A large ancient tree stands in the middle of a dark forest. Four intricate lanterns hang upon the tree’s gnarled branches, shining bright amidst the dark threatening to engulf them. Each lantern represents a poet, voices willing to coax the light from the darkness.
These four poets are part of “Lantern Tree,” an anthology consisting of four separate books of poetry collected into one volume. The books are “A book of ugly things” by Cali Linfor, an English professor at SDSU, “Pacific Standard Time” by Sabrina Youmans, a professor at UCLA, “Under the broom tree” by Chris Baron, an English Professor at San Diego City College, and “Bills of landing” by Southwestern College’s own Heather Eudy.
As part of the spring 2015 literary festival, the SWC Guest Writers Series invited the authors to give a reading in the Student Union East.
Linfor, Eudy and Baron were on hand to read and answer audience questions about the art of writing poetry. Youmans was unable to attend as she now resides in Los Angeles.
Eudy, who is co-director of the Guest Writers Series, said that the seeds of “Lantern Tree” were sowed a while ago, when all four of them were students enrolled in SDSU’s Master of Fine Arts in Poetry program in the late 1990s.
“We used to meet up after classes to share our poems and critique each other’s work,” she said. “We stopped for a while and recently got back into our mini-workshops, because we wanted to dedicate more time to our poetry.”
After a couple sessions, each author realized they had a full collection of poetry ready, so they contacted City Works Press, a San Diego non-profit dedicated to publishing local writers. CWP agreed to publish an anthology containing the four books.
The reading was split into five themes: places, the artist life, questions, home and light.
Baron’s poems revolved around family life, heritage and rights of passage.
One of his poems “Of Elk and Marriage” was written for his wife, Ella deCastro Baron. It detailed her struggles with Eczema, which she wrote about in her own book, “Itchy Brown Girl Seeks Employment.”
“This poem is very emotional and I don’t often read it aloud,” he said. “When we got married we weren’t allowed to touch because her skin was so bad.”
The poem tells of a rather unpleasant honeymoon, when they went to the Tule Elk Reserve in Point Reyes Station, Calif.
“At Tomales Point above the bay, / I hold my wife’s hand. She is quiet / again, lost again, deep within her / brown skin, hiding from the eczema. / She has not slept for days. The itching / mostly comes at night.”
Eudy’s poems revolve around journeys and travel.
Her poem “Along the San Joaquin” recounts a time when, while driving along a San Joaquin Valley highway she got lost in heavy fog. She followed the headlights of a giant truck in front of her and found her way to safety.
“Protected by an assembly / of parts – steel skin, internal / combustion – I fear I may not / survive this highway miasma, / known to cause the most weather / related casualties in the state.”
Linfor related that she was born without opposable thumbs and both her arms were curved in.
“When I was two-years-old, the doctors had to break both of my arms twice to re-set them so I wouldn’t be constantly hugging people I guess,” she said.
She addressed the pain from the surgeries in her poem “Memoir.”
“Today my scars ache. A reopening. Each needle-sized pinch, / pink prayers on the wrist, all along the jagged break / of arms, and other tears in the surface.”
Baron said that while each of the separate books contain their respective author’s voices, they meld into a cohesive whole.
“I think all of the poets’ books give a voice to themes of light, journey, identity and the questions that haunt us all,” he said.
“All the books are in dialogue with one another,” she said. “The lantern tree image illustrates the idea that all of our individual voices come together as a beautiful, luminous, diverse whole.”
Back at the tree in the forest, the lanterns sway in the cold wind. Their flames threaten to extinguish, but no matter how hard the wind blows, the flames burn strong. They light the way for weary travelers, they blaze brilliantly in the dark – to help those who are lost find a way home.