A new review of HOLDOUTS (University of Iowa Press, 2011)

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Beyond Baroque is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, and there will be a gala fundraising event in early November to help it sustain its programming during the coming decade. As part of this year’s presentations, Quentin Ring asked me several months ago to help him organize a weekly seminar on Los Angeles poetry that would be led by a different poet each week. I led the first gathering on May 8th, and was followed by Will Alexander, Laurel Ann Bogen, Steve Reigns, Lynne Thompson, Amy Uyematsu, David St. John, and Patty Seyburn. One of the poets who attended this seminar, Tom Laichas, just sent me a link to his blog, which features an extended and very thoughtful review of my book on Los Angeles poetry that came out seven years ago. His blog, in general, is well worth a sustained perusal. In particular, there is a photograph of a suitcase in a Kansas field, with a two-story brick schoolhouse in the background, that is as evocative as any Proustian metaphor.

Reading Bill Mohr, <em>Hold Outs: The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance, 1948-1992</em>

Blue Collar Review – Vol. 21, Issue 3 — Gil Fagiani (in memoriam)

Saturday, July 21, 2018

I first heard of Blue Collar Review when I was living in Lynbrook, New York, between 2004 and 2006, and using a combination of car, train, and bus to get to teaching jobs in Garden City (Nassau Community College), Queens (St. John’s University), and New Jersey (Rutgers). It was an exhausting two years of apprenticeship as a college teacher, and I had little time to write my own poetry or to keep up with literary magazines that had emerged in the previous decade. One of the few magazines that caught my attention then for its forthright political advocacy was Blue Collar Review, a self-described “Journal of Progressive Working Class Literature.” Al Markowitz and Mary Franke are the primary editors, and they can be reached at Partisan Press, P.O. Box 11417, Norfolk, VA 23517.

The latest issue (Spring, 2018; Vol. 21, Issue 3) arrived in the mail the other day. I don’t always have a chance to read every poem in every issue, but I do try to make time for the editorial essay that opens every issue. Al Markowitz and Mary Franke address the reader in a manner that is far more radical than the analysis proposed by Bernie Sanders, but they do so without being strident. Indeed, while BLUE COLLAR REVIEW has an unabashedly polemical poetics, the poems often surpass the kind of caricatures of workers and bosses that tend to dominate political poetry. In this issue, I particularly appreciated “Ten Dollars and Forty-two Cents” By Matthew J. Spireng; German Piedranhita’s “Haiku” and “Choice?”; John MacLean’s “Gypsum Mill”; “I Want to the People’s Pharmacy” by Mark Franke; “The Great American Novel” By E.P. Fisher; J.C. Alfier’s “Tishomingo Landscape”; Ben Prostine’s “All the Food on the Table”; and “Baling Hay” by John Robinson. I am grateful to the editors for accepting one of my poems, “Life’s Study,” to accompany these poems to their readers.

If you know that any task — paid or unpaid — is not without a political context, subscribe: $20.00 for four issues a year. It’s more than worth it to hear the meaning of labor tested out in the actual practice of the work of words.

Two-thirds of the way through the issue, a small “In Memoriam” box notes the death of Gil Fagiani, “Worker-Poet * Comrade.” I attach the following links for those who might be curious about his life and poetry. In particular, I would recommend Lynn McGee’s very fine review, in Big City Lit, of Fagiani’s Serfs of Psychiatry.





Goodbye to Poet Gil Fagiani


Gil Fagiani

My Nominations for the Next California Poet Laureate

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A couple weeks ago, Gerard Sarnat sent me a notice from the California Arts Council about the nomination process for the next California Poet Laureate. It may say something about the position that I have detected less “buzz” about this than the recent occasions during which San Francisco and Los Angeles have sought to fill their poetic posts. Some of the nonchalance may be due to the most recent appointment, Dana Gioia, who is earnest enough to be credible, but who strikes me as the poor man’s Robert Pinsky. Given that the state’s poet laureate before Gioia went on to become the nation’s poet laureate, Gioia was facing impossible odds in terms of succession. Herrera is one of the most charismatic teachers and performers I have been fortunate to encounter over the past half-century, and he continues to write superb poetry. The poet after Gioia will have a much easier time in that she or he won’t suffer from obvious comparisons with such a compelling figure.

In terms of the poets who would best fill this post, I would hope that Rae Armantrout, Marilyn Chin, Kamau Daáood, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Amy Gerstler all consider being candidates for the appointment. Other poets whom I would be pleased to see selected for the job are Alejandro Murguia or Ron Koertge. Finally, this is a moment that I truly miss the late Francisco X. Alarcon. He would have made an exceptionally fine poet laureate right now. There are, of course, a couple dozen poets whose work I admire very much (Brenda Hillman, Kevin Opstedal, Gail Wronsky, Sarah Maclay, Gary Young, Christopher Buckley, Elena Karina Byrne, Kit Robinson, Will Alexander, Amy Uyematsu, B.H. Fairchild, Charles Harper Webb, etc.) but I have serious doubts that Governor Brown would be able to interview them in a manner that the appointment deserves. Brown hasn’t managed to serve as governor of California for four terms without being a calculating politician, and I can’t imagine him treating this occasion any differently. Fortunately, California has a sufficient pool of worthy poets that the odds favor a meaningful outcome.

If you wish to nominate someone, including yourself, for consideration, here is the link:

http://arts.ca.gov/initiatives/pl.php. The submission deadline is July 25, 2018.

Finally, I would recommend that California honor our resident playwrights by making one of them the first Playwright Laureate of California.

Saturday night, July 7, 2018: Sylvia Mohr’s Sojourn

Of Old Age, and Very Old Age

The story of my mother’s foray into very old age is more complicated than any piece of fiction could begin to hint at; a non-fiction account, however, would soon become tedious with her protracted reluctance to take advantage of her once sufficient, though dwindling resources. If she is puzzled as to how she no longer inquires about the unfamiliarity of her surroundings, she keeps it to herself. I myself retain a bemused astonishment at the unlikelihood of her dependency on me. I have three brothers in San Diego, and she lived in southern San Diego County for close to 90 percent of the past seven decades. The odds would favor her playing out the hand she dealt herself in San Diego, but a granddaughter’s truculent intervention led to a disastrous adventure, and my mother was moved to my vicinity in the late summer of 2016 because none of my other five siblings could undertake being responsible for monitoring day-to-day care.

She is now 96 years old, and will turn 97 in December. In trying to make her life as comfortable as possible the past two years, I feel no sense of emotional solvency. It is an existential compassion. “They call me and I go….” On Monday evening, the place I moved her to in Seal Beach called me to say that an ambulance was taking her to the emergency room. It is still not clear what caused her to lose consciousness, briefly, six days ago, but I have since spent a good portion of every day at the hospital or on the road finding yet another place to move her to. Fortunately, a skilled nursing facility in Long Beach had an open bed, which she arrived at on a gurney about four hours ago.

Fate has not been completely unkind. I managed to get everything done in preparation for today’s move by Thursday night, and so I was to stay indoors all Friday, when the heat was obnoxiously brutal. And much to my surprise I did have enough energy on Wednesday to head north and spend a few hours on the rooftop of my dear friends on MLK, Jr. Blvd. Granted that today was an all-day engagement with several bureaucracies and sets of workers in the medical profession, and tomorrow will be devoted to my wife’s mother’s situation; nevertheless, I have managed to endure another week with some provisions for respite. I especially regret, however, missing Alexis Fancher’s poetry reading in the late afternoon, to which I could have walked from my house in five minutes, should today have had a normal schedule in any sense of the word.

I have final papers to grade for my summer session class, and an overdue article for a MLA project. The challenge is not just to get all this done, but to meet the dozens of small requests I get for service of one sort or another. Sometimes I think I should be ashamed of having such a feeble breaking point, and other times I wonder how others do not pause and ask themselves how a life so damaged from the start has achieved anything deserving of remembrance.

Sunrise - Mom - 2017

Sunrise mom - 2018

(Photographs of Sylvia Mohr, Autumn, 2017, by Bill Mohr)

From a rooftop on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd. — July 4

July 6, 2018

I worked as a fiction writing teacher at Idyllwild arts for twenty consecutive summers, starting in the mid-1990s. Several of my students went on to become published writers, including Sara Wintz and Julia Glassman. During the first fifteen or so years, during which I built the fiction writing class up from one session per summer to three sessions each summer, the first introduction to the students always took place on the first Sunday after the July 4th weekend. Then, with the shift to an earlier start of school years, the students gathered at the top of the mountain on the first Sunday before the July 4th celebration.

In my professional as well as personal life, Idyllwild is a significant part of the commitments I have made in my life. I cannot look at the July page of the calendar on my kitchen wall without thinking of that cycle of packing to leave and unpacking on my return, which always took more than a single day. The past couple years have brought me a new ritual: Linda and I gather on the third story rooftop of Rod and Tamiko’s home on Martin Luther King Boulevard, and we watch the fireworks jettison their transient glow on a scythe-swath perimeter of Los Angeles County. Other friends, including Olivier Bochettaz, join in. Olivier and Pauline had a child six months ago, and Luna is an exceptionally beautiful baby.

Rod J-4 one

Bochettaz Salute One

Bochettaz Salute Two

Bochettaz Salutre - Three

Rod J-4 two

Rod J-4 three

Rod J-4 four

Sleepover Parking

Wednesday, July 4, 2018


Auto Sleepover

(on Ohio Street, between Sixth and Seventh Streets; two weeks ago)

“The West Coast as a Literary Capital”

Monday, July 2, 2018

“The West Coast as a Literary Capital: Independent Publishers as a Contumacious Canon of Underground Poetry” — William Mohr

La côte Ouest comme capitale littéraire : les éditeurs indépendants, vecteurs d’un canon irrévérent de la poésie ‘underground’

La costa Oeste como capital literaria: los editores independientes, agentes de un canon irreverente de la poesía ‘underground’

The revised paper I gave at a conference in Dijon, France has just been published in a trilingual (French, Spanish, and English) magazine published on-line in France. The issue contains a total of a dozen articles which were all originally presented at the conference. In addition to the superb introduction by the editors, Fiona McMahon et Paul-Henri Giraud, I would especially recommend the following articles:

Kamila Benayada
“Redefining Modernism: Stuart Davis’s Cold War Champion series”

Anna Aublet
“Bill & Carlos : les Amériques de William Carlos Williams”

Isabelle Pouzet
“Arts visuels et stridentisme dans la revue mexicaine Irradiador (1923)”

Marcos Rico Domínguez
“L’échec et la splendeur : les allégories du baroque moderne dans l’œuvre d’Octavio Paz”

François Hugonnier
“Reassessing Modernisms in Light of Jerome Rothenberg’s Work”

Smaro Kamboureli
“Opera in the Arctic: Knud Rasmussen, Inside and Outside Modernity”



Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Wish Starts to Come True

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Mexico’s Next President Elected!

I have not heard any reports of the percentage of the electorate that actually voted in the elections today in Mexico, but I can’t help but wonder about the beneficial effects of Sunday elections. Having the vote take place on a day on which most people don’t work has to influence the ability of people to participate in a democratic process.

The astonishing news, of course, is that Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been elected the next President of Mexico by an overwhelming margin. It is fortunate that the polls showed Obrador with a huge lead. If he had only had a lead of two percent, as Hillary Clinton did heading into election day in the U.S. in 2016, I have no doubt that the results would have favored another candidate.

As I just mentioned on my Facebook and Twitter accounts, I remember Alejandro González Iñárritu accepting the Oscar for his exquisite directing work on a film about a floundering actor who once was the incarnation of a popular culture hero. In his acceptance speech, Iñárritu said, “I want to dedicate this award for my fellow Mexicans, the ones who live in Mexico. I pray that we can find and build the government that we deserve.” He also mentioned “the ones living in this country who are part of the latest generation of immigrants in this country, I just pray that they can be treated with the same dignity and respect as the ones who came before and built this incredible immigrant nation.” As of this evening, it would seem that the first half of Iñárritu’s reclamation of human rights has made more progress towards fulfillment than the second half.

I send my best wishes to my friends in Mexico, and hope that your expectations can be met as quickly as possible.

COLA Awards Exhibit, 2018

June 30, 2018 — COLA Exhibit at Barnsdall Park — Municipal Art Gallery of the City of Los Angeles

Last weekend was the final chance to see the exhibit of artists awarded a recent fellowship from the City of Los Angeles, and the only day I was free to make the trip turned out to be on Sunday, since Linda and I attended a memorial service for the brother of one of her oldest and best friends on Saturday. The exhibit only included the visual artists, since the literary and performance awardees had presented their work in mid-month. I was pleased to see that Peter J. Harris had won one of those awards, and wish I could have attended his event.

Of the visual artists, I was especially impressed with the work of Guillermo Bert, Terry Braunstein, Sandra de la Loza, and Michelle Dizon, and the ways in which daunting journeys are undertaken by both imaginary characters and actual individuals. In evoking the social imaginary of public transportation in Los Angeles, for instance, Sandra de la Loza’s installation made use of redacted copies of newspaper articles about the labor strike in 1903 by several hundred Mexican workers, employed on the construction of the Great Pacific Electric Railway. Her redaction underlines the silencing of the workers themselves. According to de la Loza, not a single one of the workers was quoted in the newspaper reports of that labor strike. I hope that de la Loza is able to place a copy of her text at the Huntington Library, as a document that serves to contextualize the price paid by Mexican workers to help Huntington accumulate the wealth that established this cultural resource.

Michelle Dizon made use of written testimony, too, though in her case her imagined author is her great-great-great-granddaughter, Latipa, who shares that name with the artist’s great-great-grandmother. The temporal trajectory of Dizon’s project is over two centuries, from 1905 to 2123; her project brings to mind the ambitious scope of a writer such as the late Octavia Butler. Indeed, the letter in which the “mirror” characters serve as the imagined writer and reader is as eloquent as the best moments in Butler’s writing.

Guillermo Bert’s project was one of the most poignant testimonies to the crisis of migration and its harrowing risks. “Tumble Dreams” elevated over a half-dozen full-size tumbleweeds about seven feet off the ground and projected the face of a migrant from Guatemala as he spoke of the incessant uncertainties of traversing over 1500 miles to be with his sister and her family in Arizona. A small video screen provided a transcription of his words in the original Spanish as well as an English translation.

Finally, I want to give special praise to the work presented by Terry Braunstein, whose “Ladder” cyclorama exuded a magnetically charged dreamscape of people displaying the human impulse to stay upright, no matter how minimal the requital might be. Both clustered in mutual ascent and compelled to climb in solitude, the social life of transcendence has rarely asked us with such quiet resolve to turn from the meditation of the art to our lives and inquire exactly what it is we hold onto so tightly. In at least one way, Braunstein’s book art of “Broken Vow” speaks of the promises that may be next to impossible to fulfill, and yet we remain haunted by that possibility. It is worth noting that my brother-in-law, Vince, and his friend Marcie, met us at the exhibit, and afterwards they commented on Braunstein’s work was their favorite in the entire exhibit.

One might note a circle of women in the lower right hand corner of the bottom of the following two detail photographs I took of Braunstein’s “Ladder.” This circle reminded me of the meditation engaged in by the Living Theater at the beginning of their play, “Frankenstein,” in which the program noted that the ensemble is trying to levitate, and if they do, the play is over. That effort still remains a tantalizing perspective.

Braunstein - Ladder

Braunstein - Ladder Two

In order to give the recognition accorded to the above artists some context, I would note that these COLA awards have gone in the past to some of my favorite artists in this city, including Kim Abeles, Alison Saar, Luis Alfaro, Nancy Buchanan, Robert Flick, Laura Aguilar, Robert Nakamura, John Outerbridge, Jo Ann Callis, Lita Albuquerque, Fran Siegel, and Suzanne Lacy. The writers who have included Wanda Coleman, Katherine Haake, Eloise Klein Healy, Terry Wolverton, Gloria Enedina Alvarez, Jen Hofer, Fernando Castro, Sarah Maclay, Lynne Thompson, Claudia Rodriguez, Peter J. Harris, and Joseph Mattson.

The Binary Special at the Zero Sum Cafe

The Open All Hours Zero Sum Cafe — The Binary Special (Served Daily)

Even when the odds are enormously favorable for a catastrophe, a pessimist braces for disappointment, and frets about how abashed he will feel if things turn out well; when they don’t, an optimist prefers to act indignantly surprised and perplexed.

As for myself, I plan on going on a meditation retreat as soon as possible, and taking my eligibility test for reincarnation as a bodhisattva. Most of my friends think I should wait another lifetime or two, but they’re just a bunch of pessimystics.

(In conversation with Linda Fry)

June 18, 2018