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Newly formed Rock Canyon Poets perform at Utah Arts Fest

By Karen Hoag daily Herald - | Jun 26, 2015
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Matthew A. Jonassaint, right, performs with members of the Rock Canyon Poets perform during the Utah Arts Festival at Library Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 25, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Members of the Rock Canyon Poets Diana Dean, Jack Garcia, Matthew A. Jonassaint, Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen, Tish Hopkinson and Diana Dean, from left to right, unwind after performing during the Utah Arts Festival at Library Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 25, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Members of the Rock Canyon Poets, from left, Marianne Hales Harding, Heather Holland, Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen, Tish Hopkinson, Yolo Stevenson, Diana Dean and Matthew A. Jonassaint prepare to perform during the Utah Arts Festival at Library Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 25, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Yolo Stevenson performs with members of the Rock Canyon Poets perform during the Utah Arts Festival at Library Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 25, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen performs with members of the Rock Canyon Poets perform during the Utah Arts Festival at Library Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 25, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

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Diana Dean performs with members of the Rock Canyon Poets perform during the Utah Arts Festival at Library Square in Salt Lake City on Thursday, June 25, 2015. SPENSER HEAPS, Daily Herald

The Rock Canyon Poets have fun with language. During the six months the group has been in existence, it boasts nearly 30 members ages 18 to 70, comprised of half men, half women. They meet monthly at Provo’s Pioneer Book store.

“We’re growing and learning from each other in ways I could have never anticipated,” said Hopkinson. “Regardless of age and background it’s amazing how much each member offers.” 

The group loves their Pioneer Book “home.” They chose the store as a meeting place because it’s a free-standing private bookstore and one of what Shiffler-Olsen calls a dying breed. “For lovers of the written word, it felt like a natural choice,” she said. “The performance space upstairs is ideal for our gatherings. It features perfect acoustics, is located next to Pioneer’s poetry section and seating is provided … And the bookstore smells like a poem.”

Seven members of the group are sharing their works on the Big Mouth Stage at the 2015 Utah Arts Festival in Salt Lake City this week.

“We were fortunate to have a very diverse group of amazing poets,” said co-founder Trish Hopkinson, who applied for the spot to perform at the festival.

And these local poets’ backgrounds are, in fact, diverse — from a playwright and periodontist and to ex-military and editors. They’ve become familiar with different eras of poetry as they study together and share input and experiences.

“My poems always get better when I listen carefully to the critiques of others,” said Shiffler-Olsen. “Each member came already equipped with a voice and experience sharing their work, either through publication or readings.” Some have a wide range of academic accomplishment; others are just budding in the poetry world, she said.

Both the co-founders and five others in the poetry group — including Marianne Hales Harding, Heather Holland, Yoko Stevenson, Diana Dean and Matthew Jonassaint — performed their own personal work Thursday night.

“Poems express the full range of human emotion through our physical perceptions,” said Bonnie Shiffler-Olsen, co-founder of the Utah County group. “They might be sad, full of joy, playful, sexy or contemplative.” The images described mean something different to each reader – depending on what the listener brings to it, she added.

“Poetry shouldn’t simply be heard or read,” Shiffler-Olsen said. “It should be experienced on every sensory level.” In the end the poem should be “revelatory,” she said.

A private online site allows them to workshop monthly. “This gives us the live interaction to share ideas, provide feedback on works in progress and otherwise talk about poetry in general,” Hopkinson said. “It’s a great release and time to relax for most of us, away from our jobs, school and other stresses.”

Rock Canyon Poets had its first annual all-day writer’s retreat in April which produced many selections that have already been published. Their first collaboration, “Orogeny,” of poems from 14 of the poets and designed by Austin Beckstrom was available at the arts festival.

Poetry isn’t a “one-size-fits-all” said Shiffler-Olsen. “Our performances are a grab-bag of subjects and voices … startling imagery, exquisite language, metaphor, meter and thoughtful technique in crafting words.”

They hope to return to the Utah Arts Festival every year and look for other opportunities to perform as well. “The poetry community in Utah County is continuing to emerge,” Hopkinson said. “Poetry is important. It’s time to get loud about it.”


”Wishes” by Jack Garcia

It’s not in the vast expanse

of darkness kissing the white

luminescence of winter snow

nor in the smoky puff

of laughter; not the

lungs filled with cold or

girls resembling flamingos

with long, stilettoed legs

and bright, warm coats above,

disappearing into pubs.

It’s not in the rings left

by martini glasses and beer

bottles nor in the lonely

olive thoughtlessly swept

away by a waitress’s

gin-soaked hand, the same

hand that sweetly wipes

away an eyelash from

her child’s sleeping cheek

— a wish waiting to be granted.

She watches it float down,

lost in cream carpet,

and somehow she knows.

– originally published in Brown Bag Magazine 1.1 (2013)


”Rain Scald” by Tacey M. Atsitty

When you’ve been standing (in rain) so long, you no longer hear

or feel it falling — you believe it’s stopped. Step away —

look to your (skin; muck itch. It’s a) shame, your hands

have gone bald from fungus. Taking you to (what’s beneath scab,

to) one of those nights when you know (your gums will bleed.

To say) it’s been a while or that it has to do with (wrist mange

is to say rot comes so easily now, skin weep –) lapse. Step through

the whole (black of your home) and still know damp, know

(exactly when to cup your finger for) the light switch.

•••

so familiar (in aubade)

shame, your hands

have gone haywire. Taking you to (what’s beneath rust: ranges

they’ve grazed –) a time

when you’re combed through

when you know your knuckles —

and all that the rain has swallowed.

– originally published in Drunken Boat Issue 15 (2012)

What: Rock Canyon Poets

When: 7-8 p.m. July 14 (second Tues. each month)

Where: Pioneer Book, 450 W. Center St., Provo

Open Mic: Sign up to read for up to 5 minutes: rockcanyonpoets@gmail.com

Info: rockcanyonpoets.com

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