Editor’s Note: This is Episode 18 of the Fresno Poets Archive Project. It is a reading by Betty Jean Holmes and David R. C. Good, recorded February 1, 1989 at the Wild Blue Yonder nightclub in the Tower District. Background research and closed captioning for this video was conducted by student Mary Yamanaka in the spring of 2018. California raised and Chamorro born, Mary earned her bachelor’s degree in English, with a minor in creative writing, from Fresno State in May 2018. She hopes to pursue a career in editorial and publishing work, particularly in fiction. She enjoys writing in her free time, in order to create.
By Mary Yamanaka
For the Fresno Poets Archive Project
Betty Jean Holmes possesses the ability to keep the elements of childhood and home present and alive in a poem.
As I listened to her recite her poems, from a video recording made three decades ago, I found myself pressing the headphones closer to my ear, hoping I could somehow force the memorization of the poems by trapping the sound of her voice inside my brain.
I found myself wanting to visit her hometown of Lanare in western Fresno County, as I listened to her recant tales of her youth. It reminded me that although she and I existed in completely different times as little girls, that people tend to be more alike than we realize. Our lives intersect and connect in ways we may not think about because the little moments tend to be sidelined in our memories.
But not for Betty Jean, who beautifully immortalized her girlhood into these poems. It felt like an honor to transcribe her work. I related to it, as I sat in my bedroom surrounded by items of my own childhood.
We remember our youth by keeping a collection of memories we can relive with those who grew up with us. Betty Jean’s poem “Almost Mud Dry” reminded me of all the mud pies I made growing up. It had me asking my mother for the box of photos where I’m covered head to toe in mud alongside a girl I no longer know. I don’t remember that day outside what I can see in those photos. But as I listened to Betty Jean’s work, I began to understand the feeling of the memories she’s summoning into her poems.
Betty Jean proved to be elusive when I researched her poems for this project. I ended up deep inside the English Department’s storage closet, working my way through several shelves of a cabinet filled with five decades of the department’s literary journals, to find her work written down.
My search proved successful, as I dug up some of her poetry in multiple issues of Common Wages, the literary journal that started out as Backwash and later became the San Joaquin Review. I sat there in the small closet reading each of her poems as if they had been waiting for me for years.
Editor’s note: Early in the summer after Mary did the research and transcription work on the video and wrote this post, Betty Jean Holmes herself randomly walked into the English Department office on campus. She had just retired from her longtime job with the County of Fresno and was looking for a creative writing class to take, to get back into writing poetry. Imagine the delight on her face when I not only knew who she was, but also gave her a preview of the video of her younger self, reading at the Wild Blue in 1989! ~JB