Thursday, May 22, 2014

Erica Goss, Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California and "VIBRANT WORDS"

Christal Cooper 1,606 Words

Erica Goss
“Cornfields of Vibrant Writing”

“Poetry is my cheap means of transportation.  By the end of the poem the reader should be in a different place from where he started.  I would like him to be slightly disoriented at the end like I drove him outside of town at night and dropped him off in a cornfield.”
Billy Collins

“Billy Collins wants his readers to feel like he’s driven them to the edge of a cornfield, and left them in some strange place.  They started out one place but ended up in something else in the end.  And hopefully that is what these poetry prompts will do.”
Erica Goss

This past April of 2014 PushPen Press published Vibrant Words:  ideas and inspirations for poets by Erica Goss, Poet Laureate of Los Gatos, California and author of the chapbook Wild Place. (
“I post poetry prompts on my poet laureate Facebook page every Friday.  I had people asking me if I collected those prompts into a book.  Then I bumped into PushPen Press representatives at a lunch party last fall.  I told them my idea and they said they would do a book.  The book came out March of this year which is lightning speed for publishing a book.”

Vibrant Words is a book of poetry prompts for poets of all levels, but geared toward poets who are facing some form of writer’s block, which Goss believes every writer has at some point.
“The point of the book was not to have long complicated writing instructions. I wanted it to be pretty punchy, and straightforward.   I wanted the readers to pick up their pen and start writing after reading the second sentence.” 
Goss did not encounter poetry prompts until she was an undergraduate student taking poetry classes at San Jose State University, where she was pursuing her degree in English.
“I thought they were great. They didn’t always work for me, certainly, but they had me thinking.”

       A poetry prompt is an exercise one does to take that first step into writing.  An example of a poetry prompt is from Vibrant Words excerpted below:                                                               
       At the Friends of the Los Gatos Library Bookstore, I found Oasis in the Heart: Haiku with Exposition by Toshimi Horiuchi (Shambhala Publications, 1995).  In his introduction, Horiuchi writes, “The true poet views the world with keen insight, sees much in little, and feels rapture even in what others might consider trivial or meaningless . . . a true haiku has something of an incantatory charm to store up spiritual and emotional energy in the human system.”

       Sometimes I go on haiku-writing binges.  Here are four from the same day in September:
The zinnias
want to die
       I keep watering

       autumn fires
       a woman calls for help
       once she stuttered
       roots in damp soil
       white hair

            date on a penny
       the year my father was born
       worth more then

Haiku contain as much energy as possible, squeezed into as few words as possible.  They are powerful little packages, beautiful and provocative.  To this day, Japanese haiku poets gather in walks called ginko, where they meditatively walk around fields and hills in order to create poetry.
Take a walk outside and write down what you see, hear, smell, and touch.  Create several haiku from a paragraph of reflection about nature.  Share them with friends.     
Pages 45 -47 from Vibrant Words: ideas and inspirations for poets.
Copyright granted by Erica Goss

Erica Goss recognizes that there are two schools of thought when it comes to poetry prompts – those that believe in it and those that don’t. 
“My theory on why there is such a conflict about poetry prompts is that it demystifies the writing of poetry.  I think that it reveals the craft element to writing poetry.  When we look at a piece of furniture and don’t know how it was put together we are impressed.  If we know how it was put together it might not be as impressive or as interesting.”
Goss believes poetry prompts are applicable to beginning and seasoned poets. 
“I think poetry prompts are absolutely appropriate.  You might end up with something totally different, but you write and think of all the possibilities.  And that’s the main thing – to write.”
Vibrant Words contains 51 poetry prompts by Erica Goss, Dave Bonta, Jennifer Swanton Brown, Ellaraine Lockie, Connie Post, K.S. Hardy, Eileen Malone, Kelly Cressio-Moeller, Evelyn A So, and Pushpa MacFarlane.  Majority of the poetry prompts are written by Goss.  One of her favorite prompts is “I left My Heart in the Los Angels Basin” which is excerpted below:

I Left My Heart in the Los Angeles Basin

Have you ever been completely in love with a city?  It’s no wonder that people leave their hearts in San Francisco, fall in love in Paris, and endlessly adore New York, in all of its various moods and guises.  In his poem “Chicago,” Carl Sandburg wrote, “Come and show me another city with lifted head singing/so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cutting.”  Who can forget the “Floral loops/Of the freeway” and the “calligraphy of cars” from Gary Snyder’s “Night Song of the Los Angels Basin?”  
Begin by listing your impressions of a city you
love.  Why do you love it?  Are there details about the city that only you know?  Make us want to be there so much that it’s all we can do not to jump in the car, drive to the airport, and take the first plane there.

Here is a beautiful poem from Joie Cooke, who left us February 24, 2013:

There Are Nights In San Francisco

There are nights in San Francisco
When even the bedbugs come out to pray
Amongst the forest that is life here

And streets I believe I’ve been on before
Become hallucinations,
Every steep hill climbed,
An applause for gravity. . .

But I’ve taken it for granted
For over 30 years
The seven hills, the cable cars,
The view from twin Peaks
On a crisp, November night. . .

I fall in love with cities
The way most people fall in love,
Shamelessly hopeful; in the beginning,
Careless, naïve and blind . . .

And there are nights in San Francisco
I would wish to forget
Like a waning romance,
Waiting to crash,
Never looking back
At the wreckage behind.

Pages 23-25 from Vibrant Words: ideas and inspirations for poets.
Copyright granted by Erica Goss
       What makes “I left My Heart in Los Angles Basin”  special to Goss is that she’s lived on the southern and northern coasts of California since she was a baby.
       “It’s like my child.  I’ve written about San Francisco.  I’ve lived near San Francisco the last years of my life (and) to me it has a distinct personality.  Los Angeles has a distinct personality and San Jose an even different personality.”
       These days Goss has been having plenty of rich ideas based on her own personal life:  she is wife to her husband of 27 years, Don, and mother to their sons ages 23 and 15.
       “Writing about being a parent is always a very rich topic.  When you have your first baby, that caring hormone is within you to make the world safer and better for your children.  You learn your children are not carbon copies.  They are definitely their own people.  You change your expectations and try to be flexible.  You have to constantly shift roles.”
       It wasn’t until her 30s that Goss went to college to get her bachelor’s degree in English and her master of fine arts with a focus in poetry and in nonfiction.
       “I stopped working when my oldest son was five and I went to school full time only to find out I was pregnant - a big surprise.  I took a couple of years off.  It took me a long time – very slowly – one class at a time – to get my bachelor’s in English.  Then it took me three years to get my MFA in 2007.  I was 47 years old then. It was a very slow process.”
       With degree in hand, Goss worked as a poetry student coach at a local high school for five years.
       “It was a program strictly for poetry.  I gave them poetry prompts.  I worked with them individually one on one and would talk with them about their drafts.  The students that were there wanted to be there because it was an elective, not required, so they were very dedicated writers.”

       When the program ended after five years, Goss decided it was time to move on to other things and worked as a grant writer for the Poetry Center of San Jose for four years.  She also had her first book, Wild Place, published by Finishing Line Press.

       Now Goss’s days are more structured and her routine not so chaotic – she is able to spend more time writing.  She’s at her desk by 8 a.m. and starts the day off by writing a haiku every morning, her favorite time of day. 
       “It really has to be quiet when I write.  I have to feel like I have a sacred place of my own, a place I can come up with ideas and I don’t have to share it with anybody.  The rest of the day goes from that point. You get up and show up and you do the work everyday – even if you have to do it between doctor appointments.”

       Goss is presently working on her poetry collection Timelocks, which focuses on the last year of her life.  She described some of the poems in Timelocks as tight haikus.
       “All writing is done one page at a time.  It’s not too mysterious – just a lot of hard work and discipline.”

Photograph Description and Copyright Information

Photo 1
Erica Goss
Copyright granted by Erica Goss.

Photo 2
Billy Collins at the 10th annual Calabash Literary Festival in St. Elizabeth’s Jamaica.
May 10, 2010.
Photograph attributed to Suzannah Gilman.
CCASA 3.0 Unported License

Photo 3
Jacket cover of Vibrant Words: ideas and inspirations for poets

Photo 4
PushPen Press website logo

Photo 5
Jacket cover of Oasis In the Heart Haiku With Exposition

Photo 6
Erica Goss at a book singing for Vibrant Words: ideas and inspirations for poets.
Copyright granted by Erica Goss

Photo 8
Poet Joie Cook.
Fair Use Under the United States Copyright Law.

Photo 11
Erica Goss guest teaching at her cousin’s English class in Germany.
Copyright granted by Erica Goss.

Photo 12.
Jacket cover of Wild Place

Photo 13
Erica Goss in her office
Copyright granted by Erica Goss