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California poet, retired educator featured at WNP

September 21, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.
Kathy Leonard - Submitted photo

California poet, retired middle-school educator and occupational therapist Kathy Leonard will be featured at Wednesday Night Poetry at Kollective Coffee + Tea, 110 Central Ave.

The regular open mic session for all poets, musicians, and storytellers will begin at 6:30 p.m. today. Leonard will begin her feature set at 7:15 p.m., followed by another round of open mic. Admission is free and open to all ages. Masks are recommended. All are welcome.

Born during a snowstorm in upstate New York, Leonard moved to Claremont, California, as a child with her parents and sister, according to her biography from WNP. She moved from California to Hot Springs in 2018.

"I am a mom with two grown sons whom I am proud to say are both college graduates, and humanitarian human beings. My older son and his wife are parents to two young sons, so I am grandma, too. I get back to California as much as I can for visits. Divorce and single parenting are not an easy road for anyone to navigate, and I am thankful I had a meaningful profession that I believed in and allowed me to support my family. Education enables us to develop ourselves more fully, broaden our lens of the world and provide choices, as in my situation. These tasks are paramount to self-empowerment. One cannot always anticipate the curve in the road ahead," Leonard said in a news release from WNP.

After decades as an educator, Leonard is continuing her education, pursuing her MFA. "I have degrees from Loma Linda University and University of La Verne. I am completing my MFA in Poetry from Lindenwood University and chose their program as they value students of a mature age and honor each unique 'voice' of student writers, which I appreciate, and they don't want to change that voice, but simply refine it. I am thoroughly enjoying my studies, my delve deeper into writing craft," she said.

"I eventually retired to Hot Springs after coming here initially to care for my ailing father. I found respite and recovery in the natural landscape: the whitetail deer, the cardinals, the fast-moving sky, the noble trees, and luminous lakes. I enjoy the intense occluded storms and am fascinated by the thermal water which percolates beneath us. I enjoy hiking and camping in the Ouachita mountains with my partner Carlos and our dog Fritz, and the sage wisdom earth, elements, and animals grant us if we pay attention," Leonard said.

"I am a published poet, currently working on a full-length poetry manuscript. I have been published in California Quarterly, Alta Dena Poetry Review, Pegasus, and other print collections in the San Gabriel Valley. My poem 'Cadaver Bone' was the second prize winner in the Lois J. Dalton Memorial Humanity Category in the 2012 California Federation of Chaparral Poets annual contest. I attend Poetry workshops on a regular basis and am a member of Raven's Poets in Claremont and Valley Poets in Pasadena, California. I have been a part of both groups since 2009, and for the last several pandemic years we have met by Zoom. Feedback and critique are incredibly valuable to one's growth as a writer," she said.

"My first poem ever was free verse, written to my beloved paternal grandmother at age 8 on how I missed her. I recently wrote a pantoum (which did rhyme) to the beguiling full moon. It was my very first poem that rhymed. Nature, and her lessons bestowed are a focus of my writing practice these days more than I ever imagined. My poetry also centers on 'portraits' of people I cherish, the essence of a moment, spiritual truths, how we foster resilience in our grappling of difficult experiences which can also be a celebration of the human spirit," she said.

"I have always believed in the power of words and language and literature. How these can be tether and anchor: expression and cathartic healing. Many poets and writers I admire and who influence me embrace this aesthetic philosophy, and interestingly, most are/were teachers or professors. Some are nature poets, some are pioneers and truth tellers for social change, some are poets who celebrate the power of the personal feminine narrative. Poets like Muriel Rukeyser, Linda Gregg, and Brenda Hillman are recent discoveries. I also relish Sharon Olds, Mary Oliver, William Stafford, and a troubadour of the modern age: Leonard Cohen. All would acknowledge, like I do, a single poem, sometimes even a single sentence, embodies the power to change a life for the better," Leonard said.

"I was overjoyed to discover Wednesday Night Poetry community when I first landed in Hot Springs in 2018, and immediately felt at home with Bud Kenny, who created a dynamic and welcoming atmosphere. Kai Coggin has done a wonderful job continuing the tradition of WNP being a safe place of empowerment, support, and poetic expression for all," she said.

"In keeping with Bud's tradition, I still and always will call Kathy our California Girl, as he affectionately nicknamed her upon her emergence to our microphone. Since then, I have seen Kathy fully lean into her passion as a writer, and I am overjoyed and inspired at her MFA studies recently -- I can only imagine her enthusiasm and joy at getting to learn, after so many devoted years as a teacher. Kathy's poetry is strong and personal, honest and introspective. She is a talented and passionate writer, and I am honored to feature her for our WNP audience. It is going to be a special night," WNP Host Kai Coggin said in the release.

This week marks 1,756 consecutive Wednesdays of open mic poetry in downtown Hot Springs since Feb. 1, 1989. "WNP is the longest-running consecutive weekly open mic series in the country," the release said. For more information, email [email protected]

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