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Bob Stanley: California Poets Part 7, Five Poems

Bob Stanley

July 1st, 2024

California Poets: Part VII

Bob Stanley

Five Poems

Call it a Bud


February says in between

like the last turn in a circle

of continuing fire. Green’s

already here, but instinct

tells me don’t use the word,

use apple or lime, invoke a darker line.


It hurts to know certain words

ring out till they’re wrung out.

Blossoms sprout from plum so early,

colors seem fake, tops of trees cut flat,

we only see the spaces between them,

patterns of interference as we speed by.


Is this the time of year I loved so much?

After and before heavy rain?

Acacias yellow in eucalyptus breeze?

Walking down was easier than up,

remembering both ways takes longer,

Bay geography begets greenery.


Childhood coexists with season, since

memory is stronger than any regimen

designed to sharpen it. They’re still here:

the yellow, the blue, how things mix

to make new life. Can old feelings

still color our slower, invisible turning?


Perhaps it’s illusion – words running

around an idea that can’t quite get there –

be here, be there, feel what you felt then,

the sense that everything could

still happen, openness, light. Call it a bud,

waiting, wound tight, unfathomable, spring.



She’s out alone, not sure quite where

she is, or where she’s been.

She called from the Shell on Sutterville;

no word since then.

We called the cops, they say they’ll try

to ping her phone.

What happens if they find her, bring her home?


When someone’s lost, it’s getting dark,

we catch the signs.

How could we know, how could

we read between the lines?

She didn’t have this problem back

before the kids were born.

What happens if they find her, bring her home?


Living on a razor’s edge

since thirty-three

Medication’s counter-spell

just chemistry

to keep her wheels spinning, now

all’s faded chrome

What happens if they find her, bring her home?


Her husband’s overwhelmed, afraid

she’s acting on a dare.

He dreams she’s on the boulevard

where headlights glare?

Nobody knows where she might be,

mostly, she’s alone.

What happens when they find her, bring her home?

Signature Swing


Mantle had that signature swing

Berra had a way with words

Stengel – nobody knows what he had

but Marianne Moore had the three-cornered hat,

spun off poems that nobody understood

and all the important people agreed were great.


Spring 1955 she threw out the first ball

the decade the Yankees won

eight pennants, six world series, center of

the baseball world – New York was where poets

played, too – Millay, Stevens, Cummings,

and Moore, editor of


The Dial; former editor

really, it went broke in

just a few years, I mean

who cares that much about poetry

when you can watch the Yankees,

which is what she did, too, and when


she wrote, she wrote about

baseball – an editor

was like a catcher, so Yogi was hers,

and her mother made sure the poems kept her

famous and lonely inside all the explanations

in case, one year, she didn’t win it all.




It’s so close

right now

the crescent of light

shrinking to

a thinner

crescent of light

still bright

so that it would blind me

if I looked straight.




It doesn’t matter.

Time fools us while we wait

thinking we can see the changes

feel them


Clouds are everywhere

threatening to swallow

this magical pair of discs

we watch come together

and we want the clouds

to bow before the inexorable

path of darkness


Waiting, waiting, is this what

we have come for, this fear

that it will come, that it will not?


Soon the swallows act

as if it were night

they dip and rise

but it is not night

only the imagining of such a thing

in this small cylinder

on a small sphere


So beautiful

this disappearance of all things

we understand

in black and white

it’s coming



The woman walks as if her feet were old, but her eyes still move quickly. She has seen enough cities, palaces, bridges, piazzas of reflected light. She has tired of people, climbing stairs, trains entering stations. She has seen the wild lands, too, granite crags lit by an unclouded moon, high valleys titling into snow-lakes and glacier-moss, mountain hemlock’s twisted crown. Even the sea carries no song for her, crashing waves unfold no rhythm to her conch-cupped ear.


Once she sang stories of terrible kings, men and gods, things above, below, and in between. She keened the longest tales; when the salt-drenched mariner washed up on the beach, she knew his schemes would keep the journey alive. The damned fool always found his way back home.


Now she scoffs at the old stories, wonders who will create new ones. She walks to the east, waiting for night to change the sky, that sky which has shifted just a little in 5,000 years. The planet wobbles on its invisible axis, so the pattern changes. She looks up as she walks, trying to discern something new.


July 17th, 2024

California Poets Interview Series:

Bob Stanley, Sacramento Poet Laureate Emeritus, Educator

interviewed by David Garyan

DG: From 2009 to 2012 you served as Sacramento’s Poet Laureate. What initiatives did you embark upon during that time and how would you describe the city’s current literary atmosphere?

BS: As Sacramento’s laureate for both city and county, I created multiple initiatives to get as many people involved in poetry as I could. I organized a series of writing workshops in four libraries around the county to get folks writing and working together, and we put on readings for each of those groups. I curated an online anthology, County Lines, which featured a new local poet every two weeks, and I wrote an introduction to their poems. I produced a jazz and poetry event with a dozen local poets and a great young jazz band, and that program continues to this day. I worked with RT Metro and 916 INK, Sacramento’s program for young writers, to get kids’ poetry on placards in our buses. We brought poets to Sacramento for the Confluence Poetry Tour, doing readings and discussions in high school and college classrooms. The biggest initiative was Late Peaches, our regional anthology that featured 117 poets. We had a handful of readings for Late Peaches, and close to a hundred people came to read their work at the events. It was a busy three years, but it was really a lot of fun for me to put on all these projects.

I’d say the Sacramento poetry community got hit hard by Covid, but it’s mostly recovered. Some of our long-time reading venues are gone, like Luna’s Café, but most of the old spots are starting to fill up again. The Sacramento Poetry Center has a new team running a full schedule of programs, and there are new some new venues popping up. Overall, there are still a lot of folks reading, writing, workshopping, and performing poetry.

DG: In 2009 you edited Sometimes in the Open, an anthology of poems by California poet laureates. In a state where LA and San Francisco dominate the literary culture, do you think more anthologies like this can help equalize the playing field and are you aware of other initiatives, perhaps at the moment, that are working towards this goal?

BS: There are a lot of organizations, individuals, and even government agencies that promote poetry in California communities. Poets laureate, both state, county, and city, work to “equalize the playing field” for sure. If someone’s a laureate, they are most likely working selflessly, helping people to write in workshops, and read at readings. Anthologies are a great tool, but not the only one to get people involved. (LAdige is a good example – online anthologies have a lot of advantages!)

The last few California state laureates, Juan Felipe Herrera, Dana Gioia, and Lee Herrick have crisscrossed the state, going from county to county, from Yreka to Yucca Valley, sharing their work, sure, but also getting local writers, kids, and seniors involved to share their own poems. Herrick’s Our California project is a good example of a very fine initiative – you can access it at The California Arts Council helps to select and support the state’s laureate as well as Poetry Out Loud – the high school recitation project that Dana Gioia designed. Poets and Writers offers what support it can to writers and readings and classes, and they actually try hard to spend money for programs in smaller, rural communities.

Most of all, there are dozens of local poetry groups, clubs, centers, readings, and workshops around the state.  It sounded funny to me when you said that LA and San Francisco “dominate” the literary culture. Sure, I get it – there’s more people and more money there. But did you know the Central Valley has 7 million people – more than all of Massachusetts and twice as many as Iowa? Don’t get me wrong - I love City Lights in SF and have always admired the work of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Beyond Baroque. But on the right night in Davis, Alameda, San Bernardino, or Modesto you’ll find thirty or forty people in a room listening to poetry and lined up to read at open mic. I’d call that a pretty healthy playing field. Poetry might not be a mainstream art form, but there are dedicated poets all over this state, young and old. I’m guessing you’re finding that out as you expand with every issue.

DG: Before teaching English in Sacramento at CSUS and Sac City, you ran an auto parts company for three decades; the former is in many ways closer to poetry than the latter, given that William Carlos Williams once said the following: “There's nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made out of words. When I say there's nothing sentimental about a poem, I mean that there can be no part that is redundant.” What do you think of the statement in relation to your own work and what, in your view, should a good poem do?

BS: A poem would best answer this question.

Small Machine                                               for David Garyan


A good poem needs to start, that clean sound of quick turning

over, not the painful stutter of a soon-to-be-toasted solenoid.

You want to slip in, spin the key with your thumb and forefinger and get

the engine engaged, humming. Soon you’ll roll down the window

or roll down the boulevard with your old friend Bob, wind in your hair.


But it’s got to be able to slow down, too.


Once again sound provides the clue, if your brakes are shot

you get that awful squeal (or maybe you actually want that

dissonance there, the all-too real scream that we’re going

too fast and this whole damn engine-poem-world thing

it’s about to hit the wall – BANG


and maybe not.

DG: Your newest book, Language Barrier, contains work written over the past ten years. Topics such as your travels to China but also the California landscape are to be found here. The overarching theme is the connection of cultures, but also the isolation brought on by the pandemic. It’s hope and celebration, but the title also conjures up difficulties. Can you talk about the writing process and to what extent it was either different or similar from how you’ve crafted previous collections?

BS: My wife and I were sitting on the balcony of a hotel in a remote part of China, Jiangxi Province, in 2016, watching the Wentang River rise during a torrential summer rainstorm. The day before we had visited her family’s ancestral home and met family members that welcomed us “home” after a one-hundred-year separation.  The water was pouring over the bridge and the town downstream was flooded, so we couldn’t visit the town as we had planned. I started writing, the rain and the flood all around us, and I wrote the sequence that opens up the book. I called the series of 8 poems “Songs from the Interior,” and I’m not sure I’ve ever written with that kind of flow before. I knew right then it would be an important part of my next collection. Something new arose from that storm.

DG: You’re well-known for your collaboration with musicians. Can you talk about some of those and how you prepare for them? In other words, is there a greater improvisational element or do you prefer more structured approaches?

BS: Great question. Both approaches have merit, and I think it depends upon the temperament of the musician – some want more structure, they want to know where they’re going. Me, I prefer the collaboration when the musician and the poets just GO, unpremeditated. The musician hears the poem in the moment and works to add or support with music. The poet hears the musician and works to make the words fit the music, to make the poem music. I did a recent reading of Language Barrier with Bay Area bassist Mike Shea and poet Lawrence Dinkins. We did a braided reading, picking poems as we went along to match or contrast each other’s previous piece, and Mike, with no advance idea of what was coming, provided a solid substrate from his bass for us to read/play/cavort over. I’ll be performing with the two of them again, but it will be different next time.

On the other end of the planned vs. unplanned spectrum: I once performed a poem with a guitar player who had worked out a complex Joe Pass arrangement. The idea for the poem came to me as he played the song, and the music and theme fit together really well. The first few times we performed it together it was incredible (at least I thought so). The problem was that the interplay of the pieces of the poem and the song were really hard to time. If it didn’t dovetail together along the way, and at the end, it didn’t work as well. So we had to practice a ton and it became somewhat laborious. What is it Yeats says? “A line will take us hours maybe/but if it does not seem a moment’s thought/then all of our stitching and unstitching is for naught.” This experience strengthened my preference for the impromptu or at least less structured music plus poem combination.

Another bassist I work with, Peter Gealey (he’s pictured with me on my LAdige page) plays bass as if he’s echoing or co-telling the story in music, a completely different but equally successful approach. We have some recordings of our conversational poem-bass combinations, and it’s mostly improvisational on his end. I’ve also produced a number of shows with multiple poets and a small jazz combo, the Ryan Clark Quartet. It’s about half improvisation and half pre-determined patterns over the poems. We practice once before the show, but it’s mostly to give the musicians a rough idea of what the poems are about. In all these cases, music adds a lot; I think it helps audiences that don’t usually get poetry get poetry. Like a sound track draws us into a film without knowing why.

DG: Form is a major element in your work. You utilize both stanzas and write prose poems. Does the topic you choose influence the choice, or do you tend to begin with the form and let the words develop in accordance with that form?

BS: Usually I just start writing and don’t think about form at first. I let the story or the line lead me. Sometimes I’ll see a hint of a form, maybe just the number of lines in a stanza, and I’ll revise toward regularity. I play with line breaks to keep the tension of an occasional “partial meaning” at the end of a line. But I don’t start with form too often. One poem in Language Barrier, though, I wrote after reading Brenda Maddox’s fine biography of Yeats called Yeats’s Ghosts. We had put on a three-week seminar on Yeats, and by the end, I was so full of rhythm that I wrote a metrical poem with an italicized refrain called “Day of the Drum.” It was about Yeats and his brothers, and I like to think it sounds like a poem of his, and it’s fun to read out loud!

DG: You retired from teaching in 2021. How have these three years affected your writing and do you still maintain some connection to the places you taught?

BS: I’m still in touch with many friends from the colleges where I work. Last week I got an email out of the blue from a student who was in my Creative Writing class about ten years ago at Solano College, he just wanted to say hi and let me know what he was doing! I like to think I’m writing and revising more since I retired, but I’m probably doing about the same. Luckily my weekly writing group keeps my feet to the fire, so there’s at least one new poem – rough or otherwise – per week!

DG: What do you miss most about teaching?


BS: Those little “Aha” moments. Students finding out they really do like reading after all, or realizing that it matters how they use words on paper. But although I’m retired from the college world, I’m still teaching – my wife Joyce and I, along with poets Mary Eichbauer and Deborah Bachels Schmidt, are designing and putting on online poetry seminars. So we still get to witness those “Aha” moments, and we’re learning and exploring poets and subjects we’ve always wanted to delve into!

DG: What are you reading or working on at the moment?

BS: Poetry and music are the two main branches of my river when I’m not paying bills or watering plants in the Sacramento summer! We’re about to start a seminar on Experimental Poetry – the series of six classes is subtitled “Why is THIS a poem?” So I’ve been working on that – selecting poems for the first class, double-checking the slide show, doing a little extra research and adding notes. We limit the workshops to 25 to make sure people get to interact with each other, and while it’s quite a bit of work, it’s a lot of fun for everyone.

My band just played a concert last Saturday, so we were busy practicing last week. I’d like to record some more of my original tunes. And of course I’m working on selling copies of Language Barrier – my new poetry collection that came out in June 2024. Like many poets, I’m not the best marketer, and I’ve got a few boxes of this fine collection sitting on the floor of my son’s room. Interested folks can order copies at

Thanks, David, for giving me the chance to answer these questions. I appreciate your work, and it’s an honor to be in your ever-growing anthology!

Author Bio:

Bob Stanley studied poetry at Caltech and UCLA, and taught English and Creative Writing at Solano College, Sac City College, and Sacramento State before retiring in 2021. President of Sacramento Poetry Center for 12 years, Bob has organized hundreds of poetry events, and he served as Sacramento Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2012. He has edited two anthologies: Late Peaches (2013), and Sometimes in the Open (2009). Bob’s poetry collections include Walt Whitman Orders a Cheeseburger (Rattlesnake Press, 2009), Eleven Blue Strings (little m press, 2012), Miracle Shine (CW Books, 2013) and the e-chapbook November Sun (Random Lane Press, 2022). Bob lives in Sacramento with his wife, Joyce Hsiao, and they run online poetry seminars that help support small nonprofits. Bob’s newest collection of poems, Language Barrier, has just been published by CW Books in June 2024.


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