with the intent of sharing. It wasn't until my 4th year of college, that I decided to pursue a career as a writer, changed my major, and here I am.

Do you think many creative writing classes limit or enhance original creativity?
I had a creative writing course in college that nearly put me to sleep. We were reading works of artists that I couldn't care less about and writing on topics that I had no interest in.

My creative writing course in high school was a little more flexible, and it introduced me to Pearl Cleage, for which I will always be thankful. It also gave me a platform to write without constraints and the opportunity to be critiqued openly.

In both cases, I appreciate the time spent. Both courses pushed me as a writer. I don't think anything can limit original creativity. Creativity is something no one can take from you. It can only be enhanced or rendered stagnant.

If possible, explain what writing is to you. Why is it so important?
Cliche time: Writing is my salvation. It really is. I've gone through a lot of career goals throughout the years, but writing has always remained a priority. It allows me gather my thoughts... because I'm honestly not that much of a talker, and hopefully, it allows me to affect change. We need that.

What advice do you wish to give to young or upcoming poets?
I'll leave folks with my favorite quote of the moment: “During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act” - George Orwell

Creative expression is necessary because we're moving into harsher times. A revolution is in order, and it's important that people use the "tools" they've been blessed with to inspire change. Whether your tool is your voice, art, dance, or poetry, we need you now!

& there you have it.

My favorite poem is a short,"Saturday Car Conversation" on page 61. Check it out by previewing and buying her book here =)

Contact Ain or read her other works:
Ain HD Good Times in A Chowline
Ain HD Myspace

I'll finish this off with one of the book's writing prompts. Maybe yall could respond to Ain by completing it as a comment OR you could write it in your own notebook. I hope that yall get your daily serving of poetry with this book and enjoy.

Writing Prompt #13: Whether you believe in the hereafter, or dream of a far off Utopia, we all wish for a heaven on Earth. How would you describe your Nirvana?

"...common sense is fragile if you never dream"-
from "Fragility"

The Simple Pleasures: Brian Byrnes & Patrick Wolf

By Niki Esko

A few months back (~Poetry Month) I started going to a weekly open mic potluck at my friend Lynn Gentry's house near San Francisco State. Most of the artists who showed up were primarily musicians; although, my fellow poets were most definitely present. The very first night I met Brian Byrnes, a musician from Lansing, Michigan. He moved to SF for a change of scenery, a steady climate, cultural diversity, and a thriving music scene. We chatted upstairs for a bit more and got to know the others. When it came time for show & tell, everyone gathered in the garage to perform and jam. It was a beautiful thing to hear so many guitars, fingers on the keyboard, and voices droppin' harmony. Brian's voice and genuine personality stood out to me and I couldn't wait to see him perform in a public venue.

Luckily, last week Brian invited me to his first solo gig at Simple Pleasures Cafe on Balboa.

Simple Pleasures is a small, non-tourist cafe at 3434 Balboa, San Francisco. When I walked in I couldn't tell where Brian would be performing because of all the couches and people. After buying a root beer, I finally found him setting up by the piano towards the back of the narrow room. He told me he'd be sharing the set with his friend Patrick Wolf. I'd heard Pat at Lynn's place but never got around to speaking with him. I was excited about both artists and got my pen out so I could get to writin'.

I sat behind them so as not to disturb them with my stalker sketching and weird stares. No, I really sat behind them because thats where most of the tables with good lighting were. Simple Pleasures should consider rearranging their set up so coffee fiends and fans can get the most out of the music. Anywho, Brian got right to it and his voice filled the busy cafe.

Brian has been playing music since he was little. Last night he showed them skills on a harmonica, piano, and guitar. He told me he has been playing guitar for 9 years and that some of his influences include Phish, the Grateful Dead, and the Beatles. With those influences you'd think you could imagine what he sounds like but his voice doesn't seem to fit a single genre or match a sole band/artist. Among the songs he performed were some of his originals: Golden Shores, Wishing Well, Fields are Burning, Broken Cup, Southeast of Briage, The Clowns that Laugh. Fields are Burning created an energy about the room that I have not felt in a while. With lyrics like "...the neon lights will draw us in like the vultures in the sky...," it is no doubt that music and poetry hold hands at night. [if I got any part of those lyrics wrong, let me know Brian! Either way, your songs are true]. He had this to say about this song:

"Fields are Burning sends a general message of hope and optimism, and tries to convey the idea that 'the grass is greener on the other side,' or that I need to come to the realization that things aren't always as bad as they seem."

Just what I needed to hear.

After a few songs Patrick Wolf took over the mic. Pat has been playing since he was 12. He was inspired by watching the motions of his father and a guitar. Patrick is from Cedar Grove, New Jersey and now lives in Richmond. He drove across the country with his girlfriend, Mary, after graduating from college. He doesn't have a solid reason or explanation for the move but I say that is exactly when someone should move; so when a person asks for motives, one can say "I'm not sure, but I did it." The universe moves in refreshingly uncharted ways.

His folk style and "warm, rich, full" sounding guitar (as quoted by Brian's father who was in the audience), was a complementary sound to Brian's but one that stands completely on its own. He played some of his own originals: No One Wins, Mary When I'm Gone, Lazybones, and Hell. When I asked about his songs, he had this to say about Lazybones:

"Lazybones, which is on my myspace, came about from lying around for a few weeks, looking on Craigslist for several hours a day, and accruing a general feeling of worthlessness and anxiety, although I like to think it is about a more universal sense of frustration. That's the idea, right? Relating the personal to the universal? I like to distance myself from anything I write anyway."

That's the idea.

Patrick has a CD but I think you've got to ask him about how to get a hold of a copy. I say peep his music on his myspace and then add him... or bug him at his upcoming shows. (He's an awful sweet guy).

Contact and upcoming gigs for Brian Byrnes and Patrick Wolf:
Mark this date!
July 11th @ the Red Victorian Peace Cafe on Haight St.

Mark this date!
July 23rd @ Simple Pleasures on Balboa

Last but not least, a burst of inspiration @ Simple Pleasures:

strum, pluck
lyrical vines over
glossy wood:
these soft strings pulled as tight as
my embrace around Bay water,
like rainbows in oil,
tight as
purple about new blood.

the view beyond the window changes
with each slurred pause.
At first pale blue like my early morning regret,
now, black speckled with gold like my
uplifted breath, my busy pen,
and eased thoughts.

mouth full of song, air is,
put to good use tonight.


The Hills of My Home

By Niki Esko

Addicted to the surreal in the real.
Pale light finds the veins of air in the green of twilight. This is my favorite time to walk, and so I go.

Sheets of fine gold, corrupt only in the hands of man, grace enemies of the earth.
Below this perfect light lay matted dogs and tattered cardboard signs that read
"I'm not gonna lie to you. I wanna get high. Happy 4th of July." A man waves. Spits at my feet.
His shirt reads "No Fear"
Truth comes rolling, heavier than the fog.
A family barbecues on their front porch. All-American orange freckles assault my passing. A father turns a hot dog link while frowning at his wife. Her back is turned. Children sip brown soda from a Carls Jr. cup and kick dandelions to oblivion. Above, the clouds close in.

Mosquitoes begin to smell of blood. Tumbling hay falls apart against barbed wire. As the sky soars low, so do the turkey vultures and crows. Heat and oily haze dance together as waves above concrete. The hummingbird grows patient; the hum of its wings is but a concerned murmur now. A young black cow stands alone beyond the fence. It faces me. Suddenly, large blue fireworks shoot up from behind the hills. They whistle and whirl, crack, snap, disappear. And still the cow faces me.

A family climbs into their SUV, perhaps to go out for dinner. They are all round in their own right. One, the shape of an egg, helps a plum and pear into the backseat. The driver, a football of a woman, empties receipts and old coupons from her purse onto the corner. There, she has found her keys. Metallic circles shimmer on the ground as they pull away.