• Briony James and Kathabela Wilson.

      Briony James and Kathabela Wilson.

      An Interview with Briony James, a sparkling poet, artist, musician, and resident of Altadena.

      We talk about her enchanting, unusual stories of poetic beginnings and her unique way of sharing her deep feelings for humanity and world cultures.

      By Kathabela Wilson

      A telescope on the poet

      Briony James at Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden Bridge.

      Briony James at Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden Bridge.

      How do you see the poet, artist in the world, and how do you see yourself in this way?

      I see the poet as the soothsayer of the modern world–the artist who speaks the truth without reservation or fear of being correct. I also see the poet as the one artist who can use words and language to put forth a vision of humanity and spirituality unlinked to dogma or ideology in the purest manner. I find I speak from my inner soul and heart in poetry, with honesty and depth.

      A microscope on the poet

      Briony James

      Briony James

      How did your life lead you to being a poet and artist, what were the things that inspired and do inspire?

      I started writing when I was about four, making up stories for my dolls. Mom used to ask me why I had lined them up in the driveway and was running them over with the baby carriage–with typical childlike candor, I explained that I wanted to play hospital but they needed to be injured. I added art to words soon after, and have been trying to sort out my own spirituality and beliefs and thoughts in verse for the past six decades. I have poems from elementary school, art from high school, stories from college and all three from my entire adult life, addressing my place in the universe, the confusion of belief versus reality, love in practice as opposed to love as a concept. All change and reflect flux and growth but always go back to their origins. One of my most powerful memories that prompted my first serious poetry was when I was about six. I hid under the stairs in the stairwell leading down to the choir robing area after services before Easter.  After hours I was found and explained I wanted to see the tomb open. Like any child, I took the story seriously and at face value and applied that practically, so a concrete stairwell seemed a perfectly reasonable place to seek Angels to my six year old mind.

      Mapping the poet

      How have the places of your life influenced your work?

      Nature called to me from the beginning…whether it was dawn in December, in my childhood on Long Island, with the blue light reflecting off the snow, or lilac hedges leftover from a robber baron garden on the North Shore in May perfuming the air. My place as a child was an apple tree all pink blossom in spring and those branches were everything from a pirate ship to a space ship of imagination. Later I spent hours on a log in a bird sanctuary called Shu Swamp down a violet-lined lane writing my first real poems and finding inspiration in the flow of a streams and the sound of wind in the trees.

      A pulse on the poet

      Briony James with Kathabela at Poetry Group, Caltech.

      Briony James with Kathabela at Poetry Group, Caltech.

      How does art, music and poetry work together in your life?

      Without art, there is no life for me. I have moved from theatre to art history, from graphic arts to tattooing, in each finding a way to express myself with line and verse, not always successfully, but always honestly. The piano and classical music is always at my fingertips too, and teaching children to play is one of my continuous passions. Currently, writing poetry, especially tanka, has become a passion, a road by which I can say, succinctly, what resides in my soul.

      A microphone to the poet and teacher

      I know you teach and have a strong sense of community, tell us about that.

      My work as a docent at the USC Pacific Asia Museum gives me a chance to share cultures to young students. It brings me back to the way my mind was opened by my mother in frequent trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other places of wonder in NYC.

      A sense of history and community is essential to me in comprehending humanity and our long journey on this planet. Our local poetry workshops, readings and salons bring us together as poets and artists. We owe it to each other and to ourselves to reach out to one another. Through history, we begin to see how we are the fruit of ages past and the kernels of the future.

      Coming Home
      By Briony James

      morning air
      in my nose
      wasabi crisp
      wakes me
      with a sinus tingle

      morning coffee
      warms my hands
      wrapped in the flowered quilt
      I sip escape
      a garden party in bed

      crisp morning
      air swept clean
      winter sunlight
      makes diamonds
      of last night’s tears

      the sun warms
      brighter gold
      erasing night
      while I watch
      my coffee goes cold

      spiraling up
      from the mountain wash
      halfway to the peak
      fog rolls
      my dreams like smoke

      grey skies
      low enough to touch
      the mountainside
      tears in the gullies
      on my face

      wet chill
      in the bones
      the fog gift wraps
      the mountainside
      called home


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        • Kathabela Wilson

          Kathabela Wilson is a local poet/writer/artist and musician. Her Poets Salon has become an international respected must read in the poetry world. She's the creator and host of the Pasadena-based group, “Poets on Site.”

          Colorado Boulevard is your place for enlightening events, informative news and social living for the greater Pasadena area.
          We strive to inform, educate, and work together to make a better world for all of us, locally and globally.

        • Latest posts by Kathabela Wilson

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      1. Gerda Govine Ituarte says:

        Excellent article about Briony.

      2. poetryofplace says:

        Briony is a woman who keeps pushing toward “being.” Her path is crosshatched between spirit and art and it comes out with great skill and expression throughout all the mediums I’ve had a chance to observe. You are a joy to know and a careful listener which aids your poet friends greatly. Lovely work you two. Another time capsule of delight Kathabela.

        • Briony James says:

          Oh I am simply amazed and humbled by such kind words! Kathabela is, without doubt, a Muse and mentor and a very great woman and I am so lucky to have her amazing spirit pushing me, tempting me and opening doors and windows for me in places I never even knew existed! Thank you so much for such encouragement!

      3. Briony James says:

        My eternal gratitude to Kathabela who is a muse, a mentor and a one of the kindest, most generous people I have ever had the luck to call friend. This was a wonderful surprise and a gift and I am thrilled. Sharon, you are one of the bravest poets I know–always boldly going where most of us hesitate and I have learned so much from you, as I do from Toti, from Susan and from every poet and artist I have been privileged to meet through Kathabela’s rare and wonderful influence! Thank you one and all.

      4. susandiri says:

        a JOY, dear Briony, to learn more about your artistic path! thanks to you & Kathabela!!

      5. Sharon Hawley says:

        Thanks to Briony and Kathabela, I have more appreciation of art and poetry “without fear of being correct.” It sounds contradictory at first, but you show that while knowing an element of truth or correctness, freedom of expression comes in holding back the explicit in favor of saying vulnerable things that might be wrong. You move freely from classical music to tattoo, historical Chinese facts to “an apple tree all pink blossom in spring.” Thanks to you both for inspiring freedom to explore.

      6. Toti O'Brien says:

        Enchanting beginning to end…

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