June 2020: Pride & Poetry

The San Mateo County Arts Commission with San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto present “PRIDE & POETRY,” with readings by Dena Rod, Joe G. Mendoza & Jan Steckel, and music performances by Erinn Louise Washburn and members of our local West Bay Community Band, and Karen Bryant Shipp of the Oakhurst Choir in Georgia. Co-hosted by JP Mangalindan.

April 2020: Genoa International Poetry Festival

SMC Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto read her poem at the Genoa International Poetry Festival’s virtual event. Parole Spalancate’s Poetry in sDreaming “[reaffirms] the strength of poetry as a tool for sharing, dialogue and creation… in this moment of suspended time and forced isolation in Italy…”

(The Genoa International Poetry Festival is Italy’s oldest poetry event. Yusef Komunyakaa, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Czeslaw Milosz, and Wole Soyinka were some of the festival’s participants.)

April & May 2020: Love in the Time of COVID-19

Special Reading of San Mateo County’s Community Poem on Memorial Day at the Mystic Seaport Museum, Connecticut

A few days after the six Bay Area counties issued the mandate to shelter-in-place, my NextDoor community mobilized to find ways to support each other. A few people started yard-based neighborhood pantries stocked with food and other personal care items, others offered to run errands for their elderly and disabled neighbors (within days, almost a hundred people had signed up to shop, pick up meds, cut grass, and do other chores for those who need help), and there were those who gave away N95 masks and homemade masks. Some people in the community also posted poems to log their days and cope with the anxiety and uncertainty brought on by self-isolation, unemployment or other pandemic concerns. Around that time, I was in the process of curating poems on “Sheltering” from poets from across the US and around the world. I suggested to my NextDoor neighbors that we create a community poem for our frontliners, and for every line that will be submitted, a dollar will be donated to the San Mateo County Health Foundation’s COVID-19 support for San Mateo County hospitals and clinics. As of April 10th, I received a total of 125 lines from people from all around the county, which I had put together into this poem, with much gratitude to everyone involved in the project. 

Aside from raising money for the San Mateo County Health Foundation, this poem was read at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut on Memorial Day, May 25, 2020. It was also cited in the Alzheimer’s Poetry Project in Minnesota; used as a resource by the Montgomery Independent School District in Texas; and included in The Transcendients Exhibitions which are on view until May 16, 2021 at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto was invited to speak about this poem and its extensive impact at the San Mateo County Community & Covid: 4th Town Hall on April 29, 2021.

Contributors:

San Mateo County Supervisor Carole Groom, Terry Adams, Lisa Anderson, Ginnie Backes, Jay Thomas Beard, Chuck Brickley, Michelle Brcko, Jackie Burleigh, Judy Campbell, Patricia Delara, Debbie Diaz, Rev. Terri Echelbarger, Aaron & Gina Feil, Paul Fericano, Ivana Hansen, Diane Hendrix, Teresa Kelly, Susan Kokores, Heidi Leupp, Victoria Maier Magbilang, Veronica Montes, Carol Mukhopadhyay, Amy Pabalan, Ann Powers, Tony Press, Anita Ferrin Rodman, Diana Ross, Lyla Strauss, Sherri Sunahara, and Craig Wiesner

With special thanks to Tanya Beat and Birgit Eeckman for helping spread the word.

Curated by San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto

This poem was presented at the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors Meeting on April 21, 2020.

Love in the Time of COVID-19

A Community Poem for Healthcare Workers and Other Frontliners, from San Mateo County

Your voice holds me
when your arms cannot.

You spoke calming words to me
as I slipped into sleep,

and yours were the first eyes I saw
as I came out from under the fog.

Afraid and alone, you hold
our hands through the darkness.

Wingless angels dressed in scrubs,
footfall on our steps,

jasmine scent, a bag of groceries
on our doorstep,

a tap on the window,
a neighbor’s wave,

a newly-sewn mask tossed
(in a plastic bag), to the front

of the door: “run it through the washer
first,” she calls, waves, and departs.

(Fifteen years ago, at fifteen,
just arrived from El Salvador,

she walked into my Jefferson High
ESL class. Today, she is a hero,

daily risking her life for her patients,
while her own children wait

in their fog-shrouded home.)
Earth angels, haloes shining bright,

working with this virus in the air!
We will not despair

You support us
You surround us

Because of you, the world
will get brighter,

socially un-distancing.
Bless the arms that hold you today.

My arms ache with the energy
of a thousand unspent hugs,

eager to envelope someone
in an embrace so all-encompassing

as to make us both forget all that’s happened,
if only for a moment.

We’re all joining hands,
guests on this planet,

across many lands.
We are forever grateful

to the warriors who save lives.
Time to recognize the real heroes,

brilliant shadows, as we’ve never
seen before. God calls us

to opportunity, it is for each
of us to claim. Our neighbor

is our brother, is our sister,
is our keeper, is our healer.

As soldiers, you stand tall,
ready for the next patient who calls.

Your love and care exemplify
heroism without compare.

Without you, our country would be
facing an even larger catastrophe.

Doctors and nurses and other
frontliners, with help to give.

Some deliver goods,
some clean and scrub,

stock the shelves,
and work so hard

so we can stay in our space.
You can do it, you can make it,

single mom working two shifts,
exhausted nursing home staff

and loyal admin staff,
fighting against depression

and confusion. Dementia.
Dressing up in silly costumes,

dancing down the halls,
holding iPads high

so loved ones can see,
their elderly parent

who are unable to communicate,
reassuring them

that everything will be okay.
Smiling faces, heads pounding,

tirelessly ensuring
the outside world

stays ‘outside’
and residents stay safe.

For the inner strength,
courage and compassion

with which you serve,
our eternal devotion, you so deserve.

For all your efforts,
may you be blessed

a thousandfold. Where we are,
the tired ghosts of fearful uncertainty

welcome the laughter
that champions the heart,

as help travels at the speed of light
to spread hope in desperate times,

for the speed of love turns out
to be the speed of light.

A gentle reminder:
Be safe. Be well.

Be kind. Which is to say,
shelter in safety and love.

Everybody’s home
and nobody’s alone.

April 2020: Pandemic Poetry

As 20% of the world’s population went under lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19 in March 2020, San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto sent out a call for poems on “sheltering.” By April 1st, 46 poets from across the US and around the world sent 90 poems, now archived in “MiGoZine: Poets on Sheltering”

Poets: William Allegrezza (Indiana), Ivy Alvarez (New Zealand), Ronda Piszk Broatch (Washington), Megan Duffy Brown (California), Cynthia Buiza (California), Michael Caylo-Baradi (California), Douglas Cole (Washington), Joe Cottonwood (California), Robert Cowan (New York), Melinda Luisa de Jesús (California), Simeon Dumdum, Jr. (Philippines), Melissa Eleftherion (California), Hollie Hardy (California), Lee Herrick (California), Georgette Howington (California), Luisa A. Igloria (Virginia), Luke Johnson (California), Persis Karim (California), Mary Kasimor (Washington), Phyllis Klein (California), Abigail Licad (California), Aurelia Lorca (California), Andrew McFadyen-Ketchum (Tennessee), Joseph G. Mendoza (Philippines), Rashaan Alexis Meneses (California), Abigail Milne (California), Claudia Monpere (California), Diane Lee Moomey (California), PC Muñoz (California), Tayve Neese (Florida), Cynthia J. Patton (California), Lisa Meltzer Penn (California), Claudio Pozzani (Italy), Octavio Quintanilla (Texas), Ron Riekki (California), Jacki Rigoni (California), Tony Robles (North Carolina), Lisa Rosenberg (California), Christopher X. Shade (New York), Murzban F. Shroff (India), Kim Shuck (California), Michael Simms (Pennsylvania), Norma Smith (California), Eileen R. Tabios (California), Gabriele Tinti (Italy), Joel Vega (Netherlands), Maw Shein Win (California), Rosemary Ybarra-Garcia (California), Jamie Zou (Connecticut), & Cybele Zufolo (California).

Read poems on Sheltering.

February & March 2020: 1st Annual Filoli Haiku Competition

San Mateo County Poet Laureate Aileen Cassinetto and Filoli History House & Garden present the 1st Annual Haiku Competition inspired by Filoli’s winter garden.

San Mateo County Poet Laureate to Judge Entries Reflecting the Beauty of Filoli’s Garden in Winter

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Deadline: Entries should be submitted by February 15, 2020, 12:00 pm. The finalists will be announced on February 19 and invited to the event on March 1, where the winners will be announced.

2019 Summary

Appointed by the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in October 2018, I began my two-year term as Poet Laureate of San Mateo County on January 1, 2019 with a vision of what I hope to achieve to celebrate the literary arts and make poetry more accessible to people in their everyday lives. I am thrilled to carry on the wonderful poetic legacy of my predecessors and have worked hard to start my term off with impactful programming and community connections. I’ve visited schools, city halls, churches, and the county jail to share my work; launched my “Speak Poetry” campaign, and promoted my events on NBC Bay Area, KPFA Radio Berkeley, Your Artsy Girl Podcast, and PenTV, and publications such as The Six Fifty, Positively Filipino, The NonConformist Literary Magazine, Half Moon Bay Review, Everything South City, Redwood City Climate Magazine, San Francisco Chronicle, New York-based Cagibi, and Manila-based Philippine Daily Inquirer. I have also been a featured speaker at the College of San Mateo and at Skyline College, and collaborated with other poets to help raise awareness on issues such as women’s rights, environmental protection, prevention of cruelty to animals, rehabilitation of prisoners through poetry, and mental health and suicide prevention. As the county’s first foreign-born and Asian American Poet Laureate, I also participated in the 10th Annual CSM Asian Pacific American Film Festival (which was a momentous event for a panethnic group that has, for so long, endured a lack of representation, especially in the film industry). In May, I was deeply honored to have been invited to read my poem in memory of those who died in service of our country at the 78th Annual Memorial Day Observance at the Golden Gate National Cemetery. And in September, with the support of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, the San Mateo County Arts Commission, the San Mateo County Libraries, and Poets Laureate Emeriti Caroline Goodwin and Lisa Rosenberg, I organized a convening of Bay Area Poets Laureate for a full day conference which culminated with a public poetry reading. In December, I organized my second Poetry & Community Concert which brought together poets of all ages and musicians from the West Bay Community Band. In my first year, I visited 14 cities in the county, given over 50 readings around the Bay Area, and released two anthologies featuring San Mateo County poets on the themes of community and childhood. Moving forward, I am working on projects that will highlight more local poets, facilitate community-building through poetry, and ensure the sustainability and longevity of said projects.


“SPEAK POETRY” Anthologies 

My campaign is an ongoing conversation where we’re given the opportunity to get to know people and the rhythm of their everyday lives. Human ecology being a significant feature of my projects, I edited two anthologies in 2019 on themes of “community” and “childhood”.

“Speak Poetry” Issue 1 (April 2019)

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“Speak Poetry” Issue 2 (December 2019)

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