Betzi Richardson teaches two very different disciplines – Meditation and Poetry – at SMC Community Ed, but the main similarity is that she is passionate about both and she has been active in both for long periods of time.
“I’m also passing on methods I’ve learned from my excellent mentors and teachers in both fields,” she says. “I also give out a lot of handouts for both classes.”
She adds, “For the poetry class, I emphasize reading poetry. Lots of people want to write their own poems and that’s understandably exciting and motivating, so the fact that I also bring in poems from a wide range of established poets that we discuss in class seems to help give people a broader perspective and greater depth for their own writing. From the poems I bring, I’ll make a suggested ‘homework assignment.’ It’s entirely optional—no one has to do it or follow my suggestion too closely. We read everyone’s homework first thing in class, and over the six weeks of the class we give everyone who wants one an in-depth workshop of one of their poems, as if we’re editors for a small press literary journal, to provide insight into publishing and what’s expected if you want to publish your poems.
“For the meditation class, the most important part of it is that I strive for us to meditate for an hour each class, broken up into five separate 12-minute meditations,” she says. “It’s very easy to think about and talk a lot about meditation, but it’s much better to actually do it! To have the experience! I provide a smorgasbord of techniques, starting with basic breath and various body meditations on the first night and then each class builds on the next. I cover all the basics, from breath to walking and eating meditations and a lot more.”
Richardson has studied Mindfulness Meditation with Shinzen Young since 1995. She has also studied meditation with other outstanding teachers such as Trudy Goodman, Jason Siff, Jim Finley and Leigh Brasington. She has been a Mindfulness Meditation Facilitator for Shinzen Young since 2001, and has taught numerous daylong meditation classes.
She is a poet published in notable journals such as The Antioch Review, and has studied poetry with prominent poets including Eavan Boland, Edward Hirsch, Stephen Yenser and David St. John. She has been teaching poetry since 2000 at Beyond Baroque and since 2003 at SMC Community Ed.
She has a Masters in English with a Creative Writing emphasis from Loyola Marymount University, and is a member of the honor society, Alpha Sigma Nu. She has published a beautifully designed, handmade chapbook, This Desert Inclination, through a Los Angeles small press, Conflux Press.
Richardson is also a “Janeite,” a devoted fan of Jane Austen. (The photo of her in white was taken in Lyme Regis, England, the location of an important scene in her last complete novel, Persuasion. I was on a JASNA (Jane Austen Society of North America) tour, which takes fans to important locations in her novels and life. “Lyme Regis is a stunningly beautiful site, never even remotely captured by the film versions of the novel,” Richardson says.)
What do you like about teaching Meditation and Poetry at SMC Community Education?
The students! I am continually delighted with the wonderful people who take my classes.
What kinds of students do you get at SMC Community Ed?
A tremendous variety! Intelligent, fascinating people from Santa Monica natives to people from all over the world. I truly am humbled by many of the people I have met through the classes and honored to be able to facilitate their educational interests and explorations.
Who are some of your favorite poets?
My favorite contemporary poet is Kaveh Akbar, an Iranian-American poet who writes brilliantly about being Muslim and his struggles with and recovery from alcoholism.
My favorite post-WWII American poets are Elizabeth Bishop, John Ashbery, and Lucille Clifton; from Britain, Stevie Smith.
The best twentieth-century international poets, especially for lyricism, are the Spanish-speaking poets Federico Garcia Lorca, Pablo Neruda, and Jorge Luis Borges; also, WislawaSzymborska, the Polish poet who in 1995 was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for poetry. She is the most brilliant twentieth-century poet intellectually.
Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are the Yin and Yang of American poetry. I find both to be thrilling in their completely opposite ways.
My top four best English-speaking poets of all time, in chronological order, are Chaucer, Shakespeare, John Keats, and William Butler Yeats.
In my current class, I’m bringing in a lot of poems by Mary Oliver, as a tribute to her — a popular and distinguished American poet who just passed away this year in January. Oliver wrote extensively about her love of and her experiences with the natural world. Her style is deceptively simple and accessible, but very strong and deep. As we seem to be living through an era that is coming to be known as the “Sixth-Extinction,” her Nature poems will form an indispensable record.
I have many, many more “favorite” poets, but these are my current “best of the best.”
What is your idea of a perfect day?
I don’t know about perfect, but some of my most happy days have been spent in meditation retreats, primarily at the Mary and Joseph Retreat Center in Palos Verdes. Spending days meditating with friends in a beautiful setting with a grassy lawn, lovely trees and gardens, many flowers, especially roses, a labyrinth to walk, with great stretches of time in silence, with views of the city of Los Angeles, a galaxy on earth of lights at night, and Catalina around the corner, well, that’s approaching perfection, as far as I’m concerned. And having delicious meals prepared is a big plus as well!
What is one of the best compliments you ever received?
Recently one of my students thanked me for being “a Light!” That made me feel very good, as I hope to share happiness with all, and I think we need to stay focused on the positive as much as possible these days.
That’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?
Rock-climbing on Half-Dome with my brother in Yosemite! My older brother got me to take the Outward Bound wilderness survival camps when I was 19, and they teach you to do some very basis rock-climbing, like 300 feet. So a few years later when I met my brother Rob and his friend Tony in Yosemite, he suckered me good. He offered one night to take me on a “real easy” climb the next day, so I imagined that very doable 300 feet, and agreed. It sounded like fun. We left at the crack of dawn and hiked for eight miles (!) to the base of the climb, the snake dike on the back side of Half Dome (just Google it!) I burst into tears as I gazed up at the rock face. Rob had no mercy. He said if I wanted to quit I could walk back to camp by myself, but he and Tony were not going to waste a climbing day. Eight miles! I was afraid there was no way I could do that on my own without getting hopelessly lost. So I had no choice, and somehow I did the climb. Yes, truly it was thrilling at the top, but then there was climbing down the cables and getting back to camp, 13 hours total. Plus Rob had forgotten to bring enough water, so we had to ration it, drinking our water in sips like communion wine.
What books are on your nightstand?
I have a bad habit of reading five or six books simultaneously – in different categories: poetry and meditation of course, but I also like history, science, general interest, art history, and novels. For poetry, I mentioned already I’m reading a lot of Mary Oliver; for meditation: lots of Thich Nhat Hahn, and Looking at Mindfulness, Twenty-five Ways to Live in the Moment Through Art, by Christophe André; for art history: A Generous Vision, the Creative Life of Elaine de Kooning, by Cathy Curtis, a biography of an excellent and underappreciated woman painter in the New York School, overshadowed by her husband Willem de Kooning; for history: The Half Has Never Been Told, Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, by Edward E. Baptist. Next up for me in general interest: How We Got to Now, Stephen Johnson; in science: Music, the Brain, and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain; in history again: The Snakehead, An Epic Tale of the Chinatown Underworld and the American Dream, by Patrick Radden Keefe; next novel: The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I’m an artist, primarily in painting, and my website is www.betzirichardson.com.