The Large Economy of the Beautiful

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Phoebe MacAdams – The Large Economy of the Beautiful – Cahuenga Press (2016)

Cahuenga Press is a poets’ cooperative dedicated to publishing books by its four remaining poet-founders: James Cushing, Harry E. Northup, Holly Prado Northup, and Phoebe MacAdams. Founded in the very early 1990s, along with Cecilia Woloch and myself, it has published two dozen volumes of poetry. (Due to financial and time constraints, I dropped out after contributing typesetting time to the first two volumes.) Both Holly and Harry have been featured in my three most recent blog posts because of a poet-led campaign to raise money to assist them in recovering from a fire that obliterated much of their apartment. I have no doubt that the fire went beyond damaging their personal lives, but also caused grievous losses to their publishing project. I urge readers to go to Small Press Distribution’s on-line site and buy as many Cahuenga Press books as possible in order to help restore this project’s solvency.

I bought my copy of MacAdams’s most recent book several weeks ago at her house in Pasadena. She had given a reading to celebrate its publication to an appreciative audience in her backyard. Among the guests in attendance were Steve Anter and Steve Abee. It was a pleasure to hear her read her poems that afternoon. Her voice has a distinct timbre that serves both to soothe and reassure, as well as to remind us of how joyfully serious the present tense should be.

Although she has spent most of her adult life in California, first living in Bolinas, and then living in Ojai and Los Angeles, these poems reflect the influence of poets in New York City, such as Ted Berrigan, as well as poets who taught at Naropa in Boulder, Colorado. “Boulder,” in fact, is the title of the first poem in her first book, Sunday, from Tombouctou Books in Bolinas. The time she spent in Boulder largely resulted in prose poems, which is a form she should consider returning to. Few poets back then were interweaving the dream world and daily apprehension of contingent circumstances with the intrepid ease demonstrated by MacAdams, and young readers of poetry could well benefit from having more such models from her.

Each successive book from which MacAdams has chosen representative poems record a poet’s life as destiny. To write these poems required the work of paying close attention to the emotions lingering like scents within each task:

“The poems still look for the poet,
enter our lives naturally,
meandering and willing
to notice the blue flowers
carved out of inner space,
deep ordering that preserves.”
(“I Understand the Mystery of Scissors/In Feeling a Constant Longing”)

Ordinary Snake Dance remains my favorite of all of MacAdams’s books. and the poems she has selected from this collection deserve to be translated into many other languages. To speak to the moment of inspiration so that it transmits more than local knowledge is one of the primary tasks of lyric poetry. MacAdams modulates her voices (note the plural) so that we hear the knowledge of the many lives discovering the singular, and she does this with wit and compassion.

“All the roads lead home, and
all the roads leave home behind.”
(“About My Children Leaving Home”)

The individual book that benefits the most in this 240 page collection is Livelihood, which on its own as a stand-alone volume gained considerable traction by its focus on teaching and learning, but also risked being seen as a specialty book. In The Large Economy of the Beautiful, the flow of poetic vision from Ordinary Snake Dance buoys the ground level conditions of pedagogical challenges, routines, and rituals, and makes this summary of MacAdams’s life-long journey an authentic hybrid of spiritual enlightenment and deeply felt daily pleasure. MacAdams has lived in Los Angeles for well over 30 years at this point, and has made herself one of the essential poets of this city.

The Restoration Flourishes: We are four-fifths of the Way to Helping Holly and Harry

Tuesday evening update:

The GoFundMe campaign to assist Holly Prado and Harry Northup has almost reached the $16,000 level of donations. The project is at the 80 percent mark. Over 170 people have contributed so far. If another forty or fifty people would make a small donation, we would all be able to savor the generosity of our community in helping two of our own recover from a devastating loss.

Once again, my thanks to all of you who have helped these old friends.

Tuesday morning, August 15, 2017

OVER HALFWAY TO THE GOAL OF HELPING HOLLY AND HARRY

Almost 150 people have responded to the GoFundMe campaign to raise funds to help Holly Prado and Harry Northup recover from the fire that devastated their apartment recently. After only four days, almost $13,000 has been pledged to their support. We are only $7,000 away from completing this project. I realize that many of the people who have given have already asked their friends and artistic colleagues to contribute, too, so this final third of the fundraising will not be as easy as the initial push. Nevertheless, I believe there are still many people who would be willing to contribute if they knew about Holly’s and Harry’s plight. Both of them are poets who have responded with absolute imaginative integrity to Cary Nelson’s question at the end of Repression and Recovery: “What is the social value of a life devoted to poetry?”

Harry and Holly met in the mid-1970s, shortly after I had published Feasts, Holly’s novella of “autobiographical fiction.” According to Harry, he felt inspired to meet Holly after reading Feasts. They have been inseparable since then.

Should any of you need quick and easy links to send to people who may not be familiar with Harry’s and Holly’s writing, please avail yourself of the following:

(for Holly Prado)

https://www.culturalweekly.com/holly-prado-three-poems/

http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt3199q9f8/
http://www.worldcat.org/title/feasts/oclc/610178149&referer=brief_results

(for Harry Northup)

http://articles.latimes.com/1993-05-21/news/va-37959_1_harry-northup

http://timestimes3.blogspot.com/2014/03/for-my-love-sleeping-by-harry-e-northup.html?view=sidebar

http://www.worldcat.org/title/enough-the-great-running-chapel/oclc/8506024&referer=brief_results

Update on Assistance for Holly Prado and Harry Northup

Monday, August 14, 2017

The GoFundMe campaign to raise $20,000 for poets Holly Prado and Harry Northup has reached the one-third mark in a very short time: as of this morning, the total raised is slightly more than $7,500.

I first met Holly and Harry back in the early 1970s — before they had met each other, in fact. I met Harry through the Beyond Baroque Wednesday night workshop; and I met Holly because she was in charge of the Southern California Poets-in-the-Schools program and she trained me when I led my first classes. Harry was writing expressionistic serial poems, and Holly was among the first to be writing a significant amount of prose poetry, which in 1974 was hardly given any respect at all. By the time the fourth issue of Momentum magazine came out in the spring of 1975, I had published poems by both of them, and I included them in both of my Los Angeles based anthologies. They have been crucial poets in California’s emergence as a significant conversant in American literature, and as our respected elders deserve an outpouring of support and affirmation.

If you have given, thank you. If you would like to help, please go to:
https://www.gofundme.com/help-holly-prado-harry-northup

or pass along this link to those who might be able to assist them.

GoFundMe for Two Beloved Poets — Holly Prado and Harry Northup

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A fire recently obliterated much of the apartment in which Los Angeles poets Holly Prado and Harry Northup have lived for the past several decades. I gather from the accounts of friends who have talked to them that the fire started in the middle of the night, and that the cause was a problem in the electrical wiring. I have also heard that they barely escaped with their lives. Several poets have launched a GoFundMe campaign in order to help them reestablish their household and modest furniture. Some things, such as their working library as poets, are irreplaceable, and perhaps when they are settled again, we can all bring some extra books over and help them in that regard, too.

In the meantime, practical assistance is needed. I gather that Holly, for instance, has lost all of her clothing. I would urge everyone who can make the slightest contribution to go to the GoFundMe site and help out. If you are unable to make a donation, then please post this notice on whatever social media you have access to.

https://www.gofundme.com/help-holly-prado-harry-northup

For those of you who do not know of Holly Prado and Harry Northup’s poetry and writing, I would recommend that you go to CahuengaPress.com and read their biographies, and then purchase through Small Press Distribution some of the very fine books this publishing co=operative has issues in the past 25 years.

Thank you. The community of poets in Los Angeles thanks you.

KYSO Flash — Issue Number Eight (Clare MacQueen, editor and publisher)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Issue number 8 of KYSO Flash is now available:
http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/ContentsIssue8.aspx

Clare MacQueen is one of the best editors now working in the United States. In many ways, she reminds me of the late Marvin Malone, editor of the Wormwood Review, in her ability to help writers find what most needs to be worked on in the next draft. She has an uncanny ability to see the alternative ways of configuring the material that the writer is focusing on, and I encourage anybody who is fortunate enough to get her detailed feedback to take advantage of her acute editorial imagination.

KYSO Flash is a prime example of how much publication on the internet has matured in the past 15 years. I remember glancing at a few on-line magazines back then, and laughing out loud at the drivel that was being self-published. One early exception that showed a shift in making use of the internet’s accessibility was Tarpaulin Sky, which demonstrated that editors working on the small press model of a literary magazine from the 20th century could reach an audience with stunning immediacy. By now, not only have many magazines such as Patty Seyburn’s Pool shifted from print to on-line, but we also see an older magazine that had a complete life span such as Larry Smith’s Caliban being vigorously resurrected on-line. MacQueen’s magazine achieves its particular distinction due to her commitment to short prose, which she divides into two sections in each issue, micro-fiction (up to 500 words) and flash fiction (from 500 to 1000 words). For those who might want to submit their writing to KYSO Flash, the word limit (1000 words) is a very strict rule, and it includes the title!

In addition to haibun and prose poetry, MacQueen also publishes lineated poetry, and in the past has given a “featured author” section to Alexis Rhone Fancher, whose new book, Enter Here, is also published by Clare MacQueen. Issue number eight’s featured author is John Olson, whose poetry I discovered a year and a half ago in Bird and Beckett Bookstore in San Francisco. Olson is one of the most overlooked poets in the United States, and I applaud MacQueen for giving his writing a substantial forum. In addition to several of Olson’s poems, issue eight includes an essay and an interview with him.

Along with Brooks Roddan’s blog at IF/SF Publications, Olson’s blog is one of the best around:
http://tillalala.blogspot.com

One feature of KYSO Flash that I am just now beginning to fully appreciate is the author index:
http://www.kysoflash.com/AuthorIndex.aspx
Kathleen McGookey’s pieces in issue number eight, for instance, are especially intriguing, and I wondered if I had somehow overlooked her work in earlier issues of KYSO, but when I went to the index I discovered that this is her first appearance in MacQueen’s magazine; I hope to see more of her work in future issues. In truth, this is the first time I have read McGookey’s writing, and she is now on my short list of writers whose books I need to catch up with. Other pieces that have caught my attention at the outset include Kim Hagerich’s “Bundle of Joy” and Nin Andrews’s “I Am a Depressed Orgasm.” It’s also a pleasure to see Gerard Sarnat’s writing included in this issue.

It should also be noted that Clare MacQueen contributes information to VIDA (http://www.vidaweb.org/about-vida/) and espouses its goals.
KF-8 contains works by a total of 65 contributors: 33 men (50.8%)and 32 women (49.2%).

Finally, here are the links to my writing in this issue:
http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/MohrScorpio.aspx
http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/MohrElixirs.aspx
http://www.kysoflash.com/Issue8/MohrReviewsFeasts.aspx

The Los Angeles-Minnesota Connection

Saturday, August 5, 2017

“Emerging Writers” Grants in Minnesota

In less than four weeks, I will have students asking, “So what did you do during your summer vacation, Professsor Mohr?” and I’ll respond that “vacation” will deserve yet another set of scare quotes. It’s been several decades since I had a summer off. This year, I had originally hoped to visit two former students in Croatia and spend a couple weeks reading and writing at an arts colony they founded a couple years ago near Pula, but the illness of one of Linda’s sisters impinged on those plans, and so we have stayed in Los Angeles County this summer. I ended up teaching a summer course in 20th century American literature in June and early July, during which time I began reviewing the applications of over 200 writers who live in Minnesota. As is well known to writers in California, Minnesota is the land of milk and honey in terms of literary support. Of course, we who labor at any art other than screenwriting in California tell ourselves that Minnesota has to bribe its writers to stay there. Unless an economic infrastructure provided some cultural largesse, why else would one endure those endless winters?

All envious kidding aside, I was very happy to serve on this panel because I have long felt a kinship with the literary community in Minnesota. I first noticed the editorial hospitality of Minnesota towards poets based in Los Angeles in The Lamp in the Spine, a magazine edited by Jim Moore and Trish Hampl in the 1970s. Their issues included work by Doren Robbins, Holly Prado, and Ameen Alwan. Subsequently, I visited The Loft in 1986 along with Doren Robbins to contribute to an two-day celebration of Tom McGrath’s poetry on the occasion of his 70th birthday.

Two hundred applications, each with an average of 20 pages of writing, is quite a pile to go through and comment on, so being on the panel turned out to be a major undertaking, but it was also very gratifying to see how much good work is being done in Minnesota by writers who have not yet published a substantial amount of work. The grants were for “emerging writers,” which meant that these applicants did not necessarily have to compete with those whose precocity had already allowed them to flourish. Many of the applicants whose work I read in the past couple months will not have to wait too long for a book to come out, however. I spotted at least two dozen manuscripts, in the samples of these portfolios, that will no doubt end up published or scheduled for publication by the end of this decade. For those not chosen for the award, please know that I read carefully, and I truly wish I could have doubled or tripled the number of awards. While a total of fourteen people were listed as winners, alternates, finalists, or deserving of honorable mention, there were at least a half-dozen others whose writing I found memorable. I wished, in fact, that I could have them as students in a workshop and watch their work grow even more compelling and intriguing.

The Loft has released the names of the writers selected by the panel for the “emerging writers” grants in 2017, and I will let its announcement speak for itself.

https://loft.amm.clockwork.net/_asset/4440d4/Winners-of-the-2017-Emerging-Writers-Grant.pdf

First Read Playwrights, Then Poets

August 4, 2017

Instructions to Young Poets: First Read Playwrights, Then Poets

In going through a box of archival material the other day, I found a list of playwrights I had made several years ago. The list was not alphabetical, nor was it meant to be definitive. I believe I was giving a lecture on Sam Shepard’s True West in a course surveying 20th century American literature, and drew up the list to apprise a class of young English majors as to how many significant contemporary playwrights deserved more critical attention.

Theater is in a peculiar situation, especially in terms of playwrights. Trying to make a living as a playwright is like serving as a volunteer lifeguard at Death Valley. Over the years I have heard students comment about the difficulty of telling their parents that their main interest in life has become poetry. The students love to mimic the hysterical despair of their parents. “What did we do to deserve this?” I tell them that their parents should consider themselves lucky. “You could have told them that you wanted to be a playwright.”

I myself was first attracted mainly to playwrighting rather than poetry, and my preference in terms of a contemporary canon has not shifted over the years. If I don’t feel that I have much in common with most poets I meet, my admiration for playwrights is probably the heartbeat of that mutual repulsion.

If I have any recommendation for a young person who is interested in devoting decades to the art of poetry, then it would be to avoid reading contemporary poetry magazines and anthologies until one has read a total of 100 plays by an assortment of playwrights from the following list. It would amount to an average of two plays per playwright. My personal recommendation would be to start with Brian Friel’s “Translations.” Then, and only then, spend a few months reading poetry, after which they should stop and read another 100 plays, this time by the much shorter list of earlier 20th century playwrights. I would recommend starting with Sean O’Casey.

The key to reading these plays (and this is one of the things I learned at Padua Hills) is that one must imagine oneself on stage. If one is reading a play from the point of view of being in the audience, you will not absorb the importance of plasticity in your imagery, and you will never shake off the one-dimensional passivity that infects so much of contemporary poetry.

Edward Albee
John Arden
Doris Baizley
Amiri Baraka
Stephen Berkoff
Edward Bond
Ed Bullins
Caryl Churchill
Christopher Durang
Martin Epstein
Harvey Fierstein
Horton Foote
Irene Fornes
Brian Friel
Bruce Jay Friedman
John Guare
Walter Hadler
Susan Hansell
David Hare
David Henry Hwang
Arthur Kopit
Tony Kushner
Eduardo Machado
David Mamet
Leon Martell
Murray Mednick
Marsha Norman
Cherrie Moraga
Joe Orton
Rochelle Owens
Robert Patrick
David Rabe
Sarah Ruhl
Milcha Sanchez-Scott
Ntozake Shange
Sam Shepard
Neil Simon
Anna Deveare Smith
John Steppling
Tom Stoppard
David Storey
Megan Terry
Luis Valdez
Paula Vogel
Wendy Wasserstein
Peter Weiss
Lanford Wilson
August Wilson
Susan Yankowitz
Paul Zindel

“The War in Heaven”: Steve Kent and Sam Shepard (1943-2017)

Monday, July 31, 2017
THE WAR IN HEAVEN
In Memory of Two Poets of the Theater: Steve Kent and Sam Shepard (1943-2017)

In addition to canonical favorites such as Ibsen, Pirandello, and Strindberg, I had been primarily reading contemporary playwrights such as Edward Albee, Samuel Beckett, and Harold Pinter when I moved to Los Angeles at the age of 20. In the winter of 1969, a graduate student named Lynn (“Scotty”) Mason at UCLA posted an announcement that she was casting actors for a student production of a one-act play entitled Icarus’s Mother by Sam Shepard. I had not heard of Shepard or this play, but was fortunate enough to be cast in the role of Frank, the man who recounts an apocalyptic vision as a holiday picnic implodes. It was a prose poem of a high order, and I began to read as much of Shepard’s writing as I could get my hands on, as well as other playwrights he was aligned with. By chance, during the summer of 1969, I acted in a student production of Futz and took a course that concentrated on off-off-broadway playwrights, during which I became familiar with the work of Rochelle Owens, Megan Terry, Irene Fornes, Adrienne Kennedy, Lanford Wilson, and Jean-Claude Italie. Along with other students dissatisfied with the kind of plays the theater department was presenting on its main stage, I formed a theater group called “The Fifth Corner” and we rehearsed off-campus for our adaptation of Anne Sexton’s poem, “Flee on Your Donkey.” After graduation I went on to act with two other theater groups in Los Angeles, one of which included OOB playwright Robert Patrick’s Cheep Theatrics, starring Julie Kavner (future voice of Marge Simpson).

I never again acted in a play by Shepard, although I certainly saw enough productions of his plays. As famous as he was among theater people, one must understand that public attention and interest in Shepard’s work in the mid-1970s was relatively muted. I remember a production of Curse of the Starving Class at a small theater in Hollywood in the late 1970s, for instance, in which only half the seats were filled, and the same was true of a production of Action at the Burbage Theater around that time. In many ways, it was the devotion of working people in the small theaters who made the case for Shepard’s writing, and not just theaters in New York. The importance of theaters in California is most particularly evident in Shepard’s development, for it was during his residence in Northern California that he began come to terms with his youth in Southern California.

The people I know who worked with him all bespoke of his influence in their lives as well as their work, and I would not be the writer I am today without having encountered writers such as Walter Hadler and Murray Mednick at the Padua Hills Theater Workshop in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Shepard himself taught at the first gathering of that group of playwrights, and had a play he wrote called Red Woman produced there. Padua Hills remains for me the quintessential quest to understand what it is that makes theater theater and not just an entertaining game of “let’s pretend.” Its direct impact on my poetry and poetics is impossible to overemphasize.

The poet William Matthews once observed that there is more talent on exhibit at age 30 in any given generation than achievement at age 60. I suppose that’s one way of separating the highest levels of accomplishment from the merely competent, for not only had Shepard produced a memorable body of work by age 60, one of his very best plays had its premiere performance the month before he turned 61. I saw a production of The God of Hell at the Geffin Playhouse in the summer of 2006, and it only reinforced my belief in his capacity to see into the interstices of human contradictions in a manner befitting a major artist.

It should be mentioned that Sam Shepard was not the only person in his birth family who worked in theater. His sister, Roxanne Rogers, is also a playwright and director as well as an actress. I saw one of her plays, directed by Ivan Spiegel, at the Burbage Theater in West Los Angeles, after it moved from Pico Blvd. to Centinela. After the play was over, I went backstage to talk to Ivan, and we found ourselves in the alley behind the theater. Roxanne joined the group with an older woman whose blue eyes registered a singularly discerning glow. “This is Roxanne’s mother,” Ivan said. We talked briefly, and all the while I had to withstand the temptation to tell her how much her son’s plays meant to me; but it was Roxanne’s evening, and I focused on her play, which had had a scene in a loft built on the stage that made the voices and lines of the characters ricochet back and forth the stage, as if some pent up realization were emerging from a thicket. You can find an article about Roxanne Rogers’s direction of Murray Mednick’s play, “Mrs. Feurstein,” at:

Mrs. Feuerstein

Shepard, however, is not the only loss that the theater world has gotten news about: Steve Kent has also died, and not nearly enough has been said about his contribution to theater in Los Angeles and other areas of the country. Kent was one of the founders of the Company Theater and the Provision Theater, which staged plays in the late 1960s and 1970s that still glow in the memories of those fortunate enough to have been present. Anyone who took part in The James Joyce Liquid Memorial Theater or who saw The Emergence knew that what it meant for the audience to be part of the conscious journey of performed vision. Steve Kent was a brilliant director, and he is enshrined in my heart every bit as much as the author of Angel City and the The Tooth of Crime.

Indeed, both Shepard and Kent shared a common collaborator, Joseph Chaikin, founder of the Open Theater. Kent adapted Beckett’s writing into a brilliant stage piece (Texts) as well as worked with Chaikin’s on Shepard’s The War in Heaven, which Shepard specifically wrote for Chaikin. To speak of the sadness I feel in Shepard’s passing is inseparable from the jolting pang of Steve Kent’s death.

I sit in silent homage.

Director, Educator, Activist Steven Kent (1943-2017)

http://www.nytimes.com/1981/03/09/theater/stage-joseph-chaikin-s-beckett-solo.html

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/my-buddy-sam-shepard

“Success is succession”: The Poetics of a Luthier

Friday, July 28, 2017

“Success is succession”: The Poetics of a Luthier
Bill Collings (August 9, 1948 – July 14, 2017

“Why did the sound of some guitars haunt me while others didn’t?” the luthier Bill Collings remembered asking himself as a young man.

One could ask the same question about poems, and inquire why more poets don’t take the tonal and thematic propensities of their writing more seriously. In poetry, the question that haunts is whether the poem not merely deserves but demands translation. This does not require that the poem be perfect. Imperfection will be inherent in the original, as it was in every guitar that was turned out by Bill Collings’s company, and then put to equally imperfect use by some of the best-known masters of songwriting, including Lyle Lovett, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon and Keith Richards.

The impact of acknowledging imperfection’s role in the process turns out to be one of the prime motivations for building guitars. “Can you pick the perfect piece of wood? …. Can you make it the perfect thickness?” Collings asks, knowing all too well what the response is. “No, but you can get really close. …. Success is succession, over and over and over, and it comes from failure. Failure, failure, failure — knowing that if you stop, you’re done.”

Bill Collings, Luthier

“Centered Recoils” — Caliban, Issue No. 28

Thursday, July 27, 2017

http://calibanonline.com/CO28/

Issue number 28 of Larry Smith’s CALIBAN magazine is now available on-line for reading. In particular, I would call attention to the quartet of questions posed in part five of Rob Cook’s “Elimination Recovery Entries”:

“Will artificial intelligence lead to awareness so powerful it can bring back everything that’s died? Do all sentient beings contain a code that can be recovered at any time, no matter how long ago they left? What will be done with the newly returned? What will be done to them (to us) when no one mental space is left in the universe?”

Sheila Murphy, Ivan Arguelles, Elizabeth Robinson, Jim Grabill, Carine Topal, and Simon Perchik are some of the poets who join with the visual artists in this issue in responding to these questions through a steadfast devotion to an organic imagination. My favorite collage pieces are Ellen Wilt’s “Unseen,” Angela Caporaso’s “Piante,” and Christine Kuhn’s mixed media pieces, especially “Roommates,” which reminds me of Alexej von Jawlensky’s work. The shadow presence of other artists can be seen in Ellene Glenn Moore’s three prose poems, each accompanied by the notation “after Joseph Albers.”

I, too, have a poem (“Centered Recoils”) that appears in this issue. I would note that my first attempt to answer the second of Cook’s question was a long prose poem entitled “The Resurrection” that was published in issue number nine of The Lamp in the Spine, a magazine edited by Jim Moore and Trish Hampl. Oddly enough, the first draft of the poem published in this issue of Caliban dates back to the period when I was working on that poem.