The Witness Protection Poets Chapbook Collective Presents
Lies and lockdowns
elections and insurrections
uprisings and upheavals
fires and floods—it’s been a world of dread
and extinction hard pressed to find distinction.
with changes and challenges
inspiration often perspiration
this group of poets has grabbed
turned lemons into sweet, sweet pies.
On Mayday, the Witness Protection Program Poets exchanged their first ever collection of chapbooks. Seventeen writers dug deep into their hearts and souls to make sense of the world around us—for the happier or sadder, the bolder or the fearful, in awe or anger.
Take founder Nick Triglia‘s 21 Reasons to Slit One’s Wrists—“2. ” ( you fill in the blank!) in The Backroom of the Believe It or Not Museum of Prose and Poetry, or Betsy Roman’s, A Chronicle Through Chaos: A poetic preservation of unhinged history sifted from the debris of Election 2020— “Black lives white lies orange skies” perfectlysums it up.
Antonia’ Allegra’s ConverSAYtions offers clever word play and solid advice: “Considering conflicting news/rushing at us like/water from a fire hose,/take U and E from FAUCETS/to reveal the FACTS.” Valli Ferrell’s Lens, tells us How To Be Cheerful, “Do appreciate/ do say it/ out loud to no one/ to the bird trill in the brittle cold air.” And Dina Corcoran’s Christmas Cards reminds us: “My life is richer for [our] continued contact. . .[they] are treasures.”
The poems take us on journeys of discovery, of contemplation, joy and song. Marianne LyonTravels with Aruba, her Love-Dog— “Come love-dog let us take a meander. . . ” Cathy Carsell‘sOf Earth and Sky filled with poetic lyrics and refrains transport us away: “There’s music in the wind/in New Orleans late at night/as it moves through the treetops/on a warm spring night. . .Music in the wind/Listen in. . . .”
These chapbooks offer us reflections on nature. Marilyn Dykstra writes in Full Circle Reflections—Sycamore Grove Park Haiku #3—”Black ashen earth/Soaked with recent autumn rains,/A green carpet sprouts“. Nathaniel Winters advises us, “Without the birds and bees no flowers appear/food becomes scarce/animals and man become endangered/love can’t bloom” in Art of Living from his collection, Seeking Sunshine. And from Yvonne Henry’s poems and art work,6:57 AM “The sun rose slightly/ askew/ causing/ for a moment/ the dove and I to tilt our heads.”
“Ekphrastic fantastic” poet James McDonald reflects on art in Visual Language, “Diego the last thought, always Diego/ my essence reaches out/ for rebirth in the rich soil/ fertile in death/ barren in life/ from Diego On My Mind.
These writings cause us to consider our losses and our longings—from “Tangential” by Sarah Miller in Off on a Tangent:“Like the time my hand brushed her hair/ from her dying forehead/ like you wished you had” or, “Give me back that summer/ even the tattling sister/ once a waterskiing champion, destined/ for deep, slow rotting in her bones.” from “Deep, Slow” in Little Palace of Illness by Ana Manwaring, and from Things I’m Wrestling With , “Miscarriage” by Noel Robinson, “Pregnancy loss does not define a woman. It is merely the involuntary actions of the uterus that brings death to the fetus. If the life inside the mother perishes, she survives along with her dreams and hopes. I know, I am part of the woodwork containing the sorrow of the past. . . .”
Finally, many of the poems, essays, and memoir written in these chapbooks make us look at our lives and into our hearts to know the truth of our own humanity. Through the eyes and words of others we come to complete ourselves. In the words of Arthur T. Robinson in his introduction to Riding the Goat: An Anti-memoir, “. . .writers of all cultures , genders, and ages have wrestled with the tricky stance of writing. . . one’s past real, seeking out . . . patterns, and deducing vital lessons.”
I haven’t posted in ages. Busy battling COVID fatigue, publishing a new collection of poetry—Little Palace of Illness, revising my third JadeAnne Stone Mexico Adventure, Nothing Comes After Z (slated to publish in early summer), raking our eucalyptus forest and working on Saints and Skeletons, a memoir of my years in Mexico. In between all that, I try to keep up with the outrages of climate change, racial injustice, and American politics and policy. I don’t usually comment publicly about this stuff, but this news bite I read this afternoon on the Huffington Post slays me:
SOUTH CAROLINA ADDS FIRING SQUAD TO EXECUTION METHODS The South Carolina House voted to add a firing squad to the state’s execution methods amid a lack of lethal-injection drugs — a measure meant to jump-start executions in a state that once had one of the busiest death chambers in the nation. Condemned inmates will have to choose either being shot or electrocuted if lethal injection drugs aren’t available. [AP]
Firing squads as we know them began with the invention of gunpowder and firearms and became the standard method of execution for militaries across the centuries. Although guns are more lethal than ever before, in the 21st century firing squads are out of fashion. Many countries have banned them, and the countries where firing squads are still legal are slowly abandoning them as a form of execution— except ours.
Typically, death by firing squad is a military form of execution, the go-to method of dispatching soldiers. Using a firing squad makes punishment a communal event. The offender is killed by his or her peers, using weapons the soldiers all use in combat, reinforcing the community over the individual offender.
In the US only four states, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Utah, and newly voted in—South Carolina use firing squads, although Wyoming and Missouri are open to using firing squads as well. It’s cheaper and more effective for the sate. In most other US states, execution by firing squad is considered “cruel and unusual punishment” and therefore in opposition to the 8th amendment.
My mental image of a firing squad is of the blindfolded captive tied to a stake with a row of uniformed agents of a fascist state taking aim. . .or men, women, and children lined up in front of a ditch. . . or rival gang members slumped against a blood stained wall. A firing squad is the act of barbarians, megalomaniacs, power mongers, not the act of a civilized state. This is one more indication the US lacks civility.
“Nobody can do it like me. Nobody. Nobody can do it like me, honestly.” “Nobody is stronger than me.” “It’s all because of me.” “I know words. I have the best words.” “Our country is being run by incompetent people.””I’m not changing. I went to the best schools, I’m, like, a very smart person. I’m going to represent our country with dignity and very well. I don’t want to change my personality — it got me here”
“The only people brave enough to vote out this corrupt establishment is you, the American people.”
I’ve carefully followed both sides of the Sebastopol Inn Homeless issue in the news and on Nextdoor, and I have come to the conclusion that the Sebastopol Inn would not be an appropriate site for a homeless shelter.
First, we have no guarantees regarding who it will house. Currently it is projected to be for those 65 and older or with health issues, but that may change.
Second, oversight or management seems sorely lacking and without that, this appears to be a house of cards waiting to crumble.
Third, Sebastopol does not have the infrastructure to handle the needs of those with severe health or mental concerns.
Fourth, the current owners have a history of bad business management for which they should not be rewarded. This looks more and more like a bailout than a business deal.
That said, I must now take exception with the bashing and demonizing of our homeless population by some posters on Nextdoor—not all, so hold your outrage!
Opioid addiction is an epidemic in America. The Sackler Family who owns Perdue Pharmaceuticals was just fined a record $8 Billion for flooding the streets with their drug, Fentanyl. No one plead guilty, no one was arrested or did jail time. Their multi-billion dollar family fortune is still intact and they continue to enjoy their lives while too many families in this country mourn their dead or deal with the heart breaking consequences of addiction.
But you deal a joint on the corner and you do 20 years.
“Well, that was the choice those junkies made,” many here have said.
But I have a friend from the mountains of Kentucky. His family, like most there, goes back to the founding of the US. He told me there are so many dying every day from Fentanyl, that the mortuaries are beyond capacity and use grocery store freezers for the bodies. This is Middle America, conservative, tough, religious, hard-working and independent. Those people didn’t wake up one morning and decide to become immoral, degenerate addicts. So why have so many small towns just like his, whether in Kansas, Oklahoma, West Virginia, or Ohio met this fate?
The answer is the one that no one in the opposition wants to discuss: ECONOMICS.
And no—before I’m accused of wearing rose colored glasses again—it doesn’t cover every individual we see on the streets today, or absolve many from their poor choices. But the system is designed to move the bulk of the nation’s wealth from the bottom to the top and that consolidation has a profound effect on the 99%.
The abyss between the haves and the have nots is greater than even in the Robber Baron age of Morgan, Rockefeller, Astor and Vanderbilt. Millions of jobs have been lost to cheap labor in Asia. Real wages adjusted for inflation have not risen since the mid-70s. A recession every 8-10 years, as regular as clockwork, has cost many millions of homes to be taken by the banks and the result of all these foreclosures is another epidemic—one of homelessness. Nothing like a little recession to speed up land redistribution, because as one of those Robber Barons said, “When a man doesn’t have a home, he doesn’t have anything to fight for.” And without an address, you can’t vote.
When a person loses their job and their home, their dignity and pride often are taken as well. Studies have proven the generational impact of poverty and dislocation on the human psyche, and the effects are profoundly destructive. During the Great Depression we saw a spike in alcoholism as people sought to blunt the pain of a world they did not create. Today it’s drugs. And just as with those folks in Kentucky, I doubt any of the street people we see said, “Boy, I can’t wait to grow up to become addicted to Fentanyl and live in a box.”
So, whatever your position on the current solutions being offered, I for one, would appreciate a more humane and compassionate view of the people involved, because they are people. And to those who’ve posted some of the most disparaging remarks, remember: standing on the shoulders of the less fortunate to make yourself look taller isn’t advancing the discussion in any positive way.
Tossing ideas around on where to house them, or even treating their addiction, is a losing sum proposition because next year, next month, next week, there will be another generation of lost and damned UNLESS the cycle itself is broken!
And to the most vocal here—and your continued unwillingness to address the root economic causes of homelessness, while avoiding the REAL societal reform needed to truly fix it—I have to ask, “Why?”
America has not always been this way. It doesn’t need to remain this way. But the cure will require a real reallocation of our resources, as other nations have managed. We can’t just a rearrange the deck chairs as another generation of American hope sinks beneath the weight of an economy stacked against it. Are any of you up to it?
Mark Pavlichek majored in journalism, creative writing and critique at U.C. Berkeley where he was selected to study with Pulitzer winner M. Scott Momaday, and PBS’ “Critic At Large,” David Littlejohn. He is the principal in West County Productions, a PR firm that created the Nature Conservancy’s first national campaign, Gift’s Of The Land; a cross-marketing partnership featuring endangered species that generated nearly $1 million in sales and international press. And he is a founding partner in JAM Manuscript Consulting–A Full Service Editorial Team.
Our nation is raging, crumbling and burning. Tattered shreds of decency and ashes of logic impede the understanding we need in order to pull ourselves from the pits of our mindsets. Every one of us attempting to survive this mania of confusion wishes it were different. The puzzle will never make sense until polarized opinions are released from their blind bunkers and given not just an honest hearing, but a sincere listening; not only from others, but from within each of our stubborn centers of self.
There are valid reasons why so many cultural pockets of our nation tenaciously cling to security blankets of identity, explode from cannons of generational inequities, or mute the sounds of desperate cries for survival. We understand our local worlds through the filters of our limited experiences, both a gift and a curse. We internalize what we have been taught and defiantly defend tradition, because exclusion is painful.
Where can we go to untangled the riddles of power, nightmares of annihilation, and twisted normalcy in times of lunacy? Where is there room for everyone to see and be seen, to hear and be heard? How do we bring our rich national diversity into common contact with each other for the explicit promise of democratic law— of, by and for the people— all the people? It is time to engage the conversations in which solutions replace blame.
The Bigger Picture: Each of us is one among many; each perspective only a piece of the national portrait; each country its own continuum of historical conditions; each continent sculpted by forces of scientific formula; and each planet a unique speck in the whole universal scheme of things. Visiting the Bigger Picture is a mind-altering experience. It is also where we learn how everything and everyone are connected, what is needed from each of us and how we can contribute our gift of self toward the benefit of all.
Each of us holds a unique piece in the Bigger Picture puzzle. Those who discover how their piece fits, contribute clarity to our humanity; those who hold fast to their puzzle piece render our understanding incomplete and inaccurate. We can do better than we imagine and we can be crueler than we admit.
Your piece could make all the difference.
Betsy Roman stepped out from her storybook childhood in the Northeast, remarkably unprepared for the maze of mid twentieth-century mixed messages and upheavals. While training to become a medical illustrator, a profession on the brink of obsolescence, she met her future husband working in a hospital lab sketching autopsies in the morgue. Within a year of their marriage, her husband was drafted into the Army Medical Corps and sent to Vietnam, while Betsy managed an orthopedic office in San Francisco. Being an officer’s wife at the Presidio and protesting the war during the Summer of Love seemed like a perfectly normal dichotomy of the times. Upon the safe return of her husband, they were reassigned to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Betsy assisted in physical therapy and sang the only female part in the play, The Fantastiks— inside the federal penitentiary. Travel into the unknown became a way of life.
After settling in Los Angeles, Betsy attended to the education of their two children, as well as tutoring at-risk teens, teaching adult literacy, and becoming a liberal religious educator with the Unitarian-Universalist Association. With all good fortune, the family survived earthquakes, fires, riots, and Hollywood. Her move to the Napa Valley also brought her back to the acute care hospital setting as a medical transcriptionist until it, too, was rendered obsolete.
As a faithful journal keeper, letter writer, and poet, Betsy began excising stories from a life of disruptions, infusing them with significance and stitching them with humor. She has written award-winning fiction for the Jessamyn West Creative Writing Contest in Napa. Her granddaughters continue to keep her happily disrupted, and growing vegetables keep her grounded.