On the evening of Thursday, Feb. 2, Riverside community members gathered for a “Poetry! At the Library” event hosted by the Inlandia Institute to listen to the writing of two local poets in an upstairs room in the Riverside Public Library. The event featured Carlos Cortes, a professor emeritus of history at UCR, and Nan Friedly, a retired special education teacher.
After a brief introduction, Cortes, wearing a celery green collared button-up under a midnight black vest, was the first to share a couple of poems from his 88-page book, “Fourth Quarter: Reflections of a Cranky Old Man.” Cortes described both he and Friedly as poet-storytellers due to their direct storytelling being written in poetic verse.
Cortes explained the symbolism behind the title of his collection, elaborating that when he had woken up the morning of his 76th birthday, he realized, “I’m not old, I’m one year into the fourth quarter of my century long journey.” He described the four different dimensions of his book as: Looking in, looking out, looking back inside of yourself and looking ahead at the world.
He began with a piece that involved reflecting on his experiences in the Boy Scouts, reading aloud a number of stereotypical activities one might expect to take part in during time spent in the organization such as swimming in the lake, gazing at stars and earning badges. He also mentioned partaking in activities that may not have been so innocent. “When you learned to dance like Indians, and make warhoops, never thinking it may be offensive,” Cortes spoke. “Those were simpler times, or naive times, or unconscious times, or protected times. I often recall and wonder, ‘Was it really that way?’,” Cortes questioned in a thought-provoking manner.
Friedly, a blonde-haired woman dressed in a black shirt with white polka dots, took to the podium. She elaborated on the symbolism of her collection of poems entitled, “Short Bus Ride.” Her book also featured four sections, with the first section centering around her life growing up in Indiana. Friedly maintained a nostalgic tone, fitting with a majority of poems that looked back on her life.
One of her poems described her distaste for vegetables as a child, a topic that the audience widely related to. She read aloud the poem, offering the tactics she had used to avoid tasting the vegetables and personifying the vegetables on her plate that were taunting her. In the end, she took the last option she had to explore. “I decided my life was not worth a hill of lima beans, so I ate them,” Friedly said with a hint of sorrow in her voice.
For the remainder of the evening, the two poets alternated in sharing their beloved writings. Both collections told stories in their lives that had progressed with them, starting from memories they cherished as children to growing older to their current lives now.
Many of Cortes’ poems were filled with energy, humor and playfulness, keeping the audience awake with laughter and bright smiles. He added a lot of background information about his poems, livening them up. Friedly’s poems on the other hand remained more reminiscent and nostalgic, laced with more subtle hints of humor than those of Cortes’. Her emotions were obvious and helped to captivate the audience with the passion encompassed by the notes of her voice.
The night was drawn to a close with the floor being opened up to any community members that wished to share their works of poetry. UCR alumni Robert Merrill, who also wrote for the Highlander, was among those to share a memorized poem called, “Made in America,” describing appropriation.
In the back, both poetry collections were available for sale amongst other colorful books resulting from the work of other local writers.
The next “Poetry! at the Library” event will be held on Thursday, March 2 and feature poets Ruth Nolan and Alysson Jeffredo.