Episode 2: Suzanne Lummis and C.G. Hanzlicek

Poet Suzanne Lummis reads in Fresno in 1992. (Screen shot)

Editor’s Note: This is Episode 2 of the new Fresno Poets archive project. It features Suzanne Lummis and C. G. Hanzlicek, recorded in March 1992. Background research and closed captioning for this video was compiled by undergraduate student Mayra Cano in Fall 2016. A native of Madera who now considers herself an honorary Fresnan, Mayra is a junior studying both English Literature and Chicano Studies at Fresno State. Her favorite authors include Allen Ginsberg, Rupi Kaur, and Gloria Anzaldúa. She serves as co-editor of La Voz de Aztlán newspaper, as president of the Chicano and Latin American Studies Student Association, and as an ambassador for the College of Arts and Humanities. Mayra plans to pursue a career in teaching.

By Mayra Cano
For the Fresno Poets archive project

My first encounter with this archival video with Suzanne Lummis and C. G. Hanzlicek was marked by skepticism. The video, originally recorded 24 years earlier, direct to a VHS tape that I now held in my hands, seemed old, unassuming, and in poor quality in terms of audio and visuals. I didn’t understand its importance, but the people leading this project did.

And so, at first I did as I was asked: I watched the video and I began to transcribe poems. However, somewhere along the many hours spent pausing, transcribing, rewinding, and pressing play again, I was able to see what my mentors had seen. These videos aren’t just videos. They’re microcosms of the Department of English at Fresno State and all the great Fresno writers it has nurtured since the Creative Writing Program’s inception.

This greatness resides within poets such as Lummis, a Fresno State alumna and creator of the noir poem. To me, she exemplifies this greatness in her unflinching manner of pursuing and telling the truth. It’s a manner that is so abrupt and uninhibited that its vulnerability and courage startled me as I transcribed this video. I remember listening to a specific line — “You dream a man you’ve never heard of named Henry Schwinn walks up and tells you you have no talent. You wake up with chills and a hernia in your imagination knowing he’s right.” — and at first missing it. My fingers stuttered as any inadequacies I had ever felt were eloquently presented to me, time and again, in the most accurate and precise of ways.

Suddenly, my anxieties had become tangible and they were displayed right in front of me. Suddenly, failure had a name: He held out his hand and introduced himself as Henry Schwinn. This strike of gold for me within the video wasn’t limited to the poetry of Lummis.

Poet C. G. Hanzlicek reads in Fresno in 1992. (Screen shot)

Another illustration of Fresno’s greatness, C. G. Hanzlicek, a graduate of the University of Minnesota and the University of Iowa, as well as a professor emeritus of English at Fresno State, is also captured in the video.

Hanzlicek recites a poem where he says, “More and more things don’t bother me, since they are as temporary as I am.” I remember typing these words slowly as I processed their meaning. I thought of each word individually. More. And. More. Things. Don’t. Bother. Me. Since. They. Are. As. Temporary. As. I. Am. And then I thought of the full line again: “More and more things don’t bother me, since they are as temporary as I am.” What a discovery!

I thought of how tense my shoulders felt as I transcribed this poem. I thought of the exams I would have to study for in the evening after I got home from work, and I thought of how all these obligations, and the stress tied to them, were really only temporary. I remember thinking how something so obvious and true could have seemed so foreign to me. The idea that I didn’t have to worry about something because it would inevitably pass was simultaneously mystifying and intoxicating.

The insightful poems in this video transformed my opinion of it. I had reservations about this old VHS tape from the ’90s, but this tape turned out to be an invaluable piece of Fresno State history and an illustration of the greatness of two Fresno writers. Their lessons and insights continue to be as valid and beautiful now as they were when recorded. This video transcends its origins, and to me that alone is a creation of greatness.

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