Novice Poets Test Their Wings at Open Mic Event (2005) Pleasanton, CA
By Sam Richards
TIMES STAFF WRITER
Cynthia Bryant remembers the first time she stepped up to a microphone to recite one of her poems to the world. She was a member of the San Ramon-based Across the River Writers' Roundtable, and she was scared. "It was a little like getting ready to jump off a cliff," said Bryant, now Pleasanton's poet laureate. "I read too fast, too quiet. It is for novice poets, those who haven't had much experience in front of an audience, that Bryant started holding once-a-month open mic poetry readings through the City of Pleasanton at The Bookstore on Hopyard Road.
The open mics happen every third Thursday of the month, up to 20 people show up at a given session, Bryant said. And those attending don't have to stand up to read their work, — a contrast to the Century House poetry events where established poets read, bigger crowds come together, and novice poets can be intimidated. At the Book Store you don't have to be published or polished," Bryant said.
Cynthia Bryant claims poetry saved her life; that not only was poetry a safe way to transcend the terror and rage arising from childhood abuse, but also a tool to share and educate other survivors.
First published in 1997 by two important journals dealing with childhood sexual abuse, Cynthia Bryant has since been published in over 50 anthologies. She has shared her poetry in venues as diverse as a federal prison, women’s shelters, a continuation high school and neon sign shop in addition to coffee shops, libraries and bookstores.
Cynthia was the Poetry Coordinator for the Alameda County Fair in 2004 and 2005. She served as the Poet Laureate of Pleasanton, Ca from 2005 to 2007, and again from 2011 to 2013. During her tenure she was a passionate advocate for the literary arts, bringing diverse voices to share their work in the community. Today Cynthia resides in Monterey with her husband Allen and her two Boston Terriers, Gracie Mae and Oscar Wilde.
Cynthia’s poetry books Sojourn, Pebbles in the Shoe as well as No Time to Shoot the Poets have been accepted in the new Ina Coolbrith Circle library section in Sacramento’s State Library’s Special Collections Reading Room. In her latest chapbook, FOLKS: Versions of Us, Cynthia steps into the shoes of others for a fresh perspective on the world and events that shape us.
Past Hostess of a poetry venue, now defunct, LAST SUNDAYS’ FISHBOWL POETRY, Cynthia was pleased to feature two poets and an open mic every month at Old Capitol Books in Monterey, CA. (2018-2019)
TEN QUESTIONS asked by Your One Phone Call, Wales
Why do you write?
I write when I need to reach outside of my head back into the world. I write when all of the sensory input overwhelms me and needs to empty out into my unique creations. I write when the dreams and emotions wrestle with my past and I need to touch the now and the others.
What books do you read?
I read poetry mostly, some history, genealogy, books on trauma and child abuse. The Courage to Heal is my bible and I will always be thankful to the brave women who wrote it.
What inspires you?
I am very visual, so movies inspire me. Art, photography and color inspires me. I also am turned on by music and lovely fragrances. I love the courageous, kindness and telling the truth. Talent in all its forms energizes me. I am revived with the touch of my husband’s hand, the sloppy kisses of our four-footed family members.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
When I was in my early forties, I was diagnosed with P.T.S.D. brought on from childhood abuses. While in therapy I was asked to write down events, emotions, pictures and people as they came to me in dreams and waking. Up until that time I had done only writing required in school. What I discovered in that process saved my life. The first sharing of these memories seemed to come out as poetry, or so I was told. The sharing was like taking part in the Lakota Sun Dance Piercing Ritual, where the skin is pierced through with a bone tied to a rope and the body’s weight eventually rips the skin open. But once I said the truths out loud, I was exhilarated, and people would thank me and share their truth. That is when I knew I was a writer, and it was important for me as well as others.
How do you deal with rejection?
I guess in some ways I experienced this early when some folks did not like the topics of my poems and suggested writing about flowers or happy subjects. Some rejection is harder than others and may be the reason that I have not bothered sending my work out as much as I could. I prefer hearing why something is rejected rather than a generic, 'we are sorry to say...'bullshit.
Who are some of the writers you admire?
I began my poetry journey with Langston Hughes and admired the clear-cut simple words that conveyed so much emotion. I admire him being who he was: black and homosexual in the beginning of the twentieth century in America. I also love Sharon Olds, Naomi Shihab Nye, David Whyte. I prefer reading poetry anthologies to hear many voices.
Is writing the only artistic medium you do?
I love to make jewelry from beads, shells and bone. I love to draw, doodle and dream of painting. I used to play piano and practice ballet as a child. I am an artistic want-to-be.
What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?
Love yourself and follow your bliss.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Read and write daily. Only accept critiques from people you respect and then only if it feels right. You are the best and last judge of your work. If you love it, and it makes you happy, go for it.
What is your writing process?
Sometimes I begin with a title, sometimes a line. On several occasions I began with a character who persisted until I wrote down their story. I am sometimes disciplined and write every morning, rewrite in the afternoon. But mostly I need to be jolted awake by an emotion, a need to let something go onto the page. Putting my work out there is even less regulated, but spontaneous. I most enjoy standing in front of lovers-of- poetry and taking in the huge exchange of energy sharing my work.