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Cal Poly poets Mira Rosenthal and James Cushing bring their work to Orcutt 

"How many times has apology/rimmed my mouth like lipstick? This is not/what I meant to tell you, the same old//kitchen sink, mold, the blooming mold."

click to enlarge MIRA, MIRA, ON THE STAGE Award-winning poet Mira Rosenthal, a Cal Poly creative writing instructor, will perform selections from her work at CORE Winery in Orcutt on April 14. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MIRA ROSENTHAL
  • Photo Courtesy Of Mira Rosenthal
  • MIRA, MIRA, ON THE STAGE Award-winning poet Mira Rosenthal, a Cal Poly creative writing instructor, will perform selections from her work at CORE Winery in Orcutt on April 14.

The haunting yet subtle lines of the poem "Swallow" are an example of the beautiful simplicity of poetry. Frozen in a moment of static visual detail, a thousand intricate sentiments and ideas spin off, creating a broader view of the human experience.

The poem is by Mira Rosenthal, one of a pair of Cal Poly professors set to bring their unique work to Orcutt as part of a live reading.

James Cushing will join Rosenthal at CORE Winery in Orcutt on April 14. Cushing holds a doctorate in English from UC Irvine. In the early 1980s, he hosted a live poetry radio program on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles. He teaches literature and creative writing at Cal Poly SLO, and served as the community's Poet Laureate from 2008 to 2010. Cahuenga Press has published five collections of Cushing's including his latest, The Magicians' Union in 2014.

Rosenthal is also a teacher in Cal Poly's creative writing program and lives in Los Osos. After completing her English degree at Reed College, she earned an MFA from the University of Houston, and later a Ph.D. in comparative literature from Indiana University. Rosenthal is also a past fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts and Stanford University's Stegner Program; her work can be seen in journals including Ploughshares, Harvard Review, PN Review, A Public Space, and Oxford American.

It was a job at City Lights Booksellers and Publishers in San Francisco that really sparked her interest in the medium, thanks to the exposure she had to an eclectic variety of poetry at the famous bookstore.

"I really think of my time there as my second education," Rosenthal said. "I was in charge of buying for the poetry section there. They are one of the few bookstores in the country that actually stocks a really great poetry section that is really a reflection of the vibrancy of American poetry."

Rosenthal said she had promised herself she'd do something more "practical" in her graduate work, but she quickly realized jobs like technical writing weren't what she was suited for. She said that rather than a deliberate effort on her part, poetry pulled her in certain directions until something clicked.

"It's been an evolving interest for me," she said. "Really, it's been kind of life-leading. I was not meaning to continue this interest in poetry but I was just continually gravitating back to it and ultimately found it. It's hard to make a path in any artistic career. But I've meandered my way around enough to figure out how to get someone to pay me to think about poetry and write poetry."

Once she completed her MFA, it was immediately apparent that she had found her calling. Her Fulbright fellowship took her to Poland, where she explored her interest in Polish poetry and the interplay between American works. In addition to her own work as a poet, Rosenthal also produces works of translation. Her translation of Polish poet Tomasz Rózycki's Colonies was nominated for numerous awards and won the Northern California Book Award.

Rosenthal said there is a common misconception about literary translation. Translation isn't simply translating writing word for word, she said. Translators must work to convey the spirit and mood of a particular piece to achieve what the original author intended.

"Translation is an interesting field," she said. "Translators are this invisible presence in any visible work."

Rosenthal's own work is filled with crisp visual details that permeate through each stanza. Her poem, "Swallow," starts with a concrete image of a cutting board and soars through complex emotions:

"I stand before the little square history/of my cutting board: beet stain, parsley/mark, garlic in the grain that infuses/anything cut open, left soft-side down./The news for once is droll, drawn out/in Kentucky drawl: karst collapses/to engulf eight empty cars whole. It happened,/in a moment, it just happened."

"I wish I had the experience more often of a poem writing itself," she said. "But really, I feel a lot of times the work of writing is the work of making it look seamless and easy. But the actual experience and process of writing is one of not knowing what a poem is really about, searching, and trying to discover something."Δ

Sun Arts and Lifestyle Writer Rebecca Rose is always searching for her next story. Contact her at


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