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Poems from the Creative Growth Art Center

Ying Ze Zhou, Untitled, ink and marker on paper, 5.5" x 7.5 "


by Todd Blair, Heather Edgar, D’Lisa Fort, Jorge Gomez, Kathleen Henderson, Nathaniel Jackson, Gail Lewis, Lorraine Lupo, Daniel Mason, Larry Randolph, Elizabeth Rangel, Kyle Schlensinger, Joe Spears, Nicole Storm, Julie S. and Monica Valentine

I’m trying pistachio yogurt in Greece

What is super sticky that bites?

Scratchy peanut butter

Thron hardscrabble

Too chaotic

Banana Suzanna

Good point

Cool person

It’s refreshing

To see

Pickle people

I went to the store and I bought some candy corn

I went to the Bart station and I got to the Expletorium

Let’s see up or down

Let’s see to not get lost

Oreos groceries

Oreos around

The whole enchilada

And then there was the keto diet

The cupid diet

Too many diets around

“You’re scratchy Kathleen”

“Thanks Monica”

New technologies

Blow your mind

Passing helicopter

Helicopters like love and passion

Pretty bad boys

John Hiltunen, Untitled collage, 12" x 7"


by Todd Blair, Jorge Gomez, Mayra Gonzalez, Larry Randolph and Nicole Storm

Horse lady, go to college and take a class

Horse lady, maybe serve some breakfast

Horse lady, giddy up

Horse lady, you can do anything you put your mind to

Horse lady, think of great magic

Horse lady, try to enjoy Calistoga

Horse lady, put jewelry in your purse

Horse lady, don't horse around

George Wilson, Untitled, prisma stick on paper, 15" x 22.5”


by D’Lisa Fort, Sher-ron Freeman, Jorge Gomez, Cedric Johnson, Larry Randolph, Joe Spears and Julie S.

Can a skateboard make you fall?

Can a shot make you fly away?

How many times can wild flowers grow back?

Why do people lie?

Why do people shoot other people on TV and in the real world?

Who deserves to get shot at?

You can shoot a deer but if you shoot a cow someone might put you in jail

Are you a girl?

Why are you handicapped?

Why is this man following me?

What is bicentennial?

Why won’t people play with me?

They share something but then take it back

When will BART stop breaking down?

Can you get to heaven on a pair of roller skates?

Cedric Johnson, Untitled, ink and marker on paper, 19" x 22"


by Avery Babon, Jorge Gomez, Cedric Johnson, Gail Lewis, Larry Randolph and Joe Spears

The weather is a lotta goofy

The sky is not blue

The moon is not yellow

The moon looks like lighter blue

The moon looks so sad

The moon is bright and quite sad

The moon needs a friend

Mother Nature is mad

Mother Nature is mad

D’Lisa Fort, Untitled, acrylic on paper, 15" x 20"


by Todd Blair, D’Lisa Fort, Jorge Gomez, Mayra Gonzalez, Matthew Hatae, Larry Randolph, Elizabeth Rangel, Joe Spears, Monica Valentine, Tanisha Warren and Kathy Zhong

My feet is old and wrinkled

It’s too early for the feet to get old

My feet is too old to walk too much

I go walking every day

Life is precious

In the gold mine there is a lot of gold

Abundance is heavy sometimes

Life is not live action

I touch the flower

The moon has a big face

The moon is a big cheese

The cheese is delicious


These poems were produced in poetry workshops at the Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland CA, a non-profit that serves artists with disabilities by providing a professional studio environment for artistic development, gallery exhibition, and representation. The artists at Creative Growth have long worked on fantastic visual practices but this is their first opportunity to write poetry. Begun in 2019, we have expanded our program to include two remote workshops (hosted by myself and the poet Kostas Anagnopoulos) during the pandemic and have hosted a number of guest writers (two of whom, Kyle Schlesinger and Daniel Mason, contributed to Pretty Bad Boys). Our poems are written collaboratively, with the facilitator taking down each participant’s line exactly as it is spoken. Often the poems need very little or no editing. All contributors are listed in the finished poem.

Our first book, The Poem Is Telling Me I Remember (Slacks Books) is available for purchase here.

—Lorraine Lupo


Avery Babon (b. 1981) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2015. A short filmmaker and sculpture artist, Avery came to the workshop with experience writing poetry of his own. Avery brings a traditional lyrical aesthetic to the workshop which nicely offset our frequently raucous compositions.

Todd Blair (b. 1954) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2014. Todd came to Creative Growth after a traumatic brain injury, already an established kinetic artist. Todd’s enthusiasm and receptivity to poetic ideas and his fellow poets make him a dynamic collaborator.

Heather Edgar (b. 1987) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2015. Heather's beautifully rendered illustrative scenes explore original romances and fairytale stories with an exacting eye for detail. As a writer, Heather has a natural affinity for narrative and a quirky sense of humor.

D’Lisa Fort (b. 1986 San Bernardino, California) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2009. D’Lisa’s approach to poetry is marked by sincerity and purpose. It is important for her to “get it right,” and this extends to her interest in moral questions and deeper meanings.

Sher-ron Freeman (b. 1966 Oakland, California) has practiced at Creative Growth since 1988. Sher-ron is often shy, so nothing makes us happier than when she adds her observations to our poems. She views the world with an earnestness which prompts us to contemplate the big questions.

Jorge Gomez (b. 1956 Havana, Cuba) has practiced at Creative Growth since 1986. He brings a quick wit and penchant for playfulness which inspires everyone around him. We can always count on him to enliven our poems with silliness and imagination.

Mayra Gonzalez (b. 1974) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2012. As a visual artist, Mayra develops her imagery through series, in which she explores the same subject matter in a variety of mediums. Mayra’s interests are often the inspiration for our poems.

Matthew Hatae (born 1998) is one of the newest members of the Creative Growth family and joined programming after the pandemic moved us online. Matthew’s willingness to explore and share his practice has been a continued bright spot and we look forward to his contributions in the coming months and years.

Kathleen Henderson is a visual artist living and working in the Bay Area. Her work has been the subject of numerous solo shows in LA and San Francisco as well as the Drawing Center in New York. She has received a National Endowment for the Arts grant and is in the collections of the Hammer Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She is a staff artist at Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland and senior editor of the Creative Growth magazine.

John Hiltunen (1949-2020) enjoyed a meteoric rise in recognition for his dynamic collage mash-ups. His work is included in more than thirty exhibitions in just ten years, including John Hiltunen +1, organized by Matthew Higgs in 2012 at Paule Anglim Gallery, and a solo exhibition in 2017 at Good Luck Gallery in Los Angeles. John received the prestigious Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award in 2013, and Books for All Press published a monograph of his work. His work is part of Cindy Sherman’s personal collection.

Nathaniel "PJ" Jackson (b. 1998) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2014. He is an excellent wordsmith, often conjuring new additions to the English language. We can always count on him for unique observations expressed with distinctive poetic flair.

Cedric Johnson (b. 1952 Corpus Christi, Texas) has practiced at Creative Growth since 1980. Cedric was a regular at our in-person workshop and his rapport with other poets made our sessions generative and fun. When the joking subsided, though, he examined serious subjects with a wonderful openness to experiment.

Gail Lewis (b. 1959 Oakland, California) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2008. Gail is primarily a textile artist, taking visual inspiration from desserts to knit and crochet colorful blankets, scarves, and other wearables. As a poet she can be counted on for her wry humor and attention to the hidden uniqueness in everyday expressions.

Lorraine Lupo is the author of By Way Of and The Greatest Outdoors, A Loop. She likes collaborating more than working alone, and her collaboration with the artist and architect Max Jacobson has resulted in the book Dust Exchange and the video project Guy: A Fast Paced Sad Story. She is poet-in-residence at the Creative Growth Arts Center and editor of the first collection of Creative Growth poetry, The Poem Is Telling Me I Remember.

Daniel Mason is a fiction writer and great fan of scratchy peanut butter.

Larry Randolph (b. 1955 California) has practiced at Creative Growth since 1988. Larry incorporates language in his visual practice and his loquacious lines bring personality and verve. Larry is a wonderful storyteller; his way with words lends a casual “off-the-cuff” flavor to our poems.

Elizabeth Rangel (b. 1984) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2011. Highly attuned to the beauty of the natural world and the tempest of feeling within, Elizabeth would have been at home during the Romantic era. She contributes her lines with a never-wavering assurance that other poets would envy.

Kyle Schlesinger is the author of Color & Light, A New Kind of Country and other books of poetry.

Joe Spears (b. 1991) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2016. He has been a constant and enthusiastic collaborator, ready with a line whenever it is needed. Our poems have often benefited from Joe’s unique and subtle shifts of phrasing which can make a seemingly ordinary sentiment off-kilter in exciting ways.

Nicole Storm (b. 1967 California) has practiced at Creative Growth since 1995. Her individual poems often deal with personal material and themes, expressed in a way to make them open to multiple interpretations. As a collaborator, Nicole’s delivery is nonchalant, her lines utterly original.

Julie S. (b. 1985 San Francisco, California) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2015. Julie often writes poems on her own and as an experienced poet she was clear in her vision, sometimes offering wider editorial suggestions. This doesn’t keep her from having fun and some of our wackier poems bear her mark.

Monica Valentine’s primary practice takes the form of optically charged sculptures composed of foam shapes that are densely covered with beads and sequins. As a poet she often re-purposes language in new ways. She is an expert at the rhyming couplet.

Tanisha Warren (b. 1971) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2013. Tanisha pays homage to iconic figures in Black history and pop culture in her drawings and embroidery. Tanisha uses language in her visual practice and is an attentive collaborator. Her contributions are often rooted in her everyday life and observations of the world.

George Wilson (b. 1946, Castro Valley, CA)  For over thirty years Wilson has concentrated on making figurative drawings, presented singularly or in groups. Wilson’s work has been featured at several international galleries and art fairs, including Galerie ART CRU, Berlin, Direct Art Gallery, Dusseldorf, D’Dessin Paris Contemporary Art Fair, and Outsider Art Fair in Paris and New York.

Kathy Zhong (b. 1988) has practiced at Creative Growth since 2013. Kathy is a relative newcomer to our remote workshops. We can always count on her to produce lines of potent brevity and gravity.

Ying Ge Zhou (b. 1978, Guangdong, China) came to Creative Growth in 2010 with a strong aptitude for drawing and painting. Whether she works from fashion magazines or her imagination, Zhou creates enigmatic portraits rendered in simple lines, and suffused with watercolor.

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