“Dreaming of France” — Kerry Tepperman Campbell

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

In the summer of 2015, I organized a course for the CSU summer arts program that took place in Monterey Bay, California. Although the administrative duties of making that course happen, both in preparation and on site, proved to be extraordinarily exhausting, I am proud to look back on how fortunate I was to be able to call upon the talents of so many master poets: Marilyn Nelson, Douglas Kearney, Ellen Bass, Cecilia Woloch, and Juan Felipe Herrera. Yes, indeed, fortuity was on my side for once, for Juan had agreed to participate in this program several months before it was announced that he was the nation’s new poet laureate.

Among the very fine student-writers who showed up, one in particular shared portions of a work-in-progress that had considerable promise, and I am very happy to see that it has finally been published. Kreey Tepperman Campbell’s Dreaming of France is one of the hundred best books to be published in 2018. Whether it will get the recognition it deserves is unusually difficult to predict, for it will depend on how critics and reviewers are able to solve the problem of how to describe the book. Cecilia Woloch mentions this challenge in her blurb on the back cover:

“This is a book that’s impossible to categorize — it it poetry, prose, a novel? — and also one of the most beautiful books, deeply pleasurable things I’ve ever read.”

If one were to recommend Dreaming of France to a friend, and classify it as prose poetry, that reader would probably expect a volume that has a single narrator. Dreaming of France, however, presents us with a series of individual women, each of whom has a particular yearning for an encounter with a fulfilling radiance. There are over five dozen, distinctly titled sections or passages in Dreaming of France, and each one palpitates with with the solemn joy of expectation and renewal. Campbell’s debut publication, which was the winner of the 2017 Blue Light Book Prize, is a succinct masterpiece.

Kerry Tepperman Campbell will be reading from this book at Beyond Barqoue on the coming Saturday night, April 21, at 8 p.m. She should be reading from a stage at the L.A. Times Book Fair, which also takes that place that day. It is still the case that much of the most intriguing writing on the West Coast makes its Southern California debut at Beyond Baroque. I hope to see you there.

Dreaming of France
www.bluelightpress.com
1st World Library
P.O. Box 2211
Fairfield, IA 52556

“A Bride Married to Amazement” — Mary Oliver’s “Devotions”

Sunday, April 8, 2018

“A Bride Married to Amazement” — Mary Oliver – Devotions

The first 120 pages of this book remind me that my most difficult years as a poet might be the coming decade. I turned 70 this past October, and I can only hope that my talent does not fade and wither so rapidly as it does in this instance. I wish I could say otherwise, especially since Mary Oliver has written several dozen poems that are worth reading many times. In fact, the odds are very much in your favor of finding a poem you will want to re-read immediately if you open the book at random to any page between pages 100 and 390.

The problem of what is missing in the poems in the first portion of the book, is summed up in a poem entitled “The World I live in”:

You wouldn’t believe what once
Or twice I have seen. I’ll just
Tell you this:
Only if there are angels in your head will you
Ever, possibly, see one.

Oliver’s didactic tone deserves the skepticism with which it should be read. What makes her think that we would be askance about her field reports? We do affirm what she has seen, as reported in her earlier poems, because the immediate believability of her metaphors has enabled us to savor her visions, such as the one in “Picking Blueberries, Austerlitz, New York, 1957.” A deer, traipsing along, engrossed in the whiffs of its rewarded appetite, stumbles across a human being taking a nap. The encounter suggests that consciousness of another as a continuum of reciprocity is a gift to those who awaken themselves to the spacious realm of “amazement.” (In this instance, Oliver is picking up the central lesson of Dickinson’s “This Was a Poet.”) Oliver is exceptionally skilled at blending diction and rhythm to create a glowing afterimage; one finishes the best of her poems with an equilibrium restored to one’s desire for self-knowledge. “What is it that truly matters?” Oliver’s poems ask us, time and again; and if we merely “visit” her poems, rather than absorb them, we will fall prey to a fate that horrifies Oliver, as it should us: to die merely having “visited the world.”

In reading poems such “The Egret” and “Rice,” one detects the presence of D.H. Lawrence, if not his direct influence. The absence of D.H. Lawrence’s poems from most of the “survey of poetry” anthologies I have seen in recent years attests to his suppression in the canon. Perhaps Oliver, a hundred odd years from now, will also vanish from the canonical anthologies, but I suspect that those who care about how to build the ship of death will find their way to poems such as “I Found a Dead Fox,” and from there find their way back to the deleted poetry of D.H. Lawrence, and hear the communion that gives us succor in the imminence of our perishing.

Here are some of my other favorites:

“1945-1985 – “Poem for the Anniversary”
(After reading this poem, ask yourself how “nature” is configured in this poem about the Holocaust, compared to Stuart Z. Perkoff’s “Feasts of Death, Feasts of Love.” Perkoff’s poem can be found in Donald Allen’s classic anthology, New American Poetry)

“Backyard” (206) – This poem has a more casual touch than most of Oliver’s work. The end-words are unusually muted, and the enjambment rather relaxes; nevertheless, the poem hovers in the reader’s imagination as a sanctuary of words that retain and embellish the flickering colors of the poem’s perspective.

“Fox” – Oddly enough, a poet who makes drastically different use of “Nature” than Oliver has a poem that has a congruent inner logic. As in this poem, the act of writing is foregrounded in Ted Hughes’s “The Thought Fox”; both end with an image of the page as an ineradicable horizon.

“The Sun” – This poem makes one think of part four of Anne Bradstreet’s poem, “Contemplations.”
Whether Oliver is aware of the protrusion I cannot say. I enjoy this poem, but Bradstreet’s stanza encompasses it all, said once and not needing any elaboration by another poet. Still, one can hardly fault Oliver for succumbing to the temptation to do so. I wish I could write something the equal of this poem. Ah! It suddenly comes to mind that I certainly tried: see “Slave of the Sun,” which originally appeared in Penetralia, and which was reprinted in “Poetry Loves Poetry.”

“The Loon” – (page 210) Ah! This poem features the writer as a reader, and the old-fashioned use of an animal as a symbol might well bring to mind, within a classroom, that chestnut of 19th century verse, “The Water-Fowl.” The lesson is not as obviously stated, but the interregnum of the stillness exemplified should encourage us to do the same after reading each poem. Certainly a poem such as “Lead,” which also features loons, or “Gethesemani,” a version of the tremulous night before Jesus Christ is publicly executed, are poems that should make you halt, and wait for however long it takes for the ear of one’s mind to need to be requited, again.

Johanna Drucker on Beyond Baroque’s 50th anniversary

Friday, April 6, 2017

George Drury Smith, the founder of Beyond Baroque, recently gave a talk there in which he shared a number of details of his life that had not been known even by people who worked with him back in the institution’s earliest days. Johanna Drucker, a professor at UCLA, has just had an article published in the Los Angeles Review of Books in which she reports on Smith’s talk and interweaves its details with a reevaluation of the notion of “provincialism.”

Fifty Years of Beyond Baroque: 1968–2018

One of the most important factors in Beyond Baroque’s growth and longevity was the ability of Smith to attract people to his idealistic yearning for a renewed avant-garde. Smith has frequently spoken of the disparity between his own hopes for literary experimentation on a large cultural scale and the preferences of other writers in the Los Angeles and the West Coast. His genius, in part, as a cultural worker was his uncanny ability to provide space for people such as Alexandra Garrett, Jim Krusoe, Manager Gamboa, and Dennis Cooper. Garrett founded the Beyond Baroque Library, which Drucker has led the way in cataloguing with the assistance of her students at UCLA. Krusoe began as a poet who was frequently acknowledged as the person most admired by a cross-section of L.A. poets,; he has subsequently become one of the most respected novelists in the United States. Gamboa went on from his position of leading Beyond Baroque to found community-based writing projects in East L.A. and Long Beach. A park near where I live in Long Beach has a cultural center named in his honor, with a poem on one of its exterior walls. Dennis Cooper has become of the leading gay writers of the past 75 years, and the way that writers rallied to his defense when the behemoths of technological ingenuity attempted to eradicate his writing was quite remarkable. In fact unprecedented. That Cooper triumphed against considerable odds was the cause of much quiet satisfaction.

One of the features of Beyond Baroque is the free poetry workshop that takes place on Wednesday nights. There will be another free workshop, last eight weeks, that will meet on Tuesday nights starting on May 8. This workshop will focus on Los Angeles poetry, and will include instruction as well as an opportunity for each participant to make her or his own contribution to this body of writing. Laurence Goldstein’s Poetry Los Angeles will serve as a common textbook and major reference point.

For details, go to Beyond Baroque’s website or call (310) 822-3006.

http://www.beyondbaroque.org

https://www.send2press.com/wire/beyond-baroque-to-mark-50th-anniversary-in-2018/

Kathryn McMahon — An Emergency Appeal

Monday, April 2, 2018

Kathryn McMahon, an old friend who is going to have a major operation, is in need of assistance during her period of recovery, and a former student of hers has started a GoFundMe campaign. Kathryn taught in what was then the Women’s Studies Department at CSU Long Beach for many years, though she had retired by the time I started my job in the Department of English.

Kathryn is probably best known as the founder of CAST (Coalition against Slavery and Trafficking), and it would be my hope that all of those who contribute to that organization at its annual fundraiser would now also contribute with equal generosity towards her recovery at this point in her life. Those of you who know of her life understand the unlikely context of her being the instigator of such an important project, and how it would behoove us to honor her for her extraordinary courage and determination.

https://www.gofundme.com/surgery4kathryn

Thank you in advance for helping her out.

Sunday, April 1st, 2018

My brother, Jim, sent me a photograph of his first grandchild, Mila, last Easter, and in moments of discouragement I have frequently looked at it and found myself smiling. By the time my youngest nephew, Mitchell, got married, she was beginning to walk, and this Easter Jim has sent me another photograph; this time, she needs far less support.

On this weekend on which Passover and Easter have intermingled, my family in its largest sense of the word sends you our wishes for a joyous Spring!

Mila First Easter

Mila Easter 2018

Hyesook Park and Route 66 on March 31st

Friday, March 30

Hey Sook Wall One

In late April, the West Hollywood Library will host a follow-up reading to last year’s celebration of poems about Sunset Blvd. by asking the featured poets to conjure up the glory days of Route 66.

Linda and I will be making use of that historic road tomorrow afternoon as the final leg of a trip to San Bernardino to see a one-day exhibition of work by the painter Hyesook Park. If anyone wants to take advantage of the early spring weather we are having this week, I would recommend this drive as a chance to see some terrific new paintings and to enjoy the post-rainfall landscape on your way there and back.

Hyesook Park
A One-Day Exhibition
Saturday, March 31, 2018
2 p.m.

Loveart Studio
15551 Cajon Blvd.
San Bernardino, CA 92407

Hye Sook Wall Five

Hye Sook Wall 3

Hye Sook Wall Two

(All photographs of Heysook Park’s paintings by Justin Hahn. (c) Justin Hahn 2018. All rights reserved by Justin Hahn. Posted on this blog with his permission.

The Jackson Wheeler Poetry Reading Report

Friday, March 30, 2018

French Concrete One

Linda and I drove up to the Carnegie Arr Museum in Oxnard, California this past weekend for the reading with Vincent Mowry, a poet from Ojai who deserves to be much better known. The plan for the return trip was to stop by Linda’s sister house and relieve her of her care for Linda’s mother for a couple of days.

The reading went better than I ever could have expected. Almost 40 people showed up, which is over two dozen more than usually show up for readings in Los Angeles. I was especially grateful that several poets I knew as a youth showed up: Ricardo Means-Ybarra, Florence Weinberger, ellen, as well as their painter friend, Annie. The reading started with some earnest, intriguing work by a young poet, Sarah Krashefski, and then Marsha de la O introduced me with some very kind remarks.

I led off with “Big Band, Slow Dance,” and followed with “Why the Heart Does Not Develop Cancer”; I then read “The Eviction,” “Wrinkles,” “In the Ocean of Nothingness,” an untitled haiku that was recently published in Hummingbird, and a large section of “Scorpio in Transit,” which appeared in KYSO.

Vincent Mowry read several very fine poems, including one exquite poem that almost eerily served as a parallel vision to one of the poems I had read in the first half of the reading. I have almost never been combined with another poet in a reading whose work I don’t know ahead of time and found that we had much in common; somehow, though, it turned out that Vincent’s poetry had more in common with mine that either of us could ever have expected. His poem about a dream of swimming in the ocean took on the bleakness of Dickinson’s “without even a report of land / To justify despair” and broke through to another realm of vision, closer to that occasion she describes as being a vision of “morning’s nest.” Mowry’s poem about that vision was one of the best I have heard in recent years.

After the reading, neither Vincent nor I had any books for sale, so we mingled with the audience. The museum, though, made copies of Was I Asleep: New and Selected Poems by Jackson Wheeler available for purchase. The reading series is named in his honor, and he deserves it. Marsha read an extraordinary poem that Wheeler wrote about a visitation by his dead father, a World War II veteran, to his bedroom the night before leaving his Appalachian hometown. It’s as deeply moving and poignant as anything in Winesburg, Ohio. In other words, a classic poem. I have been reading Wheeler’s book since I returned, and certainly hope to review it by this summer.

By chance, in Oxnard the next morning, we happened to meet one of Linda’s oldest friend, Vicki, who was having breakfast with her companion, who turned out to a manager for a concrete delivery company. I told him that I had always liked those trucks and like many very young boys thought about driving one of them when I grew up. I mentioned to him that such a truck had recently been in my neighborhood to pour concrete for a roundabout at the intersection where we live, and I had taken photographs of its massive cylinder. When I showed him the photographs, he said, “That’s my company,” which turns out to be owned by a French family. In fact, he explained, the three dots inside the triangle represent the three generations of the family’s commitment to the company.

As Darwin pointed out, the success of any individual in an evolutionary scheme can be gauged by whether its offspring have offspring. It’s as true in poetry as it is in concrete. Here is to the names of the poets I have invoked in my lifetime of work being written in concrete along with their solemnly joyful affirmations of our shared journey.

Once again, thanks to Marsha and Phil for being kind enough to include me in this series.

French Concrete Two

Reading at the Carnegie Art Museum, Oxnard

Friday, March 23, 2018 — Late in the evening

I had to give my students their mid-term exams this past week at CSULB, so it’s been a busy time of helping them prepare, and then giving the exams, which had to be revised to account for my different approach to the subject matter of each course this semester. Over the past dozen years, I’ve taught each one several times (English 474/574: Survey of 20th Century American Literature; and two sections of English 386: Survey of Poetry), and enjoy the books I am using, but I am beginning to feel my age. I can no longer easily teach three courses in one day, so I teach my section of 474/574 and one section of 386 on Mondays and Wednesday; and the other section of 386 on Tuesday-Thursday. Of course, it’s not the teaching that wears one down, but disproportionate committee work.

I wish I had had more time this week to publicize my reading tomorrow in Oxnard at the Carnegie Art Museum. Marsha and Phil are very kind to ask me to read my poetry there, especially considering that I have no books of poems to sell. Of course, I no longer dream as I did when I was young about getting another book of poems out. My chance for recognition as a poet — at least in this country — grows smaller every day. While the Glass Table collective has plans to issue a book of mine this coming fall under the What Books imprint, I doubt that more than a half-dozen people will buy a copy. I gave a reading at Beyond Baroque several months ago. Two people showed up. I gave a reading at Gatsby Books in Long Beach around that same time; only a half-dozen folding chairs were needed to seat the audience.

Thinking of these experiences only makes me more grateful for how I have been welcomed as a poet in Mexico the three times I have gone there to read. My primary encouragement these days comes from thinking of the efforts of Bonobos Editores and my translators in Mexico. My poems have also been translated into Japanese, Croatian, and Italian, as well as Spanish. Maybe I need to find someone to translate my poems into English, since the verse I write in this country seems like a foreign language to my fellow citizens. It’s a small miracle that the writers who make up the Glass Table Collective have been able to disregard the indifference that my poetry is treated with in this country.

I have to admit that I am exhausted, and it is hard to summon the energy that will be needed to make the drive from Long Beach to Oxnard. Spring break starts today, but all that means is that my wife’s siblings and my siblings expect me to use this “free time” to help care for Linda’s mother and then to address my mother’s needs.

Take a deep breath, Bill. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let it out slowly.

Set the alarm clock. I must get up early to finish several tasks before I start the lone drive to Oxnard. I will have to be up there by mid-afternoon, since if I leave any later than 2:00 p.m., I am not likely to be on time for the reading, for which I am the opening act. Out-of-print poets are usually relegated to the “warm up the audience slot” for the featured poet. I did so for Mark Salerno and Ellyn Maybe at Beyond Baroque several years ago; and for Dale Herd more recently.

Take a deep breath, Bill. Let it out slowly. Take another deep breath. Let it out slowly.

Onward.

Saturday, March 24 – William Mohr and Vincent Mowrey
6:00 p.m.
Poetry at the Carnegie Art Museum
The Jackson Wheeler Series 2018

424 South C Street, Oxnard
Host: Marsha de la O

costs $5 / members free

Candidates for the set list:

“Why the Heart Never Develops Cancer” — from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (IF/SF Editions, 2006; out of print)

“The Eviction” — from Milk Magazine

“The Headwaters of Nirvana” — from Caliban on-line magazine

“Scorpio in the Summer” — from hidden proofs (Bombshelter Press, 1982; out of print)

“On the Poetry of the Barbarians” — from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (IF/SF Editions, 2006; out of print)

“Wrinkles” — from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (IF/SF Editions, 2006; out of print)

“In the Ocean of Nothingness” — from Bittersweet Kaleidoscope (IF/SF Editions, 2006; out of print)

“Untitled” poem from Hummingbird magazine

“Scorpio in Transit” from the new anthology from KYSO

“Gravestone Song” (unpublished)

Alexis Rhone Fancher on Margaret Tynes Fairley’s Poetry

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

“Don’t let the civility of a bygone century deceive you. Upon first reading, these poems to nature, gathered by season, highlight the surface transparency of Margaret Tynes Fairley’s work. All are beautifully crafted gems. All celebrate nature in her capricious glory. Yet on closer examination, each of these complex, exquisite poems contains facets somewhat off; the natural world, its order gone slightly awry. The human enters the equation, sometimes with joy, but often with heartbreak. Underneath the natural order: disorder. Even chaos. ‘The dark conspiracy of spruce.’ And below that, ‘a hint of insurrection;’ below that, a knowing calm. The earth’s pull, a centering, as the years swirl around the recurrent themes of birth, death, and renewal. Fairley, ‘dressed in motley,’ ‘playing the fool,’ delves into a nature so profound that it takes on and explores a chameleon persona – lover, sister, protector, and yes, beloved mother.

“Margaret Tynes Fairley transcends the centuries with poems lyrical yet terse and biting enough to satisfy the 21st century sensibilities in each of us.”

– Alexis Rhone Fancher, author of State of Grace: The Joshua Elegies, poetry editor, Cultural Weekly

Both Alexis and I drove up from the South Bay area to Beyond Baroque this past Sunday to celebrate the publication of Fairley’s collection poems, The Years Wear the Seasons, by Bambaz Press. Alexis drove from San Pedro with the smoothest flow of traffic that one could hope for; and Linda and I were equally fortunate. All three of us were exceptionally impressed by the passionate renditions of Fairley’s poems by her granddaughter, Rose, who works as a nurse in North Carolina.

I was also pleased to meet Matthew Hetznecker, who had a book entitled A.S. for sale, which was published four years ago. I have just begun to read its quartet of short prose installations: “Loose Ends”; “Ties That Bind”; “Laced”; “Knots.” The titles seem reticent to admit the subtle rambunctiousness of Hetznecker’s notations. His writing reminds me of the kind of work that George Drury Smith was seeking — and having a hard time finding — when he started his literary magazine, Beyond Baroque, a half century ago. Sometimes one must wait a long time for the right antecedent to show up.

A Reading to Honor the Poetry of Margaret Tynes Fairley

Saturday, March 18, 2018

The Years Wear The Seasons - BLOG

A number of years ago, one of the poets I most admire, Robert Mezey, worked assiduously to get the poems of Virginia Hamilton Adair into wider circulation. Ants on the Melon, Adair’s debut collection, was published in 1996, when she was 83 years old.

The poet and editor Bambi Here, whose imprint is Bambaz Press, has just published a book worthy to be set alongside Adair’s volume. The Year Wears the Seasons, by Margaret Tynes Fairley (1902-1986) is a collection of poems that contains some of the most exquisite lyrical poems to have been written in the 20th century. In drawing upon the metrical traditions of English poetry, Fairley makes it look easy to write in this manner. What impresses me the most, in fact, is how Fairley could be said to ride her lines like a jockey who trusts her mount. Her touch on the reins is light, but precise.

There is indeed a tendency, especially on the part of inexperienced readers, to tense up when they hear the word “prosody.” Indeed, it is a word that can strike fear all too quickly into even experienced readers, as if the traditional use of meter transformed a reader into astronaut being dared to double-down on Hopkins’s sprung rhythm, and that some black hole of spondaic immersion hunches on its throne at the edge of a galaxy, waiting to pull you into its inescapable gravity.

Relax! Fairley has no desire to have you do anything other than begin to appreciate your own inner rhythms.

“The whole wide orchestra of earth gives sound
To each who tunes his fiddle simply
On his holy ground.”
(“Why Should We Seek to Do it All”)

No doubt this reassurance will not suffice, and there will be readers who first start reading Kay Ryan or Marilyn Hacker in hopes of making their prosodic muscles loose and nimble enough again to savor the swirl of Fairley’s dancing syllables. If you truly feel that ill at ease, however, I am not sure that any poet could accommodate your anxiety. At that point, I can only recommend that you go back to the best of Thomas Hardy or renew your acquaintance with that forgotten classic of English poetry, “The Listeners,” by Walter de la Mare.

For those who feel at home in reading a poet with subtle metrical dexterity that turns away all pretense about its use, however, then Fairley’s book has some memorable poems to share with you immediately: “The Question”; “Come look –“; and “Bodies Touch.” In particular, I would like to praise Fairley’s “Although Unasked,” which is a poem that deserves to be set aside the minor masterpiece of Janet Lewis’s marvelous “Baby Goat.” Rarely does metrical nuance embrace a set of images with so much forthright tenderness.

Only the new=born calf
Is real and intimate as hand.
He couldn’t wait for warmer days.
This was his hour, he learned to stand,
When other creatures shivered in some hole.
He had no time or chance to know
If there was room or even shelter from the cold.
The star that brands his knobby head
Is clear and soft and shining white;
Although, unasked, he came to birth
On this the coldest winter night.

On Sunday, March 19, starting at 12:30 p.m., Beyond Baroque will host a reading to celebrate the publication of The Year Wears the Seasons. Along with members of Fairley’s family, both Alexis Rhone Fancher and I plan on being there to read a few of her poems. We hope you can join us.

Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291

Websignature - two

— Bill Mohr